Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Heritage Buildings in the Township of Langley

I was looking over the Township of Langley November Heritage Advisory Committee Agenda and came across two reports on historically significant buildings in the community. One was called Heritage Inventory Assessment and the other called Statements of Significance. The Statement of Significance contains information on the Lattimer Residence, 6716 216 Street; Roderick Cummings Residence, 21561 Old Yale Road; and Hogben Residence, 23212 88 Avenue.

I wanted to highlight the inventory of public buildings in the first report though if you are interested, check out both reports which start on page 38 of the Heritage Advisory Committee Agenda.

Fernridge Hall, 2389 200 Street

As one of the earliest and only remaining community buildings in the area, the Fernridge Hall is significant to the post-World War I development of Langley.

Langley Playhouse, 4307 200 Street

As one of the earliest remaining civic buildings in the area, the Langley Playhouse is significant to the neighbourhood and Township; its longstanding and active community patronage bolsters its historic and contemporary value.

Life Tabernacle aka St. Paul’s Anglican Church, 4447 200 Street

The Life Tabernacle is significant for its early representation of postwar development in Langley and for its longstanding community function in the originally rural community of Brookswood.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cycling in Metro Vancouver Up

If you haven’t heard already, cycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation in Metro Vancouver. According to the latest numbers from TransLink cycling mode share has grown 26 percent between 2008 and 2011, and now represents 1.9 percent of all trips in the region. Not surprisingly, Vancouver has the highest cycling mode share at 4.1 percent while the South of Fraser and Northeast Sector have the lowest mode share at 0.7 percent. There is something to be said about build it and they will come as Vancouver’s investment in cycling infrastructure over the last few years has paid dividends causing cycling mode share to grow 35 percent since 2008. Surrey on the other hand has just started to beef up their cycling infrastructure program and in Langley cycling is still seen as a second-class citizen to driving. The following map from TransLink shows the breakdown of cycling mode share in the region.

It’s not all bad news in the Township of Langley though. I received an email that said that the municipality may be programming some of its traffic signals to automatically detect bikes to trigger a change. This will certainly be more convenient than having to push a “walk” button. I only hope that the Township publicizes this fact.

Cycling is one of the most cost effective forms of transportation, both to use and to build infrastructure for. I can only hope that other municipalities in Metro Vancouver start to embrace cycling as a first-class form of transportation like the City of Vancouver has.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Draft 2013 Township of Langley Capital Budget

Township of Langley council started the process of approving its 2013 capital budget. The capital budget includes both items that were not completed in previous years that get carried-over to the current budget plus new requests. The draft capital plan proposes to spend $213 million. The following graph breaks down the spending by the various functions. When I created the graph, I wanted to see how much spending was financed by debt which is putting off costs to future generations and how much was paid for by Developer Cost Charges (DCCs) which is a pool of money that each and every developer must pay when building a project in the Township.

Draft 2012 Township of Langley Capital Budget - Select Graph to Enlarge.

Beside the general overview of the draft budget, I want to highlight some of the $10m+ capital projects. One of the largest capital projects that the Township of Langley is working on is over $30 million eastern Langley water main project. You can read more about this on a previous blog post. An interesting thing to note is that water mains, not roads are what cause sprawl, so it will be interesting to see what the long-term effect will be on the rural landscape in the Township. One of the primary proposes of the project is to get Aldergrove on Metro Vancouver water.

In the draft transportation budget, the Mufford Overpass and related works will incur $11 million in expenditures. The long-term Fraser Highway widening project from the City of Langley to Aldergrove will also cost over $10 million in addition to the millions that have already been spent. The most interesting project I found was $34k for a flag pole. I hope it’s going to be a nice flag pole.

