Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Story of TransLink Part 3 – How Metro Vancouver got a bum deal, and how we can fix it

One of the things I wondered about was why the region’s mayors didn’t just raise property tax to pay for much needed regional transportation investments in Metro Vancouver. I mean if the mayors increased property tax, we would actually be able to properly fund regional transportation in Metro Vancouver and make the Mayors’ Transportation Plan happen today.

Under the currently mandated provincial funding regime, property tax would have to be doubled to pay for the Mayors’ Transportation Plan. Using June 2015 benchmark price data for the City of Surrey and the 2015 Surrey property tax rates, out of the $3,213.81 a person would pay in property tax for the typical detached house in Surrey, $218 would go to TransLink. Similarly, a person in a townhouse would pay $1510.68 in property tax of which $102.86 would go to TransLink. An apartment owner in Surrey would typically pay $938.93 in property tax with $63.94 going to TransLink. These numbers don’t include any grants or utility fees such as water charges.

While a doubling of the property tax for TranLink is in the realm of possibility, why are the mayors so against increasing property tax for the agency? Well, as I posted over the last two days, the province promised several things that it didn’t deliver on.

First, the province promised to introduce a vehicle levy as a way to pay for regional roads, bridges, and transit in the region. Second, the province promised to pay for 60% of the cost of new rail rapid transit lines. The province broke both those promises. When it comes to funding the cost of building new rapid transit, the province now only commits to funding 33% of the cost.

It is clear that the province has an obligation to pay for its fair share in Metro Vancouver. In 2014, the province paid for about 15% to 20% of the cost to run TransLink. It paid about 30% for the BC Transit system in Victoria, and 50% for transit systems in the rest of the province. Before the creation of TransLink, the province paid for 46% of the cost of transit in Metro Vancouver.

Provincial Funding Levels for BC Transit and TransLink in 2014.

So how do we fund the Mayors’ Transportation Plan while bringing back equity for Metro Vancouver taxpayers? As a first step, the province should agree to fund 30% of TransLink’s costs in a similar fashion to how it does for the Victoria Regional Transit System. This 30% would include an adjustment for the 6 cents per liter of fuel tax that the province gave up in Metro Vancouver.

To simplify things and bring back transparency, the provincial government should reintroduce the Hospital District Levy in Metro Vancouver.

Even with these changes, there would still be about a $100 million per year gap in revenue needed to fund the Mayors’ Transportation Plan. If an annual $64 vehicle levy, indexed to inflation was introduced, the funding gap would be filled.

Metro Vancouver would finally get the transportation system we need, and some equality would be introduced back into how the province funds transit in Metro Vancouver. Also, all this could be done without the need of another wasteful referendum.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Story of TransLink Part 2: How the province got out of paying its fair share for transit in Metro Vancouver

Yesterday, I set the stage for the transit funding pickle that we find ourselves in today. Briefly, the province didn’t want to increase funding for transit in Metro Vancouver while the region was looking to expand our dismissal transit service to support creating a livable region.

A regional vehicle levy was supposed to have been introduced by the province to provide the required funding needed to expand not only transit, but also pay for the maintenance of regional roads and bridges. No new property tax and no new gas tax would be needed. Of course the province, both the BC NDP and Liberals, reneged on the commitment made to introduce a regional vehicle levy.

While the province got what it wanted, getting out of paying for the operation of transit in Metro Vancouver, the region did not. What Metro Vancouver taxpayers got was a bum deal.

With the exception of Victoria, the provincial government pays around 50% of the cost for transit service in BC. If you live in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Kelowna, or Kamloops, the provincial government writes a big fat cheque for around 50% of the cost to operation transit. The remaining 50% is made up from property tax and fares.

In Victoria, the situation is a bit different. The provincial government pays for 30% of the cost of transit. The remaining 70% is made up from a local 3.5 cent gas tax, property tax, and fares.

Back in 1998, the year before the creation of TransLink, the provincial government paid for 46% of the cost of transit in Metro Vancouver. That works out to $357 million in today’s dollars. The province paid for 35% of the cost of the Victoria Regional Transit System that same year, $24 million in today’s dollars. There was a local gas tax in Victoria and Vancouver to help pay for transit.

The reason why the province paid for a higher percentage of the cost of transit in Metro Vancouver was due to the SkyTrain and the West Coast Express systems.

When the province made the deal with local governments in our region to create TransLink, the province agreed to eliminating the hospital property tax, increasing the local share of gas tax, and continuing to pay for SkyTrain debt. They also agreed to pay for 60% of the capital cost of new rapid transit lines.

While this might have sounded like a good deal at the time, the BC government broke its promises to the region, and Metro Vancouver taxpayers suffered.

What would it look like if transit in Metro Vancouver was funding the same way that the Victoria Regional Transit System is funded today? In 2014, the BC government would have had to pay $428 million into TransLink.

For comparison, the following graphs show what the BC government is actually contributing to transit in Metro Vancouver, and what it would have contributed if we had the same deal as Victoria. I’m not even suggesting that we get 50% of our transit service paid for like the rest of the province.

