Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Changes to Recycling Program

In BC, most things can be recycled. The provincial government has a program called Extended Producer Responsibility (ESR) which is meant to put the cost of managing the end-of-life for products and packaging to industry. While this program has been around for awhile, one of the last parts of the ESR program, placing the responsibility to manage packaging and printed material end-of-life to industry, is just starting to ramp up.

Most municipalities have recycling programs in place that collecting product packaging and printed material already. In Metro Vancouver, this is usually in the form of curb side recycling or central collection points in apartment buildings. One of the concerns expressed by municipalities was that Multi-Material British Columbia, an organization established by industry to manage packaging and printed material, would result in a reduction of waste being diverted to landfill. Even if Multi-Material British Columbia collections more material from households, there is a concern that some material collected will go into landfill anyway or into permanent “storage” if this is no market for the recycling of the materials it collects.

Another concern is that it may be more difficult to recycling glass in some communities. Because glass can contaminating the recycling stream, Multi-Material British Columbia wants glass materials collected independent of other materials. In some communities, there will only be minor changes to how current glass collection works, but in other community people may have to return glass to glass recycling depots. This would result in more glass ending up in landfill.

It’s not all bad new though. Most people in BC will now be able to recycling more material including :

-Gabletop containers (e.g., milk cartons)
-Aerosol containers
-Plant pots
-Aluminum foil containers
-Asceptic containers (e.g., soy milk, soup containers)
-Plastic clamshell containers (commonly supplied by bakeries and delis)
-Paper packaging coated with wax or plastic (e.g., milk cartons, ice cream cartons)
-Hot and cold drink cups

Starting on May 19th, the Multi-Material British Columbia recycling program begins in the City of Langley for single-family houses and June 17th for multi-family complexes. Right now the City has a single-stream recycling system, but after May 19th glass will have to be put into new glass-only recycling containers that are being delivered. Between June 17th and May 19th, people that live in multi-family complexes will not be able to recycling glass. Plastic shopping bags and styrofoam containers will be collected at depots. More information is on the City of Langley’s website.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Going Full Circle: Commercial Development in the Township of Langley

Historical street networks consisted of main/high streets which usually saw a mix of commercial, industrial and residential uses, and side streets that were primarily residential. In response to the wide-spread use of the automobile, the road network evolved into superblocks where high-speed traffic would travel along the edge. The pedestrian-friendly centre of the block was where shops, schools, and other service would be. This slowly turned into the hierarchical road network of today with arterials, collectors, and local roads. As the road network changed, so did the design of new commercial areas. In Langley, we can see this shift in design from places like Fort Langley, Aldergrove, and Downtown Langley to places like the Langley Bypass.

Diagramatic illustration of the streets, paths and open, common spaces in a "Pedestrian Pocket"(after Peter Calthorpe).

This weekend I was at the new Willoughby Town Centre, and it occurred to me that Langley is slowly changing back to how city road networks used to work.

Willowbrook, which is a regional town centre, is probably the ultimate example of the auto-oriented, hierarchical road network. Up until the beginning of this century, Willowbrook is where the majority of commercial development occurred in Langley. Starting in the earlier 2000s, the Township of Langley experimented with mixed-use, trying to incorporate pedestrian-friendly design within an auto-oriented, hierarchical road network context.

202nd Street in Walnut Grove. Select image to enlarge.

Recently, the Township has seen more pedestrian-friendly development. Willoughby Town Centre is likely the first larger scale, greenfield development of this type in Langley. What I find interesting is that the while the project boarders 208th Street and 80th Avenue, instead of fronting these main streets, the project is internal-facing like the superblock designs of the early 20th century.

Willoughby Town Centre site plan. Select image to enlarge.

With the recent update to the plan for the Carvolth area in Willoughby, the Township will return to a street network of mixed-use high streets and side streets.

I'm happy to see this slow shift back to traditional, pedestrian-friendly community design though I wish the change would happen faster. I have to wonder if in another 25 years, people will look back at the 20th century as a failed experiment on urban design.

Monday, April 28, 2014

New report on transit imbalance in Metro Vancouver

Getting improved transit service in the South of Fraser is a chicken-or-the-egg type issue. You can’t building transit-oriented communities without frequent transit service. You only get increased demand for transit service when there is frequent transit service. TransLink won’t increase transit service unless there is demand, and has no money to help build transit service where there currently isn’t a demand.

