Traffic congestion in New West

Traffic congestion and public transit infrastructure are named among the top issues for most civic election candidates in New Westminster – and it seems we’re not alone. Greater Vancouver is experiencing major growing pains related to suburbun expansion. Cost of living has boosted growth in areas like Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam, Surrey and Abbotsford, but the majority of jobs are still located in Vancouver. The result is gridlock due to the funnel effect of so many people coming into the downtown area through a limited number of access points.

Unsurprisingly, those at the wide end of the funnel want to twin the Port Mann bridge, hoping it will speed their commute into town. We at the narrow end – New Westminster, Burnaby and Vancouver – are more likely to oppose it, fearing it will only bring more non-residential traffic into our communities.

Writes the Vancouver Sun:

In the south-of-the-Fraser communities of Langley, Surrey, Delta and White Rock, where gridlock on the bridge is a huge issue, nearly 75 per cent of candidates agreed or agreed strongly that the bridge should be twinned.

Artist's rendition of a twinned Port Mann Bridge.

Artist’s rendition of a twinned Port Mann Bridge.

Handout

In the Tri-Cities area, support was even higher. Eighty-five per cent of candidates agreed.

In the core communities of Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster, where many fear that more lanes will bring more traffic, only 30 per cent either agreed or agreed strongly with the bridge twinning.

New Westminster council candidate Betty McIntosh said she’d like to see the new South Fraser Perimeter Road completed to siphon off some of the traffic that now runs through New Westminster, which, as the geographical centre of the region, has a disproportionate number of vehicles travelling through it
“New Westminster is a compact, well-planned city with a large volume of transit users. We can work, live and play within our city boundaries,” she said.

Lorrie Williams, also running in New Westminster, said the city could “easily become just the crossroad to other places” and it needs well-planned commuter and truck routes and cooperation with other municipalities to share the burden.

As a central access point for the Lower Mainland, New West benefits from proximity to both the city and the suburbs, but as this issue highlights, there is a dark side. Too much traffic is just pass-through traffic, and it impacts local traffic, air quality, quality of life and also our businesses. 

The Sun quoted Williams and McIntosh, but here are some opinions from other local candidates on the traffic situation here in New West and what to do about it (quotes from the Sun’s poll data and candidate websites): 

Mayoral candidates:

  • Wayne Wright (incumbent): “Always a problem in a Geographic centered city like N.W. Biggest issue is North Fraser Perimeter Road and bridges and how they will be brought through the city.The road goes directly though the middle of downtown and our new residential areas and the bridge heads are congested already.We will be working directly with Translink and the Province to address these problems. There will be solutions but there will be large capital costs necessary to do the right thing.”
  • Blair Armitage:  Ipsos Reid poll rates traffic as high priority with New West voters (note: I tried looking for more detail on the Voice website but I was unable to find the info I was looking for. If you’re reading this Voice, SEO is everything. Get your Google juice on!)

Council candidates:

  • Jaimie McEvoy: New Westminster needs more support for cyclists, include more bike routes and bike racks throughout the city ….. We need to ensure that when Patullo Bridge is replaced that city council is a strong advocate for its citizens, ensuring that the new bridge improves traffic, and does not increase traffic on our local streets.”
  • Matthew Laird: “New Westminster is at the cross roads of the Lower Mainland, we have an opportunity to be an example of progressive urban planning, making a walkable, livable city focused on sustainability.”
  • Bob Osterman: “New Westminster has over 350,000 cars driving through our city each day, our roads are clogged and the consequent accidents and car pollution concern every resident. To go from West to East at rush hour can take 30 minutes to travel 2 miles.”
  • Lynda Fletcher-Gordon: The amount of traffic in New Westminster will not decrease. In fact, without the provision of more public rapid transit, it is likely to increase. While we want to have a walkable city, we also need to consider how to keep the traffic moving and avoid gridlock. While I support traffic calming devices generally, the traffic calming devices on the main roads and intersections contribute to the gridlock that often happen – especially at 6th and Royal. They cause congestion as those drivers who want to use an alternative route or merely turn from Royal onto 6th are prevented from doing that.”
  • Terrance Owen: “New West suffers from severe road and rail cross-traffic to and from other municipalities. These road and rail routes fall under federal and provincial jurisdictions. The city needs the cooperation and support of these senior levels of government to provide alternate routes and containment that will alleviate the problems created for New West.”
The Vancouver Sun is leveraging the data gathered in their municipal candidates’ issues survey well here, but this quote from their article again highlights how they missed the mark from a technology standpoint.

