Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Advertising in Downtown Langley tells people to shop in Fort Langley

A year or so ago, the City of Langley installed new garbage/recycling receptacles in its downtown core. I applaud the City for having recycling available throughout downtown. If you’ve seen the receptacles, you've seen ads on them which are handled by EcoMedia. Anyway, there is a lingerie store in Downtown Langley and I was shocked to see that the City’s garbage/recycling receptacle right in front of that store have advertising for a lingerie store in Fort Langley.

Lingerie store in Downtown Langley (Purple Strip Awning), Garage/Recycling Receptacle Left of Store

Advertising for Fort Langley Lingerie Store

I know this is a free market, but I find it odd that there is advertising in Downtown Langley that essentially says, don’t shop at this store in Langley City, shop in Fort Langley. While a business should be able to advertise, I would have hoped that Downtown Langley merchants would have cut a deal with EcoMedia to advertise local business, not competition in Fort Langley.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What is more important, lines on a map or frequent transit service?

Over the summer, I’ve had the chance to chat with transit planners and politicians about transit in the South of Fraser. One of the conversation topics that comes up is, money being constant, should our transit system have more routes with infrequent service or less routes with frequent service? I believe that the key to providing transit service that people will use is to provide a core network of frequent service and not as many routes with infrequent service.

One of the things that I hear is that buses constantly run half-empty in the South of Fraser. While this is not the case for the handful of frequent service bus routes that are constantly overcrowded, the reality is that buses with infrequent service don’t attract people to transit. Planners know this and politicians know this, so why are new low-frequency bus routes still being created and older routes not consolidated to provide more frequent transit service.

Planners say that politicians like “lines on a map” and politician don’t want to be accused of not providing service to everyone, everywhere. The perfect example of what happens with this kind of thinking is the 502 via Salmon River. The 502 between Langley City and Aldergrove runs every 30 minutes, but has two trips a day through Salmon River. Yes there is technically a bus through Salmon River, but is this routing truly useful and the best way to provide transit service?

I have to agree with the TransLink Commissioner when it comes to the Community Shuttle program not being effective. As I live on a Community Shuttle route, it really does feel like token, not-very-useful transit service. I can already hear people say: what about people with disabilities, seniors, and folks that make a lower salary than most? I have a few friends that have physical disabilities and they have nothing good to say about the Community Shuttle program. I know that those people with disabilities who take transit would prefer normal buses and frequent service. Research shows that people will walk further to frequent transit. Frequent transit benefits people with lower salaries as it gives them service that runs more often and longer, giving more work and recreational opportunities. I also know many seniors that prefer more frequent transit service and would be willing to walk 10 minutes to a bus stop instead of 5 minutes. For people that have severe mobility challenges, I believe that funding should be improved for services like the taxi saver program instead of wasting money on buses that run 4 times a day.

While it would not be practical or even necessary to only provide frequent transit service, given the choice between 3 low frequency routes or 1 high frequency route, I’d choose the 1 high frequency route.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sub-area Equity in Transit Delivery

One of the perennial concerns about transit is the perceived inequality of service delivered between the sub-regions of Metro Vancouver. People in Vancouver feel that underutilized bus service is being provided to the car-loving suburbs while their routes suffer from pass-ups and overcrowding, while people in the South of Fraser feel like they are paying for Vancouver's overpriced SkyTrain while they have poor bus service. TransLink has taken the position that since they are a regional agency, they don’t actively disclose how much money is spent in each sub-region believing that transit is a regional service. I was reading Sound Transit’s (the regional transit authority in Seattle) latest financial plan and stumbled upon something called Subarea Equity.

One of the unique features of the Sound Transit plan is that it formally commits to creating a balanced regional transit system that proves benefits to the residents of each of Sound Transit’s five geographic areas – Snohomish County, North King County, South King County, East King County, and Pierce County.

Sound transit is funded by sales tax, vehicles levies and fares. As part of their commitment to funding transit equitably, each sub-region gets back what it puts in. Sound Transit even posts details financial records online to prove this.

