Thursday, December 22, 2016

Geeking out about SkyTrain technology and the Evergreen Extension

Have you ever wondered why there is a wide rail in between the regular rails on the SkyTrain network? Well, this is the reaction rail and is part of the unique linear induction motor system used by SkyTrain. I was browsing the dark corners of the transportation-related Internet and discovered a paper called, “Linear Motor Propulsion for Urban Transit” by Kurt Vollenwyder.

Linear induction motor topology. Select image to enlarge.

The SkyTrain was designed in Canada starting in the late 1970s. What made those engineers choose linear induction motors to power the rail rapid transit vehicle of the future?

SkyTrain is an automated system designed for 1980s computers. The linear induction motor design ensured that SkyTrain cars would accelerate and brake without sliding in all-weather conditions. This meant that SkyTrain cars could be deterministically started and stopped.

Linear induction motors also allow SkyTrain cars to operate on high-grades with ease such as the climb from Scott Road to Downtown Surrey, or along North Road.

To learn even more about SkyTrain technology, I suggest that you read the full paper.

Speaking about the Evergreen Extension, on Saturday Paul Hillsdon, Rob Bittner, and I decided to check out the most recent section of our rail rapid transit network. At Moody Centre, we discovered Alex Gaio and Aaron Meier who also decided to check out the Evergreen Extension on the same day. We joined forces.

At Inlet Centre Station with Rob Bittner, Alex Gaio, Paul Hillsdon, and myself. Photo by Aaron Meier. Select image to enlarge.

I snapped some pictures, and uploaded them on Flickr.

Evergreen Extension

This will be my last post of 2016; I’ll be back posting on Tuesday, January 3rd. Merry Christmas and have a great holiday season!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

TransLink’s about face on customer service and regional engagement welcomed

TransLink is an interesting organization. It delivers some of the highest-quality transportation services in Canada. It is known internationally as a great place to work; I have a good number of friends who are transportation planners that would take a job at TransLink in a heart beat. It has also been audited by the provincial government to “find efficiencies,” yet audit after audit states that “the organization is well run and manages its costs.” Maybe TransLink is a little bit too well run because it has a poor reputation in Metro Vancouver.

Providing transit services is a balancing act between servicing high-demand transit corridors, and providing service that while not efficient serves the greater good. In the quest for efficiency, TransLink skewed a bit to much towards providing high-demand service.

A perfect example would be Gloucester Industrial Estates in the Township of Langley. For years, residents and local politicians have wanted a community shuttle between Gloucester and Aldergrove. Due to the location of Gloucester and its business mix, this would not be an efficient bus route. It would likely cost $400,000 per year or more to provide, and would have low ridership. This is why the agency in the past has refused to provide transit service to this area. The route would serve the greater good of the region though.

TransLink has also done a poor job in general communicating with people in Metro Vancouver. When opponents of the agency railed on about how poor it was, no matter how inaccurate the information, TransLink remained silent. I remember being in a meeting with TransLink senior management in the fall of 2013, and telling them that they had a brand problem. They were dismissive. The failed transit referendum was a wake-up call.

Since Kevin Desmond has become CEO of TransLink, I’ve noticed that the agency has markedly improved when it comes to communication. Desmond used to work for King County Transit where engaging with its riders and the broader community was critical to ensuring funding.

TransLink now does a better job communicating with its customers. When there are delays on SkyTrain, there is an announcement every 30 seconds. With the support of the Mayors’ Council, TransLink now has a new 10-year transportation plan that balances efficiency and the greater good. It has also been more visible. It has press conferences more frequently pointing out what the agency is doing. It has been more transparent and open when things don’t go as planned, allowing the media greater access to information.

Now TransLink it far from perfect, but it is good to see that it is working towards doing a better job of listening to the region, and building credibility.

TransLink recently presented its 2017 Business Plan at an open board meeting. There are three priorities for 2017: ensure its transportation infrastructure is in a good state of repair, implement the new 10-year vision for improving transportation in the region, and improve customer experience & public support for the agency.

In the business plan, TransLink’s objectives under the last priority include: improving TranLink’s reputation, increasing ridership, and empowering its employees to meet its customer services standard and corporate objectives.

When it comes to improving TransLink’s reputation, some of the big initiatives include making enhancements to the Compass Card system, developing and implementing a new customer experience strategy, and developing and implementing a brand strategy.

With new leadership in place, and new funding to improve the transportation network in Metro Vancouver, 2017 will be a big year for TransLink.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Toll bridges and taxpayer subsidies: prioritizing transportation investments

No matter whether federally, provincially, or locally, the list of infrastructure and services that can be provided by government is larger than funding available. One of the difficult choices that elected representatives must make is to prioritize where investments are made.

This is especially true when it comes to our transportation network. In Metro Vancouver, there is the region’s vision as articulated in the Mayors’ Council Regional Transportation Vision. There is also the provincial vision which is focused on freeways and bridges.

Road pricing, such as tolling, is an important tool for funding transportation infrastructure and reducing congestion. While tolling covers some of the cost of transportation infrastructure, every new bridge or kilometre of highway requires an increase in taxpayer subsidy. This is true of some transit investments as well.

Not surprisingly, the bigger the bridge, the bigger the subsidy. For example, the Golden Ears Bridge cost to build was $808 million, and was subsidized to the tune of $45 million in 2015.

Golden Ears Bridge taxpayer subsidy from 2011 to 2015. Select chart to enlarge.

The Port Mann Bridge/Highway 1 project cost $2.46 billion to build, and was subsidized to the tune of $82 million in 2016.

Port Mann Bridge taxpayer subsidy from 2011 to 2016. Select chart to enlarge.

The proposed Massey Bridge is going to cost north of $3.5 billion to build, and even with a toll, will have a higher subsidy than the Golden Ears Bridge or Port Mann.

The Mayors’ transportation vision currently has a provincial funding gap of $50 million per year. This plan funds a lot more than one bridge.

