2018 local elections: backlash, reform, status quo

Coquitlam Central, 2014

October’s local elections in urban southwest British Columbia showed no clear trend. Each of the more than 30 municipal jurisdictions has its own political cycle, based on local history and personalities. In Surrey and Maple Ridge we saw a return to the past; in Coquitlam, New Westminster and North Vancouver, something like the status quo; and in Mission, Port Moody, City of Langley and elsewhere, the rise of a new generation.

Looking at some of the issues that we have reviewed on Fraseropolis.com since 2015:

Rapid transit in Surrey and crime in Surrey: Doug McCallum, mayor of the City of Surrey from 1996 to 2006, was returned to his old job in October 2018. His previous term was notable, in my view, for a commitment to urban sprawl and for the mayor’s resistance to the expansion of services for addicts and the homeless. (I worked for the regional health authority for part of this time.) Voters in Metro Vancouver’s fastest-growing city took a new direction in 2005 when they elected councillor Dianne Watts. She spearheaded the development of Surrey Central, a new downtown district, and a light rail transit plan to support downtown growth.

In opposition, McCallum built a movement called “Safe Surrey” around public anxieties related to violent crime. Safe Surrey took all but one of the Surrey Council seats in 2018, promising to terminate the City’s contract with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and create a local police service. I support this idea on balance, but it will not deliver a magical end to crime. The City of Vancouver, for example, already has its own police service, and its crime severity index (as reported in Maclean’s in 2018) is almost identical to Surrey’s.

Safe Surrey also promised to kill the fully-funded Surrey Light Rail project, which was scheduled for construction in 2019. The new Council has made good on that transit promise within a month. Mayor McCallum has us that the transition to the elevated alternative, SkyTrain will be smooth; but SkyTrain is more expensive, and Surrey may face big delays. LRT died because it was said to be too slow, and because it runs at grade. In fact, it would have played a positive role in linking the new downtown with the emerging employment areas around Newton and Guildford.

Fraseropolis Demoviction metrotownDevelopment and renoviction in Burnaby: Derek Corrigan was unchallenged as mayor of Burnaby for four terms, but he was badly defeated this time out. With a high local and regional profile, he was also a key figure in the BC New Democratic Party, the party of social welfare, even as he insisted that poverty and homelessness were somebody else’s problems. He was closely associated with the destruction of rental housing in Metrotown to make way for condominium towers.

Leading up to the election, the Burnaby Greens worked hard to highlight the “demovictions” issue; Rick McGowan, who spoke to Fraseropolis.com in 2016, came close to victory, and vintage rocker Joe Keithley became the first-ever Green member of Burnaby council.

However, Corrigan didn’t lose the mayor’s chair to the Greens. He lost to Mike Hurley, a former firefighter. It may be that municipal labour relations issues helped to swing organized labour from Corrigan to Hurley. There was also taxpayer resentment about the huge reserve funds that Corrigan had amassed with taxpayer money. Expect Hurley to dip into these reserves in order to keep tax increases low.

Metro Conversations: Through 2017, the Metro Conversations group hosted public discussions on regional issues. All four young members of the group were re-elected in 2018: Nathan Pachal in the City of Langley, Patrick Johnston in New Westminster, Keirsten Duncan in Maple Ridge, and Matthew Bond in the District of North Vancouver.

Nathan assisted Fraseropolis as a co-tourist in 2012 before he ran for office. He is an intrepid transit user in the deep ‘burbs, advocating for affordable housing and pedestrian safety, and he topped the polls in Langley City. He joins a new labour-sponsored mayor, Val van den Broek, who defeated a high-profile former Liberal cabinet minister.

Patrick Johnston was part of the Mayor Jonathan Cote team that took all seven seats in New West, based on their previous hard work in managing traffic and development in one of the region’s most innovative cities. Mayor Cote is a true believer, to the extent that he gave up his City Hall parking stall and had it converted for bicycle storage.

Homelessness in Maple Ridge: Councillor Kiersten Duncan of Metro Conversations will be challenged to survive as a liberal voice on a new right-wing  Council in Maple Ridge. The outgoing mayor, Nicole Read, presided over a nasty civic fight related to homeless camps; some online groups advocated for police-state tactics. Voters chose Michael Morden to fix public homelessness, addiction and street crime, but those are high expectations to pin on a former councillor who lost his seat in 2014. Mayor Morden was one of the few local politicians in Metro Vancouver to vote against the regional growth strategy in 2011. At the time, I thought this was because he sees no problem with sprawl.

