Wednesday, January 30, 2013

City of Langley Launches Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan Workshops

As I posted about in November of last year, the City of Langley is working on updating its Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan. This process is finally ramped up and the City will be hosting a series of public focus groups/workshops about various aspects of parks, recreation, and culture in the City of Langley. The focus groups run from February 4th until February 12th. You can find out about the various themes of each focus group and sign up to attend by visiting the City’s website. The focus group that I’m most interested in is about Parks, Trails and Environment. It will be held on:

Date: February 7, 2013
Time: 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Location: Langley City Hall (20399 Douglas Crescent) - CKF Room (2nd Floor)

This will be a great focus group to attend especially if you care about building a pedestrian and cyclist friendly community.

As I’ve said in the past, I’d really 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. There is 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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

City of Langley Proposed 2013 Capital Budget and Financial Plan

The City of Langley has posted information online about the proposed 2013 capital budget and 2013-2017 financial plan. The full details of the budget (including operating expenses) will be posted online once it has been presented at the February 4th council meeting. One of the challenges with local government revenue is that it is almost entirely dependent on property tax. Unlike sales tax or income tax, it is not directly tied to economic productivity and doesn’t naturally adjust for inflation.

The City of Langley has been using proceeds from the Cascades Casino (which opened in 2005) to pay for capital works projects. Casino revenue peaked at $7.4 million in 2007 and has been decreasing ever since. In 2013, the City expects to receive $5.8 million in casino proceeds.

Due to lower property values, lower casino proceeds, and inflation, the City of Langley will be looking at a 2.63% property tax increase just to keep the City working. With the continued financial pressure that local governments face to provide essential services, the provincial and federal governments really need to look at giving local government new funding tools especially as they continue to download services. For example due to the Harper government's budget bill, the City's budget message states “Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has eliminated DFO habitat officers which will now put the onus on local governments to address fish habitat issues.”

The City of Langley's proposed 2013 capital works program is fairly modest with $10.6 million worth of new spending. I understand the pressure to keep taxes low, but I have to wonder if the capital works program has the funding to keep the City in a state of good repair, let alone build for the future. For example, Downtown Langley's public realm is pretty worn-out with fading streetlamps and crumbling sidewalks.

Some of the major capital works projects for 2013 include:

Robert Bank Rail Corridor Overpasses: $2.8 million
The City's contribution to the 196 St rail overpass project in partnership with the City of Surrey, as the Project Delivery Agent for the Roberts Bank Rail Corridor Combo Project

Signal Upgrades Various (DCC-R): $500,000
Traffic signal equipment has a best practice life expectancy - 12 years for the cabinet and controller and 25 years for the signal heads, poles and wiring. An on-going annual program to rehabilitate the signals is needed.

Pedestrian Facilities (Floodplain bridge): $200,000
In 2013 includes, replacement of 3 pedestrian bridges in the floodplain. In future years, includes the procurement of land and construction activities associated with providing sidewalk, off-street multi-use pathways.

Glover Road Gateway Enhancements: $237,000
To provide a sense of arrival at the Glover Road gateway to the City.

48 Ave, 205 St to 208 St: $670,000
To improve safety of school children walking along 48 Ave by widening 48 Ave from 205A St to 207 St to allow for a pedestrian sidewalk and parallel parking.

The City of Langley with be spending $1.2 million on water utility capital projects.

There are two smaller projects that I’m excited about. One is a $65,000 project to “retrofit the curb bulge area where the existing pedestrian crosswalk is located on Fraser Highway and McBurney Lane to accentuate the McBurney Lane redevelopment.” The other is to spend $67,000 in 2013 to impediment phase 1 of a multi-year wayfinding strategy which you can read about on an earlier post. It looks like the current funding for the wayfinding strategy is 50% less than what was called for in the original report, so I wonder what part got cut.

I always find it disheartening that the City includes a financial plan line item to improve cycling facilities (lanes, signage, etc) that always seems to gets deferred to future years. With cost saving on everyone's mind, cycling is actually one of the most cost effect forms of transportation to build and use.

The City will be holding a public hearing on Monday, February 18th at 7pm in Council Chambers after the presentation of the Financial Plan.

Monday, January 28, 2013

New retail and office building proposed in Fort Langley

Over the past little while, Fort Langley has seen renewed interest with redevelopment projects like Bedford Landing, Lee's Market, and the Coulter Berry Builder, along with a general sprucing up of the area, as people rediscover this walkable village. The latest redevelopment proposal is for a new two-storey retail/office building and expanded medical building along 96th Avenue near Glover Road.

Site of proposed new retail/office building. Current building will be demolished. Source: Google Street View

The redevelopment will see the site currently occupied by Tracycakes Bakery Cafe and a parking lot, replaced with a new two storey building that will have ground floor retail and second floor office space. The project will also include a bistro-style eatery.

