Thursday, November 29, 2012

Metro Vancouver Transportation Governance

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Downtown Langley and Willowbrook Transit Exchanges, plus mall redevelopment

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

Proposed Bus Mall Option for Downtown Langley

Proposed Off-Street Option for Downtown Langley

Proposed On-street Option for Downtown Langley

Proposed Bus Mall Option for Willowbrook Mall Area

Proposed Off-Street Option for Willowbrook Mall Area

Two Proposed On-Street Options for Willowbrook Mall Area

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

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

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

Example of potential redevelopment of Willowbrook Mall site.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Average Capacity Utilization of Port Mann and Massey Tunnel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sub-regional Transit and Road Statistics

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

Median boardings per revenue hour. Click image to enlarge.

Median capacity utilization. Click image to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Township of Langley's proposed University District

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

Proposed University District. Click image to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

TransLink's Bus Service Optimization

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proposed new 503 route. Click image to enlarge.

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

TransLink and the Federal Gas Tax Fund

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

Naming the trails in the City of Langley

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

City of Langley Trail System. Click image to enlarge.

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

TransLink Fare Increase

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Task Forces in the Township

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Township Council Budget Priorities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2012

Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan Update

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Recycling Plastic Bags

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Township of Langley Library Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thoughts on Public Hearings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 5, 2012

Willoughby Town Centre Update

Proposed mixed-use building. Click image to enlarge.

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

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

Overall phase one plan of Willoughby Town Centre.

Site plan for proposed mixed-use building.

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

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

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Vancouver's Sustainable Transportation Plan and the South of Fraser

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

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

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

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

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

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