Voters in Surrey and Maple Ridge returned to politicians they had turfed in the past, but veterans in some other cities suffered surprising upsets. Voters in Mission rejected long-time mayor and former BC Liberal cabinet minister Randy Hawes, in favour of the much younger Pam Alexis, who had one term on Council. In the City of Langley, former BC cabinet minister Peter Fassbender failed to reclaim his old office, losing to one-term councillor Val ven den Broek. Voters in Port Moody traded in their incumbent mayor for a 28-year-old newcomer, Rob Vagramov. Long-serving councillors such as Michael Forrest in Port Coquitlam, Barbara Steel in Surrey and Heather Deal in Vancouver also went down to defeat.

The City of Vancouver is an interesting case of disruption and continuity. Vancouver is known internationally for its grand redevelopment schemes, at the centre (e.g. Yaletown) and on the perimeter (e.g. the River District.) This type of wreck and building comes at a political cost. The ruling party (Vision) collapsed in 2017-2018, and not a single Vision councillor was returned on election night. However, voters who wanted to stop development had no place to turn. The new independent mayor, Kennedy Stewart and his council of Greens, leftists and the centre-right are all generally agreed on the need to keep building — although they will want to be seen to be doing a better job of listening.

A pop-up village at the University of British Columbia

A promotional photo from DiscoverWesbrook.com showing new high-rise development at UBC

In just seven years, the University of British Columbia has created a highly densified residential neighbourhood on its southern perimeter.

Not everyone loves the Wesbrook project. The University sits outside the City of Vancouver, and there is no local government to put the brakes on the University authority. The University Board develops its lands as it pleases, with some provincial government oversight.

It’s another  example of convoluted governance in Fraseropolis.  UBC is part of what’s called Electoral Area “A” within the Greater Vancouver Regional District. This entity is made up of a bunch of disconnected bits including  Barnston Island in the Fraser River and a few residences on the highway to Whistler. Together, these voters send a single representative to the Regional District council, a part-time assembly made up mostly of municipal government leaders who gather to meet and greet and to set the budget for regional parks and sewer lines.

Anyway. Longtime residents of the UBC lands, some living in detached homes valued at $3 million or more, resisted the push for high-rise development when the Wesbrook plan was updated in 2016.  To the extent that they could resist, that is — through writing critical comments at an open house, which took place just as the updated plan was being adopted by UBC. The map on the left shows the potential for a dozen highrises at in the Wesbrook precinct.  At this date the streetscapes look okay to me, pedestrian friendly and nicely scaled; but we’ll see how it goes as more towers are added.

I walked the area recently with three co-tourists. The village core, a modest six storefront blocks or so, was bustling on a Saturday. We enjoyed our lunch at Biercraft. What we noticed in our walk was the size of the UBC campus — it’s a 10-minute walk from Wesbrook to cross the playing fields to the north, and another 10 to the historic campus centre.

The core of the Wesbrook development combines office, retail and residential uses.

Tens of thousands of people travel to UBC every day to study or work. This is creating traffic congestion across the west side of Vancouver and a big push for rapid transit. Wesbrook, if earlier projections were accurate, should have a population approaching 7,000 by now, almost all of them living in apartments. The target population at completion is 12,500. This will permit some fraction of the University community to live close to work or school, although there will competition for these residences from people working elsewhere.

Fraseropolis Wesbrook core UBC

A pedestrian zone in the Wesbrook core

Fraseropolis UBC Wesxbrook connection

A pathway connecting Wesbrook to the campus centre

Fraseropolis UBC campus centre

University of British Columbia – centre of the campus

[This is post #40 in our Urban Villages series.]

No quick fix for North Vancouver traffic

A detail from the 2018 joint agency report on North Shore traffic, with a bunch o’ recommendations on how to reduce congestion.

It seems Fraseropolis got it wrong in 2014 when we downplayed reports about traffic jams on the North Shore. I said that with almost zero population growth, an ageing demographic and improving transit, traffic volumes in North and West Vancouver should be subsiding.

A photo used to promote a public forum on traffic, from the North Van Parks and Rec Commission.

However, a new report from a multi-agency task force points out that industrial and commercial development on the North Shore is drawing thousands of workers from across the Burrard Inlet, and heavy truck traffic is increasing as well. North Vancouver is now one of the region’s traffic hot spots, especially around the two major bridges in the afternoon rush.

