What now for the Pattullo Bridge?

The Pattullo Bridge needs replacing. Built 80 years ago but designed to last 50 years, it desperately needs replacing. River scour is causing foundation issues. The reinforcing steel is corroding. The concrete is degrading. The lanes are narrow and dangerous. It needs to go.

TransLink has a plan for replacing it, with a new bridge planned to open in 2023. In 2014 New Westminster city council did a road tour around to other councils in Metro Vancouver to push for a four-lane tolled bridge — at the time Surrey wanted a six-lane bridge. Surrey agreed that a four-lane bridge would do, as long as it could be easily expanded to six lanes should vehicular traffic volumes dictate it.

In 2016 Surrey, New Westminster, and TransLink agreed that the new Pattullo would be tolled. This is important, as the toll would help to shape traffic patterns (along with the tolls on the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges, and on the future Massey Tunnel replacement bridge) and, more importantly, pay off roughly half of the cost of building the bridge.

And then a couple of days ago the BC Liberals said they’d cap bridge tolls at $500 per year. The BC NDP one-upped them, saying they would completely eliminate tolls.

So what does this mean for the Pattullo Bridge replacement? All of a sudden TransLink has lost about $500 million in toll revenue that they were planning on using to pay off their portion of the construction of the Pattullo Bridge replacement. Where does that money come from? The bridge needs to be replaced, that can’t be put off. But an organization with an operations budget of around $1.6 billion can’t magically pull $500 million out of a hat. Do they have to cut operational funding, which means cuts in service? Do they cut other capital projects they were planning, like the Surrey LRT or the Broadway SkyTrain line? Do they raise fares?

All of a sudden the two largest political parties in BC have thrown this planning into disarray. They’ve shown that not only are they willing to ignore the Mayors Council and TransLink, who have worked hard over the past five years to come up with plans to improve transportation in Metro Vancouver despite a hostile provincial government, they’re also willing to ignore decades of studies in transportation planning that show that congestion charges or mobility pricing, when instituted in conjunction with increases in public transit funding and availability, are the best way to fight congestion. Instead they’ve both gone with populist policies that will only serve to get them elected, and will set the region backwards five to ten years.

The BC Liberals and the BC NDP need to tell New Westminster and Surrey how the new Pattullo Bridge will be paid for, and they need to tell us before we all vote on May 9.

A Stab In The Back

Metro Vancouver has a traffic problem. A year and a half ago we had a referendum that’d put more money into fixing congestion, but it got shot down in a ball of flames. Nonetheless, the region’s mayors pushed on with their ten-year plan to do what they can to improve transportation in Metro Vancouver.

And one of the longer-term components in both funding their plan and actually reducing congestion is mobility pricing.

Use mobility pricing to reduce congestion and overcrowding, improve fairness, and generate revenue for new transportation investment

Currently there are tolls on two bridges in Metro Vancouver: the Golden Ears Bridge (operated by TransLink) and the Port Mann Bridge (operated by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure). This has led to complaints, mostly from people living south of the Fraser River, that they’re unfair. They’ve also led to increased traffic over the free bridges, mostly the Pattullo Bridge between Surrey and New Westminster.

Both the Pattullo Bridge and Massey Tunnel are slated for replacement with tolled bridges, leaving just one crossing of the Fraser toll-free: the Alex Fraser Bridge. This would lead to even worse congestion on the Alex Fraser, and this is why the Mayors’ Council has been pushing for a region-wide mobility pricing scheme. It might not be tolls on every bridge, but it could be some other kind of “pay as you drive” system. Tolling bridges is easier to set up, as it uses infrastructure that’s largely already in place.

So imagine the outroar when the BC Liberals announced that, if they get re-elected in the upcoming provincial election, they would cap tolls at $500 per year. It’s an announcement that reeks of pandering for votes. It’s completely at odds with any sort of region-wide tolling plans the mayors come up with. It’s also expensive, as both bridges are losing money as it is, and now the BC Liberals are suggesting to throw even more money at them. All in the name of getting elected.

