Thursday, April 28, 2016

Homelessness Strategic Plan adopted, but action still needed

In 2008, the “Action Strategy for Addressing Homelessness” for Langley was released. Unfortunately, little action was actually taken. Skip forward to 2014. The number of people experiencing homelessness in Langley City continues to climb, and becomes an issue during that year’s fall municipal election.

Once the election was over, Langley City Council put together a Homelessness Reduction Taskforce. The main deliverable of the taskforce was the City of Langley Homelessness Strategic Plan.

Before a community can actually do any work, you first need a plan. The problem is that many governments are great at creating plans, but not so great at actually following through on those plans. The 2008 Action Strategy for Addressing Homelessness is the perfect example.

So is there anything different about the City of Langley’s new homelessnes reduction plan? One of the key differences is the Homelessness Action Table. This will be a sub-committee of the City of Langley’s Public Safety Advisory Committee. Ideally, the Action Table will be able to ensure that this new strategic plan results in action.

Of course, the City of Langley needs the support of both the provincial and federal governments to be able to move forward with the majority of strategies recommend in the new plan.

One of the strategies recommended in the plan to accomplish getting federal and provincial support is the creation of a Fraser Valley Homelessness Table. This could be a forum for all local governments in the Fraser Valley to lobby both the province and feds. In addition, I believe that the City of Langley must become involved with Metro Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Strategy which I posted about yesterday.

The new Homelessness Strategic Plan was adopted on Monday. Over the next year, it will be critical for both homelessness action tables to be setup and putting forward recommendations to Council.

While the City of Langley cannot reduce homelessness in our community on its own, we can be strong advocates for action. People experiencing homelessness in Langley City is still on the rise, inaction is not an option.

The City of Langley has setup a section of its website with more information about the Homelessness Strategic Plan. There you can review all 19 recommendations.

I, and I'm sure others on Council, will be monitoring the progress of the various action committees closely. I believe reducing homeless, and the number of people at risk of experiencing homelessness, is critically important for the future success of Langley City.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Metro Vancouver’s Council of Councils Part 2: Working together for affordable housing, clean water, regional prosperity, and more transit

On Monday, I posted about the first half of Metro Vancouver’s Council of Councils meeting. This meeting was an opportunity for all people elected to local government to learn, and ask questions, about key regional plans, projects, and priorities.

Today I will continue with what I learned during part two of the meeting.

Metro Vancouver Regional Affordable Housing Strategy

Housing affordability is top-of-mind for people living in Metro Vancouver. In the City of Langley, maintaining and enhancing our current affordable rental housing stock is critically important.

Metro Vancouver’s new Regional Affordable Housing Strategy focuses on rental housing, and transit. Why is transit important? Because besides housing costs, transportation is the second largest expenditure for most households in the region. By supporting affordable housing near frequent transit, people can start to see real household savings.

Metro Vancouver is actually a public housing provider via the Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation. The Housing Corporation is looking at redeveloping many of its sites as mixed-income housing projects. This means that there will be both market-rate and below-market-rate housing. The idea is that these housing developments can be self-supporting.

Another key focus of the regional district will be to build more ground-level, family-friend affordable housing.

Metro Vancouver’s Regional Affordable Housing Strategy, unlike the Regional Growth Strategy, does not obligate any local government to participate in it. It is a framework to allow all levels of government to work together to tackle housing affordability in the region.

With new money from the federal government available to address affordable housing, cities throughout Canada will be wanting to get their hands on it. We are stronger as a region when we work together. I believe that supporting Metro Vancouver’s strategy will be the most effective way to get more affordable housing in the region.

If Metro Vancouver is successful in securing funds from the federal government and/or the province, it will be used for projects managed by Metro Vancouver. I asked at the meeting if Metro Vancouver will be doing anything to incentivize private developers to build or renovate affordable housing, and was told no.

Langley City has a lot of older rental stock that needs to be renewed. When this housing supply is renewed, and no protections are put in place, rental prices will increase. This will reduce the amount of affordable housing in Langley.

One of the options available to maintain affordability could be for Metro Vancouver to partner with private developers to ensure that as housing is renewed in Langley, the current amount of affordable rental housing in maintained. For this to work, Metro Vancouver would become the owner and/or operator of the affordable housing units. I asked around at the regional level, there appears to be support for this sort of model.

Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant

As I noted on Monday, Metro Vancouver received special funding from the federal government to help pay for the new Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant. Due to federal environmental regulations, this plant needs to be in service by 2020. With the federal commitment to invest $212 million into the plant, Metro Vancouver is lobbying for the provincial government to match those funds.

