Transportation woes due to conflicting interests: transit or roads?

There are two peculiarities that we have here in the Lower Mainland that make transportation planning hereabouts a tad more “interesting” than most places. It also increases the danger that a transportation project is not as successful as it could be.

TransLink’s Double-Agenda
In addition to running our local public transport system, TransLink was given another task. The provincial government transferred the responsibility for the regional road network and some major bridges to TransLink. This has created an agency that is tasked to accomplish two goals. It has to plan, build and run the public transportation infrastructure, and it has to plan, build and maintain roadways.

To me, that seems like a very unusual set of roles to be combined under one umbrella. It creates a huge conflict of interest within the organization. On the one hand, they have to promote sustainable means of transportation and try to get people out of their cars, but on the other hand, they need to improve and extend the road infrastructure. These two things don’t go hand-in-hand.

In order to advocate transit, TransLink has to provide incentives for people to not get into their vehicles. This means spending money on improving public transport, advocating a change in attitude, and designing roadways in a fashion that matches these goals (bus lanes, bike lanes, priority signalling, light rail in the centre median, etc.). Improving transit does not usually involve building more and wider roads. However, in order to facilitate goods movement by trucks, they do have to do just that. These roads may be meant primarily for trucks, but will be inviting for anybody to use.

So, to me, the conflict of interest within TransLink is very much a reality. Which goal takes precedence? Transit or roads? An agency shouldn’t have to advocate for public transportation and be mandated to build more roads.

Divided Road Responsibilities
While, on the one hand, public transportation and (some) road responsibility were lumped into one and the same organization, responsibilities for BC’s road network as a whole is divided up between three entities.

  • Municipalities look after local roads.
  • TransLink looks after regional roads in the Lower Mainland.
  • The province looks after the inter-regional road network (although this one doesn’t seem as clear cut; not all provincial roads leave the region).

It leads to increased planning complexities when a particular road project involves more than one agency. Communicating between several levels of government requires constant, conscious effort. If the parties involved don’t keep up that effort, issues will fall through the cracks.

Even worse, each agency might just be looking after its own agenda. They are perpetually strapped for cash. They have limited resources. The funds they do have may have a time-limit attached to them. (For instance, says the federal government, “If you don’t use the money by date XYZ, we’ll re-allocate it elsewhere.”) Faced with the danger that nothing at all gets accomplished, the agency may assume a “let’s get done what we can” approach, obviously focusing on solving their own problem(s) first. How it impacts other agencies or what happens when traffic leaves the original agency’s jurisdiction takes the back seat.

Examples from New Westminster
It doesn’t take much effort to come up with road improvement projects that affect New Westminster. Here are three. One was a planned project that was put on hold, one is being planned right now, and one was actually built. They all seem to show quite clearly what happens when agencies seem to focus mainly on their own turf. These examples are probably well known to anybody living in or travelling through New Westminster.

The UBE
The United Boulevard Extension was one example where TransLink was pushing its agenda (to move goods) as far as their responsibility stretched: to New West’s city limits. What was going to happen to traffic once it hit New West was none of their concern. There was some dubious talk about a North Fraser Perimeter Road at some point in the future, but it was neither clear how the NFPR would run through New West and what its impact would be, nor when it was going to be built. No funding had been secured. So, it was just the UBE that Translink wanted to build. Their main incentive to build it at that time? The federal government was waving $60 million for improved goods transportation infrastructure in front of their noses.

It was only due to massive opposition from New Westminster residents and city council that the project was put on hold. For now.

The Pattullo Bridge
TransLink have a clear and relatively urgent responsibility. They own the Pattullo Bridge. It is not up to current safety standards. Therefore, they must take care of it one way or another. Not to do that would mean they are not doing their job, and it would make them liable should something happen. So far, so good. What’s not good is the way TransLink is looking at the problem. They seem to have been asking themselves:

  • What do we do about the bridge?
  • What’s the best and most economical way for us to do it?
  • Which solution will get us the closest to our “goods movement” goal?

