Thursday, October 19, 2017

Built it and they will come: transit ridership up in Metro Vancouver

TransLink has seen a surge in ridership across most of its system so far this year. Information posted to the Buzzer Blog a few days ago shows that September transit boardings are up significantly.

TransLink as well as other public transit agencies throughout Canada and the US report ridership data to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). In the US, transit ridership has dipped -2.8% in the first six months of this year. In Canada, transit ridership has increase by 0.6% in the first six months of this year for all agencies that reported data. This includes major regions in Canada.

TransLink Ridership
January thru June
 2017 2016 % Change
Bus 122.55 million 119.56 million 2.50%
SkyTrain 73.94 million 66.1 million 11.86%
SeaBus 2.74 million 2.59 million 5.79%
West Coast Express 1.17 million 1.25 million -6.40%

TransLink’s growth in ridership is significantly higher than the national average as reported in the latest ridership report released by the APTA. This is not a surprise as the Evergreen Line came online late in 2016, combined with record-level investments into bus service in our region.

One area where ridership has decreased is on the West Coast Express. This is not surprising as two of the West Coast Express stations are now directly served by SkyTrain. West Coast Express fares are also 1.5x more than regular fares. The shift to SkyTrain was fairly modest, and shows that the vast majority of West Coast Express riders value the premium service to Downtown Vancouver.

Ridership on the SeaBus was declining for several years. It looks like that trend has also reversed which is again not surprising as TransLink has increase service levels on the SeaBus. A strong economy combined with new investment in transit service really proves that if you built it, they will come.

On that topic, with bridges now toll-free, it will be interesting to see what impact there will be on transit service, especially on routes like the 555, 595, and the West Coast Express.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Langley City has lowest per household municipal tax and fees in Metro Vancouver

The provincial government’s new Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing just released its 2017 Local Government Tax Rates and Assessments reports.

When people look at municipal taxation, they often just look at property tax and overlook user fees which are charged for water, sewer, and other services provided by a municipality.

So how does Langley City stack up with the rest of the region? The following graph and table show the per household municipal property tax and users fees collected in 2017 based on the latest census data.

Per Household Municipal Revenue (2017). Select graph to enlarge.
Municipalities Property Tax per Household User Fees per Household Households
Langley City $2,163.37 $732.29 11,840
Surrey $1,890.18 $1,014.94 169,965
City of North Vancouver $2,392.84 $616.11 24,645
Vancouver $2,671.65 $376.95 283,915
New Westminster $2,250.70 $913.41 32,705
White Rock $2,125.17 $1,173.67 10,005
Coquitlam $2,699.87 $601.60 51,325
Maple Ridge $2,521.72 $806.87 30,265
Burnaby $2,717.73 $653.05 92,200
Bowen Island $3,017.71 $662.75 1,495
Pitt Meadows $2,744.96 $958.14 7,195
Port Coquitlam $2,873.19 $912.40 21,750
Langley Township $2,960.90 $835.10 41,985
Belcarra $2,629.92 $1,171.98 255
Anmore $2,641.28 $1,340.68 690
Port Moody $3,067.36 $934.98 12,975
Richmond $2,828.77 $1,326.37 73,460
District of North Vancouver $2,989.30 $1,628.61 31,115
Lions Bay $2,837.34 $2,196.44 495
Delta $3,722.16 $1,368.86 35,760
West Vancouver $3,944.17 $1,845.50 16,935

I should point out that businesses also pay property tax. The calculations used in this post divide the total property tax and user fee revenue collected from both businesses and residents, by the number of households in a community. Most municipalities in our region with a health business community collect around 50% of revenue from business and 50% from residents. Commuter communities like Anmore get most of their revenue from residents. What this means is that people in communities like Langley City, with a health business community, generally pay less tax and fees per household.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Responding to the overdose crisis in Langley

Throughout British Columbia, there is an overdose crisis. This year around 1,000 people in our province will die because of overdosing on illicit drugs. In Langley City and Township, 20 people have died so far, and that number is expected to be 34 by the end of this year.