The largest amount of capital spending for parks is $10 million for the acquisition of new park land. This is paid for entirely out of DCCs. In the corporate administration budget, $15 million is set aside for land acquisition. One of the more innovative projects that the IT department is taking on is laying fibre optic cable with new capital projects like the Mufford Overpass and East Langley Water main project. This will allow them to build out their own fibre optic network to connect their sites together much more cost-effectively which will save a large sum of money from leasing fibre from the telcos.

The biggest proposed capital project is the $34.8 Million Aldergrove Community Centre. When I was looking over the proposed budget, I noticed that a good chunk of money is flowing into Aldergrove. In fact over 30% of the capital budget will directly benefit Aldergrove. Now faster growing areas of Langley have certainly seen a good amount of investment in recent years like the Langley Event Centre, but Aldergrove and rural Langley certainly has a large focus in this draft budget.

It will be interesting to see how this budget is refined as council gets closer to adopting it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Port Metro Vancouver - Terminal Two Update

Last summer, Port Metro Vancouver began a series of public consultations on a proposed 190 hectare expansion of its terminal facility in Delta, known as the Roberts Bank Terminal Two project. The project will add 2.4 million TEU of container handling capacity to the Port by 2024. As a note, in the same time period the Prince Rupert Port Authority will also be adding up to 2 million TEU of container handling capacity in the same time period. Port Metro Vancouver will be holding public consultations and open houses which it hopes to conclude in 2016.

Last night, I was at their latest public consultation. The Terminal Two project will impact at least 210 hectares of the marine environment and at least 10 hectares of the agricultural land reserve (ALR), so environmental mitigation will be a major part of this project. I asked if it was possible to both expand the Port and improve the ecosystem at the same time. The Port mention that the Deltaport Third Birth project was an example of where they believe both the economy and the environment benefited. One of the unique projects that the Port has started is something called a land bank. They will work with partners to restore eco-systems in Metro Vancouver and maintain them to compensate for the eco-systems impacted by future projects like the Terminal Two project. The interesting thing about the land bank is that it is proactive and could give the Port an improved land credit. Port Metro Vancouver is the first port in Canada to have an Environmental Management Division.

On the subject of environmental protection, I asked about how the Harper government’s wholesale change of environmental protection legislation will impact the proposed expansion. I was told that they don’t know as of yet, but if the standards are weaker the Port would likely stick to the regulations. The problem with new environmental rules is that instead of focusing on fish habitat it will only focus on the fish themselves.

When it comes to the ALR, the Port also plans to improve farming in the region to compensate for the loss of farmland which will be used to expand the rail facilities around the Port. I asked them if the Port has any interest in the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) plan which will see farm land converted into industrial land. Apparently the Port has no interest in the TFN plan.

One of the direct impacts of the Port is on the transportation system in Metro Vancouver. The Port has worked on a new truck reservation system which is meant to reduce truck congestions and idling by assigning timeslots for truck loading/unloading and by building a series of truck staging areas. Of course two of the major projects to help the Port are the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor overpass projects. The Port did not mention anything about the Port Mann/Highway 1 project, but did talk about the Province’s new announcement of expanding the George Massey Tunnel. I asked if the tunnel expansion will help the Port with goods movement and was told “no.”

Besides the regulatory requirement to protect the environment, the Port will also start a community legacy fund for the project. It will basically be a pool of money for communities to spend. No plan on how the money will be spent has been finalized. Finally, the Terminal Two project is expected to cost over $2 billion and will likely be funded by private money. I’ll certainly be following this project as it progresses through public consultation.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Density coming to 200th Street?

A few years back, the provincial government changed the BC building code to allow the construction of up to six storey wood frame buildings. That change to the building code is starting to have an effect in the Township of Langley. It has allowed for an increase in density without resorting to building towers. (From what I’ve been told concrete buildings don’t make financial sense until they reach a certain high.) The Yorkson Creek development is the first project that I’m aware of that is building six storey apartments in Langley and now there is another project that is proposing to develop five storey apartments on the corner of 68th Avenue and 200th Street.