As a note, the hospital property tax varies greatly throughout the province and year-to-year. In the Interior, it worked out to $46.84 per capita in 2014. It was $29.98 in Northern BC and $25.21 on Vancouver Island per capita in 2014. I’ve created a high hospital tax and a low hospital tax version of graphs that show the provincial funding gap in transit. I’ve also included lost fuel tax revenue that the province gave up to TransLink, the old Expo and West Coast Express debt, plus the Millennium debt, and Canada Line operation costs which the province pays for.

The 2014 Provincial Transit Funding Gap with $25 per capita Hospital Tax In Millions. Select graph to enlarge.

The 2014 Provincial Transit Funding Gap with $50 per capita Hospital Tax In Millions. Select graph to enlarge.

As you can see, there was a $137 million to $199 million gap between the 30% ideal and what the province paid into TransLink in 2014. The province is actually paying less for Metro Vancouver transit today than it did in 1998!

It is interesting that Metro Vancouver, home to 50% of the people in BC, gets the worst transit deal in the province.

While there is no Plan B for transit in Metro Vancouver, tomorrow I will post about a possible Plan B.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Story of TransLink Part 1: The Old Funding Bait and Switch

Funding, or lack thereof, and control of transit in Metro Vancouver has been an issue since I’ve existed on this planet.

Under BC Transit, the provincial government was running Metro Vancouver transit service into the ground. In 1996, Metro Vancouver “compared to other major areas in Canada, on a per resident basis, [had] the lowest supply of transit, second lowest transit ridership, and highest car ownership” rates in the country according to the Canadian Urban Transit Association.

Metro Vancouver adopted the Livable Region Strategic Plan and Transport 2021 in the 1990s. These sibling policies set the stage for building our region around people, not cars. By building walkable and transit-accessible neighbourhoods, the region could accommodate growth while preserving precious greenspace and farmland; the very things that make our region a special place. There was a hitch though.

If the newly minted region growth and transportation plans were to go anywhere, more transit service would be needed; BC Transit was in a sorry state. The region needed more transit, but the provincial government was not looking to increase spending on transit in Metro Vancouver. Something needed to be done.

The province wanted to cap spending on transit while the region wanted more control, and the ability to grow the transit system. After much back and forth, a deal was struck.

A new transportation agency would be created for Metro Vancouver. This agency, now TransLink, would be controlled by a 15 member board. This board would be comprised of 12 Metro Vancouver appointees, with sub-regional representation and weighted votes, like other Metro Vancouver boards. There would also be 3 board members appointed by the provincial government. This would finally give local governments in Metro Vancouver control of transit. Local governments would also be getting control of some former provincial highways and bridges too. The idea was to have a transportation authority that could carry out the vision of Transport 2021.

Funding was a sticking point. In the end, the province agreed to keep paying ongoing capital payments for the Expo Line and West Coast Express. The province also agreed to pay for 60% of the capital costs of the yet to be built Millennium Line and Evergreen Line.

The provincial government would stop charging a Hospital District Property Tax in the region, worth $70 million (2015 dollars) at the time, and reduce the provincial gas tax in Metro Vancouver by 6 cents. The idea was to create a replacement property tax and gas tax for the new regional transportation authority.

Gas tax stays at 15 cents per litre, the bill of goods sold by the province.

As an old information brochure said “gas tax stays at 15 cents per litre” and “there would be no need to increase residential property taxes.”

The new transit authority would also get the other funding sources that existed at the time including fares, the parking sales tax, BC Hydro levy, and non-residential property tax.

Now it was known that more funding would be needed if the region was to remaining livable by meeting the goals of the region growth strategy and Transport 2021. $265 million per year (2015 dollars) in new funding would be needed.

The lynchpin for the whole plan was a proposed vehicle levy to be introduced after the 2001 provincial election.

On paper, both the province and local governments got what they wanted. The region got control of transportation while the province was able to stop funding the operation of transit in Metro Vancouver out of general revenue. Metro Vancouver residents would finally get the transit system they deserved.

Of course, this wasn’t to be. The NDP fearing the vehicle levy would get them unelected, scrapped it. The BC Liberal won that election, and also didn’t move forward with the levy.

The BC Liberals agreed to raise gas tax by 2 cents per liter, if local governments agreed to jack up property tax to collect an additional $20 million per year for TransLink. Fares would also be hiked to collect an additional $25 million per year. It was though this would bring in $85 million per year (in 2002 dollars). It was enough to keep things going while getting the Millennium Line running. It was far short of the money required to meet the vision of Transport 2021.

Not much has changed since 2002, TransLink is still lurching from crisis to crisis, and we still don’t have the funding needed to build the transportation system we deserve.

Tomorrow, I’ll be looking in more detail on how Metro Vancouver taxpayers got a bum deal from the province.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Land-use planning in Township of Langley controversial at local and regional level

The Township of Langley has the tensest relationship with Metro Vancouver among all 21 municipalities and the Tsawwassen First Nation. While the Township of Langley has no problem with the conservation, recreation, water, sewer, and waste services that the region provides, the Township of Langley seems to butt heads with Metro Vancouver when it comes to land-use planning.

