February 12, 2015

Comments worth commenting on: A Freeway Fight for the 21st Century

PT: With the Province building bridges and widening freeways from every possible direction to the borders of Vancouver, I figured it was just a matter of time before it was argued that we need to extend the arterials into the city.  After all, why spend billions to relieve highway congestion only to see it pile up again at the first stoplights inside the city?

I wasn’t sure, though, whether I’d actually be around to see an argument that we start building freeways through Vancouver anytime soon.  Wrong.


Eric commented on Charlie Smith’s advice for the next TransLink CEO

The Patullo Bridge has to be replaced and the Massey Bridge needs to be built. Next up will be a new, wider Knight Street Bridge. As the Massey improves the smooth flow of traffic from Tsawwassen, the ferry and Deltaport terminals, the 99 from the US, South Surrey, White Rock, Southern parts of Langley, growing Delta, Ladner and Tilbury, the traffic feeds north towards Richmond, Vancouver, Burnaby and the North Shore. The port traffic of trucks uses Knight Street as the designated route to and from Deltaport. The Knight Street Bridge will have to be upgraded since this becomes a pollution generating bottleneck.

With the new Massey Bridge Knight Street has to become a viable branch for northbound traffic, if only to relieve Oak and Cambie Streets. The pollution generating bottleneck around 70th and Oak, where long lines of traffic stretch both westbound and eastbound along 70th Avenue, and in a long line way up Oak Street, will soon have to be relieved with an underpass system to remove completely the blockage at the traffic lights at 70th.

Similarly, once Marine Gateway is inhabited, the intersection at Marine and Cambie will have to have an underpass, so northbound traffic traveling east on Marine and westbound traffic on Marine doesn’t become blocked at the Cambie traffic light. With over a quarter of a million square feet of Class A office space there will be a couple of thousand people working here, many banks, shops, restaurants, etc., plus the thousands of residents in all the towers, just the necessary service vehicles for supplies will add substantially more traffic to this area.

By doing what has been done extensively in Montreal (the Highway 20 from the airport west goes right under the southern section of downtown, with feeder exits and entrances.). Paris has a similar system. The underpasses allow the smooth flow of traffic both too, from and through the area, while not upsetting the visual and the pedestrian streetscape the unfortunate way that the Vancouver viaducts do.

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  1. Indeed we need upgrades to BOTH car and truck based people and goods movement AND more bike paths AND more pedestrian zones / pathways / wider sidewalks AND rapid ( public ) transit.

    Of course not all roads should be free like they are today. I’d say every tunnel, bridge or major artery needs a toll.

    Complex problems have simple, easy to understand wrong answers.

    As such, a growing region needs all sorts of transportation options; some free, some subsidized and many more tolled.

    1. Automated cars and trucks will be here soon. No need to “upgrade” roads. With automated vehicles, capacity will be increased thus wider roads and other “upgrades” will just be a waste of money.

      1. This is pure academic wishful thinking. The internet was invented in the 1960’s but not until about 40 years later was it widely used with smartphones/wireless only 50 years later.

        Look at the fight Uber faces in most cities to protect union jobs so left leaning politicians get more funding to get more votes. Uber will prevail in time, but taxis will still be around 20+ years. Driverless cars will not be operational until 2040 at the very earliest not for technology reasons but due to unions and legal issues surrounding the potential for accidents. Then one has to phase out older cars and trucks and that will be another 20-30 years which is the lifetime of cars & trucks. Then we might get select roads where no drivers are allowed, only in tech-mode, but most roads will not have that, only perhaps some arterial roads. So 2050 .. maybe .. Until then, MetroVan need far more road infrastructure, not downtown, but elsewhere as good movement and people movement is growing, not shrinking. Life in Richmond, Coquitlam, Surrey, Delta, Langley and south or east of it without a car is just not practical or enjoyable.

  2. Absolutely. Our population is growing. Obviously government planning and regulation have failed. This zero-sum approach assumes that cars and people are competing for land. What these socialist ideologues ignore is boundless human ingenuity. High-rise construction is only an interim solution. What we really have is demand for a higher density of land: 1.2, 1.5, even 2.0 km² per km². Allowed to function without interference, the market would find ways to provide it, producing a win-win for people *and* cars. Just as it has for the environment.

