North Shore transportation plan gets mixed reviews

BC Liberal MLA laments report's rejection of SkyTrain extension, new bridges

Afternoon traffic backs up on the Upper Levels, stemming from the Cut and the Ironworkers bridgehead. file photo Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

The plan to untie the “Gordian knot” of North Shore transportation problems is getting mixed reviews from some experts and groups eager to see results.

The Integrated North Shore Transportation Planning Project, spearheaded by North Vancouver-Lonsdale NDP MLA Bowinn Ma, released its first major report last week.

The plan included a number of tangible ideas – like establishing an express bus linking Phibbs Exchange to the SkyTrain system and paving a new road connecting West First Street in North Vancouver to Park Royal and West Vancouver. But it also rejected some more grandiose traffic fixes like a SkyTrain across the Second Narrows or new bridges to downtown.

Jane Thornthwaite, North Vancouver-Seymour Liberal MLA, said many of the action items in the report are things the B.C. Liberals either started or at least had on their radar when they were in government, including the express bus, expedited stall and crash clearing from the bridges and the $198-million Lower Lynn Interchange project currently underway .

“I think there’s not enough recognition that a lot of the traffic woes we are experiencing today will be alleviated when that interchange project is finished,” she predicted. “What comes out quite clearly is that there is very little here that is new.”

Thornthwaite also lamented that the INSTPP report concluded a SkyTrain connection over the Second Narrows wouldn’t get enough ridership to justify the expense.

“I don’t buy that. I think we need to be looking forward,” she said. “If you built it, they will come.”

Patrick Stafford-Smith, CEO of the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, said he too was disappointed not to see an appetite for rapid transit to the North Shore.

“I am a bit concerned that there is not more thought in terms of the long-term value of it. There are employees trying to get to the North Shore, so it’s a regional issue,” he said. “Some kind of fixed-link option will allow the investment in business but also allow people to change their travel patterns to get to the North Shore. There is a real demand for that.”

But the chamber is pleased to see notion of an express bus and the recommendation for a co-ordinated workforce housing strategy across the North Shore that would, ideally, mean local staff wouldn’t have to commute across bridges.

Most importantly, Stafford-Smith said the INSTPP needs to continue its work, keeping all levels of government as well as the business community working on resolving the matter.

Andy Yan, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, said ultimately the report’s recommendations are solid.

The issue at the centre of the North Shore’s transportation problems, Yan said, is that the area continues to grow as a job centre, but people are still overly dependent on the car to get around. That has a lot to do with past development patterns on the North Shore.

“That’s one of the big challenges. The economy of the North Shore has changed,” he said.

“Single-family detached homes on large lots are not conducive to transit service. … You do need a certain level of density that makes certain types of public transportation a lot more feasible.”

Like many, Yan said he has been tempted by the thought of a wider Lions Gate Bridge while stuck in traffic, but he said it’s been demonstrated many times in other jurisdictions that expensive road expansions never solve traffic problems for very long.

“It has a tendency of generating latent demand. It doesn’t solve the issue,” he said. “It’s not a solution.”

And Yan cautioned, frustrating as it is, traffic is indicative of a healthy economy.