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Pattullo versus Pedal: Guess which one gets cut?

November 15, 2012

Today is the 75th anniversary of the Pattullo Bridge.  (The New Westminster News Leader tells the story here.)

But its days are likely numbered.  TransLink staff has approval from its board (and another $7 million for preliminary work) to proceed with design for a six-lane replacement, roughly where the existing bridge is now.  (Though there are rumours the particulars may change as a result of negotiations with New Westminster.)

Nonetheless, it’s an interesting reflection of priorities when compared with the stated policies of the agency – and the actual demands in the region – for cycling infrastructure, as illustrated here:


UPDATE: Chart revised.

[1] TransLink 2008 Screenline counts

[2] TransLink 2008 Trip Diary

[3] TransLink 2011 Trip Diary

[4] TransLink 2013 Base Plan


From 2011-2013, the cycling program has been cut in half, back to 2004 levels – divesting the cycling program of a total of $9 million over three years. That’s a cut of 50 percent in order to save TransLink 0.2 percent of its total budget – a drop in the bucket for overall transportation funding but a massive blow to cycling in the region.

Add in cost-sharing with municipalities and the province, it could be a potential loss of $18 million towards cycling infrastructure investment in Metro Vancouver over three years.

Of TransLink’s six stated goals in Transport 2040, the cycling budget supports all of them.  The Pattullo Bridge only supports one: efficient goods movement (and even that’s debatable).

One can make the case that the best outcome for the Pattullo might be a new four-lane bridge (same auto capacity as we have now) with excellent, well-designed ped and bike facilities.  It’s actually more of a critical link for cycling than it is for cars:  For a car to divert to the Alex Fraser or Port Mann is not that big of a deal and it would actually probably induce them to switch to SkyTrain, but for a ped or cyclist to divert that far is a big inconvenience.

The danger is that even with a new six-lane bridge, we might end up with substandard pedestrian and bike facilities.  When budgets get crunched, the ped & bike facilities always seem to be the first to go.   An upgrade of the existing bridge, though, would likely leave it with existing unsafe conditions for peds and bikes.

But when it comes to the design of a new bridge (or whether to replace it at all), it is cycling that provides one of the best arguments for renewal.  Ironic, eh?


UPDATE: From the International Herald Tribune –

With more bikes than people, and a 43 percent bicycle commuting mode share, Amsterdam is certainly the envy of global cities (such as London, Paris, Barcelona, and New York) that are trying to expand their bicycling infrastructure. With the recent announcement of $150 million of investment in upgrading bike routes and enhancing bicycle storage, those cities chasing Amsterdam are going to be left in the dust, reports Christopher F. Schuetze.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2012 12:08 pm

    Thanks for drawing attention to the obvious, once again.

    However, TransLink does not need to blow $800M- $1B on a new bridge to make the bridge safer and comfortable for cyclist use. Actually, a new, bigger bridge may result in much worse cycling conditions, especially on the New West side.

    There is no reason not to fix the bridge, protect its heritage value, make it three lanes with a counterflow, and install decent bicycle/pedestrian barriers.

    The real embarrassment is how TransLink has allowed the bridge to degrade to the condition it is currently in! It hasn’t seen a bucket of paint in years – a sad dereliction of duty to protect the value of a public asset.

    • November 15, 2012 2:00 pm

      I agree. Three lane contraflow with really great pedestrian and cycling facilities. Then slap a toll on it (I know this would be difficult without a newly constructed bridge) and there wouldn’t be any problems with congestion.

      This would likely require removing the toll on the Port Mann. Then people have an option. Patullo might be more convenient, but you have to pay. Port Mann is free, and hopefully one day will have BRT/LRT over it. Then, at least, we are not penalizing those who live South of the Fraser, often because its the only place they can afford to live.

      • November 15, 2012 3:06 pm

        “penalizing those who live South of the Fraser, often because its the only place they can afford to live”.

        This is a common argument against tolls and road pricing, but isn’t the alternative subsidizing people to live far away and drive everywhere?