The project actually went to public hearing in 2010 where it died. Local residents where opposed to having density right next to their single-family houses. The new version of the plan has about 100 less units and includes single-family houses, more townhouses, and duplexes in the project to buffer the existing single-family houses from the apartments.

Example of apartments being proposed.

Site plan

The proposal still includes protecting a significant area of Jeffries Brook riparian habitat by dedicating 0.89 ha to the Township for conservation purposes. Two years later and with other similarly sized apartments already built, I wonder if there will be the same amount of opposition this time around.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Secondary Suites in the Township of Langley

At yesterday afternoon's Township of Langley Council meeting, secondary suites were on the agenda. Like other municipalities in Metro Vancouver, the Township has a large quantity of illegal secondary suites. Illegal secondary suites are a drain on municipal resources because the owners of these suites do not pay for their fair share of municipal services. These costs are passed onto other ratepayers in the community. You might be paying for someone else's illegal suite. The Township is now looking at legalizing secondary suites. For new single-family houses, it wants to make sure that they are built "secondary suite ready" to comply with building codes for human health and safety. For existing single-family housing, it wants people to voluntarily bring their suites up to code and pass a building inspection. In addition, the Township would like to charge a $400 per year secondary suite fee to cover the cost of added municipal services for secondary suites. The Township would also to step up enforcement.

While I think the Township will be successful in getting new developments compliant, I think that the Township will have a hard time getting current owners of illegal secondary suites to comply as there is no incentive. If the Township wanted to do proactive secondary suite inspections, it would need secondary suite police which could get pricey. There are other ways that the Township could get people to comply with its proposed secondary suites requirements.

The Township should look at metering all municipally delivered water. The would make everyone pay for their fair share of water and sewer costs. This of course would be a multi-year project. More immediately,the Township could look at reducing the garbage collection limit from 2 cans to 1 can. Also, the Township could implement a parking permit zone system which gives out a set amount of parking pass to each house in certain parts of the municipality. If someone parks on-street without a permit after a certain amount of time, they could get fined or towed. If someone had a legal secondary suite, they would be allowed to get extra free parking and garbage collection passes.

By doing something similar to what I propose, the Township could incentivize people to legalize their secondary suites.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Langley Mall Update

In September, I posted about a proposed update to the old Langley Mall in the City of Langley. The owner, First Capital, is looking to build a new commercial unit on the northwest corner of its property. Tonight, City of Langley Council will be holding a public hearing on the proposed redevelopment. The City’s Downtown plan envisions this site to see significant redevelop. While this proposed addition to the mall it not significant, it is a small step in the right direction.

Proposed new commercial unit at Langley Mall

Site plan for new commercial unit

First the good news. This new commercial unit will contain a coffee shop without a drive-thru, and the project will also include parking for cyclist. There are a few things that concern me from downtown public realm standpoint though. All primary pedestrian access to the commercial unit is not via the Douglas Crescent, but other sides of the building. Also, the unit is slightly set back from the street. The unit is also not designed for another building to abut it to the east in the future. This means that there will be a gap between it and future buildings. All these little things could reduce the potential to create a strong pedestrian retail wall along Douglas Crescent.

This building is certainly an improvement from just a parking lot, but I wonder if its design will create a pedestrian-friendly public realm along Douglas Crescent as envisioned in the Downtown Master Plan.

Friday, October 19, 2012

TransLink cuts jobs as ridership soars.

About a month ago TransLink released a proposed base plan and earlier this week the Province of BC released its performance audit of the organization. Both the base plan and the audit recommend adjusting the workforce at TransLink and its subsidiaries. Neither of these plans have been implemented yet, but TransLink has already started to axe jobs.

Over the past few years TransLink has cut their seniors executives in half by cutting 10 positions. Earlier this year, TransLink let go of 12 cafeteria workers. It was announced last week that the company will also be chopping 60 maintenance positions, 17 supervisory positions, and 8 training positions at its bus operating company Coast Mountain Bus Company. This is a reduction of about 1.5% of its workforce. While this may seem small, I'm sure this is just the first of many rounds of cuts at TransLink.