So, they picked the variant that makes the most sense to them. A six lane bridge. They made this choice before much public input was gathered. The impact that bridge will create on either side is not their main concern. The new bridge solves their problem: the aging structure is gone, the liability problem averted. The two additional lanes are an added bonus at not too much extra cost. Their part of the road infrastructure will now allow for better goods movement. — Two goals met with one project! What more can you want as an organization?

Again, it is strong community support that will hopefully bring about some change. At least, for the first time during the Pattullo replacement process, TransLink finally seems to be listening to citizens’ concerns. It’s far from over, but we seem to be on the right track to see the bigger picture.

The Queensborough Bridge
This project completed about four years ago. The Queensborough Bridge (along with highways 91A and 91) are provincial roads. So, this example doesn’t involve Translink, but it shows the province used an approach reminiscent of TransLink’s. — And it shows what happens when a project using this approach is actually implemented.

The province wanted to improve vehicle movement across the Fraser River via the Alex Fraser and the Queensborough Bridges. So, they decided to remove two bottlenecks. They upgraded the Howes Street intersection in Queensborough and re-configured the north end of Queensborough Bridge and surrounding intersections to make traffic there flow more smoothly (or so they thought).

What they did not think too much about was what would happen once traffic left the road that’s under their ownership or how traffic would get from local roads to their improved roadway. These problems were not theirs to solve. They had their agenda (get traffic across the Fraser) and that was it. If traffic didn’t actually flow better in the real world, it wasn’t their roads holding things up. They’d done their share. — Sound familiar?

The result of this thinking we can all see on a daily basis:

  • 20th Street southbound is a big, nasty mess on most day, sometimes even on weekends now; it routinely backs up to 8th Avenue, often further.
  • Stewardson westbound is a disaster every weekday morning with trucks and cars lined up past 3rd Avenue on many days.
  • Even on the Queensborough side traffic routinely clogs Ewen Avenue, Howes Street and roads nearby, as well as the bridge onramp and the highway itself.

Was the goal of improved traffic flow really accomplished?

So, do we actually know the province didn’t really care too much about how traffic would get to or from Queensborough Bridge or is the above scenario just conjecture based on observation? Yes, we kind of do know. One day, a couple of years ago, I spoke to the New Westminster police department about the bridge and the traffic mess surrounding it. They said to me, “We know. The province designed it. They didn’t really consult with the city. Now, we have to deal with it.” Point in case.

Personally, I don’t know how the current situation compares to the time before the “improvement project” (I didn’t live in New West then), but I am having a hard time picturing the current situation as “being better”.

Conclusion
In order to not keep falling into the same trap with every new road project, it may be time to add another topic to the public discussion, a topic more general, beyond any single transportation project.

It would seem beneficial to re-visit how roadways and transit, over all, are being managed in the Lower Mainland and in the province.

Having responsibilities for roads spread across three different levels of government that are clearly having difficulties working together effectively, on one hand, and, on the other, combining public transit and road infrastructure responsibility in a single agency does not seem like a wise choice. It certainly doesn’t seem to be working all that well.

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.

The United Boulevard Extension is back!

Straight and relatively free flowing Lougheed and Trans-Canada Hwy versus narrower, curing, traffic light filled United Blvd
Straight and relatively free flowing Lougheed and Trans-Canada Hwy versus narrower, curing, traffic light filled United Blvd
We’ve all seen the movie before. Just when the village was taking a breath, confident that after a long struggle they’d finally killed the monster… Surprise! It’s still alive!

For those who haven’t yet heard, Translink is back with a new round of consultations on the Highway Nobody Wants.  The first in a series of United Boulevard Extension workshops is this Saturday, 9:30am-12pm at the Sapperton Pensioners Hall, 318 Keary Street.

More public consolation was one of New Westminster city council’s requirements for Translink when it put the brakes on the project earlier this year. So good for Translink in organizing this very comprehensive series of workshops to engage citizens on this large infrastructure project. They’re planning a series of 6 half-day workshops that will really take the public through from their concerns to visioning alternative designs.