Artist rendering of new Lions Gate Secondary Wastewater Treatment Plant. Select image to enlarge.

The new plant will integrate with the community and will include “spaces to support outreach and educational opportunities.” The plant will be built in North Vancouver, and will take four years to build. You can find out more information about the plant at Metro Vancouver’s website.

Metro Vancouver Regional Prosperity Initiative

Metro Vancouver creates more than 50% of GDP for British Columbia, yet only represents 0.3% of its land base. Even though Metro Vancouver is the economic engine of this province, we have the second lowest GDP per capita of any other major region in Canada and the US.

This is why Metro Vancouver is working on the Regional Prosperity Initiative. You can read more about this from a post I wrote late last year.

One of the key aspects of the initiative is to act as a regional forum. The first forum will be held today, and will have people from the private and public sectors, as well as organized labour. After that, an Interim Steering Committee will be established to sort out governance and funding. The plan is to launch the initiative in full-force starting in April 2017.

10-Year Metros Vancouver Transit Plan Update

It is no surprise, and it was noted at the meeting, that mayors in our region are frustrated by the limited oversight of TransLink. For example, the mayors have a very limited mandate when it comes to who they can appoint to the TransLink board. While there has been a better collaborative relationship between TransLink and the mayors, more accountability is still needed.

With the feds now committed to paying for 50% of transit capital costs in the region, the region’s mayors are working to ensure the province pays its 33% share still. The mayors are also sorting out how to close the remaining 17% funding gap without triggering a new referendum. One of the ideas pitched was for a regional developer cost charge for transit.

One of the things that I heard clearly at the meeting is that the Mayors’ Transit Plan is an all or nothing proposal. No projects in the plan will be cherry picked out for funding. For the region to work, we must all be speaking with one voice, and there must be something in it for everyone.

One of the key things that I took away from the Council of Councils meeting was that calibration is key. This is why our region works so well. All local governments get together at the regional level, and work together to find solutions to complex issues. I am very proud of our region and what we’ve accomplished together.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April 25, 2016 Council Meeting Notes - Reducing homelessness front and centre

Last night’s Council meeting focused on homelessness with both the adoption of the City’s new Homelessness Strategic Plan, and a presentation by Langley secondary students about the need to address youth homelessness in in community.

At the start of the Council meeting, we heard from Kristine Simpson who is one of the auditors from BDO. The independent auditor found that the City’s financials where prepared “in accordance with Canadian public sector accounting standards.” There were no significant issues found.

As a note, the City budgeted to collect about $24 million in property tax, but actually collected around $23 million. We budgeted an estimated $5.6 million in revenue from the casino, but the actual revenue was $6.5 million from the casino. The City of Langley's planned expenditures were $40.5 million, but the City came under budget at $38.9 million.

City Council approved the 2015 Consolidated Financial Statements.

Local Langley secondary students from Brookswood Secondary and LSS gave a presentation on the Youth Homelessness Initiative they have been working on.

The key messages were that in 2015-16 there were 162 people in Langley secondary schools experiencing homelessness. According to the group, if you are a homeless youth attending school, are not in Ministry care, and are not in trouble with the law, there is no beds for you in Langley. There big ask was for the City of Langley to support the creation of a safe house as the closest facilities are in Surrey and Abbotsford. They also asked for the City of Langley to write letters to both the provincial and federal governments asking for funding to build the youth safe house.

This request couldn’t have been timelier as City Council approved a new Homelessness Strategic Plan which includes supporting the development of a youth safe house later during the Council meeting.

The next presentation was from the Langley Emergency Program about Emergency Preparedness Week which runs from May 1st through May 7th. On Saturday, May 7th an earthquake simulator will be out in the Willowbrook Mall parking lot. More information is available at the Langley Emergency Program's website.

Tourism Langley presented Sandy Dunkley with their “Lifetime Excellence Award”. Dunkley is a well-known and passionate volunteer in the community.

After the presentation, Councillor Storteboom gave his Metro Vancouver Report where he noted the Council of Councils meeting which I’m posting about this week. Councillor Martin gave her update about the Fraser Valley Regional Library and the “Reading Link Challenge

Approved 70 unit apartment building at the corner of 201A Street and 53rd Avenue.

Council approved updating the zoning bylaw and issuing a development permit to allow a new 70 unit apartment building at the corner of 201A Street and 53rd Avenue. I asked a question about what the developer would do to screen the blank concrete walls which can attract tagging. The developer plans on planting trees and scrubs, but I don’t think they will cover the full area of the concrete.

