Thursday, April 30, 2015

Downtown Langley Tim Hortons pulls a fast one on the City

Blank cement walls, windowless buildings, and parking lots that abut streets are sure-fire ways to discourage people from walking, and is detrimental to creating a pedestrian-friendly community.

The City of Langley’s plan for Downtown Langley is to see it transformed into a pedestrian-friendly centre. Part of this pedestrianization plan around the Langley Mall, along Douglas Crescent, is to build up a street wall of shops to create a sense-of-place.

Now the City of Langley created an odd parcel of land when they realigned 203rd Street a few years back. This parcel set vacant until this spring, when a new drive-thru Tim Hortons opened. Council didn’t require Tim Hortons to fully embrace the pedestrian-friendly vision of Downtown Langley. I was told that many on council felt that a drive-thru Tim Hortons would likely be the best thing that would ever be proposed for this parcel of land in the near-term, and it was better than nothing.

Decorative shield meant to hide parking lot from the street. This is an attempt to enhance the pedestrian-friendliness of the public realm.

Tim Hortons removed the shield because it was blocking the Langley Mall sign.

Regardless, one of the things that the City and Council did requires was landscaping in an attempt to mitigate the pedestrian-friendly, public-realm killing parking lot along Douglas Crescent. As part of the landscaping and the development permit, Tim Hortons installed decorated shields. This Tim Hortons has only been in business for a few months, and I was a bit shocked to see that they removed one of the decorated shields; apparently it was getting in the way of the auto-oriented “Langley Mall” sign.

While using landscaping and decorated shields might not be the most effective way to create a pedestrian-friendly environment, it is certainly better than nothing. It seems a bit dishonest that Tim Hortons would install these things to get development approval, then remove one decorative shield only after a few months of being opened.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Proposed changes in the Township to improve farming

The Township of Langley is one of four municipalities in the province where the BC government doesn't allow municipal control of zoning within the Agricultural Land Reserve. This came as a result of provincial right-to-farm legislation, and a Township bylaw which restricted where mushroom farms could be located in the 1990s.

In 2001, the Township of Langley, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Agricultural Land Commission started a review process to examine all Township bylaws that could impact the ALR. The goal was to make them consistent with provincial farming standards.

This review is now mostly complete, and recommendations on how to make the Township’s bylaws consistent with provincial farming best-practices are being put forward.

Anything dealing with farmland in Langley is going to be controversial. Township of Langley staff is wisely recommending that public education and consultation be a big part of any process that would change Township bylaws.

One of the big changes being proposed is the creation of a single agricultural zone for all lands within the ALR. Right now, there is a mix of zoning which permits non-farming land-use. Any existing non-agricultural uses would be grandfathered. Current building permits would be honoured.

The Township would also change maximum building setbacks for existing and new farm residences. Riparian area protection setbacks would also be introduced.

To be consistent with provincial farming standards, the Township would also relax some of its current land-use regulations to allow for more flexibility for agribusinesses.

To reduce the conflict between agribusiness and urban areas, special regulations are being proposed for land within 300m of an urban/ALR edge.

For ALR lands within 300m of urban land, the following is being proposed:

-Setting limits on the number of animals on different types of farm operations;
-Establishing minimum setbacks from the Urban/ALR edge for buildings, structures and farm operation uses;
-Regulating orientation of exhaust fans to be either parallel to, or away from, the Urban/ALR edge;
-Establishing farm management practices to reduce the impact of normal farm practices, e.g. greenhouse lighting; manure management; and on-farm composting management;
-Implementation of regulations, within 8 years of bylaw adoption, for liquid manure application on crops and grassland to be by sub-canopy deposition method only;
-Implementation of regulations, within 10 years of bylaw adoption, for lighting restrictions for greenhouses; and
-Providing for small scale farm exemptions and some exemptions for unique situations.

For urban land with 300m of an urban/ALR boundary, developers would have to:

-Provide landscape buffering, and agricultural awareness signage along the ALR edge
-Put no-build restrictive covenants into land titles for principal buildings within 15m (industrial commercial or institutional) or 30m (residential) of an ALR edge, and for accessory buildings within 6m (industrial commercial or institutional) or 15m (residential) of an ALR edge
-Put land title notification in regarding the proximity of the ALR, and the potential for disturbances/nuisances from normal farm practices.

The Township and the Ministry of Agriculture also agreed in principle to changes around mushroom farming uses, and its impact along urban edges.

While there are still some outstanding issues that need to be addressed to bring the Township 100% in line with provincial farming standards, one of the biggest outstanding issue is the Salmon River Uplands Area. Because this suburban area has developed in an ad-hoc manner, the urban/ALR boundary guidelines can’t be applied. Township staff and the province are still working out ways of protecting farming while trying to reduce the impact of intensive farming on people who live in the area.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Light Rail Fear Mongering in Langley

Earlier this month, there was an interesting letter from Paul Cordeiro who is the Manager of Transportation Engineering for the Township of Langley. According to an article in the Langley Times, he questioned some of the merits of building light rail along Fraser Highway.