Current medical building to be expanding in the proposed redevelopment. Source: Google Street View

The development will also expand the existing Fort Family Practice medial building.

Proposed site plan. Click image to enlarge.

Rendering of proposed new office/retail building. Click image to enlarge.

Rendering of expanded medical building. Click image to enlarge.

The project gets a lots of things right. The buildings will front 96th Avenue and prioritize pedestrian access. Parking is hidden in the back of the project. This will be a marked improvement to the parking lot that currently fronts the majority of this site.

One of the unfortunate aspects of this site is that 96th Avenue actually has the right-of-way of a four-lane boulevard, so while the proposed buildings will be right up to the property line, they will still be set back from the current 96th Avenue by about 8 meters (25 feet). This could limit the ability of the project to activate the street and create an “outdoor living room.” Generally with wide right-of-ways like 96th Avenue, you need to build taller building to give an area that same “outdoor living room” feeling that you could get with shorter buildings on smaller right-of-ways. There are other ways to try and accomplish the creation of a good public realm on a wide right-of-way. The architect proposes to move the sidewalk right up to the front of the buildings, construct an outside bistro patio that goes into the 96th Avenue right-of-way, and also plant several trees on the 96th Avenue right-of-way. The moved sidewalk, patio and the trees (once mature) will go a long way to help create that outdoor living space that 96th Avenue’s proposed future width hinders.

The only thing that makes me cringe a bit is the faux-western architecture which is required in Fort Langley. I have to laugh a little because eventually all the buildings in the Fort will be mimicking an architectural style that won’t exist in any of the actual remaining heritage building.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New community plan for Brookswood/Fernridge

The Township of Langley adopted the Brookswood/Fernridge Community Plan in the late 1980s. The plan called for almost exclusively single-family housing with a local strip-mall commercial core between 200th Street and 208th Street, along 32nd Avenue. While the area generally north 32nd Avenue (between 200th Street and 208th Street) has developed into single-family housing, the remaining area of Brookswood/Fernridge has kept its suburban/rural form. Looking over the Brookswood/Fernridge Community Plan, it is quite encouraging to see how far planning has evolved in the Township.

Map of Brookswood/Fernridge Planning Area

The original community plan does not include anything around the concept of building walkable neighbourhoods with a variety of housing options. The plan lacks a trail/greenway system which has become a highlight in newer areas of the Township. The transportation section is auto-centric and only has one sentence on cycling, doesn't mention transit, and only talks about building sidewalks on busy roads like 200th Street. The road network in this plan is designed to only move cars.

As the original community plan was getting to be 20 years old and outdated, and with no major development in Brookswood/Fernridge for some time, Township council in 2004 put a moratorium on development until a new community plan could be developed.

In 2011, the Griffith Neighbourhood Advisory Corp. requested that Township Council consider updating the community plan. Council approved updating the community plan at the cost of the Griffith Neighbourhood Advisory Corp. In October 2012, the Township of Langley started the community consultation process with a series of workshops.

The workshops were well attended with 500 residents and property owners from the area. The Township provided an overview of the planning process, the challenges and opportunities in Brookswood/Fernridge, and how to realize the future vision of residents and property owners for the community. Feedback was gathered from the workshops on the themes that people thought should be addressed in the community plan.

The main themes from the workshop were that the community needs upgraded infrastructure and servicing. There was also a strong desire to protect existing trees and the environment in general. Workshop participants thought that the community should include walkways, bicycle infrastructure, bridle trails and a greenway network. There was also the desire to increase densities in some areas to provide walkable commercial centres that could support improved public transit.

The results of the workshop were presented at open houses last week with some basic concepts of how those goals could be met.

Leftmost option is the baseline. Higher-density housing and local commercial development is proposed to be clustered in nodes (middle) with the option of building higher-density corridors (right). Click image to enlarge.

Leftmost option is the baseline. Other options increase greenway and park connectivity that would go in tandem with the housing/commercial option chosen (from left to right.) Click image to enlarge.

The open house allowed attendees to pick three different paths that the community plan could take. One is basically status quo which won’t meet the objectives of what the majority of residents and property owners want, while the other two options look at building walkable nodes, or walkable nodes connected with higher-density corridors that could support transit and provide more housing options in the community.

The open house material is available online and feedback will be accepted until Thursday, January 31st. The whole community planning process is scheduled to wrap up earlier in the fall of this year.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Councillor's Motions on Township Council

In BC, local government councillors and directors vote on a number of items at public meetings. The vast majority of items that get voted on are a result of embedded processes within local government. For example, voting to approve or deny a development proposal is triggered by a development applications being submitted to the affected local government. Voting on budgets, official community plans, and neighbourhood plans are a direct result of provincial requirements in the Local Government Act and Community Charter. Councils and boards can also vote on issues that come to their table through various internal committees, commissions, and staff reports. As a councillor or director, especially if you are a “lone wolf” type, you don’t actually have too much opportunity to get your personal issues and priorities on the table within this process; that is unless you use the notice of motion process.

