Thursday, December 20, 2012

2013 Priorities for Metro Vancouver Committees

Metro Vancouver, the regional association of local government, is controlled by various boards and committees whose members are local municipal politicians appointed by the region’s 24 local governments (people in the unincorporated parts of Metro Vancouver directly vote for a regional director.) In my final post of the year, I thought I’d share the highlights of the 2013 priorities for the various committees which I received from the Sustainable Communities Initiative.

Environment and Parks
-Develop a program to reduce emissions from on-road heavy-duty diesel vehicles with partners.
-Develop a regional climate action fund to support greenhouse gas reduction projects.

Electoral Area A
-Clarify the responsibilities associated with the Barnston Island Dike transfer, a responsibility downloaded by the provincial government.

Regional Planning and Agriculture
-Coordinate and support municipalities to complete and submit the Regional context statements. (Within two years of the Board’s adoption of the Regional Growth Strategy, each member municipality must include in its Official Community Plan and have the Board approve a Regional Context Statement.)
-Identify tools for Industrial Intensification and Office Development.
-Complete a Household Vulnerability Booklet examining the cost of housing, transport, and energy on the workforce in the region and comparing across sub regions.

-Complete negotiations with BC Hydro for the additional drinking water withdrawals from Coquitlam Lake.
-Obtain provincial approval for the Joint Water Use Plan for the Seymour and Capilano Watersheds. This Plan outlines how hydropower can be generated from existing reservoirs.

-Develop a waste flow management strategy.
-Short list proponents for new Waste-to-Energy (WTE) capacity and implementation of the WTE capacity consultation and engagement program.
-Conclude a new electricity purchase agreement with BC Hydro for waste-to-energy facility in Burnaby.

-Ensure that Metro Vancouver positions the Lion’s Gate Waste Water Treatment Plant Upgrade project to receive maximum funding support.
-Complete of the Project Definition phase by the end of 2013 for Lions Gate project.
-Consider changes to the existing Sewer Cost Allocation model.

Aboriginal Relations
-Support and monitor treaty negotiations at the two active treaty tables in the region – Katzie and Tsleil-Waututh.
- Provide forums and other related opportunities, for member local governments and First Nations, such as a Community-to-Community Forum or a workshop on municipal and regional utility services.

-Prioritize redevelopment using the Corporation’s existing land base and searching for opportunities to redevelop.
-Continue consultant teamwork with staff on rezoning application for Heather Place to be submitted to City of Vancouver by mid-2013.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

TransLink 3rd Quarter Ridership Way Up

Every quarter, the American Public Transit Association releases ridership statistics about transit agencies in North America. I was looking over the third quarter results for TransLink and was pleasantly surprised with the huge increase in bus ridership. Between 1999 and 2004 (with the exception of 2001 due to the transit strike), TransLink saw strong and sometimes double-digit growth in bus ridership. Between 2005 and 2011, TransLink saw modest or no growth in ridership in the bus network. The majority of ridership growth came from SkyTrain with 2010 being the strongest year.

While SkyTrain growth year-to-quarter has been a modest 1.2%, bus ridership has soared by 7.5% this year. Maybe all the service optimization that TransLink is doing is working or something else is at play? It will be exciting to see the year-end results for TransLink, but it is great to see that our bus service is being more productive. I wonder how much more productive it could be if TransLink was properly funded.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Top 15 and Bottom 15: TransLink Bus Routes in 2011

Back in October, the Province of BC released a performance audit of TransLink. One of the recommendations was to cut service on some of the 22 lowest performing routes. I was interesting in what routes those were, so I send a Freedom of Information request to the Province. I was told that the Province had no idea where that data came from and suggested I contact TransLink. I sent a Freedom of Information request to TransLink and they also had no idea where the data used for the Provincial audit of TransLink came from. They suggested that I look at the 2011 Bus System Performance Review. How much can you trust the Province of BC’s performance audit of TransLink if they don’t even know where their information came from?

Anyway, I have put together the top 15 and bottom 15 of a few of the performance categories from the 2011 Bus System Performance Review. I've also included frequent transit level South of Fraser bus routes and the 97 B-Line as reference.

2011 Annual Boardings

1.) Route 99 (UBC B-Line): 16,642,000
2.) Route 20 (Victoria/Downtown): 9,177,000
3.) Router 41 (Joyce Station/Crown/UBC): 8,460,000
4.) Route 9 (Broadway): 8,298,000
5.) Route 16 (29th Avenue Station/Arbutus): 6,891,000
6.) Route 3 (Main Street): 6,676,000
7.) Route 8 (Fraser Street): 6,573,000
8.) Route 22 (Knight/Macdonald): 6,046,000
9.) Route 135 (Burrard Station/SFU): 6,032,000
10.) Route 25 (Brentwood/UBC): 5,998,000
11.) Route 49 (Metrotown Station/Dunbar/UBC): 5,888,000
12.) Route 19 (Stanley Park/Metrotown): 5,875,000
13.) Route 14 (Hastings/Downtown/UBC): 5,766,000
14.) Route 106 (Metrotown Station/New Westminster Station): 5,242,000
15.) Route 410 (22nd Street Station/Railway): 4,750,000
18.) Route 319 (Scott Road Station/Newtown Exchange): 3,623,000
19.) Route 321 (Surrey Central/White Rock): 3,623,000
20.) Route 97 (Coquitlam B-Line): 3,392,000
24.) Route 320 (Surrey Central/Guildford/Fleetwood/Langley): 3,148,000
26.) Route 502 (Surrey/Langley): 3,055,000
48.) Route 351 (Bridgeport Station/Crescent Beach): 1,313,000
201.) Route C94 (Richmond Oval/Richmond-Brighouse Station): 22,000
202.) Route C84 (English Bluff/South Delta Exchange): 20,000
203.) Route C48 (Thonhill/Haney Place): 18,000
204.) Route C89 (Boundary Bay/South Delta Exchange): 18,000
205.) Route 608 (Ladner Ring): 17,000
206.) Route C19 (UBC/Alma): 17,000
207.) N/A
208.) Route C87 (East Ladner/Ladner Exchange): 16,000
209.) Route C88 (Ladner North/Ladner Exchange): 16,000
210.) Route 259 (Lions Bay/Horseshoe Bay): 11,000
211.) N/A
212.) N/A
213.) Route 606 (Ladner Ring): 10,000
214.) N/A
215.) Route C99 (Port Royal/Hamilton): 8,000
216.) Route C90 (Bridgeport Station/Sea Island North): 2,000
217.) Route 231 (Harbourside/Lonsdale Quay): 2,000
218.) Route 609 (Tsawwassen First Nation/South Delta Exchange: N/A
218.) Route C10 (Bluewater/Snug Cove): N/A
218.) Route C11 (Eaglecliff/Snug Cove): N/A

