Langley City Election 2018 - October 20th

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Holiday Homework: Complete the Nicomekl River ISMP Survey

After writing 195 posts this year, I will be taking a break from blogging until January 4th.

If you have time over the next week, I suggest that you complete the Nicomekl River Watershed Survey. The survey will take under 10 minutes to complete, and must be completed by December 31st.

The City of Langley and Township of Langley are completing an Integrated Stormwater Management Plan for the Nicomekl River watershed.

Nicomekl ISMP Study Area. Select map to enlarge.

Run-off from streets, farms, commercial businesses, and houses, ends up in the Nicomekl River (or groundwater) eventually. This run-off can contain all sort of contaminants which negatively impact water quality and the environment. Urbanization has also impacted the Nicomekl River watershed. Some of the negative impacts including: poor water quality, loss of streamside trees and shrubs, and low summer baseflows.

The Integrated Stormwater Management Plan will provide solutions to improving the health of the Nicomekl River watershed, and the survey will help guide the development of this plan.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Provincial government recommends building more public transit

One of the things that I’m finding exceeding frustrating these days is the disconnect between the BC government’s own research, and its funding priorities. Earlier this year, I posted about the Province Health Services Authority’s “Healthy Built Environment Linkage” toolkit. Building infrastructure that supports walking and cycling, plus investing in public transit was high on the list.

This fall, the BC Ministry of Community, Sport & Cultural Development & Responsible for TransLink released “Age-friendly and Disability-friendly Official Community Plans”. The guide was created to assist local governments in updating their official community plans to support building accessible communities. While accessibility can have a variety of meanings, in the guide it means “the ability of seniors and people with disabilities or health and activity limitations to get around their community and lead active, healthy, fulfilling and engaged lives.”

So what are the key ways to support building an age-friendly, accessible community?

  1. Outdoor spaces and public buildings are pleasant, clean, secure and physically accessible.
  2. Public transportation is accessible and affordable.
  3. Housing is affordable, appropriately located, well built, well designed and secure.
  4. Opportunities exist for social participation in leisure, social, cultural and spiritual activities with people of all ages and cultures.
  5. Older people are treated with respect and are included in civic life.
  6. Opportunities for employment and volunteerism cater to older persons’ interests and abilities.
  7. Age-friendly communication and information is available.
  8. Community support and health services are tailored to older persons’ needs

A community that supports seniors and people with disabilities is a community that is better for everyone.

The guide contains twelve recommendations for updating Official Community Plans. Here are two of the recommendations:

Guideline 5.6 – Land Use Objectives and Policies
Land use patterns impact accessibility. Complete compact communities with a wide range of mobility options (e.g. transit, cycling, walking) are generally more accessible for everyone, including seniors and people with disabilities, because distances between services, amenities and housing are shorter and easier to travel. These types of environments promote physical activity and provide opportunities for social interaction and inclusion, thereby helping to promote and support vibrant and healthy communities.
Guideline 5.9 – Public Transportation Objectives and Policies
Public transportation is an important option for seniors and people with disabilities who may not be able to drive a vehicle. As with active transportation, access to public transportation options helps to ensure that seniors and/or persons with disabilities are able to safely and comfortably carry out daily tasks such as working, going to school, shopping or attending appointments. Accessible and affordable public transportation is also vital to supporting participation in the social, cultural, and recreational life of a community, thereby decreasing the risk of social isolation.

The irony is that the provincial government has frozen funding for BC Transit, and refuses to show leadership to resolve the funding/accountability issues with TransLink. So while I’m very happy that several Ministries have done some great work around how to create healthly, accessible communities, it’s time for our provincial politicians to actually enable the funding required to move these recommendations forward.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Metro Vancouver: The Prosperous Region

When the Livable Regional Strategic Plan was adopted in the mid-1990s, it was based on the ideal that:

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

This ideal has flowed into the current Regional Growth Strategy. When talking about livability in Metro Vancouver, what kind of local economy we should support hasn’t been discussed as much as other topics. The current Growth Strategy does talk about supporting a sustainable economy, but it is almost entirely focused on land-use policies.

Some people have the notion that a healthy economy and creating a livable regional are conflicting ideals. Of course this isn’t the truth, but this idea still exists in the minds of many.

With this in mind, I was pleased to see that Metro Vancouver has released a new green paper called “Framework for a Regional Prosperity Initiative in Metro Vancouver.

This new green paper presents the idea of prosperity as a way to tie economic development and livability together.

Enabler of prosperity. From Metro Vancouver's new green paper.

Metropolitan areas are the economic drivers of provinces and of Canada. For example, Metro Vancouver had a total GDP of $119.2B in 2013 which represented more than half of BC's economic output.

In Metro Vancouver, there are challenges that are limiting the prosperity of our region. The green paper identifies deteriorating affordability, a shrinking land-base, lack of investment in transportation and transit, and the impacts of climate change as areas where specific action is needed to ensure continued prosperity.

The green paper makes a pitch for the creation of an organization that supports and promotes economic development within the prosperity framework. Examples of other such organizations include the Puget Sound Regional Council and Calgary Economic Development, among others. These organizations enable the private-sector and public-sector to come together to support economic development.

Now that Metro Vancouver has released its green paper, it will be hosting a “Forum on Regional Prosperity” in early 2016. It will be interesting to see if the idea of creation a regional prosperity agency takes hold.

Monday, December 21, 2015

TransLink performance results in: SkyTrain doing OK, bus service on the decline

TransLink recently released its third quarter results. Over the past several years, there has been a decline in transit ridership. One of the reasons that I theorize why transit ridership is dropping is due to TransLink’s “Service Optimization” program.

With no new money to invest in transit over the last few years, an increase in transit service on one route usually results in a service reduction on another route. While the first round of “service optimization” had a generally positive impact for transit customers, each successive round of “optimizations” has resulted in exceeding more disruptive impacts.

For example in the next year or so, TransLink is planning to “optimize” the 502 service in the City of Langley. Instead of me being able to walk 2 minutes from my house to board a 502 in the morning, I will now have to walk 12 minutes. This isn’t a big deal to me, but will be for others in the community.

TransLink's official messaging around its drop in ridership is that it was caused by fare increases. It is encouraging to see that TransLink is now official starting to recognize that cutting transit service results in people taking less transit.

When discussing transit ridership, located on page 18, TransLink notes “we are continuing our program of service optimization; however, there are now fewer opportunities to improve our efficiency while still minimizing impacts to customers.”

Speaking about transit service reduction, in the first nine months of 2014, TransLink provided 4,689,291 hours of service for scheduled transit. In the first nine months of 2015, TransLink provided 4,674,062 service hours.

Compared to the first nine month of 2014, there was a 1.3% decrease in bus ridership. Ridership on SkyTrain and West Coast Express were static. Overall ridership in the first nine month of 2014 was 270,815,000. In 2015, it was 268,835,000.

