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Freeway is the wrong way



Stay the course is Prices’s message to Whistler

If a four-lane freeway is built along the Sea to Sky Highway for the Olympics, there will be dire consequences to the way of life in the corridor, cautions Vancouver City Councillor Gordon Price.

"To create a freeway to the north sends the opposite message of what Whistler is trying to achieve," he said.

A highway will provide easy and quick access up the corridor for more cars and ultimately Whistler, a haven from the hustle and bustle of city-life, will simply become an economic subdivision of Vancouver.

"You will create a sprawl machine," said Price, who sits on various transportation boards in the city.

Price is coming to Whistler on Thursday, June 20 to speak at this month’s chamber of commerce luncheon at the Wildflower.

In his talk he will discuss the ways people think and plan around their cars, as well as the consequences of building a four-lane highway.

The provincial government is expected to announce its plans for upgrading the Sea to Sky Highway in September.

Rather than encourage different modes of transportation up the Sea to Sky Highway, a large highway will promote more car use, Price said. It sends a very distinct message.

The incentive to take other modes of transportation, like bus or rail or even having disincentives like tolls, will do nothing to dissuade the car traveller, he said. Rather, if there is a large highway people will see miles of empty asphalt stretching up the coast and they will use it as much as possible.

"From an economic and personal point of view, that's a very rational approach," he said.

"People see it as a free good."

But as soon as this happens, it will dramatically change the economics of the land.

"You will not get compact development. It is just too lucrative to take advantage of the kind of access that road would give."

The inducements to sprawl and recreating a northern suburban experience will be too difficult to overcome, even with a stringent growth management plan in place, Price says.

Price points to Squamish as an example of what may happen elsewhere in the corridor.

"I get a little disheartened every time I drive through Squamish," he said.

With its fast-food joints and gas stations hugging the highway, Squamish has essentially taken on the look of a suburban strip mall.

This kind of development, or urban sprawl, will undermine the very reasons why people are coming to Whistler in the first place.

People come here because Whistler provides a dense, sophisticated urban experience juxtaposed next to incredible natural landscape.

They can drive here and park and never have to use their car again until they drive back home.

This charm, unique to Whistler, will disappear with the appearance of a rapid highway up the corridor, Price feels.

"Don't destroy the village in order to save it," he cautioned.

But Price maintains he is not anti-car, even though he doesn't own one himself.

"The car is part of the transportation mix," he said.

It would be ludicrous to suggest getting rid of the car completely.

Instead, he advocates a mixture of transportation and applies this to his own life.

Price uses a variety of ways to get about Vancouver, including biking, public transport, getting a ride with a colleague and taking a taxi.

"If you give people enough realistic choices, they pretty much solve your transportation problem," he said.

Whistler must advocate this transportation mix for travel on the highway, as it will stand the resort in good stead for the Olympics.

"By having a mixed transportation system to serve the Olympics, you can tie that into growth management, tie it into your values, tie it to where you think we need to be in a more sustainable world," he said.

He admits the highway needs to be upgraded but not to the proportions of a four-lane, divided freeway.

"I think we do have to make that commitment in the long term, just for Whistler anyway. In some cases a three lane road makes a lot of sense for safety reasons."

This upgrade will suffice for the Olympics he said, while protecting the corridor's interests in the long run.

Whistler is heading in the right direction and Price's main message at the luncheon is to encourage Whistler to stay on course to a more sustainable approach toward development.

"Whistler is a most unusual creation in that it really is of sufficient density and mixed land use to be a model for better urban development."

He would like to see it continue down this path.

Price has been in office since 1986 and currently sits on a variety of council committees including the Standing Committee of Transportation and Traffic (Vice-Chair), Translink Public Advisory Committee (Chair) and TransLink (Director), among many others.

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