Thursday, April 30, 2015

Downtown Langley Tim Hortons pulls a fast one on the City

Blank cement walls, windowless buildings, and parking lots that abut streets are sure-fire ways to discourage people from walking, and is detrimental to creating a pedestrian-friendly community.

The City of Langley’s plan for Downtown Langley is to see it transformed into a pedestrian-friendly centre. Part of this pedestrianization plan around the Langley Mall, along Douglas Crescent, is to build up a street wall of shops to create a sense-of-place.

Now the City of Langley created an odd parcel of land when they realigned 203rd Street a few years back. This parcel set vacant until this spring, when a new drive-thru Tim Hortons opened. Council didn’t require Tim Hortons to fully embrace the pedestrian-friendly vision of Downtown Langley. I was told that many on council felt that a drive-thru Tim Hortons would likely be the best thing that would ever be proposed for this parcel of land in the near-term, and it was better than nothing.

Decorative shield meant to hide parking lot from the street. This is an attempt to enhance the pedestrian-friendliness of the public realm.

Tim Hortons removed the shield because it was blocking the Langley Mall sign.

Regardless, one of the things that the City and Council did requires was landscaping in an attempt to mitigate the pedestrian-friendly, public-realm killing parking lot along Douglas Crescent. As part of the landscaping and the development permit, Tim Hortons installed decorated shields. This Tim Hortons has only been in business for a few months, and I was a bit shocked to see that they removed one of the decorated shields; apparently it was getting in the way of the auto-oriented “Langley Mall” sign.

While using landscaping and decorated shields might not be the most effective way to create a pedestrian-friendly environment, it is certainly better than nothing. It seems a bit dishonest that Tim Hortons would install these things to get development approval, then remove one decorative shield only after a few months of being opened.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Proposed changes in the Township to improve farming

The Township of Langley is one of four municipalities in the province where the BC government doesn't allow municipal control of zoning within the Agricultural Land Reserve. This came as a result of provincial right-to-farm legislation, and a Township bylaw which restricted where mushroom farms could be located in the 1990s.

In 2001, the Township of Langley, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Agricultural Land Commission started a review process to examine all Township bylaws that could impact the ALR. The goal was to make them consistent with provincial farming standards.

This review is now mostly complete, and recommendations on how to make the Township’s bylaws consistent with provincial farming best-practices are being put forward.

Anything dealing with farmland in Langley is going to be controversial. Township of Langley staff is wisely recommending that public education and consultation be a big part of any process that would change Township bylaws.

One of the big changes being proposed is the creation of a single agricultural zone for all lands within the ALR. Right now, there is a mix of zoning which permits non-farming land-use. Any existing non-agricultural uses would be grandfathered. Current building permits would be honoured.

The Township would also change maximum building setbacks for existing and new farm residences. Riparian area protection setbacks would also be introduced.

To be consistent with provincial farming standards, the Township would also relax some of its current land-use regulations to allow for more flexibility for agribusinesses.

To reduce the conflict between agribusiness and urban areas, special regulations are being proposed for land within 300m of an urban/ALR edge.

For ALR lands within 300m of urban land, the following is being proposed:

-Setting limits on the number of animals on different types of farm operations;
-Establishing minimum setbacks from the Urban/ALR edge for buildings, structures and farm operation uses;
-Regulating orientation of exhaust fans to be either parallel to, or away from, the Urban/ALR edge;
-Establishing farm management practices to reduce the impact of normal farm practices, e.g. greenhouse lighting; manure management; and on-farm composting management;
-Implementation of regulations, within 8 years of bylaw adoption, for liquid manure application on crops and grassland to be by sub-canopy deposition method only;
-Implementation of regulations, within 10 years of bylaw adoption, for lighting restrictions for greenhouses; and
-Providing for small scale farm exemptions and some exemptions for unique situations.

For urban land with 300m of an urban/ALR boundary, developers would have to:

-Provide landscape buffering, and agricultural awareness signage along the ALR edge
-Put no-build restrictive covenants into land titles for principal buildings within 15m (industrial commercial or institutional) or 30m (residential) of an ALR edge, and for accessory buildings within 6m (industrial commercial or institutional) or 15m (residential) of an ALR edge
-Put land title notification in regarding the proximity of the ALR, and the potential for disturbances/nuisances from normal farm practices.

The Township and the Ministry of Agriculture also agreed in principle to changes around mushroom farming uses, and its impact along urban edges.

While there are still some outstanding issues that need to be addressed to bring the Township 100% in line with provincial farming standards, one of the biggest outstanding issue is the Salmon River Uplands Area. Because this suburban area has developed in an ad-hoc manner, the urban/ALR boundary guidelines can’t be applied. Township staff and the province are still working out ways of protecting farming while trying to reduce the impact of intensive farming on people who live in the area.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Light Rail Fear Mongering in Langley

Earlier this month, there was an interesting letter from Paul Cordeiro who is the Manager of Transportation Engineering for the Township of Langley. According to an article in the Langley Times, he questioned some of the merits of building light rail along Fraser Highway.