“Employers have expressed their frustration and challenges with attracting and keeping employees who either must commute from other parts of the region on congested roads and bridges or make a long transit journey.”

The report’s recommendations and their mainstream approach might have been written in the 1990s, a decade when I worked in the provincial transportation ministry. My reading of the key points:

  • Congestion is caused by motorists. More motorists, more congestion.
  • There is no single solution and no instant solution to congestion. We could look at mobility pricing, which would quickly discourage discretionary trips and free up road space. However, this idea was politically impossible when it was floated within the NDP government in 1995, and I think it’s impossible now. Therefore, it gets only a mumbling reference near the bottom of this document.
  • In general, you can’t build your way out of traffic congestion. When you build or widen a road, more cars will appear. I was reminded of this in recent days as I commuted on Highway 1 from Maple Ridge to Burnaby. After multi-billion dollar upgrades to this highway from 2009 to 2013, the peak-direction speed of traffic through Coquitlam and Burnaby is slower than it was in 2008.
  • Public transit is a useful response to congestion, at least in allowing a lucky minority access to a reliable commute. The report says improvements are on the way for the SeaBus and for east-west transit on the North Shore.
  • If city governments are going to permit industrial and commercial expansion, they have a responsibility to enable housing construction (i.e. apartments and townhouses) nearby.

The report proposes targeted construction of new road connections to relieve short-distance bottlenecks. The Lower Lynn Improvement Project, described on a provincial website, may succeed in separating local truck traffic from longer-distance commute traffic.  The Lower Level Road project is hard to judge, as it’s invisible online, perhaps overshadowed by a now-completed North Shore project with an identical name.

Bowinn Ma. Photo from Wikipedia

This traffic study initiative was put together by Bowinn Ma, a young and energetic New Democrat legislator from North Vancouver. Its modest conclusions are endorsed by North Shore municipal councils and First Nations as well as the regional transportation authority and the provincial government. At the very least, this should improve the chance that the proposed new roads and transit receive funding from regional and provincial budgets.

Inevitably, the “no quick fix” theme ignited outrage in the North Shore community news chat threads after the report was released in early September. Many critics demanded a third vehicle crossing of the Burrard Inlet. This was suggested as long ago as the 1990s by a few property developers, and rejected by the City of Vancouver, which does not want to receive more traffic. Even a one-lane widening of the Lions Gate was shot down  by the City of Vancouver. An alternative route, also floated in the 1990s (by Maple Ridge), would cross Indian Arm from North Vancouver to Port Moody and Coquitlam. This would encounter local opposition in the Tri-Cities and serve a very limited purpose.

Looking north on Lonsdale Avenue, North Vancouver, Saturday afternoon, 2013



The Haney-to-Hammond family cycling route: a proposal

A cycling route from Haney to Hammond as proposed by Fraseropolis and HUB Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows, with a potential loop at the western end. The map was developed by Cindy Farnsworth

The John Hammond house, c. 1893, on the proposed route.

In 2017, the local government in Maple Ridge asked our friend Jackie Chow to develop a tourist-friendly cycling route in the urban part of the city. Jackie asked me for help, since she knew me as an oddball urban explorer and mapmaker.

We agreed to focus on flat, safe, easy cycling to accommodate kids, parents and seniors. This restricted us to a couple of choices, since much of Maple Ridge is hilly and the direct east-west routes are very busy. We settled on a route connecting two historical zones, downtown Maple Ridge (also known as Haney) and historic Port Hammond. At the western end, cyclists get a view of the Fraser River at one of the few public access points in the city.

The proposed initial route is 6.2 kilometres in length one way, or a 12.4-kilometre round trip, with an option to add a loop in future — if the local government can invest in some improvements.

I want to thank Leanne Koehn and James Rowley from the Hammond neighbours for their early encouragement, along with Kathryn Baird and Lino Siracusa from the City’s tourism and economic development offices, and Colleen Macdonald from Let’s Go Biking. The proposal has been reviewed and approved by the HUB cycling committee of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, but there are a few more steps required before it becomes a visible reality.

The Harry house, 1928, faces Hammond Park. With the Hammond house and others in the neighbourhood, it is listed in the 2018 Maple Ridge Heritage Inventory compiled by Donald Luxton.

