Thursday, October 25, 2007

Take a stand, NDP!

As NDP leader Carole James oscillates on twinning the Port Mann, two factions within her party have formed. On the one side, you have the folks who understand the transportation issues facing the south Fraser--NDP MLAs like Bruce Ralston and Jagrup Brar--and support both twinning the bridge and improving transit.

Then you have the folks led by NDP MLA David Chudnovsky who have the NDP Agriculture Committee as members of the Gateway 40 anti-twinning coalition and now has a resolution to the NDP membership to oppose twinning.

Public Eye Online has the story--and my comments.

I can't believe I'm saying it, but I'm cheering for Ralston and Brar. Common sense has to win out here.

Falcon on Gateway

On a day when Kevin Falcon introduced the TransLink revamp legislation in the Legislature, the Minister of Transportation also has a column in the Vancouver Sun. You can almost hear the sound of the anti-Gateway folks gnashing their teeth:
We have a problem in the Lower Mainland. We are facing a rapidly growing population, aging infrastructure and insufficient transit options.

We also face a rapidly changing world. The massive economic growth in Asia affords tremendous opportunities -- if British Columbia is willing to act boldly to capitalize on them.

Congestion in the Lower Mainland is costing our economy up to $1.5 billion every year. It increases travel times for commuters and keeps their vehicles idling in chronic gridlock conditions. Worse, it prevents buses from using the Port Mann corridor due to the impossibility of keeping a schedule with 14-hour-a-day congestion.

The $3-billion Gateway Program is a balanced solution to today's problems. By twinning the Port Mann Bridge and building the new Pitt River Bridge as well as the South Fraser Perimeter Road, we are acting now to reduce congestion, improve the movement of people and goods and provide access to key economic gateways.

Most importantly, the Gateway Project will implement key transit and cycling options that are currently impossible with today's congested conditions and inadequate infrastructure.

When the twinned Port Mann Bridge opens in 2013, bus service will be re-introduced through that corridor for the first time in 20 years. This will be tied in with our recent $180-million announcement of a rapid bus service -- enabled by park and ride facilities along Highway 1 and design features built into the highway that will allow the rapid buses to bypass other traffic. These measures will allow commuters to travel from Langley to Burnaby in just 23 minutes.

Initiatives like this stem from our recognition that getting people out of their cars and onto public transit is key to resolving congestion in the long run. To this end, we have plans to create HOV and transit priority lanes that will encourage commuters to get out of their vehicles and into realistic alternatives. Also important is Victoria's commitment to the largest investment in cycling infrastructure in provincial history: $50 million to create a seamless and safe cycling network from the Fraser Valley to downtown Vancouver.

These investments complement the other major transit infrastructure projects planned or underway in the Lower Mainland. The $1.9-billion Canada Line will take 100,000 people per day out of their cars and onto public transit -- removing 14,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually. It is proceeding ahead of schedule and on budget. The planned Evergreen Line will provide rapid transit to the Tri-Cities. In the coming weeks, government will unveil a bold transportation vision that will see British Columbia become a world leader in transit ridership.

The NDP Opposition says "No" to the Gateway Program. Carole James says it's the "wrong bridge" and the "wrong plan," but is unable to offer commuters any coherent alternative.

Our government recognizes that roads alone are not the answer. Transit alone is not the answer. It will require a balance to build a clean, green and effective transportation system that will provide benefits now and for future generations.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

GMBC in North Shore Outlook

Our very own Sheri Wiens spoke to the North Shore Outlook newspaper on regional bridge issues:
A new report from a transportation advocacy group suggests that commuters who use the Second Narrows and Lions Gate bridges experience less gridlock than many of the commuters on other Lower Mainland bridges.

In their report, A Comparison of Bridge Capacity - Metro Portland Vs. the Lower Mainland, Get Moving B.C. argues traffic congestion could be solved by building more bridges.

They're calling for the government to fast-track the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge, replace the Massey Tunnel with a higher capacity bridge and build a completely new crossing for the Fraser River somewhere west of the Port Mann Bridge. But nowhere in the report do they mention North Shore crossings.

"As much as we would love to address all the bridges I think that you have to pick the top ones that are the most gridlocked and where the population is most growing,"€ said Sheri Wiens, spokesperson for the group. "The North Shore (bridges do) need more lanes. I've gone from downtown to the North Shore many times and I know what it's like."