As part of the upcoming referendum on transit, the provincial government has requested that the TransLink’s Mayors’ Council come up with a 10 year investment plan by mid-summer. The City of Vancouver has been pushing for the UBC subway as the next big investment while South of Fraser municipalities have been pushing for rapid transit along King George Boulevard, 104th Avenue, and Fraser Highway.

It should come as no surprise that there is less transit service in the South of Fraser than in the North of Fraser, but how big is that difference?

Surrey, White Rock, Delta, the Township of Langley, and the City of Langley have released a report called “South of Fraser LRT & Transit Investment Needs: Moving Towards the Regional Transit Average”. The report highlights the major imbalance of transit service in our region.

Commute to Work, 2011. Compares South of Fraser to North of Fraser. The availability of transit service contributes to people’s travel choices. Source: Census Canada 2011. Select graphic to enlarge.

To highlight the imbalance, the report shows that the North of Fraser holds 56% of the region’s population, yet receives 68% of bus revenue hours. The South of Fraser holds 31% of the region’s population, but only receives 19% of bus revenue hours.

Frequent transit means service every 15 minutes of better, 7 days a week for most of the day. The North of Fraser has a 276km frequent transit network while the South of Fraser only has a 77km network.

For more facts, check out the full 10 page report. It’s a quick read as it is basically 10 pages of infographics.

I should note that the South of Fraser isn’t being “screwed over by TransLink”. Research I’ve done shows that places like Langley are getting more money from TransLink when projects like the Golden Ears Bridge are factored in. The South of Fraser is geographically larger than the North of Fraser. A good chunk of the North of Fraser was built when streetcars were the primary mode of transportation. The South of Fraser was designed in the automobile era. These factors, combined with the fact that TransLink does not have the funding to put frequent transit in areas to build ridership, leads to this imbalance.

This report will be sent to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation Investment Plan Subcommittee to influence the development of the 10 year investment plan.

While it would be good to see all transit projects built at once, even if the transit referendum passes, it is not likely that all projects will be able to be built all at once. A decision will need to be made: support transforming the South of Fraser from an auto-oriented sub-region to a transit-oriented sub-region, or alleviate transit congestion along Broadway, one on of the busiest transit corridors in North America. This will not be an easy decision to make.

Friday, April 25, 2014

I haven't started a new blog

Over the last day, I’ve received a handful of inquires about if I’ve started a new blog or if this blog is closing down. To clear up the air, this is the only blog that I regularly post on, I am not part of a new blog or organization, and I have no plans to shut down the South Fraser Blog.

I recently wrote a guest post for Moving in a Livable Region and I support this organization. In the past, I’ve posted original content on Civic Surrey. I also maintain my election website and the Greater Langley Cycling Coalition website.

All content on the South Fraser Blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License. This means other people are allowed to use all content from this blog as long as the content is attributed as originating from this blog, and it is not for commercial purposes.

I actively encourage people to share and repost content from this blog as I believe in sharing information. When content is shared or reposted, I does not mean that I am endorsing the person who shared the content or the site where it is reposted.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Complete a survey on transportation in Metro Vancouver, win an iPad

Moving in a Livable Region, which I posted about earlier, is an organization with the goal of providing fact-based information on transportation issues in the lead-up to the transit referendum next year.

They are running a survey to find out how people in Metro Vancouver feel about their transportation system, and want as many people as possible to complete this survey. It will take less than 10 minutes to complete and you can enter your name for a chance to win an Apple iPad Mini.

I've just completed the survey and you can complete the survey by following the link below.

Moving in a Livable Region Survey

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Parking at Walnut Grove Community Centre

We’ve known for years that you can’t build your way out of congestion. More “free” roads beget more congestion. This fact has been known since the mid-twenty century, but it took until the twenty-first century before politicians and decision-makers started to clue into this fact. This is why today Metro Vancouver’s local governments are advocating for road pricing as a way to reduce congestion.

Transit in Metro Vancouver charges a higher fare during peak periods as a way to manage demand and encourage people to travel outside of peak demand periods.

Parking planning today follows the same principles of highway building in the twenty century. If you have a parking shortage, simply building more parking. Of course research, mostly done in the last few decades, has shown that you can’t build your way out of a parking shortage without destroying the urban framework of community. Large surface parking eroded the economic potential of land and destroys walkability.

Just like roads, research has shown that the best way to manage parking is to use the power of the free-market; price parking based on the demand.

Some communities have been using paid parking since the mid-twenty century to manage parking. Other communities like Surrey are just starting to manage parking demand. Sadly some communities like Langley balk at the idea of managing parking even though demand outpaces supply at times in some parts of the community.