The opening of the Evergreen Line in 2017 should cause an increase in transit ridership, but if the province and the mayors can’t agree on long-term funding for transit, the quality of transit service in Metro Vancouver will continue to decline.

On the topic of transit service quality, there has been a lot of attention focused on SkyTrain reliability since the meltdowns during the summer of 2014. SkyTrain had an on-time performance of 95.4% in the first nine month of 2013. This dropped to 92.8% in the same period in 2014. So far this year, on-time performance has bounced back at 96.1%.

Because of all the media coverage around every single SkyTrain breakdown since the summer of 2014, people actually think the SkyTrain is less reliable than it actually is.

Bus service on the on-the other hand has seen on-time reliability drop. 82.3% of buses in the first nine months of 2014 arrived within 2 minutes of their scheduled time. That number dropped to 81.7% in 2015. “Service Optimization” and increasing road congestion play a large role in deteriorating bus service.

While people spend a lot of time critiquing SkyTrain, the system is actually performing relatively well. That focus needs to shift to how bus service is being paid for and delivered in Metro Vancouver. As I pointed out last week, the backbone of our transit network in Metro Vancouver is the bus network. Declining bus ridership and service quality is not good for the livability of our region.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Region wants transit, province wants $3.5 billion Massey Mega-Bridge

The federal Conservatives handed out 1.5 billion dollars to build more light rail in Calgary this summer. Around the same time, the Tories announced they would invest $2.6 billion to fund transit in Greater Toronto. The former Harper Government was looking to invest in transit within Metro Vancouver, but because of the BC Liberals’ unwillingness to enable funding required at the local and provincial level, our region was left empty handed.

This fall, Trudeau and the federal Liberals swept into power. One of their biggest priorities is to invest $2 billion per year for transit over the next decade.

So with the region calling for more transit, and the two successive federal governments committed to spending billions on transit, what is the province's top transportation priority? Building a $3 billion $3.5 billion Massey Bridge.

A conceptual design of the new Massey Bridge. Source: BC MoTI Flickr. Select image to enlarge.

The province will only commit to investing $1.75 billion to support the Mayors' Council Regional Transportation Investments 10-year plan. This is not enough to make it happen. $3.5 billion would support the total cost of building new transit service throughout the region including the Broadway SkyTrain extension and Surrey Light Rail!

The Massey Bridge Project Definition Report states that one of the justifications for building a new bridge is that it will support transit. So how is the provincial government going to support transit on that corridor? By ripping up the current bus-only lanes, and replace them with "a continuous dedicated transit/HOV lane between Highway 91 in Delta and Bridgeport Road in Richmond."

Nine northbound TransLink bus routes use the Tunnel during the morning rush. While these buses comprise only 1 per cent of the rush-hour traffic, they carry about 17 per cent of all Tunnel travellers. However, transit is not practical for approximately 70 per cent of northbound weekday drivers through the Tunnel. This includes commercial vehicles, tourists, and commuters travelling to or from areas with limited or no transit service.

Commercial vehicles represent about 5 – 15% of traffic depending on the time of day according to the province's own numbers in the report. Many people drive on the Highway 99 corridor because transit service is not available. The solution to this problem, of course, would be to invest in more transit service. Unfortunately, this is not a provincial priority.

The Massey Bridge will be tolled. According to Christy Clark, the Alex Fraser Bridge will not be tolled. On the Port Mann/Highway 1 corridor, people shifted to the Pattullo Bridge to avoid the toll. In January 2006, average weekday traffic volume on the Port Mann was 119,313. In January 2015, the average weekday traffic volume was 96,900​. People will shift from the Highway 99 corridor to the Alex Fraser Bridge/Highway 91 corridor to avoid the Massey Bridge toll, making congestion even worse for people in Surrey and North Delta.

Investing in improving walking, cycling, and transit infrastructure is the only way to give people a way out of congestion. Sadly, the provincial government is more interested in building a mega-bridge than actually improving the transportation network in Metro Vancouver. The real irony will be if the province keeps the name "Massey Bridge" as George Massey himself thought that a bridge was a terrible idea.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Province says no to local government control of TransLink; Metro Vancouver to use gas tax fund to get voice heard at table

It must have took 30 seconds for the provincial government to reject the latest call by Metro Vancouver mayors and councillors to take back control of TransLink. In 2007, the provincial government removed the TransLink board which consisted of elected local government politicians, and replaced it with an unaccountable board made up of unelected people.

This structure is good for the province because it ensures that the province ultimately controls the transit system in Metro Vancouver while shielding it from any political responsibility. When it comes to transit in Metro Vancouver, there are four things where the provincial government has drawn a line in the sand:

  1. The provincial government will not change the governance structure of TransLink.
  2. The provincial government will only pay for 1/3 of the cost of transit expansion projects.
  3. The provincial government will not invest one cent in the operations of transit in Metro Vancouver (expect what they are contractually obligated to do with the P3 Canada Line.)
  4. The provincial government will not approved a new funding source for transit until it goes to a plebiscite.

No report or recommendation from Metro Vancouver will change the provincial government’s mind on these matters.

While Metro Vancouver’s recommendation of taking back control of TransLink was ignored by the province, the report does make other recommendations which will help local government in our region have more influence on what TransLink does.

One of the recommendations is to create a new Joint Planning Advisory Committee. This committee will have no authority, but will provide a venue for local government, the province, and TransLink to discuss regional transportation matters. Metro Vancouver recommends that this new committee:

  • Include all TransLink Board Directors and Mayors’ Council members.
  • Occur quarterly, or as required, in order to adequately guide and inform the development of key strategies, plans, and policies.
  • Be supported by TransLink staff, and provide opportunities for input by Mayors’ Council and Metro Vancouver staff.
  • Include the Minister Responsible for TransLink as required to discuss the Province’s interests and investments in the context of transportation planning for the region.

The federal government gives back a portion of the gas tax it receives to local government to support local infrastructure project. Back in 2005, that money went straight to TransLink. A new agreement was signed in 2014 which now requires Metro Vancouver board approval before TransLink can spend that money. Over a five year period, it is expect that the total funding will be $652 million.

Proposed Joint Planning Committee structure. Select image to enlarge.

It seems that Metro Vancouver will be using their approval of this fund to ensure that the Joint Planning Advisory Committee is established, and that the discussions that take place on the committee are taken seriously.

Unfortunately, the TransLink governance and financing model is broken. Even with a new Joint Planning Advisory Committee, the funding of major regional transportation projects will remain ad-hoc while the quality of bus service will continue to decline.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

SkyTrain turned 30. Bus is still king in Metro Vancouver

On Friday last week, the first section of the Expo Line between Waterfront Station and New Westminster Station opened 30 years ago from the day. Metro Vancouver’s SkyTrain Network is about the same age as me.

In case you haven’t seen, there are three 1980s SkyTrain propaganda films that were release by BC Transit and the provincial government between 1983 through 1985: On Track, Rapid Transit – Rapid Transition, and the slyly named “Goin’ to Town”.

