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



Building a local economy on automotive repair

Crystal Glass and Boyd Auto Body, two blocks east of Maple Ridge City Hall

In most parts of Metro Vancouver, more than half the working population commutes to workplaces outside their home town — this is according to a Vancouver Sun analysis from 2014, which echoed findings from the previous decade.

A typical central area viewscape, with nature in the distance. T&T Auto Parts is on the left in this photo, Accent Glass & Locksmith (not visible) is in the strip on the right.

In my suburb of Maple Ridge, many people drive every day to the Tri-Cities (20-40 minutes one way), Burnaby (35-50 minutes one way) or even further. Not surprisingly, we have a big automotive sector. Auto dealerships are among the biggest employers, and they dominate the highway that connects Maple Ridge to the inner suburbs. Probably our most prominent head office belongs to Lordco Auto Parts, a chain with more than 120 retail locations around British Columbia. Continue reading

Traffic deaths and urban design

An Iowa street, posted by a Montreal traffic engineer on

An Iowa street, posted by a Montreal traffic engineer on

Public Square, an online urban affairs news digest from the Congress for the New Urbanism, has listed its 10 most-read posts for 2016.

2016-08-cnu-chart-fatalitiesTop of the list is “The morbid and mortal toll of sprawl,” by contributor Robert Steuteville. The writer draws a link between high crash rates and wide, fast suburban roadways, based on a study of California cities. He suggests that if you choose to live in a post-1950 suburb with wide arterials and high speed limits, watch out. If your Main Street is narrow with lots of traffic lights — like Main Street, Vancouver or Columbia Street, New Westminster — you’re more likely to survive as a driver or pedestrian. It’s obviously an appealing argument for readers of Public Square. Continue reading

Managing traffic through New Westminster

Pattullo Bridge, Saturday afternoon

Pattullo Bridge, Saturday afternoon

New Westminster within the region, from the New West Master Transportation Plan

New Westminster within the region, from the New West Master Transportation Plan

New Westminster is at the crossroads of Metro Vancouver, with commuter traffic  pouring through from all directions and industrial zones in neighbouring cities around more than half its perimeter

The city government’s 2014 Master Transportation Plan reports 75,000 vehicles per day on the Pattullo crossing of the Fraser River, and 80,000 on the Queensborough crossing. This compares with fewer than 63,000 on the Lions Gate Bridge and fewer than 45,000 at the north end of the Massey Tunnel (provincial estimates for the same year.) Continue reading

Follow-up on a fatal crash and a homeless camp


On May 18 of this year we published a letter to Doug Bing, a member of the British Columbia Legislature, about a fatal crash on a provincial highway near our home in suburban Maple Ridge. The layout of the highway intersection where the crash took place had been unsafe for years.

In recent weeks, technicians have installed a low-tech improvement at the problem corner. This modest screen, pictured above, deters southbound drivers from making the last-minute lane switch that was putting all directions at risk. If the pylons get mowed down, they can be re-installed. Thanks to Mr. Bing for taking in interest in this issue. Continue reading

Cool concepts in road pricing for Metro Vancouver

From the 2014 funding plan of the TransLink mayors

Photo from the 2014 funding plan of the TransLink mayors

In his first news conference this month as British Columbia’s minister for Metro  transportation, Peter Fassbender said road pricing deserves a “serious and concerted look” as a possible way to fund transit and regional roads. Mr. Fassbender is a former City of Langley mayor, now a provincial legislator, with a close knowledge of the issues. A sales tax proposal was defeated in a recent referendum; the 17-year-long search for a transit funding formula will now resume.

The road pricing mention matters to the region’s road users, especially long-distance commuters like me. We would face increased costs in return (supposedly) for quicker trips, because some motorists would choose other transportation modes or stay home. And reduced congestion would (supposedly) benefit all taxpayers by reducing the demand for new highway construction. Continue reading

An open letter about a fatal crash

2015 05 10 crashThe following letter was sent by email on May 18, 2015 to Doug Bing, member of the British Columbia Legislature for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.

Dear Doug,

Re: Fatal crash on the Haney Bypass

On Sunday afternoon, May 10, 2015, two vehicles collided at the intersection of the Haney Bypass and Callaghan Avenue  near our home in Maple Ridge. A 14-year old passenger died in hospital the next day.

I was reminded of the letter I wrote to you in February 2014 about the frequent crack-ups and near-misses at this corner. Our elderly neighbour had just walked away from a pile-up that he was lucky to survive. Continue reading