Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Municipal election campaign reform coming to BC. What does it mean for self-financed campaigns?

Reforming election financing in British Columbia was a front and centre issue during the last provincial election. At the local level, it has been known for several years that there were changes coming for the 2018 municipal election and beyond.

In the past, candidates running in local elections could receive money from a person, corporation, union or other organization. There were no limits to the amount a candidate could receive or spend for an election campaign. For example, a candidate could receive a $20,000 cheque from a corporation or union with no issue.

The known change was setting campaign spending limits based on the size of a community. In Langley City, a mayoral candidate would have a campaign spending limit of around $20,000, and a council candidate would have a campaign spending limit of around $10,000.

Yesterday, the provincial government announced further limits for who and how much can be donated to a candidate for the 2018 and future local government elections. Campaign donations can only be from “individuals who are residents of British Columbia and who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents.” An individual can donate up to $1,200 per year.

From my perspective, these changes will really only impact people running in large municipalities in our province. Based on my last campaign, I won’t be at risk of hitting any of the limits.

I know many candidates self-finance their campaign. Many do this to ensure that they remain truly independent. What remains unclear to me is if a candidate will also be capped to donating $1,200 per year to their own campaign.

I fully support both limiting the amount of money that a candidate can spend during an election campaign, and ensuring that only British Columbians can donate to a candidate. I am a bit concerned about what it means for people that choose to self-finance their campaign. Over the coming months, I’m hoping the provincial government will add more clarity around self-financing.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Fairer Fares: Introducing daily and monthly caps

TransLink is in the midst of a fare review. Today when you take a bus, you pay the same fare no matter how far you travel. This was changed in the fall of 2015 to accommodate the Compass Card system. SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express are still using a zone-based fare structure which dates back to the BC Transit era. It really haven’t change that much since I first took transit as a kid.

The current zone-based system was designed for a region where the bulk of people travel into and out of downtown Vancouver, but this is not how people travel throughout our region today.

Change in Nature of Trips. There has been a shift in the traditional suburb to downtown travel pattern (A), to more complex travel patterns (B). Source: Gateway Program Definition Report.

Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy is based on building walkable town centres that are connected by high-quality transit, interspersed throughout the region. This strategy has been successful. Instead of most people travelling from “the suburbs” to Downtown Vancouver, people travel from node to node.

Because of this change in travel patterns over the last 30 years, the current three-zone system doesn’t make much sense anymore. The following examples show how outdated and unfair the current three-zone system is.

Travelling from Rupert SkyTrain Station to Burquitlam Station, eight stops away, will set you back a three-zone fare. Travel from Waterfront SkyTrain Station to Marine Drive Station, also eight stops away, will only cost you a one-zone fare.

Research that TransLink has conducted shows that people are interested in moving towards a distance-based fare structure. Travelling eight stations should be a similar fare no matter where you start your journey.

As part of this fare review, TransLink should also look at placing maximum daily and monthly caps on transit fares. Currently, people must choose between using stored value, a day pass, or a monthly pass to pay for transit use. This creates a barrier to using transit because people must think about which fare product provides the best value. The current system also results in some people overpaying for transit which may sour them from using transit services in the future.

Transport for London manages the transit network in London. They also use the same technology that TransLink uses for the Compass Card system. In London, buses are a single fare. The Underground is closer to a distance-based system. For people that use tap payment, they set daily maximum and weekly maximum fares that people pay.

TransLink is likely moving towards a distance-based fare structure for SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express. At the same time, the agency should also consider implementing caps for fares. This would lower the barrier to using transit, and improve fairness at the same time.

I should note that West Coast Express fares are much closer to being distance-based.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Council of Councils: Paying for transit and transportation expansion in Metro Vancouver

On Monday, I posted about the Metro Vancouver Council of Councils meeting which I attended last Saturday. One of the main items on the agenda was Metro Vancouver’s 2018-22 Financial Plan, and the borrowing required for water and sewer infrastructure. At the same meeting, we also received an update from Kevin Desmond who is the CEO of TransLink.

TransLink is currently moving forward with implementing the Mayors’ Council’s 10-Year Vision. This vision is split into three phases.

Entire 10-Year Vision for Metro Vancouver Transit and Transportation. Select table to enlarge.

The provincial and federal governments are funding a significant portion of the capital costs for expanding the transit and transportation network in Metro Vancouver, but our region must also pay for some of the capital costs plus all of the on-going operational costs of the expanded network.

