Monday, March 31, 2014

Threats to the livability of Metro Vancouver

Since the mid 1970’s, people in Metro Vancouver have recognized the importance of preserving the natural eco-system and protecting farmland in our region. In fact, it was the massive conversion of hillsides and farmland to housing that caused citizens to lobby government for change. This promoted the provincial government of the day to setup a system of regional governance with the mandate “to promote human settlement that is socially, economically and environmentally healthy and that makes efficient use of public facilities and services, land and other resources.” It also prompted the creation of the Agricultural Land Commission with the mandate to preserve agricultural land and to encourage farming on agricultural land.

Over the years, this vision has been refined with increasingly stronger protection put in place to ensure the livable of our region. Metro Vancouver was on a course to become one of the most livable regions in the world with continued protection of farmland, strong regional government to encourage sustainable development, and a world-class transit system that was finally being expanded. All this was put in jeopardy last year.

The provincial government announced no new funding for transit without a referendum. The provincial government also announced it was going to review the agricultural land reserves with the goal of opening it up for development. Metro Vancouver and the Township of Langley also went to court to find out the limits of regional governance. On their own, the regional would have been able to continue on the path to sustainability, but combined, these three things threaten to unravel close to 40 years of work improving the livability of the region.

The transit referendum is still over a year away, and no one really know what’s going on with it.

The recent court ruling between Metro Vancouver and the Township throws into question the purpose and power of a regional growth strategy. You can read more about this on an earlier post this month.

Last week, the provincial government announced proposed changes to the Agricultural Land Commission. With the power of Metro Vancouver to limit urban sprawl now up in the air, I was relieved that the province plans to maintain the integrity of the Agricultural Land Reserve in Metro Vancouver. In fact, the provincial government is actually increasing funding to the Agricultural Land Commission. This will allow the ALC to focus on “pro-active planning, policy development functions and stakeholder engagement.” The ALC will also now focus on application by farmer and ranchers that relate to agricultural and deprioritize applications “from developers, speculators and those who simply wish to do something other than agriculture in the ALR.”

While the protection of the ALR in Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Island, and the Okanagan is increasing, the protection of farmland in the rest of the province will be all but gone. This is alarming considering the recent news that agricultural productive in places like northern BC will increase due to climate change. The province’s decision today to develop farmland in northern BC will impact the food security of BC by 2050.

In Metro Vancouver, it looks like our green space will be protected even with the recent court decision that calls into question the power of Metro Vancouver to regulate land-use. The economic prosperity of our region is tied to having a world-class transit system, and I hope that funding is approved to increase transit service. If it is not, our region will be in trouble.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Embracing accessible design outside of Surrey’s core

While municipalities like Vancouver were built around the streetcar, municipalities like Surrey were built around the auto. Because Surrey was built around the auto, I find it much more interesting to see how the community is starting to become more accessible with new development projects becoming more walking, cycling, and transit-friendly. Of course there is a massive shift taking place in Whalley/Downtown Surrey, but there are also changes happening outside of the core.

While residential development has been compact for decades in Surrey, commercial development has mostly remained auto-oriented. The biggest factor that determines the accessibility of a development is parking. There are a few things you can do with parking to encourage a more accessibility development including reducing/removing on-site surface parking, putting parking underground, or moving parking from the front of a building to the back (so that actual buildings front the street).

Surrey seems to be incrementally pushing for improved accessibility in commercial development. For the last little while, I’ve noticed that new, small strip malls have buildings that front the street, with parking hidden behind. Recently, I’ve started to notice that larger commercial projects are starting to become more accessible as well.

The latest example is in South Surrey around King George Boulevard. The project will contain offices, retail, restaurants, and a banquet hall.

Proposed site plan of 3061 King George Boulevard. Click image to enlarge.

As parking is the largest factor in determining if a project is accessible, I'm happy that half of the required parking is underground while the remaining surface parking is hidden behind the buildings in this proposed project.

Cross section of proposed development fronting King George Boulevard. Click image to enlarge.

In most communities on-site parking is based on peak parking requirements for all uses. I’m encouraged that Surrey is starting to recognize that on-site parking can be reduced. This project will require 333 parking spots because “the applicant is proposing a banquet hall and offices, and because these two uses have different hours of peak demand (banquet hall in the evening and offices in the day), shared parking is permitted. This arrangement is acceptable because the total daytime parking requirements and total evening parking requirements are each being met.” King George Boulevard is a future transit corridor. As more transit service is provided, parking requirement can be further reduced.

