British Columbia·Analysis

Is there hope for a North Shore transportation solution anytime soon?

Those questions may continue to be asked, with no solution in sight, for years to come.

'Every single business is impacted by the delays,' says CEO of North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce

Traffic on the North Shore is getting worse and jam isn't just aggravating to people stuck on the highway — it's a drain on businesses. (Christer Waara/CBC)

It's a general rule of thumb that in the Lower Mainland, affordability is the number one issue, no matter where you live. 

Not so on the North Shore. 

Traffic in the region is so bad that when a recent study highlighted eight congestion hot spots in Metro Vancouver, one of them was "Travel to, from and around the North Shore — in every direction."

There are signs the provincial government may be looking at taking action. On Friday, there was a meeting of the region's local, provincial and federal politicians to discuss the best way forward.

But at this point, that's all it is — low-level discussions.

"We're trying to do work to find out what's really going on with the traffic, what's causing that, and we want to address solutions in a proper way," said City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto, who said the meeting was initiated by North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma.

"How do we resolve the bottleneck at the bridges? How do we make it easier for people to come to and from the North Shore, and how do we allow people to commute along the North Shore east and west?"

But because of the provincial government and TransLink's stated priorities, those questions may continue to be asked, with no solution in sight, for years to come. 

Economic impact 

The daily region-wide traffic jam isn't just aggravating to people stuck on the highway — it's a drain on businesses. 

"Every single business is impacted by the delays," said Patrick Stafford-Smith, CEO of the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. 

"You pretty much build it into any appointment, and people make adjustments based on that." 

The organization hosted a forum on Wednesday discussing the issue, with much of the focus on the growing number of commuters crossing the Lions Gate and Second Narrows bridges.

Mussatto noted the number of North Shore residents crossing the bridges to go to work hasn't changed much in the last decade.

Traffic flow changes

What has changed, he says, is the number of non-North Shore residents coming to the region for work and leaving in the afternoon.

"The numbers that are leaving the North Shore to go to work are very similar to what they were ten years ago. The big change is there's more people commuting to work and then leaving in the afternoon," said Mussatto. 

New figures from the 2016 Census bear that out. In total, 22,295 people said they worked on the North Shore, but lived in a Metro Vancouver municipality that required crossing the Burrard Inlet.

That's up 20 per cent from a decade ago. Plus, there are nearly 35,000 North Shore residents commuting to jobs on the south side of the Burrard Inlet.

It's just enough to push an aging infrastructure grid — the number of bridge lanes linking the region to the rest of Metro Vancouver hasn't changed in over 50 years — into gridlock on most afternoons. 

Adding to the complexity is many of the workers coming to the North Shore are working on construction sites for renovated homes or new developments, which have end dates for completion. Focusing improvements exclusively on public transit might not be the best solution.

"I'm personally a big fan of public transit ... but I want to make sure that you don't spend a tremendous amount of money and find out it's not being used," said Mussatto. 

A hypothetical SkyTrain line linking Vancouver with both North and West Vancouver, as designed by North Vancouver-Seymour MLA Jane Thornthwaite. (Jane Thornthwaite)

Other projects come first

The growing frustration is linked to the growing megaproject proposals coming from politicians in the region: Mussatto has suggested a SkyTrain tunnel to North Vancouver, while MLA Jane Thornthwaite has suggested a SkyTrain extending west to east along the North Shore. 

But while transportation may be the number one issue on the North Shore, the North Shore is far from the number one priority for decision makers.

TransLink is committed to the Mayors' Council 10-year plan, which focuses on a new Pattullo Bridge, extending rapid transit lines in Vancouver and Surrey, and creating a new rapid transit line to Langley. And the provincial government's focus is on a Massey Tunnel replacement.

If you're an optimist, you could point that more talking is happening around North Shore transportation than ever before.

If you're a pessimist? It's still just talk.   


Justin McElroy


Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.