Follow-up on a fatal crash and a homeless camp

1-DSC_2442On May 18 of this year we published a letter to Doug Bing, a member of the British Columbia Legislature, about a fatal crash on a provincial highway near our home in suburban Maple Ridge. The layout of the highway intersection where the crash took place had been unsafe for years.

In recent weeks, technicians have installed a low-tech improvement at the problem corner. This modest screen, pictured above, deters southbound drivers from making the last-minute lane switch that was putting all directions at risk. If the pylons get mowed down, they can be re-installed. Thanks to Mr. Bing for taking in interest in this issue.

[Three days after we posted this item, firefighters, police and ambulance arrived at the same intersection to attend to a crash involving a turning movement that was not mentioned in the letter to Mr. Bing. The seriousness of the injuries was not obvious, but one vehicle was likely a write-off. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia received reports on 65,000 intersection crashes in the Lower Mainland in 2013, the latest year for which numbers are available.]

On July 15, we reported on the status of a homeless camp located on a residential street near the top of the road shown above. The mayor of Maple Ridge, Nicole Read, had decided to seek housing for the 60-odd camp residents rather than simply chasing them away.

As of late October, the homeless camp is gone, at least for now, and the street has been narrowed with steel fencing.


A big part of the story was a City Council decision to open a temporary shelter in an empty furniture store space 100 metres away. There were 60+ people in the camp, and there are now 40+ people in the temporary shelter.

On the day I took the above photo of the empty street, I was approached by a security guard who still patrols the area. She said transient people continue to hang out here, to the annoyance of the owners of a single small business corner. There were five or six people sitting on a concrete median barrier near where we spoke. The security guard said, softly, that one had just arrived, drawn by the rumour that Maple Ridge has plenty of shelter for the homeless.

The core of the City’s hope for improvement, judging from the “Maple Ridge Resilience Initiative” web page, is to study the integration of services related to mental health, substance abuse and housing.

“The goal is to produce a Social Services Delivery Research Report, which clearly outlines models and opportunities that are designed to strengthen and improve the service delivery and funding models for services in these areas. The focus is specifically related to researching and articulating a comprehensive overall structure of both the delivery of these services at the local community level as well as the senior government policy frameworks and funding models that support and inform the local structure. The City’s primary interest is to position both the City and service providers to be proactive and strategic in advocating for policy and funding model changes that will result in appropriate and sustainable funding models to support an improved, accessible, integrated and collaborative social service delivery model that addresses the needs of the vulnerable populations in the community. The report will recommend advocacy mechanisms and opportunities for the City in both the immediate and in the long-term. In addition the report will recommend metrics together with a mechanism to ensure ongoing monitoring that will result in a cycle of continuous improvement to meet changing and future needs of vulnerable populations.”

There’s much more, but I’ll refer you to page 39 of the June 1 Maple Ridge Council agenda.


The phantom Skytrain extension — a Vancouver perspective

Recent medium-density housing, 10th Avenue near Ontario St.

Recent medium-density housing, 10th Avenue near Ontario St.

Our previous post on the proposed Clark-to-Arbutus Skytrain extension was picked up by Price Tags, a definitive urban affairs site for the city of Vancouver.

This generated a number of messages to, including the following from MB, who supports a Broadway Avenue project rather than the 10th Avenue dig that was contemplated in our report. I have transposed one sentence for clarity, and added a couple of editorial notes.

The 10th Ave alignment has many challenges related to the disruption of an old, established community. I suggest severely disrupting resident’s lives over 25 blocks for cut and cover would have a much greater political pushback than disrupting traffic on Broadway. Using C&C on non-arterials in historic neighbourhoods is engineering from the Dark Ages.

A designated heritage home on 10th Ave.

A designated heritage residence on 10th Ave.

