Monday, June 26, 2017

Air quality in Metro Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley airshed generally improving

Whether you live in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, or Whatcom County, we all breathe the same air. In fact, these areas are all in the same airshed which means that actions that cause air pollution in one area impacts all areas; air pollution doesn’t respect political borders.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District is responsible for air pollution control and air quality management in our region. This is different than other parts of the province where management of air quality is the direct responsibility of the provincial government.

Metro Vancouver recently released its annual “Caring for the Air” report. For the most part, air quality is improving in our region. There are two broad categories of air pollution that the report exams, fine particulate matter and gas-phase air pollutants. Fine particulate matter is bad news because it is linked to cardiovascular and respiratory illness, and as stated by Health Canada “mortality and morbidity endpoints.”

The following map shows the 24-hour average for fine particulate matter in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley in 2016. In 2016, Metro Vancouver air quality objects were exceeded in Mission for one day, and at Abbotsford Airport on a separate day, though both occurrences happened in the spring.

2016 24-hour average of fine particulate matter. Select map to enlarge.

The following three maps show the 24-hour averages for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ground-level ozone in 2016.

2016 24-hour average of sulphur dioxide in air. Select map to enlarge.

2016 24-hour average of nitrogen dioxide ozone in air. Select map to enlarge.

2016 24-hour average of ground-level ozone. Select map to enlarge.

As seen in the following graph, levels of gas-phase air pollutants have been generally declining in our region. Sulphur dioxide in the air has reduced significantly due to stricter requirements by the Canadian and US federal governments, and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, to use low-sulphur marine fuel.

10-year trend in gas-phase air pollutants in Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley. Select graph to enlarge.

Unfortunately, average ground-level ozone is increasing. Ground-level ozone levels are also higher on average the further you go up the Fraser Valley. Metro Vancouver attributes this increase in ground-level ozone partly to “increase in ozone formed outside Canada coming into our region.” Metro Vancouver is currently developing a plan to reduce ground-level ozone. Ground level ozone is linked with increased hospital admissions, increased asthma symptom, and decreased productivity of farming according to Environment Canada.

For more information about air quality and Metro Vancouver’s role in managing pollutants in the air we breathe, please check out their full report.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Results of public feedback on transit fare review: distance-based fare for rail, flat fare for bus

Our current system of how we pay for our transportation network in Metro Vancouver is under review. There are problems with our current transportation system in our region such as regional inequity, increasing traffic congestion, over-crowding on buses and trains, and continuing reduction in our ability to support transportation investment with current revenue options. Changing how we pay for the transportation system can resolve these problems.

The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation has recently setup a Mobility Pricing Independent Commission to make recommendations on ways to improve how we pay for using roads and bridges in our region. At the same time, TransLink is undergoing a transit fare review.

The most effective system for roads, bridges, and transit would be a full user-pay, distance-based pricing system. The likely results of both the Mayors’ Council road pricing review and the TransLink fare review will be a system with some user-pay, distance-based fee elements, user-pay, flat fee elements, and taxation elements.

TransLink recently completed a report of public feedback for different fare options for transit.

Level of support for various bus service fare options. Select table to enlarge.

Level of support for various rail service fare options. Select table to enlarge.

Level of support for fares based on service type. Select table to enlarge.

For bus service, the strongest support was for keeping the current flat fare system. For rail service, the strongest support was for moving away from the zone-based fare system, and moving to a distance-based fare system. Keeping a premium pricing structure for West Coast Express also received the strongest level of support.

It was interesting that there wasn’t strong support for different fares for some types of transit services in the pubic feedback as people seemed to most support a flat fare model for buses, distance-based fare model for SkyTrain, and distance-based, premium fare model for West Coast Express. This certainly seems like a system with fares that differ for some service types.

Level of support for various time-of-day fare options. Select table to enlarge.

Back in the BC Transit era in Metro Vancouver, zoned-based fares were only charged during peak travel periods on transit. There was strong support for moving back to a system where you pay more during peak travel periods, and less during off peak periods.