Traffic has actually decreased on both bridges during the morning commute off the North Shore, according to Translink communications director Ken Hardie.

From 1996 to 2004 inbound morning traffic (from the North Shore to Vancouver) decreased 4.5 per cent. Outbound traffic, however, increased by 9.4 per cent. The numbers are similar for afternoon peak traffic hours: vehicles travelling from the North Shore to Vancouver increased 10.7 per cent while the opposite direction saw an increase of only 0.4 per cent.

"Generally speaking, there'€™s a couple of things that factor in here. The Liveable Region Strategic Plan does not forecast a great increase (in population) on the North Shore. The North Shore isn't designated as a growing area," said Hardie, explaining why more or expanded bridges aren'€™t an option for the North Shore.

However, he adds, Translink will have a third SeaBus in place by 2009 and this should help with existing congestion.

The bridge capacity report backed up the call for improved and additional bridges by comparing the Lower Mainland'€™s road infrastructure to Portland.

That city has a population about half the size of the Lower Mainland and 75 per cent more bridge capacity. Even though the North Shore bridges aren't the cause of the biggest commuter headaches, Wiens said no matter where you are in the Lower Mainland you're going to get stuck in traffic and that's never fun.

"Anybody that commutes doesn'€™t have it great,"€ she said. "It's hard all around."

Get on with it!

The Langley Times reprints an excellent editorial from the Tri-City News:
This is what commuters know:

They know that they pay gas taxes for road and bus improvements they don’t see.

They know they have to get up half an hour earlier to get to work than they did 15 years ago.

They know the freeway was built when the dinosaurs roamed and was inadequate in the 1970s.

They know their car is at the mercy of thousands of trucks packing China-made goods to local stores and beyond.

They know buses are full to bursting during rush hour but disappear like roaches exposed to daylight on weekends and after hours.

What commuters want to know is this:

Why after years of talk, is there no action on any number of badly-needed infrastructure projects.

These include the clogged Port Mann Bridge and the dangerous Pattullo Bridge.

They also include rapid transit to the Tri-Cities. Ditto.

And, finally, this is what commuters know: To quote the punk band DOA, "Talk minus action equals zero."

Hear, hear!

We need both!

Our very own Michael McBratney has a letter in today's Sun explaining why we need a balanced solution to the traffic congestion that is crippling our region:
I strongly disagree with climate change specialist Ian Bruce's assertion that twinning the Port Mann Bridge and expanding Highway 1 are inconsistent with Premier Gordon Campbell's plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The two plans are not on a collision course.

For more than two years, Get Moving BC has been saying that it is not an either/or situation. Clearly, we need both in a balanced transportation system.

Recently, the New Democratic Party began to promote a one-sided "transit-only" plan to address traffic congestion in the Lower Mainland. Unfortunately, neither the NDP nor Bruce is in synch with the public on this issue. For example, 72 per cent of Burnaby residents surveyed in our Get Moving BC poll support Gateway (www.GetMovingBC.com).

The Port Mann Bridge is simply not able to accommodate the demands being placed upon it. Gateway is as essential to catching up with our transportation infrastructure needs as are the Evergreen Line, the Canada Line and light rail options for the Fraser Valley. We need all of them in a balanced transportation system.

The Lower Mainland is desperately behind on all transportation fronts -- roads, bridges and transit. The "transit-only" plan being put forward by Bruce and the NDP is like sticking a Band-Aid on a clogged artery. It won't work.

Queue jumper lanes not enough

In a letter in today's Vancouver Sun, Blair King explains why queue jumper lanes on the Port Mann would not be enough:
As noted by letter writer Eric Doherty, traffic usually flows smoothly on the Port Mann Bridge deck itself; as a consequence, his assertion that building queue-jumper lanes at the westbound approach seems logical. What Doherty has failed to recognize, however, is that Highway 1 is not the only road that gets jammed. During the morning and evening rushes, the northern approach roads to the Port Mann Bridge (96th Avenue, Barnston Drive, 104th Avenue and 108 Avenue) are typically backed up with vehicles trying to get onto or over the highway. Unless Doherty can figure out how to let buses bypass the backups on the roads leading towards the bridge, queue-jumper lanes will not solve the transit-stuck-in-traffic dilemma at the Port Mann.