Another interesting note is that Building A contains a proposed drive-thru restaurant. While I’m not a fan of drive-thrus, this project accommodates it without breaking up the street wall on King George Boulevard.

While more can be done to make projects even more accessible in Surrey, I’m happy to see that projects are starting becoming more accessible outside of the Whalley area. Because Surrey does not have adequate public transit, driving will still be the dominant mode of travel in most parts of the community. Surrey has to balance the requirement to encourage more accessible development projects that support walking, cycling, and transit while still accommodating the auto.

This is why winning the upcoming transit referendum will be key as building rapid transit throughout the community will push Surrey to fully embrace accessible design.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Langley City Council sends strongly worded letter about doubling of School Site Acquisition Charge

Last week I posted that School District No. 35, which covers both the City and Township of Langley, will be increasing their School Site Acquisition Charge from between $212.00 and $354.00 per new housing unit, to between $443.00 and $737.00 per new housing unit. This fee is used to pay for the new school sites.

The City of Langley sent a letter to the Minister of Education, former City Mayor Peter Fassbender, asking that this fee be reduced in the City of Langley as there will be no new school sites in its jurisdiction. Minster Fassbender didn’t agree with the City, and allowed the application of the new School Site Acquisition Charge in both the City and the Township.

You can read an earlier post about why I think this isn’t fair. City Council had the chance to dispute the decision of the Minster using tools available under the Community Charter, but instead decided to only write a strong worded letter to the Minister. This is disappointing as the School Site Acquisition Charge only further drives up the cost of sustainable redevelop in the City of Langley.

I have obtained a copy of the letter that Council sent to the Minister of Education which can be downloaded from the document archive. Some highlights from the letter include how “City Council expressed their extreme disappointment over the imposition of the new SSAC in spite of significant inequities in cost and benefits to the two municipalities.”

If the City of Langley started the depute resolution process available under the Community Charter, it would have to pay some fees like for a facilitator as an example. It appears that this might have been why some on City Council didn’t want to start the process. Could this be called penny wise, pound foolish?

At the end of the letter, City Council asked the Minister of Education to reconsider his decision, and pay for a facilitator to work with the City and School District to see if the School Site Acquisition Charge could be reduced. The first letter didn't work, will a second? I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Running for Langley City Council

I’m writing today's post to ask for your support in my campaign for Langley City Council. After time spent with friends and family, who have encouraged and motivated me, I feel that in order to continue advocating for a safer, cleaner and more liveable community, I must embark on this journey. And for that, I need your help.

Over the years in which I have called Langley my home, I have advocated to improve the liveability of the community. I have worked to bring awareness to the importance of building a sustainable, accessible, and inclusive community through various organizations such as South Fraser on Trax and the Greater Langley Cycling Coalition, and by working hard as a member of the City of Langley Parks and Environment Advisory Committee to protect and enhance the Nicomekl flood plain, green spaces, and parks.

Running for City Council is not about the individual, but about a team player working with the larger group to achieve a common goal for a better community.

Running for council means getting the word out. If you are able to help by volunteering your time to attend community events and hit the pavement, and letting people know about my campaign, please let me know.

Like most things, running a campaign also requires money. You can donate online or by mail.

If you wish to talk with me directly, please email me at

Be sure to check out my election website, sign up on the mailing list, and spread the word on Facebook.

I hope I can count on your support to help me make Langley “The Place to Be!”

Monday, March 24, 2014

Township of Langley Council denies cycling funding increase

When you talk to most local politicians, they will tell you that walking and cycling are important parts of the transportation system. They will likely also tell you that they support walking and cycling in their communities, but how deep does that support actually go?

Cycling and walking are key to creating healthy and accessible communities. Active transportation infrastructure that supports walking and cycling can be built at a fraction of the cost of infrastructure for other transportation modes.

Most municipalities in the South of Fraser build multi-modal streets and greenways as part of new development, with major roadwork upgrades, or when active transportation money is available from regional, provincial, or federal governments and agencies. Unfortunately, cycling and walking infrastructure rarely gets improved in existing parts of communities, resulting in major gaps in cycling and walking networks. These gaps reduce the effectiveness of the new infrastructure and reduce travel choice. The perfect example is the City of Langley and Fraser Highway. Cycle lanes exist on Fraser Highway in the Township of Langley and City of Surrey, but in the City of Langley the vast majority of Fraser Highway is without cycling infrastructure.

As I said earlier, most local politicians are very good at talking about sustainable transportation, but do they put the money where their mouth is?