I’ve posted about how the Township could manage parking in certain residential areas in the past, but I know that many on council won’t touch these ideas due to the perceived political risk involved. What really has me scratching my head is that the Township is planning to pave over green space at Walnut Grove Community Centre to expand its parking lot. According to an article in the Langley Times, “I agree with you that there is a shortage of parking at the centre, particularly at peak times on weekdays around [9 a.m.] and then again once school gets out in the afternoon.”

A better solution would be to look at managing the current parking supply as opposed to simple build more parking lot which has environmental and economic consequences, and will only be a short-term fix. There are many ways to manage parking at the community centre from providing parking passes for actual users to introducing paid parking during the two peak periods of the day.

Parking takes up a lot of space in the City and Township of Langley. Where I live, two storeys of my building are for cars and three storeys are people. I have to wonder if Langley is being built for cars or for people. There are many ways to manage parking, but it seems that Langley is still suck in a twenty century mindset of trying to build your way out of the problem. Hopefully it won't take Langley until 2050 to figure out how to manage parking.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Urban Creep in the Township

When the Township of Langley decided to pursue the creation of the 150+ hectare University District, it created controversy in the community and the region due to the sheer size of the proposal. People were concerned about the urbanization of rural land in Langley and the loss of farmland. While proposals like the University District create controversy, urban creep into currently rural parts of Langley mostly goes unnoticed. Even though these changes normal impact one lot at a time, in the long run the results are exactly the same: the loss of rural land. It reminds me of the frog in water. Turn up the heat too fast, and it will jump out of the pot. But turn up the heat slowly, and it will boil to death.

One such example of urban creep into rural Langley is a proposal around 86A Avenue and 217A Street at the edge of Walnut Grove. Some land owners in the area want to put their rural land that is currently in Langley’s Rural Plan area into the Walnut Grove Community Plan area. Their current Small Farm/County Estates zoning allows up to two houses per lots. This is fairly coming in rural areas.

Map of 86A Avenue and 217A Street where zoning changes are being proposed.

Since this land around 86A Avenue and 217A Street is not in the ALR, land owners converted their lots from fee-simple to strata plans to allow two houses per lots with essentially private ownership for each strata lot. This is clearly not rural, but is suburban housing.

The owners are now asking for these strata lots to be split into two fee-simple lots, slowly turning up the heat, by asking the Township to formalizing these down-to-½-acre suburban lots and housing by changing their zoning.

Township Council asked their staff to come up with some ideas on how to make this happen. Staff came back with two options.

Option one would change the designation of the land from rural to urban (moving it inside our region’s urban growth boundary.) This would require Metro Vancouver’s involvement and require the population-weighted support of 2/3rd our region’s municipalities. It would also trigger the involvement of the Ministry of Agricultural. Following this option would align with the spirit of land-use planning in Metro Vancouver and the Township’s own Rural Plan.

Option two would amend the Township's Rural Plan to allow smaller lots sizes to meet the proposal requirements by some of the owners around 86A Avenue and 217A Street. This is the sneaky options and would result in creating another Salmon River/Uplands-type area which has its own set of issues. This would further erode the protection of rural land in Langley and may open up other rural areas in Langley for suburban development.

People in Langley and Metro Vancouver care deeply about the preservation of rural and farmland in our region. Municipal government also claims to support the preservation of rural and farmland as well. Unfortunately, municipal government in Metro Vancouver has a lousy track record of actually protecting rural and farmland. This is why it is important to have an enforceable urban growth boundary and the Agricultural Land Reserve; it protects us from ourselves.

You can read more about this proposed change at the edge of Walnut Grove from the agenda of the Township’s last public hearing.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Shared-Use Streets

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about lately is how to make urban streets safer while promoting their multi-modal use. In theory, there is a transportation hierarchy with pedestrians on the top, followed by cyclists, than transit user, and finally motorist. In practice, this isn’t the case.

On the rare occasion when two pedestrians have a time/space conflict on a street, there is usually no bodily harm. While there are a few known cases of bodily harm and even fatality when a pedestrian and cyclists collide on a street, most of the time the only result is bad feelings. On the rare occasion when two cyclists collide on a street, there is a higher case of bodily harm.

When a motor vehicle and a pedestrian, or a motor vehicle and a cyclists collide, you are almost guaranteed bodily harm for the pedestrian/cyclists with a higher chance that the collision will result in a fatality. The risk of a collision, and a fatal collision, is higher at higher speeds.

Pedestrians and cyclists colliding with each other is a rare occurrence due to their slower travel speeds.