      • November 15, 2012 6:21 pm

        I don’t really understand the notion that there ought to be a free alternative to any tolled route. Is there a requirement that there be a free restaurant next to any restaurant that charges? The reason that there is a charge for things is that they cost. The baker charges for the bread not to punish the bread lover, or as part of a war on bread, but because it costs to make it. Urban transport is no different. The best solution to tolling inequities for South of Fraser folks is to toll everything.

      • November 15, 2012 6:38 pm

        I think what we may be talking about here is where people live in relation to where they work, shop and socialize. The problem isn’t individuals living south of the Fraser. The problem is living south of the Fraser and working in Vancouver. We need to address things like employment and retail differences throughout the region. These disparities lead to individuals commuting on a daily basis out of necessity. If we can change this, then all these bridges wouldn’t be necessary and we wouldn’t need to debate the penalizing/subsidizing of certain populations.

        Until we do that, though, we need a way to make sure that road costs are distributed fairly, and provide viable alternatives to driving (such as rapid transit across the Port Mann).

      • November 16, 2012 1:57 pm

        I’m not sure how sanguine I am about increased employment and retail mix throughout the region decreasing travel distance. Many cities in Asia are multi-nodal and have highly mixed neighbourhoods throughout, but they still have a high degree of travel. I found an old stat that the average daily travel time for a Tokyoite is 90 minutes. If this is correct and it truly is an average, it is really high. London is also highly multi-nodal and mixed and it also has high travel times. Could be that it just takes longer to get around in those cities, but also seems like when opportunities are increased, people travel more to take advantage of them. They don’t necessarily move close to their destinations and they don’t restrict their destinations to the area where they live. Also, residential location and job location are quite sticky, they are hard to change to accommodate changes in circumstances.

  2. November 15, 2012 4:34 pm

    I actually do not have a problem with a new 6 lane Pattullo. It is the spaghetti scramble of ramps at either end of the bridge that is the problem. The Burrard Street Bridge is a good model for what an urban bridge ought to be like. It comes to normal intersections at either end and has buildings right up to the footings. The proposed Pattullo is like the Granville Street Bridge, an outburst from a frustrated freeway builder. Truncating all the freeway ramps would slow and civilize the traffic and free up a bunch of land for development.

    Keeping the current bridge is certainly cheaper, but the current bridge is nasty. I’ve walked, driven and ridden over this bridge and it is unpleasant in all circumstances. It needs wider sidewalks on both sides and wider car lanes (although with three lanes they would admittedly be wider).

    Now I would not support increased capacity if the bridge were not tolled, but with a toll, there should be even fewer cars on it than there are now. The increase in lanes is not to handle increased usage but to make driving more pleasant. What I would really prefer is a new high level 4 lane bridge with wide sidewalks and a new lift rail bridge with two truck lanes that went directly from Front Street to the SFPR. This would have a higher toll to discourage car use, and would add to traffic pressure on the western end of Front Street. But it would take trucks off Royal Avenue, and the Stewardson-Columbia-Front route needs work anyway like a “lid” of condos over the rail lines and a two lane priority vehicle route something like the lid of buildings be the Vancouver Convention Centre.

  3. Richard Campbell permalink
    November 15, 2012 7:03 pm

    With the extra lanes on the Port Mann and the tolls reducing demand, they could probably just close the Pattullo and save hundreds of millions of dollars for badly needed transit and cycling improvements. We have no need for yet another expensive overbuilt underutilized bridge. Tolls are not covering the cost of the Golden Ears and will likely not cover the cost of the Port Mann. Golden Ears is costing TranLink $30 million a year.