Beside the whole Trinity Western University district affair, the Township of Langley has the dubious distinction of being the only local government in the region that had its Regional Context Statements rejected. Metro Vancouver and the Township are currently going through a dispute resolution process. Lions Bay is the only other municipality without accepted Regional Context Statements. Lions Bay will be submitting its Regional Context Statements in the fall of this year.

Regional Context Statements are what link a local government’s official community plan to the regional growth strategy. It short, they bind a local government to following the regional growth strategy which includes land-use designations.

South of Fraser regional land-use map. Rural areas in yellow. Select map to enlarge.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about land-use planning in the Township of Langley, it is that it can be very explosive and controversial. Brookswood, Trinity Western, and the upcoming fight over Tall Timbers come to mind. Is it this highly charged atmosphere around local land-use planning that causes spill over controversy at the regional level?

Could it be that many people in the Township just really hate anything with the word Vancouver in it? Do they feel that regional land-use designations are just a way for the Burnaby NDP to punish the Township for being conservative? I know this sounds crazy, but more than one person has told me this is why they don't like regional land-use planning.

Some people might think it is because of the rural and agricultural nature of the community, but that is not the case. Delta, Surrey, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, and Richmond all contain rural and agricultural areas, and they seem to be able to work with Metro Vancouver on land-use planning.

Rural Density By Municipality (2014). Select table to enlarge.

The Township of Langley has another dubious distinction. It is the only municipality in the region to see an increase in density in rural areas. People in Salmon River Uplands should hope to goodness that the Township of Langley is brought in line with the regional land-use plan. It will protected their community from massive urban development.

The status of the general urban land-use designation (2014). Shows the remaining land, and land developed between 2011 and 2014. Select map to enlarge.

The Township of Langley contains 32% of Metro Vancouver's urban zoned land that is under or undeveloped. The Township of Langley will continue to be ground zero when it comes to controversy around land-use decisions at the local and regional level.

2014 Annual Report, Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping Our Future

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Imagining Livability Design Collection

The US AARP, which advocates and provides services for the 50 and over population, along with the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute which was co-founded by Dan Burden asked the questions:

“What can livability look like in a rural context?”

“How about a suburban one?”

“And what can be done to make existing urban conditions more walkable and bikeable?”

They have put together a new toolkit called “The Imagining Livability Design Collection”. The toolkit is a visual reference guide of various projects that can enhance the livability of a community. Projects in the toolkit are divided into short-term, mid-range, and long-range categories.

While this toolkit was created for US communities, its proposed projects are also relevant in Canadian cities. The way some of the projects in the guide are visualized show how older parts of a community can be retrofitted for livability. These types of retrofits could be adapted for older areas of Langley and Surrey for example. The toolkit ends with examples of possible transformations.

As this is a visual toolkit, I thought I would share a few examples from it. The first example is from the mid-range section of the guide. The second example is from one of the possible transformations.

A shared-use path in Detroit, Michigan. Select image to enlarge.

Connecting a neighbourhood and its surroundings in Fort Worth, Texas. The present and the possible. Select image to enlarge.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New water supply fuels development pressure in Salmon River Uplands

When people think of what enables sprawl, normally large roads come to mind. While roads are certainly required, the availability of water and sewer services are key to enabling urban development.

For years, I have been posting about the potential for massive development in the Salmon River Uplands area. This area is in the geographic centre of the Township of Langley, and is surrounded by the Agricultural Land Reserve. The Township of Langley hasn’t developed a long-term plan for the area, and the area has been allowed to develop in a piecemeal fashion.

Because of concerns with the protection of the Hopington Aquifer, development in the area has been limited. With the recent introduction of Metro Vancouver water service to the are, the floodgates are now open for the development. With no clear plan in place for the area, piecemeal suburban development project approvals may be the order of the day.

Back in the 1980’s, a 81 unit single-family housing development was built around 56th Avenue and 240th Street. The original plan would have seen around 200 units built, but due to opposition, the rest of the project was never completed.

Original 1980's Tall Timbers Development Plan. Select image to enlarge.

With the new East Langley Water System through Salmon River Upland, the completion of this 1980’s plan is now possible. Infinity Properties is now proposing to finish the Tall Timbers project which started in the 1980's.

The Tall Timber lots and the lot size proposed for the completion of Tall Timbers is about 1/3 of an acre. This will create suburban sprawl.

In 1995, Council place a moratorium to prohibit new rezoning and subdivision applications in Salmon River Uplands due to environmental concerns. In 2011, Councillor Kim Richter proposed making this moratorium permanent. Council at the time referred the matter to staff, I haven’t seen the result of this referral.

The only land-use guidance for the Salmon River Uplands area is the Township of Langley’s Rural Plan which states that “The Salmon River Uplands shall be maintained for rural residential and agricultural uses.”

Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy also zones the area as Rural meaning “Rural areas are intended to protect the existing character of rural communities, landscapes and environmental qualities. Land-uses include low density residential development, small scale commercial, industrial, and institutional uses, and agricultural uses that do not require the provision of urban services such as sewer or transit.”

The Township of Langley has not yet fully signed onto the Regional Growth Strategy, so I’m not sure if there is much protection for Salmon River Uplands via the strategy.

