No quick fix for North Vancouver traffic

A detail from the 2018 joint agency report on North Shore traffic, with a bunch o’ recommendations on how to reduce congestion.

It seems Fraseropolis got it wrong in 2014 when we downplayed reports about traffic jams on the North Shore. I said that with almost zero population growth, an ageing demographic and improving transit, traffic volumes in North and West Vancouver should be subsiding.

A photo used to promote a public forum on traffic, from the North Van Parks and Rec Commission.

However, a new report from a multi-agency task force points out that industrial and commercial development on the North Shore is drawing thousands of workers from across the Burrard Inlet, and heavy truck traffic is increasing as well. North Vancouver is now one of the region’s traffic hot spots, especially around the two major bridges in the afternoon rush.

“Employers have expressed their frustration and challenges with attracting and keeping employees who either must commute from other parts of the region on congested roads and bridges or make a long transit journey.”

The report’s recommendations and their mainstream approach might have been written in the 1990s, a decade when I worked in the provincial transportation ministry. My reading of the key points:

  • Congestion is caused by motorists. More motorists, more congestion.
  • There is no single solution and no instant solution to congestion. We could look at mobility pricing, which would quickly discourage discretionary trips and free up road space. However, this idea was politically impossible when it was floated within the NDP government in 1995, and I think it’s impossible now. Therefore, it gets only a mumbling reference near the bottom of this document.
  • In general, you can’t build your way out of traffic congestion. When you build or widen a road, more cars will appear. I was reminded of this in recent days as I commuted on Highway 1 from Maple Ridge to Burnaby. After multi-billion dollar upgrades to this highway from 2009 to 2013, the peak-direction speed of traffic through Coquitlam and Burnaby is slower than it was in 2008.
  • Public transit is a useful response to congestion, at least in allowing a lucky minority access to a reliable commute. The report says improvements are on the way for the SeaBus and for east-west transit on the North Shore.
  • If city governments are going to permit industrial and commercial expansion, they have a responsibility to enable housing construction (i.e. apartments and townhouses) nearby.

The report proposes targeted construction of new road connections to relieve short-distance bottlenecks. The Lower Lynn Improvement Project, described on a provincial website, may succeed in separating local truck traffic from longer-distance commute traffic.  The Lower Level Road project is hard to judge, as it’s invisible online, perhaps overshadowed by a now-completed North Shore project with an identical name.

Bowinn Ma. Photo from Wikipedia

This traffic study initiative was put together by Bowinn Ma, a young and energetic New Democrat legislator from North Vancouver. Its modest conclusions are endorsed by North Shore municipal councils and First Nations as well as the regional transportation authority and the provincial government. At the very least, this should improve the chance that the proposed new roads and transit receive funding from regional and provincial budgets.

Inevitably, the “no quick fix” theme ignited outrage in the North Shore community news chat threads after the report was released in early September. Many critics demanded a third vehicle crossing of the Burrard Inlet. This was suggested as long ago as the 1990s by a few property developers, and rejected by the City of Vancouver, which does not want to receive more traffic. Even a one-lane widening of the Lions Gate was shot down  by the City of Vancouver. An alternative route, also floated in the 1990s (by Maple Ridge), would cross Indian Arm from North Vancouver to Port Moody and Coquitlam. This would encounter local opposition in the Tri-Cities and serve a very limited purpose.

Looking north on Lonsdale Avenue, North Vancouver, Saturday afternoon, 2013



The Haney-to-Hammond family cycling route: a proposal

A cycling route from Haney to Hammond as proposed by Fraseropolis and HUB Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows, with a potential loop at the western end. The map was developed by Cindy Farnsworth

The John Hammond house, c. 1893, on the proposed route.

In 2017, the local government in Maple Ridge asked our friend Jackie Chow to develop a tourist-friendly cycling route in the urban part of the city. Jackie asked me for help, since she knew me as an oddball urban explorer and mapmaker.

We agreed to focus on flat, safe, easy cycling to accommodate kids, parents and seniors. This restricted us to a couple of choices, since much of Maple Ridge is hilly and the direct east-west routes are very busy. We settled on a route connecting two historical zones, downtown Maple Ridge (also known as Haney) and historic Port Hammond. At the western end, cyclists get a view of the Fraser River at one of the few public access points in the city.

The proposed initial route is 6.2 kilometres in length one way, or a 12.4-kilometre round trip, with an option to add a loop in future — if the local government can invest in some improvements.

I want to thank Leanne Koehn and James Rowley from the Hammond neighbours for their early encouragement, along with Kathryn Baird and Lino Siracusa from the City’s tourism and economic development offices, and Colleen Macdonald from Let’s Go Biking. The proposal has been reviewed and approved by the HUB cycling committee of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, but there are a few more steps required before it becomes a visible reality.

The Harry house, 1928, faces Hammond Park. With the Hammond house and others in the neighbourhood, it is listed in the 2018 Maple Ridge Heritage Inventory compiled by Donald Luxton.

To the extent that there is cycling tourism in Maple Ridge, much of it takes place on limited sections of riverside dyke that connect with more extensive dykes in neighbouring Pitt Meadows. One highlight of this network is Osprey Village in Pitt Meadows, a destination for cyclists from the Tri-Cities and Langley. Many of them stop at the Stomping Grounds café for food and drink.

