Thursday, March 28, 2013

Open House results for Brookswood/Fernridge

As I posted in January, the Township of Langley is in the process of updating the Brookswood/Fernridge Community Plan. The Township started the process with a series of workshops late last year to gather feedback on what people’s visions were for the community. Around 500 people attended the workshops. Based on feedback from the workshops, three different concepts for the future of Brookwood/Fernridge were developed.

These concepts were presented at an open house at the end of January, and the Township recently released the results. About 600 people attended the open house and 542 provided feedback.

The first concept that the Township wanted feedback on was housing options. Option 1 would result in large lots being evenly distributed across the community with a small number of multi-acre estates remaining in the east. Option 1 is essential business as usual. Option 2 would focus growth on four main intersections, with density decreasing further out from each of the main intersections. Option 3 would be the same as option 2 but with additional density along corridors.

Responses to Housing Options. Click Image to Enlarge.

About half the people who provided feedback chose option 1 while the remaining were split between options 2 and 3. The reason given for selecting option 1 was concern that increased density would bring crime, overcrowding, congestion--basically the normal worries people have with change. People picked options 2 and 3 because they wanted to provide a variety of housing options to allow young families to move into the area, and also provide “age-in-place” options for seniors that live in the area. People also picked options 2 and 3 because they wanted to see improved services, amenities, and transit in the area.

The second concept that the Township wanted feedback on was on the environment, parks, and open space. Option 1 would focus on creating many local parks. Option 2 would focus on creating a few large consolidated parks. Option 3 would focus on enhancing the community trail system.

Responses to Environment, Parks and Open Space Options. Click Image to Enlarge.

Feedback was split relatively evenly around the three options. It is interesting to note that there was strong support to connect parks with trails, even for people that picked options 1 and 2. In general, people want to maintain the natural feel of Brookswood/ Fernridge, and want to see that reflected in the community plan.

The third key concept that the Township wanted feedback on was where to locate commercial shopping areas in Brookwood/Fernridge. Option 1 would focus growth with the existing commercial areas. Option 2 would distribute service throughout the community. Option 3 would focus growth in existing commercial areas, but would also create a new area at 32 Ave and 200th Street.

Responses to Commercial Service Options. Click Image to Enlarge.

Over 80% of the respondents picked options 1 and 3, which focus growth mainly in existing areas. The overall theme from the feedback received was to keep strip malls and big-box development out of the community. Also, there was a strong desire to make the areas accessible and pedestrian friendly. Interesting enough, the sorts of commercial areas that people at the open house wanted could only be supported by picking housing options 2 and 3 which would focus density in the commercial areas.

The Township also asked two other questions that they wanted feedback on. When asked if people would support business parks in southwest Brookswood, 67% of the respondents from the open house said no. Given the fact that Surrey has the Campbell Heights Business Park directly to the west, which is about the same size as Brookswood, I can see why people would not see the need for more business parks.

Finally, the Township asked for feedback on transportation in Brookwood/Fernridge. People who attended the open house overall supported the current transportation plan, but wanted to see improved transit service and improved cycling facilities, like dedicated bike lanes.

The next step for the Township will be to start work on the development of the preferred community plan.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

More multifamily housing in the Township being created

When people in Metro Vancouver think about housing development in the Township of Langley, they are likely to conjure up images of endless acres of single-family housing. Fortunately this image is wrong with most new resident units in the Township consisting of townhouses, row-house, and apartments known collectively as multifamily.

Single-family Dwelling Units Created - 2007 to 2012

Multifamily Dwelling Units Created - 2007 to 2012

I was looking over the statistics for residential units added to the Township in 2012, and it seems that there is a downward trend for single family housing units and an upward trend for multifamily housing units. In 2011, there were 626 multifamily housing units created and 696 single-family housing units created. In 2012, there were 545 multifamily housing units created and 530 single-family housing units created. While the number of single-family housing units may seem high, that number includes secondary suites as well. When you adjust for secondary suites, only 447 single-family housing units were created in 2011 and 335 in 2012.

2013 is also shaping up to be a year with more multifamily units being created than single-family units. At the end of February, 101 multifamily units were created while 35 single-family units with 26 secondary suites were created.