Based on public feedback, TransLink will be working to develop a short-list of options for a new fare system for transit which should be made available later this year. The final recommendation for a fare system will be done in 2018.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A first look at Surrey LRT, public feedback wanted

With the federal government now committed to investing billions of dollars into public transit infrastructure, and with all provincial parties now clamouring in support of transit investment, planning for the imminent construction of light rail in Surrey is once again moving forward.

Earlier this week, TransLink released new information about the Surrey-Newton-Guildford light rail project, and is seeking feedback on their LRT vision. As part of seeking public feedback, TransLink has posted new information, drawings, and renderings of what LRT could look like in Surrey.

One of the big changes that light rail will bring, besides faster and higher-capacity transit service, is a complete resign of King George Boulevard and 104 Avenue.

The following drawing shows what 104 Avenue may look like. 104 could be transformed from a four-lane, auto-oriented corridor, to an multi-modal corridor with reduced vehicle travel lanes, protected bike lanes, sidewalks, and of course light rail.

Illustrative example of 104 Avenue east of 114 Street. Select image to enlarge.

King George Boulevard could be transformed from a four- to six-lane highway into a real multi-modal boulevard with street trees, reduced vehicle travel lanes, protected bike lanes, and sidewalks with light rail running down the middle of the corridor.

Illustrative example of King George Boulevard and 76 Avenue. Select image to enlarge.

Compared to SkyTrain stations, the proposed light rail stations will be streamlined. The following is an example of a typical light rail station as is currently being proposed.

Proposed typical cross-section of Surrey LRT station. Select image to enlarge.

Because light rail stations are at street level, there will always be clear sight-lines between the street and the stations which will enhance the safety of people at the stations, and surrounding businesses and residents, due to “eyes and ears” on the street.

The information posted also shows how current signalized intersections will operate with LRT, including the introduction of legal U-turns at certain major intersections as minor intersections along King George and 104 will be transformed into right-in, right-out only intersections.

The following rendering shows how light rail could integrate with Surrey Central SkyTrain station.

A rendering of proposed integration between SkyTrain and light rail at Surrey Central. Select rendering to enlarge.

To complete an online survey to share your views, or to find out more information about upcoming open houses, please visit TransLink’s Surrey LRT Project page.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Looking at TransLink revenue and the Compass Card effect, one year after fare gate closure

Last night, Global News posted and aired a story about TransLink’s increased revenue and reduced fare evasion since the closing of the fare gates and retirement of older fare products last year. You can watch the video by select the image below.

Earlier this year, I posted on TransLink’s revenue, and the impact from Compass Card fare products and the closure of the fare gates. I found that the closure of the fare gates seemed to have resulted in an increase in cash-like revenue to the tune of $10 million and a similar spike for DayPass fare products in 2016. For a detailed breakdown, please select the table and graphs below.

A detailed breakdown of TransLink's fare produce revenue between 2014 and 2016. Download the full document.

As I also noted at the time, the Compass Card system cost $8.4 million to operate and $2.8 million to maintain in 2016. The amortized yearly capital cost of the Compass Card and fare gate system over 20-years is $9.3 million. For 2016, that works out to about $20 million for capital and on-going costs.

The Compass Card and fare gate system has had a positive impact on revenue, customer convenience, and data, but it hasn’t produced a windfall profit for TransLink.

One of the things I talked about in the story is that the Compass Card system helps keep bus passengers honest too. Besides ensuring that people pay the correct fare every time, as I pointed out in the news story, “people see people tapping and when you don’t, there’s a community thing where: ‘Oh, you’re one of those cheats’.” Most people don't want to be singled out as a cheat.

Monday, June 19, 2017

An update on the Langley City Crime Prevention Task Group

Last Thursday was the second meeting of the Langley City’s Crime Prevention Task Group. Task group members are from the general-public, Langley City, RCMP, Downtown Langley Business Association, and Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.

