Governance & Politics
June 17, 2016

Feds and Province Pony Up for Public Transit Infrastructure-

 

The Prime Minister was in town yesterday, and announced that the federal government would be providing $460 million dollars under the new Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, with the Province of British Columbia providing $308 million dollars. This joint amount of $768 million dollars* is to be “combined with contributions from municipalities” to create “$900 million going toward public transit across the province”.

The Federal government is increasing its percentage of funding share from 33 per cent to 50 per cent for the Infrastructure Fund, with the Province still kicking in 33 per cent and the municipalities providing 17 per cent. Besides providing capital, the municipalities will also be responsible for the operation of the transit system once complete.

The intent of the new federal Public Transit Infrastructure Fund is to shorten commute times cut air pollution and strengthen communities. Here is the statement from the PMO (prime minister’s office).

A quick footnote for *PriceTag readers: there is a variance between the amount of funding reported by the Prime Minister’s office and that reported in the media. I am using the figures given by the Prime Minister’s office.

The bilateral agreement identifies the following projects for funding, and notes that this is the full amount the province will be getting from the federal government for Phase 1.

Metro Vancouver TransLink Phase 1:

  • The purchase of additional SkyTrain vehicles for the Expo, Millennium, and Canada Lines
  • A new West Coast Express locomotive
  • A new SeaBus
  • Upgrades to SkyTrain stations
  • Design and planning for Rapid Transit South of Fraser and the Millennium Line Extension along Broadway

BC Transit Phase 1 :

  • Investments in new bus depots, maintenance yards and operations facilities, as well as in new CNG fueling stations, in communities across the province.
  • New and more efficient buses, including cleaner burning CNG-fueled buses, and new buses for handyDART service expansion.
  • New technologies to make the fleet safer for drivers and passengers and to give BC Transit and local communities’ ridership information that will make them become even more efficient. 

The investment in new SkyTrain vehicles should be occurring quickly. Not as rapid will be the  fulfillment of the election promise made by the Mayor of Surrey to have light-rail transit to Surrey by 2018. Surrey’s intent was to have three lines from Surrey Centre serving Guildford, Newton and Langley City built at a cost of approximately $2.1 billion.

You may remember last year the Metro Vancouver mayors endorsed building the Surrey light-rail transit as well as the proposed extension of the Millennium Line from VCC-Clark Station to Arbutus Street. The projected cost of this extension under Broadway is estimated at about $2 billion.

These projects did not go ahead when they were  rejected in a plebiscite last year calling for a 0.5-percent increase to the provincial sales tax.

Metro Vancouver was the first jurisdiction in Canada to sign a deal for the new federal funding. The  Vancouver Sun  reports that second phase of this funding “hinges on approval from the provincial government for controversial measures such as mobility pricing, which could potentially see the tolling of all the bridges and tunnels in the region within next five years“.

And here is a small backgrounder from Vancouver Sun’s Kelly Sinoski:

What is the 10-year transportation plan?

The regional mayors’ council approved a $7.5-billion comprehensive transportation plan in 2013 to expand the system after years of a funding stalemate. The plan, which was approved by all 21 mayors except Burnaby’s Derek Corrigan, calls for service upgrades across the region, including more bus and SkyTrain service and rapid transit expansions in Surrey and Vancouver.

What this funding means

Over the next two to three years, TransLink will start Phase 1 of its transportation plan, which includes adding a third SeaBus, 28 SkyTrain cars to the Expo and Millennium lines, 22 Canada Line cars and five West Coast Express cars. The transportation authority will also overhaul its older SkyTrain stations and add bicycle parking along the new Evergreen Line.

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With the dramatic increase in the seniors’ population as the baby boom moves into this age category, the following information is troubling, but not unexpected-seniors who are selling their house to move into a retirement home should ensure they have a place to go.

Statistics Canada has released their 2016 Seniors’ Housing report, with a  download report available by province here.

For the fourth year in a row, the vacancy rate for seniors’ independent living facilities in British Columbia  has declined, from 9.8 per cent in 2015 to 5.7 per cent in 2016.  Why? Seniors may be living longer, but they are also selling their accommodations to move into these facilities.  The average rent for a seniors’ retirement home is also increasing to an average of $3,329.00 a month.

