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COLUMN: A Pattullo plan that considers a post-carbon future
The Port Mann Bridge replacement was a mistake.
And we’re about to do the same with the Pattullo Bridge.
That’s according to Anthony Perl, director of SFU’s Urban Studies program and co-author of the book Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil.
I spoke to him earlier this month about TransLink’s plan to replace the aging four-lane Pattullo with a new, six-lane span by 2018.
In a past column, I argued a bigger Pattullo will only exacerbate New Westminster’s brutal traffic problem, and that the new bridge should either be moved, connecting Surrey to Coquitlam, or scrapped altogether.
Perl sees it differently. On first blush one might say his vision would harm New West as much as TransLink’s. But one could also argue in the long run the Royal City—and the whole region—would benefit.
“Part of the answer is sitting next to the Pattullo,” he says. “And no one seems to notice.”
It’s the 1904 rail bridge.
Despite the Pattullo’s obvious shortcomings, Perl believes replacement of the rail bridge is much more vital to transportation—particularly goods movement—in the region, especially in the long run.
In B.C., trains shake, rattle and sometimes roll over, so it may seem surprising to call them the wave of the future. But Washington, Oregon and the U.S. federal government are all investing heavily in high-speed rail along the Cascadia corridor. High-speed rail is common throughout much or the rest of the world.
“If we were in Asia, there’d be trains every hour between here and Seattle,” Perl says.
Today, China is building thousands of kilometres of new rail, and all of it is electrified.
Perl believes it’s only a matter of time before this change comes to B.C. He dismisses the “Hydrogen Highway”—that highly touted string of filling stations between Whistler and California—as “pure fantasy” designed to distract us from real solutions.
The future is electric. Even for automobiles, electric is increasingly the technology of choice.
So how does the Pattullo fit in? If Perl had his way, the new Pattullo would just have two lanes for cars—and four sets of rail tracks.
“Why don’t we put on our thinking caps and build a new bridge that can serve both road and rail?” he says.
High-speed trains will need to cross the Fraser River at one or more locations, he says. Port Mann was the best option, but this is a second chance to create a link that could serve trains heading to the U.S. border, and out toward the valley.
“Why not build a bridge that’s multi-modal... from day one,” he says. “And replace two bridges that serve rail and vehicles rather poorly.”
On first blush, Perl’s pitch is tough to swallow. Two lanes for cars would be a huge improvement for New Westminster, trimming several thousand commuters from our traffic-choked town. But boosting rail traffic would send some folks at Quayside into fits. Perl says many cities in Europe and Asia have more rail than we do, and it’s less obtrusive.
“Trains aren’t going away. It’s just whether they’ll keep rattling along at five miles an hour with diesel engines spewing out pollution, or they’ll zip by at 50 miles per hour with electric engines that have zero emissions that are much quieter.”
So is TransLink being myopic with its six-lane span that ignores the rail bridge? Are they projecting a future where people’s commuting habits don’t change or evolve?
Perl thinks the region needs Ottawa, the B.C. government and TransLink to all to work together to find a solution that embraces the “post-carbon” future that’s coming.
Sadly, he says, we’re more likely to get more of the same. Case in point is the 10-lane Port Mann, designed for a future based upon $50-a-barrel oil.
“Efficiency means not building 10-lane bridges on spec, and saying well, people south of the Fraser like to drive,” he concludes. “Maybe at $50 a barrel that’s great, but at $150 it ain’t going to happen, and at $250 you’d be able to play street hockey on that bridge during rush hour.”
So is Perl a dreamer, or the only guy in the room talking sense?
• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.