Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hot Lanes and Jazzy Pass

I found a great article on moving from road expansion based "planning" to road management based planning in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune called "Planners slam the brakes on expanding roads".

For some background, High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes weren't being utility to there fullest, so the region converted some HOV lanes to High Occupancy/Toll lanes. You can read more about HOT lanes on a previous post. Also as a note, HOV lanes have pretty much been a failure in Metro Vancouver as carpooling rates have been declining since the turn of the century here. Anyway, according to the article:
Commuters and suburban elected officials are fuming over the decision by planners to back away from the age-old compact in which the state tries to keep pace with suburban expansion.

Planners are instead embracing the idea of blanketing the inner metro area with a network of so-called "managed lanes" -- what critics have long dubbed "Lexus lanes" -- for buses and drivers who are willing to pay extra to skirt stalled traffic. Officials outside the Interstate 694-494 beltway say they see their hopes for new roads vanishing as a result, despite forecasts for major population growth.
On a completely different note in New Orleans, their month transit pass is call a "Jazzy Pass" which I think is an awesome name. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Premier still loves SkyTrain

Looks like the love affair with SkyTrain is going as strong as ever. According to an article in the Burnaby NewsLeader:
SkyTrain detractors should consider the benefits of the technology and not focus solely on the lower cost of building new rapid transit lines with at-grade light rail, Premier Gordon Campbell said.

"You can't have an urban transit system at rural densities," he said. "You have to actually give yourself a chance for transit to make ends meet."
This is the same stuff we've been hearing for years: Surrey, the second largest city in the region with a higher urban density than Burnaby is too "rural" for SkyTrain, yet light rail is still poo-pooed. *sigh*

Side note: I don't know of any transit system or road system in North America that breaks even... If transit needs to "make ends meet", I sure hope that the same applies for roads.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Letter to MP Mark Warawa

To follow up to yesterday's post and reply on the federal government effectively killing the 2nd Amtrak train, South Fraser OnTrax has sent the following letter. You can download a PDF copy if you like.
Dear Mr. Mark Warawa

South Fraser OnTrax is a Langley based sustainable communities and transportation advocacy group whose members live in your riding. It has come to our attention that the federal government said it would now require Washington State Department of Transportation to pay nearly $550,000 a year for border-clearance services for a second Amtrak train which was added late in 2009. This money would cover additional staffing by the Canada Border Services Agency for the 10:50 p.m. second-train arrival. The US federal government is now spending $590 million to improve rail service in this corridor, and the BC provincial government has spent $2.98 million to enable improved rail service for some 26,837 people in 2009. The second train has brought an estimated $11.8 million in economic benefits to British Columbia during the year it has been allowed to operate.

We request that the federal government work with the Province of British Columbia and Washington State to reduce or eliminate the border-clearance fees.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mark Warawa Responds Directly to AMTRAK Situation

Over the weekend I sent an e-mail to our Langley MP, Mark Warawa. As one can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised to have Mark call me this afternoon, direct from Ottawa. It was about 4:00pm his time and I'm sure it was a busy Monday for him. However, he did wish to explain the government's stand on this issue. Here is a recap of what Mark and I discussed:

  1. Amidst lots of funding requests, our federal government did respond to a request from Via Rail and AMTRAK to fund Customs & Immigration clearance expenses for the additional AMTRAK train ion the evenings during the Olympics because it was viewed as economic stimulus for our region, and at a time that made sense with people pouring into Vancouver.
  2. As the Olympics were coming to a close, our federal government was once again asked to extend the funding for Customs & Immigration clearance for the second train so as to take advantage of further economic benefits as we entered the high tourism season, with the added benefit of folks wanting to now visit our area after a successful Olympic games.
  3. The government has now been requested to continue this funding of Customs and Immigration clearance. They have chosen not to at this time.
Mark explained that our government is currently spending more money than we are taking in (an economic fact). Therefore, all programs must be reviewed and this was one of them. Our federal government did fund this program for many months in the hope of generating some economic benefits and help develop the business case.

