Vancouver Province column: Moving more commuters by water makes perfect sense in our region

The Province
Monday, June 11, 2007

The traffic congestion currently making life miserable for so many Lower Mainland commuters is only projected to get worse in the coming years.

But before the traffic crunch of today turns into tomorrow’s urban crisis, we must all think of realistic new approaches to moving people in the region.

Our region’s waterways are a good place to start.

Given B.C.’s maritime history, not to mention our world-class harbour, one would think dozens of ferries would be plying the inlets and bays of the Lower Mainland.

Sadly, they’ve mostly been ignored — even while port cities like Sydney, Australia, have flourishing ferry networks that move millions of commuters and tourists around on a yearly basis.

Circular Quay, Sydney’s equivalent of our Waterfront Station, is the hub of a system that includes over 30 vessels.

But back in urban B.C., marine transit gets the cold shoulder. A case in point: Maple Ridge and Langley residents are going to lose their Albion car ferry, which has been around for 50 years, when the Golden Ears bridge opens in two years time.

Yes, we have the SeaBus, which moves folks across Burrard Inlet, between downtown Vancouver and Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. The passenger ferry service, launched in 1977, has been one of the most successful — and efficient — parts of the TransLink system.

TransLink has wisely announced plans to bring in a third SeaBus to bolster that route. But it’s still not enough to relieve the increasing congestion between the North Shore and downtown Vancouver.

A B.C. Transportation Ministry report released this past spring showed that lineups to the Lions Gate Bridge will quadruple by 2021, causing major-league snarls on Highway 1 and North Shore roads.

That’s bad news for anyone trying to get to and from Horseshoe Bay, Squamish or Whistler.

So why not give these folks some travel options by water?

TransLink is aware of the helpful role passenger ferries can play in undoing this squeeze. The transit authority’s 2004 Vancouver Harbour Passenger Marine study made the case for TransLink ferry service between downtown Vancouver, West Vancouver and Bowen Island, and from the North Shore to Vancouver’s west side.

“Both routes have the opportunity of reducing the number of peak hour buses required,” it said.

Communities like Richmond, Delta and Port Moody could also benefit from this kind of service.

But TransLink’s enthusiasm seems to have since fizzled.

So what’s the hold-up?

According to Translink spokesman Ken Hardie, it’s straight economics. “We don’t have the population density or the two-way travel patterns necessary to make the operations viable,” he says.

But the only way we’ll get the needed travel patterns is to start that service — and get folks out of their cars.

Then we can start to make real inroads into easing our rising traffic congestion.

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Filed under Sydney, Transportation, Urban Planning, Vancouver, Vancouver Province Columns

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