August 31, 2015

Freeways for Vancouver 2.0

We are in a new era:

(1)  Metro Vancouver voters have rejected transit (whether they meant to or not) as a way of shaping growth.

(2) The regional vision and plan are irrelevant.  It’s now Motordom by Default.

(3) This will lead to demands for de-facto freeways into and through Vancouver.

For example, PT commenter Eric just added this to the post below:

The transit tax losers need to realize that they lost, quite profoundly badly too …  It will now have to be the provincial government that makes the important decisions on smoothing the flow of traffic into and out of the bottlenecks to the north shore, along 1st and south down Knight and Oak.

Ah yes, “smoothing the flow of traffic.”  Eric’s description is essentially the polite way of justifying the freeway plans that began when Vancouver city manager Gerald Sutton-Brown initiated the first regional transportation committee in the mid-1950s to plan for future freeways and that by the mid-1960s led to the plans were pretty much identical to what Eric suggests: traffic corridors parallel to East 1st, Knight and Oak, and a Third Crossing from the North Shore.


Freeways 1960s


We built the red: the Expo SkyTrain, the Canada Line, the B-lines and SeaBus.  Will the provincial Liberals be prepared to push through the blue as traffic congestion becomes intolerable to their suburban base and transit funding is seen to be for ‘losers’?

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    1. They took the freeway idea a lot further and actually provided scaled design development drawings. That thick blue line on Cambie morphed into an 8-lane LA-scale freeway from the False Creek viaducts to Richmond, but shifted it east to occupy the entire space between Ontario and Quebec streets for their entire length of 70+ blocks. With 25-35 detached homes and multi-family suites per block, that adds up to well over 2,000 homes that would have been expropriated and demolished to clear the way. The cost of expropriation and litigation would have topped $100 million even in 1965 when housing prices were outrageously low. 2,000+ homes and suites averaging $900,000 today (detached home values balancing with apartments) would approach $2 billion before the smell of diesel hits the air and the contractors have identified their potential for notoriously expensive change orders.

      I half expect Eric to pipe up with his fully-baked-to-burnt idea of tunnelling these freeways. Goodness knows how much relocating underground services would total (usually averaging $900 – $1,500 per linear metre), but a 25-metre wide tunnel ….. well let us be thankful this idea will never muster enough courage to face thousands of displaced, raging Vancouverites, let alone the beancounters.

      1. The 3rd Crossing, (Phase 2 of this scheme) proposed in 1970, did have a tunnel under Thurlow Street across the Downtown peninsula. I broke down Swan Wooster’s numbers and costed out a rapid transit only crossing instead of the freeway tunnel. Bob Collier and I then presented this alternative at all the 3rd Crossing public hearings, which was well received by audiences but not the proponents. Art Cowie and I had formed a kind of urban guerrilla cell to come up with constructive alternatives, rather than just bitching. The other we proposed was a fast ferry crossing of Burrard Inlet. This eventually became the Seabus.

        This experience demonstrates that if professionals do speak out constructively they can be effective.

  1. It is one thing to build and subsidize highways and bridges in areas like Delta/Richmond or surrey/new Westminster where you have partial support. It would look terrible to push and subsidize a highway in Vancouver where you would get almost no support.

      1. That is true but the opposition would be much greater in Vancouver, and the support much less than for those other major project in the suburbs.

        1. You and I might think that. I am just trying to understand why anyone would want to pay more for freeways when freeway investments seem to be proven to lead to more congestion.

      2. This is true. The BC Liberals are in power in spite of the City of Vancouver and not because of it. They could make the argument that things have to be paved over for the good of the broader economy. It would likely be a bloody fight, but I think the math might work out in their favour.

        Similarly, we will never go from our situation as it is right now to a ridiculous freeway paving through the city in one go. Poor decisions in planning are aggregated at a comparatively glacial pace, with the failures of the last political regime necessarily limiting the direction of the next. What is politically impossible today, maybe less so in 3 years when congestion continues to increase and there are no other investments available to combat it.

        Maybe in three years the City decides to increase the time it takes for pedestrian crossing buttons to respond along Knight street to smooth through traffic. Pedestrians respond by not crossing the street as often because it becomes increasingly inconvenient and less pleasant. Businesses depending on local foot traffic wither, and in another three years the city decides to reduce the number of pedestrian crossings because there is no longer any reason to cross the street.

        In this way motordom becomes the only rational choice, depending on the actions of the past administrations attempting to act within the options available to them.

        Sad, slow, and harder each year to turn back from.

      3. @robloglob: “Maybe in three years the City decides to increase the time it takes for pedestrian crossing buttons to respond along Knight street to smooth through traffic. ”

        There seems to be a widely-held misconception that pedestrian and cyclist push-to-cross buttons have some sort of priority over vehicle traffic. That may be true in the odd case, but in most places, including along Knight Street, those lights are timed to fit into the traffic flow that comes from the other signaled intersections along the street.

        I cross Knight street by bike quite frequently, and when you push the button to cross you only get an immediate green if you happen to arrive at just the right time. Usually you have to wait until the cluster of traffic that was released from the nearest signaled intersection has gone by.

