Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kinder Morgan and National Energy Board Ignore Township's Concerns

Kinder Morgan has been working towards twinning its Trans Mountain Pipeline through BC. This proposed twinning has been highly controversial.

The Trans Mountain Pipeline goes right through Langley, and right under the highly populated community of Walnut Grove.

Kinder Morgan Proposed Pipeline and Township of Langley Affected Properties. Select map to enlarge.

The Township of Langley has concerns about the pipeline expansion as it will go through the community, and last year submitted various questions around 19 different areas of concern to the National Energy Board. The National Energy Board (NEB) will decided if the pipeline expansion can move forward.

The NEB only required Kinder Morgan to answer a few questions in one area of concern, emergency response around the proposed pipeline expansion. The NEB has repeatedly denied requests by the Township and others to get Kinder Morgan to answer further questions or address other areas of concern.

According to a recent Township of Langley staff report “the answers received from KMC during Round 1 Information phase of NEB’s intervenor process have not been satisfactory and the Township’s questions and concerns have not been fully addressed to date.”

A round 2 of information request to the NEB around the Trans Mountain Pipeline is about to begin. The Township of Langley plans to ask more questions, similar to the questions asked previously. Will the Township get a better response than last time? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

In the meantime, the public can email their questions and concerns to the Township of Langley at

On July 29th, the NEB will reveal if the pipeline expansion is approved.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Per capita policing costs in the South of Fraser

This week, I have been posting about the City of Langley’s proposed 2015 budget. One of the things that I noted is that in the last few years, a larger percentage of the City’s operating budget has been allocated to policing services.

I wanted to see how Langley City compares to other municipalities in the South of Fraser. I used 2013 to compare, as this is the latest year where all municipalities have their financial information posted online. To help understand the numbers, I used a per capita amount based on the 2013 population for each municipality.

Per capita policing costs in 2013. Select graph to enlarge.

Delta is the only community with its own police service. Clearly this comes at a cost. All the other municipalities contract police services to the RCMP. This appears to be a better value.

It is clear that the City of Langley dedicates more financial resources to policing than any other RCMP-serviced municipality in the South of Fraser.

Township of Langley
City of Langley
White Rock

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

City of Langley proposed 2015 capital spending

Yesterday, I posted an overview of the City of Langley’s proposed 2015 budget. Today, I wanted to look at some of the major projects that the City is looking to fund this year.

The City has a policy of using the revenue it receives from the Cascades Casino to pay for major projects. Casino revenue accounts for 13.5% of the total revenue the City receives; a sizable amount. $4.4 million in casino revenue is being proposed to be allocated to major projects this year. The City plans to invest $8 million into projects in 2015.

The City has allocated $35,000 to start a Mental Illness, Addiction and Homeless Study. The outcome of the study will be to “recommend a service model and business plan that would provide better assistance to residents challenged with mental illness, addiction and/or homeless.” It is good that the City is planning to move forward with this study because, as I noted yesterday, policing costs have been rapidly increasing over the last decade. Hopefully the recommendations in this report will be acted on, leading to a healthier community while addressing the cost of policing services in the City.

The Langley Fire & Rescues Service will be getting a new $835,000 Pumper Truck if the City’s budget is approved.

The City of Langley is proposing to spend $3.5 million on improving streets and sidewalks this year. This includes $240,000 for a proposed 203rd Street bridge replacement, $200,000 to improve the rail crossing at 200th Street/Logan Avenue, and $800,000 to upgrade traffic lights in the community.

The City is also proposing to invest $815,000 to improve the public realm, focusing in Downtown Langley. This includes installing new street lights, upgrading the streetscape around City Hall, replacing trees, and preforming some small upgrades to Salt Lane.

Starting last year, the City started to invest in pedestrian facilities in the community. This year, the City is proposing to spend $100,000 on building new sidewalks and multi-use pathways. The City is also proposing to spend $80,000 on expanding the trail system throughout the parks system.

Every year, the City includes a line item for improving bicycle facilities. Every year, the funding for bicycling faculties, which includes building new bike lanes, gets deferred to a future year. It’s really depressing. I’m starting to wonder why the City even includes cycling in their capital projects plan.

The City is planing to spend $500,000 this year to repair roads in the community. This includes repaving sections of 51A Avenue, 53A Avenue, 200 Street, 201A Street, and 203 Street.

With the new Timms Community Centre under construction, the City is proposing to allocate $480,000 for new equipment in the facility. The library may also get a $200,000 upgrade with a new book sorter.

One of the exciting proposed new projects in Downtown Langley will be the programming of events throughout the year, in partnership with the Downtown Langley BIA, in McBurney Lane. The City is proposing to invest $20,000 into this project. I look forward to seeing McBurney Lane become a gather place for the community.

