Pattullo Problems – 2: Front Street

ALSO SEE: Pattullo Problems – 1: Advocating for Six Lanes

Railway crossing - Front Street, New Westminster
Railway crossing – Front Street, New Westminster

Last year I was working in a building in New Westminster with a window that overlooked the railway crossing at Front Street. There, I witnessed the passing of trains and truck traffic on a daily basis. I still remember wanting to close the window every time I opened it to enjoy the fresh air, because the air smelled like diesel. It just wasn’t something I wanted to breathe, and I kept that window closed as much as I can for the duration of my stay. According to Councillor Bill Harper, Front Street is one of the “most toxic” areas in the Lower Mainland in terms of air quality.

Trucks that use Front Street, as they do regularly with Columbia Street not being suitable for large amounts of trucks, have to contend with these trains, which slowly continue onto the Fraser River Bridge into Surrey. As well, New Westminster residents have to contend with the train whistles, and the air pollution resulting from the stop and go movement. On a transportation basis, it’s not efficient and not predictable to use front street.

This is where a new six-lane Pattullo bridge replacement – which I discussed in a previous blog article and through letters now published in three Burnaby and New Westminster newspapers – can most handily come in.

This summary map shows the highway projects that were proposed with the Gateway Program (along with other recent major road projects in the region). The previously proposed NFPR is highlighted in purple.
This summary map shows the highway projects that were proposed with the Gateway Program (along with other recent major road projects in the region). The previously proposed NFPR is highlighted in purple.

The Front Street corridor was part of a previous highway proposal called the North Fraser Perimeter Road (NFPR), which was part of the regional Gateway Program. However, both New Westminster and TransLink have placed this project on the backburner, perhaps indefinitely. Plans for a new Pattullo Bridge no longer show a connection with Front Street, and the United Boulevard Extension is off the table.

Instead, the City of New Westminster has discussed the potential to revitalize Front Street into a “neighbourhood street” lined with business and mixed-use development, deconstructing it as the current through route for many trucks travelling from the southwest to the northeast.

The revitalized Front Street concept included a car, bike and pedestrian overpass at Sixth Street, connecting with the new Waterfront Park, to eliminate the railway crossing at Eight Street and – along with the elimination of the Front Street crossing and the closure of Front Street as a through route – result in the elimination of all railway crossings in New Westminster, and associated train whistle habits.

Concept: Revitalized Front Street with Sixth Street rail overpass
Concept: Revitalized Front Street with Sixth Street rail overpass

As a proponent of sustainable urban development and a nearby resident just 10 minutes away by SkyTrain in Burnaby, a revitalized Front Street is something I really look forward to. It has the potential to bring increased business, quality of life and tourism to New Westminster, benefitting everyone in the big picture.

Already, new investments into the community like the Waterfront Park have greatly improved the quality of life in New Westminster, and have given people across the region more reasons to come into New Westminster. More than ever, New Westminster is an accessible, vibrant regional centre – and I think that planners and decision makers should be building on that momentum that started with first steps like Plaza 88 at New Westminster Station and the under construction civic centre across the street.

However, the construction of a six-lane Pattullo Bridge with extra capacity to redirect traffic is the only way the City of New Westminster can realistically follow through with this priority.

While the City has discussed redirecting trucks onto alternate parallel corridors like 10th and Royal Avenues, neither are very suitable for trucks. The former is a two-lane, low-capacity corridor for much of its length not suitable for schedule-oriented goods movement. The latter puts trucks through a climb on a very steep hill, which apart from being an issue for truckers themselves, creates noise and pollution for New Westminster residents.

The issues with 10th and Royal were being discussed in detail in New Westminster’s official downtown community plan. However, these discussions seem to have been ignored in more recent viewpoint establishments.

It remains a fact that the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) with an expanded Pattullo Bridge can fulfill a role that Front Street currently dominates: getting trucks and goods from the South-of-Fraser ports in Delta to Northeast sector ports and industrial centres. A six-lane Pattullo Bridge is the only way to facilitate a direct connection between the SFPR and Columbia Street and totally replace Front Street as well as the heavily congested Queensborough Bridge in this segment with a reliable alternative.

Featured image: The SkyBridge, with the New Westminster Waterfront in the background. From the "Inn at the Quay" website - no copyright specified
Featured image: The SkyBridge, with the New Westminster Waterfront in the background. I think we could we be seeing this view differently with a six-lane Pattullo Bridge in place. From the “Inn at the Quay” website – no copyright specified

I think the City of New Westminster could be taking this into account in having a position on a Pattullo Bridge replacement. Being open to six lanes, the possibilities with Front Street would be endless.

NEXT UP: Pattullo Problems – 3: Queensborough Matters

NEW: Read my letter supporting a six-lane Pattullo Bridge as it appeared on the Royal City Record

Pattullo Bridge needs six lanes – Royal City Record

Dear Editor:

New Westminster’s Jim Lowrie told us that a six-lane Pattullo would cost about twice as much as a four-lane bridge, but the released study reports an entirely different number. Given the actual premium for two extra lanes stands at a more reasonable $200 to $300 million, I am in favour of a six-lane bridge.

Before anyone complains, I think it’s important to establish first what exactly the extra lanes will be for, where will they go, and what are the benefits.

I have heard some complaints about how McBride would become a “six-lane expressway” and overload New Westminster and Burnaby streets with traffic. But TransLink’s concepts from last year’s consultations show that the third lane is intended to split off towards Columbia Street north of the bridge – a road leading away from New Westminster….