While the videos themselves are really cheesy, they actually didn’t understate the profound impact that SkyTrain would have on the region. The fast, frequent service provided by the driverless rapid transit network has shaped our region’s built-form around transit. This is evident even in the South of Fraser.

While SkyTrian certainly is an important part of our transit network in Metro Vancouver, and has shaped its development, our region is actually one of the least rail-transit dependent of all regions with rail-based transit (I’m not counting Ottawa's small O-Train, or commuter rail in general.)

According to information complied by CUTA in 2013, 57% of all transit boardings in Montreal were on rail transit. In Calgary, 52% of transit boardings werre by rail. 48% of transit boardings in Toronto were on rail transit. In Edmonton, that number was 24%. Metro Vancouver had 25% of all transit boardings by rail transit.

So while SkyTrian's impact on the region's built-form and psyche are significant, it is interesting that bus service is what moves the vast majority of transit riders in Metro Vancouver.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Unreliable transit in Abbotsford due to chronic underfunding

Last month, I went on a bit of a transit adventure in the Fraser Valley. While catching buses in Abbotsford, I noticed that they were never on time. Anecdotally, I was told that this was a regular occurrence. It seemed odd to me that a transit provider would always have its buses running late, so I decided to do a little research. It turns out that Abbotsford's transit system does indeed have a problem with late buses, but that is only the surface of the problems with the system.

Outside of Metro Vancouver and the Capital Region (Victoria), the provincial government pays for about 45% of the operation cost of public transit. The remaining costs are paid for by fares and local property tax. In Abbotsford, about 30% of the operating costs of transit are paid for with property tax.

Communities outside of Metro Vancouver and the Capital Region have a great deal; the provincial government provides the highest operation grants for transit in Canada. BC Transit works with local governments to find out how much transit service should be provided. Basically, BC Transit will match the transit service level with the amount of property tax that municipalities are willing to invest in transit service.

Kelowna and Abbotsford-Mission have about the same population, but when it comes to transit service, these two areas couldn’t be any more different. Kelowna decided that transit was an important part of their transportation network.

In Kelowna, there is a real frequent transit network plus a B-Line style, RapidBus service along Highway 97. According to information posted on BC Transit's website, Kelowna’s transit system had ridership of 4,848,971 with operating costs of $22.06 million.

In contract, Abbotsford Council has decided to fund transit service at a much lower level. The transit system that serves Abbotsford had ridership of 2,347,899 with operating costs of $12.92 million. Because of limited funding, transit service in Abbotsford is stretched to its limits.

I found a report on the City of Abbotsford’s website noting the current state of transit in that municipality.

The Central Fraser Valley (CFV) Service Improvement Review report (Attachment B) identified a number of transit routes in Abbotsford, which have on-time performance and reliability issues. Frequent late bus arrivals are causing significant disruption for both the riding customers and the transit operators.

In September, BC Transit made some cost-neutral changes to modify service on some routes to try and improve service. If my experience in November is any indication, but more work needs to be done. This was even noted by BC Transit.

The detailed review exposed significant reliability or on-time performance issues that are impacting the health and marketability of the transit system. The extensive analysis of the transit system also revealed that-given the resources that would be required to address reliability, congestion and community growth-many of the proposed service changes would require some level of service expansion and/or capital investment.

BC transit also said in the review that the Downtown Bus Exchange in Abbotsford would need to be expanded, as well as the bus garage, to support more transit service.

The transit system in Abbotsford is chronically underfunded. A modest increase in property tax would go a long way to improving service. Unlike Metro Vancouver where every penny comes from local citizens, Abbotsford is able to get free cash from the province to pay for improved transit service. Abbotsford Council should really look to Kelowna as an example of what investing in transit can do to improve a community’s transportation network.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Study finds high-quality sidewalks, streetlights, and transit key to attracting industry to Langley City

The City of Langley recently released a study called “Industrial Business Attraction & Expansion Study.” The study was prepared by Colliers International. The preservation of land that can be used for industrial purposes has been a hot topic lately. Using land for industrial purposes can yield a lower profit for developers, and a lower tax dollar per acre for local governments compared to land used for retail and offices uses.

According to Colliers, the vacancy rate for industrial properties was 4.1% in 2014, and went down to 3.3% in 2015 throughout Metro Vancouver. This seems to fit with the messaging from Metro Vancouver, Port Metro Vancouver, and other groups that are saying we are running out of industrial land. Interesting in Langley, the vacancy rate has increased from 1.8% in 2014 to 2.9% in 2015. Colliers notes that this is because of the new “24,000-square-foot multi-tenant Northview Business Centre facility in Gloucester Industrial Estate.” The vacancy rate is likely to go down as this new development fills up with tenants.

Not all industrial land is the same though. The following map shows less valuable industrial land in green. More valuable industrial land is in red. According to Colliers “industrial transactions in the region occurred within industrial parks along major transit routes, with the exception of Campbell Heights in Surrey, and the Kanaka area of Maple Ridge.” Interestingly enough, places like Campbell Heights have the least valuable industrial land value per acre and are nowhere near good transit service.

Shows the sales of industrially-zoned lands in the Metro Vancouver area since 1999. The sales are scaled by relative size of the subject parcels, and are shaded according to relative price, with green being a lower and red being a higher price per acre. Select map to enlarge.

So what kind of industry should the City of Langley be trying to attract?

Given that larger warehouse operations typically require only 1,000 square feet of floor space per employee, whereas multi-tenant industrial buildings require 800 square feet per employee and flex/office buildings require 600 square feet per employee, the City of Langley could stand to benefit from higher employment if it were capable of attracting more flex/office or multi-tenant industrial tenants. The higher-order uses would also generate more tax revenue.

Unfortunately, the City of Langley hasn’t kept up with investing in the public realm in some parts of the community. “Street-side improvements are aging, often unattractive, and less likely to be desired by [higher-order uses].”

If Langley City wants to attract high-value industry to the City, Colliers recommends that the City improve the public realm in the following ways:

  • Improve streetscape and infrastructure in industrial areas to promote redevelopment and intensification of sites, and the consolidation of office and higher order functions to the city.
    • Sidewalks
    • Streetlights
    • Transit service with bus shelters
    • Increased police patrols and bylaw enforcement
  • Explore a Local Area Improvement Bylaw to enhance infrastructure deficiencies (sidewalks, street lighting, landscaping/street trees).

More recommendations are listed on the last page of the study. While some people think that investing in high-quality, attractive public infrastructure is a waste of money, it actually is one of the best things a city can do to support a healthy local economy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Compass Card How-To Videos

With the Compass Card transition in full swing, TransLink has produced a set of minute-length videos to help people understand how to use the Compass Card. While many of the early adopters of the Compass Card seem to be getting how the system works, these are mostly people who have chosen to use a Compass Card.