If this project comes before Township Council, and if Council approve this project, Salmon River Uplands has the potential to become the most unsustainable area in Langley and Metro Vancouver. Council needs to put a moratorium on major development project in the area until a detailed community plan has been adopted for the area.

The current piecemeal approach that the Township is taking with Salmon River Upland is not good for the environment, rural nature of the community, or land-owners in the area.

For further reading, check out the “Leave Salmon River Uplands Alone” Facebook page and “Threats To The Ecological Health Of The Salmon River Watershed In Langley, B.C. And Suggestions For Improved Local And Provincial Management.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Strong regional governance and the ALR key to sustainable regional growth

The Neptis Foundation, who stated goal is to inform and improve policy- and decision-making around regional urban growth and management, recently released a report call “Growing Pains”. This report looks at the urban growth patterns of Metro Vancouver and Toronto since 1991. The report is really a call to action for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) to get their act together to slow sprawl and create accessible, sustainable communities.

Marcy Burchfield and Anna Kramer, the authors of the report, found that BC's Agricultural Land Reserve and regional district model are the keys to the success of building a sustainable Metro Vancouver. They found that even with changes in federal, provincial, and local governments, the ALR and region district model is what kept our region from sprawling.

Between 2001 and 2011, 69% of new residents were accommodated within existing urban areas in Metro Vancouver. The follow map shows the change in population between 2001 and 2011 in Metro Vancouver. It is interesting to see that most of the growth in places like Surrey has occurred within existing urban areas. In fact, Richmond has the distinction of having the most sprawl in Metro Vancouver.

Population gain and loss in established urban areas, Metro Vancouver, 2001-2011. Select map to enlarge.

The map doesn’t show the growth that has taken place in Willoughby in the Township of Langley post 2011.

For comparison, only 14% of new residents were accommodated within existing urban areas in the GTHA; the GTHA has more sprawl.

Even with the provincial government's auto-oriented transportation policies, almost 50% of our region’s new residents were accommodated near frequent transit routes. 23% of new residents were accommodated within 800 meters of SkyTrain. Between 2001 and 2011, 28% of population growth has been in walkable urban centres.

Again for comparison, only 23% of new residents were near frequent transit, and 11% near rapid transit in the GTHA.

The follow chart shows that over the last 20 years, Metro Vancouver has seen a change in housing stock. Single-family housing is on the decline. Row houses and townhouses seem to be the preferred housing type in the region.

Composition of Housing Stock in Metro Vancouver between 1991 and 2011. Select image to enlarge.

Burchfield and Kramer found that the follow are needed to build sustainable regions:

  1. A hard urban boundary and a clear regional structure can support growth management
  2. Planning for land use and for transportation should be coordinated.
  3. Support for regional growth management call for cooperation and monitoring

With the whole transit mess in our region today, I have to wonder if our region’s success in building sustainably is coming to an end, or if we are just at a bump along the sustainability path.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Proposed Interim Arterial Road standard to address future parking concerns in West Clayton. Greenway network to support active transportation.

The City of Surrey has been working on a new neighbourhood plan for West Clayton. This area is bounded by Fraser Highway to the south, the Agricultural Land Reserve to the west and north, and the current Clayton neighbourhood to the east.

Looking over the plan, it seems that the City of Surrey is trying some new ways of building the transportation network in the area.

Previously main roads, like 72nd Avenue in Clayton, would not be widened to its full width until traffic levels warranted it. New development would be built to the edge of the future width, usually resulting in gravel areas between the development and the current road. These gravel areas became informal parking lots.

When the City of Surrey got around to widening the road, residents of the area would become very, very, very upset as the parking would go away. Sometimes it could take a years, or even a decade, before these main roads would be widened. Taking away something people have been using for free, for a long time, is never an easy thing to do. The Township of Langley has also had the same issue.

The smart planners at Surrey have come up with the “Interim Arterial Road Standard” to address this. This standard will provide sidewalks, bike lanes, streetlights, and street trees in a similar configuration as the ultimate built-out road, but without the extra lanes. The planners at Surrey have also made sure that features such as ditches, swales, and grass are kept or introduced. Combined with curbs and likely signage, this should prevent the creation of informal parking lots.

Surrey's new Interim Arterial Road Standard. Select image to enlarge.

One of the other good features of the West Clayton plan is the inclusion of a multi-use path network. This network will run both on the side of streets and off-street, providing a safe way for people to walk or bike around the community. When LRT is built along Fraser Highway, it will allow people to get to an LRT station using active transportation modes safely.

West Clayton proposed greenway and cycling network. Select map to enlarge.

While there are other good things about the West Clayton neighbourhood plan, these two new transportation features will have a profound effect on the livability of this new neighbourhood.

While riding on the street should be optional, as people can ride on multi-use paths, my concern about the plan is that on streets where there is parking, the bike lanes are not buffered by the parking. The order should be sidewalk, bike lane, parking, thru lane. This will improve the perception of safety for cyclist, encouraging more cycling.

A street with parking and bike lanes, a proposed 184th Street between 70th and 71 A Avenue. Select image to enlarge.

