Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cycling Signage in the Township

Over the past several years, the Township of Langley has ramped up its effort to invest in cycling infrastructure and bring more visibility to cycling. The Township adopted its ultimate cycling network plan last summer, and is now in the process of putting together an infrastructure plan to implement the network. One of the first orders of business was to adopt a consistent cycling route signage strategy.

The Township of Langley adopted the same signage as Surrey, but separated the cycling symbol from the directional arrows for more flexibility. While Surrey uses a continue-forward arrow on their signage, the Township of Langley chose not to. This resulted in a good chunk of the new signage in the Township being half the size and less visible than the Surrey signage. The next time you are on 96th Avenue, see if you can spot the cycling route signage.

Surrey Cycling Network Sign

The Greater Langley Cycling Coalition asked if the Township of Langley could install directional arrows on all of the new cycling network signage that the Township has installed and install directional arrows on all future cycling network signage. I'm happy to report that the Township has agreed and by the end of the summer, all recently installed signage and future signage will be the same size, and have the same feel as the signage in Surrey.

I’m very happy that the Township of Langley has decided to embrace the Surrey cycling network signage standard and I hope that the City of Langley will be the next to adopt this standard as they work on their master transportation plan update.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Viable Transit Options in Langley: Taking the new Port Mann RapidBus

Over the last several days, I have been experimenting with different public transit routes from my home in Langley City to my work near the Olympic Village in Vancouver. Since the new 555 RapidBus service was introduced across the Port Mann Bridge in December, I thought it would be time to reevaluate transit routes. There are three viable routes I can take between my place and my work during peak periods (There are other routes, but the time to get between home and work would take longer than 2 hours.)

The first route option is to take the 502 along Fraser Highway to King George SkyTrain Station, catch the Expo Line to Main Street, and walk to my work. Door to door travel time is about 1h30 in the morning and 1h50 in the afternoon. While this option requires the least amount of transfers and is generally the fastest route most times of the day, congestion along Fraser Highway between King George and 152nd Street during afternoon peak period slows things right down. It is bad that there isn’t a bus lane along that section of Fraser Highway when you considered the amount of people that transit carries along the corridor. I know Fraser Highway will be widened in that area, but transit will still not be prioritized. Transportation planners need to stop thinking about how to best move vehicles and start thinking about how to best move people.

The second route option is to walk to Langley Centre and take the 595 to the West Coast Express, catch the West Coast Express into Waterfront Station, than take the Canada Line to Olympic Village Station. Door to door travel time is up to 2 hours. While this route is the most comfortable and includes washrooms on the train, it can take the most amount of time.

The third option is to walk to Langley Centre and take the 595 to Carvolth Exchange, catch the 555 RapidBus to Braid Station, take the Millennium Line to VCC-Clark, than transfer to the 84 and get off near my work. Door to door travel time is 1h20 if I make all the connection and can increase to 1h40 if I miss a connection. Interesting enough, though I have to make 3 transfers, this route is actually the fastest option during peak periods. During the rest of the day, taking 502 is the best option. Taking the 555 now for a few days, I’m very happy to report that the bus is always full. I can see how this is a new valuable service for people who live in Walnut Grove. While it takes about the same time for people who work right in downtown Vancouver as the West Coast Express, the new 555 RapidBus runs more often and can shave about 20 minutes off connecting into the SkyTrain network for access to other parts of the region.

If you have a car and can drive to Carvolth Exchange, you actually have many viable options to get to other parts of the region on transit. The main issue is that there is no viable transit options into areas like Walnut Grove; all trips must still start in a car. The other main issue is that transit service is still sub-standard for connections into Surrey; where the majority of trips from Langley end up.

I’ll continue to take the 502 and SkyTrain as it requires the least amount of transfers and, besides afternoon peak periods, can take the least amount of time. I’m still looking forward to the new 503 RapidBus service along Fraser Highway that TransLink plans to introduce later this year.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

TransLink Bus Service Optimization Plan: Public Feedback

In November of last year, I posted about TransLink’s plan to be more aggressive with the optimization of bus service in the region. TransLink was already in the process of shifting service hours away from less busy routes to busier routes, but kicked things into high gear as a result of the recommendations of the TransLink Commissioner and an audit by the Provincial government. An example of optimization at work is the proposal for Aldergrove to get better bus service, but Salmon River/Uplands in Langley to lose bus service. I think that the process of optimization is good, but the key to making our region truly livable will be to increase spending on transit to increase overall service.