The regional component of phase 1 of the vision is being paid for with increased fare revenue, sold TransLink surplus property, and increased property tax. In addition, the mayors are asking the provincial government to introduce a Regional Development Cost Charge (DCC) for Transportation.

Desmond noted that the regional DCC for Transportation would be borne by developers rather than end users or homeowners. It is expected to raise between $20 million to $25 million annually. It would be waived for affordable rental housing development projects. There would be a different DCC rate for apartments, townhouses, single-family houses, and other types of property. The Mayors’ Council is currently working with the province to have legislation passed to enable the regional DCC for Transportation by the first quarter of 2018. If all goes to plan, developers would start paying the DCC in January 2020.

For phase two of the 10-Year Vision to move forward, Desmond stated that there is currently a $60 million to $80 million funding gap that needs to be filled. The province recently decided that carbon tax does not need to be revenue natural, and will be increasing it over the coming years. The Mayors’ Council is asking that the province contribute a portion of this increase in carbon tax to fund phase two of the vision.

The final part of the funding puzzle will be the introduction of mobility pricing in 2022. At the meeting, we heard from Joy MacPhail who in the vice chair of the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission. The commission will be investigating and making a recommendation on what mobility pricing should look like for Metro Vancouver under the following guiding principles:

  • Reduce Traffic Congestion
  • Promote Fairness
  • Support Transportation Investment

The commission will be releasing its recommendation in late April. For more information, please visit the commission’s recently launched website.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

October 23, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Manufactured Home Park, Final Approvals, and 2018 Municipal Election

Yesterday, I posted about Monday night’s Langley City council meeting, including what is being done in Langley to reduce the number of people who are experiencing homelessness. Today, I will be covering the remaining items that were on the agenda.

In manufactured home parks, there are tenancy agreements. The provincial government makes available “A Guide for Manufactured Home Park Landlords & Tenants in British Columbia” if you want to learn more. If an owner of a manufactured home parks wants to redevelop a site, they must have all necessary permits and approvals required in place before giving twelve months notice to end a tenancy.

Municipalities have no authority to make regulations relating to manufactured home park tenancies, this is defined in provincial law. Some municipalities with a significant number of manufactured home parks do have policies in place around redevelopment of these sites. For example, the Township of Langley has developed a policy. Langley City has one lot with seven manufactured homes. As such, the City doesn’t have a policy to guide the redevelopment of this one lot.

Janette Giffin, who is currently a tenant in the manufactured home park, made a presentation to City council about other communities’ policies on Monday as part of the public hearing for rezoning the site to accommodate a 14-unit townhouse project at 19753 55A Avenue. After the public hearing, council gave the rezoning application third reading.

Rendering of proposed townhouse development at 19753 55A Avenue. Select image to enlarge.

As I posted about early this month, the City must amend its financial plan to accommodate new projects and account for funding received from other orders of government over the course of the year. Council gave the amendment final reading on Monday.

Council also gave final reading, approving our 2018 permissive tax exemptions. You can read about which organizations will received a permissive tax exemption in a previous post.

Council gave final reading to discharge legacy land use contracts for 5040 205A Street and 20215 44A Avenue. This is a housekeeping matter.

It is less than a year until the next municipal election. As such, City council approved the appointment of the Chief Election Officer and Deputy Chief Election Officer for the 2018 election.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Concrete action being taken to reduce homelessness in Langley: Supportive Housing and the ICM Team

Back in April 2016, Langley City council adopted a Homelessness Strategic Plan. One of the recommendations of that plan was to form a Homelessness Action Table with representation from all levels of government, social service agencies, and faith-based organizations in our community.

You can read in more detail on a previous post, but in short, the Homelessness Action Table has the following goals:

  • Form a Homelessness Integration Team
  • Create a partnership agreement between the City and Township
  • Support the feasibility study for a permanent supportive housing project
  • Increase the number of rent supplements in the Langley
  • Support the feasibility of developing a Youth Safe House
  • Support integrated intervention approaches to health and housing

As was presented at last night’s Langley City council meeting, progress is being made on all six goals. By having everyone at the table, things get done to reduce homelessness in Langley.

Langley City council heard a presentation from Langley Community Services Society and Stepping Stone Community Services Society last night.

The Langley Youth Resource Centre is currently under construction at 203 Street and 62 Avenue, just outside the Langley City border in the Township of Langley.

BC Housing recently purchased The Quality Inn located by the Home Deport along 200 Street in the Township of Langley, and is working through the approval process to convert the facility to provide 49 units of supportive housing. This facility will also have programming space, and will serve as the permanent home of Langley’s new Intensive Case Management team.