While TransLink is a bit different in its tax makeup (mostly fuel tax and property tax) if it wanted to put the issue of transit equity to rest, maybe it should follow Sound Transit’s model. As a start TransLink could show that each sub-region is at least getting its property tax delivered into local services. It would show that all of Metro Vancouver is in it together and that one community isn’t being sacrificed for the needs of another.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Equestrian Communities in the ALR

The Agricultural Land Reserve in Metro Vancouver. Source: BC Government Web Maps

The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) was setup in the 1970’s to protect farm-land from loss due to the rapid urbanization of the province. Since the ALR was setup about 10% of its land has been removed in Metro Vancouver. I wrote a report on the ALR a few years ago which contains more information on the ALR in the South of Fraser, but one of the tricky things I noticed was something called “equestrian communities” proposed by some land owners. This type of development keeps land in the ALR while still allowing it to be urbanized. The premise of an “equestrian community” is that a common barn and field is provided for a large number of single-family houses. It is “agricultural” because all the owners of the single-family houses pay into the upkeep of the common barn and fields for horses. Of course the reality is that what is being developed is low-density sprawling luxury estates. The first “equestrian community” that was approved by the Agricultural Land Commission is owned by Wall Financial Corporation near Trinity Western University. You can read more about it on a post I wrote in February of this year and November 2011.

Of course with this precedent, it would only be a matter of time before other’s try to get approval for “equestrian communities”. Well, it turns out that there was another application for an “equestrian community” in south Langley near Campbell Valley Regional Park. The ALC rejected the application, but I’m sure this isn’t the last of this type of application we'll see in the ALR.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A $2.6 billion feeling: transportation infrastructure in Metro Vancouver

Earlier this week TransLink held a press conference for the installation of its first faregate on the SkyTrain system. This is part of a $171 million project which will see the installation of faregates at all stations except for Main Street and Metrotown. This project got me thinking about how sometimes government builds projects not based on fact, but because people feel like it's the right thing to do.

The cold hard fact of any transit system is that there will always be cheats, faregates or not. Fare evasion is a calculated cost of business and is cost-effectively managed in Vancouver by random fare checks that keep honest people honest. The installation of faregates is a reaction to reduce the perceived problem of fare evasion. The facts are these: fare evasion costs TransLink $3 - $7 million a year while the cost of faregates will be $9+ million per year. While people may now feel like the issue of fare evasion on the SkyTrain network has been dealt with, at best TransLink will now lose $2 million per year more than before the installation of the faregates.

Another reason touted for the installation of faregates is the perception of reducing crime. Of course if faregates actually had an impact on crime you won’t get stories like “‘Trained’ thieves send subway crime soaring” in New York. Any perception of reduced crime or improved security due to faregates will fade once the SkyTrain system has its first post-faregate crime headline.

I had a conversation with a friend last night about faregates and even after telling him the facts, he thought that faregates just felt right because other major cities have them and so should we. I’m sure this is what most people feel, so we are spending $171 million for a feeling.

Another project that comes to mind that is based on a feeling is the $2.46 billion Port Mann/Highway 1 Project which will see the construction of a 10-lane Port Mann Bridge and the widening of 37km of Highway 1 to:
-Reduce congestion and travel time
-Improve safety and accessibility
-Facilitate reliable transit
-Expand networks for High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV)
-Expand network for Cyclists
-Expand network for Pedestrians

The feeling is that if we have congestion, the solution is to build bigger roads. The fact is that the majority of research shows that you can’t build your way out of congestion and that is proven in city after city. If you want to reduce congestion, you have to curb the demand through tolling or road pricing. Road pricing has been shown to work in places like London and Stockholm, but is political impossible to implement in many places. The money collected from the toll would then go to pay for maintaining highways and expanding the transit, cyclist, and pedestrian network giving people transportation choice. The reduction of congestion would also facilitate reliable transit service. The fact is that the only reason that a bigger Port Mann Bridge would be warranted is to expand the HOV network, though the George Massey Tunnel shows that HOV lanes can work even if you don't expand the river crossing.

