Ask Pat: Vacant Land Tax

Boy, its been a while since I did one of these, and there are a few in the queue. Sorry, folks, I really mean to be more timely with these, but to paraphrase Pascal, I don’t have enough time to write shorter notes. No Council meeting this week, so maybe I’ll try to knock a couple off. This was a fun one:

T J asks—

Has anyone proposed some kind of empty lot tax to encourage developers or property holders to activate the properties into some kind of use? Prime example corner of 5th Ave & 12th St but many others throughout downtown we noticed over a weekend walk.

Yes, people have proposed it, but it currently isn’t legal.

Municipalities in BC are pretty limited in how they can apply property taxes. For the most part, we are permitted to create tax rates for each of the 8 property classes assessed by the BC Assessment Authority (Residential, Industrial, Commercial, Farm, etc.), and all properties that fall within a class are assessed the same rate. That means Condos, rental apartments, townhouses and houses pay the same mill rate because they all fall under Residential Class, and big box multinational retailers pay the same mill rate as your favourite mom & pop haberdashery. Local Governments aren’t permitted to pick and choose preferential tax rates within those categories to, say, favour Mom & Pop over the Waltons, or favour Rentals over Condos, or favour improved lands over vacant lands.

Since the tax you pay is based on the assessed value, owners actually pay less tax on vacant land than on “improved” land, because the assessed value of the land is a combination of the value of the land and the value of the buildings upon it. Playing around in the BC assessment website, you can see sometimes the building is worth as much as the land, in some cases the building value is close enough to zero that tax essentially only relates to bare land value. Therefore, investing in land improvement on vacant or derelict properties increases the assessed value, and increases property taxes. In a sense, the current property tax system incentivizes keeping an investment property unimproved.

Best I can tell, the Provincial Speculation and Vacancy Tax does not apply to vacant or derelict properties – but don’t take that as legal advice (this is a blog post, not official communications from a tax professional), though the BC gov’t website is a little vague on this specific point. Maybe you will have more luck than me getting clarity from the legalese.

Interestingly, the City of Vancouver’s Empty Homes Tax does apply to vacant properties that are designated for residential use. Vancouver was given that ability through an amendment to the Vancouver Charter, so it is not applicable to municipalities regulated by the Community Charter like New West, and the province doesn’t seem interested in expanding it to other cities (see below). Regardless, as this tax is designed to incent owners to bring vacant residential property in to use, it would also not work to encourage the activation of the commercial properties like you mention in Downtown New West.

But your question was whether anyone has proposed this? The way Local Government leaders would propose this is to send a resolution to the UBCM meeting asking the Provincial government to change the legislation to make it possible. If the majority of Local Gov’t elected types at the UBCM convention vote to endorse this resolution, it becomes an endorsed resolution – an “official ask” of government. My quick review of just some recent UBCM resolution sessions turns up resolutions in 2016 (“B3- Vacant Land Taxation”), 2017 (”B91 Tax on Vacant & Derelict Residential Properties”), 2018 (“A3 Modify Speculation Tax: Local Government Vacancy Levy”), and 2019 ( “B19 Extension of Vacancy Taxation Authority to Local Governments”) all asking for some form of taxation power for vacant land, all endorsed by the membership of the UBCM.

Every year, the Provincial government responds to these resolutions, usually with some form of “we’ll think about it”. This excerpt is from their response to the 2019 resolution:

So, yeah, don’t hold your breath.

That said, as the Provincial Government notes, Local Governments do have some ability to fine derelict or unsightly property owners, though it is a somewhat onerous and staff-time-consuming process to demonstrate nuisance, and the Bylaw does not extend to our ability to say one must build a building on a lot. You are entitled to own an empty grass field or an empty gravel parking lot, as long as it doesn’t constitute a nuisance. Any attempt to use this Bylaw authority as a de facto tax would surely not survive a court challenge.

New Westminster does have one special power, though, and it is found in a unique piece of Provincial Legislation called the New Westminster Redevelopment Act, 1989. I would call your attention to Section 3 of the Act, as it is a bit of a Mjolnir-like piece of legislation. But that is probably best saved for a follow-up blog post as we talk about the current situation in Downtown New Westminster.

Tired

It’s exhausting.

I just don’t know how to talk about this, especially in a family friendly way. Swears are all I got left. Not the kind you yell out, but the kind you just mumble. We are all waiting to get “around the corner”, the “light at the end of the tunnel”, or whatever metaphor you want for being done with the bad news. So we can start working on building things instead of rushing to fill newly dug holes, start getting healthier instead of staunching the flow of bad shit. But the bad shit keeps on coming. It can be crushing. Our tear supply runs low. Damn.

I don’t know if it is confirmation bias or something systemic, but fire seems to be a thing of modern New West, not just the legend of our past. Maybe it’s the cost of having so much 100-year old infrastructure that was preserved due mostly to decades of neglect, but still doesn’t quite have the value in it to fully modernize. Or the remnants of our pioneer spirit that emphasizes tacking on the new instead of maintaining the old. Or maybe it’s just a run of bad luck. Like the last one and the one before, this one hits hard, and will change us.

Like many people in New West, I have my personal stories about these spaces. The Pho place became our go-to for soup-like weather (like Monday was, strangely enough) when they replaced the reliable old-school pasta place that was there for so many years no-one remembers a time before. Watching the slow migration of the décor from Mediterranean to Vietnamese became part of the charm of the place, but the Hue-style spicy soup is what brought me in, and the staff are such nice people. We were rooting for them to survive the lockdowns.

I’m not a renowned denizen of night clubs, but even I had a couple of memorable nights at the serial-name-changed night club, some best-not-related (Happy Birthday, Jeremy!), but I think the night dancing with the Pattullo Bridge costume and losing a vote to a dead Kennedy will be one of the legends of my life.

And then there is the Heritage Grill, and yeah I am giving it the extra emphasis. So many plans were schemed in that back room with the sketchy AV system – more than a few of them implemented. So many New Westies met their cohort for the first time in that space, so much music (most of it good!). For all its quirks and foibles, that corner of Columbia and Church was a place where community was built. The owner, Paul, took a risk on opening a small live music spot 16 years ago when most thought Columbia Street wasn’t ready for this kind of thing. He then went about making New West ready for it, by making the space welcoming to artists, musicians, and any organization wanting to do something different in the community.This is how I will remember the Heritage. The backroom filled to capacity at a funraising (fundraising?) event for a political cause the folks in the room will remember fondly.

The Heritage Grill became a hub for the Pride community, for the environmental community, and a few political careers were launched there. The $10 Burger and Beer fundraiser was the easiest way for a small organization to raise a little seed funding, and start a movement. Paul was so generous in giving space to the community, I’m glad to see the community is finding a way to give back to him. Help if you can.