Unfortunately, the other requirement Council put on Translink was not embraced by Translink: that the North Fraser Perimeter Road be planned and built as a whole project, not a piecemeal with the United Boulevard Extension being built years (or decades) prior to the rest. Which raises the question of why is Translink dragging it’s poor staff members to what are probably very expensive consultations for a project that simply won’t be approved by New Westminster because it still doesn’t meet their clearly-stated requirements? It seems like a fool’s errand, and a waste of money; something Translink isn’t exactly rolling in right now.

New Westminster Environmental Partners’ transportation sub-committee met last weekend to discuss the upcoming workshops, and every time we think about and discuss this project, new questions continue to pop up.

We began discussing this project as part of the bigger picture of the Gateway Project, and in relation to the King Edward Overpass project. By our count, when all these projects are completed, there will be 16 lanes of road running parallel to United Boulevard only a few hundred metres away. That’s 10 on the Trans-Canada Highway and 6 on Lougheed: an enormous increase in capacity.

It is also apparent looking at a map that these three roads are designed quite differently. Highway 1 is a straight, wide, with no traffic lights slowing vehicle free-flow (one of Translink’s stated reasons why they didn’t like “Option A” for the UBE is because it involved a traffic light). Lougheed Highway (note the word highway in it’s name) is another wide, straight road with few traffic lights. United Boulevard, on the other hand, is relatively narrow, barely wide enough for 4 lanes, and definitely not wide enough to accommodate the bicycle and pedestrian improvements Translink has promised. It’s also quite curvy, with a significant number of traffic lights, poor sight lines, and perpendicular driveways emerging on to it. It’s a local access road, not a connector road for hundreds of trucks per day. And with all the driveways emerging on to it, it would become a very dangerous road with a significant increase in car and truck traffic, unless all the businesses along United are willing to have their driveways closed off. We’ve all seen the traffic back-ups just to dump trash at Wastetech!

Wide, straight Lougheed Highway, this looks more like a truck route.
Wide, straight Lougheed Highway, this looks more like a truck route.
So why route the North Fraser Perimeter Road, a purportedly regional truck through-fare, along United Boulevard?  At this point the NFPR west of Mary Hill is just a grey line on a map, nothing’s been built. It would certainly be a lot safer and cheaper to shift that grey line to one of the two recently upgraded, wide, relatively free-flowing roads parallel to United Boulevard!

Narrower United Blvd full of driveways and traffic light, not ideal for free flowing traffic.
Narrower United Blvd full of driveways and traffic light, not ideal for free flowing traffic.
But what about Braid and Brunette?  The choke point Translink keeps telling us about?  The light causes traffic to back up (or acts as a valve for traffic in to New West some might say) and prevents it from reaching these wide, straight roads that are being built just across the border in Coquitlam. Wouldn’t, logic suggest we first try to fix the intersection?

Another observation that came out of the meeting was how this traffic light operates. When a train passes through the intersection, traffic in all directions comes to a grinding halt. You might ask “why does all the traffic stop when the train only intersects one side of Braid?” The simple answer is, for safety reasons, when a train approaches the level crossing the lights automatically go in to green for only the cars exiting the Sapperton Industrial Area, in order to clear the cars any vehicles that which are illegally blocking the crossing. Then the lights stay that way, forever, or until the train passes, whichever comes first.

Now we have identified one of the main “flow problems” at the intersection beside a very busy rail corridor: for safety reasons the cars illegally stopped on the crossing need to be cleared. However, after the crossing is clear, can we not get the traffic on Brunette flowing again? Get those cars and trucks over to the new, wide, straight freeway, rather than sitting there watching a train go past beside them.

Translink continues to say this $160-180 million project is about getting traffic flowing (except when they say it is about “goods movement”), but we contend there are cheaper, less invasive ways to do so, without even considering the previous discussion about reducing demand rather than trying to build our way out of congestion. With their ongoing tunnel vision regarding the United Boulevard Extension, it seems the only “flow problem” Translink is trying to solve here is the flow of $65 million of your Federal Tax Dollars.