This plan is not yet adopted.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Per capita bus service hours low in South of Fraser despite demand

Last week, I posted about TransLink’s 2014 Bus Service Performance Review. One of the tables in the review was about the amount of annual bus revenue hours dedicated to certain parts of Metro Vancouver. I decided to grab the current 2014 population estimates from BC Stats to see how these hours are divvied up per capita. As a note, I needed to use a report which shows the population split per areas in Delta based on the 2011 census. Delta’s growth has been static over the last several years, so this older information is still accurate for the purpose of this post.

2014 Annual Bus Revenue Hours Per Capita. Average revenue hours per capita 1.46. Select graph to enlarge.

Raw Numbers
Vancouver/UBC: 2.25
North Shore: 2.04
Burnaby/New Westminster: 1.59
Richmond: 1.43
South Delta: 1.26
Northeast Sector: 1.26
South of Fraser: 0.96
Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows: 0.83

I’m not surprised that Vancouver/UBC has the highest per capita bus service hours in the region. The 99 B-Line is the busiest bus route in North America. Vancouver and UBC also have the highest transit ridership in the region. The latest trip survey data put it at 22% for weekday mode share. Interestingly, Burnaby/New Westminster had way less per capita bus annual service hours, but had a 21% transit mode share. This is likely due to the fact that these areas are served by two SkyTrain lines.

I’m sure that the high per capita service hours in the North Shore might stick out for some people, but this part of the region has no rapid transit service going through it. All transit service is bus based.

What really sticks out to me is the low per capita service hours in the South of Fraser. The South of Fraser includes Langley, Surrey, White Rock, and North Delta. With only four SkyTrain stations, bus service is the main way people get around on transit in the South of Fraser. Even with low per capita annual bus revenue hours, the South of Fraser still has a 10% transit mode share. This share is similar to the Northeast Sector and North Shore. It appears that there is a huge demand for transit in the South of Fraser, but there is also a lack of funding to provide a much needed increase in service hours.

Due to the rural nature of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, I’m not surprised they have lower per capita annual bus revenue hours.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Othering: How the language we use creates an unhealthy transportation system

Man, woman, black, white, gay, straight, young, old, rich, poor; as humans we really like labels. The problem is that we use these labels on people as a way to differentiate, which can lead to making people who are different than us seem less human.

If you look at racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia, they are really all just ways in which we single out and degrade people that are different than ourselves based on a label. The general term for this is called “othering.” It was first used in this context by mid-twentieth century feminist scholar Simone de Beauvoir.

So, why am I bringing up this concept of “othering” on a blog post about transportation?

I was at a shop the other day, where I happened to know the owner. I mentioned the news from a few weeks ago about the person who was killed when cycling in Surrey. I was a bit shocked when the store owner said that the cyclist deserved to die because all cyclist ride dangerously. The store owner told me that they hated cyclist.

This is an example of “othering.” The store owner used the label of “cyclists” to dehumanize the person who was killed. Otherwise, how could this generally rational store owner be so happy about the death of another person? Another person who’s only known different was that they used a bicycle to get around. If this store owner used a bicycle to get around, would that death elitist the same response?

“Othering” is very common when there is a lack of understand and exposure to different ideas, people, or ways of doing things.

In the South of Fraser, we don’t have an extensive cycling network. Because we don’t have an extensive network, not a lot of people ride bikes to get around. Where we do build cycling infrastructure, it is normally in the form of shoulder bike lanes. Only about 10% of the population will ride a bicycle on the street or in shoulder bike lanes. Off-street or protected bike lanes are needed to encourage the majority of people to cycle.

So in the absence of proper cycling infrastructure, most people’s only exposure to people who cycle are of the 10% of the population that takes higher risks.

By building safer cycling infrastructure, more people will cycling. More people cycling themselves to get around, or knowing someone that cycles to get around, will go a long way to reducing “othering” in this context. It would also reduce the irrational conversations that come up when people talk about cycling in the region.

Beyond cycling infrastructure, the way that we talk about our transportation system’s users lends itself to “othering.” We use terms like motorist, cyclist, or pedestrian. “That cyclist just blew through the stop sign!” “That motorist almost hit me in the crosswalk!” “That pedestrian just jaywalked across the street!”

What would happen if we just talked about transportation system users as people? “That person just blew through the stop sign!” “That person almost hit me in the crosswalk!” “That person just jaywalked across the street!”

If we start thinking about how our transportation system can best serve people as opposed to motorists, cyclists, transit riders, or pedestrians, we would actually get a very different kind of transportation system.

The words we use have a profound effect of how we view the world. The way that we use labels for people who use various components of our transportation system leads to “othering” which leads to unhealthy dialogue about our transportation system. It even mode-biases how our transportation system is designed.

We need to start thinking about our transportation system in term of people, and not by the mode in which people choose to use.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A sneak peek inside the new Timms Community Centre

Last Thursday, I was on a tour of the new City of Langley Timms Community Centre with other members of the Parks and Environment Advisory Committee. The new Timms Community Centre is 35,000 sq. ft.