Last October, I posted that the Township of Langley Engineering department was looking to increase cycling infrastructure funding from $160,000 to $280,000 per year to fund the Township's Ultimate Cycling Network. Unfortunately, I have been informed that Township Council did not approve the cycling funding increase. As a result, the implementation of the cycling plan will be delayed. The Township is not just missing out on an additional $120,000 for cycling infrastructure, but also matching funds from TransLink, the province, and the federal government which could have easily tripled the Townships return on investment.

Considering how much Council talks about sustainability, it is very disappointing to know that Township Council only supports spending about 1% of their transportation budget on dedicated cycling infrastructure that supports a healthy community. It seems that some on Township Council are still of the mindset that auto-oriented infrastructure is the only way to go.

I have to wonder what it will take to move Council from talking about the importance of active transportation, to actually doing more to encourage active transportation. Building active transportation infrastructure should be a no-brainer.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

City of Langley School Site Acquisition Charge Update; Nicomekl Floodplain Trail Names

On Tuesday, I posted about how School District No. 35 (Langley) is doubling the School Site Acquisition Charge which is used to pay for new school sites. The City of Langley objected to this increase as no new school sites would be built in the City. I posted why this charge should only apply to areas were there is greenfield development. The City asked for a reduced School Site Acquisition Charge and sent a letter to the Minister of Education requesting this reduction; it was denied.

At Monday night’s Council meeting, City Council debated what to do next. There was a motion put forward to use a dispute resolution procedure to challenge the Minister’s response which is available under the Community Charter and/or filing a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsperson. There was also a motion to basically write a strongly worded letter to Minister of Education Peter Fassbender.

After voting, it appeared that the City would be moving forward with challenging the Minster’s decision and writing a strongly worded letter. In an interesting turn of events, Councillor Rosemary Wallace requested a revote as it appeared she was confused. Oddly enough, a recount was allowed. The end result was a tie which meant Council would not move forward with challenging the Minter’s decision on allowing the doubling of the School Site Acquisition Charge. Council’s only action now is to send a strongly worded letter.

This is very disappointing as City Council had the chance to challenge the unfairness of the School Site Acquisition Charge on a community with no greenfield development. This will further weaken the demand for much needed sustainable redevelopment in the City.

On a different note, the City’s Park and Environment Advisory Committee has spent several years trying to name the trails in the Nicomekl Floodplain. Late in 2012, the first set of trails were named. On Monday, City Council decided to move forward with the remaining recommendations made by the committee. The next step will be a public hearing on the trail names. It is important that the trails be named as the City is now installing trail signage as part of its wayfinding strategy.

City of Langley Trail System. Click image to enlarge.

Trail Names
Trail 1 - Rotary Nicomekl Trail
Trail 2 – Langley Creek Trail
Trail 5 – Powerline Trail East
Trail 8 - Powerline Trail West
Trail 9 – Baldi Creek Trail

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Port Metro Vancouver and sustainability: beyond its operations

Port Metro Vancouver has the stated goals of becoming the most sustainable port in North America. Since 2010, the Port has embedded sustainability into key documents such as its Port 2050 long-range plan and its updated land-use plan. In addition the Port has preserve marine, wetlands and shore habitat in Metro Vancouver, and is part of the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, implementing measures such as ship-to-shore power to reduce air pollution and GHG emissions.

The Port is now working on something it calls the Sustainable Gateway Initiative. The first step of this initiative is to define what exactly a sustainable gateway is. According to Port Metro Vancouver this means:

Economic prosperity through trade:

-Competitive Business
-Effective Workforce
-Strategic Investment and Asset Management

Health environment:

-Health Ecosystems
-Climate Action
-Responsible Practices

Thriving communities:

-Good Neighbour
-Community Connection
-First Nations Relationships
-Safety and Security

You can read more about this in a document the Port has published online.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is that while the Port itself may be trying to meet its sustainability objectives, does it matter what cargo actually passes through the Port?

Coal is by far the largest commodity that passes through Port Metro Vancouver. In 2013, coal represented 28% of the total tonnage of commodities. Petroleum products represented 6% of the total tonnage of commodities that passed through the Port in 2013.

While the Port can claim that it is doing its part for climate change, it is actually facilitating climate change on a much larger scale. There is much controversy when it comes to oil pipelines and their proposed expansion in Metro Vancouver. Coal exports also have a direct impact on the livability of Metro Vancouver. Increased coal trains decreases human health. Coal is also one of the most GHG-emission intensive fossil fuels. The air pollution caused by the burning of North American coal in China is making its way back across the ocean and is polluting drinking water in San Juan County.