To help you on voting day, Nov. 15, you can use the database as a personal ballot, printing off a list of all candidates and then circling those that best reflect your views.

Print it out and circle the candidates you’re voting for? C’mon Sun, you can do better. The data is there, all that is needed is the technical execution to make it more useful. If the Sun doesn’t have the technical resources, they could at least provide the data in an easily remixed format so that others with the knowledge and the desire could create something better suited for the Web.

Readers, if you notice that I’m missing a candidate’s published comments on the issue, leave a note in the comments. If any political candidates wish to expand on their comments, go right ahead!

New West candidates on the issues

When it comes to e-campaigning, many of our local candidates fall short.

A few – the Voice slate, Jonathan Cote, Matthew Laird – are doing a reasonable job of leveraging the web to communicate stance on the issues.

The others who have inadequate web presences or lacking any website at all are doing both their campaigns and New West citizens a disservice.

Mass media can only communicate so much about municipal politics, due to the constraints of the form. The web, on the other hand, has the potential to provide much more detailed and localized information if leveraged appropriately.

Thankfully, for New West voters, The Vancouver Sun has stepped in to help fill the information gap. The Sun has published a municipal election database online incorporating information from civic candidates around the region about where they stand on local issues.

Here’s how it breaks down in New West.

According to their survey answers, here are the key differences between mayoral incumbent Wayne Wright and rival Blair Armitage:

While Wright is running on his record as a capable, experienced manager of our city, Armitage is out to change the status quo. In particular, Armitage feels that council hasn’t been responsive to citizen concerns regarding proposed developments.

  • Both candidates named crime and traffic congestion in their top three issues, however Armitage also feels taxation is an issue while Wright is concerned with homelessness
  • Armitage’s answers are research-based, citing poll data, news reports and regional statistics to support his points; Wright’s responses seem more qualitative, drawing on his experience as mayor for the last six years.
  • Wright supports maintaining our local independent police force, while Armitage would like to see a consolidated Metro Vancouver police force
  • Armitage strongly supports increasing development fees, while Wright is neutral on the issue
  • Armitage wants to proceed with twinning the Port Mann; Wright opposes the project
  • Armitage believes New West is “plagued with sprawl and poor land-use planning” while Wright disagrees
  • Armitage believes government bureaucracy and inefficiency is costing taxpayers
  • Armitage supports changing from an at-large election system to wards

I’m finding the Sun’s data very helpful in gaining clarity on what each candidate stands for. As a blogger and data nerd, I do have some constructive criticism.

The data should be fully indexed and easily searched/compared. It is, after all, intended to help aid comparison between candidates. It’s hard to get that perspective when you must look at one at a time.

Ideally, the Sun would make the raw data available for people to parse & sort as needed to extract the information they seek. The experience as it stands is exactly like a printed pull-out voters’ guide. I appreciate that it is accessible online and that the paper made the effort to compile the information, but I also can’t help see it as an opportunity lost.

UPDATE: I figured if I wanted the data I better do something about it. I’ve published a consolidated spreadsheet online via Google Docs aggregating the info from the Sun. It’s only partial – many of our candidates have not responded yet – but I will update as I see that new candidates’ views are added.

