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

Posts Tagged ‘Highway #1 widening

Massive Mall near Abbotsford Interchange stirs debate

with 7 comments

Vancouver Sun

Of course this is exactly what opponents of the Gateway always said would happen. 

Artists rendering of a proposed $170-million, 600,000-square-foot shopping mall near Abbotsfords Mount Lehman interchange.

Artist's rendering of a proposed $170-million, 600,000-square-foot shopping mall near Abbotsford's Mount Lehman interchange.

“The potential regional draw for that centre is enormous,” Abbotsford Mayor George Peary said in an interview about the $170-million, 600,000-square-foot Shape Properties development, dubbed Abby Lane.

“It’s huge and it’s got amazing freeway access. I think this will be the largest mall in the region. It will be relatively easy for people to get there from Langley, Chilliwack and Mission. Millions travel that freeway and they’re all potential customers.”

And for the Mayor that seems like a Good Thing. For many however, it seems like a very Bad Thing indeed. For a start the freeway between Langley and Abbotsford runs through what is currently green space. In many parts of the world that is seen as a desirable quality – and there has been legislation (in the UK and other places) to stop “ribbon development” and the gradual coalescence of places into “megalopolis”. That indeed has been one of the main principles in regional planning of both Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

But also very significant is the recognition of the traffic generation this kind of development produces – which is something that the Gateway proponents have tried to ignore or at least downplay: “it happens anyway”. Well you might try telling that to the stores that will close in those places. The amount of time and money that people have to spend shopping is finite. The money that gets spent in Abby Lane won’t get spent elsewhere. You can see this all over North America – in fact, thanks to the economic decline of recent years, the process has accelerated. There are already too many shops – and older malls and town centres have been in steady decline. Even in good times that happens – and one of the features of North American buildings is their very short design life. So when the two new plazas at No 5 Road and Steveston Highway opened, the shopping centre at Shell and Williams closed, was demolished and is now town houses.

Obviously if in future more people from Langley and Chilliwack decide to shop in Abbotsford that is a longer car trip than happens now. That means more pollution – both common air contaminants (the stuff that causes our current air quality advisory) and greenhouse gas emissions – that’s the stuff that means the glaciers melt and the pine beetle thrives. It is not only the polar bears that suffer! And note that this is happening beyond the reach of the Gateway project – which ends at the Langley boundary – although a new hill climber lane is being built westbound out of Abbotsford at present. So of course there will be even more pressure to widen the freeway through Abbotsford and upgrade the interchanges. That is the lesson of everywhere that has widened freeways – it creates the “need” for more widening and is never ending.

Well never ending up to now. Because the other thing that the Mayor is ignoring is that peak conventional oil has passed – and peak oil is close too. So there will not be lots of cheap gas for all those car trips. And maybe in future even the charms of yet another corporate clone big box “power centre” will be much less if if costs too much to get there. This development might not be such a good idea after all. It will certainly cause others to close – but in the not too distant future we may well not be quite so keen on shopping. We may prefer to find happiness in other ways – and relearn how to make things last longer.

It is certainly a choice – and the last election showed that most people are not yet willing to make that change voluntarily. Which means when it does come they are not going to be very happy about it at all. And  George Peary could well be the target of their wrath.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 5, 2009 at 11:44 am

James to dodge traffic but not trouble over Port Mann Bridge

with 2 comments

Globe and Mail

Another good reason to dislike the Globe and Mail is the way that it mixes opinion and news in the same story – and reprints false assertions as though they were true. And printing a story under the strapline “Gridlock” is a good warning of where the editorial position is.

People who believe that twinning the Port Mann Bridge will solve congestion are deluded. Not only is there not one example of where this policy has worked, it has also been shown that the so called studies used by the Ministry of Transportation to support the proposal were based on totally unrealistic assumptions. And there are letters on line at the EAO web page from two federal government departments saying so.