Breakdown of major components of Mayors' Plan, and where funding for each component is coming from. Source: Fair Share Funding for 10-Year Transit & Transportation Plan.

Like I said earlier, when it comes to investment decisions and government, it is all about prioritization. It seems that the provincial government has prioritized the Massey Bridge. That wouldn’t have been the decision I made.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Building better streets in the City of Langley: 56 Avenue, 201A Street, and 203 Street

The City of Langley has several roads that are highway-sized, yet have traffic levels which could be comfortably handled by a side street. These streets were built in an era where roads like 53rd Avenue were planned to handle traffic volumes similar to the Langley Bypass. This never happened, nor will happen now.

These highway-sized roads create some challenges such as people treating them like speedways, but they also provide tremendous opportunity. 203rd Street is a great example. This highway-sized street has been redesigned with wider sidewalks, protecting bike lanes, parking, and narrower travel lanes which encourage people to keep the speed limit.

203rd Street of the past. Select image to enlarge. Source: Google Street View.

203rd Street today with wider sidewalks, protecting bike lanes, narrower travel lanes, and parking. Select image to enlarge.

With the recent week of snow, it has been interesting to see how people use our roads. I snapped the following pictures last night.

Parallel parking on 201A Street in the snow. Select image to enlarge.

This street is officially parallel parking only, but as you can see, people are angle-parking. The road is so wide that you could support angle-parking on both sides of the street, and still have room for travel lanes. The following picture shows where people actually drive on that road.

Snow on 201A street shows which part of the street is not used for travel. Select image to enlarge.

As you can see by the snow, there are whole sections of the road that aren’t used. This extra space could be used in the future for wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and more parking.

The City of Langley will be replacing the watermain and storm sewer under 56th Avenue between Glover Road and the Langley Bypass. 56th Avenue is a highway-sized street. As the pavement will need to be replaced anyways because of the underground work, it is a good opportunity to rethink the design of this street.

This is what 56th Avenue looks like today.

56th Avenue today. Select image to enlarge. Source: Google Street View.

This is what is being proposed for 56th Avenue.

Proposed plan for 56th Avenue, east of 206th Street. Select image to enlarge.

Proposed plan for 56th Avenue at Salt Lane. Select image to enlarge.

The City of Langley is seeking your feedback on the design. You can find out more information at the City’s website, and feedback will be accepted until December 23rd.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

December 12th, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: awards and keeping taxis safe

Today will be my last post about Monday night’s City of Langley council meeting. On Tuesday, I posted about the Paddington Station apartment fire. Yesterday, I posted about some of the new polices that council adopted.

Council heard a presentation from Andria McAulay and Rod Wainwright who are members of the Rotary Club. They talked about the SASSY Awards which is sponsored by the four Rotary Clubs of Langley. SASSY stands for Service Above Self Student Youth. The awards recognize youth aged 15 to 21 who live or study in our community in the following categories: Community Service, Youth Leadership, Sports Leadership, Overcoming Adversity, International Service, Environmental Leadership, and Arts & Culture Leadership. You can find out more about these awards on the SASSY website.

Councillor Albrecht and Councillor van den Broek presented awards to the top entrants in the Magic of Christmas Parade as follows:

Presentation of the Magic of Christmas Parade Awards. Select image to enlarge.

Corporate Award: Lisa Dew – Lisa’s School of Dance
Private Award: Theresa Rider – Snow Queen
Community Award: Marcel Horn – Langley United Soccer Association

Later during the meeting, council gave first, second, and third reading to bylaw 3002 and bylaw 3010 regarding chauffeur permits.

In the City of Langley if you chauffeur people professionally (ie: a taxi driver), you need a permit. This permit is issued once people who have applied have been vetted by the RCMP. The current bylaw was created before I was born, and was due for an update.

The new bylaws will enable the RCMP to establish guidelines and policies to evaluate whether applicants are fit and proper persons to act as chauffeurs. If a person doesn’t meet the guidelines or policies, they can be denied a permit.

If a person is found to be operating as a professional chauffeur in the City without a permit, the updated bylaws would see an escalating fine starting at $500 for the first offense, increasing to $2,000 for the third offense.

These bylaws ensure that our community remains safe.

Council also gave final reading to bylaws which I previously posted about including the hotel tax, and new water and sewer rates for 2017.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

December 12th, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: Moving forward with task groups, committees, and flags

Monday night was the last City of Langley council meeting of the year. Yesterday, I posted about the fire update we received.

One of the things that I hear from Langley City residents is that they want City Hall to continue to get things done that improve the quality of life for people who live, work, and visit our community. As part of moving forward with getting things done, we must evaluate how we do things to see if improvements can be made to help meet our goals.

The City of Langley historically had committees with broad mandates on what they could recommend council to act on. The City also had task groups with specific mandates. These task groups have been highly successful and have included the:

  • Brydon Lagoon Task Group
  • Homelessness Action Table
  • Homelessness Integration Team
  • Increase the Number of Rent Supplements in Langley Task Group
  • Support Integrated Intervention Approaches in Housing and Health Task Group
  • Develop a Sustainable Program to Deter Crime and Target “Crime” Hot Spots Task Group

Both task groups and committees are made up of volunteers from our community.

Parks, recreation, environment, public arts & culture, public safety, and homelessness matters are extremely important to the City. After careful consideration and evaluation, it was determined that task groups with specific mandates were the best way to get things done on these important matters. City council approved changes to our policies to move away from committees to task groups.

Because the “Develop a Sustainable Program to Deter Crime and Target ‘Crime’ Hot Spots Task Group” still has work to be done, the task group’s mandate was renewed. I’m looking forward to other task groups being created to provide specific recommendations to council moving forward.

Council members also sit on over 25 various committees in our communities such as the CPR Railway, Township and City Advisory Panel, Healthier Community Partnerships, and Langley Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Committee. Council approved the list of our appointments to these various committees.