To the extent that there is cycling tourism in Maple Ridge, much of it takes place on limited sections of riverside dyke that connect with more extensive dykes in neighbouring Pitt Meadows. One highlight of this network is Osprey Village in Pitt Meadows, a destination for cyclists from the Tri-Cities and Langley. Many of them stop at the Stomping Grounds café for food and drink.

The proposed route presented here creates part of an urban link between Osprey and downtown Maple Ridge.  To make the trip more attractive for day-trippers travelling through the region, we need a new and safer connection across the Katzie Slough into Hammond, and we need a cafe or two in the Hammond neighbourhood — an idea that is contemplated in the 2014 Hammond Area Plan.

In the meantime, we’ll call our new route a “family cycling route”, and hope to attract Maple Ridge residents looking for some easy cycling near their own homes.

At the western end of the initial route, a view of the Fraser River from Emmeline Mohun Park on Wharf Street, Maple Ridge. Most photos in this series were taken under smoky skies during the 2018 wildfire season

Fraseropolis Wharf Street

A small boatworks on Wharf Street west of Mohun Park. The street runs under the Golden Ears Bridge and stops abruptly at the boundary of the Katzie First Nation reserve. To create a safe cycling link to Osprey Village and the regional Greenway system would require an access agreement with Katzie or a new cycling/pedestrian bridge over Katzie Slough.

Our friend Greg Stuart recently joined me on a test run along the initial 6.2-kilometre route. We tried to mimic the experience of a parent with young children, and decided that that even at 6.2 kilometres on flat terrain, 45 minutes is too long a cycle for a most young kids. This will probably work best for people aged 14+.

Three quarters of the 6.2 km out-and-back is already designated and signed for cycling. To make this route better known and used,  the City government should designate the remaining Hammond leg (shown in black on the map) for cycling, and add signs and street markings over time.

Beyond the western end of our proposed route, there is the start of a future loop. Shown as a dashed line on the map, it is all public or utility land. It could be improved to create a connection to the Golden Ears multi-use path, and to the overpass that leads to Osprey and the Pitt Meadows dykes.

Cycling author and blogger Colleen Macdonald has suggested that, rather than approaching the City government for official approval, we should simply encourage the public to use it. We would approach the City after demand takes shape. This post is a small step in that direction.

A city right-of-way connects Wharf Street with cycling pathways to the northwest, but it is an impassable bog through much of the year.

To the north and east, old Hammond gives way quickly to long stretches of infill housing from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. History here is invisible: within living memory, this land was occupied by orchards and berry fields.

A recently opened multi-use path along Lougheed Highway is part of the proposed route. Noisy but safe, the need to include this feature shows the scarcity of east-west cycling choices in a car-dependent city stretched along the Fraser River. The hospital, with no through traffic, sits to the south of this location, and the city cemetery lies conveniently to the north.

The end or beginning of the route at the Memorial Peace Park, home to a Saturday market and close to tourist-friendly (as well as family-friendly) cafes



Brighter days in Nanaimo

On Wallace Street at the edge of the Old City Quarter

Fraseropolis Occidental Hotel

The Occidental Hotel, 1886, restored in the 1980s.

Nanaimo’s roots go back to the 19th century. Its central area has rich architectural and heritage interest — combined with a mix of sometimes brutal modernist styles, and a tendency in recent decades for local owner-operated business to fail.

But as of 2018, central Nanaimo may finally be finding its feet. Continue reading

B.C.’s trading profile: coal to Japan, mystery food to the U.S.

A vintage terminal building at the Port of Vancouver, 2014

Over the past year, the United States has taken steps to restrict Canadian imports, and the President has threatened to ramp this up with tariffs on vehicles and auto parts.

Responding to public anxiety, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has created a Ministry of International Trade Diversification — though in fact, we’ve been trying to reduce our dependence on the U.S. for decades, with no clear pattern of progress. Canada sent 68 per cent of its exports to the U.S. in 2008; that figure was up to 76.3% in 2016. Continue reading

Metro Vancouver transit: fastest growth in North America in 2017

A detail from a 2016 Council of Mayors plan showing transit improvement priorities

TransLink’s service levels are increasing rapidly, and a new funding plan should allow continued expansion — for a while.

The Metro Vancouver transit authority’s latest performance report, published on June 21, shows that with added service, boardings across the system — bus, SeaBus, and SkyTrain — increased by 5.7 per cent through 2017 to a record 407 million. This was the biggest jump in ridership among major urban areas in North America (see the chart at the bottom of this post.) Continue reading