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Dec 15,2004

Coquitlam council derails mayor's transit resolution

by Leneen Robb - Staff Reporter - now news

An attempt by Coquitlam's mayor to have council agree on a rapid transit extension to the Tri-Cities in the form of light rail - instead of SkyTrain - failed Monday.

But before the acrimonious debate was over, one councillor had suggested Mayor Jon Kingsbury resign from TransLink, while several others had raised concerns about what they say is a lack of communication between the mayor and the rest of council.

The evening began innocuously enough, with Kingsbury making a presentation about his recent trip to Europe. During the excursion to France and Britain, Kingsbury, along with Port Coquitlam Mayor Scott Young and TransLink staff members, checked out various rapid transit technologies.

Kingsbury's favourite was a tramway in Strasbourg, France. He told council such a system costs about $40 million per kilometre to build, as opposed to about $120 million per kilometre for SkyTrain.

Pointing to an image of a sleek train car, Kingsbury touted the green grass growing between and on either side of the tracks, and added that such a system would not displace traffic on established roadways.

"That means if there's four lanes on the Barnet Highway, there'll be four lanes on the Barnet Highway," he said. "If there are four lanes on Guildford, there'll be four lanes on Guildford.

"It doesn't take any lanes of traffic away, because we don't feel in North America that we can afford to do that, so what we're hoping to do is make it so that people will see how fast this thing goes and give up on their cars."

He ended his presentation by telling councillors they had to find a balance between capacity and cost, and said tramways, or light rapid transit, would meet both objectives.

"What we think is a system like the Strasbourg system - we think that that's a winner for this area," he said, adding presentations had already been scheduled for Burnaby, Port Moody and Port Coquitlam councils.

When it came time to debate Kingsbury's motion that council advise TransLink it wanted light rapid transit, however, the mayor put an ultimatum to councillors.

If they didn't decide before TransLink's Oct. 15 meeting, he said, they could forget ever seeing rapid transit in Coquitlam.

The ultimatum angered some councillors, who said they had not had time to digest the new information.

"I take exception with how this has been presented to us tonight," Coun. Fin Donnelly said. "For over a year, I have been calling for a council workshop to discuss rapid transit options in case a situation like this would erupt - in other words, that SkyTrain perhaps is not the chosen option. I was continually told by you, Mr. Mayor, that our official position was SkyTrain."

Donnelly called for a meeting of city councils slated to receive the presentation before the TransLink meeting of Oct. 15, something councillors Mae Reid, Diane Thorne, Maxine Wilson and Kent Becker voted in favour of.

Before the vote was held, however, Kingsbury appeared to lose his temper, pounding his fist on the table on two occasions.

"Let me tell you what happens on October the 15th," he told Donnelly. "We either accept a route and technology so they can get on with the final engineering or Oct. 16, the only thing that TransLink is going to be concerned with is RAV."

When Becker complained that it was unfair for TransLink to put an ultimatum to council, Kingsbury said it was not the regional transportation authority, but himself, who felt the issue must be decided before Oct. 15.

"We all know that that (SkyTrain) is better for moving people and for separate guideways," Kingsbury said. "... they're not saying make this decision by the 15th. I'm saying as of the 15th, everything at TransLink is going to focus on the other project (RAV), and I'm afraid that if we don't give them route and technology ... we'll get left way in the dust."

Coun. Bill LeClair came out in favour of Kingsbury's motion, saying SkyTrain is "very intrusive in neighbourhoods" and attracts criminals.

Thorne, however, said SkyTrain has its faults, but is effective.

"I'm not saying I think SkyTrain is a fabulous system," she said. "It certainly is a fabulous transportation system though, and I thought that's what we were trying to build - a transportation system that moves people.

"Yes, it brings crime, I think that's why we have a police force on the trains. Yes, it's not attractive, but it doesn't have to be as ugly as it is down the Lougheed Highway."

Reid said she did not want to abandon SkyTrain, since it moves people faster than other rapid transit systems.

"We're spending millions of dollars on a system that I still need to be assured is going to be fast," she said of light rail, adding that if it takes too long to travel between stations, people will simply use cars.

Kingsbury tried to prevent a vote of Donnelly's amendment on the motion from taking place - until other councillors reminded him that amendments take precedence over the main motion.

After the amendment passed by a 5-4 vote, Kingsbury - who is the region's representative at the 12-member TransLink board - said he did not want to attend another TransLink meeting.

"You've put in a resolution to hold this off, fine," he said. "Next thing, somebody else can go down to the TransLink room, because I've put in everything I can," he said, pounding his fist on the table. "I manipulated and twisted and connived every way I could (at TransLink) to get a line going through the City of Coquitlam, and I brought it back here - one that will work with Port Moody and their referendum (against SkyTrain) - and I'm getting told that it's being rushed, nobody's comfortable.

"Well, you know what, I'm not comfortable with what I'm hearing at all, because I don't think people here are capable of making a decision."

Becker told Kingsbury council is making decisions, but they may not be the ones he wants to hear.

"You're expressing frustration that you don't want to attend the GVTA (TransLink) meetings anymore unless you can go with this message," Becker said. "Well, you have an option, you can resign if you wish and somebody else will be appointed in your position, that's your decision to make."

When Coun. Maxine Wilson said she had not heard of any announcement stating there is not adequate funding to extend SkyTrain to the Tri-Cities, Kingsbury said, "Well, you were the Liberal candidate in the last election. You ask them."

The debate wrapped up around 10:15 p.m.

No date has been set for the meeting of councils Donnelly's amendment calls for, and the passing of the amendment meant a vote on Kingsbury's resolution for TransLink did not take place.
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