Earlier this year, council asked City staff to update our flag policy to allow the rainbow flag to be flown for 7 days during the summer to show that we acknowledge and respect all people regardless of their colour, race, region, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or mental or physical disability. City council approved an updated flag policy which now enables the rainbow flag to be flown for 7 days during the summer.

Tomorrow, I will post about the remaining items that were on Monday’s council agenda.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

December 12th, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: Paddington Station Fire Update and the BC Building Code

Yesterday was the last council meeting of 2016. As such, many of the items discussed at previous council meetings were wrapped up. I will be posting about these and other items tomorrow, but first I want to provide an update about the Paddington Station Fire. For the most up to date information, please visit the City of Langley’s website.

Fire Chief Rory Thompson provided council with an update about the Paddington Station apartment fire. Our Fire Rescue Service spent most of yesterday helping residents get back into the building to retrieve essential valuables such as passports and prescriptions. The fourth floor of the building had the most damage due to the roof failure, so about half of the units could be accessed. Today, work will begin to retrieve vehicles out of the underground parking.

The Langley Emergency Program will continue to help people who are still impacted by the fire, and will work with people who don’t have insurance to put them in contact with community service organizations.

Paddington Station is one townhouse building, plus two apartment buildings. The building restoration company got power and the fire alarm system working for the buildings where there was no fire. These systems were integrated between the buildings.

The City of Langley Fire Rescue Service will begin a full investigation of the fire though there are strong indications that the fire started on a fourth-floor patio, and quickly spread to the attic and roof.

The BC Building Code is under the jurisdiction of the provincial government. Chief Thompson noted that a previous version of the BC Building Code required sprinklers on patios, but this was removed. Thompson stated that if there were sprinkler on the patio, the outcome of the fire would have been different. While I can’t speak for all of council, I feel that we will likely be working to lobby the province to get sprinklers in places to prevent a Paddington Station-scale fire from happening again.

Finally, Chief Thompson talked about how Fire crews saved an elderly man on the fourth floor of the building just moments before fire entered his unit. First responders deserve a lot of credit for safely rescuing all the people in the building, and preventing any loss of life.

Langley is a caring community, and many businesses such as the Cascades Casino, Starbucks, Tim Hortons, London Drugs, and Save-On-Foods were ready with food, accommodation, and other essential items to help people impacted by the fire.

If you would like to help people impacted by the fire financially, please call the Gateway of Hope at 604-514-7375. To donate clothing and baby items, please call Zealous Art Studio at 604-533-0490.

*UPDATE* Many organizations that have previously offered to receive physical donations are at capacity. If you would like to assist in this time of need, please email Paddington Station Strata Council at with the subject line: Looking to Support Paddington Station Evacuees.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Where to find information about the Paddington Station Fire

The Gateway of Hope will be accepting financial donations. Please call them at 604 514-7375 for more information.

On Saturday morning, one of the buildings in the Paddington Station strata caught fire. City and Township of Langley Fire crews were able to contain the fire. The Langley Times has an article with more details.

The Langley Emergency Program setup a reception centre at Douglas Recreation Centre for residents of 5650, 5660 and 5640 201 A Street yesterday. Volunteers are registering residents of these buildings to ensure that they get access to 72-hours of accommodation, meals, clothes, and other essential items.

I was at the reception centre and was told that not only were Fire crews ensuring that people were safe and the fire was contained, but they also worked hard to rescue pets that were trapped in the buildings.

This is the largest emergency in the City of Langley in the last 15 years.

As of the time of this post, evacuees who have not attended the evacuee-only information session last night are encouraged to visit the reception centre in Douglas Recreation Centre at 20550 Douglas Crescent between 8:30am and 4:30pm today. An information session has been scheduled for 12:00pm at Douglas Recreation Centre for evacuees only today.

For the most current information, please visit the City of Langley’s website.

Langley City is a caring community, and I know that people will want information on how they can help. The City will be gathering information on how people can help. Again, please check out the City’s website for this information over the next few days.

My thoughts and prays are with the people who have be impacted by this fire.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

December 5th, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: Homelessness related issues impact City’s bottom line, and other updates

On Tuesday, I posted about a proposed townhouse project along 198th Street. Yesterday, I posted about bylaws and reports that were on last Monday’s council meeting agenda. Today will be the last post about that meeting, and I will cover the remaining items.

As everyone in Langley City is aware, there has been an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community. Over the summer, people were camping in the Nicomekl Floodplain park system. A BC Supreme Court ruling allows camping in parks with certain limitation. Getting people a way out of homelessness is critical. The Gateway of Hope with the help of BC Housing has increased the number of shelter spaces temporally. Of course this is not enough, and more work still needs to be done.

Homelessness related issues had an impact on the bottom line of the City as well this year. The budget for vandalism was $103,125.00 in 2016. It is projected that the City will have spent $192,600.00 on addressing vandalism this year. As a result, council approved $89,500.00 to be taken out of the Enterprise Fund to cover these additional costs. The Enterprise Fund can be used to cover unbudgeted expenses.

The Mayor noted in the meeting that the City is currently working on a protocol or bylaw that could help reduce the amount of abandoned shopping carts in our community.

Council Storteboom wanted the City of Langley to put forward the following resolution for the upcoming Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference about “Standard Remediation of Properties used as Marijuana Grow Operations and Clandestine Drug Laboratories.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) petition the government of Canada to establish a comprehensive standard of remediation for residential and commercial properties affected by the cultivation of agriculture and/or the manufacture of drugs, whether legal or illegal, to acceptable health and safety standards for reoccupation by residents and the protection of investors and underwriters.

Council approved forwarding this motion to the conference for debate.

Rick Bomhof provided an update on engineering and parks projects. Bomhof highlighted the following new items since the last update including:

  • Finishing the removal of infected trees at Hunter Park.
  • Painting “See Tracks? Think Train” signs on sidewalks at some of the rail crossings.
  • Adding water service to Penzer Park.
  • Completing a new boardwalk at Sendall Gardens.
  • Continuing to work on the 203th Street corridor. The roundabout will be finished around mid-December.
  • Installing Downtown Christmas decorations.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

December 5th, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: Water and sewer rate changes in 2017, plus housekeeping items

Yesterday, I posted about a townhouse project that is being proposed along 198th Street near 55th Avenue. Today, I will be focusing on bylaws and reports that were on the agenda at Monday night’s council meeting.

