I’ve got questions about electric vehicle infrastructure. I read this morning that 3/5 BC residents intend for their next vehicle to be an EV. This along with the current target from the federal government to phase out new non-electric vehicle sales by 2035, has me worried that our city isn’t prepared for what I anticipate will be an imminent influx of demand for electric vehicle infrastructure. I also want to note that if I were to own an electric vehicle, driving to a charging space, leaving it there for a couple hours, then going and moving it once it’s charged, just doesn’t meet my expectations of reasonable infrastructure. So I have a few questions. 1. Are all new residential builds being required to have electric charging available for their parking spaces? If not yet, what steps are being taken to move in this direction? 2. If a rental building or condo tower does not have sufficient energy coming to their property to support adding EV charging to their parking spaces, what incentives are available to upgrade this infrastructure? Are there things the city can do to help move things in this direction? 3. What is the city’s strategy for electrifying their fleet of vehicles? 4. What percentage of new parking spaces being built by the city (ie at the təməsew̓txʷ Aquatic centre) are being equipped with EV charging?
That’s a lot of questions, and I held off on answering them for a bit because I knew the City’s eMobility Strategy was coming to Council, and I didn’t want to jinx any parts of it before adoption by getting ahead of it here. But this question now gives me a good chance to talk about that strategy, which I only mentioned in my Council report last week when we adopted it. That strategy answers some of your questions, but not all of them, so let’s go through these by number:
1: Yes. In 2019, New Westminster made it a requirement that all new residential buildings be ‘EV Ready’. This means every parking stall includes an energized outlet that can accommodate a Level 2 EV charger. There is no requirement to install the charger, as we fully expect the technology at the end of the wire will continue to evolve, both in the types of chargers and the energy management systems attached to them, but having a hot wire in place for every parking spot removes a big barrier to home charging for multi-unit residential buildings.
2: Yeah, this is a challenge. Something like 60% of New West residents live in existing multi-family buildings where charging infrastructure is limited or non-existent. To meet our 2035 goals for EV use, the vast majority of these will need to be EV ready. The eMobility strategy includes the exploration of financial incentives to “top up” those already available from the Provincial Government and Federal Government to facilitate retrofitting charging infrastructure into existing buildings. There may be some Community Charter issues with direct subsidies from a City to do this, but we also have a role in facilitation and setting up more streamlined permitting and inspection processes. This is a work in progress, with relatively high priority.
3: As fast as possible/practical is the strategy. It is laid out in some detail in our Corporate Energy & Emissions Reduction Strategy (“CEERS”). Vehicle emission represent about 40% of current GHG emissions from City operations, (“Corporate Emissions”) and the CEERS has us reducing these by 30% by 2030. The City has various fleets, and there are two things setting the pace of our transition: the availability of zero emission alternatives on the market, and the ability to support the EV fleet with charging infrastructure. We want to optimize the latter so we are ready for the former, if that makes sense.
Light vehicles are relatively easy and we are generally replacing vehicles as they age out of the fleet with electric alternatives. Larger vehicles are, for the most part, just not available. Electric regular-duty pickups are achingly slow getting to the market, and larger vehicles like dump trucks and trucks that can push a snow plow still seem very far away. In the meantime, we have strategically replaced a few parks and engineering service vehicles with smaller specialty electric ones, and are already ahead of the curve on “fuel switching” such as displacing diesel with propane where appropriate, which can reduce emissions by something like 30%. The transition in police vehicles in also a challenge in North America for reasons that are unclear to me, so the shift in the short term is to flex-fuel and hybrid options. Electric firetrucks are a very exotic item right now. So we are shifting when we can, but we are honestly waiting for the technology to catch up in a lot of sectors.
The CEERS also includes some significant trip reduction policies for staff, and as technology allows, we are shifting a bunch of non-vehicle equipment from hydrocarbon-burning to electric.
4: I don’t think that has been decided yet. Indeed, the future market for charging in public facilities like this is a topic of some debate. With the hopefully-rapid deployment of residential charging, the introduction of similar workplace charging requirements, and the ongoing improvement in battery technology and reduction in range anxiety, there remains a question of what role widely-distributed public charging will have in the decades ahead. There will likely always be a place for some public level-2 type charging, and perhaps a greater need for Level 3 rapid-charge facilities for a user group that puts a tonne of mileage on vehicles, but 100% charging at every public parking space is probably not a useful way to invest limited infrastructure money, and will do nothing to fuel the transition to EVs. So a building like təməsew̓txʷ will have some EV charging stations, but I do not know the type or how they will be allocated.
That all said, the transition away from internal combustion cars will not only include swapping them out for EVs. If we are going to meet the Climate Action goals of the city, of the province, and the country, we need to re-think urban mobility. The future of transportation is not just electric, it is shared (more electric Public Transit!) and it is distributed (more Micromobility!). So the eMobility Strategy also talks about how we are going to make the use of emergent transportation technology work better in New West. This means assuring we have the right kind of road and curbside infrastructure to make micromobility safe, and it means advocating to senior governments to change our archaic Motor Vehicle Act and other legislation to make active transportation safe and comfortable for all.
There are a lot of opportunities for a local government to make long-term investments here, and we need our upcoming Community Energy and Emissions Plan to dovetail with this eMobility Strategy. This is also why the City has set up a Climate Action Reserve Fund to help us efficiently manage the various funding sources available to us (such as the new provincial Climate Action Program and assure we are investing in the infrastructure that gets us the best bang for our emissions-reduction buck.
This is an area where there is a lot happening right now, and during the Decade of Climate Action, municipalities are at the forefront, and are redefining their core functions. Not only because local governments (with less than 10% of the tax revenue of senior governments) are responsible though our infrastructure and local policies for more than 50% of all emissions, but because we know the infrastructure we invest in now will save us money and emissions in the decades ahead.
If I wanted to add a second floor to my house where there is currently only an attic, what bylaws/restrictions/regulations/etc do I need to know about? Where is that information available?
This is one of those questions you probably shouldn’t ask a City Councillor, as there are better people to ask. Our work is to provide executive oversight of the City as a Corporation, and to set governance policy for the City as a Municipality. We approve changes to the Zoning Bylaw and make sure there is enough money to hire building inspectors, but the operational side of these things are managed by our professional staff. Though we interact with that every day, we are not (by sheer volume of the diverse things a City does) technical experts in every aspect of the City’s operations. But with that caveat, I’ll take a dive, because you asked.
