Friday, June 29, 2012

Welcome to Car-Friendly Downtown Langley: Where pedestrians are an afterthought

Last year the City of Langley revealed a proposed design for McBurney Lane and I was excited to see that the City was embracing walkability by creating a great people-friendly space that would tie the one-way section of Fraser Highway into Douglas Park.

The current McBurnay Lane has a square in its North and an ugly parking lot its South. The parking lot breaks up the public space, separates Fraser Highway from Douglas Park, and creates a hostile pedestrian environment.

McBurney Lane Today

With this in mind, I was happy to see McBurney Lane become an extension of Douglas Park. At the same time the City planned to maintain the same number of parking spots in the area by converting Douglas Crescent from parallel parking to angle parking.

Original Proposal for McBurney Lane

The merchants didn’t see the benefit of creating great public space as originally planned and insisted that the parking lot remain in McBurney Lane. They got their wish. The new plan for McBurney Lane is disappointing and and shows that Downtown Langley is going down the wrong path.

New Proposal for McBurney Lane

The merchants in Downtown Langley are still under the impression that they are competing with the Langley Bypass and Willowbrook Mall for regional shopper in cars. Sadly, they haven’t realized that this war is already over and Downtown Langley has lost.

The reality is that Downtown Langley needs to differentiate itself from all the strip malls that surround it and embrace the fact that it is a local shopping area in one of the highest density areas of the region. Over 50% of the population of the City is within a 10 minute walk of Downtown; many of them seniors without cars. Downtown Langley should create a pedestrian and cyclist-friendly space to draw people from the local area and create a safe space for seniors. If Downtown Langley embraced walkability not only would it attract more people from the local area, but it would create a regional destination where people would go to just to walk around. There are many examples of this including White Rock, Fort Langley, and Steveston. Many strip malls are even trying to create "Main Streets" like Grandview Corners in South Surrey. Parking lots have been proven to actively discourage pedestrian trips. The tragedy is that Downtown Langley’s obsession with more parking will be its demise.

Downtown Langley’s parking policies don't actually benefit customers. Based on the recommendations of the merchants, there is 3 hour and 2 hour free parking Downtown. This includes the one-way section of Fraser Highway. These spots usually serve as parking for employees, business owners, and non-customers. Even after saying that, it is a rare day when all the parking spaces are full in Downtown Langley. A rational parking policy would see the creation some free on-street 30 minute, high-turnover parking spots in key area where finding parking is a preceived issue. It would also see creation of 2 hour paid on-street parking in other sections of Downtown Langley. Paid long-term parking would be available in the many off-street parking lots and the Downtown merchants would provide validated (free) parking for customers that choose to use the long-term lots. This does three things: makes non-customers pay for precious parking spaces, encourages higher turnover of on-street parking, and provides a perceived value for shopping in Downtown Langley. These policies would allow the City to build a pedestrian-friendly, successful Downtown. Today there are many empty storefronts in Downtown Langley, so clearly the parking extravaganza that is Downtown Langley isn’t working.

I don’t think that the merchants will see the value in creating a pedestrian-friendly Downtown or a rational parking policy, and I don't think Council will either. I still remember a conversation around Douglas Park where one of the councillors wanted to turn half the park into a parking lot.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What Mayor and Council makes in Township of Langley

Last week I posted about how elected officials in the City of Langley are not riding the gravy train. This week the Township of Langley released its 2011 financial remuneration report. It appears that mayor and council in the Township are not on that train either. One of the things that has been getting to me lately is how people really undervalue the work that councils and municipal staff do. They believe that everyone should be making minimum wage. If you want a well run municipality with bright people in charge, you'll need to provide a fair compensation package. Otherwise those bright people will just stay in the private sector. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

What they made in 2011...
Froese, Jack (Mayor) $6,804
Green, Rick (Mayor) $98,244

Bateman, Jordan (Councillor) $23,993
Davis, David (Councillor) $2,475
Dornan, Bev (Councillor) $42,057
Ferguson, Steve (Councillor) $43,071
Fox, Charlie (Councillor) $39,496
Kositsky, Melvin (Councillor) $43,190
Long, Bob (Councillor) $49,250
Richter, Kim (Councillor) $45,154
Sparrow, Michelle (Councillor) $3,310
Ward, Grant (Councillor) $47,271