The City is also proposing to invest $905,000 into the sewer and storm water system, and $784,000 into the water system in 2015, to keep them in a state of good repair.

Monday, January 26, 2015

City of Langley proposed 2015 budget and property tax changes

As we approach February, the City of Langley is putting the finishing touches on its proposed 2015-2019 financial plan. This plan directs municipal spending in the current year, and gives a rough idea of projected revenue and expenditures in the future.

The City of Langley will be hosting an open house on Wednesday, February 4th from 3:30pm to 7:00pm at the Douglas Recreation Centre. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about the budget, this is an excellent opportunity to express your thoughts to City staff.

Police expenditures are the single largest expense in the City of Langley. The increase in policing costs over the latest several years has been rapid, outpacing other expenditures in the City. In 2013, the City spent $9.2 million on policing which represented 23% of overall expenditures. The City is proposing to spend $10.6 million on policing servings this year, representing 26% of overall expenditures. The proposed budget includes hiring additional RCMP members.

The increased cost of policing leaves less financial resources available for other priorities in the City.

While the City of Langley is an urban core with serious issues that result from poverty, it may be time for the City to explore other ways of dealing with the root causes of social issues and crime in our community. Adding more police is not sustainable. I’m concerned that policing is taking an ever increasing piece of the budget pie in our community.

While most municipal expenditures have increased year-over-year, the City is proposing to reduce spending on Development Services from $927,000 in 2014 to $911,595 in 2015.

The largest reduction in spending in the City of Langley is on solid waste. The solid waste budget has been reduced to $633,000 from $1 million in 2014. This is largely due to the transfer of recycling services to Multi-Material BC, the non-profit funded by businesses that create packaging and paper waste.

Overall City budgeted expenditures are increasing from $39.04 million in 2014 to $39.98 million in 2015.

With the changes in assessed property values in Langley, combined with the proposed 2015 budget, average property tax will decrease by $22 for multi-family homeowners while it will increase by $92 for single-family homeowners. The average multi-family homeowner will pay $779 in property tax while the average single-family homeowner will pay $1,889 in property tax. This might seem unfair, but under BC law, all residential property must be treated equally.

Over the last several years, the City of Langley has been adjusting the ratio of tax paid by residential and business property owners. In 2013, 53.2% of property tax came from residential property owners. In 2015, 51.1% of property tax is proposed to come from residential property owners.

With this adjustment, changes in assessed property values, and proposed 2015 budget, the average business property owner will pay $16,918 in property tax. This is an increase of $570 over 2014.

As business owners renew their leases with business property owners, business property owners may adjust leasing rates, factoring in property tax increases.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Voting No in upcoming Transportation and Transit Plebiscite bad for Langley

On Tuesday night, the Langley Chamber of Commerce held a debate about the Mayors’ Vision for transportation in our region, and the proposed 0.5% sales tax that would fund it. Citizens in Metro Vancouver will have the chance to vote for or against this vision via a mail-in ballot starting March 16th and running until May 29th.

The Mayors’ Vision includes Light Rail for Surrey and Langley, a Broadway Subway, and a new Pattullo Bridge. The plan also includes 11 new B-Line rapid bus routes, a 25% increase in regular bus service, and more money for roads and cycling. There is a lot more in the plan, and you can read about it on the Mayors’ Council website.

The Langley Chamber event was focused around what the Mayors’ Vision would mean for Langley.

In Langley, the Vision would deliver:
-200th Street Rapid Bus Service
-Fraser Highway Rapid Bus Service
-New bus service for Walnut Grove
-New bus service for Willoughby
-New bus service for Brookswood
-More bus service for Fort Langley
-More bus service for Aldergrove

The Vision would also deliver millions of more dollars to support major roads in Langley like 200th Street, Fraser Highway, and 16th Avenue. All in all, it works out to tens of millions of more dollars in transportation service and infrastructure for Langley. I’m working on more detailed numbers, and will be posting them up to the blog in the coming weeks.

I’ve been fight for light rail to Langley for the last eight years. Citizens in Langley will now have a chance to make this a reality. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, a possible game-changer for Langley; creating tremendous economic growth while making our community more accessible. This is a big reason why I’m advocating for people to support the Mayors' Vision.

At the Langley Chamber debate, I was paying attention to what the opponents of the Mayors’ Vision had to say about it.

The opponents of the Vision really had nothing bad to say about the projects outlined. They did have three things to say: sales tax is bad, TransLink is evil, and Langley gets screwed over by the region.

I can tell you for a fact that the proposed 0.5% transit tax will not hurt business in Langley, it will actually benefit business. You can read more about this in a previous post.