While people in the Township aren’t living in glass towers, there has certainly been an increase of residential density in the community. This is good news as increasing density will allow for higher-quality public services like increased transit, and more local shopping opportunities within the community. I actually have to wonder if the single-family house without a secondary suite is a thing of the past in the Township of Langley.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Public Engagement in Land-use Plans

Yesterday, I was having a conversation about Langley politics and the topic of density came up. We noted that, it seems, in the Township of Langley whenever any structure four storeys or higher is proposed, there seems to be controversy. However, in the City of Langley, buildings four storeys or higher are proposed and constructed with little controversy. Even the proposed 15-storey Charleston Place in Downtown Langley only had one email submitted during the public hearing, and the email was about how the writer didn’t like the architectural style of the building. Why is this the case?

During the conversation yesterday, we came to the conclusion that the level of engagement with the public when developing a land-use plan will determine the level of controversy when a project is proposed. Far too often, local governments implement great neighbourhood land-use plans with mixed-uses, higher-densities, accessible design, but fail to fully engage with citizens throughout the process. (Hosting an open house does not equal public engagement in my books.) When a higher-density projected is proposed, even based on a sustainable land-use plan, people tend to feel blindsided, become defensive, and oppose the project, even if there is no logical reason to do so. I think that Willoughby is a good example of how good urban design can get derailed because of poor public engagement.

A good example of public engagement in land-use planning is the Downtown Langley plan. The plan took two years to develop, starting in 2007, and the City of Langley engaged the public at every step in the process.

The City of Langley started the process by outlining some of the challenges facing the Downtown core, like aging infrastructure, lack of transportation options, a shrinking customer base, and businesses leaving. The City then hosted design workshops and stakeholder workgroups to develop solutions to the problem. Throughout the whole process the citizens of Langley where informed about progress of the plan and given opportunities to participate in the process. You can read more about the process and the plan on the City’s website.

The City still continues to engage the public today with information about the plan and how it is being implemented. So when a 15-storey building is proposed, no one feels blindsided, and more importantly, will understand that increasing density in Downtown Langley is good for the whole community.

While it might take longer to develop a land-use plan with full citizen engagement, I believe in the long run you will get a better plan that citizens support, and will actually save time when all is said and done.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Upcoming Event: Has the ALR outlived its usefulness?

One of the things that I've written about extensively on this blog is the Agricultural Land Reserve. The ALR is the de facto urban growth boundary in Metro Vancouver and has helped shape our region into one of the most livable places in the world. The ALR has also protected green space and agricultural lands from being urbanized, helping preserve our vibrant agricultural sector. With this in mind, I received the following information about an event on the ALR in Langley that should be very provocative.

Has the ALR outlived its usefulness?
7 p.m., Thursday, March 28
Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Room 1030
20901 Langley Bypass

There is growing pressure on agricultural land in Fort Langley-Aldergrove; 70% of Langley is in the Agricultural Land Reserve. There are many in the community who believe that some of it should be removed from the ALR to allow development. Increased expansion brings in greater revenue for the Township Council and would help pay for infrastructure projects. There are equally adamant opponents to the removal of any of that acreage because farmland is disappearing and Langley and its neighbouring municipalities are regarded as the future "bread basket" for all of Metro Vancouver.

NDP candidate Shane Dyson has invited Harold Steves, one of the architects of the ALR, and Kent Mullinix, Institute for Sustainable Horticulture from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, to help lead a discussion in the community about the future of farmland and agriculture in Fort Langley-Aldergrove.

For more information, call 778-255-0767.

While this blog is non-partisan, a conversation about the role of the ALR in protecting green space and agricultural lands is an important one to have; no matter which political candidate is hosting it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Downtown Langley's Civic Centre aka Parking Lot

If you’ve been in Downtown Langley recently, you may have noticed that many of the buildings in what the Downtown Master Plan calls the Civic Centre have been razed over the last little while. The first building to go was the former Timms Community Centre, and over the last month some of the commercial buildings that used to front Fraser Highway have come down. I posted about these buildings in August of last year. Since the Civic Centre is starting to look like an urban wasteland, I did some checking to see what was going on.

The Downtown Langley concept plan illustrates special design districts in the Downtown Area

For some time, the City of Langley has been working on replacing the Timms Community Centre. From what I understand, the new building will have underground parking, include the functions of the current Timms Centre, and will have a new larger gym-type space. I’ve been told that the City may be looking at partnering with other community organizations to add more space and/or an additional floor to the building that could host additional community services. I certainly think this would be a good idea if it worked out. There still appears to be no firm timeline on when construction will start.