United Boulevard Extension: What’s next? (Part 2)

A four lane truck route, down Front Street from one end of downtown to the other. Is there enough width between the tracks and existing buildings to build such a road? Photo: Matthew Laird
A four lane truck route, down Front Street from one end of downtown to the other. Is there enough width between the tracks and existing buildings to build such a road? Photo: Matthew Laird

Today in part 2 of our series we ask the question: Can the North Fraser Perimeter Road, creating a four lane truck route through New Westminster even be built?

How will that work? Let’s examine the feasibility of the City’s mitigation wish list. A four lane truck route, down Front Street from one end of downtown to the other. Is there enough width between the tracks and existing buildings to build such a road?

There have been mentions of stacking the roads – how does that fit with Provincial dangerous goods regulations? There’s a reason why dangerous goods aren’t allowed in the Massey Tunnel or Cassiar Connector.

There’s been talk of pressuring the railways to remove one of their tracks – that still only frees up one more lane of traffic, we’re still not up to four if we want to maintain access to the retail fronts along Front Street.

What about behind The Interurban and Keg, there isn’t physically enough room to put four lanes between the existing building and the railway tracks. Are they going to shave a corner off this newly restored historic building for a truck route?

All of these are questions that have to be answered in order to make the City’s dream mitigation a reality, and despite years of talking about the NFPR and Front Street with ample opportunity to address these challenges they all remain unanswered. And now we’re asking Translink to suddenly plan and fund this route as one singular project, with adequate public consultation, before the March federal deadline? Really?

2011 is going to be an important year for transportation in New Westminster; the City is updating their Master Transportation Plan, the blueprint for transportation in the City. It’s up to all of us to push the City to get off the fence on these issues. If we truly want a four lane truck route down Front Street, show us the plans on how it will work. How will they make it all fit or which businesses and residents are they willing to sacrifice to shoehorn the road in there? Or should we look at alternative ideas and end the road building paradigm? The time for vague hand waving is over, we need a solid plan on how we want to see transportation in our city evolve over the next decades, the politicians have to get off the fence and make their opinions known.

Getting out of the car mentality is hard, for 50 years this is how we’ve designed and built our cities. We’ve allowed developments where eventual transit service which must follow will be difficult and expensive. As oil prices rise, the idea of cheap living in the burbs will quickly evaporate. With climate change and peak oil the days of motordom are numbered. Even if the fabled electric car becomes a reality we’ve already seen the private car paradigm doesn’t scale. On a recent trip to Seattle it occurred to me, throughout my entire life, over 3 decades, any time I’ve been to Seattle, I-5 has always been under expansion and yet it’s still gridlock during rush hour. The simple reality is no city, anywhere, has ever built themselves out of congestion. And if we think we have the magic plan to do so, we’d be very rich selling it to cities around the world.

But what are the alternatives when it comes to the NFPR? Parallel to the NFPR are three alternative transportation corridors. The Fraser River. The rail lines. And Skytrain. Could the travel demand that Translink projects for the NFPR be satisfied by shifting some of the current and future demand towards this existing infrastructure at a savings of over over $1 billion dollars to the taxpayer?

Studies say, yes. A report on Short Sea Shipping has stated there is a good opportunity to reduce emissions and traffic by sending goods by barge. With the completion of the Evergreen Line, we’ll have the equivalent capacity of a 10 lane freeway between Coquitlam and New Westminster. And the Langley-Lougheed rapid bus the province has promised upon completion of the Port Mann Bridge again has the opportunity to remove a significant number of vehicles from the road at a much more modest cost.

