What to do about traffic? The candidates weigh in

Traffic ranks as one of the top concerns for New West residents. Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd.
Traffic ranks as one of the top concerns for New West residents. Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd.

This is the second in a series of posts highlighting responses from New Westminster Environmental Partners’ mayor and council candidates’ survey focusing on environmental issues. Our first post brought together the mayoral candidates’ answers to NWEP’s questions on local questions related to sustainability. You can read all candidates’ full responses on NWEP’s website. If you’re looking for more information on mayor, council and trustee candidates we have compiled a list of all New Westminster civic election candidates’ websites, Twitter profiles and Facebook pages on Tenth to the Fraser. 

A constant source of frustration and conflict in New Westminster, traffic is one of the most heated issues in our city right now. An outpouring of public protest scuttled the proposed United Boulevard Exchange, but the city remains challenged by the question of how to handle the competing demands on its roads. Truck traffic and downtown commuter traffic from other suburbs regularly clog our streets and the resulting gridlock inspires rampant “rat-running” through normally quiet residential street. The question of what to do about all this isn’t easily answered, as council considers other factors including social, environmental and economic costs.

I have therefore grouped replies from our council candidates based on the emphasis they gave in their answers to the various competing approaches to transportation planning. There is some overlap, so please do read through the candidates’ answers in full, but my hope is that this will give voters a sense of which candidates prioritize improving the flow of car traffic vs. reducing the volume of car traffic, for example, or those who advocate focusing on mitigating imapacts on residential streets vs. more ambitious plans to radically reroute traffic. Replies are from candidates for council, unless otherwise indicated.

The question NWEP asked candidates was this: The City will be developing a Master Transportation Plan within the next term, what would you like to see included in that plan?

Improve the flow of car traffic

James Crosty – Mayoral Candidate
Comprehensive movement plan to get vehicles in and out efficiently instead of building our road network for two or three hours a day. The people that live work and play in New Westminster should not have to endure movement challenges for the other 21 hours a day. The public must play an important role in any plan to be developed.

John Ashdown
I would like to see a plan which plans to do away with $100,000 plans, which simply gets put on the shelf. We need a bypass! We need to work with adjoining communities for a common solution. Develop Stormont. The UBE is unnecessary now they have the King Edward overpass nearing completion. However Brunette, E. Columbia, Front Street and Stewardson Way will need to be a huge part of the Study. Once the South Perimeter Road is complete, I estimate you will see a considerable reduction in traffic heading through New West to Highway #1. We have a whole crew of transportation bureaucrat’s claiming their high salaries are justified. Now is the time to prove it.

Lorrie Williams
A reasonable truck route plan, exploration of the Storemont interchange.

Reduce car traffic, increase transit/cycling/walking

Vance McFadyen – Mayoral Candidate
Regarding developing a workable Master Transportation Plan you have asked a difficult question. The most obvious challenge to me is the re-routing of commercial trucks/vehicles, improved traffic control, improved inner city transit and to create incentives to encourage more foot and bicycle use. A lot of people find it easy to go downhill but not so easy to go uphill.

François Nantel
Better strategy to streamline through traffic like.  Study to see if one- way streets would help, and where. More left hand turn signals (dedicated), or interdiction to turn left. May be a gondola from Columbia Station to the Mall uptown that would run above the low rise on 7th street (they have those in Venezuela).

Jonathan Cote
Given that transportation is such a critical issue in New Westminster, the Master Transportation Plan will be one of the most important documents the upcoming council will be working on. I would like to see this plan focus on increasing the sustainable transportation (walking, cycling and public transportation) mode share in our community. I also feel that this plan needs to focus on improving the integration of land use and transportation planning.

Jaimie McEvoy
Look at options to reduce traffic in New Westminster, and move away from our role as the throughway of the Lower Mainland.

City positions and a plan to pursue them on regional transportation issues and inititatives.

Review the routing and the need for Patullo Bridge, be ready to challenge TransLink when necessary, push the province to reform TransLink to be more responsive to communities, and give greater emphasis to public transit and other modes of transportation.

