June 6th Pattullo Bridge Forum attracts community attention

She's an aging piece of infrastructure linking New Westminster and Surrey. After years of neglect, her bridge railings are crumbling apart and a number of detractors would like her dismantled and hauled away to the dump. Of course by now you probably realize I'm referring to the 75 year old Pattullo Bridge that's slated to be decomissioned in a few years in order to make way for a new six-lane tolled crossing.

On June 6th at 7 pm I am co-hosting an event that hopes to give this historic piece of Metro Vancouver a new lease on life. Fellow resident Keith Mackenzie and I are inviting local residents to attend a public forum to discuss what else can be done with the bridge besides tearing it apart. So far our forum has garnered some significant media interest. First off the mark was columnist Jon Ferry from The Province. He writes:

There is another option, though. And that's to go ahead and build a new six-lane bridge, but keep the old one as a people-friendly link to Surrey for cyclists and pedestrians.

Indeed, New Westminster community activist Daniel Fontaine and a friend have invited two SFU urban planning experts and a city transportation engineer to a June 6 public forum to discuss that and other ideas.

Fontaine said Thursday that everyone seems to be assuming the 75-year-old bridge will simply be taken down, like the soon-to-bereplaced Port Mann Bridge a few kilometres upstream. But he'd like to see whether the arch-shaped Pattullo, with its stunning views, can't be turned into something special.

"I've travelled quite a bit and I've seen what other cities have done with bridges," he told me. "They've put restaurants on them, they've put pedestrian bikepaths. I mean, they've done really cool things with their public spaces."

I agree. There's no reason why, if bike-mad Lower Mainland politicians, planners, professors rid themselves of their virulent anti-car ideology, they can't make life better for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists alike across our region.

But I think that, to avoid conflicts, physically separated bikeways and other pathways are key.

Along with La Perla Ballroom, 24 Hours Vancouver is a sponsor of the event. On Thursday they did an excellent 2 page spread providing the public with an in depth look at what other cities have done with their old pieces of infrastructure. Here is an excerpt:

One question has yet to be considered, however: What can we do with the existing bridge, short of demolishing it?

The new community forum, which is open to everyone, will touch on that. SFU urban design experts Gordon Price and Anthony Perl, as well as New Westminster transportation engineer Jerry Behl, will present.

Bridges have been or are being repurposed and turned into green, pedestrian-only spaces all around the world, such as Paris' Promenade Plantée, New York City's High Line Park and Philadelphia's famous Reading Viaduct. Similar projects have been suggested for Washington D.C.'s old 11th Street Bridge, and even the old Port Mann crossing upstream from the Pattullo, an “audacious idea”, writes Price in his blog, Price Tags.

“That would be spectacular,” Price added about the Port Mann park concept, quietly floated by Gaetan Royer, a manager at Metro Vancouver. “I love the idea. It’s just so audacious and jaw-dropping to think of what the possibilities might be.”

In today's Royal City Record, reporter Theresa McManus wrote an excellent story about the upcoming forum. She states:

Fontaine believes there are a lot of potential uses for the bridge if it's repurposed or adapted, but it would require harnessing the creativity of the private sector. He said people should think out of the box about the bridge's potential and view it as prime real estate in Greater Vancouver.

"It is something that could really generate a lot of cool ideas," he said. "It doesn't necessary require a lot of public dollars."

Before the public could offer input about the fate of the Port Mann Bridge, Fontaine said a decision was made to tear it down when the new crossing was complete. He doesn't want to see a similar decision made around the Pattullo Bridge without giving the public a chance to provide input.

"Let's do it early on," Fontaine said. "It's a good piece of infrastructure that could potentially be saved."

I also want to give a big shout out to the Bill Good Show for inviting both Gord Price and myself to the studio on Thursday to talk about the forum. There were some great callers and the segment was a lot of fun.

If you want to attend the event, or know someone who might be interested, here are the details:

Date: Wednesday, June 6

Time: 7-9 pm

Location: La Perla Ballroom – River Market at Westminster Quay (near New Westminster SkyTrain station). There is plenty of parking onsite.

Guest speakers:

Gord Price, Director, The City Program, SFU

Anthony Perl, Simon Fraser University

Jerry Behl, Transportation Engineer, City of New Westminster

TransLink (they were invited, but declined our invitation)

Here is the link on Facebook and the special website set up for the event. If you want to email us for more information, contact PattulloBridge@gmail.com.

We also plan to use PlaceSpeak to further engage the community on this topic after Wednesday…stay tuned for more information on this new development. Hope you can make it out to the event.

– Post by Daniel

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  • Mira

    Another Patullo Bridge post?
    I’ve seen idiocy in this region before in my life time. First was when Gordon Campbell was elected premier for the third time, second time was when mayor Robertson was elected for a second time in office, third when Clark became premier of BC, following a short battle with a way better candidate in Point grey. Chicken coops, underused bike lanes, wheat bordered boulevards… This patullo affair must way beyond everything else, civic like. I understand that some of the stellar speakers have nothing better to do with their time, but in times like this, when unemployment is high, times are uncertain, housing is non affordable, medical system is overburdened, some lazy academia and politicians are pushing for this phantasmagorical project that would hemorrhage money through the teeth. Wake up, people or better, come back down to Earth. too funny.