Supportive housing is for people with mental health, substance use, and/or other challenges, and includes “on-site, non-clinical supports, such as life-skills training, and connections to primary health care, mental health or substance use services.”

Langley’s new Intensive Case Management (ICM) team recently launched. This team was announced back in March with the mandate to “conduct street outreach to connect those who are homeless with immediate, stable shelter – and then longer-term housing as appropriate.” In addition, the province is providing rent subsidizes for 30 people in the ICM program to ensure that people can get off the street. The Quality Inn will also have space for people in the ICM program.

Langley’s social services agencies which include Langley Community Services Society, Stepping Stone Community Services Society, Encompass Support Services Society, and the Gateway of Hope came together to form the ICM team which is funded by the province through Fraser Health.

Having an ICM team and, if approved, a supportive housing facility in Langley will give people living on the street a path forward to being able to live independently. People will be able to get help, moving from shelter to supportive housing to programs such as the Gateway of Hope’s Opportunities Program to living independently.

While there are currently more people who are homeless in Langley than spaces available at the Quality Inn, this is a great start in providing a long-term solution to reducing the number of people who are living on the street in our community. I’m hopefully that the new provincial government will increase funding to the ICM team and build more supportive housing in Langley.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Growth, aging infrastructure, and federal regulations mean increased debt at regional district

Biannually, the Metro Vancouver Regional District holds a Council of Councils meeting. Except for Surrey and Vancouver, most municipalities have one or two council members that are appointed to the regional district board. These Council of Councils meetings facilitate all people who are elected to local government in our region to stay informed on what’s happening at the regional district, and address questions and concerns of people in attendance.

Council of Councils meeting held in North Vancouver on October 21. Select image to enlarge.

The latest Council of Councils meeting occurred last Saturday in North Vancouver. One of the major items on the agenda was Metro Vancouver’s 2018-22 Financial Plan.

Metro Vancouver’s big-ticket services provide safe drinking water and liquid waste management in our region. These services account for around 70% of the regional district’s budget. Metro Vancouver is also responsible for solid waste management (garbage and organics) which represents 13% of the budget. The regional district manages some revenue-neutral affordable housing. The remaining services provided by the regional district including parks, air quality management, and regional planning account for 7% of its budget.

Population growth, aging infrastructure, and federal water protection regulations mean that Metro Vancouver will be investing a significant amount of money in the next five years. Between 2008 and 2017, the regional district invested $1.9 billion into infrastructure. Between 2018 and 2022, that number will increase to $4.7 billion.

Some of the revenue will come from increased fees to developers (DCC) and user fees, but most of the funding for this infrastructure will come from borrowing. In fact, 68% or $3.2 billion will come from borrowing.

This means that debt servicing will balloon over the next few years. For example, debt servicing for liquid waste management will increase from $17.9 million this year to $157.7 million in 2022 due in part to the requirement to upgrade waste water treatment plants.

In addition to borrowing, the water and sewer fees on your property tax bill will be increasing around 4% to 6% each year over the next five years; I wonder if user fees are set to low in our region considering the debt that Metro Vancouver is taking on to renew our water and sewer infrastructure.

When it comes to solid waste management, expenditures will only be increasing at the rate of inflation. This is because Metro Vancouver programs to divert material from going into the garbage have been extremely successful.

Not much is said about water and sewer services in our region because they are largely hidden, even though there are significant investments required to keep water flowing and liquid waste treated.

More information on the 2018-22 Financial Plan can be found on Metro Vancouver’s website.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Built it and they will come: transit ridership up in Metro Vancouver

TransLink has seen a surge in ridership across most of its system so far this year. Information posted to the Buzzer Blog a few days ago shows that September transit boardings are up significantly.

TransLink as well as other public transit agencies throughout Canada and the US report ridership data to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). In the US, transit ridership has dipped -2.8% in the first six months of this year. In Canada, transit ridership has increase by 0.6% in the first six months of this year for all agencies that reported data. This includes major regions in Canada.

TransLink Ridership
January thru June
 2017 2016 % Change
Bus 122.55 million 119.56 million 2.50%
SkyTrain 73.94 million 66.1 million 11.86%
SeaBus 2.74 million 2.59 million 5.79%
West Coast Express 1.17 million 1.25 million -6.40%

TransLink’s growth in ridership is significantly higher than the national average as reported in the latest ridership report released by the APTA. This is not a surprise as the Evergreen Line came online late in 2016, combined with record-level investments into bus service in our region.

