If North Vancouver continues to grow at the current rate, the bridges into the City of Vancouver will lock up altogether and people will have to SWIM to work, navigating the oil tankers and seaplanes….
At least, this is what “Ed” suggested recently in an anonymous note to Fraseropolis. Whether Ed is real or not, the idea that the North Shore of the Burrard Inlet has reached capacity recurs in debates over the pace of development in the Central and Lower Lonsdale communities. “There’s no room for more people on the North Shore: the bridges are already jammed!”
I have been in traffic jams on the North Shore recently, and they can be severe. But what do the numbers suggest?
The population in most parts of the North Shore is static. BC Stats reports that the Metro Vancouver population grew by 15% from 2003 to 2013, with Surrey growing by 31% and the City of Vancouver by 10%. The three main North Shore municipalities grew collectively by 2.6%. The StatsCan community profiles, combined with visual evidence, suggest that virtually all this growth took place in Central and Lower Lonsdale, in the City of North Vancouver.
In the areas where the population is growing, most people do not commute across the bridges. To start with, commuters make up less than half the general population; the rest are retired, or children, or work from home. Half the commuting from the City of North Vancouver is within the North Shore (this from a report in the Vancouver Sun, January 8 2014, based on StatsCan figures.) And of the Lower Lonsdale commuters who travel across the water, many use the Seabus. At the outside, adding a thousand people to North Vancouver’s population may add a hundred cars to the weekday traffic on the bridges. BC Stats estimates that the City of North Van added 732 residents in 2013, a year of relatively high growth.
New bridge traffic caused by localized population growth is more than offset by a decline in overall bridge traffic. Ministry of Transportation tables show a steady decline in weekday traffic volumes on the North Shore bridges since 2005. The population is ageing. People are working from home, and shopping from home. On the Lions Gate, the reduction in volume was 4.4 per cent on average from 2005 through 2013; on the Second Narrows, average weekday traffic volumes dropped by 2.8 per cent for the same period. This pattern can be observed across the region.
It’s possible, theoretically, that traffic congestion has been getting worse despite a decline in traffic volumes. There has been highway reconstruction on Highway 1 south of the Second Narrows bridge since 2011. The Lions Gate crossing is a permanent headache, with North Shore drivers having only one lane of access to downtown Vancouver through much of the day. If Lions Gate traffic has slowed since 1995, one explanation is increased congestion in the City of Vancouver, the commercial hub for the entire province. This is not a problem that can be solved on the North Shore.
A colleague who commutes across the Lions Gate almost every day said that North Shore residents look forward to the construction of a third Burrard Inlet vehicle crossing. This is not going to happen. I have no financial or emotional stake in this; but as noted in a previous post on this site, politicians in the City of Vancouver rejected even the addition of a single lane to the Lions Gate bridge in the 1990s. Resistance to the concept would be more intense today.
As an alternative to new bridge construction, the regional council of mayors has identified road pricing (that is, tolling) as a way to reduce traffic volumes and congestion on the Lions Gate and on other bridges and roads. Whatever your views on this, the development of a regional tolling strategy is certain to take years, and probably decades. In the meantime, drivers from the North Shore can look forward to many afternoons of sitting in the queue to the Lions Gate bridge, gritting their teeth, and wondering where all the other drivers come from. This level of public outrage is made worse by the fact that a lot of local traffic gets trapped every day in the cross-bridge crawl.