You can review my notes on the first meeting by reading a previous post; at the first meeting, we discussed the task group’s mandates, and our work plan to meet the mandates. The eight mandate items are as follows:

  1. Promote a CPTED review at geographic areas where there are high levels of crime. This could be on private properties or City facilities and parks.
  2. Allocating adequate budget to implement the CPTED recommendations [on City property, facilities, and parks.]
  3. Partnering with the Downtown Langley Business Association and Chamber of Commerce to introduce an incentive program for property owners to implement crime prevention initiatives including CPTED.
  4. Implementing a communication strategy that send the signal that City facilities and parks are monitored and that criminal behaviour is not tolerated.
  5. Increase RCMP foot and bike patrol in the downtown core and at crime hot spots.
  6. Increase police presence at geographic areas where there are high levels of crime.
  7. Promote and support Crime Watch in residential neighbourhoods.
  8. Promote and support Business Watch in commercial and industrial areas.

The RCMP already have programs in place to target geographic areas where there are high levels of crime, and increase “on the street” presence including bike patrols. The task group felt that these items were already covered by the RCMP, and decided to mark these two mandate items as complete.

One of the keys to ensuring the success of these RCMP programs is to report all crime or suspicious behaviour. Due to this, task group members felt that encouraging the reporting of all negative activity to the RCMP is critically important. As a result, one of the action items for the task group will be to find the most effective way to promote the reporting of all crime.

Another of the mandates of the group is to promote CPTED reviews. These reviews are done as a free service by the RCMP to advise businesses and residents on how their building’s design, lighting, and landscaping can be modified to reduce negative activity. The task group will be working on how to encourage building owners to take part in these reviews, and implement the recommendations of the reviews.

Finally, the task group will be focusing on how to reinvigorate the Block Watch and Business Watch programs.

With the second Crime Prevention Task Group meeting complete, and general action items agreed upon by members, the task group will now be getting to work to fill in the details of the action items to help prevent crime in our community.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

June 12, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Part 3, New Five-Year Strategic Plan Approved


On Monday night, Council approved the new 5-year strategic plan for Langley City. This plan will help guide council and staff over the next five years. One of the overriding goals of the City is to provide “Full Circle Customer Service.” This means providing exceptional customer service based on: showing courtesy and respect, being clear and accurate, being accountable, providing a timely response, and following up with people.

The key areas that the City will be focusing on over the next five years are shown below. I’ve also shown some of the key initiatives within each of the areas.

  1. Infrastructure Renewal
    • Develop an asset management policy to establish the organization’s commitment to asset management with stable, long-term funding for the operation, maintenance, renewal, replacement or decommissioning of municipal assets.
    • Enhance the multi-modal transportation network within the community and to encourage greater pedestrian and cyclist use as per the Master Transportation Plan.
    • Explore the feasibility and conduct a business case analysis for a municipal fiber-optic utility program.
  2. Quality of Life
    • Develop a community events and festivals strategy.
    • Support community pride and civic engagement programs to promote neighbourhood identity and image.
    • Update Affordable Housing Strategy.
    • Explore the feasibility of developing a Performing Arts Centre in partnership with other levels of government, philanthropists, private and service organizations, and other stakeholders.
  3. Communication
    • Conduct a Community Survey tri-annually.
    • Develop a Civic Engagement Plan to improve the levels of engagement and communication with our citizens, businesses and stakeholders.
    • Hold regular neighbourhood meetings and other forums, for City Council to communicate and interact directly with residents.
  4. Revitalization
    • Support and actively participate in shaping a vibrant, safe and clean downtown.
    • Access feasibility to create a hub for innovation, education, technology, health, and entertainment.
    • Collaborate with property owners interested in improving their streets through local improvement areas and seek senior government levels of funding where possible.
  5. Environment
    • Develop an invasive species inventory and management strategy.
    • Update Tree Inventory and Develop a Tree Asset Management Plan.
    • Develop an Urban Forest Management Strategy.
  6. Protective Services
    • Implement the strategies from the Homelessness Strategic Plan.
    • Implement the strategies from the Crime Prevention Plan.
    • Create a multi-departmental Core Enforcement Team to address public safety and homelessness issues.
  7. Organization Excellence
    • Maintain our results-oriented work force that possesses a ‘can do’ attitude.
    • Deliver efficient and effective services and programs by performing regular reviews to ensure services remain efficient and reflect what the community wants.
    • Develop mechanisms to promote, and indicators to measure, an engaged, safe, innovative, and involved workforce.