December is the last month for people to use paper monthly passes, and in the near future, TransLink will stop selling FareSaver tickets. For people that are still holding onto legacy transit fare products, these videos are more geared towards them.

For example, there is a video on how to tap your Compass Card.

There are also more specific videos on using the Compass Card on a bus, SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express. One video that I think ever transit customer needs to watch is “What if I Can’t tap in?”

These videos are a great way to introduce people to the Compass Card system as they explain the basic concepts on how the system works.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Merging of Langley City committees causes concern in artist community

I currently serve on the City of Langley’s Parks and Environment Advisory Committee. When I first joined, it was call the Parks, Environment, Recreation, and Culture Advisory Committee (PEAC).

The committee’s mandate was overly broad. Langley City has a large parks system which includes the environmentally sensitive Nicomekl floodplain. Almost everything a municipality does, and Langley City is no exception, has an impact on our environment. Given these facts, the vast majority of the committee’s time was spent focusing on parks and environmental topics.

While conversation about recreation sometimes got lumped into broader discussions about parks, very little time was devoted to the cultural component of the committee’s mandate.

Recognizing that parks and environmental topics were dominating the discussion around the table, the City of Langley spilt the committee up. The Parks and Environment Committee, and the Recreation, Culture & Public Art Advisory Committee were formed in 2010.

I was surprised to learn that the City of Langley is putting the two committees back together. The PEAC committee passes the majority of all committee resolutions in the City of Langley, and always has a packed agenda.

I can’t speak to the experience of Recreation, Culture & Public Art Advisory Committee members, but the following resolution was presented to Langley City Council last night:

THAT the Recreation, Culture and Public Art Advisory Committee recommend that Council consider revisiting the decision to remove the Cultural and Public Art components from the new Terms of Reference for the Parks, Recreation and Environment Advisory Committee.

AND WHEREAS the City of Langley stated in their 2012 Terms of Reference for Committees that “The Recreation, Culture and Public Art Advisory Committee is used as a vehicle for achieving certain worthwhile goals and objectives in which such achievements clearly result in a direct benefit to all citizens. Arts and Culture fosters a sense of community identity, spirit and pride and fosters growth of individuals to reach their full potential.”

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that a sub-committee of the Parks, Recreation and Environment Advisory Committee should be created that focuses on Arts and Culture.

Because the new Parks, Recreation and Environment Advisory Committee must include representatives from the Langley Environmental Partners Society, Langley Field Naturalist, and Nicomekl Enhancement Society, I’m not concerned that environmental topics will be off the agenda. Past experience shows that discussion around cultural topics will be limited.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Regional cycling maps not useful for majority of people

Updated:TransLink recently updated its regional cycling maps for Metro Vancouver. These maps are meant to help people choose cycling routes that they feel safe riding on. The previous versions of these cycling route maps weren't the most useful as some municipalities are very liberal in what they consider cycling-friendly. I see that this has carried through onto the most recent version of the maps.

This isn’t TransLink fault. For example, the TransLink map notes that a section of 53/51B Ave and 201A Street in Langley City have bike lanes. While that is technically true, the 53/51B “bike lane” is only about 75cm wide; I won’t risk my life in that lane. The 201A Street “bike lane” hasn’t been maintained since I’ve lived in Langley, and I would be surprise if people even knew it was there. These are just a few examples.

The new maps use a colour coding system. Purple means off-street routes, shared paths, and on-street separated bike lanes. Green means that a municipality has recognized a street as a “cycling route”, and blue means that some hard-core people use these roads for cycling.

One of the things that would makes these maps extremely useful would a clear indication of which routes are safe for people of all ages and all abilities. Using the purple routes would likely be the safest routes to take for most people.

TransLink relies on municipality-provide information. Because every municipality is different in what they consider a “cycling route”, I wouldn’t trust these maps to plot out a safe bike route without first having local knowledge of the area you are traveling in.

Metro Vancouver Cycling Map - Surrey-Langley. Select map to enlarge.

Metro Vancouver Cycling Map - Surrey-White Rock. Select map to enlarge.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Investing in BC Ferries, cycling, and transit a priority for British Columbians

Every fall, the BC government holds a province-wide public consultation to find out what people think should be priority spending areas, and where people think money could be saved. The theory is that this consultation process will actually help shape the following year’s province budget.

The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, which is the legislative committee that drives the consultation process, recently released their Report on the Budget 2016 Consultations. The committee received 375 submissions from both individuals and organizations. So what did people think?

The provincial government asked people to rank three items in order of importance. Consultation participants thought the government’s number one priority should be to “invest in infrastructure, like school, road, and health facilities.” This was followed by implementing tax relief and affordability measures, and finally reducing debt and borrowing.

When it came to spending priorities, participants wanted to see more investment in health care, education, environmental protection, and parks.

The committee made 63 recommendations based on the results of the consultation. These recommendations are summarized at the end of the consultation report.

One of the areas that I wanted to examine was transportation policy. The provincial government is focused on building multi-billion dollar freeways and bridge projects. In Metro Vancouver, we can see this in action. This is also the case in other parts of the province. For example in Kelowna, the province is considering building a second bridge across Okanagan Lake in Kelowna. With all the spending on bridges and freeways, you’d think this was a priority for British Columbians. If the budget consultation is any indication, this is not the case.

People in BC want to see investment in BC Ferries, cycling, and public transit. This is carried through to the recommendations of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. Their four recommendation around transportation in BC are:

  • Undertake a review of changes made to BC Ferries schedules and fares in 2014 to look for opportunities for adjustment based on social and economic impacts.
  • Invest in improvements to expand cycling infrastructure, promote cycling as an alternative transportation model and to increase cycling safety awareness and education among cyclists and drivers.
  • Commit to increased funding for public transit to provide improved service in urban centres and rural areas.
  • Work to secure long-term, stable funding for transportation and transit infrastructure improvements.

People in the province want more travel options. It is disconcerting that current government policy has been to put up roadblocks to transit funding in Metro Vancouver, freeze the BC Transit budget, and cut service on BC Ferries. Hopefully the provincial government will take to heart the recommendations in their own consultation document, and invest in infrastructure that people in our province demand.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Langley City Council drops permissive tax exemption elimination plan

Back in September of this year, Langley City Council asked staff to prepare a permissive tax exemption elimination strategy. Mayor Schaffer and Councillor Storteboom opposed this. At last week’s council meeting, staff presented the permissive tax exemption reduction strategy.

Municipalities in BC are allowed to reduce or eliminate property tax for select properties within their jurisdiction. The City of Langley currently provides $257,537 in property tax exemptions for 29 properties. This works out to about 1% of the $23.6 million in property tax revenue the City collects.

Under provincial law, church buildings and the land directly under them are not permitted to be taxed. The City of Langley also exempts all the other land on church property from tax as well.

