Last week, Premier Gordon Campbell held a press conference in a big downtown hotel to announce he was going to protect our freedoms.
I was there. He said if we wish to continue to enjoy “ the freedoms we enjoy,” we must enlarge our role as a gateway to the Pacific. It was the first time I had heard a politician draw a direct line between western democracy and the importation of cheaply manufactured brand- name running shoes, but there was a satisfying, brutal honesty to it. The premier meant it to sound altruistic — he all but put his hand over his heart and looked into the distance when he said it — but it was the kind of message you might hear from a hard- eyed pragmatist, as if to say, let’s not kid ourselves, people, we are a democracy because we are rich. Therefore, more riches equal more freedom. Therefore, we need a bigger gateway.
Which, capitalized, would be Gateway: A twinned bridge to the Port Mann. A new freeway along the South Fraser. An enlarged Highway 1. These and other improvements would get those goods flooding in from the Pacific flowing quickly and efficiently through our port and into Canada.
To make it all environmentally palatable, the premier said, dedicated bus lanes across the twinned bridge would carry 2,700 commuters per hour and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases by 15,000 tonnes annually by the year 2031 — which is 24 years away. But why quibble?
Scant attention was paid to the amount of car traffic Gateway would create, but the premier did mention that Ministry of Transportation estimates had car traffic on an untwinned Port Mann bridge rising to 164,000 vehicles a day in 2017 from the 127,000 vehicles that cross it today. It had the intended effect of an ultimatum — we do this or face perpetual gridlock — but what remained unmentioned was that same total number of cars is predicted to be using both bridges by 2017.
But again, why quibble? No sense killing the feel- good buzz in the room.
There are those, though, who feel that even those numbers are laughably low, and that the Ministry of Transportation’s estimates have no precedence.
One of those is Stu Ramsey, transportation planner with the City of Burnaby. Ramsey, who was the city’s point man on Gateway, and who authored much of a report on Gateway’s impact, found that the ministry’s estimates for traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions were well below what previous studies in traffic creation suggest they should be. The ministry arrived at those estimates, Ramsey said, because “ the methodology was flawed.”
For example, Ramsey said, the ministry ignored the effects of “ induced” traffic — traffic created by road improvements. The report cited the Alex Fraser Bridge.
“ When the Alex Fraser Bridge was opened in 1987,” the report reads, “ typical daily volumes were 41,900 vehicles. If volumes had grown with regional population trends, they would have increased by 15,600 vehicles by 2003. The remaining traffic growth to 2003 — the largest share at 48,400 vehicles — is the ‘ induced’ traffic. These are trips resulting mainly from surging development in the areas served by the Alex Fraser Bridge.”
Which is to say, traffic creates traffic, and by 2003, the Alex Fraser bridge was carrying over 100,000 vehicles per day, or more than 40,000 more than what it should have carried if it had followed regional population trends.
“ The Gateway Program argues that there is insufficient evidence, or that this development would have occurred even without the bridge, or that the development is the responsibility of municipal governments. The EAO [ Environmental Assessment Office] has so far accepted these arguments.
“ As a result, the comparison of traffic between the ‘ do nothing’ scenario and the ‘ build Gateway’ scenario does not reflect realistic and well- documented trends observed on comparable projects.”
The report’s section on greenhouse gas emissions was even more damning. The government, it stated, argues that an improved road system will decrease emissions by decreasing time idling in gridlock. But:
“ This simplistic statement fails to capture the larger effect, which is increased emissions because more cars are travelling longer distances. A better answer, though still not the correct one, can be found in the Environmental Assessment Application for the South Fraser Perimeter Road, which includes estimates of emissions resulting from the full Gateway Program. That document states that the Gateway Program will result in 124,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases per annum.”
Add to that the provincial and federal road projects being built to complement Gateway, and that number rises to 194,000 tonnes in greenhouse gases — or, as the report so vividly put it, enough to fill 18,800 Goodyear blimps.
That’s a four- per- cent rise in Metro Vancouver’s transportation related greenhouse gas emissions.
Those 15,000 tonnes the premier boasts about buses taking out of the air by the year 2031 begin to look pretty picayune.
So, a few more buses, but many more cars, traffic jams and greenhouse gases for decades to come.
And the freedom — in lieu of actually building mass rapid transit that has an eye to global warming — of commuters to continue driving to work, alone mostly, and backwards, into the future!