Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cycling in Cities Research

The UBC School of Population & Public Health has been hosting a research program that has been studying cycling in urban centres. Their research has looked into cycling safety, barriers to getting people to cycle, cycling's effect on air pollution and climate change, and bikeability of communities.

While some research has been done in the past in these areas, this series of research focused on Canadian cities. One of the things that I’ve known for awhile, and was confirmed in a Portland study, was that many people don’t cycling because of the perceived risk of riding with vehicles (with or without a shoulder bike lanes.) The UBC research also confirmed that people prefer:

1.) Off-street bikes paths
2.) Bike lanes (cycle tracks) next to major street, but separated by a physical barrier
3.) Quite residential streets designated as bike route, with traffic calming

Of course, the big question was if the perception of risk also matched the real risk. It also turns out that people's preferred cycling infrastructure is also generally the safest.

Injury study results on route safety compared to route preferences. Preferences and safety largely agree. Click image to enlarge.

The Cycling in Cities researchers have put together a brochure on the safest and most risky cycling infrastructure based on research they did in Vancouver and Toronto. It is well worth the read.

I’ve been a strong advocate of off-street and physically separated bike lanes. This research reinforces by belief that cities in the South of Fraser need to be focusing more on providing this kind of infrastructure and really deemphasize building tradition shoulder bike lanes on major roads.

While separated bike lanes on major roads and off-street bike-only paths can be pricey, it seems that one of the most cost effective, safest, and preferred ways to encourage cycling is to work on designating quit residential streets as bike routes. The key is to be make residential street routes that are continuous for pedestrians and cyclist, while preventing rat-running by motorist. This seem to be a win-win for both local residents and active transportation users.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Followup on Moving In Metro: A discussion on mobility pricing

Last night, I attended “Moving In Metro: A discussion on mobility pricing” which was hosted at the Langley Hampton Inn & Suites. This dialogue was the last of four put on by the SFU Centre for Dialogue throughout the region. Ironically this was the only dialogue in the series hosted in an area with poor access to transit and in the most unwalkable part of Surrey and Langley. It drove home the point about the imbalance in our transportation system in the South of Fraser. While the dialogue's title contains the words mobility pricing, it was actually a discussion about road pricing.

As you may know, in Metro Vancouver the societal contribution to our transport system is $4.5 billion per year when taxpayer revenue and external cost such as pollution are factored in. Trucks and automobiles alone are subsided by $3.6 billion per year. Gas tax which is the closest thing to a user-fee we have for roads is on the decline as vehicles become more fuel efficient, and people drive less. Congestion is the result of any transportation system when the direct cost to use the facility is under-priced. It has been proven the world over that building more “free” roads, only results in more congestion and more pollution. With this in mind, the dialogue was looking at road pricing as a way to fund our road network in Metro Vancouver. Road pricing has been shown to reduce congestion and provide sufficient revenue to fund transportation systems throughout the world.

Total Annual Societal Contribution to the Transportation Network in Metro Vancouver

Tuesday night’s dialogue focused on bridge/tunnel tolls, area charge schemes like the London Congestion Charge, HOV/HOT Lanes, and distance-based pricing. The SFU dialogue folks gave a brief overview of these road pricing ideas, including examples of where they are in used throughout the world. You can read more about the different types of road pricing in their discussion guide.

The group of people at last night's meeting included truckers, a motorcycle enthusiasts, a driving school instructor, automobile commuters, cyclist, and transit-users. One of the things that pleasantly surprised me was people’s willingness to consider a direct user-pay model to pay for our road network. In fact a distance-based system seemed to be the most popular choice of people at last night’s discussion. Participants wanted a system that was fair, affordable, and accountable. They also wanted a system that would create a sustainable region and improve transit. Reading between the lines, people also didn’t want to have a double-pay user-fee system. It would seem that if distance-based road pricing was introduced, gas tax would have to reduced or removed. This is alright by me as gas tax is a poor way to pay for roads anyway.

Another point that people brought up was that the general public needs to be engaged in a discussion about road pricing and also be provided with information about how it works. One person commented that they didn’t like the idea of road pricing until they learned about it last night.

I walked away last night encouraged that our region seems actually ready to move towards a direct user-pay road pricing system. In fact, it is probably only provincial politicians that need convincing.

While road pricing is part of mobility pricing, last night's event did not talk about the price of parking and the major effect it has one land-use and transportation.

Information from these series of workshops will be complied into a report and present to TransLink and Metro Vancouver. I hope that the province also gets a copy of the report as well.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Future of Metro Vancouver as a Livable Region

The idea of creating a livable region was first put down on paper in the mid-1970s. Since that time, more policies have been progressively put in place that have set Metro Vancouver on the path to being a world leader in livability. We have been successful in preserving farmland, green space, and providing a transportation network that gives people choices with a world-class transit system, an increasingly connected cycling network, and walkable town centres. These walkable town centres also provide a variety of housing options and opportunities for business. All in all, we have been moving towards a region that will not only serve the needs of the current generation, but future generations to come. While things have generally been moving on a positive path towards sustainability, we are actually at a crossroads that could either further move us in the direction of livability, or potentially unravel the more than 35 years of progressive policy.

Yesterday, I was having lunch with a friend and we started talking about how there has never been so many threats to the livability of the region as there is today. In the next few years, we will know the future path of Metro Vancouver.

The first threat to the livability of Metro Vancouver is the conflict between the province and the region over the future of transportation. While the region and local governments are recognizing that future transportation improvements need to focus on walking, cycling, and transit, the province is on a massive freeway building spree. The challenge is that this freeway building program will not help the majority of people in the region get from their homes to work, school, and other activities. Without walking, cycling, and transit options, our local road network will become increasingly congested as there simply is no room for more roads. A further threat lies in the fact that the province is set on holding a referendum on funding for transit. What happens if people vote no? What is plan B? Without transit, the ability of our region to build livable, interconnected town centres will be compromised. We will be locked into a future of highway tolls, auto-oriented sprawl, increasing congestion, and rising transportation costs. But this is not the only threat.

