Multi-million dollar Highway 1 expansion won’t ease congestion, expert says

Build it and they will come… in droves

Even the most powerful person in Canada is not immune to a May Long Weekend traffic jam.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was an hour late to his own speech in Abbotsford last month, after being held up on the highway coming from Surrey. When he arrived, Mayor Henry Braun apologized for the congested road.

“And everybody chuckled in the room,” Braun later recalled.

It was meant as a light-hearted reminder that the region requires federal funds to widen the highway and ease chronic congestion that can wreak havoc with the plans of tourists, workers and commuters.

“He saw first-hand the congestion on Highway 1 that happens almost every day,” Braun says.

It’s a sentiment held with near-complete consensus in the Fraser Valley: more lanes must be added to the highway to make room for people and goods.

But what if that’s wrong?

In March, the province committed its $113-million share for the second phase of the Trans-Canada Six-Laning-Fraser Valley Project, which will add a lane in each direction between 216 Street and 264 Street.

The next phase will see the highway widened to Whatcom Road, local MLA Darryl Plecas promised a business crowd in April, before his BC Liberal Party failed to secure another majority in the legislature.

But all that money will be a waste, according to Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former planning director. Toderian, who now runs his own firm, says new lanes will fill up and congestion will not improve.

“If your goal is to have more people drive, then widening the highway will achieve that goal; if the goal is to lessen congestion, widening the highway will fail at that goal and it will be a very expensive failure,” he says.

Toderian says there is no avoiding the phenomenon known as “induced demand”: build it and they will come… in droves.

It’s a counter-intuitive concept, but Toderian says there’s good evidence for it.

At least one study, published in 2011 by economists Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner, appears to back him up. They found that when U.S. cities expanded freeways, traffic increased and congestion did not improve.

“The evidence shows that that’s always how it’s worked,” Toderian says. “So if you’re not convinced by evidence, there’s not much I can do.”

One needs only consult their own thinking and behaviour to understand induced demand, Toderian says. People employed in Metro Vancouver will move farther east if they think a wider highway will make commuting faster, and their neighbours will do the same.

“You have to recognize that transportation is not like water flowing through a pipe because water doesn’t change its mind,” he says.

So what’s the solution?

First, land use, he says.

If Abbotsford follows the spirit of its 2016 “Abbotsforward” official community plan, which Toderian helped develop, he says it won’t need a wider highway. If the city becomes more self-contained, the need to come and go from Metro Vancouver will subside, and highway traffic along with it, he says.

Abbotsford’s ambitious plan to develop a new city centre, increase transit accessibility and attract more employers is headed in the right direction, according to Toderian.

“But those efforts get eroded while, at the same time, you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too,” Toderian says.

Another solution Toderian suggests would be rapid transit between Metro Vancouver and Abbotsford, which could include a rapid transit bus with a dedicated lane.

“If you want to get people to rethink driving, then having a bus go by them on a dedicated lane while they’re stuck in traffic is the way to get people to rethink their trip,” Toderian says.

“Any solution that tries to spend public money to continue to move people using the same amount of space is destined for failure. The only systems that will work, or solutions that will work are solutions that move more people with less space and less public cost.”

That means prioritizing transit, walking and biking.

Another policy fix Toderian favours (backed up as effective by the Turner/Duranton study) is road tolling, an unpopular proposition that would disincentivize driving.

But the highway doesn’t just move people. Millions of dollars of freight are trucked up and down the corridor, including to and from the Port of Vancouver.

“A lot of times when people look at the highway, they look at it in terms of the commuters heading back and forth but really the major issue is the movement of goods and services,” says Allan Asaph, executive director of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce.

The Abbotsford, Langley and Chilliwack chambers have jointly called for the provincial government to prioritize the Fraser Valley portion of Highway 1 “as a major economic enabler.” The provincial chamber has signed on, and the resolution will also be voted on by the national Chamber of Commverce in September. If it passes, it will be sent to the federal government.

Asaph says he is familiar with the concept of induced demand but feels the current infrastructure is so inadequate that room cannot be made for trucks simply by discouraging commuters from using the highway.

He did, however, agree that Abbotsford must concentrate on making the city more attractive to both live and work in, rather than becoming a bedroom community.

But, he says, part of that equation includes attracting new employers to set up shop in town by widening the highway.

“We’re not advocating that the expansion of the highway should be unlimited,” Asaph says. “Widening it to six lanes, at least is going to handle the current capacity.”

The assumption that new lanes will make space for freight is “equally untrue” as other arguments for highway widening, according to Toderian.

“The problem is: if you widen and it fills up with cars again, literally the freight doesn’t move any better,” he says.

Toderian feels policymakers aren’t hearing that message, though.

“The experts know this; The experts get this and they’re figuring out how to message it better,” he says. “The last people to either understand or accept this are often the politicians who are kind of addicted to ribbon-cutting when it comes to road projects. What they should become addicted to is ribbon-cutting for transit projects and walking and biking projects.”


@KelvinGawley
kelvin.gawley@abbynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Just Posted

Chilliwack Learning Society finds new way to get free books to kids amid COVID-19 pandemic

Debbie Denault is hoping others will join her in handing out free books in their own neighbourhoods

‘An extra $220 every 90 days’: B.C. patients pay more dispensing fees due to prescription limits

Kelowna woman says it’s outrageous to charge for refills every 30 days

‘I love you this much’: Chilliwack firefighters share drone video on two-metre physical distancing

The Chilliwack Firefighters Association has been doling out helpful, visual reminders about COVID-19

COLUMN: The other graph that shows B.C. can beat COVID-19

Is the curve being flattened? data on hospitalizations provides a crucial answer.

UPDATE: Missing Chilliwack teen found, safe and sound

RCMP ‘pleased to confirm’ teen has been located

‘Hold our line’: 29 new cases of COVID-19 announced in B.C.

Saturday’s number of new cases marks the lowest in weeks.

Exercises move online with YMCA’s new nationwide virtual workout program

YThrive Home offers dozens of free workout videos for people during COVID-19 self-isolation period

Two inmates found positive for COVID-19 at Mission Institution; two other tests pending

15 staff self-isolating waiting results, says correctional officer

B.C. community service provider hosts friendly art competition for youth

Theme for Pacific Community Resources contest is ‘finding the silver lining in difficult times’

Critic, workers’ group ‘disappointed’ Trudeau chose Amazon to distribute PPE

Amazon Canada said in an email to The Canadian Press that it is working with Canada Post, Purolator

Full World COVID-19 update: National Guard collect ventilators in New York; Spain, Italy improve

Comprehensive coronavirus update with news from around the world.

TransLink to reduce service on some bus routes, SeaBus, West Coast Express

Changes start April 6 ‘due to low ridership and financial pressures’ amid COVID-19

Two people fined after B.C. police spot online ads re-selling 5,000 surgical, N95 masks

Police confiscated the masks, being sold at inflated prices, and now working with Fraser Health

Most Read