2011 Average Capacity Utilization

1.) Route 16 (29th Avenue Stn/Arbutus): 232%
2.) Route 25 (Brentwood Station/UBC): 188%
3.) Route 7 (Dunbar/Nanaimo Station): 186%
4.) Route 49 (Metrotown Station/Dunbar/UBC): 184%
5.) Route 19 (Stanley Park/Metrotown): 180%
6.) Route 99 (UBC B-Line): 179%
7.) Route 41 (Joyce Station/UBC): 179%
8.) Route 22 (Knight Macdonald): 172%
9.) Route 14 (Hastings/Downtown/UBC): 163%
10.) Route 9 (Broadway): 163%
11.) Route 16 (Metrotown Station/New Westminster Station): 161%
12.) Route 410 (22nd Street Station/Railway): 157%
13.) Route 4 (UBC/Powell): 135%
14.) Route 20 (Victoria/Downtown): 135%
15.) Route 341 (Guildford/Langley Centre): 120%
17.) Route 502 (Surrey/Langley): 109%
26.) Route 319 (Scott Road Station/Newtown Exchange): 100%
27.) Route 320 (Surrey Central/Guildford/Fleetwood/Langley): 96%
39.) Route 321 (Surrey Central/White Rock): 89%
65.) Route 97 (Coquitlam B-Line): 68%
88.) Route 351 (Bridgeport Station/Crescent Beach): 57%
187.) Route C94 (Richmond Oval/Richmond-Brighouse Station): 10%
188.) Route 608 (Ladner Ring): 10%
189.) Route C60 (Langley Hospital/Langley Centre): 9%
190.) Route C99 (Port Royal/Hamilton): 9%
191.) Route C84 (English Bluff/South Delta Exchange): 8%
192.) N/A
193.) Route C22 (Hampton Place/UBC Loop): 8%
194.) Route C40 (Port Coquitlam Station/Meridian): 8%
195.) Route C89 (Boundary Bay/South Delta Exchange): 8%
196.) Route C90 (Bridgeport Station/Sea Island North): 7%
197.) N/A
198.) N/A
199.) Route C88 (Ladner North/Ladner Exchange: 5%
200.) Route C87 (East Ladner/Ladner Exchange): 5%
201.) Route 606 (Ladner Ring): 2%

2011 Average Load

1.) Route 99 (UBC B-Line): 68
2.) Route 44 (UBC/Downtown): 54
3.) Route 135 (Burrard Station/SFU): 49
4.) Route 43 (Joyce Station/UBC): 47
5.) Route 49 (Metrotown Station/Dunbar/UBC): 46
6.) Route 145 (SFU/Production Station): 44
7.) Route 395 (King George Station/Willowbrook): 42
8.) Route 241 (Vancouver/Upper Lonsdale): 41
9.) Route 41 (Joyce/UBC): 40
10.) N/A
11.) Route 410 (22nd Street Station/Railway): 37
12.) Route 25 (Brentwood Station/UBC): 37
13.) Route 502 (Surrey/Langley): 37
14.) Route 20 (Victoria/Downtown): 35
15.) Route 240 (Vancouver/15th Street): 35
16.) Route 97 (Coquitlam B-Line): 35
24.) Route 320 (Surrey Central/Guildford/Fleetwood/Langley): 33
36.) Route 321 (Surrey Central/White Rock): 30
45.) Route 319 (Scott Road Station/Newton Exchange): 28
91.) Route 351 (Bridgeport Station/Crescent Beach): 20
187.) Route C84 (English Bluff/South Delta Exchange): 3
188.) Route C3 (Fraserview/New Westminster Station): 3
189.) N/A
190.) Route C40 (Port Coquitlam Station/Meridian): 2
191.) Route C64 (Willowbrook/Langley Centre): 2
192.) Route C22 (Hampton Place/UBC Loop): 2
193.) Route C63 (Fernridge/Langley Centre): 2
194.) Route C94 (Richmond Oval/Richmond-Brighouse Station): 2
195.) Route C61 (Brookswood/Langley Centre): 2
196.) Route C89 (Boundary Bay/South Delta Exchange): 2
197.) Route C8 (Quayside/New Westminster Station): 2
198.) Route C60 (Langley Hospital/Langley Centre): 2
199.) Route C90 (Bridgeport Station/Sea Island North): 1
200.) Route C99 (Port Royal/Hamilton): 1
201.) Route C88 (Ladner North/Ladner Exchange): 1
202.) Route C87 (East Ladner/Ladner Exchange): 1

According to TransLink:

Average Capacity Utilization - Utilization of the passenger capacity provided (Boardings per Trip / Vehicle Capacity). Values higher 100% indicate passenger turnover i.e. the same number of spaces being occupied by multiple passengers along the route.

Average Load - How full does the bus get on an average trip (e.g. on an average trip, route 25 carries approximately 37 passengers along the busiest segments of the route).

Monday, December 17, 2012

City of Langley Brownfield Redevelopment Strategy

The City of Langley recently commissioned Colliers International to develop a brownfield redevelopment strategy to support the City’s Downtown Master Plan. The brownfield strategy focuses on land outlined in red on the following map which includes some land in the mixed-use Downtown zone.

Red Outline = Opportunity for Redevelopment. Black Outline = Downtown Langley. Click map to enlarge.

The City of Langley owes much of its industrial land-use to the relocation of the rail line to its current alignment and the construction of the Langley Bypass. BC Hydro led the industrialization of the City of Langley starting in the 1960’s though that land base has been slowly eroded by strip mall development along the Langley Bypass since the 1980’s. While lower paying retail trade is now the number one job type in the City, higher paying manufacturing jobs are still the number two job type in the City. The strategy notes this and that the City should be aware of this as it redevelops.

Brownfield sites are abandoned, vacant, derelict or underutilized land. In the City of Langley, this is the only type of development opportunity currently available. Unlike greenfield sites, brownfield sites may carry a higher-risk and higher-development cost. Colliers identified a number of challenges which may prevent the redevelopment of brownfield sites in the City. One of the major barriers to brownfield site redevelopment is the risk of site contamination, and the cost and delay associated with site cleanup. Another barrier is if the land is still being used; it may not make financial sense for the industrial business to relocate. In order to offset the cost of cleanup and/or relocation, a higher-value land use like high density residential must be allowed or site cleanup won’t make financial sense. While not highlighted in the Colliers strategy, aging municipal infrastructure is also a barrier to redevelopment as water, sewer, and power may need to be upgraded or replaced which is another cost that the developer must front.

Colliers suggests the following tools that the City could use to help be a catalyst for redevelopment:

-Establish a City-owned municipal development corporation (Surrey has one.)
-Perform a blanked contamination risk assessment.
-Perform a detail inventory of potential redevelopment sites which would be monitored and inventory updated.
-Provide tax exemption in the form of a time-limited reduction of property tax or waiving of development fees.
-Prioritize brownfield redevelopment in the planning process.
-Promote interim uses like pocket parks, public art, etc.
-Update zoning to allow for higher-value land-uses. (One of the barrier to higher-density use in the City is unstable deep soil conditions which makes very high density development more expensive than in other areas.)

One of the things that concerns me about the strategy is that it seems to suggest that Langley City look at converting its brownfield sites to auto-oriented office parks. This would be a big mistake considering the sites are within walking distance of Fraser Highway which is a high-frequency transit corridor and will likely support rapid transit in the near future.