Due to the proposed 2013/14 service optimization plans which you can read about on TransLink’s website, the agency held a series of public consultation events from mid-November to mid-December. The full results of the public consultation are available online. The following changes have been proposed to the service optimization plan due to the feedback TransLink has received:

-C1/C2: an alternate proposal was developed in consultation with community groups in Burnaby Heights, retaining the current route and reducing frequencies during off-peak periods only
-211: with a range of feedback raised over the proposed removal of the Fairway Drive loop, TransLink has chosen to retain the existing route instead
-C48 & C49: a revised proposal was created to ensure service coverage in Thornhill, Ruskin and Whonnock is maintained, leaving the C49 unchanged and improving the usefulness of the C48 with a connection to West Coast Express and extension via McClure Drive in Albion

It was interesting to see that there was strong support for many of the changes TransLink has proposed to the bus network. I was surprised that nothing changed to the plan for the Tri-Cities area as there was strong opposition to many of the cuts that TransLink plans to make in that area.

The good news story is that even with service optimization, TransLink ridership continues to grow at a rate faster than population growth.

Another interesting note is that TransLink had 281 people submit feedback at real-life open houses and 532 people submit feedback online. It seems to me that online public consultation is coming of age. I hope TransLink continues to work at making the online experience more bidirectional. For example, it would be good to be able to live chat with someone at TransLink when submitting feedback on their plans.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Northeast Gordon Estate Neighbourhood Plan: Public Consultation Results

Earlier in January, I posted about how the Township of Langley is updating the Northeast Gordon Estate Neighbourhood Plan and how 208th Street may become a high-density, transit-friendly corridor. The proposed changes to the Northeast Gordon Estate Neighbourhood Plan include creating two walkable centres; one at 207 Street and 68 Avenue and one at 208 Street and 72 Avenue. These two nodes would be linked by a north/south off-street greenway that would run through the middle of the neighbourhood. There would also be a greenway along 208th Street, 72nd Avenue, and 70th Avenue. The original plan for the neighbourhood was adopted in 2006 and would not have resulted in the same type of walkable and transit-friendly community that this proposed updated plan calls for. I have to wonder if the Sustainability Charter adopted by the Township about five years ago is responsible for slowly shifting how the Township plans its neighbourhoods. The Township recently posted the results of the public consultations about the proposed update to the plan.

When it came to density, there was a balance of opinion. Some people wanted to see more density and others did not. The updated neighbourhood plan proposes to build the highest-density around the two walkable nodes with density stepping down as you move away from the nodes. The neighbourhood plan will include a mix of all housing types.

One of the other results from the public consultations was that there should be more accessible and seniors-friendly housing. This type of housing is called adaptable housing and includes things such as lowering the height of light switches, installing wider doors, and providing in-wall support to allow the installation of handrails in bathrooms at a later date. Township Staff is recommending that 5% of single-family housing be adaptable and 10% of apartments. From what I’ve been told, building adaptable housing only adds a few hundred dollars to the total cost of new home construction. To me, it makes sense to build a higher portion of adaptable housing considering our aging demographics.

As this is Metro Vancouver, there were concerns about the preservation of views. Apparently this updated plan includes previsions to ensure that view corridors are maintained. Public art was also brought up as a topic and the Township is working on developing a public art policy. This is good news as public arts seems to be lacking in the Township.

When it comes to transportation, the plan includes traffic calming measures such as reduced road widths and road pinches at intersections. The plan will also encourage the placement of off-street parking in the back of buildings which will allow for more on-street parking. Of course, the walkable nodes will also set the groundwork in place for increasing transit service.

I look forward to seeing this neighbourhood plan being adopted in the Township and I hope that the Township sticks to its guns requiring the creation of the walkable nodes. The next step for the updated plan is for Township Council to have a first and second reading to allow for the scheduling of an official public hearing.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Township of Langley Online Budget Simulator

I was browsing the Township of Langley's website and came across an interesting tool that they’ve posted online. The Township’s Budget Simulator allows you to set some spending priorities for items such as protective services, environmental protection, and transportation management; all while balancing a $350 million budget. Beside the budget simulator, there are a series of questions that you can answer on “Top of Mind” issues. The simulator and questionnaire can be submitted to the Township. I have no doubt that this will be used to shape future budgets in the Township.