      1. I’m sorry, it was my feeble attempt at satire. I thought the last sentence gave it away. No matter the demand, the market cannot make the surface of the earth more dense: a km² is always a km². Technical solutions like highrises can intensify development, but at the cost of trade-offs and diminishing marginal returns. As with the environment, the fixed amount of land in a km² imposes limits to growth. In short, building more roads means building less city. There is no escaping the choice of whether to give that land to cars or to people.

        1. I see. Well you can have cars or subways below ground. And then a park or a playgrund or a pedestrian zone above. For example on S-Granville between 4th and 15th where Granville would disappear into a tunnel.

          You can also make more land in muddy / shallow / tidal waters. Unclear why MetoVan is not looking at this option. Richmond 120+ years ago was essentially a sandbar in the Fraser River. Now it has highrises with a elevated train and 400,000+ people. We could create 2-3 more Richmonds in Boundary Bay, W of Richmond or Tsawassen or Airport Island etc .. or off Squamish.

  3. I recall back in college, I read Kenneth Schnedier’s “Autokind vs. Mankind.” The powerful subtitle was “An Analysis of Tyranny, A Proposal for Reconstruction, A Plan for Reconstruction.” It was US-focussed, and mounted a massive attack on cars. The book was published in 1971, and I read it long after the mid-70s gas crises. I was riding bikes for commute and recreation, on unfriendly roads (bikes were seen as a kid’s toy), and beside monstrous V8 engines, with poor brakes, and weighing 4000+ pounds, almost 2 tons. Rush hours were far more concentrated, and pronounced.

    The book moved me, intensely. I was certain that these oppresive, killing machines would be reigned in, and the powerful psychological attachment to cars was on the eve of evolution. I was young, and as most of the young are, wrong. Luckilly, aging changes that.

    Now, the engines are 1/3 the size, far more quiet and efficient, cleaner (adios AirCare) and the cars far much more safer. The trend – save for a rise of SUVs a few decades back – is more compact. Alternative fuels. Driving (kms/person) has backed off a bit, and sales softened (especially for Millenials, but most are broke and 40% are back living with mom/dad). But when (or if) they have enough cash flow, they buy a vehicle first to get out of town (recreation), then end up using it in town.

    Know this; you bark all you want about peak oil, astronomical fuel prices, and the death of motoring, but driving with personal vehicles will still thrive on roads long after you’re dead. You may think you’re riding a new wave, and breaking down a berlin wall, but you might want to get a meaningful hobby for the rest of your life, because right or wrong, like it or not, they’re here to stay. The moment some people eschew driving, that just frees up the lane for the rest.

    1. Absolutely, Roger. Just as we read Bradford Angier and Stewart Brand and learned from them, then realized that the sentiment for returning to a ‘sustainable’ way of life, actually goes back to even Roman times. Some people will naturally become caught up in whatever is popular while others might tend to panic or become consumed with their ideology and proselytize. Stewart Brand came to Vancouver a couple of years ago and gave a presentation which was attended by all of the usual suspects, including His Worship, and explained that nuclear power is, after all, the really best answer.

      Quite a few in the audience didn’t want to hear that. It’s not at all unusual to notice that most ideologies have blinkers.

    2. It seems to me that proponents of extreme views often change their minds as they age while remaining no less strident. I would think confronting one’s own illusions would make one more hesitant to judge rather than more hasty.

      Your conviction came in a manifesto. My preference grew with experience, living in places where cars are optional. Now I have a family and drive, because that is how Burnaby is built. My wife takes transit and walks because she prefers it and because we chose our neighborhood wisely. To me, the car (not the family!) is a burden, a kind of bondage. To traverse the city on my own power, free of the car’s leash, is liberation. Driving is a chore, an exercise in stress punctuated by flashes of fear, rudeness and anger. When I take transit, I feel alive.

      You set up a straw man of people (animals?) who “bark” at “the death of motoring.” You protest too much. No such prospect is in the offing. There were cars before motordom; there will be cars after. I do neither want nor expect that everyone to share my values, but I know I am not alone. Middle age is a phase. Some day I will again be liberated from the car. I would rather it be sooner than later. Moving beyond motordom is not about taking your car away: it is about giving us all that choice.

