Thursday, February 26, 2015

Coal Terminal Expansion in Metro Vancouver

Last year, I posted about Port Metro Vancouver’s plans to expand coal handling capacity in our region. If you happen to live in a community like the City of Langley or Fort Langley, which have mainline railways through them, you will be subject to more trains. Living near these railways are directly linked to chronic health issues. The increase in coal trains prompted our region's public health officials to call for a health impact assessment. Health officials are still waiting for that assessment.

Beside negatively impact human health, the transportation and use of coal also degrades the quality of our air.

Metro Vancouver’s Climate Action Committee recently saw a presentation about the increased coal handling capabilities within Metro Vancouver’s jurisdiction. Our region could go from handling less than 35 million tonnes of coal per year to over 65 million tonnes.

The presentation contains a slide which shows the status of current coal handling expansion projects.

Summary of coal terminal expansion projects. Select image to enlarge.

One of the few roadblocks left to allowing the massive expansion of coal handling facilities in our region is the Metro Vancouver air quality permitting processes.

It will be interesting to see how this process unfolds as Metro Vancouver can regulated the amount of pollution that coal handling facilities are allowed to discharge into our air. If Metro Vancouver sets up strict requirements, will the province veto regional regulations?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Upcoming Event: Learn about the Mayors' Plan for Transit and Transportation in Langley

Where will you be during the evening of Wednesday, March 4th? If you don’t have plans, stop by Kwantlen Polytechnic University's Langley Campus.

On March 16th, Elections BC will start mailing out ballots for the Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite. Citizens in the region will have the chance to vote on whether they want to increase PST by 0.5% to help fund $7.5 billion in transportation improvements across the region.

In Langley, increasing transit service and improving roads is always a hot topic. What will the mayors’ plan do for people who living in Langley? What does this mean for residents in Langley if the majority of people vote yes? What does it mean if people vote no? What does it mean for you and your family?

Come and learn about our mayors’ plan for improving transportation in Langley, the South of Fraser, and the rest of Metro Vancouver. People from the Mayors’ Council will be presenting the facts about their plan. After, there will be time to look over the plan in detail, and ask questions about it to Mayors’ Council staff.

This is one of the few opportunities to learn about the plebiscite in a casual and accessible atmosphere.

Details:
Wednesday, March 4th
Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Auditorium - 20901 Langley Bypass
Doors open at: 6:30pm
Presentation start at: 7:00pm
Q&A to follow until 9pm

Please note that Kwantlen Polytechnic University has paid parking. While the event is free, seating is limited. Please reserve your seat on Eventbrite.

PS: I have put this event together on my own time, and with my own money. This event is not being sponsored by the Mayors' Council, the "Yes" side, or the "No" side.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Langley City Council Candidate Spending

Elections BC recently released campaign spending information for last fall’s municipal elections. As you may know, I ran for Langley City Council. Since I ran for council, I was curious about what other Langley City Council candidates spent on their campaigns.

One of the good things about living in a smaller community is that, unlike Surrey or Vancouver where you need significant finances to successfully run, much less money is needed to run a successful campaign in Langley City.

There is something to be said about the power of being an incumbent. Councillor Dave Hall spent $5,010.89, Councillor Jack Arnold spent $2,909.03, and Councillor Gayle Martin spent $1,000. All of their campaigns were self-funded.

Newly elected Councillor Paul Albrecht spent $10,383.41 on his election campaign. About $10,000 was donated by CUPE, USW, and the Fraser Valley Labour Council. Councillor Rudy Storteboom spent $5,733.92 on his campaign. He received $1,000 in donations from people, while he self-financed the remainder of his campaign. New Councillor Val van den Broek spent $3,994.24 on her self-funded campaign.

I came in seventh place, right below Councillor Jack Arnold. I actually had the most amount of donations from people totalling $6,314.80 plus $955 in corporate donations. Other candidates spent up to $6,754.15 on their campaigns. Candidate Sharon Newbery was unique as she fundraised mostly through meal events.

