February 22, 2012 · 1:35 PM


Where is Jane Jacobs when you need her?

New West needs her now. Big time.

Surprising as it may seem, Jacobs helped popularize the idea that cities are best when they’re made with people in mind, not cars. She came to fame in the ‘60s, when she led the fight to kill plans for the Lower Manhattan Expressway, a 10-lane, elevated highway that would have cut through the heart of New York City, in storied neighbourhoods like Little Italy and SoHo.

Later, in her adopted home of Toronto, she helped halt the Spadina Expressway. That victory had a domino effect, leading to the cancellation of several other expressways in that city.

Without Jacobs’ work to mobilize neighbourhoods, these cities would be drastically worse off. Like a loudmouth at an intimate dinner party, an expressway has a knack of killing the fun.

So why does the Royal City needs Jane Jacobs today?

To stop the Pattullo.

This month we get our first glance at TransLink’s plans to replace the aging, dangerous bridge with a shiny new one by 2018.

These open houses are an opportunity for New West residents to get lured astray by two red herrings. First, do you want a six-lane bridge, or four? TransLink wants six, two for trucks each way. Surrey would love that, too.

The second red herring is the question of whether it will be tolled, or a tantalizing untolled alternative to the Port Mann.

It’s an illusion of choice, which really comes down to a question of whether there will be a moderate increase in traffic in our tiny city, or a massive one.

That, of course, is no choice.

The better question is: Is it time to scrap the Pattullo for good?

Yes, Metro Vancouver is a growing region, and Surrey and the valley are booming. Hence, the argument goes, the Pattullo is desperately needed.

My guess is that’s what New York’s “master builder” Robert Moses was saying when he was trying to ram all those expressways through. They survived without them, though, didn’t they? And that was when the car was in its heyday, virtually unassailable as an icon of progress.

Today cities are shutting down streets to create pedestrian thoroughfares. Seoul, Korea actually removed an elevated expressway through the centre of the city to restore the buried Cheonggyecheon stream. Vancouver defeated a downtown highway plan back in the late ’60s and now they are contemplating removing the viaducts.

So the possibility of a world without the Pattullo is not far-fetched at all.

And one wonders what that $1 billion could do to help extend SkyTrain to Guildford and beyond.

Even if the Pattullo were to stay, there’s a strong argument that it shouldn’t dump 80,000 cars a day into the centre of New West, to inch along McBride and 10th Avenue, and rat-run in our friendly neighbourhoods.

TransLink has dismissed a version that would link Surrey to Coquitlam. Maybe it’s time to bring that back to the table.

When the Pattullo was built Surrey and the valley were more trees and farms than condos and subdivisions.

Our streets, and our 15 square kilometre city could handle the traffic that ventured over.

Incrementally, decade by decade, the tide grew until in the last 20 years it has become a tsunami. About 450,000 cars travel through our little town each day.

Sure, there’s a difference between the New York and Toronto examples and our own.

It’s not a question of today no expressway, tomorrow a huge 10-lane thoroughfare.

It’s a case of a compact, pedestrian friendly city watching its small local roads become gradually choked to death like plaque in a narrowed artery.

As TransLink goes through this Pattullo process, the City of New Westminster is going to residents with its own, to update the city’s Master Transportation Plan.

For most residents, what they want from that plan is a reduction in the horrendous traffic that has been this city’s Achilles heel for decades, stifling progress and harming livability. Nothing satisfying will come from the plan on this issue.

No amount of “traffic calming” measures like curb cuts, or finding new truck routes through the city will make any real difference.

The plan will be useless unless we kill the Pattullo, or find it a new home.

Oh Jane, where are you?

• Chris Bryan is editor of the Newsleader.