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



Lynn Valley Town Centre: from humble beginnings

Intersection of Lynn Valley Road and Mountain Highway. The

Mountain Highway at Lynn Valley Road. The “Lynn Valley Life” site says the structure on the right, dating from 1912, is the only surviving commercial building from the original settlement. The photo is from

In the 400-page official plan of the District of North Vancouver, Lynn Valley’s commercial area is the designated “municipal town centre.”

On the first pass, this town centre is a crossroads row of shops flanked by gas stations and strip malls. And to an outsider, it seems an odd location for the action centre in a municipality of 80,000 people. It’s closer to bear habitat than to the Municipal Hall or the District’s busiest east-west street. But there are services and public amenities tucked away in various corners, and rapid new development may bring transformation over the next three to five years. Continue reading

Rain and a parking crisis in Deep Cove

Deep Cove

Deep Cove, a part of North Vancouver lying next to the wilderness, offers access to hiking, cycling, water sports and civilized cafes. It draws visitors in large numbers from other cities in Greater Vancouver, across Canada and beyond.

Gallant StreetWhen co-tourist Bob Smarz and I visited on a rainy Saturday in February, Honey’s Doughnuts on Gallant Avenue was packed, but traffic on the footpaths and bridges was sparse. We didn’t linger over taking photos in the downpour, but Deep Cove looked to be a fine place for a day out, with stunning ocean views, parks and trails in every direction, and a cute row of cafes and galleries. It sits at the base of Mount Seymour, and even at sea level it has an alpine feel, albeit with a strong dose of 1960s suburbia. Continue reading

Return to Central Lonsdale

Lonsdale Ave 1

Since we toured the Central Lonsdale village in January 2013, the area has taken on much more of a big-city feel.

Lonsdale Ave 2Controversy over tower development around Lonsdale village divided the residents of the City of North Vancouver in the November 2014 municipal election. The incumbent pro-development mayor, Darrell Mussato, was returned with just 52.5 per cent of the vote, but landed a full slate of council supporters. In my view, this part of Lonsdale Avenue is turning into one of the finest urban high streets in Western Canada, and the pedestrian traffic on the pavements tends to prove that — with the qualifier that the competition, looking out to Surrey, Calgary and Regina, is sparse. Continue reading

Traffic off the North Shore

Lions Gate Bridge, Saturday morning

Lions Gate Bridge, Saturday morning

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!” Continue reading

Bringing the world to North Van’s waterfront

The Lower Lonsdale waterfront. The restored yellow crane is decorative.

The Lower Lonsdale waterfront. The restored yellow crane is decorative.

Lower Lonsdale in North Vancouver presents a big-city feel, looking across at downtown Vancouver across the Burrard Inlet. It deserves high marks as an urban village and is worth a visit from other parts of the region. Continue reading

Ambleside: “Living here is like being on vacation”

Ambleside waterfront reducedWe parked on Fulton Avenue, at the top of the functioning Ambleside village, and  walked down towards the high street. We met a man carrying two small bags of groceries; he said he had lived in a nearby condo apartment for more than 20 years and loved the village, the services, the scenic waterfront, all of them close together. “Living here is like being on vacation,” he said. With slight drawbacks:  it’s rainier than the big city, and it’s hard to plan for shows or meetings in Vancouver because of the unreliability of the three-lane Lions Gate Bridge.

Ambleside is located in the City of West Vancouver, the most affluent municipality in Canada measured by income and probably by municipal revenues per resident. For example, spending on public library operations (as reported here) is three times as high as in much of the rest of the Lower Mainland. The public services available in the village (rec centre, seniors activity centre, public space for artists) are perhaps the best in the region; commercial services such as the garden centre and the storefront hardware are rarely seen elsewhere; even the quality of the commercial architecture is a step or two above the norm. Continue reading