Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Roberts Bank Corridor Project - 196th Street Update

Back in January, the City of Langley held an open house about a new street, 196th, that was being built as part of the Roberts Bank Corridor Overpass Program. The original plan got many of the residents along the right-of-way upset because their yards which used to back into a  wooded area with a trail is being replaced with a noisy road.

Listening to neighbourhood concerns, the project planners changed the cross-section of 196th Street from

196th Street Old Cross-section
196th Street - New Cross-section
The east sidewalk was removed to allow for the retention of trees that would have been removed. Also, many of the residents where concern about noise from the pedestrian/trail connection and some even wanted it removed. I'm very happy that the connection is still there and that a berm will be installed to visually and aurally buffer the residents from 196th Street.

196th Street/53rd Avenue Pedestrian Amenities
I still have a call in to whether this connection will accommodate cyclists and will report back as soon as I find out. You can also download a full map called "The 10 Point Plan" which points out all the design features meant to reduce the impact on the community.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Time for a Kitty License in Langley?

One of the items that we will be talking about at the next City of Langley Park and Environment Advisory Committee is if the City should have a cat licensing requirement similar to the current dog licensing requirement. Langley is home to a diverse species of birds and small mammals, and according to an article in the May 28, 2011 edition of the Vancouver Sun:
Krystal Brennan, education coordinator at the Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C., said keeping cats indoors is good for the cat's safety and also prevents cats from attacking and often killing birds and small mammals.

"People don't really see that their cat can cause this much damage to wildlife," Brennan said. "Cats are natural predators that weren't native to this environment."
She said about 10 per cent of animals treated each year at their rescue facility have been attacked
According to the same article in BC over 90% of lost dogs are reunited with their owners while only 10% of cats are. The obvious benefit of cat licensing is that it helps reunite pets with their owners, but it also has other benefits. Both Calgary and Toronto have cat licensing. If your cat is “fixed” the cost per year is in the $10 range, otherwise the cost is three times more. The licensing fee pays for enforcement of animal control bylaws, education for owners, and emergency shelter for pets. It also reduces the amount stray cats that attack wildlife.

With the City of Langley home to the environmental sensitive Nicomekl Floodplain, maybe it is time for cat licensing in Langley.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Guerrilla Art

If you've ever been to Surrey Central SkyTrain Station, you might have noticed a bench and light that are surrounded by a fence under the stairs to the SkyTrain platform.

A "loose group of community members, organizations and amateur-artists" called interbenchion has decided to highlight this absurdity by highlight the fact that this bench exists with some public art displays.

This is there first go at it.

It made me laugh because it actually is a model of a real public art installation at a transit loop in Portland.

There second installation was a UFO-themed bench.

I think that it's a testament to a changing community that there are people who care enough to do something like this because it's not really easy (though I'm sure TransLink sees this differently, unless there in on it.)

Friday, June 24, 2011

BASELondon and Smarter Cities

BASELondon is a conference and trade show about "opportunities in a low-carbon London." The latest conference was last Wednesday. You can view presentations from the event on their website and many are worth looking at. IBM was also at the show with their Smarter Cities campaign and released an interesting infograph about what people in the UK think about their cities. You can read the full survey at IBM's website.

Click image to enlarge
Beyond this survey and even this event, smart businesses are starting to looking for new opportunities in the growing green economy and smart cities are looking to attract that business. Our region is at a cross-roads, we can either embrace the high-growth, green economy like Surrey is starting to do or be left behind as in the fossil fuel era.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

SFU & City of Surrey Transportation Lecture Program

Last year, I had the chance to attend the first ever SFU & City of Surrey Transportation Lecture Program, you can read about it on previous posts, but it was well worth attending. The following came through my email.
Hi all,

We are happy to confirm the 2011 edition of the SFU & City of Surrey Transportation Lecture Program. Some changes have been made to the program, and we really appreciate the feedback you gave us in order to improve this initiative for this year.

All the updated information is on our website (under News, and under Transportation Lectures) and application forms will be accepted until Aug 15th.

