ASK PAT: the Missing Link

Tom asks—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask Pat: The Q’boro edition

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

Shaji asks—

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

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

Dan asks—

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask Pat: Q2Q Ferry

I am a little behind on my Ask Pats, I apologize. there are a few in the queue, but work, life, and an amazing array of community events have kept me away from the computer keyboard. I’ll try to catch up.

BoatRidesAreFun asks—

Hi Pat,

Any updates on the Q2Q ferry that was supposed to open July 1? I haven’t seen anything happening at either of the docks.

The ferry has been a challenge. This is one of those times I am glad I am an Elected Type setting unreasonable expectations for staff, and not City Staff trying to meet the unreasonable expectations of the elected types!

The good news is the the trial is ready to go, and will be starting this weekend. The Ferry will run on weekends and holiday Mondays in August and September from 9:00am to 7:00pm, and from 5:00pm to 9:00pm every Friday in August. It will run every 20 minutes, and will cost a Loonie or a Twoonie. The route will be from the Quay (near the Inn) to the public dock on the south side of Port Royal. The bad news is that the limitations of the project as a “pilot” will mean it falls short of some expectations, and that could benefit from some background explanation, so I am glad you asked.

Running a passenger ferry turns out to be a much more complicated process than you may think. You need a boat and operator, you need (at least) two places for it to dock, and you need permission from several different agencies responsible for keeping people from drowning as a result of poor planning.

The first issue was surprisingly hard to solve. The Fraser River is a dynamic, working waterway. There are tides reaching 9 feet in range, and tidal and river currents that flow in different directions up to 10 knots. These currents shift lots of hazardous debris like large logs. There are also tugs, barges, and large ships moving around the river. The little tubs used to shuffle tourists around the relatively safe tidewater of False Creek were not going to work on the Fraser. Something more skookum (to use the nautical term) was required. The more requirements the City put on a boat (number of passengers, weather protection, accessibility, room for bicycles, operating cost), the more limited the number of available boats just sitting round BC waiting for hire.

Then we need two places to dock the boat. Installing a new dock facility in tidewater in Canada is not a simple process, as it activates everyone from the local Port Authority to the Marine Carriers and environmental agencies including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. For a short-term trial, the City really needed to find already-existing docks.

Ferry_Map(1)

The public dock at Port Royal was there and available, but designed for small pleasure craft, not to accommodate a passenger ferry. Significant changes would intrude into water lots owned by Port Metro Vancouver, who were helpful and accommodating, but had their own safety and operational concerns that had to be addressed. On the Quay side, the only functional docks are operated by the Inn at the Quay (where the paddlewheeler tours launch from) and the industrial dock operated my Smit. Again, both had challenges with accommodating their established operations with a new every-20-minutes group of passengers, many of whom are not that accustomed to walking around industrial marine operations, and who will create no end of hassles if they fall into the drink and get dragged downstream. Again, a deal was worked out and operational concerns managed.

At this point, City Staff need to be acknowledged for managing a significant number of potential game-stoppers here, but in the compromises required to make this work are the inherent flaws in the final plan. During this summer, we are going to have the trial ferry service that was possible, not necessarily the one we want.

When I think about connecting the Quay to Queensborough, I am not thinking of it as a tourist draw or a piece of recreation programming, I am thinking of it as a vital transportation link. To be such a link, it need to be reliable, available for daily users, and fully accessible. The trial ferry is going to fall short of this. The high tide range and reliance on existing dock infrastructure means it will not be fully accessible to those with some mobility challenges at all tide stages. Running the ferry only on weekends with limited hours means it will not be useful for work commuters wanting to get from Port Royal to Downtown or Skytrain. The limited hours will further cause people crossing the river for diner and a drink to look closely at their watches while waiting for the bill to arrive. The City recognizes these limitations, but also recognizes the value of getting this project running to see how the public reacts.

In the end, I hope people will appreciate this is a test-of-concept trial, and not the ultimate solution to connecting Queensborough to the Quay. Its successes may be limited, but there has already been a lot learned by the City just in setting up the service, and there will be much learned during its limited run, both in it’s success and where it falls short of expectations. I hope that people on both sides of the North Arm will come out to support this pilot, and provide your constructive feedback to the City, so that we have useful info to inform planning for a more permanent solution.