Mark explained that just as we pay additional money for air tickets to cover these costs, the federal government now sees this additional train as something that should be funded by the ridership going forward. The government does not have unlimited resources and some programs must be allowed to become self-sufficient.

Now that we know the official position of our federal government (and it is an economic reality today), perhaps Via Rail and AMTRAK can put their heads together to find other funding options to keep the second AMTRAK train going. Perhaps if they added a station stop in White Rock they could add additional ridership. Although I would like to spend my money in Canada, I will not waste time driving to Vancouver and deal with parking there, when I can drive to Fairhaven Station in Bellingham and have safe, secure and affordable parking and ticket price savings.

Again, I would like to thank MP Mark Warawa for taking time out as the end of his busy day to personally respond to my question and that of the membership of South Fraser OnTrax.

Feds kill Second Amtrak Train

It is a sad state of affairs when sustainable transportation options are being held up by our federal government. Washington State has received $590 million to improve passenger rail between Vancouver, BC and Eugene, Oregon from the US federal government and is busy improving rail service, but one party has not come to the table. In 2009, a second Amtrak train was added between Vancouver and Seattle due to the provincial government spending $2.8 million toward a new siding at BNSF Railway’s Colebrook site in Delta. It looks like this is all coming to an end on October 31, 2010. According to the Washington State Department of Transportation:
The Canadian federal government late last week said it would require WSDOT to pay nearly $550,000 a year for border-clearance services. This money would cover additional staffing by the Canada Border Services Agency for the 10:50 p.m. second-train arrival.

“British Columbia and Washington are so disappointed by this news,” said Washington Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. “The economic benefits for Vancouver and Washington are clear as travelers shop, eat and stay in local hotels. The second train has brought an estimated $11.8 million in economic benefits to British Columbia during the year it has been allowed to operate. Does it really make sense for $550,000 in annual border inspection fees to be the reason the service ends?”

“I am very disappointed to hear about this lack of commitment from the Canadian federal government,” said State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. “Washington has made investing in passenger rail service a top priority, but we need support from our neighbors to continue this valuable transportation option that connects our two countries. We will be reaching out to our congressional delegation urging their support in resolving this issue between the U.S. and Canadian governments.”
Please write you local MP postage free if you think something should be done about this. In Langley, that would be:

Mark Warawa
House of Commons
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Friday, September 24, 2010

Stable Funding for TransLink?

Yesterday the Provincial government and Mayors’ Council for TransLink signed a UN style accord on moving forward with providing a stable funding formula for TransLink. You can read the full agreement from the press release, but I wanted to cut through the fluffy and look the question of funding.
a. Funding sources included in current and future legislative authority.

b. Reallocation of existing revenue sources.

c. Potential new and innovative revenue sources that will shape transportation choices in favour of transit, cycling and walking, as well as greenhouse gas emission reductions.

d. A means of capturing some of the increase in land value created by the provision of rapid transit along the region’s strategic corridors.

e. Other revenue generating activities that take advantage of the market created by transit users.

f. Efficient and effective use of “Smart Card” technology to increase ridership beyond peak periods, improve efficiencies (reduce operating costs and increase the productivity of the transit fleets), reduce fare evasion and in general, generate greater fare revenue (user pay).
From the following statements, it looks like this agreement is the first step in many coming agreements on stable funding. It also looks like the Province and the Mayors’ Council will be looking at any and all funding sources for transit. It is interesting to read point "c" that will "shape transportation choices." Does that mean that tolling or road pricing of some form is in the future? Also point "f" is interesting, but sounds like they are talking about variable pricing on transit that would go beyond the weekday/weekend pricing structure we currently have now.

It will be interesting to see how the transit funding question is addressed as the Mayors’ Council agreed to have funding in place for at least the Evergreen Line by the end of the year.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Small Poem

When I am old and cannot drive I will be a second in my hive.

I will have to rely on others and I do not have any brothers.

I know the answer I will get, even though I am not there yet.

Do what you do and do not bother since I am not your mother or your brother.

Be responsible for yourself and do not rely on others.

Since we are not your mother and you do not have any brothers.