I also found out that the City of Langley is buying up land in the Civic Centre, and is responsible for the latest round of demolitions. It appears that the City is trying to assemble the land in this area, but right now doesn’t have any plans in place for development. Apparently, the interim use will be a parking lot which is unfortunate because the last thing Downtown Langley needs is more surface parking. It really destroys the quality of the public realm. By my work in Vancouver, they turned this type of vacant land into a temporary green space/pocket park. I wonder if this is something the City of Langley should consider.

While the Civic Centre will likely be very vibrant space in next few years, right now it is looking like nothing more than a big parking lot which is too bad.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thoughts on new EV charging stations in the City of Langley

I received an email from the City of Langley with news that they have installed two electric vehicle charging stations in the community. One station is at City Hall and the other station is located at the City’s Operations Centre at 5713 198 Street. Both stations will initially be free to use, but will eventually charge 9ȼ per kilowatt hour. According to the press release, the Fraser Basin Council’s Community Charging Infrastructure Program has provided $15,000 towards the charging station project while $13,000 was contributed by the City. You can find more information about charging station locations in Metro Vancouver by visiting ChargePoint. The City also has an FAQ page for information about its charging stations. With these new charging stations, the South of Fraser will have a total of five public charging stations.

While electric vehicles can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there are some caveats. Right now BC gets most of its electricity from hydroelectric power which has a lower GHG emission profile than natural gas or coal-fired electrical generation. Hydro's GHG profile is also significantly lower when compared to a gasoline powered engine. But BC sometimes runs out of power during peak usage periods and has to buy power from other producers to fill the gap. If more people purchased electric vehicles, there is the risk that BC would have to buy more power from producers that use coal or other dirty fuels to generate electricity.

According to one study, an electric vehicle GHG emission profile is directly tied to the type of energy used in the production of electricity. In BC, one solution could be to charge a much higher rate for electric vehicle charging during peak electricity usage and a lower rate when energy usage is low to reduce the use of “dirty power” running BC’s electric vehicle fleet.

Even with clean power, there is still the matter of dealing with the toxic battery waste from electric vehicles and dealing with the full lifecycle environmental impacts from automobile usage. Also, the use of electric vehicles does not negate the need to build compact, complete and accessible communities. Community designed around electric vehicles still create obesity, congestion, and sprawl like communities designed around regular gas-power vehicles.

All this to say that while it is good to see more electric vehicle infrastructure, electrical vehicles are only one part in a toolkit to build a healthier, more sustainable South of Fraser and BC.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Metro Vancouver's garbage going to Abbotsford

Within the Lower Mainland, Abbotsford is a community that some people go to in an attempt to escape some of the taxes and regulations in Metro Vancouver. One example is that people head to Abbotsford for cheaper gas that they think will save them a few dollars per fill. Of course because of this “leakage”, TransLink receives less revenue to pay for roads and transit, and has to look to other revenue sources. This isn’t the only thing that is leaking into Abbotsford.

Apparently in an attempt to bypass Metro Vancouver’s tough waste management regulations, some waste haulers are dumping Metro Vancouver’s commercial and multi-family residential waste in Abbotsford. These haulers not only avoid paying the fees to maintain our waste management system, but also avoid the material ban on recyclables and others rules that prevent material from ending up in the dump.

In Metro Vancouver, all waste should end up at a regional transfer station where it is subject to inspection for compliance with Metro Vancovuer’s waste regulations and charged Metro’s rate for waste management. Waste haulers that are bypassing Metro Vancouver’s waste system are using the Abbotsford system because it has weaker regulations and lower fees.

Metro Vancouver is currently looking at rules to prevent this from happening, but there is opposition from the waste haulers sector.