You can view the full details on the Elections BC website.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Infographics: TransLink Investment in Langley’s Transportation Network

One of the concerns I hear from people in Langley is that TransLink collects more money from our community than it delivers in transportation services. This concern is unfounded. TransLink continues to invest in building new roads while providing funding to maintain current roads. TransLink has also been increasing bus service for Langley residents by providing new bus routes while increasing service on some existing routes.

As I posted about last year, Langley's transit and major roads are subsidized by the rest of the region to the tune of $10 million annually. This is a pretty good deal.

Over the next little while, I will be posting a series of infographics to help Langley residents make an informed decision for the upcoming Transportation and Transit Plebiscite.

This week’s infographics feature the investments that TransLink has made to the transportation network in Langley over the last few years. Special thanks to my friend Lawrence Leong who built the infographics.

TransLink Road Investment in Langley. Select infographic to enlarge.

Major Road Network 2011 2012 2013 Total
Langley Township $2,793,579.00 $3,628,236.00 $2,738,000.00 $9,159,815.00
Langley City $368,399.00 $431,967.00 $538,235.00 $1,338,601.00
Golden Ears Bridge $52,428,070.00 $60,673,201.00 $61,591,977.00 $174,693,248.00
Total: $55,590,048.00 $64,733,404.00 $64,868,212.00 $185,191,664.00


TransLink Transit Investment in Langley. Select infographic to enlarge.

Transit Route 2011 2012 2013 Total
320 $3,879,000.00 $3,964,000.00 $3,218,000.00 $11,061,000.00
341 $2,852,000.00 $2,619,000.00 $2,690,000.00 $8,161,000.00
364 $1,437,000.00 $1,522,000.00 $1,522,000.00 $4,481,000.00
388 $481,000.00 $472,000.00 $486,000.00 $1,439,000.00
501 $2,238,000.00 $2,267,000.00 $2,336,000.00 $6,841,000.00
502 $5,215,000.00 $5,365,000.00 $5,208,000.00 $15,788,000.00
509 $305,000.00 $305,000.00 $261,000.00 $871,000.00
531 $0.00 $1,714,000.00 $1,447,000.00 $3,161,000.00
555 $0.00 $0.00 $1,205,000.00 $1,205,000.00
590 $508,000.00 $508,000.00 $518,000.00 $1,534,000.00
595 $1,638,000.00 $986,000.00 $1,067,000.00 $3,691,000.00
C60 $302,000.00 $302,000.00 $302,000.00 $906,000.00
C61 $320,000.00 $320,000.00 $320,000.00 $960,000.00
C62 $770,000.00 $770,000.00 $770,000.00 $2,310,000.00
C63 $302,000.00 $302,000.00 $302,000.00 $906,000.00
C64 $286,000.00 $286,000.00 $286,000.00 $858,000.00
Total: $20,533,000.00 $21,702,000.00 $21,938,000.00 $64,173,000.00

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Township Councillor Richter's motion on transit and transportation plebiscite

Earlier this month, Township of Langley Council passed a motion to "direct [Township of Langley] staff not expend any monetary or staff resources promoting any option or position put forth in the upcoming transportation plebiscite."

During a Township of Langley Council meeting this week, Councillor Kim Richter presented a motion that "Langley Township Council take a firm and public stand against the proposed .5% 'Congestion Improvement Tax'." She also wanted a "Vote No" position posted to the Township's website for the duration of the plebiscite.

Councillor Richter's motion was defeated, but there was a great letter to the editor in the Langley Times by Dan Turner which parodied Richter's motion.

I saw that Langley Township Councillor Kim Richter was putting a forward a motion to council about the upcoming transit referendum. She wants council to officially oppose the Mayors’ Council Transit and Transportation Plan.

