Phasing in a transit spending plan

Detail from the September 2016 TransLink mayors' Phase One announcement. This shows promised bus service improvements in Surrey including immediate rapid bus service on Fraser Highway.

Detail from the September 2016 TransLink mayors’ Phase One announcement.  This shows promised bus service improvements in Surrey including immediate rapid bus service on Fraser Highway.

The latest announcement on transit from Metro Vancouver mayors is their first major effort to regroup since voters shot down the idea of a transit sales tax in 2015.

This matters because the mayors and British Columbia’s provincial governments have been deadlocked for years on how to fund transit, and demand for service has outrun supply on key routes. Affordable public transit supports labour mobility, educational opportunity, independence and self-reliance for seniors and teens, and growth for pedestrian-focused urban villages, and it also reduces the number of cars on the road.

The 23-member Mayors’ Council has presented Phase One of what’s billed as a three-phase plan. The proposed improvements would be funded by federal and provincial contributions, property tax increases, fare hikes and two further tax measures. I won’t speculate on where this is going, but here are thoughts on the status of the proposal.

  • The mayors seem to have broken a version of their 2015 plan, which was priced at $7 billion, into three more digestible bits. Phase One costs are estimated at $2 billion, but the online materials don’t include a detailed cost breakdown or timetable. Improvements to bus service, which have been mapped in detail, are to begin in 2017, but the delivery dates on items such as rapid transit design and Skytrain car acquisition are not provided. The announcement then proposes dates for the start of Phases Two and Three, but these presumably depend on the fate of Phase One.
  • Public consultation on Phase One is to take place from October 11 to October 31, 2016, but there is no advance information on the process. TransLink hyperlinks are migratory, but as of the day of this posting the public consultation link is here.
  • Two of the proposed tax measures to support Phase One are hypothetical. Both the new development tax and the new regional mobility charges would require agreement from the Province. The provincial minister responsible, Peter Fassbender, has said that the introuction of mobility charges will take 10 years or more.
  • Two of the three mayors who opposed the 2015 plan have expressed opposition to this one. Derek Corrigan of Burnaby, whose city is already well served by transit, voted against sending Phase One to public consultation. Michael Smith of West Vancouver agreed to consultation, but like Corrigan he has spoken against raising property taxes for TransLink. Nicole Read of Maple Ridge is looking at the biggest jump in bus service hours of any mayor — 65 per cent — including an all-new route to her own hillside neighbourhood. She sounded reasonably positive in initial reports.

The announcement indicates that the mayors have been spurred on by federal promises of “billions of dollars” for local transit improvements. There’s also a subdued suggestion that provincial promises have fallen short of expectations. The provincial government is facing an election in May 2017. Thirty-nine of the 85 provincial electoral districts are in Metro Vancouver.

 

Lynn Valley Town Centre: from humble beginnings

Intersection of Lynn Valley Road and Mountain Highway. The "Lynn Valley Life" community website says the structure on the right dates from 1912 and is the only commercial building left from the original settlement. The photo is from realestatenorthshore.com

Mountain Highway at Lynn Valley Road. The “Lynn Valley Life” site says the structure on the right, dating from 1912, is the only surviving commercial building from the original settlement. The photo is from realestatenorthshore.com

In the 400-page official plan of the District of North Vancouver, Lynn Valley’s commercial area is the designated “municipal town centre.”

On the first pass, this town centre is a crossroads row of shops flanked by gas stations and strip malls. And to an outsider, it seems an odd location for the action centre in a municipality of 80,000 people. It’s closer to bear habitat than to the Municipal Hall or the District’s busiest east-west street. But there are services and public amenities tucked away in various corners, and rapid new development may bring transformation over the next three to five years.

plaza-reducedNew low-rise condos along Mountain Highway are improving the diversity of the housing stock. The Lynn Valley Village complex, developed in response to the 2011 plan, features a library and art gallery, professional offices, and a sort-of-European-style plaza with cafe tables. Most such concrete spaces in Canada are lifeless failures, but this one feels okay, at least on a late-summer morning.

Most dramatic is a construction project underway next to the Lynn Valley Centre shopping mall. Bosa, a developer, has started work on the first phase of a combined 360-unit housing complex and mall expansion. The new units, at least as shown on the current Bosa website, will take advantage of spectacular mountain views in an area where earlier developments turned their back on the hills. According to the North Shore News, the Bosa project will “revitalize” the town centre, although the exact direction is not clear. The old Safeway supermarket will go; new restaurants will pop up.

A showroom replica of Bosa's Lynn Valley residences, under construction in fall 2016

A showroom replica of Bosa’s Lynn Valley residences, under construction in fall 2016

C. 1950s walkup apartments facing Mountain Highway, next to the Bosa property

C. 1950s walkup apartments facing Mountain Highway, next to the Bosa property

Classic North Shore home design, c. 1960.