Council approved another bylaw to updated truck routes in the community as I noted in my last council notes.

Bylaw 2985 and 2986 which deal with financial housekeeping were given first, second, and third reading. Also given first, second, and third reading was a bylaw to only allow certified guide and service dogs in public felicities, and another bylaw to add “e-cigarettes” to the City’s smoking regulations.

Next Council received an update on the Business Walk Program. The program provides an opportunity for Council and City staff to hear directly from the business community about what’s good and bad in the community. The City just completed walks of select businesses in our industrial area, and will be walking the retail areas in the fall. A report of the findings from the walks should be presented to Council in the fall.

City Council approved a new Homelessness Strategic Plan. I will be posting more about this on Thursday.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Metro Vancouver’s Council of Councils Part 1: Federal Budget Good News, Shrinking Industrial Land Base

Metro Vancouver, the regional district, is a federation of 21 municipalities, one treaty First Nation, and Electoral Area A. Municipalities appoint a limited amount of councillors/mayors to the various boards and committees at Metro Vancouver.

While these appointees provide feedback to their councils, and Metro Vancouver provides frequent updates, there is something to be said about hearing things straight from the horse’s mouth.

Every so often, Metro Vancouver holds a Council of Councils meeting where all people elected from various municipalities, Tsawwassen First Nation, and Electoral Area A hear updates, and ask questions, about the important initiatives the regional district is working on.

On Saturday April 25, I attended a Council of Councils meeting. I’ve split the topics covered at this meeting into two posts due to the amount of information presented.

2016 Federal Budget Overview

The federal budget was good news for local governments throughout Canada. The current federal government has placed a large emphases on building new and renewing old local infrastructure.

The feds will be investing $60 billion over the next 10 years on transit, social, and green infrastructure. $11.9 billion of this $60 billion plan is allocated during the current federal election cycle. This funding is in addition to the funding available in the old New Build Canada Fund.

Metro Vancouver's proposed Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant was specify called out in the budget for funding which made Metro Vancouver very happy.

Also good news is that federal government will now pay for 50% of transit capital project costs instead of the 33% which is what the old federal government used to do. The federal government is also working directly with local governments; provincial governments are no longer the gatekeepers for federal infrastructure funding.

Affordable housing is a major concern for residents in the region. The federal government has a new $2.3 billion National Housing Strategy which includes $200 million to increase affordable housing for seniors, and $54 million to tackle homelessness. For people in Langley City, this new funding could be put to good use.

Also important to note is that the feds have allocated $322.2 million to build things like community arts centres.

Under previous federal infrastructure plans, projects were provided funding on a lottery/ad-hoc basis. Metro Vancouver is pushing for allocation-based funding for all federal infrastructure funds. For example, federal funding for transit is now based on ridership.

Metro Vancouver Regional Industrial Land Strategy

As I posted about recently, Metro Vancouver’s industry land base is being converted to other uses. This is impacting the ability of our region to attract and retain certain businesses. Metro Vancouver provided an update about the recently completed industrial land inventory. You can read more about this in a post I wrote two weeks ago.

Over the next year, Metro Vancouver will be getting various stakeholders together (local government and businesses) to develop a plan on how to move forward with protecting the industrial land base. This feedback will be used to develop an Industrial Land Strategy.

This is part 1 of what was covered at the Council of Councils meeting. I will post part 2 on Wednesday.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Local government plans + real public engagement = a better community

Far too often in local government, big decisions about the future of our communities happens with limited opportunity for public input. For example, a municipality might hold an open house or two about a major project. These open houses are usually poorly attended, and occur so far along in the design of a project, that the opportunity for meaningful feedback or change in direction of a project is reduced.

In BC, municipalities are legally required to hold public hearings for certain actions such as before the adoption of a financial plan or re-zoning. These required public hearings usually occur at the 95% point. To me, the usefulness of these public hearings are suspect.

Because most open houses are poorly attended, and public hearings occur so close to the execution of a plan or project, municipal staff and councils normally only get feedback from people that are the most passionate about a particular plan or project.

When there is limited opportunity for public participation in a major plan or project, the likelihood of controversy increases.

When municipalities have big decisions to make or plans to approve, public participation is essential. Just holding an open house, and expecting people to show up is not enough. Municipalities have to actively reach out to people. This means going to where people are such in their neighbourhoods, where they shop, and at community events.