The stumbling block in creating an integrated goods and people movement system is there is no single body charged with creating it. Fraser River issues are a matter for the Port Authority, Translink has admitted it’s a good idea but has no mandate to get involved. Rail transportation is a Federal issue and the domain of private railways. The NFPR and Evergreen Line are a Translink issues. The Gateway project and Highway 1 are a Provincial issue. Zoning on where we put sprawling, low-density developments and business parks are a municipal matter. There is no coordination in creating a unified development and transportation plan, and hence we have the chaos and missed opportunities we see today. In this sea of competing interests and jurisdictions its important that we have a clear vision of what works for our City and what doesn’t. Its up to us to champion a workable transportation system for our City while respecting the need to move people and goods throughout the region.

But the obvious conclusion from all of this is if New Westminster council truly believes in protecting New Westminster’s liveability and IF we’re committed to building the NFPR as one unified project, keeping a standalone UBE on life-support for the sake of some Federal dollars which are pennies in the full project price tag makes no sense. Let it go and let’s start making a real plan for the future.

We have to have the hard conversation; can we make a 4 lane truck highway fit down Front Street? If the answer is no, as I suspect it will be, the city must stop dancing on the fence about conditional support for the NFPR only if unrealistic criteria are met. Development in our downtown and waterfront have been held hostage for far too long, we either need plans on how the NFPR will fit in to downtown New Westminster or to put our foot down and say no thank you, but you’re welcome to take one of the several other modes of transportation our City is fortunate enough to have on offer.

United Boulevard Extension: what’s next? (Part 1)

Photo: Matthew Laird
Front Street. Photo: Pat Johnstone

We won; we stopped the flood gates of the United Boulevard Extension from opening and releasing the hordes of new commuter traffic on to already chocked New Westminster streets. Or did we?

New Westminster council has asked TransLink to continue consulting, designing, and to request an extension for the Federal money committed to the project. That sounds like a green light to me; despite a lot of public posturing by mayor and council that they wouldn’t support the project they haven’t actually said no to the UBE, they’re just tinkering with the details. A, B, C, or D are out, but something else might be acceptable.

But the lingering questions which have never been answered still remain. What about Front Street? What about the Queensborough Bridge which is already backed up during rush hour halfway down Stewardson Way? Where will all this new traffic the UBE enables actually go? How will TransLink ensure a route which is supposed to be for goods movement doesn’t get clogged and gridlocked with commuter traffic? The City and TransLink have danced around these issues but never actually directly addressed them. Sadly because of policy or in some cases geography they simply can’t, which should ring loud alarm bells for residents.

To their credit council has again asked that a UBE extension be tied in to Front Street mitigation, that the NFPR shouldn’t be done piecemeal with a decade or more gap between sections such as the UBE and Front Street. Fair enough. However the key in all this is what a full project with proper mitigation will look like. This is the detail the City has never defined, there’s only been vague hand waving about plinths, tunnels, “mitigation” and a few pretty drawings. In fact in the few details that have been released there’s been conflicting plans and flip flops with issues such as the future of Front Street as a retail corridor. A detailed plan on how such a project would be designed, how it would affect the existing Front Street, how it would fit in with newer City approved projects like The Interurban, have never been shown. The last estimate I’ve heard from a source inside City Hall about 5 years ago was over half a billion dollars to get everything on the City’s wish list, a number which is obviously far larger now.

Now that TransLink has been granted a 3 month extension on the Federal money, this raises the question, why didn’t TransLink produce a complete plan when they announced they were proceeding with the UBE project last fall? New Westminster council’s December 2010 motion on the UBE reaffirms their 2007 position that Front Street mitigation must be part of the UBE project. It was a key requirement when New Westminster agreed to engage in the UBE process more than 3 years ago. If they couldn’t produce such a plan after 3 years, why should we expect them to now produce a plan in just 3 months?

Which leaves two options. Staff (both in TransLink and City) will waste hundreds of hours developing a new UBE plan which will never be approved by the City because it simply isn’t possible to plan and fund a project costing well over half billion dollar by March. Or City Council will drop the demand for Front Street mitigation as part of the UBE, approve a new UBE design and the flood gates will be opened with nowhere for the traffic to go. Which is it going to be?