Classic North Shore home design, c. 1960.

Co-tourist Robert Smarz and I visited Lynn Valley early on a Friday, stopping for breakfast at the hiker-friendly Tommy’s Cafe. After an excellent conversation with the owner about perogies and Saskatchewan, we walked a short loop around the east side of the village. Comfortable homes, some of them sprawled over two original small lots, are arranged around a network of parks and creeks. Traces remain of the original crossroads settlement that grew up here before 1930. The streets here are peaceful; the seniors’ tower and the town homes that qualify Lynn Valley as an urban village are out of sight, on the other side of the mall. The Bosa project, combined with other proposed apartment development, may create some localized parking and traffic issues, but it also promises to bring added retail services and street interest to a neighbourhood where people have money to spend.

[This is post #33 in our Urban Villages series. The District of North Vancouver has posted a video about the design system that has been adopted to govern future development of public spaces at Lynn Valley.]

Original homes, Lynn Valley Road

Original homes, Lynn Valley Road

With the Bosa development, this supermarket (we were told by a resident) will disappear. The roadway in front becomes a traffic-calmed street.

With the Bosa development, this supermarket (we were told by a resident) will disappear. The roadway in front becomes a traffic-calmed street.

Mountain Highway entrance to the Bosa development property, September 2016

Mountain Highway entrance to the Bosa development property, September 2016

The Traboulay-PoCo Trail

The Traboulay PoCo Trail alongside the DeBoville Slough, Port Coquitlam

By the DeBoville Slough, Port Coquitlam

As an easy but interesting and varied urban bike trail, the Traboulay-PoCo Trail in Port Coquitlam measures up to anything I’ve experienced in Canada. This 25-kilometre loop passes alongside five different bodies of water. It’s virtually 100 per cent separated from traffic, with only occasional road crossings.

I was reminded of this route when I purchased a book called Easy Cycling Around Vancouver  as part of a plan to spend more time on my bike. None of the trails in the book are in Vancouver, if that matters; they’re all in the suburbs or beyond. The mountains, rivers and inlets that carve up our region are a barrier to car commuting, but they’ve helped planners and local governments build a remarkable inventory of recreational multi-use trails for the use of residents and visitors. Suburban cities like Port Coquitlam are working hard to make their downtown villages complete and attractive; a facility like the PoCo Trail connects neighbourhoods with the downtown, and puts the outdoors at the doorstep of downtown residents. Continue reading

The brief debate on a new real estate tax

Burnaby Heights housing reduced

On July 25 British Columbia took a step into the unknown. The government introduced a bill to impose a 15 per cent additional tax on sales of residential property — but only within Metro Vancouver, and only “where the transferee or purchaser is a foreign national, as well as certain corporations or trusts that involve foreign nationals.”

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong (CBC News)

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong (CBC News)

In calling a rare summer meeting of the Legislature to approve this measure, the BC Liberal government was responding to rising public anxiety around the housing market. One-year price increases for detached homes were approaching 50 per cent in parts of Metro Vancouver. The Liberals had linked this price inflation to a shortage of housing supply; this site predicted in March 2016 that they would not take dramatic action to restrain demand. The opposition New Democrats called this special legislative session “the flip-flop session.” Continue reading

A Queensborough-Annacis Island walking loop

Rosedale reduced

Annacis Island, an all-industrial zone located in the Fraser River, is noted (if at all) for its large wastewater treatment plant and worsening traffic congestion.

The five-kilometre long island is a less-than-obvious place to walk; co-tourist Robert Smarz and I went to find out if it is at all tolerable for humans. We were lucky to arrive on a Friday morning before a long weekend, when traffic was light, but we had to stay alert nonetheless, as the trucks are large and there are no sidewalks. Continue reading

Revisiting Downtown Maple Ridge

Donair reduced

Greater Vancouver’s Livable Region Strategic Plan, adopted in 1996, identified downtown Maple Ridge as one of eight town centres of regional significance. A year or two later Maple Ridge City Council agreed to finance an ambitious town centre development with an arts centre, office complex, recreation centre and park space, all aimed at bringing people and investment to the city’s core.

The planning and execution of the project split the community and created long-term political instability. In five of the six local elections since that financing decision, the incumbent mayor has been kicked to the curb. Downtown Maple Ridge has improved; but it remains a focus for civic conflict more than civic pride. In the single election where a mayor was re-elected, his opponent staged a concerted attack on central area investment, including an “unnecessary” sewer line replacement, and collected 40 per cent of the vote. Continue reading