I know that Cordeiro has had concerns about light rail in the past, which I previously posted about back in 2008.

The first concern was that light rail on Fraser Highway would not service people commuting from Langley to Vancouver. Light rail along Fraser Highway would very much service commuters travelling from Langley to Vancouver. The light rail line would connect Langley with the SkyTrain at King George Station and Surrey Central Station.

Assumed station locations for rapid transit in the South of Fraser. From Surrey Rapid Transit Alternatives Analysis Phase 2 Evaluation

As someone who takes transit five days a week between Langley City and the Olympic Village area in Vancouver, light rail would vastly improve my travel experience. Besides addressing overcrowding during peak periods, light rail would also reduce travel times.

When there is no traffic along Fraser Highway, it takes about 33 to 38 minutes to travel from Langley Centre to Surrey Central taking either the 502 or 503 lines. During the peak afternoon travel period, it takes up to 52 minutes! Travel times along Fraser Highway are not consistent, and as congestion continues to increase along Fraser Highway, the reliability of transit service along the corridor will only deteriorate further.

According to research commissioned by TransLink, light rail will take 29 to 30 minutes to travel between Langley Centre and Surrey Central. SkyTrain along the same corridor would take 22 minutes. Compared to the 50 minutes it takes during the afternoon rush to get from Surrey Central to Langley Centre, both light rail and SkyTrain would provide a massive travel time savings. Both will also reduce overcrowding and pass-ups along the Fraser Highway corridor.

Cordeiro calls into questions the 29 minutes trip time for light rail, but that is a reasonable time considering that it takes about 33 minutes on bus today when there is no traffic along Fraser Highway.

Now there is no doubt that SkyTrain is faster than light rail, but it does have some drawbacks. Its major drawback is the cost. According to the same research done by TransLink, Light Rail would cost $746 million to build between King George and Langley, while SkyTrain would cost $1,356 million to build in 2010 dollars.

The Mayors’ Plan that people in Metro Vancouver are currently voting on would see light rail on King George Boulevard, 104th Avenue, and Fraser Highway. If SkyTrain was built instead, it could only be on King George Boulevard or Fraser Highway, not both.

Light rail would be elevated when going over the Roberts Bank rail corridor in the City of Langley, though Cordeiro was concerned about an at-grade light rail crossings at 200th street and Highway 15 and “potential for vehicle-train collisions.”

Calgary, Edmonton, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and LA all have at-grade light rail lines that cross busy roadways, and all have excellent safety records.

Light rail will help people in Langley get places faster within the South of Fraser, and to Vancouver. According to extensive research done in the US, rail transit is also the safest mode of transportation.

Fear about slow travel speeds and massive collations are unfounded.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mental health and homelessness in Langley

Over the last few decades, the federal and provincial governments have been downloading responsibilities to deliver services to local governments without equipping local governments with the financial resources to deliver these services adequately. Transit service in Metro Vancouver is a case in point.

Sometimes federal and provincial governments don’t adequately provide services which impact local communities, but local governments have their hands tied on what they can do.

My mother was a mental health nurse, and I remember her telling me about the gradual shutdown of the Riverview Hospital and the deinstitutionalization of mental health clients in BC. This was and is a good thing. This provincial government was to fund smaller facilities, provide resources to help people with developmental debilities living within their communities, and provide services for people with mental health issues to be able to live within the community while giving them the services they need.

Of course, Riverview was slowly closed, but all the promised community-based services were never fully funded. Some people with mental health issues and developmental disabilities have ended up on the street.

In Langley City, homelessness is a major concern. Unfortunately, the local government doesn’t have the mandate or the resources to deal with the complexities of mental health and homelessness.

A few days ago, I was outside a restaurant in Langley. A person who was living on the streets was clearly in need of mental health services, but instead police and fire services arrived. These services are funded by local government, but there is very little they could do to help. The BC Ambulance Service arrived about 10 minutes after the police and fire services arrived on the scene. The paramedics did a check to make sure that the person didn’t need to be admitted to emergency. After that, all the first responders left, leaving the person still on the street, and still in the front of the restaurant.

It seems to me that there should have been a mental health case worker assigned to assess the needs of this person. Of course, funding for mental health is limited in BC.