I will still be able to fell that happiness with in.

But physically I will be shut in.

I will still be a happy soul and still be able to console.

It really would be nice if I did not have to toss that dice.

If there was better public transit here,

I would not have to sit and sneer.

I could go places around where I live and

Not rely on others to give and give.

Please trust me when I say we are all going to be old someday.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Meeting Agenda for Tonight

Speaker: Ray Kan, Senior Regional Planner - Metro Vancouver
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Township of Langley Municipal Facility
4th Floor, Yorkson Creek Meeting Room
20338 – 65 Avenue, Langley

6:45pm – 7:00pm Self-Registration /Greeting
7:00pm – 7:10pm Quick Group introductions
7:10pm – 7:12pm Introduction of Ray Kan
7:12pm – 8:00pm Mr. Ray Kan "Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping our future"
8:00pm - 8:15pm Q & A
8:15pm – 8:25pm Break / Final Discussions with Mr. Kan
8:25pm – 8:45pm Call to Order - Reports
8:45pm – 8:55pm Other Business / New Business

Download a copy of the agenda

Monday, September 20, 2010

New Report on Restoring the Interurban

The folks at Rail for the Valley have released a new report on restoring Interurban service between Vancouver and Chilliwack. The report was prepared by Leewood Projects out of the UK.

The report looks at a 20 - 30 minute rail service which would be similar to the frequency of the West Coast Express with the exception that the service would run bi-directionally and all day. The report looks at a two phased approach to restoring service. Phase 1 would be between Surrey (Scott Road) and Chilliwack costing $491m. Phase 2 would electrify and connect the system to downtown Vancouver for a cost of $360m for a grand total of $998m. This would provide 138km of service for less than the cost of the 11km Evergreen Line! Of course in Surrey and Langley, we would still need 15min or better rail service for local travel whether on the Interurban or another corridor, so this report really looks at a regional rail service which I believe must connect to Vancouver to be truly successful. Please check out the full report.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Next Meeting

South Fraser OnTrax is proud to launch our 2010/2011 season. Our first meeting will be next Tuesday, September 21. We are happy to have Ray Kan who is a Senior Regional Planner with Metro Vancouver. He will be presenting on the draft Regional Growth Strategy. This will certainly prove to be an exciting evening.

Tue, September 21, 7pm – 9pm
Yorkson Creek Meeting Room
Township of Langley Civic Facility
4th Floor 20338-65 Avenue

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


On May 4, 1998, the Willoughby Community Plan was passed by Township Council. The plan will see 65,000 people move to the area. There are currently about 17,000 people in Willoughby. In the community plan, there is a section called “Residential Bonus Density 1” which allows for 30 units per hectare (which by the way is the density required to support transit) in exchange for greens space to support the Willoughby trail system and parks in the area.

On June 19, 2000, the Southwest Gordon Estates Neighbourhood Plan was adopted by Township Council. A public hearing for a development proposal in this area was held this Monday and last night. The proposal is to build eight apartment buildings and 14 townhouse units around the 200th Street and 68th Avenue area. The development would see 143 units per hectare on an area originally proposed for 30 units per hectare. To give you an idea of density of the proposed development, it would be what you see in Langley City which is mostly medium density. This development fits with the Townships plan to add more density along 200th Street to support transit and also fits with the general principle of the bonus density program which is to see more usable green space. About 21% of the 4.30 hectare development area will be dedicated to conservation.

Of course, many people from the area surrounding the development came to speak out against the development. The irony of course is that the majority of the people speaking out against the development have only lived in the area for at most 5 years. They are living in what used to be green space when I first moved to Langley. Most of the comments I heard last night where based on knee-jerk emotional responses surrounding parking, preservation, and poverty.

Higher density developments support transit, walking, and cycling which reduces the need for parking. This is a fact. If these people only want low density development, they will never see public transit and will never have a walkable community. Also a fact: 21% of the land in the proposed development would be conserved which is way better than the single family housing in the area. Again without higher density, the Township will never be able to attract the kind of urban amenities that statistic show these people want.