One area where ridership has decreased is on the West Coast Express. This is not surprising as two of the West Coast Express stations are now directly served by SkyTrain. West Coast Express fares are also 1.5x more than regular fares. The shift to SkyTrain was fairly modest, and shows that the vast majority of West Coast Express riders value the premium service to Downtown Vancouver.

Ridership on the SeaBus was declining for several years. It looks like that trend has also reversed which is again not surprising as TransLink has increase service levels on the SeaBus. A strong economy combined with new investment in transit service really proves that if you built it, they will come.

On that topic, with bridges now toll-free, it will be interesting to see what impact there will be on transit service, especially on routes like the 555, 595, and the West Coast Express.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Langley City has lowest per household municipal tax and fees in Metro Vancouver

The provincial government’s new Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing just released its 2017 Local Government Tax Rates and Assessments reports.

When people look at municipal taxation, they often just look at property tax and overlook user fees which are charged for water, sewer, and other services provided by a municipality.

So how does Langley City stack up with the rest of the region? The following graph and table show the per household municipal property tax and users fees collected in 2017 based on the latest census data.

Per Household Municipal Revenue (2017). Select graph to enlarge.
Municipalities Property Tax per Household User Fees per Household Households
Langley City $2,163.37 $732.29 11,840
Surrey $1,890.18 $1,014.94 169,965
City of North Vancouver $2,392.84 $616.11 24,645
Vancouver $2,671.65 $376.95 283,915
New Westminster $2,250.70 $913.41 32,705
White Rock $2,125.17 $1,173.67 10,005
Coquitlam $2,699.87 $601.60 51,325
Maple Ridge $2,521.72 $806.87 30,265
Burnaby $2,717.73 $653.05 92,200
Bowen Island $3,017.71 $662.75 1,495
Pitt Meadows $2,744.96 $958.14 7,195
Port Coquitlam $2,873.19 $912.40 21,750
Langley Township $2,960.90 $835.10 41,985
Belcarra $2,629.92 $1,171.98 255
Anmore $2,641.28 $1,340.68 690
Port Moody $3,067.36 $934.98 12,975
Richmond $2,828.77 $1,326.37 73,460
District of North Vancouver $2,989.30 $1,628.61 31,115
Lions Bay $2,837.34 $2,196.44 495
Delta $3,722.16 $1,368.86 35,760
West Vancouver $3,944.17 $1,845.50 16,935

I should point out that businesses also pay property tax. The calculations used in this post divide the total property tax and user fee revenue collected from both businesses and residents, by the number of households in a community. Most municipalities in our region with a health business community collect around 50% of revenue from business and 50% from residents. Commuter communities like Anmore get most of their revenue from residents. What this means is that people in communities like Langley City, with a health business community, generally pay less tax and fees per household.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Responding to the overdose crisis in Langley

Throughout British Columbia, there is an overdose crisis. This year around 1,000 people in our province will die because of overdosing on illicit drugs. In Langley City and Township, 20 people have died so far, and that number is expected to be 34 by the end of this year.

Fraser Health statistics on overdose deaths in BC. Select image to enlarge.

When people think about overdose deaths, they likely think of people who are living on the street. While people living on the street are dying from overdoses, in Langley around 70% of people are dying from overdoses in their private residence, 20% at other inside locations, and 10% outside.

Fraser Health along with other partner organizations hosted a public meeting last night at Timms Community Centre about this crisis, and their response.

Fentanyl and its derivatives are what is causing the rapid increase in overdose deaths. Langley City’s Fire Chief Rory Thompson spoke about why it is easy to overdose on fentanyl. The following picture shows an example of what illicit pills with fentanyl look like, substituting fentanyl with blue-coloured sugar.

An example of how illicit pills can have inconsistencies. Select image to enlarge.

Because there is no quality control, one pill can have a lot more fentanyl than another in the same batch. One pill could kill you, one wouldn’t.

While the immediate response is getting people naloxone, addressing the stigma associated with drug use, and the systemic barriers to getting treatment, was front and centre at last night’s meeting.

Deb Bailey told the story of her daughter Ola. A bright girl and athlete who died due to a drug overdose. CBC has an article that tells Ola’s story, but Deb summed up what were contributing factors that led to her 21-year-old daughter dying.