The final pages of the strategy outlines some of the threats to redevelopment opportunity in Langley City which includes the increased focus of the development community on SkyTrain station areas, other transit improvement like the Evergreen Line, and the Port Mann Bridge toll.

It would seem that getting rapid transit to Langley City needs to be a priority to promote redevelopment.

The brownfield redevelopment strategy will be presented at tonight's council meeting, and will be posted to the City’s website shortly. City staff will then start developing actionable items from the strategy.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Crosswalks in Fort Langley

Recently, the Township of Langley installed a pedestrian overpass above the CN rail line through Fort Langley which connects Bedford Landing with the rest of the community. With the new overpass in place, local residents figured that crosswalks should be installed at the roads nearest the overpass as shown in the map below.

Due to residents’ concerns about the safety, Township Council directed staff to look at the possibility of installing marked, signed, and lite crosswalks.

According to the Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) Pedestrian Crossing Control Manual (Manual), marked crosswalks are recommended when there are about 800 vehicles through the proposed crossing site during a peak hour and about 20 pedestrians. It turns out that there are enough pedestrians to warrant a crosswalk, but not enough cars. Staff found that during a peak hour at 96th Avenue and Edal Street, there were 566 vehicles. At Billy Brown and Singh Street, there were 129 vehicles during a peak hour. Installing the crosswalks could be perceived as a waste of money as there is not enough vehicle traffic, though I wonder if installing the crosswalks would encourage more people to walk.

If there are not enough pedestrians at a proposed crossing location, installing a marked crosswalk can actually make things more dangerous “as the low pedestrian activity can lead to motorists not expecting pedestrians to be at the location, which can lead to motorists disregarding the crossing resulting in reduced pedestrian safety.” There is safety in numbers.

So if there is safety in numbers that means that we need to build communities that actually make people want to walk. In Fort Langley, it amazes me that there are still streets with no sidewalks. New mixed-use projects like Coulter Berry will certainly encourage more walking, but providing a safe and enjoyable walking environment is also key. The provisioning of sidewalks and trails should be a priority in the urban areas of the Township.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Solid Waste Management - Food Waste in the City of Langley

As a region, Metro Vancouver has adopted the aggressive goal of diverting 70% of solid waste (garbage) from going to landfill by 2015 and 80% by 2020. This is an aggressive goal, but important in reducing our region’s ecological footprint. To meet the 2015 diversion goal, the region expects that 30% of waste from multi-family housing and 65% from single-family housing will be diverted from landfill (the 70% goal is met by higher diversion rates in the commercial, industrial, and construction sectors.)

Food waste comprises 21% of the solid waste that goes to landfill. Metro Vancouver set the goal of requiring municipalities to setup curb-side kitchen scrap removal by 2012 for single-family housing and 2015 for multi-family housing. Municipalities like Surrey and the Township of Langley have implemented this system for single-family housing, and now the City of Langley will be rolling out a program. According to a press release from the City:

The City of Langley is pleased to announce the start of the New GreenCan Program for Kitchen Organic Waste beginning January 2nd, 2013 for all Single Family Residence’s in the City of Langley.

1. Add Kitchen Food Scraps to your GreenCan
- Beginning January 2, 2013, mix food scraps in with your yard trimmings and reduce the amount of garbage going to a landfill.

2. REVISED Garbage Collection Schedule
- Beginning January 2, 2013, garbage will be collected every other week (bi-weekly)
- Watch for the 2013 Recycling, GreenCan and Garbage Collection Schedule delivered to your door this month.

What’s really sad though is that the multi-family housing has such low diversion rate goal especially for a compact region like Metro Vancouver where a good portion of us live in multi-family housing. Maybe it is because those big garbage bins are just so easy to put things into. Clearly, something needs to change with how waste is handled with multi-family.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When the SkyTrain goes down, information is key

Every so often the SkyTrain has technical difficulties, police incidents, and medical emergencies which prevents service from running. It happens a few times every year and when it does, chaos for transit riders normally ensues. I was subject to such a breakdown on Sunday. There was a track problem that resulted in Gateway, Surrey Central, and King George SkyTrain station being shutdown. When I got off the bus at King George, I was greeted by a closed station with no information. I ran back onto the bus (as did everyone else) to Surrey Central. At Surrey Central the station was also closed, but at least there was a flip-board sign that said a bus bridge to connect to the functioning parts of SkyTrain was in place though it didn’t mention where to get on the bus. Luckily, I found the bus because it said “Special” and was surrounded by TransLink security. Anyway, I got thinking that there has got to be a better way to handle these situations which will come up from time-to-time.

I can’t remember where, maybe Downtown Calgary, but they actually had permanent signage in place for bus shuttle service when their rail system had a disruption of service. This would be extremely usefully in Vancouver too. Instead of the mass confusion that occurs when the SkyTrain goes down, TransLink would already have signage installed that says “In the event of SkyTrain disruption, please use bus shuttle service from Bay 1”. There would be clear signage at the SkyTrain station entrances and at the shuttle bus bay. They could even make the signs a highly visible colour. When the next disruption occurs, people would see the signage and know where to get service to complete their journey. Riders may not get as confused or worked up. It would also show that TransLink is prepared for this kind of stuff and may improve customers’ perspectives of the agency.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Lawyer's Letters, Growth Strategies, and the Trinity Western University District

Controversy and legal ambiguity still surround the proposed Trinity Western University District in the Township of Langley. One of the central issues is whether the Township is still under the old Metro Vancouver regional growth strategy or the new regional growth strategy. The Township does not believe it will be under the new regional growth strategy until it adopts new regional context statements which show how the Township’s Official Community Plan aligns with the new regional growth strategy.

The old regional growth strategy had a Green Zone which was meant to protect “Greater Vancouver’s natural assets, including major parks, watersheds, ecologically important areas and resource lands such as farmland. It also establishes a long-term growth boundary.” The Green Zone, while a good idea, had some implementation issues as there were questions around what land was actually in the Green Zone, what land-use would be allowed within the green zone, and how land could be added or removed from the Green Zone. The old regional growth plan also lacked enforcement tools.

The new regional growth strategy shifts to a clearly defined urban containment boundary, has policies about what land-use is allowed within and outside the urban containment boundary, and has a stronger policy and enforcement framework.

Under the new regional growth strategy, the Trinity Western University District would be subject to a regional process and a vote by the Metro Vancouver board to approve the district, so it would make sense that the Township wants to be under the old regional growth strategy (with its ambiguities) to push this plan through.

On November 6th, Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law sent a letter to the Township with his opinion that the Township should interpretation its existing regional context statements under the new region growth strategy. In reply a letter dated December 3rd, Lidstone & Company (Township lawyers) disagree as they believe that the Township is still under the old regional growth strategy.

With all this legal back and forth over the proposed Trinity Western University District, I wonder if the spirit of both the new and old regional growth strategies which are to preserve green space has been lost. The Trinity Western University District will create a new community on former rural land which many would consider sprawl and not the protection of the original green zone.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Port Metro Vancouver project no longer subject to environmental assessment

In October, I posted about how the federal government under Harper's Conservatives has fundamentally redefined environmental legislation, and how the effects of that change are already being felt in Langley. Now Delta will start to feel the effects of the change to Canada’s environmental protection laws. Port Metro Vancouver is currently working on a Deltaport Terminal, Road and Rail Improvement Project. This is not the same as the proposed Terminal Two project. You can see a list of proposed projects below.

