COLUMN: Manage traffic with carrots, not sticks

Traffic on the Port Mann Bridge has expanded at a very fast pace – 60 per cent more in the past five years.

While it is easy to say this is due to the tolls being removed, that is only a part of the story. The tolls were removed in September, 2017, just over two years ago. The statistics show that traffic was continually increasing before that time. Removal of the tolls just sped up a trend that was well underway.

There is an oft-repeated saying that best applies to bridges and highways: “If you build it, they will come.” Nowhere in B.C. has this happened so frequently as in Surrey and other cities south of the Fraser.

More bridges and tunnels have been built in this area than any other part of the province, and the result has been a continuous expansion of population. Even at a time when housing prices are making it hard for many people to live in the Surrey area, the population continues to increase. The high housing prices have also caused more and more people to move farther up the Fraser Valley, adding even more pressure to Highway 1 and the Port Mann Bridge.

Historically, Surrey first began to grow as a suburb shortly after the opening of the Pattullo Bridge in 1937. Even though it was a toll bridge (often derisively called the Pay-Toll-O), people moved to Surrey in large numbers during the Second World War, largely due to work opportunities in New Westminster. This continued after the war and, when the tolls were finally removed in 1952, the population and traffic increase just sped up.

The opening of the George Massey Tunnel in 1959 helped the southward flow of people and vehicles to increase, with many of the new residents flocking to South Delta, North Delta, South Surrey and White Rock. It increased much more when the new 401 Highway (now Highway 1) and first Port Mann bridge opened in 1964. This led to a whole new community in Surrey – Guildford.

The Alex Fraser Bridge, SkyTrain bridge, Golden Ears Bridge and, most recently, the widened Highway 1 and new Port Mann Bridge have all accelerated the trend. Very few areas of Surrey have been untouched by development, and even the areas within the Agricultural Land Reserve are often choked with traffic as people travel to and from work, school and other commitments.

Growth will continue. The Lower Mainland area is one of the most attractive parts of Canada to live in, and high housing prices are only a minor deterrent to many. People are prepared to pay more to live here.

Expansion of alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle travel is the only answer. These include encouraging carpooling, telecommuting, many more bus routes across all the river crossings and of course expansion of rapid transit. Options like mobility pricing need close study. The best answers are carrots, not sticks.

Many more transit connections to the burgeoning population outside Metro Vancouver’s boundaries – notably Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission – are also an integral part of the solution. This requires provincial leadership.

Lengthy commutes are frustrating and counter-productive. Governments at all levels need to think creatively about how best to manage the increased traffic.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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