British Columbia’s Seniors’ Advocate Isobel Mackenzie is aware of the challenge, and has been reporting on the gaps in service for seniors. In her 2015 annual report Mackenzie notes that housing must be affordable, accessible and available for seniors. She has been receiving complaints that seniors cannot access housing in their preferred residential facility, that they are concerned over increasing housing costs, and that there is a need for assistance in dealing with housing subsidy applications. There are also gaps when seniors are being discharged from hospitals without adequate home supports in place.  Half of all the calls to the B.C. Seniors’ Advocate relate to this issue.

This brings up the conversation about having seniors’ housing at the different care levels available in the different neighbourhoods that seniors currently reside in, so that they can age in place. The strict criteria to qualify for housekeeping  services means that many frail seniors with fixed incomes do not qualify for assistance.  Sixty-five per cent of seniors also have no retirement benefit package assisting with the cost of medications, glasses and hearing  aids. 

Metro Vancouver is becoming a place where both the young and the elderly demographic groups are feeling the  pinch in accommodation, affordability and accessibility to housing.

Is there a way for both of these demographic groups to have access to affordable housing in every neighbourhood? What would that look like?

 

 

 

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Tom Babin has written a cogent article in Shifter on why municipalities embraced and adopted the fact that bicycles should be treated like cars.  In North America bicyclists share the street, use hand signals, and cross traffic at left-hand turns just like a car.

This concept was piloted by an American named John Forester. The acceptance of treating bikes like cars meant that no separated facilities needed to be built. It was a cheap way of managing  bikes on the road.

Forester developed an effective cycling educational program that integrated motorists and educated cyclists, claiming that this reduced accidents more than separated bicycle lanes.

At the same time as these views were being adopted in North America, Europe and Montreal were doing things differently. Montreal’s separated bike path on Rue Berrie was built in the 1980’s, but was the subject of derision from other municipalities. Montreal paralleled Denmark and the Netherlands in going for separated bike facilities, perhaps as a response to the car domination of the post-war period.

Fast forward 40 years and Montreal is known for a surprisingly comfortable walking and biking network, with many separated bike paths on streets. Velo Quebec estimates that in the last 20 years 600,000 people have commenced bicycle riding in the Province, and 2.7 million people ride a bike weekly. The network in Quebec has grown by 30 per cent since 2010 to a total of 12,000 kilometers, and major injuries on bikeways continue to drop.

Metro Vancouver is catching up to the innovative work of Montreal, which Babin calls “a bicycle haven in a continent of car-centricity, perhaps the most bike-friendly city on the continent“.

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As stated in  this article by Smart Growth America for the first time in 60 years walkable urban places (and yes, there is a short form, they are called “WALK UPs) are gaining market share value over drivable suburban competition.

Imagine-there is a correlation between the  619 urban walkable places in 30 of the largest American cities and the fact that the residents there are the most educated, wealthy and most socially equitable. The six most walkable metropolitan areas are New York City, Washington D.C., Boston,  Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Walkable urban offices, retail and rental multi-family housing have a 74 per cent rental premium over drivable suburban locations.

This is good news for Metropolitan Vancouver that has had a regional growth policy of supporting city centres and transit throughout the region.  The trend to create walkable urban places is in tune with many of the municipalities’ policy directions, as in the case of the walkable  City of Surrey new town centre.

The full report  of Foot Traffic Ahead 2016 is available in a downloadable version here.

 

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Gordon Price called it first, with the title of post-motordom.

And here it is-Amy Schmitt  in this article on Streetsblog Network describes the death of the big infrastructure project. Why? Because most of the existing infrastructure systems have been built and  need little expanding-and in some cases, could be shrunk.

With analogies to the railroads and the interstate highways of the 19th and 20th centuries where usage is shrinking, Schmitt sees new infrastructure occurring for surface transport such as High Speed Rail and urban transit projects, and for the provision of water and energy.  New systems such as internet and wireless, uber and autonomous vehicles redeploy existing technologies, and readapt them.

So what of building a new tolled  ten lane Massey Bridge   across the Fraser River to move cars onto fewer lanes of highway on either side?

Hmmm…we may have another Fraser River bridge to look at for the answer to that question.

 

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After much dithering at the Provincial level this  Globe and Mail Article  states that Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver is proposing a tax on property owners that don’t live in their houses. The intent is to ensure that such properties are rented, and provide valuable housing stock to those that need it.

The challenge is that the Provincial government has already rejected previous attempts to tax vacant Vancouver houses.

While suspecting that 10,000 houses are vacant in Vancouver, a figure released by city staff in March, the Mayor proposes that the tax be high enough to encourage the property to be rented locally. The mayor said  that the city wants access to an estimated 10,000 empty houses in Vancouver, a figure based on data that city staff released in March. But he didn’t say how high he thinks the tax would have to be to persuade those owners to rent out their houses.