Please forward this link to anyone you think might be interested in attending the course. For any additional information, please contact me directly.

Thank you,


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Parking Insanity

I was reading over the minutes of the latest public hearing in the City of Langley about a townhouse development and came across the following.
Councillor Hall noted that an Advisory Planning Commission member raised an issue regarding visitor parking. He suggested additional visitor parking may be possible in the southern part of the lot. Councillor Hall inquired about what the requirement is for visitor parking and the Director of Development Services and Economic Development noted that the application complies with the zoning bylaw. He further noted that the Advisory Planning Commission members considered the addition of more parking area however, decided that the enhanced landscaping was preferred.
This reminded me of when Langley was planning the spirit square and one councillor actually wanted to pave over a part of Douglas Park for parking. Insane!

Even with gas at $1.30+ a litre, parking is still the number one issue in Langley and people still feel that the more free parking, the better. Parking is expensive. In places like Langley, it costs on average $671 per year per space while in urban city centre like Vancouver is can cost $4,007 per year per space to provide. In Downtown Surrey and Vancouver, you can even buy places without parking to save money.

I still find it odd that businesses in Downtown Langley complained about the lack of parking and actually advocated for 3 hour free "customer" parking which as far as I can see is used for the employees and owners of said businesses. In reality, there should be one hour paid parking to allow turn-over of prime on-street parking spots and business owners and employees should be using the many empty off-street parking lots. Remember paid parking was invented by a business man.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fort Langley gets a New IGA

Last January the Fort Langley IGA sadly burned to the ground. Speaking to people who live in the Fort, it was an important part of the community. It was also the only grocery store in the area. One of the important things any walkable community needs is a grocery store. As announced on Langley Politics and also on the Lee family's blog that has been documenting the progress of rebuilding the store, they posted the design of the new store. I'm happy to see that this parking lot will be gone...

and is being replaced with this...

Looking south with Mavis Ave in foreground. New IGA on left at corner of Church St and shops/offices to the right with public plaza at corner of Mavis and Glover Rd.

Friday, June 17, 2011

SkyTrain to become 100% accessible

For over thirty years, there has been two stations on the SkyTrain network which have not been accessible to all member of our region; Scott Road Station and Granville Station. A few years back Granville Station was upgraded to fully accessible status and work is now beginning to make Scott Road station accessible.

Fred Cummings presents award to Al Cleaver, former Surrey fire chief and member of the Access Transit User Advisory Committee.
The Federal Government, Provincial Government, and TransLink have started construction on a $5.1 million upgrade of Scott Road station that will see a new elevator to the bus loop open for service in 2012. With the completion of this project, the SkyTrain system will be 100% accessible according to Fred Cummings, president and general manager of the BC Rapid Transit Company that operates SkyTrain.

MP Russ Hiebert, MLA Stephanie Cadieux, and Fred Cummings officially launch construction at Scott Road
Ironically, the SkyTrain computer crashed and I almost missed the press conference. This project is part of the larger OnTrack program to upgrade the entire Expo/Millennium Line which will hopefully include a new SkyTrain computer!

Guide dog is bored stiff at the press conference...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Vancouver loses, who cares about hockey?

Last night was depressing, not because the Canucks lost, but because Vancouver lost. As Peter Mansbridge posted on Twitter.

Vancouver taking a beating on US morning tv and much overseas tv coverage. All that good from post-Olympics vanishing fast.

There 1,000+ pictures on flickr and I’m sure as many people that will be trying to deconstruct why rioting happened in the first place; I’ll offer a few observation too.

-During the series when people left downtown after watching the game, they left a huge mess behind which tells me that some people have very little respect for public space.

-While the vast majority of people left downtown after the game, peacefully, about 1000 or 0.6% of the 1500,000 that came to watch the game downtown caused problems.

-Looking at many of the pictures online, it seems like this 0.6% came downtown to cause problems no matter what as many didn’t even have Canucks jerseys and came prepared with tools to wreak havoc.

-The majority of the 0.6% were young, drunk males.