The first thing you want to do is look up whatever info the City has on your house, and you might be surprised how much of it is publicly available on the City’s website. For example, you can go to the Property Information Inquiry page here:…enter your address and get a quick report on your house. It looks a little like this (note some redacted stuff because for some reason, it is de rigueur for folks to redact publicly available information like this to make it look like we are protecting our privacy):
From this you can learn some things, like your zoning designation (in this case, RS-1), your lot size (489 sq m), your floor space (220 sq m) and subsequently, your FSR (0.45). You can also determine whether that basement suite you have is legally registered (in this case it is, but it is not listed as a secondary living unit, meaning it is not being rented out), if that old shed out back is considered a “building” by the City (in this case, there is no secondary building on the site), or if there is specific Heritage Protection on your house (in this case, no).
You can also go to the City’s on-line Interactive Map called CityViews to do much the same by selecting “Run a report” on any property you select:
And you get some more info about the development of the property, including old building or development permits that may apply:
This is all interesting stuff, but how do you apply it? The thing for you to zoom into is your zoning entitlement. In other words, what does the zoning for your property say you are allowed to build as it currently stands, and how does that compare to what you have now? It really doesn’t matter if you are planning to renovate your existing house or build a new one, if you keep your plans within the zoning entitlement, your life is much easier.
In the case of the above house, the zoning is RS-1. To know what that means, you look at the zoning Bylaw which is available here. The RS-1 zoning Bylaw describes what you can do and build, but it is 7 pages long, and a bit complicated to read for someone new to this. For example, it is called Single Detached Residential, but you are typically allowed to have up to three living units on an RS-1 zoned property – A main house with a legal secondary suite and a laneway/carriage house – as long as they meet various size and design criteria.
One big criteria is FSR – the ratio of living space over the size of your lot. In the example above, the house has 220 sq m of living space on a 489 sq m lot, so 220/489 = FSR 0.45. In RS-1 zones you are allowed an FSR of 0.5. Except you can increase this if you build a more energy efficient building (up to 0.55 for Passive House standard). This is assuming you can do so and meet the other criteria in zoning, like a maximum height (25 feet), minimum yard setbacks (distances between the building and the lot lines) and not exceed the maximum site coverage (35%). These numbers are all different for every zoning type, not all SFD in New West are RS-1.
So if you want to convert an attic to a living space, and if this attic space is not currently counted in your living floor space, turning it into living space may increase your FSR. If you already have 0.5 FSR, this may not be within your zoning entitlement. That is not to say you cannot do it – variances are requested and granted all of the time, and they are based on an assessment of the “reasonableness” of the variance. Yep, that sounds subjective, but it does relate to a bunch of policy the City already has in place, and you really need to sit down with a planner at the front desk at City Hall to find out what your options are. You can even set up an appointment to ask a planner this stuff. Don’t tell them I sent you, and as a tip, don’t say “Councillor Johnstone told me I can…”, because that is not something they want to hear. They don’t work for me, they work for the City, and are guided by policy and bylaws created by Council, not the whims of single council members.
All I’ve talked about up to here is zoning. There is also a bunch of Building Code stuff you may have to deal with, from assuring safe fire egress to assuring your site is prepped for sewer separation if your renovation exceeds a certain value. I can’t even get into that, except to say that the BC Building Code is enforced by the City, but not written by it. If it looks like staff are putting barriers in place to you getting the job done, they are more likely just pointing out the barriers that exist so you don’t trip over them. Neither you, your mortgage holder, your insurance company, or your neighbours wants you to be building something outside of building code.
If I was to give quick advice, it would be to hire a local Architect or Designer to guide you through this if the first chat with City Staff makes it look like your plan is viable. And architect’s job is to translate what you want (more square footage? a third bedroom? a brighter space?) into a set of plans that are compliant with the building code and the City’s zoning bylaws, or to help guide you through the process of seeking variances from either of those if needed or appropriate. They don’t just draw pretty pictures of buildings, they design functional and legally-conforming spaces, work with engineers and contractors to make sure they get built right, and act as liaison to the City to help interpret a pretty complicated set of zoning and building codes. They are worth the money for a project like this, and their advice is way more useful than that of a random City Councilor and his blog.
I got to set up the Ask Pat booth again! After a pandemically-induced 2 year hiatus, I pulled the dusty booth out of the basement, fixed a few nails that had worked their way proud by unknown forces of time, and gave it a bit of a wash down. The best thing about the booth being that it folds right up and straps to a dolly for instant portability, so I put on my questionable hat and wandered down to the New West Farmers Market to set up camp between the music booth and a craft beer stand.
I had many questions, so many that I missed most in my note-taking, but here is the speed-dating version of Ask Pat based on the notes I was able to make. If you want the longer answers, drop by the booth next time it pops up:
Dog Park at Simcoe is noisy: Hey, check out the People Parks and Pups strategy the City just completed, and provide feedback to parks on that!
Pickle Ball Courts aren’t regulation: I had no idea! Interesting to learn about the (subtle to non-players) differences in court dimensions. Good input for planning new multi-sport courts in Hume and the gymnasiums in təməsew̓txʷ.
Permit times are too long for small renos: Yep, I hear you. We are a little short-staffed in planning right now, and because every City in the Lower Mainland is in the same boat, we are all challenged filling those gaps, but we are working on it.
No SPARC parking on Market days: Already talked to the Market Manager and put her in touch with our Transportation folks about this.
My not-for-Profit could use a small grant for meeting space That should be easy, our next Community Grants application window opens next month.
Why is Agnes now one way?: Community was asked if one-way or stripping parking from one side was preferred with width constraint relating to new mobility lanes, and parking preservation was preferred in that stretch. Also, one-way reduces through-traffic bridge queue jumpers during critical school safety times.
What parks can we drink in? Pretty much any park that has a public bathroom in it, full guide here. And yeah, there were no problems with the pilot, so we are going to keep doing this.
Pineapple on Pizza? Why not?
How are we going to build 2,000 units of non-market housing in 10 years? This is the number our Housing Needs Report says we are short of current need. Alas, I also don’t think it is a number we can get built without some order-of-magnitude shift in how senior governments fund housing. As a City, we are approving every unit of affordable housing the City can get funded, have fast-tracked approval on affordable projects with senior gov’t funding, and have a new inclusionary housing policy to bring affordable units to new market projects, but 200 non-market units per year every year is a tall order.
