Thursday, September 29, 2016

Getting down to business at UBCM: Protecting old growth, investing in infrastructure, fair taxation, and reducing substance abuse.

Yesterday was the start of the “meat and potatoes” part of the Union of BC Municipalities Convention, the plenary session. The session started with an invocation from Esquimalt First Nation Chief Andrew Thomas and Elder Mary Anne Thomas.

Elder Mary Anne Thomas call for us to work together to build relationships between nations, and Chief Andrew Thomas talked about the challenges facing First Nations government. Like many small municipalities in BC, First Nations governments do not have the resources required to adequately equip their staff to be able to deliver all the services required. He noted that staff burnout, because of limited resources, can be high. More support will be needed to help equipment all governments to deliver required services.

The Honourable Judith Guichon, OBC, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia opened with a speech about the need for better coordination between all levels of government especially when dealing with complex challenges such as climate change mitigation. She mentioned that people should read the book “The Climate Nexus: Water, Food, Energy and Biodiversity in a Changing World.” She pointed out that local governments, with support, are in the best position to tackle climate change.

UBCM president Al Richmond called out the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for engaging in non-productive rhetoric around local government taxation. He noted that people demand services from government, and that with past provincial and federal funding cuts and program cuts, local governments have been left to take up the slack. Infrastructure is expensive, and local governments have a responsibility to ensure that water runs, streets work, and community services such as parks, libraries, and community centres are meeting the needs of residents.

He also noted that this will be the first time in ten years that a federal minister will be addressing UBCM which shows that the federal government is serious about working with local governments to meet the needs of Canadians.

After the introductions, the debates started on the resolutions. These resolutions are passed on to the provincial government to express the opinions of local governments throughout BC. I wanted to highlight five of the key resolutions passed today.

The first resolution passed was to call on the provincial government to reverse the downloading of the cost of doing police DNA analysis to local governments. The second was to request the provincial government to directly involve local governments as the regulatory approach to marijuana is established.

Also relating to marijuana was a request to have local governments receive a share of the taxation revenue received much like the federal gas tax fund.

Right now there is a hotel tax in BC. The final priority resolution was to work on a framework to extend taxation to all short-term accommodations such as those procured through Airbnb.

Finally, delegates moved to prioritize and pass a resolution to call for the protection of old growth forests on Vancouver Island.

Later on during the day, Premier Christy Clark gave a speech in which she announced a joint federal/provincial program to fund $373 million in water and waster-water infrastructure for local government, plus $10 million to setup a new BC Centre for Substance Use and to reduce the use of fentanyl.

Premier Christy Clark addressing delegates and the media at UBCM.

To find out about all the resolutions that are being debated at UBCM, please check out the UBCM Resolution Book.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

UBCM Panel: Increasing property tax and reducing single-family zoning key to affordable housing

I’m at the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention in Victoria this week. Yesterday, I posted about a sessions on homelessness and tent cities. On Tuesday, I attended a panel called “Perspective on the BC Housing Market.”

Helmut Pastrick who is the Chief Economist for Central 1 Credit Union talked about the long-term uptrend in housing prices since the 1960s. Based on his research, he believes that this trend with continue into the future.

He also looked at the average number of MLS listings in BC since 2013. He found that the number of listings has been going down which leads him to believe that there is a supply shortage of housing in the province. He did acknowledge that the 15% foreign-buyers taxes has cooled the high-end market in Metro Vancouver, but he noted that whenever there is a price correction in BC, values have always bounced back.

Over the long-term he stated that growth due to the increase in population of BC, especially Metro Vancouver, will result in higher prices and worsening housing affordability. The housing price to income ratio will continue to rise.

Tom Davidoff from UBC presented on policies that governments can take to create affordable market housings.

He stated that government should lower income and sales taxes, and increase property and capital gains taxes. According to Davidoff, our current tax system benefits wealthy and not working-class people. He pointed out that older people who are house-rich, but money poor, can defer their property tax, so shifting the tax burden from income and the sales of goods, to property shouldn’t create an affordability challenge for older people.

Davidoff said that drivers for high housing cost in Metro Vancouver are because of our high amenities such as the ocean, mountains, and mild climate, and tourism which attracts people to relocate to our region.

Davidoff said that single-family housing zoning is one of the top things that is causing an affordability crisis in our region. He stated that when a municipality zones single-family, it is basically excluding households that make under $200,000 per year (95% of households) from affordable home ownership.

Davidoff stated that by increasing density, shifting the tax burden, and reforming the development process, we can attain affordable housing in the region.

You can view his presentation below.

Davidoff focused on creating affordable market housing, but there is still a role for government to play in building and funding the on-going costs of below-market price housing, and other forms of accessible housing for all people.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tent Cities and Reducing Homelessness: challenges, solutions, and case studies on making positive progress

This week I’m attending the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities Convention. Local government official, local government staff, MLAs, and provincial staff have gathered in Victoria to discussion issues and solutions for communities throughout the provinces. This is the first time I’ve attended the UBCM Convention. On Tuesday morning, I was in a session call “Tent Cities and Homelessness.”