At the end of the day both the TransLink faregate program and the Province's Port Mann Highway 1 program are being built, projects that are based on a $2.6 billion feeling.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pattullo Bridge

Last week I wrote a post on Civic Surrey about the Pattullo Bridge. You can read the whole post on that site, but I basically argued that a four-lane replacement bridge makes the most sense to build instead of a six-lane bridge. The post piqued the interest of News 1130 which ran a story on it.

But blogger and transportation activist Nathan Pachal says building more traffic lanes doesn't always equal less congestion.

"When you replace that four lane bridge with a six lane bridge is basically shifting the bottleneck 500 metres," he explains. "For the extra $200-million is it really worth shifting the bottleneck?"

Monday, August 13, 2012

If the City of Vernon can build greenways, so can the City of Langley

The City will continue to promote and build additional bike paths / walking trails to provide a healthy, active lifestyle for its citizens, as well as encouraging alternate modes of transportation. - From 2011 City of Vernon Annual Report

This weekend I was back in my hometown of Vernon in the Okanagan to attend a friend’s wedding and had the chance to see what has changed since I left. Back in 2008 the City of Vernon adopted an official community plan called “Plan Vernon” that was based on smart growth principals and was developed with the help of the late Smart Growth BC. One of the components of the plan was to increase transportation choice. For a fairly compact city of about 38,000 people, two of the major focus points are cycling and walking. One of the first things that I noticed was the amount of on-street bike lanes. As late as 2001, there were no bike lanes in Vernon and today it seems like every major street has painted on bike lanes and “Share the Road” signs. Also, the City of Vernon has constructed the 25th Avenue - Okanagan Landing Road west/east multi-use greenway and is in the middle of a multi-year plan to build the north/south Polson multi-use greenway. This will serve as the spin for Vernon’s sustainable transportation system.

Polson Greenway with separated bike lane. Source City of Vernon

Even other roads in Vernon are getting the multi-use treatment. It is truly encouraging to see that communities beside Vancouver and Victoria are embracing alternative modes of transportation. It gives me hope for place like the City of Langley and South of Fraser in general can do the same.

20th Street: Multimodal. Source: City of Vernon

One of things that frustrates me about the City of Langley is the snail’s pace development of greenways, cycling, and walking facilities. While I commend the City for installing sidewalks and bike lanes for all new major projects, the majority of the City will remain untouched for many years into the future leaving a patchwork of cycling and walking infrastructure. If a small interior city can use its casino revenue to build a greenway spine for their cycling and walking network, surely a small city like Langley in Metro Vancouver can accomplish the same thing. I don’t expect every road in Langley to become multi-modal overnight, but funding one north/south and one east/west greenway would sure go a long way to providing a safe and appealing route for cyclist and pedestrians. It would also signal that the City of Langley is serious about sustainability and providing people transportation choice.

Friday, August 10, 2012

202 Street Park & Ride Update

It's been almost a year since I posted about the 202 Street Park & Ride. Site preparation work started late last year and at the end of this July, the proposed design of the facility went to public hearing in the Township of Langley.

This project is being designed, built, and financed by the Ministry of Transportation even though it is a bus loop for TransLink. The irony of the situation is that since TransLink was knee-capped by the Province earlier this year, there is no funding to run Bus Rapid Transit service between the Park and Ride and SkyTrain (the main point of the facility.) So until TransLink's funding is sorted out, this will likely be a lightly used Park & Ride.

That being said, one of the important benefits of this project is the construction of the 202 Street underpass which will provide HOV access to the highway and a new pedestrian and cyclist trail along the east side of 202 Street that will provide direct access from 86 Avenue and 88 Avenue to the Park & Ride.

202 Street Underpass. Click to Enlarge.

Though the Park and Ride can handle 800 motor vehicles, bike parking was missing from the original plan. The current version of the plan now includes secure parking for 5 bicycles.