Blair's right. 96th Avenue, for example, is regularly backed up past 200th with people trying to bypass Highway 1 congestion.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Keith Baldrey on twinning the Port Mann

From the Surrey Now:
What is it about the Port Mann Bridge that arouses such passion, frustration and anger among so many people?

Is it the endless time spent in slow-moving traffic, trying to cross the bridge in either direction as yet another accident grinds movement to a halt?

Or is it the sight of so many vehicles funneling across the river, ready to choke traffic patterns, invade neighbourhoods and spew gas emissions into the air?

Whatever the reason, the bridge has become arguably the biggest political flashpoint in the province right now. The B.C. Liberal government's transportation plan - which features as its centerpiece the twinning of the Port Mann - will dominate most other issues in a key part of the province for many months yet.

As I've written before, nothing seems to get Lower Mainland residents agitated more than ongoing and mounting problems with traffic and transit. I appear weekly on CKNW's Bill Good Show, and no issue can take over our hour-long segment like transportation problems, notably the government's Gateway plan.

Caller after caller - many apparently stuck in traffic on the Port Mann Bridge - demands answers to a situation they say is rapidly deteriorating.

In the political arena, there are at least a dozen ridings where the Port Mann Bridge problem can be a significant issue come the next election. Thousands of commuters on both sides of the Fraser River are also voters, and as debate on transportation priorities heats up, attracting those votes may hinge on providing the right answers.

Which is why right now, Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon is wearing a huge smile and New Democrats are frowning in confusion and despair.

NDP leader Carole James' out-of-the-blue statement that her party is opposed to building another Port Mann bridge may well cost some of her MLAs their jobs and remove any chance the NDP had at winning a few other seats.

Meanwhile, Falcon simply could not get a huge grin off his face when he talked to reporters moments after her policy statement. You can bet the Liberals have done extensive polling that shows where the public is on this issue.

Just what kind of trap James has led her party into became evident a week later when Falcon and Premier Gordon Campbell unveiled a critical part of the planned new Port Mann bridge that has been part of the design all along but which hasn't really received any attention.

Their announcement of dedicated rapid bus lanes, HOV lanes, bus-only on-ramps, and improvements to park-and-ride locations emphasized the green, pro-transit aspect of the bridge plan.

Opponents of the scheme have portrayed a second Port Mann as simply yet another vehicle-choked crossing that would do nothing to improve transit and would serve simply to pollute the air and add to gridlock.

There is no transit crossing the Port Mann right now because it's too crowded and slow. The irony of adding the second bridge is that it gives the critics exactly what they've been demanding - transit at the particular crossing of the Fraser.

James and the NDP either didn't read the fine print of the Gateway plan (the transit part of the twinned Port Mann was part of the tender call that went out months ago) or they did and still made a bad political miscalculation.

Yes, the Port Mann Bridge does indeed arouse passion, frustration and anger.

Evidently, it also causes some politicians to have serious brain cramps once in a while.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Teamsters want bridge twinned

The Surrey Now looks at one traditional NDP faction that has abandoned Carole James over her anti-Port Mann stance: The Teamsters Union.
That didn't sit well with Don McGill, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 213, the union representing many local truck drivers.

He can't believe James turned thumbs down on twinning the bridge. "Don't come knocking on my door come election time. That's all I've got to say to her."

McGill said calling for more trains and buses instead of expanding the freeway won't help his members deliver goods faster. "It's costing the economy of this province tens of millions of dollars to have our trucks sitting in traffic. Every hour they're parked costs $100 and that drives up the cost of goods. I've never seen a bus that can accommodate a dump truck."

Good to see the Teamsters standing up for common sense and a balanced transportation solution for this underserved region.

The Now reinforces what the vast majority of south Fraser residents know: this bridge needs to be twinned:
Opposition leader Carole James was quite clear she opposes twinning the bridge, preferring to delay the project for years to come.

Since James made those comments, her Surrey MLAs have been trying to explain what she really meant to say and the confusion over their position grows.

Delaying the construction of the bridge makes no sense. The NDP's idea of just increasing transit is rhetoric designed to appease voters sipping cappuccino along Commercial Drive.

Anyone who has ever sat in the the parking lot that is the Port Mann understands the need to increase the bridge's capacity.