Addendum: Hey, I’m not a tattoo guy. I’m apparently the last person on earth to not have ink in their skin. But I recognize that a tattoo artist also creates a community around their work, and the loss of this business also impacts our residents, our downtown and the people who put their passion and skill into a business. It just wasn’t top of my mind while writing this up, as it was not a business I had a personal contact with. No slight intended. Also, two other Funding Campaigns have been set up to support the owners of Happy Buddha and Pho Pho You to help them get through this time. Thanks Rosie for pointing these out to me!  

We feel the loss, those of us who received so much from these community businesses over the years, but I can’t imagine the loss being felt by those whose dream was building that business. Now, of all times, after a year of holding on by their fingernails, the tree branch is taken away. Overnight. Right when re-opening was on the horizon. Shit.

It’s too early to suggest what this means for Downtown. The loss of a 100 year old building and vibrant community-supporting businesses is tough. Another gap in the streetscape scares me just as much. The prospect that this site may sit empty for a decade or more, like the last fire site downtown where the owners appear to have no motivation to bring the streetscape back into active use, or the empty lot at the corner of 8th and Columbia where the owners have apparently lost interest in activating their approved plans, or the decrepit and effectively abandoned property at 4th and Columbia… There is a momentum here we clearly need to shift, only I don’t know how we shift it. That is the conversation we need to have if we hope for Columbia Street to be the community-supporting street many of us want to see. Does this fire push is back another step, or is it motivation to push us forward?

I guess we’ll see.

But for now, there are people to thank. The fire department once again spent an exhausting weekend making the city safe, dealing with stresses and dangers the rest of us can’t know. As has become practice for major events, the fire services of our neighbouring communities came out to provide assistance, and we owe those communities our gratitude. The Police were there to support them, managing traffic, keeping the public safe, and no doubt had to deal with both the curious and the devastated, and as always did so with professionalism. City engineering crews had to deal with drainage not designed to deal with this level of water or debris, and set to work assuring utility services are still useable by neighbouring properties. Electrical crews have to find a work-around to the loss of distribution line and transformers, and hope to get the local neighbourhood back up and running before Tuesday when everyone expects their life back to normal. In an event like this, there are so many people who need to do unexpected work on a long weekend – stuff that is definitely not in their workplan, and certainly not something they booked off work Friday afternoon figuring they would be doing. The very least the rest of us can do is see that the work isn’t thankless. Thank you all.

And then it’s over to us. The community, the BIA, the businesses downtown, the owners of property, and us folks in City Hall. Today the Province announced the restart plan version 2, we need to get those vaccines in our arms and show a couple more weeks of diligence and that light at the end of the tunnel will be upon us. Maybe the restart is the good news we have been waiting for. I know we’ve all been working as much as we can – emotional labour especially – over the last year. Now we get to do the other stuff, and see what we can build. So take a deep breath, mutter out a few curses, take time to think about all we have lost, and get to work building something memorable.

NWACC

We had a full agenda in Council last week, so we didn’t spend a lot of time going through the reports that arrived early in the meeting. There were two reports form staff that are pretty big deals for the City, so it is worth expanding a bit on them here. The first was a project update on the still-acronymically-named NWACC, but more commonly known as the Canada Games Pool replacement.

The big news, I guess, is that we have tendered the main construction works, which means we are really doing this thing. We put the tender process on hold a little less than a year ago as there was so much uncertainty in both municipal finances and the global economy during the unfolding of the pandemic. The regional construction market has adapted, and many projects are moving on across the region, and Council and our project team were confident that we could understand pricing and meet our objectives on budget, and at this point waiting further creates more uncertainty.

The report says we are within budget, though it’s not as simple as that it sounds. This is a big piece of infrastructure, and you can’t just go to Amazon and click on “new pool” and pop $106M on your credit card. The cost of construction materials is way up over the last two years since we began this procurement (lumber has almost doubled, steel up 50%), and trades are in major demand right now, which means some parts of the construction cost are also up. Our project team was able to “value engineer” some aspects of the project, which means going through design and assumptions and finding ways that less expensive techniques or materials can be creatively applied. We have also eaten a bit into our contingency budget that was included as part of the overall budget planning. So we are on budget, but pushing the top part of it, and need to be cognizant of that as the project moves along.

There are also parts of the project that we have not yet procured, like construction of the outdoor playscapes. Fortunately, there are aspects of those components that may still apply for senior government funding support, so we will continue to seek ICIP grants and funding support to reduce the overall finance load of the project.

The NWACC was designed over more than two years, and involved one of the most comprehensive public engagements the City has ever undertaken. There were a lot of ideas and desires for this facility, and it was a big challenge to prioritize and assemble a program that met most needs, fit on the footprint available, and was within the budget of a City of 80,000 people. I am really excited about the result.

The program includes a 50m pool with 8 full competition width lanes, two baffles and a partially mobile floor to provide greater flexibility of space for everything from competitive swimming to aquafit. There is also a second leisure pool that has shorter warm-up swim lanes to support competitions, and all of the leisure uses that people expect in a community pool. Having two pools also allows the cooler competition temperature in the big tank, which the leisure tank can be warmer and more comfortable for leisure users. There is also expanded hot tub and sauna options, greater accessibility to all tanks, much larger change room areas (with ample gender-neutral changing areas) and more deck space and storage areas.

The exercise space will be greater than the current CGP and Centennial Community Centre offer. Final details on equipment are to come, but the plan is for larger free weight space on the main deck floor (no more dropping barbells on wood floors!) and a large fitness equipment space overlooking to main pool. A dedicated spin class space, and rooms for dance, yoga, and other assorted uses. Add to this a full-sized multi-purpose gymnasium and a compact more versatile gymnasium space that opens to the outside. There will be a cafeteria, space for sports medicine practitioners, a significant childcare and childminding space, and multi-purpose rooms for community meeting and arts programming.

Perhaps informed by the Canada Games Pool experience, the new complex is going to emphasize natural light. The entire complex was designed to align better with the sun, there will be lots of window space between sections to let light pass through, and the main gym and pool will have saw-tooth roof designs with clerestory windows facing north to allow ample indirect sunlight to fill the rooms.

Finally, the NWACC is going to help the City meet its aggressive climate goals. The current pool is the City’s single largest GHG emitter, the new complex will not only use electricity for air and water heating, it will generate some power onsite, and is anticipated to be the first aquatic center in Canada to be certified as a Zero Carbon Building. The building systems for energy recovery, air management and pool filtration will be cutting edge, likely the most technologically advanced pool in Canada when it is done. We are building it right so it saves us money in the long run.

So, it is all exciting. But there will some hassles between then and now. As we committed early to have the existing pool and recreation centre operating during the 2+ year construction process, we are really tight on space over the existing lot.

This means inevitable parking hassles for the users and adjacent neighbourhoods, starting with official groundbreaking next week when the fences will go up and the site will start to look very different. I hope people will be patient and understand the long-term goal here (and, yah, I’m looking at you, my Royal City Curling Club cohort!). We should be doing a grand opening towards the end of 2023, which is about a year later than we probably hoped when we started this planning process back in 2016, but the end result is going to be great.

