Stephen Rees's blog

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

The Price We Pay for a Free Society

with 10 comments

This is an opinion piece which appears in the print edition of the Richmond Review today. I am also going to copy this to Tom Fletcher by email. Because it annoys me so much.

He wrote, in reference to the Langford tree sit:

“The merits of this protest are similar to the fizzled furor over Eaglreidge Bluffs, the first stage of the Sea-to-Sky Highway upgrade, which is to say not much.”

Now I am going to set aside the Langford case as I less familiar with it, although it does appear on the face of the evidence that there is reason to be concerned about the process, if not the merits of the outcome. But in the case of Eagleridge Bluffs I feel on firmer ground.

The Sea-to-Sky “upgrade” was never necessary. It was “sold” on the false notion that it was needed for the two weeks of the Winter Olympics, which in and of itself requires a suspension of disbelief. But we also know that the rail option was deliberately scuttled. A plan had been worked out to borrow commuter trains to transport visitors, but that would have got in the way of the sale of BC Rail. Which, of course, was in itself a process that went badly astray – with one of the bidders pulling out in disgust. The province insisted on adding a completely unnecessary rail tunnel to connect BC Rail into downtown Vancouver (under the Burrard Inlet), to make the rail option too expensive.

Once the Sea-to-Sky got going, both the Municipality of West Vancouver and the owner of land overlooking the bluffs offered to help with the construction of a short road tunnel diagonally under the headland. It would have been cheaper, shorter and faster to construct than the open cut around the headland, and allowed the preservation of a unique Garry Oak habitat – the last on the Lower Mainland. Given that much of the justification for the “upgrade” was the dreadful safety record of the existing road, a tunnel would also have been much safer than the alignment that has now been built, so again the question of why it had to be built that way has never been answered.

The protest was more than anything about frustration about a process that was so obviously skewed from the outset. No proper evaluation was ever done. And no-one even tried deal with the perfectly reasonable suggestions and offers made by people concerned about a very sensitive site. The property owners were simply shown the door. West Vancouver even offered municipal land for free for the tunnel portal. Nothing doing.

Of course, we now know that what Kevin Falcon was really doing was listening to property developers, in Squamish and elsewhere, who can use the upgrade as a way to shift yet more high priced new development. Never in any regional plan in Greater Vancouver or Squamish Lillooet was commuting long distances by highway to jobs in Vancouver suggested as a good way to go. Quite the opposite. Nor was the option of enforcing speed limits on the old road, since nearly all the collisions could be attributed in whole or in part to excessive speeds.

Now if there had been a fair and open process, if questions asked had been answered, if sensible policies had been pursued, perhaps the protests might have been avoided. But what happened to the process of public consultation in this province when the Liberals changed the rules made us one of the worst administrations in this field in North America. You may think that this did not merit a protest. I think you are wrong. And I also think that if you spent a bit of time researching the background to this protest you might have come to a different, and more balanced, opinion.

The people of this region are getting increasingly disturbed by the way that development is being handled. And the John Les case is merely the tip of the iceberg.

UPDATE April 6  I have now added a link to the original piece. I have not to date seen any response from Tom Fletcher

Written by Stephen Rees

April 3, 2008 at 5:49 pm

10 Responses

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  1. its what I have been saying –lies,liars,and damn liars- the same thing is happening with run of river power-THERE IS NO POWER SHORTAGE — its a fraud under the guise of (new needed power) watch out bill 15 is going through legislature right now. what bill 15 does .it makes bcuc by law have to comply with the bc energy act!–it forces bc hydro to buy power from renewable resources, but since bc hydro has been ,by law prohibited to produce any new power,it has to buy from independent power projects–therefor the EA is not nesscary! and it also ties the hands of the bcuc( british columbia utilities commission) one more thing in this bill is——900million dollars for smart meters to be installed in every residence in bc—–what a joke ! does anyone need a indoor meter to tell you that when washer and dryer are both running ,the meter will spin faster then when it is turned off ! pheesh,yikes. just call me gomer signed…………………………………………………I see the light

    grant g

    April 3, 2008 at 6:20 pm

  2. The bit that doesn’t work for me here is that you are claiming that the tunnel option was not considered by Falcon because Falcon was listening to property developers instead of “the people”. But why would Squamish property developers be in favour of a cut over a tunnel? I’m not saying Falcon did not ignore the wishes of many people, but I doubt his reasons for doing so are the ones you claim.

    Mark Allerton

    April 3, 2008 at 6:23 pm

  3. duh—the tunnel was for the rail under burrard inlet! which would have meant no new road- mark wake up! by the way, the cost of the NEW sea to sky highway and maintenance –price to bc residents 3.67 billion dollars -thats to the end of the service contract 25 years!

    grant g

    April 3, 2008 at 7:09 pm

  4. Grant, sorry, but you’re wrong. The tunnel I am referring to is the one that Stephen mentions in the following sentence: “both the Municipality of West Vancouver and the owner of land overlooking the bluffs offered to help with the construction of a tunnel”. This is pretty clearly talking about road tunnel under the bluffs. Cheers.