The proposed route presented here creates part of an urban link between Osprey and downtown Maple Ridge.  To make the trip more attractive for day-trippers travelling through the region, we need a new and safer connection across the Katzie Slough into Hammond, and we need a cafe or two in the Hammond neighbourhood — an idea that is contemplated in the 2014 Hammond Area Plan.

In the meantime, we’ll call our new route a “family cycling route”, and hope to attract Maple Ridge residents looking for some easy cycling near their own homes.

At the western end of the initial route, a view of the Fraser River from Emmeline Mohun Park on Wharf Street, Maple Ridge. Most photos in this series were taken under smoky skies during the 2018 wildfire season

Fraseropolis Wharf Street

A small boatworks on Wharf Street west of Mohun Park. The street runs under the Golden Ears Bridge and stops abruptly at the boundary of the Katzie First Nation reserve. To create a safe cycling link to Osprey Village and the regional Greenway system would require an access agreement with Katzie or a new cycling/pedestrian bridge over Katzie Slough.

Our friend Greg Stuart recently joined me on a test run along the initial 6.2-kilometre route. We tried to mimic the experience of a parent with young children, and decided that that even at 6.2 kilometres on flat terrain, 45 minutes is too long a cycle for a most young kids. This will probably work best for people aged 14+.

Three quarters of the 6.2 km out-and-back is already designated and signed for cycling. To make this route better known and used,  the City government should designate the remaining Hammond leg (shown in black on the map) for cycling, and add signs and street markings over time.

Beyond the western end of our proposed route, there is the start of a future loop. Shown as a dashed line on the map, it is all public or utility land. It could be improved to create a connection to the Golden Ears multi-use path, and to the overpass that leads to Osprey and the Pitt Meadows dykes.

Cycling author and blogger Colleen Macdonald has suggested that, rather than approaching the City government for official approval, we should simply encourage the public to use it. We would approach the City after demand takes shape. This post is a small step in that direction.

A city right-of-way connects Wharf Street with cycling pathways to the northwest, but it is an impassable bog through much of the year.

To the north and east, old Hammond gives way quickly to long stretches of infill housing from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. History here is invisible: within living memory, this land was occupied by orchards and berry fields.

A recently opened multi-use path along Lougheed Highway is part of the proposed route. Noisy but safe, the need to include this feature shows the scarcity of east-west cycling choices in a car-dependent city stretched along the Fraser River. The hospital, with no through traffic, sits to the south of this location, and the city cemetery lies conveniently to the north.

The end or beginning of the route at the Memorial Peace Park, home to a Saturday market and close to tourist-friendly (as well as family-friendly) cafes



Brighter days in Nanaimo

On Wallace Street at the edge of the Old City Quarter

Fraseropolis Occidental Hotel

The Occidental Hotel, 1886, restored in the 1980s.

Nanaimo’s roots go back to the 19th century. Its central area has rich architectural and heritage interest — combined with a mix of sometimes brutal modernist styles, and a tendency in recent decades for local owner-operated business to fail.

But as of 2018, central Nanaimo may finally be finding its feet. Continue reading

B.C.’s trading profile: coal to Japan, mystery food to the U.S.

A vintage terminal building at the Port of Vancouver, 2014

Over the past year, the United States has taken steps to restrict Canadian imports, and the President has threatened to ramp this up with tariffs on vehicles and auto parts.

Responding to public anxiety, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has created a Ministry of International Trade Diversification — though in fact, we’ve been trying to reduce our dependence on the U.S. for decades, with no clear pattern of progress. Canada sent 68 per cent of its exports to the U.S. in 2008; that figure was up to 76.3% in 2016. Continue reading

Metro Vancouver transit: fastest growth in North America in 2017

A detail from a 2016 Council of Mayors plan showing transit improvement priorities

TransLink’s service levels are increasing rapidly, and a new funding plan should allow continued expansion — for a while.

The Metro Vancouver transit authority’s latest performance report, published on June 21, shows that with added service, boardings across the system — bus, SeaBus, and SkyTrain — increased by 5.7 per cent through 2017 to a record 407 million. This was the biggest jump in ridership among major urban areas in North America (see the chart at the bottom of this post.) Continue reading

Trouble in Brookswood


Brookswood, a classic 1950s subdivision in the Township of Langley, has been locked for years in a dispute over the pace of development. It sits just minutes from malls and highways, but it has a deep country feel.

In late 2017, on the third try in four years, Township Council approved a plan that contemplates significant population growth in the Brookswood-Fernridge planning area. From fewer than 14,000 residents, the population is supposed to grow to 39,000 when projected development is complete. In percentage terms, Langley is growing faster than any other major municipality in Greater Vancouver, and it needs land for medium-density housing. The question here is whether the preservation of an old, sprawling suburb might be justified because of its special character. Continue reading

Family incomes in Metro Vancouver

Yaletown, 2017

Statistics Canada has added new community profiles to its website based on the 2016 census. These include income measures the federal Conservative government axed from the 2011 census — possibly because open up a discussion about economic inequality.

Within Metro Vancouver, the highest median family income, in North Vancouver District, is 50 per cent higher than in Richmond, which has the lowest family and individual incomes and the biggest low-income population (“federal Low-income measure, after tax”). Continue reading