Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013: a turning point in the livability of Metro Vancouver?

As this will be my last post of the year, I thought I’d briefly talk about the year that was and what 2014 might have in store for livability in our region.

The words “turning point” get used a lot, but I believe that 2013 will be seen as a turning point in Metro Vancouver. For almost 30 years, the region has been committed to preserving green space; building a region of compact, accessible town centres and corridor. This could all change in 2014.

Transit is critical to the success of our region. It is needed to implement the vision of a sustainable, livable region. With much needed transit expansion at a standstill as there is no money to expand the system, the province and region were working to find a sustainable revenue stream for TransLink. This came to an abrupt end in 2012. In 2013, during the election, Christy Clark and the BC Liberals promised a referendum on any new revenue for TransLink. The challenge is that no one seems to know what the referendum question will be. Last week Premier Clark talked about the referendum being a multiply choice affair while her Transportation Minister, Todd Stone, talked about the referendum being a simply yes/no. If new transit funding is approved by the public, our region will remain on the course of livability. If the referendum fails, it will have negative economic, environmental, and social effects in our region.

The second critical issue will be the preservation of the agricultural land reserve. Right now the ALR acts as an urban growth boundary and protects the best farmland in BC from sprawling urban development. This fall, the provincial government threatened to fundamentally change how the ALR is managed. If the ALR becomes open to development, our region’s green space and food lands will quickly disappear. We will lose our most valuable natural asset.

Metro Vancouver and the Township of Langley are in court over the proposed University District. The outcome of the case could determine what authority a regional district in BC has over land-use.

By this time next year, we’ll know if we will be a livable region or the next Dallas, Texas (a region known for its sprawl.)

In the Township of Langley, I was most disappointed to hear about the court-ordered halting of construction for the Coulter Berry Building in Fort Langley. With all the auto-oriented development in Langley, it sadness me that some people in Langley have no issues with sprawl, but will fight tooth-and-nail to prevent the construction of a building that will promote a walkable village centre. The Township of Langley has appealed the court case, and in 2014 we will know the success of the appeal.

In Langley City, I’m concerned that while on paper the municipality supports creating a walkable downtown core, in practice they have support projects that put cars ahead of people.

Let’s not forget that 2014 will also be an election year for local government, and in Langley it should prove to be interesting.

As someone who cares about the future livability and long-term prosperity of our region, I’m a bit scared as 2013 comes to a close. Will 2014 bring expanded transit service with light rail in Surrey and SkyTrain to UBC, with renewed commitment to preserving agricultural land as we build a livable region? Or will our regional vision unravel?

Interesting enough, it was the province that created the conditions that threaten the prosperity of our region, and I believe the province must play a key role to correct the problems it created.

“Greater Vancouver can become the first urban region in the world to combine in one place the things to which humanity aspires on a global basis: a place where human activities enhance rather than degrade the natural environment, where the quality of the built environment approaches that of the natural setting, where the diversity of origins and religions is a source of social strength rather than strife, where people control the destiny of their community, and where the basics of food, clothing, shelter, security and useful activity are accessible to all.” —Source: Creating Our Future

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's about frequncy and speed, stupid

One of the great questions in transit service delivery is do you build a network that is smaller, but provides more frequent service; or do you build a network that covers a larger area, but has lower frequency service? Most transit agencies in North America try to strike a balance, but it seems that most skew to the larger area, less frequency service side of things.

One of the main reasons for this is politics. As all transit agencies are subsidized with some form of tax, the logic to providing a large coverage area is to show that all taxpayers have access to some (even if not practical) form of transit service. Another reason is to provide minimal transit service for captive riders (those people who can’t drive, walk, or cycling to where they need to go.) While I understand the reasons for choosing coverage over frequency, I believe that we need skew transit service delivery toward providing a more frequent, smaller network. But does providing a more frequent network mean that coverage has to suffer as well? In residential areas with ¼ acres or large lots, coverage may suffer, but most urban areas in Metro Vancouver are more compact; we can have the best of both worlds.