A solid plan, with targets, timelines, and adequate resources, to make all of our streets safe and fully accessible to all.

Enhance and promote support for walking and cycling in the city – and beyond the city, as part of our connection to regional transportation infrastructure.

Call for improvements to Skytrain and the five stations in New Westminster, and expanded hours of service. Skytrain should be safe, be clean, and be well maintained.

Citizen involvement – a very good program of consultation with citizens, stakeholder groups, and neighbourhoods.

Return Front Street and the waterfront to the people, and restore the natural environment on the waterfront and the heritage buildings on Front Street, by finding parking alternatives to the parkade so that it can be at least partially removed.

Undertake initiatives to support electric vehicles and small personal transportation in the city.
Improve bike and pedestrian pathways by removing obstacles.

David Noshad
‘Walk/bike to work’ is [a] subject that needs close attention. If designed properly, programs like this can reduce daily traffic while improving citizens’ quality of life.

Chuck Puchmayr
We are the thoroughfare of Metro Vancouver, and if you think the traffic is bad now, wait until the new 10 lane Port Mann bridge is open. We need to take advantage of our Chartered control of some of our roads and curb the expansion of the vehicle onslaught into our city. At the same time we need to move people and goods efficiently and creatively.

Focus on quieting residential streets

Betty McIntosh
A continuation of respect for all residential neighbourhoods with reduced impact from motor vehicles. In the plan clear direction of where motor vehicles can go not just where they can not go.

Vladimir Krosnogor
Sensible solutions to out frustrating traffic problems. Reduce traffic in residential areas, not increase it

Bob Osterman
We need to know the BC Gov’t final decision on the Patullo Bridge, also we need the Surrey-Delta South Fraser Perimeter Road to be completed to take truck pressure off of our roadways; Front/Brunette/Stewardson. We need to continue neighborhood traffic calming, and making each neighborhood safely walkable.

Balance needs of all users

Wayne Wright – Mayoral Candidate 
Transportation requirements are complex and issues that we need to address include pedestrian safety at crossings, better facilities for cyclists, transit access and service, reduced volume of regional truck and vehicle traffic, vehicular safety as well as air quality, noise and livability issues. We need to find the best routes for all traffic in the City and how to find the funding that will be required.

Gerry Liu
I would like to see the master transportation plan include a choice to move around the city by foot, bike, bus, Skytrain & car. Consideration for semi trucks must be included as well as handicap & disability services, providing facilities – covered benches, & trees for the environment.

Send traffic ‘around, over or under’ New Westminster

Susan Wandell
Through traffic still needs to be directed to the perimeter of the City. I would support a cut and cover on McBride Blvd. from the Pattullo Bridge through to the Stormont Connector.

Gavin Palmer
Our City is in the unique position of being the ‘keystone’ of the lower mainland and needs to determine its own destiny. As the oldest City in Western Canada, preceding Canada itself, we deserve the respect of the other cities in this region and MUST continue to remind them of this fact. We have no land to devote to expanded roadways and have no funds to pay for regional arteries. With that being stated, we need to work with our neighbors to arrive at a regional solutions which work for all. Flow-through traffic needs to go around, over or under our neighborhoods so our citizens can enjoy the quiet enjoyment of their homes including the ability to get in and out of the city unimpeded. This will be a major challenge and needs public consultation with our citizens and our bordering jurisdictions.

Reminder: last UBE consultation session this Thursday

This is a guest post by Reena Meijer Drees. Reena blogs about car(e)-free living in New Westminster at http://carefreenewwest.blogspot.com/.

I’ve been dutifully attending TransLink’s consultation sessions for the UBE. We’ve seen 3 so far, and the last one will be held this Thursday evening at 7 pm at the Sapperton Pensioner’s Hall at 318 Keary St, just up from Columbia. Translink will be “reporting out”, summarizing what they’ve heard from the community over the weeks of discussion. I’d encourage all citizens to come out to see what TransLink is planning to bring to New Westminster. As for me, I must admit that my attendance at these sessions has left me feeling like I’ve been pushed into owning something I really don’t want.