Compared to the old Timms Community Centre, the new community centre will have a large gym and running track. The amount of smaller multipurpose rooms have increased from two to four. While the rooms in the new Timms are multipurpose, they all have special features. For example, one of the rooms is connected to a kitchen space. Another of the rooms has a spring-floor to allow dance classes. The room that overlooks Langley Mall on the top floor also doubles as a training spaces, and has all the connectivity needed to act as an emergency communication room for the RCMP.

The library space in the current City Hall —which will essentially be merged into the Timms Community Centre— was reduced. There is less shelf space now. In its place are new showers and washrooms, plus space for recreation staff.

One of the original objectives for the new Timms Community Centre was increased community meeting space. I know that the City will be looking to program the rooms as much as possible, hopefully there will be enough non-programmed time for other community groups to have access to the facility.

The following pictures are from the tour. The $14.3 million facility should be opened in the first quarter of 2016.

Main North/South Corridor. Community Centre Reception will be on the left.

New Gym. A second floor walking/running loop goes around the gym.

View from one of the second floor multipurpose rooms, looking towards Langley Mall.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The creative use of Township of Langley zoning provisions

Tucked away just south of the Golden Ears Bridge is a small residential area in the Township of Langley. This neighbourhood is surrounded by industrial development on the north, west, and south.

The current lot sizes and general configuration of this neighbourhood dates back about 100 years. Even though the largest lot in the area is 17,000 sq. ft, for historic reasons the whole area is zoned RU-1. This zoning allows for two single family dwellings or mobile homes per lot. The RU-1 zone was envisioned for lots larger than 4.2 acres.

Residential area in Northwest Langley that is currently zoned RU-1.

One property owner in the area took advantage of this two dwelling provision and created a strata to allow the development of two dwelling on his lot. This didn't require a rezoning.

Another resident in the area presented this fact to Council last fall as a delegation. Council asked Township Staff to develop as report with options for the area.

Staff came back with a report saying that the RU-1 zoning isn’t the best fit for this area, noting that current municipal services and the community plan don’t support the densification of the area. There would be a cost to provide fully urban roads and services to this neighbourhood. Staff have presented Council with several options for the area.

Status Quo
Further strata development into 2 lots, based on existing regulations, resulting in increased population and no added community benefits in terms of servicing standards. Potential for 36 additional dwelling units.

2 Rezone to R-1A
More consistent with the area to the east. Provides for 1 dwelling unit per +/- 4,000 ft2 lot. 19 new lots may be created, based on area and frontage requirements. Must consider services & allowing mobile homes.

3 Rezone to permit fee simple s/d based on current strata density
Essentially a hybrid option with the density allowed under option; and rezoning process (including servicing) requirements of option 2. Approx. no. of new dwelling units, in theory, would be 36.

4 Rezone to maintain existing lot size, but with 1 dwelling per lot
Rezone to allow a minimum lot size of +/- 10,000 ft2, preventing the 2 unit strata developments, as well as possible subdivision potential of options 2 & 3. Would result in only 2 new additional lots being created.

5 Amend Zoning Bylaw to eliminate 2 dwelling unit allowance in RU-1
This option would amend the Zoning Bylaw to eliminate the provision of 2 dwelling units on a RU-1 lot, which is a historic provision in the Bylaw and likely to be opposed by residents across the municipality.

What I find really interesting about this case is that it shows there are areas in the Township where there is a disconnect between the zoning and intended land use. This isn’t out of the ordinary, but there are many historic and piecemeal provisions in the Township’s zoning bylaw. The zoning bylaw is a lengthy document; for example, the section dealing with the various residential zones is 41 pages long and the section dealing with rural zones is 26 pages long.

While a lengthy and possibly contentious process, it may be time for the Township considers reviewing its zoning bylaw to prevent further creative uses of zoning.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

New Proposed Commercial Retail Building in Willoughby Town Centre: Being pedestrian-first while accommodating the auto

Transforming from an auto-oriented community to a walkable community doesn’t happen by chance. A municipality has to work hard to make it happen. This means that planning staff must have the know-how and desire to build a walkable community. Council also has to be fully on board.

On the flip side, a community can lose its walkability if a council is not vigilant about the projects it approves, and staff is not fully committed to advocating for walkability.

Willoughby in the Township of Langley is a community hopefully transitioning from an auto-oriented community to a walkable community. Willoughby’s new downtown is being built along Willoughby Towns Centre Drive near 208th Street and 80th Avenue. The Township also has planned for 86th Avenue around the Carvolth Park and Ride to be a walkable high street.

Some of the needed ingredients for a walkable community include having a sufficient density of people living within an easy 10 minute walk of where shops and services are to be located. Just one look around Willoughby Town Centre shows that the density is there. Another key ingredient is a pedestrian-focused public realm. The public realm must have wide, well-kept sidewalks with shops and services fronting them. A pedestrian should never need to walk through or by a parking lot to access the services needed.

One of the challenges transforming from an auto-oriented community to a walkable community is that people won’t instantly stop driving automobiles to shops and services. Parking must still be accommodated, just not prioritized.

Last week, Township of Langley Council looked at a new project that is being proposed in Willoughby Township Centre. The plan is for a two-storey commercial complex. The original plan was for a mixed-use complex, but the developer nixed that plan. The Township of Langley requires a certain amount of residential units in Willoughby Town Centre, and the developer has promised to add those units removed into a future phase. While I’m not pleased to see that the mixed-use component was removed, I wanted to focus on what was done right on this project.