The following organizations found themselves at risk of paying property tax to the City:

  • Anglican Parish of St. Andrews
  • Bridge Community Church
  • Church of the Nazarene
  • Global School Society
  • Ishtar Transition Housing
  • Langley Association for Community Living
  • Langley Care Society
  • Langley Music School
  • Langley Community Service
  • Langley Evangelical Free Church
  • Langley Hospice Society
  • Langley Lawn Bowling Club
  • Langley Seniors Resource Society
  • Langley Stepping Stones
  • New Apostolic Church Canada
  • Salvation Army – Gateway of Hope
  • Southgate Christian Fellowship
  • St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church
  • United Church of Langley
  • Vineyard Christian Fellowship

That Langley City Council would even consider eliminating these tax exemptions was ill-conceived. Going after churches and select non-profits to gain an additional 1% in property tax revenue doesn't make sense to me.

As you can imagine, the last Langley City Council meeting was packed. Seeing that moving forward with the elimination of these tax exemptions would be political suicide, Council decided to let the current tax exemptions stay in place.

One of the things that I do believe Langley City needs to do develop is an updated permissive tax exemption policy that is equitable to churches, non-profits and taxpayers. The current policy has developed over the years in an ad-hoc fashion. Creating a comprehensive tax exemption policy would ensure that there is transparency around how these exemptions are approved.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Compass Card roll out update, and understanding Compass Card reader messages

Over the last month, TransLink’s Compass Card roll out has been ramping-up. According to recent media reports, about 22% of all monthly pass holders have transitioned to the Compass Card. CNIB clients, U-Pass holders, and people that have a subsidized BC Bus Pass are also using the Compass Card.

December is the last month that people can purchase paper monthly passes, so all pass holders will be switched over to the Compass Card in January 2016. The next phase for TransLink will be the discontinuation of the paper FareSaver tickets likely by the summer of 2016.

As everyone knows, the Compass Card program was delayed because of problems with people tapping on the bus. While there are certainly issues with tapping out due to a lack of readers which impacts people exiting busy buses at a major stops, most of the problems were due to people not knowing how to tap properly.

At the beginning of the month, people where waving, swiping, and doing all sorts of non-tapping things with their Compass Cards, making it hard or impossible for the reader to register their cards. As this month comes to a close, people have gotten used to just holding their card at a reader until a check is displayed.

Speaking about checks, there are a several different messages and icons that appear when presenting a Compass Card at a reader. Besides the general idea that a check plus green was good, and an “x” plus red was bad, I had no idea what some of the messages were as they flashed up so fast.

TransLink recently posted a Compass Card instruction guide to its website. The guide contains an explanation of the different messages that you’ll see when presenting a Compass Card at a reader.

What you'll see if you've upset a Compass Card reader, and/or don't have the right fare to be travelling

What you'll see if you need to top-up your Compass Card.

When everything is great, you'll see these messages on the Compass Card readers.

From a customer perspective, the Compass Card roll-out has been going well. It will be interesting to see how TransLink will deal with people that pay with cash on the bus and received a ticket that won’t open faregates (tickets issued on buses don’t work with faregates), once all the faregates are fully operations along the SkyTrain network.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Riding BC Transit's 66X through the Fraser Valley - Part 3: Abbotsford's Past, Present, and Future

This week, I have been posting about the trip that my friend Paul Hillsdon and I took on the new BC Transit Fraser Valley Express/66X on the weekend. In part 1, we journeyed from the Carvolth Park and Ride to Downtown Chilliwack. We then travelled back to the McCallum Road stop in Abbotsford. In part 2, we meet up with Patrick Oystryk, a planner with the City of Abbotsford who is working on Abbotsforward, and walked along McCallum Road to Historic Downtown Abbotsford where we had lunch. Today is the final installment of this series.

While Paul, Patrick, and I were having lunch in a 100+ year old building in Downtown Abbotsford, we started talking about the history of the area. One of the things that I noticed was that while Downtown Abbotsford has some very old buildings, over the years many have been altered in such a way that you wouldn’t know their age.

Abbotsford has a rich history that predates the arrival of colonizers, and even has an interesting colonial history. For example, the community is home to the oldest existing Sikh temple in North America, the Gur Sikh Temple.

Present day Abbotsford was two municipalities up until 1995: the District of Matsqui and the District Municipality of Abbotsford. The word Matsqui is derived from the Halkomelem language and means a "stretch of higher ground." Abbotsford was named to commemorate a guy named Harry Braithwaite Abbott and some castle in Scotland. I don’t know if I’m reading too deep into this, but it is interesting that Matsqui wasn’t chosen as the name for the merged municipality.

After chatting about the history of Abbotsford, we started talking about growth in Abbotsford. Patrick told us that many people have the assumption that Abbotsford is growing at a fast pace. This was true in the past, but that growth has slowed significantly over the last decade. Another assumption about Abbotsford is that it is a sprawling city. This is actually not the case. As urban Abbotsford is bound by the Agricultural Land Reserve and Sumas Mountains, the only way that Abbotsford can grow is up.

After lunch, we decided to make our way to the High Street mall. Patrick was also really keen on taking us to Oldhand Coffee, a hipster coffee joint, which was along the way. Our plan was to take the 2 Bluejay – Huntingdon, another one of Abbotsford's “frequent” transit routes that runs every 30 minutes. As we were waiting for this bus, and for subsequent buses, it became apparent that the bus schedule was more of a suggested arrival time. Every bus we took in Abbotsford was late by at least 10 minutes.

Nathan, Patrick, and Paul enjoying a coffee at Oldhand Coffee

South Fraser Way is the main east/west commercial road through Abbotsford. It is also in the centre of urban Abbotsford. A large percentage of Abbotsford’s population is about a 15 minute walk from South Fraser Way.

The urban form is a mix of strip malls, regular malls, big box, offices, and even buildings that front the street. I wouldn’t want to walk on that street today, but the road reminded me of pictures I saw of Vancouver’s Broadway back in the 1970s. If Abbotsford is able to transform the built-form of South Fraser Way, it has the potential to create a great transit street like Broadway in Vancouver.

After coffee, we boarded another 2 towards High Street. High Street is a mall at the edge of town, and is a popular destination for both people in Abbotsford and Langley. The traffic jam around the mall was insane. Because there is no bus prioritization in Abbotsford, buses get stuck in traffic. This meant that Paul and I missed our bus back to Langley; we had two hours to kill at High Street. We ended up going to one of the restaurants in the mall after wondering around High Street for a bit. If you want to know my views about High Street, check out an earlier post I did.

Paul and I checking out the Christmas decorations in High Street. Select image to enlarge.

When it came time to catch the 66X back to Langley, Paul and I headed to its bus stop. We waited, and waited, then waited some more. We wondered if the bus was coming. In Metro Vancouver, there is real-time bus information that lets you know exactly where buses are. There is also a customer service department that can help you out. In Abbotsford, there is no real-time bus information, and customer service doesn’t have the best hours.

The bus did come, but it was 30 minutes late. This was due to an accident on Highway 1. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for a bus that runs every 2 hours, and having no idea where it is. In Metro Vancouver, we really take for granted all the tech that makes taking TransLink easy.