Falcon is quoted once again as saying “I hope she enjoys the experience of the 14 hours a day of congestion that the Port Mann has” – but that in itself is a gross exaggeration. The congestion occurs at peak periods and not on the bridge at all but its approaches. And if Mr Falcon actually wanted to deal with that, all he need do is either twin the bridge but leave the freeway the way it is so that it is no longer the bottle neck, or provide transit on the existing structures (note the plural there).

The bridge is so congested that it hasn’t had bus service for 20 years because traffic would play havoc with schedules.

That is not Mr Falcon that is Justine Hunter, who calls herself a journalist. It is simply not true. Bus service across the bridge was withdrawn when the SkyTrain was extended into Surrey. Bus routes were diverted from serving downtown directly to feeding into SkyTrain. The justification had nothing to do with traffic. You do not spend billions on a rail rapid transit system and then operate buses in competition with it. That has been the long standing principle in this region since SkyTrain started and is still used today. Or will we be reading that we need to twin the Oak Street and Arthur Laing Bridges because they are “so congested that you cannot operate a bus across them” after the Canada Line opens? In fact when the modelling of demand across the bridge was done the imaginary transit routes they used were designed to not attract traffic! And even Translink admitted that they could operate a bus on the Port Mann using the HOV lanes and a new queue jumper – it was even in a three year transit plan – until they were told to take it out!

And before the idiots out there start saying I am advocating twinning the Port Mann – no I am not. IF you really care about congestion and spending money wisely, you use what we have better. We do not need any more road capacity across the Fraser. We need more people moving capacity. And we can do that more quickly and cheaply by increasing the number of SkyTrains across the SkyBridge – there is a great deal of unused track and signalling capacity there – and we should have a bus service across the Port Mann to link Coquitlam and North Surrey – because that is where most of the traffic is coming from at peak periods. It is NOT the trucks and it is NOT long distance travel. It is short distance commuting for which the current transit route is simply too indirect. And a queue jumper northbound is all that is needed and could be accommodated on the existing hard shoulder.

On the other hand if you want to promote more low density residential development in Surrey and Langley and encourage a lot more vehicle kilometres on the system then the NDP should indeed back the bridge. I happen to think that is a policy that was wrong back in the sixties when gas was cheap. Now we know a lot more about climate change we might be wise to think a bit longer term than a “quick fix” that has never ever worked to produce what Mr Falcon and Ms Hunter say it will do. Because there is no “gridlock” (go look it up). Traffic slows as it approaches the merges – and more lanes of traffic approach the bridge than cross it. And that will still be true after the project is built – the numbers of both simply double. So the amount of traffic congestion simply doubles too. And if Pete McMartin can work that out, so can most of the NDP voters in Surrey.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2008 at 8:41 am

Feds call Gateway Program air quality studies inappropriate and misleading: Study of transit solutions required

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Livable Region Coalition

February 11, 2008

Vancouver-Today the Livable Region Coalition (LRC) revealed documents from federal agencies that identify major claims and studies by the provincial government about the Gateway Program as inappropriate and misleading and others shown to be groundless.

The LRC’s submissions to the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) challenged, among other problems, the treatment of alternatives to Port Mann Bridge twinning and the inadequacies of provincial traffic modeling which in turn lead to artificially low estimates of air quality impacts. These deficiencies and more have been echoed by Health Canada and Environment Canada.

Despite the lack of evidence, provincial government officials continue to bait the public with misleading claims:

