Monday, April 30, 2012

Pattullo Bridge Replacement

I received an email the other day about the Pattullo Bridge replacement project that TransLink is working on. It seems that this is one of the few major projects that TransLink is still able to work on in light of the recent news around lack of funding for transit.

The Pattullo Bridge was opened in 1937 and has a laundry list of deficiencies including:

-Narrow lanes
-Pedestrians and cyclist are unprotected
-High accident rate
-Corrosion and deterioration
-Design leaves bridge vulnerable to ship impact
-Vulnerable to collapse even under moderate earthquake
-Experiencing foundation issues cause by river scouring

TransLink is proposing to replace the current bridge with a 6-lane bridge for a cost of about 800 million to 1 billion dollars. To put that into context, that kind of money would be able to build rapid transit along King George Highway, 104th Avenue, and Fraser Highway! With this bridge about to fall into the water, it certainly needs to be replaced, but how should we pay for it?

While a small vocal minority are opposed to any tolling, the reality is that tolling is the most reasonable way to get the bridge built. I’d ague that tolling is the only way the bridge should be built. I know there are some politicians that think the bridge should be built without a toll, but I would challenge them to find 1 billion dollars within TransLink’s current budget. I would much rather have them find 1 billion dollars to pay for rapid transit in the South of Fraser that would handle more people and build a more sustainable region (which the bridge will not.)

According to TransLink there is support for tolling, but people also want to see a regional tolling strategy. I was on the CBC’s the Early Edition a month ago talking about replacement options for the George Massey tunnel and the host of the program assumed that everyone would be against tolling. He asked a trucker on the program what he thought of tolling, the trucker said he supported tolling because a.) it will pay for new infrastructure and b.) manage travel demand.

TransLink has slated to start construction on the Pattullo Bridge in 2015 with an opening ceremony in 2018.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Township of Langley to Update Official Community Plan

Last year, Metro Vancouver adopted a new regional growth strategy. After a regional growth strategy has been adopted municipal governments must make sure that their official community plan (OCP) aligns with the regional plan. The Township of Langley is starting this process and has until July 29, 2013 to update its OCP. According to a staff report, the Township plans to do extensive public consultation which will be “consisting of 1,000 telephone interviews of randomly selected households in the Township.This will be followed by four focus group workshops, a staff workshop as well as a Council workshop to develop a vision, goals and objectives for the OCP. The draft plan, when prepared,will be reviewed through open houses and referrals to key organizations and stakeholders outlined in this report before being presented for Council’s consideration.”

One of the problem I find with some public consultation is that they happen to late in the process and basically only provide a place for people to get upset about the plan or project. I’m very happy to hear that the Township plans to engage its citizen early on in the process.

Another interesting change is that the OCP must now be viewed through the Township’s Sustainability Charter which should also have a profound affect on the future vision of the community. With the federal government abdicating responsibility for environmental protection, it will now be even more important for local government to pick up the slack. I feel that the Township of Langley now has the framework in place to be a sustainable community that will leave things in a better state for future generations and I look forward to seeing the updated OCP.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Salmon River Uplands - Water and Sewer

Most people think that roads are what enable urban sprawl, but it is actually water and sewer lines that play a larger role. I was reading a report on a proposed subdivision at 5342 236 Street in the Salmon River Uplands area in the Township of Langley that got me thinking about this. One of the limiting factors in the proposed subdivision was around the use of well water in the ever shrinking Hopington Aquifer. Salmon River Uplands is a rural area that is outside of the ALR in the Township of Langley. The majority of the area does not have municipal water service available and a good chunk does not have sanitary sewer access. Beside zoning, the major fact that is preventing growth in this area is the lack of municipal water and sewer which cost a lot of money to provide.

