Monday, January 31, 2011

Road Pricing and Bridges

This weekend I was at a friend’s birthday party on Saturday and a potluck on Sunday and wouldn’t you know it but the topic of transportation came up (and I wasn’t even the one bringing it up.) On Saturday, we ended up talking about how people pay for government services and the whole group of us (mostly middle-aged truck loving Walnut Grove types) agreed that pricing roads to reduce congestion was a good idea and something that they would be willing to pay to help reduce congestion and pay for public transit. Of course someone brought up the congestion charge in London and another person talked about how road tolling in many Asian countries worked well. Many of the people at the birthday party were looking forward to the new bus rapid transit system between 200th Street and the SkyTrain in Burnaby. I know this was only anecdotal, but with the right information, I think citizens in our region are ready to have a mature conversation about how we pay for transportation and how we reduce congestion.

On Sunday, I was getting a ride back from a potluck in downtown Vancouver to Langley from a friend that lives in Seattle. I told him about the new 12-lane Port Mann Bridge. This car loving motorist said that it was great that they where building this bridge, but where will all the cars go when they leave the highway. This is a very good question as no municipalities are expanding their roads to handle the larger peak volume of traffic as the old Port Mann Bridge’s metering effect will be gone. It will be interesting to see what effect the $3 one-way toll will have on managing traffic. Anyway that was my weekend, how was yours?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Please Help the Langley Animal Protection Society (LAPS) NOW!

Hat tip to Township Councillor Kim Richter for alerting us to the fact that our very own Langley Animal Protection Society (LAPS) is currently in 5th Place for a Pepsi Refresh Project Grant. Until February 28th you can vote for LAPS right here and click the "VOTE FOR THIS IDEA" button.

If they are successful in winning First Place ($100K), they will use it as follows:

Please VOTE, TELL all your friends and post the link from the site to your FACEBOOK and TWITTER accounts. Let's help LAPS achieve these very worthy goals that hugely benefit LANGLEY!

Go to the site and also check out this video here to learn more about what LAPS is doing in our community of Langley.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sidewalk Fail

At the Vancouver Police Department Building near West 2nd Avenue and Cambie Street, there is some construction going on. Instead of telling the construction crew to find parking like everybody else, they have been allowed to park on the Bike Lane. FAIL!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

When the SkyTrain Breaks down....

Lineup for Expo Line at Commercial-Broadway Station

A over-heated power railed near Royal Oak station caused a fire that shutdown SkyTrain this morning.

Make the Bus Better

I was listening to a CBC Spark podcast last night and one of the guests happened to be talking about a study which showed that people are scared to take the regular bus and how to un-scare people. He compared metro systems (which could easily be light rail, trams, SkyTrain, true bus rapid transit, and the like) to regular bus service and pointed out some of the difference between the service that makes metro systems more accessible.

One of the most important accessibility feature of metro systems is enhanced wayfinding. At metro stations, there are usually maps at the station and on the train that let you know where you are and how far you are to where you want to go. Also on the train, there are normally announcements and signage that let you know what the next station is. At metro stations, there is normally digital signage that lets you know when the next train is coming. Equally important is payment options. At metro stations you can normally pay with cash, credit card, debit card, and transit media. You can also get change. Compare that to the bus.

At most bus stops you have no idea when the next bus is coming and what route it is. There is no map at the stop. Once on the bus, you have to deal with a cranky bus drive that can’t give you change and there is no map that lets you know the route and usually no next stop announcements. So how do you make it better?

While mobile application can help some people, it can’t help everyone. Bus stops at a minimum should have a map of the route and a schedule. If you have more money, it should also let you know when the next bus is coming. One the bus, there should be a map of the route (in real-time) and next stop announcements. As far as making payment easier at some of the busier stop, you should be able to pay for your fare with any form of payment and once on the bus you should be able to pay with credit card as well as exact change and transit media. It is the simple thing that will attract people to transit besides increasing service.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

192 St/54 Ave/196 St Open House Presentation Materials

Somehow I missed this, but the City of Langley has put the opening house presentation documents online for one of the Roberts Bank Corridor Projects which included the controversial Mufford Crescent Overpass.

This part of the project will see the construction of three new overpasses and a new road; 196th Street. You should check out the document. It is good to see that 53rd Avenue won't be subject to more automobile traffic and there will be access for pedestrians between 53rd Avenue and the project. I will also look into access for cyclist as this whole project will contain cycling lanes.