Ola was generically vulnerable, and struggled socially to find a group of peers to belong to. She also had documented difficulties that indicated that she needed support, but requests for help were often ignored. Once she became addicted, she faced systemic barriers to getting help including a fragmented health system that wasn’t using the best evidenced-based treatment to help people suffering from addiction. A tainted drug was what ultimately led to Ola’s untimely death.

Deb Bailey talks about how stigma costs us all. Select image to enlarge.

Deb talked about the shame and stigma associated with drug addition, and how that causes people to not get help. People don’t get help because they don’t want others to judge them as “junkies.” Deb told the story of a nurse that didn’t want to get help because she heard how some other nurses talked about people who are suffering from a drug addiction.

The vast majority of people who are addicted to illicit drugs are young men with jobs and a home. Fraser Health and its partners are now starting to reach out to trade unions and other organizations to reduce the stigma associated with drug addiction, so that people will feel less shame, and be more likely to seek help.

At the same time, Langley doctors are now able to prescribe suboxone as a treatment for drug addiction without having to refer people to special addiction doctors.

Our health system is not serving people who are suffering from drug addiction well. It seems that the province is now starting to take this issue seriously, and is making it easier for people to access treatment which seems to be key to reducing the number of people dying from overdoses in our province.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Metro Vancouver’s expanding Urban Containment Boundary

One of the roles of the Metro Vancouver Regional District is to provide a regional growth strategy. Provincial legislation requires that a regional growth strategy work towards incorporating the following goals:

  • Avoiding urban sprawl and ensuring that development takes place where adequate facilities exist or can be provided in a timely, economic and efficient manner.
  • Settlement patterns that minimize the use of automobiles and encourage walking, bicycling and the efficient use of public transit.
  • The efficient movement of goods and people while making effective use of transportation and utility corridors.
  • Protecting environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Maintaining the integrity of a secure and productive resource base, including the agricultural land reserve.
  • Economic development that supports the unique character of communities.
  • Reducing and preventing air, land and water pollution.
  • Adequate, affordable and appropriate housing.
  • Adequate inventories of suitable land and resources for future settlement.
  • Protecting the quality and quantity of ground water and surface water.
  • Settlement patterns that minimize the risks associated with natural hazards.
  • Preserving, creating and linking urban and rural open space, including parks and recreation areas.
  • Planning for energy supply and promoting efficient use, conservation and alternative forms of energy.
  • Good stewardship of land, sites and structures with cultural heritage value.
  • A regional growth strategy can cover a good deal of ground, and our region’s strategy covers many of these goals.

Two of the tools used in our regional growth strategy to accomplish these goals are regional land-use designations and an Urban Containment Boundary. The primary purpose of the Urban Containment Boundary is to limit sprawl, and preserve green-space and employment lands.

All municipalities must submit Regional Context Statements to the Metro Vancouver Regional District board for approval. These Regional Context Statements show how a municipality’s Official Community Plan aligns with the regional growth strategy.

The Township of Langley’s Regional Context Statements were subject to a dispute resolution process which completed in October 2016. It was the last municipality to have these statements approved. In addition, there has been other minor amendments to regional land-use designations in other municipalities.

The regional district is now moving forward with updating the land-use maps included in the regional growth strategy.

The following is the current regional land-use map for the South of Fraser.

Current Regional Land-Use Map for the South of Fraser. Select map to download. 

The following is the proposal regional land-use map.

Proposed Regional Land-Use Map for the South of Fraser. Select map to enlarge.

As you can see, there is not much difference. The Urban Containment Boundary does change around Campbell Heights, Trinity Western University, and Murrayville.

Urban sprawl happens slowly, parcel by parcel. The Urban Containment Boundary helps hold the line. Earlier this year, the regional district asked member municipalities if the current regional growth strategy was effective. The generally consensus was that it is effective.

The current update to the regional growth strategy maps does show the Urban Containment Boundary being pushed out, but it was a long process for that to happen. While no plan is perfect, the current regional growth strategy appears to be working well in limiting sprawl.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

#LangleyCityConnects Neighbourhood Meetings: An open forum for residents of our community

For the past several years, Langley City has hosted a series of neighbourhood meetings in the fall. These meetings provide an opportunity for residents in our community to come out and learn about what City Hall has been up to including our new strategic plan, parks and trail upgrades, recreation programs, and road safety improvements.

Senior staff members from all the City’s departments will be present, and there will also be representation from the RCMP. If you have questions about fire safety, the financial plan, zoning, bylaws, crime prevention, or any other topic, this is a great opportunity to get them answered straight from the horse's mouth.

