A transit funding decision or a popularity contest?

Broadway bus reduced

The management and staff at Fraseropolis.com plan to vote “Yes” in the 2015 Metro Vancouver transit referendum.

The arguments and alliances will be complex on both sides. We’ll wait some time before venturing into debate.

Last week, the Metro council of mayors adopted a ballot question for the referendum. The 2015 date is yet to be determined. A useful account of the mayors’ meeting has been posted by transportation blogger Stephen Rees. He refers to the transit authority’s convoluted model of governance, and its resulting political isolation; the  referendum may descend into a “popularity contest,” he suggests, rather than a vote on transit.

Interestingly, a coalition of business, labour and environmentalists has popped up to support the “Yes.” The face, for now, is a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister. We’ll see whether this grouping can amass the resources to run a genuine campaign.  No web site yet, but it is early days.

The ballot premise rests on a proposal for a 0.5 per cent regional increase in the sales tax, an idea put forward by our friend Nathan Pachal and co-tourist Paul Hillsdon in 2013. Here’s the question:

“Do you support a 0.5% increase to the provincial sales tax in Metro Vancouver, dedicated to these transportation and transit improvements, with independent audits and a public review of spending? Yes or No.”

Metro mayors, the British Columbia government and transit authority officials have been gridlocked on the issue of long-term funding ever since TransLink was created in 1998. The problem was one of the first topics to pop up on Fraseropolis (mid-2012), and I suppose it could be one of the last.

On South Fraser Street

Fraser St 1 reduced

My niece recently left home and moved to a different part of the world. From counter-culture Commercial Drive, she made the six-kilometre trek to South Fraser Street and found an affordable rental apartment.

A rare example of side-street excitement, South Hill, Vancouver

A rare example of side-street excitement, South Hill, Vancouver

They say the resident mix is evolving, although there’s no influx of trendy cafes or retail stores at this stage. The South Fraser area is beyond walking distance from rapid transit; in Toronto, many such areas would be served by streetcars, but this is not Toronto. There’s a standard Vancouver high street, heavy on ethnic butcher shops. There’s a low-rise condo project under construction; limited multi-unit housing on the side streets, with a couple of seniors complexes a bit further away; and rental mini-houses popping up in the laneways, Kitsilano-style. The park on 41st Avenue is the home of little league baseball in Vancouver.

My co-tourist Mr. Smarz and I walked a loop that took us east along 41st to Knight Street and the East Side Craft House. Nice pub, but quiet at Saturday lunchtime. Our server confirmed that the mix of customers is changing, with more non-Asian faces, people in their twenties and thirties, couples and singles.

The list of directors of the South Hill business association (Fraser from 41st to 50th)  shows a mix of Indo, Asian and European names. The association website stresses the importance of building community, and its vision statement provides for the adoption of an area plan by 2019. Recent area planning processes in the City of Vancouver have created discord, but let us hope that residents, planners and politicians can find a happier way forward. Pressure for high-density development on South Fraser should be reduced in light of the multi-tower redevelopment approved for the Oakridge town centre, two kilometres away.

A residents’ website, congenial in appearance, describes the South Fraser Street neighbourhood as “vibrant, welcoming and thoughtful,” but has been inactive since late 2012.

Drug store window, South Fraser Street

Drug store window, South Fraser Street

Classic Vancouver-style detached homes, Ross Street

Classic Vancouver-style detached homes, c. 1960, Ross Street

As often mentioned on this website, much of the rental housing built in Canada in the 1960s and 70s is reaching the end of its useful life. This complex at Fraser and 57th is posted for redevelopment.

As often mentioned on this website, much of the rental housing built in Canada in the 1960s and 70s is reaching the end of its useful life. This complex at Fraser and 57th is posted for redevelopment.

Metro Vancouver election results: build, baby, build

On November 15, voters in most of British Columbia voted for continuity in local government. Where there was change, it was generally more generational than ideological.  (And if there was no competition, such as for the mayor’s position in the District of North Vancouver, there was no voting at all.) In Metro Vancouver, continuity means further densification, often through tower development. For the most part, anti-development movements were turned back at the ballot box.

Port Moody Centre croppedLet’s start with the single partial exception. In Port Moody, city government had proposed a dramatic plan to densify the central area, responding to the anticipated opening of a new rapid transit line. An opposition movement bloomed, peaking in late 2013, vowing to protect Port Moody’s (fictitious, I think) “small-town feel.” I do not know what this means; Port Moody has allowed monster detached homes to run halfway up Heritage Mountain, and its manufactured urban villages are heavy with towers. In any case, the  opposition leader ran for mayor, and did okay, but he was defeated by incumbent mayor Mike Clay. The mayor lost some allies on council, and at least one newcomer has vowed to protect the “small-town feel.”. Both sides say they won. Clay says his central area plan, scaled down in 2014 to appease the critics, will be implemented. Over time. Continue reading

Home purchase affordability in Metro Vancouver


Ross Street, Vancouver

Ross Street, Vancouver

The Urban Development Institute (an industry association) and VanCity (a financial institution) have released a comparison of home affordability in three Metro Vancouver zones: the City of Vancouver, “Inner” Metro and “Outer” Metro.

The authors stipulate that when a household pays more than 32 per cent of gross income for housing, their housing no longer qualifies as “affordable.” Continue reading

Housing action and inaction in a West Coast suburb

1970s-vintage housing, central Maple Ridge

1970s-vintage housing, central Maple Ridge

Late in its 2011-2014 term, City Council in the British Columbia suburb of Maple Ridge  ratified a housing action plan intended to promote housing choice and affordability.

The issue matters because quality housing is a key determinant of population health. At the dawn of the welfare state, as Canadian troops returned from World War Two, the federal government promoted affordable housing investment from the private and public sectors. By the 1980s, Ottawa and the provinces had turned their backs on this effort. The cost of this rollback has fallen mostly on renters, with an increasingly creaky and leaky stock of dedicated rental housing from sea to sea.

Continue reading

Flying over the Fraser River

George Massey replacement 2

Over the past decade, taxpayers have invested perhaps $7 billion in new freeways, bridges, and other major highways in Greater Vancouver.

George Massey replacementAnd there’s more to come! British Columbia’s government has produced a fun video about the bridge that will soon replace the George Massey Tunnel (1959).The video testifies to the persuasive power of images alone. No voiceover required.

The tunnel replacement project is underway, and has completed two rounds of public engagement. Searching online, I find only one minor instance of public protest to this point.

Talking Population Forecasting Blues

Population growth forecasts, Metro Vanouver, 2011-2014Our friend Morgan Jensen, a candidate for city council in Maple Ridge, recently shared a chart that lays out growth forecasts for municipalities in Metro Vancouver. It comes from a planning presentation at the Township of Langley.

The chart shows more than a doubling of population in the Township, putting roughly 225,000 people in that area in 2041. The City of Vancouver would acquire the same number of people as the Township, but grow much more slowly in percentage terms, reaching a population of 765,000. Surrey would become the region’s largest city, with about 880,000 people. Continue reading