I had a friend that went to South Korea over a decade ago, and I remember him telling me that transit stops were spaced much further apart, but service was more frequent. Because the service was more frequent, people were willing to walk further distances to the stops. At the time, I didn’t really thing much about this, but I see this in my life as well.

My apartment is right next to 2 community shuttle routes that run every 30 minutes. I almost never take the community shuttles, but will walk about 10 minutes to the Langley Centre Bus Loop where frequency transit service is available. Providing frequent transit is the key, and as I posted about in the past, the frequency of transit service can play a greater role than density in attracting transit riders. This is why seemingly lower density corridors like Fraser Highway supports multiply frequent transit routes.

While frequency is important, I’m also starting to believe that spacing stop further apart is important too. Each bus stop adds delay to transit service and makes it less competitive to automobile travel. As each bus stop adds delay, it also adds more cost to transit delivery as more buses are required to service the same area.

I was talking to some planners the other day, and we started chatting about how TransLink should focus on rationalizing the bus network on corridors that are served with multiply bus routes, and especially on corridors that have local and express (B-Line) service.

When TransLink introduced the 96 B-Line in Surrey, it keep the 320 (which duplicates some of the 96 B-Line's route) frequent as well. As people are willing to walk greater distances to faster, more frequent service, the 320 service could be reduced or eliminated in the areas that have access to the 96 B-Line. The service hours from the 320 could be reinvested into the 96 B-Line to provide even more frequent service that would attract more riders. This change could actually serve more people than the current 320/96 service.

Another example is the upcoming express bus service that will be introduced along Fraser Highway between Aldergrove and Surrey Centre. The new express service will run every 30 minutes while local service will still be every 15 minutes or better. As with the 320/96, this should be flipped with the express bus service having more frequency.

Building a more frequency transit network with less routes will actually make transit more useful to more people than building a large network with less frequent service.

Interestingly enough, Auckland Transport in New Zealand is reducing the number of bus routes in favour providing less, but more frequent bus service in its region.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Another drive-thru in pedestrian-friendly Downtown Langley?

View of proposed Tim Hortons from Douglas Crescent.

Several years ago the City of Langley realigned 203rd Street, creating a new interaction at 56 Avenue, Douglas Crescent, and 203rd Street. Because of the realignment, an odd shaped parcel of land was created. This piece of land has sat vacant for many year, but now may be the home to a new drive-thru Tim Hortons.

The good news about this project is that the buildings best features front Douglas Crescent which helps with the City’s goal of transforming Douglas Crescent into a pedestrian street. The entrances to the store also front both 203rd Street and Douglas Crescent. The challenge with this project is that around 50% of the street frontage of both Douglas Crescent and 203rd Street is parking lot/drive-thru.

Site plan for proposed Tim Hortons. Click image to enlarge.

One of the City of Langley’s stated goals is to create a pedestrian-oriented downtown core. In order to create a pedestrian-oriented downtown core, the pedestrian environment has to be inviting. As I’ve posted many times, blank walls, drive-thrus, and parking lots all diminish the public realm. As the City wants build a storefront wall along Douglas Crescent, the Tim Hortons parking lot and drive-thru will limit this vision. On 203rd Street, pedestrians will be subject to idling vehicles as there is only a thin strip of landscaping between the sidewalk and the drive-thru. While this proposed Tim Hortons will created a pedestrian-friendly corner at 203rd and Douglas Crescent, the majority of street frontage will be parking lot or drive-thru.

The City of Langley has grown slower than other municipalities in Metro Vancouver. I wonder at times if this slower rate of development sometimes makes Council feel obligated to approve any new development proposal. Does it make sense to approve a project that is OK today, if it will prevent a great project from being built in five years time on the same site?