If I was a citizen of Abbotsford, I’d be pretty upset that my waste system was being using by some Metro Vancouver waste haulers because it has weaker standards and cost less. I would be demanding that my government do something about it. Abbotsford already gets our air pollution, should they be getting our waste too?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Metro Vancouver and the Port

One of the documents that Metro Vancouver provides to municipalities in the region is called “Board in Brief”. This document provides a high level overview of the various actions that the region is taking. The most recent update was included in the City of Langley's Council Meeting Agenda for this evening. One of the interesting items in the brief was in relationship to Port Metro Vancouver and the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

As I’ve posted about previously, Port Metro Vancouver has been busy updating many of its long term plans including its land-use plan and plan for the proposed Terminal Two in Delta. One of the concerns about the Port is that it has no accountability to the region as it is a federal entity. The Port isn’t subject to the regional growth strategy for example. In fact the Port doesn’t even pay property tax to local government, but an in-lieu payment to be a “good citizen.” The full public consultation style that the Port uses on some of its plans are not required under federal law. Considering that we now have weak federal enviornment protection and the Port isn't subject to local laws, the Port can pretty much do whatever it wants on the land that it acquires and could approve projects that the region opposes.

This has the Metro Vancouver Board concerned especially when it comes to the ALR. According to the Board in Brief:

Metro Vancouver has expressed concerns regarding Port Metro Vancouver’s acquisition and use of Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) lands on several occasions in the past. Expansion of Port activities on designated agricultural land would undermine Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy.

Metro Vancouver’s Board has sent a letter to the Port expressing their concerns, but the reality is that the Port could choose to ignore this letter.

I’m sure that everyone in the region, include Metro Vancouver, understands the important role that the Port plays in creating job in the region, but I wonder if the Port should be subject to the Regional Growth Strategy. Is it right for the Port to be able to remove land out of the ALR without due process?

Another federal entity that is not subject to the Regional Growth Strategy is the YVR Airport Authority, and they are trying to build an Outlet Mall on Airport Land which goes against the growth strategy. Besides removing land from the ALR, what would prevent the Port from doing a similar thing as YVR?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Langley's Upcycling Design Challenge

I received the following information about a contest that the Township of Langley in association with the Langley Arts Council is putting on. In honour of Earth Day this April, both organizations are hosting the Upcycling Design Challenge.

Upcycling involves creating something new (either an art piece or something more functional like furniture) out of something that would otherwise be thrown away.

This is a judged contest with a first place price of $500, second place price of $200, and third place price of $100. All submissions will be displayed in an exhibition at the Langley Arts Council Gallery in April.

All pieces must be submitted between April 8 and April 13 to the Langley Arts Council Gallery at 20550 Fraser Highway. Details about the contest, including the entry form, can be found on the Township of Langley's website. The contest is open to City and Township residence.

While I’m not and artist and won’t be submitting an entry, I think this is a very innovative way to celebrate Earth Day and bring awareness around the issue of waste generation in Langley.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Concerns over Coal Export Rally

Yesterday, I posted about how there are plans to expand coal exports out of Port Metro Vancouver and how there is a growing group of citizens that have concerns about this proposed expansion. One group, Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, is hosting an event coming up this weekend along one of the coal train routes.

Let's get the black rock out of White Rock!
Starts at Noon
Sunday, March 17
White Rock Waterfront, at the white rock

Description: A gathering to celebrate strong leadership by local governments that have shown concern about increased coal exports, and a chance to talk to people on the promenade about coal export plans and Port Metro Vancouver’s decisions making process. They will have lawn signs and posters, and cake will be served.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Local and global impact of Port Metro Vancouver

Last week, I received an email from Port Metro Vancouver on their land-use plan update process. The Canada Marine Act requires that the Port has a land-use plan which “contains objectives and policies for the physical development of the property it manages.”

The Port recently released the results of phase two of its four phase process of updating the land-use plan. While the Canada Marine Act only requires nominal public input on the land-use plan, the Port has decided to do a full consultation process similar to the Terminal Two process that I’ve posted about previously.

The guiding objectives for the Port’s land-use plan are:
1.) The Port facilitates expected growth in Canada’s trade while preparing for anticipated transitions in the global economy.
2.) The Port is a leader in ensuring the safe and efficient movement of port-related trade and passengers throughout the region.
3.) The Port is a global leader among ports in the environmental stewardship of the lands and waters it manages.
4.) Port activity and development provides benefits and addresses impacts to local communities and First Nations.

I suggest that you read the full 16-page summary as it contains a lot more detail and people's thoughts about these broad objectives. I want to focus on objective 3.