Looking east from High Street. There is a city in there somewhere. Select image to enlarge.

If I'm heading out to Abbotsford or Chilliwack in the future, I will take the 66X again. It was really great of Patrick to take time out of his schedule to tour us around Abbotsford. For all those Vancouver urbanists that dismiss the Fraser Valley, you should take note. Good things are happening here, but it will take gentle nudges to ensure things move along the path of livability.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Riding BC Transit's 66X through the Fraser Valley - Part 2: An introduction to Abbotsforward

Yesterday, I posted about the first part of the journey that Paul Hillsdon and I took along the Fraser Valley Express/66X on the weekend. After our brief stop in Downtown Chilliwack, Paul and I boarded the 66X back to Abbotsford. We disembarked at the McCallum Road Park and Ride, just south of Highway 1. The journey took around 35 minutes.

Patrick Oystryk, a planner with the City of Abbotsford, met us at the Park and Ride. One of our first orders of business was to catch a local BC Transit bus to Historic Downtown Abbotsford to have lunch.

Patrick and Paul at the 66X bus stop at McCallum Road. Select image to enlarge.

We were going to take the 3 Clearbrook – UFV. This route is marketed as a “frequent” transit route. I say “frequent” because service is every 30 minutes most of the day with every 15 minutes service during weekday peak periods. In Metro Vancouver, we would call this a regular bus route.

True frequent transit is 15 minutes or better service all day, every day. The perfect example is the 502 which I take along Fraser Highway. During peak periods, there is a bus every 5 minutes with off-peak service every 15 minutes.

Interestingly, the number 3 doesn’t stop at the same bus stop as the 66X. One of the other odd things I noticed about Abbotsford’s transit system was that its bus stops are mid-block. They are not at intersections like in Metro Vancouver which helps people transfer between routes, and get to their preferred side of the street safely.

At the McCallum Road interchange, people walking and cycling are forced to share a small sidewalk. Select image to enlarge.

I asked Patrick about Abbotsford’s mid-block bus stop configuration. He told me that this was to done to reduce the delays that buses may cause to people driving their personal automobiles. This is very different to how transportation planning is done in cities like Surrey. As you may imagine, this bus stop configuration causes people to cross roads without using crosswalks.

Unfortunately, we just missed the bus by a few minutes. Missing the 3 foreshowed other challenges we would experience with Abbotsford's transit system throughout the day.

Because we missed the bus, Patrick, Paul, and I decided to walk from the Park and Ride to Downtown Abbotsford.

This was actually a great walk, even if we had to squeeze between utility poles that were installed in the middle of the sidewalk along McCallum, because Patrick was able to tell us about the Abbotsforward Official Community Plan update process.

Most communities that update their Official Community Plan do public outreach as part of the update process. Most of the time, this involves a municipality advertising that people should attend one of their events.

Because Abbotsford wants this plan to truly represent the vision of all people who live in the community, instead of expecting people to come to city events, the City has come to them. Patrick told us that he has been all over the community, reaching out to residents, and getting their feedback about what they would like future Abbotsford to look like. Because the City of Abbotsford has decided to reach out to the community, Patrick told use that the feedback has been amazing.

One of the other cool things about the Abbotsforward plan is that it is based on how the community should look like, and what services should be available, based on certain population targets. Most Official Community Plan are based on year targets.

For example, it makes more sense to plan for an expanded community center when the population increases by 20,000, then to expand a community centre just because it happens to be 2020. It also makes more sense to plan a transportation network based on population as well.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Abbotsforward plan adopted by Abbotsford City Council because I believe it will move Abbotsford forward, along the path of sustainability.

Paul, Nathan, and Patrick: a selfie in Downtown Abbotsford. Select image to enlarge.

After about 20 minutes, Patrick, Paul, and I arrived in Downtown Abbotsford for lunch. Tomorrow, I will be posting about our adventure getting from Downtown to the High Street Mall on the other side of town via BC Transit.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Riding BC Transit's 66X through the Fraser Valley - Part 1

Over the past decade, transit service between the Fraser Valley Regional District and Metro Vancouver has greatly improved. Before 2007, there was no public transit available between Langley and Abbotsford, even though there is a large number of people that travel between those two communities.

In the fall of 2007, BC Transit started providing bus service between Aldergrove and Abbotsford. I posted about my experience taking that service back in 2012.

This spring, BC Transit launched the Fraser Valley Express/66X which links the Carvorth Park and Ride in Langley, with Abbotsford and Chilliwack. On Saturday, my good friend Paul Hillsdon and I decided to check out this new service.

Fraser Valley Express route. Select to enlarge.

Along the way, we met up with Patrick Oystryk. He is working on Abbotsforward. Abbotsforward is the name of Abbotsford's Official Community Plan update project.

One of the first things I noticed at Carvolth was the demand for the 66X service. There was a lineup of people waiting to get on the bus.

People waiting to board the 66X at Carvolth Park and Ride. Select image to enlarge.

Metro Vancouver’s, Abbotsford’s, and Chilliwack’s transit systems all have different fares, tickets, and passes. The 66X also has its own fares, tickets, and passes. No transfers are issued on the 66X. If you were a regular user of this service between Abbotsford and Langley, you would have to have a Compass Card, a 66X pass, and an Abbotsford transit pass.

One of the major reasons why regions in Canada and the US switch to smart card systems like the Compass Card is because it allows people to load up passes and an e-purse which can be used on disparate systems. Having the Compass Card as a form of payment on the 66X, and in the future on other Fraser Valley transit systems, would greatly improve the travel experience for all transit users.

One of the first things that Paul noticed was that unlike TransLink which uses highway coaches on long-distance or routes that primarily run on freeways, the 66X is a regular urban transit bus. I told Paul that he was just spoiled with TransLink service, but the truth is that a highway coach would actually be a better fit for the 66X service.

A bus selfie with Paul and me. Select image to enlarge.

When I was a kid, I used to take the Vernon transit system everywhere because my mom refused to drive a car. I guess because she spent her years as a young adult in London and Montreal, she found driving to be uncivilized or something. Anyway, I was a bit surprised to see that the rider guides have not changed in 25 years. I noticed that many people on the 66X didn’t find them the most user-friendly.

Riders confused by the BC Transit Rider Guide timetable. Select image to enlarge.

Paul and I decided to take the 66X all the way to Chilliwack, before heading back to Abbotsford to meet up with Patrick. It took us a little over an hour to get from Carvolth to Downtown Chilliwack.

Paul standing in front of the 66X in Downtown Chilliwack. Select image to enlarge.

Many Vancouver-types believe that the Fraser Valley is nothing but single-family homes and urban sprawl. This isn’t actually the truth. Just like the City of Vancouver, Fraser Valley communities have tracks of single-family housing, but townhouses and apartments are dominant dwelling types throughout Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. I think that even Paul was a bit surprised at the amount of apartments and townhouses in Chilliwack.