My old residence faces directly onto 10th Ave with zero setback and is one of several 100+ year old unreinforced brick structures facing 10th. Opening the road even for a narrow double decker tunnel will likely destabilize and crack the structure. It and the majority of other Mount Pleasant buildings originate from Vancouver’s first streetcar neighbourhoods and predate the zoning bylaw by almost a half century, therefore they do not have parking facilities. Not one single family residence exists for almost the entire route.Thus the adjacent streets will become even more crammed than they already are. There are mature trees on just about every block that will be cut down.

Council has already had a taste of neighbourhood reaction in communities like Mount Pleasant from the reaction to the nearby Rize development, and in Grandview over the planning process. Vision [Mayor Robertson’s municipal party] almost lost the last election over development impacts in Grandview, and barely saved their political skins by first apologizing, then slowing down and putting the entire planning process into the hands of residents through a Citizen’s Assembly. Let’s hope they respect that process, and respect residents in other established neighbourhoods when the Broadway Line is finally built.

We need to learn from the two-year open trench warfare that occurred during the construction of the Canada Line, which is a cheap, below-average yet effective subway. Because there will be a design life of the 100+ years, and because it [the Arbutus extension] will generate significant revenue and receive very high passenger counts through several interconnected regional-scale transit networks and realize a profit after a few years, they can afford another $40 million per kilometre for full tunnel boring. TBMs do not disrupt the surface except at their entry and exit points, and in fact are almost forgettable after they enter the earth.

Stations are another story, but the open station boxes we witnessed with the Canada Line [during construction] must be avoided and should be covered with steel bridges and plates, therein allowing at least two lanes in each direction to move for at least commercial, service and transit vehicles. Purchasing adjacent properties at some station locations will allow the contractors to remove and deliver materials and equipment sideways instead of up or down from the road surface. The properties could be developed by the city, transit authority, senior government agency or the private sector (who will pay a surcharge for direct access) to help defray construction costs.

Taking a national approach could mean sharing the costs of projects between cities via large construction contracts managed by the feds (e.g. splitting the cost of big ticket items like TBMs to be used several times in several projects; grouping projects together in single multiple-part tenders and giving private consortiums more time than average to sharpen their pencils and compete amongst themselves; obtaining deep discounts on unit prices through bulk national procurement orders; taking mandatory contracted Canadian manufacturing and construction jobs to an above-average level; having serious power to negotiate significant public side benefits from private contractors, etc.). Under no circumstances should we resort to the discredited ideology of P3s and privatization of public amenities and services.

Anyone who says you cannot physically build a subway and stations on the Broadway Corridor had their eyes closed when they built two stations on Granville Street, which is 6m narrower. When you build such an effective transit asset you can afford to use the outside parking lanes for station access from both sides of the street (i.e. two points of access/egress to the platforms instead of one), to expand the sidewalks at stations to afford exemplary pedestrian access and universal accessibility.

Broadway Avenue storefronts near Kingsway

Broadway Avenue storefronts near Kingsway

Broadway Avenue building front near Arbutus

Broadway Avenue building front near Arbutus

The station platforms should be at least 120m long to accommodate future growth. Further, building this amenity could also remove enough cars to be able to free up thousands of m2 of land locked up in street parking to greatly improve the human experience of the pedestrian realm with high-quality and attractive treatment with great station architecture, and high quality urban design treatments using trees, lighting, fountains, generous seating, special paving, art, signalized mid-block crossings in the densest sections, and bus stop bulges. Much of the remaining parking lanes could be devoted to commercial loading and car share locations while keeping some parking. The subway combined with an enhanced Number Nine trolley service will provide a great balance between fast and highly frequent regional and slower local service, and therein offer an orders-of-magnitude increase in service quality.

Regarding the capacity of the Canada Line, I believe it has plenty of room to grow by adding the third car, increasing frequencies, and reorienting the seats in the middle sections of the cars to run a continuous bench parallel to the walls and windows, like SkyTrain and a number of other metro systems. Now if we can find out what it would cost to buy out the private operator’s contract …..