Of course there is also the truckers strike. This is a matter of social equality which is a part of the sustainability puzzle.

Port Metro Vancouver is a creation of the federal government with the purpose to facilitate trade, but does the Port have to facilitate all trade no matter the cost? Does ship-to-shore power matter when coal that passes through the Port will facilitate irreversible climate change, and shorten the lives of people in Metro Vancouver? These are questions that only the federal government can answer.

While I’m happy that Port Metro Vancouver is continuing to make its operations more sustainable, the federal government also has a role to ensure that Port Metro Vancouver doesn’t remain the leading exporter of dirty commodities in Canada.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

School District's Site Acquisition Charge increases cost for sustainable development in Langley

As part of any development project in BC, school districts are allowed to charge developers a School Site Acquisition Charge to help pay for new school sites. These costs are passed onto the home buyer. Langley School District No. 35 currently charges between $212.00 and $354.00 per new housing unit (depending on the size and type.)

Langley’s school district —which covers both the Township and the City— is unique as some parts of the district are seeing schools shut down and sites sold off, while other parts have a shortage of schools. In response to this shortage, the School District is increasing the Site Acquisition Charge to between $443.00 and $737.00 per new housing unit; a doubling of the charge. This has raised the alarm bells at the City of Langley which has seen schools shut down over the years. Recognizing this trend, the City of Langley proposed a reduced set of fees for new development in its jurisdiction.

The City sent a letter to former mayor and current Minister of Education Peter Fassbender. He wrote back stating that the new fee structure should be applied evenly across the Langley school district. This means that whether you build a new house in Aldergrove, Brookswood, or the City, you'll pay the same fee.

The real need for new schools in is Willoughby in the Township of Langley. As this is where most new development is occurring, the majority of the funds collected for the Site Acquisition Charge will come from the area. While this seems fair, I'm concerned about the Site Acquisition Charge in general.

While some may be quick to paint this as a City vs. Township issue, for me this is really a brownfield vs. greenfield development issue. Brownfield redevelopment occurs in urban areas that have pre-existing services. This type of development is very sustainable and is good for taxpayers as it allows for more efficient use of resources. For example, a family moving into a new development in the Aldergrove's Core or in the City of Langley would be able to take advantage of existing schools and local government services.

On the other hand, greenfield development require new municipal services and new school sites. Research has found that even with developer charges, greenfield residential development negatively impacts the bottom line of local government and results in higher taxes for existing residents to pay for new services in new areas.

While brownfield development is a more sustainable form of development, the costs for a developer are higher. Existing buildings must be removed and sites may need to be remediated from any sort of pollution. Doubling the Site Acquisition Charge for brownfield development is just another way that greenfield development hides its true costs.

While Langley’ school district is shutting down schools and selling off land in some parts of our community, why should those same areas pay for new school sites? The Site Acquisition Charge should only be charged for greenfield developments. This doubling of fees will only make it that much more expensive to build a sustainable Langley that makes better use of existing resources.

More information, including the letter the Minster of Education, is in the City's latest council agenda package.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Did Trinity Western University Kill the Livable Region?

Whether it be the accreditation of teachers and lawyers, and now land-use, the private Christian Trinity Western University seems find itself at the centre of controversy. Trinity Western and the Township of Langley would like to remove 375.6 acres from the Agricultural Land Reserve to allow the university to expand and create housing. So far the Agricultural Land Commission has allowed 23.4 acres to be excluded from the ALR for university expansion, and 13.5 acres of land still within the ALR to be used for 67 single-family houses. The Township of Langley created the University District with a change to its official community plan in 2013.

I should note that this isn’t the first time a university has undermined regional planning. In 2010, UBC had the Province remove them from Metro Vancouver, so the university didn’t have to follow regional land-use plans.

In July 2011, Metro Vancouver adopted a new regional growth strategy to replace the older Liveable Region Strategic Plan (LRSP). Member municipalities had until July 2013 to align their official community plans with the new regional growth strategy.

The Township of Langley updated its official community plan to allow for the University District and also allow residential development on the 4.46 hectare Hendricks Site in North Murrayville (both within the LRSP green zone) before having to adopt the new regional growth strategy. The new regional growth strategy is much more prescriptive than the older LRSP. The University District would not have been allowed under the new regional growth strategy.

Metro Vancouver had a pretty weak case, but decided to take the Township to court over the University District and Hendrick site as it believed that both plans violated the principles of the old LRSP Green Zone. Justice Sharma threw out Metro Vancouver’s claim that the University District and Hendrick site impacted the Green Zone.

