ASK PAT: Brews & Patios

Wes asks—

Why can’t a brewery get a non-temporary patio in New West?

Has anyone in city hall ever been to Portland (or even Port Moody)? Every brewery literally gets rid of their parking lots and replace them with picnic tables and umbrellas.

They can. It is a bit hard for me to answer this question directly, because there are only two breweries operating in New West, and that makes it challenging to talk  about general City policy without uncomfortable references to specific cases. This is probably not the appropriate medium to talk about specific sites when those are private small businesses in the City. So I’m going to try to make this as general as possible to be fair to those owners.

Yes, I have been to Portland. I know most other members of Council have been to Portland. Some even attended the Livable Cities Conference there last year and have brought back ideas to make New West weirder. There are aspects of the Portland streetscape that the Mayor can’t stop extolling. I’ve also sipped beers on sunny patios around the world, from Montreal to Hue to Lesotho to Cologne. I’ve never heard of Port Moody, though.

New Westminster has allowed patios for the three main categories of food and beverage businesses (Food Primary restaurants, Liquor Primary pubs, and Manufacturer breweries) for some time , and many of them across the City have patios. However, the City is not the only regulatory body involved in licensing these spaces, and often there are complicating details between City zoning bylaws, provincial liquor licencing, and a variety of other rules that apply to businesses, especially the strange amalgam of light industrial activity and hospitality that is represented by breweries with tasting rooms.

I can’t talk about how it works in Portland, because I have no idea how their regulatory regime works, but I’ll try to outline my understanding of the local regulatory environment while avoiding any direct reference to any specific businesses.

In pre-COVID times (when this question was asked, and yep, I’m slow with answers these days), the City had a Sidewalk Cafe policy, guidelines, and a process in place to approve said patios, and on-site patios (those that are on private property of the pub/restaurant) were permitted in all commercial zones in the City. Sometimes a zoning variance would be required to change parking use to patio use (as amount of parking is regulated by zoning), but there was a process to do this, and I don’t recall Council ever saying no. There would also have to be an expansion of the liquor licence, which is provincially regulated and comes with requirements around access and fencing and such, because non-drinking people in BC must be strictly separated from drinking people or else… uh… chaos, I guess.  There are some other details that may be City Zoning or may be Building Code that can get in the way: for example, the patio has to be accessible (ramps less than 5% grade, 2m wide access points, etc) or number of washrooms and accessible washroom consistent with the occupancy of the room, but again those details can usually be worked out.

If the above require zoning variances, then that may trigger a need for some sort of public process – a public consultation or Opportunity to be Heard, and this makes sense. If you live next door to a restaurant, and they decide to put 50 guests outside making noise until 10:00pm every night, you may have concerns with that above and beyond and concerns you may have had, and it is only fair that you have an opportunity to bring those concerns to Council. Of course, Breweries are generally in industrial areas where this is not as much of a concern.

Finally, if a business wanted to put a patio on City land (the sidewalk, a public parking spot, etc.) then there is another step around the need to licence public space for private use. They need to pay a licence fee, there are insurance and liability issues to clear up, and the City has to decide if there is a public benefit served by this use of public land. Again, this all sounds like a hassle, but it is important when allocating public resources that it is guided by some kind of policy or at least a transparent set of principles and to assure transparency, fairness, and (frankly) accountability.

We are now in COVID times, and things have changed. Most notably, the Provincial Government has made some changes to how patio spaces for business with liquor licences are regulated, in an effort to support recovery for these businesses. The changes will allow near-immediate licencing for “temporary” patios to the end of October as long as it doesn’t increase the overall occupancy capacity of the business (which makes sense, as physical distancing requirements are making it hard or businesses to fit their occupancy limits inside). By doing this in a temporary way to the end of October, it gives business a chance to get going right now, and time for them to get more permanent plans in place if that is the way they want to go.

At our last Council Meeting, New Westminster Council made some changes to our zoning bylaw to further support these “temporary” applications, and further established some strong policy guidance to give staff the clear direction that we want to support the opening of patios asap. This sounds a little self-congratulatory, but in reality, City Staff did a great job putting together the documentation, providing clarity about the rapid changes in the regulatory environment, and bringing local business associations onboard with a regime that works for them. This guidance document shows the straightforward pathway to opening a patio in time for this summer’s patio season.

This effectively kicks the ball down the road to the end of the 2020 patio season, but it also gets patios up and running ASAP, and gives us time to get things in place for more permanent changes. As a bonus, and also gives us a chance to “try out” a process and see what works or where the process needs adjustment, which is really the most effective form of public consultation.

ASK PAT: NWSS safe biking routes

I have a bunch of queued up ASK PATS. Sorry, folks, some have been here for quite a while. Things have been busy, and priorities at Council have been shifting so fast and furiously that I have let these linger. I am going to try to clear the queue here in the next little bit. So the answers may be shorter than usual. But probably not, because I like to go on about things…

Don asks—

NWSS safe biking routes need some help. One of those problems is the car traffic cutting through the gas station at 6th and 8th. Perhaps if barriers were installed on the double yellow lines on both those streets would improve safety and traffic flow. Is this possible?

Maybe. That is a pretty “operational” question, and I frankly don’t know the technical requirements when it comes to installing mid-road barriers. I suspect come of those flexi-posts would reduce the number of illegal turns here, but I have also seen drivers do some pretty bizarre things to get around them. Jerks gotta jerk. As this is a more technical operational question than a Council Policy one, you may want to enter it to SeeClickFix or drop a line to Engineering Ops and see what transportation staff say.

As for bike routes to NWSS, we are working on it. The building of the new High School has given us an opportunity to review how cycling and pedestrian connections to the High School work. With the “main entrance” for the School shifting form 8th Street to 6th Street, there will definitely be a shift in how students get to the school:

An older drawing o the proposed new school site I cribbed from this source. Some stuff may have changed since then, but I wanted to show the lay of the land, and this works.

The City has worked with the School Board and project delivery team on this. The first priority is assuring safe and accessible pedestrian access a the two main “entry points”which will be mid-block on Eighth Ave (“C”) and mid-block on Sixth Street (“D”). The pathway across Eighth Street through the existing school site (“A”) is also identified as important, but will be addressed in the future as the demolition of the existing school and design of the memorialization area will delay works on that side. Light-controlled intersections, crosswalks, and sidewalk upgrades are planned at “C” and “D”.

The City is also committed to assuring there is a safe separated cycling route from Seventh Ave (part of the Crosstown Greenway) to the school. By the time the School opens, that will be a separated path along Eighth Street to Eighth Ave, a new intersection treatment at Eighth and Eighth, and improvements of the pathway past the Massey Theatre.

The Connection of the Crosstown Greenway to the Sixth Street entrance to the school property is going to be designed and implemented as part of the Uptown Streetscape Vision, which will redesign all of Sixth Street from Fourth Ave to Tenth Ave. This is currently going through some stakeholder engagement, but is a bigger road redesign project that will not be implemented by the time the School opens.

ASK PAT: River Road trees

Denis asks—

Hi Pat, I was cycling along River Road in Richmond for the first time in quite some time this morning and noticed that the trees between the road and the Fraser had been cut along a ~0.5-1 km stretch, perhaps (my memory is fallible!) just to the east of the CNR bridge? I was sad to see that this had been done when I can’t think of any real need — any idea why this was done and whose approvals were necessary? I’m thinking this stretch is actually in Richmond rather than New West, but I figured if anyone would know or could find out about this it would be you!

Hey Denis! Long time no see, hope you and yours are well! This is a little outside of New West, but quite a few of my cycling friends have asked this question, so I’ll take a stab at answering. Besides, I probably owe you a noteworthy number of favours.

Indeed there is a ~1 km-long stretch of River Road in east Richmond just west of the rail bridge where a significant number of trees and pretty healthy looking habitat was recently clear cut. Where this used to be the view riding along there:

It now looks like this:

There is a pretty simple reason for why it was done. The City of Richmond has an ongoing program to improve and solidify the dike system that keeps Richmond (and Queensborough!) livable and farmable, and this is part of that program. With funding support from the Provincial and Federal Governments, the entire dike-and-drain system for Lulu Island is being upgraded. This means raising some areas of dike to meet new 100-year projections for sea level rise and seismically upgrading parts of the dike where sloughing or liquefaction is likely during a significant earthquake. It also means upgrading the internal canal/ditch/watercourse network and pumping infrastructure that not only keeps the rainwater from flooding within the dike, but serves as an important emergency reservoir and drainage system to reduce damage in the unlikely event of a breach of the dike.

I am not an engineer, but my understanding is that there is some stability and lift work being done on this stretch of dike, and the (primarily) cottonwoods were determined to be both a threat to the soil density and in the way of the soil improvement work that needs to occur, so they needed to go. There is more info here at the City of Richmond website.

Your second question is a bit harder to answer, and I can only really answer in generalities, because I was not involved in this specific project, and I’m not a Professional Biologist. So take everything below as referring to “a typical project like this” and not referring to this specific project, because it is complicated and I don’t want to second guess actual professional people who might have been involved in this project. Geologists talking Biology always get something wrong, but I have spent some of my career peripheral to this type of ecology work, so here is my understanding.

The City has rules about cutting trees and protecting habitat. If you wanted to do this type of clear-cut to build a house or a warehouse or a dock, you might run into that. But a City-run project regulated by a provincial diking authority for life safety reasons would likely be exempt from those types of Bylaws.

Provincially, there is a law called the Riparian Areas Regulation that requires municipalities to regulate the protection of “riparian areas”, which are the lands adjacent to a fish-bearing or fish-supporting stream and provide shade, habitat, nutrients, etc. to the critters that live in and near the stream. In general, RAR does not apply in tidal waters, and the Fraser River here is tidal. So that leaves the Feds, and the biggest, baddest, environmental hammer in Canada: the federal Fisheries Act.

This used to be simple. Back in, say, 2011, work like this would constitute a HADD – “Harmful Alteration, Disruption or Destruction of fish habitat”. Section 35 of the Fisheries Act said you couldn’t do that without specific authorization. That authorization was hard to come by, but if the work was important like upgrading dikes, expanding the Port, or building an oil pipeline, you could get approval that would come along with a bunch of restoration work. If you were working in tidal waters or in the riparian areas near tidal waters, the onus was on you to prove to well-trained and independent scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that your work did not constitute a HADD, and if it did, they were going to make you fix what you broke.

Naturally, that was a bummer to some people who liked to build things in and near fish habitat, like oil refineries and pipelines, or if you wanted to hold a good ol’ Country Hoe-Down in a sensitive habitat. So the Harper Conservatives ripped HADD out of the Fisheries Act. Instead of protecting habitat, your only responsibility is to not cause “serious harm” to a fish. They also canned a great many of those well-trained DFO scientists who would actually be the ones able to determine if there was harm. So for several years, reviewing a project like cutting down all the trees on a 1km-long stretch of Fraser River foreshore was left to an on-line triage system run out of Regina, and evidence to support that review could be provided by pretty much anyone – no requirement for a Professional Biologist to provide assessment to determine if this was a bad thing for fish, or any other part of the ecosystem. Some environmentalists complained at the time. 

Now, the Liberal government put the HADD back into the Fisheries Act late last year, and with it there was a return of authorizations under Section 35. There is still an issue with limited resources in the DFO to provide those authorizations, and I honestly have no idea what the triggering mechanism is compared to how it was pre-2012, or whether a project like this would trigger it. It may have received review through the old triage system prior to the changes in the Act, it may have had full DFO Section 35 review.

Anyway, it looks bad now, and to my untrained and non-biologist eye like a HADD, but this is important dike work making Lulu Island safer from flood and earthquake, so it would very likely have received a DFO authorization, and a compensation plan to improve the habitat value of the river would be required. The City of Richmond mentioned a plan to plant more than twice as many trees as were removed, so there will be a habitat win here eventually. Hopefully, they are also looking at improvements to River Road along with the Dike improvements, to make it a safe place to ride bicycles. But that’s a whole different rant.

Ask Pat: Petitions & Letters

OK, I’m lying a bit. This wasn’t the result of someone hitting the red Ask Pat button, but a question I got asked on Twitter that I thought deserved a longer answer than Tweets were good for. And I must be housebound because 1,500 words later here I am writing an intro.

I have been peripherally involved in some of the campaigning to secure emergency funding for TransLink during this crisis. Mostly by using my platforms to connect people and amplify the ask. (For example: Go here and here and sign a petition and write a letter). An engaged New West resident asked me, perhaps rhetorically, how effective are petitions and form letters in getting action from governments? Is this kind of action useful? So I thought I would answer that here as best I can. TL;DNR: All correspondence matters, the more personal the better. 

Perhaps as a caveat – I do not consider myself a brilliant campaigner. In my life of being a rabble-rouser and then elected guy, I have relied on smarter and/or better trained campaigners. There are library shelves of theses on this topic, people whose entire career is based on engaging the public and driving political action. They may laugh or cry reading what I write below, but you asked me, not them, so I’ll do my best to answer and not worry about the tears of others.

I would say any communication with elected officials is better than none. Your elected representatives need to know and be reminded where you stand on issues that matter to you. They receive correspondence all the time, and though there are many things impacting their decision making, there is something about receiving constituent correspondence that makes any (thinking) elected representative consider their assumptions. If they disagree with you, they are going to be forced to think about why they disagree, and this may result in a more nuanced consideration of a matter. If they agree with you, you have provided them another arrow in their quiver when they have to make a case against the (inevitable) correspondence they will receive on the other side of the issue. So if you care about something, let them know, because a person on the other side of the issue is likely doing the same.

But the real question was about the effectiveness of petitions and form letters coming out of campaigns like I linked to above? To qualify my answer yet again, that depends on what you mean by effective, and how big they are.

I don’t think electronic petitions like those at Change.org change the minds of many elected types. Any petition would have to have huge results to shift elected people away from ideas that were otherwise defended by good public policy or other important political drivers – no petition project exists in a vacuum. I suppose there are some populists who would say “1,400 people signed this! We need to react!”, but for a decision to get to that point there must already be a solid public policy driver, and in a City with 70,000 residents, it is hard to tell what number of self-selected signatures it would require to represent a true plurality of opinion.

This is exacerbated by petitions being strictly directed communications, and are sometimes based on facts that are (to be polite) separated from the decision-making points at hand. If I launched a petition “New West should fix traffic now!” I could probably get a lot of signatures, especially if I had a little money to throw towards a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram campaign. This would be easier if I worded it so I could rely on signatures from people who want roads expanded to “get traffic flowing” and those who want to further restrict through-traffic to make sidewalks and crosswalks safe for pedestrians. So it would be effective at saying “somebody should do something”, and may be perceived as putting elected types on the hot seat, but it is not going to change anyone’s mind about any specific approach.

So why would I do this? Electronic petitions collect names and e-mails, and sometimes other information, from people who fill them out, so they are a quick data source for people running campaigns. In being easy for the general public to engage with, they give an opportunity to get people thinking and interested in a topic. If you are piqued by an on-line prompt, you are more likely to take a further step, be it forward a tweet or like a Facebook post, send a form letter, or even talk to your friends about the issue. So I think petitions like this are more effective at getting non-activist people engaged than they are at changing elected people’s minds.

Form letters are better, I think. Though it is sometimes irritating to receive 30 emails in an afternoon with the same subject heading, they usually provide a name and contact of the sender, which gives the elected person the chance to respond or engage. They also tend to be clearer in their ask, as they have to be in order to get people to attach their names to them.

It is important to recognize that some campaigns and campaigners are seeking your contact information for their own purposes. You are sharing data: your name, your e-mail, your postal code, etc. with the campaign organization, and it is not always clear how that data will be used. I recently received a series of form letters from a campaign that used your postal code to determine who your local Council was, then sent and e-mail to the Mayor and Council in your area asking that they be vigilant in not allowing face recognition software to be used in the City. I noted the irony of a person concerned about digital security willingly providing their name, postal code, e-mail address, and political opinions to an anonymous letter generator.

That said, small local grass-roots organizations like I linked to above with clear mandates and clear messages are not likely to do anything that makes their burgeoning supporter base upset, like mis-using their data. I am one to usually presume good intentions unless one has acted disingenuously in the past, but it never hurts to ask the organization if they collect data and how it is used, and for the organization to have and respect an opt-out if you don’t want your data shared or to receive further correspondence from them.

From the elected person’s point of view, even the most diligent correspondent has a hard time responding to the 200th exact-same letter. I try (and sometimes succeed) to reply to every e-mail I get, but form letters tend to get a form-letter-like response. I do scan them to see if the writer has added a personal touch to it, and try to reply to that personally. But again, every elected person is going to manage this correspondence differently. If you have the time and energy, personal emails are much, much better, and I prioritize those for responses. As a decision-maker, one well-made personal argument is more likely to convince me than 100 identical form letters, regardless of how well they frame the concern.

So overall, the more personal the better, but all correspondence is important, and if all you can manage is a petition or a form letter, it is better than staying silent on an issue. All of them serve as a demonstration of how broad a support base is for any idea. It also helps an elected person who may want to take a positive action demonstrate that there is some level of support for that action. I will give you a clear and real example from my life.

I want more and better cycling infrastructure in New West. No surprise there, I was beaking off about it for a few years before getting elected, I included in every conversation during my elections, and have talked about it at Council whenever appropriate. Although I think the majority of Council supports this goal, I do at times feel I am shouting into a void. It is “Patrick going on about bikes again.” It’s OK, as you can tell by this blog post, I like to drone on.

Currently, we have limited the use of the Quayside boardwalk for cycles, because more people are using the boardwalk for daily exercise, space is constrained by physical distancing requirements, and given these pressures, bikes really aren’t appropriate there. Staff have recommended Quayside Drive as an alternative, and added some “share the road” signage. I don’t think that is adequate, and think we should close parking on one side of the road during the crisis and make a dedicated cycle route safe for 8 year olds and 80 year olds to replace the one we lost on the boardwalk.

If we do this, we will not doubt hear from people – angry letters to Council and to the Editor, maybe even a petition, demanding that free storage of cars is the best use of public land, as it always has been. Why would staff prioritize my idea, why would the rest of Council prioritize it, just to make Patrick happy when there is no demonstration of public support? I know it is the right thing to do, most of Council may agree it is the right thing to do, but with no public support, why prioritize this now and face the backlash? Everyone is busy, there are a thousand things to do in crisis response, this simply isn’t a burning-enough issue while the room is on fire. A petition or a few dozen letters from concerned citizens who want a safe place for their kids to ride a bike may demonstrate that this isn’t a fantasy in one Councillor’s brain. it may demonstrate that the inevitable backlash is worth it.

Thing about representative democracy: in the end people are more likely to get what they ask for than what they assume should be. So use your voice.

ASK PAT: Parking (car, bikes, & butts)

Oh boy, its been a while since I did one of these. I have few Ask Pats in the queue. Sorry folks, I like responding to these, I’m just stressed for time. But since it is such a nice sunny February day, I decided to sit down in my writing cellar and bang through a couple of them, omnibus style:

LNW asked—

If I have an Evo vehicle parked in front of my house(blocking my sidewalk by the way) will the city remove it if it is still there in 72 hours?? I have contacted Evo but as yet–nothing.

If the EVO Car is parked in a legal public parking space, where you would normally be able to park your car on the public street as a resident or visitor or customer of a business, then the EVO is parked legally. There is no 72-hour restriction on residents storing their car on public streets, as long as the car is insured. For the purposes of our Bylaws in New West, a EVO is treated like a resident’s car. So near I can tell, they aren’t doing anything illegal.

If you have any questions around the EVO parking rules, they are laid out in quite a bit of detail here on the EVO FAQ page.


TN asks—

Are there any times when the 2hr free street parking around RCH is not in effect?

I have no idea. Really, the details of local parking rules like this are just outside of my Council purview. I actually had no idea there was two hours of free street parking around RCH, I always thought you had to pay for parking on the street by the hospital, unless you are parked in a residential area for which you have a parking pass. But then I noticed some of the residential areas allow two hours of permit-free parking. As far as I can tell, that is 24 hours a day. But I’m really not an expert. There is more info here, and if you have more questions, best to contact our parking folks at 604-519-2010 or parking@newwestcity.ca


Rob asked—

Patrick
In the plans for the new recreation centre, has the surge in e bikes been considered as a transportation option? Recharging stations and secure lockups come to mind. Safe bike lanes leading to the centre too. This action supports several of the 7 goals.

Short answer is yes, though we are not quite there yet in the detail design work. The plan last I looked at it was to have a covered secure bike parking area at the north/east entrance where there are lots of eyes on it, and there is a plan to have it wired for e-bikes. We are also having a conversation about our zoning bylaw for new developments, and looking at how we can better support the safe storage and electrical charging of e-assist bikes in new residential and commercial developments.

The connections to the site for bikes along the Crosstown Greenway is also a big part of the site design, with the slope on the west side where the overpass comes down to grade being the biggest challenge the engineers are working on right now. We have also emphasized that the current route across the north part of the site needs to be protected and accessible during construction, during the demo of the CGP, and of course once the new layout of the site is complete.


Wes asks—

Why can’t a brewery get a non-temporary patio in New West?

Has anyone in city hall ever been to Portland (or even Port Moody)? Every brewery literally gets rid of their parking lots and replace them with picnic tables and umbrellas.

I may be familiar with the brewery-rich locations you mention, and I will try my hardest to answer this question without making specific references to any breweries operating in New West, as I feel somewhat in conflict.

There are no specific restrictions on breweries having outdoor patios in the City Bylaws. As you see across New West, restaurants have no problem getting patio licenses, and I would think it should be the same for breweries. That said, permitting breweries is a multi-agency thing, with all three levels of government involved, and making all three line up can be challenge. If a brewery in New West (and I’m NOT pointing to any one or two specifically) is unable to have a patio, it is likely because they don’t have physical space on their property, or the owner of the property (if the brewery leases) will not permit the permanent conversion of outdoor space to patio. It is also possible that patio seats would exceed the number of regulated seats that exist under their liquor license or zoning, and adding seats may require they comply with building code requirements around accessibility, number of bathrooms, etc. Those things can be changed with an application to the City and the Province, but I don’t know of any such application coming forward.

There is a nuance in the provincial liquor licensing that allows temporary licensing of extra spaces as “special event licenses”, but the province limits this to a few times a year to prevent breweries from using it to get around the other code requirements. That also usually means getting a short-term workaround of any code requirements, such as installing temporary bathrooms, getting permission from the landowner, or establishing a temporary fence/barrier separating provincially-licensed places-you-can-drink from places you can’t drink. Licensing booze in this province still carries a bunch of archaic restrictions, and I don’t know what else to say about that.

Ask Pat: Pier Park overpass

Harvey asks—

What’s happening with the new Pier Park overpass. It was originally announced to be completed in the Fall 2019 but now it appears as if no work is being done.

The overpass at the foot of 6th Street will provide pedestrian and cycling access to the west side of Pier Park prior to the closure of the through-a-construction-site access currently provided, which needs to be closed because that construction site will spend more than a year being a hole in the ground. The idea is that there always needs to be a second access to the park to compliment the current 4th street overpass and elevator.

It was originally going to rely on an elevator for accessibility, like the 4th Street one, but our experience with that elevator has been infamously problematic, first with some design issues delaying opening, then with ongoing vandalism that puts the elevator out of service periodically. The ramp was seen as a better choice for the west side, giving people more and different options (for some people, long ramps are a barrier, for others, elevators are). There has also been a long-standing complaint at Pier Park that it lacks shady areas in the heat of summer, especially for kids to play. To meet accessibility guidelines for grades (less than 5%, with regular “landings”), the ramp must be quite long. By building a light, airy structure with a wide platform, the ramp also provides shade for a redesigned children’s playground that will be in the center of it.

Now to your question. The new overpass is a partnership between the City and the developer of that soon-to-be-a-hole-in-the-ground-before-it-can-be-rebuilt-into-a-permanent-park as one of the conditions of the rezoning. Early plans to have the overpass open in 2019 ran into some permitting problems between the developer and the railways. There are 4 rail companies that need to sign off on a new overpass spanning those lines. These four Purveyors of the National Enterprise have head corporate offices in Montreal, Calgary, San Francisco and Fort Worth and combined annual revenues just under $60 Billion, so getting them all to set aside a little time to sign off on a pre-approved design for a little ol’ overpass in New Westminster is sometimes a challenge. Arranging for a window of time to lift a span over their rail lines that doesn’t interfere with their operations or possible operations is also a challenge. Especially as their empowering legislation (the Rail Safety Act) essentially puts them in a power position more akin to the Jedi Council than than any level of government, never mind the power usually granted to publicly-traded multi-national corporations operating in our communities. This means these highly profitable corporate entities not only choose not pay property taxes for the lands used in our community, they are also not required to comply with noise or nuisance bylaws, or any laws that establish community standards. They are not even expected to pay for the basic infrastructure required to keep their operations in our community safe, instead passing those costs on to the local governments they don’t pay those taxes to. They even have their own armed police force operating inside our community with no accountability to local or provincial police oversight. So each and every one of them has veto power, and they rarely feel any specific rush to respond to requests from communities or third parties trying to make good things.

Didn’t see that rant coming did you? It’s been building up.

Anyway, the overpass will be built as soon as the developer and the railways can get their regulatory thing figured out, hopefully by the spring, and then the access to the west side of the park will be via the Parkade entrance at the foot of 6th Street, and probably 2 years later, the underground construction part of the development to the west of Pier Park will be done enough that pedestrian access at the west end can be re-established on the waterfront.

ASK PAT: Noise bylaws

CG asked—

Noise bylaws. Why are the allowable hours different for construction (which I presume includes homeowners working on their property) and for other noise?

Because that’s the way things have always been! That as bit of a tongue in cheek, but the real answer to why the City (and most other cities) do most things the way they do. However, in this case I can see why the bylaws are set up this way.

The “regular” Noise Bylaw in the City says no-one in the City can make a sound that “…disturbs, or tends to disturb, the quiet, peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort, or convenience of the neighbourhood or persons in the vicinity” unless that noise is specifically permitted by the Bylaw. There is another part of the Bylaw that says sounds can further not exceed some legislated level (60dBs in the day, 55dBs at night), but the Bylaw is written so that even a sound under those prescribed levels could be considered disturbing.

Most people (including me, but I listen to a lot of the Pixies) have no idea what a decibel is, but there are lots of on-line examples that will tell you 60dB is about regular conversation level, 55dB is about the noise level of a coffee percolator, and 110dB is a jet engine. I’m not sure those help.

There are various exemptions in the Bylaw for things like “power equipment” which can be used within certain hours, so leaf blowers can continue to disturb the many for the benefit of the few. There are also obvious exemptions like emergency vehicle sirens, street sweepers, parades, concerts, and the such, some requiring specific authorization, some not.

Like most Cities, New Westminster has a different Bylaw regulating noise made at construction sites. This is because construction sites are (usually) temporary in nature, and they are places where noise is made outside of the regular standards that would apply in a community. We relax regulations for construction sites because of their ephemeral nature, and because we, in general, want things to be built. However, we limit construction noise hours to those typical of business (daytime and Saturdays). We have recently made some changes to the bylaw to reduce those hours and bring us more in line with adjacent cities, and to more tightly regulate pile driving.


It has taken me forever to answer this, but funny that this ASK PAT raises two different things that have been on my mind a lot recently: whether predictable sleep is more important than predictable traffic, and Oslo, Norway. I promise this will make sense.

A few months ago, I did something I had not done before. I voted against a nighttime noise variance for a road construction project. The City often hands these out to utility companies, Metro Vancouver, or construction companies to allow them to do noise-generating construction work at night because the work involves digging up a major road. The thinking is that the traffic chaos caused by digging up a road during the day is worse for community well being than some people near the construction site not being able to sleep at night. I voted against this one variance because I wanted to challenge that idea – maybe the livability of my community is served more if residents can get a night’s sleep than it is if regional through-traffic is inconvenienced. I made some comment about this being my new position on these variances.

Of course, in governance, when you make a strong proclamation of principles like that, something else comes along a challenges it immediately. In this case it was a request to close Front Street in a way that would impact Quayside Drive and River Market at a time when they are already dealing with significant traffic disruptions that is hurting their business. Is a good nights sleep for one night more important than a day’s traffic chaos *and* another hit at a keystone business in the City already reeling from the impacts of adjacent construction? Then we recently got a request for nighttime work for track maintenance along the Skytrain line which we approved. Is a good night’s sleep more important that providing timely maintenance to a regional transit line where there are literally not alternative routes? In the end, I voted “no” and “no” to those two questions and voted to allow the night work. Then around the same time, I once again said that traffic disruption on Brunette Ave is not reason to keep people living near Brunette up all night for three days, and Council agreed.

This is not to say I was right, it is to say governance of complicated, and guidelines are not standards. I can see how this looks like inconsistency (nay, hypocrisy?), but balancing various community standards is part of the reason why these variances have to come to Council in the first place. The answers ultimately require some kind of compromise of one community standard to satisfy another, and as much as I’d like to think I am consistent on what I think our standards should be, there are subtle differences in every application.

Now, what does this have to do with Oslo? A friend of mine who happens to be the Mayor of another BC City was recently on a tour of Oslo where the city has developed a progressive procurement strategy. The City has said that all City construction sites are going to have to shift away from using diesel equipment. No more diesel excavators or cement mixers. No more diesel generators to spin the hydraulic pumps or air compressors or drill rigs or cranes. Through a combination of wiring up the sites for electricity and battery tech on equipment, they have major building construction happening without burning fossil fuels.

My friend noted one thing first while visiting the site – how quiet it was. Aside from the folks next to the drill rig (busting rock still makes noise), no-one as wearing ear protection. The sound of shovels and nail guns and saws are still there, but the difference was (apparently) profound in how the construction site integrates in to the neighbourhood.

I think we are a decade behind Norway on progressive policy like this. The City of New Westminster doesn’t have the procurement power of the city of Oslo (The “County of Oslo” apparently procures about 10% of the construction in the entire nation), and you know, socialism and all, but it is interesting to challenge our own assumptions about what are reasonable community standards. It is also interesting to think that so many GHG-reduction strategies have spin-off benefits that make our community more livable. Dare to dream.

Ask Pat: The CVG Gap

Zack asks—

When will there be a proper cycling connection between Cumberland and Brunette along E Columbia? Almost everyone rides on the sidewalk there.

I have no idea.

I’m not happy about that answer, that piece of terrible planning turned into infrastructure failure is one of the biggest active transportation pet peeves I have in the City. Now, I could blow smoke up your ass and say we are working on it, but I don’t actually think we are. And to understand why not is to understand what is currently frustrating me most about my job.

The Central Valley Greenway is a great piece of regional transportation infrastructure. After only the BC Parkway (which has its own frustrations), the CVG is the best integrated inter-community cycling and active transportation route in Greater Vancouver. Tracing pretty much the flattest and most direct route between Downtown Vancouver and the triple-point of Burnaby New West and Coquitlam, with a significant side-spur connecting to Downtown New West, the CVG is 24 km of relatively safe, pretty comfortable and pretty attractive cycling infrastructure opened to some fanfare in 2009.

It is definitely not perfect, and much of it falls far short of what we would consider “All Ages and Abilities” AAA bike routes. That in Burnaby they built a really great multi-use overpass at Winston and Sperling to cross the road and railroad tracks almost makes be forgive the adjacent 4 km where the route is a too-narrow, poorly-maintained and debris-strewn paint-demarked lane adjacent to a truck route where 4+ m lane widths assure the 50km/h speed limit is treated as a minimum. But I’m not here to complain about Burnaby, I’m here to complain about New Westminster.

At the time of the CVG opening in 2009, it was noted that some parts had “interim” treatments, and would be brought up to proper design in the near future. One of those is the section you mention, where the separated Multi Use Path (“MUP”) along East Columbia simply runs out of road room, and for 150m, cyclists are either expected to share sidewalk space with pedestrians (which is actually legal in this space, but that’s another Ask Pat) on a 6 foot wide sidewalk immediately adjacent to heavy truck traffic coming off on Brunette, or take a 360-m detour up a steep (13% grade!) hill to Sapper Street, then back down an equally steep hill a block later. It is a fudge, but tolerable as a temporary measure as we get this great $24 Million piece of region-defining infrastructure completed.

A decade later, the fudge is still there, and it is way less tolerable.

I have asked about this for pretty much a decade, and the answer seems to be that this fudge will get fixed when the intersection of Columbia and Brunette gets fixed. If you look at the traffic plan for Sapperton and the “Great Streets” section of our master transportation plan, you see that there is some notion that the Brunette/East Columbia intersection will work better if Brunette is made the through-route, and East Columbia is turned into a light-controlled T-intersection. This vision appears at times when discussing Braid and Brunette changes, or potential “solutions” to the United Braid Extension conundrum, or dreams of re-aligning the Brunette offramp from Highway 1 or the building of 6- or 8-lane Pattullo Bridges. When one or all of these things happens (so goes the story) then re-aligning this intersection will be an important part of “keeping things moving”, and then we will have the money/excuse/desire to fix the fudge in the CVG.

But none of those things have happened over the last decade, and there is really no sign that any of them are going to happen any time soon. There certainly isn’t any money in the City’s Capital plan to do this work, no senior government is offering money to do this work, and there is very little political will by anyone (for good reason) to spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars shifting choke points for drivers around in New West around. So all this to say my answer to your first question is No, there is no foreseeable timeline to fix this piece of the CVG.

But my frustration is this being just one more example of how the City of New Westminster is has still not adopted the principles of our Master Transportation Plan and it’s clear prioritization of active modes. This is still not the culture of the organization. If the improvement of this keystone regional active mode route is contingent on us spending 10x the amount it would cost on some “getting cars moving” project that we can slip this in with, it is clear where our priories lie. As long as making an active transportation route work is still accessory to motordom, we are failing our own vision.

The Booth (is back!)

The Booth, The Booth, The Booth is Back!

Last year, I threw together a foldable Lucy Booth as a fun bit of public engagement. It ended up being something I used at several locations over the summer, then pulled out a couple of times during the election campaign. It was a great way to get people talking about the City in a way that was hopefully non-threatening and fun. Recognizing that not everyone spends their lives on-line, and even those that do usually don’t want to read boring, 2,000-word essays about recycling centres, I was looking for a way to make this blog and my ASK PAT button analogue. It also supported the idea that engagement works better if you go to where the public is instead of expecting them to come to you.

After a hasty bit of re-stapling-things-together, the booth has come out again this summer. After a few events, I thought it would be good to run down some of the most common questions. Here in rough order of popularity, and somewhat paraphrased to allow for clumping, are the questions I was asked the most in 2019.

“How you doing!?” Pretty good! Busy, but it is all really positive stuff, so no complaints!

“What’s with the beard?” I don’t know, it just kinda happened after my winter vacation, and I’m curious where it is going myself.

“What’s happening with the Pattullo?” Not a City-led project, you should check with the Ministry of Transportation, but my understanding is that their Environmental Review is completed, and they are currently in procurement. I fully expect that there will be shovels in the ground early in 2020, and that the existing bridge will not be carrying traffic some time in 2023. And, no, they are not going to keep the existing bridge as a greenway or elevated park, the structural issues that require its replacement also require its removal for the safety of everyone around the bridge.

“When will the trail connect Pier Park to Sapperton Landing?” I don’t know. Best case scenario, if everything comes together (funding partners, environmental review, First Nations Consultation, etc.) then we may have something shortly after the new Pattullo Bridge opens. With the work going on with the Pattullo, it is highly unlikely (read: impossible) that we can get it built before they are done. We have the intent, there is a good model for what we want to build, we have some of the funding, but there are a few hurdles to leap before it is a done deal.

“What is the status of the QtoQ ferry?” Council recently voted to commit to a 5-year contract with a service provider for the QtoQ. There are a few service adjustments yet to come to make it work better, but the City is committed to keeping the service running to serve the Queensborough community and the Quayside for the foreseeable future.

“What is happening with the access to Pier Park?” You can see evidence of the new fully accessible pedestrian access at the foot of 6th street being built. The current plan is to have that connected to the end of the Parkade before Bosa shuts down the access through the middle of their construction site. Yes, they are going to be digging a big hole there, and for some time the only access from the River Market to Pier Park will be along Front Street between Begbie and 6th Street, or along Columbia if you need a lower-grade stair-free connection due to mobility barriers. At the same time, you may notice some work being done down by the Big W, where the timber wharf is being fixed up to carry service and emergency vehicle access to Pier Park for when the Bosa site is dug up.

“Where are the Pot stores?” Two have been approved, one Uptown and one on 12th Street, They just need to get their buildings set up and final business licencing stuff done, which I understand is happening right now. 3 more are still awaiting final Provincial approvals, which should come some time soon, but that is out of our hands.

There were lots of questions about traffic, most of them parochial concerns about one corner or intersection. These are always interesting in that they often bring up issues I likely would never see or hear about if I didn’t do this, because everyone experiences moving around the City in a different way.  There were also a few inquiries about Parks and amenities – especially when the Arenex replacement will be done (next spring).

There housing situation was on top of some people’s minds still, with a few people feeling real housing stress. It was great to be able to tell them that the City is being proactive, and if they feel like their Landlord is headed towards renovicion or otherwise not acting in good faith, they have people in City Hall who have tools to help them. There were also several people who expressed real appreciation that New West has been so proactive on protecting affordable housing, and new residents loving living here (see below).

I was grilled for a while by a brand new Canadian who asked what a City Councillor even was, and what it meant to be elected, what training I needed, etc. This was interesting because the conversation caused me to pause and think about the things that we take for granted about our system of government, and try to explain why the system we have is a good one, down to the details. The idea that just anybody can sign up and run to be Mayor and end up running the City was quite amusing to this person. How does that make sense!?

Finally, one trend I noticed at Fridays on Front especially was the number of people who introduced themselves as being new to New West, and excited about all of the things happening here. They commonly wondered how to get more connected to happenings in the City. So take this as a warning, Stephen O’Shea, I sent them all to you to let them know what cool stuff is happening in the City. But this is something I send back out to the New West universe – How do we connect all of these new residents to events in the City? Are Twitter and Facebook and Instagram the main bulletin boards?  The Record arts section? Just looking for posters at Old Crow? In this job, events fill up my inbox, I honestly don’t know how the rest of you connect.

Anyhow, The booth is now pretty sturdy, so expect it to come out a bit more before the weather turns. Note the questions above had a pretty strong Downtown bias, as I have not yet set up in Uptown this year, but will soon. I have also never done this in Queensborough, as I haven’t thought of a good location yet, but that is part of the work plan.

And remember, if you have a pressing Ask Pat question, push that red button up top there, and I will try to answer it!

Ask Pat: Recycling

This is not strictly an “Ask Pat”, but an e-mail I received from a resident. As the conversation was timely and I wanted to take the time to write a complete response, I asked the writer if I could copy the letter (with a little editing for space and to remove personal info) and answer on my Blog, and she agreed. So here goes:

Resident asked:

I would like to add my voice to the chorus of those New Westminster residents who are dismayed and, frankly, a little incredulous, that the recycling depot is being removed from our community. At a time when it seems the entire world is bending over backwards to reverse the damage of our disposable society, New Westminster is going in the opposite direction by making it harder for residents to do the right thing.

If one of the main motivators behind the decision was to save money, I suspect we are going to spend as much as we were going to save to appease the significant number of concerned (read “outraged” from much of what I’ve been reading and hearing) citizens. Council made a mistake by not having a proper consultation with residents about this. (And we know that the process was lacking simply by the number of us who were surprised by the move.) It seems as if burying the removal of a well-used community service in the construction activities of another much needed community amenity was purposeful. If not, it suggests that our respected Mayor and Council are really less dialed into the community than they care to think.

As reasonable as you thought the move and as short-sighted and backward as it seems to many of the rest of us, I do understand that we are stuck with it. In the interest of being more positive than negative (which may not seem to the case at this point in my missive), I would like to offer some constructive suggestions to get us back on track saving the earth. I understand from latest reports we only have 18 months, so I suggest we get cracking:

  1. Some of us with big yards cart up to 25 (!!) bags of leaves and miscellaneous crap that drop from the mature trees/yards. The quick jaunt to the depot will be no more, so how about unlimited pickup of yard / compost waste bags from September 1 to December 31.
  2. Start picking up glass, styrofoam, and plastic wrap in our blue bins (or another TBD bin). This is an obvious one. The condo I used to live in at least took glass, not sure why this is not possible in QP.
  3. Dedicated ongoing mini-stations (partner with existing NW businesses?) for batteries, cardboard, lights, paint, etc. This seems to work well with the Salvation Army and electronics but because of the increased density down at the water front, this is becoming a more difficult drop point.

There are a ton of smart, thoughtful people in New Westminster who will have more and better ideas than these. I have no doubt that the best solutions will come from residents. At this point, any attempts to placate an engaged and rather intelligent audience with platitudes about the “5 minute drive” to the new station may fall on deaf and already inflamed ears.

I would be delighted to learn how Mayor and Council are planning to develop solutions and would of course be prepared to contribute to the process.

Unfortunately, you are probably right that we have not effectively communicated the situation with the recycling centre. Of course, we also haven’t made any changes yet. We have, however, committed to long-term partnerships with adjacent communities to share some recycling costs a year down the road (as I talked about in this Council report) so the process of reviewing how we provide recycling services is ongoing. This is recognizing the space problem on the current CGP site, but we cannot ignore the other issues impacting our regional EPR systems.

Every time we make any change in the City, we are met with a loud chorus of calls to maintain the status quo, usually with little acknowledgement of the pressures behind the changes. And to that point, you are right, we should have done a better job communicating those challenges.

I take a bit of umbrage at the idea that Council has tried to bury this or hide the reality of the challenges in regards to recycling and space on the CGP site. We are still trying to understand what changes we need to make, and how we can support a system that works as well as possible for all users in our City. The idea that we are sitting in a back room trying to find the most devious way to undermine the environmental efforts of our own residents plays well in the barber shop or on a politically-motivated on-line petition, but is ridiculous on the face of it.

The location of the current recycling centre is problematic. We are committed to building a new 114,000+ square foot aquatic centre and recreation facility adjacent to the current Canada Games Pool. We have also committed to keeping the current pool and Centennial Community Centre operating and programmed during construction. That means that it will be a 2- or 3-year period where much of the existing parking for the CGP, CCC, and the Royal City Curling Club (which also hosts gymnastics programming and roller derby in the summer) will be covered by construction and construction staging. To keep these major community destinations operating during construction means impacts on the all-weather field, the current recycling centre, and even how Fire Rescue uses their space. As we move forward on construction planning, these compromises are still being worked out, but suffice to say space will be very much at demand on the site. The road accessing the current recycling yard will most certainly NOT be accessible for much of that period, as accessing it would require driving through an active construction site. This means status quo is not viable, so we need to look at what our other options are.

I want to address your suggestions, While recognizing that our recycling system (in New West, in BC, and across North America) has a bunch of inherent complications that are not clear to the general public. This is likely because successive governments have made (in my mind, misguided) efforts to make recycling as seamless and simple for the waste-generating public as tossing trash in the garbage was. This is based on a perverse idea that for North American consumers to “do the right thing”, it must be as easy as doing “the wrong thing”, and preferably cheaper. Unfortunately, responsibly managing our waste streams is neither cheap nor easy, and if we try to make it so, the responsible part inevitably goes away.

To modify an old adage: Cheap, Easy, or Environmentally Friendly. For waste management, you can pick any two.

So to the suggestions:

1: The removal of green waste from our garbage stream was and still is a good thing. The City supports it by allowing you to place paper yard waste bags (up to 50lbs per bag), next to your green bin for collection. This comes at a significant cost for the City (hassle + staffing + >$100/Tonne in disposal fees), but this is offset a bit in reduced cost compared to that green material going into the garbage. We are spending a bit more to do the environmentally friendly thing here and make it easier for residents who are fortunate enough to have a big yard. We are already doing what you are suggesting.

2: We can’t put glass, Styrofoam, and plastic bags in our blue bins. Simply, there are no services available in the Lower Mainland to separate those wastes at the MURF (“MUlti Re-use Facility”), and no market for the recycled materials that result. Your old condo may have had a separate glass receptacle, it may have had an older “Dirty MRF” contract that took glass, but dollars to donuts that contract no longer exists, or they may simply been taking the mixed waste to the landfill/incinerator. There are, however, several places in the City  and nearby (see below) where you can take Styrofoam or soft plastic, though these services are becoming strained as the market for the recycled material is shifting.

Some Cities (e.g. Vancouver and Burnaby) still take glass in separate curb-side bins. When New Westminster decided in 2011 to move towards comingled collection of recyclables I spoke out against it, because it was my opinion that we were sacrificing the longer-term more environmentally-friendly approach for the cheaper and easier in the short term ones. It is possible that I was under-informed at the time and that the change made perfect sense with where it looked like recycling was going in 2011. There is no doubt we saved a bunch of money in the last decade. But now we need to work within the limits created by that decision. I am almost certain that no-one in the City wants to spend the money to go back to curbside separation, just to make it easier to manage the glass waste stream.

This speaks to something else I think we need to have better discussions about: recycling glass jars may not “the right thing” when it comes to recycling. Glass is inert (i.e. it does no harm environmentally when landfilled) and it’s value as a raw material is very limited outside of a few very niche product streams that are of questionable economic value and likely result in equal or more energy and resource use once full life cycle costs are considered. As we have a necessarily limited budget to manage waste streams, there may be better cost-benefit approaches as far as the environment goes than subsidizing the use of glass peanut butter jars. But I’m headed down a rabbit hole here, so let’s get back on track.

3: There are drop-off points around the City for these things, and many of them are indeed part of local businesses. London Drugs takes batteries. Save-on-Foods takes plastic bags, Rona takes paint, the EnCorp Return-it businesses take a variety of wastes that can’t go in your recycling bin. There is even a Metro Vancouver tool to map out where you can take any material if you want to recycle it (and there is an App for that, natch). Enter you city and your material, and out pops a map like this:

For plastic bags there are a lot of places, for Coffee Pods there are only a few (because coffee pods are evil and the environment got screwed the moment you bought them). The larger point, however, is that there is no single recycling stream, there are many. Even the current City recycling depot takes many things but not everything, and the replacement depot we will share with the Tri-Cities will take a wider variety of things than the current depot. In one sense, it will be easier because more things can go to the one spot. In another sense, it will be less easy, because it is further away for many people who are accustomed to using the current facility. Some of them may make the extra trip, some may decide to use another facility closer to them, depending on what they are trying to dispose of. Your example of the Sally Anne and electronics demonstrate that people have different motivations for using different spots (should these locations be near densified communities to allow non-auto-dependent drop off, or away from them because traffic in dense areas make drop off harder?)

Every recycling stream has its own inherent complications. Collecting plastic seems like the quick win, but it is really complex. There are varieties of plastics, and introduction of the wrong type of plastic (or a metal film attached to a plastic, or a shard of broken glass) into a stream can pollute it and remove most or all value that might be attained from recycling. Never mind when people inadvertently or ignorantly toss a little bit of organics or (gross) biohazard like a diaper or dog waste into the mix – often this means the entire load needs to go to the landfill. Because of this, the wholesalers of the recycleables will pay the city a little bit for some recycle materials, in the order of $100/tonne for most plastics, if there is a staff person attending the collection and assuring the load is “clean”. Without that attendant, we would likely need to pay $100 to have someone take that same tonne of material. And the material is as likely to be “recycled” into fuel for the local concrete plant as to be made into new consumer items. I don’t think that is the kind of recycling that most people would consider a good thing.

I guess a lot of this is addressing your final point, fully recognizing that some of my writing here may come across as dismissive or defeatist. I have been working in sustainability, rabble-rousing about trash, and wailing on-line about recycling for more than decade (I have been known to tour waste recycling facilities on my vacation even before I was elected to Local Government!), and I am still only beginning to learn the complications inherent in these systems. Meanwhile, the ground below our feet is shifting all the time. I can almost guarantee you Mayor and Council are not going to come up with some clever idea to make our waste stream easier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Yes, New Westminster is full of smart, engaged people, but there are teams of engineers and planners in local governments, Metro Vancouver, RecyclingBC, and similar organizations across the continent working to address these complex issues. There are professional people whose entire careers are based on this work. I put my confidence in them to come up with solutions.

That said, the role of Mayor and Council is to help communicate these potential solutions, and to hear from our residents and businesses what kind of solutions they would like to see applied. We also need to sometimes explain why we won’t apply them if they ultimately don’t meet our goals, no matter how sexy they look in that Facebook video. The hardest part of our job is to be clear about the cost/ease/sustainability compromises of all the solutions offered (as translated to us by actual subject matter experts) so that the public can let us know if the balance we strike is the right one. I think we will find a way to help people get more of their waste into recycling, but it will definitely be looking different in the decade ahead than it does now.

Unfortunately, the compromises to be considered cannot be summarized in even this stretching-to-2,000 word essay, never mind a simple on-line petition. There are no simple answers, but we need to continue to work on addressing our waste stream, and to start having more serious conversations about the upstream management of materials before they enter our waste stream. We had it pretty good thing going for the last decade: organics recycling came on stream, and people across Asia were happy to take our mixed plastics and papers and electronic waste. We managed to keep the cost of waste management in the City down relative to other costs, in part because of these things. It is clear those good times are coming to an end, and costs are going to be going up because of regional and global socio-economic trends. I guess the bright light in the current inevitable move of the recycling centre – this shift of the status quo – is an opportunity to open this discussion about what the next phase is in managing our waste.