Right now Metro Vancouver and the Township of Langley are heading to court over the Trinity Western University district. This is the first time that the power of a regional district to regulate land-use has been tested in court. Depending on the outcome, the ability of regions throughout BC to regulate land-use will either be confirmed or denied. If denied, municipal governments will be tempted (and likely will) to sprawl into rural areas and develop housing on industrial land. But there is one more threat to the livability of our region.

The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) has protected the best farmland in the province which happens to be in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. This protection has ensured the success of a vibrant agricultural sector in the region. It has also acted as a de facto urban growth boundary. The provincial government suggested this summer that they want to examine the role of the Agricultural Land Commission who regulates the ALR. If the power to protect the ALR is weakened or removed, the viability of farming in Metro Vancouver will be threatened as farmland gets converted into auto-oriented sprawl.

In the next few years, we will know the future of Metro Vancouver. We will either stay the course as a livable region that other parts of the world look to as a model, or our policies that protect our region will be unravelled which will result in more congestion and sprawl, while the things that make our region special get paved over.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Court Decision puts Fort Langley Coulter Berry Project on Hold

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’ve been a strong supporter of the Coulter Berry Building project in Fort Langley. With all the auto-oriented development that occurs within the Township of Langley, this project stood out as one of the few projects that truly put walkability and sustainable first.

Unfortunately, like most things in Fort Langley that involve change, this project was not without its opposition. While the majority of the community actually supports building a walkable village centre and the Coulter Berry Building project, a small vocal group of people opposed the project. While I believe this group would have had a problem with any development proposed for the corner of Glover Road and Mavis Road, they found that the old Fort Langley Heritage Design Guidelines recommend that buildings “not exceed two storeys or 9 metres”. The group latched onto this recommendation; the Coulter Berry Building is three storeys high. The irony of the matter is that there are many buildings in Fort Langley that exceed that recommendation including the Fort Langley Community Hall which is one of the few actual heritage buildings in the community.

The noise generated by this small group was so intense that the Fort Langley Community Association hosted a town hall about the project around this time last year. I agreed to be on a panel at the meeting which included the head Township planner at the time and the architect of the design guidelines. We all were in favour of the project. This small group accused us of being in the pocket of the developer thought the only compensation we received was from the FLCA and it was a free dinner at a local Fort Langley bistro that night.

Township council, recognizing that the design guideline were guidelines, issued a Heritage Alteration Permit which allowed the project to break ground in late August. I was really excited to see this project start as I believe this project will set a positive example for other projects in town centres to aspire to in the Township.

In August, the small vocal group launched a lawsuit against Township of Langley alleging that the Coulter Berry project would “unalterably and irreparably undermine the heritage policies for land located in the Heritage Conservation Area, to the detriment of the cultural and historical heritage of Fort Langley, contrary to law.” I was actually assuming that the court would dismiss this case, but on Friday Supreme Court Justice Groves basically shutdown the Coulter Berry project.

According to the developer, on his blog he says that the decision rests on "a technical concern about the Township's process for granting variances, even though the same process has been used for decades, including for the nearby Reid Block building now under construction." Unfortunately, the Justice’s written explanation will not be available for 4 months.

This is very disappointing news. The Township will likely appeal this decision, but in the meantime Fort Langley’s heart will have a big hole in the middle. The thing that really upsets me is that the developer could have built a strip mall or a parking lot which likely wouldn't have ended up with a court case.

Without the Justice’s written explanation, it’s impossible to know his reasoning for putting the permit on hold. This decision could have a chilling effect on other projects in “heritage areas” around the province. In fact this decision, if not overturned during appeal, might actually hurt heritage as design guidelines may become vaguer to prevent future lawsuits.

I hope that the developer of the Coulter Berry Building does not give up on this project, even though the Supreme Court’s decision is a massive setback. If this project doesn’t proceed, I believe that the walkability and sustainability of Fort Langley will be compromised. The village will not be able to live up to its full potential as a walkable, complete community.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Township of Langley's Proposed 2014 Capital Budget Graphic

The Township of Langley is getting started at putting together the proposed 2014 capital budget for the community. At the latest Council Priorities Meeting, Council got a first look at the proposed budget. The capital budget is a $375 page document. As they say, you can miss the forest for the trees.

I decided to take all the information and create two graphs. One graph shows the Township’s proposed capital spending by function, the other graph shows the Township’s proposed capital spending by funding source.

While the functional spending is for the most part self-explanatory, the functional group Fiscal is the Township’s fund for general land purchasing and is also a contingency fund.

Proposed 2014 Township of Langley Capital Budget by Function. Click Graph to View.

To explain funding sources:
-Operating comes directly from taxation
-Developer Cost Charges is a fee the Township charges developers when building a new project
-Reserves are special account that the Township contributes to every year, but only gets used for clearly defined purposes. When the Township doesn’t spend its budget, the difference between the actual and budgeted can be used in a future year; this is a Surplus.
-Other comes from external funding sources like TransLink or Metro Vancouver.

Proposed 2014 Township of Langley Capital Budget by Funding Source. Click Graph to View.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Commuting Patterns in the Township of Langley

Buried within the October 2nd agenda for the Township of Langley's Economic Development Advisory Committee are maps that show the commuting pattern of the community based on the latest Census/National Household Survey data.

