"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."
- Mark Twain
You can't miss the near daily commuter gridlock choking North Shore traffic patterns in the vicinity of Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing.
Afternoons lately have been the worst in living memory. The never-ending renovations along the Trans-Canada highway from the end of the Cassiar Tunnel to BCIT are a favourite blame-game culprit, but the obvious fact is that too many people are trying to access this crossing at peak hours.
Peak commuting hours now seem to run two hours in the morning and three in the afternoon. How bad is it? Even the Kootenay Loop- Phibbs Exchange buses have been breaking routes to access the bridgehead via a long dipsy-doodle around the PNE and up McGill.
If you're a heroic bikerider to downtown and beyond, the long Indian summer this year has been a blessing. For the rest of us who drive the bridge to work, the past two months have been miserable. We need action.
While North Shore residents spew out a climate change time-bomb of exhaust emissions in the road jams, Premier Christy Clark is fixated on another new bridge across the Fraser River. We all agree the Massey Tunnel is maxed out with traffic and needs replacing. But why not a replacement tunnel instead of a new bridge with a billion dollar price-tag? Cash flow. Not from new tunnel tolls, but from selling coal. The big boats needed to haul coal from the proposed Surrey-side river export terminal require deeper drafts, and a new submerged Massey II tunnel gets in the way. The brains behind those trainloads of U.S. coal chugging through from Montana and Wyoming bound for Asian markets don't exactly worry about daily traffic bottlenecks in North Vancouver and Richmond, B.C. The fossil-fuel lobby that recently helped buy off a majority of B.C. voters wants to keep selling coal, arguably the worst contributor to global climate change; so Big Plan thinking sees a bridge crossing as the solution.
Back when there was organized community resistance to big residential growth, notably in the District of North Vancouver, it was canon law regarding transportation planning that "You can't expect the rest of the Lower Mainland to pick up your costs for transportation improvements if you don't take your share of regional growth."
That's why, apart from the much-needed Lion's Gate Bridge widening accomplished during the last NDP government in Victoria, we didn't see much else. Fair enough. It preserved our quality of life here.
Fast track to 2013. We've been enduring frenzied residential growth in North Vancouver. We've seen municipal planners offer developers more than what they want. Our mayors and councillors have to try and sort out the mess. Most try to do the right thing under the circumstances. Crying about sleazy decisions that sometimes creep in won't help. People elected them, and there's another year of full-throttle condo mania ahead before the next polls.
It's the new "Vancouverism" - the architectural view that a landscape littered with glass towers which look like any other urban sprawl will somehow make the rapidly diminishing beauty of our inner urban region "unique." We're told it's sustainable, world-class. That's the big developer lie. The greater Vancouver area is growing more congested, expensive, visually shabbier, less citizen-friendly. Builders will remind you that the LEED platinum standard used to wow the locals into accepting more glass towers doesn't meet building code in Scandinavia. These glass convection ovens require huge mechanical heating and cooling systems to maintain their indoor environments. What's sustainable about that? Remember the old tenet: when we accept the bad medicine of Big Growth, we're supposed to see the advantages of better buses, roads, a new crossing over to downtown - a tunnel or a widening at least of the Ironworkers, if the structure can take it.
Those interested in various options that would still be viable for a new crossing can check out The Choice of Alternatives in the Replacement of the Lion's Gate Bridge. It's a master's thesis in geography by Mike Belyea at SFU that I found during online research and it's still a thoughtful study in clear language that average citizens can understand. Regarding a new midharbour tunnel, it suggests that decision making will come down to matters of technical, economic, social and political feasibility. That sounds accurate. Cost estimates back then were in range of $700 million for a tunnel and various bypass connections. Fundraising could start by establishing a new transportation surtax on all new residential developments.
A new crossing. There's something our North Shore B.C. Liberal MLAs can start working on constructively for us. We're due. That was the deal. If no tunnel goes under the Fraser River, then bring it here to the North Shore where it's urgently needed. That way we can get home from work on time - unless a tunnel would be in the way of the monster oil tankers Kinder Morgan hopes to see beneath the Ironworkers bridge on the way to an expanded Burnaby-side terminus for Tarsand oil. Let's hope those 52 new jobs in Prince Rupert an Enbridge pipeline would create, or a similar modest number in our area for the project Greenpeace was protesting against last week are worth the gridlock, road rage and other benefits of B.C.'s fossil-fuel export economy.
Is B.C.'s new economic direction starting to look like a trap? With the latest oil-and gas-shipping rail disaster in Alberta a few days ago that comes hard on the heels of the Lac-Mégantic oil/rail tragedy, can Prime Minister Harper, Premiers Alison Redford and Clark be seriously thinking of this as an alternative to pipelines? For a future in shipping coal, ask Australians. The world's largest exporter of the stuff, Australia is seeing orders dwindle as China has decided the environmental costs of burning coal are too great. They're looking more to gas, that while far from perfect is a less noxious alternative. Understandably, Premier Clark sees a golden future in Peace River region natural gas development. The downside is that it involves fracking.
Coal, dirty oil, fracked LNG. The problem with each of these is that it's a sophisticated form of ecological Russian Roulette, the machismo revolver game that Ernest Hemingway loved. In B.C., we're being asked to forget about the high stakes and gamble instead on a few hundred jobs. We can do better than what happened to poor old Hemingway in the end.
Where's the positive in all this? We need to get constructive in B.C. We need an economic strategy that involves more than the hope and prayer method. With 10 universities and a cluster of colleges, we're not short on brainpower, and it's a vital time to put it to use. Premier Clark could do worse that call a task force of our top scholars joined by business experts to see what ideas there are out there for fostering a healthier B.C. economy, all contending ideas, schools of thought welcome. What's to lose? Meantime, there's another bridgehead area building proposal for a six-storey, 116-unit rental building adjacent to Phibbs Exchange. Public meeting Wednesday, 7 p.m. at the Holiday Inn.
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