While housing in the Fraser Valley is compact, the majority of retail spaces are still very much auto-oriented. The good news is that these auto-oriented retail areas can be turned into mixed-use town centres in the future. If you take the SkyTrain through Burnaby, you can see how shopping malls and strips malls are being transformed into fully-functional town centres.

Paul at Salish Park in Downtown Chilliwack. Select image to enlarge.

Paul and I spent about 20 minutes in Downtown Chilliwack before we boarded the 66X back to Abbotsford.

People boarding the 66X in Downtown Chilliwack. Select image to enlarge.

Tomorrow, I will post about our walking and transit adventure through Abbotsford with Patrick.

Monday, November 23, 2015

City of Surrey launches Social Innovation Summit

Over the past decade, the City of Surrey has changed from your typical edge city to a municipality that is becoming more forward thinking with how it develops, provides services to residents, and addresses complex issues facing the community.

One of the new ways in which Surrey is dealing with complex issues is its Social Innovation Summit which starts tomorrow. As stated on the Surrey’s website, the summit “is the first in a series of annual meetings aimed at engaging the community, with all of its talent, resources, energy and creativity, to foster and grow a progressive city.”

The aim of the summit is to bridge the knowledge gap that can sometimes exists between local government, residents, non-profit service organizations, academia, and the business community. Hopefully what is learned at the summit will be applied on-the-ground in Surrey.

The summit takes place tomorrow between 7:15am and 2:15pm at Surrey City Hall. The registration fee is $149.00, but it is reduce to $50.00 if you are a student.

The scheduled sessions during the summit include:

The Social Innovation Challenge and Opportunity
Around the world, social innovation is being called upon to help provide novel solutions to social problems that are more effective, efficient, just and sustainable. The Summit’s opening panel will help define and decipher some of the latest thinking about social innovation, its reach and limitations, and how it can help a progressive city such as Surrey reach its potential.

Social Innovation and Cities: Networks, Neighbourhoods and New Ideas
City administrations face a unique set of modern challenges on social, environmental and economic fronts. In these increasingly complex times, social innovation is a new asset as citizens, business and not-for-profits work alongside city governments to help provide more sustainable solutions to day-to-day problems. Going it alone is no longer a viable solution for any level of government, particularly municipalities where the ties to the daily lives of citizens is strongest and most pronounced. How is Surrey engaging citizens and organizations in the search for solutions, and what can we learn from other cities?

Out of the Ivory Tower: University-Community Engagement for Social Innovation
From student energy and ingenuity to world-class research, universities represent key agents of change in our communities. How can they work in alignment with city goals to help design, test and support impactful responses to social and economic challenges? This session explores three unique approaches and hears from students, the community, city staff and university leaders.

From the Drawing Board to Reality
To build a progressive, resilient city, Surrey needs to engage across sectors, neighbourhoods and individual interests. Finding and nurturing new ideas that can make a difference are key to achieving real change. The Summit’s final session talks with “disruptive innovators” driving new ideas, “bridging innovators” that help spot and move great ideas to the mainstream, and “receptive innovators” that know how to influence whole systems and take good ideas to scale.

Summit panelists and moderators include:

  • Shawn Bayes, Executive Director, Elizabeth Fry Society of Greater Vancouver
  • Kiri Bird, Local Economic Development Lab Manager, Ecotrust Canada & RADIUS SFU
  • Hazel Borys, Managing Principal, PlaceMakers, Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Dr. Ryan D’Arcy, Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation BC Leadership Chair in Multimodal Technology for Healthcare Innovations, Simon Fraser University
  • Dr. Miklos Dietz, Leader, Global Banking Strategy and Corporate Finance Group, and Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company, Vancouver, BC
  • Stephen Dooley, Executive Director, SFU Surrey
  • Al Etmanski, Community Organizer, Social Entrepreneur and Author
  • Nathalie Gagnon, Faculty Member, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
  • Bruce Hayne, Councillor, City of Surrey
  • Anna Mathewson, Manager, Sustainability, City of Surrey
  • Kevin McCort, President & CEO, Vancouver Foundation
  • Jennifer McRae, City Studio
  • Anna Migicovsky, MBA Candidate and LED Lab team member, Simon Fraser University
  • Mohamed Muktar Mussa, Community Peer Research Assistant, Simon Fraser University
  • David Podmore, Chairman & CEO, Concert Properties Ltd.
  • Ellen Pond, Program Coordinator and Instructor, Policy Studies in Sustainability, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
  • Shawn Smith, Director, RADIUS, Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University
  • Shira Standfield, Civic Beautification Planner/Neighbourhood Team, City of Surrey
  • Tonya Surman, CEO, Centre for Social Innovation, Toronto
  • Tamara Vrooman, President & CEO, Vancity
  • Michael Wilson, Executive Director, Phoenix Society
  • Jason Wong, Co-Founder & Chief Project Evangelist, BETA Collective

If you have time tomorrow, you should attend this summit.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Turning off the lights will not increase safety in Langley Parks

Over the past several years, I have noticed more people taking up residence in the City of Langley parks system. The reasons for people living without proper shelter are varied, and the solutions to ensuring people get access to proper housing, health care, and training is complex.

Unfortunately, homelessness and addiction are usually linked. In Langley City, this means that where there are people living in parks, there are also exposed needles and other garbage being left around. This increases the health risk to other park users, and threatens the ecology of sensitive ecosystems like within the Nicomekl Floodplain. It also discourages other members of the public from visiting our parks.

The City of Langley recently commissioned a review of Rotary Centennial Park due to the following concerns:

  • Short term street loitering throughout the neighbourhood including overnight camping, drinking, drug use and sex acts.
  • Long-term street camping on the east side of the Fraser Crossing plaza.
  • People with mental health issues travel through the park.
  • Ground floor residential units along the eastern perimeter of the park could be prone to break-in.
  • Street people use the park as an open urinal and as a place to hook up with suspected drug dealers.
  • Street people use the park washroom facilities for sleeping, bathing, drug injection and sex acts.

This park has seen an increase in illegal and risky activity lately, in part, because of its design. As you can see in the following map, the park is completely cut-off from the street, so there are no “eyes or ears” monitoring the park. This is one of the critical pieces to Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED).

Aerial view of Rotary Centennial Park.

The City reviewed options to increase the safety around and in the park. One of the options included closing down the park completely, but it looks like the City will actually be looking at doing a comprehensive design review of the park in future years.

The City of Langley has moved forward with some of the short-term recommendations in the review including turning off the lights in the park after 9pm. I find this an odd recommendation because the ambient light in the park will still allow people to see. Also, darkness would aid campers in keep their activities unnoticed.

Talking to a friend of mine who is a CPTED expert, he noted that proper lighting is key to discourage risky and illegal activity.

While turning off the lights may hide illegal and risky activity from people at night, it won’t actually resolve or reduce the issue.

