Monday, September 15, 2008

Get Moving BC

Get Moving BC was able to get on the front pages of The Province and Sun today. The headline: Metro Vancouver Lags in Bridges. You can download the full report from their website.

The report tries to compare the amount of bridge lanes in Metro Vancouver to other cities in western Canada and comes to the conclusion that we lag far behind. Unfortunately, this report is not really comparing apples to apples.

The Fraser River, because it is a federal waterway, needs to have high-level bridges for navigation. These bridges, if the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges are any indication, cost about a billion dollars a piece to build.

The report uses Portland, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon as comparisons to Metro Vancouver. While I can’t speak to Winnipeg or Saskatoon, I’ve lived in Calgary and traveled extensively in Portland and Edmonton. What I can tell you about Calgary and Edmonton is that all of their bridges are low-level bridges that are an order of magnitude less to build (the exception is the High Level Bridge in Edmonton which is a Streetcar/Road/Cycling Bridge.) Also, both the Bow River and North Saskatchewan River are nowhere near the width of the Fraser River. Low-level bridge with small spans = relatively cheap to build.

The real comparison should be made to Portland, and if we are talking apples to apples, it would be Portland's two Columbia River bridges. Portland’s version of the Port Mann is called the Interstate Bridge. They are in the processes of planning for the replacement of that bridge. You can check out the Columbia River Crossing website for more information. The really exciting thing about that bridge replacement project is that is will include variable tolling, cycling, walk, and light rail that will be built at the same time as the bridge, allowing people from Vancouver, WA to take light rail all the way into downtown Portland. (This is not happening in BC.) That’s the right way to be building bridges in this day and age. I would also like to point out that the low-level bridges in downtown Portland are currently being expanded to handle streetcars. You can check out Metro Portland’s regional government website for more information.

Anyway, Get Moving BC’s top action items are as followed:

-Fast Track the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge: The twinned Port Mann Bridge will be part of the Rapid Bus network which will link to and extend the reach of the region’s expanding SkyTrain system.

-Fast Track the replacement of the Deadly Pattullo Bridge: The accident-prone Pattullo Bridge was opened in 1937 and it fails to meet the present-day standards for a four lane roadway.

-Construct the Tree Island Bridge: To provide Alex Fraser Bridge traffic with a direct route to Marine Way in Burnaby and reduce pressure on the Queensborough Bridge and its northern approaches.

-Construct the Stormont Connector: A cut-and-cover route through New Westminster and Burnaby connecting the Pattullo Bridge directly with Highway 1.

-Replace the George Massey Tunnel with a new eight-lane bridge: the Massey Tunnel represents one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the Lower Mainland.

-Construct an entirely new eight-lane Fraser River crossing between the Port Mann and Pattullo bridges: Connecting the King George Highway and the South Fraser Perimeter Road in Surrey to Highway 1 and the Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam.

-Begin planning for a new eight-lane crossing between Vancouver and Richmond.

That is probably way over $5 billion dollars in urban freeway/road projects, and it does very little to help the over 80% of trips that stay within the South Fraser. The second part of Get Moving BC’s report talks about traffic congestion.
He also said he was “really impressed” by the generous paved shoulders on both sides of most of Portland’s highways and freeways and the fact that there were usually a minimum of three lanes in each direction, with more lanes, sometimes up to five lanes, at on and off ramps. Portland’s on and off ramps, he said, also tended to be long and smooth and extended for a considerable distance (often with two full lanes available), which stands in stark contrast to the dangerously short stretches of road allocated for merging on and off of the Trans Canada Highway. “Now that’s infrastructure,” he wrote in one email with reference to Portland.
Now traffic congestion is a real concern and dangerous infrastructure like the Pattullo Bridge needs to be replaced, but we know the following: gas is going up in price, 30% of green house causing gases come from transportation, people are looking for alternatives to the auto, cities are trying to building around people and transit. A far more reasonable approach would be to build transportation alternatives out in the South Fraser which currently don't exist. Restore the Interurban, build light rail on King George Highway and 104th Avenue, build streetcars, build complete roads, and implement congestion tolling. After doing all that, let's revisit the new bridges question.

As Premier Gordon Campbell said when he was Mayor of Vancouver, “You can’t build your way out of congestion.” But, you sure can do things to provide people alternatives to congestion. You can't expect people to take transit if the service sucks... building more bridge lanes into Vancouver doesn't get people into transit and doesn't help the over 80% of trips that stay within the South Fraser.


Unknown said...

Great post! I was wondering what you guys would have to say about this.

My discussion with Mom after reading it in the Sun (we don't have the Province) was that the Ironworkers Memorial actually handles MORE volume than the Port Mann, according to this report, but in 6 lanes PLUS sidewalks on each side for pedestrials and cyclists, AND busses run back and forth all day long with frequent peak service. The Port Mann is poorly designed whereas Ironworkers Memorial is straight; the only tricky parts are knowing how to handle getting on at the south end from Main St south and where to exit on the north end. Like the Port Mann, it isn't congested on the bridge, it's congested on approach... but only during rush hour and if you go early enough it's no problem. (I can't speak for people coming from Lynn Valley.)

The report also ignores density and area, focussing only on population and traffic.

Andrew Eisenberg said...

Thanks Nathan for a great analysis of GMBC's report.

Another thing that you don't mention as a difference between Calgary's and Metro Vancouer's bridges is that Calgary's river goes through (or near) downtown. Perhaps a better comparison would be comparing Calgary's bridges to Vancouvers 3 downtown bridges.