This is based on some inaccurate information. Based on the actual facts, I have taken the liberty to revise her motion as follows:

Whereas Langley Township Council has now heard the cases for and against a new 0.5 per cent sales tax for transit in Metro Vancouver;

Whereas all the the money raised by this increase in the PST will be spent in Metro Vancouver, including Langley Township;

Whereas transit improvements in Langley Township under the 10 Year Mayors’ Plan includes billions of dollars worth of new transportation infrastructure like B-Line express bus routes on 200th Street and along Fraser Highway, a light rail line that connects Langley’s core to SkyTrain, new routes in growing neighbourhoods like Willoughby, and increased frequency and service to existing routes; plus more SkyTrain services, B-Lines, Surrey LRT and a new Pattullo Bridge which, while not in the Township, will greatly benefit Township commuters;

Whereas Langley Township has a guarantee that transit improvements in the Township will occur because residents are voting for the Plan specifically tied to the Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax;

Whereas all the new Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax funds will go into an independently audited and publicly reported account used only for the Mayors’ Plan; and

Whereas the Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax will positively affect Langley businesses by reducing congestion and providing better transit options attracting even more new customers;

Therefore be it resolved that the Langley Township Council take a firm and public stand in favour of the proposed Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax because it is a good deal for Langley Township residents and businesses.

Therefore be it resolved that Langley Township Council push aggressively for a Yes Vote in the upcoming referendum.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Information Event: Learn About the Upcoming Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite

On March 16th, Elections BC will start mailing out ballots for the Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite. What does this means for residents in Langley if the majority of people vote yes? What does it mean if people vote no? What does it mean for you and your family?

Come and learn about our mayors’ plan for improving transportation in Langley, the South of Fraser, and the rest of Metro Vancouver.

This is one of the few opportunities to learn about the plebiscite in a casual and accessible atmosphere.

Details:

Wednesday, March 4th
Auditorium - Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley Campus
20901 Langley Bypass

Doors open at: 6:30pm
Presentation start at: 7:00pm
Q&A to follow until 9pm

While the event is free, seating is limited. Please reserve your seat on Eventbrite.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Townhouses proposed for corner of 201A Street and 56th Avenue

Downtown Langley has deep and narrow lots. Some of these lots can make it difficult to develop because of their geometry. One such lot is on the corner of 56th Avenue and 201A Street. This piece of land has been vacating since I can remember.

At last night’s City Council meeting, a development proposal was presented which would see the construction of 8 townhouses that front 201A Street.

Vacant lot at 201A Street and 56th Avenue in Langley. Select image to enlarge.

One of the innovative features of this development is the inclusion of roof-top patios/gardens on the townhouses. The units front 201A Street with no green-space like traditional row houses. Parking for the townhouses is located in the rear of the units which supports a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere along 201A Street.

Draw of proposed townhouse project. Select image to enlarge

My only critique about this project is that it doesn’t do much for 56th Avenue. As the gateway to Downtown Langley, the corner of 56th Avenue and 201A Street deserves some special treatment. 56th Avenue will see the side of the townhouse development, plus the access roadway, though it will be landscaped. The City is proposing to install one of its larger pedestrian wayfinding signs.

Landscaping plan for proposed townhouse project. Select image to enlarge

The Township of Langley had a proposal for a similar scale townhouse development which included a small ground-level commercial space on one of the end units. If a similar concept was proposed for this project, it would have not only supported a great public realm on 201A Street, but also on 56th Avenue. Either way, I look forward to seeing this project move forward.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Infographic: The Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax is Affordable

On March 16th, Elections BC will start delivering ballots for people to vote in the 2015 Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite. The plan will build $7.5 billion in transit and transportation infrastructure, and will be paid for with a 0.5% sales tax. Over the next month, I will be posting infographics to help people understand what the plebiscite is all about, and what it means for people in Langley. This first infographic shows what impact a 0.5% sales tax increase will have on items that you might purchase.

The Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax is Affordable

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Drive Thrus and the Vision for Downtown Langley

The City of Langley's vision for its downtown is to build a vibrant, walkable core. One of the best examples of a newer building that follows this vision is The Muse. It is a mixed-use building with ground-level retail that abuts the sidewalk on Fraser Highway.

