What’s Coming to New West Council on April 12, 2021

New Westminster City Council is having a Regular Meeting on April 12, 2021, and here’s some of what’s on the agenda.

Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project – Multi-Use Pathways

The Pattullo Bridge is being replaced. Originally the replacement project was being done by TransLink, and the design they had included multi-use paths that weren’t a complete spaghetti circuit, as if they actually cared about providing half-way decent cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Then the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure took over the project, and since the provincial government sees cycling as a complete afterthought, they redesigned the multi-use paths to have them wind all over God’s green earth (or at least the part around the Pattullo Bridge).

Especially stupid was the decision to leave the corner of Columbia Street and McBride Boulevard alone, when that’s the absolute shittiest corner in New Westminster for people who aren’t riding around in armoured couches.

Needless to say this wasn’t well-received.

User groups, City staff, and the Sustainable Transportation Task Force expressed significant concerns about the circuitous nature of the MUP network, which included a number of switchbacks to achieve accessible grades on the approaches to grade-separated crossings.

Well, changes have been made and they’re really underwhelming. There’s an added stairway (people with mobility challenges are obviously being told to fuck off and take the long route), a direct connection from the Agnes Greenway to the bridge (okay, that’s good), and a better connection from the Agnes Greenway to Royal Avenue to connect through to Victoria Hill. Columbia and McBride is unchanged for some reason.

But hey, motordom has to take priority over the losers riding bicycles, right?

515 St. George Street: Heritage Revitalization Agreement – Preliminary Report

This is basically serving notice to the Queens Park neighbourhood that they’d better start getting their knickers in a knot because someone wants to build a laneway house that’s HOLY JESUS TWICE AS BIG AS CURRENTLY ALLOWED oh wait it’ll still only be 958 square feet, which is smaller than the townhouse I live in. But knowing Queens Park, this will undoubtedly cause the complete decay of the neighbourhood.

To which I say bring it on!

Council Resolution in Support of the City of New Westminster’s Application under the COVID-19 Restart Funding for Local Governments, Strengthening Communities’ Services Program

The number of homeless people living in New Westminster has risen since the March 2020 Homeless Count, undoubtedly exacerbated by reduced shelter capacity due to physical distancing requirements. The City is working with faith-based and non-profit groups to apply for a $390,000 grant from the federal government for ten projects that will try and help in a few ways:

  • to improve the health and safety of persons who are experiencing homelessness
  • to reduce community concerns about public health and safety in neighbourhoods related to homelessness,
  • to improve coordination related to health and service provision related to homelessness
  • to increase capacity to work with persons who are experiencing homelessness and Indigenous organizations towards culturally-safe and trauma-informed responses.

Let’s all hope the federal government approves this grant application and these groups can get some help to people who desperately need it.

97 Braid Street: Temporary Use Permit Amendment for Food Truck Events

There’s a big parking lot at 97 Braid Street that’s normally used for Royal Columbian Hospital staff and construction workers. During weekends it’s underused, and a Temporary Use Permit was granted in 2020 to allow food trucks to set up shop. The applicant wants to have their TUP amended to allow food trucks to set up shop until the middle of September 2022.

445 Brunette Avenue: Temporary Use Permit for Off-Site Parking During Construction of 100 Braid Street

100 Braid Street is getting a big building built on it and there’s nowhere for construction crews to park. The applicant wants to use a property just down the street for parking.

New Westminster Arena Strategy

New Westminster has two arenas: Queen’s Park Arena and Moody Park Arena. In 2017 some people in the community felt this wasn’t enough and circulated a petition to build a third arena. In 2018 Council directed staff to do a study. In 2021 that study is being presented to Council.

And what does that study say?

  1. Add no new arena capacity during the next five to ten years.
  2. Explore ways to accommodate spring lacrosse in new City sports facilities.
  3. Plan for a new full sized arena sheet to be added to Queen’s Park Arena.
  4. Plan for the future longer term replacement of Moody Park Arena.

The study has a few interesting take-aways:

The long term trends in arena use are all downward in New Westminster, the Metro Vancouver region and the province. The proportion of residents that used ice peaked sometime before 2000 and has declined since then.

The annual tax supported subsidy for both arenas (net of skate shop and concessions) is about $1.7 million. That equates to an hourly subsidy of about $270 for each of the 6300 hours of use. As an example, that means that minor hockey’s 1500 hours of use triggers a subsidy of over $400,000, or a subsidy of almost $1200 for each of its 340 registered players.

If you look into the details around #3 and #4, they are not recommending a third sheet be added to New Westminster’s supply. What they’re actually suggesting is replacing Moody Park Arena with the second sheet at Queen’s Park Arena, because the single dual-sheet facility at Queen’s Park would cost less to operate than the two single-sheet facilities at QPA and MPA. Only after that should the City consider looking to add a third venue back into the Moody Park Arena site.

808 Royal Avenue: Academic Building and Student Housing – Preliminary Report

Douglas College wants to turn two parking lots at the corner of Eighth Street and Royal Avenue into a 16 to 18 storey building to provide academic floor space and student housing.