Two of the bylaws that were given first, second, and third reading addressed utility rates for 2017. Metro Vancouver is increasing the rate it charges the City of Langley for water and sewer services. Because of this increase, the City is proposing to adjust the rates it charges for water and sewer services.

For water services, the $50 flat fee remains unchanged while the consumption-based charge will increase to $1.17 per cubic meter. For the average single-family home, this will work out to about a $3.30 increase. For the average strata home, this will work out to about a $1.90 increase over what was paid in 2016.

For sewer services, the $50 flat fee remains unchanged while the usage charge will increase to $1.06 per cubic meter. The increase will also allow the City to be able to fund the replacement of aging sewer infrastructure. For the average single-family home, this will work out to a $21.12 increase. For the average strata home, this will work out to about a $12.16 increase over what was paid in 2016.

An update to the Municipal Ticking Information System bylaw was also giving first, second, and third reading. The is a housekeeping item with the biggest change being the addition of a schedule of fines from our Waterworks Regulation Bylaw.

The City of Langley recently completed an Environmentally Sensitive Areas Mapping Study. The results of the study are proposed to be incorporated into our Official Community Plan. To update the Official Community Plan, consultation with the community is required. Consultation was an important part of the process of creating the Environmentally Sensitive Areas Mapping Study, and a public hearing on updating the Official Community Plan will be schedule near the end of January. At Monday’s meeting, council approved the process to update the Official Community Plan.

The City of Langley is planning to upgrade the underground and above-ground infrastructure along a section of Douglas Crescent. While council already authorized the City to seek federal funding for this project, there was additional work which needed to be included in the project which required a re-authorization by council to seek increased federal funding. Council approved the request.

Council also approved our Director of Development Services & Economic Development to attend the APA 2017 National Planning Conference which is budgeted.

Council approved the Council Meeting schedule for 2017 which will be posted online soon.

Tomorrow, I will cover the remaining items that were on the agenda.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

December 5th, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: 198th Street Corridor - New townhouse project approved, plus road safety and parking concerns heard

Last night was the penultimate City of Langley council meeting for the year. As normal, I will be putting up multiple posts about the meeting. Today, I want to focus on a townhouse project that was ultimately approved by council.

The Nicomekl Neighbourhood in the City is transitioning from an area of single-family housing to an area with apartments and townhouses. When a neighbourhood is being redeveloped, there can be growing pains.

Map of area as provide by proponent of the townhouse project. Includes current zoning. Select image to enlarge.

As I observed last night, people were supportive of the design of the townhouse project. People’s concerns were focused around the potential externalities of the new project.

Rendering of townhouse project. View form 199th Street. Select image to enlarge.

Some residents along 198th Street -between 53rd Avenue and 56th Avenue- expressed concern about the number of people driving along 198th Street, the speed of the vehicles on that street, and on-street parking in the area. These are legitimate concerns that should be addressed.

The proponent of this project held a neighbourhood open house to let people give feedback, and learn about the project. Based on that feedback, the proponent made some design changes to the townhouse project.

In some apartment buildings, large pickup trucks cannot fit into underground parking. Some of these vehicles get parked on-street as a result. The proponent of this project ensured that these larger vehicles would be able to use the provided on-site parking. Many on council, including myself, noted that we may need to review height requirements for underground parking.

To make the intersections around the project safer for all modes for travel, the proponent is adding curb bulges which is a best practice for urban streets. This will also help manage on-street parking. I hope this design can be rolled out to all intersections along 198th Street.

The proponent had a traffic engineering firm do a vehicle traffic count between November 21st and 28th. They also observed the demand for on-street parking in the area twice; once was at 4:30pm, and another was at 8:00pm last month.

They found that there was always an on-street parking spot available at least every 100 meters (one block). Parking along 198th Street is currently not managed. If there wasn’t an available parking spot every block or so, managed parking could be considered in the area. This is not the case yet.

The traffic engineering firm also found that people traveled the speed-limit for the most part along the 198th Street corridor, but didn’t slow down to 30km/h for the playground zone around Brydon Park. While not related to this project, it looks like the City may need to put in traffic calming around that playground area.

198th Street was designed to handle about 10,000 motor vehicles per day. Based on last month’s traffic count, there is an average of 4,000 vehicles per day. During peak travel periods, there is 350 vehicles per hour which is well under the 700 vehicles per hour limit where congestion would occur. That road could handle double the traffic that is on it today.

Based on the information presented at last night’s meeting, I am satisfied that the 198th Street corridor can accommodate future higher-density housing with the caveat that we work towards making safer intersections, keep an eye on on-street parking demand, and put in traffic calming where required.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Strong public support for improving walking and cycling connectivity to the proposed replacement Pattullo Bridge

Artist drawing of proposed replacement Pattullo Bridge. Select image to enlarge.

In October, I posted about some of the design options that were being considered for the replacement Pattullo Bridge. TransLink was seeking public feedback on the design at that time with a focus on cycling and walking connectivity between Surrey and New Westminster.

TransLink has recently released the results of the public consultation in which 2,233 people participated. 60% of participants, a clear majority, supported both improving cycling and walking infrastructure in Surrey and New Westminster, connecting to and along the bridge.

Around 15% of the people who provided written feedback on walking/cycling connectivity noted that they opposed these improvements because there aren’t many people walking or cycling in the area today.

Giving the state of the Pattullo Bridge and surrounding road network, it is no surprise that people only drive. Generally, when improvements are made to make cycling and walking safer and more inviting, more people will walk or cycle.

One of the interesting questions asked about New Westminster walking access was whether people would support grade-level crossings with flashing crosswalk lights, or an overpass at the Royal Avenue On-Ramp. There was clear support for the overpass, and little support for the at-grade crosswalk.