The Muse on Fraser Highway in Langley City

Redevelopment projects that include retail space have been slow coming to Downtown Langley for a variety of reasons. Because of this, it seems that City Council has felt compelled to approve any new project, even if it doesn’t align with the vision contained in the Downtown Master Plan.

One of the new projects that is being built right now is the Tim Hortons at the corner of Douglas Crescent and 203rd Street. While many elements of the project will contribute to a walkable downtown core, some major elements do not.

The Downtown Master Plan states that projects should be designed at a human scale. The Tim Hortons building is designed at a human scale, and the main entrance fronts Douglas Crescents. One of the major issues with the project is that the City of Langley allowed the construction of a highway-sized sign that is larger than the building itself. Even Surrey doesn’t allow signs like this as they are ugly and degrade the public realm.

New Tim Hortons at the corner of Douglas Crescent and 203rd Street. Select image to enlarge.

The Master Plans also requires that commercial redevelopment incorporate decorative sidewalks, appropriate street furniture and street trees. I do not see all of this in the Tim Hortons project, though it does include scrubs and a metal sculpture thing which attempt to hide the drive thru and new parking.

One the topic of parking, the Downtown Langley Master Plan recommends that new buildings constructed in the Langley Mall site use the existing, underutilized parking. The Tim Hortons project includes even more parking. For new parking, the Master Plan says that the City should "restrict off-street parking between the street and the building with any off-street parking required in underground parking, structured parking (or cash-in-lieu contribution), or surface parking behind the building that is unobtrusive and screened from public view." The new Tim Hortons parking fronts Douglas Crescent.

One of the best things that can be done to bring life to a sidewalk is with outdoor seating for cafes and restaurants. This is encouraged in the Downtown Master Plan. Sadly, the Tim Hortons project actually tries to shield the building from Douglas Crescent with a berm and scrubs.

New Tim Hortons looking from Douglas Crescent. Select image to enlarge.

With a few tweaks to the Tim Hortons plan, many of the issues I’ve mentions could have been avoided without impacting the viability of the project.

I have been highlighting the new Tim Hortons project lately, but the older Starbuck redevelopment at Valley Centre Mall, with its drive thru and blank wall along Fraser Highway, shares many similarities.

Sadly, each project that the City approves which doesn’t line up with the vision of the Downtown Plan, erodes the vision of building a vibrant, walkable downtown core.

If citizens in Metro Vancouver vote “Yes” in the upcoming transit plebiscite, it will be a game changer for Langley City’s Downtown. Instead of incremental, mostly auto-oriented commercial development, there will a stronger push by the property owners and developers to build new projects downtown. City Council and staff will still need to make sure that Downtown Langley develops according to the vision laid out in the Downtown Langley Master Plan. Hopefully with more consistency than they have done to date.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Water and Sewer Projects in Metro Vancouver Benefit South of Fraser

A few weeks ago, I was at a debate about the upcoming transit plebiscite that was hosted by the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce. I remember someone saying that they wanted to leave Metro Vancouver because they didn’t see the value in being part of the region.

While many of the services that Metro Vancouver provides are not sexy, they support the growth of our region. Without Metro Vancouver services, Langley would be in a pickle. For example, all our water comes from the North Shore. With the exception of Walnut Grove, whose sewage is treated at a Metro Vancouver facility in the community, the rest of Langley’s sewage is treated on Annacis Island in Delta.

In fact, the Township of Langley is spending $60 plus million to connect Aldergrove and Salmon River/Uplands to the Metro Vancouver water and sewer systems. Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley Regional District don’t have the ability, or resources, to support Langley’s growing needs.

Metro Vancouver recently release maps and information about their 2015 new and “in-progress” capital works projects. In total, Metro Vancouver is investing $1.5 billion in projects to growth and maintain our water system. Two of the biggest ticket items, the $880 million Seymour Capilano Filtration Project and $239 million Port Mann Fraser River Water Main directly support growth in the South of Fraser.

