Gateway plan condemned

Premier Gordon Campbell’s unveiling of the $3-billion Gateway Program to ease traffic congestion and goods transportation has not gone down well in East Vancouver.

Grandview resident and transportation activist David Fields-whose neighbourhood faces massive spikes in car-traffic volume-told the Georgia Straight he first heard of the B.C. Liberal government’s plan in June 2004. He called its official January 31 unveiling, to a partisan crowd at the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce, a “sick joke”.

“I’ve been describing it as Frankenstein’s monster of bad planning all day,” said Fields, who works at both Greenpeace Canada and the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation. “It is Frankenstein’s monster. They have this idea of an expanded highway and they’re trying to grasp onto shiny, happy alternatives like bike lanes and throwing out the idea of light rail transit possibly going across one of the bridges at some point in the future. It’s going to cost a lot; it’s not going to work at all; and with tolls, we’re going to see double the trouble and we’re going to pay for it twice: once to cross the bridge and twice through increased health-care costs over time.”

Campbell’s plan includes a new Pitt River Bridge, the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge, a promise to invest in cycling infrastructure, expansion of public transit across the Port Mann Bridge for the first time since 1986, and a new South Fraser bypass route from Delta Port to Highway 1 in Surrey.

“Our existing bridges and highways in the Lower Mainland are well beyond their designed capacities,” Campbell said in a January 31 B.C. government news release. “The Port Mann Bridge is now congested for 13 hours a day and, on a bad day, it can take two hours to get from Burnaby to Langley. Truck traffic is being forced onto residential streets in Delta and Surrey that were never designed to carry them. Volume on the Pitt River Bridge has tripled over the last 15 years.”

The Fraser Valley Real Estate Board issued a news release on January 31 praising the Gateway Program because it “not only responds to the current need in the Fraser Valley but also anticipates future growth requirements”. Fields, however, described the plan as all smoke and congestion and claimed it will spell disaster for the region if allowed to go ahead.

The Livable Region Coalition agrees with him. After the B.C. Liberal government announcement, it released a 40-page report entitled Transportation for a Sustainable Region: Transit or Freeway Expansion? put together by Eric Doherty, a UBC master’s student at the School of Community and Regional Planning.

“It [the LRC report] shows that transit initiatives, many of which are already on the books at TransLink and GVRD, can be used to move people through the corridor and make the twinning of the bridge and expansion of the highway unnecessary,” Fields said. “It gets right to the point and shows how, by doing things like increasing frequency of service of transit and introducing queue-jumper lanes as TransLink has already outlined for the Port Mann Bridge in its 10-year plan, that we don’t need to twin the bridge at all.”

Fields has already drawn attention to the issue in the past. On two occasions, he helped organize Cross Pedestrians, an ad hoc East Side group opposed to the bridge-twinning and highway expansion. On February 13, 2005, they played their first game of traffic-blocking street hockey on the Drive, followed by another game in April of last year.

Fields is planning another pavement protest for Thursday (February 2), at the median of 1st Avenue and the Highway 1 interchange in East Vancouver for the 8:30 a.m.-to-9:30 a.m. rush hour.

“We will be installing a papier-mâché sculpture of [Transportation Minister] Kevin Falcon, although it might be Gordon Campbell now, riding backwards on a donkey,” Fields said. “At the same time, we will be releasing our Freeway Fighters handbook, so it’s a tool we’re looking to get into the hands of concerned citizens all over the Lower Mainland, to get people out and taking action. The province is doing a good job of framing the issue as either twinning the bridge or nothing. There is a third option.”

Fields said this is another “classic struggle” against highway expansion.

“We’ve seen it again and again and again. We fought off the freeways in the 1970s, and now we have to do it again.”

Marion Town, executive director of Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, agrees.

“The Gateway plan is not a real solution to gridlock,” Town told the Straight. “The region would be better served by developing queue-jumper lanes on the Port Mann Bridge in 2007, as outlined by TransLink, and by converting traffic lanes to high-priority use immediately-accompanied by transit that crosses the river-at a fraction of the cost.”

Town also stressed that high- priority lanes must be an “absolute priority” and the region “must get on with it now”.

“Through that, we will see a significant change in the numbers of cars on the bridge deck.”

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