Total: $443,955 or 0.2% of all 2011 operating expenses

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Heritage Restoration in the Township

The Township of Langley has a heritage system that is meant to protect and preserve historical buildings and sites. One such site in Murrayville was the topic on Council’s agenda last night. The Roderick Cummings House was built before 1915 and has been subject to substantial alterations and damage over the years. The Township of Langley is looking to enter into a Heritage Revitalization Agreement to restore the facade back how it originally looked when first constructed. As a part of the agreement, the Township will reduce Development Cost Charges and Building Permit Fees by 34% for the heritage part of the development.

Archival photos of the Roderick Cummings residence from Langley Centennial Museum
Rendering of proposed restored residents

The proposed use of the building will be for a doctor’s office and will also include an addition to the original residents that is almost double the size of the original building. Much like the City of Vancouver, Langley’s heritage preservation bylaws seem more concerned with facades than anything else. While this isn’t a bad thing, it lends itself heritage building in Downtown Vancouver with glass towers sticking out of them or in Langley, heritage buildings with a huge addition on their backsides. While I don’t oppose this heritage restoration plan and personally like the blending of the old and new, I have to wonder if the context and character of the historic building is lost. The challenge of course is to ensure we can protect the heritage of our communities while not turning them into museums.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Township of Langley – Ultimate Cycling Network

At tonight’s Township of Langley Council Meeting, staff will be submitting a report on the progress of the Township’s Ultimate Cycling Network. As a member of the Greater Langley Cycling Coalition, I’ve been following this process for a few years and I’m pleased to see that this network represents the wishes of the cycling community in Langley. One of the major additions to this plan is the inclusion of Zero Avenue and 248 Street as these routes are heavily used by sports/recreational cyclist. One of the challenging areas for cycling in the Township is Walnut Grove as 96th Avenue will be the only road with bike lanes. 88th Avenue has a wide-curb lane designation, but the high-speed of traffic will likely discourage cycling on that route.

All totalled, the plan is set to cost 70 million 2012 dollars and doesn’t include the cost of land acquisition and utility work. While I’m truly proud of the work the Township has done on cycling planning, the major issue is the lack of funding to make this plan a reality. With the current funding level for cycling, I will be dead before this plan is complete. Many would cite the “lack” of cycling as a reason for not putting a priority on cycling in the Township, even while the rural areas of the Township are a major destination of recreational cyclist. The major challenge is that in urban areas, the cycling network is disconnected. Until there are well marked and continuous routes, cycling will not increase dramatically in urban Langley. If the Township invested $1m a years in cycling, it would be able to get matching funds from TransLink and the Province which would certainly get this plan on the ground. It would also be interesting to see if this could be bundled in with horse community funding to provide both horse and cyclist friendly routes. I know that all things cost money and results in taxes; it was interesting to note that 68% of people at the open house support paying more taxes to improve cycling in the Township.

The Township of Langley will now be working on developing a 2012 cycling map to show existing cycling routes that are signed and marked, and then work on a 5-year plan for implement parts of the ultimate cycling plan.

You can follow the link to the Township's Afternoon Agenda Package, cycling maps start on page 114.

Friday, June 22, 2012

TransLink Density Myth Busted

One of the excuses that we’ve heard for years is that transit service is poor in the South of Fraser because we don’t have a high enough density. This is something that I’ve never believed based on density data of our region and low-density cities like Calgary that have high transit usage.

I have to give credit to Paul Hillsdon at Civic Surrey that found this data. TransLink published bus route information to their website on routes outside of Vancouver/Burnaby/Tri-Cities. I decided to plot this information on graphs to see if having frequent transit service or having high density (walkability) played a more important role in attracting riders to transit. The graphs clearly show that density plays a minor role in our region in attracting people to transit. This is because as a region we have an overall higher density compared to other regions in North America. The single most important thing in attracting people to transit (and providing a transit system that can recover more of its cost from the fare box) is to switch routes to frequent service. Frequent service is 15min or better service for most of the day, seven days a week. So while the TransLink Commissioner suggests cutting the FTN network, the data shows that the FTN network should be improved especially in the South of Fraser.

