Friday, September 30, 2011

An art scene in Langley?

I had a chat with a friend of mine that works in theatre about what it would take to help Langley get a theatre community. She used to live in Langley, but moved to Vancouver because that is where all the action is today. She basically told me that we require three things: space, space, and space.

Most artists, and those that support them, don’t make buck loads of money. They need affordable, accessible accommodation. You also need theatre space both small and large. Finally you need to have a place, like a pub, that is close to the theatre where the artist can unwind. Place all these spaces close together, and you got yourself a nice little theatre district.

The big question is what area would lend itself to such a district? The City of Langley has lots of affordable accommodation and brownfield land that is ready for deployment. All it would take it a theatre and the City would be set to go. On the other hand, the Township of Langley could do something around the Events Centre and plan for a mixed-use, affordable neighbourhood. They could provide subsidized house for arts community along with market-value housing. It would be a real draw for the Township as the creative types would flock to this neighbourhood...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mufford Overpass

In case you missed it, the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor people hosted an open house on September 13th and 14th about the new proposed design for the facility.

New Design for Mufford Overpass
The Roberts Bank Corridor project will see the construction of some eight overpasses in a bid to try and relief congestion caused by the railways. Probably the most controversial project in the whole plan is the Mufford Overpass. After being rejected by the Agricultural Land Commission last year, the Ministry of Transportation redesigned the project to use 5.9ha of farmland instead of 12ha. In addition, the original design did not include bike lanes, but it looks like the new plan will include a multi-use trail and a bike lane which is good news.

One of the things that I find interesting about this whole process is that it took the rejection of the first plan to come up with a better plan that uses less agricultural land. I have to wonder if other projects like the farming-killing South Fraser Perimeter Road which prevents 90ha of Delta from ever being farmed again when through the same process. I have a feeling that it didn't.

I know that some people will not be happy with this new Mufford Overpass, but as it reduces the loss of farmland, plus allows east-west access in Langley when there is a training, this is a much better plan.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More bus service in the Township of Langley

A few weeks ago, I was at the open house for TransLink’s “Moving Forward” plan to fund transportation improvements in the region. This is the gas tax increase and you can read more about the plan on a post I did at Civic Surrey. I had the chance to speak with one of TransLink’s senior transit planners and asked him about service improvements in Langley.

One thing that many people in Langley might not know is that without the “Moving Forward” plan, there will be no bus service along Highway 1 via the new Walnut Grove Park and Ride Lot that is being built. If the plan is approved there will be a bus every 10 minutes between Walnut Grove, Lougheed, and Surrey Central. Also, TransLink is looking at expanding the 509 bus service in Walnut Grove which is sorely needed.

I asked if there was anything in the works for improving frequency along the 200th Street corridor. I was told no. I then mentioned that the 595 and 501 both run along 200th Street, but right now they are not timed evenly. That means that you either have to wait 10 minutes or 20 minutes for the next bus. If TransLink tweaked the service a bit, they could get 15 minute service along 200th Street and make it part of the frequent transit network within. The senior planner said it seemed like a good idea, so here's hoping TransLink does that tweak.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sustainable checklist

One of the things that the City of Langley is doing to increase the visibility of sustainable development is the introduction of a sustainability checklist. The checklist will be required for all rezoning, development permits, and subdivision applications.
Example from the checklist. Click image to enlarge.
While the items in the checklist are mostly voluntary, the idea is really to make decision makers like council and developers more aware about what the City is looking for in a sustainable development. The next step the City should take is to incentivize developments that meet a certain sustainability threshold by either providing faster turn around times for permits or other cost/time savings. I know that the Township of Langley was looking at something like this a few years ago, but in the end decided against it. This is a great first step for the City and I hope that this checklist will cause council to question developments that don't embrace sustainable design.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Township looking for revenue from City’s casino

So it looks like some at the Township have their eyes on getting casino money from the City of Langley again. When the casino originally came to Langley, both the Township and the City were approached. The Township didn’t want the casino and the City did. The Township’s Economic Advisory Committee received a presentation that shows the Township had a per capita debt of $59 in 2006 which has jumped to $390.03 in 2009. According to Township Administrator Mark Bakken, this debt is not necessarily “general debt”, but much of it comes from “development cost charges” that are still owed by developers and other groups. Meanwhile the City of Langley is debt free. The report seems to allude to the fact that the reason the City is in a better financial position is because of the casino.
Total debt issued per capita by municipality in Metro Vancouver, 2009. Click graph to enlarge.
On that matter Councillor Steve Ferguson attempted to introduce a motion where the Township would write a letter to Premier Clark on the proposed “sharing of casino revenues regionally” at yesterday’s afternoon council meeting.