A motion is like any other item that is voted on in local government. You need to provide notice, usually one meeting in advance, to get the motion on the agenda. At the meeting, you need a mover (normally the motion creator,) a seconder, and the majority approval of the council or board to pass.

When looking over council agendas from both the City and Township of Langley, there is a striking contrast in the use of councillor motions. In the City, I can’t recall the last time I saw a councillor motion, but these motions are a regular occurrence in the Township of Langley.

Councillor Kim Richter is likely the Queen of Motions in Langley as almost every council meeting has one of her motions on the agenda. Most of the time, her motions die as she finds no seconder, but sometimes her motions do get approved. I don't believe that Councillor Richter is abusing the use of motions as other councillors in the Township also take advantage of the motion process. Sadly though, it seems that councillor motions can get used for petty politics that don't necessarily improve the community. For example, the latest motion from Councillor Richter was:

Whereas Council now receives both a one third, tax free allowance for travel as well as a monthly $340 travel allowance, which could be considered “double dipping”;

Therefore be it resolved that members of Council choose to receive either one or the other, but not both.

I don’t believe that putting motions on the agenda is a bad thing, but it looks like another Township Councillor has had enough of motions. Ironically, he has put forward his own motion to reduce the amount of councillor motions in the Township. The following motion is from Councillor Grant Ward and is another example of what some might call petty politics.

1. Many communities in British Columbia have only one or two notices of motion per year;
2. The Township of Langley, in recent years, has experienced a dramatic increase in notices of motion reaching a high of approximately ten on one Council meeting day;
3. There is a tendency of notices of motions to continue on themes or topics after Council has deliberated;
4. Council members are starting to rush to provide notices of motion prior to other members of Council;
5. More thought and equity should exist in the utilization of notices of motion amongst members of Council;
6. The objective must always be to achieve the best governance possible.

Therefore Be It Resolved:
That staff be directed to amend the Procedural Bylaw to permit Councillors one notice of motion per month, to a maximum of ten per year, to be effective January 1, 2013.

Councillor motions are part of the local government process and I don't believe that their use should be restricted. If a motion is really out-to-lunch or just about petty politics, it can be defeated within 15 seconds when no one seconds it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

West Nile Virus Program Cancelled

About a decade ago, there was quite a scare about West Nile Virus and that there could be a potential outbreak within Metro Vancouver. A human infected with West Nile Virus could either experience no symptoms, cold/flu-like symptoms, or in 1% of the cases a central nervous system infection. West Nile Virus is spread by mosquitoes. The best way to control the virus is to control the mosquito population.

In 2005, Metro Vancouver created a West Nile mosquito control program and received funding from the province. In 2012, the province stopped funding this program; in addition both the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Coast Health authority did not recommend any action to monitor or control mosquitoes as apparently there is minimal West Nile virus activity observed in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.

Last November, Metro Vancouver started the process of shutting down the West Nile control program. To shut down the control program requires the approval of 2/3 of Metro Vancouver member municipalities as it is repealing a bylaw. I’m sure that there will be no issue in securing the required votes. What I found interesting was the note in the City of Langley’s agenda package on the issue that basically said that if a West Nile control should be required in the future, it should be a 100% provincial responsibility and 100% provincially funded. I believe that is true and maybe this is a bit of pushback from the years of downloading of responsibility from the province to local government without adequate and/or with unpredictable funding.

I should point out that Metro Vancouver will still fund mosquito control in areas like Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Surrey and the Township of Langley because there they are still considered a nuisance. I wonder, now that the West Nile program will be cancelled, if there will be a noticeable increase in annoying mosquitos.

Monday, January 21, 2013

5th Annual SCARP Student Symposium

I received the following from my friend Robert White who is in the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) at UBC. I thought I'd pass this along as the symposium will focus on urban issues outside of regional cores and hopefully will focus on places like Surrey, Delta, and Langley.


Vancouver, BC – The Planning Students Association at the University of British Columbia's School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) announce the 5th annual SCARP Student Symposium, which will take place on the UBC Vancouver campus Friday, February 8, 2013.

The 2013 Symposium, which aims to bring together planning practitioners, students, business owners, developers, and engaged citizens, will be focused on topics around 'Beyond Downtown & Outside the Box'.

With the overwhelming majority of population growth taking place in suburban areas the need for a modern take on suburban design has become critical. Innovative planning and design ideas are needed to move towards sustainability across British Columbia and beyond. At the UBC SCARP Student Symposium, we will explore fresh new ideas to guide and revitalize our urban, rural, and first nations communities in the years to come.