The opponents of the mayors’ vision like talking about “waste” at TransLink. If we take their word for it, they have identified just under $2 million of “waste” within TransLink’s $1,406 million budget. That $2 million wouldn’t even pay for one regular bus route, let alone the $250 million needed annually to support the Mayors’ Vision.

TransLink has had is governance changed three times. They have had both public and private boards. Changing the governance will not address the funding challenges. When TransLink was formed in 1999, the NDP refused to enable a vehicle levy which was a critical part of the TransLink funding formula. TransLink has been limping along ever since.

Finally, the opponents of the Mayors’ Vision like saying that Langley isn't getting its fair share of transportation funding and transit service. That is simply not true. You can read a previous post which shows that Langley is actually getting more from the region that it is putting in.

The really odd thing it that the opponents of the Mayors’ Vision propose to pay for the projects identified in the Vision by having local governments and TransLink cut their budgets by 0.5% each and every year for the foreseeable future. Not only does this not make any sense, but it is impossible. One only has to look to the Rick Green era in the Township of Langley. It makes even less sense to ask TransLink to cut its budget as it is supposed to delivery more transportation services, not less.

At the end of the day, people in Langley will have a choice. They can vote yes for light rail, B-Lines, more bus service, and better roads for Langley; or they can vote no and get nothing. For me, it is a simple choice.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Study shows 0.5% sales tax will not cause shoppers to flee to Abbotsford

As the upcoming transit and transportation plebiscite inches closer, some small business owners in communities such as Langley and Maple Ridge have expressed concern that the proposed 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax —the funding source to pay for the Mayors Council’s $7.5 billion plan to expand transit in the region— will devastate their businesses as shoppers flee to Abbotsford.

A new report shows that a 0.5% sales tax differential between Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley Regional District will not impact small businesses in the region, including in Langley.

Cross-jurisdiction tax evasion has been studied extensively in the US and is of particular interest to the Washington State government. Vancouver, Washington has an effective 8.4% sales tax rate, while its neighbour Portland, Oregon has no sales tax.

People in Vancouver, Washington can simply walk across a bridge to Portland, and pay no sales tax.

A new study from the Washington State Department of Revenue, called the “2014 Cross Border Study,” shows that cross-jurisdiction tax evasion varies depending on the tax differential.

The study shows that while the 8.4% tax difference results in a 25% loss in taxable retail revenue, it also concludes that a 0.5% tax difference only causes a 0.67% loss in retail sales. Based on this analysis, the impact of cross-jurisdiction tax evasion will be statistically insignificant to local businesses in Metro Vancouver.

Food and vehicle purchases represent the largest retail sales categories. Grocery stores, coffee shops, fast food joints, and restaurants are expected to be exempt from the 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, just as they are with the current PST.

Concerns among automotive retailers are also unfounded.

In Washington State new vehicles are assessed state tax based on where they are registered. This means that if you buy a car in Portland, you still pay Washington sales tax.

The BC Provincial government is expected to adopt a similar system for Metro Vancouver residents.

The fact of the matter is that people will not drive to Abbotsford to save a few cents. In fact, according to research commissioned by the Canadian Urban Transit Association, improved transit service will actually grow small business.

Based on their analysis, for every dollar spent on transit, $3.30 is returned back to the economy, giving people more money in their pocketbooks which they can spend at small businesses throughout the region.

Background Information

Clark County (Vancouver) Washington Retail Sales in 2014
Total Taxable Retail Sales: $5,064,617,284
Taxable Retails Sales Loss at 8.4% difference: $1,177,815,000 (23.25% Loss)
Taxable Retails Sales Loss at 0.5% difference: $34,179,400 (0.67% Loss)

Canada Retail and Food Service Revenue 2013
Total: $538,781.2m
New and used vehicles: $88,102.5m
Food (Non-Prepared): $84,142.9m
Food and Beverage Service $54,771.6m

Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM, Table 080-0022, Retail store sales by selected commodity.
Soruce: Statistics Canada, CANSIM, Table 355-0006, Monthly survey of food services and drinking places.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Does the Township need another tree protection bylaw?

When people see the development that is occurring in some parts of Langley, they see the clearing of land and removal of trees.

Because of this, some communities like the City of Langley tried to impose a blanket ban on the removal of trees except for in some very limited situation. For example, if a tree was unhealthy, a property owner would have to have an arborist certificate that a tree was unhealthy, then go to City Hall to apply for a permit to remove the tree.

The unintended consequence of the proposed bylaw was the mass removal of trees in the City. The bylaw never passed, and the City lost many trees that would have otherwise never been removed.

The proposed bylaw was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist in the City; people were not clear-cutting trees in the City.