If the City of Langley truly wants to build a pedestrian-oriented downtown, Council will have to seriously reconsider its parking lot and drive-thru policies. Because since I’ve lived in Langley City, parking lots have been created in Downtown Langley at the expense of creating a quality, pedestrian-first public realm.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Are high fuel taxes driving people south of the border?

It seems like every other day there is a story about people heading to the US in droves in order to avoid carbon tax, TransLink fuel tax, and pretty much any other tax in Canada. I wondered if this was true, so I decided to have a look at the border crossings statistics that are compiled by the US Department of Transportation.

Looking at the following graph which shows US-bound personal vehicle annual volumes between 1999 and 2012, a different story emerges.

US-bound personal vehicle annual volumes at Lower Mainland border crossing, noting fuels taxes and border expansion. Click graph to enlarge.

What clearly stands out is that 9/11 caused a large decrease in border crossing volumes. The Great Recession also played a role in suppressing border crossings. 1999-level traffic volume was not reached again until 2010. It is interesting to note that between 1999 and 2010, increases in both TransLink fuel tax and carbon tax did not strongly correlate with border crossing volumes. What does stand out is the jump in border crossing traffic volumes between 2010 and 2012. In this time period Vancouver hosted the Olympic Games, and in 2011 the Peace Arch border crossing was expanded.

While it appears that there is a link between increased fuel taxes and border crossing traffic volume, I decided to look at border crossing volumes in Southern Ontario.

US-bound personal vehicles, comparing Lower Mainland crossings to Southern Ontario crossings (Detroit, Port Huron, & Buffalo-Niagara Falls). Click graph to enlarge.

Interesting enough, there is also a sharp increase in border crossings in Southern Ontario as well. Southern Ontario does not have a regional transportation fuel tax or carbon tax. While higher fuel taxes are causing some people to go to the US, there is clearly something bigger at play. The Canadian dollar started to be regularly on par with the US dollar around 2010. At the same time, our economy started to recover.

Let’s for a moment believe that all the US-bound traffic is trying to dodge taxes in Canada. How much traffic is that really in the grand scheme of things? All US-bound personal vehicles crossings in the Lower Mainland (that includes the Peace Arch, Pacific Highway, Aldergrove, and Sumas crossings) equalled about 20% of the traffic that went through the George Massey Tunnel in 2011. Put another way, more people use the 99 B Line than cross the US border. In in fact, the daily difference in US-bound personal vehicle crossing volumes, between the lowest point in 2003 and 2012 high point, is about 8895 vehicles. Considering there are 1,520,776 vehicles registered in Metro Vancouver, the amount of traffic that is US-bound is just a tiny blip.

Comparing annual average traffic volumes through George Massey Tunnel to US-bound personal vehicles crossing volumes. Click graph to enlarge.

Looking at the numbers, it seems like the stories about people heading to the US in massive to avoid Canadian taxes might be blown out of proportion. While higher fuels costs are causing some people to fill up in the US, there is a Canada wide trend of increased border crossings which leads me to believe that TransLink fuel tax and BC carbon tax aren't the main reason why most people travel to the US.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Port expansion could result in 60 trains a day through Langley

In October, I posted about a small group meeting I attended that Port Metro Vancouver hosted as part of its consultation about the proposed expansion of the Roberts Bank Terminal. As a result of the meeting, I learned that the Port did not plan to look at the negative impacts that would result from the expansion, including increased rail traffic, in the region.

80% of goods that are transported through the Port end up on trains. Since Langley has the main rail line that services Roberts Bank Terminal/Deltaport, people at the small group meeting were concerned about the social, economic, health, and environmental impacts from increased freight trains. I noted that even if the Port didn’t have a legal obligation to mitigate the impacts of its operation in Langley, it had a moral obligation.

We had a lot of questions at that meeting, and the Port replied a month later with some answers, though many questions still remain.

I was reading over the latest City of Langley Council Meeting Agenda which contains a report about the proposed port expansion and its potential impact to the City.