The City will also be seeking feedback on extending bike lanes along the whole 52/51B Avenue corridor.

Last year was the first year I attended these neighbourhood meetings as a member of council, and I had some really great conversation will people in our community.

There is a meeting tonight and next Thursday as noted below. No RSVP is needed, all you need to do is show up.

Date:Thursday, October 12
Time: 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Location: Douglas Park Community School Gym - 5409 206 Street

Date: Thursday, October 19
Time: 6:00pm - 8:00pm
Location: HD Stafford Middle School Small Gym, 20441 Grade Crescent

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Metro Vancouver looking to ban some wood-burning fireplaces and stoves

This summer was extremely smoky in Metro Vancouver due to the devastating forest fires which swept through the province and Washington State. The Air Quality Health Index was at a higher risk state in our region for multiple days. As someone who has asthma, I was acutely aware of the link between air quality and health.

Air quality has an impact on human health. At Metro Vancouver’s Climate Action Committee, Michael Brauer who is a professor in the Faculty of Medicine, School of Population and Public Health at UBC delivered a presentation on air quality and our health in Metro Vancouver. The following slide from his presentation sums things up: increased air pollution results in more people dying.

Air pollution and health. Select slide to enlarge. 

Metro Vancouver generally has some of the cleanest air of any major region in the world, but we still have room for improvement. Fine particulate matter —released when wood is burned— causes increased mortality rates. In fact Brauer noted in his presentation that “on cold days and days with highest biomass contributions [there is a] 19% increase risk of heart attacks.” Biomass contribution means burning wood.

Air pollution in Metro Vancouver and other world regions. Select slide to enlarge.

In Metro Vancouver, about 27% of all wood burning is from 100,000 fireplaces and stoves. These are generally the single largest source of wood burning in the region, and have a negative impact on people’s health. The Metro Vancouver Regional District has regulatory authority over air quality, and is looking to ban some residential wood-burning appliances in our region from being used.

In 2020, the regional district is proposing to only allow indoor wood-burning appliances to be used between September 16 and May 14 expect cooking appliances which could be used year-round.

In 2022, the district is proposing to implement a registration requirement for these appliances to ensure that they emit no more than 4.5 grams of particulate per hour with the goal in 2025 of prohibiting emissions from all wood-burning appliances except:

  • Registered appliances
  • Appliances that are the sole source of heat
  • Appliances that use wood burning as the heat source for cooking
  • Outside the Urban Containment Boundary
  • In case of hardship

It is good that Metro Vancouver is proposing to take action to reduce wood burning in our region, but the “in case of hardship” clause may make the regulation more educational than anything as it would be hard to enforce.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

No tolls mean more congestion on Metro Vancouver roads

Artist rendering of proposed Pattullo Bridge. Select image to enlarge.

Most transportation planners know that you cannot build your way out of congestion. More roads simply create more traffic in growing urban areas. The only way to reduce congestion is by using direct user fees, whether through tolling or a more comprehensive mobility pricing program.

Equally important is building communities that are walkable, bikeable, and served by high-quality transit which gives people a way out of congestion.

Last month, tolls were removed from the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges; traffic across those crossings increased significantly. A CBC article proclaimed that “ending tolls snarls traffic on Port Mann, Golden Ears bridges.

While traffic did decrease on some other crossings such as the Alex Fraser and Pattullo, there was a significant overall net gain in traffic. This is called induced demand.

In the Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project update for TransLink’s September 28 open board meeting, there is a section called Traffic Implications of No Tolls which sums this ups.

The elimination of point tolls from Metro Vancouver bridges necessitated a re-analysis of traffic patterns without tolls on the new Pattullo Bridge. Without tolls as a demand management tool, traffic volumes would be higher on the new Pattullo Bridge, and at other key locations in Metro Vancouver. The new four-lane Bridge will represent a capacity increase of approximately 10 percent compared to the existing bridge, but with continued population and employment growth in the region, queues and peak-period congestion can be expected to continue on the new Bridge approaches. Similarly, queues and congestion will continue at many other key locations in the regional road network. The future introduction of mobility pricing and continued expansion of the transit network represent the best opportunity for road congestion relief in the region.

Earlier this year, the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation launched an independent commission on mobility pricing. This commission is scheduled to complete its work early next year, and will be recommending “a coordinated approach for regional road usage charging in Metro Vancouver.” Whatever solution is proposed, it would have to be implemented by the provincial government.