Getting back to homelessness in Langley, while the City of Langley can certainly advocate for better mental health care in the province, train their first responders on best practices around mental health, and even work to ensure that we are building inclusive communities, the provincial government has a huge role to pay. Without the provincial government adequately providing support for people with mental health issues, Langley will not be able to meaningfully address mental health and homelessness in the community.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Upcoming RCMP and Traffic-Calming Meetings in Langley

There are several important meetings coming up in Langley that I wanted to highlight. The Langley RCMP will be hosting a series of “Community Connection” meetings. Community Liaison Officers and Superintendent Murray Powers from the Langley Detachment will be at these meetings to hear from people who attend.

There is a City of Langley specific meeting on:

Thursday, April 30, 2015
6:30pm to 8:00pm
Langley Secondary School – Large Gymnasium
21405 56 Ave

This would be an excellent opportunity to talk, and hear about, both the realities and perception of crime in Downtown Langley.

Township focused meeting will be held for:

Walnut Grove/Fort Langley
Thursday, April 23
6:30pm to 8:00pm
Yorkson Middle School – Gym
20686 84 Ave

Wednesday, May 6
6:30pm to 8:00pm
Aldergrove Secondary School – Dramnaisum
26850 29 Ave

Thursday, May 14
6:30pm to 8:00pm
Township of Langley Civic Centre – Council Chambers
20338 65 Ave

Wednesday, May 20
6:30pm to 8:00pm
Brookswood Secondary School – School Theatre
20902 37A Ave

The City of Langley is hosting an open house on Wednesday, May 6th in the Alice Brown Elementary School gymnasium (20011 44 Ave) from 5pm to 8pm. The open house will be to review and solicit feedback on ways to slow down traffic around Alice Brown Elementary School. The City will be presenting three possible options.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Building affordable and accessible housing in Metro Vancouver

With monthly headlines stating that the City of Vancouver is one of the most unaffordable places to live in North America, I’m sure many people were shocked to learn that a recent report commissioned by Metro Vancouver found that the City of Vancouver is actually one of the most affordable places to live within our region.

Sky-high housing costs in the City of Vancouver are normally centred on large-lot, single-family housing in one of the most desirable places to live in the world. I’ll get back to this in a moment.

When most people talk about affordable housing, they refer to the rule-of-thumb that housing costs should not exceed 30% of household income. As transportation is a significant portion of household expenses, and is directly linked to the build-form and transportation options available in a community, experts are now starting to define affordable housing as being 45% of total household housing and transportation expenses.

Fresh off the heels of the Metro Vancouver report, Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute has released a report called “Affordable-Accessible Housing In A Dynamic City

According to Litman Affordable-Accessible Housing means:
-Diverse, adequate quality, inexpensive housing options.
-Some units designed to accommodate people with disabilities.
-Unbundled parking (so households are not forced to pay for parking spaces they do not need).
-Durable and energy efficient building (minimal maintenance, repairs and basic utility expenses).
-Accessible (close to services) and multimodal (good walking, cycling, transit and carsharing) location.
-Universal design (transportation facilities and services accommodate people with disabilities).
-Housing and neighborhoods are safe and have good public services such as schools.

Example transportation costs for two-adult, low-income household based on which part of a region they live in. Select table to enlarge.

Litman found that apartments and townhouses, located in neighbourhoods with a diversity of transportation options, are significantly more affordable than single-family housing.

He makes the case that public housing projects and government-subsided housing are ineffective ways to provide affordable housing. He argues that policies which support the construction of accessible neighbourhoods with a diversity of housing and transportation options is what is needed.

Litman suggests that the best way to provide affordable housing is to build apartments and townhouses where people have the option of purchasing off-street parking. On-street parking has to be managed at the same time. Most all municipalities in Metro Vancouver require that off-street parking be included with every housing unit built.

Annual housing and transportation expenses for new urban housing. LR=Low Rise, HR=High Rise, SF=Single-Family, MF=Multi-family, 0-pk=No required parking, 1-pk=1 require parking spot per unit. Select table to enlarge.

Litman also proposes dozens of other ways that municipalities can support creating affordable-accessible housing. For example, Litman supports “Density Bonuses”. This is when a municipality will allow a developer to build at higher densities than are generally permitted in exchange for the developer doing extras like building compact, affordable housing. This is actually something that the Township of Langley does today.

So, why is the City of Vancouver the most affordable place to live in our region for a working families? The City of Vancouver has a diversity of viable transportation options such as walking, cycling, and transit. The cost of transportation is lower in Vancouver than most other parts of the region.

Also, while the cost of single-family housing continues to climb in Metro Vancouver, the cost of apartments and townhouses have remained fairly stable according to Litman’s research. Most people in Metro Vancouver do not live in single-family housing.

A diverse transportation system with a variety of housing types is why living in the City of Vancouver is more affordable than living in Surrey for most people.