There has been a good turnout for these events so far, with six fully populated “breakout” groups around tables, each with a facilitator (third-party, not TransLink) and at least one TransLink staffer to help out with technical details. I’d guess the total community attendance to be 70 or more every time, pretty good considering some sessions have conflicted with hockey games.

At these sessions I have met only a single person from outside of New West (I think from Coquitlam somewhere). He told me he drives through New West; he was there to voice his opinion that New West was the “sphincter of the Lower Mainland” and was hoping for some relief. I asked TransLink if they had held any open houses on the UBE in Coquitlam – apparently only one, and attendance was so poor (the 25 people who attended were all from New West) that they didn’t have any more. Coquitlam council supports the UBE and they have plans for further (car-oriented) development along United Blvd. It is hard to have a meaningful discussion with other stakeholders when they don’t show up.

The mood in the room has not been very happy. Almost uniformly, residents do not like the idea of the UBE. Many are concerned about noise, about increased congestion, about the idea of an overpass blocking views. Others don’t like the emphasis on road building, which seems so diametrically opposed to Translink’s stated goals of prioritizing pedestrians, bikes, and transit…especially given that we are now experiencing bus service cuts here in New West. And some residents see this as the thin edge of the wedge for the North Fraser Perimeter Road, a series of as-yet-unfunded projects which will see Front St turn into a 4-lane truck route, and a 6-lane Patullo bringing more regional traffic through our City. The fear is that the UBE will be done, and then nothing will follow for years as TransLink’s budgets continue to suffer, leaving us with more congestion that we started with. Time and again people stood up and voiced that they wanted to see the entire NFPR discussed and a big picture plan put on the table before discussing the UBE. This was not really done – the discussions were pretty quickly guided into specifics about where roads should go and what mitigation features we wanted.

TransLink asked for community ideas for the connection, and created long lists of what residents saw as the problems around the current intersection. From this they created a short list of possible configurations to explore. There were two suggestions from the community, called “option E” and “option C”. Option C consists of simply closing the level crossing at Braid and Brunette and eliminating the possibility of access to the Industrial land this way. Since the lights spend about 30% of their time letting the small amount of traffic coming out of the lands, remoiving access would improve traffic flow along Brunette. It would eliminate the backups that happen when turning traffic has to wait for a train. It would stop at least one train whistle. This option was rejected by TransLink with very few reasons given. Option E, the other suggestion from the residents, was to make the road from United connect with Brunette at a new intersection to be located near the overpass over HWY1. This would move the connection and its associated congestion out of New Westminster. Translink’s objection to this idea is that it creates too many intersections in a short distance. I would be surprised if this idea were still on the list.

The only idea that passes muster with TransLink is that of a large, 4-lane overpass over the “dip” in the Skytrain between Sapperton and Braid stations. The road would flow into Brunette without an intersection – no expropriation of property this time. There are lots of details availble and lots of mitigation discussed. But I can guarantee that the consensus in the Pensioner’s Hall is that this – “option B” – is unacceptable.

TransLink has stated throughout the sessions that “doing nothing” remains an option. We will see if they recommend this course of action, which I’d hazard is the top choice of most residents. Please attend if you can, so that if TransLink attempts to make us “own” the overpass idea – the only one left standing, by their own design – we can stand up and tell them that in fact, what the community really wants is to kill the UBE and give the money to the Evergreen Line. If you can’t attend, pass your thoughts on to New West City Coucil (email: postmaster@newwestcity.ca) They need to stand up and refuse to let this monstrosity be built.

Electronic speed reminders coming to Stewardson

A new electronic speed-reader sign will be installed on Stewardson Way just south of 6th Avenue for traffic heading eastbound into New Westminster from the Queensborough Bridge and Marine Way.

The Gordian knot of exits, on-ramps and highways at Stewardson and 20th St. near the Queensborough Bridge is one of the gnarliest intersections in the Lower Mainland, let alone New Westminster. I live just blocks away and regularly end up in Burnaby when I mean to go to Queensborough, or vice versa.