One of the important parts of this new plan is that it clearly outlines which City department(s) will be leading the initiatives, and when they are expected to be completed. A plan is only a paperweight if it isn’t acted upon, and progress monitored. This plan will have performance metrics to ensure that progress is made. These metrics will be expanded to include all of the City’s master plans as well.

For more information about the new five-year strategic plan, and to view all the initiatives, please visit the City’s website.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

June 12, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Part 2, Policing, Parks, Projects, and Crime Prevention

On Monday night, Langley City council received an update on the various projects that are being working on in our community. Some of the major projects under construction, or just recently completed construction, include:

  • Linwood Park playground expansion which includes a new “zip” line
  • New pedestrian crossing at Fraser Highway and Old Yale Road to enhance access to the Derek Doubleday Arboretum
  • Boulevard maintenance throughout the City
  • Penzer Action Park construction nearing completion
  • New “Langley City” highway direction signage along Highway 1 and Glover Road
  • Waterpark expansion at City Park
  • Hunter Park restoration in progress
  • New Portage Park picnic shelter
  • New Douglas Park outdoor fitness equipment
  • 56 Avenue project in progress
  • Newlands Drive – 210 Street storm sewer and watermain replacement project

This is a very busy construction year in the City.

A slide from the City's Engineering Update about the Linwood Park playground expansion. Select image to enlarge.

An example of the new “Langley City” direction signs on Highway 1. Select image to enlarge.

On the topic of Penzer, there will be grand opening celebrations all day on June 29. At Penzer, there will be a parkour expert helping people try and learn the new action park amenities. There will be other activities as well for people of all ages. On the same day as the grand opening, there will be a School’s Out Party at Al Anderson Memorial Pool. This will be a busy day of activity.

As a reminder, the Community Day Festival is coming up this Saturday. For more information, please check out the City’s website.

One of the key focus areas for Langley City is community safety. This is why we have the highest policing to resident ratio in Metro Vancouver, and as I noted on Monday, invest more into protective services as a total percentage of expenditures than any other community in the region.

I have the honour of chairing the City’s citizen-lead “Develop a Sustainable Program to Deter Crime and Target ‘Crime’ Hot Spots Task Group.” As I noted earlier, we meet for the first time a month ago.

Council approved the first set of recommendations from the task group on Monday night. The first recommendation was to rename the task group to the “Crime Prevention Task Group”. The second recommendation was to change one of the task group’s mandated goals to promoting the already existing RCMP program that provides Crime Prevention Through Environment Design reviews for businesses and residents.

On the topic of policing, the federal government provides police services in our community, though the City covers 90% of the costs. Because provincial and municipal policing is contracted to the RCMP, the feds want to know if we plan on changing the number of RCMP members.

Council approved sending a letter of approval to the federal government letting them know that we plan on maintaining our current RCMP member strength at 51.35 members. Because of labour cost increases, this will result in a 3% increase in our policing budget, and require a 1% increase in property tax revenue next year.

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting on the City’s new five-year strategic plan which was approved on Monday night.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

June 12, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Part 1, Traffic Calming moving forward near Conder Park, Brydon Park, and along 198th Street

Last night’s Langley City council meeting saw traffic calming receive approval by council along several roads in our community. As I’ve posted about earlier, council budgeted $400,000 to add traffic calming measures in three areas of the community. City staff send out ballots to residents in areas where traffic calming was being proposed to ensure that there is majority support. The results where that in all areas balloted, 80% or more of people wanted to see traffic calming.