Ask Pat: 22nd St.

W asked—

What are the exact details and status for the increased density rezoning plans around the 22nd St. Skytrain Station?

Funny you should ask that, we just had a Council Workshop where we discussed the Land Use Map around 22nd Street and Connaught Heights. You can read the Report at this link, and follow the conversation at Council on video here.

First off, I need to correct the premise of your question a bit. What the City is doing now is an Official Community Plan update. The OCP is the overarching planning document for the City, which guides how the City develops over the long-term. It will inform how future rezonings are managed, but it is not the same thing as rezoning.  There are a few steps between then and now, which I will outline a bit further down.

The Council discussion was wide-ranging, although there was a pretty strong consensus on the major components of the Land Use Map, and Council unanimously approved the adoption of “Option 1” for the final Land Use Plan map:

22ndStLandUsePlanOpt1

This option would see up to 6 residential towers build on both sides of 7th Ave between 20th and 22nd, with a commercial node built into the pedestals, and the development of 7th Ave into a true commercial street. There would also be multi-unit residential buildings on two adjacent blocks (think 4-6 story wood frame buildings with underground garages) and a general shift to small townhouse developments south of Edinburgh Street. The townhouses are envisioned to be “infill” type, meaning smaller 6-8 unit townhouse (strata) or rowhome (fee simple) developments that will be designed to blend in with adjacent retained single family homes. This is very different than the neighbourhood-wide large townhouse development style we have seen at Port Royal and around Royal Oak Station.

Included in the Council Report were summaries of the various stages of public consultation, including the most recent discussions with the Connaught Heights neighbourhood about the proposed density increases. There was a wide range of opinions presented, and some significant concerns raised, but none of them specifically surprising. Traffic, green space, community amenities – these are all things that need to be accounted for when we start to contemplate increased density at the west end of the City.

There is also some recognition that previous efforts to bring more density to the area have not been successful. Some of that area has been designated for multi-family since the last OCP was adopted almost two decades ago, and no-one has come in to build that density. This, along with a general lack of housing variety in the Connaught Heights neighbourhood, have resulted in it being the only neighbourhood of New Westminster that had no population growth over the last two censuses. As part of the regional vision of building density around SkyTrain stations and major transportation hubs, this is a place New Westminster is falling short.

The proposal by staff to address the issues raised is to start a Master Planning process for the neighbourhood. This is a high-level but relatively intensive planning process where distribution of housing, transportation, commercial spaces, and amenities are designed based on a set of development principles developed by the community. It is not dissimilar from the process that larger development projects like Victoria Hill and Sapperton Green are designed through collaboration between City Staff and a developer. The only difference in this case is that there is no developer involved yet, so the City and the neighbourhood can work fairly freely to create a set of expectations for future developers to meet.

So “rezoning” and density increases at 22nd Street Station are still a bit of a way off, and there will be some significant neighbourhood consultation before any shovels hit the dirt (starting with a Public Hearing in early Fall to facilitate final approval of the OCP). However, the City will, in passing the OCP and launching this Master Planning process, send a pretty strong message that this density is on its way.

Ask Pat: Medicine Hat

Alice asks—

Is there any reason the Medicine Hat approach of reducing Homelessness in their city can’t be applied to New Westminster? I know it has been said senior gov’t needs to step up but the Medicine Hat strategy involved very little additional funding from senior gov’t. Their population and homeless population appear to be in line with New West.

This is one of the areas of the City’s operations where I have had to climb a pretty steep learning curve. We have Councillors and a Mayor with much more knowledge of this than I do (and some pretty stellar staff, as a bonus), but I’ll take a dive at answering this with that caveat in mind, and keep myself open to correction from those with more knowledge.

Essentially, the Medicine Hat model is based on “housing first” – the idea that if we can first get homeless people into shelter, regardless of how temporary it is, we can get them services they need and start the process of moving them to more permanent and sustainable housing options, and (this is the bigger hope) access to services to help them manage the underlying cause of most homelessness – disabilities, trauma, exploitation, and mental health concerns including addiction. This has been standard operating procedure in New Westminster for a decade or more. So why is Medicine Hat different?