I think the simulator is a great tool and a great first attempt at online citizen engagement. I do feel that the tool could have a few more features. For example, the simulator doesn’t allow you to cut or increase spending on core Township services, it only seems to include “extras”. Also, the tool doesn’t give you the ability to adjust taxation revenue. While I know the simulator shouldn’t become overly complex, I think it would be useful if it had a few more general expense items and allowed you to adjust taxation revenue amounts. At the end of the day, I have to give the Township credit for trying out innovative ways to engage with its citizens. I hope that an improved version of this tool comes back in future years and that the Township continues to find new ways of providing two-way communication and engagement with its citizens.

I remember that TransLink did a similar online process around its budget to see if people would be willing to pay more money for improved transit service. The results showed that people would tax themselves more to get more service. I think that when people do simulators like one the Township has made available, they see that local governments aren’t rolling in money and that it cost money to improve service. In my experience, it seems that people prefer improving service to cutting service.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

ICBC and City of Langley at odds over information access

According to a staff report submitted at the City's last council meeting, ICBC and the City of Langley are at odds when it comes to accessing vehicle ownership information. City of Langley Bylaw Enforcement used to provide vehicle license plate information to ICBC, who would then provide vehicle ownership information as part of routine bylaw enforcement. According to the City, this information stopped following from ICBC last fall. ICBC apparently changed their policy to only provide vehicle ownership information after a violation ticket has been issued by the City. The problem for the City is that apparently they can’t issue some tickets until they have ownership information which they used to obtain from ICBC. This has left the City in a catch 22. According to the staff report, it has impacted the ability of Bylaw Enforcement especially with “instances of noise violations or vehicles blocking driveways where the officers attempt to contact the vehicle owner to resolve the issue immediately”.

The report notes that this change in policy is a result of ICBC reinterpreting a section of BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPA). Langley City isn’t the only municipality in BC that is in this situation. The City of New Westminster, the District of West Vancouver and the Corporation of Delta are some of the other municipalities facing the same challenge with ICBC.

According to the staff report, the City of Langley has a standard municipal contract with ICBC that allows for disclosure of vehicle ownership information to:
-Collecting a debt or fine
-Complying with bylaws
-Enforcing parking violations

In the report, City of Langley lawyers “expressed the opinion that central to the problem is an erroneous [re]interpretation” of the FOIPA and “that this may constitute breach of contract, but that, given that the relationship with ICBC is important and these contracts come up for renewal every three years, it may be prudent to take a conciliatory position at the early stages of dealing with the impasse.”

As this change in policy from ICBC is impacting the ability of the City of Langley and other municipalities in BC to enforce bylaws, the City of Langley is asking the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to work with ICBC in an effort to resolve this issue. In the meantime, it looks like it will be a lot harder to enforce some bylaws in the City.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thoughts on Langley City's proposed budget and policing costs

An overview of the City of Langley's 2013 – 2017 Financial Plan which includes the 2013 operating and capital budgets were presented at last night’s council meeting. For more information on some of the major capital items in this year’s proposed budget, I suggest that you check out a previous post I wrote on the topic.

The City’s total proposed operating budget for 2013 is $38.1 million with a projected increase in revenue of about 1.5% which is less than the rate of inflation. Like other municipalities, policing is the largest item ($10.1 million) in the operating budget accounting for 26.4% of this budget. In the Township of Langley, policing costs consumes 23% of their budget. While policing is certainly needed, I feel that the slow downloading of policing costs over the years to local government is hurting the ability of municipalities to provide other core services like great public spaces, recreation, water, and sewer services. If policing is to become an ever increasing part of local government budgets, new funding tools should be available like a local sales tax that could be offset by a reduced federal sales tax to be able to pay for these increasing costs. Funding policing with property tax is certainly not sustainable. To put things into perspective, the total proposed 2013 capital budget for the City of Langley is $10.5 million. Imagine all the other projects the City could complete (like replacing the sidewalks that are falling apart in Downtown Langley) if changes were made to how policing is funded. Of course in other parts of the world, police departments have also had to look at innovative ways of policing that don’t increase head count. Maybe that is something we should more aggressively be demanding of departments in Canada as well.

In the City of Langley, currently 52% of total property tax is received from residential properties. The City is working on shifting the split of property tax paid toward business properties to be more in line with Metro Vancouver averages.

More information on the financial plan is available in this week’s council package.