The City of Abbotsford decided it was time to update their Official Community Plan (OCP) back in 2014. Engaging with the community was a key priority. Feedback received was incorporated throughout the development of the OCP. After years of hard work and engagement, a draft of Abbotsford’s OCP was launched earlier this month with the opportunity to provide further feedback. It is expected that the OCP will be presented to Abbotsford Council for approval this summer.

The following infographic shows the degree of engagement undertaken as part of the OCP update process.

The scope of public engagement during the development of Abbotsford's updated Official Community Plan. Select infographic to enlarge.

Engaging with a community early and often for a major project or plan usually results in a plan with board support. As a result, when councils make a decision about a plan or project, they aren’t just hearing from the people that are the most passionate.

I believe it is critically important to engage with people in a community throughout the process of developing major projects and strategies. At the end of the day, you end up with a better plan and more accountable local government.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Working towards food security in Metro Vancouver

Metro Vancouver is home to some of the best farmland in Canada. Because of the Agricultural Land Reserve, the viability of farming in our region has been maintained over the years. Due to the changing physical and political climate throughout the world, food security has become a topic of concern recently.

A map of the Agricultural Land Reserve in Metro Vancouver.

Ensuring that people have access, and can afford, safe and nutritious food is critically important. Realizing the unique and luckily state of our region; being a dense urban area with prime farmland, Metro Vancouver developed a Regional Food System Strategy in 2011.

The strategy focused on the following five goals:

  1. Increase capacity to produce food close to home
  2. Improve the financial viability of the food sector
  3. Help people make healthy and sustainable food choices
  4. Ensure everyone has access to healthy, culturally diverse and affordable food
  5. Support a food system consistent with ecological health

While these broad goals are certainly important to achieve, accomplishing them will take the work of all levels of government.

For local governments in our region, Metro Vancouver has created a detailed action plan. This action plan outlines 160 concrete actions that local governments in our region should take in the next five years.

For example, to increase capacity to produce food close to home, the action plan calls on the City of Surrey to “address truck parking on agricultural land by investigating the feasibility of designated parking area.” It also notes that Delta should “continue to work to minimize and mitigate the recreation/agricultural interface impacts along the Boundary Bay dyke.”

To ensure that everyone has access to healthy, culturally diverse and affordable food it notes that Burnaby and the City of North Vancouver should continue, and New Westminster should, “encourage, via in-kind support, backyard sharing programs that match homeowners with residents looking for gardening space.”

If you want to find out all of the action items proposed, check out the full action plan.

While action plans are a great, they aren’t very effective is they aren't implemented. The Regional Food System Action Plan calls on “each local government to assign a staff person for food system issues to coordinate local government participation in advancing the Action Plan.” This may be easier to do in some municipalities than others due to limited staffing resources.

Metro Vancouver does plan on reviewing the progress of this action plan. I’m hoping that if they find communities or items where action isn’t occurring, they will work collaboratively to ensure the success of this plan.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Giving transit its own right of way, a key way out of congestion

As the population continues to grow in Metro Vancouver, so does congestion and the demand for transit service. This is especially true in the South of Fraser. In Surrey and some parts of Langley, the local road network we see today is pretty much built out. This means that we need to give people a way out of congestion. Improving walking, cycling, and transit is really the only way to keep our cities moving.

One of the challenges with bus service is that most all bus routes in our region share the same lanes as single occupancy vehicles. This means that as congestion increases, transit service slows down. For example, on the 502, it takes up to 45 minutes to get from Surrey Central SkyTrain to Downtown Langley when there is no congestion. During peak travel, it takes an hour. This will only get worse as time goes on.

One of the best ways to speed up transit, and gives people a way out of congestion, is to give transit its own lanes (especially during peak travel times.)

SkyTrain is the most expensive and top-of-the line way of doing this, but there are other ways of doing this too.

I’m in Toronto this week, and I decided to visit St. Clair Avenue. St. Clair Avenue has one of the busiest streetcar routes in that city running along it. Congestion on that street dramatically slowed down transit service.

The streetcar tracks also needed to be replace, so in 2003 Toronto decided to build a protect right-of-way for streetcars on that street. The project wasn’t without its controversy, but the 6.8km right-of-way cost $106 million (or $15.5 million per kilometre) to build. This is significantly less money per kilometre than SkyTrain or the currently proposed form of light rail for Fraser Highway and King George/104th.

The streetcars service is fast on St. Clair Avenue unlike other streetcar routes in Toronto which get stuck in stop and go traffic.

The follow pictures show what St. Clair Avenue looks like today.