Average Capacity Utilization, FTN, 2011 - Density along routes in parentheses

Average Capacity Utilization, High Walkability, Non-FTN, 2011

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pattullo Bridge: Is six-laning the solution?

The replacement of the Pattullo Bridge has been talked about ever since I moved to the South of Fraser ten years ago. TransLink is once again launched full-steam into planning for its replacement. While I think (as I believe most people do) that the Pattullo Bridge needs to be replaced as it has some major structural issues, I can also understand why many citizens in New Westminster and Surrey have concerns about increasing capacity for automobile traffic that will go through their neighbourhoods. The Lions Gate Bridge is a recent example of improving the safety for cyclist, pedestrians, and motorist on a bridge without increasing capacity. The Province originally wanted to expand the bridge, but the citizens of Vancouver said no. The bridge was essentially rebuilt, but no new auto lanes were added. Interestingly, the world did not come to an end as some motorist predicted. As New Westminster citizens already cancelled the North Fraser Perimeter Road, will they also be successful in putting the replacement Pattullo Bridge on a diet?

I received the following email from a group called "New West Pattullo Bridge Group":

A number of friends, neighbours, and local groups from New West and Surrey are going to gather at Sapperton Park, near the TransLink open house, at 9:30am to walk the block to the Pensioners Hall together - some with signs, some with letters to the TransLink Board, and some with activities that children will enjoy during our brief event. This will be a family-friendly event, we will not be disrupting traffic or any businesses. Our goal is to show TransLink we are an engaged community and we need more consultation – we will be firm and respectful.

This is our opportunity to show officials the range of people concerned about the impact of traffic on our communities, the lack of transportation choices and proper public consultation, and that our concern is growing—Today’s decisions will affect our future.

Date: Next Saturday, 23 June, 2012 at 9:30am
Meeting Place: Sapperton Park, across Columbia Street from Royal Columbian Hospital

ICBC Cyclist Crash Data in Google Earth

A few weeks ago, I posted information about pedestrian and cyclist crash data in the South of Fraser. I received a email from Tim Yzerman of the Surrey Chapter of HUB (Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition).

"I have overlaid the ICBC crash stats onto Google Earth. You can see that most crashes happen on streets with no cycling infrastructure."

I have posted the Google Earth file to our document archive where it can be downloaded.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Are Councillors riding the gravy train?

The City of Langley released its 2011 financial remuneration report for Council yesterday. One of the things that I find interesting is that people have this perception that councillors are riding the gravy train and are making obscene amounts of money. In the City of Langley, the mayor makes $83,291 in wages, benefits, and expenses while councillors make between $30,018 and $39,646. When you look at the amount of money that these people could earn in the private sector and the time commitment required to be a good councillor, I can assure you that councillors are not in politics for the money. If you serve on other regional government bodies (like Metro Vancouver) you can make more money, but I’d hardly call it a gravy train. One of the worried I have is that if you don’t pay elected officials enough money, they might be more subject to corruption. Also, if someone is looking at running for council because they want to make their community better, they might be scared away because of the low pay and long hours. In the City of Langley, Council makes a total of $290,882 which is 0.8% of the City total operating expenses in 2011.

Next time you read a letter in the newspaper that says local government politicians should cut their salaries, just remember that you could make more money working at a Starbucks.

PS: In 2010, the Township of Langley mayor made $102,708 while councillors made between $36,274 and $51,198 in wages, benefits, and expenses.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cosmetic pesticide ban one step close in City of Langley

For over a year, the City of Langley’s Parks and Environment Committee (which I sit on) has been working on getting a ban on the application of pesticides for cosmetic proposes in the City. Our recommendation was based on the work of the Canadian Cancer Society that shows a potential link between cancer and pesticide use. Back the May, the proposed bylaw came before council and I was pleased that it will most likely be adopted. What I’m also happy to report today is that while the original bylaw only applied to private land, council broadened the bylaw to apply to city-owned land as well. This is very encouraging as now the City can lead by example.

