Building a local economy on automotive repair

Crystal Glass and Boyd Auto Body, two blocks east of Maple Ridge City Hall

In most parts of Metro Vancouver, more than half the working population commutes to workplaces outside their home town — this is according to a Vancouver Sun analysis from 2014, which echoed findings from the previous decade.

A typical central area viewscape, with nature in the distance. T&T Auto Parts is on the left in this photo, Accent Glass & Locksmith (not visible) is in the strip on the right.

In my suburb of Maple Ridge, many people drive every day to the Tri-Cities (20-40 minutes one way), Burnaby (35-50 minutes one way) or even further. Not surprisingly, we have a big automotive sector. Auto dealerships are among the biggest employers, and they dominate the highway that connects Maple Ridge to the inner suburbs. Probably our most prominent head office belongs to Lordco Auto Parts, a chain with more than 120 retail locations around British Columbia.

Lordco’s office, retail parts outlet and machine shop anchor the automotive repair precinct adjacent to the Maple Ridge downtown core. The head office building looks over  Dewdney Trunk Road to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia Claims Centre, a supersize garage where technicians examine damaged cars before they approve them for repair. Our map below shows numerous auto service shops located close to ICBC, with parts retailers (including Lordco) nestled in around the repair shops.

Co-tourist Dominic Kotarski and I recently walked the precinct to document its complexity and drink some beer. We observed that after you have dropped your vehicle at the repair shop, you can catch a taxi at the taxi office, rent a car from Hertz, catch a bus from the bus loop (just west of Alouette Taxi) or turn yourself in at the police station. You can also consume an ale at one of the city’s three fine craft breweries. They are part of a trend that was noted in my previous post.

Haney Auto map

The automotive precinct in Maple Ridge, showing the city’s central park, malls, public buildings and craft breweries as of October 2017. Haney was the main village in the rural district of Maple Ridge; I have used the term “Upper Haney” to distinguish the upland plateau from Port Haney, which is my neighbourhood. There is no Haney Street in Maple Ridge, so I have invented one, taking the place of 224th. Thanks to Cindy Farnsworth for the map.

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Revisiting Downtown Maple Ridge

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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

Follow-up on a fatal crash and a homeless camp

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On May 18 of this year we published a letter to Doug Bing, a member of the British Columbia Legislature, about a fatal crash on a provincial highway near our home in suburban Maple Ridge. The layout of the highway intersection where the crash took place had been unsafe for years.

In recent weeks, technicians have installed a low-tech improvement at the problem corner. This modest screen, pictured above, deters southbound drivers from making the last-minute lane switch that was putting all directions at risk. If the pylons get mowed down, they can be re-installed. Thanks to Mr. Bing for taking in interest in this issue. Continue reading

A homeless camp in a Vancouver suburb

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Nicole Read, the mayor in my home city of Maple Ridge, won election as a political newcomer in November 2014. The local election campaign was marked by concern over downtown property crime, linked by some to the presence of homeless people in vacant spaces nearby. The homeless have been a prominent feature of the town centre for more than a decade, but the incumbent mayor and council were blamed and Read  got the political benefit.

Weeks after the mayor’s swearing-in, a colourful row of tents sprang up on a residential street 200 metres from my home. In the 2014 Metro Vancouver homeless count, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows together were said to have 39 unsheltered homeless people. By July 2015, the estimated population of the Cliff Avenue camp was about 60. Continue reading

An open letter about a fatal crash

2015 05 10 crashThe following letter was sent by email on May 18, 2015 to Doug Bing, member of the British Columbia Legislature for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.

Dear Doug,

Re: Fatal crash on the Haney Bypass

On Sunday afternoon, May 10, 2015, two vehicles collided at the intersection of the Haney Bypass and Callaghan Avenue  near our home in Maple Ridge. A 14-year old passenger died in hospital the next day.

I was reminded of the letter I wrote to you in February 2014 about the frequent crack-ups and near-misses at this corner. Our elderly neighbour had just walked away from a pile-up that he was lucky to survive. 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

Aesthetic Maple Ridge: Rolling the dice in Selkirk East

A condemned house in the Selkirk lands before its demolition in 2011

A condemned house in the Selkirk lands before its demolition in 2011

For more than two years, my home community of Maple Ridge has been waiting to see a private-sector vision for a key parcel of land in the town centre.

The vacant three-acre site, bounded by Selkirk Avenue on the south and 119 Avenue on the north, with an interior street through the middle, is critical to the future of the Maple Ridge Town Centre urban village. Careful development, if it occurs, will bring pedestrians and new life to the city’s core. Continue reading