The Roberts Bank Rail Corridor currently carries approximately 22 trains per day, which is expected to increase to 28 to 38 trains a day with completion of the third birth at the existing terminal in 2016/17. Current trains can be up to 3.2 kilometres in length. With the addition of the RBT2 Project, rail traffic may potentially increase to over 60 trains per day.

200th Street and Fraser Highway would be at a standstill with approximately 3 times the rail traffic. That would mean for every hour of the day, port trains would cause 50 minutes of delay! The increased traffic could limit redevelopment opportunity and threaten the long-term revitalization of the City of Langley and even Brookswood.

Of course, there is also the health impacts of increased diesel emissions from trains which is linked to chronic illness and premature death.

On November 8th, the Port submitted draft Environmental Impact Statement Guidelines to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. The guidelines did not consider any of the impacts that the proposed expansion will have on the region, expect for the immediate area where the proposed facility will be built.

City of Langley staff have recommended that Council request that Port Metro Vancouver complete a full analysis of the proposed Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project including the impacts from increased road and rail traffic along the corridor. The results of the analysis would guide how the Port could mitigate the negative impacts.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Will Metro Vancouver's regional zoning kick seniors to the street?

The Forest Green Estates Manufactured Home Park is sited on the northwest corner of the Highway 1 and 200th Street interchange. If you weren’t looking, you might not even notice it. Some people look down at manufacture home parks, but they are a legitimate form of affordable housing and are home to many people on fixed incomes or reduced incomes. If you look at some of the past history in the region, manufacture home parks have sold off for redevelopment with little regard for the people that live in them. As many of these people have limited means, they are not able to afford similar housing options. As affordable housing is a perennially concern in our region, you would think that kicking seniors out of housing wouldn’t be one of Metro Vancouver’s policies, but that is what might happen.

As I’ve posted about in the past, I’m do not like the regional Mixed Employment zone which allows all development except for residential. This zone allows big box retail and auto-oriented office parks, but doesn’t allow mixed-used, accessible neighbourhoods.

Forest Green Estates Manufactured Home Park, highlighted in blue, is in Metro Vancouver's Mixed Employment Zone (Salmon). Click map to enlarge.

Unfortunately for residents of Forest Green Estates, Metro Vancouver has designated the land of their manufactured home park as Mixed Employment. This means that any new development on that site cannot contain residential uses.

While I know this wasn’t the indented goal of the Mixed Employment zone, this is one of the reason I cannot support this zoning. The Township wanted to change the regional zoning of this land from Mixed Employment to General Urban, but the Metro Vancouver board denied this request in October.

Some residents of Forest Green Estates would like to see the Township zone their manufactured home park to allow a seniors-oriented pocket neighbourhood. This would allow future affordable housing option on that site. You can read more about pocket neighbourhoods on previous blog posts.

While Metro Vancouver denied the original request to have the section of Langley were Forest Green Estates is located to be zoned General Urban, it was part of a larger request which included the Future Shop/Best Buy distribution warehouse. As the manufactured home park is a pre-existing residential use, the Township can apply to Metro Vancouver to change the regional land use of the manufacture home park to General Urban; it would only require a simple 50+1 majority vote by the Metro Vancouver board to approve.

I hope that the residents of Forest Green Estates are able to get this land use changed because I don’t believe our region wants to see seniors kicked out onto the streets. You can read more about this in a report that appeared in the December 2nd Township of Langley Afternoon Council Meeting Agenda.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Improving Amtrak Cascade service and moving trains service in South Surrey/White Rock

When I took Amtrak to Portland in November, I read the Draft Washington State Rail Plan. The document outlines the current condition, and future vision, for both freight and passenger rail service in that state. While interesting to look at the vision for freight rail, Washington State has the most direct control over passenger rail service as it and Oregon subsidize about 45% of the cost of Amtrak Cascade service. The State of Washington is also investing about $800 million to improve travel time, increase reliability, and expand service of Amtrak Cascades. In fact once complete in 2017, there will be:

-Two additional round trip trains between Seattle and Portland; for a total of six daily round trip trains
-Improved on-time performance and reliability
-About 10 minutes travel time savings between Seattle and Portland

You can check out the projects that Washington State is building by visiting their passenger rail website.