A streetcar stop.

Transit signal at an intersection on St. Clair Avenue.

Streetcar running in protected right-of-way.

Getting transit out of traffic is the best way to improve transit service along congested corridors. While I certainly support the Mayors’ Regional Transportation Investments Plan, funding is a major roadblock. Rail rapid transit along corridors such as Fraser Highway is more than a decade away if funding can be secured. In the meantime, we should look at other ways of make our transit system more efficient, including building protect transit lane where they are need.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Roundabouts are safer for people walking

Traffic circles were a fairly common sight in Canadian cities during the first half of the 20th century, but by the end of that century most were replaced with traffic lights. Traffic lights were thought to be safer and more efficient. Interestingly while we were replacing traffic circles with traffic lights, over in the UK, the roundabout was invented.

The roundabout is the evolution of the traffic circle, being not only safer but also more efficient. In BC, roundabouts started becoming increasing more common when the BC Ministry of Transportation started to require that “roundabouts shall be considered as the first option for intersection designs where 4-way stop control or traffic signals are supported by traffic analysis” at the beginning of this century.

An example roundabout. Select image to enlarge.

The City of Langley is replacing the traffic light at 203rd Street and 53rd Avenue with a roundabout. I’ve received several emails from concerned residents that the roundabout will decrease safety and increase vehicle collisions. These people are also concerned that the roundabout will make it more dangerous for people walking across the intersection too.

Now there is a fair amount of research that shows collisions between vehicles are reduced, but what about the safety of people walking?

I found a paper from 2013 that examined the collision rate for pedestrians at roundabouts in Ontario.

Pedestrian Collision Rates by Intersection Category in Ontario. Select table to enlarge.

Roundabouts are not only safer for people driving, but for people walking as well. Robert Henderson and Nancy Button, the authors of the paper, call out the following reasons for improved safety including:

  • The driver has more time to judge and react to pedestrians because of the slower speeds;
  • The pedestrian only has to watch for traffic in one direction at a time;
  • With no traffic control signal to divert the driver’s attention upward, the driver is focused on the vehicles and pedestrians around them;
  • The driver is more likely to be looking in the direction of the pedestrian. When turning at a signal, the driver is often watching for conflicting traffic and not where they are going, e.g. looking left while turning right; and
  • The driver and pedestrian are more likely to be alert and aware of each other because the driver and pedestrian have to decide when to go.

So while many people think that roundabouts are unsafe, the numbers tell a different story.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Some Impressive Compass Card Stats

TransLink recently posted slides from the presentations given at their most recent open board meeting. One of the presentations was about the Compass Card program.

Around 2.5 million people call Metro Vancouver home, and not everyone is travelling every single day. If you eliminate people aged 0-4, there are about 2.4 million people in our region.

According to the presentation, there are about 700,000 active Compass Cards with around 300,000 of them being used each and every day. That means that at least 28% of people over the age of 4 have a Compass Card in the region, and 12.5% of them use a Compass Card every day.

Not everyone over the age of 4 is travelling in the region every day, and there are still people that use cash and old FareSaver tickets. As a percentage of all trips in region, transit usages has likely been underrepresented in both regional trip diaries and Stats Canada census information.

The following table shows that former paper monthly pass holders have successfully transitioned to Compass Card with no loss. The second table shows the massive uptake of money loaded onto Compass Cards as a replacement for FareSaver tickets and cash. I am currently trying to find the stats for the number of people still using cash on buses.

Compass Card Monthly Passes compared to old paper monthly passes. Select chart to enlarge.

Daily value loaded onto Compass Cards. Select chart to enlarge.

While there has been a lot of media attention about everything that’s wrong with Compass Card, TransLink has essentially switched over all of their customers to the Compass Card in around four months with little issue. That’s pretty impressive.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

About Metro Vancouver's shrinking industrial land base

Just like agricultural land in Metro Vancouver, there has been a call to create an industrial land reserve in the region. The industrial land base in Metro Vancouver has been shrinking as some municipalities have converted these lands to residential, office, and retail uses over the years. Interestingly, just like agricultural land, the South of Fraser has become the steward of industrial land.

In response to the shrinking industrial land base, Metro Vancouver created regional Industrial and “Mixed-Employment” zones to help protect this land base. The regional district has been keeping tabs on industrial land, and recently completed a detail inventory.

Metro Vancouver defines the Industrial Zone as for “heavy and light industrial activities,” and the Mixed-Employment Zone as for “industrial, commercial and other employment related uses.” It is important to note that the Mixed-Employment Zone doesn’t really protect land for industrial uses as it can be used for commercial and other employment related uses.

