Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Parking at Walnut Grove Community Centre

We’ve known for years that you can’t build your way out of congestion. More “free” roads beget more congestion. This fact has been known since the mid-twenty century, but it took until the twenty-first century before politicians and decision-makers started to clue into this fact. This is why today Metro Vancouver’s local governments are advocating for road pricing as a way to reduce congestion.

Transit in Metro Vancouver charges a higher fare during peak periods as a way to manage demand and encourage people to travel outside of peak demand periods.

Parking planning today follows the same principles of highway building in the twenty century. If you have a parking shortage, simply building more parking. Of course research, mostly done in the last few decades, has shown that you can’t build your way out of a parking shortage without destroying the urban framework of community. Large surface parking eroded the economic potential of land and destroys walkability.

Just like roads, research has shown that the best way to manage parking is to use the power of the free-market; price parking based on the demand.

Some communities have been using paid parking since the mid-twenty century to manage parking. Other communities like Surrey are just starting to manage parking demand. Sadly some communities like Langley balk at the idea of managing parking even though demand outpaces supply at times in some parts of the community.

I’ve posted about how the Township could manage parking in certain residential areas in the past, but I know that many on council won’t touch these ideas due to the perceived political risk involved. What really has me scratching my head is that the Township is planning to pave over green space at Walnut Grove Community Centre to expand its parking lot. According to an article in the Langley Times, “I agree with you that there is a shortage of parking at the centre, particularly at peak times on weekdays around [9 a.m.] and then again once school gets out in the afternoon.”

A better solution would be to look at managing the current parking supply as opposed to simple build more parking lot which has environmental and economic consequences, and will only be a short-term fix. There are many ways to manage parking at the community centre from providing parking passes for actual users to introducing paid parking during the two peak periods of the day.

Parking takes up a lot of space in the City and Township of Langley. Where I live, two storeys of my building are for cars and three storeys are people. I have to wonder if Langley is being built for cars or for people. There are many ways to manage parking, but it seems that Langley is still suck in a twenty century mindset of trying to build your way out of the problem. Hopefully it won't take Langley until 2050 to figure out how to manage parking.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Urban Creep in the Township

When the Township of Langley decided to pursue the creation of the 150+ hectare University District, it created controversy in the community and the region due to the sheer size of the proposal. People were concerned about the urbanization of rural land in Langley and the loss of farmland. While proposals like the University District create controversy, urban creep into currently rural parts of Langley mostly goes unnoticed. Even though these changes normal impact one lot at a time, in the long run the results are exactly the same: the loss of rural land. It reminds me of the frog in water. Turn up the heat too fast, and it will jump out of the pot. But turn up the heat slowly, and it will boil to death.

One such example of urban creep into rural Langley is a proposal around 86A Avenue and 217A Street at the edge of Walnut Grove. Some land owners in the area want to put their rural land that is currently in Langley’s Rural Plan area into the Walnut Grove Community Plan area. Their current Small Farm/County Estates zoning allows up to two houses per lots. This is fairly coming in rural areas.

Map of 86A Avenue and 217A Street where zoning changes are being proposed.

Since this land around 86A Avenue and 217A Street is not in the ALR, land owners converted their lots from fee-simple to strata plans to allow two houses per lots with essentially private ownership for each strata lot. This is clearly not rural, but is suburban housing.

The owners are now asking for these strata lots to be split into two fee-simple lots, slowly turning up the heat, by asking the Township to formalizing these down-to-½-acre suburban lots and housing by changing their zoning.

Township Council asked their staff to come up with some ideas on how to make this happen. Staff came back with two options.

Option one would change the designation of the land from rural to urban (moving it inside our region’s urban growth boundary.) This would require Metro Vancouver’s involvement and require the population-weighted support of 2/3rd our region’s municipalities. It would also trigger the involvement of the Ministry of Agricultural. Following this option would align with the spirit of land-use planning in Metro Vancouver and the Township’s own Rural Plan.

Option two would amend the Township's Rural Plan to allow smaller lots sizes to meet the proposal requirements by some of the owners around 86A Avenue and 217A Street. This is the sneaky options and would result in creating another Salmon River/Uplands-type area which has its own set of issues. This would further erode the protection of rural land in Langley and may open up other rural areas in Langley for suburban development.