February 20th: I've updated the budget numbers as I used some incorrect information.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A tour of walkability in Langley

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of giving Vancouver tweeter @neil21 a tour of some of the walkable areas in Langley. He also has a blog, Stroad to Boulevard, where he explores street metrics and there influence on place making and urban design.

I’m always impressed by Vancouverites that comes out to Langley because I know too many people in Vancouver whose world ends at Boundary Road. I find it amusing when people for Vancouver realize there are walkable, complete communities in the South of Fraser.

Our tour started with a walk around Downtown Langley in the City of Langley. The key theme from the City of Langley walking tour was that the community is in transition as the historic walkable core and industrial areas gets redeveloped into a larger walkable, complete community. We also drove through the Langley Bypass which is probably the most hostile, anti-pedestrian area in our region. Neil noted that the Langley Bypass is what most people think of when they think of the South of Fraser. I told him that while the City of Langley is complicit in creating the poor urban form on the Bypass, the Ministry of Transportation requires this form of development and the province share in the blame for shaping the built form in the area.

Our next stop was in Fort Langley which is another walkable community in the South of Fraser. While Neil was generally impressed with the area including the variety of housing stock available in Bedford Landing, he noted the tackiness of the faux-historical facades that exist in the village saying that it made the place look like a tourist trap. I couldn’t agree more and while the truly historic buildings in Fort Langley should be preserved, newer building shouldn’t pretend to be historic.

After Fort Langley, we drove through Walnut Grove. The general impression was that there was a missed opportunity to create a complete community as Walnut Grove is missing walkable, mixed-use commercial nodes.

The final part of the tour was in Willoughby where I pointed out development projects like Yorkson Creek which include higher-density housing, the mixed-use Willoughby Town Centre, and the proposal for creating a high street near the new Carvolth Park and Ride. Neil seemed impressed with the potential for walkability in this part of Langley, but questioned if instead of building a parking lot at the Carvolth Exchange, if it should have been built as a transit-oriented development from the get-go.

It is always fun giving people a tour of Langley and opening their eyes to the urbanity in other part of our region.

Friday, February 15, 2013

More on Pocket Neighbourhoods

Earlier this week, I posted about pocket neighbourhoods as an alternative to the typical single-family neighbourhood that you see today in Langley. The following video is from a pocket neighbourhood developed in Whidbey Island in Washington State. Ross Chapin, who is a pocket neighbourhood architect, gives an overview of the concept and a tour of a typical house in the project.

The one thing that struck me was the smaller scale of the houses. I actually lived in a house when I was growing up that was built during World War II. The pocket-neighbourhood sized house featured in the video reminded me of that place. While tiny by even today’s compact-lot-sized-house standards, it was enough room for a family of four. Beside being an alternative to typical single-family neighbourhood design, I think it would also be a good alternative to mobile home parks. A pocket neighbourhood would provide the similar community feel of a mobile home park, and reasonably priced housing that doesn’t naturally depreciate in value.

The pocket neighbourhood concept with row housings. Source: Erin Upham

I found a master's thesis project by Erin Upham from the University of Oregon’s Department of Architecture that shows that the pocket neighbourhood design can be scaled to rowhousing. Upham also found that compared to typically designed single-family neighbourhoods, the pocket neighbourhood concept can yield a 1.5 to 12 times increase in density that you wouldn’t even notice. This would result in 7 to 12 units per acre when pocket neighbourhoods are used in place of typical signal-family housing, and 20 units per acre when built with row housing. If pocket neighbourhoods were clusters around higher-density, mixed-use nodes and/or corridor, they would provide the perfect density to build a transit oriented community (a recommendation in the Township's Housing Action Plan) that won’t feel like Vancouver.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Township's Housing Action Plan

As I mentioned yesterday, the Township of Langley has been working on a housing strategy for the past several years. The development of the strategy is a requirement of Metro Vancouver's Regional Growth Strategy. Township council was presented with a draft copy of the strategy last week. The strategy called the Housing Action Plan aims to look at how the Township can be an inclusive community that includes housing options from emergency shelters, transition & supportive housing, and social housing to market rental housing and home ownership. The Action Plan identified some major gaps in housing options in the Township today including:

Gap: Lack of rental housing close to transit, jobs and services
This is a particular issue for students, seniors and people who are reliant on transit to get to work. Employers noted that the lack of transit affects some businesses’ recruiting ability, especially for those located in business parks, which tend to be located at a distance from transit stops. The lack of rental housing options is equally challenging for modest income households, who neither qualify for government rental supplements nor the purchase of a home.

