Synopsis of FortisBC Open House (East 1st Avenue temporary closure)

FortisBC held an Open House on Tuesday, May 29th and provided additional details about the temporary closure of East 1st Avenue. GWAC was in attendance. For members of the public who were not able to attend the meeting, we’ve provided a synopsis of the meeting below.

FortisBC Open House
Croatian Cultural Centre
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
5:00 to 7:00 pm
Present:
From FortisBC

  • Gord Schoberg, Sr. Manager, Municipal and Aboriginal Affairs
  • Art Kanzaki, Sr. Project Director
  • Blake Mansbridge, Community Relations Manager
  • Joe DiPlacito, Worley Parsons – Consultant to FortisBC

From City of Vancouver

  •  Greg Nowak, Traffic Engineering

And

  • Several members of the public

The meeting convened at 5:10 pm

G. Schoberg introduced himself and the other speakers and welcomed the public to the information session about FortisBC’s gasline replacement project which will cause closures of large sections of 1st Avenue from Rupert to Clark Drive from the end of May to the end of August, 2018. Mr. Schoberg revealed that the gasline replacement project had been in planning for four years, with the management team deciding that full replacement of aging pipe rather than patchwork pipe repairs was in the best interest of the company and the public it serves. He also stressed that SAFETY for FortisBC employees, contractors, and the public is of paramount importance to the company. 

He then passed the meeting to A. Kanzaki whose job was to explain why FortisBC is undertaking the two-part gasline replacement—the need to replace aging and worn natural gaslines that run 20 kilometers from Coquitlam through Burnaby [Part One] and then into Vancouver [Part Two] — and to provide some insights into the process, permits, and organizations FortisBC has had to deal with to get on with the job. Mr. Kanzaki also emphasized the importance of individual safety and efficiency on this project. He then explained why 1st Avenue was chosen to house the replacement (the gasline currently runs parallel to 1st, along East 2nd Avenue):

  • Safety (1st Avenue is multi-laned which allows for lane shut down and continued traffic flow)
  • Maintains residential parking and access
  • Minimizes environmental damage, particularly tree and tree canopy impacts, stream and fish damage
  • Constitutes the most direct and shortest route for the gasline
  • Provides adequate space for construction material and work, which speeds the project

Mr. Kanzaki closed, saying the project will conform to Vancouver construction permit hours hours (7 am – 8 pm, six days a week, and 10am – 8pm Sundays, when required), adding some extended hours may be required and will need City permit approval.

TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT was the subject of the next presenter, Joe Di Plosito, from Worley Parsons, a consultant to FortisBC. He told the audience that crews are currently working on the section from Rupert to Nanaimo and that by July 3rd, crews will have moved down 1st Avenue, working toward Clark Drive. The entire length of 1st Avenue, from Boundary to Clark, will be repaved, and the whole job will be completed by September 1st. During gasline replacement, the North/South arterials will be kept open; crews will tunnel under the main roads in order to avoid closing the main arterial ‘though there may be occasional closures, such as Victoria Drive, from July 1st to the end of August.

Mr. Di Placito went on to detail the engineering/communication processes: FortisBC consulted many stakeholders; issued advance notice of the 1st Avenue closure; and erected electronic signage weeks in advance of the project start date; and will maintain area business, residential, and bike access to the neighbourhood.

What meeting attendees were really interested in was information about the City’s proposed traffic-calming measures, which Mr. Di Placito detailed: Baseline traffic counts were established “a couple of years ago”; FortisBC can call the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to deal with speed and parking violations; speed limit/”local traffic only” road closure signs and speed readers can be erected on the side streets; the VPD will control all major intersections and can be redeployed throughout the neighbourhood if problems occur; Rupert to Woodland intersections will be fenced off (closed) where the work is being done, and the fencing will move along the construction route as specific sections are completed.

During the question and comment portion of the meeting, attendees said they found these measures insufficient because they focused only on the immediate area adjacent to the current construction. Cut-through traffic begins well in advance of traffic calming measures. Attendees demanded help to stop increasing traffic volumes on all of the streets across the construction area. They asked that traffic-calming measures be instituted well ahead of or before specific construction sites. Many in the room agreed that temporary, on-the-spot traffic calming (removable signage or sawhorse barricades) does not really deter or slow the side streets which are already being slammed by cut-through commuters.