Water Capital Approved Projects in Progress. Select map to enlarge.
2015 New Water Capital Projects. Select map to enlarge.

The region is also investing $865 million to maintain and grow sewer infrastructure in Metro Vancouver. The largest project, the $265 million upgrade to the Annacis treatment planet directly supports South of Fraser communities.

Sewer Capital Approved Projects in Progress. Select map to enlarge.
2015 New Sewer Capital Projects. Select map to enlarge.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Opponents of Mayors' Transportation Plan using wrong numbers

It’s one thing to have a discussion about the pros and cons of a proposal based on the facts. It's another, when one side isn't being honest.

The problem with the discussion around whether citizens in Metro Vancouver should vote to increase the PST by 0.5% to pay for $7.5 billion in transit and transportation improvements is that, while the proponents of the plan must stick to the facts, the opponents of the plan are twisting the truth and actually using untruthful information.

The opponents of the mayors’ plan to improve transit in our region are using fear in a bid to scare people into voting against this plan. One of the ways they are doing this is by telling people that the plan will require each and every household in Metro Vancouver to pay $258 per year. This is simply not the case.

The opponents divided the $250 million per year required to fund the plan by the 967,948 households in Metro Vancouver to arrive at their figure. How PST works in BC is more nuanced.

PST is paid for by businesses, visitors, and residents. The amount of money that a person would contribute to fund the mayors’ plan is proportionate to their income.

Average PST increase paid by households in Metro Vancouver if transit plebiscite passes. Select table to enlarge.

In Langley City, the median household income is $50,231 and the average income is $61,288. Langley City households would pay an average of $100 per year.

Surrey’s household median income is $67,702 and the average income is $82,780. Households in Surrey would on average pay between $100 and $116 per year.

The median household income in the Township of Langley is $76,947 and the average income is $91,875. Most households in the Township would pay on average between $116 and $166 per year.

While people in Metro Vancouver will be paying more PST, they will actually come out ahead. Investing in improving transit and transportation will saving people time which they can spend with their family and friends. It will also allow many families to reduce automobile costs, saving anywhere from several hundred to thousands of dollars per year.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

City of Langley to launch Homelessness Task Force

Being the compact, urban centre of Langley, the City of Langley is home to many of the support services needed to help people who are dealing with issues of poverty, substance abuse, and domestic violence in both the City and Township of Langley.

The City of Langley is also home to the only homeless shelter in Langley, and has a higher concentration of lower-incoming housing than the Township of Langley. Because Langley City is an accessible, walkable community, it is also home to a larger population of seniors than other communities. Some of these seniors live in poverty, and some are homeless.

It should come as no surprise that when people are marginalized, and a community doesn’t have all the resources needed to address the complex issues surrounding marginalization, crime rates go up. Police officers start to become the social workers of the community.

As I posted about last week, the policing budget in the City of Langley has ballooned in the last decade or so. Police should not be the social workers of our community; a comprehensive, inclusive plan needs to be developed that addresses dealing with the root causes of poverty and marginalization in the community.

This is why I’m happy that the City of Langley is proceeding with the creation of a Homelessness Task Force. The task force will study this complex issue, and make recommendations on how to address this multifaceted issue.

Helping to bring people out of homeless, including seniors, will take the support of all levels of government and non-profit community groups.

With this is mind, I was a bit shocked to see that, when reading the minutes of the January 26 City of Langley Council meeting, newly elected “Councillor van den Broek stated she does not support the expenditure of $35,000 to determine what the problem is.”

Getting a complete picture and an understanding of the issues around homeless, and what can be done to lift people out of poverty, is critical if the City hopes to address this issue.

Lifting people out of poverty creates a heather, more productive community. It will also reduce policing costs.

