Thursday, February 9, 2012

Replacing the Pattullo

Now...all my ranting about greening our transportation systems leads quite nicely to a discussion of the upcoming issues facing us here in New Westminster. One of them is what to do with the Pattullo Bridge.

The Pattullo Bridge is a 70+-year old structure that is in bad shape. Consultations on its replacement will probably be starting in the next few months. It's Translink's jurisdiction; New Westminster City Council received a Translink report this past Monday on the topic of its replacement. I'm sure citizen input will be solicited, so make sure you get involved!

The Pattullo has a major influence on traffic through New Westminster. Most of the traffic using it goes through New West. There will be considerable debate on what to do about this bridge:
- replace with bigger?
- toll?
- close with no replacement?

I just scanned BC's Ministry of Transportations "Tolling Guidelines", available here. This is a very interesting piece of policy. It spells out that only infrastructure which provides improvement in capacity (ie. more lanes) may be tolled. So clearly, if the replacement Pattullo is a mere 4 lanes, it will not be tolled.

The policy also states that tolls will only be implemented if a free alternative is available. "The public has a right to a basic level of free, untolled access." So how does this impact possible tolling of the Pattullo, if it were to be replaced with a 6-lane bridge? Are there "reasonable untolled alternatives"? I certainly think so: use the Alex Fraser / Queensborough, or go further west still and use the Massey Tunnel. But then, I'm not the one making the decisions. I suspect that Translink has already been told that these routes do not qualify as "basic level" alternatives...because...

If you look at Translink's FAQ page on this project, there is not a single mention of tolling anywhere. Check the statements on funding: "TransLink is in the process of investigating alternative funding sources for the new bridge, including the potential for funding from senior levels of government."

Read: no tolls on any replacement Pattullo.

Given this, let's think about what will happen when the Port Mann tolls kick in. Even without integrating under any curves, I can confidently predict that most traffic will head for the nearest free alternative! This will have two effects:

1. it will make the Port Mann's revenues decrease, and
2. it'll turn McBride Blvd and Columbia St into parking lots, and cause backups on the Pattullo and into Surrey.

This will happen no matter how many lanes you build on the Pattullo, since McBride Blvd is not going to be widened. The streets of New West, instead of the bridge, will become the bottleneck. I'm re-living the UBE discussions! New Westminster gets it in the neck because everyone south of the Fraser has to drive to work! Like the UBE, a 6-lane Pattullo will not improve the traffic flow through New West, and we need to oppose it.

The only way to reduce traffic is to reduce the effective number of lanes available, and to spend the money on giving people real, functional alternatives to a car-based commute. In a future of constrained oil, this is an urgent priority, one that I've argued we need to get on with.

Even a (toll-free) 4-lane bridge is best "traffic managed" to combat gridlock in New West. Tolls are but one option. There are others:
- timing traffic lights into New West to allow smaller bunches of cars through
- limiting times for truck traffic on the bridge
- having dedicated HOV lanes
- better yet: dedicated BUS lanes

But how about this, more radical, proposal?

Turn the Pattullo into a bus/pedestrian/bike bridge, with 2 lanes for bus traffic only and no cars or trucks at all. Give it a lick of paint and do the bare minimum seismic upgrades. With lessened weight and traffic loads, it may well last another 25 years; those engineering reports recommending replacement all assumed continuing heavy traffic loads. Then, spend the rest of the money on transit across the river!

1 comment:

  1. Plan & Solution: Remove the Pattulio, Establish The Port Mann and Alex Fraser as the bridges to the North Shore of the Fraser, and Don't build a new Pattulio. Encourage Surreyites? and New westminsterers to shop local and if they must, take the adjacent skybridge.

    Who needs 4 bridges (AF Bridge, Patt, PMann and SkyBridge) going in the same direction anyways? The north Shore only has 2 bridges, and if a 3rd bridge (1st narrows bridge) was put in, traffic would be worse than today.