SAFETY is the paramount concern. Even though cut-through traffic may meet posted 50 km speed limits, and is thus technically not speeding, neighbourhood streets are still very congested. Rush-hour drivers simply do not care that they may be posing a hazard to neighbourhood children who are at risk of being struck if they dart out onto the streets from between parked cars. An impassioned young mum from Gravely Street made this point very clear to all in the room. [At time of posting, “Local Traffic Only” sign and a speed tracker were up here, as well as on some of the avenues south of 1st Avenue.]

Attendees condemned the lack of foresight by the City Traffic Engineers, noting that the City and FortisBC have dropped the ball despite having had years to get ready for this gasline replacement project.

Greg Nowak, from the City of Vancouver, took the floor to outline some “substantial measures” that could be implemented to kerb traffic, including posting turning restrictions, installing right in/right out barriers at street openings, and deploying temporary speed bumps. He insisted that everyone involved with this project was “dedicated to safety” and said he would make immediate inquiries to calm affected side streets.

For more information on this project, he directed the public to the City website:  www.vancouver.ca/roadwork firstavenue@vancouver.ca  He also encouraged residents to phone 3-1-1 (TTY: 7-1-1) to report problems or dangerous driving. The VDP may then be deployed to these sites.

Mr. Nowak candidly admitted that maintaining traffic flow is the City’s key concern (especially after the SW Marine road closure experience), but no one from either the City or FortisBC appears to have anticipated the moveable traffic bottlenecks caused by the street closures, congestion that surely interferes with traffic flow and compromises public safety. Attendees noted that road rage is an inevitable result of street closures and frustrated drivers and that the City or FortisBC or others must take responsibility for residents’ safety. Increased traffic volumes are making already-overused neighbourhood streets even more treacherous and their long-suffering residents even more at risk. Many expressed the hope that the City would install permanent traffic-calming measures on their neighbour streets. 

Blake Mansbridge was the final speaker. He outlined the various community outreach tools and events FortisBC has undertaken to inform the public about the gasline replacement project. Chief among these are a multi-media advertising campaign about the project, community coffee klatsches at local coffee shops (The Drive Coffee Bar, for example), various Open Houses (this one and another at Britannia Community Centre, for instance), a Pop-Up Information Booth at T & T Market, 2-6 pm Thursday, May 31st, school presentations (“Energy is Awesome” for kids), attending various community events (Italian Day, Care Free Day, and with the Commercial Drive Business Improvement Association, the “Fresh Air Cinema”—screening movies in local parks). More klatches are planned at local coffee shops.

Mr. Mansbridge told meeting attendees that FortisBC has initiated many information programs to help local businesses and residents affected by 1st Avenue closures. For example, it has begun an advertising campaign to support local businesses and has begun publishing an e-newsletter that will profile various local businesses and their owners. He said that the Daily Hive also runs stories focussing on local businesses. In addition, FortisBC encourages its contractors to eat and shop locally. There may even be gift cards from local stores to be given to affected residents as a “Thank you” for putting up with the closures or extended work hours, as happened during the Coquitlam phase of the gasline replacement.

He closed by saying that Fortis is committed to informing and to listening to residents. People can call and speak to a live FortisBC representative on 604.592.7494 (24-hour/seven-days-a-week), as well as getting weekly project updates at the website: www.talkingenergy@fortisbc.ca

The presenters answered questions and listened to comments from the floor. Meeting attendees encouraged FortisBC and the City to hold the Open Houses at a more convenient time, 6 to 8 pm, for instance, when workers and parents are more likely to be able to attend. In the end, attendees expressed much frustration and grave fears about cut-through traffic; they made it clear that they really wanted the City and FortisBC to address the dangerous effects of the 1st Avenue closure and re-iterated their desire that temporary traffic-calming measures installed now might remain to deter cut-through commuters on their neighbourhood streets after the gasline replacement project is completed.

Mr. Schoberg thanked people for attending, and the audience echoed his thanks and applauded the presenters.  

The meeting adjourned at 6:55 pm.