Deltaport Terminal, Road and Rail Improvement Project. Click image to enlarge.

This summer, the Port no longer became required to complete an environmental assessment for the proposed set of projects due to the replacement of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The Port decided to continue with the environmental assessment process which generated a list of 29 recommendations to reduce the environmental impact of the projects. While the Port decided to do right by the environment, I can’t imagine that others will or that the Port will continue to do so in the future unless required by law.

I don’t think that people fully realize how much weaker the protection of the Canadian environment has become. The tragedy is that a healthy society cannot exist without a healthy environment, and the federal government is slowly taking the tools away to protect and promote a healthy environment.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Water Supply Expansion in the Township

Some of the most expensive infrastructure in our community is buried underground and maybe because of that gets very little attention. It is our water and sewer infrastructure, and in our region it will become one of the most expensive capital line items on budgets in the coming years. Besides the general expansion of water and sewer infrastructure to accommodate growth in the region, much of the current infrastructure was installed in the mid-20th century when they only designed infrastructure to last 50-years (today infrastruture is designed to last about 100 years). In the Township of Langley, Council received a list of Pre-Approval 2013 Capital Projects. These projects may be approved before the 2013 budget is formally approved. Of the $28 million requested, $19 million is for water and sewer infrastructure. The two big tickets items are the East Langley Water Supply project at $11.7 million and Maple Ridge Pump Station at $5 million. These costs are just the pre-approval costs and don’t represent the full cost of the projects.

Interesting enough water and sewer project like the East Langley Water Supply project are actually what enables sprawl (more so than roads), so will Salmon River/Uplands in rural Langley be ripe for development once this project is complete?

Speaking about water supply, there is a petition from residents of South Milner to expand water service in their area. A local area service tax zone would be created to share the $4 million cost of this expansion between 88 properties.

Proposed South Milner Water Distribution Expansion Project

The long range plan is to connect this proposed distribution system with the Murrayville distribution network along 216 Street which is where the East Langley Water Supply main will be built.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

4-way Stops and Common Sense

One of the interesting things about common sense is that it often finds itself at odds with facts. This is especially true when it comes to urban issues. Unfortunately politicians sometime pander to common sense logic instead of basing their decisions on facts. A perfect example of this presented itself at the Township of Langley November 26th Afternoon Council Meeting.

Township Council passed a motion at the September 17th Evening Council Meeting to have staff look at installing a 4-way stop at 197 Street and Wakefield Avenue due to public concerns about speeding and rat-running. There are three common sense ideas that this motion used: 4-way stops makes intersections safer, handle traffic better, and reduce speeding. Reality dictates otherwise.

According to research:

-Safety of pedestrians is decreased at unwarranted multi-way stops especially small children due to non-compliance with the Stop sign.
-Stop signs do not significantly change the safety of the intersection. Stop signs are installed with the anticipation that they will make intersection and neighbourhood safer.
-Multi-way stops do not control speeds.
-Unwarranted multi-way stops may present potential liability problems for undocumented exceptions to accepted warrants. Local jurisdictions feel they may be incurring higher liability exposure by “violating” the MUTCD. Many times the unwarranted stop signs are installed without a warrant study or some documentation.
-Speeding problems are associated with “through” traffic. Frequently homeowners feel the problem is created by “outsiders.” Many times the problem is the person complaining or their neighbour.

Reading into the research a bit further, it shows that stops signs when used as speed control devices actually increase speeding. The most interesting thing for me is that people commonly blaming “the other” for everything wrong with their community instead of realizing that we collectively part of the problem and can be collectively part of the solution.

Over the years, I’ve come to question common sense logic because more often than not it is based on assumptions and not research.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Duffy Hill Development at 200th Street and 68th Avenue

In early November a public hearing was held for a proposed multi-building, multi-phase development at 68th Avenue and 200th Street called Duffy Hill. The project has been controversial as some neighbours are concerned that the people who will occupy the five/six-storey apartments will overwhelm local schools with children and/or commit crime at a higher rate than people who live in single-family housing and townhouses in the area. The project appears to be proceeding and I thought I would share some of the site plans and renders for the project.

Maximum Height for Various Buildings in Duffy Hill Development

Duffy Hill Development Cross Section
Example Duffy Hill Apartment Elevation

The developer has buffered the apartment buildings by providing a step down in height around the buildings with other housing types that match the height of existing building. Because the apartments will be built on a hillside, they will not be towering above other buildings in the area. The most interesting part of the project will be the restoration of Jeffrieds Brook and the accompanying trail infrastructure around it.

555 Bus Service over the new Port Mann

This weekend the Port Mann bridge opened with eight-lanes for traffic and the new 555 express bus service started between Braid SkyTrain and the 202 Street Park and Ride in Langley. Apparently Township of Langley Councillor Steve Ferguson was very excited about the new bus service and at 6:30am on Saturday claims to be the very first revenue passenger of the new service.

Township of Langley Councillor Steve Ferguson boarding the 555.

Update: I have been informed that Councillor Ferguson did step on the bus for its first run, but got off the bus before it left the Park and Ride.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Metro Vancouver Transportation Governance

Transportation is a hot-button issue in Metro Vancouver. The Metro Vancouver board used to be in charge of TransLink and regional land-use, but the Province stripped Metro of being responsible for regional transportation and placed TransLink under a different structure effectively separating land-use decisions from transportation decisions in 2008. This separation wasn’t ideal as regional land-use and transportation (which are intrinsically linked) policy is now handled by two organizations (three with the Province.) This has created friction.

The TransLink Mayors' Council has sent out an RFP to have more information on the state of practices for the governance of regional services (with a focus on transportation) in other regions. The Mayors’ Council will be making a decision on what governance model they’d like to see for TransLink, even though the Province is under no obligation to act on that recommendation.

At Metro Vancouver, the board has voted to form a new committee in 2013 that will deal solely with transportation issues. This would be separate from the TransLink Mayors’ Council. The new committee or Joint Policy Panel on Transportation would include representatives from Metro Vancouver, Port Metro Vancouver, airport authorities, the non-governmental Gateway Council, and other levels of government in the region. The JPP will hopefully be a forum that will allow all stakeholders to work together and align the sustainability goals of the region with transportation plans and policy.

Of course one of the big players in transportation in the region is the Province, and their transportation priorities seem to be the least connected to Metro's goal of building a sustainable region especially in the South of Fraser were we are seeing massive highway expansion along the edges of our communities with no transit expansion within our communities. Without the Province on-board with the JPP, I wonder how effective it will be. Though having a unified voice will help when lobbying the Province on transportation issues.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Downtown Langley and Willowbrook Transit Exchanges, plus mall redevelopment

TransLink is hosting a week of public consultations (started yesterday) as part of phase 2 of a 4 phase design process for proposed new transit exchanges in both Downtown Langley and the Willowbrook Mall area. The new transit exchanges will hopefully support improved transit accessibility in both areas which are part of the larger Langley Regional Town Centre as per Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy. At the current phase, TransLink is looking at three options for both sites which you can see below.