It is not all bad news for the South of Fraser. South of Fraser communities actually have a diversity of housing options, but the sub-region does not have a diverse transportation network. Improving public transit will go a long way to addressing the need for more affordable housing in our region.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

New study will shock. Vancouver most affordable, Langley one of the least afforable places to live

Land-use and transportation are inextricably linked, yet when we talk about affordable housing in Metro Vancouver, the cost of transportation seems to be an afterthought. Housing and transportation are the largest expenditures for most households in our region.

Metro Vancouver recently released a report title “The Metro Vancouver Housing and Transportation Cost Burden Study – A New Way of Looking at Affordability.” The results will shock you.

The study looked at the total household costs for housing and transportation for average working families in different communities throughout Metro Vancouver. The study evaluated households were at least one member was employed in the labour force. It looked at both working households that had a mortgage, and households that rented.

Combined Housing and Transportation Cost Burden for Working Owner Households with Mortgages. Select chart to enlarge.

The top four most affordable places for working owner household with mortgages to live are in Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, and Richmond. The top three least affordable places are the North Shore, Delta, and Langley.

Combined Housing and Transportation Cost Burdon for Working Renter Households. Select chart to enlarge.

The top four most affordable places for working renter households are Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, and Surrey. The top three least affordable places are Langley, Pitt Meadows/Maple Ridge, and the North Shore.

The report’s researchers found that living next to SkyTrain or frequent bus transit dramatically lowered transportation costs for households. Average transportation costs in Langley City are lower than in the Township of Langley. In Surrey, transportation cost are much lower around the SkyTrain.

Combined average annual transit and auto costs for working households (2011). Select map to enlarge.

If we really want to address the affordability of living in Metro Vancouver, we need to ensure that all parts of the region have access to high-quality public transit.

The report start on page 92 of the Metro Vancouver Regional Planning Committee’s April 24, 2015 agenda.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Comparing Seattle and Vancouver Transit Performance

Last week, I posted about how the transit service that TransLink delivers to Metro Vancouver is normally compared to cities with some of the best transit systems in the world. I thought it would be useful to see how our transit service compares to comparable regions closer to home. Last week, I compared our transit system to Portland’s system. Today, I thought I’d share how TransLink compares to King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit in Seattle and Puget Sound.

Transit service in Seattle is provided by multiple transit agencies. In King County, home of Seattle, county-wide bus service and streetcar service is provided by Metro Transit. Light rail and commuter rail service is provided by Sound Transit. Sound Transit provides service in some parts of King County, Pierce County, and Snohomish County.

2014 Bus Ridership Per Capitia. Source: APTA, BC Stats, US Census

Per capita, bus ridership in Metro Vancouver is 1.6 times higher than in King County. Interesting enough, paratransit service per capita ridership is similar. This was also the case in Portland.

Light rail service has only been recently introduced in King County. Metro Vancouver rail ridership is about 10 times higher per capita than Sound Transit’s Central Link light rail service.

2014 Rail Ridership Per Capitia. Does not include the South Lake Union Streetcar or Tacoma Link. Source: APTA, BC Stats, and Sound Transit

The Expo Line and Millennium Line has greater reliability and on-time performance than Central Link light rail. TransLink bases its on-time performance on trains arriving within 2 minutes of their scheduled time.

Sound Transit bases their on-time performance on trains arriving within 3 minutes of their scheduled time at a terminus station. Sound Transit may be over-reporting on-time performance as they don’t factor in on-time performance at other stations along light rail lines.

Light Rail and SkyTrain On-Time Performance, and Customer Complaints per Million Boardings. Source: Sound Transit and TransLink

When it comes to customer complaints, the Expo and Millennium Line have happier customers than Sound Transit Central Link light rail customers.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Funding challenges for Amtrak Cascades rail service, BC government not helping

Amtrak Cascades passenger rail service runs between Vancouver, BC and Eugene, Oregon with major stops in Seattle and Portland. Over the years, ridership along the corridor has increased from 94,000 in 1994 to a peak of 848,000 in 2011. Ridership in 2013 and 2014 was down.

Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, BC are the top three stations as far as passenger volume goes. In 2014, ridership was 781,000. One of the major reasons for the dip in ridership was a scheduling change to some trains operating between Eugene, Oregon and Portland. This caused a massive drop in ridership. While the scheduling change was well-intentioned, due to how passenger rail works in the US, it has caused massive on-time performance issues.

In 2013, the US federal government stopped subsidizing the Amtrak Cascades service, leaving state governments to fill the funding gap. While Washington State has come to the table to maintain and grow service, both BC and Oregon have not.

To the credit of the Canadian federal government, they subsidize the cost of border services for the twice-daily Amtrak Cascades trains that operate in Canada.

The Oregon, Washington, and BC governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2012 agreeing to manage the Amtrak Cascades corridor collectively.

With our provincial government’s recent decisions around public transit including defunding BC Transit and BC Ferries, while abdicating responsibility for transit in Metro Vancouver, it should come as no surprise that the province doesn’t seem interested in upholding the Memorandum of Understanding it signed.

