Thursday, April 20, 2017

Cap or scrap tolling receives tepid support. Mayors’ Council releases five principled points for transportation funding.

On April 9th, the BC Liberals and NDP announced that they would either cap tolling in Metro Vancouver, or eliminate tolling on the Port Mann Bridge and Golden Ears Bridge. I posted about how both these options raise serious concerns about increased congestion, and reduced funding for transportation in our region.

On Tuesday, Mainstreet Research released their latest poll on the BC provincial election. It found that the majority of British Columbians don’t find either option that appealing. In fact, the polling found that more people supported reduced tolling than removing tolling altogether.

People understand the benefits of tolling when it comes to reducing congestion and paying for much needed transportation infrastructure.

Of course, the current system in Metro Vancouver is not working well. Tolling is only applied at the Port Mann Bridge and Golden Ears Bridge. This causes some people to use “free alternative” bridges like the Alex Fraser and Pattullo, increasing congestion along those corridors.

It is also only applied at South of Fraser river crossings which is not equitable. To reduce congestion throughout the region, and to be able to fund transit and road improvements throughout Metro Vancouver, we need a fair mobility pricing systems.

I believe that this system should be distance-based, and be applied region-wide. It should also replace gas tax which is currently used to fund a portion of our transportation network. As vehicles become more efficient or electric, and as more people use transit, walk, or cycle, gas tax revenue is reduced while the demand to fund transportation improvements increase.

The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation is working on a funding strategy for expanding transit and improving roads in Metro Vancouver. Jonathan Cote who is the Mayor of New Westminster and chair of this committee, recently released the mayors’ five principles for transportation funding in our region.

  1. Mobility. Changes to our transportation network must improve mobility for people and goods in the region, by providing more choices, reducing travel times and improving the experience of users.
  2. Accountability. Every dollar raised from fares, fees, taxes or other revenues intended for transportation must contribute to improvements that benefit the travelling public and that will help meet our objective of reducing congestion.
  3. Fairness. Benefits of new transportation infrastructure and services, and revenues to support them, should be applied in an equitable way throughout the region. Our transportation network is integrated – all users should contribute to maintaining it.
  4. Affordability. A high quality transportation network that improves mobility gives residents more choice where to live and work, which helps combat the region’s housing affordability challenges. At the same time, building and maintaining this network must respect taxpayers by making smart choices to keep costs low, and maximize return on investment.
  5. Engagement. Metro Vancouver residents and businesses should have a say in establishing priorities and making choices about transportation improvements, and how those improvements are paid for.

Whichever party is elected this May, I hope that they will work with the Mayors’ Council to find a permanent solution to funding transit expansion and regionally-significant road improvement projects in Metro Vancouver.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Infill redevelopment, a solution to providing more affordable housing in Metro Vancouver

Affordable housing is a top of mind issue in our region, and is one of the major issues during this provincial election. Providing affordable housing for all people in our region will require a variety of approaches depending on the type of housing required; from emergency shelters to subsidized housing to market housing including ownership.

Non-market housing, such as co-op housing, requires funding and support from the provincial and federal governments to build and operate. Local governments’ role is to provide the zoning to support non-market housing.

When it comes to market housing, zoning plays an important role in affordability too. Local governments can support the creation of a variety of housing types by creating zoning that encourages apartments, row-houses, laneway housing, secondary suite, and different sizes of detached homes.

All things being equal, a community with only traditional single-family zoning will be less affordable than a community with zoning that supports a variety of housing types.

The Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association (GVHBA) recently released a new report. One of the solutions that they propose to create more affordable housing in our region is to build more infill development projects in single-family zoned areas. This doesn’t mean replacing single-family housing with apartments and row-houses according to this report, but replacing or reusing existing housing to create duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, secondary suites, laneway homes and coach houses.

The following is an example of what adding “gentle density” in traditional single-family zoned areas looks like from the GVHBA report.

My House Design Build Team, Vancouver. Single-family house converted to three units with stratified duplex and a coach house. Select image to enlarge.

As you can see in the following map, there is a large amount of single-family housing areas in our region where infill development could occur. On an interesting note, Langley City is a leader when it comes to building row-housing and apartments.

Map of residential land-use in Metro Vancouver. Select map to enlarge.

Percentage of residential zoned areas by land-use designation. Select table to enlarge.

The time it takes to approve a development project, and the cost required for that approval, are also factors in getting more infill housing built. The report looks at the costs and timing by each municipality in our region to build infill housing projects.

For more information, please check out the full report: Housing Approval Study, 2017 – Infill Housing.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

7-Eleven at 56 Avenue and 200 Street: Adding incremental walkability

Back in September of 2015, I posted about the development permit for the 7-Eleven gas station that is now at the corner of 200th Street and 56th Avenue. The original design of the project had poor walking access to the store, and was even missing bike racks. People were expected to walk across the busy gas bar area, putting them in conflict with people driving.