At the same time, the City of Langley is also moving forward with a “more grass-roots” Community Crime Prevention Task Force. It will be interesting to see what their recommendations will be.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New Westminster SkyTrain Station to get face lift and upgrades

Over the past several years, TransLink has been busy upgrading the Expo Line as part of its OnTrack state-of-good repair program.

Other OnTrack projects include the upgrading of Main Street-Science World SkyTrain Station, and the replacement of all the power rails on the Expo Line. These projects are currently under construction. New Westminster SkyTrain station is about to be upgraded as part of the OnTrack program.

The New Westminster SkyTrain Station does not meet current accessibility standards, and needs to be upgraded to improve passenger flow.

If you’ve been to New Westminster SkyTrain Station recently, you’ve notice that it is in the middle of a major mixed-use project. The station is partially integrated into that project today; the proposed upgrades will fully integrated it with the mixed-use project.

The proposed set of upgrades will also enhances the safety, security, and comfort of people at the station. TransLink is holding an online open house about the proposed set of upgrades. I thought I’d share some of the pictures which show the proposed set of improvements.

Inbound Platform looking from Carnarvon Courtyard. Select image to enlarge.

Platform Renovation. Select image to enlarge.

Proposed 8th Street Entrance. Select image to enlarge.

Proposed Concourse Level. Select image to enlarge.

You can submit your feedback about the proposed upgrades to New Westminster SkyTrian Station online until February 11th.

Commercial-Broadway, Joyce-Collingwood, Metrotown, and Surrey Central are all slated to be upgraded. These upgrades are being funding by $124 million in federal and provincial dollars. TransLink will be paying for the remainder of the upgrade costs.

Monday, February 2, 2015

0.5% Transit Tax will be merged with PST if approved: no new paperwork or costly POS upgrades for small business

Small business owners in Langley had two major concerns about the proposed 0.5% sale tax increase to fund much need transit and transportation improvements in the region, South of Fraser, and in Langley.

The first major concern was that it would cause shoppers to head to Abbotsford or to the US for goods and services. Many small business owners stopped competing with the big box retail years ago, instead focusing on providing great customer service, at accessible locations, based on local knowledge. None the less, big box retail and small businesses owners alike do not need to be concerned about the proposed 0.5% sales tax causing shoppers to go to Abbotsford or the US border.

As I posted about a few weeks ago, research shows that the 0.5% tax difference between Abbotsford and Metro Vancouver would have a statistically insignificant impact on retail sales, even in communities like Aldergrove.

Factoring in the time and transportation cost savings, people in Metro Vancouver will actually have more money in their pockets to spend a local retailers, if they vote yes.

When it comes to the US border, here is some food for thought. The Canadian dollar’s value has been rising since 2002. At the same time, cross border shopping has increased. In 2002, PST was 7.5% and GST was 7%. Sales tax rates in BC have been going down ever since. PST is now 7% while GST is now 5% today.

The last remaining concern small businesses owner in Langley had was that the new 0.5% “Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax” would require expensive point of sales system upgrades while creating a whole new accounting headache.

Yesterday afternoon, the provincial government announced that the 0.5% sales tax increase will be “as seamless and cost effective as possible for Metro Vancouver businesses and consumers. To achieve this objective, the province would enable this tax to be administered as an addition to the existing provincial sales tax (PST) within the region. For further clarification, this means that consumers would see a combined PST and MCIT totalling 7.5% at the point of sale. We would not require businesses to separately identify the MCIT on receipts or invoices. The revenues collected would be subject to independent audits and annual reviews.”

You can download the full letter. This is good news for small business owners who will only need to change the PST tax rate on their tills to 7.5%. No costly point of sales system upgrade needed, and no new paperwork.

This is consistent with the provincial government’s mandate that the proposed new funding source for transit be affordable for businesses and families.

Light rail to Langley City, rapid bus service on 200th Street, more buses throughout the rest Langley, and more money for roads, all while supporting the growth of small business. Voting “Yes” in the upcoming plebiscite really is a win, win.