On Monday, I was at an event put on by concerned Surrey citizen’s about two proposed plans by the Port to almost double the amount of coal it can export. From a local level, there are concerns about the environmental and health impacts of coal dust. There are also concerns about the impact of more rail traffic in our communities. Will it be the Port and its customers that pay for these external costs, or will it be the citizens of our region? I mention this because while the Port has been engaging the community with some of its plans, apparently the proposed coal export expansion planning has been done on the hush-hush will little community involvement. While the Port can claim in some projects that it is going beyond the call of duty, it doesn’t surprise me that something like coal export expansion would be done with only the minimum legal requirement.

The problem seems to be that the Port is a federal organization with little legal accountability to the communities where it operates. It seems to me that the Canada Marine Act needs to be updated to ensure that communities are consulted and their concerns addressed on all matter that could impact the region.

Of course the larger question is can we call Port Metro Vancouver a good stewards of the environment, even if they do everything right in Metro Vancouver, but become the largest exporter of the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Business Vote in BC Local Government

I was looking over yesterday afternoon’s Township of Langley council agenda, and I noticed there was a presentation by the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce about reinstating the business vote in British Columbia for municipal elections. I did a quick search and found that this is one of the priorities of the BC Chamber of Commerce which is an umbrella organization for chambers of commerce throughout the province.

The BC Chamber of Commerce believes that businesses should have a vote because they pay local taxes. The Chamber feels that because business don’t have a vote, they are being unfairly taxed compared to people who actually live in a community. The Chamber believes that if a business meets the following criteria, it should be allowed to vote:

-The business must have a business number issued by Canada Revenue Agency
-The business must have a non-residential real property address
-The business must be paying a business class property tax
-The business must appoint a designated proxy to vote on its behalf
-A registered business voter may only be registered to vote for one business in a given municipality

When I think about a small business owner that lives in Surrey and has a shop in Langley, I understand the rationale behind the BC Chamber's thinking. But what about larger businesses? Should national or multi-national corporations have the right to vote at local government elections? I don’t believe they should and think that they are represented enough already and are effective in getting policy that benefit them passed. The Union of British Columbian Municipalities (which represents local government) agrees with my view against reinstating a business vote.

The business vote was suspended in BC due to the complexities of administration and the potential for abuse in 1993. In fact the City of London, England with a population of 7,000 (not to be confused with the region) is the only local government in the world that allows businesses the ability to vote. The Province launched a local government election task force that in 2010 recommended against allowing a business vote.

While I understand the reasoning behind the Langley Chamber's request for a business vote, I believe that with Business Improvement Areas and local chambers, businesses already have a strong voice. A local vote should be reserved for real people that live in BC.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Township's Agricultural Viability Strategy

The Township of Langley is truly the supermarket to Metro Vancouver. With 75% of the community within the Agricultural Land Reserve and with over 50% of the farms in the region, the Township is one of the few places where you can get every item for every meal grown or raised locally (and that even includes the wine.) Agricultural in the Township of Langley generates $277 million annually in farm gate sales. With the economic importance and ecological imperative of local agricultural production, the Township of Langley started talking about developing an agricultural strategy in 2004 with work starting in 2008. Almost a decade later, the Township has a draft Agricultural Viability Strategy that, if council approves, will be open to public comment before the strategy is adopted.

The strategy contains 34 initiatives in the following broad categories:

Providing a welcoming business environment
This area emphasizes the need to nurture a supportive attitude for agricultural expansion. Specific actions are recommended for Council, the AAC, staff and organizations external to the Township. The initiatives address pertinent issues such as promotion of agriculture, agri-tourism, intensive agriculture, training and education, labour supply, mentoring and succession planning, and crises and disasters planning.

Providing the required services and infrastructure
This area focuses on the provision of the required services and infrastructure for the continual expansion of agri-business. Examples of services and infrastructure include water, drainage, roads, dyking, farmers’ markets and agri-industrial hubs for value-added processing.

Providing a secure agricultural land base
With Sustainability Objectives to strengthen the agricultural economy and to preserve the agricultural land base for food production, Langley farmers are encouraged to increase investment and production in the Township. This area of emphasis serves to increase certainty and security for Langley farmers by addressing issues such as protection of agricultural land, urban-rural edge planning to manage potential conflicts and the Salmon River watershed.