The current provincial government appears to be on board with expanding transit in our region. Will the province also move forward with implementing mobility pricing? Implementing such a system will take political courage. In the meantime, congestion will only continue to increase in our region.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

October 2, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Holding the line on property tax exemptions, plus budget amended for additional projects in community

Over the last few days, I have been posting about some of the major items that were on Monday night’s council agenda. Today, I will be posting about the remaining items that were on the agenda.

Back in May, a public hearing occurred for a rezoning application for 19942 Brydon Crescent. The rezoning would allow a four-storey apartment building which is permitted under the City’s Official Community Plan. Council gave final approval to the rezoning, and approved the issuance of a development permit for the project on Monday.

Langley City Official Community Plan land-use map. Select image to download.

The City’s Financial Plan was approved in February. Over the course of the year, some parts of the budget must change which requires council to amend the budget. Since February, Langley City has received around $650,000 in additional funds from TransLink and the province which has enabled the following projects:

  • 48 Avenue bike lanes near Simonds Elementary School
  • Improving sidewalks along Duncan Way
  • Additional safety improvements along 56 Avenue
  • Left turn signal and pedestrian timers for 200 Street and Grade Crescent intersection
  • Upgrade traffic signal at 200 Street and Michaud
  • Overhead street name sign upgrades
  • 53 Avenue bike lanes

In addition, 14 other projects received funding in 2017 including a new washroom, storage facility, and additional park benches, picnic tables and a shelter for Penzer Action Park. These additional projects were funded from the Capital Works Reserve, Community Amenity Fund, and the Parks & Recreation Reserve.

On the topic of finances, the City grants property tax exemptions for certain properties in our community. These exemptions must be renewed annually. In 2017, the City provided $200,675 in tax exemptions. Church buildings are entitled to a statutory property tax exemption under BC law. The City also generally provides a tax exemption for the full lot that a church building is sited on, as well as to churches that lease land.

The City generally provides property tax emptions to the following non-profit organizations:

  • Langley Seniors Resource Society
  • Langley Stepping Stones Rehabilitative Society
  • Langley Community Music School Society
  • Outdoor Langley Lawn Bowling Club
  • Langley Community Services
  • Governing Council of the Salvation Army for the Gateway of Hope
  • Ishtar Transitional Housing
  • Global School Society which operates a Montessori school
  • Langley Care Society which operates Langley Lodge
  • Langley Hospice Society
  • Langley Association for Community Living

The City received additional requests for property tax exemptions for 2018, but council decided to maintain the status quo. These exemptions do have a material impact on all ratepayers in our community. For example, if council eliminated these exemptions (which is not being considered at this time), property tax could be decreased by almost one percent.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October 2, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Council endorses recommendations for a possible pilot program to reduce discarded needles, and to increase reporting suspicious activity

As I noted late last month, Langley City’s Crime Prevention Task Group has been busy working on evaluating and recommending policies that can help reduce crime in our community, and send the signal that Langley City residents will not tolerate negative activity.

Council gave unanimous approval to the following recommendations from the task group on Monday night’s council meeting.

THAT the Task Group recommend that Council direct staff to investigate an information sticker for residents which would include RCMP non-emergency contact information and a space to write their own civic address.

THAT the Task Group recommend that Council direct City staff to investigate with Fraser Health, the possibility of a pilot program which would install needle drop boxes in areas where there is a pattern of discarded needles; and
THAT a public education component precede the pilot program.

The first recommendation stems from the fact that the RCMP uses data about reported suspicious and negative activity to target their resources. The more that people call in to report these activities, the better the RCMP can target crime hot spots.

At the same time, when there is an emergency, the stress in these situations can make people forget basic information. The following sticker is currently distributed to the business community.

Current "Report all suspicious activity" sticker that is distributed to businesses.

With a simple change from “Your Business Address” to “Your Address”, this sticker can also be distributed for home-use as well. This sticker would be distributed primarily to seniors, and be made available at locations such as the Langley Senior Resources Society Centre.

Broken glass theory is based on the concept that vandalism and other signs of negative activity in neighbourhoods increase crime. This is because these signs cause people to withdraw from the public realm, creating space for more bad actors. Inversely, addressing the physical negative elements in neighbourhoods decrease crime by drawing people back into the public realm, creating a sense of pride and ownership, pushing negative activity out of neighbourhoods.

When people see discarded needles in our community, a negative signal is sent. This signal causes people to withdraw from an area. By addressing discarded needles, more people will be drawn into our parks and public spaces, creating more eyes and ears on the street which leads to reduced crime.