91% of the in-use or available industrial land inventoried in 2015 is “protected” by a regional zone. 68% is in the Industrial Zone and 23% is in the Mixed-Employment Zone.

State of protection of industrial land in Metro Vancouver. Select map to enlarge.

Between 2010 and 2015, 870 acres of industrial land was lost to other uses. Of what remains, 45% is located in the South Fraser. The majority of vacant industrial land is also in the South of Fraser.

Land available for industrial use in Metro Vancouver. Select map to enlarge.

As noted, some of the industrial land base is used for offices and retail uses. This is due to both the Mixed-Employment Zone, historical reasons, municipal zoning, and inappropriate land-use.

Non-industrial uses on industrial land in Metro Vancouver. Select map to enlarge.

Metro Vancouver’s 2015 Industrial Lands Inventory also contains detailed sub-region maps of the industrial land base and its uses. This map is for Langley.

Detailed uses of industrial land in Langley. Select map to enlarge.

Knowing the state of the industrial land base will be critical to developing policies to further enhance its protection. For more information, please read the full technical report.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Building safer streets in Langley City

Langley City is one of the original commercial hubs in the Fraser Valley. Downtown Langley was built-out around an old Interurban station.

While the Langley City’s core has been around for over 100 years, the City experienced rapid urbanization from the 1970s into the 1980s. As a result, there are many streets with 20 meter right-of-ways.

The Langley Bypass, 200th Street, and some sections of Fraser Highway are the only roads that approach 1,000 vehicles per hour in one direction during peak travel periods. The rest of the wide roads have light traffic. As a result, speeding is a major concern in my community.

Traffic volumes on Langley City roads From the City of Langley Master Transportation Plan.

With 20 metre right-of-ways on many of our major streets, we have the opportunity to build complete streets that are safe for all people no matter the mode. For example, 203rd Street was once planned to be a 4-lane mini-freeway. It is now being traffic calmed with improved cycling and walking infrastructure.

I snapped the following pictures of one of the major streets in Langley City, 53rd Avenue, that recently saw a new safer crosswalk and bike lanes installed.

New crosswalk and bike lane on 53rd Avenue.

New curb extension on 53rd Avenue.

Fundamentally Langley City is a walking city. This is why the updated master transportation plan dedicates 50% of its capital investment plan to pedestrian infrastructure. Only 9% of the capital investment plan is dedication to road expansion.

Langley City is in the enviable position of having wide streets with low motor vehicle traffic volumes. This makes it relatively easy to build complete streets that are safe and inviting for everyone.

Monday, April 11, 2016

TransLink ridership and revenue up in 2015

TransLink recently released its 2015 Year-End Financial and Performance Report, and there is some good news to talk about.

In 2013, there was a dip in ridership. In 2014, ridership started to rebound. Riderships grew again in 2015, and is now back to 2012 levels. There were 363.3 million boarded passengers or 238.8 million revenue passengers in 2015. This is a 1.8% increase over 2014. The population of the region increased by 1.4% at the same time. Unfortunately over the last five years, transit ridership has only increased 0.6% while the population of the region has grown by 1.4%.

Detailed ridership statistic. CMBC includes bus and SeaBus service. Select table to enlarge.

It is still impressive that there was growth in transit use considering the lack of new investment to expand transit service in the region. There is clearly a built-up demand for transit service, all that is missing is the funding. One area that needs extra attention is HandyDART service which has seen a year-over-year decline in ridership.

By the way, the revenue passenger statistic counts a person only when they begin their transit journey. The boarded passenger statistic also includes transfers.

TranLink had a good year financially too. Both transit ($511m) and taxation ($773m) revenue were up compared to 2014.

With the change to a one zone fare on buses, there was fear that it would result in a drop in revenue. The does not appear to be happening. The one zone change happened in the last quarter of 2015, so it will be interesting to see if there is any impact on revenue in 2016.

The Golden Ears Bridge continued to be a financial burden. Between 2011 and 2014, the subsidy for the bridge increased from $37.9 million to $45.9 million. In 2015, the subsidy stabilized at $45.3 million. $45.3 million could provide a lot of transit service.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What the heck is Electoral Area A in Metro Vancouver?

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with some people that work in the urban planning and civil engineering for municipal government in our region. Somehow we got on the topic of Electoral Area A in Metro Vancouver. There was a lot of questions about Electoral Area A that I answered.