Amtrak Cascade service has been a complete success with annual ridership starting at under 200,000 in 1994, growing 836,000 in 2012. The $800 million investment in passenger rail will allow ridership to grow even more.

Vancouver, BC is the second busiest stop for the Amtrak Cascade service with an annual ridership of about 150,000 in 2012. Portland and Seattle are tide in first place with an annual ridership of about 450,000 each. There is clearly a demand for rail service in Vancouver, but it only has two daily round trip trains. The long-term vision is to increase that to four daily round trip trains, but the existing condition of rail infrastructure in BC is preventing increased service.

One of the costs to providing Amtrak service to Canada is the fee to cross the border. I have to give the federal government credit for doing its part by waving the fee for one of the two round trip trains for border services. One of the other areas that is limiting growth in train service is the slow, winding rail corridor through White Rock and Ocean Park in Surrey.

Current rail alignment through South Surrey/White Rock. Possible new alignments could be near 176nd Street, outside of the urban areas. Click map to enlarge.

Because both passenger and freight service go right through a densely populated area, Surrey and White Rock want rail service moved. Moving rail service would be a triple-win. It would allow faster passenger rail service and open the door to increased Amtrak Cascade service, it would speed up freight trains, and it would get rail traffic out of the area so people are not exposed to health hazards including the risk of derailments, train emissions, and collisions.

Moving the rail corridor would also show Canada's commitment to passenger rail service which also has a positive effect on our economy. In fact in BC, each daily Amtrak train provides at least a $14 million in economic benefit annually.

Surrey is hosting an online “Re-imagining the Corridor: From Rails to Trails” consultation about the White Rock/South Surrey rail corridor. I suggest you fill out the questionnaire.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thoughts on Brookswood/Fernridge Community Plan

The Township of Langley is currently updating the community plan for Brookswood/Fernridge. The plan was last updated over 25 years ago. Through a series of open houses hosted over the last year, the Township has heard that people want a pedestrian-friendly community with close access to shops and services. People also want improved transit access and more cycling options. The preservation of green space is also key to the community.

While people supported the idea of providing a variety of house options one of the watch phrases that came up in the open houses was to “maintain the existing character” of the community. As Brookswood/Fernridge primarily consists of single-family housing, this means in that people also paradoxically want to keep the community single-family as well. The Township responded with a plan that keeps 84% of the land area single-family with mixed-use nodes at key intersections in the community. The Township is also proposing to allow row houses between the 24th Avenue and 32nd Avenue mixed-use nodes on 200th Street, and along 32 Avenue.

Proposed land-use plan for Brookswood/Fernridge. Click map to enlarge.

One of the interesting concepts in the Brookswood/Fernridge plan is to allow pocket neighbourhoods in the single-family areas. You can read more about pocket neighbourhoods in a previous blog post. I’m excited to see this idea being proposed in the community plan as it will allow density that supports building an accessible community while providing single-family style housing. The key will be to make sure that these pocket neighbourhoods are within easy walking distances of the mixed-use nodes.

One of the challenged I see in the plan is that the mixed-use nodes are spaces too far apart. Most people will walk about 5 minutes to shops and services with 10 minutes as an upper limit. The mixed-use nodes along 200th Street are 10 minutes apart. It seems that there should be another node at 28th Avenue at a minimum. The City of Surrey is proposing to allow live/work in row housing as part of its sustainability plans, and I think the Township should consider this for the proposed row housing along 200th Street and 32nd Avenue. It would certainly be in line with the character of Brookswood/Fernridge, and could put more people with walking distance of more shops and services.