Proposed Bus Mall Option for Downtown Langley

Proposed Off-Street Option for Downtown Langley

Proposed On-street Option for Downtown Langley

Proposed Bus Mall Option for Willowbrook Mall Area

Proposed Off-Street Option for Willowbrook Mall Area

Two Proposed On-Street Options for Willowbrook Mall Area

I prefer the on-street options which will better integrate with the community and do not like the off-street options which will create nothing but more parking lots.

The potential big changes for Downtown Langley will be the relocation of the bus exchange from Logan Avenue/Glover Road to 203rd Street/Fraser Highway, the creation of a new 203 A Street, and the extension of Industrial Avenue.

For the Willowbrook Mall area, besides getting a transit exchange around Willowbrook Drive/Fraser Highway, it looks like the mall has some big plans to redevelop into a mixed-use town centre. This is the most exciting bit of news and if the redevelopment proceeds will have a profound positive effect on the livability of Langley. Page 14 of TransLink’s Public Information Boards document has more information on the proposed mixed-use town centre and other information about the proposed new transit exchanges.

Example of potential redevelopment of Willowbrook Mall site.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Average Capacity Utilization of Port Mann and Massey Tunnel

On yesterday's post, I made the point that transit has better capacity utilization than the current Port Mann Bridge which is about to double in size and the George Massey Tunnel which now “needs” to be replaced. TransLink transit had a capacity utilization of 88%, the Port Mann Bridge of 51%, and the Massey Tunnel of 47% in 2011. Of course a road is a fixed capacity facility, unlike transit which is flexible and able to efficiently respond to demand. I prepared some graphs that show the average annually traffic volume on the George Massey Tunnel and Port Mann Bridge by time-of-day. Even at their peak of utilization (86.6% for the Port Mann and 84.6% for the Massey Tunnel,) transit is still more efficient than the Port Mann Bridge and George Massey Tunnel.

George Massey Tunnel Average Annual Traffic Volume by Time of Day, 2011. Click graph to enlarge.

Port Mann Bridge Average Annual Traffic Volume by Time of Day, 2011. Click graph to enlarge.

We really have a double standard when it comes to our transportation system. We demand a gold-level of efficiency of our transit system, but not of our road network. Our current highway system is designed based on handling the maximum conceivable volume of traffic going a single-direction for a few hours a day. It really is insane. Highways consume a huge amount of land and capital, both of which could be used for other productive purposes, so you’d think we’d be more careful with how we managed highways. We should be even more careful when you think of the short and long-term environmental, social, and health consequences resulting from our highway system.

So while our transit system has been deemed "inefficient" by the Province and service must be optimized, the Province is actively engaged in making our road network "less efficient". Funny how that works.

For the charts the maximum capacity is 1800 vehicles per hour, per lane.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sub-regional Transit and Road Statistics

As I posted about earlier, TransLink has started a public consultation for proposed 2013 bus service optimization which will see the redistribution of transit service in the region. TransLink released a rather large Bus System Performance Review report earlier this year. One of the interest sections in the report was a comparison of a few key metrics by sub-region which you can see below.

Median boardings per revenue hour. Click image to enlarge.

Median capacity utilization. Click image to enlarge.

What I find really interesting is that both the North East Sector and Southern Delta areas seem to have a transit network that is underutilized. It’s really interesting when you consider that the North East Sector is getting SkyTrain while Surrey may just be getting a B-Line service in 2013. Now, I’m not suggesting that transit service be cut in the North East Sector or Southern Delta, but it would be interesting to know why transit service isn’t utilized as much in those areas.

Overall TransLink had an 88% capacity utilization in 2011 which is much higher than the Port Mann Bridge (which in December will have double the current capacity) with an average daily capacity utilization of 51% or the George Massey Tunnel (which is being slated for replacement) with an average daily capacity utilization of 47%. Transit is certainly more efficient than the road network even on the worst of days.

Port Mann Bridge average 2011 24-hour volume of 109,978 vehicles with maximum 24 hour capacity of 216,000 vehicles.

George Massey Tunnel average 2011 24-hour volume of 81,729 vehicles with a maximum 24 hour capacity of 172,800 vehicles.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Township of Langley's proposed University District

The controversial Trinity Western University District which includes the controversially Wall Financial Corporation 67 single-family equestrian community, now student housing, development reared its head at Monday night’s council meeting. Councillor Davis, Sparrow, and Richter seem to be the only ones on council that want to give this whole plan a sober second thought. Since I last posted about the University District, the Township of Langley has consulted with key stakeholders and received correspondence from Metro Vancouver, the City of Langley, Trinity Western University, the Langley School District, the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, and the Agricultural Land Commission.

Proposed University District. Click image to enlarge.

Based on feedback from those parties, the Township has reduced the University District in size from about 180 hectares to 152 hectares. The Township is now moving forward with an Official Community Plan (OCP) amendment to allow the University District to proceed. There are still major concerns. Metro Vancouver still believes that the proposed OCP amendment will violate the old Livable Region Strategic Plan Green Zone provisions and would still require the Township to get approval from Metro Vancouver under the new Regional Growth Strategy. It looks like the Township is still on the path to confrontation with Metro Vancouver.

If the Township gets its way, the University District would become a larger version of Fort Langley on what the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) calls prime farm land. Fort Langley is 120.38 hectares. Do we really need another community that is in the middle of farmland with all the issues that those types of communities create around sustainability and transportation choice?

The Ministry of Agriculture “would prefer the development of a University District in urban areas rather than alienating more farmland for urban uses.” The Ministry also has concerns about how the University District would impact adjacent farmland and lead to more farm practice complaints in the future.

The Agricultural Land Commission submitted a map which shows which parts of the University District they support and which they don’t. The Commission basically only supports the limited growth of Trinity Western University based on what has already been approved. The Commission appears to have no appetite for the removal of more land out of the Agricultural Land Reserve for the full University District that the Township is proposing.

Agricultural Land Commission map outlining which parts of the proposed University District they support. Click image to enlarge.

The City of Langley of Langley has no objection to the plan, the School District supports the district as does Trinity Western University.

With the ALC and Metro Vancouver having strong objections to the full-scale University District, I have to wonder if this plan is dead even as Township Council proceeds with final adoption of the OCP amendment.

I do not support the University District as it currently stands. I believe that Trinity Western University should be allowed to grow their campus to meet their needs, and I support the exclusion of the limited lands west of Glover Road by the ALC to support that objective. But I do not support building the full 152 hectare University District in prime farmland when there is so much development opportunity in other parts of Langley. Trinity Western University is a private Christian university which means that it is not accessible to all members of the community due to financial or religious considerations.