While Justice Sharma outlined the technical details about how she thinks a regional growth strategy, municipality’s official community plan, and zoning bylaws fit together, the root issue is a matter of scope. The Local Government Act requires that regional growth strategies and municipal official community plans/land-use align on regional matters. According to the act this “means a matter that involves coordination between or affects more than one municipality, more than one electoral area, or at least one of each, in a regional district.” Metro Vancouver took a very broad interpretation of this as it believed that any impact to the Green Zone impacts the livability of the region as a whole. The justice took a narrower view. She found that Metro Vancouver was micro-managing local land use, which she believed was not a regional concern, and therefor out of the jurisdiction of Metro Vancouver.

While I cannot rule out the possibility that a large scale development could be seen to radically alter the character of the Green Zone, notwithstanding its location wholly within one municipality, those are not the facts before me.

This could mean that a local government could undermine a regional growth strategy with death by 1,000 cuts. While each small land-use decision may not impact the region, the culmination of these decisions over time, will. Regional growth strategies came out of the 1970’s as people were alarmed at the steady destruction of green space in BC due to urban sprawl.

Also interesting to note was Justice Sharma’s view that the Agricultural Land Commission is authoritative when it comes to the viability of farm land. If the ALC believes that removing land from the ALR or allowing urban sprawl in the ALR won’t impact, or may improve agricultural viability, Metro Vancouver can’t make the opposite argument.

Also, Justice Sharma was critical of Metro Vancouver taking the Township of Langley to court and noted that the aberrational process outlined in the Local Government Act is what should be followed when there is a perceived conflict between a regional growth strategy and official community plan.

At the end of the day Justice Sharma basically stated that Metro Vancouver has no intrinsic right under the Local Government Act to overrule local land-use decisions. I would have to agree.

The new regional growth strategy includes regional land-use zoning, an urban growth boundary, and procedures on how this all works. The Local Government Act allows, but does not require, a regional growth strategy to guide decisions on growth, change and development.

This court case was about the old LRSP and not the new, more prescriptive regional growth strategy. The big question for me is if local governments agree to a more prescriptive regional growth strategy, can that more prescriptive strategy’s provisions be enforced? If not, the Agricultural Land Commission really becomes the only authority to keep urban sprawl in check.

The provincial government could strengthen the authority of a regional district in relation to regional growth strategies, but I doubt they will. Between this ruling, the Provincial government’s threat to weaken the Agricultural Land Commission, and the upcoming transit referendum, not since the 1970’s has the livability of Metro Vancouver been so highly threatened.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Upcoming Event - Beyond the Politics: The Benefits of Moving in a Livable Region

As you know, there is likely going to be a referendum of transit funding next year. Many organizations are beginning to champion the importance of transit to help win the referendum.

Moving in a Livable Region —operated out of the SFU Centre for Dialogue— is one such coalition which includes boards of trade, local government, and transportation advocacy organizations.

As noted on their website, “Moving in a Livable Region is committed to preparing Metro Vancouver citizens and stakeholders for the referendum by providing information on transportation issues and funding options for the region in the context of the upcoming vote.”

I’ve talked with people a Moving in a Livable Region, and one of their major goals is to provide fact-based information on transit and its importance in Metro Vancouver. Over the coming months, more resource will be posted to their website.

Afternoon events can be tricky to get to, but the following event that they are hosting looked interesting.

Are you frustrated with the politics around our region's transportation network? Are the mixed messages on transit and upcoming referendum leading you astray? Transportation is important, it has an oversized impact on the region's economy, energy use, emissions, and livability. While Metro Vancouver is widely known as being one of the best places in the world to live and has a leading public transit system, road vehicles are the largest source of greenhouse gases in the region, accounting for 36% of the region's emissions. Moreover, by 2041 Metro Vancouver is projected to have a million new people, 600,000 more jobs, and 700,000 more vehicles on the road; the costs of congestion in our region have been pegged as high as $1.5 billion per year.
The decisions that govern, plan, and pay for our transit, roads, cycling, and walking networks are incredibly complex and require good public engagement. However, citizens and stakeholders are being inundated with contradictory information around the current state and future direction of our transportation system.
Join us as we host a public dialogue on transportation and launch Moving in a Livable Region, a new initiative of the SFU Centre for Dialogue that seeks to engage and educate Metro Vancouver citizens and stakeholders on transportation issues. Our panelists will discuss transportation, the economy, and what is needed to ensure high livability in the region.