Opening Salvo: Mayoral Candidates

As reviewed in a previous post, all 17 candidates for Mayor and Council were present at the Oct 21st All Candidates Meeting, hosted by the Queensborough Residents Association. We have heard from the Council hopefuls already. Here I review my impressions on the Mayoral candidates; Wayne Wright (incumbent) and Blair Armitage. Each man had an opening and closing statement and moderator Dean Wells had a number of questions reserved just for the Mayor’s race.

Blair Armitage looks the part. He is a squarely built, senatorial and businesslike and he began his remarks forcefully calling for a police depot to be built in Queensborough, perhaps into the addition planned for the community center. A law an order candidate; that is how he came across. Cleaning up crime and graffiti (I just did some cleaning my self as a matter of fact, on the back fence) and making the town safe for all the families.

Armitage was cutting in his attack on what he views as an aloof council (and Mayor) that doesn’t listen to the views of the citizens groups. He cites opposition to development projects and towers that were approved even though they were spoken against in council meetings. He did come across as being against further development or building. I would be interested to hear more on how he would plan to handle the pressure for growth in the Lower Mainland.

During the question period, many of his answers were direct and matter of fact and he often did not use the time alloted to him by the moderators. During one memorable answer Armitage insinuated Mayor Wright had presented a Gucci Plan to cover the open ditches in the neighborhood with the design that it would be rejected and that Queensborough residents really wanted a modest plan. Mayor Wright’s proposal to deal with the shocking projected cost of the ditch remediation plan was to do a pilot project over a short block to get a better idea on the true costs. Both candidates received hearty applause for their positions.

The loudest and most sustained applause was after Mayor Wright’s opening remarks. He passionately (and maybe a little too loudly) boosted the record of the last council and New Westminster as a city. He was a bit of a bull-dog politician during this two minute opener but he used that time to insist that he looked after the whole city, as a unit and that he maintained an open door policy for any citizen. I was almost a little uncomfortable hearing him loudly “take full responsibility for the lase six years” of governance. It was as if you were a kid watching your dad in an argument with your principal. After insisting that no city in the Lower Mainland was better prepared for the expected recession, he took his seat to a full and lengthly applause. I noticed VOICE candidates Wandell and Osterman shifting uncomfortably as the hall went quiet again.

One Exchange I appreciated was a question on illegal suites:

Illegal suites have not been closed down and the likelihood of our city’s bylaw being enforced is remote. What is your position on this?

Mr. Armitage, presented a position that “we can not allow our citizens to blatantly thumb their nose” at the by-laws and he suggested a mechanism to make it easier or more attractive for owner’s of illegal suites in New Westminster to get their suites approved and updated to code. Mayor Wright’s response showed a clear difference in philosophy between the candidates as he firmly insisted that unless great strides were made in affordable housing with more participation from other levels of government, illegal suites were a necessity in the city and should only be monitored to ensure public safety. In my view this was the one point on the debate that showed the greatest contrast. I have included the answers here on a video for you to decide.