This session included presenters sharing how they responded to the increase in people experiencing homelessness, tent cities, as well as the tools and resources they have used to take action to reduce homelessness and eliminate tent cities.

The session started with a talk from Rich Coleman who is the Minster Responsible for Housing. He stated that the provincial government believed it was on the path to reducing homelessness throughout the province, but because of challenging economic conditions in other provinces, people who had limited job skill were moving to BC only to find no work, ending up homeless.

He said that the province has been a leader in building housing to get people out of homelessness, and that it has only been possible because of all levels of government and non-government agencies working together to get people out of homelessness.

Dominic Flanagan who is the Executive Director for BC Housing reiterated this later during the sessions; Minister Coleman stated that tent cities are a barrier to getting people the help they need and should not be seen under any circumstance as a good thing.

When people end up on the street, fast action is necessary to get people the help they need. Minister Coleman stated that the province is willing to do its part to fund supportive housing, but it needs the support of local government to provide the zoning and political will to make it happen.

James Yardley who is a lawyer form Murdy & McAllister provided the legal context on why people are allowed to camp in park in municipalities throughout BC. The City of Langley prepared FAQ and background documents which cover much on the content that was covered by Yardley.

One of the observation he pointed out was that the court appears willing to allow municipalities to enforce “no camping” provisions only if there is enough low-barrier housing in a community. Interestingly enough, the courts never defined what is “enough” nor if community meant municipal boundaries or a section of a region. For example, if the Township of Langley had low-barrier housing available, would that housing count towards low-barrier housing in Langley City. Homelessness doesn’t stop at a municipal boundaries in our region.

Mayor Lisa Helps from the City of Victoria as well as Greg Steves who is the Assistant Deputy Mister of the Office of Housing and Construction Standards talked about the tent city in Victoria which was recently in the news.

Mayor Lisa Helps from the City of Victoria presenting on Tent City.

Helps noted that since the 1990s, the federal government has cut per capita funding for public/affordable housing in half. She said this is one of the reasons why there has been a homelessness and affordable housing crisis in Canada.

Helps and Steves noted that building strong relationships was the key to getting people out of the Victoria tent city and into supportive housing. Municipality/provincial collaboration was critical to the success of the removal of the tent city, and equally important was the relationship built with people who were camping. Because of the relationship built with the campers, the government was able to work to get people into housing in a positive way without needing to use a “heavy hand.”

When it comes to building supportive housing, Helps stated that it was critical to listen to, and address the concerns of residents about supportive housing in their neighbourhoods. She noted that because of the relationships they built with residents, they were able to build supportive housing with community buy-in. In fact, the community is now happy with the positive impact both temporary shelters and permanent supportive housing has had in their neighbourhoods.

Mayor Nicole Read from Maple Ridge talked about her experience with getting people out of tents and into housings. Some of the highlights from her presentation was the need to combat the cycle of shame and stigma around homelessness. She also noted that women’s needs have to be considered when it comes to supportive housing, and that is currently missing. Mayor Read stated that homelessness is a symptom, and that more focus needs to be placed upstream including helping young people out and people with mental health issues before they are homeless.

Mayor Peter Milobar from Kamloops said that his City has an Affordable Housing Reserve Fund which they contribute at least $50,000 per year into. This funding is used to support affordable rental housing, transitional housing, supportive housing, and emergency shelters in their community.

Reducing homelessness takes the support of all levels of government, non-profit organizations, and local residents in a community. It was really encouraging to see that other cities have been successful in reducing homelessness, and getting people into housing with the required support to lift them out of the poverty.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Health Authority finds link between healthier communities and local agriculture

How we build our communities —land-use and transport systems— have a profound impact on our health. Walkable communities are healthier communities. Over the last several years, our provincial health authorities have started publishing toolkits and data to encourage governments to build communities that enable people to have positive health outcomes.

While there is a good amount of information available about the link between walking and healthier community, not as much has been said about the link between local agriculture and our health. The Provincial Health Services Authority released a study call “Agriculture’s Connection to Health: A summary of evidence relevant to British Columbia.

There were around twenty findings in their report including:

  • Farmland preservation helps to maintain a level of food production that contributes to food self-sufficiency
  • Greater availability of locally produced fruits and vegetables may increase their consumption
  • Food self-sufficiency supports healthy eating
  • Indigenous foods, foodlands, and waters contribute to healthy eating and physical health and are core parts of culture and identity for Indigenous populations
  • The availability of culturally appropriate or traditional fresh fruits and vegetables can be an important part of healthy eating for immigrant populations
  • The availability of local food can help people to feel connected with their environment

In the South of Fraser, a large amount of land is within the Agricultural Land Reserve. The continued protection of this land is critical not only for food security, but also to support better health outcomes for people in our region.