One of the interesting things that the Township likes saying is that it has almost one job available per one person that lives in the community. This number does not mean that everyone who lives in the Township could work in the Township, but that hopefully the Township has a skills trade balance. One of the reasons why regions like Metro Vancouver are successful is because of the skills and economic trade that occurrences within the region between communities. Of course this leads to complex travel patterns, and requires some people to leave their community for work.

49,600 or 90% of the Township of Langley’s workforce has to commute to work.

Flow of Non-Residents Travelling to the Township of Langley for Work Each Day. Source: Township of Langley. Click map to enlarge.

About 50% of Township residents actually work within the community. Another 30% of Township resident work within the South of Fraser communities of Delta, Surrey, White Rock, and the City of Langley. A further 6% work in the Fraser Valley Regional District. In total, 86% of all people who live in Township of Langley don’t cross the Fraser River to get to work.

Of the 24,120 people who commute to the Township of Langley, 56% are from the South of Fraser communities of Delta, Surrey, White Rock, and the City of Langley. Another 27% are from the Fraser Valley Regional District with the majority of commuters from Abbotsford. All full 82% commuters to the Township don’t need to cross the Fraser River.

Flow of Residents Travelling Out of the Township of Langley for Work Each Day. Source: Township of Langley. Click map to enlarge.

With this in mind, I find it very interesting how transportation infrastructure dollars are being spent by the Province and TransLink. With the exception of the South Fraser Perimeter Road, all of the current and future big-ticket road projects have focused around major river crossings. Looking at the commuting patterns, its no surprise that bridges like the Golden Ear are empty most of the time, and traffic volume through the Massey Tunnel is going down. In fact, most of the big-ticket road project don’t directly benefit most people in the Township.

Transportation dollars should really be focused on getting people where they need to go. For the Township that is within the South of Fraser and Fraser Valley Regional District. As there are physical constraints to building new, multi-lane highways in the South of Fraser, rapid transit sticks out in my mind as something that the Province should be investing in. To date, we have seen very little willingness by the Province to do this as they seem to be obsessed with billion dollar bridge building project that don't help the vast majority of people in the Township.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Metro Vancouver and Regional Land-Use

Metro Vancouver is responsible for regional land-use planning, and has been in the process of implementing a new regional growth strategy which was adopted in 2011. As part of the process, every municipality in the region has to show how their official community plan (which guides local land-use) conforms to the regional growth strategy’s land-use designation. If the official community plan and regional growth strategy don’t align, a municipality can ask the Metro Vancouver board to change the regional growth strategy’s land-use designations. If Metro Vancouver doesn’t allow the change, the municipality must change its official community plan.

The Metro Vancouver board is made up of mayors and councillors from the region who each represent their respective communities. Voting is weighted, so municipalities like the City of Vancouver and Surrey have more say on the board than municipalities like Anmore.

While I generally support regional land-use planning as it limits sprawl and helps preserve rural, agricultural, and industrial areas, I do have an issue with one of the new regional land-use designations in Metro Vancouver.

Land is designated as General Urban, Industrial, Mixed Employment, Rural, Agricultural, and Conservation and Recreation. While I’m sure that most of the regional land-use designations are pretty self-explanatory, the one odd land-use designation is Mixed Employment. The Mixed Employment zone allows anything except for residential development. The early drafts of the regional growth strategy did not contain Mixed Employment zones and were, instead, Industrial Zone. The Industrial zone would not allow office-only or residential uses. For better or worse, Metro Vancouver created the Industrial Zone because there was concern that industry was being slowly being pushed out of the region due to residential growth.

Because of concern from affected local government that didn’t want to see large chunks of land in their community designated as Industrial, Metro Vancouver created the Mixed Employment zone as a compromise to give municipalities more flexible land-use options. Because of this compromise, auto-oriented office parks are now codified within the region, as more sustainable mixed-use projects are not allowed in the Mixed Employment zone.

Township of Langley's proposed changes to the urban containment boundary and regional land use designations that were denied by Metro Vancouver. Click map to enlarge.

The Township of Langley has been testing the limits of regional and local planning authority in the region, and I’ve posted about the on-going battle between the Township and Metro Vancouver over the proposed Trinity Western University district. This summer, the Township submitted its first round of regional land-use change requests. These requests were heard and then denied this month by Metro Vancouver. You can read more about these proposed changes in an earlier blog post. The Township was looking at changing land from Agricultural to General Urban around Murrayville. Also, the Township was looking at changing land around 200th Street from Mixed Employment to General Urban.

With the introduction of the new Park and Ride near 200th Street and Highway 1, the Township of Langley has been working on changing the area’s plans from auto-oriented to becoming more transit-friendly and walkable. With Metro Vancouver’s decision to deny the Township of Langley the ability change land around the area, which is currently Mixed Employment, to General Urban, ironically Metro Vancouver is actually preventing the sustainable growth of the Township of Langley. The "livable region" is actually promoting auto-oriented land uses.

While I value the role Metro Vancouver plays in preserving the rural, agricultural, and industrial land base, the Mixed Employment region land-use designation needs to disappear, as it is negatively impacting the livability of our region.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Reality Check: TransLink Executive Salaries

Whenever I open up a newspaper these days, there is an opinion piece about how TransLink executives are overpaid. The opinions go on to say that by reducing executive salaries, all our transit issues will be solved in Metro Vancouver. To be honest, I’m getting a bit tired of reading this because it is simply not true.

Everyone gets a little upset when they hear how much CEOs make. The CEO of Rogers, the company I work for, made around $2.75 million in base salary and short-term incentives in 2012. This is certainly more than I make, and it does make me pause for a moment. So it’s no surprise that when the people see how much CEOs of public companies make, the knee-jerk reaction is to get a little upset.

People who write opinion pieces about TransLink executive salaries are trying to exploit the public’s knee-jerk reaction in an attempt to stop dialogue about long-term funding which is required to pay for transit improvement which is desperately needed in our region. Let’s not forget that the Province of BC and the Independent TransLink Commissioner couldn’t find saving within the TransLink to support transit improvements in the region.

