Jordan Bateman can normally be found in Langley Township, where he’s a second-term councillor.  As a journalist-cum-politician, he’s good at self-promotion (not a bad thing in my book) and exploiting new media – Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and, if I counted correctly, four web sites. 

He drove to Vancouver this last Wednesday evening to speak at a PlanTalk session (along with SFU Urban Studies director Anthony Perl) on the Gateway Project.  Not surprisingly, as a principal of Get Moving B.C., Jordan is a supporter. 

Actually, if you’re a politician south of the Fraser, you are pretty much obliged to support the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge and the widening of Highway 1, regardless of any lingering doubts you might have about the long-term consequences.

What’s refreshing about Bateman – and there’s no question of his ability to disarm with charm – is that he’s not solely a carhead.  This man wants transit, particularly light rail, and he has a compelling vision of how it could transform Langley along the 200th Street corridor.  Perhaps it was a strategic appeal to an urban-centred audience of planners, but Bateman seems to genuinely believe in a more transit-oriented future reflected as much in land use as in transportation. 

200th Street waiting for light rail

200th Street waiting for light rail

His case, like most other South of Fraser politicians, is that they are not fairly getting the resources from TransLink that they need to support their visions.  Without transit, they argue, they are reliant more than they want to be on their cars, and hence the need for Gateway.

Nice finesse.  But of course, Langley was never conceived nor planned nor developed as a place for transit.  It’s a pure expression of Motordom: almost complete car-dependence.  And it shows.

Langley is testament to an unspoken compact: as people buy more cars, government will build more roads.  Congestion as they see it is a problem to be solved with more asphalt, not an inevitable consequence of  their decisions.  Car dependence is embedded in their road standards, parking bylaws, subdivision designs and land-use policies.

When asked to decide on priorities, i.e. transit first, roads second, South-of-Frasers leaders say they want ‘balance’ – as though somehow we can have both massive, congestion-free infrastructure for ever more vehicles, and a comprehensive transit system that can compete with it.  

Bateman defends Kevin Falcon, the Minister of Transportation, against those who attack him personally.  He believes that the Minister is open to new ideas, and simply needs to be educated, along with the community, on the need for light rail and more transit.   My criticism, however, is not of the man personally (he’s one of the most effective members of the Liberal cabinet) but of his message.

The Port Mann Bridge twinning and highway widening was announced as a way to address traffic congestion, and as a done deal.  It was announced suddenly, outside the context of any strategic plan, without even the pretense of a business case that would have looked at options and consequences.  In its failure to acknowledge induced traffic, it was clear that the project, as a spokesman noted, was simply a buildout of the 1960s intentions of the highway planners.  

So the message was clear: continue to plan for the car; you needn’t take take transit seriously.   In the face of criticism, Falcon added on some transit teasers, without ever making financial commitments – an HOV-lane for Rapidbus, but no money for buses; a lane for light rail in the future, but no light rail.

Falcon could have framed Gateway as part of a sustainable transportation strategy, including the expenditures for transit as part of the expansion, using road pricing as a mechanism to both limit congestion and fund alternatives, and to reinforce the strategies of the regional plan rather than erode them.   Imagine, for instance, if the light-rail line down 200th Street had been included in the announcement.  Though Bateman is sceptical, it would have offset if not eliminated the criticism of Gateway, if not of the Minister.

And so Gateway will be built. And it will likely be, as Anthony Perl argued, obsolete within a decade.  South of the Fraser will be more vulnerable than ever to oil-price shocks and shortages, and there will be few alternatives.

But perhaps, as a consequence of Jordan Batemen, there may be a light-rail line down 200th Street.  And if self-promotion is what it takes, then that’s why it’s not a bad thing.