Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fairview Heights

If you ever go by the northeast side of the Highway 1 and Highway 15 interchange, you will notice that there is an empty lot with a road that goes from nowhere to nowhere. Originally, it was going to be home to a Thrifty Foods grocery store and various other big box retailers. In 2008, a mixed-use development with 841 units was proposed for the site. On May 9th, the proposal was revised to reduce the number of units to 596 due to market conditions.

Fairview Heights - Proposed Mixed Use Development. Click Image to Enlarge
Even with the reduction in units, this is still a pretty large development. What I notice about this development and others in the South of Fraser is that we do a good job with residential development and density. A surface parking lots is usually hard to find in a residential developments, but it still seems that commercial developments are focused around a parking lot and this project is no exception. I can think of a few reasons why this is the case. The first reason that pops into my mind is that while surface parking lots are all but banned in municipal bylaws for most multifamily developments, this isn't the case for commercial developments. The other reason could be that because there is still so much greenfield developable land, surface parking is still considered "cheap" to build as we haven't been forced to be smarter with what we build.

Hopefully the new Highway 1 RapidBus will make a stop at this project when it opens.

Monday, May 30, 2011


This weekend, I was back in my hometown of Vernon, BC attending a friend's wedding. I haven't really spent much time in Vernon since I moved away in 2001 to the big city. I took a few pictures of the changes in downtown Vernon including some new office buildings and I also took some pictures of Vernon's mixed-use downtown.

One of the exciting things that I saw in Vernon was the introduction of multi-use bike/walk corridors and tons of on-street bike lanes on exciting roads that didn't exist in 2001. It's amazing that a city of 38,895 can afford this as we've been told that building this kind of infrastructure in Langley with a population of 130,555 in unaffordable.

Multi-use Trail in Vernon, BC

Friday, May 27, 2011

Environmental Petitions

So I didn't know this, but if you are concerned about the federal government and its roll in protecting the environment, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada has a solution. It's call an Environmental Petition.

In 1995, the government of the time passed a law that allows citizens to bring their concerns about sustainable development and action requested. The federal government must reply.

Anyway, have a look at previous petitions and watch this video.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More on Surrey Rapid Transit Study

Following up to yesterday’s post, I also talked to Jeffrey Busby and Dan Freeman about what they see as the primary difference between bus rapid transit, light rail, and SkyTrain technology. When talking about bus rapid transit and this is the assumption in the Surrey Rapid Transit Study, it is fully separated from traffic and has similar station and guideway design as light rail. The only true bus rapid transit we ever had in our region was the No. 3 Road Busway in Richmond for the old 98 B-Line. The 97 B-Line and 99 B-Line are not bus rapid transit; they are just express buses.

Anyway with that out of the way, the difference between bus rapid transit, light rail, and SkyTrain boils down to total people carrying capacity, capital cost, and operational cost according to TransLink. The following chart is meant to give you a rough idea of capital costs per km, operating cost per passenger, and total people carrying ability.

Comparing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Light Rail, and SkyTrain
Now, I’m a big fan of light rail because I believe it offers the best value and is the most flexible and scalable form of rapid transit, but I invite you to look on TransLink's website to see how they view things.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Surrey Rapid Transit Study - Phase Two

In 2008, TransLink completed the South of the Fraser Area Transit Plan which looked at how to improve the local bus network. The plan recommended switching to a more urban grid bus network, developing a frequent transit network along the grid, and increasing service hours. To date TransLink has increased bus service by 33%. This plan did not go into any detail about rapid transit options for the South of Fraser, so TransLink launched the Surrey Rapid Transit Study in the spring of 2010. Phase one of the study looked at the broad list of rapid transit options and objectives which you can read more about from a previous post.

TransLink has just launched phase two of the study which will take a closer look at the rapid transit options from phase one to selects a shortlist of options or alternatives for phase three of the study. They expect phase two to be complete in the winter. Tomorrow TransLink will have all the options on their website including bus rapid transit, light rail, and SkyTrain which range in price from $650 million to $2.1 billion.

More important than the technology choices is the choice of corridors. TransLink has picked King George Boulevard, 104th Avenue, and Fraser Highway. They picked those corridors because they link the largest growth areas in the South of Fraser which are Surrey City Centre, Guildford, Newton, and the Langley Regional Centre. Missing is the Interurban corridor.