Currently in the Township of Langley, tree protection is part of the development process. When land is cleared, significant trees cannot generally be removed. A tree replacement program must also be approved by the Township and implemented by the developer. You can read more information about this in Schedule I of the Subdivision and Development Servicing Bylaw. If a land owner is found to be non-compliant with the bylaw, the Township can require additional replacement trees be planted, fine a land owner, or even revoke a development application.

Because of the uproar around development in Brookswood last year, the Township adopted a bylaw which prohibits clear-cutting in that community.

Last month, Beedie Development Group clear-cut 108 trees on their land in Gloucester. They were fined $37,800.

It was likely because of this that Township Councillor Petrina Arnason put forward a motion to have staff work on a new “Township-wide comprehensive tree protection policy”.

I care about the preservation of trees in our communities. If the Township moved forward with a blanket tree protection bylaw, the results would be similar to the City of Langley. Land owners would panic and there would be a mass culling of trees.

Does the Township of Langley need a comprehensive tree protection bylaw? It seems like the current system to protect trees in the Township is working.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Parking Issues in Clayton

During the 2013 Christmas season, some residents along 80th Avenue became very upset when they learned that the Township of Langley was going to remove on-street parking along 80th Avenue as part of widening along that corridor. This was always part of the Township’s plan.

The Township of Langley allows “temporary” parking in future travel lane along roads that will eventually be widened. Some areas of Walnut Grove have had these “temporary” parking areas for over a decade. Parking is a lighten-rod issue, and removing on-street parking is a recipe for controversy. Some people along 80th Avenue were bullied by their neighbours to sign a petition to keep parking along 80th Avenue.

You can read more about this in a previous post, but the short story is that the Township commissioned a study which found that people weren’t using their garages and on-site parking for vehicles. If people actually parked their vehicles on-site, there wouldn’t be an over-subscription of on-street parking.

Current state and original widening proposal for 72nd Avenue at 193 Street in Clayton. Select image to enlarge.

Interesting enough, some residents in Surrey’s Clayton Height became very upset this past Christmas season when they learned that the City of Surrey was finally moving forward with widening 72nd Avenue between 193rd Street and the Township of Langley border. Currently, some residents park in an ad-hoc fashion along this corridor. The City's original plan would see no parking along 72nd Avenue, like other major roads in the community.

These Clayton residents setup a website where you can see their perceptive on the issue. Even though the current, temporary parking along 72nd is not officially sanctioned —like in the Township where they install “Parking, Future Travel Lane” signage— the controversy is the same.

It would not surprise me if, just like along 80th Avenue in the Township, Clayton residents are using their on-site parking for everything else but parking their vehicles.

Going forward, the City of Surrey and Township of Langley should ensure that in new areas, parking expectations are managed. If a street will become a “no parking” street, parking should not be allowed from day one. To ensure that everyone has equal access to the valuable on-street parking, in areas where parking is oversubscribed, parking permits should be introduced. Parking demand needs to be managed. Creating more on-street parking will never be able to meet the demand in these areas.

It would be a really shame, going against the spirit of both Surrey’s and Langley’s Sustainability Charters, if sidewalks are shrunk and bike lanes removed to accommodate additional on-street parking.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Building walkable, transit-friendly communities makes people healthier

Last week, I was having a debate on Facebook about the benefits of voting “yes” in the upcoming transit plebiscite. The debate derailed, turning to how I would fix the BC healthcare and education systems.

There is a clear link between building walkable, transit-friendly communities, and better health outcomes.

The BC Provincial Health Service Authority has been studying the link between how we build our communities; and physical, mental, and social health for close to a decade. One of their early reports noted that walkable neighbourhoods and pedestrian-friendly streets encourage physical activity and better nutrition. These communities also have less pollution, fewer traffic accidents, and less crime. Public transit encourages physical activity and “achieve[s] the greatest health benefits for low-income individuals.”

Building walkable, transit-friendly communities improves people’s health and reduces crime. This is why I get so disappointed when I see new auto-oriented projects being approved in Langley’s Downtown Core. These projects actually make Langley City less healthy and more prone to crime.

Out of this early work, the Province Health Services Authority developed a “Healthy Built Environment Linkage” toolkit. This toolkit was released in April 2014. The toolkit focuses on Healthy Neighbourhood Design, Healthy Transportation Networks, Healthy Natural Environments, Healthy Food Systems, and Healthy Housing.

Planning Principles for a Healthy Built Environment. Select graphic to enlarge.

Building transit and walkable communities improves the health of individuals which leads to billions of dollars in savings within our healthcare system.