And if you were a mayor in Metro Vancouver (except for maybe Lois Jackson) you’d probably be pissed right off at the BC Liberals, who have fought against the mayors at nearly every step in their plan to make transportation in Metro Vancouver a little better. And this plan to cap tolls is at complete odds with the regional transportation plan they’ve been working hard to develop and promote.

So how can you imagine they feel after the BC NDP came out and said they’d scrap tolls entirely?

After all, the BC NDP said that they’d “put the mayors of Metro Vancouver’s transportation framework into action“. He also said “I want to make it absolutely clear to mayors and councils in all corners of B.C. that I will be on their side and not picking fights,” and “the Metro mayors have worked hard to develop a 10-year transportation plan, and New Democrats support their vision.”

Imagine you’re New Westminster mayor Jonathan Cote, a big supporter of the NDP and a proponent of mobility pricing.

Imagine you’re Metro Vancouver chair and Port Coquitlam mayor Greg Moore, who’s been pushing to get something in place by 2022, when the replacements for the Pattullo and Massey are expected to be completed, and has said, “we said mobility pricing, dynamic mobility pricing around the region is the way to go. One version of mobility pricing is tolling all of the various bridges.”

Imagine you’re Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson who said, “We want to see a very clear step to ensure we’re on track to implementing mobility pricing.”

And imagine you’re a mayor and both the BC Liberals and the BC NDP have scuppered your plans for tolling all of the bridges. And suppose the mayors come up with a plan for mobility pricing that doesn’t involve tolling bridges, so it fits the letter of what those two parties came up with but not the spirit. “BUT THEY SAID NO MORE TOLLS” cry the drivers. And the mayors now become former mayors. Mobility pricing is now off the table, politically.

How would you feel? Stabbed in the back?

Living car-free in New Westminster

Since moving to New Westminster from the USA in January 2010, we have not owned a car. “We” is me, my wife, and our now-six year old daughter, who was ten months old when we moved back. We’ve grown up as a family without owning a personal vehicle, and it hasn’t hindered our lives.

How? My wife and I are members of modo, Vancouver’s best (in my opinion) car-sharing option. When we signed up, modo (then The Car Co-op) had two or three cars in New West. Now they have eleven, and we’ve driven all of them.

We use modo for not-quite-daily trips, such as grocery shopping, visiting friends in other cities that are tough to reach by transit, or vacationing. I’ve even used it twice to get home when the SkyTrain had major delays in the evening! modo doesn’t restrict what we do with the vehicle (well, no loose pets, no off-roading) or how far we go, so we’ve used them to go on trips to Clearwater and Tofino, and many places in between. modo even has cargo vans, so when we needed to pick up a new table in Langley, not owning a car was no deterrent.

When our daughter was younger it was a little tougher, as she required a full car seat. We would either go as a family on the bus, with the car seat, to the car, or one of us would go pick up the car first, then bring it home and put the car seat in. Now that our daughter is in a booster seat it’s easier.

With modo we’re freed up from time obligations such as maintenance — they handle that. With modo we’re freed up from monetary obligations such as gas and tolls — every car has a gas card, and every car is equipped with a Treo chip for the Port Mann Bridge. If we clean the car, we get reimbursed. There are a lot of other perks for modo members too.

So what about daily trips? That’s easy: feet and transit. We walk quite a bit.

That’s a map of everywhere I walked in New West in 2014 (sorry Queensborough). Luckily New Westminster is very walkable. To walk to school takes 15 minutes. The nearest grocery store (shockingly not a Save-On Foods) is 10 minutes. The nearest park is 5 minutes, as is the nearest curling club.

And for further-flung trips, we take transit. My wife and I both work in Vancouver, so the vast majority of the time we take the bus and SkyTrain in. New West is fairly well-served with buses, and we have four routes within a ten-minute walking radius, two on streets that border our property. Getting to a SkyTrain station is no problem either, with five to choose from.

