Monday, May 16, 2011

Carefree? Not!

This is a rant about the proposed United Boulevard Extension, or "UBE".

I think this is a really bad idea. And I don't think I'm alone.

And this is after spending a good 20 hours talking about it, listening to my neighbours and to Translink, at the various "consultation sessions" that have been hosted in my community. Heck, you might even consider me the "poster girl" for the events, since a nice picture of yours truly participating was put up on screen at the front of the hall for every session after the first one...anyways.

The UBE is basically a proposal to connect United Blvd, that 4-lane road through big-box heaven over in Coquitlam, to Braid/ Brunette. You know that little wooden bridge that you can take as a shortcut to the Home Despot (sorry, Depot)? That's going to be a 4-lane highway if the UBE goes through.

Why, do you ask? Good question. Never answered by Translink; at least, not at the sessions I attended. The best that I have been able to glean from my various sources is that United Blvd will shortly become the North Fraser Perimeter Road, better known as Translink's Gift to the Trucking Industry, and so, by definition, this connection must be made.

There are, of course, lots of reasons why it actually is a crap idea to make this connection:
  • through-going truckers won't actually use United Blvd, because it has a bazillion intersections, driveways, and now a planned residential condo community. If I were a trucker, I'd use HWY 1. So...who are we building this for again?
  • the current volume of traffic coming over the bailey bridge is tiny. If you replace this with a 4-lane road, you will only add more congestion to already-at-capacity Brunette. So this will not solve congestion. It'll only increase the numbers of cars parked in traffic inside our borders.
  • the best Translink has been able to come up with so far has been a giant 4-lane bridge over the "dip" in the Skytrain between Sapperton and Braid stations. Oh, it'll be "mitigated" by an equally giant wall. And we'll get some trees and water features.
  • whatever option is chosen involves New West giving up industrial land (read: tax base). Hard to see exactly what price Coquitlam is paying for this. It's pretty clear they want the connection so those residents they're planning for can get to work...by car.
  • the UBE is part of the NFPR, which also involves a new Patullo Bridge (at least 4 lanes, probably more like 6), and a 4-lane trucking freeway where Front Street is. The NFPR is required (according to Translink and their simulations) to accommodate the truck traffic that'll soon be zipping between the various shiny new ports and their distribution centers in the hinterland.
  • as previously noted, adding more car capacity does not solve congestion, it creates more of it - and these frustrated drivers will then be ratrunning through Sapperton and clogging up Braid / 8th. These streets currently already effectively bisect New West's communities - they are impossible to cross on foot.
  • whatever happened to Translink's stated goals of prioritizing walking, cycling, and transit? This is about as diametrically opposed to those goals as you can get.
  • we are now experiencing transit cuts - the 155/154 bus routes, ones I use a lot, are now back down to 1 hour evening service levels. The Evergreen Line, which Coquitlam really, really needs, is still not built. Aren't these supposed to be the real priorities?
{Translink's favourite option, looking down Brunette.}
{click to enlarge.}

Very few of the problems identified by community residents during the consultation sessions would be improved in the slightest by the creation of the UBE. Most could be mitigated completely independently of this project. So to present local traffic calming, removing level crossings and mitigating train noise, green space enhancement, pedestrian safety, and bike infrastructure as part of the UBE is disingenuous. How about doing all these things and not building the UBE? It'll sure be cheaper!

What about option "C', one of only 2 ideas really brought forward by the community: close the level crossing to traffic at Braid, so you can't get to the bailey bridge that way anymore? No more backups due to trains, and, they can stop whistling. Yeah, it'll be a bit harder for the buses, but I'm sure we can think of some solution there. I'll happily give up my shortcut to Home Depot! And you know, it's pretty cheap. Oh, but wait, then it's not a connection anymore. Sorry, dismissed.

New Westminster really needs to have a conversation about what it wants in terms of future development. I'd venture to suggest the following priorities:
  1. no net growth in pavement in our City - if lanes are added somewhere, we subtract lanes elsewhere. Land is precious in this City and we shouldn't be in a rush to pave it over. This goes for left turn bays, parking stalls, truck routes, everything. Add up the square footage of ashphalt, and keep that number constant.
  2. we take all steps to preserve the historic downtown we've got - dare to dream of a European-style, pedestrian-dominated, cafe-and-street-life oriented Columbia Street!
  3. we take all steps to ensure public, pedestrian access to the waterfront in its entirety - from the Industrial Land near Braid down to the Quay.
  4. we seriously start considering alternative goods movement scenarios - trucks during restricted hours, barges, trains, SkyTrain at night. We've got water access, we've got rail, what's the problem? Bureaucratic silos? Lack of vision?
  5. we give some thought to the future, which is looking like it'll have very expensive oil. It's quite likely that the transportation industry will look vastly different in 20 years time. Trucking, airlines, and shipping are likely to be affected - should we be spending money on keeping these industries afloat? Or on providing essential mobility in other ways?
I just watched A People's History of Canada, the episode where BC joins confederation on the promise of a railroad. It seems it was ever thus: the government and the transportation industry in each other's pockets.

**sigh**. End of rant.

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