Interesting is that right now there is bus service along 56th Avenue to 192nd Street, the project as it stands now looks like it will cut bus service off past the news 196th Street. :-(

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

All about the Skeleton

We know what makes successful cities. Cities that are built around the person are where the vast majority of us want to live. Cities that are built around the person are equitability; the young and old, rich and poor have the same opportunities to access the city and its resources. People are quite happy to live in a 400sq. foot apartment in downtown Vancouver even though they could live in a house in Langley. Why?

Recent studies show that there is a directly correlation between social interactions, community connection, and happiness. If we want to build cities where people feel connected, we need to build cities that create social interaction spaces like wide sidewalks were children can play, parks, walkable commercial areas, transit, cycle paths, and the like. We know that the street is where the vast majority of impromptu social interaction takes place. We also know that the fastest way to kill life on the street is to give the auto priority over the people it is meant to serve.

Vancouver is successful because the skeleton of the cities was built around walking and the streetcar. In fact all of the great social interaction spaces in our region are built around sustainable transportation. So why if we know what makes a city great, are we still building around the auto in the South of Fraser? Surely our planners know how to build great places?

At the end of the day, it is all about the skeleton; our transportation network. Transit is not being built with development and until it is, we will be locked into building the kind of communities that we can’t wait to remodel. We need bold local leaders that are willing to work with senior levels of government to get the funding required to build transit and other active transportation system instead of playing politics about property tax. We must get the skeleton right or we won’t succeed in building a great region.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Raze It!

Joe posted an article about the Downtown East Side on his Facebook profile yesterday. A lively conversation ensued which eventually lead to place making.
Joe Zaccaria Interesting arguments that could be very valid! I've never heard the repurposing comment before. We are sure learning that with manufacturing space that has moved off-shore in the past few years. Glouchester Industrial Estates in Langley current had millions of square feet of space that must somehow be repurposed.
Corey Newcomb If Glouchester was built in 1900 it would be converted into loft apartments!
For those of you that don’t know, Glouchester is located by the 264th Street interchange on Highway 1. It is an industrial park in the middle of the Agricultural Land Reserve with no transit or housing nearby. When you look at many pre-World War II neighbourhoods, they have a great ability to be renewed and transformed. They can be called sustainable because the buildings and infrastructure don’t need to be razed; the ultimate in reuse! There is also a movement to retrofit 1950’s suburbia and turn dead malls into mixed-used regional centres, we can call this recycling. But, what will come of 1980’s to percent business parks? What will come of places like Glouchester? We will simply abandon them or can they be transformed?

I think that places like Glouchester might be turned back to nature, but other areas might be different if they are close to regional transit corridors. What do you think? Could places like Glouchester have a second life?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Frontier to Freeway

In doing some research on transportation in BC, I came across a great resource called, "Frontier to Freeway: A short illustrated history of the roads in British Columbia". It a free ebook from the Ministry of Transportation. As alluded to in the title, it is a illustrated history of road building in BC from First Nations Trails to the turn of the 21st century. Our highway system has certainly played a major role in shaping BC and it's well worth the read. My favourite section of course is on the Port Mann and Lower Mainland highways which starts on page 18.

Port Mann Bridge Under Construction in the 1960's

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Freeways, Falcon, and History

First some history, back in the 1990's the NDP government of the day made the Trans-Canada highway a freeway between Victoria and Langford to reduce congestion as part of the massive Island Highway project. Of course the highway expansion lead to more congestion and is known locally as the Colwood Crawl. Imagine my surprise when I saw this quote from BC Liberal leadership hopeful Kevin Falcon, hero of the Gateway Highway Expansion program and SkyTrain, in yesterday's Times Colonist.

"The first thing we've got to do is sit down and figure out what is the best way to deal with the Colwood crawl — is E&N the best way to go, is light rail the best way to go?" said Falcon.

I was impressed the he was suggesting a.) an Interurban route or b.) a light rail line. Though he also mused about building a new overpass, it seems that politicians in the Capital region have already been burnt by the promise of congestion free highways.

"It must be coming up to 20 years or 15 years since the decision was made to do Helmcken and not McKenzie. But that in itself won't solve the crawl. That will just move traffic to Tillicum," Leonard said.

Speaking about the Gateway Program, the Port Mann/Highway 1 project reached a important milestone on January 11th. You can read the whole government press release, but I had to laugh a bit at the following quote:

“Once complete, travel times will be cut by as much as 30 per cent. For some, that saves almost an hour a day in travel. For the first time in over 20 years, we’ll see reliable transit service over the new Port Mann Bridge with a new RapidBus service. By 2031, this service will reduce greenhouse gases by 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes per year.”

