Campbell's freeway position
2 May 2005
Premier changed freeway position
Urbanist Jane Jacobs says premier knows better
VANCOUVER – Citizens Concerned with Highway Expansion is asking Premier Gordon Campbell to explain how he can support the #1 Highway expansion between Vancouver and Langley when, as Mayor of Vancouver and chair of the GVRD, he was opposed to such transportation initiatives.
The question comes in light of comments Campbell made in opinion pieces and interviews with The Vancouver Sun as mayor of Vancouver.
“In the ‘60s and ‘70s we were bold enough to break with the conventional transportation wisdom,” Campbell wrote in a 1991 op-ed piece, published in The Vancouver Sun.
“We stopped freeways from destroying our neighborhoods. As a result, today some of the healthiest inner city neighborhoods in North America are found in Greater Vancouver. We cannot afford to fall into the trap of conventional wisdom in 1991 any more than we could in 1971.”
Campbell’s current position in favour of the #1 Highway expansion is a 180-degree turnaround from his opinion as mayor. And internationally renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs says this demonstrates that Campbell’s current transportation focus for the highway is misplaced.
“I’ve heard many bad ideas in my time, and expanding Highway 1 ranks with the worst of them,” Jacobs said about Campbell’s plans. “The scariest part is that Mr. Campbell actually knows better.”
Jacobs’ writing and activism around cities is widely credited with revolutionizing the practices of urban planning and helped to save neighbourhoods that are, today, some of the most diverse and exciting urban communities in North America.
As mayor, Campbell said there would always be alternatives available before building new freeways.
“I don’t think the pressure (to build freeways) in Vancouver will ever be insurmountable because there are too many losses,” he explained in a 1989 interview with The Vancouver Sun. “There aren't enough benefits and you can't show me enough benefits for Vancouver to plug an eight-lane freeway through any area whether it's the waterfront or whatever.”
His government estimates the #1 Highway project cost at $1.4-billion – over $2,000 for every household in Greater Vancouver. The increased highway capacity will dump traffic into neighbourhoods throughout the Lower Mainland and divert much-needed funding from public transit initiatives. This flies in the face of what Campbell proposed as mayor.
In the 1989 interview Campbell called for a re-visioning of the way politicians and the public approached transportation. “We have no trouble envisioning a highway that’s empty for six or seven years and eventually fills up with cars,” he said. “Yet we have a lot more trouble envisioning a bus empty for six or seven years before it fills up with people.”
He reiterated the importance of public transit and its positive role in healthy neighbourhoods again in his 1991 commentary.
“Neighborhood protection from traffic, automobile noise and pollution is one of the primary benefits of a good transit investment. Therefore, neighborhood impacts must be given the same consideration as financial costs when we consider transit options.”
The primary problem with transportation planning when Campbell was writing appears to be the same as today: the provincial government.
“Transit planning in Greater Vancouver is in a mess. The province is making the same mistakes that the freeway fanatics of the 1960s made,” he stated. “They are spending too much of your money with too little thought.”
This remains true. Since announcing the expansion of the #1 Highway expansion, Campbell’s government has refused to make public any studies assessing the need for the project. And he refuses to consider public transit as an alternative to the highway.
Campbell was Mayor of Vancouver for three terms, between 1986 and 1993. He also chaired the Greater Vancouver Regional District, heavily influencing the Creating Our Future plans, which produced the Livable Region Strategy – a vision that is now threatened by Campbell’s provincial transportation policies.
Jane Jacobs is the author of seven books, including The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) and Dark Age Ahead (2004). She is widely cited as one of the world’s leading urban thinkers and activists.
Citizens Concerned with Highway Expansion is a group of Vancouver residents who feel our governments have a responsibility to find sustainable solutions to traffic congestion.
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For more information or for interviews, please contact Chris Bodnar:
Gordon Campbell's interview and op-ed
More public transit emphasis urged by municipal officials; More stress on public transit urged by municipal officials
The Vancouver Sun. Vancouver, B.C.: Jul 13, 1989. pg. B.8
Getting people out of their polluting cars and on to public transit is one of the primary goals of the provincial committee on Lower Mainland transportation but some municipal officials don't think the group went far enough.
Vancouver Mayor Gordon Campbell told the Greater Vancouver regional district's development services committee Wednesday the spending priorities that the panel recommends don't put sufficient emphasis on public transit.
He said only $556-million worth of transit projects out of a 1991-96 "wish list" worth $2 billion "is not reflecting what I want to see reflected as priorities for this region."
In an interview, Campbell said: "We're going to have to make commitments to transit and those commitments are going to have to be in terms of dollars and cents and not just words."
Currently, about 90 per cent of the trips into and out of Vancouver are made in private vehicles and only about 10 per cent are on public transit, something the committee, the GVRD and Vancouver would like to change substantially by more than doubling the number of transit riders over the next decade.
But to do that, Campbell said, there needs to be a total rethinking of priorities.
"We have no trouble envisioning a highway that's empty for six or seven years and eventually fills up with cars," he said. "Yet we have a lot more trouble envisioning a bus empty for six or seven years before it fills up with people."
But he said, unless the transit facilities are in place and people know they can count on good, reliable service, they won't give up the convenience of their automobile.
GVRD manager Michael O'Connor said he wasn't surprised by Campbell's comments.
"Probably the biggest debate that will occur about the report is how much emphasis do you put on transit and how much emphasis do you put on moving the car around the region," said O'Connor, who was chairman of the 17-member committee.
"I suspect every person you ask is going to have a different opinion. So what the task force tried to do was strike a balance. We want to see more emphasis on transit. But we recognize that that's a road we start on today and it's going to be many years before we have success."