Original site plan for 7-Eleven. Non-vehicle access was only to be provided from 56th Avenue via painted hashed lines through the gas bar. Select image to enlarge.

As you can read in my previous post, council requested that the developer include sidewalks from both 56th Avenue and 200th Street. The bike rack oversight was also corrected.

Recently, I snapped a few pictures of the walking access to the new 7-Eleven store.

Sidewalk from 200th Street to 7-Eleven. Select image to enlarge.

Sidewalk from 56th Avenue to 7-Eleven. Select image to enlarge.

Why is pedestrian access important? It is all about location. The area bound by 196th Street, 56th Avenue, 200th Street, and 53rd Avenue is where a significant amount of redevelopment in Langley City is occurring. Older single-family housing is being replaced with town houses and apartments. This area of Langley is about a 15-minute walk from Downtown Langley. Most people’s maximum walking time to a destination is 10 minutes.

This means that this area is too far from Downtown Langley for most people to choose to walk to the grocery stores or other amenities in our core. People will choose to drive to access a shop, even if only for a jug of milk. By having a walking-accessible shop nearby, some of the driving trip will turn into walking trips. This is better for people’s health and reduces traffic.

While the 7-Eleven at the corner of 200th Street and 56th Avenue clearly prioritizes auto access, the included sidewalks provide safe access to the convenience store. They support walking access to basic items in an area where driving would otherwise be the preferred mode of travel to access all necessities.

As Langley City's all ages and abilities cycling network is built-out, people in this area will also have the option to cycle to Downtown Langley though that is a topic for a future post.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Kelowna’s Downtown, ideas for Langley City

A few weeks ago, I released a travel survey about how people get to Downtown Langley. Close to 50% of locals walk to Downtown Langley while the vast majority of non-locals drive to Downtown Langley.

The City of Langley has been investing in Downtown Langley, improving sidewalks and public spaces. Our Downtown Master Plan also envisions replacing the current surface parking lots with mixed-use buildings (retail on the ground, offices/housing on the top floors) and public spaces.

Parking, of course, is important for the success of Downtown Langley, so the Downtown Master Plan calls on the construction of parkades.

Downtown Langley is starting to be known as the place where something fun is always happening. There is the McBurney Plaza Summer Series, Arts Alive, Bard in the Valley, Community Day, the Fork & Finger, and many other events that occur in the civic heart of our community. The latest City of Langley Financial Plan includes funding to expand on these free, family-friendly events.

One of the areas where there is currently a gap is positive evening activities in our Downtown core. Bring positive evening events and activities to Downtown Langley is certainly something that I support, and I know that others on City council support as well.

Over the Easter long-weekend, I visited my parents who live in Kelowna. I also stayed in a hotel in Downtown Kelowna for the first time.

I’m from the Okanagan; born in Kelowna and raised in Vernon. My memories of Downtown Kelowna were that of a warn, down-and-out area. The main street, Bernard Avenue, was a four-lane road with parking on the side, and marginal businesses. The place was dead at night. As a teen, my friends and I avoided Downtown Kelowna.

Downtown Kelowna has changed over the last 15 years, the City of Kelowna has been busy investing in their core over that time.

I decided to take some pictures of Downtown Kelowna which show some of the ways that they have transformed their Main Street and Downtown. These pictures show ideas that could be applied to Downtown Langley, and are generally consistent with our Downtown Master Plan.

One of the first things that I wanted to show is the $4 million parkade that the City of Kelowna built. One of the key design features of the parkade is that it has ground-level retail which contributes to the public realm. Without ground-level retail, parkades create dead-zones.

Chapman Parkade in Downtown Kelowna. Select image to enlarge.

Kelowna reduced the lanes on Bernard Avenue to support the creation of sidewalk patios for restaurants and cafes as well as seating areas.

Bernard Avenue in Downtown Kelowna. Select image to enlarge.

Sidewalk patios, and people using street tables and chairs on Bernard Avenue in Downtown Kelowna. Select image to enlarge.

Some of Kelowna’s Downtown alleys have also received makeovers.

An alley in Downtown Kelowna. Select image to enlarge.

With restaurants and cafes staying open later, combined with investments in the public realm that encourage positive activity in the evening, Downtown Kelowna is a happening place even once the sun goes down. The Downtown Kelowna Association has an “After 5pm” program.

Bernard Avenue in Downtown Kelowna at night. Select image to enlarge.

Building a great Downtown requires both investing in the public realm, and programming that public realm with events and activities. The City of Kelowna invests around a quarter of a million dollars on programming including the Festivals Kelowna organization.

While Kelowna has four times the population of Langley City, Langley City is the heart of Langley which has a similar combined population. Some of the things that I saw in Kelowna show what Downtown Langley could look like once our Downtown Master Plan is fully built-out.