When higher speed motor vehicle traffic is desired, the best solution is to separate pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. For pedestrians and cyclists off-street trails, sidewalks, and separated bike lanes/cycle paths should be built, but what about when you want to slow down motor vehicle traffic?

While it sounds counter-intuitive, one of the ways to make roads safer is to raise the perceived risk to drivers by introducing ambiguity into who has the right-of-way. This is one of the reasons why roundabouts are safer than traffic lights. It is also why you don’t often hear about people being mowed down by vehicles on Granville Island or in your typical parking lot.

In areas where slower vehicle speeds are desired, speed limits could be lowered to 30km/h. In addition, drivers could be notified that pedestrians and cyclists have equal right-of-way on the street eliminating the notion of jaywalking for example. By fuzzing who has right-of-way, no road users would feel like they have guaranteed right-of-way. This would make all road users more aware of each other and would actually result in a safer street. It would also build streets that promote walking and cycling.

Would you make the Langley Bylaw or 200th Street a shared-use street? Certainly not. But could you make shared-use streets in places like Downtown Langley or Fort Langley? Certainly.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

School Site Acquisition Charge to Double in Langley

In March, I posted about how Langley’s School District No. 35 is proposing to change its 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. The School Site Acquisition Charge is paid by developers to help cover the cost of new school sites.

The City of Langley and some parts of the Township of Langley are seeing very modest population growth and declining school enrollment. This has resulted in school closures and former school district sites being sold off in these areas. In other parts of the Township of Langley, the School District cannot keep up with the increasing enrollment.

Due to these dynamics, the City of Langley objected to the uniform doubling of the School Site Acquisition Charge within the Langley School District. You can read more details on a previous blog post, but the end result for the City of Langley may be a chilling effects on development and a further decrease in housing affordability in the City of Langley.

The City rejected the School Site Acquisition Charge as proposed by the School District. Due to the rejection, the School District requested that the Minister of Education appoint a facilitator to resolve the differences between the City and the School District over the charge.

The Minister wrote back that the School Site Acquisition Charge, as proposed by the School District, would be the same in both the City and Township of Langley as he believed that the City did not follow due process that would result in a facilitator being appointed under the Local Government Act. Specifically he believe that the City did not:

In writing, do not accept the proposed school site requirements for the school district specifically indicating two things:
-each proposed eligible school site requirement to which it objected; and
-the reasons for the objection.

Of course the City objected to this. As I noted in a previous post, City Council had the option to seek mediation to resolve this difference of opinion between the Minister and City. Instead City Council decided to write another letter to the Ministry of Education requesting again that a facilitator be appointed. On April 2nd, the City received a reply from the Minister which, not surprisingly, stated that his opinion did not change.

At the last City Council meeting, Council had the option to again seek mediation or other legal recourse, but instead decided to do nothing. As a result, the School Acquisition Charge will be doubling in the City of Langley.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Moving in a Livable Region

With the pending referendum on transit coming up within the year, many organizations are stepping up to support increased transit funding. One such organization is Moving in a Livable Region. Moving in a Livable Region is a consortium which includes municipalities, development associations, business associations, transportation advocacy organizations, unions, YVR, SFU, and TransLink.

Moving in a Livable Region’s main goal is to provide fact-based information on transportation issues as well as information on funding options to prepare citizens in Metro Vancouver for the upcoming referendum.

Earlier this week, I wrote a guest post for their blog.

One of the other interesting characteristics of Surrey is that highways actually circle around the community—Fraser “Highway” is something of a misnomer as it is actually a 50 km/h arterial road—leaving increasingly congested arterial roads as the only option for transit, commercial operators, and other motorist to get to locations throughout Surrey. Surrey’s long-term transportation plan is to complete some “missing link” projects and widen some minor roads, but an auto-oriented transportation network alone will not meet the transportation needs of such rapidly growing communities. This is why Surrey is promoting and investing in getting residents to cycle and walk more, and is working with TransLink to promote transit.

Please check out their website which is starting to build a library of information about transportation and funding options for our region. You can also read my full blog post there.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

TransLink Governance and Bill 22

Last month, the province introduce Bill 22 to change the governance model at TransLink. This was a results of the regions mayors asking for more oversight of the agency to provide better accountability to the public. At the end of March, Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart and I were on BC 1’s Unfiltered talking about these changes. At the time, we both had some questions about the proposed changes to TransLink’s governance as there seemed to be pieces missing from the bill.

