Monday, February 27, 2017

A path towards mobility pricing in Metro Vancouver

In Metro Vancouver, we pay for our transportation system through a combination of general taxation such as income, sales, and property tax, and user fees.

Some of these user fees are direct such as paying for bridge tolls, parking, or transit fares. Other fees are indirect, such as paying fuel tax and auto insurance. Fuel tax is both a source of general taxation and an indirect user fee in Metro Vancouver as 23.75¢ per litre of fuel taxation goes directly towards roads and transit.

Within our region, it is well understood that how we currently fund our transportation system is broken. The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation notes some of the challenges such as:

  1. A well-developed, but uncoordinated system in place to charge for the usage of parking, transit, car-share, and bike-share
  2. An undeveloped and ad-hoc system of charging for the usage of roads and bridges such as tolling on some new bridges, and indirect fees such as fuel tax, insurance premiums, and vehicle permits.

Over the last several years, there has been an increasing desire to shift away from the current way that we pay for transportation towards mobility pricing. What exactly is mobility pricing, and why is it better than the current “system” in place within our region today?

Examples of how we pay for our transportation system today. Source: Mayors' Council

The Mayors’ Council has defined mobility pricing as “the suite of public and private usage charges associated with using everyday transportation services, including: transit fares, road usage charges, parking fees, and shared mobility services such as ride-sourcing, car-sharing, and bike-sharing.”

Mobility pricing will help manage congestion, maximize fairness, and support continued investment in transportation infrastructure into the future. For example, our current ad-hoc tolling has led to traffic diversion and regional inequity. Fuel tax is currently used to fund a large amount of our transportation system. Vehicles continue to become more efficient, and people continue to shift to transit and active transportation, making fuel tax an unsustainable funding source for transportation.

As has been noted in the media, the Mayors’ Council will be setting up an Independent Commission that will:

  1. Recommend a coordinated approach for regional road usage charging in Metro Vancouver that considers all existing or potential charges (direct and indirect) associated with road usage by motor vehicles.
  2. Assess the implications of the specific proposal outlined above in terms of consistency, compatibility, and coordination with other forms of mobility pricing in the region, including: transit fares, parking fees, and fees for shared mobility services.

The Commission will be arms-length from government, and will be comprised of “eminent and unaffiliated local citizens and community leaders” that are a representative sampling of the diversity within our region.

It is expected that the Commission’s work will be completed early in 2018. More information about this can be found in the most recent Mayors’ Council agenda.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Four areas selected for traffic calming in Langley City

One of the things that I hear regularly from residents in our community is the desire for people to slow down when driving their motor vehicles in our neighbourhoods, especially around parks and schools.

Earlier this week, Langley City council approved its 2017 Financial Plan. Within that plan, $400,000 has been allocated for traffic calming throughout the community.

Langley City proposed traffic calming areas in red. Select map to enlarge.

The following locations made the cut for this year:

  • 50 Avenue around Conder Park
  • 198 Street around Brydon Park
  • Michaud Crescent around Linwood Park
  • 201A Street around Linwood Park

How does a section of street make it onto the traffic calming list? Residents normally have to request that a section of street be considered for traffic calming. If you want to request a section of street, please visit the City’s Request for Service site.

Based on the requests received, the City will get speed and traffic volume data for the section of street where traffic calming was requested. This information will be put into a scoring matrix which evaluates speed, volume, amount of short-cutting, collision rates, sidewalks, and proximity to schools, parks, or community centres.

If a section of street makes the cut, and budget is approved by council, the City will send out ballots to the surrounding neighbourhood where traffic calming is being proposed. If the neighbourhood votes yes, work starts on the design and costing for proposed traffic calming measures.

The proposed design will then be presented back to the neighbourhood for feedback. The design may be refined, and finally sent to council for approval.

As you can imagine this can take some time, but the end result is safer neighbourhoods were people can feel safer walking, cycling, and driving.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

New study: Metro Vancouver is not the most congestion region in Canada by a long shot

Ever since the TomTom Traffic Index started being released annually, it has generated headlines that Metro Vancouver has some of the worst congestion in North America.

Unfortunately, the TomTom Traffic Index has a flawed methodology which favours auto-oriented regions with large freeways over walkable, transit-friendly, and accessible regions. For more information about the why the methodology for the TomTom Traffic Index is problematic, please read a previous post I wrote on the topic.