When will 22nd Street Station area get redeveloped? Not soon. The City is getting into a “Master Planning” process to draw a comprehensive vision, and this alone may take two years. If all goes well, then maybe some developers will look at what was scoped out and decide they want to try to make it work. They would then need to buy land and design and build, project-by-project. So I would suppose we are still years away from significant changes.
Why is there no bathroom in Tipperary Park? We looked at this, and when the costs were worked out, it fell off the priority list for park upgrades. That said, public bathrooms are a pressing topic right now, but at upward toward $1Million each for capital cost (maybe half that if we take a modular approach) and likely $200K each in annual operating cost, we need to fit it in the budget priorities. That conversation is ongoing, though.
How can you justify the preservation of Colonial houses in the era of Reconciliation and an ongoing Housing Crisis? Owch. There are three overlapping questions there, but the overlap shows how we need to think deeper about systems in our planning and our response to issues. This was actually a great question, and lead to a great conversation, where I think we both walked away thinking a little differently. Yowza.
And finally, Thank you Leslie (sp?) for asking these two surprising questions:
What are you most proud of in your work on Council? My reflex answer was our housing policies – from preventing Renovictions to the amount of Purpose Built Rental we are getting built. But walking home from the market, I realized I should have said trees. The thousands of trees we are planting today will make this a much better City in the decades ahead, long after my time on Council (or on Earth) is over.
What is your biggest disappointment? The Heat Dome. We still have not, as a community, come to a reckoning with what that event meant, and what it means for our future. We were not ready (as a city, a region, or a province) for that event, and people died. Many more were traumatized, including first responders trying to deal with the failures in response. There is a lot going on locally and provincially to be more ready for a repeat of that event, but it really shook a lot of what we assumed we knew about climate disruption and about community preparedness.
So on that somber note, I want to thank the scores of people who came by and asked questions, and the wonderful Dani Black for the musical accompaniment to my day in the Market!
Why doesn’t New West have e-bike share when North Van has had it so long? We’re both walkable hilly waterfront small cities in Metro Van, and frankly we’re better than them at urbanism in many other ways, but they totally left us in the dust on this one.
I would preface my response by saying North Van hasn’t had it that long, in the sense of how municipalities work. I’d also suggest, credit where it’s due, North Van City is one of the few municipalities in the region doing “urbanism” as well as (or better than?) New West, but with those points as a preamble, let’s dig into e-bike share.
The North Shore program rolled out about 9 months ago after at least two years of stop-and-start attempts by North Van City to get it going. Something like 200 dockless e-bikes operated by Lime are distributed around the three participating municipalities (West Van, North Van City and North Van District). Although still officially a “pilot” program, the preliminary reports from the District and City have been, as best I can tell, really positive after a few bumps got ironed out. The same company is now starting a roll-out of another “pilot” e-bike and e-scooter share program in Richmond, which looks more like a hybrid-docked system, in that the devices need to be returned to geo-fenced parking areas in the City.
The important part to recognize from both these systems, and to differentiate them from the City of Vancouver’s fully-docked Mobi bike share, is that these are being run by a private company (Lime). Though they need to come to an agreement with the local municipality over regulatory concerns and typically license public spaces to support their operations, there is no municipal money spent operating the system. In that sense, much like EVO car share, Lime decides where the market exists to support their business plan best.
As much as 4 years ago, New West started to look into these programs. I can’t talk too much about the negotiations until we launch a formal procurement process, or an agreement is far enough along that we need to commit some money or change a Bylaw, then it becomes public. Still, no surprise to anyone that New West has been working on attracting an e-bike share program. I don’t have anything to announce about where these negotiations may be, but I hope we have a program soon. Maybe reach out to your favourite e-bike share provider and tell then New West is a great place for them to set up shop. Also, with no harm to the participants, I can share these pictures to show we have been “working” on this file for a while:
To the bigger point you raise, I think we are an ideal jurisdiction for e-bike sharing. With higher population density, massive transit ridership, and significant hills, e-bikes really expand on zero-carbon mobility in the community. With four of our five Skytrain stations arrayed along the bottom of a big hill upon which many people live, and the fifth a short bridge crossing from the Q’boro shopping and residential neighbourhoods, you would think e-bike would be a valuable last-kilometer link to rapid transit. A semi-dockless system with recharging available at the destination stations may be an excellent model for a New West solution.
You will also be happy to know an e-bike share program is also a large part of the City’s Electric Mobility Strategy, because throwing a bunch of bikes out there is a positive idea, but recognizing how we can successfully support their integration into our transportation planning and their safe use in the community is a bigger challenge. We recently went through a phase of Public and Stakeholder Consultation on the draft strategy, and you can read oodles of details here. Yes, this is work that got slowed as we re-directed engineering and planning staff to COVID response (New West is still a small City with limited resources!) but it has been picked back up now, as we recognize the important role e-mobility has in supporting our 7 bold Steps for climate action. A shared e-bike project is a top priority in that plan, one I 100% support, and one I hope for the stars to align on soon.
What is the distance required from a residential driveway to a parked vehicle?
This is an easy one!
The City’s Street and Traffic Bylaw has an entire section about Parking – Section 4. There are 22 subsections and a couple of hundred clauses, but this is the part I think you are looking for:
So, I’m no lawyer, but I read from this that you cannot park within 1.5m of the edge of a driveway (Section 4.8.8). Even if you are more than 1.5m, though, you can’t park in a way that is “obstructing free movement” in and out of that driveway (see 4.8.5), or within 5m of a hydrant (4.8.2.) etc. etc. Oh, and there may also be a sign indicating a larger buffer for some reason (4.8.15), and you should be aware you can’t obstruct pedestrians (4.9.5). Actually, the Bylaw has a lot of bits saying where you can’t park. So this is not legal advice. Caveat Lector.
As I mentioned last blog, we had a few public delegations at Council on Monday that were notable. I don’t often write about public delegations here unless they result in direct Council action, in which case they make it into my regular Council Reports. But anyone can delegate on any topic in New West, so we often don’t know what is coming, and are not prepared to directly address the issue raised in the council meeting. It is also a weirdly pre-election political time, and as such, more of these delegations will be seen in context of October 15th. So with the benefit of a few days of reflection, I might like to look at the points raised.