According to a documentation from the Oregon Department of Transportation:

ODOT [Oregon Department of Transportation] and WSDOT [Washington State Department of Transportation] met with a BCMoTI [BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure] representative on several occasions. The representative indicated that no funding is available to help pay for the Amtrak Cascades service in British Columbia. In an effort to control rising costs, Wi-Fi service on the Amtrak Cascades in British Columbia was terminated on Oct. 1, 2014. ODOT and WSDOT have engaged the Amtrak Government Affairs office to aid cost sharing negotiations with British Columbia. Meetings have been held with the Office of the Premier, BCMoTI, and the City of Vancouver. ODOT and WSDOT will attend future meetings with these entities.

ODOT and WSDOT will begin working on a joint business plan for the Amtrak Cascades service in January 2015.

Amtrak Cascade service provides about $20 million per year in economic benefit to BC, it would be a shame if provincial inaction puts this service in jeopardy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Langley trail to reduce reusable items going to the landfill

One of the main goals of Metro Vancouver is to reduce the amount of stuff that ends up going to the landfill. Most items that we throw out in our region end up in a landfill in Cache Creek. While the region has stepped up to the challenge of reducing waste with enhanced recycling, and now organic waste collection, one of the things that hasn't gotten as much traction is getting people to reuse perfectly good items or supplies that would otherwise end up in the landfill.

Most people will bring large items and unneeded construction material to waste transfer stations located throughout Metro Vancouver.

For 36 days last fall, Metro Vancouver worked with SSG Ltd. —the operator of the Langley Transfer Station—, the Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity to test two new models to encourage the diversion of reusable materials from landfill. Household items were collected by the Salvation Army while building materials were collected by Habitat for Humanity.

During the first half of the trail, people dropping off items where encourage by SSG staff to divert reusable items into collection bins. They would still have to pay the tipping/disposal fee.

During the remaining part of the trail, Salvation Army and SSG staffed setup a collection trailer outside of the tipping/disposal fee area. People at the transfer station where told that they could avoid paying a tipping/disposal fee for their reusable items if they used the free collection trailer; they were encourage to donate to the Salvation Army to recover the cost of the collection trailer.

According to a Metro Vancouver Zero Waste Committee report, the second part of the trail was more successful. Over the whole trail period, 80 tonnes of material was diverted from going to landfill.

The trail cost was $14,500. According to the Metro Vancouver report, this was not cost-effective due to the labour costs of having the staffed collection trailer.

As a result of the trail, Habitation for Humanity has introduction unstaffed collection bins for building material at several transfer stations throughout Metro Vancouver.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Comparing Portland's TriMet to TransLink

When people critique transit service in Metro Vancouver, they often compare our system to world-class transit systems in places such as Toronto, New York, and London. While we should aspire to having a world-class transit system, it is useful to see how we stack up to other regions that are closer to our size.

The Portland, Oregon Metro area and Metro Vancouver are often compared to each other. Portland is often looked at as one of the places in the US that gets it right when it comes to building a sustainable, accessible region.

With the release of the year end ridership results from the American Public Transit Association, I thought it would be interesting to compare the per capita ridership numbers between Metro Vancouver and Portland. The population counts used for the comparison are based on the number of people that live within the service areas of TriMet and TransLink. (The Portland region has a similar population to Metro Vancouver, but it spreads into Washington State.)

2014 Ridership. Source: APTA, TriMet, BC Stats. Select graphic to enlarge.

People in Metro Vancouver take about 2 times more transit trips per capita than people who live in Portland. Interestingly paratransit, transit service for people with disable, ridership was about the same in both regions.

TriMet and TransLink, the respective transit providers in Portland and Metro Vancouver, provide some performance metrics about their systems. In 2013, the last year that data was available for both systems, I compared the reliability of rail-based transit (MAX Light Rail in Portland and the SkyTrain system in Metro Vancouver.)

2013 Rail On-Time Performance. Source: TriMet and TransLink. Select graphic to enlarge.

It is really hard to compare the cost of providing transit service between Canada and the US. None the less, it cost TriMet on average $2.50USD per boarded passenger trip in 2013. It cost TransLink on average $2.73CND per boarded passenger trip in 2013. The cost to provide transit service is very similar between the two agencies. These costs were for regular bus service, ferry, and rail service. They do not include commuter rail or paratransit costs which are significantly higher for both agencies.

TransLink boarded passenger costs derived from the CUTA 2013 Canadian Transit Fact Book.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Redevelopment of Manufactured Home Parks in the Township

The Township of Langley has over 1,300 manufactured homes in 14 manufactured home parks throughout the community. This style of housing is extremely affordable. According to research done by Township of Langley staff, manufactured housing is 19% to 30% cheaper than condos or townhouses, and have lower monthly fees than most stratas.