I’m not sure why these people are so anti-transit, but their end-game is to destroy the TransLink brand in the hopes that people will vote no to a new funding source in the 2014 transit funding referendum.

Of course, I’m also a bit shocked that TransLink has allowed the narrative that it is a poorly run and bloated organization to be told without really saying much to defend itself; TransLink hasn’t done a good job of protecting its brand. It is time for a reality check.

In 2012, TransLink’s eight (now seven) executives were collectively paid $2.48 million in salaries, benefits, and pensions. $2.48 million is certainly a large number, but TransLink had $1,430.8 million in expenses in 2012. Executive compensation represents 0.17% of TransLink’s overall expenditures.

If we are to believe the opinion pieces which state that slashing executive salaries at TransLink will be able to fund transit expansion, let take a closer look. Let’s also be harsh and slash executive salaries in half. That would yield $1.24 million annually for extra transit.

What on-the-ground service would $1.24 million get you?
Not very much; a doubling of the frequency of the 595 bus on 200th Street, or 2-3 more community shuttle routes that operates every 30 minutes.

It is important to make sure that our public agencies are well run, but going after executive salaries is a shell game to distract people from the real issue which is the chronic under-funding of transit in Metro Vancouver.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

South Fraser OnTrax joins Get OnBoard BC Coalition for Transit

As you know, the BC Liberals have insisted that there be a referendum on approving a new regional funding source to pay for much needed transit improvement in Metro Vancouver. Without new funding for transit, our region’s livability will be impacted as more people move into the region while having less transit services available. Without new funding for transit, some areas of the region won’t see much needed transit service and other parts will see ever increasing congestion on transit routes. Both will lead to more people being forced to drive a vehicle which will lead to more congestion on the roads. It will also mean that residents in the South of Fraser will be forced to pay road tolls when crossing the Fraser River as there will be no other viable travel options.

This is why it is important that Metro Vancouver citizens approve a new funding source for transit next fall. If you want to learn more about what a new funding solution (like a 0.5% regional sale tax) could fund, I suggestion you read our Leap Ahead transit plan for Metro Vancouver.

Get OnBoard BC is a broad, growing coalition which supports the introduction of sustainable and equitable funding solutions for transit, increased transit service, and the construction of rapid transit projects region-wide. This coalition plans to be a voice to let people in the region know that funding transit is needed in Metro Vancouver as we lead up to the referendum next fall. This is why South Fraser OnTrax has official joined the coalition and I will be personally helping them out.

Please check out Get OnBoard’s website for more information about the organization.

Supporting Farmers Markets and local agriculture

The South of Fraser is home to some of the best farmland in the province; it is one of the few places in the world where you can locally source everything you need for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At the same time, there is increasing pressure to pave over this valuable farmland with urban sprawl. This is why it is important that we have a strong Regional Growth Strategy and regional government that will stand up when municipalities try to allow develop on farmland. You can read about Metro Vancouver's latest efforts to block the Township of Langley from allowing development on farmland in the Vancouver Sun.

Beside strong regional and provincial protection of farmland, supporting local farmers by buying local is also key to ensuring the long-term success of agriculture in the South of Fraser. I received the following press release and thought I'd share it. It is about the new winter Milner Village Farmers Market and Langley Community Farmers Market. The good news is that farmers markets sales have increase from $46 million in 2006 to $114 million last year in BC. People seem to be supporting local agricultural in BC.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Brookswood/Fernridge Community Plan Update

Earlier this year, I post about the proposed update to the Brookswood/Fernridge Community Plan. This parts of the Township of Langley has not seen a community plan update for close to 25 years, and there has been some interest to add new development in the community. This spring, the Township hosted a series of open houses to get feedback on the draft land-use concept for the community. The following land-use map is what people we asked to comment on.

Draft land-use concept for Brookswood/Fernridge. Click map to enlarge.

A report of the feedback received from the open house was put online this summer. One of the interesting take away is that people in the community want to keep both the rural character of the community, and increase transportation and housing options. It almost appears that the community has a bit of a split personality. The top two general feedback received from this round of open houses was that there should be more diversity of housing and higher density. The other top feedback received was that trees should be protected in the community.

Based on the feedback I read in the report, I think the Township has the opportunity to expand the 24th Avenue mixed-use node north, and the 32nd Avenue mixed-use node south. Higher density housing like townhouses should be considered between the nodes. The benefit of this idea is that it will have minimal impact to the existing single-family areas of Brookswood, and by focusing the density, it would also preserve the rural nature of the rest of the community.

By having a larger node focused around 200th Street between 24th and 32nd Avenue, transit service could be improved as there would be a sufficient density to support frequent transit service. It would also create a walkable hub, providing an accessible community which is important especially as our population continues to age.

The Township is currently working on fine-tuning this plan, and the next round of open houses will be scheduled this fall.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A review of Langley City's proposed Master Transportation Plan

The City of Langley is busy updating its Master Transportation Plan which was last updated about a decade ago. The City has retained the service of Urban Systems to update the plan with a final proposed plan ready by the end of the year. Currently, the plan update process is in phase 3 of 4. Phase 3 is focused on what network improvements should be made and where, and the final phase will work on prioritizing the improvements into short, medium, and long-term projects. The City will be hosting an open house at the end of this month to get feedback from the public. In order to facilitate discussion, the City has also released a discussion paper which can be downloaded from the City’s website.

One of the good things about the discussion paper and I assume the forthcoming updated Master Transportation Plan is that it is focusing on walking, cycling, and transit. 70% of the discussion paper talks about sustainable modes of transportation.

