Monday, July 27, 2015

The Story of TransLink Part 1: The Old Funding Bait and Switch

Funding, or lack thereof, and control of transit in Metro Vancouver has been an issue since I’ve existed on this planet.

Under BC Transit, the provincial government was running Metro Vancouver transit service into the ground. In 1996, Metro Vancouver “compared to other major areas in Canada, on a per resident basis, [had] the lowest supply of transit, second lowest transit ridership, and highest car ownership” rates in the country according to the Canadian Urban Transit Association.

Metro Vancouver adopted the Livable Region Strategic Plan and Transport 2021 in the 1990s. These sibling policies set the stage for building our region around people, not cars. By building walkable and transit-accessible neighbourhoods, the region could accommodate growth while preserving precious greenspace and farmland; the very things that make our region a special place. There was a hitch though.

If the newly minted region growth and transportation plans were to go anywhere, more transit service would be needed; BC Transit was in a sorry state. The region needed more transit, but the provincial government was not looking to increase spending on transit in Metro Vancouver. Something needed to be done.

The province wanted to cap spending on transit while the region wanted more control, and the ability to grow the transit system. After much back and forth, a deal was struck.

A new transportation agency would be created for Metro Vancouver. This agency, now TransLink, would be controlled by a 15 member board. This board would be comprised of 12 Metro Vancouver appointees, with sub-regional representation and weighted votes, like other Metro Vancouver boards. There would also be 3 board members appointed by the provincial government. This would finally give local governments in Metro Vancouver control of transit. Local governments would also be getting control of some former provincial highways and bridges too. The idea was to have a transportation authority that could carry out the vision of Transport 2021.

Funding was a sticking point. In the end, the province agreed to keep paying ongoing capital payments for the Expo Line and West Coast Express. The province also agreed to pay for 60% of the capital costs of the yet to be built Millennium Line and Evergreen Line.

The provincial government would stop charging a Hospital District Property Tax in the region, worth $70 million (2015 dollars) at the time, and reduce the provincial gas tax in Metro Vancouver by 6 cents. The idea was to create a replacement property tax and gas tax for the new regional transportation authority.

Gas tax stays at 15 cents per litre, the bill of goods sold by the province.

As an old information brochure said “gas tax stays at 15 cents per litre” and “there would be no need to increase residential property taxes.”

The new transit authority would also get the other funding sources that existed at the time including fares, the parking sales tax, BC Hydro levy, and non-residential property tax.

Now it was known that more funding would be needed if the region was to remaining livable by meeting the goals of the region growth strategy and Transport 2021. $265 million per year (2015 dollars) in new funding would be needed.

The lynchpin for the whole plan was a proposed vehicle levy to be introduced after the 2001 provincial election.

On paper, both the province and local governments got what they wanted. The region got control of transportation while the province was able to stop funding the operation of transit in Metro Vancouver out of general revenue. Metro Vancouver residents would finally get the transit system they deserved.

Of course, this wasn’t to be. The NDP fearing the vehicle levy would get them unelected, scrapped it. The BC Liberal won that election, and also didn’t move forward with the levy.

The BC Liberals agreed to raise gas tax by 2 cents per liter, if local governments agreed to jack up property tax to collect an additional $20 million per year for TransLink. Fares would also be hiked to collect an additional $25 million per year. It was though this would bring in $85 million per year (in 2002 dollars). It was enough to keep things going while getting the Millennium Line running. It was far short of the money required to meet the vision of Transport 2021.

Not much has changed since 2002, TransLink is still lurching from crisis to crisis, and we still don’t have the funding needed to build the transportation system we deserve.

Tomorrow, I’ll be looking in more detail on how Metro Vancouver taxpayers got a bum deal from the province.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Land-use planning in Township of Langley controversial at local and regional level

The Township of Langley has the tensest relationship with Metro Vancouver among all 21 municipalities and the Tsawwassen First Nation. While the Township of Langley has no problem with the conservation, recreation, water, sewer, and waste services that the region provides, the Township of Langley seems to butt heads with Metro Vancouver when it comes to land-use planning.

Beside the whole Trinity Western University district affair, the Township of Langley has the dubious distinction of being the only local government in the region that had its Regional Context Statements rejected. Metro Vancouver and the Township are currently going through a dispute resolution process. Lions Bay is the only other municipality without accepted Regional Context Statements. Lions Bay will be submitting its Regional Context Statements in the fall of this year.

Regional Context Statements are what link a local government’s official community plan to the regional growth strategy. It short, they bind a local government to following the regional growth strategy which includes land-use designations.

South of Fraser regional land-use map. Rural areas in yellow. Select map to enlarge.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about land-use planning in the Township of Langley, it is that it can be very explosive and controversial. Brookswood, Trinity Western, and the upcoming fight over Tall Timbers come to mind. Is it this highly charged atmosphere around local land-use planning that causes spill over controversy at the regional level?