One the transportation side of things, the Township is proposing to build out a grid street network which is good as it better supports walking, cycling, and transit. It is also good to see that a complete cycling network and greenway system is being proposed for the community.

Proposed open space, parks, and greenway map for Brookswood/Fernridge. Click map to enlarge.

It is always tricky to add density into an established single-family area, and I think the Township overall has done a good job all things considered. I believe that another mixed-used node at 28th Avenue as well as building pocket neighbourhoods will be key if this community is to be truly accessible.

The Township is currently seeking feedback on the plan, and you can submit your thoughts online until December 20th.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Health authories have serious concerns about Port Metro Vancouver's coal export study

Port Metro Vancouver and Fraser Surrey Docks are looking to expand US coal exports from our region. Metro Vancouver, municipalities, health authorities, and many citizens have concerns about the global and local environmental impact from the increased exporting, and therefor increased usage of coal which is one of the dirtiest and most greenhouse gas emission intense energy sources on the planet.

Besides the impact to the environment, there are serious concerns that coal dust and increased diesel emission from coal trains will have profound impact to human health in the region leading to conditions like asthma in our children and the premature death of seniors.

Fraser Health Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority have called for a health impact assessment due to these serious concerns. The City of Surrey, White Rock, City of Langley, and others have called for a health impact assessment as well. The Port agreed to complete an environmental and health impact assessment for the proposed increase to coal exports. The new study was quietly released on October 24. It appears that our region’s health authorities were not impressed. According to a joint November 13th letter from Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health Authorities:

1. The SNC-Lavalin report is primarily a repackaging of work previously done by other consultants, primarily Levelton Consultants Inc., with limited additional analyses to address concerns raised by ourselves, the public and local governments.

2. Most of the conclusions in the report about potential environmental and health impacts rely upon modeling work done by Levelton i.e. “Air Quality Assessment”. We are concerned about the underlying assumptions that informed that model, which were not assessed critically by SNC-Lavelin.

3. The assessment of potential health impacts is particularly disappointing, and receives minimal attention in the document. Of note, much greater consideration is given to the potential effects of the project on plants, fish and wildlife than to people. The report does not meet even the most basic requirements of a health impact assessment. SNC-Lavalin has included a 4-page summary describing general air toxins and their known health effects, but no link to this project. The appendix includes a short letter written by a toxicologist, Dr. Leonard Ritter, with his opinion about the potential health impacts of coal dust. The letter is based on the assumption that the Levelton model is accurate, and includes only a single reference pertaining to the potential health impacts of coal dust. No discussion is included of any other potential health impacts. This single toxicologist’s opinion does not meet the standards of a health impact assessment.

4. The report does not deal with the full scope of the project, from the time coal crosses the Canadian border to its transport and loading at Texada Island.

Based on these shortfalls, this report adds little to the information we require to determine the potential health impacts of the project and does not allow us to address legitimate concerns raised by members of the public and local governments.

It is worth reading the full eight page letter.

Because of the lack of transparency for the proposed increase in coal exports from Fraser Surrey Docks, various citizen groups have setup the website which provide information on the environmental assessment processes and provides a way to send your comments to the Port. As it turn out, there are only 12 days left to submit feedback on the EIA. I recommend that you send feedback as the Port needs to do more studies on the impacts to the health and quality of life in our region due to increased coal exports.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Surrey's ENERGYShift: Creating a 21st Century City

As I posted about in October, the City of Surrey has been busy working on their climate change adaptation and energy use/GHG emissions reduction plans, together called ENERGYShift. The goal of these plans is to “establish Surrey as a model community in the areas of energy supply, reliability, sustainability and climate responsibility.”

Last week these plans were approved by Surrey Council. If these plans are implemented, Surrey will be transformed into a sustainable city that will provide a diversity of housing options, transportation options, and job opportunities. As the second largest city in BC (and not Vancouver), it will be look at by other municipality as an example of what can be done.