I’m a bit surprised that Township Council is supportive of the University District as it currently stands as the District will continue the slow erosion of farmland and rural living in the community.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

TransLink's Bus Service Optimization

Last month, the BC government released an audit of TransLink that found that TransLink could be more efficient by cutting services in some areas to improve service in other areas. TransLink calls this "service optimization" and has proposed some major changes to the transit system in Metro Vancouver as a result. Public consultation on the changes started this Monday and will wrap up on December 13th.

Before I go over some of the changes in the South of Fraser, I was reminded of a post that Gordon Price made on the inequality between different transportation modes. For road users, delay and maximized road usages is considered a bad thing; delay+utiliziation=cost. For transit users, delay and maximized transit usage is considered a good thing; delay+utilization=efficiency. It’s funny how that works and I’ve never seen a performance audit of the Ministry of Transportation, but I guess we live in a world of double standards.

Anyways in the South of Fraser, TransLink proposes to make a number of changes to the network:
312 Service Refinement: Remove Scottsdale Mall detour to improve travel times and simplify route
314 Service Refinement: Remove River Road segment to reduce duplication and simplify route
332/335 Service Redesign: Combine services and reroute via 72nd Ave to Newton Exchange
502 Service Redesign: Introduce new 503 express service to Langley / Aldergrove and truncate 502 at Langley Centre

Overall the South of Fraser comes out ahead in this rounds of service optimization as it appears that service will be improving. The new combined 332/335 will provide better connectivity between Fleetwood and Newton in Surrey.

Proposed combined 332/335 route. Click image to enlarge.

I’m also excited about the proposed 503 express service that will speed up service between Aldergrove, Langley City, and the SkyTrain in Surrey. The bus will serve all stops east of Langley Centre, but will operates as a B-Line-type service west of Langley Centre; only making a limited number of stopped. The bus will run every 30 minutes and will not impact the frequency of the 502. The corridor is in desperate need of service improvement as it is one of the busiest transit corridors in the region. The new 503 will certainly speed up the journey for Aldergrove and Langley City passengers and I hope this route will get frequent transit network status if/when TransLink gets more money. I’m not too upset that TransLink has removed the Salmon River section of the route. It only ran 5 times per day and was a useless throw back from the BC Transit era.

Proposed new 503 route. Click image to enlarge.

Of course other changes in the South of Fraser transit network include a real B-Line service between Guildford, Whalley, and Newton, and a new express bus between the 202nd Street Park and Ride in Langley and Braid SkyTrain.

All in all these are positive changes for the South of Fraser. In fact in Metro Vancouver, it appears that only two areas outright lost transit service: Salmon River in the Township of Langley and the Ruskin/Thornhill area in Maple Ridge. With all these changes though, the frequent transit network has not expanded. The only way to ensure the sustainability of the region is to increasing transportation choice by expanding the frequent transit network, providing rapid transit options, and improving cycling and walking infrastructure.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

TransLink and the Federal Gas Tax Fund

As you may know, TransLink receives 100% of the Federal Gas Tax Fund for Metro Vancouver. The federal program delivers about $2 billion annually to local governments in Canada. Metro Vancouver and TransLink receive about $122 million per year. The federal program does come with some strings attached; it can only be used for capital projects of regional significance which apparently excludes bike lanes. The Metro Vancouver board is encouraging local governments in the regional to write to their respective MPs to allow for the federal fund to be used for cycling improvements as well.

The Metro Vancouver board is also looking into whether or not the federal government would entertain using the gas tax fund to pay for ongoing operational costs as well. I have a feeling that the federal government has no desire to be funding transit operations and I don’t think anything will come of that. I do believe that we need a federal transit program that looks at funding a percentage of capital and operational costs, but I don’t think that is a priority for Harper and his Conservatives right now.

So as it currently stands, the Federal Gas Tax Fund will be used to replace aging buses in the TransLink fleet. Since the program started in 2005, TransLink has purchased 729 new conventional bus, 101 new community shuttles, 136 new HandyDART buses, 14 new SkyTrain cars, and 1 new SeaBus. The fund has also allowed for the refurbishment of 114 SkyTrain cars, SkyTrain and bus facility expansion, Expo Line power system upgrades, and the purchase of Compass Card equipment for buses.

Between 2013 and 2015, TransLink proposes to purchase 426 new conventional buses, 331 community shuttles, and 505 HandyDART buses with the Gas Tax Fund. This would result in TransLink having the most modern fleet in North America.

The big challenge with the Federal Gas Tax fund is even though we get a pretty good chunk of federal funding to pay for capital projects, these projects cannot increase operating costs. This basically takes transit expansion projects off the table currently as there is an impasse between the Province and local government on how to fund the operating costs at TransLink. Being able to spend some of this funding on cycling infrastructure would certainly be helpful because at some point we are going to run out of old buses to replace.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Naming the trails in the City of Langley

Back when the City of Langley participated in the Communities in Bloom program, people noticed that the City did not have names for any of its trails. At that time, it was brought to the attention of Council who deferred the matter onto the Parks and Environment Advisory Committee (PEAC) which I am currently serving on. The naming of the trails in the City had a few false starts and we decided that the City should implement an infrastructure naming policy before we would work any further on naming trails. The infrastructure naming policy process was started last year and the City adopted the naming policy earlier this year. At the last PEAC meeting, we made namimg recommendations for the first batch of trails in the City with a focus on the Nicomekl Floodplain. The floodplain hosts the majority of the trails in the community. We decided to go with names that reflect natural features or names that are already commonly used to identify the trails. Tonight, City Council will be voting on either moving forward with the process of naming the trails based on our recommendations or sending us back to the drawing board.

City of Langley Trail System. Click image to enlarge.

Proposed Names
Trail 3 – City Park Trail
Trail 4 – Dog Park Loop
Trail 6 -Pleasantdale Creek Trail
Trail 7 - Muckle Creek Trail
Trail 10 – Brydon Lagoon Nature Trail

Thursday, November 15, 2012

TransLink Fare Increase

On Tuesday TransLink announced that fares will be going up in January. Just like the price of a stamp, the price of a transit ticket is scheduled to go up at a rate of 2 percent per year. The only difference is that TransLink usually waits a few years before applying the compounded 2 percent increase. It really should be no surprises to anyone that fares go up. By law, TransLink is allowed to raise fare by 2 percent per year. TransLink actually asked to raise fares by an additional 6.4%, but that was rejected by the TransLink Commissioner early this year. The rejection of the additional fare increase combined with the Province’s refusal to entertain another long-term funding source for TransLink is why the brakes have been applied to transit expansion in the region. Both the TransLink Commissioner and the Province thought that an efficiency study would find hidden money within TransLink to fund transit expansion, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.

I was on CBC radio yesterday afternoon talking about the fare increase and how, while nobody wants to pay more for the same level of service, the proposed fares are still economical. The reality is that if fares didn’t go up, service would be cut and I don’t think that anyone wants that. I also believe that as we are looking for other taxes to pay for transit expansion, user fees for the system should go up as well. Currently, 33 percent of TransLink’s revenue comes from fares. Other world-class transit systems collect closer to 40 – 50 percent of revenue from fares, so I believe that transit riders are still getting a good deal.