First, a candidate for Mayor made his first appearance in Council chambers to ask Council to put the 2030 Olympic bid to a referendum of New Westminster residents. I, frankly, did not know how to respond to this request.
For context, there are four First Nations (Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Líl̓wat) putting together a bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics, relying heavily on existing infrastructure built for the 2010 games. They have invited the municipalities of Vancouver and Whistler to enter MOUs to define how they can work together to achieve the bid goals. New Westminster is not a party to those MOUs, we have not (yet) been invited by the host nations to enter those discussions, nor are the details of the bid established enough for us to have an informed conversation about its viability.
So when one suggests residents of New West be engaged in a referendum on this, I am not sure how we would even phrase a question without sounding profoundly colonial and setting back relationships we are respectfully trying to build with those indigenous communities on whose land we live and work, and whose land on which the broader “we” were very comfortable holding our own Olympics a decade ago without (to my knowledge) doing a referendum of Indigenous Peoples. Further, I don’t know how we would operationalize any answer (yes or no) without violating core principles of reconciliation at a time when we are building relationships. So the request was not timely, and was not something I can imagine us putting resources towards right now.
The second delegation was from a long-time Council Watcher reminding us that the Community Charter (Section 118) says a City over 50,000 people should have eight councilors, unless we have a Bylaw saying otherwise. Back in the early 2000’s New West made a decision when the population went over 50K to not add two new councilors. In 2005, the City Council of the time put a non-binding plebiscite question on the ballot, and 70% voted against an increase in council. We have not, in my time at least, had any conversation about revisiting that decision. That was 17 years ago, and now that we are over 80,000 residents, it seems reasonable for a resident to ask whether we should review that decision.
My reflex response is that I just don’t feel the public is in a place today where a strong majority sees “more elected people” as the solution to any problem. Maybe that is cynical, and I could hear an argument that more elected officials results in better and potentially more diverse representation. So am going to stay agnostic on this for now, and just look at the numbers.
There are 19 Municipalities in BC with population over 50,000. Of those, seven have 6 Councilors (37%), twelve have 8 Councilors (63%), and one has 10 Councilors (Vancouver, which has its own Charter, so it doesn’t count here). Here is how they plot in population vs. council count:
Of the seven municipalities in BC with a population larger than 50,000 and six Councilors, four have a larger population than New West (Delta, Chilliwack, Maple Ridge, and the District of North Vancouver) and two are smaller than New West (Port Coquitlam and North Vancouver City). There is one municipality with population smaller than New West with eight Councilors, and that is Prince George (which despite a current spurt in growth, has effectively the same population as it did in the 1990s).
So what I take from this is that New West in not currently anomalous in its number of councilors, but would be one of the smallest municipalities with eight if we made the shift. This, of course, doesn’t mean that the number is perfect, or that the rules the way they are set up is optimal, only that New West seems to be within the category of nominal in regards to Council count. Let the conversation in he community ensue…
Finally, we had a presentation from a representative of the Uptown BIA expressing concern about the proposed Uptown Active Transportation improvements. This followed up on a letter sent to Council by the BIA.
The current plan is the result of lengthy public and user group consultation, and addresses the point that a new High School and major park destination is not well connected to our local or regional active transportation network. Direct-as-possible routes from the Crosstown Greenway on the west (through Moody Park, already built) and east (along 200m/2 blocks of 6th street) were identified as active transportation priorities.
There are some businesses on that block of 6th Street that are concerned about the change, because there will be a reduction in street parking. This is not surprising, as separated safe cycling infrastructure is often anticipated to bring a negative impact to retail areas. This despite there being extensive evidence from around North America and the rest of the world that merchants vastly overestimate the importance of cars as the mode their shoppers use, and that safe cycling infrastructure that displaces curbside parking does not hurt adjacent businesses, and may actually be a positive.*
That said, the updates on 6th Street are going to initially be installed using temporary hardware, similar to the Room to Move installations that occurred primarily Uptown during the Pandemic summers to test out where the balance between pedestrian and car space can be adjusted. Those informed some of the more permanent installations you see now on Sixth Ave where sidewalks are being expanded. The mobility lanes will be separated by more than paint (which is required to make them safe), but in a way that we can make inexpensive changes to iterate the design to make it work better. Part of that evaluation should include impacts on the local businesses, and I hope to continue that conversation with the BIA.
With the new Transport 2050 plan out and the goal of lowering speed limits in urban areas to 30km/h, what is the expected timeline for those changes to take effect in major New West arteries? (Royal, for example). Also, regarding the 850 km of protected bike lanes, is there an estimation of how much of that will be devoted to our city? Is there a timeline and map in the works? The official plan for the city reimagines Columbia street beautifully, but I wonder when will we actually see those changes applied. (Not a complaint, I know it takes time for these things to be approved and worked on). Thanks for all you do, Pat.
Indeed TransLink has adopted a new long-range plan that creates inspiration for the region’s transportation in the decade ahead. And there is a lot in there:
The theme is “access for everyone”, and there are laudable goals:
And there are 350 pages of this. If I can get my minor complaints out of the way, it leans a bit too much into unproven tech solutions and benefits of unlikely automated vehicle adoption. My slightly bigger complaint is that it leans much more on other orders of government doing their bit to see the plan succeed, with not enough emphasis about what TransLink can do and should do with the power it holds. But I want to get those gripes out of the way, because it is overall a good and forward-looking plan that draws a positive vision for regional mobility. So I encourage you to thumb through it, because here I’m going to only talk about your questions.
The proposal for reducing urban speed limits is outlined under a section where the plan looks toward a Vision Zero approach to reducing fatalities and deaths in our transportation system. The plan calls for:There is a good defense for going in this direction in the plan, and to Active Transportation advocates, there is nothing surprising there. 30km/h saves lives, and makes shared spaces on our City streets much more comfortable for all users. It also allows us to start re-thinking how we design our streets. I talked a bit about that back here when it came up in Council, and New Westminster is one of a group of Municipalities advocating for the Provincial Government to make the change to 30km/h default speed for neighbourhood streets. We have also started to transition roads in select areas around town to 30km/h, and there are promising signs the Province is looking to make it easier for Municipalities to do this.