In May, the City hosted open houses to get community feedback on potential traffic calming options for both the area around Conder Park and Brydon Park. Based on the feedback from the community, staff recommended traffic calming above and beyond what was presented.

For the area around Conder Park, the following option will be implemented:

Approved traffic calming around Conder Park. Select image to enlarge.

Council also voted to move forward with the following additional traffic calming measures: up to three speed humps on 197B Street, and up to five speed humps on 50A Avenue.

Staff also proposed five additional speed humps on 50 Avenue to the west of Conder Park, a fence along the frontage of Conder Park, and a pedestrian activated rapid flashing beacons at the 198B Street crosswalk. Council referred these additional traffic calming measures back to staff for more information about the type of fencing being proposed for the park, and to see if we could get funding from a partner such as ICBC for the pedestrian activated flashing beacons.

For the area around Brydon Park, the following option will be implemented:

Approved traffic calming along 198th Street. Select image to enlarge.

In addition, Council voted to move forward with curb extensions at the intersection of 198 Street and 53 Avenue, and a fence along the 198 Street frontage of Brydon Park. This is similar to the following:

Example of road narrowing approved for by Brydon Park. Select image to enlarge.

Staff also recommended up to four speed humps on 53 Avenue east of 198 Street, and a raised crosswalk at the entrance to Brydon Lagoon. Council referred these additional traffic calming measures back to staff to make sure that the traffic calming proposed would be compatible with the new bike lane infrastructure which we received provincial funding for in March of this year.

Giving the choice between road narrowing, other traffic calming measures, or speed humps, I prefer the former two. Road narrowing ensures that the majority of people slow down for the entire length of the narrowed road. With speed humps, people tend to slow down as they approach a hump, then speed up to the next hump, only to repeat the same pattern. That being said, speed humps are quicker to implement, and are a good interim solution until road narrowing and other multi-modal measures can be implemented along a corridor.

Traffic calming is still in the works for the area around Linwood Park, and a public open house will be scheduled to present the options for feedback.

Tomorrow, I will be posting about other items covered at last night’s council meeting.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Visualizing local government expenses in Metro Vancouver: policing, fire, and parks top the list

Last year, I explored how Langley City compared to other municipalities when it comes to operating expenses. I used absolute dollars based on the latest information from the BC Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development.

While this information provided some insight, there is a better way to represent this information that is easier to visualize and can encompass all municipalities in Metro Vancouver.

The following treemap shows the percentage of total operating expenses by type of service provided in each municipality in our region. The treemap contains services that are common to most municipalities in Metro Vancouver. Services that are only provided by some municipalities are not included for readability. Because of this, the size of each municipality’s square has meaning. The select services do not add to up 100%.

For example, New Westminster has an electrical utility. Because the sizable utility is not included in the treemap, the square for New Westminster is smaller to reflect that.

Treemap of percentage of total 2015 operating expenses by type of service provided in each municipality in Metro Vancouver. Select treemap to enlarge. Source: BC Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development

Anmore, Belcarra, Bowen Island, and Lions Bay are smaller communities. Because of their size, the provincial government covers 100% of policing costs. Unlike other municipality in the region, each of these communities’ service profiles are unique.

For all other municipalities in Metro Vancouver, protective services are by far the largest expenses. These services account for between 21% and 38% of total operating expenses. Langley City invests more into protective services as a total of all operating expenses than any other municipality in the region. Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services is the second largest area where municipalities in Metro Vancouver invest.

One of the things that stands out is how similar municipalities in our region are when it comes to where they choose to invest. Policing and fire services are somewhat fixed costs in our region. What is most interesting to me is the across-the-board levels of investment for Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services. Providing great public spaces, and access to libraries, arts, and recreation opportunities is clearly an important value for people in our region.

The following is a legend for the treemap:

General
Administrative, legislative, financial, human resources, and information technology operating expenses.

Protection
Police, fire, bylaw, and other protective services operating expenses.

SW
Recycling, garbage, and organics collection/disposal operating expenses.

DS
Land-use planning, business licensing, economic development, and other development services operating expenses.

