Monday, October 20, 2014

City Building, Nine Planning Principles for the Twenty-First Century

Recently, I had the chance to read City Building, Nine Planning Principles for the Twenty-First Century. The book is written by John Lund Kriken who, among other things, was the founder of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s San Francisco-based Urban Design & Planning Studio.

Kriken starts his book by stating that our world is becoming increasingly urbanized. As more people choose to live in cities, he says that we need to rethink how we design cities to improve the quality of life of their residents. Kriken argues that how design cities —land-use, transportation, public space, and buidlings— most of the time do not end up building healthy nor happy places for people. He developed the nine principles to help guide place-making that enhances people's quality of life while protecting our natural environment.

With this in mind, Kriken gives a brief history of how we got to where we are today. He also explains why a comprehensive framework is needed to guide place-making from the regional scale all the way down to the neighbourhood and building scale.

Kriken’s nine principles are sustainability, accessibility, diversity, open space, compatibility, incentives, adaptability, density, and identity.

Under each of the principles, Kriken explains what the principles means for place-making, then gives several case studies. Most of the case studies are from SOM projects.

While each of Kriken’s principles are well thought out and should be considered, I wanted to share a few items that stood out for me.

Out of the gate, Kriken starts by talking about how urban settlement needs to be balanced with conversation to preserve farmland, protect air and water quality, and ensure that urban settlement isn’t built in dangerous areas like floodplains. He notes that rules are needed to protect cities from themselves; he advocated for higher-order government plans. It seems that our region has already implemented much of what Kriken is advocating for in this regard through Metro Vancouver.

Kriken talks about how to building and support multi-modal streets and neighbourhoods. He also talks about finding the right mixed of building types and densities. Interestingly enough, much of what Kriken talks about reminded me of a whitepaper from TransLink about the 6 “Ds” for creating transit-oriented communities.

One of the things that I’ve heard people talk about is that the ground-level design of a building —how it interacts with the public realm— is one of the key elements of good design. For example, a building that fronts a sidewalk with retail stores will create a different dynamic then a building that front a sidewalk with a blank wall. Kriken notes that projects need to be looked at in the context of a whole neighbourhood or community. He cautions about looking at projects in a one-off fashion; this leads to issues.

In the City of Langley, my community is trying to redevelopment and revitalize its downtown core. Kriken has a whole chapter on how to support brownfield redevelopment. He also gives a cautionary tale of San Jose, in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is still struggling to revitalize its downtown core.

At the end of the book, Kriken gives a call to arms on building better cities and regions. Kriken believes that cities are the solution, not the problem, to creating a high quality of life for people while preserving our natural systems.

Kriken book is full of great visuals to support his nine planning principles. This book is accessible, and I would recommend that anyone who has an interest in urbanism give it a read. I believe this book should be required reading for anyone who has decision-making ability that impacts the built-form of our communities.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Election Update: Fundraising, Door Knocking, All Candidates Debate

Over the last several weeks, we meet our fundraising goal of $5,000 to support my campaign for election to Langley City Council. 30 people donated to the campaign; I’m honoured. If elected, I will work hard to bring fresh ideas to city council. We have other exciting ideas to help get the word out even more about building streets that work, a community that's strong that would require more funding. You can donate anytime at http://www.nathanpachal.com/p/donate-now.html

On October 25th and November 1st, I need your help. We plan on doing 2 days —about 3 hours each day— of door knocking and handing out literature to every door in Langley City. If you can help out on one or both of these dates, please call me at 778-288-8720 or email elect@nathanpachal.com

Tonight, I’ll be participating in the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce’s Municipal All Candidates Meeting for the City of Langley. The event is free and open to all members of the public. It starts at 7:00pm at the Cascades Casino. More information is on the Chamber’s website. It would be great if you could make it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Langley Mayoral Debate

City and Township of Langley Mayoral Candidates.

Last night, I attended the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce’s Mayoral Debate. The event featured mayoral candidate for both the City and Township of Langley. Running for mayor in the City of Langley are Randy Caine, Ray Lewis, and Ted Schaffer. Running in the Township are Jack Froese, Rick Green, and Serena Oh.

Unfortunately Serena Oh was completely ill informed of the issues. The answers she gave to most of the questions seemed to come from left-field. It really took away from the cadence of the event.

Ray Lewis was concerned about crime in the City of Langley though he didn’t seem to have any practical examples of how he would actually address the issue. He was not up to speed on other issues facing the community.

The questions that the Chamber moderators asked revolved around development, transit, the Township leaving Metro Vancouver, crime in the City, and amalgamation.

The Chamber also asked the mayoral candidates to talk about local government worker’s salaries increasing faster than provincial government worker’s salaries, referencing the highly-flawed report “BC Public Sector Compensation Review.” Most of the candidates noted that due to federal and provincial downloading, local government has had to pick up the slack to deliver much needed services that other levels of government no longer support. They also mentioned that you need to pay people a fair wage to attach high-quality employees.

