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“New Port Mann a link to the past”

November 30, 2012

From the Vancouver Metro newspaper:

Its historical significance and sheer wow factor is unquestioned.

But everything else about the new Port Mann Bridge is fair game for sustainable transportation advocates.

Gordon Price – Simon Fraser University director of the City Program and board member of the International Centre for Sustainable Cities – says the government missed a golden opportunity to promote smart regional growth when the 10-lane, $3.3-billion megabridge between Coquitlam and Surrey officially opens Saturday.

Instead the project promotes urban sprawl, car use and champions outdated, 20th century “motordome” thinking, flying in the face of emerging trends indicating decreased car use and more demand for public transportation.

“The most frustrating thing is that [the Port Mann] doesn’t do what they said it was going to do: reduce congestion,” said Price. “The claim is disingenuous when you pass on the opportunity to include rapid transit within the budget. When that happens, expanding the capacity for cars [without an alternative] increases the demand. If people can travel farther in the same amount of time from cheaper land, they will.”

The original Port Mann, which cost $25 million in 1964, opened the region up to expansion south of the Fraser River.

That growth strained the road network, creating a situation today where the old five-lane Port Mann Bridge is congested in both directions 13 hours of the day.

Price doesn’t dispute that a replacement was required and doesn’t doubt commuters will give the bridge plenty of use despite its tolls.

But he calls the final design overkill and unnecessary.PMB_2

“Why do we need the world’s widest bridge when all the planners said eight lanes would do?” he said. “I doubt you’ll ever need all 10 lanes. It’s today’s Granville Street Bridge, which never reached its designed capacity and never will.”  …

Forecasting done last year by Steer Davies Gleave, for Port Mann operator Transportation Investment Corporation, showed that traffic volumes on the existing Port Man have steadily decreased from 2005 to 2010, by approximately 8,000 vehicles in that period.

A Frontier Group report on driving behaviour in the U.S. shows the average annual number of vehicle-miles travelled by people between the ages of 16 and 34 have dropped 23 per cent from 2001 and 2009.

While the recession is a factor in both cases, the Frontier Group states high gas prices, licensing laws, improved alternative transportation (public transportation, primarily) and changing attitudes about driving and the environment represent the start of a generational shift.

Meanwhile, increasingly aggressive urban planning on a municipal level emphasizing livable communities, public transit and non-vehicle infrastructure is dramatically changing driving behaviour.

The City of Vancouver, for example, has reduced traffic volumes in the downtown core to 1960s levels.

Price feels governments have been slow to react because leaders grew up in driving cultures and new statistics showing a shift away from that mentality are so dramatic “it’s easy to be skeptical”.

Yet around the world, recession, gas prices, greener vehicles and driving trends are starving tax-fueled highway departments of cash while privately-operated, tolled projects (such as Brisbane, Australia’s Clem 7 and Airport Link tunnels) are going bankrupt.

Locally, the Golden Ears Bridge, opened in 2009, has fallen well short of average traffic projections.

And that doesn’t factor in future transit improvements and the impact promising technologies, like driverless cars, may have on congestion.

“Something is changing,” said Price, who admits the mounting evidence is too young to form any concrete conclusions on.

Still, it begs the question: Are big-ticket highway megaprojects – traditional signifiers of economic development, regional growth and progress – like the Port Mann a dying breed?

“Bingo,” said Price. “I just heard someone mention the other day that even the Ministry of Transportation knows these are last big highway projects they’ll every be able to do in the Lower Mainland.”

So be sure to take a snapshot of the new Port Mann, it could be the last of its kind.

“Now that it’s built, we should celebrate it,” said Price. “Give the engineers full marks, it’s an impressive work of art.”

13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2012 12:08 pm

    A $3bn sculpture celebrating 20th century American technology! Who says BC doesn’t support the arts!

  2. November 30, 2012 3:38 pm

    Maybe I’m just trying to be an optimist here but I see an opportunity with the new Port Mann bridge if it is overbuilt as argued. Those extra lanes can be re-purposed for transit usages down the road (read: when a new government is in place), ensuring that we get some redeeming value out of this project.