The Provincial Health Services Authority noted in their study that there is opportunity for further research on the link between local agriculture and human health. I wouldn’t be surprise if on-going research finds even stronger connections between health and local agriculture.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

September 19, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: Supporting positive activity in Downtown Langley and upcoming neighbourhood meetings

Today will be my last post about the City of Langley council meeting which was held on Monday. On Tuesday, I posted about homelessness matters addressed. Yesterday, I posted about development matters that were heard at council. Today, I will be posting on the rest of the matters dealt with at that council meeting.

Council heard presentations from two organizations. Roslyn Henderson from Big Brothers, Big Sisters noted that September is the month which celebrates their organization. She thanked the City for allowing their flag to be raised outside of City Hall this month. Henderson stated that 400 children are being mentored with the support of 250 volunteers in Langley. She said that the amount of children being mentored is growing due to increased need in the community. Their mentoring system results in children have greater success in school, participating in less risky behaviour, leading to future achievements. Henderson also noted that long term mentor Rob Ross, who has volunteered with the organization for 40 year, received the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal.

Next Carly Stromsten from the Langley Environmental Partners Society presented on their Summer Eco Crew program which the City of Langley helps finance. This program employs both secondary and post-secondary students, giving them work experience and job skills training while enhancing the environment of Langley City.

This summer, they removed 800 square meters of invasive blackberry, installed tree guards, monitored Japanese knotweed sites that were removed last year, and cleaned up 600 square meters of garbage from natural areas. The Summer Eco Crew also attended eight community events and workshops, promoting environmental conservation.

During the Mayor’s Report, Mayor Schaffer stated that council will be meeting with the Good Times Cruise-In Society to discuss the miscommunication that occurred this August and other matters around the annual event.

The mayor also thanked Teri James and the Downtown Langley Merchants Association for another year of the successful McBurney Plaza Summer Series.

By having events that promote positive active in our public spaces, negative activity is reduced. In fact, these types of events dollar for dollar do more to reduce negative active in our Downtown than increasing policing.

The City of Langley will also be hosting three neighbourhood meetings in the coming month. They will be for the Uplands & Alice Brown neighbourhoods, Simonds & Blacklock neighbourhoods, and Douglas & Nicomekl neighbourhoods. As stated on the City’s website, “at the meetings you will have the opportunity to learn about City programs and services, give your input on new and current initiatives including the City’s rebranding efforts, and gain understanding on how the City is improving the livability of your community.”

Council gave final reading to Bylaw 2991 and Bylaw 3001 which relate to solid waste. I posted about these bylaws last week.

Council also gave first, second, and third reading to update our 2015-2019 Capital Improvement Plan. This was mostly a housekeeping item, but it will allow the City to move forward with the procurement of a new fire pumper truck which was also approved on Monday by council.

Council also approved the staff recommended permissive tax exemptions for 2017. These exemptions relieve the following non-profit organizations from paying property tax:

  • Langley Seniors Resource Society
  • Langley Stepping Stones
  • Langley Community Music School
  • Langley Lawn Bowling
  • Langley Community Services
  • Salvation Army Gateway of Hope
  • Ishtar Transition Housing
  • Global School Society
  • Southgate Christian Fellowship
  • Langley Care Society
  • Langley Hospice Society
  • Langley Association for Community Living

Councillor Storteboom made a motion to add the Langley Food Bank to the list of organizations that receive permissive tax exemptions. I supported this motion, but the remainder of council did not. This motion was not successful.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September 19, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: Putting walkability first, developer improves original plan. Other development application examined.

Yesterday, I posted about the matters that Langley City council addressed around homelessness at Monday night’s regular council meeting. Today, I will be posted about development matters that council addressed.

The residents of the City were given the opportunity to comment on a development variance permit for 20041 Grade Crescent and a development permit for 20151 Fraser Highway (Valley Centre Mall).

The owner of 20041 Grade Crescent was seeking approval to subdivide his lot in half. This would allow two houses to be built. A variance was required because the lot width would be 14.5m along Grade Crescent as opposed to 16m which is the minimum as permitted under our RS1 zone.

The owner of 20051 Grade Crescent was at Monday’s council meeting. He owns the adjacent, wider lot. He was concerned that the proposed subdivision would “crowd the street.” I asked staff to review property widths along Grade Crescent and we saw that both 20061 and 20022, which are near 20041, have similar narrow lot widths.

Proposed streetscape along Grade Crescent as a result of approved variance. Select image to enlarge.

One of the things that I’ve heard from people in the community is concerns about both “monster houses” and tree clearing during redevelopment.

Because these are narrower lots, the two proposed new houses will have similar footprints to the current housing in the neighbourhood. A tree management plan was also prepared for the site. While some tree will be removed, they will be replaced.