It is interesting to see that about a third of the people who provided written comments on overpasses vs. at-grade crossings, didn’t support at-grade crossings because they “interrupt traffic flow.” There are traffic lights throughout New Westminster and Surrey that interrupt traffic flow, so whether you queue near the bridge or the next light, it likely doesn’t really matter as far as increasing travel time goes.

One thing I know about walking/cycling overpasses is that people will only use them if there are no other options. If there is even the slightest chance of crossing at-grade, people will do that. I hope the design of walking and cycling access for the Pattullo Bridge takes this into account, and reduces the barriers to walking and cycling safely as much as possible.

People who participated in the public consultation process were also giving the opportunity to provide additional feedback. Of all the additional feedback received, only around 30% of people commented about their opposition to tolling.

For more information about the public feedback received, check out the full report.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Celebration the start of the Christmas Season this Saturday in Downtown Langley

It is December 1st today which means that in my household, the Christmas season has officially begun. The Advent Calendar has started counting down, the Christmas tree is up, and festive baking is in progress.

The City of Langley is also getting into the Christmas spirit. If you go around Downtown, you’ll see Christmas lights wrapped around street trees and decorations on street lights. This Saturday, the City is kicking off the countdown to Christmas with two family-friendly events.

Breakfast with Santa. Select poster to enlarge.

At Douglas Recreation Centre this Saturday, you can have Breakfast with Santa between 9:00am and 11:00am. There will be crafts, painting, and breakfast, plus a visit from Santa. Tickets are $10, and children under 3 can attend for free.

Later in the afternoon, come and celebrate the Magic of Christmas. Starting at 4:00pm in McBurney Plaza, check out crafts and live entertainment. At 6:00pm, see the Christmas parade which runs from 56 Avenue to 207 Street. Afterwards, come see the Christmas tree in McBurney Plaza be officially lite at 7pm, and join or listen to caroling in the plaza.

Magic of Christmas. Select poster to enlarge.

It’s Christmas time in Langley, and what better way to celebrate than in our Downtown this Saturday!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Major changes to the bus network with start of Evergreen Extension. More stops for the 595.

With December only a day away, it means some major changes are coming to our transit network. On Friday, December 2nd, the Evergreen Extension of the Millennium Line will open at noon. TransLink will be hosting events throughout the day at Coquitlam Central Station, and between 4:00pm and 7:30pm at the other new stations. “Festive cookies” will be provided at the new stations. For more information about Evergreen Extension events, visit TransLink’s Evergreen page.

The start of December also means changes to the bus network. On December 19th, there will be a series of changes to the bus network in the Tri-Cities area. The following map shows the new transit network of the Northeast Sector.

Maps of the new transit network in the Northeast Sector starting December 19th. Select map to enlarge.

TransLink is also discontinuing the 135 route, and replacing it with the 95 B-Line along Hastings Street. The 160 route will be shortened.

Map of the new 95 B-Line along Hastings, and changes to the 160 route. Select map to enlarge.

Other major changes include replacing the West Coast Express TrainBus with an extension of some trips of the 701 route to Mission. These trips will have the same arrival and departure times in Mission as the TrainBus. The 595 which serves the 208 Street corridor in Willoughby will be getting additional stops along that route.

For more information about all the route changes, please check out TransLink’s website.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Using your tax dollars wisely: How does Langley City stack up?

The BC Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development recently released a series of statistics about local governments for the year 2015. With this year coming to an end, local governments throughout the province are beginning the process of developing their 2017 budgets and financial plans.

One of the things that I find interesting is the different ways that local governments allocate the tax revenue that they receive to provide local services to their residents. I thought it would be informative to compare the City of Langley to other municipalities within Metro Vancouver.

It would be difficult to compare Langley City to other communities in other regional districts, as different regional districts provide different services to local governments. In our region, the big-ticket items that Metro Vancouver provides are water and sewer services. Also, labour costs for similar local government jobs in our region are fairly consistent.

For comparison, I used White Rock, Pitt Meadows, and Port Moody which have similar populations. All information is from 2015, and are operating costs. Operating costs do not include the cost of capital projects such as putting in a new playground, reconstructing a road, or building a new community centre as examples.

White Rock Population: 19,327
Pitt Meadows Population: 19,652
Langley City Population: 27,738
Port Moody Population: 34,554

2015 Select Municipal Expenses for White Rock, Pitt Meadows, Langley City, and Port Moody. Source: 2015 British Columbia Local Government Statistics Schedule 402. Select table to enlarge.

The general rule of thumb is that as a municipality's population grows, so does the level of services provided. I did want to point out some outliers though.

Pitt Meadows has lower policing costs. It is also a rural municipality with 86% of its land being agricultural. The other communities are urban centres.

Langley City doesn’t provide recycling services, it is provided by Multi-Material BC which is funded by the private sector.

White Rock had lower water services operating costs in 2015 because it had a private water utility at that time. White Rock has higher transportation costs, but it also has a significant parking revenue stream.

Port Moody invests significantly more in the operation of its parks and recreation facilities. Langley City invests less in its parks and recreation facilities operations compared to other municipalities given its population.

Looking at these numbers, Langley City is certainly not a spendthrift. In the case of recycling services, it is actually saving taxpayers a significant sum of money.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Massive gap between affordable housing supply and demand requires a regional response

The lack of affordable housing in Metro Vancouver is one of the most pressing challenges facing our region. It impacts everything from the increasing number of people who are experiencing homelessness in our communities, to the future economic prosperity of our region.

As an example, for households that made under $50,000 per year between 2011 and 2014, there was an unmet need for 9,000 long-term rental units that would be considered affordable. This number is only going to grow.

The follow chart is an estimate of the number of housing units that will be needed in the region over the next decade. Most of this need will not be able to be met by the market rental or ownership models.

Metro Vancouver housing demand by household income. Estimated net additional rental housing from 2016 to 2026.