We're excited to welcome our keynote speakers Ellen Dunham-Jones, co-author of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs, and Patrick Stewart, the first Aboriginal architect to become President of the Architectural Institute of BC. They'll be joined by a panel of local leaders in the community planning sector including Vancouver's Brian Jackson, Surrey's Jean Lamontagne, Coquitlam's Jim McIntyre, and New Westminster's Lisa Spitale.

To register and find more information including a schedule of panel sessions, visit the Symposium website.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Large, low-tax, luxury lots in the Township?

When reading over the agenda and minutes of Township of Langley Council meetings, there are always subdivision applications within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). Some subdivision applications are called a “homesite severance” and others are just subdivisions.

Before the ALR was setup in the 1970’s, many farmers would subdivide their land and sell off the farmland part, while keeping their primary residence in order to produce a retirement fund. While this was common, it also resulted in fragmented farmland. When the ALR was finally created, a formal policy was adopted by the Agricultural Land Commission call a "homesite severance” which allowed for this sort of subdivision to still take place as long as the owner of the property lived on the site since at least December 21, 1972. This policy was created to make sure that farmers at the time didn’t face undue hardship from an evaporated “retirement fund.” The ALC still has the final say on a “homesite severance” application and can deny an application if the commission believes that the effect on farmland is too negative. The policy does not apply to people who purchased and starting living within the ALR after 1972 as it was thought that these people should be fully aware of the restrictions place on land within the ALR. I still see “homesite severance” applications appear on Township Council agendas, but as time goes on, there will be fewer applications.

Land use plan for rural Langley. Click image to enlarge.

The second kind of subdivision application that I see a lot of in the Township is within the Small Farms/Country Estates zone. This zone allows for 4-acre lots and, as I’ve posted about in the past, even makes the ALC uneasy as that size of lot makes it next to impossible for economically viable farming. This zone takes up a pretty big chunk of land within rural Langley and its ALR.

I was in a friend’s car the other day and was being driven through a part of the Township that was in the Small Farms/Country Estates zone. What I saw was lot after lot of what some call "McMansions". The tricky thing about these large-format houses on large lots in the Township is that many of them are within the ALR which means that their property has a lower market value than similar property outside of the ALR. This also means lower property tax than similar property outside of the ALR. Also if the owners of these larger-format houses operate “hobby farms” on their properties, they may quality for a massive property tax break as farm land in BC is assessed at a fraction of its market value. A 4-acre hobby farm only needs to produce $2,500 per year in farm revenue and can include such farm products as Christmas Trees and forage (grass).

While I support making both large and small-scale farming viable and support the tax breaks for farmer, I have to wonder if some of these larger-format house owners are gaming our farming system. I know that in Delta, they put in bylaws to prevent the further development of "McMansions" in their community. I have to wonder if parts of rural Langley are becoming estates for the rich looking for a tax break or are becoming viable small-scale farms that contribute to the sustainability of our region.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Soil Deposit and urban/rural issues in the Township

One of the interesting things about the Township of Langley is the dual nature of the community. While the community is growing rapidly along the 200th Street corridor into a very urban place, it is still very much rural at heart (at least politically.) When you look at most of the hot button issues in recent years around the schools system, overpasses, propane cannons, Glen Valley, 16th Avenue, and the ALR; they have all been rural issues. Besides the normal issues that come with any growing community that some might call classic NIMBYism, it seems that much of council’s time is spent on rural issues and urban issues might not be getting the attention needed to building a community that is accessible for all.

The latest example of the focussing on rural issues is around soil removal and deposit on private land. In 2009, a number of controversial soil deposit applications prompted council to work for the last several years on a new process for dealing with this issue. The result is a proposed by-law which will introduce a new permitting process for any major proposed soil removal or deposit. The by-law will hopefully protect Township residents, roads, and the environment from careless soil removal and deposit. You can read more information about the history and the by-law from the latest agenda of the Council Priorities Committee.

While this by-law is certainly needed, I’m concerned that in dealing with these complex rural issues council is glazing over complex urban issues around sustainable place building. Maybe instead of all this talk about merging the two Langleys, Walnut Grove, Willoughby, and Willowbrook could join the City of Langley and create an urban municipality.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Proposed Murrayville Shoppers misses the mark on pedestrian-friendly design

Neighbourhood commercial nodes play an important role in any community by providing convenient, close access to goods and services. In its ideal form a neighbourhood commercial node would contain a mix of retail, higher-density residential, and office space, but in the South of Fraser it has normally taken the form of the strip mall.