The reason it took so long for this bylaw to move from a motion at the Parks and Environment Committee to a proposed bylaw was because originally the Province was going to enact legislation on cosmetic pesticide use. The Province recently announced that it would not be enacting a cosmetic pesticide ban, so this bylaw couldn’t have come at a better time.

The City’s bylaws will still allow the application of pesticide to control pests that transmit human diseases, impact agriculture, impact forestry and uses in or around buildings, roads, public utilities, pipelines, noxious weed, invasive species, and hard landscapes (sidewalks, etc.)

The purpose of the bylaw is to provide awareness around the issue of over application of pesticides and will hopefully be bundled with a strong education campaign. I’ve been told that the City has no plans to set up the lawn police to check everyone’s back yard.

Friday, June 15, 2012

In Boston

MBTA Green Line at Fenway

I have been in Boston over the past week, enjoying one of North America's oldest cities. I may write more about it later, but Boston has to be one of the best examples of how 1950's urban renewal and freeway building can destroy a city's Downtown. It also is a great example of how removing freeways can bring a city's Downtown back to life.

Another thing that I noticed was that even though Boston's light rail system is over 100 years old, Metro Vancouver does a better job of building transit-oriented development around stations. It was odd for me to take light rail in Boston and find that a good chunk of stations are surrounded by single-family housing. Anyway, back to exploring the city...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

TransLink's Frequent Transit Network

When it comes to making transit a reasonable transportation choice, rapid transit and frequent transit service are the only kinds of service that matters. According to TransLink, frequent transit is “corridors where transit service runs at least every 15 minutes in both directions throughout the day and into the evening, every day of the week.” So it was interesting to have a look at a map of the frequent transit network for Metro Vancouver that TransLink published. I have a few observations.

TransLink's Frequent Transit Network. Download the PDF

The first observation is that the frequent transit network in the South of Fraser leaves much to be desired. North Surrey has densities that are higher or the same as Burnaby, yet Burnaby has a much tighter frequent transit network grid. In Metro Vancouver, we seem to have this notion that towers are need to provide frequent transit service. Given the fact that the 502 is one of the most congested routes in the region and it goes through low to medium density areas, I have to wonder if the real reason that people don’t take transit in the South of Fraser is because there isn’t enough frequent transit network routes.

What concerns me of late is that the TransLink Commissioner Martin Crilly (who lives in Victoria) suggested that some routes in the frequent transit network be “rationalized”. I’d like to know which routes he thinks should be cut because what we need is more frequent transit route in the South of Fraser, not less.

Another thing that stood out to be is that the Township of Langley is the only municipality (beside the tiny towns of Anmore, Belcarra, Bowen Island, and Lions Bay) that does not have a single route on the frequent transit network. This is just not acceptable. The Township of Langley has the density and destination in Walnut Grove and along the 200th Street corridor to support frequent transit service. The really interesting thing is that both the 501 and 595 (which are 30 minutes services) are scheduled within 10 minutes of each other. When some creative scheduling they could actually provide frequent transit level service in the Township of Langley along 200th Street.

TransLink’s Frequent Transit Network map shows me that there is still much work to do in giving people real transportation choice in the South of Fraser.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Township of Langley Senior's Advisory Committee?

I was reading over tonight’s meeting schedule for the Township of Langley Council and came across a resolution to setup a senior’s advisory committee. This motion was a direct result of a CARP event that was held earlier in May.

Whereas Langley Township has a Youth Advisory Committee to advise Council on matters of importance to young people in our communities; and

Whereas seniors in our community are a growing and equally important groups as well;

Therefore be it resolved that Council support the formation of a Seniors Advisory Committee to Langley Township Council to provide Council with input and advice on issues of importance to seniors in the Township, to ensure that Langley becomes an outstanding, age friendly community.