Rapid Transit Corridors in Green
I had the chance to talk to Jeffrey Busby and Dan Freeman who are both project planners at TransLink. I asked them why TransLink has never really been interested in the Interurban corridor. I was told that the Interurban corridor was always “sold” as an easy and fast solution to build, but TransLink does not see it that way. As they want to build a rapid transit network that will run up to every 5 minutes, the corridor would have to be triple-tracked or quadruple-tracked because the federal government will not allow freight trains and light rail trains to share the same track. Because the track is only single-tracked today, the amount of property that would need to be acquired would be cost prohibitive. They pointed out that the City of Surrey already has the right-of-way on King George Boulevard, 104th Ave, and Fraser Highway to build rapid transit along those corridors. They also pointed out that the only major growth areas that the Interurban corridor touches is Langley Centre and it misses the most important growth area which is Surrey City Centre. Busby and Freeman thought that the Interurban corridor would be more suited for a less frequent service like a tourist tram.

One of the interesting things that Busby and Freeman talked about was the delusion effect that could happen in Surrey City Centre due to building rapid transit. Basically, there is a tonne of room in Surrey Centre right now for density and that Surrey needs to be careful to balance the growth objectives of their new downtown with density they’d like to build along transit corridors. You wouldn't want all the new density to leave their new downtown.

As you know, TransLink currently has no money to build any transit improves. Right now they are in talks with the province to fund the Evergreen Line and I was told that in 2012 they will be sorting out how to fund the Surrey Rapid Transit Project and other projects like the UBC line.

TransLink is currently seeking feedback and I suggest that you participate in the Webinar on May 30, 2011 or at one of the in-person workshops.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Metro Vancouver Water

When many people think of what makes a city work and grow, they think of roads and free land to build on. While these are important, the key to building a city is to have a low-cost, available water supply and sewers. In fact, there is an urban planning trick question about this. What is the major reason for sprawl? You are supposed to answer roads, the urban planner will correct you with water mains as the answer.

Unlike some major city like LA and New York that pump their water from 100’s of kilometres away, our water comes from the Capilano, Seymour, and Coquitlam watersheds. This is good news for the future of our region as we’ll continue to have a clean source of water for some time, while many other regions in North America are running out of water today.

Metro Vancouver has been working for over a decade, without much fanfare, replacing and upgrading the water infrastructure which is so important for human life and for a functioning, sustainable city. In 2005, Metro Vancouver released a drinking water management plan and they are currently working on an update of the plan. While there are some obvious projects like finishing the Seymour-Capilano Filtration Project, they are also other less sexy projects like patching leaky water mains and reducing system pressure to prevent more leaks. Also interest is the part of the plan that talks about providing watershed field-trips and education material to help people become more aware of where their water comes from. The plan is only 16 pages long and is worth a read.

I’ve also posted a link to the “other” Port Mann project which will ensure that South of the Fraser communities have clean drinking water into the future.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ottawa Update

I've been following the story of Ottawa's conversion from a Bus Rapid Transit town to a Light Rail town since the start of this blog. Last year, the City approved a new, electric 12.5km light rail system to complement the pilot diesel O-Train system that uses an old rail right-of-way. According to the Ottawa Citizen, the O-Train might be getting an expansion.
The O-Train could come as frequently as every eight minutes, half the current waiting time, under a $59-million plan discussed at a city transit commission meeting Wednesday
A few days ago, Ottawa released concept designs of the new light rail stations. You can view pictures on the City's project website and at the Ottawa Citizen
The goal of the designs for the 13 stations, from architecture to graphics, is to “ennoble the transit experience,” encourage ridership, and instil community pride, according to a presentation to be given Thursday to the city’s advisory committees on pedestrians and transit, and roads and cycling.

“Users of public transit deserve the highest level of design quality,” says the presentation by the City of Ottawa and its architecture and landscape design consultants.

An Older Overview Video

Thursday, May 19, 2011

CBC Interview on Pattullo Bridge

At 7:20am this morning, I gave an interview on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition on the state of the Pattullo Bridge, tolling, and public transportation options. You can hear the interview by heading over to the Early Edition's website. The interview starts at the 01:31:22 mark.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Carbon Tax News

It seems that carbon tax is showing up on the radar again. First, the Vancouver Observer has a post called Christy Clark and the carbon tax.
Fifty people gathered in a classroom at SFU Harbourside on March 18 to listen to Dr. Nancy Olewiler, Economics Professor of Director SFU’s Public Policy Program, talk about the future of the B.C. Carbon Tax


Olewiler described BC’s carbon tax as a “text book policy,” well designed to meet its goals. The tax started at a low level ($10 per tonne) with increases announced well in advance ($30/tonne in 2012) so that businesses can plan for the most cost effective infrastructure investments.... And, most politically important, it is transparent and accountable. All carbon tax revenues must be returned to the people of BC.
Meanwhile, it seems like Christy Clark's government is looking at using the carbon tax to pay for transit improvements in Metro Vancouver. This actually makes sense as the transportation sector is the largest source of GHG emissions in the province. Providing transit options will finally give people an alternative to driving, especially out in the South of Fraser. According to the Vancouver Sun,

In an open letter to British Columbians released by Clark's office earlier this month, the premier said she is "open to considering using the carbon tax to support regional initiatives, such as public transit."