Anyone who has ever crossed the bridge realizes you can't increase transit service without improving capacity.

The area south of the Fraser River is growing and we need a complete overhaul on the way transportation works, including roads, bridges and transit.

The good news is by the time of the next election, development of twinning the bridge will be too far along for the NDP to stop.

Rapid bus coming to Langley

Great news out of Victoria on the rapid bus line down the twinned Port Mann Bridge. It's not a light rail line, but it's a start. Of interest to Langley commuters (whom I represent as a Township Councillor):
Median on/off ramps for HOVs and express buses in the vicinity of 200th Street to 204th Street in Langley; a transit loop in the vicinity of the 200th Street interchange in Langley; a minimum of 1,000 park-and-ride spaces south of the Fraser River. The express bus service will be connected directly to HOV lanes and will not mix with general traffic, so travel time for the full trip between Langley and Burnaby will be less than 25 minutes – as fast, or faster, than by car.

I wish it would happen sooner, but the new bridge has to be built to get these things across. Capital projects of this magnitude take time--especially when you factor in the public consultative process needed.

I do believe this is a start, but rapid bus transit will never attract a huge percentage of suburban drivers out of their vehicles. It's very simple: drivers in Surrey, Langley, and Abbotsford have been trained by TransLink's Vancouver-Burnaby power axis to drive everywhere. By holding out proper transit service from the south Fraser region, entire generations have grown up with no choice but to drive. To get large numbers of them out of their cars will take an attractive, modern, high-end light rail solution that goes where they want to go.

We know that the vast majority of south Fraser trips are within the south Fraser region. While this line will help in some ways, it's just a small step toward the overall solution in Surrey and Langley--a light rail line. I do believe this could be a helpful northern portion of my 200th Street light rail loop idea--rapid bus to the north Fraser to 200th, a light rail line down to Willowbrook and turning west along the Surrey portion of the interurban line. It would give commuters connection to both the rapid bus and SkyTrain. A future extension of the 200th line across the Golden Ears Bridge to the West Coast Express would another transportation choice for the south Fraser.

I've been away, but I suspect Mary Polak took some flak for her comments to the Times that there isn't enough density in the Valley for rapid transit yet. I believe there is enough continuous density (present and planned) along 200th and the Surrey Interurban line to support light rail. There is also enough in Abbotsford proper. The big problem is the sea of farmland between west Langley and Abby (We are "cities in a sea of green," as the Vancouver planners always put it). Putting light rail through there is going to cause a lot of ALR speculation and pressure (in fact, one VALTAC member I spoke with told me that the ALR land along the Interurban should be taken out and used for a series of 12-20 storey residential buildings. I can't support that--and I don't know who could).

Anyway, let's get light rail in west Langley and Surrey sorted out first, then add another loop into Abbotsford, and further in Chilliwack.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

GET MOVING BC CALLS ON PROVINCE TO ACCELERATE TWINNING OF PORT MANN BRIDGE

Get Moving BC is calling on the Province to accelerate the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge following yesterday’s rapid bus announcement.

Committing to a viable transit component for the Port Mann Bridge was the last piece in solving the traffic congestion puzzle. The rapid bus service will provide “reliable, fast, frequent bus service” between Burnaby, Coquitlam, Surrey and Langley, with connecting buses to Abbotsford and communities north of the Fraser River via the new Golden Ears Bridge.

“We’re really pleased the Premier clarified this aspect of the bridge twinning project,” said Get Moving BC Spokesperson Mike McBratney, a resident of Burnaby. “Now it’s time to complete the story and announce that they’ll fast track the entire bridge twinning project and help get Lower Mainlanders out of traffic gridlock sooner.”

McBratney says accelerating the Port Mann Bridge twinning project is an essential part of the transportation “catch up” process that’s currently underway in the Lower Mainland. The existing Port Mann Bridge is simply not capable of accommodating all the demands being placed upon it. McBratney says critics of the project have to accept the very simple fact that the Lower Mainland is desperately behind on all transportation fronts: roads, bridges and transit.

“Twinning the Port Mann Bridge is as essential to catching up with our transportation needs as the Evergreen Line, the Canada Line and light rail options for the Fraser Valley,” said McBratney. “We need all of them in a balanced transportation system, and we need to act quickly before we hit ‘Total Gridlock’ here in the Lower Mainland.”