Opening Salvo: Council Candidates

The Queensborough Residents Association hosted what was for some, the opening salvo of the 208 Civic Election Season in New Westminster. With 25 days until voting day, this all candidates night at the Queensborough Community Center was the first of five similar nights where the 2 Mayoral Candidates and 15 prospective city councilors present their views to the public. The night was moderated by QRA President Dean Wells.
The roughly 35 citizens who attended the ‘debate’ were treated to a list of questions, some pre-posted and some freshly minted by the Queensborough Residents Association. Each candidate also presented opening and closing remarks. The event started at 7pm and lasted about 2 hours.
With so many questions and 17 candidates there is no way to present each answer or position here but it was a great night to see the personalities on display. My perception of the event was that it was lively and upbeat but with an undercurrent of dis-satisfaction and even rancor amongst the Voice New Westminster candidates and Mayor Wright and others that support him. I am no NW political insider but I seemed like this election is the latest battle in a larger struggle between the two groups.
Matthew Laird (council, ind) I was surprised by this candidate. I have spent some time on his website and he has some very interesting ideas and suggestions, many of witch I find compelling. In his remarks, he certainly has a good list of practical, achievable improvements (increased composting and others) but he seemed to have his emotion or frustration with city council run away with him. He made his points aggressively and with a fast speaking style and was hostile to the record of the last councils. My wonder was how he would be able to work with the next council and team if he was elected. He certainly has vision but a more friendly and less confrontational pitch style might come in handy.
Bill Harper (council, ind, incumbent) Bill Harper is known by many New Westminster-ites but less by me so this really was an introduction. He was proud to highlight the past councils record and strengths and stress the importance of business growth and the re-development of commercial corridors. Harper is affiliated with the CUPE union backed campaign.
Lynda Fletcher-Gordon (council, ind) One of 5 female candidates (with Betty McIntosh, Susan Wandell, Lorrie Williams and Lorraine Brett) wanted to look to the future to determine our needs and find a mandate from residents through consultation and active collaboration. Her ‘research and sound planning platform’ might resonate with some even as it leaves out any policy proscriptions for today.
Jamie MacEvoy (council, ind), a labour endorsed candidate was at easy with his message after decades of volunteerism and activism with New Westminster’s homelessness, refugee and low income assistance issues. In my view he presented a positive vision on how New West can continue re-building its commercial base. I liked his up-beat attitude on the past 6 years and the future of the city and his ‘pledge’ to work diligently with any and all of the elected candidates if he is chosen as a counselor.
Gavin Palmer (council, VOICE) Introducing himself as “Palmer, Gavin Palmer”, this Q’bro resident and founder of the QRA highlighted his past work for traffic and bridge safety in that neighbourhood and felt at home with an easy, likable manner and a folksy way of relating to others. Mirroring the VOICE position of criticizing a lack of transparency on the current council, his remarks prompted Lorrie Williams to shake her head in disbelief from her position at the table.
Lorrie Williams (council, Ind, incumbent) herself a teacher and Q’bro resident and a labour endorsed candidate was in fact the first to speak and the last of the evening. She also had the bad luck of being asked wild-card questions (that were not previously released to the candidates) rather than the pre-printed ones simply on the basis of the debate lottery. She spoke well and highlighted her dedication to Q’bro and New West. In her closing remarks she said how she loves this city and watches it closely. I appreciated that.
Steve McClurg (council, VOICE) campaigned for the VOICE slate in its entirety rather than focusing on his own attributes as a candidate. Not one of the most positive or up-beat candidates, McClurg also presented the last council as unfortunate and the views of citizens as unheeded.
Calvin Donnelly (council, ind, incumbent) has served the council for 18 years and his experience with the issues showed in his answers. He is often found at civic events hosting amplified public karaoke parties in the streets. He was the only candidate to evoke the New Westminster of past generations in his description of yesterday’s Queensborough as a farming community filled with hard workers. His facility with the details of tendered contracts, city policies and mandated legal procedures showed (as it did for Betty McIntosh) but he did not offer any new ideas or policies to bring to this election. I would have liked an indication that he is working to meet the challenges we have in front of us as a city and I will be looking or that in the next debate.
Betty McIntosh (council, VOICE, incumbent) surprised me by saying she was with the VOICE slate and that “we can think what we want about that”, meaning that if we thought it was good, well fine, but if we disapproved, don’t hold it against her because she is her own boss. I believe it too. She presented herself, as always, as a competent, positive individual with a keen and judgmental point of view on the daily topics. Her 9 years on council and many years as a nurse root her to the community and she seemed fully happy and casual in the role of candidate.
Jonathan Cote (council, ind, incumbent) is one of the four younger candidates on the 17 remember list. In his answers and speeches he so artfully avoided saying anything concrete or notable that the most I learned about him was that I was pronouncing his name wrong (Koat-ay, not Kote). While he had a positive attitude and a professional manner, his catch-phrases and buzz words only really revealed that he wanted to get elected again, not why he should be on council for 3 more years. Cote is a labour endorsed candidate.
Terry Owen (council, ind) is a business owner on Columbia St with a very entertaining way of talking. He seems unpredictable and he talks very fast. He is running on a policy of good fiscal planning and a thorough examination of the issues. I will have to reserve further judgment for another experience though. Mr. Owen seemed a bit nervous addressing us folkies but that could all disappear by the time the next candidates night is held. Mr. Owen was asked to run for council by incumbent Mayoral candidate, Wayne Wright.
Niel Powell (council, VOICE), another younger candidate highlighted his work on the NW Police Services committee and as a member of Sapperton/McBride Residents Association. A teacher and comfortable speaker, Mr. Powell’s ongoing priorities were the preservation of our natural environment and the opposition of the Waste to Energy Plant at the CanFor location in Sapperton. I liked this candidate but he is in my demographic. He repeatedly referred the the ‘stewardship of our natural resources which I think is odd for such a small, heavily urbanized fully integrated city. What natural resources, the rose garden in Queen’s Park? Poplar Island?
Bob Osterman (council, VOICE, incumbent) is looking or re-election on the voice slate as a candidate firmly against Wayne Wright and others on the current council. His remarks indicate a fluency with the issues and the responsibilities and operation of civic government and like many of the voice candidates, he call for the Mayor and Council to listen more to the citizens. No candidate explained why this was really and issue but it came up a few times. Mr. Osterman is concerned with towers being built here, and there and with the direction of development in the city .