So what about the cost of all this? It’s widely said that the cost of owning a car in Metro Vancouver will cost you about $9,000 a year (this varies depending on what type of vehicle you drive, obviously). Our bus passes cost $124 a month (and we get a tax credit for them), and we spend about $50 a year on FareSaver tickets for our daughter, an annual cost of about $3000. With modo you only pay when you use a car, so driving less means paying less (or driving not at all means paying nothing!). Our usage goes from very little to very much. Last month was probably the most we’ve ever spent on modo, with our total bill coming in at about $900. Our average bill is about $300 though, which adds another $3600 to our transportation costs.

That comes to annual transportation costs for our family of about $6600 — let’s be generous and round that up to $7000. That’s a savings of $2000.

And keep in mind that the $9000/year is for one car. In 2009 the average number of light vehicles per household in BC was 1.43, so the average household is actually paying about $13000 for vehicle-based transportation.

Is giving up owning a car for everybody? No. You need to have the right attitude, first and foremost. You need access to decent public transit, and I’m of the firm opinion that you still need access to a vehicle of some sort. New Westminster has decent public transit, and with modo there’s easy access to a wide range of vehicles.

Is giving up owning a second car for everybody? Yes, I think so. I believe that the overwhelming majority of two-car households can easily do away with their second car and replace it with a carsharing option. Is it worth paying insurance on that second car that rarely gets used? And how about the time you spend having it maintained? Wouldn’t it be great to just do away with those costs?

So give it a try. New Westminster is a great city for walking, a great city for transit, and a great city to try out carsharing.

What now for TransLink?

So the Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite went down in a ball of flames. What now for TransLink? Their CEO said that the upgrades laid out in the Mayors’ Council plan still need to be done, and they’ll get done.

So where is TransLink going to find the money without any new funding sources? After all, by law any new funding source proposals need to be supported by a majority of electors in the region.

I have two ideas.

First: reduce service in municipalities based on their ‘no’ vote proportion. We’re going to mark on a curve here, so Bowen Island Municipality gets no service cuts, as they had the lowest ‘no’ vote proportion at 38.08%. Of the larger cities, Vancouver has its service cut by 12.73% (50.81% voted no, and 50.81 – 38.08 = 12.73), New Westminster gets cut by 16.47%, Surrey by 27.46%, the City of Langley by 34.21%, Richmond by 34.31%, and Langley Township by 36.89%.

Overall, the region should get its service cut by 23.6%. I’m going to use Jordan Bateman math here and say that 23.6% of TransLink’s $1.5 billion budget is about $350 million per year, which is more than enough to fund the Mayors’ Council plans.

(Of course it doesn’t really work that way as cutting 1% of service doesn’t necessarily correspond to saving 1% of budget, but we’re using Jordan Bateman math here — it doesn’t have to be right to make the news.)

My second idea is to abandon the Pattullo Bridge. No, I’m not saying turn it over to the province. I’m saying remove it from TransLink’s jurisdiction altogether by tearing it down and not replacing it. No more $100 million repairs, no more costly studies on what to replace it with, no more South-of-the-Fraser drivers complaining about yet another toll on a bridge. Bring it down and leave it down.

If you really want a car crossing there, buy back the Albion Ferries and bring back the K de K ferry linking Brownsville and New Westminster.

Problem solved. You’re welcome.

Eight thoughts on the transit referendum results

  1. Welp.

  2. Thanks Christy Clark for your stunning display of leadership.

  3. Congrats to the ‘no’ side for winning! But the joke’s on you: nobody wins.

  4. Hello to higher property taxes!

  5. Property near SkyTrain stations just got more valuable.

  6. Time to buy stock in Metro Vancouver road-building companies, car dealerships, and auto mechanics.

  7. Chilliwack people? Hey how do you like that smog that we keep blowing your way? HAVE FUN NOW, SUCKERS!

  8. I’m still glad I voted ‘yes’, and would proudly do so again.

Down with the parkade!

For some reason New Westminster’s Front Street Parkade is back in the news. It appears that some people missed the years and years of public debate and consultation about the parkade’s removal and think that now’s the time to re-open that debate.

It isn’t.