The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation commissioned a report on TransLink’s current governance in 2013. The report’s authors compared TransLink’s governance model to “Leader Regions” and found that our governance model was “unique in the world and not in a good way.” Leader Region, such as London with its Transport for London, have clear divisions of labour between policy and implementation.

The top level is the policy level. At the policy level, elected representatives determine how public policy relates to the overall plans and goals of the transportation agency. The mid-tier management level is responsible for translating these plans and goals into action. This would be the board level. The third implementation level is responsible for the delivery of transportation services. This would be like Coast Mountain Bus in our region.

After the introduction of Bill 22, the Mayors Council had the report’s authors study the proposed changes and report back on their findings. Overall, the authors found that the proposed changes in the Bill have “the potential to move TransLink’s governance closer to best practices. However, it is our view that the new arrangements as proposed by Bill 22 will only take the region part of the way.”

One of the gaps noted by the authors is that Bill 22 does not give the Mayors Council explicit control over the TransLink board. For example under the proposed changes, the link between the long-term and implementation plans which the Mayors’ Council approves, and the annual budget which the TransLink board approves are not clearly defined. If the Mayors Council and TransLink’s board work together and develop a protocol that links the longer-term policies to the annual budget, we will move closer to the governance model of Leader Regions. This is a big if.

One of the things missing from the proposed changes in Bill 22 is the requirement for a single transportation plan in Metro Vancouver. Even with the proposed changes, the province’s transportation goals for the region and local government goals are not required to line up. This means that we could still have the region advocating for tolls to reduce congestion while the province advocates and builds bigger freeways.

For more information, I suggest that you read the full 17-page report.

Monday, April 14, 2014

SkyTrain factory lease saving taxpayers money

It seems that TransLink cannot get a break when it comes to bad PR. Last week, there was a bit of hoopla about the building TransLink is leasing to renovate the old Mark I SkyTrain cars. These cars were delivered between 1984 and 1995. Stories in the media paint a picture of waste at TransLink, but there is more to this story.

Before 1999, transit in Metro Vancouver was delivered by the province through BC Transit. Today, BC Transit delivers public transit outside of Metro Vancouver. When the responsibility to deliver transit service was given to the region via TransLink, the province still retained control of some parts of the transit system. The province created Rapid Transit Project 2000 Ltd to deliver the Millennium Line.

BC Transit and Rapid Transit Project 2000 Ltd own land, some SkyTrain and West Coats Express equipment, and the Expo and Millennium Line SkyTrain guideways. The provinces, through these crown corporations, granted TransLink the ability to use this infrastructure under a long-term lease. The lease currently requires a payment of $1 per year.

As part of the Millennium Line project, the province gave Bombardier the contract to build SkyTrain cars for the line. One of the requirements of the contract was to have “built in BC” components in the cars, so Bombardier built a $15 million factory next to the SkyTrain operation centre. With the Millennium Line complete, Bombardier sold the site in 2004. Subsequent SkyTrain vehicles purchased by TransLink would be made in Mexico due to lower costs.

The original Mark I SkyTrain cars are coming to the end of their useful life. TransLink was going to spend $262 million on new Mexican SkyTrain cars to replace this aging fleet. Due to the lack of funding for transit in the region, TransLink decided to refurbish the old SkyTrain cars for $37.9 million to extend their useful life by 15 years instead. Included in the $37.9 million is the cost to lease the old Bombardier SkyTrain factory. Once the SkyTrain cars are refurbish, TransLink will have no further use for the old factory.

TransLink never owned the SkyTrain factory nor did it have any control over its construction. When Bombardier sold the site in 2004, TransLink would have had no use for the building. If the agency did buy the building, it would have been accused of wasteful spending. If the province purchased the building, it would have also been accused of wasteful spending. If there is any blame, it would be that the provincial government of the day required “built in BC” SkyTrain cars for political purposes.

Of course if this didn’t happen and the factory was never building, refurbishing the SkyTrain cars would have at least doubled in cost. So in the end of the day, TransLink ability to lease the facility is actually saving taxpayer’s money.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Wines of the Valley Fundraiser

Select image to enlarge.

Do you like wine and supporting local agriculture? If you do, please join me on my first campaign fundraiser on April 26th.