Gap: Lack of a variety of affordable homeownership options
This is not an issue unique to Langley Township, but it is particularly important in a family–friendly municipality. The Township’s Sustainability Charter speaks directly to this though the goal of developing livable and vibrant communities with flexible, affordable and mixed housing options. The wider the choice of housing types and sizes, the more options are available for homeownership.

Gap: Lack of housing for people with special needs
The Township has little transitional and affordable supportive housing for special needs groups, including youth-at-risk of becoming homeless, low fixed income seniors, and mental health clients. Service providers working with at-risk clients who qualify for rent supplements indicate that it is very difficult to find market rental housing as there is very little turnover in the existing supply.

Gap: Limited supply of social housing for seniors and families
Relative to neighbouring municipalities, Langley Township has very little subsidized family or seniors housing. Less than 1% of all dwellings are subsidized in the Township. In the City of Langley, this figure is 9%; in Coquitlam, it is almost 5%

In order to support a diversity of housing options, the Plan makes some recommendations. The first set of recommendations involves updating bylaws and dedicating staff resources to support the implementation and monitor of the Housing Action Plan. This would include generating a list of current non-market housing and market rental housing in the community. It would also include ensuring that all new neighbourhood plans supports a variety of inclusive housing options.

When it comes to marketing housing, the Plan recommends that the Township continues to support building a mix of housing types with a target of 30-50% of all new housing being medium or high density. The Plan also recommends that the Township encourage green construction methods that reduce energy use and environmental impact.

For market rental housing, the Plan recommends that the Township increases the supply of rental housing by supporting the construction of mixed-use buildings in walkable town centres where transit is available. One of the first steps for the Township will be to get a walkable town centre with frequent transit. To be honest, I think Aldergrove would be the only community that meets the metric today. Building a walkable town centre with transit will only happen when TransLink gets fully funded. This requires the support of the province.

The Plan also supports secondary suites. Recognizing that most home owners aren’t going to create “legal suites”, the Plan supports introducing health and life safety standards as an alternative to rigid building code requirements. It also recommends capturing the full cost of utility usage. This is something that I have recommended in the past. In fact, the default assumption should be that all new houses with a basement entrance will contain a secondary suite and require that these places be secondary suite ready from day one.

When it comes to non-market housing, the Action Plan recommends the development of new housing options and the regeneration of older non-market housing. The biggest challenge of course is funding. It is a real shame that the federal government stop providing funding for a national non-market housing strategy in the early 1990s. This dumped the responsibility to the Provinces which dumped the responsibility of providing non-market housing to local government. Without sufficient funding, the availability of non-market housing in Canada has become a national embarrassment.

While the Housing Action Plan notes that funding is needed from other orders of government, it also recommends using innovative local funding options. One option is to create an Affordable Housing Reserve Fund that developers could contribute to as a required “community amenity” in new projects. The Township could also provide density bonuses to developers in exchange for non-market housing units in new housing projects.

The whole Housing Action Plan is about 30 pages and worth the read. The next step for the Township will be to adopt the Plan and move forward on developing policies that support a diversity of housing options in the community.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pocket Neighbourhoods: an affordable housing option for Langley?

Example Pocket Neighbourhood. Source:

The Township of Langley has been developing an affordable housing action plan over the last few years. While I’ll likely talk more about the plan on a future post, there is a new idea about creating affordable and community-oriented housing called a Pocket Neighbourhood that has been getting some traction. A Pocket Neighbourhood clusters about a dozen smaller sized single-family houses around a common public space. These pocket neighbourhoods prioritize people and deemphasize the auto. In fact, Pocket Neighbourhoods are link to other parts of the community via a trail systems with housing and the common public space oriented along that trail system. Because a Pocket Neighbourhood uses smaller-size houses than typical, it provides more cost-effective housing options than the typical single-family housing development. This form of housing contributes to the diversity of housing options in a community.

The Township of Langley has a goal in the Willoughby Community Plan to provide housing types as follows: approximately 20% single family, 5% row housing, 25% townhouses, and 50% apartments. I could see Pocket Neighbourhoods being used as a replacement for the typically designed single-family and townhouse area. Of course, the key is still to ensure that there is a sufficient amount of higher-density housing options and a mix of uses to promote an overall transit and pedestrian-friendly community.