Earlier this year, I posted about Metro Vancouver’s Regional Housing Strategy. Strategies are important to have, and having a path towards implementing strategies is critical. In order to implement its Regional Housing Strategy, Metro Vancouver has developed an implementation plan with the following key points:

  1. Undertake a strategic assessment of Metro Vancouver affordable housing role(s)
  2. Establish MVHC-specific and Metro Vancouver-supported affordable rental housing targets
  3. Review and update evaluation criteria for selecting sites for development/redevelopment of affordable rental housing
  4. Prepare a comprehensive asset management plan for MVHC housing complexes
  5. Identify and prepare MVHC Board policies related to affordable rental housing

The Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation (MVHC) is the regional-district owned housing provider. BC Housing provides funding for housing optioning including shelters, supportive housing, subsidized housing, and rental assistance. The federal government also provides funding for reducing homelessness and supporting affordable housing options. The feds are currently in the midst of creating a new National Housing Strategy.

Both the province and the feds look to partners to build and operate the housing options that they support. While municipalities do and can work directly with the province and federal government to get affordable housing options in their community, it results in an uneven distribution of affordable housing within our region.

MVHC may be in the best position to advocate for, building, and/or operate affordable housing options in our region. It has the scale and operationally history to support affordable housing options creation throughout Metro Vancouver. Homelessness and the lack of affordable housing is a regional issue, and it should be addressed at a regional level.

Our region is at its best when we work together to improve the lives of people within Metro Vancouver. I’m hopefully that our municipalities will come together to advocate for, and obtain funding to, build and operate affordable housing options regionally.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A recap of Metro Conversations #1: Short-term rentals, tourism, and what it means for long-term rental affordability

Experts from left to right: Tej Kainth, Lindsay Kaisaris, and Ian Marjoribanks. Select image to enlarge.

Last night was the very first Metro Conversations. Metro Conversations is based on the format of the SFU City Conversations where experts and other attendees engage in a conversation about an urban topic. The difference is that Metro Conversations starts where the City of Vancouver border ends.

Short-term rentals and their impact was the inaugural topic. We had Lindsay Kaisaris who is the owner of Re-up BBQ and an AirBnB Operator, Tej Kainth who is the Executive Director of Tourism New Westminster, and Ian Marjoribanks who is a UBC SCARP student and AirBnB researcher.

This conversation was recorded, and I will post it online once it is available, but I wanted to highlight some of the broad themes that emerged last night.

Marjoribanks noted that home ownership is heavily subsidized in Canada by way of CMHC-insured mortgages and primary residence property tax relief. He noted short-term rental operators are taking advantage of these subsidies for profit whereas other accommodation providers can not. He also noted that short-term rentals reduce long-term rental stock in the region.

Kaisaris noted that AirBnB has helped her family make ends meet even with the high-cost of housing because it has allowed them to monetize a spare room. Other attendees also shared anecdotes about friends who have used short-term rentals as a way to either help pay rent or a mortgage.

I think that everyone in the room recognized that short-term rentals need to have some form of regulatory framework and taxation. For example, Kainth noted that Tourism New Westminster not only markets that community to attract tourist dollars, but also provides marketing resources that are being used by short-term rental hosts. One of the ways that some organizations such as Tourism New Westminster are funded is by a hotel tax, in some municipalities. Should the hotel tax model be extended to short-term rentals? Likely.

Also, traditional accommodations need business licenses, and have a higher safety and accessibility standard that their buildings must meet. There was a general feeling that short-term hosts should also have to adhere to some minimal set of standards and licensing.

One of the more thought provoking parts of the conversation was around the impact of short-term rentals on the affordability of long-term rental units in Metro Vancouver. Marjoribanks stated that some of the wealth created from short-term rentals should be pumped into building purpose-built affordable rental units in the region.

What exactly affordability is was never defined, but I think affordable housing will need to extend to include some middle-class people that traditionally have never part of the affordable rental conversation.

Kaisaris stated that she and other short-term rental hosts would be good with paying a tax or fee which would be used to build more affordable long-term rental units in the region.

This blog post only highlighted a fraction of the hour-long conversation. The next conversation will be hosted in the City of Langley in February, and topic will be “Affordability: Knocking down old apartments without kicking people to the street; aka, How to build mixed-income communities outside of Vancouver.”

Councillor Patrick Johnstone from New Westminster hosted this conversation. Councillor Mathew Bond from the District of North Vancouver and Kiersten Duncan from Maple Ridge are also part of our Metro Conversations organizing committee.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

November 21th, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: City's corporate GHG emissions down, Timms wins an award.

Yesterday, I posted about two development related items that were on the agenda at Monday night’s council meeting. Today, I’ll be posting about the other items that were on the agenda.

The City of Langley is a signatory of the BC Climate Action Charter, and as such participates in the Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program. This program provides a 100% refund of the carbon tax paid by the City of Langley because it:

  • Is carbon natural.
  • Measures and reports on its community GHG emissions profile.
  • Creates complete, compact, and energy efficient urban communities.

As you can see from the following table, the City’s GHG emissions from its operations have been declining since 2008 which is good news. The City has been investing in reducing its GHG emissions by upgrading to more energy efficient lighting, heating/cooling systems, and vehicles. The City recently upgraded the boiler at Al Anderson Pool which was the largest single-source of GHG emissions within the City’s operations. The new boiler should reduce GHG emissions by about 30%.

City of Langley's direct GHG emissions from 2008 to 2015. Select table to enlarge.

The follow table shows which parts of the City’s operations create the most GHG, and consume the most energy.

City of Langley's Corporate Energy & Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, 2015. Select table to enlarge.

Nigel Thom from the Fibromyalgia Well Spring Foundation presented on their awareness walk for invisible illnesses. They started this walk in Langley on May 24th, and ended their journey on June 28th. They walked for 39 days and traveled 1100km. You can read more about this walk on their website. Thom also noted that they are working with BC Housing towards building and operating an affordable housing lodge for people with invisible illness.