He noted that the key among the 32 recommendations is one calling for the province to pay the full cost of public transit projects, just as it pays the full cost of highways projects.
O'Connor said the committee recognized the trend is towards more cars coming into Vancouver as the population growth continues to be concentrated mainly south of the Fraser River.
He warned that, unless people are lured out of their cars by a combination of readily available transit options and possibly penalties for using their cars, the air quality in the region will continue to deteriorate.
"We're not going to get rid of the (traffic) congestion," he said. "The best we can do is make the right decisions with respect to our livability. We are not going to have air quality and an environment like smaller cities but we can make choices now that will ensure that it is much, much better than Toronto or Los Angeles."
Burnaby Mayor Bill Copeland said the report's emphasis still seems to be on building freeways and expressways in the suburbs that stop at Vancouver's borders.
"It still looks to me though that a lot of the traffic is still just converging on Vancouver and creating a horrendous problem for them," he said.
And he is disappointed the idea of commuter rail from Coquitlam to Vancouver "seems to have been abandoned" in what he called a "hasty" decision.
He said one of the reasons commuter rail was looked at was to stop the flow of 2,000 cars a day into Vancouver.
Although not completely satisfied with the emphasis on public transit, Campbell was relieved the committee hadn't recommended as many expressways and freeways to the city's borders as he had feared.
But he warned: "I don't think the pressure (to build freeways) in Vancouver will ever be insurmountable because there are too many losses. There aren't enough benefits and you can't show me enough benefits for Vancouver to plug an eight-lane freeway through any area whether it's the waterfront or whatever."
The report now goes to the region's 18 municipal councils and the GVRD's July 26 meeting for consideration.
The high cost of SkyTrain
GORDON CAMPBELL. The Vancouver Sun. Vancouver, B.C.: Jul 5, 1991. pg. A.7
Gordon Campbell is mayor, city of Vancouver.
DO YOU happen to have an extra $36 million around the house today? No? Too bad. That's this year's interest cost on the SkyTrain debt. How about $200,000 per day? No again, I'll bet. That's the daily interest charges on the proposed Vancouver-Richmond transit line.
The good news is the provincial government has already figured out how to pay off these obligations. The bad news? It's coming out of your pocket.
Transit planning in Greater Vancouver is in a mess. The province is making the same mistakes that the freeway fanatics of the 1960s made. They are spending too much of your money with too little thought.
Vancouver and Richmond councils agree: transit planning and funding must be improved. However, $1-billion decisions must be based on clear objectives and up-to-date information.
So let's start with some facts:
* We cannot spend our way out of transportation problems. Roads, bridges, SkyTrains, more buses, just won't do the trick today any more than they did in the past. I know this is difficult to accept. But remember Highway 1 when it was truly a freeway? Today, if you are lucky during rush hour, it's a moving parking lot. Remember the $400 million we spent on the Alex Fraser Bridge? It was at capacity within six months of being opened. What about SkyTrain? It cost $864 million. Today it is almost at capacity. B.C. Transit is considering spending another $120 million. This means 60 more cars and another $12 million in interest costs. That's your taxes going up.
* Downtown Vancouver is just 1.3 square miles. We cannot move everyone into our urban centre every morning and send them home every night. We have to reduce the need for going downtown every day. That's why Vancouver has just changed five million square feet of commercial space downtown to residential space. It will mean homes for thousands close to where they work. We need to encourage more jobs in other municipalities. That's why we have regional town centres in Richmond, Surrey, Burnaby, Coquitlam, North Vancouver and New Westminster.
* Neighborhood protection from traffic, automobile noise and pollution is one of the primary benefits of a good transit investment. Therefore, neighborhood impacts must be given the same consideration as financial costs when we consider transit options.
Unfortunately, when our provincial politicians made their grand announcement of everything from fast ferries to sea buses to SkyTrains to Coquitlam and transit links to Richmond, they forgot the facts and forgot the finances.
In their rush, B.C. Transit ignored the advice of former Richmond mayor and chairperson of the GVRD and the recommendation of the Vancouver Regional Transit Commission. Now the Coquitlam SkyTrain Extension Study is under independent review; New Westminster has withdrawn from the process and Burnaby is sitting on the sidelines.
The University of B.C.'s Brahm Wiesman, a respected planner, who sits on the Vancouver/Richmond Advisory Committee, says B.C. Transit's current process is a case study in how not to plan. Even transit officials have said their initial ridership projections were "sadly lacking." They have been simply wrong in projecting regional job growth.
With all this, surely, we should at least pause to reflect.
Taxpayers have had it. They want more convenient, more flexible, faster, and more comfortable public transit. They want fewer taxes. They want less pollution. So, where do we go from here? How do we get some intelligence and integrity into the process?
We need transit decisions that help meet regional as well as municipal objectives. B.C. Transit should work with municipal councils. The Vancouver-Richmond advisory committee should report to Vancouver and Richmond councils. The councils should then submit a joint report to the Vancouver Regional Transit Commission for inclusion in a Regional Transit Plan. This plan should then be discussed by the GVRD as part of the Regional Transportation Plan which is currently being undertaken with the province.
We must challenge our assumptions if we are to succeed where so many others have failed. Otherwise we can expect an unprecedented assault on our property tax by the provincial government.
In the '60s and '70s we were bold enough to break with the conventional transportation wisdom. We stopped freeways from destroying our neighborhoods. As a result, today some of the healthiest inner city neighborhoods in North America are found in Greater Vancouver. We cannot afford to fall into the trap of conventional wisdom in 1991 any more than we could in 1971.