Medicine Hat is a rural community, so it’s 61,000 residents are surrounded by farms and wilderness. New Westminster’s 70,000 people are in the middle of an urban population of 2,500,000 people. New Westminster needs to work along with its neighbours and operate within that reality. That is both an advantage to New Westminster, and a disadvantage.

In Medicine Hat, the most recent homeless count put their numbers at about half the average of the province of Alberta on a per-capita basis. The numbers provided in 2016 news stories estimate there were 875 people moved to supportive housing over the six years of their aggressive program – one for every 70 residents. Extrapolate that to Greater Vancouver, and we would need to facilitate 36,000 supportive housing units in the same period – 6,000 per year. To make this work, the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society received $3.9 million from the province of Alberta (plus about 10% that amount from a combination of the federal and local governments). It is clear the province of Alberta, even during difficult financial times, fulfilled their constitutional responsibility to provide housing. Extrapolate that to the Lower Mainland, and this becomes another boring post about lack of Provincial resources and the terrible priorities of the BC Liberals…

However, there is a persistent problem we have in the Lower Mainland that makes us stand out, and with which “Housing First” is of limited help: the flow of people being forced into homelessness by our out-of-scale housing costs, the erosion of our housing support programs (including the Co-op Housing model), lack of resources for people at risk (aging out of care, coming out of incarceration, or leaving protracted medical care), and our ongoing lack of rental vacancy. To avail oneself of “Housing First” assistance in BC, one first has to be homeless, which is like addressing gun violence by buying bandages: it has a value and is measurably effective, but does not address the source of the problem. This is a terrible way to organize public resources, but more importantly, it completely dehumanizes of the actual problem.

Which brings me back to the Medicine Hat miracle I keep reading about in the news. Considering it is not particularly groundbreaking in approach, and aside from the resources put into it, it’s success is not outstanding compared to many municipalities (including New Westminster), I wonder about the narrative of its success. I do not want to take even the tiniest bit of credit away from the City, the not-for-profits, or programmers (paid and volunteer) who put their lives work into helping less fortunate people, but there is a part this makes me twitchy.

Google any story of the Medicine Hat Homelessness approach, and you hear some version of the same narrative: how the “fiscally conservative” Mayor was convinced to support the program, because it turns out paying to put people in housing saves the City and the Province money in the long run. Now, this is true; so well established it isn’t even a point of debate, but quotes likes this fire my cynicism gland:

“It makes financial sense. That’s how I had my epiphany and was converted. You can actually save money by giving somebody some dignity and giving them a place to live.” – Mayor Clugston

The fact that a leader describes his decision to provide basic human dignity to marginalized residents of his community in terms of its ability to turn fiscal profit is abhorrent to the way I view governance and society. Maybe he is just saying that to keep the Randian libertarians in his town off of his ass, or perhaps it speaks deeply of the state of western Canadian politics and the erosive influence of Calgary School neo-liberal fiscal policy projected by “Think Tanks” like the Fraser Institute on governments at all levels… I’m about to go on a long rant here, so perhaps I will save that for a future blog post… but this economically-driven “come-to-Jesus moment” narrative sound more like cowardice than visionary leadership to me.

Short version is we, in New Westminster, are regional leaders in providing housing support to our homeless residents, and I will hold our success up against Medicine Hat’s any day (not that this is a contest – when it comes to supporting marginalized populations in this country, we are all losing). New West is forging partnerships with senior governments and investing in supportive housing, and we are providing City lands to develop innovative housing solutions. We have incredible staff and NWPD liaisons partnering with an amazing suite of not-for-profit agencies to address the multiple causes of (and solutions to) homelessness at a person-to-person level. We did this before it was sexy, and perhaps we don’t brag enough about it. More importantly, I would like to think we do it not becasue of some fiscal bottom line calculation, but because homeless people in New Westminster are citizens of New Westminster, who deserve representation for their elected officials, and should have the same access to support, dignity, and opportunity as everyone else.