Water and Sewer Mains in Salmon River Uplands

Metro Vancouver actually uses the provisioning of sewer mains as one of the tools to prevent urban sprawl, but Salmon River Uploads is part of a future sewer extension area. As municipal services become available throughout all of Salmon River Uplands, I know there will be huge pressure to turn this area into a suburb. I'm not against adding municipal services to this area as it should help out the Hopington Aquifer, but Township Council will have to be firmly committed to seeing this area stay rural.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Amtrak Station in Blaine

Last December, I posted about an initiative by citizens in Blaine to save their rail station that is just south of the border from being demolished. Right now there is no Amtrak service in Blaine, but many are calling for the train to stop there as not only will it benefit the people of Blaine, but also those who live in the South of Fraser. Having this station up and running would shave about two hours off the travel time.

It looks like the restoration of the station is now getting support from South of Fraser community including the City of Langley. The City has sent a letter to the State of Washington and BNSF Railway endorsing an Amtrak stop in Blaine because of the "significant economic and environmental benefits a commuter rail station would bring to residents of White Rock and the Region".

The City of White Rock and Surrey already support this station, but the reality is it will require the support of the citizen of Blaine if we are to see a station that can more effectively service the South of Fraser.

Monday, April 23, 2012

City of Langley Shifting Property Tax to Business

Tonight the City of Langley Council will be adopting the 2012 tax rate. One of the changes is "to shift the tax burden from the residential class to the business class so that the business class pays a higher proportion of the property taxation to move towards the average ratio between classes identified in Metro Vancouver." As a property owner in the City of Langley, you can expect to see the following changes on your tax bill on average.

Single Family Residential 1.48% or $25
Strata Dwelling -0.77% or -$6
Light Industrial Property 3.96% or $606
Business Property 3.75% or $ 493

As a "strata dweller" this will be the first year since I've lived in Langley that I may see a decrease in my property tax bill. It is not very often when that happens.

Friday, April 20, 2012

New Mixed-use Development coming to Downtown Langley

After years of hard work promoting the City of Langley's Downtown Master Plan, yesterday afternoon a new 15-storey, mixed-use development may be coming to the corner of Industrial Avenue and 203rd Street.

Mayor Peter Fassbender and Developer David Phan, launching development.

According to the developer, this project called Charleston Place has been in the works since 2005. The building will have ground-level retail, 5 storeys of professional space, and 9 storeys of residential units. Similar to some developments in New Westminster, parking will be a above-ground and underground. This project will complete in 2015.

Low-Density Strips at 203rd and Industrial may become become a high-density and mixed-use.

If this development proceeds, it will certainly set the tone for other projects in the City and its downtown core. This sort of development combined with transit will certainly set the City of Langley on the path to sustainability. I will be following this development closely.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Province is TransLink's Puppet Master

While many people blame TransLink or the mayors for the mess that transit service is in, people should really be looking to the Province. TransLink and the mayors are the puppets while the Province has always been the puppet master.

The NDP created TransLink in 1999 as a way to download to Metro Vancouver regional transportation issues. The TransLink board was basically the Metro Vancouver board. The Province gave TransLink the ability to be funded from gas tax and property tax, plus some of the historic fees from the BC Hydro days of transit service. One other funding source, a vehicle levy, was promised by the Province at that time, but the NDP pulled the plug on that funding source as the party wasn’t doing so well in the polls.

The Liberals swept into power 2001 and not much changed with TransLink. It wasn’t until TransLink and Metro Vancouver voted against the Canada Line that the Province changed TransLink's governance from elected officials to a private board. The thought was that the private board would be better at handling finances and would come up with money to pay for transit expansion via savings and other magic that only private business can perform. As it turns out, there wasn’t much extra money to be found.

At the end of 2010, realizing that there wasn’t a large amount of money to be found within TransLink, the Province and the mayors signed a memo of understanding saying that the Province would work with the mayor to find the long promised, long-term funding to pay for transit. This prompted TransLink to submit the “Moving Forward” package of transit expansion that relied on a gas tax increase, plus a long-term funding source which the mayors approved. The Province approved the gas tax and talks continued on finding a long-term funding source. The mayors recommended a vehicle levy to start with that could be changed to something else like fair tolling.

I was told that the Province, the mayors, and TransLink had the best working relationship in the history of the organization.