Fraser Health statistics on overdose deaths in BC. Select image to enlarge.

When people think about overdose deaths, they likely think of people who are living on the street. While people living on the street are dying from overdoses, in Langley around 70% of people are dying from overdoses in their private residence, 20% at other inside locations, and 10% outside.

Fraser Health along with other partner organizations hosted a public meeting last night at Timms Community Centre about this crisis, and their response.

Fentanyl and its derivatives are what is causing the rapid increase in overdose deaths. Langley City’s Fire Chief Rory Thompson spoke about why it is easy to overdose on fentanyl. The following picture shows an example of what illicit pills with fentanyl look like, substituting fentanyl with blue-coloured sugar.

An example of how illicit pills can have inconsistencies. Select image to enlarge.

Because there is no quality control, one pill can have a lot more fentanyl than another in the same batch. One pill could kill you, one wouldn’t.

While the immediate response is getting people naloxone, addressing the stigma associated with drug use, and the systemic barriers to getting treatment, was front and centre at last night’s meeting.

Deb Bailey told the story of her daughter Ola. A bright girl and athlete who died due to a drug overdose. CBC has an article that tells Ola’s story, but Deb summed up what were contributing factors that led to her 21-year-old daughter dying.

Ola was generically vulnerable, and struggled socially to find a group of peers to belong to. She also had documented difficulties that indicated that she needed support, but requests for help were often ignored. Once she became addicted, she faced systemic barriers to getting help including a fragmented health system that wasn’t using the best evidenced-based treatment to help people suffering from addiction. A tainted drug was what ultimately led to Ola’s untimely death.

Deb Bailey talks about how stigma costs us all. Select image to enlarge.

Deb talked about the shame and stigma associated with drug addition, and how that causes people to not get help. People don’t get help because they don’t want others to judge them as “junkies.” Deb told the story of a nurse that didn’t want to get help because she heard how some other nurses talked about people who are suffering from a drug addiction.

The vast majority of people who are addicted to illicit drugs are young men with jobs and a home. Fraser Health and its partners are now starting to reach out to trade unions and other organizations to reduce the stigma associated with drug addiction, so that people will feel less shame, and be more likely to seek help.

At the same time, Langley doctors are now able to prescribe suboxone as a treatment for drug addiction without having to refer people to special addiction doctors.

Our health system is not serving people who are suffering from drug addiction well. It seems that the province is now starting to take this issue seriously, and is making it easier for people to access treatment which seems to be key to reducing the number of people dying from overdoses in our province.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Metro Vancouver’s expanding Urban Containment Boundary

One of the roles of the Metro Vancouver Regional District is to provide a regional growth strategy. Provincial legislation requires that a regional growth strategy work towards incorporating the following goals:

  • Avoiding urban sprawl and ensuring that development takes place where adequate facilities exist or can be provided in a timely, economic and efficient manner.
  • Settlement patterns that minimize the use of automobiles and encourage walking, bicycling and the efficient use of public transit.
  • The efficient movement of goods and people while making effective use of transportation and utility corridors.
  • Protecting environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Maintaining the integrity of a secure and productive resource base, including the agricultural land reserve.
  • Economic development that supports the unique character of communities.
  • Reducing and preventing air, land and water pollution.
  • Adequate, affordable and appropriate housing.
  • Adequate inventories of suitable land and resources for future settlement.
  • Protecting the quality and quantity of ground water and surface water.
  • Settlement patterns that minimize the risks associated with natural hazards.
  • Preserving, creating and linking urban and rural open space, including parks and recreation areas.
  • Planning for energy supply and promoting efficient use, conservation and alternative forms of energy.
  • Good stewardship of land, sites and structures with cultural heritage value.
  • A regional growth strategy can cover a good deal of ground, and our region’s strategy covers many of these goals.