The traditional strip mall is auto-oriented with parking in the front and shops usually setback from the street. It creates an unwelcoming pedestrians and cycling environment, and a poor public realm. I fully realize the need for parking in the South of Fraser and that not every commercial site will be mixed-use, so how do we make the traditional strip mall better?

I think that Surrey has gotten it right with the introduction of the pedestrian-friendly strip mall. I posted about it on the blog Civic Surrey. In Surrey, newer neighbourhood strips malls front the street with pedestrian and cycling entrances while still including access to "hidden" parking in the back. It creates a more welcoming public realm that encourages walking and cycling while recognizing that the automobile is still the dominant form of transportation. So with the second largest municipality in Metro Vancouver embracing the walkable strip mall, you'd think that the Township of Langley would also follow.

I was a bit shocked when I looked at the plans for a new 18,650 sq. ft. Shopper Drug Mart in Murrayville. The store is moving from the central core of Murrayville to the northwest corner of Fraser Highway and 222nd Street. Interesting enough, the siting of the buildings for the proposed development are actually conducive to building a pedestrian-friendly strip mall, but instead of embracing the street, the development turns its back towards it.

Site plan for proposed Shoppers Drug Mart development. Click image to enlarge.

Proposed development turns its back towards the street creating a hostile pedestrian environment. Click image to enlarge.

The simple solution would be to include pedestrian entrances with welcoming pedestrian-friendly features like benches and windows facing the street. Bike parking would also help. The interesting thing is that a few tweaks to this plan could improve the perception of walkability in Murrayville. As it is, the new development is within easy walking distance of the Murrayville core and the hospital. It's really time that those on council demand a little better from developers to make our community more cycling and pedestrian-friendly especially with our aging popultation that will have increasing mobility challenges.

Monday, January 14, 2013

City Trail Names; Langley Committees and Commissions

With the holiday season firmly in the past, the City of Langley will be holding its first council meeting of the year tonight. The agenda is surprising light. There will be a public hearing on the proposed naming of some of the trails in the City which the Parks and Environment Advisory Committee (PEAC) worked on for a few years. You can read about the proposed names on a previous post. If there are no objections to the names, PEAC will likely work on a proposal for the remainder of the trail names this year.

On the topic of committees and commissions, Langley has a good assortment of them which include members of the general public, council, and staff. If you are ever interested in getting a taste of municipal governance and effecting even small change within your community, I highly recommend that you join a committee. They are normally annual appointments and meet monthly. The City of Langley has the following committees:

Advisory Planning Commission
Parks and Environment Advisory Committee
Public Safety Advisory Committee
Recreation, Culture and Public Art Advisory Committee
Community Day Parade Committee
Magic of Christmas Parade Committee

The Township of Langley has the following committees:

Agricultural Advisory Committee
Community Participation, Infrastructure, and Environment Advisory Committee
Community and Transportation Safety Advisory Committee
Economic Development Advisory Committee
Heritage Advisory Committee
Recreation, Culture, and Parks Advisory Committee
Seniors Advisory Committee
Youth Advisory Committee

I’ve been on the Parks and Environment Advisory Committee in the City for a few years and the thing I’ve noticed over the years is how environmental management is really part everything the city does from parks and planning, to our road network. Most people don’t know this, but these committee and commission meetings are open to the public, so why not check one out. You can learn more about the City’s or Township’s committees from their websites.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sex, Neuroscience and Walkable Urbanism: Eight Simple, Free Transport Solutions for Healthier, Wealthier Cities

A full house at last night's lecture

Last night, I attended the lecture “Sex, Neuroscience and Walkable Urbanism: Eight Simple, Free Transport Solutions for Healthier, Wealthier Cities” by Jeffrey Tumlin who is a world renowned transportation and urban planner. The lecture was hosted by the SFU City Program and TransLink.

Tumlin started the evening by saying that he believes that the City of Vancouver in particular and Metro Vancouver is one of the few regions in the world that is embracing 21st century urban design principles. Though as he is currently working in North Vancouver around the Phibbs Exchange area, which he called sad, he understands that our region still has room for improvement.

One of Tumlin’s greatest points from the whole evening was that we’ve built a transportation system and built form that is hostel to human social, emotional, and physical health. Our auto-oriented communities are killing us, making us fat, and making us unhappy. He sees that the solution is to build human-scale communities and base their built form and transportation system around walking. He also noted a bunch of facts that prove walkable cities make people happier, more social, and healthier. In fact, the point he made several times during the evening was to build communities which make walking a pleasure for everyone, all the time.

Tumlin noted that most communities and regions have vision documents or official community plans that extol the virtues of mixed-use and walkable community design, but the actual bylaws and design guidelines still active encourage auto-oriented sprawl.

The name of the lecture is based on the fact that outdoor exercise like walking to a park, to work, or to the shops releases oxytocin in our bodies which makes us happier and more trusting. Driving releases chemicals that actually makes us angry and stressed.

