Saturday, September 13, 2008

Metro Vancouver Future of the Region Sustainability Discussions

Part One of a Two Part Series (maybe three) :-)

I thought I would provide a recap of some important regional discussions that have taken place this year in Metro Vancouver. I have personally participated in several of the Metro Vancouver South of Fraser regional dialogues that have been focused on sustainable land use, transportation and the economy. You can check out further background information on the website. A hat tip to Councillor Jordan Bateman who provided me with a copy of the Metro Vancouver report that was sent to Township Mayor and Council. Videos of the various sessions are also posted to the Metro website.

Information from the sub-regional sessions is being provided by Metro Vancouver to the Land Use and Transportation, and the Sustainable Region Initiative Committees. The sub-regions included: Vancouver, South of Fraser, Central/Northeast, and the North Shore. The scenario was meant to generate discussion on the link between transportation and the economy, and how the region balances the requirements of both. However, the participants tended to address these as separate themes and issues. The group participants were given several scenarios and questions:

“The rapidly expanding global economy is forcing us to make decisions. How do we balance the requirements of a regional transportation network, environmental improvement and livability while supporting the demand for goods movement for the continent? How do we ensure a robust economy for the future? What’s Metro Vancouver’s role?”

South of the Fraser

The following is a summary of the discussions put forth by the South of Fraser participants.

“Discussions focused more on the linkages between the regional economy and transportation than in the previous Dialogue. Even here it was observed that to make the gateway work would require links across the “silos” and a concerted effort at integration. Participants tended to agree that more modes of transportation needed to be encouraged – such as moving goods by water. Transportation, industry, agriculture – all need lands dedicated to make them more efficient and effective, and to link them more closely to their customers and other shippers. To gain an inter-modal yard might require consumption of some agricultural land that feeds the yard. Other participants expressed concern that the consumption of agricultural land for other purposes was not acceptable – even if demands were strong for changing dedicated uses. Railways are not currently set up to service the port appropriately – and the airport relies on trucking through the city to move its goods.”

“Much discussion of the role of rail in the region explored potential but no consistent view on this development through all the discussions. The use of light rail for movement of commuters south of the Fraser was raised and there was support for using a different model here than in other areas. Concerns about developing transportation infrastructure that will become obsolete or “ghost towned” were expressed – and a desire to “stop the digging” to create them until we are sure that they are appropriate in a post-peak oil economy. Using successful examples of techniques for integrating transportation infrastructure from other jurisdictions was raised – using current research or success stories to inspire the regional vision was raised by several speakers. Separating trucks from commuters was raised several times in different contexts but there was a consistent theme of wanting to make better use of existing capacity so that new infrastructure did not encourage more car commuting. Making compact communities with affordable housing will be better served by mass transportation – and preventing the sprawl that is encouraged by high housing prices.”

“The need to have more sectors and governments working cooperatively was raised as a formula for greater success. The region and the agencies that serve it are felt to be made up of entities that do not work closely enough to bring enough critical mass to the planning outcomes. The regional needs to work to achieve more widespread agreement on strategies, vision and plans if success in making them more sustainable is to be achieved. The view of the area that effectively comprises the region may in fact be larger that the administrative boundaries of the political region and require partnerships with neighbours to become more effective. There was a suggestion that Province needs to give the region more autonomy to plan its future – and teeth to ensure implementation of the plans.”

As a frequent Metro participant, I want to offer some criticism here. I am appreciative of the dialogues and the forum that Metro affords us. I’m not sure if the facilitators can do more to encourage fairness, but for me It’s sad to see that some people with special interests (personal or organizational) tend to use the video coverage to promote their own agenda or stroke their egos. I have personally witnessed at many of these Metro Events.

I have always limited my group and microphone time to legitimate questions and short relevant comments. I’ve seen instances where people turn up with copious speaking notes and grandstand as soon as a camera makes their way to their group. Many times their comments are totally unrelated to the topic the group was previously speaking to.

Individuals with strong personalities will also wrestle their thoughts and ideas in the group discussions and force these “solutions” onto the whiteboards. There are usually two to three of these types in each group. I gather that their strong narcissistic displays never allowed their consciousness to see that others with opinions were present around them. These folks never seem to yield to others in the group, therefore some were unable to offer an opinion. It often becomes a debate among two participants, to the exclusion of the other eight. Each time I leave these sessions, I wonder what some of the bright people I spoke with off-line would have said about the issues, if these grandstanders hadn’t been so overpowering. Regardless, the final report offers us some very relevant guidelines that represent a broad consensus of sorts.

Now that we have provided the summary, Part 2 of this series will look at specific key messages that came forward from this exchange.

1 comment:

Corey said...

Maybe it's the internet, or maybe it's because this time we have some basis for comparison, but when I was at the South of the Fraser meeting a few months back, my discussion group was about 9 to 1 in favour of light rail as the primary transportation method for the region and was adamantly opposed to any more Skytrain anywhere. (One trucker supported Gateway and road expansion.)

My feeling is that back when the LRSP was completed in the mid-90s, not only was the difference between Skytrain and light rail ambiguous for many people, other factors like the relative costs of each mode and the popularity of light rail in Europe and elsewhere wasn't recognized yet. Hence the province was able to foist it off on us despite the objections of the planning professionals and a few elected officials.

This time, people know clearly what they want, and told Metro Vancouver as such. I think there is going to be a pretty big backlash if that is ignored and the Province pushes more Skytrain and buses, especially South of the Fraser. Transit consumers in the lower mainland are starting to realize that Europe and others are providing a product that is light-years ahead, and demanding it for ourselves.