Next, Council opened up the floor for comments on an infill project at Valley Centre Mall. There was one written submission in opposition to the project.

For some history, this development permit was original scheduled for the July 25th council meeting, but was pulled from the agenda. Our Advisory Planning Committee had serious concerns around traffic control, pedestrian access, the drive-thru, impact to the residential development across the street, and the location of the refuse/recycling area.

Original site plan fro Valley Centre Mall infill development. Select image to enlarge.

View from Fraser Highway of originally proposed Valley Centre Mall infill development. Select image to enlarge.

I had major concerns that the original plan didn’t create an active, inviting, or walkable streetscape along Fraser Highway as envisioned in our Downtown Master Plan. I also had a problem with the location of the drive-thru.

The original plan was very disappointing, but the proponent of this project took the last few months to vastly improve the project plan.

The biggest change is that the building now fronts Fraser Highway, and will have pedestrian access via Fraser Highway. There have also been various improvements to enhance walkability throughout the rest of the mall. The drive-thru has also been reconfigured to reduce its impact.

Approved site plan for Valley Centre Mall infill development. Select image to enlarge.

View from Fraser Highway of approved Valley Centre Mall infill development. Select image to enlarge.

While I don’t support drive-thrus, the current zoning in our Downtown allows drive-thrus. This is something that I’d like to see changed.

As part of this project, the mall will be reopening its parking lot located on Industrial Avenue. It will have improved lightings.

All of council was impressed that the proponent of this project took the feedback of the community and our committee, and changed the design.

By the end of the Monday night meeting, a development variance permit for 20041 Grade Crescent and a development permit for Valley Centre Mall were approved by council. Council also gave first and second reading for two zoning bylaw amendments for an apartment and townhouse development. These two proposed zoning bylaw amendments will now be going to a public hearing at a future council meeting. I will post more about these proposed developments once they come to the public hearing phase.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

September 19, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: Taking concrete action to reduce homelessness in our community

This week, I will be posted about Monday night’s City of Langley Council meeting based on topics. Tomorrow, I will be posting development matters that were addressed at Council. On Thursday, I will post about the remaining items that were on the council agenda. Today, I will be posting about homelessness in our community, and some of the concrete actions that we are taking as a local government to get people the housing and metal health services required.

There is no doubt that the number of people experiencing homelessness in Langley City has increased in the last few years. Francis Cheung, who is the Chief Administrative Officer for the City, presented some facts about the impacts that homelessness is causing in the City of Langley.

The following chart shows the increase in bylaw enforcement investigations relating to homeless camps and people who are homeless over the last four years.

Homeless camps and people experiencing homelessness City of Langley bylaw enforcement investigations between 2013 and 2016. Select chart to enlarge.

As you can see, there has been a seven times increase in investigations relating to people who are homelessness, and a nine times increase in investigations related to homeless camps. Approximately 70% of our bylaw officers’ time is spent addressing issues relating to homelessness. This means that our bylaw officers’ time is being restricted when it comes to addressing other enforcement issues in our community.

For the RCMP in Langley, about 1 in every 13 calls are related to issues around homelessness.

The City of Langley has spent $123,467 year-to-date addressing vandalism and homelessness related issues, and will spend $125,820 on bylaw enforcement this year.

That is close to $250,000 which is a significant amount of money.

Clearly there is both a moral and economic argument to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community; getting people the support they need.

When I ran for council, I made a commitment to work to reduce homelessness. I can tell you that the majority of council is also committed to reducing homelessness in Langley. It will take the support of other orders of government to meet that goal.

City staff and council have been working to get that support over the summer months. Mayor Ted Schaffer announced last night that the provincial government will be supporting our community by:

  • Funding 30 temporary relief shelter spaces starting on September 26th until March 31st 2017 at the Salvation Army Gateway of Hope. These low-barrier spaces will be available from 7pm to 10am daily. There will be 3 meals a day, storage for one buggy, flexible curfew, availability to smoke throughout the night, and access to support staff and case planning.
  • Funding Stepping Stone Community Services Society for one additional temporary, full-time outreach worker to help people who are experiencing homelessness by connecting them with support services to get them off the street.

While this is a step forward, we will need to work with both the provincial and federal governments to ensure that we have enough permanent low-barrier, supportive housing in Langley, and the required support staff. Again, the majority of council spoke to the importance of this at last night’s meeting.

With low-barrier housing options in place, it may also allow the City to increase enforcement in our parks and public spaces. The City has created both a background information and FAQ document about homelessness in our community, including information about the recent court decision which allows anyone to camp in parks if low-barrier shelter space in not available.

Monday, September 19, 2016

TransLink’s new 10-year plan means major service improvements in the South of Fraser

The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation recently approved TransLink’s latest 10 year plan. This new 10 year plan is based on the Mayors’ Council 10-Year Vision which was originally proposed to be paid for by a 0.5% sale tax which voters rejected.