Fraser Health currently distributes needles as part of their harm-reduction program. Unfortunately, their currently system of collecting needles is not working well in our community.

Task group members reviewed a report from Montreal which found that there is “strong evidence of reduced discarding following the installation of drop boxes; drop boxes were associated with reductions of up to 98% (95% CI: 72-100%) and significant reductions for areas up to 200m from a drop box.” Members thought a drop box pilot would be worthwhile in Langley City considering the success in other communities.

I look forward to seeing the results of City staff’s investigation with Fraser Health on a pilot program.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

October 2, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Langley City residents in opposition to Urban Agricultural Demonstration Project. Land-use contracts discharged.

Earlier this year, I posted about Metro Vancouver’s Urban Agricultural Demonstration Project. This project is funded from Metro Vancouver’s Sustainable Innovation Fund, and Langley City and KPU are both partners.

There has been a series of open houses about the project, including the most recent open house which took place on September 19.

Many residents near the Urban Agricultural Demonstration Project study area are opposed to the project. At last night’s Langley City council meeting, around 50 residents attended the council meeting and expressed their opposition to the project being implemented.

A resident speaking on behalf of residents who are opposed to the implementation of the Urban Agricultural Demonstration Project. Select image to enlarge.

They presented four main points:

  • The green space in the study area is already heavily used by both people and wild animals.
  • This part of Langley City does not need urban agriculture as the area is surrounded by large-lot housing where gardens can be built on private property if desired.
  • It will create new problems.
  • It will cause increased traffic, and increase vehicles using on-street parking.

The presentation was professional, and the people that attended the meeting were respectful. The message of opposition to the project being implemented was certainly heard loud and clear by me. The residents also delivered a petition to council.

The public consultation period for this study is still on-going, and council will be presented with a full report which I look forward to reveiwing.

This deliverable of this project is an urban agriculture plan. All council will be receiving is a plan; no funding has been approved to implement the plan.

There was also a public hearing on the discharge of land-use contracts at properties located at 5040 205A Street and 20215 44A Avenue to allow for secondary suites. The City’s residential zoning in those areas allow for secondary suites, but many properties in our community have land-use contracts from the 1970s which supersede zoning. Land-use contracts haven’t been used for close to 40 years, and at the request of owners, the City will terminate these contracts.

There were no people at the council meeting who wished to speak to, or correspondence received about, land-use contracts. Council approved the discharge of the land-use contracts.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Light rail corridor redesign along 104th to accommodate more traffic. Bus service on-time performance improves along Fraser Highway.

TransLink’s Open Board Meeting occurred last Thursday. One of the items on the agenda was an update on the South of Fraser Light Rail Project.

In the Summer, the City of Surrey and TransLink hosted a public engagement process which included some artist renders of what 104 Avenue would look like.

Original proposed design of 104 Avenue, east of 144 Street.

The preceding drawing shows a street with one motor vehicle lane in each direction, sidewalks, protected cycling lanes, and light rail tracks. Currently, 104 Avenue has two motor vehicles lanes in each direction.

In the South of Fraser Rapid Transit Project Update which was prepared for the TransLink Board, the following paragraph is present:

The Project Team and the City of Surrey jointly reviewed the impacts on road users and emergency service response along the 104 Ave portion of the proposed LRT Corridor. The result is a modified road cross-section that enables better incident management. Further, the corridor was reviewed end to end to find additional opportunities to increase capacity of the traffic lanes without compromising adjacent land.

The key line is “find additional opportunities to increase capacity of traffic lanes.” It will be interesting to see what this mean for the final design. How will this impact the proposed cycling and walking infrastructure? Generally increasing motor vehicle capacity means more travel lanes, and/or left and right turn lanes at intersections.

Public information sessions are being planned for January 2018.

Fraser Highway is a busy transit corridor with many transit routes serving it. As someone who travels along this corridor daily, I've noticed that bus schedules seem to be more of a suggestion. This can be due to congestion, and it can be due to transit operators departing from timing points before schedule.

I’ve noticed over the last little while that operators now stop at timing points along the 502 route, even during peak periods. As noted in TransLink’s most recent board report, Fraser Highway was part of an on-time performance pilot project. This pilot resulted in a 1% improvement in on-time performance for transit routes along that corridor. This project will now be rolled out to other corridors in the region.

TransLink’s goal is to have 80% on-time performance for frequent bus routes. Right now, frequent routes have an on-time performance of 76.1% region-wide.