Eric Doherty and PJ Lilley: An Earth Day call to action against freeway expansion in Lower Mainland

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      By Eric Doherty and PJ Lilley

      Premier Christy Clark and her new minister of transportation, Blair Lekstrom, have a surprise for people across much of the Lower Mainland—big cuts to transit service scheduled for Earth Week. TransLink, which is controlled by cabinet appointees, has posted a long list of transit service cuts which came into effect today (April 18).

      Many of the cuts to bus service read like this one regarding the #152 to Coquitlam: “All trips after 8 p.m., service reduced from 30 mins to 60 mins.” There are numerous variations on the theme—cutting evening bus service after 8, 9, or 10 p.m. to only once per hour. Once per hour service, which is never completely reliable, is a great way to convince transit riders to go out and buy a car. (A selection of the transit service cuts has been posted here.)

      Last week, on the evening of April 13, TransLink once again tried in vain to convince New Westminster residents that they should welcome more traffic into their neighbourhoods. One of their consultants even tried to convince the audience that building more roads is the way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but few seemed convinced by his suggestion that more roads will lead to less pollution.

      For months, TransLink has been trying to convince New Westminster council to approve the next stage of the Gateway Program, the first bit of the North Fraser Perimeter Road in New Westminster. Just the first short section is expected to cost about $175 million, with the New West section of the NFPR expected to cost as much as $1 billion if it is ever built.

      Meanwhile, the province is pushing ahead with spending an estimated $1.2 billion to $2 billion on the new South Fraser Perimeter Road freeway. The clearcuts along the banks of the Fraser River are getting bigger every day, and bulldozers are starting to cut into the sensitive river banks. Most of the areas along the edge of Burns Bog and through the farmlands of Delta are already under layers of preload sand, which needs to be left for years to compress the ground before construction can begin in earnest.

      In New Brunswick, the Conservative government has just cancelled their Gateway freeway expansion despite a signed contract. Even our freeway-loving B.C. Liberals have put the six-lane replacement for the four-lane Pattullo Bridge, budgeted at about a billion dollars, on hold. The age of cheap and stable oil prices is over, and even conservative politicians who don’t take global warming seriously are starting to notice.

      But the price of oil is not the only thing that is changing. From Egypt’s Tahrir Square to Madison, Wisconsin, people are getting up off their couches and taking to the streets to demand change. In North Africa and the Middle East the focus is on establishing real democracy and ending the neo-liberal economic policies that have plunged so many into dire poverty while crooked millionaires become billionaires. In the U.S., people have started fighting back against the draconian attacks on basic human rights such as collective bargaining. Here in B.C., in one of the historic centres of environmental activism, we need to look at building a movement for climate justice. We face an immediate climate crisis, and projects like freeways that increase our dependency on cars and tar sands oil are climate crimes that must be stopped now.

      Like previous moments of global unrest, such as 1968, we are living through one of the rare tipping point moments where big changes can happen astoundingly quickly. The outcomes of such historical moments can never be predicted in advance, but the potential for an avalanche of change is in the air.

      This is the situation in which local Council of Canadians chapters and, endorsed by over 20 other groups, have decided to call for a mass direct action against freeway expansion on the second anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly decision to create International Mother Earth Day—Friday (April 22) .

      Earth Day has become known as a day to quietly plant trees in parks. We will be planting trees on Mother Earth Day, but not in a park. Instead we will reforest a freeway construction site on the banks of the Fraser River, and some of us will set up camp and stay to protect the trees and stop the construction of the SFPR freeway. There will be a variety of ways people can get involved and demonstrate their support, including roles with little or no legal risk. All are welcome to participate.

      Please join us at 2 p.m. on Friday at Annieville Supermarket (10996 River Road, Delta). (Take the #640 bus from Scott Road SkyTrain station or Ladner Exchange.) A group bike ride to the action will leave from the Vancouver Earth Day Parade at noon and free buses leave at 2 p.m. Full details are available at

      Eric Doherty is a member of the Council of Canadians’ Vancouver/Burnaby chapter.

