Stephen Rees's blog

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

Premier Gordon Campbell defends Gateway Program

with 2 comments

Matt Burrows interviews the Premier in the Straight this week. The things this man says “make one gasp and stretch one’s eyes”.

I am also pleased to say that I got in my rebuttal – at the top of the page no less.

Ministry of Transportation documents filed with the Environmental Assessment Office in 2006, and updated in 2007, predict that 176,000 tons of greenhouse gases will be added in the Lower Fraser Valley annually until 2021 as a result of Gateway.

“Well, you’ll have to define what you mean by the Gateway program,” Campbell responded,

No, actually we don’t. We can only use the definitions that the Government themselves have been using. Campbell now adds that Gateway is a transit programme as well. Which will be news to Tom Prendergast at Translink who is so strapped for operating funds that he is now saying that of we do not give him more taxes he will cut transit back to 1970 levels. That’s not any sort of plan – and it is certainly not one that will reduce emissions.

Campbell and Falcon like to talk about a “transit plan” but all it really is is a collection of old plans slightly warmed over that was hastily cobbled together in response to the growing pressure – especially south of the Fraser – for more transit not freeways. The claim is that after the freeway has been expanded then transit can be improved. Of course none of the $14bn this is estimated to cost is funded – and by the way it includes all of the money spent or committed to the Canada line. Both the federal government – and the cash strapped Translink – would have to equal the province’s contribution. Which just brings up back to poor old Mr Prendergast again.

The Gateway will not ease traffic congestion. First of all during the construction phase it will – of course – get much worse. Then when the shiny new facilities are opened there will be a brief period of whoopee. Which quickly evaporates as people start taking more and longer trips. “Induced traffic” has always followed new hiughway openings – and the more “supressed demand” there is now the quicker this effect is seen. The Alex Fraser Bridge is an example I quote because the people who live south of the Fraser are all familiar with it. The free flow of traffic period lasted months – not years – and even opening up the extra lanes on the bridge years before they were supposed to be needed did not help for long.

There are ways to reduce traffic. Indeed the traffic engineers’ toolbox is a concept that has also been around for years. The toughest sell to the driver is the idea that they should actually pay for the road space they use – in exactly the same way they pay for airline seats, or movies or any other perishable commodity. At peak periods, road space should cost the user more. It has a higher value at peak times. That way there is some effect possible of peak spreading – but mostly it provides a revenue source for alternatives – which are inherently more efficient people movers.

Congestion occurs on roads because cars are dreadfully inefficient at utilising road space. That is why there has long been a research porgramme for “intelligent highways” to try and get better at handling crush loads. A 3 metre wide strip – which might be a freeway lane or a bus lane or a railway track – can handle 2,000 vehicles per hour which at present average occupancy of 1.3 persons per car is 2,600 people per hour (pph). That kind of volume is well below what most existing transit (bus or train) provides. Most rapid transit systems work well at 10 to 15, 000 pph but 20 to 30,000 is not unusual. All kinds of fancy technology is proposed – most of which takes control of the vehicle away from its driver – but still at most doubles people carrying capacity. Yes, if you could persuade people to share their cars, you could equal that performance. All we have seen is a steady erosion of what is defined as a “high occupancy vehicle” – and many places in North America have given up altogether and allowed people willing to pay tolls into the HOV lane.

The point though really is that as a long term strategy to reduce greenhouse gases, highway expansion is self defeating. Because it locks the region into car dependency for the next thirty years or more. At the very time when redesigning the suburbs to reduce their carbon footprint is one of the most pressing needs to ensure that humanity can survive on this planet. Because know for certain that the one thing we will NOT see as a result of the Gateway is Transit Oriented Development. Because there will be no transit worth speaking of until all these highways are paid for.

Update – also read what my friend Eric has to say on the Livable Blog

Written by Stephen Rees

April 9, 2009 at 8:43 am

2 Responses

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  1. “Intelligent highways” are a World of Tomorrow pipe dream. Maybe they could pull it off technically for new cars, but what about all those people whose cars don’t even have cruise control? Or the beaters barely running? No one is going to force these people to upgrade to cars that can handle the “intelligent highways,” even if they had the money to do so. Or maybe they intend to simply tell them they can’t drive anymore? And can anyone see a 1984 Honda Civic running alongside the fast moving automated cars in movies like Minority Report? The whole idea is ludicrous!

    A more feasible option would be to link the cars together into a train, put them on low resistance steel wheels, and provide one driver for the whole… thing… oh.

    hmm, I think someone beat me to this great idea – almost 200 years ago!


    April 9, 2009 at 9:27 am

  2. Quote: “Intelligent highways” – sounds like PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) to me, what a joke. Steve’s observations are quite correct.

    During the Millennium Line debate, the late Des Turner got into a heated debate with a so-called transit expert advising BC Transit on LRT. The poor chap was way out of his depth and referred Des to his head office in the USA. After many long distance phone calls to the head office, trying to ascertain the expertise of the outfit to avise on light-rail, all we got was a video on PRT, with the comment that no one was building with light rail anymore and PRT was the way to go!

    15 years later, nothing has changed it seems.

    Oh Steve add 100 years, the Collieries in England since the early 1700’s linked cars together to form ‘trains’ on their ‘tramways’.

    D. M. Johnston

    April 9, 2009 at 10:30 am

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