The freeway islands, Langley, British Columbia

Commercial development, right, is surrounded by components of the 200th Street Interchange

Commercial development, right, is surrounded by components of the 200th Street Interchange

In 1999 or thereabouts, the British Columbia government and Langley Township agreed to locate commercial development within a new Highway 1 interchange at 200th Street, replacing a crumbling structure from the Diefenbaker era. Interchange traffic would be controlled by several sets of traffic signals, a departure from freer-flowing design traditions.

Highway 1/200 interchange, as shown in the 2013 Carvolth area plan

Highway 1/200th Street interchange, from the 2013 Township of Langley Carvolth area plan

The land use approach and the design were innovations in B.C. In an angry  response, some Langley residents launched a campaign for a “real” interchange without complex internal signals. Voters dumped the mayor who had signed the deal, and a new Township mayor and council worked to frustrate the project.

The incident is absent from the internet aside from odd notations in Township minutes.  I write mostly from memory. I worked at the BC Transportation Financing Authority, a now-defunct agency set up in the mid-’90s to solve a pattern of cost overruns in the highways ministry. One of the TFA’s lesser tasks was to find bits of private funding to support road and interchange projects. There was a shopping mall project at Mission, a golf course project north of Horseshoe Bay, a ski resort project on Vancouver Island. In Langley, the sale of land at Highway 1 and 200th Street was supposed to cut the cost of the interchange replacement  project by $6 million (again, from memory.)

Looking across the southeast freeway island at 200th St,

Looking across the southeast freeway island at 200th St.

The mayor who agreed to designate the interchange islands for commercial use was John Scholtens. He and his council allies lost their seats in the election of late 1999. Langley Times editor Frank Bucholz  recalled in March 2011 that while Scholtens’ team  “accomplished a great deal.. the methods used on many issues turned off voters.”

The new mayor, Kurt Alberts, was an art gallery owner and heritage buff. Municipal staff advised him that freeway island development would hurt plans to attract  commercial investment to other parts of the Township.

A cloverleaf near Kalamazoo, taken from the Michigan engineering website, Photo Brian Wolfe.

A classic cloverleaf interchange near Kalamazoo, Michigan, taken from the engineering website Photo by Brian Wolfe.

The Committee for a Real Interchange, meanwhile, argued that mixing local commercial traffic into freeway ramps was a recipe for frequent collisions. And the interchange signaling system, according to a sympathetic Township councillor, would cause traffic to bog down. “All it will accomplish is idling traffic and increased smog.” The B.C. government named an expert panel to review the issue, and the panel reported in 2001 that the design conformed to prevailing standards. This was beside the point; the fact that remained that  Langley was being asked to accept an interchange with three stoplights from north to south, something that would interfere with the North American dream of free-flowing vehicle traffic.

The Township communicated its displeasure, insisted on a redundancy of community meetings and dragged out the re-zoning and permitting processes. The new interchange opened in 2004 (as I recall); more than two years late and well over budget.

Langley’s freeway islands have filled in with retail, office and warehouse uses, although more slowly than originally forecast. Commercial development here is now deemed to be a good thing, not a bad thing, and the creation of automobile oriented commercial complexes along 200th Street is accelerating, along with a rise in traffic volumes.

As for design, the classic cloverleaf is widely considered to be obsolete for urban purposes; inefficient in its use of land, limited in capacity and prone to rollovers. However, if the Province was building the 200th Street Interchange today, it would impose different decisions to speed traffic flow, even at a higher financial cost; the tendency since 2005 has been to remove traffic signals (Pitt River Bridge, Cape Horn Interchange) rather than adding them.

Also, it is unlikely that we will see another interchange with development in the freeway islands — even if developers do like to get nice and close to freeway traffic.

Looking north across undeveloped freeway lands to the Colossus Cinema and the Golden Ears peaks.

Looking north across undeveloped lands along 88 Avenue to the Colossus Cinema and the Golden Ears peaks.

Apartment housing with a parking lot view on the northeast shoulder of the 200th Street Interchange area

Apartment housing with a parking lot view on the northeast shoulder of the 200th Street Interchange area

A transit funding decision or a popularity contest?

Broadway bus reduced

The management and staff at 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.