This summer, the federal government committed $370 million for transit capital funding in Metro Vancouver. The province government contributed $246 million, and TransLink committed $125 million by selling off assets.

While this capital funding is welcome news, it would not result in the desperately needed expansion of bus or rail service in our region.

Map of phase one transportation improvement. Select map to enlarge. Download PDF from TransLink's website.

In order to restart investing to improve transit service in our region, the Mayors’ Council and TransLink have split-up the original 10-year vision into three phases. Phase one, which was approved on Friday, includes the following transportation investments:

  • 28 new SkyTrain cars, 22 new Canada Line cars, 5 new West Coast Express cars, and a third SeaBus.
  • Expo Line and Canada Line station upgrades.
  • Planning and pre-construction work for Broadway and South of Fraser rapid transit
  • 40% of the bus service hour expansion and 35% of the rapid transit service hour expansion proposed in the original 10-year vision.
  • Increased funding for the major road network, walking, and cycling projects.
  • 5 new B-Lines, plus planning and design for 2 more B-Lines that will be implemented in phase 2.

The South of Fraser is in desperate need of increased transit service, and the largest share of expanded bus service in phase one will be within the South of Fraser.

Table of phase one region bus service expansion. Select table to enlarge.

The following infographic shows the investments proposed for the South of Fraser.

Phase one transportation improvements for the South of Fraser. Select infographic to enlarge. Download PDF from TransLink's website.

Some of the major highlights include a new Fraser Highway B-Line, and new transit service in South Surrey, Clayton, and Willougby.

To pay for the increased service proposed in phase one, there will be an additional 10 cent fare increase in mid-2017 along with normal inflationary fare increases. There will also be an additional on average $3 dollar annual property tax increase over-and-above the normal inflationary property tax increase. There will also be a new regional developer-paid fee for transportation which will be implemented by no later than 2020.

TransLink will be havinng a public consultation on the phase one plan, and you can find out more information at their new 10-year vision website.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Time to crack down on non-farm uses within the Agricultural Land Reserve

The best farmland in BC is located in the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver. These areas are also the most populated (and fastest growing) places in the province. The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) was created in the 1970s to protect this farmland from urbanisation.

The ALR has been successful in protecting farmland even in the face of provincial and local government pressures to develop it. While having land removed from the ALR is hard, people have found other creative ways to exploit the ALR for non-farming purposes.

I did extensive research on how the farming potential of the ALR was reduced between 2000 and 2009. I found that government was responsible for 75% of land removed from the ALR, or land within the ALR being used for transportation purposes. As an example, the South Fraser Perimeter Road removed the potential for 90 hectares of land that is still within the ALR from ever being farmed again.

As I posted about earlier this year, Metro Vancouver commissioned a study called “Farm Tax Class: Income Threshold Investigation.” It found that many people have built large-format estate houses on two to ten acre lots within the ALR. Because of a loophole in our provincial tax regulations, these people only have to produce $2,500 in revenue from “farming” to get a massive break on property tax.

From Metro Vancouver staff presentation on Encouraging Agricultural Production through Farm Property Tax Reform. Select image to enlarge.

These people basically get to build luxury estates and get a tax break which really isn’t in the spirit of the ALR.

The Metro Vancouver Regional Planning Committee at their most recent meeting looked at ways to close some of the loopholes in the property tax regulations to encourage agricultural production with the ALR.

Metro Vancouver staff have recommended the following be considered to encourage agricultural production and limit non-farm use within the ALR.

  1. Eliminate the 50% School Tax exemption for properties classed as residential (Class 1) in the ALR. This change would also apply to regional district, hospitals, Transit and other agency fees.
  2. Change the income threshold to achieve farm classification to a minimum of $3,500, regardless of farm size for the Metro Vancouver region, and ensure that the threshold is reassessed every five years and adjusted according to the rate of inflation; and
  3. Develop a two‐tier farm classification benefits system that allocates only some tax benefits to farms with an income threshold of $3,500, while providing the full package of tax benefits to the more productive farms with an income threshold at $10,000. This would create an incentive for farms to reach the higher income threshold. Determining the appropriate allocation of benefits for a two tier system requires consultation with the agricultural community and the agencies providing secondary benefits to properties with farm class.
  4. Adjust the method for valuing agricultural land not used for farming to discourage further non-farm development in the ALR. The adjustment could consider valuing agricultural land not used for farming as if it was located in the applicable zone within the Urban Containment Boundary. Implementing this recommendation requires additional policy analysis and consultation with local governments and must ensure that any reform stipulates that tax policy is not justification for removing land from the ALR.
  5. Encourage local governments and the Agricultural Land Commission to develop new protocols to enable BC Assessment to obtain timely information on changes in land use and new commercial business activities in the ALR to ensure an appropriate tax assessment of buildings and improvements.