On amalgamation, I overheard many in the audience say that bring up that topic was like flogging a dead horse. Both Froese and Green were in support of amalgamation. Schaffer was opposed to amalgamation while Caine was in support of amalgamation.

Regarding crime in the City of Langley, Schaffer talked about how the City has the highest ratio of RCMP to residences in Canada; 1 for every 500. Caine said that if we want to address crime, we need to address the root causes: poverty and addiction.

Some people have called on the Township to leave Metro Vancouver due to the lawsuit between Metro and the Township over the Trinity Western University District. Both Froese and Green said that leaving Metro Vancouver would be an expensive and messy process; a road that would have to be gone down with extreme caution. Green was opposed to leaving Metro Vancouver, Froese would only considering leaving Metro Vancouver after commissioning extensive research on the issue which may lead to a referendum on the issue.

Of course TransLink came up last night. Froese and Schaffer talked about how South of Fraser mayors fought hard to get South of Fraser transit needs incorporated into our region’s vision for transit. I was happy that Froese noted that TransLink funds both the Golden Ears Bridge and the Major Road Network. Froese and Schaffer both acknowledge that getting better transit will require more money. Both were opposed to the transit referendum being imposed on the region by the province.

I have to give Schaffer credit for saying that a small regional sale tax would be the most practical way to fund needed transit improvement.

Froese noted that because groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the province have called on TransLink to be more efficient, TransLink has reduced service on some routes in the name of efficiency, leading to even worse transit service in some areas.

Green said that he would not support giving TransLink any extra money until there was more transit service in Langley. Of course without new funding, TransLink can’t afford to provide new service. While this may get Green some political brownie points, it won’t actually get better transit in the Township.

On development in the City, Schaffer noted that the City is indeed redeveloping, noted several multifamily projects under construction. Caine talked about the need to replace aging infrastructure in the City, and the need to redevelop Langley in a sustainable manner.

In the Township, Froese noted that his community has been growing at a steady 2% throughout its history. He said that the Township will have to accommodate more people and that “turning off” development is simply not an option. There was a question about if the Township would stop development until the School District built more schools. Froese said that the School District won’t build new schools until there was new development.

Green said that he won’t “turn off” development, but that he would review every single development plan in the Township. It seemed like he was trying to get more political brownie point as this review would be a costly, decades-long process, and likely wouldn’t accomplish much.

It was interesting to attend the mayors debate thought I didn’t hear anything out of step with what the mayoral candidates have already being talking about publicly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

TransLink ridership down in second quarter

Every quarter, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) releases transit ridership statistics for participating agencies in Canada and the US. TransLink provides its ridership data to the APTA. The APTA recently released its second quarter ridership report; TransLink ridership is down 1.51% compared to 2013.

Average Weekday
Ridership
(Apr-Jun 2014)
Trips thru June 2014
Trips thru June 2013
Year-to-Date Change
SkyTrain and Canada Line
381.8 57,057.1 57,297.5 -0.42%
West Coast Express
10.5 1,333.9 1,401.7 -4.84%
HandyDart 4.7 700.0 755.2 -7.31%
SeaBus 19.8 2,812.2 2,857.9 -1.60%
Bus Network (Non-trolley)
604.7 85,530.1 86,872.8 -1.55%
Trolley Bus Network
212.8 30,144.3 31,122.5 -3.14%
Total 1234.4 177,577.6 180,307.6 -1.51%

Table source: APTA Transit Ridership Report, Second Quarter, 2014. Ridership data in thousands.

As I mentioned in a post this summer, TransLink ridership was going up until 2013. Ridership started to decline in 2013, not surprisingly as TransLink started to aggressively optimize the transit network. With no new funding to expand transit service to address overcrowding in some parts of the region or correct the underinvestment in other parts, TransLink has been shifting service hours around. For example, if TransLink wants to increase the frequent of the 99 B-Line, frequent would need to be reduced on a route somewhere else in the region.

About 50% of all bus trips take place in Vancouver and UBC. According to TransLink data, bus ridership actually grew in most part of the region in 2013. Vancouver/UBC and the Northeast Sector were the major exceptions. So while more people are taking the bus in Surrey, less are in Vancouver.

Looking at the preceding table, the Trolley Bus Network saw the largest drop in ridership. As the Trolley Bus Network really only serves Vancouver/UBC, it support previous data that transit ridership is mostly declining in the City of Vancouver.

I believe that are several reason for this decline. One of the reason is likely due to overcrowding on the bus network; people are simplely deciding to not take the bus. With the City of Vancouver investing heavily in quality cycling infrastructure, I wouldn’t be surprised if people are shifting to cycling. It would be interesting to see the mode split between driving, transit, and active transportation from 2010 forward in the City of Vancouver.

Of course the other major reduction in ridership is on the HandyDart network which saw massive services cuts in the last few years.

Transit ridership is going in the wrong direction in Metro Vancouver. With the upcoming transit referendum, combined with TransLink’s bad brand, I’m concerned that our region many not have the funding to deliver much need transit service.