When: Tuesday, April 8, 1:00 - 2:15 PM
Where: SFU Surrey Campus, 250-13450 102 Avenue, Surrey, Room 3310, The Now Newspaper Theatre
Registration: Please reserve your free seat here
More information

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

More on BC Government Roads and Transit Spending

At first glance, funding of transportation infrastructure by the province seems fairly easy to follow in BC. The Ministry of Transportation gets a budget which it then spends on roads, ferries, and public transit. Of course things overall are more complex. Roads and transit are funding by local, regional, provincial, and federal dollars, but even at the provincial level the amount of money that gets spent on transportation is obfuscated by funding arrangements, crown corporations, and authorities.

Back in the 1990’s, the NDP created the BC Transportation Financing Authority to bring perceived accountability between gas tax collected and money spent on transportation. The idea was that the BCTFA would collect gas tax and use that money to fund new transportation projects. The BCTFA would also own all provincial transportation infrastructure. Since the gas tax never got anywhere near the amount needed to fund the BCFTA infrastructure programs, the authority always ran at a loss. At the end of the day, it showed that road costs weren't being covered by user fees (gas tax) as many thought and still think.

When the BC Liberals came to power, they rolled the BCFTA back into the Ministry of Transportation. On paper, the BCFTA still collects gas tax (6.75ȼ per litre), owns, and funds provincial transportation infrastructure. Because BCFTA is only a shell organization and is really just the Ministry of Transportation, it is exempt from the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act. Besides BCFTA, Transportation Investment Corporation was created to manage Highway 1 and the Port Mann Bridge in Metro Vancouver.

It is difficult to get a picture of how much, and on what types of transportation infrastructure, the province funds. When factoring in the BCFTA, TIC, and BC Transit, the province is responsible for the following transportation related expenses.

Road Operations: $590 million
Road Capital: $664 million
Highway 1/Port Mann Bridge: $223 million
Public Transit: (Excluding Evergreen Line) $217 million
Evergreen Line: $485 million
BC Ferries: $193 million

The province recovers some of these costs from user fees. For example in 2014/15, the BCFTA will collect $429 million in gas tax and TIC will collect $144 million in tolls. The province also received some funding from the federal government, TransLink, and local governments. Beside the Evergreen Line, the provincial government is heavily biased towards road spending.

I find it interesting that while BC Ferries, BC Transit, and TransLink are heavily scrutinized, oversight for road spending is almost non-existent in BC. Given that the majority of provincial spending is on roads, I wonder why road spending is not held to the same level of accountability as public transit.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

CBC talks about cycling and City of Langley's new wayfinding plan

A few weeks back, I posted about how the City of Langley is starting to roll out their new wayfinding strategy. CBC picked up the story and did a feature on the City's strategy and how it may help cyclists. They interviewed me. You can listen to the full story starting at 1:10:00 in the embedded player.

One of the things I pointed out is that while the wayfinding strategy is a good first step, the City needs to follow Surrey and the Township's lead and start investing in cycling infrastructure. Right now the City's cycling infrastructure is a patchwork that doesn't service cyclists well.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Bikes Mean Business

Most people know that walking and cycling is good for their health and the environment. When advocating for building accessible communities, environmental and health benefits are usually cited as the main reasons why we should be shifting towards building more pedestrian-oriented communities. Besides health and environmental benefits, there are also economic benefits.

Accessible communities are places where knowledge workers prefer to live. These people bring high-tech business which is good for local economies. What gets little attention is that walking and cycling-friendly communities are better for local business than auto-oriented communities.

Back in 2010, South Fraser OnTrax did some research in support of the building a walkable Jericho neighbourhood. We went to a major grocery retailer that has both auto-oriented and pedestrian-oriented stores. We were told that in their pedestrian-oriented stores customers purchased less each shopping visit, but shopped more frequently. These stores were getting more money per shopper. In fact the major grocery retailer told us that revenue generated in their smaller size, pedestrian-oriented stores were equal to or better than their larger, auto-oriented stores.

Last Friday, the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition released a report titled “Bikes Mean Business”. While the report was focused on Downtown Victoria, it supported our earlier finding that active transportation is good for business. Pedestrians and cyclists tend to frequent stores more often than motorists.

The report’s authors surveyed Downtown Victoria businesses and found that business owners under-estimated the amount of people that visiting their stores by walking, cycling, and transit. They also over-estimated the amount of people that visited their stores by driving. This disconnect is present in other downtowns, including Vancouver, were businesses were initially very concerned when bike lanes and bike parking replaced car lanes and car parking. This even happened in Downtown Langley.