By the way, Tumlin points out that you don’t need Vancouver density to build a walkable community. Four-storey apartments and mixed-use buildings with ground-floor commercial do the trick, combined with a variety of other housing options.

Tumlin then went on to explain eight simply points that, if applied, will change how we design our transportation systems and communities for the better.

1. Measure what Matters
Transportation planner use service levels to measure how well a transportation system is working. More travel lanes with more free-flowing cars is a good thing when using these service levels. Besides looking at mobility, transportation planners need to focus on accessibility which is how people can get to the things and services they want by walking or other modes of travel. This thinking will result in more vibrant, walkable commercial areas and safe, welcoming residential areas. Some of the other metrics that he talked about using was retail per square foot for commercial areas and quality of life for residential areas. Planners should also ensure that they use metrics which measure if the transportation system is equitable to all people and ecological sustainable.

2/3. Transportation Models
Tumlin spent a good amount of time point out that transportation models which are currently being used to predict future travel demand are no more accurate than tarot cards. Most traffic models use out of date data and wrong assumptions. To make these models better, they need to look more closely at the effects of mixed-use and transit-oriented development, become multimodal, and capture the feedback loop of more travel lanes inducing more traffic which leads to even more congestion. His main point was that current traffic models lead to communities building sprawl and not walkable neighbourhoods: they are self-fulfilling prophecies.

4. Adopting the Right Street Design Manual
Most communities use street design manuals based on rural highway design. Rural highways become safer with wider lanes, grade-separation, and shoulder; but the opposite is true in urban areas. Urban street design suggests that you need to increase the perception of danger for motorist to make streets safer for all road users. This is a fact. His point is that communities need to adopt an urban street design manual which also includes accommodating all modes of transportation with equity, safety, and dignity.

5. Plant Trees

6/7. Price it Right: Parking and Roads
Tumlin made the point that we use market pricing everywhere to balance supply and demand except when it comes to roads and parking. For those, we use Soviet-style planning which leads to a host of issues like endless road building and endless congestion which suck billions of dollars from the economy. To eliminate congestion, only 10% of auto trips need to shift modes or disappear. Tumlin says that we should price our roads at the lowest price possible which will eliminate congestion.

When it comes to parking, Tumlin suggests that we do away with minimum parking requirement and use technology and market pricing to ensure that there are always a few empty spaces available in commercial areas. He also believes we should built “Park Once” districts which share common parking in otherwise walkable areas.

8. Create a New Vision
Tumlin says that we need to stop believing the lies from the auto industry about how driving gives us freedom and gets us sex, we need to find a new vision for our cities. Some of Tumlin’s suggestions include:
-Looking at meeting human needs at a human scale
-Making walking a pleasure everywhere for everyone
-Making cycling comfortable for all ages with separated and off-street bike lanes
-Meeting the needs of daily life by making them a walk away
-Making transit fast, frequent, reliable and dignified
-Ensuring that everyone knows and loves their neighbourhood
-Making sure food and energy are local
-Building communities where social networks are fostered
-Building ubiquitous beauty in our urban fabric

I enjoy these lectures, but I always get disappointed after leaving. I wish our elected officials would attend these lectures. I wonder what changes we would see if the Ministry of Transportation or old-time Councillors listened to these lectures and embraced these ideas.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Changes in housing values in Langley

Last week, the BC Assessment Authority released the values of the typical home by housing type for the whole province. The following information compares the change in value over the last year in Langley.

City of Langley (Single Family House)
July 1, 2011
July 1, 2012

City of Langley (Apartment)
July 1, 2011
July 1, 2012

City of Langley (Townhouse)
July 1, 2011
July 1, 2012

Township of Langley (Single Family House)
July 1, 2011
July 1, 2012

Township of Langley (Apartment)
July 1, 2011
July 1, 2012

Township of Langley (Townhouse)
July 1, 2011
July 1, 2012

As has been reported widely, the housing market in the region has started to stabilize and correct. The Township and the City of Langley didn’t see much change in the value of housing, but it is interesting to notice the changes in both communities. While single family housing remained stable in both municipalities, multifamily housing took a bit of a hit in the City of Langley. While I can only speculate as to why there was a dip in the City, I also had a look at the change in values in New Westminster.

New Westminster, like the City of Langley, was a historical centre and ran into hard times in the late 20th century, but started to revitalize in the 21st century (more so than the City of Langley.) Between 2011 and 2012, New Westminster generally saw a marginal increase in housing values with a typical 3 bedroom high-rise apartment changing in value from $372,000 to $392,000; an increase of 5.4%. I have to wonder if rapid transit in New Westminster helped keep the value of apartments in that community. If rapid transit was provided in the City of Langley, would we see the same results?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

City to Update Master Transportation Plan

In November, I posted that the City of Langley is working on two major plans in 2013. One is the Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan and the other is the Master Transportation Plan. I received the following press release from the City.