Transport
Roads, sidewalks, street lighting, parking, and other transportation operating expenses.

PRC
Parks, recreations, library and other cultural operating expense.

Water
Water services operating expenses.

Sewer
Sewer services operating expenses.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Who will pick up the tab to replace the Pattullo Bridge? The old bridge will be closed to traffic by 2023

Many bridges in Metro Vancouver have been replaced over the last few decades, and I’ve questioned many of the business cases for these replacement programs. That being said, I believe there are two bridges that need to be replaced: the Pattullo Bridge and the Fraser River Rail Bridge beside it.

Both these bridges are well beyond their engineered life. The regionally-owned Pattullo Bridge is on life-support. TransLink is doing what it can to keep the bridge open to traffic, and is currently spending $55 million to keep the bridge deck from crumbling into the Fraser River.

These repairs are temporary. The Pattullo Bridge will be closed by 2023 or sooner if determined by inspectors. Due to the time it takes to build a new bridge, if construction hasn’t started in the spring of 2019 on its replacement, there is a high probability that there will be a period of time where people will simply have to use the Alex Fraser or Port Mann if they need to drive between New Westminster and Surrey. There will be no Pattullo Bridge option.

The Mayors’ Council recently released the following timeline which must be adhered to ensure that there will always be a road bridge between New Westminster and Surrey.

Timeline for replacing the Pattullo Bridge to ensure continuous road access between New Westminster and Surrey. Select timeline to enlarge.

For this timeline to work, funding must be secured by the fall of this year. With the possible change in government, this brings up an interesting questions about how it will be funded.

Before election day, the provincial government committed to funding one-third of the capital costs of the bridge replacement. The federal government could provide additional capital funding through their new Canadian Infrastructure Bank, and other programs. The remaining capital funding and on-going operational funding was to be paid for by tolls.

The apparent government in waiting has promised to eliminate tolls which will also remove the major funding source for this replacement project.

In the future, our region could move to comprehensive mobility pricing, but in the meantime that funding hole will need to be plugged. During the election campaign, the NDP promised to address the funding shortfall. I hope they stick to that commitment.

It appears that the mayors are also willing to use property tax to temporarily plug the funding shortfall, but that is risky. Most things that are temporary end up being permanent. If property tax is used to fund the Pattullo Bridge that could leave less money available for other major road network projects in our region.

The Pattullo Bridge is going to be replaced. I just hope that the provincial government works with the region to ensure that property tax isn’t used as the final solution for funding it. Otherwise, property tax will need to increase to pay for other regional road projects, or those other road projects will need to be deferred.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Langley City (sort of) the most affordable community in the Lower Mainland

Vancity recently released a new report called “Home Stretch: Comparing housing affordability in B.C.’s hottest markets.” The report looked at housing affordability in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, and the Capital Regional (Victoria).

Langley City made the top of the list as the most affordable community based on median housing price of all three regions, but this might not be a fair metric.

Langley City is 10 square kilometres, and is in redevelopment mode. The north half of our community has been zoned for higher-density housing such as apartments, row houses, and townhouses for some time. Between 2001 and 2016, the number of single-family households has shrunk from 3,115 to 2,740. The amount of households living in townhouses, row houses, and apartments has increased from 6,980 to 9,095. As of 2016, only 23% of Langley City households live in single-family housing. For more information, please read my previous post of the topic.

Because such a high percentage of our housing stock is apartments, it lowers the median price dramatically. A look at Appendix 1 of the Vancity report tells a slightly different story. This appendix breaks out housing based on type: appartments, attached (townhouses/row houses), and detached.

Median price of apartments in Lower Mainland and Capital Region, 2016-2017. Select chart to enlarge.

Median price of attached housing in Lower Mainland and Capital Region, 2016-2017. Select chart to enlarge.

Median price of detached housing in Lower Mainland and Capital Region, 2016-2017. Select chart to enlarge.