In the next 25 years, BC’s population will grow 31%, while the population over 65 increases more than 100%. As the population ages, prevalence rates of chronic conditions increase. Most of these conditions are uncommon in the young but more prevalent in older adults. For instance, the incidence of respiratory disease is increasing globally. The impact of poor air quality was shown during the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. A 22% reduction in auto use led to a 42% decrease for asthma admissions to emergency rooms.

Less dependency on private automobiles, better public transit, well designed landscapes, and increased residential density can all lead to improved air quality.

Individuals with multiple, complex health problems use a significant share of all health care resources. People with chronic conditions represent about 34% of the BC population, but they make up approximately 67% of health care costs.

Today, BC’s Health Authorities are experiencing extreme pressure due to increased demand related to chronic diseases. Reducing demand for acute care would release resources for health promotion and illness prevention.

While I’m sure my debater was being tongue-in-cheek about how I would fix the health care system in BC, mayors and councillors have a direct impact on the health outcomes of residents in their community, based on the land-use and transportation decisions they make.

Building walkable communities that are serviced by high-quality transit will make people healthier and lower healthcare costs. It certainly won’t solve all of the complex challenges within our healthcare system, but it will go a long way to creating a more sustainable system.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

City of Surrey supports "Yes" side, City of Langley remains mum for upcoming transit vote

While people living in all communities in the South of Fraser will benefit from an improved transit system as outlined in the Mayors’ Council Vision for Metro Vancouver by voting "yes" in the upcoming transit plebiscite, Surrey and the City of Langley will also gain light rail transit.

The City of Surrey has been advocating for light rail for many years. You can read more about the City’s support of light rail. Mayor Linda Hepner and Surrey First made building light rail a campaign promises.

At the Surrey Council meeting last Monday, its engineering department asked Council to:

Support the Region’s “Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan”, which includes significant improvements in the South of Fraser area;
Support a 0.5% regional sales tax (“Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax’);
Endorse advocating for a “yes” vote in the upcoming transportation plebiscite; and
Direct staff to develop and undertake a City advocacy plan, with the necessary resources to undertake the work.

Surrey City Council endorsed these recommendations.

Polling shows that awareness of the plebiscite is low in the South of Fraser. Surrey’s advocacy plans will work to raise awareness on the plebiscite. They will also work to engage with community groups and the general public about South of Fraser transportation issues, the Mayors' vision, and why voting “yes” is critical for the future of the sub-region.

City of Surrey staff will be working alongside the regional “Better Transportation and Transit Coalition”, to provide South of Fraser specific information and support for the coalition’s advocacy efforts.

While City of Surrey Council and staff are working hard to support getting a "yes" vote, it is interesting that City of Langley Council has remained silent, even though Langley City will be getting light rail.

I know when I was running for City Council this fall, every single candidate supported revitalizing Downtown Langley. Light rail transit has been a catalyst in revitalizing downtowns throughout North America, so I am perplexed as to why the City of Langley is mum.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

SkyTrain Monday Morning Troubles

Over the last year or so, TransLink has been replacing the power rails along the Expo Line. To accommodate this work, service has been reduced in the evening as certain sections of track are taken out of service to be overhauled.

Track work occurs nightly, starting in the late evening and lasting until the early morning. While this track replacement work goes mostly unnoticed by morning commuters, yesterday was an exception.

Currently TransLink is replacing the power rails in the Dunsmuir SkyTrain Tunnel in Downtown Vancouver. During the late evening, SkyTrain service has been terminating at Stadium-Chinatown SkyTrain Station, with shuttle service between that station and Waterfront.

It looks like there was an issue with the Sunday night/Monday morning work because commuters were faced with lengthy delays and no service past Stadium-Chinatown SkyTrain until around 8am.

Last night, I gave an interview on Global BC1 about the state of the SkyTrain system and what this may mean for the upcoming transit plebiscite.

Due to last summer’s SkyTrain meltdown, TransLink commissioned an independent review of the system. You can read more about this on a previous post. The authors of the review made $71 million in recommendations focusing around upgrading the guideway intrusion prevention system, increasing the redundancy of the system, and improving communication. It appears that the cause of yesterday’s issue wasn’t related to the recommendations.

I had someone ask me yesterday if TransLink’s executives' paid was less, would this have freed up money to implement the $71 million in recommendations to improve SkyTrain reliability and communication.

In 2013, TransLink executives and boards cost $3.1 million. If these salaries were cut in half, it would take over 48 years to implement these recommendations. If people vote “Yes” for more transit service this spring, TransLink will be able to implement the recommendations while growing transit service. If people vote “No”, TransLink would likely have to pull money away from other capital projects like buying news buses or, ironically, new SkyTrain cars to implement the recommendations.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Upcoming Event: Surrey and Vancouver Rapid Transit Discussion

I received an invite from the Young Professionals in Transportation, Metro Vancouver Chapter to attend a "Surrey and Vancouver Rapid Transit Discussion" which is taking place later this month. I was asked to share the details of this event.