Surrey's Community Energy & Emission Plan notes that reducing energy usage is imperative to its success and long-term viability. It notes that energy spending is projected to rise 7% per year. We see this today with the rising cost of fuel and hydro. Without rethinking how we build communities, family financing will be pushed to the limit. Climate change will also have a large impact on the economic prosperity of Surrey and indeed the world. As noted in the plan, former Wold Bank Chief Economist Nicholas Stern “estimated the cost of reducing green house gas emissions to a safe level to be one percent of global GDP; compared to a loss of up to 20% of global GDP if nothing is done.”

In Surrey, the number one user of energy and the highest GHG emissions are from personal transportation. The second high user of energy and GHG emissions are from residential buildings.

With this in mind, Surrey plans to focus growth in mixed-use town centres and along multi-modal transportation corridors. The plan also commit to creating a community with a diversity of housing choices including more live/work units.

As land-use and transportation are linked at the hips, walk, cycling, and transit play a critical role in supporting the reduction of GHG emissions and energy use. Today 50% of Surrey’s population is within a 5 minute walk of frequent transit. Surrey wants that number to be 61% by 2020, and 75% by 2040. Transit plays a key role in Surrey’s plan, but walking and cycling also play key roles. By 2040, Surrey wants to have the community blanketed with walking and cycling routes which includes an extensive greenway system. This plan could save a typical family $230 per month in fuel cost by 2020 and $880 per month by 2040. With the reduced need to own an additional vehicle, saving could be higher.

Surrey’s plan is highly dependant on light rail being built in the community and a frequent bus network, so the potential failure of the upcoming transit referendum will have a devastation effect on Surrey’s success.

To further reduce energy usage and emission, the City of Surrey is committed to district energy. Wikipedia has a great article on this topic.

Surrey's plan also discusses the steps that need to be taken to adapt to climate change that is happening today. You can read more about their climate adaptation plan, but protects of floodplains and preservation of wildlife habitat in Surrey are a key parts of the mitigation strategy.

While I’m excited about the future of Surrey, one of the challenges will be to adapt this vision into some of the newer neighbourhood plans that are not due for review for some time. It would be a shame to see auto-oriented projects still being approved in future transit corridors or town centres. I hope Surrey tweaks these plans to account for its ENERGYShift policy.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bright Past, Bleak Future: TransLink Commissioner Report

Since TransLink took over transit delivery in Metro Vancouver in 1999, it has lurched forward from one funding crisis to the next because the province never fully funding the organization. TransLink was always meant to have a vehicle levy to fully fund the organization. The vehicle levy is permitted in TransLink’s legislation, but both the NDP and BC Liberal have refused to allow ICBC to implement the levy. TransLink has also endured multiply rounds of structural changes and efficiency reviews by the province, creating uncertainly.

Even as a crippled organization, TransLink has built a world leading transit system. In 2001, 11.5% of people choice to take transit to/from work, 16.5% in 2006, and 19.7% in 2011. By all accounting this is a success that should be celebrated!

The transit system was meeting both the Provincial Transit Plan and Metro Vancouver’s goal of creating a livable region.

Sadly TransLink still had a structural revenue problem, but instead of helping, the province put the brakes on public transit in Metro Vancouver. It called for a referendum on transit funding. Unfortunately neither the province nor regional politicians have championed winning the referendum. This lack of leadership scares me.

The region is not blameless either. Metro Vancouver’s board is thinking about taking away the federal gas tax that TransLink uses to fund capital programs like bus replacement. With this revenue gone, TransLink would be in even worse shape. Last Friday, the independent TransLink Commissioner release his outlook of TransLink and transit in Metro Vancouver; the future is bleak.