Ask Pat: Taxes – the western suburbs edition

westvandude asks—

I read your property tax comparison article as I was looking to compare West Vancouver to City of Vancouver taxes. For instance if we say what is the total tax paid on a $2.5 or $3 million house in either community (so property tax, garbage, sewer, water, etc) as I always thought City of Vancouver was more expensive…. when you compare Vancouver streets potholes and snow removal it seems Vancouverites are getting ripped off. Where would I find a comparison for total taxes for same value houses?

Hey, wait, this isn’t a New West question! It also sounds like you want me to answer one of those questions that a few minutes on Google could answer. That link I just used is a little old, but fresher information is pretty easy to find. For example:

Go to the City of Vancouver Property Taxes webpage, and it gives you a pretty good summary of what your Mil Rates are, and where they go:

taxes1

Unfortunately, no such page exists that I can find on the West Vancouver property taxes webpage.

taxes2

To find the Mil Rates, you need to dig a bit through the Bylaws until you come upon Bylaw No. 4885, 2016, where the Mil Rates Rates are set out:

taxes3

If we can ignore Metro, School, and other property taxes that don’t go to the City and are set provincially or regionally, on a house assessed at $2.5 Million in 2016, you paid $3,700 to West Vancouver (2.5M/1,000 x 1.4758), and $3,900 to Vancouver (2.5/1,000 x 1.56168). Of course, we also have to, just for a moment, put aside the absurdity of the phrase “$2.5 Million house in West Vancouver”.

Utilities are more complicated. West Van charges Quarterly for water and sewer. Water has a $60/qtr base charge, and rates that go from $1.15 to $1.93 per cubic metre of water depending on how much you use. Sewerage further costs you $32/qtr plus another $2 per cubic metre of water you use.

Vancouver bills for water on a Ternary basis, with about a $31 base charge, and rates that go from $0.95 to $1.20 per cubic metre of water based on season. Sewage costs a further $0.87 per cubic metre of water use. So it sure looks like for most users, Vancouver water rates are quite a bit lower, but it depends completely on your use. If you have typical household use, Vancouver is several hundred dollars cheaper per year.

Notably, West Vancouver charges homeowners a “Drainage Levy”, which is $400 per year for a typical home. Vancouver does not have a charge like this. That extra $400 charge easily exceeds the difference in property taxes between the Cities. And also points out how the deeper you dig into the comparisons between how different cities pay for their public services, you discover that simply saying “Vancouver has higher taxes than West Vancouver” is a bit of a meaningless phrase. This is why I tried to compare what cities collect in taxes per capita, using data normalized a bit by the provincial government. West Van looks pretty expensive when you look at it that way.

Finally, about the roads and pothole thing, you can look at the 2016 West Van budget, and see they have about $100M in revenue every year, and spend about $4.5M on all engineering services (about 2/3 of that spent on roads). Vancouver’s 2016 Budget showed $1,260 Million in revenue and spending of about $75 Million in all engineering services – so about a 33% higher proportion of revenues. Of course, the roads that Vancouver spends money fixing are way more likely to be used regularly by a West Vancouver resident than vice versa. Also note that Vancouver has (almost) the most roads by area and the most road lane kilometres per capita than any City in British Columbia, where West Vancouver has relatively sparse roads. So we are, once again, comparing apples to pineapples here.

New West taxes? We are about average per-household in the region, and are well below average on a per-capita basis. And the potholes this year are terrible, despite the $4.5 Million spent on asphalt annually. That December snow event was pretty hard on asphalt, and that is going to cost us.

Ask Pat: $1 Transit?

Terran asked—

Hey Pat,
Hope I’m allowed to still ask questions even though I don’t live in New Westminster anymore. (I’ll be back once affordability comes back)

Translink recently started asking about transit fares again. This was a long time promise for the compass card that we could better manage the system. The survey is quite overly simplistic but that’s not my question more concern.

My question stems for the comments below the Facebook post they have for the survey. The idea of $1 transit fares comes up. Considering only ~35% of the budget comes from transit fares could this actually be a realistic option? I know I would switch from using my car if I could get to work for only a $1. Would the increased ridership even come close to off setting the huge loss in revenue? Is there even a way to know?