Upcoming Event: Surrey and Vancouver Rapid Transit Discussion!

On January 29th, 2015 YPT Vancouver is hosting one of the most highly anticipated events of the year! The transportation referendum set for this spring will be one of the most important decisions impacting the future of Metro Vancouver. Where the next major transit investment should go is at the forefront of this decision. To discuss this important question, we will be joined by two of the leading advocates for rapid transit projects in Metro Vancouver:

Lon LaClaire, Manager of Stategic Transportation Planning at the City of Vancouver and;
Paul C. Lee, Manager of Rapid Transit & Strategic Projects at the City of Surrey. (Click here for his BIO)

Lon and Paul will join us to talk about the merits of the UBC-Broadway SkyTrain extension and the light rail transit network in Surrey, respectively.

Moderated by Gordon Price, Director of the City Program at SFU, this event will give you the opportunity to hear from two leading professionals in the transportation field, to have your questions answered, and to participate in a discussion with Lon, Paul, and other transportation professionals in the region who are interested in transportation.

Thursday, January 29th, 2015
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM (PST)

SFU Harbour Centre (Rm 1600)
515 West Hastings St

Click here for the Google Maps link

General Admission is $25 for Non-Members. You can purchase tickets for this event at the YPT Vancouver EventBrite Page. Member ticket prices are lower.

Note: Tickets to this highly anticipated event are LIMITED so register early.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Protecting farmland and preventing sprawl part of orginal 1950s regional plan

On Tuesday, I posted that the Trinity Western University District and court challenge by Metro Vancouver almost unravelled 45 years of regional land-use planning in BC. In Metro Vancouver, our first regional land-use plan was developed in 1952, 63 years ago.

Land-use in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley in the 1950s. Select map to view.

I was browsing Metro Vancouver's website, and came across our region's first land-use plan.

While reading the 1952 regional plan, it was interesting to see that we are still grappling with some of the same issues identified some 60 plus years ago.

In the 1950’s, Metro Vancouver, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and Kent where part of the same planning area.

According to that mid-twenty century plan, “future development should be guided by four principles:”

  1. We must conserve land suitable for industrial development
  2. We must conserve land suitable for large scale recreational use
  3. We must guide residential growth away from low-lying farmland into more suitable and less valuable upland areas
  4. For social, economic and military reasons, we must limit the size of future cities and develop smaller, dispersed towns by guiding future industries into decentralized area.

The last item deserved some clarification. Reading further into the document, the 1950’s planners were concerned about our region would become nothing but urban sprawl. The planners noted that sprawl will “mean that children have farther to walk to school and housewives to stores. [It] also mean longer roads, water mains and drains and thus higher taxes”

Our current regional growth strategy is about creating a region of many walkable town centres that can be connected by high-quality public transit. The 1950’s regional planners even warn against highway-oriented development which “clutters up main roads, making them unsafe and inefficient. And creates communities which are socially and economically unsatisfactory.” The Langley Bypass is a good example of this kind of development.

The original regional plan spent a good deal of time talking about the importance of preserving farmland. What did the plan have to say about the South of Fraser?

In Delta, the plan noted that the area should remain “a highly productive farming area.”

The plan noted that “the whole of the Surrey uplands is ideal for urban purposes” though it noted that “one of the mayor problems of Surrey will be proper control over its urban development.”

It was really interesting what the planner in the 1950’s thought about Langley.

Langley [City] is not really a suitable site for a town. It is low-lying, has drainage problems and is situated in first class agricultural land. However, it is an established community and has industrial possibilities owing to the presence of suitable land alongside the railway. Moreover, the uplands to the west [Clayton Heights in Surrey] and northwest [Willoughby] are excellently suited to urban development… development in Langley should be guided in this direction.
Only the limited high ground at Fort Langley is suitable as a town site, the rest being below flood level. Moreover, the historical circumstances which brought it into being vanished long ago, and no new factors are yet foreseen which would revive it. Growth in Fort Langley therefore cannot be encouraged.

If you are interested in the history of regional planning in Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley, “The Lower Mainland looks ahead” is a great place to start.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce, mobility pricing, and why sales tax is better

The fact that municipal mayors in Metro Vancouver and the Tsawwassen First Nation endorsed a fully-costed transportation vision for our region is impressive. You can view the details of the vision on the Mayors’ Council website. Three mayors did oppose the vision, but none of those mayors lived in the South of Fraser.