Two of the tools used in our regional growth strategy to accomplish these goals are regional land-use designations and an Urban Containment Boundary. The primary purpose of the Urban Containment Boundary is to limit sprawl, and preserve green-space and employment lands.

All municipalities must submit Regional Context Statements to the Metro Vancouver Regional District board for approval. These Regional Context Statements show how a municipality’s Official Community Plan aligns with the regional growth strategy.

The Township of Langley’s Regional Context Statements were subject to a dispute resolution process which completed in October 2016. It was the last municipality to have these statements approved. In addition, there has been other minor amendments to regional land-use designations in other municipalities.

The regional district is now moving forward with updating the land-use maps included in the regional growth strategy.

The following is the current regional land-use map for the South of Fraser.

Current Regional Land-Use Map for the South of Fraser. Select map to download. 

The following is the proposal regional land-use map.

Proposed Regional Land-Use Map for the South of Fraser. Select map to enlarge.

As you can see, there is not much difference. The Urban Containment Boundary does change around Campbell Heights, Trinity Western University, and Murrayville.

Urban sprawl happens slowly, parcel by parcel. The Urban Containment Boundary helps hold the line. Earlier this year, the regional district asked member municipalities if the current regional growth strategy was effective. The generally consensus was that it is effective.

The current update to the regional growth strategy maps does show the Urban Containment Boundary being pushed out, but it was a long process for that to happen. While no plan is perfect, the current regional growth strategy appears to be working well in limiting sprawl.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

#LangleyCityConnects Neighbourhood Meetings: An open forum for residents of our community

For the past several years, Langley City has hosted a series of neighbourhood meetings in the fall. These meetings provide an opportunity for residents in our community to come out and learn about what City Hall has been up to including our new strategic plan, parks and trail upgrades, recreation programs, and road safety improvements.

Senior staff members from all the City’s departments will be present, and there will also be representation from the RCMP. If you have questions about fire safety, the financial plan, zoning, bylaws, crime prevention, or any other topic, this is a great opportunity to get them answered straight from the horse's mouth.

The City will also be seeking feedback on extending bike lanes along the whole 52/51B Avenue corridor.

Last year was the first year I attended these neighbourhood meetings as a member of council, and I had some really great conversation will people in our community.

There is a meeting tonight and next Thursday as noted below. No RSVP is needed, all you need to do is show up.

Date:Thursday, October 12
Time: 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Location: Douglas Park Community School Gym - 5409 206 Street

Date: Thursday, October 19
Time: 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Location: HD Stafford Middle School Small Gym, 20441 Grade Crescent

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Metro Vancouver looking to ban some wood-burning fireplaces and stoves

This summer was extremely smoky in Metro Vancouver due to the devastating forest fires which swept through the province and Washington State. The Air Quality Health Index was at a higher risk state in our region for multiple days. As someone who has asthma, I was acutely aware of the link between air quality and health.

Air quality has an impact on human health. At Metro Vancouver’s Climate Action Committee, Michael Brauer who is a professor in the Faculty of Medicine, School of Population and Public Health at UBC delivered a presentation on air quality and our health in Metro Vancouver. The following slide from his presentation sums things up: increased air pollution results in more people dying.

Air pollution and health. Select slide to enlarge. 

Metro Vancouver generally has some of the cleanest air of any major region in the world, but we still have room for improvement. Fine particulate matter —released when wood is burned— causes increased mortality rates. In fact Brauer noted in his presentation that “on cold days and days with highest biomass contributions [there is a] 19% increase risk of heart attacks.” Biomass contribution means burning wood.

Air pollution in Metro Vancouver and other world regions. Select slide to enlarge.

In Metro Vancouver, about 27% of all wood burning is from 100,000 fireplaces and stoves. These are generally the single largest source of wood burning in the region, and have a negative impact on people’s health. The Metro Vancouver Regional District has regulatory authority over air quality, and is looking to ban some residential wood-burning appliances in our region from being used.