  • Public comments by Premier Gordon Campbell that the Gateway Program will improve air quality are not borne out by any analysis made available to date. All air quality improvements claimed under Gateway would happen even if the mega project did not go ahead due to policies already in place, whereas the project will actually reverse some of these projected air quality improvements. In its critique of a Gateway study on air pollution, Health Canada asserts that “the misdirected focus of this assessment is inappropriate and may be misleading to the general reader.”
  • Greenhouse gas emissions will rise due to Gateway even with mitigation measures already announced. The province claims the GHG increase will be 0.3% above business-as-usual, Metro Vancouver says 2%, or 176 000 tonnes per year by 2020, based on figures provided. Environment Canada says the increase would likely be higher but deficient traffic modeling to date makes it impossible to know for sure.
  • The assertion by the BC Ministry of Highways that the Gateway Program will not impact land-use are contradicted by studies cited by Environment Canada. Furthermore, provincial government traffic models did not include induced or generated traffic and did not account for automobile dependent sprawl induced by freeway expansion. Environment Canada states that: “A review of the sizeable scientific literature suggests that new highway capacity generally encourages more vehicle kilometres travelled, influences land-use planning, enables car-dependent lifestyles and decisions, and induces traffic for vehicle trips that would otherwise not occur. These factors can contribute a significant volume of traffic beyond business-as-usual growth projections.”
  • Provincial government claims that no other option but Gateway would work for moving people and goods are contradicted by Environment Canada which notes that: “the Proponent has not analyzed the potential for a combination of functionally different methods to meet the needs identified. A combination of alternative measures of approximately equal budget to PMH1 will allow a meaningful comparison”

When it comes to proving the bold promises that come with doubling the Port Mann Bridge and Highway 1, the provincial government is running on empty,” said David Fields, a campaigner with SPEC and LRC Coordinator. “ We know it, federal agencies know it and it is about time the province comes clean before they commit the region to what amounts to an $11 billion illusion.”

The entire Gateway Program could cost over $11 billion dollars. Other bridge projects under construction in the province, such as the William R. Bennett Bridge, are up to 70% over budget. The return on this investment could be quite minimal if expert opinion is correct. George Stalk, Senior VP of the Boston Consulting Group and supply chain expert, has said that the provincial Gateway Program will only add 1% or 2% goods movement capacity because it focuses on roads and trucking instead of ports and railways.

Environment Canada has stated the obvious. A meaningful environmental assessment requires comparing the environmental effects of a $4 billion package of transit and efficient goods movement solutions to the proposed $4 billion freeway expansion,” said Eric Doherty, SPEC Director. “Kevin Falcon does not want this comparison because it would show what a dumb choice freeway expansion is. The federal documents show that you can’t build your way out of congestion with wider freeways and more bridges because freeways cause automobile dependent sprawl and more traffic. And more traffic means accelerating global warming, more smog and more kids with asthma.”

SPEC and the LRC have proposed a suite of transit measures that could alleviate traffic congestion in the Port Mann corridor (download  See also SPEC’s Cooking the Books). The LRC proposal seeks to maximize existing infrastructure to reduce costs and environmental impact. For example, the SkyTrain bridge to Surrey only carries one third the trains it was designed for, bringing it up to carrying capacity would produce the people moving equivalent of 20 lanes of freeway. The LRC proposal costs about one sixth of the cost of doubling the Port Mann and Highway 1. Much more is possible.

“Environment Canada’s response is a very effective endorsement of what the Livable Region Coalition has been saying,” said Stephen Rees, an independent transport economist. “The BC government now needs to rethink this Gateway proposal, and work towards a truly sustainable regional transportation and land use plan with municipal and regional governments. This requires putting transit first.”

The Premier promised to make BC a global leader in transit. Current global leaders like Zurich have invested heavily in transit instead of freeways, producing a transit system that is fast, safe, reliable and inexpensive. Zurich’s transit priority program has taken 30 years to build and has one of the highest riderships in the world. BC’s freeway expansion is scheduled to be completed first and major elements of the recent transit announcement will not start to appear for another six or seven years from now.

This release comes with a 5 page backgrounder which contains excerpts from Health Canada and Environment Canada submissions to the EAO. Links to original documents and page references are provided.

The Port Mann/Highway 1 EAO project page can be found here:

Written by Stephen Rees

February 11, 2008 at 10:04 am

The Impact of Twinning the Port Mann and Expanding Highway #1

with 7 comments

Most readers of this blog will know that the Livable Region Coalition came about because of concerns about the impact of highway expansion on this region. Specifically the proposal to both twin the Port Mann Bridge and expand the freeway from the Vancouver boundary out to Langley. There is currently an Environmental Assessment under way, which should try to address these issues. And because it is required to be an open process you can read all the documents. The proponent is the province, and the comments of others on the proponent’s assessment can also be read there.