Mayor Schaffer presented the award that the City of Langley won for the Timms Community Centre, received at the Fraser Valley Commercial Building Awards for best built community institutional building in 2015. You can find out more information about this in the Langley Times.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November 21th, 2016 Council Meeting Notes: Mini-apartment on 203rd Street approved, rezoning for townhouses on 198th Street.

I will be posting about last night’s City of Langley council meeting in two parts. Today, I’ll be focusing on a development permit and a rezoning application.

Several years ago, the City of Langley realigned 203rd Street at Douglas Crescent/56 Avenue. This created two odd-sized empty parcels of land. Tim Hortons is now on one of those parcels. The other parcel of land is located at 203rd Street and Michaud Crescent, and was the subject of a development permit last night.

The size of the parcel is around 6,000 square feet which is similar in size to many of our single-family lots in the City, and is odd-shaped. What was proposed last night, and ultimate approved by council, was what I would call a mini-apartment building. This seven-unit apartment has units which range in size from around 900 sq. ft. to 2,000 sq. ft.

Rendering of apartment at 203rd Street and Michaud Crescent that was approved by council. Select image to enlarge.

To make this all happen, the building is not setback from the sidewalk, but abuts it. This is a good thing because it helps create a street-wall which makes walking more pleasant, and creates a sense of place. As part of the development, the sidewalks around the building will be significantly widened, and will include on-street bike parking. One of the things that I noticed in the drawings is that it mentions concrete unit pavers for the sidewalk “to be specified by the City of Langley.” I’m hoping this means a solid concrete sidewalk as well as pavers like other newer sidewalks downtown.

One of the interesting things about this project is its ground-level parkade which you’d never be able to tell was there from 203rd Street as it includes large, one-way windows. One of the challenges with ground-level parking is that it usually results in the creation of an unpleasant streetscape which can include unappealing blank concrete walls or surface parking lots. This design is a marked improvement from other ground-level parking in the City’s downtown area.

While I’d have liked to have seen ground-level retail at this site as well, I don’t think it would have fit.

There were people at the council meeting, and who sent in letters to council, from the adjacent building. They were concerned about this project. Over the years, they have added two extra parking spaces to the back of their building, and moved their solid waste bins onto the property where the new apartment will be built. They were not happy that they must now go back to the original, city-approved design for their building.

The design of this apartment building is a good example of adding gentle-density on small lots.

Council also gave first and second reading for a rezoning to accommodate a 28-unit townhouse development at 198 Street and 55 Avenue as shown.

View of proposed townhouse development from 55th Avenue. Select image to enlarge.

View of proposed townhouse development from 198th Street. Select image to enlarge.

A public hearing will now be scheduled to get public feedback on this proposed rezoning and development.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Township of Langley's and Metro Vancouver's land-use plans coming back together

The Township of Langley and Metro Vancouver had a dispute around the Regional Growth Strategy that focused on the Trinity Western University District. Metro Vancouver ended up taking the Township to court. You can read the full details of this in previous posts on this blog. The short of it is that the courts agreed with the Township of Langley.

Currently, the Township of Langley is the last municipality in the region whose Official Community Plan’s Regional Context Statements haven’t been accepted by the Metro Vancouver Board. Regional Context Statements are what links a municipality’s Official Community Plan to the Regional Growth Strategy. At this Friday’s Metro Vancouver Board meeting, it is likely that the Township’s Regional Context Statements will be accepted.

This is very good news as it will mean that all municipalities in Metro Vancouver will be following the Regional Growth Strategy. Forcing a Regional Growth Strategy on a municipality is never a good idea, and this is essentially what the courts said a well. To have a region where 21 municipalities and one treaty First Nation can come to a consensus on a Regional Growth Strategy that: creates a compact urban area, supports a sustainable economy, protects the environment and responds to climate change impacts, develops complete communities, and supports sustainable transportation choices speaks to the success of BC’s regional district model.

The follow map shows the proposed regional land-use map for the Township of Langley.

New proposed regional land-use designations for the Township of Langley. Select map to enlarge.

This map was the regional land-use map which was the cause of the court case.

Originally proposed regional land-use designations for the Township of Langley. Select map to enlarge.

I look forward to the Metro Vancouver Board accepting the Township’s Regional Context Statements. One of the things to note is that the area marked “1” on the first map will only become general urban subject to the approval of the provincial Agricultural Land Commission. Right now that land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sign up for Metro Conversations 1: Does the rise of short-term rentals help or hurt our cities?

Metro Conversations 1 Poster.

Earlier this week, I posted about a new series of urban-issues conversations that Councillor Mathew Bond from the District of North Vancouver, Kiersten Duncan from Maple Ridge, Patrick Johnstone from New Westminster, and I are hosting. These conversations are modeled after SFU City Conversations. Over the coming year, we hope to host conversations in the District of North Vancouver, Langley City, and Maple Ridge.

Today, I wanted to share some more information about the conversation that is taking place next Wednesday in New Westminster.

Does the rise of short-term rentals help or hurt our cities?

Lindsay Kaisaris, Owner Re-up BBQ and AirBnB Operator
Tej Kainth, Executive Director of Tourism New Westminster
Ian Marjoribanks, UBC SCARP student and researcher

Date and Time:
Wed, November 23, 2016
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM PST

The Network Hub @ The River Market
810 Quayside Drive
New Westminster, BC V3M 6B9

Seating is limited, so while attendance is free and open, we recommend that you reserve your seat.

Reserve you seat at Eventbrite

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Strong public support for TransLink’s 10-Year Vision

Map of improvements proposed in TransLink's 10-Year Vision.

Last month, TransLink engaged in a public consultation process to see what people thought about the agency's proposed 10-Year Vision for the region. I’ve posted a few times about what this would mean for the South of Fraser and the rest of the region if approved.

TransLink recently released the results of the public consultation which saw 5,000 questionnaires completed and 300 people attend public open houses throughout the region. So, what did people have to say about the plan?