Most of the people at the public hearing talked about how apartments attract the kind of people that they don’t want in their neighborhood. People like me. I live in an apartment, don’t own a car, and make above the regional mean wage. They also don’t want our aging and increasing childless population to have housing options in Langley. In fact, I was shocked to hear former transportation advocate and Interurbanist Sonya Paterson speak out against higher density and what she called “chicken coops”. This is very odd coming from someone who allegedly supports sustainable transportation. I’d like to point out that Sonya moved into a single family house in Willoughby 3 years ago. She then when on to explain how Willoughby is growing too fast and the breaks must be put on development. She and others seemed to be saying,  "I’ve moved to Willoughby, but nobody else can!"

The biggest mistake the Township made was to build low density in Willoughby before higher density. Township council has a choice to make, they can support a sustainable Langley or support suburban sprawl. If they choose to support sprawl, I know that the citizens of the City of Langley will glade take the amenities and economic development dollars that the Township wants to throw away. As a City resident, I can’t wait for my light rail, bike lanes, improved parks, and cultural amenities!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Light Rail Facts

One of the reasons that South Fraser OnTrax support ground level light rail is that it attracts more ridership per dollar than other forms of rapid transit. The simple fact is that ground level light rail can go more places dollar-for-dollar than other forms of rails based transit.

The telling tale is the story of Edmonton and Calgary; both cities received the same amount of money for light rail back in the day. Edmonton went with a tunnel and Calgary went with ground level. In the first quarter of this year Calgary had a light rail ridership of 20,326,500 while Edmonton had a light rail ridership of 6,027,100. In fact our SkyTrain system in Metro Vancouver had a ridership of 28,532,600 when adjusted for the Olympics which isn't that super considering how our population is double that of Calgary.

The proof is in the number. Light rail is cheaper to build which means it can go more places and attract more ridership. The math couldn't be more simple, yet we are still obsessed with SkyTrain technology in our region. I really don't get it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dealing with our garbage

Metro Vancouver is in the process of adopting the Integrated Solid Waste and Resource Management Plan for our region. One part of the plan is waste-to-energy, but there are other things worth mentioning about the plan.

Right now around 50% of our waste is diverted from landfill which is one of the highest rates in North America. Under the plan, the diversion rate will increase to 70%. That means that zero waste from residential property will end up in landfill. The most exciting part of the plan is the introduction of regional composting. Right now the City of Vancouver and Township of Langley are piloting municipal composting and it will be great to see this rolled out in the whole region.

Waste-to-energy is also a part of the plan and it will allow for district heating and electrical generation. This is done in many parts of Europe and even in downtown Seattle. It will allow the productive use of methane that would otherwise just float up into the atmosphere. The best place for district heating would be in downtown Vancouver, so it will be interesting to see if Vancouver gets on board with this part of the solid waste management plan.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cape Horn Interchange

As part of the Highway 1 Expansion Project which is part of the Gateway Program, the province will be changing the current Cape Horn Interchange from this:

Current Cape Horn Interchange
To a Texas Style Stacked Interchange:

Future Cape Horn Interchange
While the future interchange is certainly an engineering marvel, I don't think people truly understand how much space interchanges like this take up. If you look at what happened at 200th St at Highway 1, when that interchange was redesigned to save space, about half-a-dozen businesses and a hotel fit in the old interchange foot print.

For the Cape Horn Interchange, I thought I'd map the old interchange's footprint to Granville Island. The new stacked interchange will use up all the space in the triangle.

Pretty shocking isn't it!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

GHG Emissions per Capita

Canadians tend to think of ourselves as green. What we think of ourselves and what is reality are completely different. Looking at a table about green house gasses (GHG) emissions per capita, Canada is pretty much tied with the United States with GHG emissions at 22.6 tonnes per capita per year.