In 2020, the regional district is proposing to only allow indoor wood-burning appliances to be used between September 16 and May 14 expect cooking appliances which could be used year-round.

In 2022, the district is proposing to implement a registration requirement for these appliances to ensure that they emit no more than 4.5 grams of particulate per hour with the goal in 2025 of prohibiting emissions from all wood-burning appliances except:

  • Registered appliances
  • Appliances that are the sole source of heat
  • Appliances that use wood burning as the heat source for cooking
  • Outside the Urban Containment Boundary
  • In case of hardship

It is good that Metro Vancouver is proposing to take action to reduce wood burning in our region, but the “in case of hardship” clause may make the regulation more educational than anything as it would be hard to enforce.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

No tolls mean more congestion on Metro Vancouver roads

Artist rendering of proposed Pattullo Bridge. Select image to enlarge.

Most transportation planners know that you cannot build your way out of congestion. More roads simply create more traffic in growing urban areas. The only way to reduce congestion is by using direct user fees, whether through tolling or a more comprehensive mobility pricing program.

Equally important is building communities that are walkable, bikeable, and served by high-quality transit which gives people a way out of congestion.

Last month, tolls were removed from the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges; traffic across those crossings increased significantly. A CBC article proclaimed that “ending tolls snarls traffic on Port Mann, Golden Ears bridges.

While traffic did decrease on some other crossings such as the Alex Fraser and Pattullo, there was a significant overall net gain in traffic. This is called induced demand.

In the Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project update for TransLink’s September 28 open board meeting, there is a section called Traffic Implications of No Tolls which sums this ups.

The elimination of point tolls from Metro Vancouver bridges necessitated a re-analysis of traffic patterns without tolls on the new Pattullo Bridge. Without tolls as a demand management tool, traffic volumes would be higher on the new Pattullo Bridge, and at other key locations in Metro Vancouver. The new four-lane Bridge will represent a capacity increase of approximately 10 percent compared to the existing bridge, but with continued population and employment growth in the region, queues and peak-period congestion can be expected to continue on the new Bridge approaches. Similarly, queues and congestion will continue at many other key locations in the regional road network. The future introduction of mobility pricing and continued expansion of the transit network represent the best opportunity for road congestion relief in the region.

Earlier this year, the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation launched an independent commission on mobility pricing. This commission is scheduled to complete its work early next year, and will be recommending “a coordinated approach for regional road usage charging in Metro Vancouver.” Whatever solution is proposed, it would have to be implemented by the provincial government.

The current provincial government appears to be on board with expanding transit in our region. Will the province also move forward with implementing mobility pricing? Implementing such a system will take political courage. In the meantime, congestion will only continue to increase in our region.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

October 2, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Holding the line on property tax exemptions, plus budget amended for additional projects in community

Over the last few days, I have been posting about some of the major items that were on Monday night’s council agenda. Today, I will be posting about the remaining items that were on the agenda.

Back in May, a public hearing occurred for a rezoning application for 19942 Brydon Crescent. The rezoning would allow a four-storey apartment building which is permitted under the City’s Official Community Plan. Council gave final approval to the rezoning, and approved the issuance of a development permit for the project on Monday.

Langley City Official Community Plan land-use map. Select image to download.

The City’s Financial Plan was approved in February. Over the course of the year, some parts of the budget must change which requires council to amend the budget. Since February, Langley City has received around $650,000 in additional funds from TransLink and the province which has enabled the following projects:

  • 48 Avenue bike lanes near Simonds Elementary School
  • Improving sidewalks along Duncan Way
  • Additional safety improvements along 56 Avenue
  • Left turn signal and pedestrian timers for 200 Street and Grade Crescent intersection
  • Upgrade traffic signal at 200 Street and Michaud
  • Overhead street name sign upgrades
  • 53 Avenue bike lanes

In addition, 14 other projects received funding in 2017 including a new washroom, storage facility, and additional park benches, picnic tables and a shelter for Penzer Action Park. These additional projects were funded from the Capital Works Reserve, Community Amenity Fund, and the Parks & Recreation Reserve.