-I know that it’s always easy to blame the media, but I have the wonder if all this talk about a potential game seven riot caused a self-fulfilling prophecy. Last night, I had to take the SkyTrain back from downtown Vancouver (where I work) around 10pm to Surrey. Normally there are few losers on the SkyTrian at night, but last night every loser from Metro Vancouver was coming back from rioting downtown. Many were talking about how they were hoping for the riot that the media speculated about to be “part of history.” And before people go blame the “Surrey Crowd”, I can tell you that these losers got off at all stations and stops from Downtown Vancouver to Downtown Langley.

Before the riot last night, people had rediscovered downtown Vancouver as the cultural core of our region. I had lunch along Granville Street before heading into work yesterday. It was a very positive atmosphere and a real sense of community. The worst thing we could do as a region is go back to “No-fun City”, but trust has been broken and I fear that 1,000 people have not only damaged property, but the psyche of the region which will take years to heal.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project

Port Metro Vancouver has started a 10 year process for a proposed expansion to the Deltaport with the Roberts Bank Terminal 2. You can read more about the project at their website and you can learn more about Port Metro Vancouver from one of my previous posts. The Port believes that by 2014, they will not have enough freight handling capacity and that an expansion is needed. They believe that they’ll need to break ground by 2017-2018 on this project, but may slow down the project if there are changes to the economy.

Pre-Consultation meeting in Langley this morning.

Instead of just going ahead with this project without involving the public which has happened in the past, the Port has hired a third-party, arms-length firm that will handle the public consultation process that will actually be used to develop the plan for the Port and its project.

The first part of this process is something called a pre-consultation which is working with community stakeholders to develop a set of questions and the terms of reference for the public consultation, out of which the project design will be based on. I along with Mayor Rick Green from the Township of Langley, Councillors Rudy Storteboom from the City of Langley, Lynn Whitehouse, Ed Kolla, and Denni Bonetti from the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce, Nan Ames from the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee, and Peter Holt, Roy Mufford, and Lee Lockwood from VALTAC where at a pre-consultation meeting this morning at Newlands Golf and Country Club. There will be seven pre-consultation meetings in total.

There were many good comments and suggestions that came out of the pre-consultation. They can be summarized as needing to educate (not brainwash) the community on the Port’s issues, providing different options on how the Port’s goals can be met, and truly listening to the community and being responsive to their needs. As one person put it at the meeting, we need to balance the needs for Canada with the needs and liveability of our communities in Metro Vancouver.

The pre-consultation process will wrap up this month and they will begin a public consultation process later this fall. One of the things that I’d like to see in this process is the engagement of the public and younger people via social media.

While I'm very positive about this process and it seems like the Port is not going to ram a “solution” on our region, I also remain a bit skeptical. I will be following this process and will update the blog as it continues. The whole public consultation and environmental review process is expected to take around 6 -7 years.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Township of Langley Cycling Network

Yesterday, Township of Langley council endorsed a new cycling network plan. By 2012, the Township will have the details of the plan complete including how to fund building the cycling network. Right now there is only minimal funding for building the complete cycling network. Hopefully the next council after this year's election will boldly fund cycling or I'll be in a retirement community before the ultimate build-out of this plan. Zero Avenue was not included in the cycling network and this is bound to upset some cyclists. From the Township's staff report:

Zero Avenue
There was a desire expressed by several members of the public to designate Zero Avenue as a Cycling Route. Staff has reviewed the current condition of the road and found that there are portions with either narrow or no shoulders, significant vertical grades that limit visibility, and high traffic speeds that result in concerns with the interaction of cyclists and vehicles. In addition, the existing narrow road right of way and the U.S. border on the south side of Zero Avenue limits the opportunity to provide any additional facilities for cyclists without significant capital expenditure.

Cyclists are legally allowed to ride on any road within the municipality and they may choose to ride on Zero Avenue. However, based upon the current condition of the road and the costs of potential upgrades, staff doesn’t believe it would be appropriate to designate Zero Avenue as a cycling route.