Could it be that many people in the Township just really hate anything with the word Vancouver in it? Do they feel that regional land-use designations are just a way for the Burnaby NDP to punish the Township for being conservative? I know this sounds crazy, but more than one person has told me this is why they don't like regional land-use planning.

Some people might think it is because of the rural and agricultural nature of the community, but that is not the case. Delta, Surrey, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, and Richmond all contain rural and agricultural areas, and they seem to be able to work with Metro Vancouver on land-use planning.

Rural Density By Municipality (2014). Select table to enlarge.

The Township of Langley has another dubious distinction. It is the only municipality in the region to see an increase in density in rural areas. People in Salmon River Uplands should hope to goodness that the Township of Langley is brought in line with the regional land-use plan. It will protected their community from massive urban development.

The status of the general urban land-use designation (2014). Shows the remaining land, and land developed between 2011 and 2014. Select map to enlarge.

The Township of Langley contains 32% of Metro Vancouver's urban zoned land that is under or undeveloped. The Township of Langley will continue to be ground zero when it comes to controversy around land-use decisions at the local and regional level.

2014 Annual Report, Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping Our Future

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Imagining Livability Design Collection

The US AARP, which advocates and provides services for the 50 and over population, along with the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute which was co-founded by Dan Burden asked the questions:

“What can livability look like in a rural context?”

“How about a suburban one?”

“And what can be done to make existing urban conditions more walkable and bikeable?”

They have put together a new toolkit called “The Imagining Livability Design Collection”. The toolkit is a visual reference guide of various projects that can enhance the livability of a community. Projects in the toolkit are divided into short-term, mid-range, and long-range categories.

While this toolkit was created for US communities, its proposed projects are also relevant in Canadian cities. The way some of the projects in the guide are visualized show how older parts of a community can be retrofitted for livability. These types of retrofits could be adapted for older areas of Langley and Surrey for example. The toolkit ends with examples of possible transformations.

As this is a visual toolkit, I thought I would share a few examples from it. The first example is from the mid-range section of the guide. The second example is from one of the possible transformations.

A shared-use path in Detroit, Michigan. Select image to enlarge.

Connecting a neighbourhood and its surroundings in Fort Worth, Texas. The present and the possible. Select image to enlarge.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New water supply fuels development pressure in Salmon River Uplands

When people think of what enables sprawl, normally large roads come to mind. While roads are certainly required, the availability of water and sewer services are key to enabling urban development.

For years, I have been posting about the potential for massive development in the Salmon River Uplands area. This area is in the geographic centre of the Township of Langley, and is surrounded by the Agricultural Land Reserve. The Township of Langley hasn’t developed a long-term plan for the area, and the area has been allowed to develop in a piecemeal fashion.

Because of concerns with the protection of the Hopington Aquifer, development in the area has been limited. With the recent introduction of Metro Vancouver water service to the are, the floodgates are now open for the development. With no clear plan in place for the area, piecemeal suburban development project approvals may be the order of the day.

Back in the 1980’s, a 81 unit single-family housing development was built around 56th Avenue and 240th Street. The original plan would have seen around 200 units built, but due to opposition, the rest of the project was never completed.

Original 1980's Tall Timbers Development Plan. Select image to enlarge.

With the new East Langley Water System through Salmon River Upland, the completion of this 1980’s plan is now possible. Infinity Properties is now proposing to finish the Tall Timbers project which started in the 1980's.

The Tall Timber lots and the lot size proposed for the completion of Tall Timbers is about 1/3 of an acre. This will create suburban sprawl.

In 1995, Council place a moratorium to prohibit new rezoning and subdivision applications in Salmon River Uplands due to environmental concerns. In 2011, Councillor Kim Richter proposed making this moratorium permanent. Council at the time referred the matter to staff, I haven’t seen the result of this referral.

The only land-use guidance for the Salmon River Uplands area is the Township of Langley’s Rural Plan which states that “The Salmon River Uplands shall be maintained for rural residential and agricultural uses.”

Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy also zones the area as Rural meaning “Rural areas are intended to protect the existing character of rural communities, landscapes and environmental qualities. Land-uses include low density residential development, small scale commercial, industrial, and institutional uses, and agricultural uses that do not require the provision of urban services such as sewer or transit.”

The Township of Langley has not yet fully signed onto the Regional Growth Strategy, so I’m not sure if there is much protection for Salmon River Uplands via the strategy.

If this project comes before Township Council, and if Council approve this project, Salmon River Uplands has the potential to become the most unsustainable area in Langley and Metro Vancouver. Council needs to put a moratorium on major development project in the area until a detailed community plan has been adopted for the area.

The current piecemeal approach that the Township is taking with Salmon River Upland is not good for the environment, rural nature of the community, or land-owners in the area.

For further reading, check out the “Leave Salmon River Uplands Alone” Facebook page and “Threats To The Ecological Health Of The Salmon River Watershed In Langley, B.C. And Suggestions For Improved Local And Provincial Management.