Stephen Rees's blog

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

What to do about the Patullo Bridge

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Translink has opened up another round of consultations. The CBC story is headlined “Pattullo Bridge replacement options rolled out by TransLink” but that in itself tends to concentrate on the replacement options when there are several that retain the bridge but in different configurations. Consider combinations of the following options:

  • Remove the bridge.
  • Rehabilitate the bridge for bikes and pedestrians only.
  • Rehabilitate it as a two-, three- or four-lane bridge.
  • Replacing it with a two-, four- or eight-lane bridge.
  • Replacing it with a four-lane tunnel.
  • Building a new crossing up to six-lanes, upriver at Sapperton Bar.
  • Building a new four-lane bridge downriver at Tree Island.

There is plenty of information at Translink’s web site and also a specific website for the current consultation which is being conducted jointly by Translink and the cities of New Westminster and Surrey. Open houses start on Thursday and run until Saturday June 15.

How you feel about this will be determined largely by where you live and how you travel. If you live in New Westminster you ought by now to have read more about the Fix It solution preferred by NWimby. Actually you should read that even of you don’t live in New West – or ever use the bridge.

UPDATE   The Georgia Straight has a useful summary  of municipal politicians’ opinions – and others

My own preferences are based on more generalized issues. I do not as a rule have to use the bridge and cannot recall the last time I drove over it. This is about the best image I have of it on my flickr stream – and it is playing second fiddle to SkyBridge

New Westminster Fraser Bridges aerial

I think Translink should look at the options which work best to reduce through traffic in New Westminster. The North Fraser Perimeter Road has already been abandoned for precisely that reason. Translink also needs to review its performance to date in adding a major new river crossings. The Golden Ears Bridge was supposed to pay for itself through tolls, and hasn’t. It has become a financial millstone around the authority’s neck and has compromised its ability to expand transit service – which I take to be of prime importance.

We should distrust any predictions for future travel across the existing or proposed replacements that are based on the current regional transportation model. It has a fixed trip matrix, which assumes that future land uses are an exogenous variable with no interaction between the transportation network and land use: this is wildly unrealistic. Future trip making is very unlikely to be a continuation of present trends. Typically to do a forty year projection, modellers have essentially extended the growth trend of the last forty years. Given the shifts in demand away from cars that we have seen since 2008, expecting the previous trend to continue when we have passed the “peak car” tipping point is foolish and misguided. To some extent, the choice of transportation infrastructure does indeed determine trip making. You cannot expect Transit Oriented Development to work if there is no transit (or not nearly enough) and you cannot expect anything but auto-oriented development if you expand the road network.

The massive increase in capacity along Highway #1 and over the Port Mann Bridge cannot be ignored. Neither can the impact of the provincial tolling policy which effectively designates the Patullo as the free alternative. Neither the Patullo nor the Alex Fraser have any spare capacity at peak periods.

That is due to the second major principle. Traffic expands and contracts to fill the space available. If more crossing capacity is built as part of this project it will fill up quickly – but that can be moderated by tolling. Tolling at present is required to be a funding mechanism for new build infrastructure only. That policy is ill thought out, unworkable and needs to be reviewed. Road pricing is needed, but can only be implemented on a region wide basis if it is to be equitable and effective. It cannot be considered in isolation for one crossing without disastrous impacts elsewhere.

I reject the idea of new crossings as unfundable. It does not matter how many, or where, none of them will pay for themselves, any or all of them will generate more traffic (“induced demand”) and impact land use in a wide swathe around to further promote sprawl. Any of them will reduce Translink’s ability to achieve its stated long term objectives (see Transport 2040) for mode use.

Safety was a concern on Patullo until recent changes reduced the worst risks. The policies adopted for the refurbishment of the Lion’s Gate bridge will work here too. But once again, more attention needs to be given to integration with other modes in the area fed by the bridge than was the case there.

In particular the Tree Island Bridge is by no means a new idea. It is one that the Ministry of Highways has long desired – and it has been resisted successfully on more than one occasion. Nothing has changed to require its reconsideration. Other capacity increases for the road network must also be put on hold until the public transport network provides a realistic alternative for the majority of trips in the area, and the region as a whole. The reason so many people currently drive across the Patullo is that it seems the least worst alternative among a set of suboptimal options. It is essential that better options are made available that do not require car use and ownership. There are many reasons for thinking this is essential but greenhouse gas reductions are persuasive enough on their own. Each of the many other benefits can be regarded as a bonus.

For me, the major consideration ought to be what causes the current driving pattern. A significant amount of travel occurs between Surrey – both its new City Centre (that used to be called Whalley) and Guildford – and Coquitlam. Currently that trip by transit is long and circuitous. The very successful new bus across the Port Mann ignores this travel entirely. But an express bus that ran from Surrey Central via Guildford and the Port Mann to Coquitlam Station would be very effective at providing a “better than driving” experience for a lot of trips. Currently Translink cannot even think about that kind of service expansion. It would I think very effectively reduce the need to drive across the Patullo, but I somehow doubt that such ideas even get considered in this kind of consultation.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 4, 2013 at 10:05 am

Posted in Transportation

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