All was going according to plan until March 22nd when Premier Christy Clark, seeing that the Liberals were low in the polls, said that “We are not going to find [the money] through a vehicle levy.” Welcome back to 2000.

The TransLink commissioner's report was really the nail in the coffin. The proposed fare hike that the commissioner cancelled would have generated $48 million in new revenue to pay for transit expansion even while the commissioner’s report only found up to $30 million in savings from TransLink’s $1,217 million budget.

New "Moving Forward" Plan

Evergreen Line
11km of SkyTrain from Burnaby to Coquitlam plus an upgraded Commercial–Broadway SkyTrain station which will see the construction of a new east outboard platforms for the Expo Line.

Total Capital Cost: $1.489 billion
Annual Operating Cost: $17.8 million

Highway 1 Bus Rapid Transit Service
Provide peak period frequency of 10 minutes between Walnut Grove, Surrey Central SkyTrain, and Lougheed SkyTrain along Highway 1.

Annual Operating Cost: $7.8 million

King George Boulevard B-Line Service
New B-Line route along 104th Avenue and King George Boulevard to provide 7.5 minute service between Guildford Exchange and Newton Exchange with 15 minute service between Newton Exchange and White Rock Centre.

Total Capital Cost: $3.8 million
Annual Operating Cost: $7.2 million

White Rock to Langley Local Service
New bus route along 200th Street and 24th Avenue linking White Rock Centre and Langley with 30 minute service.

Annual Operating Cost: $1.2 million

Bus Service Hours to Meet Minimum Guidelines
Introduce more frequent bus service in the following corridors to relieve overcrowding:

-Marine Drive (West Vancouver and North Vancouver)
-Lonsdale Avenue (North Vancouver)
-Pinetree Way (Coquitlam)
-Fraser Highway (Surrey and Langley)
-104th Avenue (Surrey)
-Cambie Avenue (Richmond)
-Willingdon (Burnaby)
-East-West Corridor in Vancouver (4th, 41st, 49th)

Total Capital Cost: $5.3 million
Annual Operating Cost: $12.2 million

Bus Service Hours to Accommodate Population Growth
Introduction of additional bus service in 2013 to meet demand for transit service with the purchase of 20 new buses.

Total Capital Cost: $10.5 million
Annual Operating Cost: $8.1 million

Bus Service Hours and Infrastructure on U-Pass Routes
Improve bus service on U-Pass routes to reduce overcrowding with the purchase of 33 new buses and transit priority improvements to the road network.

Total Capital Cost: $30 million
Annual Operating Cost: $8.7 million

Main Street Station Upgrades
Enable the installation of fare gates and improve accessibility.

Total Capital Costs $30 million
Annual Operating Cost: $400,000

Metrotown Station Upgrades
Enable the installation of fare gates and improve accessibility.

Total Capital Costs $30 million
Annual Operating Cost: $400,000

Surrey Central Station Upgrades
Enable the installation of fare gates, improve accessibility, and new B-Line service. Also moves the current off-street bus exchange to an on-street transit couplet road to support Surrey’s Downtown plan.

Total Capital Cost: $10 million
Annual Operating Cost: $400,000

New Westminster Station Upgrade
Upgrade and replaces station infrastructure at end of useful life and fully integrate with adjacent new development.

Total Capital Cost: $10 million
Annual Operating Cost: $100,000

Lonsdale Quay Upgrade
Upgrade the bus exchange to improve operating efficiency.

Total Capital Cost: $5 million

Restores the Bike Capital Program at $3 million annually

Restore the Major Road Network Minor Capital Program to $20 million annually

Looking at the trail of blood, South of Fraser citizens are now stuck with unfair road tolls and poor transit service while North of Fraser residents get gold-plated Evergreen Line.

What’s even more ironic is that the Province is spending tens of millions of dollars building a park and ride in Langley, plus special bus lanes on Highway 1/Port Mann that will now see no bus service. It also puts the Township of Langley's Transit Village plans in jeopardy. In Surrey, the often promised King George B-Line will not see the light of day. On the SkyTrain system, the Province with TransLink has spent over $100 million on fare gates that won’t even be installed at one of the busiest stations in the system: Metrotown.