One of the major focuses of the plan is on improving walking infrastructure. With Langley’s aging population, the fact that walkable communities improve the livability and health outcomes for all age groups, and that improved walkability is linked to increased economic development, it is no surprise that the plan will focus on walking.

Map of sidewalk improvement priorities. Click map to enlarge.

As you can see from the map, one of the largest priorities will be to provide sidewalks throughout the whole community and fill-in any gaps where there are missing sidewalks. In fact, the only area which is not likely to get sidewalks is the Langley Bypass which is under Provincial jurisdiction.

The discussion guide also talks about creating pedestrian-oriented streets within the Downtown core, including McBurney Lane, Fraser Highway, and Douglas Crescent with links to surrounding neighbourhoods with wider, better maintained sidewalks and improved pedestrian amenities like wayfinding, benches, and better lighting.

The discussion guide also talks about improving intersections and mid-block crossings by creating curb extensions and median islands. Ironically, the road network section of the discussion guide talks about making wider intersections.

As the City of Langley has a good amount of off-street trails, the discussion guide notes that improvements including more lighting, pedestrian and bicycle separated trails, and more off-leash areas should be made, and that wayfinding should be improved to link the trail and on-street networks.

Bike Facilities Hierarchy. Most people will only use 3 left-most options.

The discussion guide spends a good amount of time talking about how the City of Langley is actually a great place for cycling due to its flat topology and current off-street network. It also spends a significant amount of time talking about how most people feel unsafe riding a bicycle on arterial roads, and that the best way to attract people to cycling is to provide off-street or separated bike ways, or put bike routes on slower residential roads with traffic calming, like in the City of Vancouver. So I was a bit shocked when I saw that the plan focuses pretty heavily on shoulder bike lanes on arterial roads and drops a bomb that the City is not likely to get separated cycling facilities; this is extremely disappointing considering the role that cycling could play for all age groups in a compact city like Langley.

There is also long-term opportunity to upgrade some facilities to protected bicycle facilities in the future. In particular, an area of opportunity for a separated bicycle facility (cycle track or multi-use pathway) exists along south 203rd Street (between Downtown and the Nicomekl trails), and is recommended for consideration in the long-term.
Map of cycling network priorities. Click map to enlarge.

One of the good things about the discussion guide is that it talks about the need for better end-of-trip cycling facilities like secure bike parking and even things like showers. The City could require improved end-of-trip facilities for commercial, industrial and institutional areas as part of the development process. I hope the City pursues this.

The discussion guide also talks about transit, but since transit is provided by TransLink, the delivery of improved service is out of the City’s hands. There are two things that the City can do which are talked about in the guide.

First, transit bus shelters and other on-street amenities are the responsibility of the City. The guide talks about providing high-quality bus shelters with customer information along all major corridors.

Also, the biggest thing that the City of Langley can do to support transit, cycling, and walking is to approve land-uses that support building an accessible community. This means City Council needs to stop approving drive thru facilities in the Downtown core and really focus on getting development that supports creating a walkable community. A walkable community by default is also a cycling-friendly and transit-friendly community.

The final part of the discussion guide talks about the road network. One of the assumptions in the guide is that traffic volumes will increase by 25% to 30% on City roads by 2031. I have to question any number that predicts traffic volume growth as recent trends show that people are driving less. Also, when you start building accessible communities, people shift modes. It is no surprise that there is less vehicle traffic in Downtown Vancouver today than in the mid-twentieth century. All in all, the road network expansion is pretty modest which is likely due to space constraints. The reality is that more people will need to walk, cycle, and take transit in the City, and that can only happen if City council focuses one creating a community that supports these modes of transportation.

Map of proposed road network expansion. Click map to enlarge.

The one major thing that is missing in this plan is a discussion about vehicle parking. As on-street parking management and off-street parking requirements play a large role in determining a community’s walkability and economic prosperity, I’m surprised that the discussion guide completely overlooks parking. As most vehicles spend 90% of their time parked, not addressing this in a master transportation plan is like trying to bake a cookie without turning on the oven.

Anyway, the City will be holding an open house on:
Wednesday, October 30 2013
4:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Langley City Hall (20399 Douglass Crescent)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Port has a moral obligation to mitigate negative impacts in Metro Vancouver

Last night, I attended one of the small group meetings that Port Metro Vancouver is hosting as part of its consultation for the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project near Delta. Besides giving an overview of the proposed project, the Port was also soliciting feedback on measures to mitigate the negative externalities that will result from the new terminal. I’m not against the expansion of the Port, but I want to make sure that it is done in a way that will makes ourselves, our communities, and the environment in which we live better off than before the expansion. I believe this is possible. One of the first issues that came up in the evening was the matter of the area of scope for mitigation measures.

The Port primarily wanted to hear feedback on measures to mitigate negative impacts from the construction and operation of Terminal 2 in the areas directly surrounding the proposed facilities. In fact, the project’s scope ends where the Roberts Bank/Deltaport causeway touches land in Metro Vancouver. Mitigating air, noise, and water pollution would be considered for activities within the project area, but the impacts from the potential doubling of rail traffic in communities like the City of Langley was not part of the discussion. The Port told us at the meeting that the project description has been sent to both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) and the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) who will determine the scope of the areas for which the Port has to consider and mitigate negative effects for. The BC EAO has yet to launch a public participation period for the Terminal 2 project, but the CEAA has launched a public participation process that will end on October 15, 2013. The CEAA will use the information it hears to assist in determining whether a federal environmental assessment is required and the scope.

Since the federal government re-wrote Canadian environmental law, the CEAA has a weaker mandate then it did in the past and can only consider the impacts to:

-fish and fish habitat;
-other aquatic species;
-migratory birds;
-federal lands;
-effects that cross provincial or international boundaries;
-effects that impact on Aboriginal peoples, such as their use of lands and resources for traditional purposes;
-changes to the environment that are directly linked to or necessarily incidental to any federal decisions about a project.

