Vancouver Province column: Don’t let this traffic mess ruin the region’s appeal and drive us crazy

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

During a recent summer afternoon, I spent a painful 90 minutes trying to drive from Vancouver’s west side to a beer league hockey game at a Burnaby ice rink.

In ideal conditions, the trip takes about 30 minutes. But the usual weekday congestion had turned it into a marathon journey.

It’s a stressful voyage I won’t make again.

I’m quitting my hockey league in favour of recreation that’s closer to home and doesn’t involve being sucked into Metro Vancouver’s traffic purgatory.

Most Lower Mainland commuters, however, don’t have the luxury of avoiding the tie-ups.

They’re tied down to jobs at offices and work sites across the region and can’t alter their commuting routes that much.

This summer has been especially painful for Lower Mainland drivers, thanks to a perfect storm of construction, roadwork and power outages.

And it’s not like those who take transit or ride bikes can dodge the congestion.

During the protracted July 1 emergency on the Second Narrows Bridge, the long, snaking line-up at the North Vancouver SeaBus station looked like a scene from one of those end-of-the-world movies.

Buses, meanwhile, were held up for hours with the rest of traffic.

What’s clear is that all folks are paying a brutal toll for our region’s traffic mess.

It’s not just the high-profile choke points, such as the Port Mann Bridge, that are sucking the life out of B.C. commuters, either.

Many key routes, such as those connecting downtown Vancouver to Richmond and the airport, are often clogged.

That means more missed flights and ferry connections. More late deliveries — and more road rage as people realize they are late for work.

It’s no wonder you see more taxis cruising in bus lanes and maverick drivers flouting the law by driving dangerously in bike lanes.

So what’s going on here? Trace Acres of the B.C.

Automobile Association says that, while Metro Vancouver has done a good job of densifying the region’s population, it has not done as well with densifying jobs — now more spread-out than ever.

New transit additions like the Canada Line will help, but they’re not nearly enough.

“The large majority of trips in the region are still going to be made by private vehicles, and we can’t and shouldn’t ignore that fact,” Acres stresses.

In 2006, a federal government study titled The Cost of Urban Congestion in Canada put the national congestion cost at between $2.3 billion and $3.7 billion annually — due to time lost in traffic, fuel consumed while idling and increased greenhouse-gas emissions.

Given this waste, what we really need is for local politicians and leaders of transport groups like TransLink to rethink the entire Metro Vancouver traffic picture.

And they should fix it fast — before it ruins our region’s reputation and collective well-being.

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Filed under Commuting, Cycling, Industry, Politics, Transportation, Urban Planning

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