Early post-automobile suburban neighbourhood design; Radburn, New Jersey. Source:

The one thing that struck me about the Pocket Neighbourhood idea is that it really isn’t a new idea at all. Traditional urban design clustered larger buildings around squares and grand parks. The earliest examples of suburban development patterns in North America were an adaptation of the Garden City idea which was very generally to group buildings around picturesque green space. In fact even with the introduction of the automobile, early suburban design focused on fronting housing and providing connectivity along pedestrian and transit corridors. The automobile was hidden in the back and its network connectivity was limited. The Pocket Neighbourhood is just a smaller-scale version of these very traditional design ideals. The key theme seems to be to focus on creating well connected, people-friendly spaces.

For more information about Pocket Neighbourhoods, I suggest that you check out the website PocketNeighborhoods that is completely devoted to the concept.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Port Metro Vancouver - Terminal Two: Project Definition Consultation

Since June 2011, I have participated in a series of stakeholder and public consultations on the proposed expansion of Port Metro Vancouver’s terminal facility in Delta. The proposed 190 hectare expansion of the facility known as Roberts Bank Terminal Two will add 2.4 million TEU of container handling capacity to the port by 2024. A project of this magnitude will have positive and negative social, economic, and environmental impacts on our region.

In October of last year, Port Metro Vancouver presented some preliminary information about the project and its effects to solicit feedback from the community. The results of the feedback have been summarized and a report is available to download from Port Metro Vancouver’s website. The key themes that the Port heard through the consultations where:

Current and Future Impacts from Port Facilities:
At all stakeholder meetings, participants expressed concern about the impacts of existing port facilities at Roberts Bank to current and future air quality, noise and light pollution as well as to birds, fish and agricultural land. Participants asked that Port Metro Vancouver responsibly balance environmental, social and economic needs during project planning for the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project.

Project Need and Justification:
Participants questioned the accuracy of Port Metro Vancouver’s demand forecasts and justification for additional container capacity on the west coast of Canada. Some participants expressed interest in seeing additional capacity built in Prince Rupert or the use of short-sea-shipping as an alternative to building a new terminal. Others were interested in knowing whether current demand forecasts accounted for changes in shipping patterns following the opening of the recently expanded Panama Canal.

Project Components:
Participants asked for more information about the location, orientation and layout of the new terminal and the location of the intermodal yard.

Compensation and Mitigation:
Participants expressed concern about the loss of agricultural land that could result from the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project and were interested in knowing more about Port Metro Vancouver’s plan for mitigation, including potential locations for habitat banking opportunities.

Requests for More Information:
Participants expressed interest in having more information about the project, including having access to various project documents and studies and additional details about the environmental assessment process and baseline field studies currently underway.

Road and Rail Traffic:
Participants expressed concern about the potential increase in road and rail traffic as a result of the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project and asked that Port Metro Vancouver review options for improving the efficiency of container trucks to reduce the number of empty truck trips and eliminate unnecessary trips throughout Metro Vancouver.

Community Legacy Benefits:
Participants were interested in potential community benefits, including the possibilities for a cycling/pedestrian overpass, improvements to transit and contributions to the trail system on the foreshore at Roberts Bank.

One of the interesting key themes for me was potential community legacy benefits as a result of port expansion. Instead of asking for more roads, participants asked if the Port would contribute to expanding pedestrian, cycling, and transit facilities in the region. Our region if finally understanding that your need a multimodal transportation system to mitigate the effects of congestion including the increased traffic caused by the port.

Another key theme from the public consultations was to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The majority of participants thought that the Port should minimize locating any Port facilities on farm land. Where the Port does impact the ALR, participants strongly agreed that the Port should improve existing agricultural land capability to mitigate the impact.

When asked about potential environmental impacts caused by port expansion, consultation participants almost unanimous supported protecting the marine ecosystems, terrestrial wildlife and vegetation. There was also strong support to study the impact of port expansion on noise, vibration, light pollution, air quality, energy use, and GHG emissions.

The next series of public consultations will focus on the pre-design elements of the project and its impact on the region based on feedback from this round of consultations.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

0.5% Regional Sales Tax to Pay for Transit?

If you haven’t heard already, TransLink Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation sent an open letter to the Minister of Transportation, Mary Polak, on January 31st with a new list of potential funding sources to pay for much need transit improvement projects in our region. One of the funding sources that the mayors have proposed is a 0.5% regional sale tax for Metro Vancouver. According to an article in the Surrey North Delta Leader, that tax could generate $250 million per year in new revenue for transit.