Which all raises the point that TransLink can advocate for this, but has no power to legislate speed limits. It will be up to the Provincial Government to loosen up the regulatory control on speed limits in the Motor Vehicle Act, and individual Local Governments to adopt these new relaxations.
That doesn’t mean that TransLink adopting this as a policy direction is meaningless, though, as one limit on Local Governments more widely adopting reduced limits is the Major Road Network. These are roads across the Lower Mainland that are shared jurisdiction between Local Governments and TransLink. In practice, that means TransLink gives local governments some maintenance money for them in exchange for some regulatory control over them. If we want to add a new intersection with traffic lights or add a left-turn bay or reduce lane widths or speed limits, we need approval from TransLink to make those changes. The Major Road Network includes the blue lines on this map:
So, if we want to make (your example, not mine) Royal Ave 30km/h, we would need permission from TransLink, and if 30km/h meets their strategy goals, that should make it easier to get that permission. But to be honest, I don’t think Royal will be a priority for that change. At this point, the push for 30km/h is concentrating on neighbourhood roads, collectors, greenways, and pedestrian-dense commercial streets – a work in progress that will advance greatly in the next year or two I hope. The regional arteries like this are not likely to see any change until we actually adopt a Vision Zero strategy, instead of just talking about as something we aspire towards. More on that later.
On the 850km of bike lanes, there is a map in the TransLink plan:
…and my back-of-envelope calculation of this puts it at about 24km of New Westminster, mostly the existing Central Valley Greenway, Crosstown Greenway, and BC Parkway, but with some notable “gaps” in the existing system patched. There is no timeline (except “2050”), and there is no established budget for any of it. But it is an aspirational target, and with senior governments getting into the funding-active-transportation game and municipalities ramping up their work, it is good to have a regional framework to hang our efforts on.
If you are looking at what New West is going to look like in coming years, I put forward a motion passed unanimously by Council in October to start the work on planning a AAA network in New West, which I wrote about here. Staff and the Sustainable Transportation Task Force are engaged in doing the preliminary work of designing what that local network should ideally look like – because the sketches in my blog are just sketches on a blog, and designing these routes requires more thorough analysis by actual experts. You should expect the City to be coming out to the public with some consultation on this in the months ahead. I would suggest the TransLink network will be a major part of our core network, but not all of it. Like speed limits, it’s good to know they are on side.
As for Columbia Street, There are some fresh ideas for the area around New West station and a few key traffic management and public realm improvements on paper, but I can’t tell you the timeline for those. There is some money in the 2022 Capital Plan for some works at the foot of Eighth to improve the pedestrian realm, but the rest will compete on the priority list with improvements in other area. Our capital plan is aggressive, because there is a lot going on.
Finally, I don’t want to get back to complaining, so I’ll try to frame this as an observation triggered by my re-reading the Transport 2050 Plan in preparing this post, because this isn’t a TransLink problem so much as a North America problem. We are much better at talking about Vision Zero than we are at actually understanding it. You can read more about it here, but I am afraid we are starting to use it as a slogan, when it needs to be a change in mindset.
As an example, the Translink plan is to reduce traffic-related fatalities by 5% a year and to zero by 2050. Currently, about 100 people die in traffic fatalities in the region every year, and 40 of those are vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, or people just standing in a bus stop when a car plows them down). The cynical part of me sees this as planning for 95 deaths next year, and planning for 60 deaths in 2030, etc. This looks particularly unambitious (and slightly macabre), and unambitious considering there are true Vision Zero jurisdictions about the size of Greater Vancouver that have *zero* Pedestrian deaths in the typical year. Yes, they exist.
This is not on TransLink to fix – it will take coordination between all levels of government, a pretty fundamental shift in the Motor Vehicle Act, a shift in how we enforce traffic safety, a new approach to managing investigation of traffic deaths to better understand the causes, and re-engineering parts of our transportation system based on those results. But it is that coordinated effort that defines a Vision Zero approach. The vision is for zero deaths right away, not 30 years from now. 30km/h is part of it. Safe AAA bike networks are part of it. But unless we lose the attitude that people dying from car “accidents” is an unavoidable part of our society, they are going to continue to die at increasing rates. I want us to do better, and I’m afraid the provincial government’s emphasis on reducing the cost of driving is working against this.
What do you think of the news that B.C. prepares to remove some housing approval powers from local governments? There are no denying that getting permits from a city is slow and difficult. I’m not sure whether take powers away from local government is good or bad, but in your opinion, how New Westminster can do better on issuing new permits?
I have been thinking a lot about it, but I don’t yet have any answers. This is mostly because Minister Eby has been rather vague about what types of changes he is looking to implement, and the target needs to be well understood to avoid unintended effects. I’ll try to unpack what doesn’t fit in the headlines.
First, I need to note my comments are from the point of view of a member of a City Councils that is meeting our regionally-agreed-upon commitments to building new housing. We have leadership and staff that have weathered the challenges of meeting our Regional Growth Strategy obligations in approving new Purpose Built Rental, market housing, and family friendly housing, while we are finally cracking the nut on new “missing middle”. We have not just approved new non-market affordable housing, but have made City lands available and fast-tracked approvals to assure that when funding arrives for non-market housing, we are inviting it in, and we have made clear we want more funded in our own back yard. We did this without massive expansion into greenfield (because as a 150+ year old City, we don’t have much greenfield) and without massive displacement of vulnerable residents from the older, most affordable housing in the City.
That is not to say New Westminster doesn’t have more work to do, or that the crises are over, only to note that the work we have done in the last decade is region-leading (if the City of North Van will share the podium). This work has not been without push-back from some of the community. Every day we hear as much from people telling us we are going too far, too fast, as we do from people asking us what we are doing to address housing. Have you looked at Facebook recently?
At the same time, we are a City of just under 80,000 people in a region headed towards 3 Million. With only 3% of the region’s population, less than 3% of its tax revenue, and much less than 1% of its land area, New Westminster is not going to fix the regional housing crisis. The region is thousands of units a year short of approving what is needed to start to stabilize the market, and are thousands of non-market units short of what we need to provide stability to the most vulnerable populations. So when facing push back or predatory delay, I can see why the Minister responsible for Housing is getting hot under the collar, and is ready to start swinging a big stick to get municipalities to do their job.