  3. Richard Campbell permalink
    November 30, 2012 5:02 pm

    If the usage on the Port Mann is indeed low because of the tolls, this is a great opportunity to save taxpayers and drivers a billion dollars by not building a new Pattullo Bridge. Instead use the money saved to invest in rapid transit. With the SFPR, it would be easy for most drivers to use the Port Mann instead.

  4. Tim permalink
    November 30, 2012 5:43 pm

    We should wait to see the utilization of the Port Mann prior to replacing the George Massey and the Patullo. Possibly smaller scale projects will be suffice that can add transit and cycling/pedestrian capabilities.

    What is sad about the Port Mann is the transit from Surrey on it. There is none! A trip from Guildford to Port Coquitlam for example, only 11 km takes 1.5 hours! That is an average speed of 7.3 km/hr. This is because transit takes a 14 km detour and doesn’t take the direct route. Thanks Kevin!

  5. guest permalink
    November 30, 2012 9:27 pm

    WRT transit over the Port Mann on opening day – the Naysayers said there wouldn’t be ANY rapid buses over the Port Mann on opening day – NOW everyone is complaining that what’s being proviided (temporaily until facilities are finished) isn’t good enough. A partner (maybe City of Surrey Development Office?) is needed for the 156th Ave bus exchange. Seems like Surrey lost track of things then was “shocked” (as everyone else seemed to know what was happening). You’d think that Surrey would have noticed that there weren’t any applications to build a bus loop in its own City – unless it doesn’t track those types of things.
    Will people NEVER be satisfied?

    BTW – the whole project incloved not just the bridge, but the more challenging task of replacing the Cape Horn interchange as well as replacing almost all of the overpasses along the highway – i.e. proactive infrastructure renewal (to avoid becoming Montreal west).

  6. November 30, 2012 10:25 pm

    The point is that the Province promised something it didn’t deliver, and it is not only the bus:

  7. mezzanine permalink
    December 1, 2012 12:29 am

    Count me in as being glad that gateway was built.

    If anything, I would be interested to see what will happen to utilization when tolls, especially full tolls start to apply to crossing the PMB. IMO this is a watershed for road pricing in the metro area. The GEB, although it was tolled earlier, was on an entirely new route, and people could still detour around the PMB and the Pitt Bridge. We’ll see what happens…

  8. David permalink
    December 1, 2012 1:41 am

    The old Port Mann had 2 general purpose lanes westbound feeding Hwy [40]1. The new Port Mann when completed will have… 2 general purpose lanes westbound feeding Hwy 1. Another HOV lane to #1, two lanes headed to #7

    Not a regular user, but I remember several holiday Monday trips home from Vacationland.. 200th St to bridge. 12 km. Average speed about 12 km/h. Not even a constant 12 km/h Stop go stop go stop go. 176th Street interchange adds more traffic. Last Exit to Surrey… only 3 km to the last entrance from Surrey. Speed limit drops to 80 km/h. Try to remember why “Congestion is good”. Finally over bridge. 10 minutes later exiting at WIllingdon.

    Epilogue: When it cam time to buy first home. Rule 1, no bridges, no tunnels. Rule 2, close to Skytrain.

  9. guest permalink
    December 1, 2012 12:29 pm

    Summertime traffic on a Sunday night returning from the Interior – slow, slow, slow all the way from Chilliwack. Not really good to be driving in stop and go when you’re zonked from a busy weekend and already at risk of dozing off at the wheel.

    BTW, the collector lanes to Hwy 7 will also return back to Hwy 1 in the vicinty of the Coleman onramp. Likewise the collector lanes at 152nd will return back to Hwy 1 as well around 156th I think. In each case, it may be just one lane that returns to Hwy 1 (to make up a 4 lane profile when combined with the 3 express lanes).