The City of Langley is updating its Master Transportation Plan and will be hosting the first Public Open House on this update. The Master Transportation Plan is a multi-modal transportation strategy that will guide the development of the City’s roadway network, transit infrastructure, bicycle facilities and pedestrian systems over the next 25 years. The Master Transportation Plan update will provide a number of opportunities for residents to provide feedback, including public events, a survey, and discussions with stakeholders.

The first Open House will give residents the ability to provide input and feedback on issues and opportunities with the current road, transit, walking and cycling networks in Langley City. Residents will be able to engage with City staff and consultants, and review and provide feedback on a series of panel boards that highlight current transportation conditions in the City of Langley.

Please join us on the Main Floor Lobby of City Hall, 20399 Douglas Crescent, on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. to share in this discussion.

As I stated back in November, I hope that the Master Transportation Plan and Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan will work together especially when it comes to the intersection of trails, greenways, cycling, and walking. For example, there is no north-south greenway in the City and such a greenway would not only improve our parks system, but also provide a great off-street cycling and walking connection that could even tie into the Township’s trail network. Sadly I won’t be able to make this open house due to my work schedule, but I’ll try to get as much information as possible on the Master Transportation Plan update.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Activating Public Spaces in Langley

I was chatting with a friend a few weeks ago about what activates public spaces in communities; basically what makes parks, sidewalks, and shopping streets attractive places to be. When it came to shopping streets, we decided that coffee shops, cafes, and bistros are a must for activation as they provide spaces that people are drawn to and want to spend time around chatting and people watching. In Langley City, there used to be a coffee shop called Ethical Addiction at the corner of Fraser Highway and Glover Road (beginning of the one-way.) When it was open, it was always busy with people around the outside tables. It made you wanted to come to Downtown Langley, enjoy a coffee, and maybe even explore the rest of the area. When it closed down and was replaced with a sporting goods store (it is now an empty storefront), the life around that area died. Another good example would be the coffee shops and bistros in Fort Langley along Glover Road that make that area a great public space. Of course putting in a coffee shop doesn’t mean instant success. The public space should be in areas where there is the potential for higher-volumes of people and have good visibility to the surrounding area. I think that’s why I’m drawn to coffee shops at intersection and at plazas.

It was interesting because after that conversation about activating public space, I had another conversation with someone else about the casino in Downtown Langley. When the casino was first built, many thought that it would help revive Downtown Langley as people would come to the casino and explore the rest of Downtown Langley. This did not happen. Most casinos are designed to trap people inside and the Langley casino is no exception. Beside that though, the casino is also setback from the street (Glover Road and Fraser Highway) by a sea of parking that would make power centres blush. All this to say that the casino as it is current designed does more to kill public space in Downtown Langley than activate it. What's done is done, but the casino could have been designed better. For starters, I would have required the building to front both Glover Road and Fraser Highway. The parking would be in the back. I would have also required some storefront retail and would have encouraged a street-facing coffee shop and/or bistro that was also accessible from the casino/hotel. Those simple changes would have created a very different and active public space. Sadly, I think it will be some time before the current parking lot around the casino gets developed into something more pedestrian friendly that draws people into Downtown Langley.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Thoughts on the Carvolth Exchange and Port Mann Express Bus

It has been about a month since the Carvolth Exchange opened and the new bus service over the Port Mann Bridge between the exchange and Braid SkyTrain Station started. I’ve had the opportunity to take the new express bus service as have some of my friends. The general agreement is that from the moment you get on the bus to the moment you get to Downtown Vancouver is about an hour which is a major improvement over the past, and that the service is cost and time competitive with the new jumbo-sized Highway 1.

There are a few issues that I see with the Carvolth Exchange. The general design for rapid transit in the region has been to avoid park and ride lots. TransLink actually has a policy of not building park and ride lots at SkyTrain stations. A parking lot is dead space whether it is for transit or a strip mall. Park and ride surface parking lots can really limit transit-oriented development potential and create a poor public realm. Just talk to Calgary about their issues with connecting transit and land-use. It is also interesting to note that the parking lot at Scott Road SkyTrain may be turning into a transit-oriented development in the future. Of course as Willoughby develops, I can imagine that the Carvolth Exchange park and ride lot will be developed into something more productive.