I have to laugh because the province is still trying to sell the Gateway Program as being sustainable. It's not and the government's own report saying it's not. In fact, the government's own report say that it will increase greenhouse gases!

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy about the RapidBus service and it is even triggering mixed-use, transit-oriented development in Langley, but the Gateway Program as a whole has taken money away from building transit in the South of Fraser and that is sad because local governments (who look after the vast majority of the roads in the region) don't plan on building too many more roads to connect into the freeway. In Surrey, for example, the road network you see now it pretty much how it's going to be. We'll have no choice but to focus on sustainable modes of transportation because there will be no room for new roads in the region. It just too bad that we have to wait until after 2013 to build the transportation system that we really need in the South of Fraser.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Port Mann

This picture is via Civic Surrey and shows the massive scale of the Port Mann Bridge.
New Port Mann
The new bridge will be about 150 feet wide. What can you fit in 150 feet?

Black Line = Port Mann if it was in downtown Vancouver
You can call this project many things, but green and sustainable it ain't...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mixed-use on the Ground

I stumbled upon the website of Keystone Architecture & Planning. They are an Abbotsford based firm and are doing some mixed-use and higher density design work in the Valley. While some of their projects are the standard auto-orientated development, they have some great projects that I wanted to highlight. Certainly there is an ever increasing portfolio of mixed-use, multimodal development in the Valley, but the majority of what goes on still makes me cringe. I have to wonder when we'll hit the tipping point where mixed-use and higher density development becomes the norm.

Yale Crossing
2632 Pauline Street, Abbotsford, BC

La Galleria
Trethewey Street & Simon Avenue, Abbotsford, BC

EMCO Office Building
32988 South Fraser Way, Abbotsford, BC

Monday, January 17, 2011

Office Parks and Pedestrian Access

One of the issues with office park development is that it has the tenancy to make driving the only practical mode for access. Take the following example of an office park in the Cloverdale area in Surrey:

If I wanted to get to 60th Avenue from this office park, the easiest route would be to follow the green line.

Unfortunately since this is all private property, the two developments didn't coordinate anything, so I have to follow the much longer red line route. It's little thing like this that make walkability difficult in many parts of our region and would be really easy to fix with a little planning...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Nat Geo - On China's Roads (and Rails), a Move Toward Greener Transit

National Geographic has a great article on transporation in China that is part of their special series on engery.
In the big picture, according to Peng, plug-in cars will be less important than transportation options such as buses and rail that make it attractive and affordable to skip driving altogether. "Public transportation is probably more important from the perspective of long-term sustainability issues," he said.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Transit in Abbotsford going to suck for a while....

An article with Abbotsford Mayor George Peary's view on transit appeared in The Abbotsford News. As I posted earlier, the Strategic Review of Transit in the Fraser Valley Report was released in December and recommended more transit service. Right now Abbotsford is at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to transit funding and if the Mayor's comments are any indication, it is going to be that way for some time.
He called the strategic review “a visionary document,” and said Abbotsford is not about to double its transit budget.

Current Average Household Transit Property Tax, Blue.
Future Average Household Transit Property Tax  if Doubled in Abbotsford, Red.

If Abbotsford was to double its transit budget it would result in a 3/10th of a percent increase in one year on property tax. If Abbotsford committed to a 3 year plan of double transit service, it would amount to about a $4 a year increase to transit funding. If Abbotsford won't even pay that, forget about an interregional transit Express Buses or the Interurban!

However, on Monday night, Abbotsford council approved a staff recommendation that “future transit planning for the City of Abbotsford focus on local transit investment.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More than the Grid

Last night I was looking at the Los Angeles area on Google Maps and was struck by how strong the road grid is in that region. Sometime in the urban geek circle we like to blame the cul-de-sac for the lack of transit usage, but while having a grid is important, it's only one part of the equation. Look at the following to maps, it would appear that Calgary should have less transit mode share than Los Angeles. In fact Calgary has 17% mode share and the City of Los Angeles has 10.8% mode share for transit.