People in Langley and Metro Vancouver care deeply about the preservation of rural and farmland in our region. Municipal government also claims to support the preservation of rural and farmland as well. Unfortunately, municipal government in Metro Vancouver has a lousy track record of actually protecting rural and farmland. This is why it is important to have an enforceable urban growth boundary and the Agricultural Land Reserve; it protects us from ourselves.

You can read more about this proposed change at the edge of Walnut Grove from the agenda of the Township’s last public hearing.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Shared-Use Streets

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately is how to make urban streets safer while promoting their multi-modal use. In theory, there is a transportation hierarchy with pedestrians on the top, followed by cyclists, than transit user, and finally motorist. In practice, this isn’t the case.

On the rare occasion when two pedestrians have a time/space conflict on a street, there is usually no bodily harm. While there are a few known cases of bodily harm and even fatality when a pedestrian and cyclists collide on a street, most of the time the only result is bad feelings. On the rare occasion when two cyclists collide on a street, there is a higher case of bodily harm.

When a motor vehicle and a pedestrian, or a motor vehicle and a cyclists collide, you are almost guaranteed bodily harm for the pedestrian/cyclists with a higher chance that the collision will result in a fatality. The risk of a collision, and a fatal collision, is higher at higher speeds.

Pedestrians and cyclists colliding with each other is a rare occurrence due to their slower travel speeds.

When higher speed motor vehicle traffic is desired, the best solution is to separate pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. For pedestrians and cyclists off-street trails, sidewalks, and separated bike lanes/cycle paths should be built, but what about when you want to slow down motor vehicle traffic?

While it sounds counter-intuitive, one of the ways to make roads safer is to raise the perceived risk to drivers by introducing ambiguity into who has the right-of-way. This is one of the reasons why roundabouts are safer than traffic lights. It is also why you don’t often hear about people being mowed down by vehicles on Granville Island or in your typical parking lot.

In areas where slower vehicle speeds are desired, speed limits could be lowered to 30km/h. In addition, drivers could be notified that pedestrians and cyclists have equal right-of-way on the street eliminating the notion of jaywalking for example. By fuzzing who has right-of-way, no road users would feel like they have guaranteed right-of-way. This would make all road users more aware of each other and would actually result in a safer street. It would also build streets that promote walking and cycling.

Would you make the Langley Bylaw or 200th Street a shared-use street? Certainly not. But could you make shared-use streets in places like Downtown Langley or Fort Langley? Certainly.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

School Site Acquisition Charge to Double in Langley

In March, I posted about how Langley’s School District No. 35 is proposing to change its School Site Acquisition Charge from between $212.00 and $354.00 per new housing unit to between $443.00 and $737.00 per new housing unit. The School Site Acquisition Charge is paid by developers to help cover the cost of new school sites.

The City of Langley and some parts of the Township of Langley are seeing very modest population growth and declining school enrollment. This has resulted in school closures and former school district sites being sold off in these areas. In other parts of the Township of Langley, the School District cannot keep up with the increasing enrollment.

Due to these dynamics, the City of Langley objected to the uniform doubling of the School Site Acquisition Charge within the Langley School District. You can read more details on a previous blog post, but the end result for the City of Langley may be a chilling effects on development and a further decrease in housing affordability in the City of Langley.

The City rejected the School Site Acquisition Charge as proposed by the School District. Due to the rejection, the School District requested that the Minister of Education appoint a facilitator to resolve the differences between the City and the School District over the charge.

The Minister wrote back that the School Site Acquisition Charge, as proposed by the School District, would be the same in both the City and Township of Langley as he believed that the City did not follow due process that would result in a facilitator being appointed under the Local Government Act. Specifically he believe that the City did not:

In writing, do not accept the proposed school site requirements for the school district specifically indicating two things:
-each proposed eligible school site requirement to which it objected; and
-the reasons for the objection.

Of course the City objected to this. As I noted in a previous post, City Council had the option to seek mediation to resolve this difference of opinion between the Minister and City. Instead City Council decided to write another letter to the Ministry of Education requesting again that a facilitator be appointed. On April 2nd, the City received a reply from the Minister which, not surprisingly, stated that his opinion did not change.

At the last City Council meeting, Council had the option to again seek mediation or other legal recourse, but instead decided to do nothing. As a result, the School Acquisition Charge will be doubling in the City of Langley.