The response above is built on the assumption that Vancouver City Hall makes the key decisions on rapid transit. This has never been true at any time in British Columbia’s history. Transit has been operated since 1999 by the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority, a pseudo-regional body that is controlled in effect by the provincial government.

Three quarters of the region’s residents live outside the city of Vancouver. In taxpaying terms, outlanders would pay the same share as MB for the construction of the10th Street/Broadway line. In the run-up to the 2015 transportation funding referendum,  regional mayors pointed out that more than 50 per cent of bus riders on Vancouver’s Broadway Avenue comes from cities to the east of the big city. Fraseropolis will advocate for careful public deliberation around any development decision, but in this case the process needs to take account of regional as well as neighbourhood interests.


The Arbutus Skytrain extension – a phantom tour

1-Arbutus transit extension.jpg

J Trudeau

During Canada’s recent federal election campaign, Prime-Minister-to-be Justin Trudeau promised funding support for transit in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland — “to extend rapid transit along Broadway to Arbutus, bring light rail transit to Surrey, and increase SeaBus service during peak periods.” It’s part of a commitment to invest C$20 billion in Canadian infrastructure projects over 10 years. This announcement may breathe new life into a transit project that, judging from online discussion, appears to have lost momentum over the past three or four years.

Track's end, near VCC

Track’s end, near VCC

The proposed extension of Skytrain into the west side of the City of Vancouver has been on the books since the Millennium transit line was built in the 1990s. The Millennium line runs west from the Coquitlam border through Burnaby into Vancouver, ending abruptly near Vancouver Community College, almost at the dividing point between the east and west sides of the city. The western extension of the line would relieve pressure on Vancouver’s Broadway Avenue bus corridor, home of the limited-stop B-99 services that had 55,000 boardings per day in 2013. Continue reading

From village to town



Vicki and I recently enjoyed the hospitality of friends in Friesenheim, a village of 7,000 people set in the wine hills of southwest Germany near the French border.

Rathaus historyOur hosts Alexander and Ingeborg live in the house that Ingeborg’s father built, where I first visited them in 1975. Friesenheim’s central area hardly changed since those days, and the village council apparently sees this as a problem. The council has approved a controversial   development plan for the main street — to move it into the direction of Kitsilano, let’s say, or Burnaby Heights — with a four-story mixed-use complex, apartments upstairs, commercial space at grade, across from the 400-year-old municipal hall. Continue reading

2015 property taxes — further to

Walnut Grove, Langley Township

Walnut Grove, Langley Township

Last week’s post on 2015 British Columbia property taxes was shared with the “Maple Ridge Council Watch” Facebook group, and there were comments on that site about  gaps in my presentation.

I’ll point out again that there’s no magic lens to provide clarity on the property tax situation. The system is complicated, and the question of whether you or I are receiving value or fair treatment will always be open to debate. Continue reading

Property taxes 2015 – in search of the obvious

Ladner, Municipality of Delta

Ladner, Municipality of Delta

Every spring, homeowners across British Columbia receive a statement from their local government demanding payment for local and regional services, including elementary and secondary education.

The individual statements are complex enough. But with 30 cities and towns in the Fraseropolis area alone, all facing different economic circumstances and delivering services in  different ways, and a wide range of property values within each jurisdiction, it’s close to impossible for the lone taxpayer to evaluate their own position in terms of fairness and value. Continue reading

Return to Central Lonsdale

Lonsdale Ave 1Since we toured the Central Lonsdale village in January 2013, the area has taken on much more of a big-city feel.

Lonsdale Ave 2Controversy over tower development around Lonsdale village divided the residents of the City of North Vancouver in the November 2014 municipal election. The incumbent pro-development mayor, Darrell Mussato, was returned with just 52.5 per cent of the vote, but landed a full slate of council supporters. In my view, this part of Lonsdale Avenue is turning into one of the finest urban high streets in Western Canada, and the pedestrian traffic on the pavements tends to prove that — with the qualifier that the competition, looking out to Surrey, Calgary and Regina, is sparse. Continue reading