The statement was lauded by Metro mayors, who in 2009 were firmly rebuffed when they asked for $300 million per year for transit from the provincial carbon tax. Then-premier Gordon Campbell rejected any use of the tax for regional transportation.


Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender said it makes sense to use the carbon tax to fund transportation projects because there's a direct correlation between transit and greenhouse gas emissions.

But the mayors acknowledge the region will have to first look at the priorities and determine how much of the carbon tax is needed to provide transit services.
Finally in Australia, debating is heating up over a proposed federal carbon tax as part of that country's climate change policy. It seems that the price of carbon is a sticking point according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Climate Change Minister Greg Combet rejected this call and said the carbon tax would be “…well south of $40 a tonne ”,  prompting an immediate demand from Greens leader Bob Brown that Mr Combet explain why that would be so and provide the rationale for setting a price at less that $40 per tonne.

It is clear the battle lines are being drawn between the Greens and Labor on the carbon tax.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Half-Truths in Environmental Assessment

I was reading the Environmental Assessment for the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor Program - Surrey Grade Separations 192 Street, 54 Avenue, 196 Street “Combo Project”, a fun little 539 page document, and was a bit alarmed when I read the section on climate change.
During road and bridge operation, vehicle usage may increase due to population increases and the improvements in traffic conditions (i.e. elimination of level crossings and associated delays due to passing trains). The associated increases in greenhouse gas emissions will likely be mitigated by improvements in technology (including increased availability of hybrid and/or electric vehicles) that will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and decreased idling time of vehicles compared to the present situation where cars idle for extended time periods waiting for trains to pass at level crossings. (page 64)
One of the biggest half-truths that gets used to green-wash road building projects is that they reduce congestion by stopping cars from idling. This is only true if there is a minimal increase in total traffic volume. Of course all you normally get is more traffic and more congestion. The other thing that I notice in road building environmental assessments is that the authors believe that the glorious future will be able to solve all our problems with new technology. This basically amounts to dumping the externalities of these projects to future generation. The most disturbing sentence in this environmental assessment is “The overall contribution to climate change is unknown.”

There is science based research in the “Combo Project” environmental assessment, but like many other assessment reports for road projects, it seems that science can be brushed aside when it comes to air pollution.

Don’t get me wrong, this project isn't necessarily bad, but it’s high time that these reports contain actual science when it comes to climate change.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Light Rail in Victoria

As I posted earlier, it looks like Victoria is on the path to getting light rail transit. I was encouraged about the following story in the Victoria Times Colonist about bring light rail to a non-binding referendum in the fall municipal elections.
Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, who also sits on the transit commission, said he would welcome a plebiscite on LRT. The project cannot move ahead without two thirds funding from senior governments, Fortin said. If that came through, he would campaign for a "yes" vote, he said. "I'd be very interested in having a plebiscite as part of it recognizing it's a substantive amount of money if we're going to spend $250 million," Fortin said. "I would be quite happy to get out there and campaign on behalf of the yes."

B.C. Transit analysis has found light rail to be the best option over conventional transit or rapid buses in dedicated lanes. But light rail is the most expensive to build.

Pay-As-You-Drive Vehicle Insurance

Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute has released a new report on Pay-As-You-Drive Vehicle Insurance in British Columbia or PAYD. In BC, Litman suggests that motorist get the option of using the current system for insurance or opting into PAYD if they could save money. PAYD insurance works by taking a reading of a vehicle's odometer at an insurance broker and charging you based on the actual kilometres travelled. It's a win-win because motorist that drive less, save more while motorist that drive a lot, pay the same rate. Beside saving the motorist money, PAYD insurance also saves the insurance company money. Research shows that people who drive less, have less crashes.

