This story has been amended to correct the date of the Ironworkers bridge opening.
The North Shore’s three councils are putting the rest of the Metro Vancouver on notice – a rapid transit line over Burrard Inlet cannot wait until 2050.
Elected members from the three North Shore councils voted 21-0 on Monday night (Feb. 7) on identical motions formally asking the TransLink Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation to prioritize the Burrard Inlet Rapid Transit project in the next 10-year round of transit expansion.
It follows the launch of North Shore Connects, the united front consisting of the District of West Vancouver, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), City of North Vancouver, District of North Vancouver and Tsleil-Waututh Nation.
For the last few years, the North Shore governments have been getting their notes in order. A feasibility study found several routes that were at least technically possible. An economic impact study found a rapid transit line crossing the Second Narrows and either connecting to Metrotown via Willingdon Avenue or downtown Vancouver via Hastings Street would eliminate 50,000 vehicle crossings per day from the North Shore’s bridges, reducing congestion, emissions and collisions. It would also double the number of people within a 60-minute transit commute of jobs.
Burrard Inlet Rapid Transit, or BIRT as it has become known, has been formally included in TransLink’s Transport 2050 plan, which was adopted last month. But before any such infrastructure can be delivered, it has to be made a priority through the mayors' council and then secure funding, and there are hundreds of kilometres of rapid transit projects on the wish list elsewhere in Metro Vancouver.
City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan said she experiences the same frustrations as everyone else when it comes to getting around.
“People need more and better options. That's why I am very proud to support tonight's resolution. Congestion is one of the biggest threats to our economy and to our environment,” she said. “The reality is we need to see rapid transit over the Burrard Inlet prioritized in the 10-year vision and investment plan. This is at the heart of improving livability right across the region.”
Later that evening at the District of North Vancouver council meeting, Mayor Mike Little noted the number of people coming to the North Shore for work or for recreation has been climbing sharply in recent years and the status quo infrastructure is clearly not cutting it.
“This is a very critical point in this process for us and the district has been advocating for a long time for transportation improvements to the North Shore,” he said, noting there’s been no increase in capacity since the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing opened in 1960. “Our population has doubled since that time. We're noticing it every day and our infrastructure is under incredible stress. And this is one of the most important pieces to giving us relief.”
District of West Vancouver council members were also enthusiastic in their support of the motion.
Coun. Craig Cameron, who represents West Vancouver council at TransLink, stressed the only way to ease current congestion problems is to ensure local employees have a transportation option that is faster and more reliable than driving a car.
“These are people who are working in our businesses, they’re teaching our kids, they're providing us dental care. They're integral parts of our community and we need them,” he said.
Cameron said local leaders have been working hard behind the scenes for a while to make that urgent need for transit improvements clear.
“The pressure has been going on for years and it will continue to go on until we've secured our place in the next investment plan. And the positive thing I will tell you is we get a lot of support for this plan from the mayor of Vancouver, the mayor of Burnaby, and a lot of other mayors from around the region because it's generally acknowledged that the North Shore should be next, so this is a good news story.”
Following the meeting, North Shore Connects issued a release, adding support to the cause from Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh leadership, as well as local employers.
“Bringing rapid transit to the North Shore has the potential to support and enhance the sustainable development of Squamish Nation’s lands and support our economic development goals,” said Council Chair Khelsilem. “It could improve access to jobs, affordable housing and education for our members, while also providing better connections in the region and between our lands.”
“It will provide our community members with increased access to public transportation and support long-term sustainability and livability for our community members and people in the region for generations to come,” added Tsleil-Waututh Chief Jen Thomas.