Thursday, May 28, 2015

New Park Avenue condo project differs from Downtown Langley vision

Park Avenue is in the southern edge of Downtown Langley. This area is a special design district according to the City of Langley's Downtown Master Plan. The plan envisions development along Park Avenue to “have a higher quality compact 4 storey development fronting on Douglas Park. Park Avenue would be 'calmed' for local access so the development is almost an extension of the park and associated recreation activities.”

Park Avenue in the context of Downtown Langley. Select graphic to enlarge.

A new development is being proposed at the corner of Park Avenue, along Douglas Park. With the concept of the Park Avenue design area in mind, it was interesting to see that a 5 storey, 37 unit residential building is being proposed for this site. The units in this proposed building will be between 1,034 and 1,658 square feet.

Proposed development along Park Avenue at Douglas Park. Select image to enlarge.

While I’m not too concerned about the height of the building, the original vision was to see a softer transition between Douglas Park, Park Avenue, and buildings along Park Avenue. When walking along Park Avenue, you should feel like the street is a part of the park. The original Phase II document of the Downtown Master Plan envisioned an example project that included street-oriented entrances to ground-floor units (like the newer Serenade Building at the corner of Douglas Crescent and Park Avenue) which would help create an outdoor living room.

Render of same site as envisioned in the Downtown Langley Master Plan - Phase II. Select image to enlarge.

The proposed building includes concrete walls fronting Park Avenue and Douglas Park. In the site plan, I don’t see any improvements to the sidewalk treatment fronting this proposed project that would create a park-like, welcoming environment.

How could this proposed project be improved? A green wall, instead of an exposed concrete wall would certainly help soften the interface between the public realm and this building. Also, the sidewalk should include a green-buffer along the street to support the planting of street trees, placement of street furniture, and street lighting, while allowing for a wide sidewalk in keeping with Phase III of the Downtown Langley Plan. This would create a welcomimg environment for people.

Downtown Langley is the heart of the City of Langley; the utmost care should be taken on how it is redeveloped.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

New local guidebook released on how to design healthier communities

Over the past several years, visibility has been increasing on the relationship between how will build our communities and our health outcomes. In broad strokes, communities designed around people support positive health outcomes while communities designed around cars lead to negative health outcomes like increased obesity and repertory illness rates.

Since the increasing body of research around health outcomes and built-form is relativity new, how to act on this knowledge hasn’t been embedded into the design process for communities in Metro Vancouver and British Columbia.

A new “Health Impact Assessment of Transportation and Land Use Planning Activities” is included in a recent Metro Vancouver Regional Planning Committee agenda (starts on page 73). This is a guidebook plus a toolkit to help local, regional, and provincial planners quantify the health outcomes from individual development projects, major and minor transportation projects, to official community plans.

The goal of a Health Impact Assessment, as proposed in the guidebook, is to help identify ways to minimize health risks and increase health benefits from plans, projects, or policies.

Health Impacts Assessments look at:
-Physical environment factors (e.g., air quality, water quality, hazards)
-Built environment factors (e.g., buildings, public spaces, roads, bike lanes)
-Livelihood factors (e.g., income, employment)
-Social and community factors (e.g., social support, family structure, access to services)
-Lifestyle factors (e.g., diet, exercise, alcohol and tobacco use)

These five categories would be evaluated for any plan, project, or policy that goes through the Health Impact Assessment process.

The guidebook provides examples on how to apply a Health Impact Assessment to Official Community Plans, large development projects, and transportation projects. It also uses case studies. For example in BC, Interior Health has a process in place to evaluate large development projects if they are referred to the health authority. Also, TransLink preformed a Health Impact Assessment when looking at the options for replacing or upgrading the Pattullo Bridge.

The guidebook shows examples on how to create a small-scale Health Impact Assessment which would take a few days to complete by one person, all the way to a comprehensive assessment which wold require several months to a year, plus a team to complete. The guidebook and toolkit have been designed so they can be used in all levels of government, and from small-communities to the City of Vancouver.

I look forward to the day when Health Impacts Assessments will become an embedded part of the planning process, that will be acted upon to create healthier communities.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

New Surrey LRT study released

The City of Surrey recently released a report titled “Economic Benefits of Surrey LRT” which was authored by Shirocca Consulting. These are the same people that did the TransLink Efficiency Review for the now defunct TransLink Commission back in 2012.