Even more impressive is that the vision has been endorsed by many Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trade groups in Metro Vancouver. The only Chamber of Commerce to oppose this vision so far is the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce. From what I’ve been told, it was a close vote whether to support or oppose the vision.

The mayors’ propose to fund their vision with a 0.5% regional PST-like sales taxes. One of the reasons cited by the Langley Chamber for opposing the vision is that they would prefer “mobility pricing” instead of a sales tax to fund it.

Mobility pricing means paying for transportation infrastructure with both taxes and direct user fees. In Metro Vancouver, transit is paid for with a combination of direct user fees and taxes. Only two bridges are paid for with direct user fees and taxes in Metro Vancouver, the rest of the road network is paid for with taxes.

The discussion around mobility pricing in Metro Vancouver has been around road pricing to manage demand and pay for road infrastructure. For more information, I suggest looking at the Moving in Metro website put together by the SFU Centre for Dialogue.

Road pricing is a great way to manage demand for roads and pay for some road infrastructure, but is a poor way to fund transit. Just like gas tax, as more people take transit, less money available for transit. In Metro Vancouver, gas tax revenue has been declining which has impacted the ability of TransLink to deliver transit improvements.

That alone is reason enough to look at another funding tool to pay for much needed transit investment, but there is another issue with using road pricing to pay for transit; it is not equitable.

The 0.5% regional sales tax is the most equality and most affordable way to pay for the mayors’ vision. The regional sales tax would be paid by residents, businesses, and visitors in Metro Vancouver; everyone that benefits from transportation infrastructure. It is affordable as it will only be applied to items which are PST taxable, it will only cost $10 per month for the average household and $5 per month for low-income households.

Interesting enough, if Metro Vancouver moved ahead with using road pricing to pay for transit, it would actually hurt people in Langley the most.

More people use cars to get around in Langley than anywhere else in Metro Vancouver. 90% of all trips are by auto. The regional average is 73%. Only 53% of all trips are by auto in Vancouver. While a sales tax would apply to the same basket of goods, whether you live in Vancouver or Langley, road pricing would be paid for disproportionately by people who live in the South of Fraser.

The Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce had other concerns about the mayors’ transportation vision which I will address in an upcoming post.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Courts grant Township of Langley the right to sprawl on former farmland

Trinity Western University (TWU) is certainly no stranger to controversy. Running afoul of regional land-use planning is one of the many controversies surrounding the university.

University District. Click image to enlarge.

The Township of Langley, working with TWU, proposed to remove 152 hectares of land from its agricultural zone to allow urban development around TWU. This was even after the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) only approved the removal of 23.4 acres for TWU expansion. Even with the Township’s zoning change, the vast majority of land still cannot be developed as it is still in the agricultural land reserve.

Agricultural Land Commission map outlining which parts of the University District they support. Click image to enlarge.

Beyond the “University District”, the Township of Langley and the ALC approved the development of 67 single-family houses that was first billed as an “equestrian community” and later “student housing” for TWU.

At the same time, Metro Vancouver was updating its regional growth strategy. The original Livable Regional Strategic Plan, which laid out the vision to preserve farmland and greenspace while building compact people-first urban areas, had little to no enforcement mechanisms. Metro Vancouver’s new regional growth strategy is prescriptive and contains enforcement mechanisms.

The mechanism that binds the Township’s land-use plans with the regional growth strategy is called regional context statements. These statement are part of a municipality’s Official Community Plan. The Township of Langley held off adopting the new regional growth strategy until it could pass the “University District”. Passing the “University District” under the new regional growth strategy would have been more difficult.

In an unprecedented move, Metro Vancouver sued the Township of Langley in an attempt to block the “University District” and its ”student housing.” This was not a smart move; it was a weak case.

In March 2014, the BC Supreme Court sided with the Township of Langley. You can read more about this in a post I did earlier this year.

What was alarming is that the Justice stated that regional growth strategies can only deal with matters that are regional in nature that “require coordination or that affect more than one municipality.” The Justice stated that the “University District” and “student housing” were not regional in nature and therefore Metro Vancouver didn’t have jurisdiction in that matter. This ruling put into jeopardy 45 years of regional land-use planning in BC.

Metro Vancouver appealed the decision. On Christmas Eve, the BC Court of Appeal dismissed Metro Vancouver’s case. The Justices looked at whether the “University District” and “student housing”, which required an update to the Township’s Rural Plan and Official Community Plan, invalidated the regional context statements which linked the Township’s land-use plans with the Livable Regional Strategic Plan. The Justices found that they didn’t.

As I said early, the Livable Regional Strategic Plan was weak when it came to enforcing regional gaols.