It will be interesting to see if the transportation of goods which cross provincial borders will be considered. It will likely be up to the BC EAO, which has historically required less mitigation measures for projects, to protect the interests of the region. This concerns me given their track record. Health Authorities may also have a role to play as the proposed Terminal 2 project, and the increases shipment of containers as a result, will impact human health.

Even if it turns out that the Port has no legal obligation to mitigate the negative impacts that result from its operations in Metro Vancouver, the Port does have a moral obligation. For example, the Port spent a good deal of time talking about the measures it is putting in place as part of the Terminal 2 project to help reduce the negative impacts from truck traffic in the region. The Port licenses trucks that can operate in its facilities and uses the licensing system as a way to ensure that Port standards are met. The same is done for ships that use Port facilities. The Port incentivises the use of more energy efficient vessels with lower port fees for them, and encourages the use of ship-to-shore powers for cruise ships.

The only area that the Port seemed unwilling to address was the impact of increased rail traffic in the region. If I didn’t know better, you’d think that the railway mafia paid a visit to Port Metro Vancouver and told them that it was in the Port best interest to say and do as little as possible about the impacts of the railways. This is interesting because 80% of all good from Deltaport go directly on train and through the Roberts Bank rail corridor which cuts right through the City of Langley. With the massive increase in rail traffic that will result from the new terminal, the impacts that the rail corridor will have in Metro Vancouver must be considered.

For what it’s worth, I completed the feedback form that the Port has put together as part of its consultation processes. I also contacted the CEAA at and asked them to include all transportation corridors in Metro Vancouver as part of the scope of impacts that much be mitigated.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project Environmental Assessment

Artist rendering of proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project

I have been following Port Metro Vancouver as it works through the process needed for the potential construction of a second terminal near its current Roberts Bank/Deltaport terminal in Delta. The Port has seen a huge increase in container traffic over the past decade, from just under 1.5 million TEU at the beginning of this century to over 3 million TEU in 2012. The only year were there was a dip in container traffic was in 2009 due to the great recession. Port Metro Vancouver believes that this grow will continue on a linear projection into the foreseeable future. While linear growth predictions normal turn out to be false in the long-term, within the decade the Port believes that it will run out of capacity to move containers through our region. This is why the Port is proposing to build a new 2 billion dollar facility which will take up to six years to complete. It will include a 117 hectare three-berth marine terminal, and 42 hectare of additional transportation infrastructure including expanding the causeway that connects the current terminal to Metro Vancouver.

Map of individual components which are part of the proposed Terminal 2 project. Click the map to enlarge.

Port Metro Vancouver is an important part of Metro Vancouver and contributes to the economic vitality of the region. Besides the positive externalities that the Port provides, it also has negative externalities. Port operations have an impact on human health. Air, noise, light, and water pollution are directly linked to human mortality. The Port and its activities cause destruction to wildlife habit and farmland. Of course there is also rail and road congestion which have resulted in the federal and provincial government building a massive amount of highway and rail infrastructure which impacts the livability of our region.

As you can imagine, building a new terminal will have a major impact in Metro Vancouver. To that end, Port Metro Vancouver has filed the project description for the proposed Terminal 2 with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. With the recent overhaul of Canadian environmental laws by the federal Conservative government, it will be interesting to see how the assessment process will now work. As part of the project description, Port Metro Vancouver had to note the environmental, social, and economic effects the project may have on the region. One of the interesting thing I noticed is that there is very little mention on the impact this project will have on human health.

The proposed Terminal 2 project will be built in an environmentally sensitive and wildlife management area. It is both on a major migratory path for birds and is critical habit for killer whales (SRKW). According to the report, the project will result in the loss of marine habit and may result in the motility of fish and marine mammals. The on-going noise from the proposed terminal will also impact humans and animals.

Direct and indirect Project-related effects on coastal birds may include:
Direct loss of intertidal foraging habitats
Indirect effects to intertidal food sources
Increased mortality from collisions
Increased predation risk and associated mortalities from raptors
Habitat loss or alteration surrounding the Project footprint
Sensory disturbance

The project definition also notes that there will be increased risk of accidental spills as well as increased pollution which will impact the ecosystem in Metro Vancouver and south of the border. The project definition also notes the expanded port will increase GHG emissions.

All projects of this size have both positive benefits and negative consequences. The question will be if this proposed project has more benefits than consequences. As a City of Langley resident, I’m a bit concerned about the increase in both rail and truck traffic in my community, and as I posted about on Monday, its effect on human health.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Surrey's Climate Change Action Plan

The City of Surrey has recognized that climate change is happening and that cities have a role to play in both the mitigation of human-caused climate change and adaptation of our communities as a response to the effects of climate change.

For around a decade, Surrey has been building an action plan to reduce and mitigate the effects of climate change with most of that information on their ENERGYShift website. A few of the interesting facts from the website are that 60% of all GHG emission are from transportation of people and goods in the community, and 35% of GHG emissions are from building energy usage.

Surrey is now in the process of completing two other documents to further its action plan around climate change. The Community Energy and Emissions Plan is a framework to reduce community energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions while the Climate Adaptation Strategy identifies how the effects of climate change will impact the community; it also proposes solutions that may mitigate some of the impacts from climate change. The Climate Adaptation Strategy starts to put real dollars and cents values to the infrastructure needed as a result of climate change. You can read an overview of both of these reports starting on page 9 of the “City of Surrey Community Climate Action Strategy” report which was on last night’s council agenda. The City of Surrey is also looking for feedback on the plans and submissions can be made to by October 27, 2013.

