TransLink mayors speak with one voice, mostly

Lougheed at Madison croppedAbout a month ago, Metro Vancouver’s mayors broke with previous form and achieved near-consensus on a 10-year plan for transit investment.

Media coverage of this event has been limited, focusing on the projected cost of the plan rather than the promised improvements. The region’s trains and buses carry more than 800,000 passengers per day, and this should be enough to sustain a conversation on transit funding; but the transportation authority’s governance structure is convoluted, and its financial woes never-ending. Public interest, for now, remains at its normal lukewarm level.

The headline cost of the mayors’ plan is $7.5 billion over ten years, to pay for a new Pattullo Bridge crossing of the Fraser River, new rapid transit for Vancouver and Surrey, and additional bus service for all. Perhaps the clearest summary, as often happens, comes from suburban reporter Jeff Nagel.

In the mid-1990s, I ran a couple of large-scale surveys of Vancouver-area residents on attitudes to transportation. Two-thirds of the respondents supported an aggressive expansion of the transit system, but only one-third were prepared to pay. We haven’t come far in resolving that conundrum. Local and provincial politicians have bickered  over the question of funding since TransLink was created in 1998. On June 27, two weeks after the announcement of their plan, the mayors expressed frustration in a letter to the provincial minister of transportation, which they posted on a newish website they have set up just for this purpose.

Even if we go nowhere with the current proposal, it’s encouraging to see the mayors taking a position in almost a unified way, through their own dedicated channel. I suggested on this site in February 2012 that the mayors should take a campaign-style approach if they wanted to build credibility, and they are moving in this direction.

One would hope, further, that they can influence the public conversation around transit, which dwells too often on personalities and executive salaries. Their challenge is to communicate how public transit  benefits all sectors of the community. Mayor Richard Walton of North Vancouver took this approach in a recent interview where he talked about transit’s effects in reducing highway traffic. Other clear benefits include increased mobility for low-income workers, increased access to training and education, more active living choices for seniors, and support for walkable urban villages and local independent business.

South Fraser Perimeter Road, Surrey

South Fraser Perimeter Road, Surrey

The holdout among the mayors is Derek Corrigan of the City of Burnaby. Before he entered local politics, he was chair of BC Transit in the days when that provincial agency operated buses and trains in Metro Vancouver. Around the time of Corrigan’s tenure, the provincial NDP government agreed that Burnaby needed a second crosstown rapid transit line, to supplement the one that already existed. Mr. Corrigan now argues that we can’t afford to build rapid transit in Surrey, or provide better bus service in distant places like Maple Ridge.

$7.5 billion over ten years, by the way, is about what we’ve invested in freeways and bridges in Metro Vancouver in the past ten years, if you add financing and in-house project costs to the posted costs. A significant fraction of the highway construction costs will be repaid from tolls, it’s true; but likewise, a fraction of the transit capital cost will be repaid from fares.

 

Langley Township’s “civic core”

Church

The Township of Langley website identifies the Murrayville area as the municipality’s “traditional civic core. Murrayville is home to the Langley Memorial Hospital, Langley RCMP Main Detachment, Langley School District offices, W.C. Blair Recreation Centre, and Langley Regional Airport.”

The old Porter's General Store, now a popular café in Murrayville, Langley

The old Porter’s General Store, now a popular café in Murrayville, Langley

The centre of the original village stands at 216 Street and 48 Avenue. It includes a church (1889) and a former general store that is now a café and bistro. Around this is a modest stock of pre-1930s houses, some converted for commercial uses such as real estate or accounting offices.

Most of the recent commercial development, however, has taken place in strip malls with low-rise office complexes five to eight blocks west of the village centre. The main pedestrian connection to the village is busy with automobile traffic. The neighbourhood plan, dated 1989, declares the Township’s intention “to encourage service commercial uses in locations readily accessible to vehicles.” The plan was completed at a time when the local population was less than 2,000, and it envisioned a maximum population of 9,700. This has nearly been achieved, almost entirely with the new construction of single detached homes and townhomes, with a minimal number of apartment complexes.