On the topic of finances, the City grants property tax exemptions for certain properties in our community. These exemptions must be renewed annually. In 2017, the City provided $200,675 in tax exemptions. Church buildings are entitled to a statutory property tax exemption under BC law. The City also generally provides a tax exemption for the full lot that a church building is sited on, as well as to churches that lease land.

The City generally provides property tax emptions to the following non-profit organizations:

  • Langley Seniors Resource Society
  • Langley Stepping Stones Rehabilitative Society
  • Langley Community Music School Society
  • Outdoor Langley Lawn Bowling Club
  • Langley Community Services
  • Governing Council of the Salvation Army for the Gateway of Hope
  • Ishtar Transitional Housing
  • Global School Society which operates a Montessori school
  • Langley Care Society which operates Langley Lodge
  • Langley Hospice Society
  • Langley Association for Community Living

The City received additional requests for property tax exemptions for 2018, but council decided to maintain the status quo. These exemptions do have a material impact on all ratepayers in our community. For example, if council eliminated these exemptions (which is not being considered at this time), property tax could be decreased by almost one percent.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October 2, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Council endorses recommendations for a possible pilot program to reduce discarded needles, and to increase reporting suspicious activity

As I noted late last month, Langley City’s Crime Prevention Task Group has been busy working on evaluating and recommending policies that can help reduce crime in our community, and send the signal that Langley City residents will not tolerate negative activity.

Council gave unanimous approval to the following recommendations from the task group on Monday night’s council meeting.

THAT the Task Group recommend that Council direct staff to investigate an information sticker for residents which would include RCMP non-emergency contact information and a space to write their own civic address.

THAT the Task Group recommend that Council direct City staff to investigate with Fraser Health, the possibility of a pilot program which would install needle drop boxes in areas where there is a pattern of discarded needles; and
THAT a public education component precede the pilot program.

The first recommendation stems from the fact that the RCMP uses data about reported suspicious and negative activity to target their resources. The more that people call in to report these activities, the better the RCMP can target crime hot spots.

At the same time, when there is an emergency, the stress in these situations can make people forget basic information. The following sticker is currently distributed to the business community.

Current "Report all suspicious activity" sticker that is distributed to businesses.

With a simple change from “Your Business Address” to “Your Address”, this sticker can also be distributed for home-use as well. This sticker would be distributed primarily to seniors, and be made available at locations such as the Langley Senior Resources Society Centre.

Broken glass theory is based on the concept that vandalism and other signs of negative activity in neighbourhoods increase crime. This is because these signs cause people to withdraw from the public realm, creating space for more bad actors. Inversely, addressing the physical negative elements in neighbourhoods decrease crime by drawing people back into the public realm, creating a sense of pride and ownership, pushing negative activity out of neighbourhoods.

When people see discarded needles in our community, a negative signal is sent. This signal causes people to withdraw from an area. By addressing discarded needles, more people will be drawn into our parks and public spaces, creating more eyes and ears on the street which leads to reduced crime.

Fraser Health currently distributes needles as part of their harm-reduction program. Unfortunately, their currently system of collecting needles is not working well in our community.

Task group members reviewed a report from Montreal which found that there is “strong evidence of reduced discarding following the installation of drop boxes; drop boxes were associated with reductions of up to 98% (95% CI: 72-100%) and significant reductions for areas up to 200m from a drop box.” Members thought a drop box pilot would be worthwhile in Langley City considering the success in other communities.

I look forward to seeing the results of City staff’s investigation with Fraser Health on a pilot program.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

October 2, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Langley City residents in opposition to Urban Agricultural Demonstration Project. Land-use contracts discharged.