Without the benefit of more detail about what that stick looks like, I am concerned that the perception being created (as it may not be what he intends, only the way he is being interpreted in the media) is that of threats, and I can only hope from the New West perspective that Minister Eby will find carrots to compliment that stick.
People in New West know what we need to help the new housing find broader public support in the community; we know what those carrots are. Clear financing for new school locations; support for transit and funding for active transportation to reduce the traffic loads new growth would bring without those investments; prioritizing existing infrastructure funds supporting everything from sewer upgrades to library expansions to new park space, so communities meeting their regional commitments have the upper hand in grant applications. And, yeah, legislative tools to give well-meaning Municipal Councils and staff the flexibility to approve good projects faster.
How can we do better on issuing new permits? The question is really wide-reaching, so the best answer is equally far-reaching. If the conceit of your question is that New West is not building fast enough (and I’m not convinced your entire community agrees with you there) then there is work we can do to accelerate the process. I have had long conversations with architects designing new apartment buildings to homeowners doing relatively small infill projects, and there is no doubt they feel there are approval steps or consultation standards that are not obvious in why they are needed. Developers will tell you this extra time costs them money and pushes up prices, but accelerating the process may cost the City money (as we would need more staff), or compromise important policy goals, so there is clearly a balance to be found. I think the best shorter-term improvement is in creating more certainty about the time for approvals. But again, Development is complex, and we have a culture of public engagement in New West that is difficult to rush.
The one assumption to put aside, however, is that the Province can meaningfully force an acceleration of these processes. Unless the province removes from Municipalities the one ultimate authority they hold – zoning – it will be wielded by different Municipalities to achieve the policy and political goals of the community. And, alas, constructive delay of change is a policy goal of some local governments. As a Lawyer, Minister Eby certainly understands that removing zoning power opens a Pandora’s Box of problems, because zoning authority is interwoven with local government and provincial government regulations. A single example I am professionally very familiar with: without local government zoning control, the entire provincial contaminated sites identification and management system will have to be redesigned. There are scores of other Provincial and Municipal regulatory systems that are similarly buttressed by zoning. Unpacking that would be a very difficult process.
That is not to say the Province is powerless, far from it. I think that Minister Eby will need to be surgical and strategic about the sticks he wields, though I would not begrudge him wielding it to get our region back on track to addressing our overlapping housing crises. I only hope he also brings those carrots, because local governments need community support to do good work, and long-term benefits of meeting our regional commitments to housing are becoming a harder sell to the comfortably housed who vote.
The 2021 census data is starting to trickle out. The first release of data is on population and housing, which is obviously a hot topic in the Lower Mainland. This means there are a lot of news stories about what has changed since last census in 2016. However, because of the work I do, I prefer to look at the change over the full decade since 2011. This is because 2011 was the “baseline” population level that the 2040 Regional Growth Strategy for Greater Vancouver is pegged. Since every municipal Official Community Plan was developed in context of the 2040 RGA, and since we are currently updating to a new 2050 RGS, I thought it would be good to re-look at Greater Vancouver population change in comparison to the RGS with the new census data.
Regular readers (Hi Mom!) might remember me doing something like this last year with the 2020 Stats Can population estimates. As it turns out, actual counts are more accurate than estimates*EDIT – see below*, and an update is required. Here is the table of Municipalities with 2021 Census population sorted by the rate of growth since the 2011 Population used for the Regional Growth Strategy (yes, I excluded the minor Municipalities like Anmore and Electoral Area A, for simplicity, laziness, and because I can).
Where to start? Overall, the region (excepting those small Munis ignored above) grew by an overall 11% over that decade, falling far short of the predicted growth of 18%. This means there are at least 157,000 fewer people living the in Greater Vancouver than expected. Only three Municipalities added more population than the RGS expected: Maple Ridge, the City of North Vancouver and White Rock. That last one might be a surprise, but remember White Rock had the lowest predicted growth over the decade, and so their growth being on par with the regional average put it way above what was expected.
Note that North Vancouver District and Port Moody have essentially not changed in population over the last decade (though found two very different political pathways to this lack of change) and West Vancouver lost population. The overall result is that every region of greater Vancouver fell short of the predictions, excepting the Northeast corner of the regional district.
The story locally is that New West also surprisingly fell short of the RGS goals, though only by a small amount. Nonetheless our 17% growth rate was one of the fastest rates in the region. This is perhaps more remarkable when you note the only Municipalities growing at a faster rate happen to be the 3 easternmost ones – those with the greatest access to greenfield into which to sprawl.
Which bring us to the other New Westminster headline of this census release: New Westminster being touted as the major municipality with the second highest density in Canada. This is interesting, but I may argue this is a bit of an artifact of the data and political jurisdictions.
We are surely a dense urban community, which is a natural result of being the nucleus of a rapidly growing urban area for more than 150 years. Our footprint is compact (under 16 square kilometers) and we don’t have farms or large undeveloped areas of forest, having chopped most of those down about 150 years ago. Our urban form was mostly established before the automobile era, and was not extensively re-drawn with Motordom.
However, this does not make us that different from many older urban areas of Canada. But in looking at the data, we need to remember that satellite centres of Toronto or Montreal are amalgamated into one larger municipality. Shown at the same scale using Censusmapper.ca and population density data, it doesn’t immediately appear that New West (as a 79K population commuter suburb of Vancouver) is much denser than, say, the arguably comparable (population 72K commuter suburb of Montreal) neighbourhood of Verdun.
I’m not ready yet to say what it all means, as there is more data and mapping to come out. However, New Westminster is part of a region facing a long-standing housing availability crisis, and more acute housing affordability crisis. We may be bringing on supply as fast as anyone in the region (and faster than most) but at 79,000 people, we are still only 3% of the region’s population, and addressing the supply crunch is going to take more than New West can do alone. We need more action across the region.
At the same time, I am proud to say that New West is bringing in not just supply, but a diverse type of supply. Market condos are meeting the region’s most aggressive Family Friendly Housing policies. We are approving more Purpose Built Rental than we have in decades, and we have truly affordable housing options being built across the City as fast as the funding for these units becomes available. Though the value of land has shifted regionally past where rowhomes and townhouses represent “affordability” for most families, we are starting to see a big uptake on this type of build in traditionally Single Family parts of the City, and this long-standing gap in supply is finally being filled. We are also bringing this supply on while protecting the more affordable housing in the City, for the most part avoiding the mass displacement of people from existing lower-cost housing through strong policy. We have a lot of work to do, but we are on the right track.