While it is simplistic to blame TransLink or even the mayors for the transit woes in our region, it has always been the Province in control. The Province has destroyed transit expansion in our region and the Province is the only one that can fix this mess.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Township of Langley 2012 Budget

Last night the Township of Langley's 2012 budget was presented to Township Council for first, second, and third reading. The major highlights of the budget included the addition of 8 new firefighters and additional RCMP. To offset the added cost of these new positions about $1 million was cut from other parts of the budget. The total taxes in the Township will be going up 2.95% which isn't that bad. According to the budget report besides new protective services, there are "minimal service enhancements."

One of the interesting things about the Township if that about 61% of tax revenue comes from residential property which is encouraging because it means that the Township is not a bedroom community for the rest of Vancouver. In fact, communities that only rely on residential property tax usually find themselves in a bind because residential property taxes alone can never reasonably pay for the services required especially in growing communities. The more businesses in a community, the better.

Spending on water infrastructure at $39m in 2012 is the largest capital expenditure in the Township of Langley. The Township's total capital budget is $154m. The transportation capital budget is $37m of which TransLink is contributing $4m.

Large Capital Projects

Aldergrove Pool $15m
(Mufford) 64 Ave; 204 St To Glover Rd $9m
(Mufford) 64 Ave Mufford Rail Overpass $2m
56Ave and Nicomekl; Bridge Reconstruction $5m
Fraser Hwy Widening: Old Yale to 215 Street $2.6m
228 St to 235 St; Fraser Hwy Widening $6m

The largest capital project in the Township is the upgrade of the 216St; 56Ave-65Ave; Watermain for $17.6m. On a side note, Metro Vancouver is also in the process of upgrading aging water infrastructure and in the coming years that part of your tax is going to jump up quite a bit.

On another side note, I saw a line item for cycling called "Bicycle Route Improvements" which is budgeted for $8,500.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Township's Economic Development Strategy

This afternoon Township of Langley Council will be receiving and possibly endorsing its new economic development strategy. The goals of the strategy are to:

1. Help create additional jobs so that there are more jobs than working residents to maintain employment opportunities for local workers
2. Maintain the diversity of the local economy by helping existing companies to expand and by attracting new industries
3. Facilitate infrastructure improvement that contributes to economic development
4. Contribute to town centre development
5. Help create a learning community
6. Enhance quality of life for Langley residents

According to the report manufacturing and transportation/storage businesses play an important role in the community, but they would also like to attract professional services, green technologies, educational, and sports and leisure jobs to the community. It is interesting that attracting more low paying retail jobs to Langley is not our their priority list.

One of the exciting parts of the economic development plan is to promote the development of a new downtown core for the Township of Langley that would "help improve the sense of place for Township residents, and assist in attracting businesses with the mix of amenities that a downtown core would provide."

This new downtown needs to following to succeed:
The most pressing infrastructure need in the Township is transit and transportation. The EDD can play a role in providing strategic research on transportation issues and opportunities within the community highlighting business and labour market needs.

Specific areas of action include:
-Support for announced projects. As an example, the Township and Translink are co-operating on a new transit exchange and park & ride facility in Walnut Grove, which will enable a significant increase in both transit and park & ride services.
-Research and business case development for new services and projects; and
-Input into Translink’s long-term planning processes (i.e. the South of Fraser Area Transit Plan), including the future possibility of Skytrain or light rail services.

What I really like about the vision in this plan is that it sees Langley as two different, but complementary places: a strong urban community and a strong rural community. It doesn't focus on creating suburban sprawl.

With all the politics around TransLink lately, I feel that the Township is going to be stuck between a rock and a hard place to see this vision become reality until the local and provincial governments sort out the mess that has become of TransLink.

Friday, April 13, 2012

TransLink Efficiency Report

I wrote a post on Civic Surrey about my thoughts on the TransLink Commissioner’s TransLink Efficiency Review that I invite you to read. I also found some interesting stats on the Revenue-Cost ratio from Calgary Transit. They also have a fare comparison on the same page. The higher the percent, the better.