Besides enjoying some truly amazing local wines, artisan breads and cheeses, you will also help me raise the funds needed to run a successful campaign (you might even learn a thing or two about local winemaking.) If you can’t make this fundraiser, you can also donate by cheque, credit card, or PayPal to the campaign at any time. Details can be found at

Together we can build an accessible, revitalized, and safe community making the City of Langley truly the place to be! To sign up for this exclusive wine tour, please email or call 604.767.3037. Space is limited

The Details

What: Luxury Motor Coach tour of four Langley wineries, plus a surprise location.
When: April 26, 2014
Departure: 10:30am
Arrival: 5:00pm
Pick Up & Drop Off: Carvolth Park & Ride
Cost: $150.00 (payment required at time of booking and includes catered reception)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Small-scale mixed-use in Langley

Typically 4-storey or higher buildings with ground floor retail come to mind when thinking about mixed-use, but there is also a smaller scale of mixed-use known as live/work. I have seen few examples of live/work in the region, and the ones that I have seen are mostly ground-level townhouses or apartments that can be legally used for commercial proposes. When reading over the latest Township of Langley Council agenda, I saw a live/work proposal that was different than most and has great potential.

One of the current challenges when introducing higher-density development into established single-family neighbourhoods is the perceived issue of mixing density. Many planners recommend a transitional density to combat this perceived concern.

Example of density step-down. Select image to enlarge.

The Willoughby Community Hall is located at the intersection of 208th Street and 83rd Avenue. This location is slated to become a higher-density development. The hall will be retained. Single-family housing is located to the north and the east of this location. Between this higher-density area and the single-family area along 83rd, there is a proposal to build a run-of-the-mill townhouse development. There is a twist to this project though.

Drawing of proposed mixed-use development on 83rd Avenue. Select image to enlarge.

The units that front 83rd will also incorporate ground level commercial space. While small, it will give people the opportunity to have space for, or start, a small business. If it is a retails business, it will contribute to the vibrancies of the public realm and promote walkability. In fact, these businesses could draw people into walking further to other retail along 208th Street like the new Willoughby Town Centre.

I like this project because it provides a gradual density transition that many single-family homeowner desire, and supports building an accessible community. If this development is successful, it would be worth looking at zoning for similar style projects in other parts of Langley (like Brookswood) and the South of Fraser. While the density may be lower than a typical mixed-use development, it will still support building a walkable community if built in the right location.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Walkable Willowbrook?

When one thinks of Willowbrook, Langley’s regional town centre, walkability isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. What I find interesting about this low-density, single-use, auto-oriented town centre is that it is surrounded by higher-density housing. I received a marketing brochure for a new higher-density residential development that borders the northern edge of the Langley SmartCentre which is home to Wal-Mart. The brochure showed the following map.

Map of central Langley from housing development marketing brochure. Select map to enlarge.

I had to laugh because it shows what Willowbrook, the Langley Bypass, and Langley City would look like without the sea of surface parking lots. The map certainly presents a different vision of the area then I perceive.

I was struck at how prominently walkability was promoted by the developer. The brochure even included a quote from a current homeowner in the development who “walk[s] everywhere here. We very seldom use our car…”

With this in mind, why does Township and City of Langley council still approve auto-oriented commercial development? People want to live in walkable communities, but many of our commercial areas are not pedestrian friendly.

One of the things that I want to see in Langley is a commercial development framework that emphasizes creating great walkable public space. Surrey is showing how this can be done by requiring commercial buildings to front streets, and increasingly requiring that some parking be put underground or in a structure to reduce its footprint. Langley should pay attention to what Surrey is doing and adopt some of their best practices.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Recommendations for potential performance arts centre in Langley, includes 142,800 square foot parking lot

For as long as I can remember, there has been a desire to build a community-based performance art centre in the Langley. In fact, Chief Sepass Theatre at Langley Fine Arts School and the Show Theatre at the Cascades Casino are the only purpose-built theatre spaces in Langley. Unfortunately both these facilities have availability and capacity issues. Other facilities in the Township and City also have major shortcoming. This has resulted in many performance arts groups either using more costly venues in other municipalities or simply closing down.

In early 2013, the City of Langley, Township of Langley, School District, Trinity Western University, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University created a task force to study a performance arts centre for Langley. The task force was mandated to recommend the spatial programming of the performance art space, how it should be managed, and estimate the capital and ongoing operation subsidy required.

The task force commissioned B.E. Beck & Associates to develop a feasibility study which has now been released.

Research in the feasibility study confirmed that there is a strong demand for a performance arts centre in Langley from a user group and audience perspective.

Based on consultation done with potential user groups in the community, B.E. Beck & Associates recommended that a new performance arts centre should have:

-A full 600-650 capacity proscenium theatre
-A 200 seat flexible, flat floor studio theatre
-Public space including a lobby, café, gift shop, art gallery, and kitchen
-Seven multi-use studios and meeting rooms
-Support space for performers and for facility operations.

