Thursday, November 14, 2019

Fixing the misalignment between creating a livable region and our employment zones.

Metro Vancouver is consistently ranked as one of the most livable places in the world. One reason why is due to our land-use patterns of building walkable, bikeable, and transit-accessible communities.

This land-use pattern is codified in our regional land-use plan which all 21 municipalities in Metro Vancouver adhere to. The following map shows urban centres, frequent transit development areas, and frequent transit corridors in our region. The region’s long-term goal is to accommodate 40% of all residential growth within these areas, and 50% of all job growth, between 2006 and 2041.

Map of urban centres, frequent transit development areas, and frequent transit corridors in Metro Vancouver. Select map to enlarge.

When it comes residential development, we are meeting that goal. For jobs, we are not. Only 18% of job growth has occurred in these areas between 2006 and 2016. One of the reasons why has to do with our land-use planning. The following map shows the areas in our region that are zoned as “employment land”. These zones can accommodate anything from factories to office space.

Map of “employment land” zones in Metro Vancouver. Select map to enlarge.

What might stand-out is that much of our “employment land” is outside of urban centres and frequent transit corridors. This wasn’t by mistake either, this is also codified in our regional land-use plan. The Metro Vancouver Regional District has now recognized that there is a misalignment between job growth objectives and land-use.

From a recent regional district staff report:

This suggests that new policies and tools may be needed to support the strategy’s objective to direct employment growth to centres and corridors served by transit. This could include new supports from the Provincial government, such as the creation of commute trip reduction legislation, similar to that implemented in Washington State that requires employers to take actions to reduce single occupancy vehicle trips; more research is needed on this and other possible directions. Staff also intend to explore how much employment growth is taking place on lands with an Industrial or Mixed Employment regional land use designation.

TransLink is updated its long-term transportation plan. This is a good opportunity to realign our land-use patterns and transportation network.

One idea could be to start serving these “employment land” areas with frequent transit. To support frequent transit, and to build more livable “employment lands”, mixed-use zoning could be introduced.

Given that most employment land-uses are quiet and produce little to no air contaminants, residential and retail uses could be introduced to these areas in the form of mixed-use buildings. An example could be an industrial/residential building. I remember attending a 2003 Sustainability by Design conference where this idea was explored. You can see an example of what this might look like for Langley.

I look forward to seeing how TransLink and the regional district will make our “employment land” more livable.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Traffic-related air pollutants highest near major roads, increases risk to human health

This may not come as a surprise to many people, but the closer you are to a major road, the higher your exposure to air contaminants. In fact, according to a new report from the Metro Vancouver Regional District “multiple traffic-related air pollutants (TRAP) have been identified with adverse health effects. Living and spending time near a major roadway has been identified as a risk factor for a number of respiratory symptoms and cardiovascular problems.”

Approximately half the population of Metro Vancouver lives near a major roadway.

Major roadways have more than 15,000 vehicles per day using them. In Langley, examples include 200th Street, 208th Street, the Langley Bypass, and Fraser Highway.

Traffic-related air pollutants can be elevated up to 250 metres from major roads. Select image to enlarge.

The results of the study show that within 250 metres of a major roadway is where there is a significantly higher concentration of air contaminants.

The following chart shows the increase in air contaminants near major roadways compared to ambient air quality.

Traffic contributed to significant increases of measured air contaminants at the Clark Drive monitoring station, relative to the comparison station in the Metro Vancouver study. Select chart to enlarge.

Over other findings include:

  • Large trucks are a main contributor to the amount of air contaminants associated with major roadways
  • The highest concentrations were measured when the wind was blowing from a nearby major intersection
  • Concentrations near a major roadway can vary considerably from hour to hour and day to day based on traffic volumes and wind

The good news is that air quality has been improving overall in our region, and “these trends are expected to continue, as newer and cleaner vehicles, including electric vehicles, replace existing cars and trucks while use of public transit and active transportation increases.”

Even so, the regional district will be working to further help reduce people’s exposure to traffic-related air pollutants. This work will need to be supported by both the provincial government and municipalities.

For more information, please review Metro Vancouver Near-Road Air Quality Monitoring Study.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Electric River Bus Network for Metro Vancouver

SkyBridge - Fraser River

One of the ideas that gets floated from time-to-time is to make more use of the rivers and inlets in our region for public transit.

There are some good examples of this today with the SeaBus between Downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver, the Q to Q Ferry between Downtown New Westminster and Queensborough, and the small passenger ferries that ply False Creek.

TransLink is updating its long-term transportation plan called Transport 2050, and the agency is seeking feedback to help plan our region’s transportation network for the next 30-years.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District’s Climate Action Committee is considering a recommendation that TransLink look at the idea of using electric “river buses” aka ferries as a way to serve communities along the Fraser River.

Some of the things that need to be considered according to the Metro Vancouver Regional District staff report include:

  • The member jurisdictions that would potentially benefit from a river bus service.
  • The suitability of the land uses and destinations that would benefit from the use of marine based passenger service.
  • The suitability to connect to the river bus service from the existing transit network.
  • The commercial availability of the technology for the application.
  • The locations for docking and charging infrastructure.
  • The cost compared to other transportation options being investigated.
  • The environmental impact compared to other options being investigated.
  • The ability of the service to reduce road congestion.
  • The employment opportunities generated from the new service.

There are examples of battery-electric ferries in operation today, including in Denmark and Sweden.

I would be interested to see a study of the feasibility of a “river bus” system. Would people take a “river bus” between Fort Langley and Sapperton SkyTrain? Or to get to Annacis Island? Would a route work between Haney and Port Kells?

All ideas are on the table, and I’ll be excited to see what Transport 2050 looks like.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Interactive charts show how Metro Vancouver is protecting green space and employment lands.

One of the major goals of our region is to protect our green space and employment lands. The Metro Vancouver Regional District recently released information on regional land-use based on data up to August 2019.

I wanted to visualize this information with some interactive charts.

The first chat is for the year 2011, and is the baseline. There are six regional land-use designations in Metro Vancouver. To make is easier to understand, I consolidated them into three major categories. If you want to drill into the specific zone, simply select one of the major categories on the chart.

Go Up

The second chart shows the change in regional land-use designations. The green highlights an increase in a category of land-use, while red highlights a decrease. You can drill down in the chart for more specific details.

Go Up

The good news story is that in Metro Vancouver we have protected green space and employment lands over the last decade.

You can hover over areas of the charts with a mouse to get more detailed information.