I always asked myself why we are so close to the US when we live in more compact and more urban settings than are American friends. According to Environment Canada, about 20% of GHG emissions are caused by the the oil, gas, and coal industries in Canada. If we removed these sources of GHG, we would be tided with New Zealand at 18.08 tonnes per capita. The UK produces 10.6 tonnes of GHG emissions per capita per year. Of course we have lots to do as transportation is the number one contributor to GHG emissions in Canada, but it is interesting to note that Canada's urban centers are masking the GHG emissions from oil and gas. Other oil producing nations like the United Arab Emirates produce 38.8 tonnes of GHG emissions per capita.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

News Notes - Protecting the ALR

Last month, we published a report about threats to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). This month, the Auditor-General's office released a report called "Audit of the Agricultural Land Commission". The Auditor-General found that the 5% of land in BC which is suitable agricultural lands is under threat because the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) lacks "the current staffing resources and enforcement tools to support those policies" to protect the ALR.
The commission is challenged to effectively preserve agricultural land and encourage farming in British Columbia, specifically:
the commission has not determined that the boundaries of the ALR are accurate and include lands that are both capable of and suitable for agricultural use;
the commission has identified limitations in its ability to preserve agricultural land and encourage farming through the application process;
the commission is not sufficiently involved in proactive longterm land use planning with local governments to encourage farming on a broad basis;
and oversight of the decisions made by its “delegated authorities” needs strengthening to ensure that agricultural land is being preserved and farming encouraged.
The Auditor-General recommends that the ALC
-ensure that ALR boundaries are accurate and include land that is both capable of and suitable for agricultural use.
-seek government’s support to make changes that will allow it to more effectively -preserve agricultural land and encourage farming through the application process.
-engage in proactive long-term planning with local governments to encourage farming.
-work with Fraser-Fort George Regional District to address concerns it has with the District’s processes.
-work with the Oil and Gas Commission to develop an action plan to implement the recommendations of the 2009 audit.
-ensure that it has a sufficiently robust compliance and enforcement program.
-prioritize completion of the new database and finalize conversion of the original paper ALR maps into digitalized format.
-evaluate the collective impacts of its decisions on applications and its broader policy decisions.
-report publicly on the cumulative impacts of its decisions.
When I did research on the ALR in the South of Fraser, the biggest challenge I ran up against was that most of the information on the ALR is in paper form and isn't easily assessable. Also, I know that there are discrepancies with ALR boundaries and would support an accurate remapping of agricultural land within BC. Of course that requires the provincial government properly fund the ALC.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

South Fraser OnTrax Announces 2010/2011 Meeting Schedule

With September upon us, South Fraser OnTrax kicks into full gear. To that end, we have posted our 2010/11 meeting schedule. We have some exciting guests lined up with details in the coming weeks. Please consider encouraging your friends to join us!

All Meetings:
Place: Township of Langley Civic Facility, 4th Floor
20338-65 Avenue, Langley
Time: 7:00pm - 9:00pm (Third Tuesday of the month)
Room: Yorkson Creek Meeting Room

Meeting Dates:
September 21st, 2010
October 19th, 2010
November 16th, 2010
January 18th, 2011
February 15th, 2011
March 15th, 2011
April 19th, 2011
May 17th, 2011
June 21st, 2011

Download a PDF of our meeting schedule

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Surrey Set for Major Transit Expansion?

CBC reports this morning that the City of Surrey is going to see some significant improvements to transit services. You can read all about it here. It comes as a surprise of sorts because when the Mayor's Council voted to fund TransLink, it was said that this money would only allow TransLink to fund current levels of service.

According to the CBC, transit expansion along Broadway is being put aside. So apparently those Broadway funds are now available to increase transit capacity in Surrey! This is GREAT news for those of us south of the Fraser.

Don't expect the expansion tomorrow as the Evergreen Line must first be completed before the Surrey connection begins. The CBC article says:
"In its latest report, "2040 Shape our Future," the federation of 22 municipalities in the Lower Mainland says that once the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam Centre is completed, rapid transit should be expanded in Surrey before a line out to the University of British Columbia is built."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Voter Approved Transportation Tax

People generally don't like tax increases if they don't know what it's for. Political parties in BC tried to make carbon tax a big issue, but it didn't become one. People knew what the carbon tax was for and understood what it was designed to do. The HST on the other hand is a general tax increase, and looking at what's happened in BC over the last little while, it hasn't been popular. No matter the merits of HST, people are less likely to support a general tax increase. I mention this because I found an article called Local Option Transportation Taxes: Devolution as Revolution. The article looks at the history of user fees and taxes in transportation system in America and how voters have approve taxes to support transportation projects.
Ever since the widespread adoption of automobiles, Americans have preferred to pay for highways and bridges with “user fees”—that is, money collected from those who use the roads.