Ask Pat: 22nd Street

GM asks—

Hi Pat, found you website and it is a hidden gem! So many great content. My name is Gilbert and I’m about to move New Westminster from Coquitlam. I’m about to purchase a house near 22nd Skytrain. I heard about the 22nd master plan and thought it could be good opportunity for me to enjoy the commute while ride along the development with the city. Do you have any insight on that area? Looks like the city suspend the OCP due to pandemic. Thanks in advance!

Right off the bat, I need to say: Ask Pats are bad places to ask for real estate advice. Besides me just being really slow to respond (sorry!), these are my blogged thoughts, not official City communications. Any speculations I may make need to be recognized as just that, and not something to base important decision-making upon. If you bought a house in New West, great! If you are selling one in New West, hope things go well. But for the love of all that is Hyack, don’t use this website to inform either of those decisions!

The area around 22nd Street Station is known as Connaught Heights, and is an interesting neighbourhood. It is the “last piece” of New Westminster, in that it was not even an official part of the Municipality until 1968, which is why it is slightly out-of-phase with the rest of the West End. One way this has manifest is the lack of sidewalks. Before the local economy went (to use the technical term) into the crapper around 1970, the City generally built sidewalks on all its streets. The 1970s downturn meant investments like this slowed down, and by the time it recovered we were into the modern “get new builders, not taxpayers, to pay for new infrastructure” phase of civic planning. With so little new building in Connaught Heights, it mostly didn’t get done. (The City has started a program to build sidewalks in Connaught Heights as part of the new Master Transportation Plan, supported by TransLink and starting with a new one up 21st Street).

There is other strange legacy stuff in Connaught. The BC Hydro right-of-way where a major over-ground utility line crosses sort of diagonally thought the neighbourhood leaving a somewhat fallow “green space” that some residents use for recreation. The re-alignments of the Queensborough Bridge landings, the swath the SkyTrain runs though, the cut of Southridge Drive and the weird connections to “old Marine Drive” make Connaught a bit of a stand-alone island of a neighbourhood from a transportation sense. This was made more so by varying ideas about traffic calming introduced over the years.

Whatever the cause, the neighbourhood hasn’t really changed in form since the Skytrain station was installed in 1985. It is still mostly single family detached homes, with one low-rise apartment building, a big church and a little school. It’s worth noting homes are still being replaced on a fairly regular basis, but always with larger lot-maximizing houses. This is not resulting in “growth” in the traditional sense, as the Connaught neighbourhood has essentially the same population it had 20 years ago (in the most recent census in 2016, Connaught was the only neighbourhood in New Westminster to shrink in population).

This is relatively rare for neighbourhoods with SkyTrain stations in the middle of them, and at odds with the regional emphasis of Transit Oriented Development. There are a few other stations with single family homes across the street 35 years after station opening, but with the possible exception of 29th Avenue in Vancouver, no transit hub has been as persistently low-density as 22nd Street.

Why? Someone smarter than me wrote a theses on the topic. It is especially interesting to read Chapter 6 of that thesis where a bunch of reasons why are discussed. Turns out the reasons are myriad, including City plans that didn’t encourage change, the difficulty of assembling single family lots, and a general sense that the community would resist significant change:

Sign on the lawn of a house about 20 feet from the main entrance to 22nd Street station.

In the Current Official Community Plan, most of Connaught Heights is listed as a “Comprehensive Development District” whose land use purpose is described as:

In a way, this makes it similar to the Brewery District or the Sapperton Green area. The vision would be to create a single “Master Plan” for the area so that new housing, utilities, amenities, and transportation can all be planned together. There is a map in the OCP that gives some preliminary vision of the neighbourhood, with mixed use centered on 7th avenue, with the RH and MH being high density (towers), RM being middle density (likely 6-storey) and RT being ground-oriented townhouse style:

However I need to emphasize this is a very preliminary guideline, and through the Master Planning process, a more refined land use plan would be developed, taking into account transportation, amenities, interaction with the SkyTrain and adjacent road network, protection of green spaces, etc. etc. It may end up very different than this map, or even different than what pops out of the Master Planning, as priorities and economics change over the life of a long-term project like this. The initial plans for the Brewery District did not anticipate the shift to Purpose Built Rental that the community has seen, for example, and we have still to work out some details of the last building on that site.

The difference between this and the Brewery District or Sapperton Green is that the latter are owned by a single company, so the work to create this “Master Plan” could fall on them, with guidance from the City and engagement with the community. 22nd Street is still single family homes with separate owners, so if a Master Plan is to be developed, it will fall on the City to do that work. The OCP outlines a plan to start that work:

As you suggest, that planning work has been kicked down the road a bit. Partly because of limited staff resources, and Council’s decision to emphasize different work like supporting affordable housing, rental protection regulations, and supporting development review for projects already in the application process. This was more recently punted further down the road when we had to re-prioritize work in light of COVID and some other emergent policy development areas.

So, the area will change, lawn signs notwithstanding, but I really don’t know what the timeline is. Either the City will develop a Master Plan and the development community will respond by assembling lands to bring it to fruition, or the development community will find some unlocked value in the area and force the matter by assembling ahead of time and drive the Master Planning. However, a lot of pieces have yet to fall into place, and as we see the slow pace of development in Sapperton Green or perhaps a more similar parallel the “Eastern Node” in Queensborough, this type of change can take a long time.

Population 2020

Statistics Canada’s population estimates for 2020 are out, and there is a bit of news coming from them. Maybe more “confirmations” than “news”, but it is interesting to look into our assumptions of how the region is growing compared to the data. As a Local Government elected type, I am actually more interested in how the population is growing compared to the predictions used to develop the Regional Growth Strategy that guides development in our City and the rest of metro Vancouver.

First, the headlines. New West grew fastest (as a percentage of population) of any Municipality over the 2019-2020 year. Residents will recognize the reasons for this, with a couple of fairly high profile residential developments coming on line in the last year and a half, including a couple of major Purpose Built Rental projects. Our being in first is likely a one-year blip, but our growth rate since the 2011Regional Growth Strategy was created is among the highest in the region, only behind Surrey, Langley Township, the Tsawwassen First Nations Lands and Electoral Area A (which is mostly UBC endowment lands). But the growth rate isn’t the whole story. We added just over 15,000 people in the last 9 years, compared to more than 120,000 in Surrey and 80,000 in the City of Vancouver proper.

How does this relate to the Regional Growth Strategy? That document was approved by all Municipalities in Metro Vancouver back in 2011, and serves as the master regional planning document. In order for our region to plan new utilities like water and sewer services, flood protection, green space needs, transit and roadways, we need to predict how many people are going to be living here in the decades ahead, and where in the region they are going to live. So the strategy includes growth predictions for 2021, 2031, and 2041 produced by demographic experts who do that kind of thing. As we close in on 2021, we have an opportunity to see if the predictions have so far got it right.