202 Street Park and Ride Landscape Plan. Click to Enlarge.

202 Street Park and Ride Bus Loop. Click to Enlarge.

202 Street Park and Ride Lot. Click to Enlarge.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Vacancy Rate in Downtown Langley

If you’ve been to Downtown Langley recently, you many have noticed that there is an ever increasing number of vacant storefronts and offices. The higher vacancy rate is due to a variety reasons from aging infrastructure and buildings, the weak economy, the continued development of the auto-centric Langley Bypass, and the lack of rapid transit. The Downtown BIA is also still positioning Downtown Langley as an auto-centric regional commercial area instead of a pedestrian and cyclist-friendly local commercial area. This puts Downtown Langley in direct competition with Willowbrook and the Langley Bypass. While this may seem all doom and gloom, I believe Downtown Langley is in a state of transition. The area is starting to redevelop into a more pedestrian-friendly area as more mixed-use and residential condos continue to come online. It will just take some time for business to adjust to the changing demographics. In the meantime, I saw the following wraps that have popped up at one of the vacant buildings in Downtown. It’s a bit better than an empty window, but it also draws attention to the empty storefront.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Public Realm in Older Centres

A few weeks ago, I was in White Rock and decided to walk around the Uptown area. One of the first things I noticed was that the buildings and public realm are getting long in the tooth. Many of the buildings are from the mid-20th century and are past their best before date. White Rock’s Uptown public realm includes early 90’s Teal/Blue street lamps and furnishing, narrow red interlock paver sidewalks which are an accessibility nightmare and tripping hazard, and utility poles in the sidewalk. Even the intersections are looking worse for wear.

White Rock's Uptown with dated streetscape.
This intersection in White Rock is worse-for-wear.

Uptown White Rock actually reminds me of Downtown Langley which suffers from the same issues. This is no surprise considering that White Rock and Langley City are both smaller municipalities with a limited tax base. In White Rock and Langley City, the municipal government is banking on new development to enhance the public realm and both communities even have good examples of new projects that are improving the public realm.

New development with updated public realm on left, worn-out public realm on right.

The challenge is that while communities like Surrey and the Township of Langley can count on developers to build the public realm quickly due to their rapid rate of growth, White Rock and the City of Langley are older, slow growing areas. As it will likely take 25+ years to redevelop the traditional commercial hubs, both communities will suffer from a piecemeal public space that will only get worse.

One of the solutions to this problem is for local government to partner with local business improvement associations to setup Local Area Service districts. These districts would allow the cities to update their traditional cores and pass on some of the cost to businesses that directly benefit. The public realm in the City of Langley and White Rock is already in need of replacement and waiting 25+ years for redevelopment is not an option. In order to create vibrant, pedestrian friendly communities, we need a well designed public realm.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Metro Vancouver proposed spending for 2013

Every year the portion of property tax that goes to Metro Vancouver increases. You might be wondering why. While Metro has been in the news lately for opposing Trinity Western University’s University District, the major roll of Metro is to provide water, sewer, and solid waste management. In fact, 84% of Metro’s budget goes to the provisioning of these services. Much of the infrastructure Metro Vancouver has is reaching its end of live, is over-subscribed, or no longer meets modern safety standards and will require some serious upgrades. Metro is in the process of developing its 2013 budget. Some of Metro’s major projects that they are proposing for 2013 and onward include:

-Seymour-Capilano Water Filtration Project
-Coquitlam UV disinfection facility
-Port Mann Fraser River Crossing
-Second Narrows Crossing
-Annacis Main No.5
Cost: $2.5 billion from 2013-2022.

-Upgrade Lions Gate Waste Water Treatment Plants (WWTP)
-Upgrade Iona WWTP
-Expand to Annacis WWTP
-North Surrey Interceptor (Sewer Main) Twinning
-Upgrade Northwest Langley WWTP
-Gilbert Sewer Trunk
Cost: $3 billion from 2013-2022

Solid Waste
-A new incinerator
-New transfer stations
-New Eco-Centres
Cost: $633 million from 2013-2022

This will result in a 2.5% increase in the property tax portion that goes to Metro Vancouver as it currently stands.

The majority of Metro Vancouver’s services go unnoticed, but are critical to the livability of the region. While some people think that it is roads that help regions grow and/or sprawl. It’s actually water and sewer service.