In Metro Vancouver, 99%+ of the population lives in a municipality or Tsawwassen First Nation land. For the 99%+, Metro Vancouver delivers regional services and land-use planning as agreed upon by municipalities in the region. Municipalities appoint directors to the Metro Vancouver board. You can see what services are delivered by various levels of government on an infographic I commissioned a few years ago.

There are some exceptions in the region. As of the 2011 census, some 13,035 people live in Electoral Area A. Metro Vancouver acts as a quasi-municipality to most people that live in Electoral Area A. If you live in this area, you elect a director to the Metro Vancouver Board.

The following is a map of Electoral Area A.

A map of Electoral Area A. Select map to enlarge.

Electoral Area A also includes the University Endowment Lands and UBC itself, but Metro Vancouver doesn’t provide any municipal services in these areas.

A map of the University Endowment Lands. Select map to enlarge.

The University Endowment Lands (UEL) is directly managed by the provincial government. The province provides all municipal services in the UEL.

A map of areas at the UBC Campus where people are represented by the University Neighbourhoods Association. Select map to enlarge.

If you happen to live on leased land at the UBC Campus such as Wesbrook Place or Hampton Place, you elected and are represented by the University Neighbourhoods Association. The society provides some local services such as community centre access, landscaping, streetlights and basic road maintenance. At the end of the day, the UBC Board of Directors has ultimate control in that area.

While the vast majority of people living in Metro Vancouver are represented by an elected municipal council, there are some exceptions in the region.

Please note that I didn’t talk about people that live on land within federal jurisdiction.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Provincial document shows Massey Bridge replacement not worth it

The provincial government is committed to building a Massey Tunnel replacement bridge at any cost. The cost of the project continues to rise, but right now it is $3.5 billion. When it comes to bridges in Metro Vancouver, we know two things. Tolled bridges have a limiting effect on the volume of traffic that use them, and free bridges are beyond congested during peak travel periods.

The Golden Ears Bridge never met its predicted traffic volumes, and is being subsidized by TransLink. The Port Mann Bridge has less traffic on it today, than when the original bridge was in service. Meanwhile, the toll-free Alex Fraser Bridge and Pattullo Bridge are jammed.

The province is proposing that the Massey Tunnel replacement be a tolled crossing. Just like the Port Mann, traffic volumes will drop. If the Port Mann is any indication, building a new bridge might not even be needed. The Massey Tunnel received a seismic safety retrofit in 2006, and is safe for traffic.

Earlier this week, I posted about the 216th Street overpass project. While doing research for that post, I read the Gateway Program Project Definition Report. This is what the Gateway Program report had to say about replacing the Massey Tunnel:

Consideration was given to widening the George Massey Tunnel in conjunction with development of the South Fraser Perimeter Road.

To capture sufficient benefits, twinning the tunnel would also require improvements to other crossings over the North Arm of the Fraser of the Fraser River, such as the Oak Street or Knight Street bridges, or a new crossing to serve projected commuting patterns associated with employment growth in central Burnaby.

$3.5 billion to shift the bottleneck seems like a waste of money to me. It is a well-known fact that you can’t build your way out of congestion, but you can give people ways to get out of congestion.

It would make more sense to toll all major bridges in the region. This would reduce congestion. The revenue generated could be used to invest in public transit, giving people a real way out of congestion. Regional tolling happens to be one of the more preferred ways to fund transit expansion by people living in Metro Vancouver.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

April 4, 2016 Council Meeting Notes - Crime Down, Overdoses Up

Last night was my first full-length City of Langley Council meeting. City Council heard around half-a-dozen presentations, and gave first, second, and third reading to a bylaw to amend the truck routes in the community.

The first presentation was by the Fibromyalgia Well Spring Foundation. They highlighted that May is Fibromyalgia awareness month, and thanked the City for putting up their flag for one week in May. They also highlight their “Just One More Step Walk to Banff.”

Council heard from RCMP Superintendent Murray Power as he gave his quarterly report about the Langley Detachment. He shared the following 5-year chart to show that reported crime is on the decline in Langley City.

5-year chart of crime statistics for Langley City. Select table to enlarge.

The only area where there is an significant increase in crime is around auto and bike theft. Superintendent Power noted that this is an issue throughout the region, and that it is caused by a relatively small group of people. He said that once these people are removed from the street, these numbers should drop.

Both shoplifting and drug related crimes are up. Superintendent Power said that this has more to do with more crime being reported than an actual increase in these specific categories of crime.