McBurney Lane caused great concern to local business because some parking was replaced to provide a better public realm, creating a more accessible downtown core. Given the fact that Downtown Langley is surrounded by higher-density development, the City of Langley and Downtown Langley BIA should be doing all it can to promote walking and cycling. Unfortunately many on council and some business owners do not realize the tremendous economic benefit that comes from building an accessible community that prioritizes walking, cycling, and transit; they still are focused on cars.

While Bike Mean Business is focused on Victoria, its recommendation to support cycling and other active transportation infrastructure can be applied to other communities including in Langley.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Talking about the Brookswood Plan on transit

For the last several evenings, the Township of Langley has been holding a public hearing on the proposed Brookswood Community Plan. The multi-day public hearing is a result of the large number of people interested in what changes may happen in their community, and to voice their support or concerns.

I can tell that this plan has stirred up Brookswood residents because this morning on my bus (which comes from Brookwoods) two people that never talk to each other were talking about the proposed Brookswood Plan.

One person was concerned about density and its effect on the aquifer. He was concerned that underground parking in apartments could cause a negative impact to the ecosystem.

The other person though the plan was good because it would support transit and improve the walkability of the area. He mentioned that he doesn’t feel safe taking his kids out for walks because of the lack of sidewalks, fast traffic, and unsafe parking lots. As an aside, he also talked about how horribly unfriendly the Langley Bypass is for people. He talked how it is stressful to drive around, and how it is impossible to walk around.

It was interesting listening to the two different views. Obviously one person from Brookswood is concerned about environmental impacts of development while the other wants to see a more accessible community. The Township must ensure that any new development in Brookswood satisfies these two peoples which is possible because building an accessible community while protecting the environment is entirely possible.

It was really nice to see two strangers on the bus have a civil conversation about a complex community issues like the proposed Brookswood Community Plan.

Surrey's Transit Needs at SFU Surrey Open House

I received the following in my inbox last night. If you have time this evening, I suggest you check it out.

Topic: Surrey’s Transit Needs and the Transit Referendum, with Gordon Price and Surrey Councillor and Acting Mayor Bruce Hayne
Date: Thursday March 6 at the SFU Surrey Global Community Open House
Time: 5:45pm to 6:45pm
Location: Room 3270 at SFU Surrey

City Conversations comes to SFU Surrey’s Open House for a public conversation on the city’s ambitious plans to add major transit facilities for the region’s fastest-growing area. What will get built, where, and when? What will it cost, and who will pay? Why and how will car drivers benefit? How do Surrey’s plans mesh with the Transit Referendum that the Province says must take place?
City Conversations is a unique forum that invites you to be part of the conversation. Presenters briefly frame the issue, but most of the time is for your questions, comments and opinions. We’re in our third year at SFU Vancouver, and now, in Surrey for this special early evening event at SFU’s Open House.
We’ve invited senior Surrey officials, and a representative of Surrey’s business community. Gordon Price, a prolific and perceptive commenter on the region’s transportation, urban design and development, will also present. Then it’s your turn!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Smoking Ban in City of Langley Parks?

Back in 2012, both the City and Township of Langley were looking at banning smoking in municipal parks. Both municipalities wanted to hear feedback from their respective parks committees. In the City, we believed as a committee that while the idea of banning smoking in parks was good, it would be unenforceable. We didn’t support a smoking ban at that time. The Township of Langley also doesn’t prohibiting smoking in parks.

On Monday night, a report was presented to City of Langley council that recommended banning smoking in parks, playgrounds, and transit stops in the City. If approved, the City of Langley would join the District of North Vancouver, Port Moody, Vancouver, West Vancouver, and White Rock in banning smoking in parks.

The report also recommended installing smoking areas in various parks in the City which would cost $1,000. I highly doubt most smoker would actually walk to these smoking pits. No smoking signs would cost an additional $5,500. While $6,500 isn’t a large sum of money, all the money will do is provide a warm, fuzzy feeling to Council that smoking is theoretically banned in parks. The Vancouver Parks Board banned smoking with great fanfare, but people still smoke in parks there.

The City of Langley already bans smoking at transit shelters, but the proposed smoking bylaw would also ban smoking within 3 meters of transit shelters and transit stop poles. Even today, it is hard to enforce the smoking ban at transit shelters; I see people smoking up at shelters nearby my apartment nightly.

One area where I think a smoking ban would be effective is in and around playgrounds. I believe that parents, wanting to protect their children, would be effective in ensure the ban actually happens.

