Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas

With Christmas only a few days away, I'll be taking a break from blogging until the new year. Have a great Christmas season!

TransLink Reindeer Bus. Picture from rickie22.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Save Blaine Amtrak Station

If you've never taken the Amtrak train down to Seattle or Portland, I recommend that you do. With Interstate 5 always under construction and always congested, taking Amtrak is a much more civilized way to travel and is inexpensive. If you are car-free like myself, the only option is to take Amtrak from Pacific Central Station in Vancouver as there is no station in the South of Fraser. If you own a vehicle, it is much more convenient to take the train from Bellingham as the train moves slowly through Canada due to our poor rail infrastructure.

For a while there has been calls to add a station back in South Surrey to give better rail access to South of Fraser residents which would shave an hour off the travel time on the train. So far adding another station in Canada has fallen on deaf ears, but what is there was another option that was easy to get to? According to the Surrey Leader:
Efforts to get a White Rock stop for Amtrak passenger trains have so far failed, but a new push is now on to use Blaine's historic train station just a short stroll across the border.

The idea is that Canadians – particularly from cities like Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford – could park near the Peace Arch border and board trains there to Seattle.

"It would have heavy Canadian usage as they could cross the border by foot or bike even," predicts Bill Becht, one of the Blaine residents behind the campaign to restore the shuttered station.

The issue has become urgent in Blaine since BNSF Railway applied for a permit to demolish the old station building.
There is a website setup and a movement called Save the Blaine Station which aims to prevent the demolition of the station and see it back in revenue service.

As a Langley resident, it would be great to see this station restored as I could take the pending TransLink Langley/White Rock bus to the US border and walk to the train station.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Aldergrove Mall

Last week, I had to attend a meeting in Aldergrove and took TransLink from my work in downtown Vancouver to 272nd Street. The total time on transit was 2 hours and 20 minutes which is ridiculous. You actually have to pay for two fares as tickets only last for 90 minutes! While transit is clearly an issue in Aldergrove, one of the first things I noticed about the community was the half-dead Aldergrove Centre Mall.

Aldergrove Centre Mall in Langley
To be honest I have never actually walked through Aldergrove, but after last week I’m convinced that this mall is holding back the potential of the community. I did some research and found that the redevelopment of this site has been in serious discussion since at least 1998. In 2010, the Township updated the official community plan of Aldergrove to make the mall site a medium to high density mixed-use zone.

Cloverdale Mall Development in Surrey
I can't help but notice the similarities between the Aldergrove Centre Mall and the dead Cloverdale Mall. The interesting thing about the Cloverdale Mall site is that the City of Surrey is developing the site into something much better. Is it time for the Township of Langley to take the lead and redevelop the Aldergrove Centre Mall site?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bedford Landing in Fort Langley - Mixed-use

Last week, I posted about Bedford Landing and noted that there was still some undeveloped areas on the east side of the project near the main Glover Road business area in Fort Langley. I mused how it seems like this area would be ideal for a mixed-use commercial area. Well I did some digging and found a report on Bedford Landing in the November 1, 2010 Township of Langley Council Minutes.

Perspective of Commercial Space Looking From Riverside Centre Building
On May 17, 2010, Park Lane (the developer of Bedford Land) completed a Commercial Land Study and found that:
Inventory analysis of the existing commercial retail sites in Fort Langley shows a relatively strong retail community; however, there is neither a policy nor a market-based support for commercial development on the remaining Bedford Landing site. The Fort Langley Community Plan states that “new commercial enterprises should be encouraged to locate in the core area. All analysis supports the policy and suggests that additional retail space should be focused on supporting redevelopment opportunities along an already viable commercial spine on Glover Road. Retail development on Glover Road, north of Billy Brown could be viable; however, additional commercial on the Bedford Landing site would suffer from poor exposure, threaten to disperse the commercial traffic from the core and likely experience a combination of high vacancy rates and low rental rates
Live/Work Townhouses
While it looks like traditional retail space was frowned upon, Bedford Landing does have eight live/work units. This unit are actually pretty important because they can allow entrepreneurs and the creative class an affordable place to start up a business.

I know that some people in Fort Langley didn't want to see this development push through, but this development along with the new Fort Langley IGA is giving the area a much needed boost.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bedford Landing in Fort Langley

I was going through Fort Langley the other day and decided to take a look at Bedford Landing which is a new residential development with 278 single family and row houses, 8 townhouses, and 70 apartments units.

Bedford Landing Site Plan. Click Image to Enlarge.