Site plan of proposed two-storey commercial building in Willoughby Town Centre. Select image to enlarge.

The first thing done right is that the ground-level retail units all front Willoughby Town Centre Drive. Parking is at the rear of the building, and is accessed by a side street/lane. The other very important design element is that the ground-level retail units must be accessed from the street. No provisions have been made to access the ground-level retail units from the rear parking lot. I’ve seen some projects in Surrey that front the street, but as Surrey allows parking lot entrances, businesses sometimes keep the street-front door locked effectively turning their back to the pedestrian public realm.

Rendering of proposed two-storey commercial building in Willoughby Town Centre, looking east. Select image to enlarge.

For the Willoughby project, parking is accessed by a central breezeway that also serves as the pedestrian staircase to the second floor.

Rendering of proposed two-storey commercial building in Willoughby Town Centre, looking north-east. Select image to enlarge.

The parking is actually on two levels, but you wouldn’t notice it from Willoughby Town Centre Drive. The design actually reminds me of the first US shopping malls which were modelled on “Main Street USA” with hidden parking.

Rendering of proposed two-storey commercial building in Willoughby Town Centre, looking west. Select image to enlarge.

The cost of putting in underground parking is high, and this proposed two-storey commercial building project shows how it is possible to both accommodate the auto while building a high-quality, pedestrian-friendly public realm without breaking the bank.

The City of Langley has approved auto-oriented commercial buildings in Downtown Langley recently, this proposed project in the Township shows that it is possible to build a pedestrian-first building with parking that doesn’t destroy the pedestrian public realm.

Over time, parking will become less of an issue and future buildings will not require the same degree of parking. Vancouver has shown how you can transition from an auto-oriented community to a walkable community.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Bus ridership up in the South of Fraser, but at the expense of the rest of the region

TransLink recently released their 2014 Bus Service Performance Review. This review presents performance metrics for the bus network in Metro Vancouver.

One of the first metrics in the report is the amount of annual bus revenue hours provided. This metric is an indicator of the amount of bus service provided. Over the past five years, the amount of service hours has been relatively flat across the region, but sub-regionally is a different story. This is due to TransLink’s service optimization scheme which transfers service hours from more costly and less used routes, to routes where this is more of a demand.

If the transit plebiscite is any indication, people in the South of Fraser believe that TransLink is ignoring them. As the following table shows, TransLink has invested heavily in improving bus service in the South of Fraser. At the end of 2014, only Vancouver/UBC had more bus service than the South of Fraser.

Annual bus revenue hours between 2010 and 2014. Select table to enlarge.

In order to increase bus service in the South of Fraser, other parts of the region have had their service levels reduced. Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Richmond, and Northeast Sector communities have seen a reduction in bus service.

The next table shows the change in ridership over the last 5 years. Interestingly, South Delta communities have seen the highest growth in ridership over the last 5 years. The South of Fraser —Surrey, Langley, and White Rock— have seen the second highest growth in ridership over that same period.

Annual bus boardings between 2010 and 2014. Select table to enlarge.

Interestingly, ridership has flat-lined in traditionally transit-friendly areas like Vancouver, Burnaby, and New Westminster.

One of the new metric provided in this year’s performance review is the overcrowding factor on bus routes. Several South of Fraser routes made it on to the top ten list including the 320 and 502.

Top 10 overcrowded bus routes in 2013 and 2014. Select table to enlarge.

While people voted no in the transit plebiscite for a host of different reasons in the South of Fraser, there is certainly a demand for new transit service when it is provided.

For example, the 96 B-Line which services King George Boulevard and 104th Avenue was introduced in the fall of 2013. The 320 and 321 also service this corridor. In 2012, the 320 and 231 had combine annual boardings of 7,000,000. In 2014, with the addition of the B-Line service, there was 7,830,000 annual boardings, an increase of about 12%.

Ridership has also been very strong on the 555 which connects the Carvolth Park and Ride with the SkyTrain system. Annual boardings in 2013 was 565,000, this jumped to 713,000 in 2014, a 26.2% increase!

People in Langley really like there public transit where it is provided. The 502 was split into the 502 and 503 last year. The 502 connects Langley City to the SkyTrain system and runs along Fraser Highway. The 503 provides local service between Aldergrove and Langley City along Fraser Highway, then provides express bus service to the SkyTrain system along the remainder of Fraser Highway.

In 2013, there was 3,126,000 annual boardings on the 502. The 502/503 combined annual boardings in 2014 was 3,441,000, a 10% increase.

I know that a certain Township of Langley Councillor was upset when the 503 was created as it resulted in the discontinuation of the two bus trips per day in Salmon River/Uplands. It seems like that service change was the right move as it increased ridership and improved access for people in Aldergrove.

While more transit is needed in the South of Fraser, it appears that TransLink is providing more service to the sub-region, even if it is at the expense of other parts of Metro Vancouver.

Monday, July 6, 2015

TransLink transit ridership down first quarter

The American Public Transit Association has released first quarter ridership results for member agencies throughout Canada and the US.