There are other issues with the express bus service. First, the bus service is not frequent enough outside of peak periods and more importantly does not connect into Surrey which is the destination of the majority of inter-municipal Langley trips. Also, the bus service does not go into Walnut Grove or Willoughby which is a key requirement for giving people true transportation choice. If you are lucky enough to have bus service in Walnut Grove or Willoughby, you may have to wait up to 30 minutes for your bus to Carvolth Exchange and then wait another 30 minutes for the express bus to Braid SkyTrain Station. The reality is that you need to drive to Carvolth Exchange for the express bus to be a viable service and to me that is not good transit planning. While giving people the option to drive to a rapid transit station is certainly good, the main goal of transit should be to give people a viable option to avoid driving altogether. Of course the real reason why the express bus service does not go into Surrey, Walnut Grove or Willoughby is because TransLink doesn’t have the cash. I can only hope that if the funding situation is ever resolved with TransLink, TransLink will transform the Port Mann express bus into a proper rapid transit-type service.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

North East Gordon Neighbourhood Update

One of the exciting things for me in the Township of Langley is the gradual transformation of Willoughby. When Willoughby was originally planned, it was basically an area of urban residential, business parks, and a few commercial nodes for strip malls. As the Willoughby has built out and neighbourhood plans been approved, it has become more mixed-use and pedestrian-friendly.

Some of the area plans that could transform Willoughby into a complete community are the proposed high street along 86th Avenue between 200th Street and 208th Street, the proposed Willoughby Town Centre near 80th Avenue and 208th Street, and now the proposed update to the North East Gordon Neighbourhood plan which is also along 208th Street. What I find interesting is that Township Council’s idea was to make 200th Street the major higher-density, mixed-use corridor for the community, but in reality it has turned into a big highway with strip malls and lower-density housing. 208th Street is actually become the urban corridor for Willoughby and is closer to the vision once held for 200th Street.

Original Plan for North East Gordon Neighbourhood in Willoughby. Click Image to Enlarge.

The latest neighbourhood to see a potential update is the North East Gordon Neighbourhood. The update process started back in 2009 and included a design charrette with the community. What came out of that process was a neighbourhood plan that includes a variety of housing options from single-family housing, to row houses, townhouses, and apartments. The preferred plan also includes live-work units and a mixed-use commercial node around 72nd Avenue and 208th Street. It looks like people learned from the commercial node at 72nd Avenue and 200th Street where only one corner turned out pedestrian-friendly (two of the corners are gas stations and another is a strip mall.) The proposed plan for the commercial node around 72nd Avenue and 208th Street will require a minimum of three storey commercial buildings with ground floor retail and will not allow gas stations.

Proposed Plan for North East Gordon Neighbourhood in Willoughby. Click Image to Enlarge.

The plan went to an open house in November 2012 and will likely appear on Council’s agenda for adoption this year. The Township has setup a section on their website with more information about the proposed plan for North East Gordon.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Local government funding in the 21st Century

One of the major challenges facing local government is the lack of revenue which funds many services and programs that we rely on. Over the years, the population of Canada has become more urbanized. A full 1/3 of Canadians live in the Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver regions. In BC, 86% of us live in urban areas. Though as the population has become more urbanize, federal and provincial governments have downloaded many responsibilities to local government without giving local government new funding tools. The staple tax for local government since the founding of Canada has been property tax.

Back in late November, Metro Vancouver hosted a Regional Finance Symposium with keynote speaker Gord Hume who wrote the book “Taking Back Our Cities”. Hume pointed out that local government and cities are becoming the heart of the 21st century economy (beside the US and China, the top 50 cities in the world make the largest economy). Yet in Canada, local government relies on "a 17th century tax system with a 19th century governance model." In Canada, local government receives revenue primarily through property tax which according to Hume is regressive and doesn’t tax productive economic values. In Canada, property tax represented 3.5% of GDP in 2012 according to OECD with only France and the UK that were higher. Because of the challenges with property tax, most local governments have been reluctant to drastically increase property tax revenue which has created an infrastructure funding deficit that will only continue to grow. According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities:

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

So what are some solutions to address the revenue challenges of local government that recognizes its importance in the 21st Century world economy? One of the solutions to addressing the revenue challenge is to have a stable federal funding program to pay for municipal infrastructure like water lines, sewer mains, and public transit. One of the other revenue solutions could be to allow local government to capture a position of sale tax either through the creation of a new sales tax or the reallocation of sales tax. For example, Saskatchewan now shares 1 cent of its PST with local government. There is also board support for regional 1% or penny sales tax in many parts of US that is used to pay for municipal infrastructure. In the US, 34 states now allow cities to charge their own local sales tax. That concept could be imported to Canada.

In Metro Vancouver the mayors have been pushing the Province to allow new funding tools to help pay for transit, but so far the Province has been reluctant to entertain that idea insisting that they rely on property tax. Is the Province still stuck in the 19th Century and will its policies hold back the economic growth of our region? Metro Vancouver will be launching a campaign later this year to align with the Provincial election to hopefully make local government issues an election issue. I’ll certainly be following that.