It should come as no surprise, but there is broad regional support for expanded transit service throughout Metro Vancouver. Only about 4% of the comments received expressed concern with some, or opposition to all, of phase one of the plan. In fact, many people said that the plan didn’t go far enough. Given that this is only phase one of a three phase plan, more transit investment is coming when the funding becomes available.

While people are supportive of expanding transit, the real question is are they willing to pay for that expansion of service. 6% of the comments received were around concerns with the proposed fare increases and 4% around concerns with the proposed property tax increases. 15% of the comments received stated that TransLink should find other ways to pay for the expansion of service or find “internal savings.”

During the failed transportation plebiscite much was said about TransLink waste, but that turned out to be a red herring. In fact to pay for phase one of the 10-Year Vision, TransLink is using $100 million from the sale of property; selling assets.

It is very positive to see that around 70% of the comments received were generally supportive of plan's funding mix. I believe that people understand that if you want to expand service, taxation revenue is required. People in our region really want to see transit service expanded.

On November 23rd, this plan will be brought forward to the TransLink Board and Mayors’ Council at a joint meeting for potential approval.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

New Westminster’s approach to reducing homelessness relevant to Langley City

The increasing numbers of people who are experiencing homelessness isn’t just occurring in Langley, it is happening in communities throughout Metro Vancouver. New Westminster was a canary in the coal mine.

At the turn of the century, a combination of events led to increased crime, an economic downturn, and an increase in the number of people who were experiencing homelessness in their downtown. Between 2002 and 2008, there was a 118% increase in the number of people who were homeless from 33 to 72.

The City of New Westminster took an integrated approach to reduce the number of people who were homeless, reduce crime, and improve the economic prosperity of its downtown.

Yesterday, New Westminster invited councillors from the City of Langley and Maple Ridge to learn about their approach. I was able to attend.

Talking and learning about New Westminster's approach to reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness.

Throughout the morning, both councillors and municipal staff talked about the importance of taking an integrate approach to tackling the challenge of reducing the number of people who were homelessness in their community.

At a municipal level, it meant having the New Westminster Police, bylaw enforcement, bylaws, and business licensing working together. For example, the City of New Westminster was able to use this approach to target and eliminate businesses that generated unsavoury activity.

The City also helped create the New Westminster Homelessness Coalition which includes representation from the City, police, the school district, non-profits, faith organizations, the province, Fraser Health, academics, and the Downtown New Westminster BIA. Combined with the City’s full-time social planner, this enabled concrete action to be taken.

Working together, $24.5 million in provincial funding was used to build facilities such as the Russell Housing Centre and Rhoda Kaellis Residence which are operated by the Lookout Emergency Aid Society. We toured these facilities yesterday.

Rhoda Kaellis Residence roof-top garden.

Outside Russell Housing Centre.

Inside Russell Housing Centre which is an accessible facility.

One of the things that I noticed right away was that the housing facilities blend into the community. There weren’t people loitering around. The facilities themselves were also well kept. I know that some people are concerned that supportive housing facilities bring negative activity to an area, but the reality in New Westminster is that they help support bring positive activity to an area.

Today there are 54 shelter spaces, 36 extreme-weather shelter spaces, and 114 long-term transitional and supportive housing units in the City of New Westminster. Between 2008 and 2014, there was a 54% decrease in the number of people experiencing homelessness to 34.

The number of people experiencing homelessness has increased in recent years as housing affordability has become a major challenge in the region. The City of New Westminster is looking for financial support from the provincial and federal governments to continue to invest in their community's supportive and transitional housing facilities.

One of the other innovative programs in New West is paying people who are transitioning out of homelessness to clean up, and kept an eye out, in their downtown core.

New Westminster and the City of Langley are very similar. We both have a small geographical footprint; New West is 15 sq. km, Langley City is 10 sq. km. We are also both communities that are redeveloping, and are urban cores.

Using New Westminster as a template for the City of Langley on how to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness is something that I fully support.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Conversation about urban issues extends beyond Boundary Road, Metro Vancouver Councillors say.

Metro Conversations

A group of City Councillors from around the Metro Vancouver region want to bring “urbanist” conversations to their communities. Their first event will be in New Westminster on November 23 with a conversation about AirBnB, and how it fits into the city-making context.

The idea started at a Vancouver urban planning event. A group of newly-elected City Councillors from “the suburbs” were invited to Downtown Vancouver to take part in the SFU City Conversation program, a regular meet-up series dedicated to talking about urban issues.

“We were all interested in continuing the conversation,” says Mathew Bond from the District of North Vancouver. “We recognized these issues are relevant to the entire region, not just Downtown Vancouver, and we wanted to bring the conversation out to our own communities.”

Bond, along with Nathan Pachal of the City of Langley, Kiersten Duncan of Maple Ridge, and Patrick Johnstone of New Westminster, are putting together a series of meet-up events visiting each of their communities, as part of a plan to create a larger conversation, in person and online. The City Conversation format is short on experts talking and longer on a facilitated discussion with the audience, perfect for sharing diverse ideas.

The first topic for discussion is the prickly issue of regulating Short Term Rentals.

“The topic of Short Term Rentals is being discussed around the region,” says Johnstone. “Lots of people see AirBnB and VRBO as a great boon for tourism, while others worry about what it means for their neighbourhoods and for our really tight rental stock. We can’t put our head in the sand, we need to understand the issues.”

“We have brought together a panel of people who understand the issue, including an AirBnB operator, a Tourism expert, a researcher who studies the impact on housing affordability. It won’t be boring lecture; we are going to make this a conversation between the panel and the audience.”

The first Metro Conversation will be on November 23rd at 6:30pm at the Network Hub in the River Market in New Westminster. It is free to everyone, but seating is limited, so the organizers ask that you register at their Eventbrite page to assure your seat.

Date and Time
Wed, November 23, 2016
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM PST

The Network Hub @ The River Market
810 Quayside Drive
New Westminster, BC V3M 6B9

Register now at Eventbrite.