The provincial government has complete control over the ALR and property tax regulations. While Metro Vancouver staff's recommendations make sense, I’m not confident that the provincial government will take action on these recommendations.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Lessons from Auckland: Public Toilets and Transit

If you’ve ever taken public transit in most Canadian cities, I’m sure you’ve had the experience of needing to use a washroom, but not being able to find one. It can make for a very unpleasant journey. For some people, such as those who are older, not having a washroom nearby can limit their ability to travel.

Canadian transit agencies tend to shy away from providing public toilets for their riders. In Metro Vancouver, West Coast Express train cars and the SeaBus terminals are the only locations that I’m aware of that TransLink provides public washrooms for its riders.

Being unable to keep vandalism under control and maintaining clean washrooms are often cited as reasons why public washrooms are not provided at public transit facilities.

When I went to Auckland, I noticed that there were public toilets everywhere. They even provided public toilets at both major rail and bus exchanges.

Public Washrooms at Auckland Transport's Albany Bus Exchange. Select image to enlarge.

Public Washrooms at Auckland Transport's Panmure Rail Station. Select image to enlarge.

I asked some of the people I know at Auckland Transport how they are able to keep a handle on keeping their public washrooms in a state of good repair and clean. I was told that in the not too distant past, they designed and maintained public washrooms like they were in prisons. Not surprisingly, people didn’t treat the facilities with respect.

They started designing higher-quality facilities, more in line with what you’d see at an airport or shopping mall. As a result, people started respecting the facilities more. I can personally asset to the quality of the public toilets that Auckland Transport maintains.

Auckland is a big city. Its public transit users come from all walks of life just like in Metro Vancouver. Auckland Transport's ability to provide clean, high-quality washrooms shows that it is possible to do. Having public toilets at transit stations actually improves the accessibility of the transit network as a whole, and is something that TransLink should consider.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

September 12, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: Combating Climate Change, City Services Usage, and Increased Rail Traffic thru Langley

During the month of August, there were no City of Langley council meetings. While there was no council meetings, it was still busy at city hall ensuring the success of events like the Cruise-In, and working towards reducing homelessness.

With September, council meetings have started up again. Yesterday night was the first meeting after more than a month, and the agenda was surprisingly light.

There were no delegations or development related items on last night’s agenda. The meeting started with an update from Councillor Rudy Storteboom about the Metro Vancouver regional district as he is a director on the district board. As there was no Metro Vancouver meetings in August, he did note that he attended a Climate Action Committee meeting last week. He said that the Government of Canada is having a public consultation around what actions to take around combating climate change. You can find out more information on the Government of Canada’s website. He also talked about BC's Climate Leadership Plan.

I asked Councillor Storteboom if Metro Vancouver has taken a position on the new provincial plan, and was told not as of yet. There is some concern about the plan as many believe it does too little, so it will be interesting to see what the region has to say about the plan.

Councillor Martin gave an update on Langley Tourism. 2015 was a record year for tourism in Langley with an 18% increase in hotel room occupancy. In the first half of this year, this grew another 8%. Martin noted that because many hotels are now fully book during the summer months, Tourism Langley is now working on launching a marketing campaign to promote people visiting Langley during the off-peak winter and spring seasons.

Next, Rick Bomhof who is the Director of Engineering, Parks and Environment gave an update on engineering activities in the City.

Putting decorative wraps around utility and traffic signal boxes helps reduce vandalism. The City is installing a new series of wraps which highlight various parks and public spaces.

Before the summer break, council voted to change all reverse back-in angle parking to front-in parking. The parking area near Glover Road and Fraser Highway has now been changed.

Within the floodplain, the City has finished reinforcement work around the banks of the Nicomekl River, and has also removed a beaver dam, relocating the beavers out of the region.

This City of Langley is installing wayfinding signage along our trail network, including in the floodplain. I asked how this work is coming along. I was told that work will be resuming within the next few weeks. Work within the floodplain has to be scheduled when it has no impact to salmon, and minimal impact to other sensitive species in the floodplain.

The Parks department has been busy with major restoration work in Sendall Gardens including a new boardwalk. The sports court in Douglas Park has also been restored. New ramps to improve access at Brydon Lagoon have been installed.

One of the most visible projects under construction right now is along the 203rd Street corridor. The City is also working on traffic calming near Simonds Elementary School.

The City is replacing a water main on 51 Avenue east of 208th Street.

Kim Hilton, Director of Recreation, Culture and Community Services, provided an update for the services within her purview. This year, the City of Langley will be supporting some 65 events in our community and 18 free family-friendly activities in our parks. These events include the McBurney Plaza Summer Series, Community Day, Tri-It Triathlon, and Langley Walk to name a few.

The programs that the City provides are well-used by people in our community. Langley City has the lowest household incomes in the region of any municipality, and the recreation and community services we provide are a lifeline to many.

For example, 1,970 young people were enrolled in our summer camp program at Douglas Park Recreation Centre this summer.