Toronto: 477.4m 71%
Winnipeg: 45.2m 59%
Montreal: 388.6 55%
Calgary: 94.4m 53%
Vancouver: 211.3m 52%
Ottawa: 99.3m 52%
Mississauga: 30.6m 47%
Edmonton: 76.3m 44%

Ridership (millions)
Revenue-Cost Ratio (percent)
Based on 2010 CUTA Ridership

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Province, the Mayors Council and TransLink

Yesterday, the Minister of Transportation sent a letter to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation about TransLink. As you may know, the Mayors’ Council has been looking for a long-term funding solution to pay for transportation improvements in our region. One of the first things that I noticed was that Minister Blair Lekstrom stated that there will be no more fuel tax or a change in the Province’s tolling policy which is interesting as he also seems to support investigating road pricing. The provincial tolling policy is basically that tolls only pay for new infrastructure and that there must always be a free alternative. This seems like a mixed message as road pricing is about charging for road use on existing infrastructure to manage demand. Not surprising, the Province will be auditing TransLink again to see if they can find more money to pay for promised transit improvement for the South of Fraser. If they don’t find the “extra” $30 million within TransLink, I fear that there will be an very empty Park and Ride lot in Willoughby and yet again South of Fraser residents will get the short end of the transit and road stick. We get poor transit and toll roads while the rest of the region gets “free lunch” roads and good transit.

The last interesting thing that I noticed is that while the mayors of the region seem to be looking at funding transportation with transportation fees, the Province seems to want the mayors to pay for transportation with property tax.

“As we go forward, we need to acknowledge that some form of property taxes will continue to be an important source of funding for TransLink. To that end, I suggest the Mayors’ Council explore mechanisms to capture the increase in land valuation that results from public transportation infrastructure.”

So in the end we have a Mayors Council that wants to pay for transportation with road pricing and is opposed to property tax, and a Province that wants to pay for transportation with property tax and seems opposed to road pricing. Even though the Province signed a Memo of Understand with the Mayors Council in 2010 about long-term funding for transportation, it seem that the memo was just smoke and mirrors. We are no further ahead than we were two years ago with finding a long term solution to paying for our transportation needs in Metro Vancouver.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Road Pricing Event

While this event takes place in Vancouver, I think it is especially relevant to places like the South of Fraser that are seeing ad hoc tolling today. I've been told that there are a few seats still available and to RSVP on the SFU webpage for this event. Tickets are $10 at the door.
Pricing Our Roads: What Can Metro Vancouver Learn from Seattle?
Tolling? Road pricing? New technologies?

The Sustainable Transportation Coalition has gone south of the border to get a preview. Seattle has already introduced tolling on the SR 520 bridge and experimented with road-user charges, and we've asked Matthew Kitchen, a policy analyst on the Puget Sound Regional Council, to give us an in-depth understanding of their research, experiments, and real-life examples, and to describe what has happened, what they're learning, and what the implications may be for the future.

Having recently introduced tolls on an existing bridge with no new capacity, the Seattle region is beginning to learn something about the impact. How does reality compare with what the models say? How will those results affect their regional plans? And what does this mean for their political decisions? Should, for instance, toll revenues support non-road investments?

Join us to hear about what led to tolling in Seattle, the research they did, and the experiment they created. A panel of Vancouverites will discuss what this might mean for us. There will be plenty of time for questions and discussion.

Speaker: Matthew Kitchen, Puget Sound Regional Council
Date(s): Wednesday, April 11, 2012, 7 pm
Location: Simon Fraser University Vancouver, 515 West Hastings Street, Vancouver

Admission: $10 (cash only at door) RSVP

Monday, April 9, 2012

Council motions in the Township of Langley

I was reading the agenda for the last Township of Langley council meeting and came across the following motion that was proposed by Councillor Richter.