According to the report, ridership will flat line and transit service levels will return to 2004 level. This means more congested buses and trains, and no improvement to service for growing places like Langley and Surrey. It also means more congested roads as people will not have transportation options. To make matters worse, TransLink has been forced to pull a BC Hydro by selling property and getting into debt to reduce the likelihood of service cuts. In fact TransLink’s debt will “rise from its current level of $2.8 billion to within $46 million of its approved $3.5 billion by the end of 2023.”

The Commission again points out that the sale of assets to support operations is not prudent fiscal policy, while recognizing that the only other recourse for TransLink would be fare increases or service reductions in the absence of additional funding sources.

The commissioner note that on its current course, TransLink will not meet the goals of the Regional Growth Strategy which seeks to expand rapid transit, the frequent bus network, lower the share of single-occupancy vehicle usage, and reduce pollution. TransLink will also not be able to meet the Provincial Transit Plan goals of building UBC and Surrey/Langley rapid transit lines.

With this sobering news from the commissioner, the province and Metro Vancouver need to get their collective acts together if they want to ensure a bright future for our region.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Must Read Books: Urban Street Design Guide

When it comes to urban design, transportation, and land-use, I’ve read my fair share of books. While most of them are good, some have the ability to transform your thought. For me, those books are Jane Jacob’s “The Death and Life of the Great American City” and Donald Shoup’s “The High Cost of Free Parking”.

Jacob’s book explores the complex fabric of city life. In her book, she spends a good amount of time talking about how urban renewal in the mid-twenty century and the prioritization of the automobile destroys that fabric.

Shoup’s book also explores the complex fabric of cities, and zeros-in on “free” parking and on-site minimum parking requirement as one of the most destructive forces on a city’s fabric. He talks about how minimum parking requirements came to be, and discredits the Institute of Transportation Engineer’s “Parking Generation” where most minimum parking requirements in North American cities are sourced from. He also gives some practical advice on using free-market economics to manage on-street parking, so that on-site minimum parking requirements can be reduced or eliminated. He also uses case studies to show how managing on-street parking can successfully revitalization communities.

While Jacob’s book covers high level land-use and the importance of city streets as public space, she doesn’t give practical examples of how to transform auto-oriented streets into public space and multimodal transportation corridors. This is where the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ “Urban Street Design Guide” comes into play.

This book –which was released in October– is a highly graphical, paint-by-numbers guide to designing streets for 21st century cities. While the NACTO has the same content available as a website, it is much easier to read as a book.

The book is divided into sections that address street design, intersection design, and design controls. Design controls include design speeds, safety, and performance measures of streets. Each topic shows a typical example of an existing design based on mid-twenty century ideas, then gives redesign recommendations based on street as public space and multimodal corridors.

Typical lane width on urban streets.

Recommended lane width on urban streets from Urban Street Design Guide.

For example, the topic of “Major Intersection” notes that “channelized right turns and other features create unsafe, high-speed turns”. One recommendation is to “use leading pedestrian intervals to give pedestrians a head start entering the crosswalk. Add pedestrian safety island where possible and eliminate channelized right-turn lane to slow turn speeds and create self-enforcing yield to pedestrians.”

The design guide cover everything from how to design a boulevard to storm water management. It also has a resource section in the back which links the recommendations with research. One of the best parts of the guide is on interim design strategies which shows how to cost-effectively redesign space. The interim strategies can be used for either trails to get public support, or while waiting for capital funding to be secured for a full redesign.

When some of the design recommendation are being applied in Metro Vancouver, many of the best practices have not. For example, while many municipalities in Metro Vancouver talk about how designing for pedestrians is the number one goal, sidewalks remain full of obstructions and intersection still contain unmarked crosswalks.

This book should be on the desk of every city planner and transportation engineer. Since the book is easy to digest, anyone who cares about creating great urban space should also read this book, as should local politicians. I think the BC Ministry of Transportation needs to read this book too.

“Urban Street Design Guide” now stand with Shoup’s and Jacob’s book as my recommended must reads for how to building thriving 21st century cities.