Year-to-date, 45,987 drop-in visits have been made to Timms Community Centre in the first six months of this year. The games room and walking track are the most popular opportunities provided at Timms.

After the various updates, council gave first, second, and third reading to bylaws 2991 and 3001. These were housekeeping bylaws. The solid waste (garbage, recycling, organics) bylaw wasn’t updated since 1994. One of major changes is the addition of language to prevent people from putting recyclables or organics into garbage whether or not they have private collection service. The Municipal Ticket Information System Bylaw was updated to reflect these changes.

The final item that council addressed was to approve a letter to be sent to the federal Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, and our MLA and MP regarding the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project. This container terminal expansion will have a major impact for the City of Langley as the amount of trains going through our community could more than double to about 40 trains per day.

As I noted earlier, Fraser Highway and 200th Street would basically be at a standstill if there is no grade separation between rail and other traffic.

Councillor Albrecht said that the letter should not only call for the Port to mitigate the impacts from increased container traffic going through our community, but also address the increase in GHG emissions as a result. I agreed, and also asked that the letter request that the scope of the environmental assessment include our community. Councillor Storteboom also noted that we should ask that the regional environmental impacts as a result of the proposed expansion be mitigated.

There is a high likelihood that this letter will fall on deaf ears, but it is important that as a council we express our desire to see the negative impacts from port expansion mitigated in our community, and throughout the rest of the region.

Monday, September 12, 2016

My Health My Community results show that Langley City is a walking city

Earlier this year, I posted about My Health My Community which is a comprehensive survey that looks at lifestyle and health outcome indicators for people in Metro Vancouver. My Health My Community is a partnership between Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, Fraser Health Authority, and the eHealth Strategy Office at UBC.

Earlier this spring, I posted about information they compiled which showed that people who walk more have lower body mass which improves health outcomes. Land-use and how people get around is linked, so it should come as no surprise that communities which are designed to be walkable, have more people that walk to get around.

In the summer, I posted infographics on general health indicators for Langley that Fraser Health prepared. My Health My Community has now put together neighbourhood-level health indicator profiles.

Built Environment Neighbourhood Health Indicators - Langley City. Select table to enlarge.

Langley City is a walking city. Some 20.9% of people walk or cycle —active transportation— as part of their commute. 8.9% use public transit. Within Metro Vancouver, the average for people that use active transportation is 13.7%. In the Township of Langley, it is even lower at 8.7%.

When it comes to active transportation and commuting, the City of Langley is similar to the City of Vancouver where 25.7% of people use active transportation as part of their commute.

In the City of Langley, 20.2% of people use active transpiration as the primary way to run errands. This is higher than the regional average. In the Township of Langley, only 6.6% use active transportation when running errands.

When I was elected, I committed to doing what I can to improve the walkability of City of Langley. This means not only ensuring that we have safe active transportation infrastructure, but it also means ensuring that new development projects in the City of Langley contribute to increasing the walkability of our community.

As an example, building a drive-thru in Downtown Langley erodes the walkable of Langley City while building a project which includes street-side storefronts that connect directly to a sidewalk increases walkability.

Visit the My Health My Community website to view the full set of neighbourhood profiles.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The South of Fraser leads the region in bus ridership growth

TransLink released its annual transit service performance review yesterday. Unlike previous year’s reviews which only contained performance information on the bus network, this year’s review also includes SkyTrain, West Coast Express, and SeaBus performance information as well.

When it comes to investment in bus service hours, the South of Fraser has received the highest percent increase over the last 4 years with three percent growth. North Shore communities saw the second highest bus service hour growth at two percent.

Interestingly enough, the investment of additional service hours into the North Shore hasn’t resulted in an overall increase in bus ridership in that sub-region over the last 4 years.

Bus Service Performance by Sub-Region, 2011 - 2015. Select table to enlarge.

In the South of Fraser, transit ridership has grown 4 percent over the same period of years. In South Delta (Ladner/Tsawwassen) ridership has grown even faster with a 5% increase over the last 4 years. There is clearly a high demand for transit service in the South of Fraser. Because of limited funding for transit regionally, TransLink is unable to keep up with the demand for more transit service.

The following map shows the five busiest bus routes in each sub-region, and includes annual boarding values for each of those routes. This map is interesting because it shows were the core transit network is.

2015 Bus Boardings: Map of Top 5 Routes by Sub-Region. Select map to enlarge.

While 50% of the top 10 most over-crowed routes are in Vancouver, the 502 which runs along Fraser Highway and 319 which runs along Scott Road are also some of the top 10 most over-crowed routes for the entire region.

Over the years, TransLink has increased the amount of service hours on the 502 and recently created the 503, but demand for more transit service remains high along that corridor.

I take the 503 Aldergrove Express somewhat regularly, but I found anecdotally that its on-time performance is poor. As it turns out, the 503 is in the top 10 list for routes with the lowest on-time performance.