The plans look at six main areas that can reduce GHG emission or which are impacted by climate change: infrastructure, flood management and drainage, ecosystems and natural areas, urban trees and landscaping, human health and safety, and agriculture and food security.

Some of the main areas that the City will be focusing on to reduce GHG emissions are:

-Building complete, compact, connected corridors supporting a high quality rapid transit network and low carbon district energy systems
-Creating a framework to meet steadily rising building energy standards through capacity building efforts, the exploration of local incentives, and connecting the development community with existing incentives available for energy efficiency
-Building bike infrastructure around and between Town Centres and the City Centre
-Creating a “green” car strategy
-Finding new initiatives that build on the City’s Rethink Waste program

On the climate change migration front, some of the projects that Surrey is working on are:

-A Crescent Beach Climate Change Adaptation Study
-A Serpentine / Nicomekl Lowlands Flood Control Plan
-A Development within the Nicomekl, Campbell and Serpentine River Floodplain Policy
-A Nicomekl and Serpentine Sea Dam Upgrades Options Report
-An Ecosystem and Natural Areas Management Study and the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy
-An Agriculture Protection and Enhancement Strategy

I highly recommending checking out the 22 page document that the City has put together which outlines their latest climate change strategies.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Health Impact Assessment needed for Port Metro Vancouver Coal Expansion

Last Thursday at the City of Langley Parks and Environment Committee meeting, I had the chance to hear Dr. Frank James, MD, who is the Public Health Officer for San Juan County in Washington. I invited him to speak about health impacts of coal and the transportation of coal.

Dr. James started his presentation by talking about how he and other medical doctors got together to see what peer-reviewed research was done on coal transportation, due to the large number of trains going through his community. After an extensive review, the doctors found a direct correlation between proximity to coal terminals and coal-carrying rail lines, and increased rates of cancer and asthma, especially in seniors and children. Coal trains provide a double-blow because both the coal dust and the diesel exhaust impacts human health. He also noticed that the noise from trains impacts life expectancy.

Another interesting fact is that most of the coal that is slated for export will be bound for China, and as Dr. James pointed out, pollution knows no borders. His community’s municipal water supply contains mercury from coal-burning power plants in China, whose fumes make their way over the Pacific Ocean and end up right back in North America.

As Port Metro Vancouver plans to massively increase coal exports, many residents in Metro Vancouver are concerned about the health impact of the transportation of coal through our region. But it’s not just residents who are concerned, so are the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health Authorities. Both are calling on Port Metro Vancouver to complete a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) for its proposed plan to ship more coal out of its facilities. I’ve posted a letter from December 2012 and earlier this year to the document archive of this site. To be frank, an HIA would reveal how many people would get sick, injured, or die as a result of the movement of coal in our region.

According to Fraser Health:

The regular inhalation of coal dust is deleterious to health. At the level of higher work place exposures this can lead to the development of anthracite lung, coalminer’s pneumoconiosis, emphysema and various other obstructive airway diseases. Even at lower levels coal dust can be associated with significant respiratory and cardiovascular disease and data exists to suggest that this can also have an adverse impact on pregnancy outcome.

The Fraser Health authority has ordered a HIA that will look at the effects of both coal-dust and increased rail traffic. Health authorities have provincial jurisdiction and Port Metro Vancouver is federally controlled. There is some uncertainly if the health authorities could legally compel the port to complete the HIA. It will likely take some political pressure.

For our part, the Parks and Environment Committee recommended that the City of Langley support the health authorities in calling for a full HIA for the movement of coal in our region. Council could vote on that recommendation at the October 21st council meeting.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Transit ridership down in Metro Vancouver

2012 was a bad year for sustainable transportation and transit users in Metro Vancouver. Ever since TransLink was formed in 1999, funding has been a challenge for the organization. A vehicle levy which was supposed to be a major revenue source to fund transportation in the region was never implemented by the NDP government of the day or the proceeding BC Liberal government. This led to a steady increase in fares, property tax, and gas tax to fund the system. While this was not ideal, it did allow TransLink to expand the transit network and grow ridership.

In 2010, the BC government and TransLink Mayors’ Council signed a memo of understanding to find and implement a stable, long-term revenue source to fund sustainable transportation options in the region. As a gesture of good-faith, the Mayors’ Council approved a temporary property tax increase to allow the continued expansion of the transit service while a long-term revenue source could be found and implemented. At the same time, the BC government increased the gas tax in Metro Vancouver to help pay for the Evergreen Line. All seemed to be going well until early 2012. The BC government decided unilaterally that TransLink would not get any new funding source and ordered an audit. The Mayors’ Council responded by axing the temporary property tax increase. Around the same time, the independent TransLink Commissioner denied TransLink a fare increase and released its own audit of the organization.

Both audits did not find much fat in the organization, and ironically suggested cutting transit service as a way for the agency to become more efficient. Sure some high-level positions at TransLink were eliminated, but the elimination of those positions barely funded a new bus route.

TransLink has seen a steady increase in ridership over the last decade with double-digit growth occurring during and after the Olympics in 2010. This can be backed up with statistics from the American Public Transit Association (APTA). This growth came to an abrupt halt in 2013.

In December 2012, TransLink started to implement “efficiencies” in the transit system which has resulted in a reduction of service in the region. If these were true efficiencies, there would be a reduction of spending with little to no impact on actual service delivery.

Not since the transit strike in 2001 has TransLink seen a reduction of overall ridership on the transit network in Metro Vancouver. The latest numbers from the APTA show that transit ridership is down 3.26% for the first six month in 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. During the same period, transit ridership increased 8.9% in Edmonton and 6.49% in Calgary. Both these communities that are investing in transit.