Crashes per vehicle-year tend to increase with annual mileage.
PAYD insurance is also good for the environment.
In addition to consumer savings, PAYD pricing tends to reduce energy consumption, carbon and other pollution emissions, and traffic congestion. It increases insurance affordability by allowing motorists a new opportunity to save money, and it is progressive with respect to income since lower-income motorists tend to drive less than average. It can help achieve ICBC policy objectives including traffic safety, social equity, consumer affordability, emission reductions, and infrastructure cost savings.
The good thing about PAYD insurance is that it's already being used in other parts of North America and in Europe. Check out Litman's report, it's worth the read.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Calgary's Frequent Bus Network and Walkability

I went to school in Calgary back in the day and I just returned from visiting some friends their. I was shocked at the amount of change in the city; both good and bad. I was really encourage to see that the downtown and older neighbourhoods in Calgary are still vibrant and are seeing added density, but was saddened at the seemingly endless sprawl around the edge of the city. As I was taking transit visiting Calgary's urban areas like Downtown, Kensington, Inglewood, and Uptown 17th, I noticed that there seemed to be a correlation between Calgary's walkable neighbourhoods and the frequent bus network. I decided to plot the bus routes in Calgary that run 15min or better service for most of the day. I excluded the C-Train LRT as it operates more like a suburban rail network and relies heavily on park and ride lots.

Calgary's frequent local bus network. Click image to enlarge.
After plotting the frequent bus network which included routes 1 through 7 and 20, I marked off the areas of the city that fall within about a 400m or 5 minute walking distance of the bus routes.

Shaded areas within 400m or 5 minute walk of local bus stop. Click image to enlarge.

Not surprising, but all the areas that I like in Calgary are within walking distance of the frequent local bus network. Also interesting is that most of Calgary's "streetcar" or local grid road network is walkable while most of Calgary's cul-de-sac, collector, and expressway style network is not.

Looking at the map, I've come to the realization that successful urban, walkable neighbourhoods and cities must be designed with maximum connectivity options in mind. This usually results in the grid network.

Download the Google Earth Data

Friday, May 6, 2011

Distance Based Congestion Charge

One of the ways that our regional government is looking to help pay for transportation infrastructure and reduce congestion is the possibility of pricing roads. While many see that charging a toll to cross a bridge as unfair for people in the South of Fraser, one of the other ways of pricing roads is the use of distance based pricing. I found this article on the Israeli Diamond Industry website of all places.
The plan proposes a charge of between NIS 0.10 and NIS1.00 ($0.03-0.30) per kilometer of travel inside the city, based on traffic congestion.

The finance and transport ministries are planning a pilot program with 1,200 drivers and Ayalon Highways in a few months.

Under the congestion pricing pilot scheme, participating vehicles will have GPS transponders installed, which will measure several factors: travel time, location, and distance in order to determine the amount of the congestion charge allocated to each driver.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Congestion Pricing - New York

Here is an interesting video about congestion pricing that was proposed for New York City in 2008, but didn't get passed the state's government.

Congestion Pricing Spot from Nicholas Whitaker on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Greenhouse gas emissions

I found these interesting charts on Environment Canada's website with a breakdown of GHG emission sources by province and by sector nationally.

Regional Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 2008

Not surprising but Alberta is responsible for a full 33.4% of Canada’s total GHG emissions. That means per capita Alberta produces 84 tons of GHG emissions which is the same as Saskatchewan. This compares to the per capita GHG emissions of Ontario and BC which are 17 tons each while in Quebec it is 12 tons.

It's no surprising that in our current political environment, nothing will be done to combat climate change. In the ideal world, the federal government would work with the prairie provinces to help them move away from fossil fuels for electrical generation, thought the elephant in the closest is how to provide good paying jobs in Alberta while moving them away from the deadly oil and gas sector.

Sources and Impacts of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 2008

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts on Election Day

With Election Day on hand, I encourage you to vote. For those of you that don’t think your voice matters or that nothing every changes, I encourage you to look at these chats which are a combination of all the polling company results in BC and Quebec.

From Andrew Heard

From Andrew Heard
One of the big changes during this election campaign is the coming of age of social media. During the campaign, I was practically spammed with party rhetoric and was responsible for some myself. While the general public's involvement in the election campaign was up, political parties and their candidates haven’t fully embraced the two-way nature of social media.

Personally, I was disappointed at most of the local Langley candidates this federal election. In the 2008 federal election we heard from all candidate with the exception of Mark Warawa who continues to have a policy of not responding to questions unless it is major media outlet or local media like the Langley Times or Langley Advance. So I was not surprised the he didn’t respond, but I was shocked that only Craig Nobbs of the Pirate Party of Canada had time this federal election to reply to our email request to answer a few questions on sustainable community building. Apparently, Carey Poitras of the Green Party, Piotr Majkowski of the NDP, and Rebecca Darnell of the Liberal had no time to reply to our email.

During the 2009 provincial election, we heard from most Langley candidates including from the incumbent BC Liberal candidates, so I don’t know what happened with the federal candidates this time around. I know that many candidates now have twitter feeds, facebook pages, and email. If they want to attract the younger generation, they need to realize that the Internet is a two-way street. Hearing from a candidate when you tweet them with a real question is very exciting. Sadly, I didn’t not experience it this election.