What I find odd about this whole process is that all this cutting and proposed cutting is a result of TransLink and the region looking to expand transit service. With the exception of Evergreen Line, we are not likely to see any expansion of transit in the near future.

TransLink mayors' council did have a meeting yesterday and passed a motion to prevent any further cuts to transit and has given the Province until February 28 to provide a long-term funding solution for TransLink. I'm not holding my breath that an agreement will happen, but you never know. If no agreement happens, more cuts will come.

The fact that TransLink can't get a long-term funding source approved by the Province for over a decade is really bizarre considering people actually want to take transit in Metro Vancouver. Transit ridership records have been broken the last few years and total ridership has increased 123% since its low point in 1993 while the population of the region has only increased by 26% in the same period.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Stabbing, then Stealing from Peter to Pay Paul: The Provincial Audit of TransLink

A month ago TransLink released its base plan for how it plans to operate transit in the region. I wrote a post on the proposed base plan titled “Stealing from Peter to Pay Paul”. Yesterday, the Province of BC released its performance audit review of TransLink which should be titled “Stabbing, then stealing from Peter to Pay Paul.” The Province, in the review, recommends “enhancing” TransLink’s Base Plan by offering up more service cuts, more labour changes and even tighter budgeting.

It is not very often that the public service is commended for a culture of customer service, yet TransLink is actually criticized in the review for being too customer services focused.

Throughout the review, the Steering Committee observed an overarching emphasis by TransLink in its business decisions and culture to focus on customer service. While this is a critical area of focus for any business, for those that are publically funded and to respect the taxpayer contribution, a balance must also be sought between service for users and efficiency of operations.

The first cost savings measure recommended in the review is to reduce the frequency of SkyTrain outside of peak periods. The second cost saving measure identified in the review is to cancel service on low productivity bus routes. The review doesn’t actually spell out which routes they would be, but it is likely that the majority of these routes are outside of the City of Vancouver. I’m actually going to put in a Freedom of Information request to find out which routes the Province thinks should be on the chopping block.

Low productivity routes should be reviewed and adjusted, but the main issue is that many of these routes don’t run frequently enough to attract riders. In the South of Fraser, we need to provision more frequent transit service that will become more productive over time, not cut service. The challenge now is that both TransLink’s Base Plan and the Provincial review propose to increase service in areas with already good transit service at the expense of areas were service needs a chance to grow. It’s a good thing that the Province is building billions of dollars’ worth of freeways in our sustainable region as many people won't have a reasonable alternative to driving.

The Province’s review of TransLink isn’t all bad news though. It does point out that rail base transit is far more efficient than bus service. On the topic of bus service, the Province is critical of Coast Mountain Bus Company’s (TransLink’s bus operating company) labour practices and I hope that saving can be found by implementing the recommendations without effecting service. The Province also recommends replacing the diesel bus fleet with compressed natural gas buses which is no surprise given the Province is currently plugging natural gas. When it comes to TransLink’s police forces, the Province recommends that its staffing be reduced to pre-Olympic levels.

While tweaking TransLink’s staffing practices and cutting service could yield $6.3 million in additional savings per year, the biggest area of “savings” is found in how TransLink budgets. The Province noted that TransLink has budgeted too conservatively over the years and has “extra” money that could be realized if it adopted a more aggressive budget. This means that TransLink would have less or no wiggle room if there were revenue or expenditure issues. Changing how TransLink budgets could yield $33 million in additional savings per years.

In the 2011 and 2012 TransLink identified $98 million annually in efficiencies. The Provincial review of TransLink has identified an additional $41 million in efficiencies which represents about 3% of TransLink's operating budget; hardly a windfall.