    Mark Allerton

    April 3, 2008 at 8:59 pm

  5. There are two issues.

    1. Why a highway “improvement”? Answer – forget the Olympics, its about property development. And anyway we want to sell the railway even though it is making us a profit. And we promised we wouldn’t. So that makes no sense

    2. Why not build a tunnel under Eagleridge bluffs? Answer – I have no idea. The tunnel would have been a better solution once you have decided to build a highway. That makes no sense either.

    Either one merits a protest in my book

    Stephen Rees

    April 3, 2008 at 9:37 pm

  6. I didn’t pay much attention to the protests re: eagleridge bluffs at the time. Over time, I’m starting to discover it’s importance – I hadn’t known even that what ‘red listed’ meant, much less that it was a red listed eco system. I’ve discovered this in the online world, not mainstream media. If Tom doesn’t get the importance of this … I guess that’s why more and more people seek better sources for information and thoughtful commentary.

  7. While real estate developers north of Horseshoe Bay likely did not care whether the government opted for the tunnel or the overland route, one must consider the development potential of the land above the Bluffs in West Vancouver that British Pacific Properties (BPP) owns. This relatively flat area of land above the Bluffs is perched high above steep cliffs that separate it from Horseshoe Bay and Gleneagles. It has a lake, several beautiful creeks, designated parkland, old growth forests and sweeping views of the islands and the sea beyond. Real estate development potential is in the range of 1,200 – 1,800 homes (far in excess of most other smaller developments up the corridor). Lot values alone would be in excess of $1 million each.

    Access to this land would have been near impossible without an exit ramp at Eagleridge Bluffs as rock cliffs rim the area from Nelson Creek well past Horseshoe Bay. To complicate things further, Eagleridge Bluffs butts up to the western edge of Nelson Creek park , thereby limiting access from the east. The only viable option would have been a long access road from Cypress Park estates north of Caulfeild through British Pacific Property (BPP) land. The road would have had to climb in elevation fairly significantly in order to skirt the north end of Nelson Creek park.

    A tunnel would have removed any chance of BPP developing this little nugget until the sprawl that they began in the British Properties so many years ago finally found its way to the Western edge of the District (and to the end of their substantive real estate holdings in West Van). While BPP would deny wishing to see the highway bisect the land they own above the Bluffs, having an off ramp at the new exchange at Eagleridge certainly improves access to these lands, will cost them far less to develop, and allows them to move time lines for developing this area up to present day.

    It should also be mentioned that a number of very influential real estate agents in West Vancouver lobbied hard to avoid a tunnel entrance near Caulfeild plateau as they believed it would devalue their properties.

    Mary Lawlor

    April 4, 2008 at 9:14 pm

  8. My wife’s cousin is a town councillor in Whistler. Too numerous are the times we’ve discussed the vast potential for commuter rail passenger service to Whistler via Squamish, and it’s potential to stimulate transit oriented development instead of automobile sprawl. The effort and money to build a 2 km spur line from the existing Whistler Station (currently at the western edge of town) to the village, and provide decent stations and signals all the way to North Vancouver, would have costed a fraction of the price of the Sea to Sky highway project. What a shame.


    April 7, 2008 at 2:07 pm

  9. The shame was the way the process was distorted. No one looked at the long term issues. The work done on trains to Whistler was just for the Olympic spectators, nothing more. I am not aware of any assessment of the relative cost and benefits of rail vs highway for the long term. The railway option was simply sunk – so that the sale of BC Rail (which was still at that time expected to be retained int he public sector based on the promises of Gordon Campbell and NOT sold) could proceed.

    Equally, the highway “improvement” was said to be essential on safety grounds – but no assessment was done of alternative methods of reducing collisions other than a plan to speed up traffic by widening and straightening.

    It could also be said that the man in charge of Vancouver/Whistler bid and now its implementation was himself a developer – but that of course is purely coincidence.

    Stephen Rees

    April 7, 2008 at 2:25 pm

  10. My discussions with the councillor began in the days of BC Rail and in part predate the O bid. It was only a reflection of the comically obvious potential of that one rail line. Swiss tourists probably laugh heartedly at our expense considering their experience with impeccable mountain railways … but are also probably crying about their severe loss of snow accumulation lately. [The latest estimates have the majority of glaciers disappearing in the Alps by 2040 at the current melt rate.]

    I wonder how much of the BC Rail / CN deal will come out in court?


    April 8, 2008 at 1:38 pm

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