Sure, I’ll give you one free question since you used to live in New West. Wait – was that your question?

As you mention (and I talked about a bit a few weeks ago), TransLink is going through a Fare Review process right now. This is likely in response to the integration of the Compass Card as much as to a newfound opportunity for the next stage of system growth, as the Mayor’s Plan for a decade of capital investment may be back on track.

This review is not intended to boost or reduce fare revenues, only to re-jig the system to make it work better; to make it more “fair” or more user-friendly. The working model is that any adjustment would result in about the same revenue from fares, it will just be collected in different ways. The survey therefore was designed to collect people’s feelings about fare structures such as whether people who travel farther should pay more, or the entire system should be a flat fee, but is basically silent on what the actual flat fee or distance charge would be.

What you are suggesting is not just a “flat fee” model, but one that sets the fee quite a bit lower than it is now, in hopes that it will boost ridership. Considering the purpose of the survey, what would that rate have to be?

TransLink receives a little more than 1/3 of its operating revenue from the farebox, or about $510 Million of a $1.4 Billion budget. Aside from roads and bridges and all the other things TranLink does, they annually have about 240 Million journeys on the multi-modal transit system, or 360 million boardings (obviously, some portion of journeys results in more than one boarding, as a person may transfer from SeaBus to the SkyTrain, or from one bus to another on a single journey). So depending on whether you want to issue transfers or not, you would need to charge $2.15 per journey, or $1.45 per boarding.

So a dollar won’t be enough, but would this simple and cheap fare boost ridership enough to make up for it? At current service levels, there would need to be a doubling in the number of journeys on the system, or a 45% increase in boardings. Anyone riding a SkyTrain during rush hour or standing on a 106 recognizes this is not viable without a significant increase in service levels, which would require investments in the capital part of operations (buying more trains and buses), not just increased operational costs.

Perhaps there is some wiggle room in the idea of flat $2 fares per journey, one might speculate that this would provide a 7% increase in ridership to make up for the lost revenue per ride, but that brings us back to the fairness question: should a person riding the 106 from Columbia Street to Uptown pay the same amount as someone riding SkyTrain from Surrey to Downtown Vancouver? Which type of journey are we trying to incentivize more? These are the questions the current review is trying to address, even at a relatively simple level.

Calculating an optimum fare, one that incentivizes use but also provides enough ridership to maintain a system, is some difficult calculus, even putting aside the political implications of increasing the various tax subsidies to the system (or the massive tax subsidies to the alternatives). I don’t think we are going to get there through this fare system review.

And seriously, we really need to talk about how much you are spending on your car now. If $1 fares would sway you, perhaps you might want to crunch the numbers and see where $2.15 fares put you, financially. The sad reality is that, regardless of how much we subsidize cars, they are still surprisingly expensive to operate if you do the actual math.

Ask Pat: Rapid fire

Wingate asks—

So my condo went up 31 percent so i can expect another increase over and above the percentage increase council votes approved? My net taxes went up 18 percent couple years ago in 1 year. Can you tell me the projected loss for the Anvil centre this year? Also how much last year? When will I be able to pick up copy this years budget at city hall. I did read some good news recently, Ford is going to make hybrid Ford Explorer police vehicle in 2019, so our police can enjoy the comfort and safety of a large SUV and the tax payer can save money on fuel. (Is the propane the city is using exempt from the translink tax on gasoline, hence the savings in fuel)

I hope people will use that Ask Pat button up there to the right to get a little more feedback on how the City works, or to answer a question that is grinding at them. My goal is to help people feel more engaged in New Westminster, and at the same time provide me some content ideas for the blog. I haven’t really been able to keep up with them as they arrive, and there are still a few the queue, so let’s see if I can get through this one quickly.

Question 1: Yes, becasue the City-wide average increase was about 28.5%, so you should expect your taxes to increase 2.5% plus whatever increase Council votes upon. See details here.

Question 2: No. See more details here.

Question 3: No. ibid.

Question 4: Not sure if they print paper copies anymore, but our 5-year Financial Plan for 2017-2021 was officially passed on March 6, and should be available on our Financial Reporting webpage.

Question 5: I don’t think that is a question.

(Question 6: Yes. The Gas Tax collected by the province to to fund Translink operations is only charged on gasoline and diesel)

Ask Pat: Anvils and elephants

Duke of Belyea asks—

Hi Pat, perhaps the notion of the Anvil Center being a white elephant could be dispelled if you or the City could show the actual revenue/expense numbers for the facility.

First, on the premise, I disagree with you. Second, on the solution, I wish it was that simple.

I do not think critics of the Anvil Centre (or indeed critics of Council) will ever be convinced that it is anything but a white elephant. Specific residents of Coquitlam will write occasional long-winded factually-challenged screeds to the Record for some time, using the Anvil as an example of New Westminster’s failures, regardless of any success seen around or within the Anvil. That is just political bullshit theatre we need to live with, and facts will not change it, because the Anvil is more than building, it is a totem around which previous elections were fought and lost. Some people never stop fighting yesterday’s battles.

The premise further relies on measuring the success or failure of Anvil on a balance sheet of effort-in & revenue-out. I simply don’t see it that way. To explain that, we need to clarify what the Anvil is, and what a City does.

For one building, The Anvil Centre has purposes to fill a long paragraph (noting, for full disclosure, that I was not on Council when these conversations and decisions were made):

The Office Tower was conceived as an economic driver for Downtown, but since the City sold it off for more than it cost to build (success?), the City no longer had much say in how it is operated. The owners have every right to set their rent and manage their incentives any way they see fit, regardless of whether it serves the larger purposes of the City. The restaurant space is finally leased, and although later than we may have liked, I think we will have an operating restaurant that fills a niche in the City, brings attention to Columbia and 8th, and becomes a revenue driver for the City. I’m not sure how you measure the success of the shift of the Museum, Archives, and Lacrosse Hall of Fame to this venue. They have been relocated from various other locations to a central cultural hub, which also freed up space in those other venues. The New Media Gallery has quickly become one of the region’s most important artistic venues, drawing visitors and raves from around the region. Conference services are on or ahead of target for bookings and revenues, the program at the Theatre is (slowly) coming along, and the numerous arts and culture programs on the 4th floor are similarly starting to fulfill the original vision for activating the Arts in our City. All of these tangible purposes are wrapped up in the larger benefit of turning a windfall (the DAC funding) into a community asset to replace a failing retail strip at the renewed gateway to our central business district.

This brings us to your solution to the inevitable political push-back: a simple spreadsheet that outlines the costs and recoveries from the Anvil. I suppose it is doable, as the City’s Financial Plan and backing documents are openly reported, and every input and output is buried in those spreadsheets somewhere. But it would be really complicated, simply because the Anvil is not a single entity operating separate from the rest of the City.

The museum and archives have always cost money to operate; moving them to the Anvil doesn’t change that. The old Hall of Fame site is now home to a very popular and revenue-generating recreation program: is that success part of the Anvil, though it is located at the Centennial Community Centre? The City’s Arts Programmer works out of the Anvil, but also administers the City’s Public Art program, which is funded through a combination of fees, sales revenues, and taxes – how does that balance sheet overlap with Anvil’s? Even the Conference Services, which are a revenue-generation aspect of the Anvil, share resources with other departments (especially the theatre and our catering contractor), and rely on an integrated operation to be successful. There are staff who spend part of their time doing Anvil-related things, and part of their time working at other facilities, just as the toilet paper and photocopier toner at Anvil are bought as part of City-wide operations. The tax revenue for the office tower is higher than it was when the space was a one-story retail space, but that tax enters general revenue, and needs to be measured against opportunity cost if a private developer had taken over that site… the list goes on.

I guess it sounds like I am creating a list of excuses of why not, instead of addressing your original concern. Lyrical gentlemen from Coquitlam will accuse me of “spinning” the facts here for political reasons – the same way they would accuse any spreadsheet produced of doing the same thing. So if you want a spreadsheet to solve a political problem, I suggest it won’t work. So why spend valuable staff time producing it?