*EDIT *: TIL: I’m completely wrong on this point. Census population estimates may actually be a more accurate count of the number of residents living in a municipality, because they account for the way the census systematically undercounts. Read more here, if you care. Fascinating!
I finally had a little time to condense down a bunch of thoughts and notes about the Opening Doors report that was delivered to the Provincial Government last year. I read the report when it came out last summer, and noted how it landed in an overstuffed news cycle to be almost ignored by anyone who wasn’t already a housing wonk. I might have winged a bit on line at the time, but I was not overall as critical as some of my neighbours across Tenth Ave.
Last month we held a Workshop at New West Council to talk through the report recommendations with staff support, and prepare a more formal response to the provincial government (you can watch a video of that meeting here and see the report and presentation City Staff prepared to inform that workshop here). This brings me to my regular warning that the comments that follow are mine, not the official position of New Westminster City Council or anyone else, and you might want to watch that video to see some of the more nuanced discussion other Councilors brought to the discussion.
The report needs to be put into the context of how and why it was created. It was an Expert Panel put together to provide advice to the BC and Federal Governments (delivered to the respective Ministers of Finance, notably) so it weighs heavily on things senior government can do. The Experts on the Expert Panel were, perhaps shockingly, bereft of municipal experience, and their decided expertise in finance and property development resulted in their firm application of Maslow’s Hammer. I also chagrin that the progressive *economic* quick wins proposed were the only part of the report that the senior government Ministers of Finance rushed to make comment on – and that was just to say no to them at the moment they were proposed.
But I’m already getting ahead of myself. Let’s look through the major policy directions proposed, from the municipal perspective. There were 5 major themes, and 23 recommendations, and you can read through them all if you like, but much like the conversation we had at the Council workshop, I’m going to summarize by order of government, because we all have work to do to address what is a national crisis at this point.
Things the Feds can do:
The roots of our current homelessness crisis are found in the early 1990s when Paul Martin looked at the comparatively modest housing cuts under a decade of Mulroney, and decided he could do better. The 1994 Martin budget got the federal government right out of the business of building housing. When a rapidly growing and urbanizing country like Canada goes from building 15,000-20,000 social housing units a year to less than 1,000 there are going to be devastating effects. And here we are.
So, with the Feds having the, by far, deepest pockets, it is not surprising that the one thing the Feds could do first is start using those funds to build housing. To quote directly:
the federal government make long-term funding commitments, as was done until the mid-1990s, rather than offering short-term capital grants. We recommend that the scale of these funding commitments reflects what is required for the construction of new social housing units to return to historic levels, when nearly 10% of all national housing starts were social housing units
There are also great recommendations here about making Federal Lands available for housing in high-demand communities, giving the non-profit housing sector more tax incentives, harmonizing programs that may speed housing being brought on-line (like federal/provincial/municipal building codes, fire codes, energy efficiency codes, etc.). But, still, someone has to pay for the housing that the market is not going to provide.
There is also a recommendation around incentives that stands out to me:
federal and provincial governments create a municipal housing incentive program rewarding the creation of net new housing supply wherever demand occurs… their primary purpose is to recognize municipal costs incurred in growing the housing stock and reward growth of housing supply where it is needed.
This addresses straight-on a significant downloading concern all Cities have in investing in affordable housing. Given an historic lack in Federal and Provincial funding (only beginning to be abated now), creative cities looking to be proactive have tried to leverage local powers to get housing funded. This means directly spending on housing, giving our limited land base up to affordable housing projects, or leveraging affordable housing as a community amenity attached to new market housing. This last one definitely has populist appeal, because it makes people feel we are making the “greedy developers” pay for it, but the reality is we are simply taking money that would have otherwise been used to pay for other community amenities – parks and recreation centers and libraries – and as we dip into those resources, we lose public support for growth, because we cannot provide amenities that assure a denser City is livable and full-service.
So this recommendation seems to suggest that Cities that meet housing growth targets are prioritized for federal funding. I actually hoped it would go a little further and suggest that federal infrastructure granting programs like ICIP should specifically hinge on high-demand communities like New Westminster meeting their housing targets.
Things the Province can do:
When Martin/Chretien gutted federal funding for housing in the early 1990’s, BC stayed in the business of building housing for another decade or so, until the Liberal Government of Gordon Campbell put an end to that in 2002. Though programs are now coming back in a meaningful way, we are left with a big gap of 20 years of underbuilding to our needs.
All of the points above about what the Feds can do also apply to the Province – they can provide funds, land, and incentives. Though their pool of funds is somewhat smaller, they are in the right place to note and be proactive about regional needs, and indeed the money saved by giving people safe, secure homes comes right back to the Province through savings in health care and other social support spending.
One aspect of this that is somewhat missed in the panel report is the opportunity for the Province to get back into the business of supportive housing. By the current model, the Province may provide funding to private developers to include affordable housing in their market housing proposals and/or provide funding for the not-for-profit sector to deliver and operate the housing. This is based on the neoliberal idea that government saves money by paying someone else to do something instead of doing it themselves. This is the model that brought us disastrous results when a pandemic hit the care home sector, and a model we still somewhat resist for healthcare. But this is still an operating assumption for housing that adds complication and uncertainty to the delivery of housing, and makes it harder to get housing built.
This report skates around the demand side of the equation. I know this is a politically charged discussion in a growing country with ambitious population and economic growth models, and I am not going to delve into the fanciful economics of a certain UBC landscape architect or the xenophobic ravings of familiar populists. Instead, I would suggest the place where demand management comes in is the federal and provincial taxation structures that reward the commodification of housing, while at the same time providing no benefit to renters or those who are unhoused. For whatever reasons these various structures (homeowner tax credits, capital gains exemptions for housing, etc.) were developed years and decades ago to encourage people to buy and stay in houses, they no doubt provide a perverse incentive during a housing crisis where most cannot afford the ticket to entry while taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the government’s coffers that could be better applied to providing housing to those in need. This is the part of the Expert Panel Report that senior governments rushed to say they were not going to enact. See recommendations 21 and 23:
21.…make changes to tax programs to bring the treatment of renters and homeowners into closer alignment. This would include reviewing the impact of the capital gains tax exemption on principal residences… and extending comparable support to other forms of wealth building; 23. …phase out the Home Owner Grant. Monies saved from this should be used to fund social housing in addition to the commitments made in the 10-year plan.