        1. alright, but what do you think about the actual point of my post? Re: that small choices in planning for motordom aggregate over the long term and restrict the ability of future leaders to deviate from that form of development.

        2. I have a problem with your example because it doesn’t take place in a vacuum. The City already has a traffic management strategy that places pedestrians above vehicles in terms of priority, so I can’t see them choking pedestrian access off in favour of cars as you described. Rather they would come to a compromise (which they’ve done by timing the pedestrian lights to minimize traffic impact).

          I think (with no claim to expertise on the matter) that it’s the big-picture framework such as that strategy that drives all those little decisions, so that’s where to look. And the referendum outcome is very definitely part of that big-picture framework.

  2. I live on a residential street close to the intersection of King Edward, Kingsway, and Knight. I can say, without qualification, that the community experience in my neighbourhood is horrendously degraded by motorists ‘just passing through’.

    Huge tractor trailers chew up the pavement and make for an unpleasant pedestrian experience for those looking to shop at Famous Foods or Pricesmart. Congestion on the main routes incentivize drivers to rat run through the traffic calmed residential streets leading to close calls involving children, animals, and cars just trying to a shave a minute or two off their driving time. Prostitution is high along the corridor, and I think a contributing factor to that is the increased supply of potential customers motoring through.

    It’ll get worse in the next few years too. Nothing makes it expensive for motorists or truckers to plow through the corridor and impact/endangering the lives of local residents. Without a successful transit plebiscite, there is even less reason for road users to reconsider their options.

      1. Imagine the difference if Knight south were to go into a tunnel between Terminal and 62nd for all the port and the through-traffic.

        Just about all of the heavy traffic is just passin’ through.

        The old Knight Street roadway could then be reduced to two lanes each direction, with widened sidewalks, maybe even a bike path.

        It would bring back a sense of community to just about the entire residential portion of Knight Street. Jane Jacobs would love it.

        1. No, Eric, it wouldn’t. Increasing capacity for vehicle traffic only invites more vehicle traffic. Building a double-decker road is just that.

          I would rather have comprehensive mobility pricing and across the board reductions of speed for all motor traffic moving through neighbourhoods like Vancouver. In this way we could save the exorbitant price of cut and covering a roadway.

          This would encourage people to make smarter choices about how they choose to move their goods or themselves by exposing them to the full cost of their congestion.

          Building expensive double-decker roads only makes sense in a city sick with motordom.

          And we’ll only get sicker until we start properly aligning incentives and start charging people for the true cost of their impact on a public commons like roadways.

        2. And the $4 billion cost of tunneling Knight Street would be over half of the money TransLink proposed to spend over a decade primarily on transit for the entire region.

          Do the math.

  3. The NO-vote was a rejection of Translink mis-“management”. Surely, the possible paths forward include a blend & variety of options, not just more highways.

    1. Post

      While it is continually reiterated that the No vote was a rejection of TransLink, the actual vote was a rejection of funding – and hence of transit expansion.

      Reality: no money for transit, lots of money for roads and bridges. Consequence: growth will not be shaped around transit; it can and will be shaped by roads and bridges – especially such projects as the Massey and widening of Highway 99.

      Saying now that there can be a blend and variety of options, not just more highways, is a denial of the new reality we face – especially if there has to be another vote to secure increased revenues for transit.

    2. In some people’s minds that’s what their vote was about but that was not the question. The question was about a particular funding method and transportation plan. Nowhere were people asked what they thought of Translink’s management.
      So, in the absence of alternatives, the zillion dollar automobile industrial complex lobby will dominate and make sure what benefits them will happen. None of us will be asked for input or approval on that.

  4. We stopped the expansion of freeways into Vancouver supported by the Federal and Provincial governments in the 70’s because a Council was elected that saw the folly of that expansion. Vancouver can do so again if there is the political will, however, that still has to bring the senior governments into the fold. The current ideological differences of our elected representatives are not encouraging in that regard. Hopefully that may start to change in October.

    People voted no for a variety of reasons, including not supporting the take it or leave it ‘all eggs in one basket’ Vision Broadway Corridor plan and the perceived imbalance in transit funding in Vancouver vs outlying cities. As well, they rejected the funding formula.

    If federal funding is proactively forthcoming, as it may be soon, that may kickstart the Province to become part of a win-win team, and if Metro and Translink can sort themselves out and come up with a more diversified funding formula including reasonable tolls on all bridges (the 2 tolled only system is demonstrating that it’s not working and needs change anyway), small property tax increases, maybe a small increase in the Carbon Tax, etc. perhaps voters will support transit funding.

    On the other hand, if our elected officials suddenly got the courage to exercise the decision-making authority invested in them the region could get on with decreasing our reliance on motorized vehicles and move toward a greener future.