While I understand the point of the proposed smoking bylaw and can support it in principle, I wonder what the point is in creating unenforceable bylaws.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Taxpayers Federation, TransLink, and Park & Rides

If you’ve read, watched, or listened to any media outlet in Metro Vancouver, you’ve likely come across a story inspired by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation about TransLink. The CTF has been on a multi-year campaign to discredit TransLink and slow down transit development in Metro Vancouver. You’d think that the CTF was funded by the automotive industry by the way it goes after TransLink, but the reason for the CTF going after TransLink is much simpler.

TransLink is taxpayer-support, but arms-length for the government. It is an easy target for groups like the CTF which, let’s be honest, tend to attract supporters that would vote BC Liberals or federal Conservative. It would be much harder for groups like the CTF to actually go after government mismanagement without cutting-off the hand that feeds it.

The CTF is relentless in its messaging about TransLink being a wasteful organization, and that messaging has worked. Transit service is now getting worse in the region. While the CTF has been selective in the past about the information it provides about TransLink, it has never outright lied.

Last week, the CTF put out a press release about their “Teddy” award which is meant to highlight government waste. Not surprising, TransLink was on the list for “shelling out $4.5 million for a parking lot with a $2 toll that nobody ever uses.” This is not the truth.

The fact is that “the government of B.C. [expanded] the Park and Ride facility on Highway 99 at King George Highway to improve access to public transit.” Sadly some media outlets did not fact check before releasing the story provided to them by the CTF.

Interestingly enough, the CTF didn’t point out the successful Carvolth Park & Ride and 555 bus service of which TransLink actually provided funding towards. The Carvolth Park & Ride also has a $2 user fee.

The South Surrey Park & Ride went from 481 parking spaces to 840 parking spaces, and from having no user fee to a $2 fee. It is no surprise that the lot appears emptier and that some motorist are now parking on the street to avoid paying $2.

Having free on-street parking while charging for off-street parking is poor policy. This is something that only the City of Surrey can correct. Surrey can either charge on-street parking at a rate higher than the Park & Ride lot, introduce time restrictions, or ban on-street parking outright.

If the CTF was actually concerned about government waste in transportation, it wouldn’t be focusing on a $4.5 million parking lot, but on the $70.4 million annual subsidy that all taxpayers in BC must foot to support the $3 billion Port Mann Bridge with $3 toll that no one wants to use. But it seems highway spending is off-limits for the CTF.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Brookswood/Fernridge Community Plan Public Hearing Tonight

The Township of Langley has been working on updating the Brookswood/Fernridge Community Plan which will help guide future development in those communities. The processes started in 2011 as there was interest by Griffith Neighbourhood Advisory Corporation to redevelop parts of southern Brookswood.

The final draft community plan was released late last year, and you can read my thoughts about the plan on a previous blog post. The shorts of it is that the already established urban single-family area of Brookswood will see very little change, except around the existing commercial nodes. The majority of the currently suburban properties in the southern area of Brookswood/Fernridge are proposed to become single family urban housing. The only exception is along some parts of 32nd Avenue and 200th Street where multi-family housing and small mixed-use nodes at 32nd/200th and 24th/200th will be allowed.

Even with these modest changes being proposed in Brookswood/Fernridge, there are some in the community that are opposed. There is an anti-development blog and Facebook group called Leave Brookswood Alone. From looking at these sites, you would get the idea that the Township will be sending bulldozer into Brookswood and plowing people’s houses down. This is not the case.

The fact is that the proposed Brookswood/Fernridge Community Plan will result in very little change in the existing single-family areas. Even with the limited increases in density in the suburban areas of Brookswood/Fernridge, 84% of the land area will be single-family housing. As I posted about previously, I think the Township missed an opportunely to allow mixed-use along a larger part of the 200th Street corridor which would have supported an accessible community.

There will be a public hearing tonight at Township Hall starting a 7:00pm about the proposed plan. The Township of Langley has a history have having very exciting public hearing, and it is likely that there will be some passionate people tonight.

Map of Brookswood/Fernridge Community Planning Area with Griffith Neighbourhood Planning Area in centre. Select map to enlarge.

After the public hearing there may be some tweaks to the plan, but Council will likely approve the plan. While community plans provide an overall vision for the community, it really is neighbourhood plans that guide development. As this whole process was started due to the desire to develop the Griffith area, I’m actually more interested in seeing how that neighbourhood plan will shape up. Through this neighbourhood plan, the Township will have the opportunity to support building an accessible community that gives people travel choices (allowing them to walk, cycle, take transit, or drive to shops, services, and community amenities.) The Township will also have the opportunity to support a variety of housing choices including pocket neighbourhoods. I only hope that they do not squander that opportunity.