      PJ Lilley is a Surrey mother and member of



      Carmen Mills

      Apr 18, 2011 at 2:33pm

      It's about frikin time! The SFPR is a moral outrage. I live in East Van but this disgusting dinosaur is happening in my backyard - Surrey, Delta - we live on a very small planet and this is outrageous.

      Whether we "stop" this particular freeway or not, it's got to stop somewhere. Let the end of highway-building begin here and now. See you on Friday, let's go!

      Council of Canadians, Victoria.

      Apr 18, 2011 at 9:01pm

      Eric and PJ, great summary of this unnecessary and habitat-destroying freeway. The injustice of making transit cuts to fund highway spending needs to be fought, and I'm glad the Earth Day action is happening.


      Apr 19, 2011 at 1:16am

      Is there enough room in Vancouver for everyone to grow all their own food? No.

      Can we transport large amounts of food to the storefronts of businesses that sell it to you on transit or rail? No, not unless we spent trillions on a massive grid of new tracks, which isn't happening.

      Are we capable of teleporting the food where it needs to go? No.

      Is density in Vancouver going to continue to skyrocket, meaning we'll need room for even more trucks so the new residents can also eat food? Yes.

      Seems to me like we might just need highways after all. Assuming humans continue to need food that is.. But hey, don't let logic get in the way of a feel-good hippy-dippy sit-around to save the planet.

      Ken Hardie

      Apr 19, 2011 at 7:05am

      Mr. Doherty's research has let him down a bit. First, there have been no over-all cuts to transit service. We have nipped and tucked some poorly used service hours and shifted the capacity to high-demand routes. Secondly, the changes to transit services did not involve the premier or the transportation minister -- they were developed by TransLink as part of a 'service optimization' program intended to put transit services on routes and time periods where it will provide more rides.


      Apr 19, 2011 at 8:55am

      @ Ken,

      "We have nipped and tucked some poorly used service hours"

      In other words, Translink has cut transit service in New Westminster, Coquitlam and other areas because they don't have enough money to increase service in other areas without cutting in others.

      Ken, how much 'nipping and tucking' is being done to Translink's road building budget? To the budget for consultants to try to convince the people of New Westminister that your can reduce GHG emissions by building more roads?


      Apr 19, 2011 at 8:59am


      Every time there is an article on cleaner transportation alternatives someone brings up an argument about how we transport goods.

      The only problem is that they conveniently ignore the reality of how the transportation system is currently used. There is plenty of excess capacity for transporting food and other goods on our current highway system. We don't need any more highways for that purpose.

      Take for example the Port Man bridge. Only about 10% of the traffic on it is commercial truck traffic.

      The problem is the other 80-90 % which is predominately single occupancy passenger vehicle commuters. If there were better alternatives for these people the highways would be way less crowded.

      The truth is that if we gave commuters better alternatives we would not have to build more highways. In fact we could tear up 50% of the existing roads and still have plenty of capacity for transporting our food.

      Ken Hardie

      Apr 19, 2011 at 10:00am

      One more comment...the writers claim TransLink's Board is appointed by cabinet, which is not the case. A five-member screening panel with reps chosen by different groups recruits qualified candidates and the Mayors' Council makes the final selection of directors. It is unfortunate that the writers have traded accuracy for political comment, something that does no favours for the credibility of the item.

      Ken Hardie

      Apr 19, 2011 at 10:27am

      No Eric, we are shifting services from inefficient routes and reallocating all of them to routes and times where they'll serve more people -- something that should be done (and has been done in the past) regardless of funding levels. The roads budget is constrained, with capital funding to municipalities scheduled to be reduced by over 50%.


      Apr 19, 2011 at 1:33pm

      @ Ken

      "the writers claim TransLink's Board is appointed by cabinet, which is not the case"

      You are quite right here, I should have clarified that the process is indirect and convoluted. It should have read more like "which is controlled by appointees selected by the government's closest business allies, with no meaningful control by local government or the residents of the lower mainland"

      For a bit of background see