      1. @Bob, My argument for choice is a response to Mr Williamson’s sweeping generalizations. The problem with motordom is not that it accommodates people who drive but that it makes our cities all about the free flow of cars to the exclusion of just about everything else, from walking to to social life.

        So, what does the survey actually say?

        “After you commute, generally speaking ,would you say you are usually in a better mood?” Driver: 78%, car passenger: 75%, public transit: 74%, walk/bike: 80%. During their commute, compared to people who drove, people who took transit were able to: relax (48% vs 31%), rest (42% vs 15%), work (28% vs 20%), learn (23% vs 12%), schedule (20% vs 9%), shop (19% vs 13%). Drivers were only slightly more likely to strongly agree that commuting was an opportunity to have some quiet time by themselves (56% vs 49%): even though transit is almost never quiet *or* alone!

        Strictly speaking, this study does show what you claim: most Canadians surveyed did not mind commuting by car. But I think it shows huge potential benefits from improved transit, walking and biking alternatives.

        Why are drivers in a better mood? “Urban transit commutes tend to be longer, whereas driving in rural or suburban areas tend to be shorter.” People don’t prefer driving per se: they prefer good car infrastructure to inadequate transit infrastructure. In cities are close to the the limit to how much we can expand car infrastructure; there is little prospect of making people happier that way. But transit users are nearly as happy (if the rural numbers were taken out, as transit will never be an option there, the difference might be negligible): and we are nowhere near the limit when it comes to providing alternatives. Prioritizing them has a huge potential upside in terms of commuter mood.

        Which points right back to my argument: rather than expecting everyone share the same preferences we should build for alternatives and choice. If anything, this study supports that.

        1. I commuted 110 km a day for two years back in the 90s. It was not a good experience and demonstrated on a personal basis the high personal cost in time and vehicle maintenance. My survey results would have been the opposite of what you mentioned above.

          Immediately prior, my commute was 3 minutes on foot door-to-desk for three years, and before that 10-minutes on the bus or 25 on foot across a bridge. We lived in the inner city and it was a wonderful experience, especially considering it topped a decade without owning a car, and the fact the Granville Island Market was a 5-minute walk away. The only downside was the need for us to get away on weekends. Back then there was no Modo or Zip Cars, so we sometimes rented a car.

        2. @MB, I wrote as if the study established a causal relationship between transportation choice and mood. I doesn’t: the study is about advertising; its goal is to understand how commuters feel, not explain why they feel that way.

          Transit use correlates strongly with youth and lower income levels, both of which generally correspond to lower average levels of life satisfaction. Those arriving at a good job or home to their family are more likely to be happy if you ask me, regardless of how they get there. Those people are more likely to drive, but that doesn’t mean it was the car that improved their mood. (Keep in mind the lower figure for passengers than drivers.) We’re only looking at a 4% gap. It is quite plausible that, all else being equal, taking transit improves mood even with the straining-at-the-seams systems we have in Canada.

    3. Roger, people will drive as long as they can afford to. It’s pure economics.

      Within the term ‘economics’ I also include the affordability of maintaining stratospheric levels of public funding and debt for the massive infrastructure and externalities associated with private cars.

      There are also the downturns and recessions directly attributable to the price volatility of oil that affect employment and household budgets, ergo transportation limits. Walkable and transit-oriented communities are far more affordable (and healthy) to live in for families and individuals than sprawling car-dependent subdivisions.

      Personally, we have purposely decided to live closer in where housing is more expensive (but commuting ¼ the distance, and walking to shops) than to spend 12 weeks a year sitting behind the wheel of two separate cars each motoring 100 km a day, and again averaging 6 km per litre of milk on evenings and weekends. We are much farther ahead and far less stressed as the result of that decision.

    1. I don’t understand how you can think that. It’s a tunnel disappearing down. It passes under the Bell Centre, the Bonaventure Centre and the Convention Centre. It then goes on under 3 park spaces near rue Berri. At ground level most of it is invisible.

        1. Sauf que le centre ville. Vous avez raison, si vous parlez de petit bourgogne, ou Hochelaga, mais dans the centre ville, et près de St Laurent et St Denis, l’autoroute Ville Mare est invisible.