The Plan (Download the Full PDF)

Monday, June 13, 2011

TransLink and Gas Tax

Last week, I posted on how TransLink collects about 25% of it's property tax revenue from South of Fraser communities. A friend of mine challenged me to look at calculating the gas tax collected from South of Fraser communities. While calculating how much gas tax TransLink collects from South of Fraser residents is tricky because vehicle kilometres travelled are different for every person, I can tell you what share of passenger vehicle are registered in the South of Fraser. According to ICBC in 2010, 1,082,796 were registered in Metro Vancouver. 289,909 or 26% where registered in South of Fraser communities.

While many like to complain that transit sucks in the South of Fraser and like blaming Vancouver for stealing transit dollars, this simply isn't the case. Bus are overcrowd in Vancouver and there isn't enough bus in the South of Fraser. The real issue is that while we love complaining about crappy service, we don't like paying for improving service. Politicians know this fact, otherwise we'd have found a solution to TransLink permanent funding crisis five year ago.

Friday, June 10, 2011

TransLink and Property Tax

I was reading the 2010 Annual Report for the City of Langley and came across the amount of money from property tax that goes to TransLink. I decided to look up the latest annual reports for the City of Surrey, Township of Langley, and Corporation of Delta as well. Sadly Delta's annual report did not contain information on TransLink, but the other annual reports did.

Property Tax Paid to TransLink
City of Langley (2010): $2,914,538
Township of Langley (2010): $12,407,000
City of Surrey (2009): $37,057,000

In 2010, TransLink received $286,977,810 from property tax. South of Fraser ratepayers account for about 25% of TransLink's property tax revenue, so at the end of the day the sub-region is not paying for Vancouver's transit by any stretch. One interesting thing that I'd like to point out is that the City of Langley seems to be getting a better transit deal than the Township of Langley. The City of Langley is on the frequent transit network while there are no buses in the Township on the frequent transit network.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why Scott Road and 72nd Avenue?

Yesterday, I got talking with my colleague Nathen Sekhon who is the producer for OMNI News: Punjabi Edition about why Scott Road and 72nd Avenue is the de facto celebration site in Surrey and North Delta. As I posted about early that intersection is host to a bunch of strip malls and from an urban design standpoint, really sucks. This has caused many urban designer types to scratch their heads and wonder why this area, which couldn’t be any more hostile to pedestrian, is a celebration site.

He told me that there isn’t any special reason why this intersection became the spot, but there are a few strong possibilities why. Scott Road in general, and Scott Road and 72nd Avenue, is really the commercial heart of the Indo-Canadian community whose settlement in the area was really a result of organic growth and the natural phenomena of people wanting to live with people who are similar to themselves. Within the Indo-Canadian community, there is a strong heritage of community celebration with Vaisakhi being a good example. The community has also embraced hockey, so it’s really not a surprise that celebration would take place where is does. In fact at one-time, celebration would also occur at Scott Road and Nordel Way as well. Hopefully this clears things up...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Big Road, Tiny Sidewalk

If you live in the South Fraser you know that when new roads are built, they normally include sidewalks, bike lanes, and general travel lanes. Sadly, many of our pre-millennium roads consist of general travel lanes, and if you’re lucky, a tiny little sidewalk. Bringing some of these roads up to modern standards would cost a small fortune because they would have to acquire more right-of-way, but I have to wonder why other roads where never “fixed”.

203rd Street in Langley has a large right-of way...

...yet has a depressingly small sidewalk and no bike lanes.
Take 203rd Street in the City of Langley. It’s a two lane road that a person who is blind could drive and not hit anything, yet there are no bike lanes and shamefully tiny sidewalks.

While it would still be a large project to transform these types of streets, it is in the realm of possibility even in a city like Langley. Cities like Vancouver have been doing this kind of stuff for a while. Cities like Surrey are just starting to fix their road network because they realize that they can’t keep building for cars, but Langley is behind the ball. Given another 10 years and Langley will have no choice and will have to build inclusive transportation systems, but I have to wonder how small cities like Vernon can afford to build inclusive transportation system today while Langley can’t seem to find the money.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New Look

As you can see, we've decided to freshness up the look of the blog as part of our new focus on our online presence that we posted about in April. Besides freshening up the blog, we will also be starting a regular podcast series in the coming weeks that will highlight key thinkers on cities and local stakeholder in our region as well.