Sales taxes is actually a pretty good way to fund transit projects as it will generate more money when the economy is good and less when the economy is not doing so hot. It is also naturally linked with inflation, so the mayors’ wouldn’t have to be coming to the table every year asking for more money.

Another short-term funding source that the mayors want to tap is a $38 vehicle levy which would generate $50 million per year in revenue. Other longer-term funding sources that the mayors want to look at include road pricing and distance-based road user fees. To put things in perspective, there is around $6 billion in transit infrastructure improvements that have been identified which include the UBC and Surrey rapid transit lines. Asking for a 0.5% sales with a vehicle levy is not out-of-line.

In fact, sales tax is used all over the US to pay for transit improvement projects. Interestingly enough, people actually vote to tax themselves to pay for transit. Our neighbours in Seattle have a voter approved 0.9% sale tax to pay for transit expansion in their region.

I have to say that I’m impressed that the mayors are spending their political capital to fight for improved transit in our region. Not surprising, the province which has the authority to implement the vehicle levy and sales tax is still reluctant to give our region the tools it needs to fund transit.

Transportation Minster Mary Polak has asked for a plan on how the proposed revenue sources will be used before considering approving them according to News1130. I have to wonder if this is just stalling to make sure that transit funding doesn’t become an election issue as there are already plans on how TransLink would spend the money. It seems to me that the region’s mayors are willing to put their necks on the line to improve transit in our region, but the province still remains reluctant to let go of the purse strings.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Township of Langley Proposed 2013 Operating Budget

At the latest Township Council Priorities Meeting, a proposed draft of the 2013 – 2017 Operating Financial Plan was presented. You can read about the 2013 Capital Budget on a previous post.

To account for growth in salaries and other inflationary pressures, the financial plan assumes a yearly 2.95% increase in property tax combined with an average increase in property tax revenue of an additional 2% due to organic growth. For 2012, the proposed property tax increase is 2.79%. The total budget for 2013 is proposed to be $135 million.

When you look at the municipal operating budget, there is very little “new” spending as most of the increase in revenue goes to maintaining existing service levels. There are a few new items in this year’s budget though.

The Township plans to add one additional RCMP member in 2013, 4 in 2014, with more to follow in additional years. There is also a $1.28 million increase in RCMP policing contract costs. Policing costs are the largest budget item and now represent 23% of the Township’s budget or $31 million. Those costs seem to be spiralling upwards almost uncontrollably. It’s like provincial health costs, everyone knows that something needs to change, but there seem to be a reluctant to change anything. While it is easy to blame the federal government for everything, they have placed more funding responsibility for policing on local government over the years in an effort to balance the federal budget. To put policing costs into perceptive, fire services are budgeted at $15 million for 2013.

Besides general government, the next biggest budget items are transportation, and recreation and cultural. The transportation budget for 2013 includes a increase of $500,000 to top up the road paving reserve fund. I did note that there has been a $200,000 reduction for “Planted Area Maintenance” in the operating budget for transportation and a general reduction for this line item in other budgets as well. I wonder if less maintenance on planet boulevards and other planted areas maintained by the Township will result in uglier streets and an uglier community. While not in the 2013 budget, the 2014 budget includes $205,300 to pay for the operating costs of the proposed $35.5 million Aldergrove Community Centre.

Other new operating spending in 2013 includes contributing around $90,000 to the Fire Department Vehicle Replacement Reserve Fund and an additional $500,000 to the general Capital Infrastructure Reserve Fund.

Monday, February 4, 2013

First Look: $35.5 million Aldergrove Community Centre

Since the early 1990s, the Township of Langley has identified building an indoor pool as a long-term priority in Aldergrove. This was reconfirmed over various updates to the Township’s long-range recreation master plans. Planning for the indoor pool for Aldergrove started in earnest beginning in 2007, when the Township commissioned a study to get more detailed information on what should be included in a new aquatics centre.

The original plan was to construct the new aquatics centre next to the Aldergrove Kinsmen Community Centre, but in 2010 that plan shifted to building the facility on the former Aldergrove Elementary School site. This would tie in with the new Aldergrove Core Area Plan as a tool to help revitalize the area. The new aquatics centre would include the current services of Aldergrove Kinsmen Community Centre which would be decommissioned. A further study was commissioned to see if it made sense to move the Aldergrove Community Arena to the Aldergrove Elementary School site as well. The arena has less than a decade of useful life left and a triple-bottom line analysis from the study found that it made sense to relocate the rink. One of the main environmental features of the proposed co-location would be that the heat generated from creating ice would be used to heat the pools.