    • Andrew Leach permalink
      November 15, 2012 9:16 pm

      I completely agree with Richard. Next to the Pattullo is the Fraser River Swing Bridge. It is 108 years old, single track and has a speed limit of 10 mph. If I am correct, VIA Rail, Amtrak, SRY, BNSF, CN and CP all use it. It will need to be replaced if a commuter rail or interurban system between the Fraser Valley and Vancouver is ever re-established, or for upgrades to passenger rail between Vancouver and Seattle. Is the province going to continue to ignore this vital piece of infrastructure?:

      I like this letter about the Pattullo replacement from Transport Action BC:

      I`m not a structural engineer and I`m not familiar with the justification made for replacing the Pattullo, but if there isn`t the demand for a new six-lane bridge, why not save money by upgrading the existing structure, making safety improvements for road users, and investing, more wisely, in public transit, cycling and walking infrastructure in the region?:

    • November 16, 2012 4:54 pm

      I certainly agree that tolls need to cover the cost of the new bridges. We will have to see what happens with the Port Mann. Of course a part of me hopes that the traffic is well down just so there is less traffic. And maybe more of an impetus to more to a region-wide toll.

      But closing the Pattullo would impose a serious inconvenience on North Surrey and New West. Having to go around to the Port Mann is a big detour and forces people into freeway driving even for very short trips. And some structure would have to be maintained there for the pedestrians and cyclists.

  4. November 15, 2012 11:33 pm

    What is said on the current state of this bridge like any other in the region is probably more crap than anything else. Bridges around the world live 100 years if not more like the New York Brooklyn bridge…
    Traffic: The venerable Lion’s gate bridge carries as much as traffic as the Pattullo bridge on 3 lanes…and has been retrofitted with good pedestrian/cycling facilities (On a 3 lanes Pattullo bridge, it could be easily done)

    So, it is just a question of will.

    And yes, the rail Swing bridge on the river, a real bottleneck for efficient good movement in the region, should be definitely a much higher priority than the Pattullo bridge.

  5. guest permalink
    November 16, 2012 2:43 pm

    For a car to divert to the Alex Fraser or Port Mann is not that big of a deal and it would actually probably induce them to switch to SkyTrain, but for a ped or cyclist to divert that far is a big inconvenience.

    Whoa. An admission that cars are more convenient than bikes in some circumstances?

  6. Adam Fitch permalink
    November 17, 2012 8:16 pm

    Gordon, I agree that more money should be spent by Metro Vancouver on cycling infrastructure, but this comparison between the cost to replace the Patullo Bridge, and spending on cycling routes was off the mark.

    First, the Patullo Bridge is one ofthe few connectors across the Fraser, and is therefore essential to our economy and way of life.

    Second, the $530-$780 million “earmarked” to replace it will surely not all be paid by MetroVan. This is a major project, and will likely be shared by several levels of government, plus tolls.

    Third, it is a myth that “we all subsidize drivers”, as some posters have commented. I do not know the figures, but I feel confident in saying that all drivers pay more in gas taxes than is spent by governments on roads and maintenance. It is a general revenue slush fund.

    Fourth, some posters have commented about tolling the new Patullo Bridge, and the “policy” that there should be a free alternative route. This is just a Liberal government ploy. They know how unpopular tolls are, and they are trying to avoid the bad news at all costs. But eventually, some government will have to take the plunge. It is inevitable that tolls will be implemented, both to pay for the intrastructure, and as a transportation policy tool. It is just a matter of when. It will be interesting to see what happens when the Port Mann toll is started in December, and when it is increased hext year, and who wins the provincial election in May 2013. If the Liberals win, I predict that a tolled Patullo will not be far behind. And if they lose, maybe the NDP will do it.

    My hope is that the Patullo will be replaced with a 4 lane or 6 lane new bridge (a counterflow is not efficient and should not be pursued) and that the current bridge be left for peds and cyclists.

    I have been promoting the same approach for the old Port Mann Bridge, but I have not received much positive response. Too bad, because the old Port Mann is scheduled to be torn down starting next month. Theres a couple of hundred million $ worth of EXISTING infrastructure which is destined to be sent to the recycling mill and landfill.

    Metro Vancouver was able to find $40 million for a last minute ped and cycling addition to the Canada Line skytrain bridge from Vancouver to Richmond a few years ago, and I have heard nary a peep about that expenditure. I think it is a popular and well-used route.

    I would like to see them step up and spend a similar amount, to build some cycling and pedestrian specific connector ramps at both ends of the old Port Mann Bridge. I would bet you that within a year, it will be a well used route. Some say that it is a bridge too far. I don’t think so.

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