Earlier this year, I posted about Metro Vancouver’s Urban Agricultural Demonstration Project. This project is funded from Metro Vancouver’s Sustainable Innovation Fund, and Langley City and KPU are both partners.

There has been a series of open houses about the project, including the most recent open house which took place on September 19.

Many residents near the Urban Agricultural Demonstration Project study area are opposed to the project. At last night’s Langley City council meeting, around 50 residents attended the council meeting and expressed their opposition to the project being implemented.

A resident speaking on behalf of residents who are opposed to the implementation of the Urban Agricultural Demonstration Project. Select image to enlarge.

They presented four main points:

  • The green space in the study area is already heavily used by both people and wild animals.
  • This part of Langley City does not need urban agriculture as the area is surrounded by large-lot housing where gardens can be built on private property if desired.
  • It will create new problems.
  • It will cause increased traffic, and increase vehicles using on-street parking.

The presentation was professional, and the people that attended the meeting were respectful. The message of opposition to the project being implemented was certainly heard loud and clear by me. The residents also delivered a petition to council.

The public consultation period for this study is still on-going, and council will be presented with a full report which I look forward to reveiwing.

This deliverable of this project is an urban agriculture plan. All council will be receiving is a plan; no funding has been approved to implement the plan.

There was also a public hearing on the discharge of land-use contracts at properties located at 5040 205A Street and 20215 44A Avenue to allow for secondary suites. The City’s residential zoning in those areas allow for secondary suites, but many properties in our community have land-use contracts from the 1970s which supersede zoning. Land-use contracts haven’t been used for close to 40 years, and at the request of owners, the City will terminate these contracts.

There were no people at the council meeting who wished to speak to, or correspondence received about, land-use contracts. Council approved the discharge of the land-use contracts.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Light rail corridor redesign along 104th to accommodate more traffic. Bus service on-time performance improves along Fraser Highway.

TransLink’s Open Board Meeting occurred last Thursday. One of the items on the agenda was an update on the South of Fraser Light Rail Project.

In the Summer, the City of Surrey and TransLink hosted a public engagement process which included some artist renders of what 104 Avenue would look like.

Original proposed design of 104 Avenue, east of 144 Street.

The preceding drawing shows a street with one motor vehicle lane in each direction, sidewalks, protected cycling lanes, and light rail tracks. Currently, 104 Avenue has two motor vehicles lanes in each direction.

In the South of Fraser Rapid Transit Project Update which was prepared for the TransLink Board, the following paragraph is present:

The Project Team and the City of Surrey jointly reviewed the impacts on road users and emergency service response along the 104 Ave portion of the proposed LRT Corridor. The result is a modified road cross-section that enables better incident management. Further, the corridor was reviewed end to end to find additional opportunities to increase capacity of the traffic lanes without compromising adjacent land.

The key line is “find additional opportunities to increase capacity of traffic lanes.” It will be interesting to see what this mean for the final design. How will this impact the proposed cycling and walking infrastructure? Generally increasing motor vehicle capacity means more travel lanes, and/or left and right turn lanes at intersections.

Public information sessions are being planned for January 2018.

Fraser Highway is a busy transit corridor with many transit routes serving it. As someone who travels along this corridor daily, I've noticed that bus schedules seem to be more of a suggestion. This can be due to congestion, and it can be due to transit operators departing from timing points before schedule.

I’ve noticed over the last little while that operators now stop at timing points along the 502 route, even during peak periods. As noted in TransLink’s most recent board report, Fraser Highway was part of an on-time performance pilot project. This pilot resulted in a 1% improvement in on-time performance for transit routes along that corridor. This project will now be rolled out to other corridors in the region.

TransLink’s goal is to have 80% on-time performance for frequent bus routes. Right now, frequent routes have an on-time performance of 76.1% region-wide.