At the end of the day we are still left with a transit agency that is critically under-funded with no money to build rapid transit to UBC or in the South of Fraser. We are also left with a transit agency that can’t expand service in the South of Fraser where it is needed the most. With this review complete, I don’t think we are any closer to building a sustainable region and feel that we might actually be taking a few steps backwards. TransLink still needs a new funding source if we want to build a sustainable region and give people transportation choice. Let's not forget that TransLink has been seeing record ridership over the last few years.

I certainly hope that TransLink and the Mayors think very carefully before cutting transit service in one part of the region to pay for service in another part as it would only yield up to $3.7 million in savings and will impact people that need transit the most.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Yorkson Neighbourhood Update

Back in May, I posted about the Yorkson Creek development along 208th Street and 80th Avenue and how as the project has been built-out, the height of the apartments have increased from the originally proposed 4 storeys to 6 storey while the total number of units has actually decreased. It goes to show you that just because something is taller, it doesn’t mean that it has more density. In fact the project will see a decrease from the originally planned 1,474 units to 1,244 residential units as currently proposed. This is due in part to the replacement of some of the proposed 4-storey apartment buildings with townhouses, but also because of the increase in size of the individual apartment units.

Overall Proposed Site Plan

Adding over 1,244 units to Yorkson in Willoughby will still create a fairly compact and walkable area which should tie nicely in with the Yorkson Area High Street. I have to give the developer of Yorkson Creek credit for putting over 90% of the parking in underground or covered parking as this will contribute substantially to the walkability of the area. Unfortunately the developer of the High Street chose to put the majority of its parking in surface parking lots. I think that it’s high time that the Township require underground parking for commercial developments as surface parking is the number one killer of walkability and creates a poor public realm.

Last night there was a public hearing for the proposed changes to the Yorkson Creek development including some renderings of the proposed apartments and townhouses, a sampling of which is below.

Rendering of Proposed Apartments

Rendering of Proposed Townhouses

Monday, October 15, 2012

Township of Langley ALR Update

This morning I was looking over the agenda for this afternoon’s Township of Langley council meeting and noticed a report about a 1997 Provincial Order-In-Council. At that time, the Township of Langley had by-laws that went against the Province’s Right-to-Farm legislation. As a results the Province removed the Township’s ability to exercise its zoning powers in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) without provincial approval, prohibited the Township from passing by-laws that restrict the operation of a farm business without the approval of the province, and required a review of the Township’s zoning regulations relating to farming areas to make it consistent with provincial standards.

The Township and the Province have been working since 2001 to make the Township’s by-laws consistent with provincial standards and have two items remaining that would lead to the final repeal of the Order-In-Council. The Township still needs to study the effects of some of the proposals agreed to in-principal with the province including the creation of one agricultural zone in the municipality. The other area of study is planning and development along the edge of the agricultural zone. The end-game for the Township is to get back powers which include the ability to process subdivision applications in the ALR.

Speaking about subdivision applications, there are two in the Salmon River Uploads area of the Township which would result in the creation of 14 lots of about an acre each for suburban housing in the ALR awaiting council's support this afternoon.

The Salmon River Uplands area was an established suburban area before the introduction of the ALR in the 1970’s. While a good chunk of land in the Salmon River Uplands area is outside of the ALR, there are still many parcels within the ALR. The Township’s 45-page Rural Plan has two sentences on the Salmon River Uplands area.

The Salmon River Uplands shall be maintained for rural residential and agricultural uses. A more detailed plan will be prepared setting out policies for future growth, subdivision and agriculture in this area.

From what I can tell there has been no detailed plans for the area and I can imagine that if/when such a plan is ever developed, it will be controversial. So in the meantime, Salmon River Uplands will remain a suburban community with laissez-faire planning and a slow creep of suburban single-family housing.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Recap: Public Information Meeting on Redevelopment in Fort Langley

A packed house with standing room only at last night's meeting.

