Stephen Rees's blog

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

Vancouver port may be left waiting for its ships to come in

with one comment

Last week I got a phone call from Pete McMartin at the Sun. Some time ago he had receieved an email from someone who has been reading this blog and also heard me speak at various anti-Gateway gatherings and suggested there was a story here he could cover.

The result is this article to-day and two more to follow later this week. There is nothing here that regular readers have not seen already – and he cites many of the resources that I have been quoting. But he has also been talking to Stu Ramsey and, of course, the Gateway proponents as well. But I do not think I am trumping his punch line if I tell you what we talked about at the end of the conversation – which had been interrupted  more than once and had to be re-started each time. I was impressed by the time he was devoting to the issue and the questions he was asking. I told him truthfully that I read his column every time it appears. I was, for example genuinely impressed by the column he wrote for Valentine’s Day (after our conversation) which dealt with that fluffy subject in a very constructive way. I told him I thought he was not only a good writer, but that he was getting better.

This provoked, of course, a surprised response, so I explained that he seemed to have abandoned his “Tim the Tool Man” persona – the redneck from the burbs who drives everywhere. He said his point was that people who do not live in Vancouver need to be given some real choice in terms of travel. Which of course is precisely the main point about Gateway. If we blow the budget on freeways there is not much left for transit expansion – which anyway will come after the roads are built and the sprawl that goes with them.

So I am very hopeful about the next two articles. The port expansion was always a risky bet. Even if the Panama Canal expansion and the opening of an arctic seaway were not on the cards, the prospect of continued container traffic growth was based on unrealistic expectations. The US economy could not indefinitely be run on deficits. Trade could not forever grow based on increasing US  consumer demand fuelled by real estate speculation. The whole enterprise assumed that there would be no effective competition for trade from US ports – when in reality they already had increasing spare capacity due to over construction of new terminal facilities.

I also take the view that the BC Liberal government knew that. The port expansion was merely a ruse – just as the Olympics are – to justify yet more real estate expansion based on low density suburban development. Which is the preferred method of making money for many of their most influential supporters. “Follow the money” as Deep Throat said. The Sea to Sky expansion was about housing development in Squamish – and other sites along the route. The South Fraser Perimeter Road is about changing land use in North Delta. The Highway 1 expansion is not about traffic congestion on the Port Mann but about yet more single family homes and big box stores all over the valley.

Kevin Falcon likes to assert that “the development will happen anyway” but he knows as well as anyone else that in real estate, location is what matters. And it is not just where the development occurs (preferably, for him, on land his friends already own or know how to scoop up ahead of the bulldozers starting work) but also what kind of development. Because you do not get high density transit oriented development if there is no transit.

The timing of these articles is also fortituitous. Because there is an election coming up – and because a lot of people who would normally vote Liberal are getting very worried. The recession is the big picture background, in the foreground is the Olympics and its massive cost overruns. The False Creek Athlete’s Village fiasco has made a huge impression. And there are many places where doubts about development – and that includes P3 hydro projects, waste disposal, salmon farms, oil and gas drilling – the list gets longer by the day – where it seems the developers are the only people who get the ear of government. Many communities are apalled by their experience of the “streamlined” processes produced by Mr Falcon in his previous post, as their concerns  even when they can be voiced are so blatantly ignored.  And the power lines in Pete’s home town are just one of a number of egregious examples.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 17, 2009 at 10:44 am

Posted in Gateway

One Response

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  1. This bodes well, when reporters look past the ‘deadline’. Gateway, like all transportation projects are done without any look “3 minutes into the future”.

    Gateway is a 1950’s ‘rubber on asphalt’ solution for the 21st century and the 10 lane mega bridge may ease congestion – only for a short while, what then?

    Lest we forget that the Alex Fraser Bridge was at capacity a good 10 years before planners thought it would.

    Now with Campbell spending money like a drunken Premier on deficit busting make-work highway & SkyTrain mega projects, there will be no coherent transportation plan for the next two decades.

    Malcolm J.

    February 17, 2009 at 3:36 pm

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