Opening up the park to 56th Street, for example, with proper lighting will increase the safety and reduce risky activity in the park. I hope that the City moves forward with a redesign of the park that enables “eyes and ears” into Rotary Centennial Park.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

TransLink's Cycling Wayfinding Guide

Many municipalities in Metro Vancouver have developed wayfinding strategies for their communities. When it comes to cycling, I know that the City of Surrey has spent considerable time and money marking its cycling network. The Township of Langley has been rolling out signage to identify cycling routes within the community. The City of Langley has a comprehensive, multi-modal wayfinding system which it has been slowly rolling out.

Even the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has been installing cycling route markers and directional signs on the road network it maintains in our region.

While it is great that all levels of government have been rolling out their own versions of cycling wayfinding, there are some issues with this ad-hoc approach. One issue is that cycling route markers are not consistent throughout the region. For people driving and cycling, it can make it a challenge to know if you are on a bike route. For example in some municipalities, the signage is way too small.

Another challenge is that most municipality’s wayfinding strategies don’t included signage to help people cycling know that they are on the right route to their indented destination.

In the fall of 2013, TransLink quietly released “Get There By Bike! Wayfinding Guidelines for Utility Cycling in Metro Vancouver”. Similar to the MassDOT Protected Bike Lane Guide, the TransLink guide is the bible for cycling wayfinding in our region. The system includes both signage and pavement markings. Instead of describing the wayfinding system, the following small selection of examples from the guide show how comprehensive it is.

Top left, decision sign. Top right, confirmation sign. Bottom left, turn fingerboard. Bottom right, off-network waymarker.

An example of how cycling routes would be signed at a typical intersection. Select image to enlarge.

An example of how cycling routes would be signed at a complex intersection. Select image to enlarge.

The Township of Langley-friendly cycling and horse riding route marker.

Since the guide was released, TransLink has been updating it. Last month, TransLink added a new sign style to its wayfinding system.

Named cycling route sign where multiply routing options are available. Select image to enlarge.

While I’m happy that TransLink has developed this guide, as implementing the wayfinding system in the guide in optionial for municipalities, I wonder if TransLink's wayfinding system will be incorporated into the wayfinding strategies and systems of our communities. I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Building our transportation network like it’s the 1990s

Last week I posted about the Massey Bridge. I posted that back in the 1950s, the province decided to build a tunnel because a bridge didn’t make sense to construct for a host of good reasons. It is critical that we look back to history, so we understand why things are the way they are. This knowledge can hopefully help us make better decisions today.

While looking at history is important for making decisions today, just because something was a good idea back in the day, doesn’t mean it is a good idea today.

I’m sure you can think of at least three things that we thought were good ideas back in the 1990s which we don’t think are good ideas today. In transportation planning, the same holds true.

For example if Fraser Highway expansion happened back in the 1990s, there would be no sidewalks, multi-use trials, or bike lanes along the full corridor. Back in the 1990s, you also wouldn’t have seen roundabouts being installed as the preferred intersection choice like they are today.

In the 1990s the Canada Line wasn’t even on anyone's radar, yet it has proven to be one of the most successful rapid transit lines in the region.

This is why I get frustrated when projects are being built based on plans from 20 years ago, just because they were in plans 20 years ago. Does it really make sense to build a highway through New Westminster in 2015? It was planned for in 1993, but New Westminster and our region is a very different place now. Bulldozing Downtown New West and ripping up their waterfront park for a highway is something governments would have done in the past, but is something we won’t even consider today.

A few nights ago, I was using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and found the BC Transportation Financing Authority’s website from 1997. This organization was merged back into the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure by the BC Liberal in the 2000s. I found a document called “Lower Mainland Highway Improvement Outlook”.

This outlook is based on a transportation plan written in 1995. This 20 year old highway plan is what the BC government is still using to build transportation infrastructure in Metro Vancouver today.

Some of the highlights of the plan include:

  • Highway 1 corridor expansion
  • Highway 99 corridor expansion
  • Development of the South Fraser Perimeter Road
  • Construction of a North Fraser Connector at either Barnston, 200th Street or Cottonwood to link Surrey with communities north of the Fraser River
  • Construction of the Stormont-McBride connector
  • Improved connections along Highway 91 corridor between Tree Island and Marine Way, such as a new four lane bridge

I have to wonder if the provincial government will actually try to build a freeway through New Westminster, or a new bridge between Marine Drive and Highway 91.

The unfortunate reality of building a transportation network based on information from 1995 and earlier is that the billions spent on these projects won’t actually help the vast majority of people get around.

Trip Distribution by Sub-Region of Trip Origin (South of Fraser) from 2011 Metro Vancouver Regional Trip Diary Survey - Analysis Report. Select map to enlarge.

In Surrey and White Rock, these projects will only help 18% of all trips being made at most. If you happen to be in the 82% group, the province’s transportation plan will not do one thing to help you.

While it is important to look to the past for guidance, we shouldn’t be building our transportation network based on plans from the 1990s.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Buying local is good unless you are a government organization

One of the things that we are told is that buying local is good. The provincial government has a B.C. Buy Local program which reminds us of this fact via adverting throughout Metro Vancouver.

In BC, there are organizations which promote buying goods and services from local businesses. The following infograph is from LOCAL BC “a non-profit local business alliance working to strengthen communities, grow the local economy and build strong, sustainable businesses by encouraging a shift in local purchasing by consumers, businesses and institutions/government.”

"Why Buy Local" infographic from LOCO BC.

While we’re told that buying local is good, we are also told that free trade is key to ensuring a successful Canadian economy.

While non-local businesses can now access local markets easier, free trade agreements in theory also make it easier for local businesses to gain access to non-local markets.

This almost seems like a paradox. Should we be buying our apple from the Okanagan, or the free trade apples from Washington State? Should we be buying Ikea future, or quality goods made locally?

In 1995, the federal government, provinces, and territories signed the Agreement on Internal Trade. BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan signed the New West Partnership in 2010. These agreements bar local governments, provincial governments, and their various agencies from preferring to procure local goods and services in some cases.

Metro Vancouver staff recently put together a memo for its Performance and Procurement Committee about buying local and trade agreements.

Metro Vancouver staff note that “the Agreement on Internal Trade and the New West Partnership Trade Agreement prohibit the use of measures that would restrict or impair trade to the Agreement’s respective signatories for goods and services valued at or in excess of $75,000 and $200,000 for construction. In addition these opportunities require electronic postings that attract international attention.”

Even with these trade agreements and their procurement practices, Metro Vancouver still ends up getting the vast majority of its goods and services locally. “Approximately 91% of all purchases (as measure in total dollars) are ordered from vendors within the province of British Columbia and approximately 83% are from within a member municipality.”

While the memo doesn’t say is these are local offices of larger national or international organizations, it is telling how important a local presence is.

I find it interesting that the BC government spends money on adverting telling us to buy local, but has signed agreements which prevent governments from preferring local businesses.