The author of the report found that over a 12 year period, light rail construction will support 24,600 direct, indirect, and induced jobs generating $1.4 billion in wages and salaries in BC. Once construction is complete, the operation of light rail in Surrey will support 14,000 direct, indirect, and induced jobs generating a total of $810 million in wages and salaries over a 30 year period.

In the report, direct employment includes working on the design, construction, and operation of light rail in Surrey. Indirect employment included people that work at suppliers and service companies that support light rail. Induced jobs are created when people directly or indirectly employed due to Surrey light rail start spending money in the community.

While the report contains hard numbers about jobs, wages, and tax revenue generated due to light rail, the new economic opportunities and quality of life improvements that light rail will support in Surrey is a major driver for the need to build light rail in Surrey.

The author of the report notes high-value investment and development will be attracted to light rail corridors in Surrey. This is due to the permanent physical presence of rail-based transit. Unlike SkyTrain, the author says that light rail is more cost-effective and supports a human-scale urban environment. According to the author, light rail “will also help maintain Surrey’s traditional role as a provider of more affordable, family-oriented housing”. This is because dollar-for-dollar light rail will be able to go further than SkyTrain, allowing more households access to fast and affordable transit. Because of this access, many households will be able to reduce or eliminate a costly vehicle.

Because employers and employees in the high-tech sector want to be located near rapid transit stations, light rail will support high-value jobs in Surrey according to the author.

The author also notes that light rail will:

-Improve access to Surrey Memorial Hospital and the associated health/life science employment in the area

-Create walkable, accessible communities throughout Surrey which support Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy

-Preserve agricultural lands as development will be attracted to the light rail corridors, and not the urban fringe of Surrey.

The City of Surrey also produced a “Surrey YES LRT” video to accompany the economic benefit report. You can find out more information, and download the full report, from Surrey’s LRT web page.

Monday, May 25, 2015

My life as a second-class citizen along the Langley Bypass

Shortly after I moved from the Township of Langley to the City of Langley, close to a decade ago, I sold my car. I have been living car-free ever since. I’ve been able to do this because Downtown Langley (and the area of the City South of Fraser Highway) is walkable with easy access to shops and service. I’m also a 10 minute walk from the Langley Centre bus loop which gives me access to the rest of the region with a bus every 5 to 15 minutes.

While I’m able to live car-free most of the time, I find that I usually have to rent a car one or two times per year. This weekend, I needed to rent a car because I was attending a friend’s wedding which was in Hatzic, about 20 minutes northeast of Mission.

In the past, the car rental agency that I used was located at the corner of Fraser Highway and the Langley Bypass. This was really easy to get to as I could walk 15 minutes from my house to rental agency (along a sidewalk on Fraser Highway), or just catch bus.

Because of a recent redevelopment project, that car rental agency is now located directly under the 204th Street overpass. This is actually closer to my house, as all I should need to do is walk up 204th Street from 53rd Avenue. Unfortunately, pedestrian access along the Langley Bypass is non-existent.

The 204th Street sidewalk provides no access to the Langley Bypass. Even so, people will cross the Langley Bypass here to access it. Select image to enlarge.

The 204th Street overpass has a sidewalk, but it was designed to prevent people from accessing the Langley Bypass. As you can see in the following pictures people still access the Bypass, via an unsafe, informal trail.

Unsafe, informal trail that connects the Langley Bypass to the 204th Street Overpass sidewalk. Select image to enlarge.

The Langley Bypass is the most pedestrian-hostile road in Langley. This makes sense because unlike most other roads, it is not maintained by the City or Township of Langley, but the provincial government.

While the BC Ministry of Transportation might not want people to walk along the bypass, people still do. In fact, I walked past 10 people on my adventure to the car rental agency on the Bypass.

The Bypass is not going to turn into a pedestrian high street anytime soon, but the province should work with the City of Langley to make the corridor safer for all users.

By trying to design away pedestrian access, it just makes the corridor less safe for people walking. No one is going to walk 15 minutes out of their way to cross at the nearest intersection that the Ministry of Transportation has deemed acceptable for pedestrians to use. They are going to cross the road without protection, use an informal trail, and use the 204th Street Overpass.

When I originally went to pick up the rental car, I went 20 minutes out of my way, walking up Glover Road, then walking through parking lots on the south side of the Langley Bypass like a second-class citizen to avoid walking on that busy highway.

As long as there are shops and service along the Bypass, the City and the BC Government need to do a better job of making that stretch of road more accessible. Just because I don’t own a car, doesn’t mean that I should be denied access to shops and services in my community.