Pedaling on the Central Valley Greenway

Under the SkyTrain guideway just east of Rupert station, Vancouver.

It would be nice, perhaps, if cycling was the dominant mode of transportation in our West Coast urban world. We’ll never know. In reality, most people cringe at the idea of riding side-by-side with cars and trucks.

Winston Street through industrial Burnaby, 11:30 a.m. Saturday

When I told a 60-something friend about my plan to pedal across Vancouver and Burnaby for fun, she said, “That’s dangerous!” I said, “No, we’ll be riding an off-road trail. Local governments built a safe route from downtown Vancouver to New West.”

I was wrong, or wrongish. Much of the Central Valley Greenway is off-road, and some of it is wonderfully green, but five kilometres on our ride followed a dotted-line lane along industrial Winston Street — booming with heavy trucks (I imagine) on a week day. We were lucky to have chosen Saturday morning for our trip, when Winston Street is more like a quiet rural road.

Just east of Winston my sister and co-tourist Morna McLeod and I deserted the Central Valley Greenway for a different route, so I’ll offer just a couple of comments on the east Vancouver and Burnaby stretches. Average Joe Cyclist provides a definitive guide to the Greenway, with a video.  Blogger Maggie calls the 24-kilometre trail “challenging but very interesting.” Colleen Macdonald has a shorter piece on

Still Creek east of Gilmore

Approaching Sperling-Burnaby Lake station

From where we began our trip at Commercial Drive, the Greenway passes through a zone of detached homes that have evolved from trackside to gentrified in the past 20 years. But the landscape soon becomes industrial, however, with continuous views of railway track and fencing. You skirt the doorways of the Renfrew and Rupert SkyTrain stations, creating potential for conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, although Morna says she has not seen any problems as an occasional user of the trail.

Crossing into Burnaby at Boundary Road, you begin to notice sections of Still Creek. Much of the creek was paved over in the industrial boom of the mid 20th century, but it is slowly being uncovered, and the salmon have apparently returned. After a bridge crossing of Winston Street by the Sperling-Burnaby Lake station, the trail takes a long detour to the south through a landscaped industrial subdivision. We stopped for a cake-and-cherries break at Warner Loat Park, on the edge of the much larger Burnaby Lake Regional Park, and soon after this we left the Greenway for the Burnaby Mountain Urban Trail and the Burquitlam neighbourhood.

Commercial Skytrain station on the Millennium line

Central Valley Greenway east of Commercial Drive

First evidence of Still Creek looking west from Gilmore

Vintage industrial sheds across the rail tracks from Still Creek Drive. The lettering on the abandoned bus says “Vancouver Sightseeing”

Municipal plantings at the City of Burnaby recycling depot

Separated pathway along industrial Still Creek Drive

Cycling bridge to Sperling-Burnaby Lake station

The Lower Mainland’s “best places”, crime and taxes

Oak Bay, British Columbia, rated #3 in the 2017 “best places in Canada” rankings

Our 2015 review of the “best places to live in Canada” rankings from has consistently been our most-visited page.

The rankings, now updated for 2017, emerge from a complicated formula that combines weather, local employment and incomes, crime rates, tax rates and much else.

Vancouver Island is well represented near the top of the 2017 list, with four communities in the top 15. However, British Columbia’s warm, rainy climate does not qualify as “nice weather,” and, overall, the ranking formula comes up with results that will surprise some visitors. For example, Weyburn, Saskatchewan — a small, somewhat remote town with very cold winters — ranks higher than any city in Greater Vancouver or the Fraser Valley.

The 101-point scoring system is explained on a methodology page. Various measures of income and wealth take up the biggest chunk of the available points. Crime may be a critical concern for some people, but it accounts for just 7 scoring points. The number of people using transit is worth up to 5 points, and the combined number of people who walk or cycle is worth up to 6 points. Property tax totals are scored at 1 point or less.

I’ve posted a few results for the Fraseropolis region in a matrix below, comparing the national ranking for selected cities to median household income, crime rates and property tax figures. All of the high-ranking cities in the Vancouver region are affluent, but not all affluent cities (e.g. Richmond) are high-ranking.

For 2017, MoneySense has recognized that not everyone has the same priorities. Users can now play with the formula online to give extra weight to their own preferences and create their own rankings. These rankings, as with the the default MoneySense rankings, may provoke some interesting discussion and debate. The underlying data is actually more informative than the rankings, and worth exploring. In the end, however, the quality of individual neighbourhoods is probably more important than washed-together numbers for large cities taken as a whole.

The MoneySense property tax amounts appear to be based on a “property taxes per person” calculation, which in my view is academic. On the chart above I have added figures from the Government of B.C. on average property taxes and charges for the representative house.

The Metro Vancouver suburb of Maple Ridge, our home town and a place that comes in for occasional knocks on this site, is ranked nationally at 119.

The 417th or bottom-ranked community in Canada is Colchester, Nova Scotia, with a median household income of $61,903, lower property taxes than any of the cities shown in our table, and a violent crime index about one-third that of the City of Vancouver.


A development surge in Vancouver’s River District

The River District, in Vancouver’s extreme southeast corner, offers a quiet riverside walk, lunch at a good pub restaurant overlooking the water, and a feeling of imminent transformation.

The area was identified for conversion from industrial to residential use at least as early as 2004. At that time, residential development was already proceeding in a former industrial area to the west, in a two-block-wide band between Marine Drive and the Fraser River. Continue reading

Home ownership in the Lower Mainland: a diminishing prospect

Central Pitt Meadows, 2017

A report on housing from VanCity, a member-owned financial institution, finds a continuing decline in housing affordability in the B.C. Lower Mainland.

Home ownership costs are rising across the region as buyers look beyond the City of Vancouver. In the background, the report suggests that home ownership is a lost cause for an increasing number of British Columbians. Continue reading

Revisiting the Heights

Confederation Park, Burnaby Heights, Friday morning

At the suggestion of a reader, I returned to Burnaby Heights this past week, five years after my first visit to the community.

Hastings Street in northwest Burnaby is the city’s most interesting commercial strip, with an array of ethnic food outlets, cafes and specialty shops. The urban trees have grown up quickly, providing cover for architectural flaws. The border with the City of Vancouver is just blocks away, with frequent bus service to downtown. Burnaby’s city government has laid on excellent services such as playing fields, an aquatic centre and a big library. All this makes a great foundation for an urban village, if you’re prepared for the heavy traffic and noise as you shop or stroll. Continue reading

Back on Kingsway

South side of Kingsway one block east of Knight

A few years ago, the launch of a lone high-rise project at Kingsway and Knight Street provoked debate over the City of Vancouver’s management of tower development.

A Parisian touch? The inner lane at King Edward Village, with designer lamps, a public library (coloured letters) and animal gargoyles overhead.

Critics protested that  King Edward Village would ruin the character of the nearby communities of Cedar Cottage and Kensington. Optimists predicted that the development  would become the heart of a “lively, attractive shopping area.” A few grumpy urbanists saw a future dead zone, and this, arguably, is the current state of affairs, although in my view the design could have been worse. Continue reading

Pitt Meadows 2 – Uptown (aka Downtown)

An apartment/commercial complex at Harris Road and Ford Road in Pitt Meadows. This was built in about 2010 on the site of a failed shopping plaza

Pitt Meadows City Hall, at the southern end of the commercial zone

Municipal governments in B.C. have a limited menu of responsibilities. They send delegates to regional bodies to haggle over various things, but their direct control is restricted mostly to fire protection, local streets, community recreation space and urban land use. And policing, in the odd handful of municipalities that have opted out of using the federal Mounted Police… Continue reading