The parkade is still a waste of money. The parking isn’t needed. It turns Front Street into a noisy, fume-laden disaster of a road. Visiting businesses on Front Street is, well, something nobody does. You don’t go for a stroll down Front Street like you would down any other street in New Westminster.

And now people want to save it? Hogwash.

Sure, turn it into a park. That sounds like a grand idea. A park that celebrates the disaster fifty feet below. A park commemorating the failed businesses of Front Street, perhaps. A park reminiscing about what Front Street could have been, if only the parkade had been torn down.

No. This nonsense has gone on long enough. Down with the parkade!

Referendum Facts: The Pattullo Bridge

No matter what happens in the upcoming Metro Vancouver transportation referendum, the Pattullo Bridge will be replaced, and it will be tolled.

The Pattullo Bridge went into service in 1937. It was constructed to the standards of the time, which means that today it is too narrow, it’s dangerous, and if an earthquake hits it’s coming down. It’s so dangerous that TransLink closes the central two lanes at night to prevent head-on collisions. Cycling or walking over the bridge is nearly unheard of.

In short, it’s a bridge in dire need of replacement. It will be replaced.

And tolls? In 2008 TransLink announced its replacement would be tolled. That was six years before any hint of a referendum. Tolling the replacement Pattullo is a foregone conclusion. At current traffic levels, a $3 toll would pay off a $900 million bridge in about 30 years, so the tolls would eventually be dropped.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why voting ‘yes’ in the referendum is important for the areas around the Pattullo Bridge:

1) The 0.5% PST increase will fund its replacement.

2) Along with the big capital projects, bus and SkyTrain service will be improved. This means that transit in Surrey, Langley, Delta, and New Westminster will become more attractive, shifting some driving commuters to transit commuters. This will help to slow the increase in congestion around the Pattullo Bridge.

3) The LRT lines in Surrey and Langley will also help shift people away from cars to transit, as connections with SkyTrain from Surrey to New Westminster, Burnaby, and Vancouver will be easier for commuters to make. This will also help to slow the increase in congestion around the Pattullo Bridge.

And here’s what voting ‘no’ in the referendum will result in, around the Pattullo Bridge:

1) Property tax increases will fund its replacement.

2) Because bus and SkyTrain service is not improved, traffic around the Pattullo Bridge will get worse at a greater rate. In fact, keeping funding levels steady means that bus and SkyTrain service could get worse, as operational costs increase. This could shift transit commuters into cars.

Voting ‘no’ means you get a new Pattullo Bridge, have to pay tolls on it, and traffic gets worse.

Voting ‘yes’ means you get a new Pattullo Bridge, have to pay tolls on it, and traffic gets better. And with improved bus and SkyTrain service (and the Surrey/Langley LRT lines) you might decide to take transit and skip paying the tolls altogether.

Vote ‘yes’, not only for a new Pattullo, but for improved bus and SkyTrain service in Surrey, Delta, and New Westminster, and for less congestion over the Pattullo.

New Westminster Police Department steps up traffic enforcement

During his 2014 campaign, New Westminster Mayor Jonathan X. Cote promised to “target regular and consistent traffic enforcement to discourage drivers from cutting through local neighbourhoods.” Three days into his term, the effects of this promise were displayed as members of the New Westminster Police Department descended upon the Queens Park neighbourhood to apprehend a driver suspected of ‘rat-running’.

The above picture is courtesy Patrick O’Connor on Twitter, who also reported that a police helicopter was calling out with a bullhorn, warning the public to watch for a suspect on foot.

The truck was abandoned at the intersection of 2nd Street and 4th Avenue, along a common route taken by drivers trying to get onto the busy Pattullo Bridge, instead of sticking to the main arterial routes. The Queens Park neighbourhood is popular for these ‘rat-runners’, with some traffic calming measures already in place. 2nd Street has no speed humps or other measures, making it an ideal street for rat-running. Unluckily for the driver of this truck, this also makes it an ideal location for NWPD enforcement.

This police action is surely the first step towards stopping commuters from using New Westminster neighbourhoods as thoroughfares. Future actions will include deployment of spike strips and increased use of the PIT maneuver.