Transit Services in the Township of Langley

Whereas Township of Langley residents are already unfairly taxed for poor and inadequate transit services in the Township; Be it resolved that the Township of Langley Council notify the TransLink Board, Mayors’ Council, and the Provincial Government that the Township of Langley will not support any further transit taxes, including a car levy which is by nature inherently unfair to the Township of Langley residents, until such time as TransLink unequivocally proves that they are delivering a fair and equitable amount of transit services to the Township for the amount of tax paid to TransLink from all sources by Township residents.

While it may be in vogue to blame TransLink for everything related to transportation right now, I should point out that the Township of Langley is getting more service than it is paying for right now. In fact, according to the latest financial information from TransLink the Golden Ears Bridge was subsidized to the tune of $33.5 million in 2011! Now that money could have been used to improve transit service in Langley, but I also know that Township Council were supporters of the bridge. You can't have your cake and eat it too when it comes to transportation, it all costs money. While this motion may score some political points, it will do nothing to improve transportation in the Township of Langley.

Also a few weeks ago, I posted about a motion to look at a secondary suite fee which is basically a tax on legal secondary suite owners. As getting secondary suites legal is already an issue, this proposed tax will do nothing but keep suites illegal. According to council minutes, it appear that this initiative is full steam ahead.

A staff report to Council before the summer break which outlines a framework and options for registering and levying fees on secondary suites including:
a. Legislative requirements/restrictions;
b. Safety standards and building codes;
c. Alternate registration and fee models used in other BC municipalities;
d. Appropriate fees; and
e. Registration and enforcement mechanisms.

If I was a legal secondary suite owner, I'd feel like I was getting the short end of the stick.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

On CBC Radio - Highway 99 Corridor

This morning, I was part of a panel discussion about the future of the George Massey Tunnel and Highway 99 Corridor. I talked about tolling. I also talked about how we need to focus more on moving people and goods as opposed to cars and trucks. You can read a previous post I wrote on the corridor and read more about tolling options. You can listen to the discussion by heading to the Early Edition's website. The interview starts at 1:21:21.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

City's GHG Reduction Plan Update

The City of Langley has released an update on its corporate greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction plan. This plan set the framework for GHG reduction for city owned-facilities and vehicles. According to the progress report:
The report documents an 18% reduction in total GHG emissions from 2008 to 2010. The reduction is partly attributable to BC Hydro offsetting its GHG emissions for “Net Zero” compliance in 2010 (thus the City’s electricity consumption resulted in no GHG emissions for 2010) and partly attributable to lower energy consumption in the building and vehicle fleet sectors. Approximately 47% of the total reduction in emissions (95 tonnes CO2e) is due to emissions from electricity consumption falling to zero. Discounting electrical energy, the total reduction in corporate emissions from 2008-2010 would have been 9.6%
Later this year, the City will be looking at a plan to become carbon neutral as part of its commitment to the Provincial Climate Action Charter. The progress report noted that further GHG reducing projects will be incorporated into the City’s departmental budgets as funding allows. I know this is a bit of an aside, but I find it interesting how energy reduction projects are sometimes seen as costs and “bad for business”. Fundamentally the less energy that is used, the less money it costs which is good for business. I saw a lecture awhile ago from an architect who noted that greening buildings can cost more money than conventional buildings because some architects reduce energy by bolting-on technology to inefficient designs. He was able to design building that used less energy and cost the same or less to build. I think that as the City continues on its path to sustainability, it needs to look at fundamental changing how its operates in ways that will reduce energy use without having to rely as heavily on bolt-on technology. This will save taxpayers money.

Monday, April 2, 2012

City of Langley stops morality crusade

Over the last month, I've posted about a proposed change to the City of Langley's zoning bylaw that would have prohibited a laundry list of what some people might consider morally objectionable businesses in the City of Langley. There were two letters opposed to the blanket banning of uses in the City of Langley at the public hearing held on March 19th and I'm happy to report that common sense prevailed and Council ended up amending the zoning bylaw to only prevent non-licensed medicinal marijuana dispensary and "teen dance clubs" from being acceptable business uses.
A roundtable discussion ensued arriving at a consensus that the bylaw move forward including the information contained in the first two bullets of the explanatory note (community centre and medicinal marijuana dispensary issues) but without the C3 zone prohibited uses.