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BC's $3-Billion Sprawl Plan

The government of British Columbia has unveiled a $3-billion bridge and highway building plan, that would seem to be aimed at opening eastern Greater Vancouver up for growth and car-oriented sprawl.

Bridge-based bottlenecks in the Vancouver area may just be the worst traffic problem in all of Canada. It would be pretty hard to argue that these shouldn't be addressed. However, it's the horrible bottlenecks on bridges across the Fraser River that would seem to be restricting sprawl in places like Langley, Maple Ridge, and even Abbotsford.

The Vancouver Sun report includes a projection of future growth in the Lower Mainland. They are expecting a climb from 2.1-million to 3-million people over the next 25 years. That's nearly 50% growth. Decisions made now about infrastructure and planning will have a huge impact on where all those new people go.

Simply opening capacity up to enter the city region will facilitate construction of the sorts of suburban housing tracts that will eat up lots of land and lock homeowners into driving lots of kilometres for every aspect of their daily lives. That is, unless BC produces and (more importantly) enforces a plan to develop communities with density. How the land is developed is the overwhelming factor in what transportation choices people make.

Provincial Green Party Leader Adriane Carr was quoted in the Globe and Mail saying:

We only have to look at California to see that solving traffic congestion by increasing road capacity is like solving obesity by loosening your belt.

On the other hand, the traffic tie-ups on these bridges are so bad that it is difficult to argue for doing nothing. I'd suggest that the answer lies in

  • Exclusive lanes (on bridges and approaches) for buses, trucks and commercial vehicles
  • Congestion-based pricing
  • Land use planning on both sides of the river to avoid sprawl: urban nodes, transit investment, protecting the Agricultural Land Reserve, tax structures that discourage car-focused development

To be fair, BC is doing some of these things, like investing in transit.

As well the report does acknowledge some of these problems: "If the improved highway is not effectively managed through tolls and/or other congestion-reduction measures, analysts show that would reach current level of congestion five to 10 years after project completion." But they are suggesting a $2.50 toll for the expanded Port Mann Bridge which would have a negligible effect on car use.

Anyway, that's enough from me on this. I think I should leave it to BC bloggers to figure out what Premier Gordon Campbell's position really is on development issues.

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