One of the things that I noted about the project was the variety of housing choices within walking distance of each other: apartments, townhouses, row houses, small lot single family houses, and large lot single family houses. It’s actually a great example of how you can create a neighbourhood that has housing choice for everyone in different price points. Being located within an easy walk of the Fort Langley shopping area makes Bedford Landing a good example of a walkable neighbourhood. It’s also good that the riverfront is 100% publicly accessible. The only thing missing (and this is for Fort Langley in general) is transit service. The project is now complete, but there are a few lots that look like they would be perfect for a main street/mixed-use development. I know there are some in the community that don't want to see this happen, so it will be interesting to see was develops.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Township apply to build regional cycling and walking network

The City of Surrey has been busy building greenways and their cycling network for a few years now. It looks like the Township of Langley is planning to connect up to Surrey's network and has applied for a grant to build a greenway trail connection from Derby Reach Regional Park to the Golden Ears Bridge. This project, if approved, would provide $500,000 of cycling and walking infrastructure improvements.

This spring the Township completed the greenway trail from the Bedford House in Fort Langley to the western boundary of Derby Reach Regional Park.

Proposed Greenway. Click Image to Enlarge.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Local Government and Climate Change

For some time the federal government has been without a concrete plan to reduce GHG-emissions which has forced other levels of government to take the lead. Back in 2008 the provincial government announced the Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program, a grant meant to offset the carbon tax paid by local governments that have committed to the goal of becoming carbon neutral in their corporate operations by 2012. The Township of Langley signed on to this program.

At yesterday afternoon's council meeting a report on the program and Township for 2011 was released (P. 49).

In 2011 the Township:
-Completed a preliminary energy analysis for the Latimer Neighbourhood Plan,
-Completed a study exploring the potential for district energy in Murrayville,
-Adopted the provincial Solar Hot Water Ready regulation,
-Completed Phase 1 planning work for the ultimate cycling network; installed bike lanes on several corridors,
-Put ten businesses through the Climate Smart program,
-Brought the DreamRider Theatre with their production Keep Cool; A Play About Climate Change to 1,400 Langley students,
-Implemented the Green Can organics diversion program, and;
-Completed twelve Power Smart lighting upgrade projects at municipal buildings.

In 2012 the Township plans to:
-Undertake an energy design charette for the Carvolth Neighbourhood Plan (in partnership with BC Hydro’s Sustainable Communities Program),
-Complete a District Energy Ready Buildings project (in partnership with the Community Energy Association),
-Undertake Phase 2 planning work for the ultimate cycling network,
-Develop a Bicycle Master Plan and continue with the installation of bike lanes on select corridors, and;
-Conduct a public school recycling pilot.

All the projects are very encouraging to see, but I have the feeling that it's too little and maybe too late. What I find very interesting about the whole politics of climate change is that we can reduce our carbon foot print without affecting our way of live, yet there is so much resistance.

In BC, transportation and buildings account for about 50% of our carbon foot print. Things like building district energy and building alternative transportation go a long way to reduce GHG-emissions and actually make our lives better while keeping money in our pocketbook. I don't get way there is so much resistance to things that make our lives better. It's time that the federal government step up to the plate and fund these green initiatives.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Langley in Progress - Part Two

A month ago, I posted about Langley in Progress which is the Township of Langley's document that outlines development activity. I originally posted that it was compiled monthly, but it turns out that it's only released quarterly. Our very own Joe Zaccaria will appear before council this afternoon to put forward a Notice of Motion regarding the Langley in Progress publication. I will keep you posted on council's reaction.

Whereas “Langley in Progress” is the single most significant publication produced by the Township of Langley, that details development activity in the Township of Langley;

Whereas “Langley in Progress” is currently released on only a quarterly basis, while the “Building Statistics Report” is released on a monthly basis;

Whereas substantial revisions and debates can occur by the time a proposed development reaches the Council table and is reported in “Langley in Progress” document; and

Whereas transparency and public engagement is paramount to our future growth;

Therefore be it resolved that Council instruct relevant staff to compile and publically distribute “Langley in Progress” on a monthly basis and in tandem with the publication of the “Building Statistics Report”.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The urban/rural divide in Langley

I was chatting with a friend last night and we got talking about the urban/rural divide in Langley. There has always been tension between the urban and rural in Langley, the classic example being the separation of Langley Prairie from the Township in the 1950’s to form the City of Langley. We were looking at the last election results and noted how the majority of voters are from outside of Walnut Grove and Willoughby as are the majority of those on council; I believe Michelle Sparrow is the only councillor from that area. This is not a slight at other councillors or even Township staff as I think of all the urban infrastructure and community centres (the Langley Event Centre) that got built with that dynamic, though I know all these things have come with great struggle. Going back to the 1990’s, it was even a fight to get the Walnut Grove Community Centre built.

As urban Langley continues to grow, there will be even more pressure to build urban infrastructure and even more opposing pressure from those that are in rural Langley that don’t see the value. With the current dynamic of Township council will the rural voice weight more heavily? Will those in rural Langley value transit service, green boulevards, bike lanes, community centres, and libraries that primarily serve urban Langley? Will they see it as paying for someone else's services?

