West Vancouver's B-Line debate shows why some projects stop at the drawing board
Regional priorities mean very little if there isn't buy-in from the local community
When Mary-Ann Booth became mayor of West Vancouver last October, the issue of a B-Line bus route through the community seemed to be uncontroversial.
After all, council had voted months earlier in favour of a rapid transit line that extended from the foot of the Second Narrows Bridge into the heart of West Vancouver at 24th Street and Marine Drive.
It was based on years of public planning for transit investments across the region, and neither of Booth's rivals made it an issue during the election campaign.
But just four months into her term, backlash has become so overwhelming that council seems likely on Monday to ask TransLink to end the new line just a block into West Vancouver, at the Park Royal mall.
Opposition has focused on a number of issues: The terminus station was originally planned for a site next to a school, upsetting parents; parking spots would be removed in the commercial Ambleside neighbourhood, upsetting businesses; and portions of the route would remove a dedicated lane for the new buses, upsetting motorists.
Beyond that, the debate morphed from a standard consultation — where a proposal is modified after feedback from the public — to the type of angry and exhausting battle that usually spells doom for most projects.
"It's in everyone's best interest to make a decision on this as soon as we can," said Booth after the motion was put forward last week.
However Monday's vote goes, one thing is clear: The West Vancouver B-Line case is a textbook example of how consultation can go awry when too many details come as a surprise to the residents whose lives would change the most as a result of the proposal.
"On reflection, we see in hindsight that things didn't get rolled out as smoothy as we would have liked," said Booth.
"There's things we could have done differently, for sure."
Support outside the community
There are plenty of people who think a bus that comes every eight minutes at its peak into the heart of West Vancouver is a good idea.
"The transit system, frankly, is inadequate and it is not functional to actually get anywhere on time," said Joshua Millard, an executive with the Capilano Students' Union in the District of North Vancouver.
"If you're taking the current bus system and you missed one of the buses, or your transfer doesn't go according to plan, you have to wait half an hour for the next stop. That's just not functional."
In the neighbouring City of North Vancouver, Mayor Linda Buchanan can only lament how West Vancouver seems ready to pack it in.
"It will be disappointing if it doesn't go all the way through," she said.
"When transportation on the North Shore was the No. 1 issue for a lot of people during this past campaign, and a lot of work has has taken place with our integrated transportation planning project, you know, it'll be unfortunate."
Sharp divide in West Van
For the support a B-Line bus route seems to have among mayors, students, planners and urbanists outside of West Vancouver, reaction from those inside the community has been mixed.
Some of the opposition has been straightforward, while some has morphed into personal attacks, along with incendiary social media musings more common in large municipalities, but relatively rare in West Vancouver.
Some of the criticism would likely induce eye rolls among most people living outside Metro Vancouver's wealthiest municipality.
"The B-Line bus is a rude intruder with [greenhouse gases] and muddy boots. There are no B-Line buses in Shangri-La," wrote North Shore News columnist Paul Sullivan last week, echoing an opinion made by people at several meetings and protests — that the buses would be empty most of the time and merely add to carbon emissions.
"These people [for it] have no skin in the game. They do not have employees. They are not paying taxes in West Vancouver. They do not have responsibility for mortgages," said John Cave at last Monday's council meeting.
Call that sort of opposition what you will. However, big development and transportation projects are set out years in advance, based on regional priorities and careful planning by intelligent and well meaning bureaucrats.
But if elected politicians can't set the stage for those projects to have support in their own backyard when the details come out, things will usually come to the same sort of head they have in West Vancouver.
Metro Matters: On The Road is exploring how new city governments throughout B.C. are approaching age-old issues (some political, some not) in their communities.