Ensuring farmer use of best farm management practices
This area identifies farming practices that may have an impact on other (non‐farm) citizens and provides guidelines for ensuring these farming practices do not erode the positive support for agriculture. This area of emphasis addresses key issues such as open air burning, chemical use, wildlife habitat, nutrient management, environ mental farm planning and land stewardship.

The strategy is a $2.7 million, 20-year plan. This means that implementing its recommendations will only cost $135,000 per year which to me is a great deal to grow and protect agriculture in Langley.

One of the interesting sections of the strategy speaks to the Salmon River watershed. I’ve talked about Salmon River uplands in the past as this area is not in the Agricultural Land Reserve. There will be continuing pressure to develop this area for population growth which not only impacts the viability of farming in the uplands area, but may also led to increased flooding and threaten the viability of farming in the Salmon River lowlands area.

Beside the Salmon River watershed, the strategy recommends that the Township update its Rural Plan to make sure that rural zoning becomes more supportive of farming, and to encourage population growth within existing urban areas and not within rural areas.

A draft copy of the Agricultural Viability Strategy is available in this afternoon’s council agenda.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Aldergrove Transportation Forum

As the May election gets closer, there will start to be more events from the different candidates and political parties in Langley. I will be posting information about all-candidates debates and other forums around transportation or sustainable communities as they come up. I've always felt that this blog should be non-partisan and I will endeavor to keep it that way. The following was sent to me and I thought it was worth sharing.

Will Aldergrove ever see good public transit?: A Community Conversation with B.C. NDP Transportation Critic Harry Bains
Saturday, March 16, 2 to 4 p.m.
Prest Hall, corner of 248th and Fraser Highway

This is a free event that is open to everyone and is sponsor by Shane Dyson who is the NDP candidate for Fort Langley-Aldergrove.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bus Rapid Transit on King George and SkyTrain to Langley?

Since 2010, TransLink has been working on a Surrey Rapid Transit Study which aims to find a preferred technology, routing, and timeline with full lifecycle costing for rapid transit in the South of Fraser. The study's planning area includes Surrey, White Rock, and Langley City. TransLink has already determined the routing for future rapid transit in the South of Fraser and is working on narrowing down the technology options.

Yesterday morning at the UDI Vancouver Breakfast, TransLink presented the latest information on the study and further narrowed down the technology options from ten to four.

1. Bus rapid transit on Fraser Highway, King George Boulevard, and 104th Avenue
Capital Cost (2010$): $0.9 billion
Lifecycle cost (2010$): $0.82 billion
New weekday transit trips (2041): 13,500
Regional transit mode share (2041): 16.5%
Travel time (2041)*: 30 min

2. Light rail transit on Fraser Highway, and bus rapid transit on King George Boulevard and 104th Avenue
Capital Cost (2010$): $1.68 billion
Lifecycle cost (2010$): $1.28 billion
New weekday transit trips (2041): 12,500
Regional transit mode share (2041): 16.5%
Travel time (2041)*: 29 min

3. Light rail transit on Fraser Highway, 104th Avenue, and King George Boulevard south to Newton, with bus rapid transit from Newton to White Rock
Capital Cost (2010$): $2.18 billion
Lifecycle cost (2010$): $1.63 billion
New weekday transit trips (2041): 12,000
Regional transit mode share (2041): 16.5%
Travel time (2041)*: 29 min

4. SkyTrain on Fraser Highway, and bus rapid transit on King George Boulevard and 104th Avenue
Capital Cost (2010$): $2.22 billion
Lifecycle cost (2010$): $1.67 billion
New weekday transit trips (2041): 24,500
Regional transit mode share (2041): 16.6%
Travel time (2041)*: 22 min

It is interesting to note that Fraser Highway is actually the highest demand corridor in the study area which is good news if you live in Langley as rail rapid transit goes to Langley in three of the four options. Surrey’s King George Boulevard gets bus rapid transit in three of the four options. While putting SkyTrain on Fraser Highway and bus rapid transit on King George Boulevard/104th Avenue looks like it might become the preferred technology recommendation, I wonder if this recommendation will fly politically.

Surrey has been pushing hard for light rail as a tool to reshape the community. You can see the positive results that rail-based transit can have in shaping communities when you look at areas like Central Surrey. Even TransLink understand this and noted that building light rail is “most consistent with the City of Surrey’s urban development aspirations.” Sometime transit is about more than just moving people from point A to point B. Surrey could certainly benefit from the urbanity that comes with rail-based transit. It will make our region more livable.