[READ MORE – Royal City Record]

Nightlife is the key to safer Surrey streets at night [POLL]

Surrey transit

Last weekend, I found myself reading a column written by local issues blogger Laila Yuile about her experience with a late night Surrey bus (Surrey transit after dark reveals ‘Boulevard of broken dreams’…( and they wonder why more people don’t take transit), something I’m sure can be shared by a number of people who live in the City of Surrey.

I know personally, as well, that being on the bus in Surrey at night can be a scary and unattractive experience. On the #320 not less than one year ago, I sharing the ride with a loud, bickering man who had his hand hidden inside his jacket pocket, as if to conceal a weapon of some sort (a gun or a knife). I found myself subconsciously moving away and to the back of the bus for the sake of my own safety.

Last night, I took the #321 bus from Surrey Central Station down King George Boulevard on my way home from a meeting with friends in Kitsilano.
It isn’t pretty, my friends.. if you’ve a weak stomach, turn away now – this is your only warning.

Now, transit in Surrey late at night is not that good. The three main routes out of Surrey Central (320, 321, 502) which get FTN (frequent transit network) service levels during the day-time, revert to 30 minute frequencies later at night. I usually find myself arranging for alternate transportation if I’m heading home from the SkyTrain or anywhere in Surrey late at night, although the introduction of the 96 B-Line in September may change that (the 96 will run a full 7.5 minute frequency to approximately 10:30 on all nights, and with 15 minute frequencies thereafter).

I don’t, however, think that the unsafe conditions of Surrey streets and transit late at night should be attributed not exclusively to our low late night transit service levels. It’s important to note that Surrey is not the only place in Metro Vancouver where transit services revert to half hour frequencies late at nights. This happens throughout the freqeunt transit network. On one of the region’s busiest bus routes outside of Vancouver, the #106 (the 106 services the busy Kingsway corridor in Burnaby and Edmonds Town Centre, and 6th St in New West), services run every half hour after 10PM in the same manner as bus routes in Surrey.

One of the problems I’ve always had with Surrey is a lack of any established nightlife. Here in Surrey, we just don’t have a well-lit, active night district just like Vancouver has downtown on Granville Street. It is the lack of this, coupled with the town-centre community model, that results in the entirety of the city (let alone the city centre) becoming what is essentially a dead-zone at night, along with any transit routes traversing major corridors. Crime during the late night is common, and is often reported on the news the next day if there was an incident. No one would dare walk the streets, and anyone who is out so late at night is probably in a car or a cab if not on the bus.

The streets are empty near Gateway Station during the after-hours. Photo: City of Surrey
The streets are empty near Gateway Station during the after-hours. Photo: City of Surrey

There are reasons that this doesn’t happen in Vancouver.

To start with, there’s a well-established and very active nightlife area in downtown on Granville Street, which creates an incentive for the street to always be well-lit at night – something one may notice upon getting off at Granville or City Centre SkyTrain station.

Also, on Vancouver’s numerous high streets and communities, late night activity tends to be abundant enough throughout the city to ensure that there’s activity if you’re on transit late at night. This is because businesses are concentrated on at-grade transit corridors (or high streets) and there’s late night activity to be found from local businesses even as far south as, say, 41st Ave. These businesses are on transit corridors, and so they are well positioned to serve the demands of people coming home from downtown nightlife districts, in addition to random go-to visitors, and so being open late at night is manageable for a few more businesses than usual.

Map from Google of late night establishments in Downtown
Map from Google of late night establishments in Downtown

But, in the City of Surrey, being open late at night seems to be manageable to only one business in this entire city that isn’t a fast-food restaurant or convenience store: the Bubble World in my neighbourhood. Bubble World is really the only business I happen to know in Surrey that is open after midnight, and part of the reason I know this is because it is in my neighbourhood. In Surrey, land use patterns are not the same as they are in Vancouver. There are no high-street corridors where businesses line a major road serviced by transit, and can potentially benefit from that activity. Most commercial development is concentrated in town centres (and not in between them), and so business tends to be very localized outside of the daytime or closed altogether.

A nightlife is simply not well-established for Surrey residents from any part of the city, and so the only large-scale demand for late night public transit is for people who are trying to get home from a SkyTrain station.

The City of Burnaby, by comparison, is also making do with half hour bus services (or worse) away from SkyTrain, but I have always found it to have a much better nightlife and night environment than Surrey does.

The ‘town centres’ in Burnaby are larger, denser, and house more residents; and this creates more localized demand for the sort of nightlife even more prevalent in the denser areas of downtown Vancouver, one that fights the fact that the town centre land-use model is less optimized for night-time business. In the vicinity of Metrotown or Edmonds Town Centres, some areas are actually fairly well-lit and have activity, and I have always felt safer in those areas late at night than I have in Surrey. I have memories from last summer of having a meal at the Cattle Cafe location in Edmonds Town Centre at midnight with some friends, and having absolutely no bad feelings about being there so late at night.

Metrotown at night
Metrotown at night. Photo credit: CC-BY Reg Natarajan

Surrey’s proximity to Vancouver actually does arguably bring a chance that one of those businesses with late night establishments elsewhere in Metro Vancouver opens a late night branch in Surrey. But, at the moment, despite current growth, there really aren’t many incentives for open-at-night activity in Surrey. One can only hope that with the further growth of Surrey City Centre, an established nightlife comes with it.

What do you think?