Over the Christmas holiday, Environment Canada sent in its comments. The EA Office waited a month before putting them on its web page. This may well explain the extraordinary rush to get out the allegedly “new improved” transit plan. For the document from Environment Canada (and also one from Health Canada) is quite extraordinary. While written in the careful language of bureaucrats, it is a damning indictment of how the province has fudged, falsified and failed to produce an assessment that anyone can trust.

Of course, in BC, former Minister for Deregulation (Kevin Falcon) made sure some years ago that EA processes would be so useless that they would not be able to delay, let alone stop, a favourite government project. Even so, the LRC and others have been pointing out the obvious failings of the work done by the Ministry of Transportation to justify the project, in the hopes that something might change. And now we have an endorsement from the Federal Government.

I strongly recommend that you download both documents and read them carefully. I would not want anyone to think that by selectively quoting them here I am trying to distort the message. I leave that sort of thing up to the Gateway Program, who have been aware of these failings – I think long before the feds put them on paper – but have chosen spin instead of an effective response.

Let’s start with Health Canada – emphasis has been added

the assessment generally focuses less on the effects of the PMH1 project, and more on the anticipated improvements in air quality over the baseline case (2003), which would be due to improvements in the efficiency of fuel use by the vehicle fleet and reduced sulphur in the fuel and associated vehicle technology changes. These improvements are independent of the proposed project and will take place regardless of approval. While they may be a useful additional consideration, and while some information comparing build vs. no build is included in the application, the misdirected focus of this assessment is inappropriate and may be misleading to the general reader.

Gordon Campbell is on record as saying that the Gateway program will improve air quality. This is because he says that it will reduce congestion. But that would only be true if the total amount of traffic in the region in future years was the same in the “with project” and “do nothing” case. Of course, no one would or has seriously suggested that we do nothing at all – but that was the “base case” used in all the province’s modelling.

All indented quotes from here on are from the Environment Canada document with emphasis added

We believe that decision makers will require additional information to assess the full extent of potential air quality impacts associated with the project. Our key advice and concerns are as follows:

There is a significant level of uncertainty associated with traffic forecasting. The report does not adequately explain assumptions or the sensitivity of the model’s output to these assumptions. The traffic model potentially underestimates growth in traffic and resulting emissions and air quality effects due to induced traffic resulting from the Gateway program.

The report predicts exceedances of several relevant ambient air quality standards. Predicted ambient pollutant levels are higher in the 2021 “with Port Mann / Highway 1 (PMH1)” scenario compared to the 2021 “without PMH1” scenario. We therefore advise that the project as described is predicted to contribute to some deterioration of air quality and an increase in GHG emissions in the study area over the baseline.

Don’t forget that this is the same government that is trying to portray itself as “green”. It is also the government that was proud of its achievement of using the EA process in Whatcom County, Washington to stop a power station at Sumas – because of its impact on air quality in the Fraser Valley. We do not have accurate information on the deterioration that will be caused by PM2H1 but I would not be at all surprised if the impact was not equal to or greater than SE2.

The Proponent states that none of the functionally different methods analyzed are able to meet all of the objectives of the project. However, the Proponent has not analyzed the potential for a combination of functionally different methods to meet the needs identified. A combination of alternative measures of approximately equal budget to PMH1 will allow a meaningful comparison.

Further, the relative environmental impacts of the various options available to meet the needs of the project have not been estimated. Although the Proponent is not obligated to select the option of carrying out the project with the least environmental impacts, it would be useful to review agencies if the relative environmental impacts of the various options were described.

The LRC has been saying that options are available now that would relieve some of the congestion on the Port Mann. One, a bus service, was actually planned for implementation by Translink. But that does not matter to the province, for in all their work they assumed that if the Gateway did not go ahead, nothing else would happen. Which, given the time period we are talking about is unrealistic – even if we kept on re-electing the BC Liberals until 2021.

Note also that EC recognizes that they cannot stop the project – no matter how badly the assessment has been biased or how poor the proposed mitigation measures will be.

