Is Port Metro Vancouver a sprawl machine?
Here’s Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester in an op-ed in the Sun, flying a balloon for highway expansion that would, once again, rev up the sprawl machine – in the name of, once again, international trade and alleviating traffic congestion.
We are also looking at transportation and logistics efficiencies that will help reduce traffic congestion and emissions.
These include infrastructure improvements to mitigate bottlenecks and improve the quality of life for residents where port activities and community interact.
One such bottleneck is the George Massey Tunnel. When the tunnel was built in 1959, it opened up residential and business development south of the Fraser. Now, 50 years later, it is frequently jammed with local commuter traffic, Vancouver-Seattle traffic, land-border and port truck traffic, plus waves of vehicles heading to and from BC Ferries.
The tunnel is also a marine bottleneck. It was not designed for the size of ships used in modern day trade, which must access the Fraser River in Richmond and Surrey. As a result, the tunnel is becoming a significant obstacle to international trade on the Fraser.
Make no mistake: Vancouver, with one of the only natural, deep-water harbours on the west side of the Pacific, is fundamentally about being a port – a place where the wealth of half a continent is funnelled, a place of exchange with Asia and the world. It is our destiny.
So, given our strategic importance, decisions about port infrastructure are of national, indeed international, concern. And that’s fundamentally why decisions about port growth are not controlled by the region, and why the people who live here do not have a veto. Decisions are often made in rooms far away from here, by those able to mobilize huge resources, with a set of priorities based on the premise of continual growth.
And one priority is particularly relevant:
Eliminating bottlenecks and improving roads and road safety for trade and community traffic alike is a port priority.
And that is the why the Port is one of the key enablers of sprawl, shaping a car- and truck-dependent region that trumps all other attempts to limit Motordom: the high-energy, low-density, car-dependent way of life that has characterized urban growth for most of the last century.
Nothing so well illustrates this worldview than the billions spent on Gateway, in all its manifestations: new bridges – the Port Mann; new roads – the South Fraser Perimeter; widened highways – No. 1 and the arterials leading to the border – all justified for improving goods movement, all facilitating urban sprawl.
But how land use is shaped beyond port operations is not a Port concern; that is the responsibility of municipalities and the region. The Port, and the provincial and federal transportation ministries, are not charged with taking into account the externalities of their infrastructure.
They are, however, quick to criticize the region if it does not accommodate their needs, particularly the provision of industrial lands for truck-based operations. There are disturbing signs that the constraints of the Agricultural Land Reserve might be overridden as developers option land with the intent to serve the Port’s needs. And why not, now that enhanced access – notably the South Fraser Perimeter Road – has been thurst into the rich delta farmlands?
The Port does argue that lessening congestion will reduce greenhouse gases and commuter times, thereby benefitting the environment and the economy. Or, as Silvester phrases it: ” transportation and logistics efficiencies that will help reduce traffic congestion and emissions.”
Yes, that’s one thing we’ve learned: new road-based infrastructure always helps reduce traffic congestion – surely the reason why, after a century of massive road construction, traffic congestion is so rare.
It’s an effective strategy, though. Commuters, frustrated with the line-ups and delays, become the most effective lobby for road expansion, hoping against hope that they can save a few more minutes and frustration by backing the politicians who will sign off on the expenditure of billions. The expanded roads lead to more development, of course, and more traffic, eliminating the gains made by the expansion of the road in the first place. The regional highways justified for goods movement become the main streets of suburbia, surrounded at every interchange by car-dependent retail malls and office parks.
What with the Tsawwassen Nation’s proposed mega mall, and the options being placed on adjacent agricultural lands so they can be paved over for warehouses and intermodal operations for new terminals and docks, those frustrated commuters from Delta may well be the advocates for the infrastructure that will bring to an end their pastoral way of life. Once justified for port purposes, there’s little hope that regional or municipal constraints will be sustained.
The Port counts on that.
Again, Robin Silvester:
Planning processes are important, but what’s more important is the collaborative action required to advance them. Not action decades from now, but action now.