    1. “In Canada’s largest cities, major public transit improvements are needed to reduce urban congestion and the cost of gridlock for Canadian commuters and businesses. To help address these challenges, on June 18, 2015, Prime Minister Harper announced further details regarding the new Public Transit Fund (PTF), the Government’s largest dedicated, permanent infrastructure program announced in Economic Action Plan 2015. – With the PTF, the Government of Canada has committed over $80 billion in funding to support federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal infrastructure projects across the country over the 10-year period of the New Building Canada Plan. This represents the largest and longest infrastructure federal commitment to public infrastructure in Canadian history; – See more at:

      1. Well and good, but it would be better if politicians at all levels were working on an ongoing basis behind the scenes and publicly to facilitate the delivery. The current political posturing is counter productive.

    2. Post

      “…if Metro and Translink can sort themselves out and come up with a more diversified funding formula including reasonable tolls on all bridges … small property tax increases, maybe a small increase in the Carbon Tax, etc. perhaps voters will support transit funding.”

      Response from the No side: “Don’t you understand the meaning of No? It means No More Taxes – at least not without another plebiscite. When again we can mount a campaign against the incompetence and waste of government – until we have succeeded at reducing the percent of the GDP by government at all levels to 30 percent or less. (See Fraser Institute et al.)”

      The plebiscite was not just about transit, or even the regional plan. It was also a strategy to get people to vote against the provision of collective services by government – even if such services were in their long-term interest.

      That was the beauty – and success – of the vote. It was the citizens of Metro Vancouver, not the provincial government, who limited the ‘out-of-control’ expenditures of local and regional government . The No side isn’t going to give up that victory without a fight.

      This is not a matter of lack of courage by our elected officials at the local level. We did this to ourselves, with the push from the provincial Liberals. Continuing to put the onus on local government, and continuing the hate-on of TransLink, reinforces the strategic victory of No.

      1. We agree. My comments are from a slightly different perspective and touch on other nuances of this matter. I did say: “…that may kickstart the Province to become part of a win-win team…”. It appears the biggest obstacle is the Provincial government. I was also referring to the Province with respect to my “our elected officials” reference. They have shirked this responsibility for years.

        With respect to differing on what the vote means, my glass is half full. If the scenario outlined above could be orchestrated I believe a positive outcome is possible via referendum or proactive decision making by elected representatives. Or, maybe a bit of both.

        If government spending is to be controlled based on past history a major battle will ensue with public employee unions. Locally, Vancouver under Vision has a sweetheart deal with the unions that are giving them increases slightly over the rate of inflation if I remember correctly. Check what salary a City employee makes with the City + benefits + generous holidays. Such compensation is rare indeed if available at all in the private sector. I add that the staff I encounter are good to deal with and I enjoy working with them. I’m merrily stating the obvious in responce to your ‘30%’ comment.

        Were you on Council when in +/-2006 there was the divisive and protracted ‘garbage’ strike? Confrontational labour negotiations, as well as in politics are not helpful in the long run. Perhaps a public discussion, which includes the unions, about do we need to reduce the proportion of public sector spending? If so, how can that be achieved? What is a fair balance between public and private sector renumeration?

      2. One of the most overlooked facts — and an egregious intended omission by the No side while concurrently carping on and on about taxes and government — was the 50% operating cost recovery rate of transit through tolls paid by every rider through the fare box. Show me any public road that can do the same (road tolls cover construction debt but not maintenance or replacement).

        And the Broadway subway (Bill, the idea existed long before Vision) at 320,000 riders a day will cover all its costs then generate a profit for perhaps seven or eight decades beyond. That is a function of its lower operating cost as the result of driverless technology over the century-plus asset lifespan.

        I wonder if the Fraser Institute will ever comment on that little nugget. These folks always ignore life cycle cost-benefit analyses in their haste to score immediate political points under the guise of economic discourse.

  5. It doesn’t matter what people feel like it was about. The message moving forward is no new transit. I don’t care if you voted no cause you don’t like translink or you think there’s too many managers or you don’t think Pitt Meadows was getting a good deal or you don’t like that type of tax or whatever. Bottom line message is no more transit.

      1. I would encourage a new federal government to participate in the well being of its own urban constituents a lot more. The six largest Canadian cities provide 50% of the national GDP. 85% of us live in cities.

        The Harperites have an infrastructure plan that is stretched too far and too thin and does not focus on transit nearly enough. They are also stone drunk on carbon fuels. The Liberals recently announced a more focused policy. I hope the NDP and Greens follow up and give their campaigns a more urban fine tuning.

    1. Sadly, I cannot see any way to move forward with a proper network of transit lines in the region. I know several left-leaning, transit dependent individuals who couldn’t bring themselves to vote yes because decades of TransLink bashing have them convinced the organization cannot be trusted with any more money.

      A result like that proves the propaganda war is over and transit lost.

  6. I hate to say it, but the longer transit advocates paint a bleak future and talk about how horrible things are, the better it is for motordom, too. We need a positive alternative. We need a CTF-style organization for people who believe in a positive future, and want to work to build that. We sure don’t need any more whining over the result of the referendum.

    1. Great idea, Tessa. Maybe new posts can be provided on this and other blogs and Websites that promote the exploration of new ideas over complaining.