With rapid growth in the Township of Langley, there has been pressure to redevelop manufactured home parks. Because manufactured housing is extremely affordable, people who live in these parks have a hard time finding comparable housing when they are evicted due to redevelopment.

Legally, owners of manufactured home parks have to follow the provincial “Manufactured Home Park Tenancy Act”. If an owner is going to redevelop a manufactured home park, they need to give its residents twelve months’ notice, plus pay residents the equivalent of twelve months of fees. They can only give eviction notices to residents after the owner has all the proper paperwork in place from a municipality to redevelop a manufactured home park.

The Township of Langley, or any other municipality, cannot force an owner to compensate a residents, or find a resident comparable housing if the owner desires to redevelop a manufactured home park. The Township can negotiate relocation or reimbursement as part of a rezoning bylaw for a redevelopment.

In the fall of 2013, Township Council directed its staff to update the Township's Manufactured Home Park Development Policy.

Township staff looked at the policies in place in Maple Ridge, Abbotsford, Coquitlam, and Surrey. Based on this survey, Township staff are recommending that the municipality’s policy be updated. The proposed changes suggest that owners of manufactured home parks:

Provide a more comprehensive communication plan for residents impacted by redevelopment;

Investigate demographics about the people who live in a manufactured home park, and if their homes could be moved;

Find out what residents’ housing preferences are;

Perform an assessment of possibly incorporating affordable housing into the redevelopment proposal, and;

Work with the Township in developing an assistance program for residents that are impacted by a redevelopment proposal.

Township staff is also proposing that owners demonstrate that they are in compliance with what they’ve negotiated with the Township of Langley before final approval of a redevelopment proposal is given.

This updated policy goes before Township Council this afternoon.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

TransLink transit ridership up in 2014

Last year was a particularly rough year for TransLink. Since 2012, the agency saw ridership drop after years of strong growth. While TransLink’s official reason for the drop in ridership was because of the introduction of higher fare, the agency was also required by the provincial government and the now defunct Office of the Regional Transportation Commissioner to become more efficient. Since 2012, TransLink has found $240 million in expense savings.

Some of these new efficiencies were found by shifting transit service levels around in the region; reducing service in areas with low ridership to expand service in areas where there was a strong demand. With no new funding, and a major drop in gas tax revenue, TransLink has not been able to keep up with the transit demands of our region. This means that even today, many transit routes are still overcrowded, while other parts of the region have inadequate transit service.

Last summer also saw two major service disruptions on the SkyTrain system. Early indications seemed to show that 2014 was going to be another year of transit ridership loss in Metro Vancouver. New information posted by the American Public Transportation Association shows that TransLink was able to grow ridership in 2014.

Overall ridership grew 0.5%, from about 355 million trips in 2013 to 357 million trips in 2014. Ridership on the Canada, Expo, and Millennium Line grew by 0.4%. This shows that people still trust the SkyTrain system which is one of the most reliable transit services in North America.

Non-trolley bus ridership grew by 1.1%. Trolley buses serve the City of Vancouver. HandyDART ridership grew by 0.3%. Ridership on trolley buses dropped by 0.6%. Trolley bus ridership has been on the decline for close to a decade. TransLink also saw a 1.3% drop in ridership on the SeaBus.

Ridership on the West Coast Express also declined by 4.5%. This might be due to the introduction of express bus service to communities like Langley. These buses have lower fares than the West Coast Express, and get people into Downtown Vancouver just as fast. The West Coast Express is a premium transit service; its direct operating expenses are 100% paid for by fares.

Even with continued “service optimization” and with the rash of bad PR in 2014, TransLink was able to grow ridership on its system. Transit is a critical component of the transportation system in Metro Vancouver.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Details on Metro Vancouver Water and Sewer Projects

Metro Vancouver is a federation of the 21 municipalities and one treaty First Nation in our region. It is responsible for the delivery of regional services and planning. Growing and maintaining the regional water and sewer systems are Metro Vancouver’s responsibility, and it costs a lot of money.

In February, I posted several maps of water and sewer projects that Metro Vancouver is working on. At the latest Metro Vancouver Utilities Committee meeting, the committee received an update on the current water and sewer projects that Metro Vancouver is working on.

Metro Vancouver is currently working on $1.5 billion worth of water projects, and $704 million in sewer projects. These projects are expected to be $52 million under budget. In 2014, they completed a total of $78 million in water and sewer projects, $16 million under budget. It seems that the region is doing a good job of managing the overall costs of these substantial projects.

The single largest project that Metro Vancouver is working on is the $827 million Seymour-Capilano Filtration Plant and Twin Tunnels project. This project is almost complete. Once complete, water from both the Capilano and Seymour watersheds will be filtered and disinfection with UV light. This will give our region some of the best drinking water in the world.

