Thursday, June 7, 2012

Pattullo Bridge Repurposing Forum

Last night I attended the forum on "repurposing" the Pattullo, hosted by New West residents Daniel Fontaine and Keith Mackenzie, and sponsored by La Perla and 24 Hours. The format was 3 speakers (Gordon Price, Anthony Perl, and our own transportation planner Jerry Behl), followed by an open question period. The event was attended by about 100 people, overwhelmingly from New West I believe, with a few residents of the Surrey Bridgeview neighborhood present. There were 3 New West city councillors there and 1 councillor from Surrey.

The title of the forum, as well as most of the advance publicity, was focussed on creative uses for a non-bridge, given that a new, 6-lane structure was a done deal. For this reason, I almost didn't attend. As far as I'm concerned, we still need to explore what kind of north-south connections we need across the Fraser, and where they should be. This discussion needs to be finished before we can reasonably start planning what to do with the old bridge. Who wants to bungy-jump next to 6 lanes of roaring truck traffic?

However, because I know Gordon Price, Anthony Perl, and Jerry Behl, I had at least some hope that the discussion would also include a bit of bigger picture thinking about regional transportation planning and the Pattullo's role in this.

I was not disappointed.

In fact, none of the three invited panellists stuck to the script. None of them talked about creative uses of the bridge. All were highly critical of a 6-lane bridge and spent their presentations talking about traffic reduction in the context of high oil prices, about alternative freight movement, about historical precedents, and about the politics that has driven TransLink to this point. The Q&A session at the end continued in the same vein.

What did I learn? Here's a bullet list of the most interesting quotes I remember, in no particular order...
  • the new Port Mann is the widest bridge in Canada, with 10 lanes. Nothing on this scale exists in the more highly-populated provinces, or the busier border crossings. It is a bit of an anomaly.
  • the express bus service promised by Kevin Falcon across the Port Mann has been cancelled due to TransLink's lack of funds.
  • globally, we are almost finished with the cheap and easy oil, and now we are into the age of extreme oil. This means: higher prices, more volatility in supply, mounting environmental and political costs.
  • TransLink's traffic projections for the Pattullo and Golden Ears (and MoT's for the Port Mann) are all based on $60/bbl oil. Oil currently trades at around $80-100/bbl. It's unlikely to come down, unless there is a recession - and recessions cause a decrease in traffic.
  • trucks are the most energy-intensive form of freight transportation.
  • shipping by boat is cheap and likely to remain viable for a long time. With "new" technology boats can save 10-15% on fuel (of course, the bigger your sail, the more your savings. One could go back to sailboats and get 100% fuel savings...)
  • long-term freight movement needs to be done by boat and rail. Our current infrastructure is inadequate for this. The rail bridge next to the Pattullo is from 1905 (!!!) and still in operation (puts the "Pattullo is at the end of its life" statement in a bit of a different light).
  • planning and design for a new Pattullo will cost $100M over the next few years. $50M would supply Surrey with their desired light rail. (edit: this seems low to me so I checked. $50M won't buy light rail - it'll buy express buses across the new Port Mann, or along King George. Light rail is considerably more expensive.)
  • the real decision-makers are the Port and the trucking industry. These folks have the ear of the Province, who is, these days, making TransLink's decsions. These players do not attend open houses. They don't need to.
  • a 6-lane Pattullo was decided on in 2008. It was one of the first decisions made by the new TransLink board - the governance model was changed by the Province at that time, from a board of elected officials (mayors) to a board appointed by the Province. The main driver for this change: getting the Canada Line to the airport moved to the front of the queue in time for the Olympics (the mayors all wanted the Evergreen line first, so they were basically fired).
  • Experience shows that the Golden Ears Bridge is far underused. In contrast, the Canada Line is overcapacity after only 2 years in operation and is underbuilt (stations too small for much added capacity). Apparently we have plenty of money for throwing at car/truck infrastructure that is overbuilt (ie. a total waste of money), yet we claim we have no money for desperately needed transit infrastructure. Why is the press not all over this?
If you attended and can remember some other points I've missed, drop me a comment.


  1. Great synopsis. I am still very bothered that the Rapid Bus has been cancelled. Translink should not even consider another bridge project until they can find financing for the Rapid Bus. If Surrey is angry, they have a right to be. They should also be up in arms with Translink for pulling this "bait and switch" crap regarding transit funding. From and optics perspective it Really looks like Translink's decisions are pre-determined by a handful of behind-the-scene power brokers. We're left to deal with the mess...

  2. Funny, the most surprising thing to me was that 24 Hours sponsored an event like this! Who would've thunk?

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  4. One more thing I remember: CO2 capture and storage doesn't work. The AB gov't has thrown a lot of $ at this with no results. Even if it were to work, it comes at a stiff energy price - 25% of the yield of whatever fossil fuel you're burning/processing that's generating that CO2.

  5. Oh, and another transit factoid I remember: transit use today is already HIGHER than it was during the Olympics, when the roads were shut down. Pretty amazing. Also amazing that we don't celebrate this.