So it’s no surprise to me that Stewardson Way is a high-crash location in New West. Drivers are distracted and frustrated, and just want to slice through as fast as possible. In an attempt to calm the Mr. Wheelers among us, the City of New Westminster and ICBC are placing an electronic speed-reader board on Stewardson Way,  just south of 6th Avenue for traffic heading eastbound into New Westminster from the Queensborough Bridge and Marine Way.

Said Mayor Wayne Wright in a city media release, “Our location in the centre of Metro Vancouver means that a lot of traffic funnels through New Westminster. The new speed-reader board on Stewardson Way will remind drivers to slow down as they travel through the Royal City and drive safely.”

The new electronic speed-reader board will display and record the speed of passing vehicles and the time of day. Information gathered can help pinpoint when excessive speeding is likely to occur and when to deploy speed enforcement.

New Westminster now has five speed-reader boards in operation throughout the city, with four placed adjacent to elementary schools in the Heights, Sapperton, Downtown and West End neighbourhoods.

The new speed-reader board at Stewardson Way will be rotated between two other high-risk locations in the future: McBride Boulevard at the approach to the Pattullo Bridge and along Brunette Avenue.

For those of you who didn’t get the ‘Mr. Wheeler’ allusion (and didn’t click through the link), here’s the classic Goofy toon, ‘Motor Mania.’ Watch it and I’m sure you’ll see why it came to mind as I wrote this post …

Pedestrian Thoughts

About two years ago, I was car-addicted. I owned a vehicle – an old piece of junk GMC Tracker – and I drove everywhere, even just a few blocks. I wouldn’t go places if I couldn’t drive there. My husband took transit to school, or carpooled with me and when he graduated and secured employment in the construction industry, one of the requirements was a vehicle to visit job sites. My old clunker of a Tracker, although fairly fuel efficient and highly manouverable, simply didn’t have enough room to carry all of the testing equipment Ross would need onsite. So we sold my Tracker and purchased a used but still built in this decade “sporty” station wagon.

It was the first time in my life I didn’t have a vehicle at my personal disposal 24 / 7. And it was a HUGE adjustment. At first, I argued with Ross about how much time we both “deserved” driving. Then, I tried bargaining with him about who got the car for what. There was no legitimate reason for me wanting to have the car sit in my workplace’s parking lot all day, but it just made me feel more… secure. Even though my workplace was on a transit line, I still wanted the car there.

When I left my employer to go on maternity leave last June, I was home, by myself, hugely pregnant, with no car. And I started walking, primarly because the baby was overdue and walking gave me something to do besides watch the Ellen Degeneres Show and consume buckets of Slurpees. And, after Kale was born in July, I continued walking every day to get out of the house and prevent the “squirrelies” from staying inside too much.

Nowadays, I walk at least an hour every day – whether it’s uptown New Westminster to pick up books from the library or groceries from the store, or over to Tipperary Park to look at the ducks with Kale, or just to get out and see how things are in my corner of the world, I make a point of walking as much as possible. And I am not ashamed to admit I love it. I never in a million years thought I’d be a “walker” but necessity is the mother of invention, right? Not only have I lost weight from the constant exercise I never got while riding my deskjob and commuting in a car like a zombie, but I really have an amazing sense of what’s going on in my neighbourhood. I wave hello to my neighbours – both residents and shopkeepers – and this spring was amazing to see all the gardens changing along my usual routes, down at street level.

Oh, don’t get me wrong,it’s not all Suzy Sunshine. It sucks walking in the rain when you have somewhere to be. I’ve also had to do some testing of my anti-perspirant’s limits with this hot weather we are having. Uptown New Westminster can be a Stroller Brigade during the day (whoever said this city was full of old people has obviously never been at 6th and 6th on a Tuesday at 1:30 in the afternoon) and it seems there is a decided lack of sidewalk ethics when it comes to who is supposed to move over and quit hogging the sidewalk (yes, I am talking to you, herd of teenagers walking at a snail’s pace, 5 across, like a line of Red Rover), or who is supposed to take the right of way. My biggest concern, however, is not the nuances of interpersonal sidewalk relations, but rather, people in motor vehicles. I think most need a reminder about what to do when they see a pedestrian wanting to cross legally.