In the first quarter of 2014, TransLink saw an overall 3.28% drop in ridership compared to the same period in 2013. TransLink ended 2014 with a 0.5% increase in ridership.

Metro Vancouver's population has been growing at a rate of about 1.3% per year since 2000. While the 2001 transit strike caused a 29.8% drop in transit ridership, in 2002, ridership jumped up 40%. Until 2013, ridership in Metro Vancouver was growing faster than population growth. This is why transit mode share, the percentage of all trips taken by transit, increased rapidly in the last decade.

In 2013 transit ridership dropped. In 2014, ridership grew only 0.5%. This is lower than the rate of population growth. TransLink says that the drop was due to fare increases in 2013, but in 2008 and 2010 there were also fare increases which didn’t impact ridership in the same way.

2013 was the year when TransLink ran out of money to grow service due to provincial government interference. This was also the year that TransLink starting cutting service from some parts of the region in order to keep up with the demand in other parts of the region. This service optimization is a major reason for the drop in ridership.

Overall ridership dropped 0.17% in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. HandyDART ridership was up 1.93% and non-trolley bus ridership was up 0.18%. SkyTrain ridership dropped 0.56% and West Coast Express ridership dropped 1.42%.

Trolley bus ridership dropped 0.53%. This has been an ongoing trend since 2005. In 2004, there were 70,946,200 trips by trolley bus. In 2014, only 59,730,000 trips where by trolley bus. This due to a host of reasons, but I’ve noticed that north/south bus routes in Vancouver have had a larger drop in ridership than east/west bus routes. Trolley buses mostly serve north/south corridors. It could be that travel patterns are changing in Vancouver, but as a fixed transit service, the trolley bus network has not been able to adapt.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Dark Day for the Livable Region: What the No Vote Really Means

While not surprised, I am disappointed that citizens in Metro Vancouver voted no to improving transit in Metro Vancouver. Langley, Maple Ridge, and Pitt Meadows had some of the lowest levels of support.

In Surrey, only 34% of eligible voters said yes to a 0.5% sales tax to improve transit and transportation in the region. Surrey would have been the largest recipient of transit and transportation service improvements in the region under the plan that voters rejected.

From the get go, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said that there was a Plan B for Surrey’s light rail project should the transit plebiscite fail. I’m sure that many in Surrey voted no because they felt that they would end up with light rail either way.

Of course nothing is free, the capital and operating costs for the Surrey light rail project will likely come from property tax increases and/or other city services being reduced as budget is reallocated to the light rail project. Hepner’s Plan B does not include money for increased bus service, funding major roads, or funding cycling improvements in Surrey like the plebiscite plan did.

One of the real tragedies is the result of the no vote for people who live in the Township of Langley. Traffic and parking are major problems, and will only get worse as the population in areas like Willoughby triples in the next few decades. People in the Township of Langley have been calling for more transit service, but because of the outcome of the plebiscite, will only see their limited transit service get worse.

TransLink has already indicated that they will cut service on routes that under-perform. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the community shuttle routes in Langley are completely eliminated. This is bad news for seniors, students, and working-class families.

One of the clear messages from the plebiscite is that people do not trust TransLink. There are many reasons why, but it all comes down to its governance structure. The sad reality is that TransLink and its current governance structure was created by the provincial government. Only the provincial government can change the governance structure. Minister of Transportation Todd Stone has indicated that the province may now look at changing the TransLink governance structure, but will it be enough?

Todd Stone also said this afternoon that our region’s mayors will still need to come up with the 1/3rd of funding needed to pay for transit improvements in the region. The province has always wanted the mayors to hike up property tax to pay for transit improvements. The mayors have consistently said no.

The major reason for saying no is that the mayors don’t want their property tax revenue going to a provincial agency for which they have little control over.

We are back to where we started in 2012 when TransLink needed more funding to expand service: a provincial government that wants mayors to hike up property taxes, and mayors who won’t raise property taxes to fund desperately needed transit improvements until there is governance changes at TransLink.

At the Mayors’ Council press conference this morning, there was a strong indication that the region’s mayors might step away from the Mayors’ Council altogether if the province doesn’t change the governance structure of TransLink.

Interestingly enough, with no new funding for transit expansion, the Mayors’ Council isn’t really needed. The only thing of importance that TransLink won’t be able to do is increase fares.

I know that many people voted no because they believe there is hidden money within TransLink; a no vote would clean up TransLink. This is simply not the case.

At the end of the day, new money is needed to improve transit in our region. In the meantime, residents in Metro Vancouver can look forward to more traffic gridlock, more broken-down SkyTrains, more over-crowded buses, and less service in the South of Fraser.

While Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, and Toronto are expanding transit service in a big way, Metro Vancouver can’t even fund a new bus route.

Transit is an important part of attracting businesses to the region. The results of this week’s plebiscite, the provincial government’s refusal to fix TransLink’s governance, and the mayors’ line-in-the-sand approach to property tax means that Metro Vancouver will not live up to its full economic potential.

The added cost of owning a vehicle, congestion, and pollution will further deteriorate the livability and affordability of our region.