In February 2017, Langley City had the least costly attached and apartment housing prices in Metro Vancouver. Other communities in the Fraser Valley and Capital Region had lower prices. Langley City had the second least-costly detached housing prices in Metro Vancouver.

The Vancity report uses “Gross Debt Service Ratio” to determine affordability based on the median income of each region, not each community. Langley City has the lowest household income levels in Metro Vancouver outside of Electoral Area A. For people who live in Langley City, housing is actually less affordable than the Vancity report would indicate.

Langley City staff and council have worked hard to ensure that we are doing our part to facilitate higher-density redevelopment. Our community has the fastest processing time in Metro Vancouver for new housing projects. We have also zoned for higher-density housing. From the municipal end, we are doing our part to enable new housing supply, but affordability in our community is still slipping as noted in the Vancity report.

Other communities in our region may need to evaluate their processing time and zoning to ensure the construction of more townhouses, row houses, and apartments, but that is only one part of the affordable housing story. As suggested in the Vancity report, the provincial and federal governments need to invest in programs such as building more co-op housing to provide long-lasting affordable housing for people at all income levels in Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley, and the Capital Region.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A plan for road pricing in Metro Vancouver

Today, the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation will be announcing members of its new independent road pricing commission to propose a solution to manage congestion, maximize fairness, and fund transit and road improvements in Metro Vancouver.

Commission members will be “eminent and [politically] unaffiliated local citizens and community leaders, and represent the socioeconomic, demographic, and geographic diversity in Metro Vancouver.” The commission’s mandate will include extensive outreach to people living in the region. Its recommendations will be due in 2018.

Historically, the provincial government has been cool to changing how transportation is funded in Metro Vancouver. With the results of this recent election, there seems to be renewed interest in finding a fair and equitable way to reduce congestion and pay for much needed transportation improvements in our region at the provincial level.

A friend of mine, Lee Haber, recently finished his master thesis called “For Whom the Road Tolls.” In his thesis, he proposes a regional, distance-based road pricing system for Metro Vancouver. He calls this Full-User-Pay (FUP) road pricing.

Haber’s proposal would replace fuel tax and bridge tolls, and reduce municipal property tax. Instead, people would be charged a per kilometre fee for using the road network. The fee would be different depending on the type of vehicle and mode of travel used. This per kilometre charge would capture the costs of building and maintaining the transportation network, air pollution, noise pollution, water pollution, and congestion.

Proposed FUP road pricing per kilometre charge by vehicle/mode as proposed by Haber. Select image to enlarge.

For FUP road pricing to work, a GPS tracking system would likely be needed to enable charging people for the distance and time they travel on the road network. For transit, TransLink already has the technology in place to charge distance-based fares. Because GPS tracking would be needed for a FUP road pricing system, a comprehensive privacy review would need to be completed to ensure that the system could not be used to spy on people.

Road pricing has been shown to reduce congestion, even in its simplest form as a toll. For example, traffic volumes plummeted on the Port Mann when tolling was introduced. The congestion cutting benefit of FUP road pricing is significant. Haber found that there would be a large savings for people no matter the mode they use if FUP was implemented in Metro Vancouver.

The net benefit of a FUP road pricing system by municipality in Metro Vancouver. Select chart to enlarge.

It would also benefit people in all parts of Metro Vancouver. Because of the congestion reducing benefit of FUP road pricing, people in the South of Fraser would see more benefit than people in Vancouver.

The current system of how we pay for using our transportation network is broken in Metro Vancouver. I look forward to seeing the results of the Mayors’ Council Independent Road Pricing Commission. The big question is will the provincial government implement the recommendations of this commission.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Stop talking about “beg buttons”, and start talking about poor street geometry

If you’ve ever walked in a community in North America, you’ve had to push a button at a signalized intersection to activate the pedestrian signal to cross a street. In urbanist circles, the term in vogue for this request device is the “beg button.” In recent years to many in the urbanist community, this lowly button has become public enemy number one as the preventer of walkability.

A "beg button" in Langley City. Select image to enlarge.