I have a three-zone pass and come January, I’ll be paying an extra $0.63 per day for transit. I think that is good value for my money. The reality is that if we actually want to expand our transit system, fares will have to be increased and a new long-term source of revenue needs to be found, like road pricing to build a sustainable region. And at the end of the day, transit is still way cheaper than operating a vehicle.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Task Forces in the Township

Township of Langley Council appears to be in the process of setting up two task forces in the municipality. The first task force would be called the Community Engagement Task Force and the second called the Advisory Committee or Task Force on Transportation.

The Community Engagement Task Force would have the mandate to recommend to Council what steps should be taken to improve community engagement in respect to planning and the development process. The task forces would look at the current engagement process, including by-laws, and suggest any changes that could be made to improve community involvement. If this task force commences, it would be interesting to see if they would recommend a more cooperative form of community engagement which could include elements like design workshops. These workshops were used in the creation of the Sustainability Charter and I think were successful. I would hope that they would deemphasize the public hearings process as the be all, end all which is required by provincial law, but which I don’t find very productive. I would assume that after the task force makes its recommendation, it would be disbanded.

The Advisory Committee or Task Force on Transportation actually has some prior history in the Township as the Public Transportation Advisory Task Force. This task force was setup in 2001 to provide advice for TransLink’s South of the Fraser Area Transit Plan and also the original cycling network plan for the Township. The new transportation task force would have the mandate to provide input and recommendations to Council on TransLink, Provincial transportation policy and issues, municipal transportation policy and issues, and the prioritization of alternative mode of transportation. This would certainly be one of the more exciting task forces in the Township as transportation is always a hot-button issue in Langley. I'm certain it would become a continuous advisory committee.

You can read more about these task forces in the latest agenda of the Council Priorities Committee Agenda.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Township Council Budget Priorities

A few weeks ago, I went over the proposed 2013 budget for the Township of Langley. Today, I was looking over the minutes of the October 22nd Council Priorities meeting and found that Council has set the following items as their most important capital projects for the next budget cycle.

Annual Leak Detection Program - $200,000
Aldergrove Community Centre - $34.8 million
Green Parking Lot, WGC - $200,000
IT - Website Chat Tools - $12,000
IT – Seismic Upgrade - $100,000
IT – Electronic Agendas - $45,000
Land Capital Fund - $15 million

In total, Township Council has earmarked $50.4 million in what they consider priority projects. Obviously, the big ticket item that Council wants to get done is the Aldergrove Community Centre and it will certainly be one of those legacy building projects that will benefit Aldergrove for many years. Of course sometime I find that the less sexy projects get passed over in the name of these legacy-type projects. If I was on council, my priority would be to ensure that water and sewer infrastructure was in a good state of repair and could meet future needs. I’d also be looking to make sure that the Township’s parks and trail system was a priority, coupled with other pedestrian and cycling infrastructure improvements. I would ensure that the overall transportation system is running as efficiently as possible with innovative demand-management projects.

There are two projects I thought were interesting in the 2013 draft budget: Electronic Billing and an LED streetlamp trail. The LED project could result in energy and labour savings for the Township and online billing would make life easier for people that do business with the Township which is pretty much everyone in the community.

To be honest, the proposed website chat tool projects seems a bit gimmicky to me and I wonder if it will be really useful. Basically, the feature would allow Joe Citizen to chat with the Township staff online. I wonder how much staffing it would take to support this tool? I do think it is a good idea to move to an electronic agenda for council as the current paper agendas must kill a forest each year, but I wonder if this is an excuse to get councillors new iPads because electronic agendas are already available online today.

I will continue to follow the budget process in the Township as it gets closer to final adoption.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan Update

The City of Langley is working on updating two major plans. One is an upcoming update to the Master Transportation Plan and the other is an update to the Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan. It would be interesting to see how much the City actually completed from the current versions of these plans because plans without funding are nothing more than paperweights. The City has yet to release details about the Master Transportation Plan update, but has released some information on the Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan update.

The study team will analyze and make recommendations on all aspects of parks, recreation and culture in the municipality. This includes parkland, trails, sports fields, community and recreation centres, pools, public fitness centres, recreation and sports programs, cultural programs and events, and many more activities and amenities.

The City will be sending out a survey to 2,000 randomly selected households in the next little while to get feedback on people’s priorities and will be hosting more public input sessions in 2013.

One of the things that I’d like to see is an intersection between the Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan and the Master Transportation Plan when it comes to active transportation. I think the City has a great opportunity to integrate the trails system into the main transportation system. If done right, it could provide an off-street walking and cycling network that could stretch from one end of the community to the other.

For more information on the Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan you can email

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Recycling Plastic Bags

Personally, I can’t stand plastic bags. I seem to collect them even though I have cloth bags and they are not convenient to recycle as only a few grocery stores accept them. The same holds true for that thin, clear plastic that seems to encase everything that I buy. All this plastic seems to end up in the garbage 9 times out of 10. I also have to trash those foam containers that food comes in. If only there was a better way to deal with these plastics?

The City of Langley was the site of a pilot project called “Blue + 2” which allowed residents in City to put plastic bags, PS foam, and plastic outer wrap into curbside recycling. Overall the pilot project was a success.

It will be interesting to see if this program gets rolled out across the region. As you may know, BC has an extensive producer responsible recycling program and it is likely that this will be part of that program. You can read more about the pilot project from the City’s Council Agenda.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Township of Langley Library Plan

On Monday afternoon, Township Council received a master plan for its library system which covers the next decade. If fully implemented, the plan will cost $9.8 million and will see the expansion of library facilities in the community.

The consultants who wrote the master plan identified a magic number of .6 square feet of library space per resident which is how they determined future community library needs. I was a bit surprised that the plan didn’t talk about staffing or funding of library resources (like books, computer, etc) which are equally important.

The consultants who developed the library master plan identified three options for expanding the Township’s Library system.

Option 1:
Expand/renew libraries in existing neighbourhoods to meet 10 year projected population growth. Consider a new community library in the Willoughby area within 10 years.

Option 2:
Develop a large (40,000sf) library in a Willoughby neighbourhood within 10 years. Any expansion/renewal of existing libraries would likely be beyond the 10 year time frame.

Option 3:
Develop a smaller central library in a Willoughby neighbourhood (24,000sf) with expansion/renewal of highest priority existing libraries in years 6 to 10 of the plan. Expansion/renewal of remainder of libraries would likely be beyond the 10 year time frame.

Options 3 received the most support when presented to the public at open houses and that is the recommended option for the future library system in the Township. Option 3 would see the expansion and relocation of the Aldergrove Library into the proposed Aldergrove Community Centre, and the development of a new 24,000sf central library in the Willoughby area. The central library will serve Willowbrook, Willoughby and Walnut Grove. The plan also recommends relocating the Brookswood Library to a community facility and expanding the Fort Langley Library. The expansion/renewal needs for the Murrayville, Walnut Grove and Muriel Arnason Libraries would be considered in a future plan.