  • Steven Forth

    Unlike Mira I think it is a good thing to open discussion of this. But I perhaps we have discussed this enough on CC until after the meeting on June 6. An artifact of cross posting with 24 Hours perhaps?

  • yuri

    This is an interesting idea. I would also suggest putting more duct banks on the bridge as a gaetways for communication and power. These utilities already pay MOTH for the use of these facilities. If this revenue were turned over to the bridge itself it could be revenue nuetral. This way the new bridge would never be closed for utility work. It would be like a utility highway.

  • Jeff MacLeod

    I don’t think the structural integrity of Pattullo Bridge is there to keep it. If you keep it the cost of keeping it would be astronomical in years to come. It would continuously need to be fixed and repaired. It is also not earthquake safe and it’s falling apart. Keeping it would be a huge mistake.

    • Terry m

      That’s what some smart guys here, have said befuore. None of them present in the house now apart from you Jeff and Mira.
      I talked to a Professional Engineer – structural but not for bridges, and told me the whole exercise is laughable. But than look who the guest speakers are, former politicians, burp rats and simply passerbys. Rich!
      How did you gigs manage to find sponsors for this event is. Beyond me. Lots of money to spend, eh?

  • Sheepster

    Tear it down. It’s a bridge for cripes sakes not the Taj Mahal. Have we lost our freakin’ minds??

  • alex

    Interesting. Lots of criticism for your idea of letting the public re-imagine a large piece of public infrastructure. And yet, as far as I can see, those critiques have pointed to neither data nor convincing analysis to support their broad strokes panning the idea of doing anything other than tearing the old bridge down.

    I wouldn’t support anything that would be a big drain on the public purse, but I have no reason to believe (at this point) that there are no cool re-purposing options that wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.

    If there are potential options that would be revenue-neutral or revenue-positive for taxpayers, and that would create new economic and recreational opportunities for communities on either side of the river, they should be explored. This seems to be exactly what you are suggesting we should do – explore the options, talk about them, and make a good decision. I see no benefit to being closed-minded to new ideas without having any convincing factual basis for that perspective.

    Let’s talk about it. If the data and analysis show that tearing the old bridge down makes the most sense for the public then sure, let’s do that. But let’s at least figure that out before rejecting all other possibilities.

  • Thought of The Night

    “Like throwing more bad money after bad money.”

    Resurrecting the dead seems like a worthy proposition for some. It’s like Deja-Vu, only with bridges this time. Not long ago there was a Save the Stump Of Stanley Park Society, oh, excuse me, the Put the Hollow Tree in Crutches Society. After years of advocating, time wasted in public meetings and tenths of thousands of dollars raised, instead of having a hollow tree stump leaning on its side, naturally, we have a raised hollow stump held up by metal crutches, like an unfortunate Polio survivor. Terrific.
    You wouldn’t catch me taking guest visitors for photo-ops over there, not any time soon.
    Meanwhile… the “living” lost to the “dead”, again.
    The Children Petting Zoo of Stanley Park was shut down for lack of … “funding”, so they say. Pitiful.

    “Let’s talk about it. If the data and analysis show that tearing the old bridge down makes the most sense for the public then sure, let’s do that. But let’s at least figure that out before rejecting all other possibilities.”

    Interesting. Let’s spend some more money on “studies” telling us that an old bridge, by the name of Patullo, that’s at the end of its structural life, that’s down with irreversible arthritis, with ‘rustinitis’ and even some miscellaneous me(n)tal ailments, so this bridge, that is in fact too old to take a fart unassisted, until its natural departure, is not quite such a good idea after all.
    Oh, wait. They already told us that. Yes, it was when the proposal for a NEW bridge surfaced, not long ago. This people… are incorrigible!

    No one seems to think of money. No, siree Bob. Money is not important. Private interests will see the gold mine in all this exercise, and they will come flying, in a PPP formation. Donald Trump wants to build a tower on one of the piers, and Richard Branson wants to do catapult surfing on the Fraser.
    Sure thing.

    Here’s my bite for thought, for all you skeptics of me out there… Kitsilano High School in Vancouver.
    No 25 on a 25 list of names of schools with huge structural deficiencies, to the point of no return in terms of retrofit/ upgrade.
    Heritage activists were again up in arms, gee, remember that, again people putting the “dead” ahead of the “living”.
    Long story short, the proposal for retrofitting and /or seismically upgrading the old school was a No-No as the Total Costs seemed to be prohibitively high.
    Turns out that a new school worth $65 Million sounded way better than the $120 Million plus… for a retro.

    Having said that, a bridge that sits in the middle of nowhere, departing from an almost dead area and landing in to an almost similar one, can not be compared with anything but a ‘goner’ bridge, the very moment when its utilitarian purpose, that of allowing vehicular/pedestrian traffic to cross the Fraser, have been terminated.