City of Calgary

City of Los Angeles

Of course density is also important for building transit cities like the City of Vancouver or New York for example, but there is one other thing that we often overlook: the culture of transit. All things being equal, Calgary should have the worst transit usage in Canada as its physical form is far from transit friendly, yet elections are fought over who can expanding transit the most in that city. Major Canadian cities have higher transit usage than major American cities almost across the board and I think one of the reasons is that we don't think of transit as something for poor people or "losers"; taking transit doesn't have a stigma attached to it like in the US. Culture is powerful motivator and one that is sometimes overlooked when talking about transit.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Evergreen Line - Public Consultation

With little fanfare, the Evergreen Line line has finished its public consultation and design period. Starting this year, it will move into construction. All that remains to do is select a contractor and wait for the Environmental Assessment Office to approve the Evergreen Line application. (I don't think a project has ever been turned down by the EAO). The province is already buying up property and relocating tenants, though according to Minister Shirley Bond, the province won't issue any eviction notices just yet. This is great for a project that is only 2/3 funded.

Anyway, the Evergreen Line Project Office has released the last public consultation report on station area design. And what did people want? Parking!
As was reflected in feedback gathered during Preliminary Design Consultation in October-November 2009, participants continued to raise the issue of parking at stations and along the Evergreen Line corridor.

Parking was of particular concern for the areas in the vicinity of Port Moody Central Station, Lougheed Town Centre Station and Coquitlam Central Station.
-67% of respondents indicated they would like to see expanded parking in the vicinity of Coquitlam Central Station
-57% wanted expanded parking in the vicinity of Port Moody Central Station
-52% wanted park and ride facilities provided near Douglas College Station

Monday, January 10, 2011

Picture of the Day - Urban/Rural Interface

Several years ago, I was at a lecture series that was discussing urban/rural interfaces. The lecturer was talking about how buffers like linear parks or agri-businesses were needed to separate the city from the country. While there is certainly examples of this kind of buffer -the Township of Langley’s Arber Ribbon comes to mind- having urban life right up to a farm can create a great sense of place without the problems of suburban development. The following pictures are from the intersection of 208th Street, Fraser Highway, and the Langley Bypass; one side of the intersection is farmland, the other city.

Fraser Highway, East of 208th Street/Langley Bypass

Fraser Highway, West of 208th Street/Langley Bypass

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Cost of "Free" Parking

New research is looking at the real cost of parking. For some time now South Fraser OnTrax has been advocating for downtown Vancouver-style parking planning. In the downtown core, each private condo parkade has some designated public parking. Instead of large expanses of parking lots, the public parking is spread out, allowing people to park and walk, cycle or take transit.

In a community like Langley, parking is getting out of control. New developments are being planned for 1-2 family vehicles and visitors. But go to any of the new townhouse or other multifamily housing units and you will see vehicles everywhere! Besides having 1-2 family cars, folks also bring home work vehicles, work trailers, camping trailers, motorcycle and quad trailers, etc. These vehicles are spilling out onto temporary parking areas that will one day serve future developments. In the suburbs we are overburdened with far too many vehicles per household. In Walnut Grove where I reside, there are all types of vehicles and trailers everywhere and it is an eyesore.

There is a cost to parking and it takes a BIG toll on our environment. Big box parking lots are VERY ugly, but what is happening to the environment around them? Take a walk around the edges of some of these massive surfaces and look at the surrounding soil. Water runoff is causing the surface chemicals to leech into the soil and ultimately the groundwater below. This is NOT at all healthy.

Finally someone is looking at the true costs associated with our parking love affair. The research shows that with our free-wheeling parking planning, we actually encourage people to drive instead of walking, cycling and taking transit. When I lived in downtown Vancouver I walked often because parking was inconvenient, expensive and limited. Looking back and after reading this research I see where that was a good thing.
"Only in the last 5-10 years have we been giving some thought to whether there should be an abundance of free parking," said Chester. "Ninety-nine percent of automobile trips end in free parking and this has a major effect on people's choice of what means of transportation to take."
-- Donald Shoup, UCLA Urban Planning Professor

Friday, January 7, 2011

Road Pricing - LA

I've talked about high occupancy/toll lanes or HOT lanes in the past and how governments in the US are using them to manage congestion on their road systems. HOT lanes use free-market thinking to price roads to manage congestion. In the Greater Los Angeles area, they already have success with HOT lanes or what they call ExpressLanes in Orange County. The 91 Express Lanes are priced between $1.30 and $9.95 depending on the time-of-day. As part of a special federal grant, Los Angles County will be implementing ExpressLanes on the I-10 and I-110 corridors. As well as implementing road pricing, they will also be beefing up transit. Metro, the regional transportation authority, has a great video that explains the concept of HOT lanes and Metro implementation plan. It's worth the watch.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ridership Stats

Every quarter, the American Public Transit Association reports on ridership by transit mode for most major public transit agencies in Canada and the United States. The reports use unlinked passenger trips also called ridership. For example, because I take the 502 and SkyTrain to/from work that would count as 4 trips per day. Anyway, there is some interest data in the latest 3rd quarter 2010 report.