A quick search of “beg button” on the Internet yields many pages on the perils of this device. Recently, the furor to remove the evil button by urbanist has increased. I understand why many people now rail against this button, but the button is only a symptom. The “beg button” isn’t the problem, it is the design of our streets.

In my community, most of the signalized intersections are on-demand activated. If you walk, you push a button. If you drive, an inductive loop is used to identify your presence. In either mode, this normally triggers your signal in under 10 seconds. The big gap in my community is reliable and convenient signal activation if you are cycling.

When it comes to pedestrian signal activation, I’ve seen buttons that aren’t accessible, and this is something that needs to be corrected.

Replacing on-demand traffic signals with timed signals to remove “beg buttons” would increase delay for all modes of travel, and actually reduce walkability.

Now there are places where pressing a button to request a pedestrian signal makes no sense. Where traffic signals are on a timer, all modes of travel should get their signal without having to request it.

Some on-demand traffic signals can be replaced with roundabouts. With new cycle-friendly designs, this is the safest type of intersection, and should be advocated for.

We recently redesigned a street in Langley City to make it safer for walking, cycling, and driving. Narrowing the travel lanes, removing a traffic signal, installing a roundabout, adding protected cycling lanes, widening sidewalks, and tightening the turn radius at intersections, created a safer and more inviting street for everyone.

Removing “beg buttons” won’t make walking safer or easier without redesigning the streets beside which they are placed. On high-speed, high-volume streets, pedestrian-activated signals make crossing safer.

For example, removing all pedestrian- and cyclist-activated signals along Broadway in Vancouver will not improve walking or cycling. It would make it worse.

Making streets safer and more enjoyable for walking and cycling is 90% about geometry. Complete streets are what we need.

Instead of proclaiming the evils of signal activation, the urbanist community should be calling out the poor street geometries that cause them to be installed in the first place.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Langley City addressing symptoms of homelessness while working towards a solution

The number of people who are visibly camping in our parks and on the street, has increased markedly over the last several years. As I pointed out yesterday, the number of people who are experiencing homelessness in Metro Vancouver has been increasing over the last decade.

A recent series of court rulings allows people to camp in parks and on city property between 7pm and 9am under the condition that their shelter be temporary and be removed daily. Anyone has the right to be in a park during the day.

As I posted about this week and in the past, there are solutions to reducing homelessness in our region and in Langley City. It will take all orders of government, service providers, and the faith-community to address this challenge. This is why Langley City created the Homelessness Action Table. The Action Table has all the players at the table who can address the root causes of homelessness in our community.

Our Langley City budget also includes funding for a Community Liaison Coordinator. The role of this position is to work with social service agencies, the RCMP and the business community to address the root causes of critical social issues in our community.

While the Action Table does its work, we must also address the symptoms of homelessness in our community.

Last year, Langley City resources were stretched to the limits addressing the symptoms of homelessness. Our bylaw department had very little time to address any other matter. Significant resources were directed to cleaning up garbage, needles, and addressing vandalism.

Langley City council and staff were fully aware that City resource would need to increase to both address symptoms relating to homelessness, as well as address other matters such as parking enforcement and dog off-leash issues.

Langley City hired a new bylaw enforcement officer as well as a new manager of bylaw enforcement. As you can see in the following chart, the number of calls for service relating to homelessness matters increases during the summer months.

Bylaw enforcement calls for services relating to symptoms of homelessness between 2014 and 2017. Select chart to enlarge.

Langley City is hiring an additional temporary bylaw officer for the busy summer months. At the same time, the City is also ensuring that cleaning up of garbage and needles, plus fixing vandalism is addressed in a timely manner.

Langley City is working both to address the root causes of homelessness while dealing with the symptoms. It is certainly not an ideal situation, and I hope that with new funding and programs at the provincial and federal levels, the number of people who are homeless will decrease.

If you see anything in our community that needs addressing, please use Request for Service. If you see something unsafe or you feel unsafe, please call the RCMP at (604) 532-3200. If there is an emergency, please call 911.