While one organization continues to crow that more efficiencies need to be found within TransLink, the cold, hard stats show that TransLink has been force to cut at muscle and not fat. The reality is that without a new revenue source, transit service will get worse in the region. Combine the sorry state of transit with the BC government’s obsessions with building toll bridges, and people in the South of Fraser will have to fork out more money to get around in a car as they won’t have transportation options. The end result is that Metro Vancouver will become a less livable region.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bike Infrastructure in the South of Fraser

New separated bike lane in Surrey (192 Street at 73 Avenue). From tybuilding at SkyscraperPage Forum.

When I was away last week, Surrey unveiled it first separated bike lane. Separated bike lanes and off-street trails are important because research shows that 70% of the population would consider cycling if these facilitates were available. 10% of the population would consider cycling with or without traditional bike lanes, so in some regards building shoulder bike lanes like what you see along most of Fraser Highway may be a waste of money.

What Surrey has done in East Clayton should be an example for other cities in the South of Fraser to follow. Simply changing the typical road configuration from general travel lane, bike lane, then parking, to general travel lane, parking, then bike lane uses the parked vehicles as a buffer between fast moving vehicles and cyclists. One of the things I never understood was why this wasn't standard practices.

Things get a bit more tricky when there is no parking available, but in Chicago and even in Richmond they provide a larger gap from general traffic and install traffic delineators posts to provide cost-effective separated bike lanes.

One of the things that concerns me about Surrey's first separated bike lane is that eventually the parking lane will be converted into a general travel lane. I wonder if Surrey will add traffic delineators to keep the lane separated or if it will be transformed to a regular unprotected bike lane.

Elston Avenue protected bike lane, south of Division Street in Chicago. From Bike Walk Lincoln Park.

All in all I have to give Surrey a lot of credit for their commitment to cycling, and their willingness to try out new things. Surrey now incorporates cycling and walking facilities into every major road project. This is a vast improvement as Surrey spent almost nothing on cycling less than a decade ago. In addition to including cycling as part of major road projects, Surrey has also committed to spending $20 million on dedicated cycling projects over the next 9 years which works out to 4% of their transportation budget.

The Township of Langley is also seeking to increase funding for cycling. Just like the City of Surrey, the Township of Langley incorporates cycling and walking facilitates into major road projects. Currently, the Township of Langley spends $160,000 on dedicated cycling projects. Township engineering staff has requested that Township Council increase funding and allow $280,000 to be spent on dedicated cycling projects annually now that the Township's Ultimate Cycling Plan has been complete. I can only hope that Council approves this funding increase as part of the next year's budget. Today, the Township of Langley spends about 1% of their transportation budget on dedicated cycling projects.

The odd one out is the City of Langley. While the City includes cycling and walking facilities into major road projects, it does not spend a dime on dedicated cycling projects. Every year in their annual budget, funding for dedicated cycling projects get deferred. This is something that needs to change. The City is currently working on a new master transportation plan, and I'm hoping one of the outcomes will be dedicated cycling infrastructure funding in the City.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

TransLink to introduce distance-based fares in 2016

With the Compass Card system in the beta testing phase and ready to launch with the general public later this winter, TransLink has been musing about switching from the current zone-based fare system to a distance-based fare system. This is a good idea as it will make a more equitable system than the current system in place today. With our currently zone-based system, I can take a bus from Maple Ridge to Tsawwassen (a considerable distance) and only pay one zone. If I go from Joyce-Collingwood to Patterson SkyTrain station (within walking distance), I have to pay a two zone fare.

With the tap on/tap off system using either a Compass Card or hopefully a credit card, it will be simple to transition from a zone-based to a distance-based system for most users of the system. The only challenge will be for cash-only users who are become an increasingly smaller percentage of transit users over the years.

Some people are concerned that the move to distance-based fares is nothing more than a cash-grab from TransLink. While some people may pay a bit more for transit, and some a bit less, fares are regulated by the independent TransLink Commissioner who has denied fare increases proposed by TransLink in the past. I’m not too concerned that my $5.50 one-way fare will jump to $8.00. The only area where there will be confusions is if or how TransLink keeps unlimited ride daily and monthly passes.

Seattle’s Link Light Rail system uses distance-based fares and offers monthly unlimited ride passes that can be loaded on their Orca Card system. If you normally travel $1.50 as a one-way fare, you’d buy a $54.00 unlimited ride monthly pass. If you normally travel $5.00 as a one-way fare, you’d buy a $180.00 unlimited ride monthly pass. If you travel beyond the distance-based monthly pass, say for example $5.50, you’d be charge the difference and it would be deducted from your stored value which is loaded on the card. While this may sound confusing, the monthly pass and stored value can be automatically loaded onto the card. It can be a set and forget type system.

The BART transit system in the San Francisco Bay area also uses a distance-based fare system. Unlike Seattle, they don’t have an unlimited monthly passes, instead they offer a 6.25% discount for cards that are loaded with more than $45 dollars. This is similar to how TransLink plans to use the Compass Card when people load any value onto the card.

My hope is that TransLink will take the best of both systems and offer regular stored value fares, discounted stored value fares when loading more than say $20 at a time, and distance-based unlimited monthly passes.

In order for the system to work, Compass Cards need to be easy to buy and load values onto. While most people will be able to get a Compass Card and load passes and stored value onto the cards online, TransLink also needs to make sure that Compass Cards can be purchased, and passes and money can be loaded onto the cards at vending machines throughout Metro Vancouver. Right now Compass Card vending machines will be at every SkyTrain, SeaBus, West Coast Express station, and even London Drugs, but TransLink must also put vending machines at major transit exchanges as many places and people in the region don’t use rail-based transit. TransLink should also enable the credit card payment feature on buses as soon as possible.

While change can be challenging, I’ll excited about the Compass Card system and distance-based fares. It will make our transit system easier and fairer to use in the long run.