What is interesting about the BC Court of Appeal decision is that it didn’t speak to the original judgment which stated that essentially regional growth strategies cannot override municipal land-use decisions.

A regional growth strategies in BC is an agreement between member municipalities and the regional district. Regional growth strategies aren’t imposed on a municipality by a regional district.

The provincial government mandates that Metro Vancouver municipalities follow a regional growth strategy. The Local Government Act, which legislates regional districts and their growth strategies, outlines the process that must be followed when a municipality and a regional district don’t agree on a regional growth strategy. The process is very similar to negotiations done during a collective agreement.

With the Metro Vancouver case against the Township dismissed, will the Township of Langley now agree to the new, more prescriptive regional growth strategy?

If a municipality contravenes the land-use zoning as prescribed in Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy, can Metro Vancouver do anything about it?

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Tim Hortons deteriorates walkability of Downtown Langley

New Tim Hortons under construction at 203rd Street and Douglas Crescent

If you’ve been in Downtown Langley recently, you’ve likely noticed the construction of a new Tim Hortons on the corner of Douglas Crescent and 203rd Street. The site of this new Tim Hortons was created when the City of Langley realigned 203rd Street a few years back.

Wanting to know some information about the history of the site, I talked to a former City Councillor.

One of the things that I was surprised to learn was that one of the original plans for that site was for it to become park space, with a feature to draw the eye. This would have been great.

View of Tim Hortons, looking north on 203rd Street

With the way that 203rd Street is now align, you can see the Tim Hortons site at least half a kilometer away if you are heading northbound on 203rd Street. This is an important site and is a prominent feature of 203rd Street. From a public realm and landscape architecture perspective, this site should have had special treatment.

I was told by the former City Councillor that the park idea was not supported in the end because it was believed that selling the land for development was more important than creating much needed green space in Langley’s core.

While creating a park or plaza at the corner of 203rd and Douglas Crescent was a great idea, it would have been equally ideal if the site featured a building fitting of such a prominent intersection in Downtown Langley; a building that would support a walkable downtown.

The City of Langley’s Downtown Master Plan focuses on creating a walkable core. As part of that vision, the City of Langley wants to create a storefront wall along Douglas Crescent, between 203rd and 204th Street. Right now, this section of street is the parking lot for the Langley Mall.

With this in mind, I was extremely disappointed that City Council approved the construction of a drive-thru fast food restaurant for this site.

I have been following the construction of this new Tim Hortons over the past several months.

As I mentioned earlier, the Tim Hortons site is located on a prominent corner in Downtown Langley. Sadly, when walking, cycling, or driving northbound on 203rd Street, the prominent feature is the drive-thru and back side of Tim Hortons.

Langley Mall parking lot. Tim Hortons in background

The City of Langley will not be able to build a complete storefront street wall along Douglas Crescent. The new Tim Hortons’ parking lot and drive-thru uses the vast majority of linear footage along the site.

One of the other things that I find perplexing is that when 203rd Street was realigned, the City blocked southbound vehicular access to Langley Mall citing safety best practices. It is interesting that the City opened up southbound vehicular access to Langley Mall to enable the viability of the drive-thru. This creates a new conflict point, not only for vehicles, but for people walking along 203rd Street.

City of Langley opened left-turn access to Langley Mall to enable the Tim Hortons drive-thru

I’m extremely disappointed that the City of Langley spends a good deal of time talking about how building a walkable downtown is important, yet Langley City Council has consistently approved drive-thrus and other commercial development in downtown which work against creating a walkable downtown.

Friday, January 2, 2015

History of Main Street SkyTrain Station

I hope that you had a good holiday season. I will be back to regular blog posts starting on Monday, but I thought I would share a picture I found while sorting through boxes of old photos over the last few weeks.

While I grew up in the Okanagan, my family frequented Vancouver fairly often to visit family and friends. I’m sure it comes as no surprise, but I thought that the SkyTrain system was simply amazing.

I recently read a series of articles about the development of the Main Street SkyTrain station on the SFU Urban Studies Blog. While not about the South of Fraser, it is none the less very interesting. Main Street SkyTrain station was the first station built back in the 1980’s along with a section of test track along Terminal Avenue. This section was put into services as a demonstration line before the rest of the SkyTrain system was built and put into service.

In the 1980s, there was an ambitious plan, much like New Westminster SkyTrain station is today, for a transit-oriented development. This plan was toned-down and transformed into what you see around Main Street Station today.

Citygate I building under construction in the summer of 1991.

Anyway while digging through those old photos, I found that the eight-year-old version of me took a picture of the Citygate I building while it was under construction. This was one of the first buildings that was part of the redevelopment around the SkyTrain station.

Apparently my desire to build transit-friendly and walkable communities started at a young age.