For those of you that are into logos, our new logo is meant to represent the strong rural and agricultural heritage of the South Fraser that is in balance and harmony with a strong urban core. The logo shows that the urban footprint of the South Fraser should be clearly defined and not erode our agricultural land base. What do you think?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Langley Parks

With such nice weather this weekend, I thought I'd visit some of the many parks in the City of Langley. I snapped a view pictures to share on the blog.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Environmental Assessment Process

A few weeks ago, I posted about the environmental assessment for the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor Program Surrey Grade Separations 192 Street, 54 Avenue, 196 Street “Combo Project”. Last night, I had the chance to speak with someone who works on putting together environmental assessments for a living. I asked how effective the environmental assessment process is and if it actually helps the environment.

In a nutshell, when a project comes along it must go through either the provincial or federal environmental review process. The process basically looks at how the potential environmental impacts of a project can be mitigated, then suggests the mitigation required for the project to proceed. At the end of the day, it's a politician that decides if a project proceeds. Projects tend to get dropped if the mitigation measures are too costly, so that is one way to protect the environment. I was also told that if First Nations stakeholders aren’t on-board; the project is as good as dead.

It was interesting to learn that while some of Canada's environmental protection law are weak, laws that protect fish and their habitat are stronger. Basically if you don’t have fish habitat in your project, you’re golden. Once fish habitat is involved, the requirement for environmental protection become such that you must have an environmental consultation at a project site that has the power to shut down a project if it could harm fish habitat. Also, the fines for destroying fish habitat can be pretty extreme. It was a very good chat.

With such strong fish protection laws, I wonder why we don’t have the same rules to protect the air we breathe and protect the planet for future generations.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Canucks and Urban Form

Vancouver loves its Canucks and we certainly like celebrating that fact on the streets. This fact got me thinking about public space in Metro Vancouver. I believe it was Gordon Price who said and I paraphrase, “If you tell me where people go to celebrate impromptu, I can tell you where the heart of the city is.” Of course Granville Street is the first great public space in Vancouver and it really came of age during the Olympics, but there is another such space in the region and it's a bit of a shock. It’s Scott Road and 72nd Avenue in Surrey/Delta.

The Heart of Surrey and Delta?  Scott Road and 72nd Avenue
The intersection is flanked by strip mall on all corners, yet this is where people go to celebrate in Surrey.

To be honest, it’s a bit sad that this is the heart of Surrey and Delta. Knowing that this is where the community comes together, you’d think Surrey and Delta would get their collective acts together and give the area the built form that is deserves. Certainly a public plaza and a more pedestrian friendly built form should be in order because at the end of the day, the heart of Surrey isn’t at Central City.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The future of 200th Street

Since I moved to Langley about eight years ago, the 200th Street corridor has whole-scale changed from rural to urban. It really is shocking at how fast things are changing. For many years the Township has been talking about making 200th Street a mixed-use, transit-friendly corridor. As I've been watching 200th Street grow, I've noticed that there is a lack of mixed-use, transit-friendly development. Currently the 200th Street corridor is lined by single-use business parks, strip malls, and townhouses. It seems that as each year passes, there is less chance that 200th Street will be a transit friendly corridor.

200th Street @ 72nd Avenue. Is this the future of 200th Street?
The latest "blow" to a transit friendly 200th Street is yet another residential townhouse development, this time at 70th Avenue. While these developments aren't bad, they represent the "death by 1,000 cuts" for a transit friendly 200th. I fear that we'll collectively wake up one day and realize that we squandered away 200th into just another suburban road. With the civic elections coming up in the fall, it will be the next council will decide within 3 years whether 200th Street will be business as usual or if it will be a corridor that we can all be proud of.

McCallum Road in Abbotsford is transforming into a mixed-use corridor.