They’re proposing using Encapsulated Mass Timber Construction for the top 12 storeys, which is not only awesome but also not contemplated by the BC Building Code. But don’t worry! They can use a Building Code Alternative Solution to submit a design that doesn’t meet the prescriptive requirements of the Code, provided that the design meets the minimum level of performance of the Building Code. This has been done in the past, and in New Westminster no less!

I can’t wait to see these parking lots replaced.

102/104 Eighth Avenue and 728 First Street: Official Community Plan Amendment and Rezoning for Infill Townhouses – Preliminary Report

An application has been received that would replace two single-family houses with ten townhouses. The property is kitty-corner to a four-storey mixed-use building, a block away from a shopping mall, and on two bus routes. It’s also small-scale infill to provide slightly less expensive housing for more people; it’s the missing middle that some fantastic people have been saying New Westminster has needed for years now.

I would like to call out one statement by a member of the Land Use and Planning Committee, which reviewed the application before sending it along to Council for consideration:

A member noted that this would put increased development pressure on similar properties in the city.

HOLY BOUNCING JESUS yes we want this to happen to MAKE THINGS MORE AFFORDABLE pay attention here now

What’s more affordable, two houses that are $1.5 million each or ten townhouses that are $800,000?

Why don’t we want more housing that would be less expensive?

This member, whoever they are (my money is on Chuck Puchmayer, he’s said other stupid things like this in the past), needs to not be on the Land Use and Planning Committee.

Motion: Designation of Alcohol-Permitted Spaces

Councillor Patrick Johnstone put forth a motion that would allow adults to responsibly consume alcohol in areas of six neighbourhood parks in New Westminster: Port Royal Park, Grimston Park, Moody Park, Hume Park, Sapperton Park, and Pier Park.

The New Westminster Police Department kind of turns a blind eye to alcohol consumption in parks already, as long as adults are doing so responsibly (and it’s not during a big event, as if those are ever going to happen again THANKS COVID). This motion could potentially make things a little more equitable, as the NWPD would be less inclined to enforce the existing law in a biased way, potentially targeting BIPOC people drinking in parks over white people. I’m not saying that they do, but I’m not saying that they don’t either, and I’m also saying that these sorts of biases exist and allowing for people to make judgement calls like this can lead to biased outcomes, whether or not those people actually believe they’re being biased in the first place.

And letting adults enjoy a beverage responsibly in a park? Sounds like a pretty decent idea. I’m glad that Councillor Johnstone is following in Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West’s footsteps here.

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.

Speed on the Pattullo Bridge

In April 2015 G. Ho Engineering Consultants prepared a report for TransLink titled Pattullo Bridge Road Safety Assessment. In it they examined (amongst other things) speed levels on the Pattullo.

The speed limit on the Pattullo Bridge is 50 km/h, as the bridge is narrow, lacks a barrier between opposing traffic flows, lacks a barrier between the sidewalk and the adjacent traffic lane, and lacks modern crash standards on the parapets (the sides of the bridge that would stop cars from swan diving into the Fraser).

They collected speed data on November 7, 2014, and what they found was fairly alarming. 50% of northbound (Surrey to New Westminster) were travelling over 50 km/h, while nearly 95% of southbound were breaking the speed limit. About 12% of the vehicles were travelling faster than 70 km/h, the critical speed to safely negotiate the curve on the south side of the bridge.

But in the week between November 2 and November 8, over 1600 vehicles were recorded going over 100 km/h. This is faster than the 90 km/h speed limit on parts of the new, five-lane Highway One, on a bridge that’s half the size!

The engineering consultants gave three recommendations for improving the safety on the Pattullo Bridge:

  1. close the middle lanes for 16 hours a day, opening them only for the morning and afternoon peak periods;
  2. install a permanent concrete median barrier and remove one northbound travel lane; or
  3. install a permanent concrete median barrier and remove one lane in each direction.

Options 2 and 3 are non-starters, as neither Surrey nor New Westminster want to deal with horrendous traffic caused by drivers trying to shoehorn into one lane on the bridge.

Of course, the proper fix is to tear down the Pattullo and build a new, safer bridge, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. As this story puts it: “A transit plebiscite that was to secure funding for the replacement had failed earlier this year.” And of course the province isn’t going to do anything about it (yet they can apparently study a bridge to the Sunshine Coast).

If I could be so bold as to offer another safety-improving measure (and I will) that would be photo radar. The Pattullo Bridge is the perfect location for it. Put cameras on the mid-bridge spans and at either end. Have them ticket drivers going faster than 65 km/h. The 1600 people driving faster than 100 km/h would be hit with a $368 fine for excessive speed, netting nearly $600,000 in fines. Over a year, that’s over $30 million!

But realistically that’s a non-starter as well. The Liberal government axed photo radar in BC because for some reason people enjoy breaking the laws of the road and getting away with it, and for some reason the Liberals listened to all of those people whining about getting a ticket in the mail. And that’s a shame, because whining wins out against safety.

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.