Alternative 3: LRT on Fraser Highway, LRT on King George Boulevard south to Newton with BRT, continuing to White Rock, and LRT on 104 Avenue

Alternative 4: RRT on Fraser Highway, and BRT on King George Boulevard and on 104 Avenue

My prediction will be that either alternative 3 or 4 will become the recommendation for rapid transit in the South of Fraser. With an estimated capital cost of $2.2 billion, it is about the same price as the Canada Line.

*Travel time is Surrey Central to Langley Centre

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Working More Efficiently at the Municipal Level

Yesterday, I posted about how I believe that municipal employees should be paid fairly and that it was unreasonable to expect zero increases in property tax due to labour costs. I also believe that municipalities need to be mindful of the amount of staff needed to do existing jobs or new jobs, and look towards implementing innovative methods to accomplish tasks before simply hiring another person. One area that concerns me is the increasing cost of policing, mainly due to an increase in policing staffing levels. Is there a better, more efficient way to create safer communities? I believe there is.

I know that this is a hard one to do, but cost savings can be found by questioning why certain tasks are done for a desired outcome. I’ve managed several multimillion dollar, complex projects in my professional career and one of the major things I’ve noticed is that people don’t like changing processes even if there is a more efficient way to get a desired outcome. At a municipal level, one example of questioning a task could be as simple as looking at why the City pays someone to drive around a truck to water plants. You could go one step further and question why the City chooses plants that need watering in the first place. If the desired outcome is a beautiful downtown, is there another path to this desired outcome?

Another area to look at is if operating costs could be reduced by one-time capital projects. This could be something like having the City install its own data network to connect its facilities and out-of-planet equipment like traffic lights, water pumps, etc. I know from personal experience that hundreds of thousands of dollars per year can be saved by doing something like this.

Given that today pretty much anything can be connected to a network, I have to wonder if there are more efficient ways of managing municipal infrastructure. For example, wouldn’t it be good if the City could be alerted to a possible leak in a water main, so it could be repaired before a more costly water main breakage?

I'm certainly not a fan of underpaying people or cutting jobs that are needed, but I believe that there is more our local governments could be doing to make their operations even more efficient by questions work flows and by embracing 21st Century technology.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Public Sector Salaries

This morning, I was looking over the comments from the public hearing for the City of Langley’s proposed 2013 – 2017 Financial Plan which includes the 2013 budget. One citizen talked about how he only learned at the City’s open house that the largest cost in the operating budget was staff salaries. I found this a bit surprising because generally labour cost are the largest operating expense for any organization. This citizen also thought that the tax increase this year should be 0% which if I read between the line means that he believes that public employees should have a wage freeze. Collective agreements aside, I don’t think that this is a reasonable expectation.

I’ve worked in the private sector my whole life in both unionized and non-unionized positions. The general annual wage increase that I’ve received over the last decade has always been no less than 2%. This is about the average rate of inflation. I had a look at the collective agreement that covers staff at the City of Langley. Over the 2007 to 2011 period, the general annual wage increase was 3% to 4%. Giving the slow economic recovery, while 3% to 4% isn’t an opulent increase, I believe the next collective bargaining period should have wage increases around the 2% mark. I certainly don’t believe that people should be making less money the longer they have a job. I know that many people also believe that public workers are on the gravy train, but if you look at the collective agreement, salaries range from $47,174.40 to $88,732.80 per year for the most senior employees. Of those senior employees, the highest paid workers are engineers and planners. The median annual salary for senior employees is around $60,000. Certainly you make less money working at a coffee shop, but the median annual income for households in Metro Vancouver was $67,090 in 2010 (which is the last year I could find information.)

One of the things that I always find interesting is that some people feel that public employee shouldn’t be paid well. I believe that we should be trying to attract talented people to the public sector at local level. To attract those people, you need to have a competitive salary. Also, I always thought that if public employees are underpaid, they would be more susceptible to bribery and corruption like in other countries.

All that to say, municipal operating budgets are always likely to see around a 2% annual increase largely due to labour costs. I’m actually alright with that in principle, but I do believe that the public salary annual growth should be slowed to around 2% per year. The problem is operating budgets are paid for with property tax which isn’t tied to economic productivity, so municipalities always have to fiddle with the property tax rate.