The estimated capital cost of the performance art centre could range from $30 million to $40 million. It would need an ongoing operation subsidy of about $140,000. B.E. Beck & Associates also recommend a governance and operating model which you can read about in the feasibility study.

When it comes to the location of the facility, stakeholders noted that it needs to have good vehicular and public transit access. There is no recommendation for the actual location of the facility.

One of the things that really blew me away was that B.E. Beck & Associates recommended a 142,800 square foot, 420 space surface parking lot. This is for a 40,000 square foot performance arts space. The proposed surface parking lot would not support building an accessible, walkable community.

Performance art centres have different peak parking time then shops, restaurants, and offices. It would make the most sense to locate a performance art centre in a place like Downtown Langley where shared parking would be possible. This would remove the need for such a massive surface parking lot. Downtown Langley has good vehicular and transit access. Putting the performance art centre in a place like Downtown Langley would also promote building an accessible, walkable community. If this centre gets built around a sea of parking, an opportunity to improve our community will have been squandered.

The B.E. Beck & Associates feasibility study is just the first of many steps to getting a performance arts centre built in Langley. It will now be up to City of Langley, Township of Langley, School District, Trinity Western University, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University to figure out the next steps and even if they want to proceed further with investigating building a performance art centre.

Monday, April 7, 2014

One billion dollars per minute? Replacing the Massey Tunnel

There have been plans on the books since the early 1990s to replace the Massey Tunnel. While these plans collected dust, the Ministry of Transportation has focused on increasing transit usage by installing bus-only lane along the Highway 99 corridor, and preforming seismic upgrades in the tunnel.

Back in late 2012, the province announced that it was planning to replace the Massey Tunnel. Many wondered if this was an example of pure politics by Christy Clark and BC Liberals to win votes when they weren’t doing well in the polls. The Liberals won the election, and replacing the tunnel is full steam ahead.

There are many questions about this project like: how much will it cost, what is the project’s scope, what impact will it have on land-use in the region, how will it impact transit usage, and how will it impact air quality? These are questions that Metro Vancouver asked TransLink and the Ministry of Transportation respond to.

The Ministry of Transportation will be releasing the full details of the project this spring, but currently remains tight lipped about it. The Ministry did say that the scope of the project will go from the US/Canada border to the Oak Street Bridge. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes another Port Mann/Highway 1 style project. While the cost of the project remains unknown, looking at the scope of the project, it will be in line with $2 billion+ Port Mann/Highway 1 project. Tolls are meant to pay for the cost of the Port Mann Bridge/Highway 1 project, but the Port Mann Bridge isn’t meeting it projected usage. Will all BC taxpayers be on the hook for another Vancouver megabridge?

According to the research done by TransLink, the new bridge will not impact land-use as long as the Agricultural Land Reserve and Urban Growth Boundary remain in place. With the recent court decision regarding the region’s ability to regulate land use, these two things cannot be taken for granted anymore.

TransLink’s data also indicates that without a toll, the new bridge would cause a 40% jump in traffic. Transit usage would also drop from 12% today to 9% in 2045. A tolled bridge would only cause a 5% increase in traffic by 2045, and transit usage would remain steady at 9%.

An untolled bridge would cause vehicle kilometres travelled to substantially increase. This means that greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants would increase. A tolled bridge or doing nothing would only result in a small increase in vehicle kilometres travelled.

Without a toll, the bridge would be at capacity by 2045.

The really kicker is that by building an untolled bridge or keeping the tunnel, travel times will only increase by 3 minutes for someone travelling from 8th Avenue in Surrey to the Oak Street Bridge by 2045. A tolled bridge would shave 3 minutes off that same commute by 2045.

Of course the big question is what will happen to the traffic when it reaches the Oak Street Bridge?

The real benefit in time savings and congestion reduction is a result of tolling. While the province appears to have no interest in region-wide tolling on existing infrastructure, this makes the most sense to me. Instead it looks like the province may spend $3 billion to shave minutes of an average commute. Is this a good return on investment?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Transit ridership drops for first time in a decade

Late last year, I posted that transit ridership was down during the first half of 2013. At the time, I didn’t know if this was a trend or just a blip. TransLink released its 2013 Statutory Annual Report and the result are in: transit ridership is down 2.2% compared to 2012. In fact, transit ridership is below 2011 levels.

TransLink Ridership and Service Hours, 2003 to 2013. Source: TransLink Annual and Statutory Annual Reports. Select graph to enlarge.

