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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for September 7th, 2007

The big lies

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The Provincial Government and its allies have been promoting the Gateway program, essentially a series of major road building schemes, saying it is essential for the future prosperity of the region, BC and Canada that the port and airport are not strangled by traffic congestion.

I am indebted to Stuart Ramsey, a Transportation Planner with the City of Burnaby for the following

94% of the Port of Vancouver’s freight moves by rail.  Only 6% moves by truck.  Of that, virtually all is destined within Metro Vancouver.  Only about 0.2% leaves Metro.  As such, the provincial highway system has no significant role in linking the province or country to the Port.  The region’s road network still has a role in intra-regional goods movement.  But the presence of a port in Vancouver does not create additional requirements for long-distance truck traffic, beyond what might be found in any urban centre.

Also today the province released a huge number of documents for the Port Mann Bridge/Highway 1 expansion Environmental Assessment. According to one of these documents

In 2021 the model forecasts that there will be approximately 1% more daily traffic on the Pattullo Bridge and 2% less traffic on the Alex Fraser with the PMH1 project in place as there will be in the 2021 base case (no project) scenario. Within the limitations of traffic forecasting, this effectively represents no change.

The reason for this is that the model is based on  a false assumption, that traffic is simply a function of land use. The number of trips are fixed, it says, and they simply get distributed differently around the network when it is changed. I cannot imagine anyone believing that it is possible to double the size of the region’s major traffic artery and not generate one trip!  The fact that there is congestion in the network now shows that there are suppressed trips. Trips are not being made because people find other things to do than sit in traffic. But if you add to the network a huge increment in capacity, even though you charge a $2.50 toll, the total number of trips in the region will increase, even if there is no change in land use. And every  region that has expanded its highway network has seen this effect, just as every region that has taken sections of highway out has seen traffic volumes decline – which is the same effect in reverse. If we have learned anything at all from our post second world war experience it is that traffic expands and contracts to meet the capacity available.

Whether or not Kevin Falcon or Gordon Campbell understand this is besides the point. The people who have been pushing for the Gateway knew this and the people at the Gateway know this now. The expansion of the highway system is not necessary for the port, and will do nothing to relieve congestion except for a very brief period after opening day. It is not a sensible or a sustainable solution, and its proponents know that.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 7, 2007 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Transportation