No sooner is the new Port Mann Bridge open and like Entertainment Tonight, we’re on to the next mega traffic project story in the Lower Mainland. It’s looking like the Pattullo Bridge is the next show, followed by the George Massey Tunnel, and then the Knight Street Bridge, and on and on it goes. With an average cost of say a billion dollars each give or take, we’re a little ahead of most Hollywood big budget movies but looking to create our very own blockbusters. Let’s guess $4 billion or $5 billion in the next five to 10 years? But, hey, it’s nice to have ribbon-cutting ceremonies, drive over a nice new bridge with fresh blacktop paved so smoothly, with fresh paint—and it feels so secure. Will these nice new bridges leave us with better traffic flow 10 years from now without other comprehensive changes to our driving lifestyles or just more urban sprawl?
Infrastructure ages and needs to be replaced. What I disagree with is the current approach which puts roads at the centre of our transportation planning rather than transit. I sometimes wonder if TransLink and the ministry of highways even talk to each other. Maybe it was the absence of TransLink at the recent Massey Tunnel replacement project event that makes me think that way or maybe it was the proposed five options themselves, which seemed to only contemplate the possible inclusion of an HOV and/or bike lane as an after-thought. With rail being the most carbon-efficient way to move goods and people, we need to shift our approach if we’re seriously going to reduce the 37 percent of B.C.’s greenhouse gases that come from transportation. My Green approach would be to centre any new design around rapid transit first, HOV second, commercial trucks third, and the rest sharing any remaining capacity. “Where would all the single occupancy vehicles go?” I hear people ask. The key to success of this is getting more people out of their cars and there are several ways to help do this.
First let’s consider pay as you go insurance. This involves paying for insurance based on distance driven but could also include type and size of vehicle as well. For weekday commuters, reduced insurance premiums from not driving to work would pretty much cover the cost of transit annually; it’s like getting transit for free! Also, drivers would be better able to match their insurance needs to driving requirements. For a family only needing to use their SUV on weekends for a shopping trip or kids’ sporting event, there would be a savings by not paying insurance during the week when transit makes more sense for commuting to work. It’s estimated that this type of change would also decrease car crashes by 12 percent to 15 percent and vehicle emissions in B.C. by 10 percent.
Second would be to make a concerted effort to improve alternatives like bike lanes for biking and other options. Vancouver has done a wonderful job of leading the way with a focus on bikes recently and it’s time for the regional transportation system to build upon this. Not only do we see more people leaving the vehicle at home or, as more and more urban dwellers are doing, simply opting not to own a vehicle, but those who bike also are more active with the health benefits deriving from that. By providing more alternatives, we get more alternatives like electric bikes and maybe even get them off that dangerous little area between the sidewalk and the road and away from pedestrians.
Third and one of the most controversial is that of road tolls. Yes, tolls are likely a necessary means to shift our driving habits but the approach needs to be undertaken in consultation with all stakeholders and be regional in application. The key exception I would propose to tolling would involve making HOV lanes toll-free and, to encourage drivers to take advantage of this, promoting new mobile applications for ride sharing along with community car-pooling and company programs.
These are only a few ideas to get the conversation started. There doesn’t seem to be much conversation by regional authorities and provincial ministries these days but rather it seems to be a very limited input process with a less than transparent government making final decisions behind closed doors. Maybe public consultation and engagement is more work than a glitzy ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new bridge, but isn’t this what we elect our representative to do? Let’s get some widespread public consultation going so we can build upon the conversation to find and support new options within our communities that showcase our leadership to the world. At least that’s what I signed up for as the Green Party of B.C. MLA candidate for Richmond-Steveston!