But let’s talk about the realities of the entire NFPR and its funding. What will it cost and how will it be funded? The project New Westminster is demanding, when all the pieces are put together (UBE, Front Street, Columbia/Front intersection, fixing the Queensborough again) will likely come in well over a billion dollars. If you include a new Pattullo Bridge, we’re talking potentially up to $2 billion. In any projects of such magnitude (and we’re told of strategic importance for goods movement in the eyes of higher levels government) both the Federal and Provincial government would most certainly be at the table.

In the scenario of a billion dollar project, which is what New Westminster council currently demanding, whether they realize it or not, as a condition of approving the UBE, a tiny $65 million contribution by the federal government is meaningless. If council is going to stick to its guns for an all-at-once project, why get worked up about $65m? We’re talking about a much bigger pot that needs to be filled to complete the whole project. Regardless, there is only one taxpayer, whether it’s from the Federal, Provincial or Translink, it’s still our money, and we still pay the bill. The quibble is over which set of politicians get to be the bad guys in having to find the money and which get to be the good guys in cutting the ribbon. They’re playing a game involving their egos and political careers using our money.

But lets say we could come up with funding in the ball park of $2 billion, what are the physical realities of building a 4 lane truck route through New Westminster? In the second part of this article we’ll examine the limitations of building a road through the heart of the oldest City in Western Canada.

MP Fin Donnelly on UBE: piecemeal transportation planning unfair

This is a guest post from New Westminster-Coquitlam & Port Moody MP Fin Donnelly about the controversial United Boulevard Extension project.

Over the past month I have received numerous calls from constituents regarding the proposed United Boulevard Extension (UBE) road project, connecting Coquitlam and New Westminster.

Those from Maillardville argue that this ‘long overdue’ project will allow traffic to flow more freely out of the Brunette corridor in Coquitlam; while Sapperton residents have major concerns that the project will result in increased traffic flowing into New Westminster and the expropriation of residential and industrial land.

Transportation projects like these define communities, they become the ‘face’ of cities; but in the design stage, can be contentious because of the very nature of their impact on neighbourhoods. They also put interests at odds; pitting car driver against transit rider, industrial landowner against homeowner and neighborhood against neighborhood, and in the case of the UBE, Council against Council.

While the process used to shape these projects can be hostile, thankfully people often share the same goal of developing a liveable, sustainable community. However, regardless of where we live or our transportation mode of choice, this goal can be overshadowed when plans are implemented piece-meal.

With the UBE, the Conservative government and Translink have taken a ‘now or never’ approach threatening to pull $65 million in federal funding off the table if the project plan is not approved by December 31st 2010.

By trying to ram this through, New Westminster residents feel they are being denied meaningful consultation without assurance that other important pieces to the overall transportation corridor, like Front Street, which would steer trucks away from residential neighbourhoods, are in place. Neither have they received commitments that these concerns will be resolved before the December 31st deadline.

None of the UBE options proposed by Translink adequately serve the needs of the Sapperton residents. For this reason, New Westminster city council sent Translink back to the drawing board earlier this week.

Projects and processes such as these drive home the point that a meaningful regional transportation plan with real community engagement, adequate timelines and all relevant information, is needed.

It is unfair to expect that we can build a sustainable transportation network piecemeal.

I believe Canada needs a bold, new national transit strategy, one that adopts a far-sighted approach to urban transportation, recognizing the coming shift to a post carbon future. The trick is accommodating current transportation projects, such as the UBE, with this goal in mind.

This strategy would give top priority and funding to projects like the Evergreen Line. If we don’t have convenient, safe, clean, reliable public transit, then commuters will continue to opt for car-oriented road solutions that, at best, temporarily relieve, but eventually worsen congestion.

We must remember that decisions made today around infrastructure spending and priorities will be felt well into the future; so let’s plan, consult and spend wisely.

Fin Donnelly
Member of Parliament
New Westminster-Coquitlam & Port Moody