The details of this are as follows:


1. In the province of BC, there are many different types of gaming facilities; and

2. Premier Christy Clark, in her concern for families, has begun a review of how gaming grants are established and issued; and

3. There are municipalities in the province that have casinos while others do not; and

4. Presently casino monies are distributed on a municipality by municipality basis.

Therefore be it resolved that the Township of Langley write a letter to Premier Christy Clark asking that the distribution of casino monies be reviewed and that the Province consider and endorse the regional distribution of casino monies, and in her review of gaming and gaming grants, review equitable distribution of gaming proceeds; and further that a copy of our 2011 budget information File #1700-60 (a comparison of property tax rates for municipalities with casinos compares with others that do not have casinos), and any other relative information be attached to the letter.”

In the end this motion didn’t pass because of the wording, but was deferred back to Councillor Ferguson to re-word. And people in the Township wonder why people in the City said good-bye in 1955…

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bike Lanes on Langley Bypass

If you've been along the Langley Bypass between Fraser Highway and 56th Avenue, you may have noticed that the road has received a bit of a face lift. Besides the new planted median, it has also received bike lanes and sidewalks. I took a few pictures of the changes.

Langley Bypass with new planted median, sidewalk, and bike lane

Sadly, all bike lanes come to an abrupt end in the City of Langley

It's great to see these positive improvements, but the challenge in Langley and the whole South of Fraser remains that while most new construction receives bike lanes and sidewalks, the network is noncontinuous. The perfect example is that Fraser Highway has bike lanes in Surrey and in the Township of Langley, but not in the City. Right now the number of people that use bikes to get around is pretty low and that's because there is no cycling infrastructure. But, I have the feeling that there is no cycling infrastructure because there are not enough people cycling. If Langley believes in active transportation, they must install bike lanes that can be used to connect from one end of the city to another. Maybe start off with one east-west route and one north-south route.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Parking, parking everywhere in the City of Langley

Last Monday night, Langley City council received a report about a new $600,000 wayfinding strategy for Downtown Langley. Council endorsed the plan and now will be put it into the budget cycle for 2012 and future years. One of the goals of the wayfinding strategy is to help people find parking lots and speaking about parking lots...

I found a note that St. Joseph’s Parish purchased 20629 Douglas Crescent in the heart of downtown Langley and demolished the buildings on the property to make way for a new church parking lot. Since the current church parking lot is only busy about once a week, I have to wonder if an expanded church parking lot is really the best use of land in Downtown Langley.

St. Joseph’s Parish - Future Parking Lots

Proposed Strip Mall at Glover Road and the Langley Bypass
While I realize that parking is required and important in a place like Langley, if the City truly wants to build a pedestrian friendly downtown, surface parking lots need to be removed not added. Looking at the preceding maps and you’ll see that this site plan in Downtown Langley is no different than the strip mall that is being proposed at Glover Road and the Langley Bypass.

Just like all residential buildings are now required to have structured parking, the City really needs to think hard about structure parking in commercial areas. Maybe the City should build a parkade. Now a parkade is not cheap ~$50m, but it would open up hundreds of millions of dollars of economic development in Downtown Langley and allow better use of the land. People shop in Downtown Langley because they either live near the area or are looking for a unique, walkable shopping experience. According to the City own Downtown Master Plan:

Underutilized Land Areas – The accompanying Building Coverage diagram below illustrates the underutilized nature of some of the lands outside the Downtown area. Much of this land is consumed by parking or by large industrial users. In some cases, these land parcels are grossly underutilized considering their proximity to Downtown and could serve more appropriate and highly desirable uses as residential and/or commercial. In some cases, more structured parking could retain convenient access and the number of parking spaces while introducing more compact mixed uses in the downtown core area.

Building are in black. All other space is parking lots.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Transit Can Be Profitable

I spent many years living and working in Asia. I've used smart, modern and efficient transit in several cities, chiefly Singapore and Hong Kong. In both cities and more so in HK, millionaires use the city's MTR.

Recently, the former head of New York's MTA subway system left his $350K a year job to become the head of Hong Kong's Metro system at $1M annually. This at a time when pressure was being applied to reduce his NYC salary.

How can Hong Kong pay their director $1M per year? Very simple...because the transit system in HK makes money. Unlike the metro Vancouver area where private developers have been allowed to build office towers, condos, restaurants and other structures near SkyTrain stations, Singapore and Hong Kong reserve that right in a big way. That money from real estate ventures helps make the transit system profitable.

It should be noted that several years ago, TransLink created a real estate division. They have been operating fairly quietly and they only thing I've heard about them in the past 5 years or so, was the fact that they will develop some land near the new Langley Park & Ride at 86th Avenue and 200th Street. I also know that Langley area developers have been quietly assembling land in that area for office and mixed use (commercial & residential). Why didn't TransLink simply acquire the whole length of 86th Avenue before the announcement? Cash I gather. These negotiations to assemble and acquire land also require a high degree of confidentiality. I'm sure they will report their success in time.