There are now evidence-based studies suggesting that foreign buyers have completely distorted the local market making it unaffordable to citizens of Vancouver. Of course there are other protestations that such statements are akin to racism. The upshot is that people who work in Vancouver cannot  afford to live here. The single family home dream is dead.

The intent is to tax all homeowners who do not live in their home, no matter their reasons or their homelands.

“We would love to have thousands of those homes in the rental market right now when there’s almost no vacancy and a real crunch on affordable housing,” the mayor said,  “We’d like to see more supply created from the empty homes that are just sitting there in the city.”

Mayor Robertson is expecting a report in short order before Council’s summer break.You may remember that the Mayor had asked the Premier for jurisdiction for a luxury housing tax a year ago, and some remedies to penalize  owners who did not live in their properties. These suggestions were rejected by the Province. It was suggested that the city could find “solutions in better land-use planning”.

Creating more density does not address the underlying problem of  a lot of vacant houses in Vancouver neighbourhoods. There were two of these vacant foreign-owned houses on my street of nine  houses. It would be great to see them occupied by families.

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Andy Yan has a thoughtful and well researched approach to the subjects he studies. He is fearless in approaching the affordability debate, and is affiliated with Bing Thom Architects and UBC. He is also the acting director of SFU’s City Program .

Andy is on the Vancouver Magazine’s Power 50 list, and recently was interviewed  by Vancouver Magazine‘s  Trevor Melanson. Andy found out that the median income for degree-holders in Vancouver was $9,000 less than in the ten biggest cities in Canada.

B.C. university graduates also carry the most student debt and have the highest interest rates on that debt.  A debt they have to pay, as well as deal with finding affordable housing. As Andy says:

It’s really hard to create a garden of new economic activity under an inch of concrete as represented by student debt. We may very well attract some of the smartest and brightest around in this country, but to saddle them with at times very significant debt I think limits their potential—and if anything is a motivation to get out of a region that may not pay as well as other regions. Take a tech worker that has trained at a local university. It’s only rational for him to move to other places like San Francisco or Seattle. There’s a very specific logic to that. It’s not about talent attraction but retaining talent, which is probably one of the biggest challenges for Vancouver.

It’s also the reality that when you’re in your 20s or 30s, you’re in the most mobile period of your career. And in an economy that’s increasingly dependent on young talent, the ability to capture and retain that talent—it’s a major economic challenge. And housing costs don’t particularly help the situation. There are going to be four consequences of this housing market: one is overcrowding, two is over-indebtedness, three is sprawl, and four is ultimately migration out of the region.”

Andy sees three strategies for economic development as hunting, fishing and farming. New talent is hunted for jobs, a pool of amenities and  great lifestyles anchor why people want to come to Vancouver, and lastly, local firms are nurtured to grow and attract more opportunities.

As Andy states “We actually have all these small head offices in Metro Vancouver, and really our challenge is to help nurture them to have the capacity to grow, as opposed to only attracting new firms in the region”.

Vancouver needs a strong strategy to attract, maintain, and allow young workers and families to thrive. Andy Yan has pointed out what needs to be done.

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In March I updated Price Taggers  on the latest news from the “all things mega” mall development at Tsawwassen Mills, located on arable farming land and the flood plain east of the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal.  As you can see in the photo above, this thing is huge.

The Delta Optimist has just published this article  when the local paper had  a tour of the 1.2 million square foot mall, which will feature 200 stores and 16 anchor tenants. This mall is situated on land controlled by the Tsawwassen First Nation, and is located at the corner of Highway 17 and 52nd Street. The developer is Ivanhoe Cambridge of Oakridge Mall fame, and the intent is to have a “fashion-oriented” centre with a 1,100 seat food court area.

Over 2,000 construction jobs created the mall  and 4,500 permanent jobs are anticipated upon mall completion. I spoke to one electrician who said the mall has supplied him with three years of work. Coast Salish art work by many of the  Tsawwassen First Nations band members is also being installed.

The mall is based upon CrossIron Mills Mall in Calgary as well as Toronto’s  Vaughn Mills. In both of these cases there is not very good transit and the malls are close to large populations. The difference here is that the Metro Vancouver population may just use the internet for their shopping, or drive another twenty minutes to the border to shop in the United States. Will people shop on their way to the ferry? Do you think this mall will be successful?

With a scheduled opening for October 5 planned, I have been watching the Walmart site which is still-well, a pile of sand.  Let’s see what four months will bring.