I know there are some in Langley that want to see the City and the Township become one again. I think there is a higher chance of Willoughby and Walnut Grove becoming part of the City of Langley than an amalgamation to occur. While I’m sure the Township will find a balance, I feel that there will always been this urban/rural tension.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Debate on Sustainability

While many support the idea of a sustainable region, some still don’t see how our built form fits into the equation. In the Township of Langley, there is even a group in Willoughby that is opposed to all development that isn’t single family housing. This same group of people also wants light rail up 200th Street or on the Interurban corridor. While people in other parts of the region might think that mixed-use et al is the only way to go, there is still an on-going debate in the South of Fraser. I actually had a planner from the South of Fraser tell me that he though that Smart Growth was basically stupid.

On that note, I’ve been working on putting together a debate that will take place in the new year on sustainability. While I’m still working on the detail, I’ve got two great speakers lined up who will debate both the merits and challenges of Smart Growth development. I feel that this is an important discussion to have in the South of Fraser which is really the last frontier for greenfield development in Metro Vancouver. Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The next three years for transit

Since 1999 our region has been trying to build a fully funded transportation system that gives people the choice no to drive a car. First there was supposed to be a vehicle levy to pay for transit expansion which the NDP cancelled, then the BC Liberals restructured TransLink a few times to make it more “professional” and gave it the ability to become a developer, but still things fell through. I think the next two years will be a tipping point for transportation in our region: we are either going to get a transportation system that gives us real options like rapid transit in the South of Fraser or we will have another decade of business as usual. This time around, I actually thing we are going to get a system that give us options.

When the mayors recently voted to increase taxation to pay for bus service expansion and the Evergreen Line, many said that there would be punishment at the polls. The reality is that this did not happen. With the vote to increase tax so close to the civic elections, I think many (including the Province) saw this as a referendum on alternate transportation. With the election out of the way and the pro-transit mayor emerging with a strong mandate, I think we are going to see a long-term funding solution for transit. I also hear that TransLink and the Province have the best working relationship in the history of the organization.

Mayor Dianna Watts is rumoured to be severing her last term at Surrey City Hall and is looking for a light rail legacy. I also think that Christy Clark is looking for something big for the 2013 election. Could the South of Fraser finally get the transit is deserves? I think so!

The big issue, of course, will be funding and I know that there will be a lot of whining by some in the press about "punishing the driver", but at the end of the day people (who drive, walk, take transit, and cycle) want better transit and are willing to pay for it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

McBurney Lane

A while back, I posted about proposed improvements to McBurney Lane in Downtown Langley. Right now McBurney Lane, an aging pedestrian plaza, is cut off from Douglas Park by an ugly parking lot. The design of the new plaza is meant to connect the lane to the park, creating a greenway of sorts between Langley's high-density residential area and walkable commercial core.

Some in the business community are upset because the 21 stall parking lot will be removed and oppose the McBurney Lane redesign. The irony is that the City will actually be increasing parking in this plan. Even with the removal of the parking lot, there will be a net gain of 4 parking spots nearby. At the end of the day, Downtown Langley should be trying to attract the people that live in the City's high-density core which is within walking distance. The Langley Bypass is already serving the regional market.

The new McBurney Lane will help create a sense of place and attract more people to Downtown Langley than the ugly parking lot.

Proposed Design of McBurney Lane. Click Image to Enlarge.
McBurney Lane, South. Click Image to Enlarge.
McBurney Lane, North. Click Image to Enlarge.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Letter to the Editor - A Youthful Future

As a followup to Tuesday's post on youth, my friend Bert Chen sent the following letter to the editor.

Dear editor,

Over the course of our recent election campaign, it was an absolute pleasure to meet many new neighbours and friends. While our two Langleys pride themselves on being a great place to live and work, a sad and disturbing fact remains that there are too few young adults in our community. While it is undeniable that we have one of the largest populations of children in the Lower Mainland, there appears to be a significant vacuum of young adults, necessary for promoting business and growth in the future. It is unfortunate that so many people between the age of 19 and 30 are leaving Langley in order to pursue their careers, something that is comparatively difficult to achieve here.

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of knowing Elizabeth Pratt, one of our more prominent youths co-founder of Langley Youth for the Fallen, Todd Hauptman and Tara Teng, two great local human-trafficking activists, Nathan Pachal, the writer behind the South Fraser Blog, and the Times’ own Miranda Gathercole (I apologize if I have not had the opportunity to meet others who I have neglected to mention here) -but as a fellow young adult and member of our community, I feel disturbed by the fact that I can count all the young adults involved in our neighbourhood on one hand.

As we look into the future during this rapidly changing time, I hope that we as a community can work together to encourage our fellow young people to make a difference.

-Bert Chen, Langley