Earlier this year, the CAA’s Congestion Index was released. This report was focused on freeway bottlenecks, and as I posted previously “there is an underlying assumption that if a bottleneck exists for single-occupancy vehicles, the solution is to expand capacity. Of course, we know that building more capacity simply leads to even worse congestion and/or a shift of the bottleneck to another area.”

Earlier this week, the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard was released. It looks at congestion in regions through the world.

In the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, Metro Vancouver is the 157th most congested region, and the fifth most congested region in Canada. Montreal, Toronto, St John’s, and Ottawa all had worse ICI scores (an INRIX metric.) So why is the INRIX ranking so different than the TomTom ranking? It’s all about the methodology.

Top 10 list of regions with highest ICI score in Canada. Select table to enlarge.

The INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard has a more robust methodology than the TomTom index.

The INRIX methodology evaluates congestion based on time-of-day, and differentiates highways from local roads. As I posted about previously, this is important.

INRIX defines congestion as 65% of free-flow speed. Free-flow speed is basically driving the posted speed limit on roads with no traffic, at-grade intersections, crosswalks, or construction. Free-flow speed is not the most efficient speed for traffic flow. Traffic flows best at speeds between free-flow and congestion. Wikipedia has a good article on the fundamental diagram of traffic flow.

The INRIX methodology also includes median travel time in its Congestion Index (ICI.) As I posted about previously, Metro Vancouver has a lower median travel time than Montreal or Toronto.

The time it takes to get to work and back. Source: Statistics Canada 89-622-XIE and 11-008-X.

What this all amounts to is a better representation of actual congestion in a region.

Will building more freeways reduce congestion? If Toronto and Montreal are any indication, no. As stated by INRIX, “the fundamental cause [of congestion] is an imbalance between the demand for roads and the supply of road space. Managing demand for road space is critical. That includes smoothing demand through flexible working, avoiding peak hour trips through remote working and encouraging the efficient use of our roads through wider adoption of road user pricing.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February 20th, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Budget approved, Homelessness Action Table created, and community grants allocated.

Last night was a brief council meeting; several items were given final reading for approval. Final reading is the “sober second thought” for local government bylaws. Final reading does not normally occur at the same time as other readings and debate of a bylaw. At final reading, you can only vote for or against a bylaw. Council tends to go through final readings quickly.

Council gave final reading to a bylaw to update the Official Community Plan to incorporate Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs), and development guidelines for ESAs. You can read more about ESAs in a prior post.

Council also gave final reading to our 2017 Financial Plan. You can read more about the capital projects and operating component of the budget, which includes increases to services, in previous posts. The financial plan was approved unanimously by council.

Council also gave first and second reading for a proposed rezoning to allow a 98-unit apartment building near Michaud Crescent and 201 Street to be built. This will allow for a public hearing about the proposed rezoning at the March 6th council meeting to proceed. I will be posting more about this proposed project after the March 6th meeting.

Rendering of proposed apartment building at the corner of Michaud Crescent and 201 Street.

Putting in place solutions to reduce homelessness in our community is something that is a priority for people in Langley City. Langley City council approved the creation of a Homelessness Action Table —a task group— to guide the implementation of our Homelessness Strategic Plan, as well as track and report on progress, and advocate for projects and funding last night.

The Homelessness Action Table will have members from local, provincial, and federal governments as well as representatives from the Fraser Health Authority, BC Housing, RCMP, and other community social service agencies in Langley. The Township of Langley was invited to sit on the action table, but have declined at this time.

Throughout the City, there are banners on some of our streetlights with a focus around the Downtown area. The current policy that guided the installation of these banners was dated and inflexible. Council approved a new banner policy last night which is more flexible.

The new policy continues to allow seasonal streetlight banners to be paid for and installed by the City in the spring, summer, and fall. The biggest change in policy is to allow the installation of banners that are not seasonal to support civic, charitable, or community-oriented events within the following guidelines:

  • Be specifically happening within Langley City.
  • The majority of the population of the City would be able to participate in or be generally interested in the public event.
  • Benefit locally-based, non-profit organizations.
  • Not be political, religious, commercial, or profit making.

Organizations that request and are approved for the installation of banner, must pay a fee for the installation of their banners. Council gave first, second, and third reading to update our Fees & Charges Bylaw to set the installation fee prices.

Langley City allocates $168,000 per year from casino revenue for community grants. Last night, council approved $131,341.05 in grants to the following organizations: