ASK PAT: the Missing Link

Tom asks—

Any news on the BC Parkway’s “missing link” between 5th Ave. and 14th St.? I understand that Southern Railways has given up its lease on the old Central Park Line, and so it’s reverted to BC Hydro and the tracks have been pulled up. Will TransLink be giving this stretch a proper surface any time soon? Can New West nudge them to do it? Or should we hold another “Worst Roads in BC” poll?

The answer to this one is short, but probably unsatisfying, so I’ll do that politics trick of shifting it to something I want to talk about and leave it with asking you another question that somehow makes you forget I didn’t answer your question. Hey, election time is coming up soon, I need practice!

But first, the answer is that it is a work in progress. The City has expressed its interest in making this connection better than it is, and the right of way on the other side of the SkyTrain pillars makes sense. However, complications arise in that the City doesn’t own that land, nor do we own the BC Parkway Trail. I’m not completely up on the details here, so don’t hold me to all of these interactions, but my understanding is that the land belongs to Southern Railway (or BC Hydro), and there are rights of way for TransLink and either Southern Railway or BC Hydro (whichever isn’t the owner). The BC Parkway is a TransLink asset, supported by surface Rights-of-Way, so I think their right-of-way is only for the SkyTrain guideway through that portion, which is why the BC Parkway was not completed through here more than as a sidewalk in the first case back in the 1980’s.

So as far as the rights to build things, including a paved cycling or multi-use path, there is some legal work to do on the part of the City and TransLink. It is in the City’s work plan, but I don’t know when all of the stars will align. I am pretty certain it won’t be this year, possibly next, but I’m not promising yet.

There is another work-in-progress in the same area also in the having-conversations-between-TransLink-and-the-City stage. When Stewardson Ave was re-aligned to build the Queensborough Bridge interchange, a link in the BC Parkway across Stewardson below Grimston Park was lost. There is a route across involving the ramps to the Queensborough Bridge, but it is quite a lengthy detour for West End residents interested in walking down to the Riverfront or Quayside. At one point, a pedestrian overpass below Grimston was proposed, but I’m not sure we should build one, which is where I turn this around and ask you a question.

When is a pedestrian overpass a pedestrian amenity, and when is it an automobile amenity?

This is not an academic question. Our City’s Master Transportation Plan puts a priority on pedestrians, with other active transportation forms and transit next, with automobiles at the bottom of the priority for new infrastructure investment. We still spend an order of magnitude more on maintaining automobile infrastructure than other forms, but when investing in new stuff, our budgets are shifting towards supporting MTP priorities.

So when asked to partner with TransLink to build a new overpass, we need to ask the question: are we building this to serve pedestrians, or are we building this to move car traffic?

The easiest and least expensive way to move pedestrians across a street is a stoplight and crosswalk. This is especially true if we want to assure the infrastructure is as accessible as possible, as any grade separation inevitably results in a compromise between slope and distance, making a simple walk across a road either impossible for those with mobility challenges or unnecessary long and complicated for everyone else. The engineering required to put active transportation users 5m in the air so cars have unfettered free passage below is always counted in the millions.

However, if we build a level crosswalk with lights and buttons and paint, that means cars need to, occasionally, stop and let pedestrians by. It also means that we need to design a crossing to reduce the chances that a driver will fail to stop and kill a pedestrian, which may mean improving sight lines and reducing vehicle speeds in general. When we consider building a pedestrian crossing on this part of Stewardson, will it be the couple-of-hundred-thousand dollar signalized crossing, or the couple-of-million-dollar overpass? If the latter, should we pay for it out of the pedestrian amenity budget, or out of the car amenity budget?

The question may be academic, because it is highly unlikely the City’s engineers or TransLink will sign off on a crosswalk on a City Street that is part of the Major Road Network (as this part of Stewardson is) where the traffic typically moves at 80km/h, despite the 50km/h speed limit. This speed issue is also part of the reason why the existing cycling connection you originally asked about feels unsafe for all users.

And this, multiplied by dozens of places throughout the City, is how we still, for all the best efforts and good intentions, lose our pedestrian spaces to motordom. It is frustratingly slow making this change, it represents a cultural shift in three levels of government and society in general, but that’s our goal.

Council – September 18, 2017

The September 18 meeting of Council was an all-caps-worthy BIG ONE, and I pretty much am going to not talk about the BIG topic, which was the Public Hearing, for reasons below. But before that started, we went through a few Agenda items.

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Recruitment 2017 Committee Appointments
We have had a couple of changes in representatives to City Committees, both in the persons representing another group on the City Committee. This happens once in a while, but Council officially has to approve, which we did.

Investment Report to August 31, 2017
The City has about $160 Million in the bank, mostly with the Municipal Finance Authority. Note, most of this is restricted money (that is, we have already committed it to a specific purpose, such as future sewer upgrades or road projects). This is our regular reporting on how the investments are doing, which I would characterize as “pretty good”.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Fire Escape Stairs at 642 Columbia Street – Review of Alternative Options and Appearance Mitigation Approaches
I’ve already opined about this fire escape. I recognize the need for it to exist, and can see the engineering rationale for it, but am frustrated about how some siloed thinking in City Hall resulted in a design that was incongruous with the great planning and design work being done on the Front Street Mews. I feel a solution that fit the bigger vision could have been found through a more collaborative design approach.

This report outlines a better approach moving forward, and we can hopefully use this experience to enhance how we develop our public spaces.

Sale of Tanaka Court Properties
There is a piece of surplus City land in Queensborough with an adjacent unopened road portion that only makes sense to develop in concert with the commercial properties. The Community Plan designates this property for commercial use, which is not something the City is likely to do. This report outlines the negotiations that have taken place to sell the lands so that they can be developed and start contributing to the community through retail opportunities, jobs and taxes.

BCIT Smart Microgrid Applied Research Project for Street Level Electric Vehicle Charging in New Westminster
This is a pretty exciting pilot project the City is proposing to undertake in collaboration with BCIT and their Smart Grid Microgrid Applied Research Team. They are researching the implementation of curbside charging electric vehicles, and want to testbed some technologies that would connect EV chargers to existing City electrical infrastructure like streetlights, in order to develop reliable engineering specifications and systems for wider adoption of the idea.

This could, in the short term, result in up to a dozen more Level 2 public charging station in the City, and contribute engineering designs and data to the seemingly inevitable transition towards a fully electrical transportation system towards the middle of the Century.

The following item was a late addition to the Agenda:

647 Ewen Avenue: Temporary Protection Order
The oldest extant building in Queensborough is privately owned, and threatened with demolition as the landowner wishes to redevelop the property. The City is limited in what we can do to prevent this, but we can develop incentives to make it easier for the developer to maintain the building or portions of it through a Heritage Restoration Agreement. This temporary order protects the building from destruction while staff work with the proponent to find if these opportunities exist.

This work out of the way, we started our Public Hearing, which had three items, eliciting (in order), one, fourteen, and one delegations. All three items were referred to the resumed Council Meeting following the Public Hearing, and all three were given Third Reading. They were not, however, Adopted, because there needs to be some procedural work done by staff between Third Reading and Adoption. Because of the quasi-judicial nature of the Public Hearing process, I don’t want to get into a discussion about the items between now and formal Adoption. For that reason, I am only describing the items at a high level here and will reserve longer discussion of them until after (and if) they are Adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment (43 Hastings Street Affordable Housing Project) Bylaw No. 7923, 2017
This Bylaw changes the zoning for a piece of land at the east end of Downtown New West to allow its use for a housing project that will combine housing adapted for people with disabilities with family-friendly townhouses, all operated by a not-for-profit to keep them affordable (through a separate housing agreement with the City).

Official Community Plan Adoption Bylaw No. 7925, 2017
This Bylaw would make Our City 2041 the Official Community Plan for the City, after more than three years of public consultation, Council wrangling, and staff work. Council moved to give the Bylaw Third Reading.

I added an amendment to the referral, which is not a change to the OCP in any way, but provides some direction to staff about measuring the success of one of the most significant aspects of the plan: the rapid introduction of Missing Middle housing forms. The motion read as:

THAT Council direct staff to explore additional locations that could be designated Residential – Infill Townhouse as part of a two year Townhouse and Rowhouse Monitoring Program, and include the outcome in a proposed Land Use Designation Map update at the conclusion of the Program, should the OCP be adopted.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (Infill Housing) No. 7936, 2017
This Bylaw would make changes to our Zoning Bylaw to facilitate many of the changes discussed in the Official Community Plan, including setting parameters around which laneway and carriage houses will be introduced ot our existing Single Family Neighbourhoods. Council moved to give the Bylaw Third Reading.

We followed the Public Hearing with an Opportunity to be Heard on a Sign Bylaw Variance:

Development Variance Permit No. DVP00634 to vary Sign Bylaw requirements at 610 Sixth Street (Royal City Centre)
This Sign Bylaw Variance would allow a new anchor tenant at the Royal City Centre to affix signage to the outside of the building that is congruent with the exiting signage. Even with our new and refreshed sign bylaw, there are exceptions, including one of only two indoor malls in New Westminster, and a variance is best way to manage this type of application. There was no correspondence and no-one came to speak on this item, and Council approved the variance.

Finally, we had a single Bylaw adoption:

Local Area Service Bylaw No. 7942, 2017
This Bylaw formalizes a cost sharing agreement between a group of property owners in Queensborough and the City for some streetscape improvements on their block. It was adopted by Council, making it the Law of the Land.

Council – September 11, 2017

As has become tradition, the first Council Meeting of September was held in the Queensborough Community Centre, and we had a Queensborough-heavy agenda, though not a particularly long one. We started with an update on the largest road-improvement project in the City’s history:

Ewen Avenue Streetscape Improvement Project Update
The third phase of this project (the easternmost westernmost part, from Hampton to Boundary) is currently being tendered. A bunch of the in-ground work around sewer main replacement and tie-ins has already been done, but the re-configuring of the roadway and installation of major sewer works is coming up over the next year.

Somewhat concerning, the first Request For Proposals for the project had no responses. That no road construction company in British Columbia put in a bid for the project is a sign of how challenging the construction business is in BC right now. There’s too much work and not enough people to do the work, and projects on tight timelines create too much risk for many companies. We have put out another, more flexible tender, and will see what happens.

Delays are expensive, and this project has had a number of challenges along the entire length, from coordinating with Metro Vancouver’s sewer work to geotechnical and environmental issues with the soils under the roadbed. There are many residents frustrated by the lengthy timelines, and I am not happy about the inability to find cost savings when it became clear that soils issues were going to blow the budget. However, I’m confident the end result will be a great asset for the Queensborough neighbourhood,

The following items were Moved on Consent:

Status of 2015-2018 Strategic Initiatives – Update for First Half of 2017
This report (more, it’s appendix) is a great update on what the City has been doing over the last three years on the Strategic Priorities set out by Council. Aside from the day-to-day running of the City, and the amazing number of new things that pop up, either by happenstance, or sudden Council whim, our strategic plan is coming along at what I would call a moderate pace. Some projects (e.g. Front Street Mews) are complete; some are still in early phases (e.g. City Hall renovations). As there is often a bunch of lower-visibility work that needs to be done before (for example) we break the ground on a new Affordable Housing project, these reports help keep Council and the public abreast of the progress that isn’t always obvious in following Council reports.

Life comes at you fast. When we put these Strategic Priorities forward, the housing crisis was only starting to percolate (a Million-dollar house in New West was still an anomaly), the scourge of fentanyl had not taken hold in our community, and we had Federal and Provincial governments with different spending priorities. So like all strategies, adjustments need to be made to achieve the long-term goals they underpin. I am pretty satisfied that we are moving in the right direction, even if progress on some fronts is slower than I might like.

232 Lawrence Street (Day Care)
One of those strategic things moving forward a little under most people’s radar (despite several public reports and a Public Hearing) is a Day Care facility to be built with Provincial Gov’t support on City lands in Queensborough. This report outlines the next steps in the senior government grant process, and the expected commitment that City will make to building the modular structure for the daycare.

The City’s $156K contribution represents a likely 24% of the budget, and the City’s contribution will come from the General Amenity Reserve, which is money we collect from developers when they increase density of the City.

131 Eleventh Street: Temporary Use Permit – Renewal
The area around Lower 12th Street is an area in transition, considered a “Special Study Area” in our community plans. Council recognized the land is not being used to its full value, and although the long-term plan is unclear (the City is reluctant to shift “job generating lands” to fully residential lands – short term gain may result in long-term pain) we want to accommodate the most sensible current use of the lands, to support local businesses. This retail use doesn’t fit the language of the current zoning, so we are using a Temporary Use Permit to allow it, such that we don’t undermine any future long-term planning.

Local Area Service Bylaw to Underground Existing Overhead Utilities
on the East Side of 200 Block of Howes Street

As mentioned back in June, a Local Area Service is like a “special assessment” where a neighbourhood wants a land improvement done that isn’t necessarily the highest priority for the City. When a majority of neighbours agree that these works are desired, the City works out a shared-cost agreement ,and the residents have the option of writing the City a cheque for their share, or adding a special charge to their taxes for as long as 20 years.

The majority of homeowners have agreed on street improvements along 200 Block of Howes Street, and through a complicated negotiation with several utility companies, the LSA Bylaw is now able to move forward.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

420 Boyne Street (Animal Shelter): Proposed Amendment to the Heavy Industrial Districts (M-2) Zone to Allow Municipal Uses and Zone the Former Lane to the Rear of the Property to (M-2)
The City also needs to amend the zoning language around the Industrial zones property where we are building our new Animal Shelter and the accessory space for our proposed tow yard. The site preparation for this site is finally underway, and the City’s long-outdated Animal Care Facility will be starting construction soon. So far: on time and on budget.

BC Hydro Pest Management Plan
Coming after public notice by BC Hydro of pesticide use on their properties in New West last year, Council asked for better reporting of the types of pesticides used and where. BC Hydro responded, indicating they use “mechanical methods“ (weed whacking) in the publically-accessible areas in their Connaught Heights right-of-way, and they use several different pesticides in their substation lands.

A Councillor raised a concern about the use of Glyphosate (“Roundup”) in the City, and asked that a letter be written asking BC Hydro to switch to different products (such as iron- and acetic acid-based pesticides). I am less fussed about small, spot use of Glyphosate when part of an Integrated Pest Management System, and I understand there are some seriously impactful invasive species (such as Japanese Knotweed) where chemical treatment are the only approach demonstrated to work, but am happy to forward the letter and ask BC Hydro to monitor and control its use, and demonstrate the City’s preference for the most sustainable solutions.

We then did the Bylaw shuffle:

Zoning Amendment (420 Boyne Street Animal Shelter) Bylaw No.7944, 2017
As discussed above, the Zoning Amendment Bylaw to support the development of the Animal Shelter on City-owned Industrial Lands was given two readings.

Local Area Service Bylaw No. 7942, 2017
As discussed above, the LAS Bylaw for Howes Street was given three readings.

Wood-Boyne Street Road Closure Bylaw No. 7935, 2017
As discussed at the July 10th meeting, this Bylaw to officially close an unopened part of Wood Street to support the City’s Animal Care facility was Adopted.

Housing Agreement (630 Ewen Avenue) Bylaw No. 7927, 2017
Zoning Amendment (630 Ewen Avenue) Bylaw No. 7920, 2017

As addressed at the Public Hearing on June 26th, and discussed at the August 28th meeting, these Bylaws to support the Affordable Housing project in Queensborough was Adopted.

This happened…

I was lucky to be able to join Jagmeet Singh on a small group bike ride around downtown Vancouver yesterday, as part of his whistle-stop on the west coast going into next week’s NDP leadership vote.

Although many Canadians only know Singh from the strange racist thing that happened at one of his campaign events last week*, I have been aware of his work as one of the brightest lights in Ontario politics for a couple of years, but recognized his national potential (admittedly late to the story) after his appearance on Sook-Yin Lee’s podcast last year.

My take-away from the ride is that Singh, in person, did not disappoint or surprise. He was affable, sincere, and charming. He seemed to be balancing the strangeness of being suddenly-recognizable in a City he hardly knew. It was fun during the bike ride to watch as pedestrians and other cyclists did the double-take and smiled or pointed when they recognized him (or to quote one woman I rode by slowly:”Oh My God, is that him!?”). The ride participants talked to him about very Vancouver issues – the housing crisis, the opioid crisis, the decade-of-BCLiberal-rule-crisis – and he seemed to know the right questions to ask, which in his current position and given the setting, is much better than acting like he has all the answers. He was clearly enjoying the conversations, pausing only occasionally to look out from the Sea Wall and remark at how much beauty there was in this City (jaded Vancouverites: “Meh”).

And, for the record: nice three piece suit, tie, polished shoes, and an upright Brompton with a well-worn Brooks. He hardly broke a sweat.

I’m looking forward to putting his name on my ballot next week.

*a couple of weeks ago, some friends and I were lamenting the NDP leadership race wasn’t getting the media attention the Conservative one did. It was suggested (half-jokingly) that this is because the race lacked the batshit racist craziness of the CPC race. Is that irony?

Ask Pat: The Q’boro edition

Yes, I am a bad blogger. I have Ask Pats in the queue, and run the risk of looking like I just don’t care. But summer is over, which traditionally means time to get back to work, so I’ll try to knock off a couple together here, with a Q’boro theme:

Shaji asks—

Hello Pat
Do you know what is the story behind Frankie G’s Boilerhouse Pub on 305 Ewen Avenue in Queensborough? It seems like it has been under renovations for a long time.

I don’t know much, except that there was a fire, and the owner is doing a major renovation to coincide with the repairs required due to flames/smoke/water. That said, nothing has come across the Council table about it, and I am not aware of any other plans for the site. It is a bit of a shame that they were not open this summer, as it would have made a nice walkable destination during the QtoQ Ferry demonstration, and I know that Port Royal residents are missing having a local community pub. Hope it’s open soon!

Dan asks—

Why did you guys wait so long in the process to figure out building a Q2Q bridge was going to be expensive? How many tens of thousands of dollars did you waste in meetings discussing nonsense with other bureaucrats? You say you have us in your mind, but your thoughts and prayers are piss in the wind. Queensborough is one of the least thought out communities I have had the misfortune of living in. It seems not a single person on the council even thought about basic amenities like a grocery store or how people will get in and out or find parking. You saw a quick way to make cash, promised people a solution and future, and produced nothing. There are thousands of new homes coming up, and little to no forethought into how this will make the already existing problem of access even worse.

To answer your first question, the money to build the proposed Q2Q bridge was not going to be available until around 2015, based on the original timeline of the DAC funding model, when it was put together back in 2007 or so. The higher-priority projects (Queensborough Parks and the Queensborough Community Centre, the MUCF/Anvil Centre) were to be funded and completed first, and were. I wrote a longer piece here about the evolution and challenges of the Q2Q bridge, and a follow-up piece on the decisions made since my time on Council, which may answer some of your questions about how a project originally (in 2008) thought to be in the order of $10Million became a project estimated at $40Million.

I’m not sure how to square the idea that Queensborough is ignored by the City when I look at the Queensborough Community Plan, the investments in the QBB and surrounding parks, the largest road improvement project in the City’s history, and the City investing in childcare and affordable housing initiatives in that neighbourhood as priorities over the rest of the City. Queensborough is growing fast, and the City is investing in making it a livable, working community.

The Community Plan does include the building of neighbourhood-serving retail in a new node near Mercer and Ewen, but the reality is that the City doesn’t build retail developments; that is the job of the private sector. There is a frustrating chicken-and-egg situation where retail developers need to see a large population (=potential customer) base before they will invest and build, but in the meantime, we want local retail to support a growing population (it is kind of like the transit conundrum that sees Port Royal still under-served by Transit as it exceeds the density of many better-served neighbourhoods). The mostly-empty strip mall just over the border in Hamilton is an example of what happens if you try to build small neighbourhood-serving retail in a neighbourhood not ready for it, especially in the shadow of WalMart, but that’s an entire other discussion.

So, yeah, Queensborough is a work in progress, just as every other neighbourhood in the City is. It has an abundance of relatively affordable family-friendly housing options near a bunch of great community amenities, if one is willing to suffer from a lack of retail variety and rush hour traffic challenges. I think the community plan shows some longer-term relief from those challenges, but the solutions aren’t instant, and aren’t for a lack of forethought. Communities often shape themselves, regardless of the best laid plans.

And, as a side note, Council will be doing our annual Meeting in Queensborough on September 11, starting at 6:00pm. If you have a specific Q’boro concern, complaint, kudo or claim, Public Delegations start at 7:00! C’mon out and tell us what you think!

on Racists

Last week in Council, we had an Agenda item entitled “Procedure for Offensive Correspondence Received as part of a Legislated Public Process”. I made mention of it in my Council report, but wanted to put a little more context around it, as it seems topical to events local and around the planet right now.

The background is thus: City Council has some legislated responsibility to “receive” public comment on issues of public interest through Public Hearings, Opportunities to be Heard, and some seldom-exercised quasi-judicial duties we have. To “receive” the correspondence generally means to acknowledge publically that we have received it and had time to review it, and then to enter the correspondence into the Public Record so the public has a right to see what evidence we used to inform our decision about the issue.

This spring, we had application for a temporary use zoning amendment from a community group, and received some correspondence opposing that application that was (in my opinion) offensive. It contained uninformed and hateful comments about people living, working, and worshipping in our community and included links to inflammatory YouTube videos by the most ignorant and intolerant fringes of our society.

During the Public Hearing, when the correspondence was to be received, I asked if it was possible for this correspondence to not be received. Having read it, I did not want it to be entered into the public record, as this would result in the City disseminating hateful speech. I also did not want to leave open an invitation for further bigoted speech to be used in part of our consideration for a land use amendments – at some point you need to say no to racism and bigotry.

At the time, our City Clerk (whose job it is to assure that the procedures followed by Council are legally on the up-and-up) suggested that not receiving a specific piece of correspondence would be irregular, and could potentially result in a legal challenge that may put the application in jeopardy – unintentionally impacting the applicants and empowering the person opposed to them. This seemed a suboptimal result, so I agreed along with Council to receive the correspondence. However, I also asked that we get a legal opinion and strategy to deal with offensive correspondence received as part of a Public Hearing process in the future.

The result, this week, is that staff have outlined a procedure where all correspondence will be received, and delivered to Council, but correspondence considered offensive or inflammatory will not be entered into the Public Record, except in noting that it has been received and redacted. In the end, an interested member of the public could FOI the correspondence that was redacted, but we are not required to disseminate this hate to the general public. I’m pretty happy with this compromise.

Some will call this “censorship”, and to them, I can only link to this XKCD comic, which succinctly outlines what constitutes free speech (excuse the American viewpoint and soft profanity, but the point is made):

Link to the always-excellent XKCD.

This brings to mind the E-mail folder I maintain for my City e-mail, simply labelled “racists”. I get about one e-mail a week that I scan through and send over to this file. They are all apropos of nothing that is happening in New Westminster, as I suspect the small, hateful group sending them is spamming every elected official in BC (or Canada?) with them.

Note, I redacted contact info, and have chosen the headlines of fairly “tame” examples of the 100+ messages I have received. I don’t want to cast light on these groups, but want people to recognize that this ignorant, offensive, bigoted conversation is constantly pressed in the face of elected folks. I keep all of these e-mails as an archive partly because I’m a bit of a digital packrat, but mostly because reading these screeds for the last three years has made me hyperaware of the “dog whistles” used for personal gain by people like Kellie Leitch and Ezra Levant, and Rex Muphy, and (unfortunately) in otherwise polite conversation by otherwise well-meaning people.

The balance between ignoring it and casting light on it in order to oppose it is the challenge of liberal democracy. Mostly, though, I’m disappointed that so many (especially on the right side of the political spectrum) see society as a zero-sum game; If they want more (from the economy, from their government, from life) then there must be some others who deserve less. We can do better.