Last night I was a speaker and panellist at a public meeting hosted by the Fort Langley Community Association about new development proposals in the Fort. The meeting was packed. While there were four proposals that were up for conversation, the real focus of the evening was on the Coulter Berry Building which is a proposed mixed-use development. Most people in the room last night seemed to support the Coulter Berry Building proposal as it will contribute to Fort Langley’s pedestrian–friendly core by keeping parking underground, providing retail and much needed local office space, plus residential housing which is sorely needed in the core. While I’d be happy to see this building in Downtown Langley and most people want to see this building in Fort Langley, there were some in the room that were opposed to the project. The reason stated was because the building will violate an old guideline for the area which says that a building should “not exceed two storeys or 9 metres.” While that was the stated reason for opposition to the project, I think the real reason is these people are opposed to any change in Fort Langley. The problem with this argument is that no change in a community means that a community is no longer healthy. If nothing changes or gets updated, it means that community is dying or is dead.

The first speaker of the evening was Robert Inwood who is a design consultant and heritage specialist. He was actually responsible for developing Fort Langley’s Building Guidelines. He talked about his work in other community in BC and how he designed a three-story building that fit nicely into a commercial core that was similar to Fort Langley. He though that a three-story building would fit just fine in Fort Langley. His biggest complaint about Fort Langley was that there was a lack of authenticity in some “heritage” design that has occurred in the community and would like to see authentic design that integrates local motifs.

Terry Lyster who was the Director of Planning for the Township of Langley during the time Fort Langley’s Building Guidelines were developed talked about how guidelines are just that: guidelines. He noted guidelines were merely a starting point and are subject to being tweaked during any development process. Terry Lyster said that if we followed Fort Langley’s guidelines like the Bible, Bedford Landing would be a window factory and restaurants like Beatniks would not have been allowed to open. He talked about all the other different variances that have been allowed over the years and mentioned that there are already three-story buildings in the Fort.

I talked about how diversity is important in communities and the importance of a good pedestrian-public realm. Projects that support a diversity of housing and transportation option get a mark of approval by me.

It was certainly an interesting meeting last night and I hope people gained some insight about sustainable community design and development.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Public Information Meeting on Redevelopment in Fort Langley

The Fort Langley Community Association will be hosting a public information meeting on Thursday, October 11th at 7:30pm in the Fort Langley Community Hall. This will be an information meeting about redevelopment in the commercial core of Fort Langley. There will be a chance to learn about current development plans in Fort Langley, the history of planning in the area, and sustainable community design.

I’m sure that this meeting is a result of projects like the proposed Coulter Berry Building. This projects does everything right, but there are some who oppose it. This meeting will hopefully be a chance to have a level-headed conversation about redevelopment in Fort Langley.

The speakers will include Terry Lyster who was the Director of Planning for the Township of Langley from 1997-2004, Robert Inwood who is a design consultant and heritage specialist with over 35 years of experience in western Canada, and myself.

Admissions is free and there is no need to RSVP. Doors open at 7pm.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Comparing Metro Vancouver and the Edmonton Capital Region

This weekend I was in Edmonton for Thanksgiving. When I returned back home yesterday, I was struck by the difference in scale between the Edmonton Capital Region and Metro Vancouver. From an urban design perspective Edmonton is a region of strip malls and ring roads while Metro Vancouver is a region of mixed-use development and transit corridors.

When my aircraft was on its final descent into VYR yesterday, it came in via the northern mountain ranges. It was really interesting to see Langley, Surrey, and Delta from my window seat. The first thing I noticed was the vast amount of green-space that has been preserved for conservation and agriculture. The most impressive site to me is actually Burn’s Bog which is such a massive conservation area. The second thing I noticed was how compact our developed footprint is. All the new residential development going on in Willoughby (which some claim is suburban) from my airplane window actually looked no different than many parts of the City of Vancouver. If you want to see true suburban development, fly out of Edmonton where you can see vast quantities of former agricultural land being transformed into suburban single-family housing. The second thing I noticed was that commercial properties in Metro Vancouver have less surface parking. Even on the ground, I noticed this.

I was staying in Strathcona County which is a true suburb of Edmonton. Wye Road is one of the main roads in Strathcona County. While one of the newer developments had a multi-use trail along one side of the road, there were no continuous sidewalks along the road. In fact most of the commercial streets in the Edmonton region looked like the Langley Bypass. The only areas where there is real transportation choice, walkable communities, and a diversity of housing options are in Downtown Edmonton and the core areas around it. The follow map is from Edmonton's Municipal Development Plan which outlines Transit Avenues which “support medium and higher density, mixed land use and the provision of a range of community services, facilities and amenities.”

Transit Avenues in Edmonton (Red)

Edmonton also has a light rail transit system which has been around since 1978 and while Edmonton has plans to build transit-oriented development around the stations, I didn’t see any when I was there.

Now this post isn’t meant to be harsh on Edmonton, but rather show that in Metro Vancouver we have the groundwork in place to build a truly sustainable region. I get concerned when I see our region expanding highways at a stunning rate while at the same time under-funding transit. I feel like our region is slowing shifting away from building a multi-modal transportation system that supports sustainable communities and moving toward building a transportation system that will build more Langley Bypasses. It is ironic that the Edmonton Capital Region wants to become more like Metro Vancouver while Metro Vancouver is currently on the path to looking more like the Edmonton Capital Region.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The impact of the federal budget on environmental protection in Langley

Earlier this year, the federal government under Harper's Conservatives fundamentally redefined environmental legislation in Canada as part of the budget implementation act. The federal government claimed that it wouldn't impact environmental protection in Canada, but sadly it is already rolling back the clock on conservation in Canada and in Langley.

When looking around Langley and the South of Fraser, there are many green ways through our communities with a good chunk of them being riparian zones or areas around waterways. These corridors provide habitats for a wide range of wildlife and protect our waterways. What many people don't know is that these protected areas were mandated by federal fisheries rules and regulations. It is the federal government that wouldn't allow you to build right on top of a river or in-fill a stream. Most would be surprised to know a vast majority of what keep our environment safe from the effects of urban development is the result of federal fisheries regulation and enforcement. In the City of Langley the protection of the Nicomekl Floodplain is the result of federal fisheries rules.

At last night's City of Langley Parks and Environment Advisory Committee Meeting, I learned how the federal government's budget act is having a direct impact on environmental protection in Langley. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has handed out pink slips to DFO staff in field offices all over the country and the field office that serves Langley, like many others, is being shut down. What does this mean?

For the City of Langley, it means we are losing a valuable resource that is able to provide guidance, enforcement of environmental regulations and go after people that are destroying our environment. It will now be a lot easier for people to pollute or destroy riparian zones and waterways as communities like the City of Langley don't have the resources or the mandate to protect these areas.

This news is disheartening because I learned last night that fish were returning to seemingly random places like a culvert at City Park. And fish are an indicator species for the general well being of our ecosystem and as a result human health.

It has been less than a year since the budget bill became law, and I'm already seeing that it is starting to unravel 30 years of environment progress. It is truly a shame.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

TWU University District Update

The controversy continues with the proposed University District around Trinity Western University. The University District itself is basically an expansion of the TWU campus, but it is also bundled with the controversial Wall Financial single-family housing development.

Earlier this month, Township of Langley Mayor Jack Froese sent a letter (page 93 of latest council agenda) to Mayor Corrigan of Burnaby (who is also the chair of the Regional Planning and Agriculture Committee at Metro Vancouver) expressing his views on the University District and Metro's involvement.

In the letter, Mayor Froese talked about the letter the Township received in August from Metro that I posted about earlier on the blog. Froese pointed out that Township council will work with Metro Vancouver in a consultation process that may result in either amending, delaying, or not proceeding with the bylaw that would see the creation of the University District. While reading the letter, I saw some subtle jabs at Corrigan's Metro committee for not being directly elected and for “rubber stamping” Metro Vancouver staff reports.