    This whole exercise gives me the creeps, feels as if Vision Vancouver apparatchik have already infiltrated in New West. If this whole idea would have come from mayor Gregor, it would not have surprised me for a moment.

    Re. the Patullo Bridge Forum…
    Hmm, have any of you had that feeling of sitting in a bus, still in the depot?
    Beautiful feeling.
    Best of both worlds. Be on the bus, but not going anywhere…

    But hey, in all fairness, I would love to be proven wrong. I too, would want to see restaurants, promenades, bike lanes, groups of people running across, back and forth, in cadence… bungee jumping, zip lines and tower climbing, unless… as per the obsessive-compulsive Adrian Monk, the TV consultant would say:
    “Unless I’m wrong, which, you know, I’m not… ” 🙂

    Till then though…

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • alex


    Still no data. Still no convincing analysis. I am a fence-sitter until I see some solid numbers or at least well-cited analysis. Is good argument too much to ask?

    • Glissando Remmy

      It’s becoming embarrassing guys.

      BC Place retrofit & seismic upgrade was pitched at $230 Million… ended up at close to $700 Million.
      If your retrofit is the result of having no other alternative, think Lions Gate few years ago, a job of cca. $80 Million versus a new bridge or tunnel for costs of $250 Milion and up… then so be it, but in this case, a new bridge is envisioned.
      Patullo is on a respirator. And you know it. Nostalgia?
      For what, for that … oh, please!
      You want a study, better go ask our local engineering firm Taylor & Buckland, for their opinion before you sink any money into it.

      Start here:

      Taxpayers don’t start creatively wasteful ‘stimulus’ projects, politicians and bureaucrats do.
      I would try to make time to attend the Forum, but only because I am a sucker for a good tragicomedy. Or is it … ‘comitragedy’?

      • West End Gal

        I know people on this site are going to bash me for saying this, but thanks Glissy… the voice of reason… again! 🙂

  • Steven Forth

    Even if it proves to be cost prohibitive to do anything other than to tear this bridge down (a significant cost in its own right) this kind of public visioning can have value in many other ways – generating a process and ideas for other pieces of infrastructure, opening our minds to alternatives, building community and relationships. Kudos to Daniel for pursuing this.

    Most of the nay sayers oppose this kind of project because of their world view and not becuase they have done any real research.

    • Ned

      See Steven?
      You are doing it again.
      “Even if it proves to be cost prohibitive to do anything other than to tear this bridge down (a significant cost in its own right) this kind of public visioning can have value in many other ways – generating a process and ideas for other pieces of infrastructure, opening our minds to alternatives, building community and relationships. Kudos to Daniel for pursuing this.”
      So, let me rephrase that.
      Even if it cost all this time and money for nothing, it’s only taxpayers money (most probable), only to garner ideas that would be unusable if the whole project is proven flawed, right?
      WOW, what a laugh, spending other people’s money, getting nowhere… in true Vision Vancouver fashion.
      Simply… WOW!

      • Steven Forth

        Sorry, Daniel, are tax payers paying for your event?

  • I, for one, will keep an open mind on this. I agree with Glissy’s sentiment that the cost to maintain the bridge might be prohibitive over the long term. Note how quickly the Vancouver Park Board demolished Mt. Pleasant, Sunset and now Riley Community Centres instead of repurposing them. Governments fear liability and costs.

    On the other side, I think New Westminster is undergoing a bit of a long overdue urban revival. The bridge is a bit of a barrier to that, so why not put all the numbers and ideas on the table and discuss your options? That’s why this event Keith and Daniel are organizing is worthwhile. It’s a community-driven process, not one led by bureaucrats. What more could you ask for?

    Good luck on Wednesday, guys!

  • Ron


    Let’s be clear about this. The costs to maintain the bridge as nothing more than a landmark that nobody risks even walking on will be sky high. Besides the major structural issues on the superstructure the supporting piers in the river are suffering from scour issues.

    This is the same bridge that even with maintenance recently had a segment of the bridge randomly fall down. Imagine the results of even a modest earthquake.

    Creating parkland or bike trails or whatever they imagine using the bridge for is fine but rest assured they will be the most expensive and most prone to catestrophic failure park or bike trail or whatever not only in the lower mainland but possibly the world.

    The bridge is falling down and it would cost more than the cost of a brand new bridge to fix it. There are engineering studies that agree with me.

  • Ron

    While getting the community thinking outside the box is all well and good I feel there’s danger in potentially misleading the public into thinking that anything but tearing it down is a good solution.

    Let’s be clear about this. It’s not even certain they COULD make the bridge safe long term due to the scour issue, and even if there is a solution it would be sky high expensive. That’s in addition to the general deterioration that is so extensive a segment of the bridge recently fell down.

    The danger is that someone will see these things and think that maybe they could put a nice park or walkway or whatever on there. That is wrong. You can’t. It might not even be technically possible to stop the bridge from falling down. You don’t put a park on something that is falling down. For the cost of making the bridge no fall down you could for example probably purchase all of Burn’s Bog and make it a park.

    It would be the single most expensive, whitest of white elephants ever. Floating that idea out there is dangerous.

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