Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gil Peñalosa on creating vibrant cities

The SFU City Program along with TransLink hosted two talks earlier this week call “Rethinking Transportation: New Voices, New Ideas”. Last night, I had the chance to listen to Gil Peñalosa. Peñalosa is the Executive Director of 8-80 Cities, a non-profit that supports the creation of cities “where people can walk, bike, access public transit and visit vibrant parks and public places.” He was also the former Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation for Bogota, Colombia. Bogota is well known for its TransMilenio bus rapid transit system.

Peñalosa covered a wide range of topics at his talk last night called “Future Livability: Boast of Bust?” I wanted to touch on a few things really spoke to me.

One of the things that Peñalosa talked about is how people that advocate for walkable, accessible cities really like getting into the details of how to design these types of places, but sometimes forget to go into detail about why building walkable cities is important. Answering the “why?” questions are what the general public cares about.

For Peñalosa, we should be creating vibrant and healthy cities with public spaces that people will enjoy to be in. The benefits of creating this type of city for people are numerous including:

Cleaner air
Improved mobility for everyone
Better health with lower rates of obesity and medially health conditions such as depression.
Strong economic development
Attracting the best and brightest

One of the things that Peñalosa spoke about is the importance of investing in streets. Streets are the largest public space in cities; they should serve all people, using all modes of transportation equally. They should also be great public spaces, destinations in and of themselves.

In our North American cities, Peñalosa noted that we’ve spent too many resources making it easy to drive. This has degraded streets as a high-quality public spaces and made people who walk, cycle, or take public transit second class citizens.

Peñalosa noted that for safety, physically separating pedestrians, cyclists, and motorist is a must. He believes cities should be building streets were both seniors and children are safe to walk, wheel, or cycle; if streets are safe and inviting for seniors and child, they will be safer and more enjoyable for everyone.

Peñalosa believes that public transit is the best way to connect these walkable places together.

Sometimes politicians use the excuse of a lack of funding or lack of users to create walkable, high-quality streets. Peñalosa noted that this is simply an issues of political will. He said that building for walking and cycling is the most cost effective way a city can improve the mobility of its residents.

Another key point that Peñalosa made was that for there to be a critical mass of cyclists and pedestrians, there needs to be a basic network in place. Building a basic network of separated bike lanes will dramatically increase the amount of people the bike.

Many cities building disconnected cyclist and walking infrastructure then wonder why there is a low amount of cyclists or pedestrians using that infrastructure. He gave a few example to drive that point home. You wouldn’t expect an arena to be used until construction is complete, and you won’t build a bridge based on the number of people swimming across a river.

These are only a few of the things that Gil Peñalosa talked about. It was great listening to this engaging speaker.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Brydon Lagoon Update

Last week, I posted about Brydon Lagoon in the Nicomekl Floodplain. The lagoon is a popular location for both people and waterfowl, but due to limited investment in its upkeep, the lagoon is rapidly deteriorating. This came to light this summer as a resulted of a massive fish kill in the lagoon.

The City of Langley has known for some time that investment is needed to ensure the long-term viability of Brydon Lagoon. They even commissioned a study by Dillon Consulting. The consultants made some recommendations about what could be done to prevent the further deterioration of the lagoon.

As I mentioned last week, many citizens and community groups expressed their concerns about the state of Brydon Lagoon at the last Parks and Environment Advisory Committee (PEAC) meeting. Many even questioned the recommendation in the Dillon report.

The Parks and Environment Advisory Committee had two concerns. The first concern was that investing in the long-term success of Brydon Lagoon didn’t seem to be a council priority. The second concern was that people at our last meeting, several whom are biologist, questioned the recommendation made in the Dillion report.

To find a way forward, we passed the following motion.

THAT the Parks & Environment Advisory Committee form a task group with select members from the Langley Field Naturalists, the Langley Environmental Partners Society, the Nicomekl Enhancement Society, Ducks Unlimited Canada, and City staff to review the original Dillon Pond Management Study and collect concerns to provide feedback to the committee

The committee’s hope was to be able to present a cost-out action plan to City Council in a timely fashion.

This motion came before City Council on Monday night. Council in general seemed concerned about the state of Brydon Lagoon, but seemed more concerned about how much it would cost to restore. The motion that we passed at the PEAC meeting earlier this month was defeated in a tie. In its place, a new motion was passed.

This new motion appears to require the PEAC taskforce to submit a terms of reference to City Council before getting to the business of developing an action plan for Brydon Lagoon. I will get more clarification at the next PEAC meeting in a few weeks’ time. Hopefully this doesn’t cause major delays in getting an action plan together for City Council.

While there are more projects than money available for the City of Langley to complete, Brydon Lagoon is an important assets to the community. Preserving Brydon Lagoon should be a priority for Langley City Council.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Langley Bypass, Auto Dealerships, and the City of Langley’s "Vision in Action"

One of the least accessible places in the South of Fraser is the Langley Bypass. East of 196th Street, the Bypass is entirely in the City of Langley; development on the north and south side of the Bypass are in the City. I’ve walked and cycled to many places in the City of Langley, but try to avoid the Bypass. This last weekend, I decided to walk the Bypass.

One of the first things that I noticed about the Langley Bypass is that the road actually isn’t that wide. The Bypass is about the same width as Glover Road or Fraser Highway, but because of its wide shoulders, lack of sidewalks in most sections, drainage culverts, and building setbacks, it seems much wider. Because the Bypass seems wider than other roads, motorist travel at higher speeds. In fact many motorist travel faster than the posted speed limit.

Most of the Bypass is a pedestrian no-go zone. When I legally crossed one intersection, I was almost struck by a motorist doing at least 50km/h while doing a left-hand turn. He was not looking for people in the intersection. I had to run out of the intersection.

Cycling is also risky. I wonder how many people would feel safe cycling in the same lane as motorist.

Share the Road sign at rail crossing on the Langley Bypass

The City of Langley posted a sign at an auto-dealership that is under construction at the corner of the Langley Bypass and Glover Road that reads “Our vision in action. Building for the future.”

City of Langley's “Our vision in action. Building for the future.” sign in front of under-construction high-end auto dealership.

This sign seem to say that the City of Langley is happy to build auto-orient, non-accessible development that is hostile to pedestrians and cyclists; development that is hard to serve by transit. This is certainly not my vision for the City of Langley.

I want the City of Langley to be a place where all people can travel safely around their community as first-class citizens. Their mode of transportation or level of physical mobility should not matter.

The City has installed sidewalk in some sections of the Bypass. There are other ways to make the Bypass more accessible while recognizing its important role as a trade corridor, though it will be many years before the Langley Bypass can be fully redeveloped.

In the meantime, it will be important to ensure that the build-form in the rest of the City of Langley redevelops in an accessible manner that puts people first. Sadly, it seems that many of the newer retail development projects, even off the Bypass, don’t put people first in the City of Langley.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Meet local City of Langley council candidate Nathan Pachal, get a free cupcake

This coming Saturday near Douglas Park in Downtown Langley, some of my election campaign volunteers and I will be giving away free cupcakes from a gourmet Downtown Langley bakery. Please stop by and say hello. Besides getting a tasty cupcake, I will be there to answer any questions you may have about my campaign or my vision for the City of Langley.

Here are the details:

When: Saturday, September 20th from 1:00pm to 3:00pm
Where: Around Douglas Park at Douglas Crescent

More information is on Facebook. We’ll be there rain or shine.