Many years ago I worked on a Singapore project where biotech laboratories were being built to grow that industry in that city-state. While other cities would be installing perimeter fencing and razor ribbon, Singapore was busy planning their MRT to route itself right into the middle of this development, designing shops and restaurants to be located below the labs and providing for some housing options that created a mini city. Hong Kong is no different.

Here are a few articles regarding Hong Kong's successful transit funding model and this latest turn of events with the head of the NYC system moving across the pond. There is also a great audio interview available here on the subject of HK's success.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Coalition urges mayors to support transit funding

The next two weeks are critical for discussions on the future of transportation in the region - before a vote by the Mayors’ Council on funding TransLink’s “Moving Forward” plan. We urge regional leaders to seize this opportunity to further build consensus on transit funding - sufficient to meet the needs of a growing region and economy.

The “Moving Forward” plan includes the Evergreen Line; Rapid Bus connecting Langley, Surrey and Burnaby; improved bus service around the region; and funding for roads and cycling. The STC supports funding critical transportation improvements through means other than property taxes. Preferred new funding options include smart road pricing, vehicle registration fees and future carbon tax revenue.

With transit ridership reaching record levels this year following the very successful 2010 Olympic Games, investment is badly needed to meet rapidly growing demand and ensure the competitiveness of our regional and national economies. Building the Evergreen Line and the other measures in the “Moving Forward” package will also provide many jobs and give people more affordable transportation options.

The Sustainable Transportation Coalition is a non-partisan alliance dedicated to building support for long-term transportation funding solutions to create a more livable and economically vibrant region. Coalition members include BC & the Yukon - Architecture Canada, Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, Modo The Car Co-op, the South Coast Chapter - Planning Institute of BC, South Fraser OnTrax, Third Wave Cycling Group and Voters Taking Action on Climate Change.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

No cat bylaw for the City of Langley

In June, I posted about how some people believe it is time for a cat bylaw in Langley due to the risk cats cause to the environment. The City of Langley's Parks and Environment Advisory Committee even past a resolution to have the City investigate cat control . It appears that a  cat bylaw is dead in the water. According to a staff report:

The City of Langley does not have an existing bylaw regulating the keeping of cats. Based on a review of available information there does not appear to be a need for the City to consider such bylaw. The City could through its public information services, including LEPS, encourage pet owners (cats as well as dogs) to spay and neuter their pets.

At this stage, staff recommend that Council receives this report for information only and no further action to be taken.

Monday, September 12, 2011

New wayfinding strategy for the City of Langley? Plus, new bus stop signs design from TransLink

With summer over and Langley City Hall back in full-tilt, I had a look over tonight’s 165 page (40MB) Council Meeting Agenda Package. The big news is that city staff will be seeking council's endorsement to embark on a three year, $580,000 wayfinding strategy. The strategy will see the installation of signage not only to help drivers get around, but also cyclists and pedestrians. The wayfinding strategy report should be a wake-up call about the urban design and the lack of transportation choice in the City today.
Arrival in the Downtown area is not well-defined. This is mainly because there is no significant change in built form or character from the surrounding area.

The City is dominated by major roads, with the Langley Bypass, Fraser Highway, 200th Street and 203rd Street: Street carrying the highest traffic flows. Within the City, these streets are between four and six lanes wide and can be even wider at their intersections leading to long waits for cross walk signals.

Major roads are fronted by malls and big-box development which is invariably set back from the highway to provide large parking lots. Heavy traffic and set back development creates a car oriented environment that reduces the free and easy movement of people on foot.

Langley’s environment is one designed around car access. Drive-thrus, large surface parking lots between buildings and the highway and the absence of obvious walking routes all point to this fact.

There is no shortage of parking in the City, but little obvious enforcement of the unauthorized use of private spaces, the visitor is presented with a confusing range of options.

Even where distances are not great, the perception is that they are because the walking environment is so poor. For example, the Downtown Core is 20 minutes walk from Willowbrook Shopping Centre, but the Fraser Highway is such as poor pedestrian environment that it is not a journey that is undertaken.
I hope that council approves the strategy tonight as it will be a step in the right direction. Of course signage is only 10% of the solution, the City needs a built form that actually supports sustainable transportation. Below is an example of some of the proposed signs to be installed.

Proposed Wayfinding Signage. Click Image to Enlarge.
It is encouraging that the City is planning to mark current cycle routes. Of course separated bike lanes are a must, but at least the wayfinding policy seems to be following the success of Vancouver’s off-arterial bike network.