 

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If you own a house in Metro Vancouver, your property tax notice may have been a surprise. It is no secret that single-family housing in Vancouver and the Metro area is getting more expensive. And there are many people who have a suite in their basement, not for any extra cash, but as the way to pay for the property taxes, which are now approaching the north side of $10,000 a year in many places.  There is tax relief for houses that are valued at under 1.2 million dollars, but the regional benchmark price is now 1.4 million as of May 2016. Most housing is worth more than 1.2 million dollars now.

Once you hit 55 years of age, you can defer your property taxes and pay a low rate of interest. The real problem is for folks who live in houses that are suddenly worth more than 1.2 million dollars, and are, well, young.

Stephen Quinn in the Globe and Mail describes this dilemma this tongue in cheek way:

Yes the owners of single-family houses…who disproportionately suck up municipal services, who encourage sprawl and who are essentially subsidized by condo dwellers and other people who live in more ecologically responsible homes, are under attack”.

Mayor Darrell Mussatto of the City of North Vancouver has asked the Province to separate single-family houses from condominiums and multiple-unit dwellings so owners of single-family homes could get a tax break. However, it is single-family residences that have received the large equity lift, not condominiums and multiple-unit dwellings. Since single-family homes consume more services such as roads, sidewalks and infrastructure, they should be paying more. Real estate guru and developer Michael Geller agrees.

Stephen Quinn does make one very good point though-if people are paying property tax for a single-family dwelling assessed at a certain value, they should be selling the house at that value. That would be one way to maintain affordability in an upward market.

 

 

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The Globe and Mail has weighed in  with an article titled “Fatal Crossings” analyzing five years of data to ascertain why and how 163 pedestrians have died in the City of Toronto in the last five years. By the author Victor Biro’s calculations, that means that in Toronto on average  one pedestrian is hit on the street by a vehicle every four hours. It also means that a pedestrian on average  dies from a vehicular crash every ten days.

Just as Price Tags reported in the article entitled The Big Toll Paid by Vulnerable Road Users published on May 31st, the way people  are killed on the roads is a major public health issue. That is why the Chief Medical Officer of British Columbia, Dr. Perry Kendall has written a report Where the Rubber Meets The Road: Reducing the Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes on Health and Well-being in British Columbia, addressing the deaths of 280 people a year and the maiming of 79,000 others on roads in this Province.

As Dr. Kendall states, this is a health emergency. His report and his advice, which included lowering speed limits were dismissed by authorities like the Canadian Automobile Association, which were interviewed  for their reaction. However evidence clearly proves that the survivability for a pedestrian or cyclist hit at 30 kilometers per hour is 80 per cent, while the survivability for a pedestrian or cyclist hit at 50 kilometers per hour is 10 per cent.  Somehow the intransigence of the car lobby is more important than that of the vulnerable road user who is also sustainably participating in active transportation.

The Kendall report cites the human factors contributing to fatal crashes as speed, distraction and impairment.  Toronto, which is preparing a road-safety plan realizes “that protecting pedestrians will require a fundamental shift in mindset, one that challenges the car culture and the unspoken attitude that traffic fatalities are an unavoidable reality of urban living”.

And there you have it. The Globe and Mail noted that a significant proportion of pedestrians killed were over 65. They were hit by a larger vehicle. They were typically crossing an arterial road. And not surprisingly in the suburbs and at a location without a traffic signal or cross walk. At either 30 kilometers an hour or 50 kilometers an hour, seniors are three to four times more likely to die than a younger person.

Reporter Victor Biro admonishes Toronto for “focusing its efforts at spots that have proved dangerous, a reactive approach that effectively means that pedestrians have to die or be seriously injured before drivers will be made to slow down”.  The warrant system  used in the City of Vancouver is similar. Provincial funding  for intersections is made available based upon the accident and mortality rates garnered  from the provincial Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) statistics.  As in the case where a family of four were hit by a vehicle in an intersection in Surrey earlier this year, an intersection is not deemed suitable for  a safety upgrade until the human toll has been paid.

With an aging population, many of whom  will be walking instead of driving, moving more slowly and with impaired hearing and sight, road safety is paramount. In Toronto 24 per cent of the population will be senior by 2041. There is an argument that enhancing walkability means universal accessibility for all, and enhances active transportation. In the same manner as creating separated bike lanes for those eight to eighty years, we should be enhancing safe, comfortable walking facilities for those six to 106. Their lives depend upon that.

 

 

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