Reductions in vehicle emissions and predicted improvements in localized ambient air quality impacts from 2003 to 2021 are expected to occur completely independent of the project. The project as proposed would reverse a portion of the improvements in air quality that will eventually be achieved through these investments. We suggest that additional mitigation and / or offsets are required to avoid such backsliding.

we advise that the project as described is predicted to contribute to some deterioration of air quality and an increase in GHG emissions in the study area over the baseline scenario. We recommend additional mitigation of emissions or impacts are necessary for pollutants including diesel PM; PM2.5; road dust; NOx; and GHGs.

Although the language is careful, what has got up EC’s nose is that they have been working hard at producing new regulations nationally to get cleaner vehicles and fuels, and that the benefits of those are what produces the expected improvement the province has tried to claim for its much bigger highway. There is not much point coming up with cleaner cars if there are so many more trips – which, of course, will also be longer – that the overall air quality gets worse. “Backsliding” is not a word that a bureaucrat uses casually.

A review of the sizeable scientific literature suggests that new highway capacity generally encourages more vehicle kilometres travelled, influences land-use planning, enables car-dependent lifestyles and decisions, and induces traffic for vehicle trips that would otherwise not occur. These factors can contribute a significant volume of traffic beyond business-as-usual growth projections.

For example, Noland (1999) found that “Increased capacity clearly increases vehicle miles of travel beyond any short run congestion relief that may be obtained… While other factors, such as population growth, also drive increases in VMT, capacity additions account for about one quarter of this growth.”3

The 2005 technical report Planning and Traffic prepared by Delcan for the Gateway Program cites several studies and reports. For example, Boarnet (2002) found that induced travel is a true phenomenon, and that increases in highway capacity can facilitate changes in urban development that are associated with longer trips and thus more vehicle-miles travelled.4

It appears as though the modeling of future traffic in the “with PMH1” scenario did not incorporate the effects of induced or generated traffic. For example, on p. 9-5 it states that future regional air emissions are based on the GVRD emissions inventory forecast for the Lower Fraser Valley, which incorporated projected changes in population, land use, and industrial activity along with changes in emission rates or controls. The report then states that the traffic emission estimates were replaced with more recent estimates based on the effect of the Gateway projects. We note that the 2000 GVRD emission inventory forecast did not incorporate Gateway projects. The location of population growth, transportation demand, and land use planning assumptions that GVRD used may be significantly altered by the PMH1 project.

For me this is the heart of the matter. Kevin Falcon has been saying that the growth will occur anyway. That the freeway will not change the future land use. We know that is not true. And so does he. For he has said exactly the opposite to the realtors of the Fraser Valley at his breakfast meetings – where he invited them to “get on board” the freeway expansion for it offers opportunities for making lots of money. For Kevin should know, being a former realtor himself, and having had such success with the Sea to Sky Highway project in opening up new development opportunities.

And we also know that induced or generated traffic has always followed the opening of new and expanded freeways. This is not new or surprising information. Indeed I can recall this being one of the reasons cited for the abandonment of London’s proposed “motorway box” back when I was still learning how to run a four step model, and being surprised at how crude and unrealistic it was then. And still is now, as the emme/2 model used to forecast this project simply ignores induced travel and assumes the same land use in both future scenarios. It is not that the proponents did not know about these effects – they have been well understood for many years – they simply chose to ignore them. In fact, in most project assessments for public transport it is usual to find ways to enhance model results – which is one reason why the Millennium Line has not yet achieved the demand usage forecast for it. So it is not surprising that with a freeway expansion designed to blow a hole through the Livable Region Strategic Plan, the province went out of its way to make sure it got the sort of results that would allow it to paint itself green, and deliberately chose a methodology that would minimize the traffic forecasts. After all, while most people like the idea of a quicker trip down the freeway, no one wants more traffic in their neighbourhood. And in the short term this is about getting votes: making money from property development takes a little longer.

Environment Canada agrees that tolling may offer a disincentive for single-occupant automobile users and possibly reducing the future GHG and CAC emissions associated with the project.