To encouraging new cyclists to undertake everyday journeys rather than experienced cyclists or leisure cycling; the proposed priority for signs would be routes that link residential areas with the Downtown via quieter streets and off-street trails and routes that link residential areas with workplaces and places of education via quieter streets and off-street trails.

The projects for the plan would be:

Project 1 - City Map
Project 2 - City Directions
Project 3 - Highway Signage
Project 4 - Downtown Orientation
Project 5 - Cycling Network
Project 6 - Walking Network
Project 7 - Construction Wayfinding
Project 8 - City Gateways
Project 9 - Explore Downtown
Project 10 - Transit Information

The cycling and walking signage would be installed in 2013 if council approves this plan.


On the topic of wayfinding, the report also contains samples of TransLink's proposed new bus stop signage. If this replaced the current useless “BUS STOP” signage currently in use, I would cry tears of joy!
Proposed TransLink Bus Stop Sings. Click Image to Enlarge.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Living with bus service that runs every 30 minutes or worse

On Wednesday, I had a horrible time getting home on transit. The SkyTrain was overcrowded and I couldn’t get on at Main Street, so I decided to backtrack to Waterfront Station after four trains. At Waterfront Station, I payed the extra money and took the West Coast Express to Maple Ridge to hop on the 595 to Langley. The West Coast Express was great, but when I arrived at the station I found out that the 595 Langley Centre failed to swing into the station which meant that I had to wait for the next 595. The 595 runs every 30 minutes. As it turned out the next 595 also failed to swing into the West Coast Express station, so I had to wait for yet another 595. I ended up catching the third 595 and got home 1.5 hours late. Not very good. I tell this story for two reasons.

This West Coast Express/595 issues is nothing new and I’ve called TransLink to complain about it at least three times. Every time I call, I get a very friendly person who notes down my concerns. Clearly nothing has been done. TransLink should really produce a document showing the top customer concerns and explain what measures they are taking to correct the problems. In this day and age, being transparent is important.

Experiences like I had on Wednesday are not ideal and would probably turn new riders off transit. Besides making sure that key timing points are adhered to, the larger issue is running buses that are not frequent. To get people to switch from driving to transit, the service must be frequent. I have to wonder if routes that run every 30 minutes or worse are not well used because of their frequency. It would be interesting to see what would happen if TransLink took a less-frequent route and changed it to every 15 minutes as a test. I bet that the route would start to see more people taking it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Great Langley Cycling Coalition - First Meeting of the Season

If you want to support improving cycling in Langley, please check out the Great Langley Cycling Coalition. The GLCC is ready to gear up for another season and will be hosting their first meeting next week.

Tuesday, September 13
7pm – 9pm
Douglas Recreation Centre
20550 Douglas Crescent
Langley, BC V3A 4B6

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Building for Accessibility

This long weekend I went to Port Townsend, Washington to have a look at what is billed as one of the most walkable places this side of the Rockies and what the Province calls a “town oozing with European flair.” It certainly is a turn-of-the century North America town and is walkable in the sense that any small town is, but just like every other town, there are auto-oriented strip malls and sidewalks that go nowhere.

I happened to be visiting the town with a friend that uses a wheelchair to get around. In the US, they have a law called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that’s supposed to make public space inclusive for all. It’s been around since the early 1990’s and things are certainly better in the US than in Canada. But even with the ADA, it seems that government is still building places that aren’t accessible to everyone. You can’t really call your place walkable if everyone can’t get around.

Inaccessible sidewalk in Port Townsend, WA
Besides inaccessible crosswalks, the sidewalks in Port Townsend were in pretty rough shape.

Sidewalk in poor state of repair in Port Townsend, WA
Every crack, bump, or decorative brick is felt by someone that uses a mobility-assistant device. We went to another place that called Langley, Washington that did a better job at building an inclusive public space.

Accessible sidewalk in Langley, WA
Why should budget-constrained governments be building accessible public space anyway? Besides the matter of equitability, when you factor in our aging population, around 50% of us benefit directly from accessibly designed space. Even in the ADA world of the US, we ran into other problems like broken lifts and poor signage.

In Canada, we don’t have the same strict accessibility laws as the US. This is very clear in the South of Fraser where sidewalks dead end, don’t even exists, or where they are continuous, contain obstacles like utility poles, street lamps, and street furniture that block the way. Transit isn’t much better; many of the “accessible” bus stops in the South of Fraser have no way for someone to access them. What’s really sad about this situation is that while it will cost millions of dollars to build accessible infrastructure in our region, it still only a fraction of the cost of expanding roads. I priorities are upside down. When you build accessible public space, you build a space that benefits everyone. What looks better to you, Port Townsend or Langley, WA? At the end of the day, shouldn’t we be building our cities to accommodate all modes of transportation and all people?