I understand the reason for creating a youth advisory committee as young people are usually underrepresented in political and civic issues, but I do know that the seniors population is very active in politics and I don’t think are underrepresented. What I do think is important is that a highly-focused committee looks at how our build form, transportation network, and civic services might need to change to accommodate an aging population and point out areas of improvement needed in the Township. I have a feeling that there are many seniors or almost seniors that don’t even know what services to expect from a municipality as they age and a senior's committee could be a voice for them. It will be interesting to see if this motion proceeds.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Joint Township and City of Langley Parks, Environment, Cultural, and Recreation Committee Meeting

There are some people in Langley that believe that the Township and City of Langley should become one municipality; I’m not one of those people. As we already have a regional governance model that takes care of regional issues and services, it is good that we have a large collection of local governments that can represent the view of its citizen. That being said, the Township and City of Langley share a common history and there is still a sense that there is one overall Langley community. To forester that community, the Township and City sometimes host joint council committee meetings.

Members of Township and City of Langley Committees meeting at City of Langley Hall.

I sit on the City of Langley Parks and Environment Advisory Committee. We met with the City of Langley Recreation, Culture and Public Art Advisory Committee and Township of Langley Recreation, Culture, and Parks Advisory Committee last night to discuss issues that affect the Langley community.

One of the concerns I have is that municipalities work together when infrastructure like roads and trails cross municipal boundaries. I was happy to learn that the Township and City of Langley work together to make sure that their plans connect. One example is a trail system that will connect the new Mufford Overpass, Derek Doubleday Arboretum, Mcleod Athletic Park (jointly funded by the Township and City), and the City’s trails system. The City of Langley is also updating many of its master plans in the coming years and will be working to make sure that there are connections that fit with other municipalities.

One of the other issues of shared concern is the lack of arts space in Langley. It was noted that Langley is the only community its size in BC without any proper arts space. It is a bit of an embracement to be honest. Previous reports have said that Langley needs both an artist creation space as well as a performance arts space. At last night's meeting, there was discussion that maybe the City and Township would each peruse the creation of one type of space in order to work together and not duplicate services. The Township of Langley is currently working on a cultural mapping project to see what cultural amenities are already in Langley. Members of both the City and Township committees noted that while there is lots of sports amenities in Langley, art space is absent and sorely needed.

One of the interesting facts noted is that since the opening of the Langley Events Centre, our areas has become a hub for sports tourism which brings in millions of dollars into the community annually. For example the 2014 BC Seniors Games is estimated to have a $2.8 million impact in Langley.

One item talked about last night was a joint ban on smoking in City and Township parks. As our next City Parks and Environment Advisory Committee meeting, we will have a look at this proposal as the Township has already started along the process.

Last night was a great evening and it is good to see the Township and City working together on many issues that affect Langley.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Cyclist and Pedestrian Crash Map

ICBC recently posted crash data on their website and included information about pedestrians and cyclists. The also includes a very handy mapping tool which I used to look at crash locations in the South of Fraser. Besides giving insight into high-crash locations, the data also gives a clue as to where there is a higher concentration of cyclists and pedestrians, and where active transportation facilities need to be improved.

Locations with two or more crashes involving cyclist, 2007-2011
Locations with two or more crashes involving pedestrians, 2007-2011

The one thing that stands out for me in this data is that the main arterial roads in the South of Fraser like Scott Road, King George, 104th, and 200th, need to be made safer for active transportation users. It is interesting to note that Fraser Highway with its completed sidewalks and bike lanes has less crashes than other major corridors in Surrey for example.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

BC Transportation Summit 1950, er 2012

Yesterday and today the BC Chamber of Commerce is hosting a transportation summit on what they are calling "BC’s gateway strategy and future development". When I look at the list of speakers at the conference, it certainly seems that this event is focusing on moving goods. One of the panels that concerned me is called "Integrating BC's Transport Network". When I think of an integrated transportation system, I think of a system that moves goods and people in the most efficient way possible. This means the provisioning of walking facilities, cycling lanes, transit service, freight-rail, and roads. But, the list of speakers which includes the BC Road Builders leads me to believe that the panel will be about building more and bigger road which will of course impact the livable of Metro Vancouver.

