Perhaps you’ve heard of the plans to replace the Pattullo Bridge with a new, six-lane span.
You’d be forgiven if you glossed over the details, because it no doubt makes sense to replace the old, rotting deathtrap with something that has wide enough lanes that you don’t avoid the centre lane for fear of a head-on conclusion.
TransLink wants the new bridge ready for traffic by 2018, and in my little city of New Westminster this gives us the chills.
We have the good fortune, and misfortune, of living in a city created before the car. Narrow streets, houses bundled together, snug with schools and businesses right up to the edge of most streets.
Walkable, bikeable (for those with hill-climbing thighs) and incredibly well served by transit. We’re told this is a good urban model.
But the 450,000 cars that travel through here daily are killing our chance to really make our city work.
Adding two lanes to the Pattullo will actually do us more harm.
And it’s not really going to help you either. If you’ve taken the Pattullo through my city during rush hour, you’ll understand. Many days, it’s a creeping, inching, exhaust-belching nightmare. For New West folks, the aggravation is different; we’re trying to get through it to get our kid to soccer practice, or pick them up from daycare.
The real problem with the Pattullo is that it lands in the heart of our city. (As our city’s chief engineer says, if you were to build a new Pattullo today, would you really put it there?) The Ironworkers Memorial Bridge is six lanes and it’s on Highway 1. The new Pattullo would dump six lanes of traffic onto local roads, McBride Boulevard and Royal Avenue, past an elementary school and two middle schools. If we were a very large city – instead of 15 square kilometres – one really clogged area wouldn’t be such a big deal.
On the other hand, I think I understand Surrey’s situation.
A thousand new residents per month? Your city is absolutely booming!
You need to get to work in Burnaby, perhaps. You might even have friends in my fair city that you’d like to visit.
And you might have even heard some rumblings that folks in New West were saying the Pattullo should be scrapped altogether, and thought, what are those people smoking?
There was a forum in New Westminster last week, packed with Royal City folks echoing the same concerns I’ve outlined here. Surrey city councillor Barinder Rasode bravely stood up and made the important point that had to be made: Surrey wants the new Pattullo. In fact, she said, it needs it.
People in your city cannot cancel their car insurance and make the leap to transit, even part of the time, because frankly, transit service south of the Fraser sucks.
And in New Westminster we are blind if we believe that your situation, and choices available, are in any way similar to ours.
So what I propose is a compromise.
Let’s keep the existing bridge, but rehabilitate it. Make the lanes wider and safer, as was done in 2001 with the Lions Gate Bridge. Add ample cycling and pedestrian sidewalks. And paint it, too. Make it look pretty.
TransLink estimates this would cost about $200 million.
That’s about $800 million less than the cost to build an entirely new bridge.
And now, I propose we immediately gift that $800 million to Surrey, to give it what it desperately needs. Better transit. Fast track light rail between Surrey City Centre and Guildford, get the RapidBus plans for King George Boulevard and over the new Port Mann back on the table.
With a new Port Mann Bridge doubling capacity in the coming months, my guess is that if we put our new money into transit south of the Fraser, we’ll soon find ourselves in a situation where everyone wins.
Your New West Neighbour
Chris Bryan is editor of the New Westminster NewsLeader, a sister paper to The Leader.