In September 2012, the Aldergrove Community Centre Standing Committee was established. The Standing Committee was formed to:

1. To guide the public consultation process;
2. Represent the community regarding the project; and
3. Be a fact finding committee, rather than a decision making committee

The final meeting of the standing committee was last week and they recommended the following for the Aldergrove Elementary School site based on public feedback.

Preferred concept plan for the Aldergrove Community Centre. Click image to enlarge.

3D overview of the preferred concept plan for the Aldergrove Community Centre. Click image to enlarge.

Indoor Aquatic Space
-Leisure Pool
-Lap Pool, ramp entry, 6 lane 25m
-Sauna & Steam Rooms
-Hot Pool

Community and Recreation Space
-Food Services
-Fitness Room
-Two Multipurpose Rooms
-Walking Track

Single Sheet Arena
-NHL ice sheet
-Skate Shop

The existing Aldergrove School would be demolished except for the heritage schoolhouse which would be renovated and integrated into the facility as the new Aldergrove library.

What I like about this proposed project is that it will provide a strong, pedestrian-friendly presence on Fraser Highway and will act as the western gateway to Aldergrove’s core. It is also good that the surface parking in the back of the facility.

What I’m finding a bit disturbing is the amount of surface parking in recent Township of Langley projects. The Langley Event Centre dedicates a large sum of land to surface parking and about half the footprint of this proposed Aldergrove facility will be surface parking. I’m surprised that the Township of Langley isn’t following best practices for building sustainable, walkable communities by putting at least a portion of the parking underground. I know it would add an extra 11% to the cost of the Aldergrove project to put all parking underground, but I wonder if that cost could be recovered by doing something more productive with the land that is currently designated for the parking lot.

The total estimated cost of the project is pegged at $35.5 million. There are some that say Aldergrove is not getting good value from being in the Township of Langley, but a project of this scale is only possible because Aldergrove is part of a larger community. With the $36.2 million earmarked to expanded water service in Eastern Langley which includes Aldergrove and the $17 million spent to extend Metro Vancouver sewer service to the community, I’d say that people in Aldergrove are getting a good deal by being in the Township of Langley.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Stop fighting about transit technology, start fighting for accessible communities

Earlier this week, I received an email from a transit advocate that was bashing one transit technology over another transit technology. That email got me thinking again about how much energy gets wasted fighting over transit technologies amount those that advocate for improved transit in Metro Vancouver. In our region, you can find one blog that advocates for SkyTrain and bashes light rail, and another blog that advocates for light rail and bashes SkyTrain. I must admit that I used to fall into the “SkyTrain is bad, build only light rail” camp, but over the years I’ve come to realize that every type of transit technology has a potential role to play in our region.

In 2010, I attended a lecture by Jarrett Walker called “A Field Guide to Transit Quarrels”. Walker made the point that we spend too much time talking about what he calls transit “vehicle-love” and not enough time talking about what makes a great transit system. He noted that all things being equal, the choice of transit vehicle should be determined by the capacity that is needed on a route.

I believe a great transit system needs to be frequent, reliable, and accessible. It must connect people to the things they want or need to do. In some cases that might mean building out the regular frequent transit network on mixed-traffic roads. In other cases, it might mean providing some form of prioritized bus service from installing queue jumper lanes to building full-blown bus rapid transit. Other cases might involve expanding the SkyTrain network or building a new light rail system. The real key is to make sure that land-use decisions focus on building communities that are accessible by walking, cycling, and transit. When it comes to transit, we need to make sure that we link all land-use decisions with the right-sized transit technology that will provide frequent, reliable, and accessible service as we live in a world with financial constraints. TransLink called this a multiply account evaluation.

To be honest, there is no shortage of plans on what type of transit to build in what parts of this region. What there seems to be today is a lack of political will in some orders of government to provide the funding tools to build the transit system that our region desperately needs.

Instead of fighting over transit technology, as transit advocates, we should be working together to spread the word that building accessible communities are good for the economy, our pocket books, our health, and the environment. We should also be pushing the province to stop playing games around transit funding and advocating for a federal sustainable transportation funding program. Once stable funding for transit is in places, we can discuss “lines on a map.”