Power said that Langley City streets are safe. To prove that point, he noted that 2/3rds of assaults are caused by people a victim knows.

Power also said that Langley RCMP are walking the beat in the City of Langley. To me, this improves the perception of safety in the community.

Next, Langley City Council heard from Fire Chief Rory Thompson. Thompson said that there has been a 17% increase in the volume of calls over the last five years, and that Langley City fire crews are among the busiest in the region. Reading between the lines, it appears that Langley City Council may need to have a conversation around the staffing level at the Fire Hall.

One of the disturbing trends that Thompson noted was the amount of overdose calls that the Fire Services responds too. He said that it was due to street drugs being laced with fentanyl. Medical calls have spiked from 78% of all calls, to 81% of all calls. More specifically, there were 6 overdose call responded to in January 2015, and 31 this January.

Fire Chief Thompson noted that BC Ambulance normal arrives 3 minutes after Fire Services arrives on scene.

Chief Thompson noted the following major recent fires in the community:

  • Maple Court Apartments
  • Paddington Station
  • Linwood Place Apartments
  • Carroll Court Apartments
  • Bayberry Lane Apartments

Three of the fires were due to drug related activity. Unsafe drug use in Langley City is become a major public health and safety issue.

After the quarterly reports, the Mayor invited Councillor Storteboom and Martin to give their regular updates. After those updates, Council heard from Director of Engineering, Parks & Environment Rick Bomhof.

Community gardens are popular in Langley City, and Bomhof noted that the garden in Linwood Park has been expanded.

He also noted that the waterline under Salt Lane in Downtown Langley is being replaced. Once the underground work is done, Salt Lane will be paved. The sidewalk and roadway will remain level, and a new “Salt Lane” sign will be installed.

Next, Director of Recreation, Culture & Community Services Kim Hilton outlined all the events that are taking place in the community. You can find out more information about the events on the City of Langley's website.

After the reports, Council gave first, second, and third reading to Bylaw 2984. If approved, Langley City’s truck routes will be as follows:

Proposed Langley City truck routes in red. Select map to enlarge.

The final piece of Council business was to appoint me as one of the vice-chairs of the Parks, Environment, Recreation and Culture Advisory Committee. I previously served on this committee as a member-at-large.

Monday, April 4, 2016

$59 million 216th Street overpass plan revealed, feedback requested

A decade ago, the provincial government launched the Highway 1/Port Mann expansion program. The original version of the program called for an interchange at 216th Street. The eight lanes of Highway 1 would reduce to six lanes at 200th Street. At 216th Street, the lanes would be reduced to four.

Due to the overall cost of the Highway 1/Port Mann expansion project, the 216th Street interchange construction was deferred. Last year the federal and provincial governments, along with the Township of Langley, announced that they would be spending $59 million to finally build the 216th Street interchange, and widen Highway 1. The feds and province contributed $23.3 million each while the Township put in $14.3 million.

To put that number into perspective, building the Aldergrove Community Centre with an indoor pool would cost $35.5 million.

The provincial government unveiled the design of the 216th Street Interchange and expansion of Highway 1 late last week as shown below.

Highway 1 widening and 216th Street project overview. Select image to enlarge.

216th Street overpass details. Select image to enlarge.
  1. Complete extensions of HOV ramps to and from 202nd Street
  2. Environmental upgrade at Yorkson Creek
  3. New north side noise wall built in Ministry right-of-way
  4. New general purpose lane eastbound and westbound on Highway 1 between 202nd and 216th Street (Total 4.0 km)
  5. New south side noise wall built in Ministry right-of-way
  6. New full movement, four-lane interchange at 216th Street with left turn lanes that provide access onto eastbound and westbound Highway 1
  7. New pedestrian and cycling access across the 216th Street interchange overpass
  8. Environmental upgrade at Guy Creek

Similar to the 202nd Street underpass, the province is proposing to install a 3.0 metre wide sidewalk to be used by people walking and cycling on the east side of the overpass. The west side of the overpass will have a 1.8 metre wide sidewalk and a 1.8 meter wide shoulder bike lane.

I’m not a fan of unprotected shoulder bike lanes, as they don’t provide the safety required for people of all ages and abilities to feel comfortable cycling. Have protected cycling and walking infrastructure on both sides of the overpass would be ideal.

Building freeway projects are extremely expensive, and encourage more people to drive. This project will not reduce congestion along 200th Street or 208th Street, but over time will support the creation of congestion along 216th Street.

You can submit your feedback on this project at the Ministry of Transportation website. Your feedback must be received by April 21st.