Map of Metro Vancouver's Seymour-Capilano Water Treatment Projects. Select map to enlarge.

Metro Vancouver is also investing $225 million to twin the water mains under the Port Mann Bridge to support growth in the South of Fraser.

One of the larger sewer projects that Metro Vancouver is working on is $63 million in upgrades to the Northwest Langley Wastewater Treatment Plant. This plant only services Walnut Grove in the Township of Langley.

Metro Vancouver is also investing about $60 million in various upgrades to support people who live in Surrey.

The largest sewer project that Metro Vancouver is working on is $265.5 million worth of upgrades to the Annacis Island Wastewater Treatment Planet. This plant services South of Fraser municipalities. These upgrades are part of a larger $750 million long-term project to upgrade the plant to handle growth in our region.

While the majority of Metro Vancouver’s water and sewer projects go unnoticed, they are vital to supporting growth in our region.

Many of these projects are being built without the financial support of the provincial and federal governments. This is why the Metro Vancouver portion of property tax in our region is rapidly rising.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Township of Langley TransLink/Property Taxes Task Force

The Township of Langley has various volunteers Council Advisory Committees. These committees are made up of Councillors, Township staff, and citizens. Committees in the Township normally develop works plans of what they would like to accomplish in a year. The end results of the work plans are usually recommended actions for Council to take. Of course, as these are advisory committees, Township Council is under no obligation to move forward with any recommendations that come out of these committees.

One of the work plans that caught my attention is from the Township's Economic Development Advisory Committee. They have started a “TransLink/Property Tax Task Force.” According to the EDAC minutes:

Purpose: To investigate current public transit service levels to the Gloucester Industrial Area and report out on why increased service levels are: a) beneficial to local businesses; and b) merited given the property taxes paid versus services received during the last 10 years.

Scope of Work: Public Transit to/within Gloucester Industrial Area; a four to five page report with relevant appendices.

Goal/Objective: To build upon, and ultimately improve, the business case for increased public transit service levels to the Gloucester Industrial Area, taking into consideration the need to support local business growth and to investigate and estimate any perceived inequity for Gloucester businesses with respect to property taxes paid to TransLink and public transit services received in return.

Red outline is Gloucester Industrial Estates in the Township of Langley. Select map to enlarge.

One of the challenges with Gloucester Industrial Estates is that it is a low-density business park surrounded by farmland. The nearest major residential area is Aldergrove, about eight kilometres away. Walnut Grove is about 18 kilometres away.

Gloucester has never had transit service which has been a source of controversy in the community. Unfortunately, Gloucester is also the text book example of how not to design a transit-friendly business park.

As I posted earlier, Langley Township is already getting more service from TransLink then it is paying for. If there is a Yes outcome in the upcoming transit plebiscite, there is a chance that Gloucester might see some form of transit service. A No outcome means that there will be no chance of transit service in Gloucester.

While I think that Gloucester should see some level of transit service as a matter of equality, TransLink has been optimizing the transit network to run it more efficiently. This means they have been shifting service away from routes with lower ridership, and moving service to routes where there is over-crowding and high demand.

I look forward to seeing the report from the EDAC task force and the recommendations.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Should our transportation systems be 100% paid for with direct user fees?

Every so often, I hear someone say that transit should be operated 100% off fares. In Canada, no transportation system is 100% paid for with user fees such as gas tax, tolls, or fares.

As an example, the Port Mann Bridge —operated by the provincially-owned Transportation Investment Corporation— needed $79.4 million in taxes for the year ending 2014. That's over and above the toll revenue it received.

In general, we want our transportation systems to be able to handle peak demand in the morning and evening, be available when we want to use it, and not cost a fortune whenever we want to uses it. This leads to inherent inefficiencies, and means that we have to pay for these systems with taxes.

I was reading the Canadian Urban Transit Association’s 2013 Canadian Transit Fact Book. CUTA gathers information from transit agencies throughout Canada. When I was reading the fact book, I came across the statistics for both AMT which operates commuter trains in the Montreal Region, and West Coast Express which operates commuter trains in Metro Vancouver.

AMT provides all-day commuter train service that runs from about 5:30am until about midnight with seven-day-a-week service. Bidirectional service is also provided all-day on most of their routes.

AMT’s average one-way fare in 2013 was $3.18. This covered 40% of the direct operating expenses of the service.

West Coast Express provides a premium transit service in Metro Vancouver and Mission. Within Metro Vancouver, you could take the SkyTrain and buses instead of the West Coast Express. West Coast Express operates trains that travel in the peak commuting direction to/from Downtown Vancouver. These trains only operate during peak commuting times, Monday through Friday.

West Coast Express’s average one-way fare in 2013 was $8.01, and covered 100% of the direct operating expenses of the services.