While most transit agency saw single-digit growth in ridership, some systems saw huge grow in certain transit modes. In Edmonton, they saw 18.53% growth in ridership on their light rail system. They completed the Edmonton South Light Rail project in 2010. Toronto saw a 14.76% increase in streetcar usage. They opened the reconstructed 512 St. Clair streetcar line in June 2010.

The biggest gains in ridership happened right here in Metro Vancouver. The SkyTrain system saw a 50% increase in ridership. Some of this was from the Olympics, but most of the growth was likely due to the new Canada Line. It will be interesting to see the 2011 ridership stats for SkyTrain to see how many people kept on taking transit after the games. Also, the SeaBus service saw a 19.97% increase in ridership. What is really interest is that ridership on trolleybuses decreased by 6.19% while diesel bus service only grew by 1.34% which is less than the rate of population growth.

The only diesel bus systems that saw any signification growth was GO Transit in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) which saw an 8.70% increase for their highway coach express buses and Brampton Transit which saw 11.62% growth on their vanilla diesel bus system. With the exception of Brampton which is a small system coming-of-age, it would seem that vanilla bus service isn’t the way to grow transit usage.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

South Shore Line

I found this video of a street-running section of the South Shore Line Interurban that runs some 145km between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana. This is a good video to keep in the back of your mind when people tell you how rail-based transit must be build to be effective. I suggest that you watch this in full HD on YouTube.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Let's Talk Tax - Part Two

Yesterday, I looked at the 2010 local government tax rates for municipalities in the South of Fraser and compared the rates to other municipalities. I noted that because the provincial government pays the hospital tax in Metro Vancouver, even with TransLink, our rates are comparable to other municipalities in BC. Of course housing costs vary throughout the province, so a better way to look at taxes is to look at the average house. The following chart shows the average tax that your typical single-family household would pay.

2010 Taxes and Charges on a Representative House (Click Graph to Enlarge)

As shown on the previous chart, the amount of money that you pay for local government services are pretty consistent across the province for larger centres. I will point out that taxes are higher in the Burrard Peninsula communities (Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, etc.) and if you are lucky enough to live in West Vancouver, you pay the most tax in the province hands-down ($7,111 for the "average" house.)

The most interesting observation is the fact that Abbotsford residents pay more tax and have a higher tax rate than Langley or Surrey. We also know that Abbotsford has crappy transit. If I was a politician in Abbotsford, I would be knocking at the door of Metro Vancouver to join the region: lower taxes, better service.

While some people in the South of Fraser like to complain about the "cost" of being in Metro Vancouver and TransLink, I would suggest that they wake-up to the fact that we pay some of the lowest taxes in the province (for large centres) and get some of the best transit and local government service. Of course there is much more that can be done, but it's good to know that we have a base from which we can grow.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Let's Talk Tax

Happy New Year. With the Christmas season now over, what better time to talk about the taxes we pay for services from our local government. I wanted to look at residential property tax rates because some people in Metro Vancouver might think that their property tax is out of line with other larger centres in BC. Of course the tax rate is only half the story and tomorrow I'll look at the average property tax burden in these municipalities. You'll notice that I singled out the hospital tax rate because in Metro Vancouver the province picks up the tab as a result of TransLink. The TransLink tax rate is 0.38020. The median hospital tax rate in urban centres out of Metro Vancouver is 0.29. So really, the TransLink tax rate is 0.09 or for the average house in the South of Fraser $43.60 a year. That's less than what you pay for your public library a year. Hopefully this will bring some more understanding to current funding stand-off over TransLink with the mayors and the province.
2010 Tax Rate (Selected Municipalities)

Metro Vancouver
City Langley
Total: 6.4596
Hospital: 0

White Rock
Total: 6.2268
Hospital: 0

Total: 6.0958
Hospital: 0

Township of Langley
Total: 5.7787
Hospital: 0

Total: 4.9073
Hospital: 0

Total: 4.2186
Hospital: 0

Total: 4.9066
Hospital: 0

Outside Metro Vancouver
Prince George
Total: 12.2007
Hospital: 0.3907

Total: 7.9085
Hospital: 0.2141

Total: 7.5988
Hospital: 0.2565

Total: 7.2637
Hospital: 0.2141

Total: 6.3060
Hospital: 0.2945

Total: 6.1853
Hospital: 0.3118

Total: 5.8698
Hospital: 0.2940