Motorists, go ahead and be mad at jaywalkers who stumble blindly into traffic. I do too, when driving. But if a person is trying to cross at a crosswalk not controlled with a traffic streetlight, it’s your job to yield the right of way to the pedestrian. The City of New Westminster has a number of “pedestrian-actuated crossing signals”, which are flashing amber lights at crosswalks that are turned on when a pedestrian pushes a button and go off after a short interval.  These are cautionary and when motorists see these blinking amber lights, they should think to themselves “oh, a pedestrian is crossing”. And then SLOW DOWN and let the pedestrian cross!

I’m walking – not driving. And I might take upwards of 45 whole seconds to make it across the street. 45 whole seconds. Do people realize how ridiculous it is when they show outward signs of impatience as I walk across the intersection in front of their car for a whole 45 seconds? Some television commercials are longer than the time it takes me to cross. Do these people realize that tapping their steering wheel, letting off on their brakes and creeping up,or  throwing their esasperated hands up in the air is only going to make me walk slower? If everyone could get out of their cars and walk around for even a week, I predict there would be a heck of a lot less accidents involving pedestrians.

Motorists – please. You’re in, at minimum, an 800 pound metal/plastic engine-driven collection of complicated parts on wheels. I’ve got a pair of shoes and a baby and probably a shopping bag. You have airbags, seatbelts, turning indicators, OnStar, and any number of other safety devices. I have common sense and luck. Cut me some slack and pay attention to the laws! When you see a person waiting to cross, don’t gun your engine because you don’t have the 45 seconds it will take for that pedestrian to cross! Please don’t act impatient when you are stopped! And, for the love of all that is good in this world, actually STOP.  I pledge to smile at you, or wave my thanks, and to not dally in the middle of the street.

I want to say a special thanks to the driver who prompted this post. To the young man in the 90s era convertible Cavalier who honked at me and asked me to “move it” while I was carrying 20 pounds of groceries and 20 pounds of baby:  you, my friend, are a peach. 

Solar-powered signs nag drivers to slow down in school zones

If there’s one issue that everyone in New West agrees is a problem, it’s traffic. The problem of drivers speeding through residential areas and, worse, school zones, is just one of the many traffic issues that New Westies like to complain about. 

The city has resolved to do something about it. Permanent solar-powered signs have been installed near Tweedsmuir, McBride, Howay and Robson Elementary schools that nag drivers to check their speed. 

Says the city’s news release: 

The new speed reader boards will remain in operation around the clock. On school days, from 8am to 5pm, if a vehicle is traveling over the posted school-zone limit of 30km/hour the words “Slow Down!” will flash as an immediate signal to drivers to watch their speed. Outside of school hours, the reader boards will flash when a driver exceeds the regular posted speed limit of 50km/hour.

I think it’s a great idea! New West could be the ultimate British nanny city, the Mary Poppins of Metro Vancouver. We could even expand the program with signs installed at the Burnaby border that scan for Metrotown-purchased goods and chide returning New West folk with the words, “SHOP LOCAL!” Or how about billboards on Columbia St. targeting Vancouver-bound commuters that read, “PARK YOUR SUV AND TAKE SKYTRAIN!”

Patullo Bridge Opens Tomorrow!

According to Translink and the Vancouver Sun, the Patullo Bridge opens tomorrow morning at 6am – up to 3 weeks ahead of schedule.

Translink attributes the unexpected opening to their ability to source the workers and supplies needed to repair the southern part of the span that was destroyed by fire. A replacement span from part of the Canada Line construction project was even used to take the place of the missing span, which sped up the rebuilding process considerably.

The slow response of vehicle commuters, however, has got transit planners thinking ahead to the expected traffic pattern changes for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. Read the article for more of the discussion: http://ow.ly/5XU

h/t to @anothersamchan for the RT.