That sums up the counselor’s portion of the event. Check back soon for my take on the Mayoral Candidates and some uploaded video of some of their answers.

Election 2008!

It is a great time to start a blog about New Westminster. Not only have we just completed a federal election cycle (where two incumbent New Democrat MPs Peter Julian and Dawn Black were returned to Ottawa to represent their ridings) but a municipal election is at hand as well. Hope for a warm, dry day for Saturday November 14th 15th! That is our day to go to the polls. The City web-page has information here and you can find links to many of the candidates running for Mayor, council or as a school trustee in the sidebar of this site.
In keeping with this blog’s mandate to be about all things New West, I will to my best to keep the site updated, add commentary and present some of the interesting personalities and highlights of the campaign. I have emails in
now with a number of candidates asking for interviews or statements and just this weekend I kicked things off with a visit to the official campaign launch events for both Mayoral candidates.

I have to say, this might be a confusing year for some New Westminster
voters. For the first time that I know of, there will be a slate of candidates known as Voice of New Westminster running as a team against all other candidates. The Mayoral candidate for Voice, Blair Armitage is one of the founding members on the slate and the current Chair for the VANOC (2010 Olympic games) steering committee for the athletes village. On Saturday, yesterday, Voice New Westminster opened their office at the base of Belmont towers (near the Hub Barbershop, across from Starbucks). The office was busy with lots of supporters and street traffic and they were serving coffee, tea and cookies.I have not really gotten to the bottom of the reason for the slate as it has been the usual practice to run as an individual candidate in New Westminster elections. With some luc

k, I hope to have some direct information from their campaign.

Today was the opening of the campaign office for the re-election of the incumbent candidate, Mayor Wayne Wright. Their office in the 600 block of 12th st was also busy as a number of supporters shared laughs, hot-dogs, empanadas, and refreshments. Mayor since 2002 and often cited as the driving force behind “The Worlds Largest Tin Soldier” Wayne Wright shared the day with other candidates, supporters, curious citizens and other notables like members of the city’s emergency services and recently re-elected MP, Peter Julian.
From my uninformed position, the voice group does seem motivated to change the landscape of New Westminster city politics but the folks at Mayor Wright’s campaign do not lack for a positive attitude. The atmosphere at the 12th street campaign office was upbeat and festive. I expect to see a lively contest between the Armitage/voice contingent and those supporting Wayne Wright’s bid for re-election. I hope to get into this more as the campaign goes on. Check back here for updates.