I know that Cordeiro has had concerns about light rail in the past, which I previously posted about back in 2008.

The first concern was that light rail on Fraser Highway would not service people commuting from Langley to Vancouver. Light rail along Fraser Highway would very much service commuters travelling from Langley to Vancouver. The light rail line would connect Langley with the SkyTrain at King George Station and Surrey Central Station.

Assumed station locations for rapid transit in the South of Fraser. From Surrey Rapid Transit Alternatives Analysis Phase 2 Evaluation

As someone who takes transit five days a week between Langley City and the Olympic Village area in Vancouver, light rail would vastly improve my travel experience. Besides addressing overcrowding during peak periods, light rail would also reduce travel times.

When there is no traffic along Fraser Highway, it takes about 33 to 38 minutes to travel from Langley Centre to Surrey Central taking either the 502 or 503 lines. During the peak afternoon travel period, it takes up to 52 minutes! Travel times along Fraser Highway are not consistent, and as congestion continues to increase along Fraser Highway, the reliability of transit service along the corridor will only deteriorate further.

According to research commissioned by TransLink, light rail will take 29 to 30 minutes to travel between Langley Centre and Surrey Central. SkyTrain along the same corridor would take 22 minutes. Compared to the 50 minutes it takes during the afternoon rush to get from Surrey Central to Langley Centre, both light rail and SkyTrain would provide a massive travel time savings. Both will also reduce overcrowding and pass-ups along the Fraser Highway corridor.

Cordeiro calls into questions the 29 minutes trip time for light rail, but that is a reasonable time considering that it takes about 33 minutes on bus today when there is no traffic along Fraser Highway.

Now there is no doubt that SkyTrain is faster than light rail, but it does have some drawbacks. Its major drawback is the cost. According to the same research done by TransLink, Light Rail would cost $746 million to build between King George and Langley, while SkyTrain would cost $1,356 million to build in 2010 dollars.

The Mayors’ Plan that people in Metro Vancouver are currently voting on would see light rail on King George Boulevard, 104th Avenue, and Fraser Highway. If SkyTrain was built instead, it could only be on King George Boulevard or Fraser Highway, not both.

Light rail would be elevated when going over the Roberts Bank rail corridor in the City of Langley, though Cordeiro was concerned about an at-grade light rail crossings at 200th street and Highway 15 and “potential for vehicle-train collisions.”

Calgary, Edmonton, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and LA all have at-grade light rail lines that cross busy roadways, and all have excellent safety records.

Light rail will help people in Langley get places faster within the South of Fraser, and to Vancouver. According to extensive research done in the US, rail transit is also the safest mode of transportation.

Fear about slow travel speeds and massive collations are unfounded.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mental health and homelessness in Langley

Over the last few decades, the federal and provincial governments have been downloading responsibilities to deliver services to local governments without equipping local governments with the financial resources to deliver these services adequately. Transit service in Metro Vancouver is a case in point.

Sometimes federal and provincial governments don’t adequately provide services which impact local communities, but local governments have their hands tied on what they can do.

My mother was a mental health nurse, and I remember her telling me about the gradual shutdown of the Riverview Hospital and the deinstitutionalization of mental health clients in BC. This was and is a good thing. This provincial government was to fund smaller facilities, provide resources to help people with developmental debilities living within their communities, and provide services for people with mental health issues to be able to live within the community while giving them the services they need.

Of course, Riverview was slowly closed, but all the promised community-based services were never fully funded. Some people with mental health issues and developmental disabilities have ended up on the street.

In Langley City, homelessness is a major concern. Unfortunately, the local government doesn’t have the mandate or the resources to deal with the complexities of mental health and homelessness.

A few days ago, I was outside a restaurant in Langley. A person who was living on the streets was clearly in need of mental health services, but instead police and fire services arrived. These services are funded by local government, but there is very little they could do to help. The BC Ambulance Service arrived about 10 minutes after the police and fire services arrived on the scene. The paramedics did a check to make sure that the person didn’t need to be admitted to emergency. After that, all the first responders left, leaving the person still on the street, and still in the front of the restaurant.

It seems to me that there should have been a mental health case worker assigned to assess the needs of this person. Of course, funding for mental health is limited in BC.

Getting back to homelessness in Langley, while the City of Langley can certainly advocate for better mental health care in the province, train their first responders on best practices around mental health, and even work to ensure that we are building inclusive communities, the provincial government has a huge role to pay. Without the provincial government adequately providing support for people with mental health issues, Langley will not be able to meaningfully address mental health and homelessness in the community.