C. 1990 detached home in faux-heritage style, Murrayville

C. 1990 detached home in faux-heritage style, Murrayville

Some may question the use of the term “civic core” to describe a set of functions scattered along arterial roads. The school district offices, police headquarters and recreation centre sit on adjacent parking lots, but the hospital is 1.5 kilometres away and the small airport terminal is more than 2 kilometres from the police station. The driving times are generally brief, of course, but I think it take more than this to make an urban core.

My co-tourist Robert Smarz and I lunched at the Murrayville Town Pub. It has a cheerful neighbourhood atmosphere, although the nearby commercial architecture, housing an odd variety of uses including a branch of the Fraser Valley Public Library, is sub-inspiring.

Storefronts and parking in Murrayville, Saturday afternoon

Storefronts and parking in Murrayville, Saturday afternoon

Townhouse row

 

 

2014 property taxes in Metro Vancouver

Queensborough 2012 cropped

In a report on property taxes in Maple Ridge, the District of Maple Ridge incudes a table showing municipal tax charges on the “average house” in cities across the Metro Vancouver region. The table is provided below, minus a few explanatory notes.

There are 21 municipalities in the region, and some of the smaller ones are not shown. Mission, which is adjacent to Maple Ridge, is not part of the Metro Vancouver region. Continue reading

Missing the boat in Queensborough

New Westminster Quay seen from Queensborough

New Westminster Quay seen from Queensborough

Queensborough lies south of an elevated section of B.C. Highway 91A. From that perspective, it looks like a jumble of townhomes built on leftover land.

Vintage-style housing, probably mid-'90s, South Dyke Road

Vintage-style housing, probably mid-’90s, South Dyke Road

Viewed more closely, the neighbourhood is pretty in spots,  with dramatic waterfront views of mainland New West. My co-tourist Fred Armstrong was pleased with his photos of river and clouds. This is a fragment of the City of New Westminster located on Lulu Island, with a long industrial history that has left a working railroad running down its main street. Continue reading

Port Mann Bridge: The case of the disappearing traffic

Part of the Port Mann Bridge; graphic from the current TI Corp service plan

Part of the Port Mann Bridge; graphic from the current TI Corp service plan

The British Columbia government now predicts heavier short-term financial losses on the Port Mann toll bridge than previously forecast, although it maintains the position that user tolls will eventually pay all costs related to the reconstructed bridge.

The issue here is declining traffic volumes — a pattern of decline that began long before tolls were implemented in 2012. Weekday traffic on the bridge, the primary access point to Vancouver from the rest of Canada, is down an astonishing 20 per cent from the peak levels of 2006. Continue reading

“This is your next Metrotown”

The Surrey Central tower, housing SFU operations and the Fraser Health head office, seen from Holland Park

The Surrey Central tower, housing SFU operations and the Fraser Health head office, seen from Holland Park

 

Dianne Watts, the mayor of the City of Surrey since 2005, has brought a level of logic and discipline to her job that was lacking under her predecessor.

Residential towers on King George Boulevard, seen from Holland Park

Residential towers on King George Boulevard, seen from Holland Park

It’s interesting, then, to consider the logic behind Surrey Central, perhaps Ms. Watts’ pet project.  This burgeoning development combines civic functions, commercial expansion and residential towers, organized around the Surrey Central and King George rapid transit stations. Built in the middle of a neighbourhood that has struggled with crime and social issues, Surrey Central goes beyond the standard suburban facelift. It’s an attempt to build a commercial, civic and cultural hub worthy of a Great City. Continue reading

Coquitlam’s waterfront plan

 

Looking across Como Creek to the proposed site of the Coquitlam waterfront village. The hillside in the left background is New Westminster.

Looking across Como Creek to the proposed site of the Coquitlam waterfront village. The hillside in the left background is New Westminster.

As it stretches along the south side of Highway 1, much of Coquitlam’s United Boulevard is zoned “Highway Retail Industrial.”

Furniture reducedThis loose designation has enabled the development of a sprawling big-box retail precinct. One of the City’s handouts counts 18 large-scale furniture stores along United Boulevard, blending into the warehouse and fabricating shop uses that extend down to the Fraser River. Continue reading