    That’s the good thing about the design of the bridge – it recognizes that the bridge performs 2 functions
    – it is a freeway bridge for long haul travellers (express lanes); and
    – it is an arterial road bridge for short haul (Surrey Tri-Cities) travellers (collector lanes).
    The alternative for an upgraded arterial road connection would have been for an upgraded Patullo, or for municipalities (or TransLink) to have negotiated the design and funding of a municipally funded arterial road (high-clearance) bridge.

  10. guest permalink
    December 1, 2012 12:37 pm

    Oh, and with the allocation of the bridge lanes into express and collector lanes separated by a barrier (to be implemented when the full 5 lanes are complete) – just wait to hear the expected cry of detractors screaming about “poor design” because you cannot exit to Coquitlam or to Surrey from the express lanes.
    Doh! Read your signs – and get in the proper lanes well in advance of the bridge!!

    • December 1, 2012 1:13 pm

      That will be the case for a bus using the HOV lanes – A direct Surrey-Tricities express bus (what make very good sense) is not possible by using the HOV lanes (The 156th HOV interchange funnel you on express lane only-no choice)…If it is not considered as poor design in some quarter, it is plain Transit hostile design…

      • December 1, 2012 7:40 pm

        A direct Tri-cities to Surrey bus is what TransLink planned to have in service in 2007, until Kevin Falcon put the kibosh on it. A transit hostile region is what Kevin and Gordo set out to create, and they have made some big steps in that direction.

  11. Mr. Motorist permalink
    July 11, 2013 9:58 pm

    Wow… hard to believe some of this stuff is written. Sounds like fiction to those of us who actually have to work for a living and who have to commute on one of the most out-dated, poorly connected, disfunctional “highway” networks in operation in any first world country. Reduced traffic into downtown Vancouver means reduced business. I for one now refuse to fight my way into Vancouver anymore. We used to enjoy the trip and spend lots of money down there on clothes, shoes, entertainment, dinners, etc. Now I’d rather swim in a pool of sharks than try to drive down there. And as for your revered transit… Well – I tried it a few times. Crowded. Smelly people. They said it was the best way to commute during rush hour so I gave it a shot. Jammed between a large guy at my back, a noisy student to my side and a woman with bad breath to my front, I was forced to stare at my Starbucks latte that was stranded about three feet away (between the woman who didn’t use Scope and another poor soul beside her) for the whole, agonizing trip. I hated every noisy second of that commute back to Surrey. By the time I could retrieve my arm (and latte), the drink was cold and my overpriced transit ticket was glued to the side of the cup. I threw both out as soon as I got off the train. We are supposed to live in a civilized country and, as a professional person, I should be able to decide on my own method of commuting. I don’t have to be lectured to “take transit” because some of you guys think that’s the only way to travel. I will chose my car any day and every day. In it, I can enjoy my own music, my own “smells”, sip my warm latte and also enjoy the quiet and privacy of my surroundings so that I arrive at work happy and feeling refreshed. I can’t help but think of Homer Simpson’s comment that public transit is for losers. I don’t entirely agree with that statement but I do agree that it is NOT, absolutely NOT the only way to go. We need more roads in this part of the world to bring us into the 21st Century. We need to be able to get from Highway 1 over to the airport or the ferries or the border or UBC without having to stop at 97 stoplights – wasting our espensive gas and spewing needless pollution onto the air in doing so. We need to be able to get from Richmond to Surrey to Langley to Coquitlam to Burnaby to Vancouver to the North Shore to wherever on a properly planned, fully functional expressway system. We’re not a third world society here so we don’t need to be told or forced onto the bus. I thought we had freedom of choice in this country. Why did our forefathers fight in the two great wars if we have to listen to y’all tell us that we must take the bus. Some of us want to drive our cars. What’s wrong with that? You take the bus if you want but don’t try to push your socialist views down our throats. If we want to drive, we have every right to do so – especially as we, the motorist; are not only paying for the highweays we don’t have but your transit and ridiculous bike lanes as well. I’ll get there… but it sure won’t be by transit, thank you very much!

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