Mayor Froese than goes on to state that the Township in under no legal obligation to change the current University District bylaw as the Township believes that the bylaw and plan is consistent with the old regional growth strategy which the Township believe is still applicable.

Reading over the letter it seems to me that Township Council is upset at Metro Vancouver for inferring with what it considers local issues, but isn’t ready to challenge Metro in court yet over regional planning. It will be interesting to see how this proceeds and I’ll continue to monitor this saga.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

City of Langley adopts new strategic plan

The City of Langley adopted their 2013 – 2017 strategic plan last night which is a rolling 5-year plan that outlines the City’s priorities. The City’s main areas of focus in the plan are:

Infrastructure: Continuous improvement and sustainability of our below ground, on the ground, and above ground infrastructure.

Quality of Life in Our City: services to people can be continuously improved in order to attract, retain, and serve citizens that will then champion our vision as “The Place to Be.”

Communication: communicating with our customers and partners, involving them in decisions which impact and interest them, and engaging them in public life.

Revitalization: of our downtown core, the visual impact of the public realm in our city, and enhance our sense of pride.

Environment: how we protect, preserve, restore, sustain, and enhance our environment.

Protective Services: ensuring our citizens feel safe and property is secure.

Organizational Development: investing in our organization, its people, its processes and financial sustainability.

The strategic plan contains 49 action items and there are a few items that I’d like to focus on. What I’m really excited about is the City’s renewed commitment to sustainable transportation. The City is in the process of updating its Master Transportation Plan (MTP). While the City’s current MTP includes cycling and walking, it's mostly auto-centric. Modern thought on sustainable transportation planning suggests focusing on transportation users in the following order: pedestrians, cyclist, public transit riders, commercial vehicles users, high-occupancy vehicle users, and single-occupancy vehicle users. I’m pleased that the City’s plan is to develop a MTP that will “includes opportunities to enhance pedestrian and cyclist transportation; advocate for and incent non-vehicular means of travel within our City.”

Along the same vein, the City will also be updating its parks and trail system plan with a focus on connecting to the regional network using “linear connectors both within and outside the city.” Right now we have a great east-west route via the Nicomekl Floodplain, but the City is currently missing a north-south route. The City will also be embarking on implementing its way finding strategy starting in 2014. The City will be undertaking the study and implementation of a parking strategy over the next few years. This might be one of the more controversial items in the City’s 5-year plan as talking about parking policy seem to make people go crazy.

Right now Downtown Langley's public realm (sidewalks, benches, lighting, etc) is getting long in the tooth. The City adopted a public realm strategy a few years ago, but it is being implemented piecemeal as new development projects come online. Next year, the City plans to develop a funding strategy which I hope will bring a more orderly update of the public realm.

The City’s strategic plan is heavily focused on sustainability which is a good thing. One of the more interesting goals will be the City’s plan to “explore the opportunity for a District Energy Utility.” In Downtown Surrey, the City of Surrey is requiring district energy which reduces GHG emissions and I think district energy would be a perfect fit for Downtown Langley as it redevelops.

The 5-year strategy contains a lot more information and I suggest that you check it out in the latest council agenda package.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Streetcar Revival

On Saturday, I gave a presentation about streetcar systems in Canada and the United States, and the future of the streetcar as public transit in North America. It was part of a series of talks put on by the Burnaby Village Museum called Going Electric. The day featured presentations by Henry Ewert on the BC Electric Interurban System and Ron Hyde on the Richmond Interurban dubbed the “Sockeye Special”. The event ended with an update from the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society, who plans to re-launch the interurban in Surrey as a weekend tram during the summer, and my presentation on streetcars. It was a well-attended event, but for those who couldn’t make it I’ve included my presentation slides on this post.