During calendar year 2002, American voters considered 44 separate ballot measures to raise money for transportation. Nine of them were state-wide elections, and only a few involved user fees like fuel taxes. Local sales taxes are by far most common in these measures, but some local governments have enacted vehicle registration fees (arguably a user fee, but more accurately a form of property taxation), taxes on real estate sales, local income or payroll taxes earmarked for transportation, and taxes on new real estate developments.
I quick search of Google will also reveal page upon page of voter approved transit sale taxes. All this to say that I believe that people in Metro Vancouver would be willing to pay more money for transit improvements in our region if they know the money is going direct to transit funding.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Stop Numbers

Bus stops in Metro Vancouver are very minimalist. At the worst, you get a pole that says "Bus Stop" with a stop number that is stuck in the mud. At the best, you get a bus shelter, sign with route name, number, and a timetable. Traveling around North America, I have to say Portland has one of the best bus stop way-finding systems because the route name, number, map, and stop number are on the pole. I would love to see this in Metro Vancouver. That being said, TransLink has improved bus stop way-finding in the last few years.

I got a message from a friend that used to live in Calgary and now lives in Victoria. She was lamenting about how hard it is to find next bus information from BC Transit. Apparently, you need to know the cross street and direction of your route as there are no stop numbers. It was very confusing for her. TransLink used to be like this, but have since introduced the stop number. You can text, go online, or call in to get bus stop information. Yesterday, I called in because the texting service wasn't working and found that the robot voice on the other end gave me the route number, name with termination, and next time. Now if the texting service also included the route name, things would be great. I think the next step should be for real-time bus information as all TransLink buses have GPS systems installed. Finally, if they could put maps on at least the key bus stops, we'd have a world class way-finding system for buses in Metro Vancouver.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Long-form Census and the American Community Survey

I blogged earlier about how we use census data for urban and transportation planning and that the move from a mandatory long-form census to a voluntary system will affect data quality. Much has been said on the issue and a quick Google search will turn up lots of information.

In the US, they used to have a mandatory long-form census that went out every 10 years. People didn't like the long-form census and the US Census Bureau started the annual American Community Survey (ACS). Beta testing started in 1996 and the ACS went live in 2000. The 2010 US census was the first census without a long form. Unlike Canada, the US government spent 15 years transitioning to the ACS. The ACS is also mandatory; failure to complete the survey could result in a fine.

In 2003, the US Census Bureau tested a voluntary ACS and found that:
-A dramatic decrease occurred in mail response when the survey was voluntary
-The reliability of estimates was adversely impacted by the reduction in the total number of completed interviews
-The decrease in cooperation across all three modes of data collection resulted in a noteworthy, but not critical, drop in the weighted survey response rate
-The estimated annual cost of implementing the ACS would increase by at least $59.2 million if the survey was voluntary and reliability was maintained
-Levels of item nonresponse for the data collected under voluntary and mandatory methods were very similar
-The use of voluntary methods had a negative impact on traditionally low response areas, that will compromise our ability to produce reliable data for these areas and for small population groups such as Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, American Indians, and Alaska Natives
-The change to voluntary methods had the greatest impact on areas that have traditionally high levels of cooperation and on White and non-Hispanic households
In the end they kept the mandatory ACS. Since the Canadian government is going to a voluntary system, it will have to spend more money due to the cost of processing more forms and doing more followups to get data quality up. Either way, it is certainly going to be interesting in 2011 as there will be a new baseline for data trending which mean that information on transportation and other urban topics will not be able to be compared to 2006 or earlier data.