Looking at the conference, it still seems like they are planning for a transportation system that is based on the 1950’s model of cheap fuel and limitless expansion which is odd as the BC Chamber of Commerce policy manual says "numerous studies, along with empirical evidence from around the world, clearly demonstrate that simply building new roads and other infrastructure in the absence of demand management techniques, including quality public transit options, will not alleviate congestion in the long run." It is a shame that some business leaders aren’t hearing about this research.

The irony of the whole thing is that the event is being held at the Hotel Vancouver in a part of our region with no freeways. If the 1950’s road builders had their way, the Hotel Vancouver would be an off-ramp.

Roads are an important part of the transportation puzzle, but more important is a diverse transportation system that can move people and goods in the most efficient way possible.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The State of Canada’s Cities and Communities 2012

Last weekend, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities hosted their 75th Annual Conference and local Langley politicians like Kim Richter were live tweeting at the conference. On Friday, the FCM released a report called "The State of Canada's City and Communities".

The FCM found that the downloading of services from the federal government to provincial governments and the downloading of services from provincial governments to local governments, hurt local governments the most.

"Federal government expenditures in constant dollars per capita have been declining, while their revenues have been increasing. Provincial/territorial government expenditures have been increasing at almost the same rate as their revenues. However, both federal and provincial government revenues fell in 2009. Municipal government expenditures have been increasing at a faster rate than their revenues over the past 20 years."

Selected Municipal Government Expenditures per Capita, Canada, 1988–2008, Constant (1988) Dollars
Federal, Provincial and Municipal Government Expenditures Per Capita, 1989–2009, In Constant (1988) Dollars

The FCM also found that local governments have been forced to pick up the ball on affordable housing, policing, and the environment which senior levels of government have neglected over the years. It is not surprising that affordable housing and protective services have become the fastest growing items in local government budgets which impacts the ability of local governments to provide traditional service like water, sewer, transportation, transit, and recreation services.

I've always been a big supporter of local government as I believe that it is best equipped to respond to the needs of citizens and is the most accountable level of government. I also believe that senior levels of government play an important role and after years of downloading services to local government, must provide funding and some broad policy objectives to local government. One the topic of funding, the report contains a section on property tax and why it shouldn't be the only source of taxation for the local government.

It is the lack of diversity in the local tax regime that is the issue. Only when governments have a diverse set of tax tools can all the positive performance criteria be brought into play. In other words, it is important to recognize the benefits that accrue from a diversity of tax tools and revenue levers. The singular and heavy reliance of Canada’s local governments on the property tax, coupled with the fiscal challenges they face—particularly infrastructure—constitute a powerful argument for employing a range of tax tools and revenue levers, allowing the disadvantages of the property tax to be offset by other tax sources.

A stable senior government funding program for local governments has been an issue for several decades though the FCM recognizes that the federal government has been returning tax revenue back to communities at a higher rate than in the past. The challenge is that many of these programs run out in the next few years and there appears to be no new plans on the horizon to continue to invest in communities. As more and more Canadian live in urban areas, it will be interesting to see if both provincial and federal governments will continue to pay attention to local funding challenges.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Water Rates in the South of Fraser

Over the last little while, there has been some people that have called for the Township of Langley to leave Metro Vancouver and go it alone. One of the services that Metro Vancouver provides is water. Municipalities tap into Metro Vancouver’s water mains which feeds into their own systems. I wanted to see how the water rates in the South of Fraser communities compare to Abbotsford.

Township of Langley Flat Rate: $420.92
Delta Flat Rate: $470
Surrey Metered Rate: $0.815 per cubic meter*
City of Langley Metered Rate: $1.03 per cubic meter in addition to a $50 fee
Abbotsford Rates:
$1.13 per cubic metre (November – April)
$1.13 - $2.26 per cubic metre (May – October)

In Abbotsford you can expect to pay between $236.17 and $1,900.84 per year on water depending on your household size. Abbotsford currently has a water shortage problem and that has led to a tiered-rate during peak months.

So besides having some of the most expensive water rates in the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford also has a supply problem. All food for thought for people that think the Township of Langley would be better off on its own.

*Surrey has a flat rate water option of $651 per year, but it is high to get people with older, non-metered homes to switch to Surrey's voluntary water meter program. All home built since 1998 in Surrey have meters.