It will be good to see the library system expanded in the Township of Langley, but funding the operating budget of the library system is just as important as the construction of new buildings. The Township Library System is part of the Fraser Valley Regional Library System. Council will have to fund this plan as part of the normal budgeting process if they want to support the expansion of the library system.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thoughts on Public Hearings

Over the last decade, I have attended a fair share of municipal public hearings. Public hearings are legally required in BC before council can vote on an approval or rejection of a rezoning application. Over the years, I’ve come to question the effectiveness of the public hearing. It basically allows people to vent some steam, but I don’t think the format provides a representative view of the community or allows for people to be fully engaged in a productive discussion about the implementation of land-use policy. The best kind of community planning includes citizens in a productive feedback system that starts from the official community plan and works its way down to a development application. The public hearing format is almost setup to be adversarial.

Last night, I was at a public hearing for a proposed higher-density development near 68th Avenue and 200th Street. You can read more about the proposal on a previous post. When a development proposal comes forward with higher-density in a newer neighbourhood with lower-density, some people in the neighbourhood get upset. The issues are normally around parking, traffic, land-value, schools and crime. Last night was no different with people who live in lower-density housing blaming people in higher-density housing for causing all that is wrong with their community. I’ve seen people who live in single-family housing think that people who live in townhouses are the problem, and people who live in townhouses think that people who live in apartments are the problem. It’s all very interesting when you consider the facts.

Parking is usually an issue in single-family neighbourhoods because single-family homeowner’s have a habit of building illegal secondary suites. Also both single-family and townhouse dwellers tend to store everything but their cars in a garage. Apartment dwellers are only allowed to store cars in their parking spots. Generally as you increase density, you reduce the amount of parking required.

The notion that traffic is only created by apartments is also interesting because lower-density neighbourhoods only support the auto as a viable form of transportation. A mix of housing types is important and higher-density developments like walk-up apartments is needed to make public transit viable and give people an option out of congestion. The one thing I did notice at this public hearing was that people didn’t see the connection between their own travel habits and the creation of traffic.

The other interesting thing that I noticed is that people who live in lower-density housing think that people who live in higher-density housing create more crime and will lower their property value. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Crime has more to do with social-economic conditions than whether you live in an apartment or single-family house. Property value tends to increase when you have a community that is walkable and can support a diversity of transportation options. If this wasn’t the case, Vancouver wouldn’t have multi-million dollars houses. I should point out that apartments exist in West Vancouver too.

People get very excited about schools at public hearings. It’s interesting because if people have issues with their school system, they really should be talking to their MLA or School Board Trustee. Municipal councils don’t have control over schools. For some reason people in single-family homes think that apartments will be chock-full of families with children ready to overwhelm their schools. I’d venture to guess that more families with children live in townhouses and single-family houses than apartments. In fact, I would put money on the theory that townhouses create the highest child-per-acre metric.

Public hearings are always interesting to attend because most people do not have an understanding of community development. This is not their fault. Beside changing to a more consultative process for community planning, it would be good if the Township could host an event about community planning like they do in the City of Surrey. It would give people the opportunity to form more educated opinions about how their community is changing and how it should change.

At the end of the day, adding a higher-density development to an established lower-density neighbourhood will always generate some opposition. I don't think there is any way around that fact.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Willoughby Town Centre Update

Proposed mixed-use building. Click image to enlarge.

Around this time last year, I posted about Willoughby Town Centre which is a proposed 20-arce mixed-use development that is being constructed near 208th Street and 80th Avenue. Work has finished on the main high street through the project, Willoughby Town Centre Drive, and construction has started on a new grocery store and strip mall. The Township of Langley will be holding a public hearing tonight on the first of the proposed mixed-use buildings along the high street. This building will contain retail on the ground floor, plus 3 floors of residential units.

What this project gets right is that surface parking is at the rear of the mixed-use buildings as opposed to the front. This would seem logical when developing a walkable area, but in Walnut Grove similar mixed-use buildings have surface parking in the front of them which makes nothing more than strip malls with houses on top.

Overall phase one plan of Willoughby Town Centre.

Site plan for proposed mixed-use building.

Willoughby Town Centre does a better job of creating a walkable neighbourhood, but I have a few concerns about the surface parking. This project contains underground parking under the surface parking which means that the surface parking will likely stay in place for the next 25+ years. With this in mind, it is important that parking doesn’t hinder the public realm. For the proposed mixed-use building, the developer does a good job of preserving the pedestrian public realm, but the entire southeast corner of the overall phase one of Willoughby Town Centre (where the grocery store is being build) is just a normal strip mall with parking front and centre. It’s a shame because I really think that this is a lost opportunity to build a true town centre. For example instead of a parking lot, imagine if it was a public square?

Anyway, I’ll continue to following this project as it builds out over the next few years.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Vancouver's Sustainable Transportation Plan and the South of Fraser

Earlier this week, Vancouver City Council passed their new transportation plan with the goal of seeing walking, cycling, and transit account for a full 2/3rds of all trips in the city by 2040. This is just the latest in a series of transportation plans dating from the mid-1990's that have put a focus on improving walking, cycling, and supporting transit use while deemphasizing the auto as the primary means of transportation. By all accounts, the plans have been a success. It is encouraging to see that a city can shift its transportation priorities in a matter of a few decades. Of course Vancouver had a few things going for it to help speed the process along.

Vancouver has a tight grid road network which allows it to do a number of things. It allows the City to traffic calm streets next to major arterials (to the delight of residents who live on those streets) to provision a lower cost cycling network with little more than signage. At the same time, the City already has an established transit system which helps support a higher-density built form. In the South of Fraser, we are not as lucky.

As the South of Fraser is largely made up of neighbourhoods from post-World War II, the road network doesn’t have the same tight grid as Vancouver. The South of Fraser also doesn't have an established transit system that blankets the sub-region. While Vancouver was founded with a sustainable transportation system at its core, the South of Fraser grew when the auto was the only mode of transportation to be considered. That means that today it is a bit harder, but not impossible to shift to sustainable transportation system.

The biggest hindrance to building a sustainable South of Fraser transportation system is the lack of frequent public transit. Without public transit, you have no real choice but to promote the auto as the only means of longer-distance travel. Of course you can still build walking and cycling-friendly communities to support mid-distance and shorter trips. Unlike Vancouver though, communities in the South of Fraser have to spend more money to retro-fit existing arterials to safely handle all modes of transportation as traditionally they where the only roads on a grid. The other option is to build off-street walking and cycling facilities. Surrey’s solution is to build a greenway system that will mostly run along Hydro right-of-ways. The other thing that communities in the South of Fraser can do today is require more from commercial developers.

Right now anyone can build an auto-oriented strip mall or business park in the South of Fraser without so much as a blink from a municipality. Municipalities must change their guidelines to require commercial developments to be designed around walking and cycling while accommodating the auto by putting parking underground or hiding it. This way when transit comes, the build form will be in place to accommodate a truly sustainable transportation system. Of course this takes municipal councillors who have a vision for a sustainable future.

While Vancouver had an early start and possibly easier time building a sustainable transportation system, the South of Fraser can still shift to a sustainable transportation system. It will just take a bit more time and a lot more determination from municipal councils. Though until long-term transit funding is secured, I believe the South of Fraser will still be dependent on the auto.