In 2008, daily vehicle traffic in the George Massey Tunnel was down 7.5 percent compared to 2004.
It’s a figure that came out in a regional survey by TransLink. It’s also a number that transportation and land-use expert Gordon Price cited last year on his blog (pricetags.wordpress.com) when the future of the tunnel was still being discussed. For the director of SFU’s City Program, it’s another indicator of a larger trend, which is the decline of automobile use in the Pacific Northwest.
Also last year, Price established that traffic coming in and out of Downtown Vancouver in 2010 had fallen to 1965 levels, even though the area had doubled the population and twice the jobs it had in 1965.
According to the former Vancouver city councillor, these are important premises in looking at the provincial government’s bid to build a new bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel. The decision was made without any commitment to new investments in public transit in the Lower Mainland.
“If you’re going to vote on one but not the other—and if the decision results that you are now really going to lock yourself to car dependence and industrialization of the green zone—well, that’s a fundamental shift in the direction that this region has had since the 1950s,” Price told the Straight in a September 24 phone interview.
Price pointed out that roads, bridges, and tunnels are essential parts of a transportation network that also includes transit.
“You don’t fund them separately. You fund them together as part of a larger strategy,” he said.
That is why he goes back to his finding that Downtown Vancouver’s traffic in 2010 dropped to 1965 levels. It’s proof, he said, that if governments offer alternatives to driving in the form of transit, cycling, and walking, the demand for more freeways wanes.
“The strategies that we’ve used to provide a more balanced transportation system have worked,” Price said. “The data is in.”
Premier Christy Clark has insisted that any new funding for transit in the Lower Mainland must be approved by voters in a referendum, a requirement not imposed on projects like the George Massey Tunnel’s bridge replacement.
“If it withdraws resources from elsewhere, then you really do have a management crisis for the transportation system,” Price said, “which kind of leads to the feeling that maybe the [referendum] vote is meant to fail so that the tax and capital room—the debt that has to be incurred for massive transportation infrastructure—is vacated by TransLink.”
Price added: “If it’s so that TransLink has to vacate the capital markets and that we will make up with road infrastructure the growth that otherwise would be served by transit, that’s got to be an essential part of the discussion.”