We would like a description of the assumptions and traffic modeling inputs for various TDM measures such as tolling and HOV lane allocation, along with the sensitivity of these assumptions on predicted future VkmT and emissions. We are particularly interested in whether the Proponent considered allocating all of the additional lanes from the PMH1 project to a combination of HOV / freight / transit, and what the predicted effects would be on VkmT, CAC and GHG emissions.

EC missed an important point here. The tolls only apply to the bridge. They do not apply where the growth of traffic will be greatest – short trips along the freeway on either side of the bridge, where there will be no tolls, because the government says it will not consider them. And as I have argued elsewhere, there is not enough freight transport across the bridge (8% of vehicles in the am peak hour) to make exclusive lanes worth considering in an expanded scenario. And the province refuses to look at a bus only queue jumper lane one the Surrey approach to PM now!

Environment Canada recognizes that the Proponent has proposed several measures to reduce the environmental impacts of the project, including a mitigation of air impacts during construction; allocating a portion of the new highway capacity to HOVs; a cycling plan along with financial commitments; enabling transit service across the bridge; etc. The Proponent should be commended for demonstrating leadership in this area.

However, despite these proposed measures, the Proponent is predicting an increase in emissions of GHGs and CACs, contributing to some deterioration in air quality over the future baseline. Further, from the information provided in the Application, there is significant uncertainty surrounding the predicted future traffic, emissions, and resulting air quality. If the growth in traffic and related congestion exceeds the modeled forecasts, the resulting emissions and air quality impacts could be much greater.

Environment Canada therefore believes that additional mitigation measures are necessary to ensure that the project will conform to the Canada-wide Standards for PM and Ozone, and will not result in unacceptable increases in GHG and CAC emissions.

Did you notice that? Campbell and Falcon have both been saying that it makes things better when their own studies show a deterioration. Spin is one thing. Telling porkies is another.



Written by Stephen Rees

February 10, 2008 at 4:01 pm

Translink bills : Only one Taxpayer

with 4 comments

There’s an op ed piece today which is creditted to Kevin Falcon. It is in response to the Sun’s earlier “Hide your money before the TransLink Gang turns you into roadkill, Jan. 24″

It is of course a simple recycling of what has been said before – but the kicker is at the end

But the benefits of this plan go beyond just addressing climate change.

This is about building stronger, denser, more vibrant communities that will grow near transit hubs and along corridors.

It’s about giving people in the Lower Mainland choices to efficiently get where they need to go — by walking, cycling, transit or car.

This suggests that someone in the MoT is paying attention. And of course it is absolutely right, and must be applauded. Well done Kevin! Now perhaps you would just care to explain why you need to build all those highways first – which will of course have exactly the opposite effect. And while you are at it explain why since the BC Liberals have been in power for the last seven years you have done so little in terms of transit for the fastest growing parts of this region? And that the only significant investment in rapid transit in that time (the Canada Line) has already destroyed one “dense vibrant community” centre (Cambie Street in Vancouver) and you have not even thought seriously about compensation for the businesses destroyed by cut and cover construction which even you now admit was a bad decision and won’t be used on Broadway.

You might also like to comment on why in your announcement there was so little for the South of the Fraser in terms of rapid transit. And nothing for Abbotsford or Chilliwack for twenty years when they already have a railway line that could carry passenger trains now – and get them to Langley and Surrey, which for people in that area are actually more important destinations than Vancouver.

In the next twent years another million people are coming here. And for the first half of that time all they will see are new highways. Do you seriously mean that this will convince them to go for “hubs and corridors” that have only inadequate transit as they do at present?

People need more choices NOW.  Especially those struggling to get between Surrey and Coquitlam in the peak periods. You could be running a fast, frequent bus service between those two centres today – by the simple expedient of using a short length of the northbound hard shoulder of Highway #1 in the morning peak as an exclusive bus lane to get past the queue and onto the bridge. But you actually stopped Translink from doing that!

Kevin , you have a huge problem – it’s called lack of credibility. And sending stuff like this to the paper only makes matters worse.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 31, 2008 at 9:44 am