The 555 Carvolth/Loughead Station Express continues to perform well since its introduction in 2013. Unlike the money loosing Port Mann Bridge which the route travels across. Ridership has ballooned from 565,000 boardings in 2013 to 868,000 in 2015. The cost per boarded passenger was only $1.53 in 2015.

The 96 B-Line which runs along King George Boulevard and 104th Avenue which was also introduced in 2013 has seen its ridership grow from 2.9 million boardings in 2013 to 3.7 million in 2015.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Lessons from Auckland: Tapping in and out when using buses actually works.

I was in New Zealand at the end of August. During my time there, I had the pleasure of having Darren Davis of Auckland Transport give me a tour of Auckland. The tour focused on the region’s transportation network, land-use, and their interactions. Over the next little while, I will be sharing my observations from New Zealand and how they could be applied in Metro Vancouver.

Auckland is New Zealand’s largest region, and its largest city. Auckland used to consist of seven municipalities and a regional authority, sort of like the structure of Metro Vancouver. The national government decided to collapse the municipalities and regional authority several years ago into what is now Auckland Council.

Auckland Transport is like a super-charged TransLink. The agency is responsible for the whole transportation network in the region from sidewalks and local roads, to public transit. State highways are controlled by the national government. Auckland Transport is arms-length like TransLink with its directors appointed by Auckland Council and the national government. With these similarity, there are some best practices in Auckland that could be applied in our region.

One of the first things that I was curious about was their HOP card system. The HOP card is like the Compass Card.

Auckland Transport has a zone-based fare system. It also requires that people tap in and tap off when using buses, trains, and ferries.

If you recall, TransLink was having issues with people not tapping off the bus correctly and/or forgetting to tap off. They ended up scrapping zones and tapping off on buses to launch the system.

In Auckland, the HOP card readers are slower than the Compass Card readers on buses. Auckland Transport still insists that people tap on and tap off. They also created some highly visible reminds.

Auckland Transport HOP card reader. Remember to Tag Off. Select image to enlarge.

Auckland Transport “Please Tag Off” notice on bus door. Select impact to enlarge.

Another example of an Auckland Transport HOP card reader.

This never happened in Metro Vancouver. TransLink was very cautious and sensitive to rider's initial challenges when it launched the Compass Card system. If people forget to tap off in Auckland, they get charged the maximum fare. New Zealanders don’t like mucking around, and I was told that if you forget to tap off, you’ll learn your lesson for next time.

Darren did note that for busy bus routes like the 99 B-Line, off-bus readers would be needed at busy stops. Here is an example of an off-bus reader which allows people to tap on before boarding buses in Seattle.

Tap your ORCA Card at the curb before boarding a bus in Seattle. Select image to enlarge.

Auckland Transport's slower HOP card system shows that it is possible to have people tap on and off when using buses. It just takes some training, maybe a lessons learned, and a good amount of reminders.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Major changes to bus routes in Langley as of yesterday

With Labour Day also comes changes to transit service in Metro Vancouver. In Langley, there were significant changes made to the transit network.

If you look at the following map from 1988, you’ll see that in Langley there has been very little change to the coverage of the transit network even though the population has dramatically shifted and grown.

1988 Bus Route Map of Langley

Over the past several years, TransLink has been busy optimizing the transit network by removing service were there wasn’t demand, reinvesting that service into other areas where there is demand.

Because of how transit service was designed back in the 1980s with a focus on coverage instead of frequency, there were sections of the 502 and 501/590 routes that were only serviced a handful of times per day. Because of this irregular service, ridership along most of these sections were poor.

TransLink recently deleted the limited-service Salmon River section of the 502, and as of yesterday also deleted the limited-service Brookswood section of the 502.

Also as of yesterday, TransLink merged the 501 and 590, and deleted all afternoon trips past Langley Centre from the route. TransLink kept the 501/590 Langley South morning trips for a trail period. My concern is that because the City of Langley is currently rebuilding 203rd Street from Grade Crescent to Michaud Crescent, ridership numbers during the trail might be lower than normal.

To improve access for people in Brookswood, TransLink has also added extra early morning trips to the 531 which will now go to Langley Centre as well.

The 531 now goes through Langley Centre. Select map to enlarge.

While these changes will negatively impact some transit customer (I will no longer be able to catch the 502 directly outside my apartment), these changes make sense and will actually result in a overall improvement in transit service in Langley.

The new route for the 595 along 208th Street. Select map to enlarge.

A major improvement in transit service is available to residents in Willoughby and sections of Walnut Grove with the 595 now moving from 200th Street to 208th Street. This simple change will result in transit service now being available to one of the fastest growing corridors in Metro Vancouver.

I just got back from New Zealand where they are doing a wholesale change to the transit networks in both Auckland and Wellington, their largest regions, due to decades of neglect. Having an agency that is constantly evaluating and tweaking the transit network to perform its best is a good thing.