Alas, the Culture of Contentment assures that no government, no matter how progressive their campaign, will be willing to address this disparity any time soon.
Another important piece missing from this report is the need to protect renters and keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. Again, the Province has made tentative steps in the right direction here, but is not where the City of New Westminster and other local governments have been asking them to be in stopping renovictions and demovictions.
Things for Local Gov’t to do?
I’m going to mix together our Regional and Local government parts here, and only note that the Expert Panel Report skips regional government altogether, though they are a significant provider of affordable housing in the Lower Mainland and other regions of the province. They are also the level of government that sets regional land use and housing policy, but we’ll get to that.
The part to remember is that this is a report to senior governments, and the question here is more “what can senior governments to do to either compel or make local governments approve more housing faster?”. This might sounds strange to many in New West, where we are meeting (and slightly exceeding) our regional growth strategy targets for housing, rental and affordable housing, and population growth. If anything, I feel people are starting to feel a bit of growth fatigue related to construction impacts. However, we are one of the few municipalities hitting these targets (as I talked about at length here), and housing demand is still far outstripping availability – so what can the province do to get those other municipalities to keep up?
Right off the bat, we know the first recommendation doesn’t work:
the B.C. government impose statutory time limits to all stages of the property development process, municipal or other, for all types of development. Similar limits imposed in Ontario and Alberta can serve as examples
Putting an artificial timeline of, say 90 days on a Rezoning application as Ontario did, fixes nothing. The arbitrary nature of the limit belies the complexity of many rezonings, ignores that even the Province cannot commit to providing referrals within that time limit (in the case of EMA freeze-and-release provisions, or MOTI approval for development near highways as only two examples), effectively undermines the ability for an elected Council to do what the Community elects them to do. It reduces a local government’s ability to evaluate and benefit from land lift related to rezoning, and undermines any principle of meaningful community engagement over development. The net effect is that most rezoning applications would be turned down, not that most would get approved faster. It does this all while adding a new layer of bureaucracy – the tribunal through which applications not meeting timeline could be appealed.
Fortunately, more of the recommendations around introducing “affordability adjustments” to the Housing Needs Reports, aligning our OCP updates with these needs reports, provincial streamlining of development permitting processes province-wide and the such, are doable, reasonable, and would likely have wide-spread buy-in by municipalities, though they may take some work on behalf of all parties.
An identified theme is that Municipal and regional housing targets actually have to come with some force. We are dealing with a regional problem, and need to solve it regionally. There are a variety of sticks and carrots the Provincial Government can apply, and a lot of funding incentives for infrastructure to better support the pressures cities face as they densify. Indeed, changing how the province incentivizes growth would also result in significant greenhouse gas reductions and reductions in the cost of many different forms of service delivery. There is a big win in here, but it would require some political courage to step into what local governments (and regional governments) see as their turf. When half the mayors in the region are elected on straight-up or veiled promises to curb growth, political battles would no doubt ensue, but a crisis like this does not allow half of the region to say “not our problem” as has been the reality for a decade. They know who they are.
There are two aspects of how Cities approve housing that the Provincial government can definitely influence, as they are regulated at least in part but Provincial regulations: how Cities finance growth, and how our permitting programs work.
On the financing side, the report includes this recommendation:
conduct a full review of local government revenue sources and spending responsibilities… includ[ing] consideration of additional or enhanced funding sources for infrastructure and amenities that are more predictable and do not rely on rezoning or the development process. Preference should be given to means that capture land value through taxation, rather than homebuilding
To frame this a bit, Municipal governments collect Development Cost Charges (“DCCs”) on new growth, Voluntary/Community Amenity Contributions (“VACs” or “CACs”), and a whole raft of different fees and changes on development. It’s a bit of a complex mess, and outside of DCCs, not particularly well regulated. This creates not just cost, but uncertainty and complexity for builders and great variances across the province and region. One recommendation would be for the Province to clean some of this up. perhaps by expanding the DCC program to make it more flexible and reduce the reliance on VACs/CACs. This sounds easy, but is actually something that would have to be addressed with great care, as the balance between community and private benefit from growth (never mind the public perception of that balance) is precarious and dynamic, and Mencken warned us about seemingly simple fixes to dynamic human problems.
The second aspect of change could be in the permitting processes themselves. Given the financing issue is managed (see above),then strategic pre-zoning takes a lot of risk away from builders, and reduces the time taken to get from planning to occupancy. This type of strategic pre-zoning probably doesn’t want to occur until we have a funding model established to assure the community knows it is getting its share of the inevitable land lift (and Cities have a way to fund the parks, playgrounds, roads, theatres and libraries that make the community livable), and stricter and clearer design control is in place, as the City will functionally be ceding much of that control when it gives away zoning. There are incremental changes Cities can make in the short term (like New West, where we have given Development Permit authority to staff without an extra trip to Council), but some major shifts in the permitting process that are recommended (like reforming the problematic Public Hearing) would require changes to provincial legislation.
We have a housing affordability crisis because we are not building enough homes to meet demand. We have a homelessness crisis because we are not building enough non-market and supportive housing to provide appropriate shelter for people who are forced out of the bottom of the market as prices rise. These are two overlapping crises that require parallel approaches to fix.
The first problem is related to a complex mix of jurisdictional and political roadblocks, some easier to overcome than others, but even with the existing legislative framework and tax structure, municipalities can build to meet demand now. some of us are. If the Regional Growth Strategy is any guide, Municipalities like the City of North Vancouver and New West have shown that the solutions are available, but some municipalities simply don’t want to take part. We need to level that playing field.
The second problem is much easier to solve. Build housing for people who cannot afford to be in the market, like this country and this province did in the decades between WW2 and Mulroney/Chretien austerity, or as the Baby Boom generation calls them, the Good Old Days. Fortunately, this easier-to-solve problem can go first, and even the most reluctant local government can’t stop it if the senior governments are committed to fixing it. As a bonus, it takes the pressure off of the harder to solve supply/demand problem of market housing. But to solve that second problem, we first need senior governments to be more honest about the goals of our economic policies, while local governments need to be more honest about whether they actually want to solve the problem.
This report, for its strengths and weaknesses, could open doors to some of those more truthful conversations.