The newest Stats Can numbers are for 2020, so we can compare the actual change over 9 years with the predicted change over 10 years from the RGS:

Here are the headlines I pull out of this. Metro Vancouver predicted the regional population would increase by 18% over 10 years, it has increased 16% over 9 years, which puts us pretty much on track to be within 1% of the estimates. That’s pretty good. However, before looking at the breakdown by community, I want to project the growth rate of the last 9 years to one more year so we are having as fair a comparison to 2021 goals as we can (until after the 2021 Census, which should be available a year from now):

You can see that the population growth of the region is less than 1% behind what was predicted, meaning about 22,000 fewer people moved to the region than expected – not bad for a decade-long population trend for almost 2.8 Million people, especially as the factors affecting this (immigration, global socio-economics) are largely out of the control of local and regional governments. The difference in how this growth was distributed across the region is a different story, and this is something local governments have more (but not ultimate) control over.

That last table might be easier to digest in comparative pie charts:

Edit: To @MarkAllerton’s point, this may be a better graphic? 

Aside from Electoral Area A/UBC, you can see a few cities have exceeded their growth targets, and perhaps there are no surprises which ones: North Vancouver City (densifying its waterfront and the Londsdale corridor), Maple Ridge (a fast-growing suburb supported by lots of new freeway infrastructure), New West (growing a transit-oriented urban area), and Surrey (growing both its transit-oriented City Centre and its freeway-supported suburbs). Vancouver marginally exceeded its growth target as did White Rock and Delta. In raw numbers, Vancouver added 21,000 more residents than predicted (sorry, Councillor Hardwick!), where Surrey added 18,000 more residents than predicted and New West just over 4,000 above the goal.

Who didn’t meet their target? Again, the Tsawwassen First Nation is a bit of an anomaly, and for that matter so are Belcarra and Anmore, whose tiny population counts are irrelevant to regional trends. West Vancouver – the only significant municipality to actually lose population during this period of unprecedented growth – should surprise no-one that they didn’t meet even their meagre Regional Growth Strategy targets. Perhaps the bggest surprise is how far behind the Tri Cities are in comparison to their goals. All missed by more than 10%, even as they received the biggest regional transit investment of the last decade in the Evergreen Extension. Coquitlam is more than 20,000 residents short of the regional target – a number very similar to the number of extra residents that moved into Vancouver.

This is interesting, and is a conversation we have to have as a region as we look to update the RGS in the next year. Perhaps in the context of the first suggestion in a recent Op-Ed by Delta City Councillor Dylan Kruger (note: Delta is really close to its targets, though those targets are a little light due to lack of transit infrastructure planned that direction), where he suggests the region should:

“Tie provincial and federal grant dollars to achievable municipal housing targets. We can’t keep spending billions of dollars on SkyTrain projects without guarantees that cities will actually allow transit-oriented development”

Maybe we need to ask Metro Vancouver and senior governments to tie their City-supporting grants and benefits (new Metro Vancouver park money, Provincial and Federal Active Transportation funding, transit capital funding, Green Infrastructure funding, etc.) to municipalities meeting and exceeding the regional targets that those Municipalities already agreed to. It is the Municipalities who are building the housing that our region demonstrably needs that will also feel the greater need for green space and sustainable transportation investment to support those residents.

Ask Pat: Micromobility

Peter asks—

Traffic is always a contentious topic, I always appreciate your views (agreed or not). Curious of your thoughts on the growing micromobility options (electric bike/scooters, etc) and how they may affect our current traffic situation as it grows (as projected)? My industry organization had a recent article about it with some concerns over insurance/registration and before that I hadn’t even thought about it. Here’s the link (page 20-21) 

This is a can of worms. I’ve written around the central issue here a few times, but thanks for framing it with the ARA article, because it shows that it isn’t just “bike guys” and pedestrian safety advocates like me who are thinking about it. Unfortunately, I have yet to see any proof that any government is really thinking about it with any seriousness. And that’s a problem.

There is a revolution happening in personal transportation, and I do not think that is hyperbole. Advancements in technology borrowed from smart phones (inertial sensors, compact computing power) and electric vehicles (battery and power management tech) are delivering what was probably initially envisioned by the inventors of the Segway as a re-thinking of personal transportation. They promised it 20 years ago, but it is here now faster than government appears to have expected.

There are powered skateboards, balancing mono-wheels, scooters, and bicycles of varying shape and utility. They are getting cheaper and easier to access every day, and in the rush to “disrupt” traditional market systems, they are being introduced not just as consumer products, but as shared mobility devices you can use by the minute or mile and leave behind. They are breaking down the barriers between automobiles, bicycles, and pedestrians.

That could be a really good thing.

E-bikes have opened up cycling to a whole cohort of people who may not have been able to use a bicycle for transportation, my Mom and my Mother-in-Law included. Both have reached a stage in life where cycling is still accessible until hills get in the way. Their e-bikes have kept them active and out of their cars for some trips, especially as both live where public transit simply does not exist.

There are other people for whom electric mobility aids have extended their neighbourhoods and independence, by extending the distance they can comfortably travel without Transit or a car COVID has only  made these personal mobility options more attractive. When you think of these devices from the lens of not replacing a car trip, but instead expanding your walkshed, you can envision how impactful these devices can be on our neighbourhoods and business districts. Taking a bunch of cars off the road and reducing the need for parking, traffic management, and other negative externalities of automobile reliance is really just the bonus.

The other side of the coin are the inherent problems that come from that old regulatory trichotomy of automobile–cycle –pedestrian. Those aren’t just social categories, they are codified in law. The Motor Vehicle Act and local Bylaws are structured to define transportation by these categories. Pedestrians are walkers and people using mobility aids because of a disability; automobiles are everything that has an engine and a license plate; cycles are big-wheeled human-powered devices people sit astride. Most legislation is designed to safely separate automobiles and pedestrians, with cycles somewhere in between in an already-fuzzy area. There is a category of “motor assisted cycles” in the BC Motor Vehicle Act, and many e-bikes currently available fit within the strict definition therein, but even that rule is an ineffective and oft-criticized bit of the MVA.

Last time the city updated the Streets and Traffic Bylaw a couple of years ago, I noticed the blanket prohibition of all skates, blades, and boards on City streets – a bylaw probably never enforced except to occasionally hassle skateboarders. I pushed back and asked that the bylaw be changed to put these devices into a similar category as cycles so people can use them as long as they are not endangering others – a bylaw probably never enforced except to occasionally hassle skateboarders. But even then, the surge in micromobility devices was not something we were thinking about.

How are they going to affect traffic? They won’t. I can go down the long path here of writing up Induced Demand and The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion, and a pair of paradoxes called Jevons and Braess’, but I’ll sum up all that potential background reading by saying we will always have the traffic congestion we are happy to tolerate: no more, no less. Nothing will fix that short of societal collapse.

What these new micromobility devices can do is give people different options so those with a lower tolerance for congestion can avoid being the traffic those with a higher tolerance are stuck behind. In that sense, they don’t need to reduce traffic congestion in order to make our communities more livable, easier to get around in, and more accessible for more people.

The insurance/liability concerns always arise when alternate road users are viewed through and auto-centric lens, but it is not a real concern. People operating powerful, heavy, fast-moving machinery in shared public spaces are required to purchase liability insurance for that use, because of the significant risk those devices cause to other users of that public space. Pedestrians are not required to have this insurance, but they still have liability for damage they may cause to others sharing those spaces. If I am inattentively running down the sidewalk and knock a person to the ground causing injury, I am liable for that injury and can expect to be dragged into court if we cannot come to some agreement about compensation. Like most, I carry homeowners insurance that includes third party liability for incidents like this (assuming I am not intentionally breaking the law). It costs almost nothing for the insurer to add this to my home insurance because the risk is so low. Cyclists and skateboarders are (mostly) covered in exactly the same way.

The problem with the raft of new mobility devices is that they sit in a grey area of the law, and though their users are likely covered by personal liability insurance, it’s hard to determine if they are breaking the law when using an electric scooter or hoverboard on a sidewalk, city street, or bike lane. If there is no legal space for them, is their use even legal? Ask a lawyer.

Formally recognizing these various devises as legitimate users of our transportation space also gives us the opportunity to design that space to work for them. How we design will have a bigger effect than how we regulate when it comes to preventing people using mobility devices from getting injured, and from injuring other people. I suspect most of this work will be in assuring new bike lane designs can also accommodate common devices that move at a similar speed with a similar mass as cyclists.

I summary, I suppose you can throw this on the pile of issues that are raised whenever we talk about changing the 1950’s-era Motor Vehicle Act and replacing it with a Road Safety Act. Our current Motordom-derived model of how we regulate our transportation space needs a re-think, because the revolution in technology is happening fast, and we are simply unable to manage it through the existing paradigm. This is also why I am a firm believer we will not see Level 5 Automated Vehicles any time soon: the technology may get there, but the regulatory environment will take much, much longer. But that’s a whole other rant.

Pros & Cons

The first phase of the Agnes Greenway project has been installed, and is getting a bit of feedback online. That’s good – the City hoped to receive feedback on this important piece of infrastructure as a part of how it is being rolled out. I will write another blog post about that as soon as I get time, but before I do, I want address this niche-popular meme created by Tom Flood that appeared in my twitter feed, and excuse me for feeling attacked:

…and add a bit of a retort from the viewpoint of a City Councillor oft criticized because I like the idea of installing protected bike lanes, and agree with almost all of the “Pros”.

Right off the top, I need to say, protected bike lanes are expensive, and cities are struggling right now with so many overlapping challenges and priorities. Yes, I hear, understand, and accept the argument that an integrated bike network will save us money in the long run and improve livability to far outweigh the costs, but that takes nothing away from the current challenge of the immediate capital costs required for a safe network. Proper bike lanes are not a few planters and green paint (the latter of which is inconceivably expensive – it would be cheaper by the square foot to make bike lanes of engineered wood flooring, but I digress). If we want them to be safe for all users, we need to install new signage and/or signals at all intersections. This can mean moving street lights and telephone poles and power conduit. Installing grade separations often means redesigning storm sewer infrastructure. We may need to move or re-engineer bus stops, curb cuts, pedestrian islands, street trees, and, yes, parking. When you expand this out to kilometres of bike route and scores of intersections, these changes are not cheap.

The retort to this, of course, is they are cheaper than road expansions. Which is kinda true, but not really helpful. This infrastructure is almost always built in urban areas like Downtown New Westminster: a built-out City that is essentially out of the building-new-roads business. I don’t mean that rhetorically; we have a policy goal to reduce road space in the City and convert it to active transportation and other uses, therefore we don’t really have a “road building” budget line. This means we can’t just re-allocate from there to a “Separated Bike Lane” budget line. It doesn’t work that way. Yes, we spend millions every year on road maintenance and upkeep, but taking away from that in a significant way will widen an infrastructure deficit (unmaintained roads get much more expensive to fix when the road base fails and safety is impacted when signal lights and road markings are not kept in good working order) and so much of the spending is on infrastructure that supports transit users, cyclists, pedestrians (including those with accessibility barriers) that it is difficult to argue for where cost cutting here can occur without impacting everyone – not just the car users we usually associate with “roads”.

The presumption in the Pro list above that bike lanes make sidewalks safer is a presumption reliant on very well designed bike lanes. Integrating safer cycling infrastructure with safer pedestrian infrastructure is a serious challenge, as the number of “conflict” zones increases. Cycling advocates will recognize how pedestrian bulge design often makes cycling feel less safe on some arterial roads, but are less likely to recognize how important those bulges are to improving the safety of other vulnerable road users. Conflicts inevitably arise between what cyclists need to feel safe and what other users (especially those with mobility or vision impairments) need to feel safe in the pedestrian space.

Emergent technologies are making this more difficult. At the same time E-bikes are opening up the freedom of cycling to many more people, modified scooters and e-bikes travelling at speeds wholly inappropriate for sharing space with those for whom we are trying to build AAA “All Ages and Abilities” space create uncertainty. I think most people are comfortable sharing safe bike lane space with most traditional cargo bikes (left), but not with electric powered cube vans disguised as tricycles that are starting to appear (right):

I’m not sure how we design for all of the variations on the spectrum, or even if we should. I have harped before about the need for a Motor Vehicle Act that reflects emergent technology, but we have a lot of work to do here. Public perception of safety, and resultant political support for separated bike lanes, are going to be influenced by how we do that job.

There are really good reasons to put the backbone of a safe cycling network in the same place your transit network already is. That is because your community and transit network have (hopefully) developed over time in a symbiotic way. Ideally, transit takes people from where they live to where they work, shop and go to school along as simple a route as possible to provide best service the most people. All good reasons to put cycling infrastructure exactly there. This complicates things, as transit and cycling routes are really challenging to integrate. Lane widths and turning radii that accommodate efficient bus movement don’t make the lanes safer for cyclists. Line of sight and signal challenges abound. Bus pull-ins create conflicts, floating bus stops create accessibility concerns and rely on sometimes expensive grade-separation. Do we move or adjust bus routes to accommodate this other mode, or choose less optimum routes to avoid transit conflict? I think the answer is a little from each column, but the Transit Authority and transit-reliant residents may not agree.

Which brings us to one of the least discussed issues or urban transportation: curb allocation. There are so many competing priorities for this precious resource in urban areas: the limited space on each block face where road meets boulevard. It is fine for cycling advocates to say, uh, “forget parking” (as I have myself on more than one occasion), but you can’t scoff off that this space is needed for everything from the aforementioned bus stops to loading zones for your Uber driver to assuring accessibility for Handi-Dart to having a place for the becoming-more-ubiquitous delivery trucks to stop while they offload your Amazon consumables. Bike lanes want to be on that curb space, and designing for these conflicts is not easy or without political cost.

There is no way around it, building bike lanes in a built-out urban area like New Westminster means taking something away. We simply don’t have the space to seamlessly slot functional, safe, AAA bike routes in without impacting the status quo of how that public space is used. Cycling advocates will usually reply that parking and driving lanes can be taken away, and in many cases, that is true. But when that means shifting a bus route that a senior relies on for their daily trips, or it means a disabled person no longer has the safe access to their Handi-Dart that they have relied upon, it’s really hard to be smug and tell people to just lump it.

I say all of this as someone who is feeling the burn of failure in my 6 years on a City Council because my community has not built the bicycle infrastructure I would like to see. The varying reasons for that are probably fodder for another too-long blog post. I also write as someone who is receiving the e-mails from people who are not happy to see the arrival of a new bike lane that has been in the plans for years, because it has disrupted their lives in ways perhaps not anticipated. I also get to enjoy the less sympathetic e-mails from people who seem empowered by the latest Bruce Allen rant about an alleged War on his Corvette – but those are easy for me to ignore, because I have been advocating for safe cycling infrastructure for a couple of decades and there is nothing new to be learned from those hackneyed arguments.

Unfortunately, there is also little to be learned from the increasingly hackneyed arguments of some cycling advocates (being a good “progressive”, I know how to hold my strongest criticism for my allies). Building safe cycling infrastructure is important, it is a good thing to do, and I lament we are not moving faster on it. But the political will to do so is not strengthened by pretending it is super easy to do, or that it is a cheap, easy silver bullet to fixing all of our urban challenges. It needs to be balanced with the many challenging needs local governments are dealing with right now. Bike lanes will help with some and will demonstrable make others harder. That’s the job of Governance, I guess.

So instead of throwing nameless Councilors under the proverbial bus by assuming their craven motivations, find those that are trying to move our urban areas in the right direction, and ask them how you can help them build the political will in your community to move bike lanes up the spending priority list. Because, trust me, there are many people reaching out to them every day telling them to do the opposite.

Assessments 2021

Assessments are here. For those who own homes, this means a letter arrived in the mail telling you what the assessed value of your property was on July 1, 2019. It also tells you what the assessed value was over the previous three years. Some people are very upset to find their property has gone up in value, which means their property taxes are going up. Others are very upset that their assessed value has gone down, and their investment is losing value. At least, that is what I glean from Social Media, but maybe I need to get out more.

I have written before about the relationship between property assessment and property taxes, and about how the assessment process works, so this will be a bit of an update/summary of those posts. A bit of redundancy, but with new numbers.

First off, your assessment does impact your property taxes, but not as directly as you may think. The City has not passed a 2021 budget, so I do not yet know what the 2021 Property Tax rates will be, but in our last discussions, we seemed to be settling towards something like a 4.9% increase over 2020. I will round that up to 5.0% for the purposes of this discussion as long as we can all agree that is speculative and the numbers may change between now and when you get the bill.

That 5% means the amount of revenue the City will receive in property taxes from existing taxpayers will go up 5%, but it does not mean the cheque you write in July will necessarily be 5% higher than the one you wrote in 2020. First off, it only impacts the portion of property taxes that the City gets to keep. Last year, your residential Property Tax Bill looked like this:

So 58% of your property tax goes to the City, 35% to the provincial government through the School Tax, and about 7% to other agencies regulated by the provincial government. Everything else I talk about below here relates only to that to-the-City portion of the tax bill. To find out how the School Tax is set or how the BC Assessment Authority spends it’s 1%, you need to go to someone else’s blog. All this to say if the City put your municipal property taxes up by 5%, the amount of money you pay only goes up about 2.9% (that is, 5% of 58%).

If you look at your Property Assessment letter, you will note that the average change in property values in the City of New Westminster was a 3% increase. Because the City calculates its property tax rate based on this average value, a 5% increase will be based on this value. If your house went up in value by the average, then a 5% tax increase means the municipal portion of your property tax bill will go up 5%. The relationship between these two numbers is linear, so to calculate your potential increase, subtract the average value increase from your own value increase, and add the 5% increase the City is proposing:

My assessment (1940 SFD on a 5,300sqft lot in the Brow) actually went down by 11% since last year. So my Municipal taxes would go down by (-11)-(3)+5=  –9%.

My friend in Sapperton (1920 SFD on a 4,000sqft lot) saw her assessment go up by 20% over last year, so her Municipal taxes would go up by (20)-(3)+5= 22%.  Yikes.

Assessment is a dark science, and every year there are weird local effects of property values in one neighbourhood going up or down relative to others, and it is not always clear what the causes of these changes are. A recent example is the Heritage Conservation Area in Queens Park which was either going to cause housing prices to go through the roof and make the neighbourhood forever inaccessible to young families, or was going to crater the value of the houses dooming young families to inescapable debt, again depending on which Social Media account you followed. The reality is, it had little perceptible effect when compared to similar properties in Glenbrook North or the West End over the last 5 years. The market is bigger than one neighbourhood.

Properties actually sell “above assessed value” or “below assessed value”, a metric that is often used as an indicator of a market trend, since assessments are always at least 6 months old. However, it is important to remember that, in aggregate, things just don’t shift as much as they do in one-off conditions. If the person up your street who spent $50,000 on a new kitchen sells their house, they are likely to get more than the neighbour who has a black mold farm in the basement, even though both houses may look the same from the outside. Assessments are approximations of how the “typical” or median house of the size, age, and lot dimensions in your neighbourhood should be valued, not an evaluation of your wainscoting. Individual results may vary.

If you think your increase or decrease this year is unfair, there is a process to appeal your assessment, but you can’t dawdle. Local governments have to know the official assessed values by April so we can set our tax rates and get those cheery bills into the mail, so the Assessment Authority has to provide official numbers by the end of March. Therefore you only have until February 1st to file an appeal, but if you think you might want to do so, you should contact BC Assessment immediately and get the details about what you need in order to make that appeal. The important part is that the onus is on you to provide evidence that the appeal is wrong, not vice versa.

Ask Pat: Making Home

ASP asks—

Hi Pat – What are your thoughts on Kennedy Stewart’s pilot project to build up to six housing units on lots zoned for single-family homes? Also, do you think something like this could work in New West?

I will avoid wading into City of Vancouver politics here, but if you buy me a beer (post pandemic) I might regale you with my strongly held opinions about the way this was handled from a political point of view. Today, I’ll instead try to answer the questions from a public policy side. I have not done the deepest dive into this (see all the caveat-form ass-covering below) but am basing my critique on the proposal as outlined here on the Mayor’s own website.

Skipping past the “pilot 100 lots first” part of it, the big idea was to pre-zone standard single-family lots in Vancouver to allow up to 4 living units in what I assume would be a fourplex or clustered townhome configuration. The new building would operate as a kind of Co-op ownership model where the price of three of the units were based on market prices (which would be, presumably, less than the Single Family Detached house it replaced) and the price of the fourth would be tied to some regional determination of middle-income affordability for initial sale, and for perpetuity through a Section 219 Covenant on title or other mechanism. In some larger lots, this could be expanded to 6 units (4 market, two moderate-income).

To assess this, I want to break it into two parts, while recognizing they are intrinsically linked: land use and affordability.

Land Use
There are about 40,000 Single Family Detached homes in Vancouver (data from here), out of a total of about 280,000 households, yet SFD is by far the most dominant land use by area. It is likely that most of these SFD have more than one dwelling unit in them, be that a basement suite and/or a laneway house, with varying levels of legality, but it still means less than a quarter of the living units cover a vast majority of the residential land in Vancouver.

I have sometimes pushed Gordon Price’s buttons on this, as he speaks frequently of the “Grand Bargain” inherent in the politics of urban planning in the Lower Mainland for the past couple of decades: we will allow bigger towers, mostly on SkyTrain lines, as long as you keep your hands off of the sacred and ill-defined Neighbourhood Character of our single family houses. I suggest that the “Cities in a Sea of Green” narrative of the Livable Region Strategy has boiled down to more localized “Towers in a Sea of Single Family Houses”. This unfortunately has far-reaching effects on housing variety and flexibility, the cost of providing things like utility and transportation services in a community, and the viability of our communities.

We have already accepted (tacitly at first, but now more formally) that basement suites and carriage homes are acceptable, and that they provide a valuable from of more affordable housing that the region would be hard-pressed to function without. With the overall shrinking of the size of families even compared to 20 years ago (never mind the Vancouver Special peak of the 1970s) the reality is that many of our Single Family Detached neighbourhoods are shrinking in population, even as the region’s population swells. Corner stores, community schools, recreation leagues cannot operate on a shrinking population base, especially if we continue to shift our mode of travel from the private automobile to more sustainable forms.

So putting four small families in well-designed compact homes of the 1,000 square foot scale on a single 4,000 square foot lot (FSR 1.0) with 50% lot coverage is, in my mind, a preferable form of land use than similarly-sized single family homes with a legal basement suite. Maybe not everywhere, as no one housing form solves all of our housing needs, but in huge swatches of that RS-1 zoning map, this change would make for better, stronger, more resilient, and equitable neighbourhoods.

Affordability:
When a random Vancouver-Special-having single family detached lot in East Vancouver has $1.7 Million in land value and $100K in improvement value, it is hard to see how “working class” affordability fits into this model. The mortgages required to buy a starter home like this costs something like $6,000 a month, which puts the annual mortgage cost perilously close to the median annual pre-tax income of Vancouver families (about $75,000). If we think of an East Van Vancouver Special as a luxury only 5% of the population can afford, then we perhaps have to talk about why we are allowing the vast majority of the residential land to be preserved for this use?

Of course, many of these houses provide for an increasingly inequitable form of serfdom where basement suites act both as “mortgage helpers” for the gentry, and limited-franchise housing for the peasantry. This proposal would, I think help in closing that gap by introducing a more equitable Co-op type model at the single-lot scale.

This relies on a few things that are uncertain, which is why I suspect the Mayor’s proposal was for study and piloting as opposed to wide-spread adoption. Making these projects economically viable so a median income family mortgage fits the market component housing would require them to be salable in the $700,000 range. This may mean pre-approved design (we could call it a “New Vancouver Special”) and perhaps even some training of the building community to find the most efficient way to build a Step Code compliant building of this scale and form.

I would also throw in a caveat that cities have become reliant on development to fund the infrastructure expansion to support population growth – and I’ll use the building of better sewers here as my example. Going from 35% to 50% lot coverage means we need to address things like storm run-off at a different scale. It also means sanitary sewers have to be upsized or we will need to shift building codes to reduce the volume of sewage generated. When a City permits the building of a high-rise or even low-rise apartment building, we can suck tens of thousands of dollars out of each unit in the form of DCCs and CACs to pay for this work. With thousands of individual small projects across the City (if we are going to treat these small projects like we currently do replacement single family homes), the balance between keeping those re-builds affordable and providing the necessary infrastructure backbone is even a bigger challenge. I suspect it can be done, but there are details to be worked out here. This needs work.

The other big caveat is the potential loss of a stock of low-income housing in the form of those legal and illegal basement suites in single family homes across the City. In theory, the one-subsidized-unit-per-lot part of this plan will offset that, but I want to see some numbers. The limited franchise of the renter in the illegal basement suite situation is still better than those people being unhoused in a rental market with persistent sub-1% rental vacancy. Though I resist the whattaboutism of expecting any single new housing policy to solve all housing problems, we do need to put the policy into the context of the multiple housing crises in our region. In practice, I suspect the uptake of this type of new housing would be slow to start, giving time to assure we are building appropriate supportive housing for anyone displaced – but this only adds to the urgency of building that type of housing instead of taking away from it.

Would it work in New West?
It would work differently, but I’m not sure it could work. And again I’m going to try to avoid the politics of it here (I have no idea if the community or Council would embrace this idea) and try to look at it as a policy.

Land values in New West are still quite different than in East Van. A standard lot in the West End of New West has an unimproved value of about $1M, and in Lower Sapperton closer to $800K (to pick two neighbourhoods of mostly-single-family homes where you could see something like this work). So off the bat you may think it would be easier to pull off here, especially as you consider our median family income is about the same as Vancouver’s. However, this also means knocking down an old house and building a new SFD on it (with a carriage house & basement suite, as we currently permit) can already provide three residential units at a buy-and-build price that is still in reach for a wider range of income levels, though still not the median income earner. You would have to compete with that option to convince a builder to invest in the build of a new four-plex or six-plex model.

This would make it more imperative that savings could be found and risk reduced through streamlined approval and standardization, which is complicated in New West. We have a rich diversity of “standard” lot sizes here: 130×50’ in Queensborough and the West End, 120×50’ in Connaught Heights and Glenbrooke North (unless you have a lane, then 100×50’ is typical). Sapperton is typically 45×112’ or 40×100’. Though Upper Sapperton may make the most sense, their lot dimensions and slopes may make it most difficult. We also have some aging infrastructure problems (such as ongoing sewer separation work) and some building-on-steep-hill problems that impact building costs and make standardization harder. Finally, I think having 10% of the population and revenues of the City of Vancouver makes it harder for New West as a City to do some of the planning and design work to make this the most viable option, and would still be a less attractive market than Vancouver for private industry to do that work. It is much harder and riskier for New West to be the bleeding edge on a program like this.

The Vancouver Special was developed in Vancouver (and adopted in some adjacent communities) because it was a governance and market response to needing a bunch of affordable-ownership housing during rapid growth. I like where this proposal went, because it applied that kind of thinking to our current housing situation. To answer your question in TL;DR form (after the fact!): I like the idea, I don’t know if it would work, but I wish Vancouver had given it a try.

As a final caveat, I want to say I am almost perfectly the wrong person to ask about this. I am not a builder, a professional planner or a land economist, but am an elected official expected to approve policy based on the best advice of these professions. That probably means I am speaking here from a Dunning-Kruger knowledge nadir. I would love to hear more experienced people talk about this model, and point out the complications I am too knowledgeably unaware of.

All I’m asking for…

Transportation is one of the biggest files in provincial government. Though annual operational spending on the operations of transportation (transit, ferries, roads total just over $2 Billion) in BC is an order of magnitude lower than the Big Three of Health, Education, and Social Services, the combined annual capital expenditure of transport and transit (also about $2 Billion) is actually higher than any other service area in provincial government.

Transportation spending and policy also have huge impacts on two of the issues that all (rational) parties agree are top-of-the-heap right now: housing affordability and climate action. So why is there so little meaningful transportation policy, aside from stuck-in-the-1950s asphalt-based solutions? The two major parties do admittedly spend a little time arguing about who will build the shiniest new freeways or save drivers the most on their insurance costs, and the Greens transportation policy is a vapour-thin “support” for sustainable transportation. It’s dismal.

This is not to say the two major parties are equivalent on transportation. Far from it. The BC Liberals spent 16 years doing everything they could to punt transit spending down the road, including wasting everyone’s time with a referendum to decide if we would fund such a basic public good while racing to fund the biggest freeway boondoggle in BC history, and promising to fund another. The NDP, for as much as I hate their stubborn refusal to understand road pricing and its necessity in growing and constrained urban areas, have at last prioritized transit expansion.

The best evidence for this is that the TransLink area is receiving much more federal capital funding per capita than any other region in Canada right now, partly because we had the shovel-ready “green” projects, but mostly because our Provincial Government quickly committed to matching funding at a scale no other Province would. SkyTrain to Langley and UBC fans may (rightly, in my mind) argue this is still not enough or soon enough, but it is more than any other region in the country is building right now.

But that’s not what I’m here to whinge about.

As vital as transit is to our growing region, it is the Active Transportation realm where we are falling behind our global cohort. This last year has made it painfully clear to local governments in urban areas. As we shift how we live, shop, and work in the post-COVID recovery, and as there has been a quiet revolution in new technology for local transportation, cities simply cannot keep up. We spent the best part of a century reshaping our Cities around the needs of the private automobile, but we won’t have decades to undo that. We need to quickly re-think our infrastructure, and re-think our policy regime if we are going to meet the demands of the 21st century urban centre and our commitments to address GHG emissions. This is our challenge. The province could help.

I see no sign that any provincial government understands that, and none look prepared to address it. The NDP are the only one that has put together stand-alone policy on active transportation, so kudos there, but it simply does not go far enough. No party in this election is talking about helping local governments make the transportation shift that we need to make, or what the vision forward is.

So now that we are through the first part of the election and are deep into the lets-try-to-keep-them-awake-with-Oppo-research-mud-slinging second act, I thought I would sketch out my ideal Active Transportation Policy. Free for the taking for a Provincial Party that cares about the transportation needs of the 65% of British Columbians who live in large urban areas (though these policies may be even more useful for the people who live in smaller communities less able to fund their own Active Transportation initiatives). Share and enjoy!


Funding:
The Provincial MOTI should have a separate fund for Active Transportation infrastructure in municipal areas. Using the projected cost of a single freeway expansion project (the Massey Tunnel replacement) as a scale, $4 Billion over 10 years is clearly something parties think is affordable. This would represent about 15% of MOTI capital funding over that decade.

If handed out through grants to appropriate projects to local governments across the province on a per-capita basis, that would mean up to $57 Million for New West – enough to complete a true AAA separated cycle network, triple our annual sidewalk and intersection improvement program, and still have enough left over to pay for the Pier-to-Landing route. It means Burnaby would have the money to bring the BC Parkway up to 21st century standards and connect their other greenways, it would mean Richmond could finally afford to fix the bucolic death trap that is River Road.

Give the Cities the resources to make it happen, and it would make British Columbia the North American leader in active transportation infrastructure. For the cost of one silly bridge.

Active Transportation Guidelines
Update and adapt the Active Transportation Design Guide with new sections to address new needs in transportation: new devices, new technologies, and reduced speeds of automobiles.

Make the guidelines standards that local governments must meet to receive funding above, and make requirements for all new MOTI infrastructure in the Province. No more bullshit hard shoulders as bike lanes, fund infrastructure that works.

Legislation:
Repeal and replace the 1950s Motor Vehicle Act following the recommendations of the Road Safety Law Reform Group of British Columbia, starting with the re-framing as a Road and Streets Safety Act to emphasize the new multi-modal use of our transportation realm.

Immediately reduce the maximum speed limits on any urban road without a centreline to 30km/h, and give local governments the authority to increase this limit where appropriate.

Introduce measures to regulate and protect the users of bicycles, motorized mobility aids, e-bikes, scooters and other new mobility technology, including a Safe Passing law and regulations towards the clear separation of cycles and motorized cycles from pedestrian spaces along with clearly mandated rules and responsibilities for use to reduce conflict in multi-use spaces.

Education:
Implement driver knowledge testing with licence renewal. The Motor Vehicle Act has changed in the 30 years since I was last asked to test my knowledge of it (self-test – what are elephant feet, and what do they mean?) and it will be changing much more in years to come. Written/in office testing for all drivers with every 5-year renewal is a first step, and road testing for those with poor driving records will do a lot to bring back a culture of driving as a responsibility not a right.

Fund cycling and pedestrian safety program in all schools, similar to the cycling training the City of New Westminster funds through HUB.

Enforcement:
A comprehensive review of the fine and penalty structure for Motor Vehicle Act (or it’s replacement) violations, to emphasize more punitive measures for those who violate the Act in ways that endanger vulnerable road users.

Empower local governments to install intersection and speed enforcement camera technology and provide a cost recovery scheme for installation of this type of automated enforcement for municipalities who choose to use them.


That’s it. Engineering, education, and enforcement. Operational costs are mostly directly recoverable, and the capital investment is not only small compared to the MOTI capital budget, it is in scale with the mode share of active transportation in urban areas. The legislative changes are not free, but the resultant savings to ICBC and the health care system of reduced injury and death should be significant.

We can do these things. We should do these things. Our cities will be safer, more livable, and less polluting. This is an area where BC can lead, we just need someone willing to lead.