While West Coast Express is the model of efficiency, we couldn’t model the rest of the transit system off it. People require access to the system almost 24/7 at a reasonable price.

In the same way, people would not have been happy if the provincial government places a $5 one-way toll on the old Port Mann Bridge to cover the cost of the Highway 1 corridor. From a pure efficiency standpoint, the old six-lane Highway 1 corridor was better as its total temporally available capacity was more fully utilized.

There are certain benefits, like demand-management, in having a system that is paid for with both direct user fees and taxation. 100% taxation funded systems, or a 100% direct users fee funded systems, create major problems for people who need to get around a region.

Direct operating expenses includes all expenses minus debt service charges and depreciation.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Infrastructure renewal, firefighting, and policing main drivers of Township tax increase

Yesterday, I posted about some of the reasons why user fees for Township of Langley water, sewer, and solid waste collection were increasing. I also noted some of the major overpass projects that the Township will be working on.

Township of Langley Council approved a 3.67% general property tax increase for 2015. An owner of a half-million dollar house in the Township would see an average $56 increase in their property tax. Combined with user fee increases, that owner would see about a $100 increase in monies going to the Township.

Where is the Township's property tax increase going? Select the chart to see.

19% of the total property tax increase is going to cover costs such as salary and wage increases, contractual cost increases such as policing, and increases to the cost of buying goods and services.

Close to 50% of the increase is going into new infrastructure, and to renew existing infrastructure in the Township. Provincial and federal governments cut cheques to build new infrastructure, but they haven’t been as keen to provide funding for unsexy projects like repaving roads, and replacing water and sewer lines. Besides the massive increases in funding during the great reasons, federal and provincial funding for municipal infrastructure has been on the decline over the last several decades.

A good amount of municipal infrastructure in Canada is coming due for replacement; the Township is no exception.

On the topic of infrastructure, 5% of the property tax increase is going to a special fund for the future Aldergrove Community Centre. This increase is compounded on top of last year’s property tax increase, of which 3% was set aside for the future Aldergrove Community Centre.

The federal and provincial governments are always looking for new ways to download operating expenses onto local government. I recently posted about the downloading of policing costs.

The provincial government is also indirectly downloading the cost of emergency medical response to local government. The province has been slow increasing response times for paramedics. Firefighters are slowly become more responsible for medical emergencies as they are normally the first to arrive on the scene when someone calls 911.

17% of the Township’s property tax increase is going to hire eight new firefighters. 12% of the Township’s property tax increase is going to hiring three new RCMP members. The Township is planning to hiring between 2-3 new RCMP members each and every year until at least 2019.

For more information, you can download the full 2015-2019 Financial Plan.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Water, Sewer, and the High Cost of Highway 1 in the Township of Langley

The Township of Langley has finalized its proposed 2015-2019 Financial Plan. The proposed plan will see an increase in user pay fees as follows:

Water 5.16%
Sewer 3.83%
Solid Waster 4.64%

If you live in a half-million dollar house in the Township, you can expect to pay an additional $52 on your property tax bill.

Langley Township has spent a considerable amount of money extending Metro Vancouver water and sewer services through Salmon River/Uplands to Aldergrove. While these projects are complete, they are impacting the Township's operating budget moving forward. For example, the East Langley Water Supply has a proposed $110,000 budget for electricity in 2015.

The biggest driver of the increase in these user pay utility fees is due to Metro Vancouver services. Metro Vancouver is replacing aging infrastructure, and increasing capacity to deal with growth in communities like Surrey and Langley. It is passing these costs onto municipalities.

Metro Vancouver charges for water services is increasing from $4.6 million in 2014 to $6.1 million in 2015. For sewer services, Metro Vancouver charges are increasing from $4.8 million in 2014 to $5.3 million in 2015.

One another budget note, transportation projects are the largest group of capital projects in the Township of Langley currently.

The Township has budget $270,000 for cycling infrastructure in 2015. This is an increase of $110,000 compared to 2014, and is due to a matching grant from the Provincial Cycling Infrastructure Partnership Program. The increased funding will be used to improve cycling infrastructure along 216th Street from 56th Avenue to 72nd Avenue.

The Township will also be spending $4 million this year to complete the construction of Labonte Avenue from 216th to Glover Road. The road will be going through the future TWU University District.

By far the largest transportation projects in the coming years will be two new interchanges. The Township is proposing to spend $4.7 million per year, for a grand total of $14.1 million, to build a new 216th Street Interchange at Highway 1.

The Township is also proposing to spend $1 million this year and $5.8 million for the two years following, for a grand total of $12.6 million, to widen the 208th Street Overpass.

This is no small change, and is one of major the drivers for tax increases in the Township of Langley.

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting more on the Township 2015-2019 Financial Plan.