  4. Talking of underpass

    They use to be built in mass in the 70’s but that is a thing of the past.
    Eric is mentioning Paris. Many of them been dismantled, In the 90’s they were looking like it (that is in Rennes but you get the idea):


    Notice the bollards to reduce it from its original 2 lanes per direction to one lane (usually the other lane has been devoted to cycling, but cyclists don’t like elevation change)

    In ~2010, this underpass has been closed to traffic to become part of a BRT
    (the car you see in the picture is a paramedic)


    Better bus infrastructure rather than more bus is also the general direction eventually seen in France. Vancouver is rather lagging on this trend too

    1. Here is what I’m referring to:

      Pierre Malthis Road, Nice. (4 lane divided section of highway feeds traffic from street grade down and under an old residential section of the city and out to the Corniche.)

      The Ronda Littoral, Barcelona. (Another ~800m tunnel, starts at Barceloneta and goes right under the main waterfront.)

      Voie Georges Pompidou/Cour Albert 1er. Pont d’Alma, Paris. (Short tunnel, takes cross town traffic under entrances and exits from the north side of the Bridge. Not impeding the north and south traffic, or the Place d’Alma SE/NW traffic either.)

      All these short tunnels retain the pedestrian streetscapes above, along with their structures, as Jane Jacobs wrote about.

  5. Knight Bridge

    Yes it is the next bridge to be axed, but the untold plan is to build a new bridge tying Boundary Rd with Number 8 road in Richmond. (and the SFPR bend nicely toward the Fraser in the Number 8 road axis…)

    Eric also says:
    The traffic on Knight … Many obviously work in the light-industrial areas of Richmond and Delta and are commuting to and from south east Vancouver and parts of Burnaby.

    Yes and Transit is not an option. Ever biked on Knight bridge?

    And effectively, the Mayors plan doesnt provide anything of nature to provide realistic option for those people using Knight bridge:

    That is a problem of this plan as identified by some (bar foo), and also the rational for new road…and still it couldn’t be too complicate, neither expensive, to improve transit acess from South Van to East Richmond and Delta: see ideas in this link

  6. Knight Bridge

    Yes it is the next bridge to be axed, but the untold plan is to build a new bridge tying Boundary Rd with Number 8 road in Richmond. (and the SFPR bend nicely toward the Fraser in the Number 8 road axis…)

    Eric also says:
    The traffic on Knight … Many obviously work in the light-industrial areas of Richmond and Delta and are commuting to and from south east Vancouver and parts of Burnaby.

    Yes and Transit is not an option. Ever biked on Knight bridge?

    And effectively, the Mayors plan doesnt provide anything of nature to provide realistic option for those people using Knight bridge:

    That is a problem of this plan as identified by some (bar foo), and also the rational for new road…and still it couldn’t be too complicate, neither expensive, to improve transit acess from South Van to East Richmond and Delta: see ideas in this link

  7. I’m not sure what the fuss is about. All three of the Richmond – Vancouver bridges connect to 6 lane arterials on the Vancouver side. Why they were underbuilt is a mystery.

    Certainly the topography and congestion on the Vancouver side of the Oak and Arthur Laing make a strong case for a vehicular tunnel from their landing points up to 57th. This would also result in a better pedestrian experience in Marpole.

    1. Bob, two tunnels, each ~20 m wide to accommodate four lanes of road traffic with an emergency lane (or 10m for a deeper cut double-decker), will likely cost the taxpayers over $400,000 a linear metre each and will result in twice the amount of excavated material per metre compared to the Canada Line tunnels.

      Considering the total length is only 3.3 km for both the Arthur Lang and Oak Street tunnels to 57th Ave, as you proposed, you’re looking at a total cost potentially exceeding $1.3 billion to REDUCE traffic lanes, but yes, to also create a quieter, more pedestrianized Marpole.

      Tell you what, why don’t you write a letter to the papers and propose that this idea go to a referendum? My guess is such an idea would be inconceivable from the very first preliminary engineering feasibility calculation, and the public would ridicule you off the editorial pages.

      To think that such thinking dominated city hall in the 50s and 60s when thousands of houses would have been obliterated for a freeway network we never needed or could ever afford. Thank mayor Art Phillips and TEAM for redirecting this policy at the last moment toward a saner future.

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