As can be seen in the graph, TransLink was able to growth ridership after the Olympics by making the best use of service hours (aka revenue) available. It has been known for some time that more money would be needed to growth transit and meet regional and provincial livability goals. Unfortunately, the region and the province could not, and still cannot, agree on a new source of revenue. As I posted about last year, transit in Metro Vancouver was dealt three major blows when the Mayors’ Council axed the property tax increase they previously approved, the TransLink Commissioner denied fare increases, and the province decided that no new revenue sources for transit would be approved without a referendum.

While TransLink was optimising service prior to 2013, it was forced to start cutting service in 2013. This has resulted in more congested buses and rail service in some parts of the region, and reduced or eliminated service in other parts of the region. Sadly with no new investment in transit things will only get worse, forcing more people to pay tolls or drive on increasing congested roads. I don’t say this lightly, but if the province and the mayor’s don’t get their acts together to find a way to grow transit, the quality of live and economic prosperity of our region will decline.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Metro Vancouver proposes $4 million park upgrade in Surrey

Surrey Bend Regional Park is one of the larger parks in the Metro Vancouver park system. Located in near Barnston Island, the park is currently cut off from the rest of Surrey by the South Fraser Perimeter Road and CN rail line. While the park receives some informal use, it is official closed to the public.

The parkland is owned by the City of Surrey while Metro Vancouver has a long-term lease for the site. In 2010, Surrey and Metro Vancouver developed the Surrey Bend Regional Park Management Plan.

With the completion of the South Fraser Perimeter Road and Highway 1 projects, Metro Vancouver is now looking at opening up the park to the public and installing recreational facilities. The majority of the park will be preserved with most of the new recreational facilities (including a parking lot) to be put in an area that was previously used by industry. If the Metro Vancouver Board approves, this $4.35 million dollar project will be complete in fall 2015 with construction slated to start this summer.

Metro Vancouver plans to host public information sessions in late April or early May about the changes that will be happening at the park. I thought I'd share maps that show the proposed changes.

Proposed park facilities overview at Surrey Bend Regional Park. Select map to enlarge.

Detailed map of proposed park facilities at Surrey Bend Regional Park. Select map to enlarge.

Between Tynehead Regional Park, Surrey Bend Regional Park, and the Fort to Fort Trail (which connects Fort Langley to Derby Reach Regional Park,) local governments have the opportunity to create a comprehensive greenway walking and cycling network that connects these major park facilities. This would enhance the quality of life of local residents and promote tourism. I know that the City of Surrey is activity building greenways. The Township of Langley is also investigating building a connection to Surrey’s system though all the funding is not in place. I hope that Township council commits resources to building this regional greenway network.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Brookswood Community Plan, what went wrong?

Last night, Township of Langley Council rejected the proposed updated community plan for Brookswood. You can read my thoughts about the plan on a post I wrote last year, but the following land-use map shows what the Township was proposing for the community.

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

When a community plan gets rejected, it means that something went wrong in the planning process. A successful community plan needs to engage the community early in the planning process, and often throughout the planning process.

The Township started on the right path when they hosted a series of community workshops in 2012. Out of the workshops citizens noted the following about their community.

When asked about the existing characteristics of the community, most described the community with words like rural, quiet, clean, green, trees, and wildlife.

When asked about the future vision of the community, most people at the workshops wanted to see upgraded infrastructure like sidewalks, trails, bike lanes and the like. They also wanted to ensure the protection of trees and the environment. Interestingly enough, people also wanted to see more local retail clusters with higher densities in some areas. Did the proposed Brookswood community plan align with the vision of the community?

Required open houses and public hearings are actually pretty horrible ways to engage a community. They don’t allow for full collaboration with the community. Open houses and public hearing also tend to only attract people that are opposed to proposals. Once a plan reaches open house, it is usually close to being done with little opportunity for change.

I think the Township was off to a good start with having community workshops to launch the Brookswood community plan update process. While the Township engaged citizens early, they may not have followed through with that engagement.

The Township of Langley did a great job engaging with the community when it developed its Sustainability Charter and the Aldergrove Core Plan. Going forward, the Township should look at expanding this kind of planning practice for new large plans like the Brookswood community plan.

While fully engaging with the community takes more time and a lot of energy, in the end you get a plan that the majority of the community can support and feel ownership of. When the naysayers arrive, as they always do, the Township will have the confidence to approve a plan knowing they fully engaged with the community.

I don’t know what’s next for Brookswood, but if the Township wants to update that community plan again, it needs to reboot the planning and community engagement process.