I tend to agree with one idea buried in your premise, and maybe an answer to that last question: we need to find a better way to share our financial information in the City. Although all reporting is “open”, I am afraid our efforts towards “transparency” is a little clouded by the complicated way that Public Service Accounting Standards are regulated and performed. Even as a City Councillor exposed to this stuff all day, I am sometimes challenged to create connections between line items in spreadsheets. There is a lot of Accountant Talk here, and with all due respect to the profession, they are no better than others at explaining to lay people just what the hell they are doing. I’m not sure what the answer is from a public engagement viewpoint, but suspect (hope?) we can do better. I’m just not sure it will ever be enough to satisfy some Letter-to-the-Editor authors, and maybe that shouldn’t be our goal. However, we do need to find ways to translate our financial reporting so residents and businesses can be confident that their money is being spent wisely.

I am pretty sure of one thing: any honest accounting would reveal the City spends more money on operations at the Anvil than it receives in revenue from Anvil operations. Just as it spends more money on the Canada Games Pool than revenue earned, or the all-weather playing field at Queens Park, or the Queensborough Community Centre, or the Library. I suppose there is a discussion that could be had about which of these operations community assets would need to show a financial profit to be considered “successful” in the City, but I don’t think that is where you were going with this question.

I also think there are improvements we can do to make Anvil run better, especially in opening up the first floor to more public use and making the entire centre more inviting. That is an ongoing discussion, and one very much worth having.

Ask Pat: The Sub

Eric asks—

Ahoy Capt. Re: Das Sub

Great the Quayside playground is up for a needed rebuild. Has “what do we do with the submarine” come up?

After all this item has quietly slipped into historic artefact/ community heritage resource status.

We all know it came from Expo ’86. What might not be as well known: it was from a West Edmonton Mall attraction (at the time the mall had more working subs than the Cdn. navy); at Expo it was part of the brilliant public art piece Highway ’86 by James Wise of SITE, a cutting edge design firm all us young architects were in awe of.

The sub was the largest of dozens of transportation, including a tricycle and an aeroplane, all painted matte grey and set on an undulating grey asphalt “road”.

How about we hand the sub over to the Public Art Cttee. to reprise/resurface it in a new location? Our local transpo crowd – including a certain councillor- might get right into it.

Yes, the topic of saving or moving the semi-Sub has come up. Staff have even spent a bit of time looking at potential options. However, at the risk of sounding like a boo-bird, I need to point out some of the significant technical challenges staff have related to me about trying to save and/or move the Sub.

The Sub can’t stay where it is. The storm drainage pipe under it needs to be excavated and replaced, that is not an optional thing, but something the City needs to get done before compete failure of the pipe and related flooding. Try trying to remove the sub in one piece presents several challenges (not to mention the unknown unknowns, to borrow a phrase). It will need to be separated from the foundation built to support it, and the entire concrete-over-steel structure would have to be lifted and moved, which if not done with great care (read: expense) may end the entire “in one piece” part of the discussion.

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The Submarine itself would need extensive restoration if it was to be made a permanent art installation, as the steel is not in great shape based on the concrete delamination and spalling – the piece was built for a 6-month installation 30 years ago. The modifications of it to install it in the park (removal of the wings, installation of the railing) probably didn’t help, nor did the various coats of paint that are now peeling off of, regardless is whether the concrete overcoast comes with it or not. We currently have no budget for, and have not even had evaluated, the form of this restoration, however safe to say it will be significant.

We have nowhere to put the submarine. If we remove it, we would need to find a place to store it where it can be protected from the elements, and where restoration work can happen. Unless a generous benefactor with spare warehouse space was to come along, I’m not sure where we can do this.

Finally, and this is, unfortunately, the biggest issue with all of the above – we have very little time to get the pipe replacement work done. As much of the drainage involves an excavation within the wetted area of the river, the work needs to be done within a “fisheries window” – a short period of time when Fisheries and Oceans Canada have given us permission to do the work in order to minimize the disruption of fisheries habitat and the injury of fish. Again, this is not something we have any control over, and that is creating a very, very tight timeline for the work, and it will be starting very soon. An extra week or two to design, coordinate and execute a potentially delicate removal plan for a piece we have no long-term plans for would be perilous. Never mind trying to find the (estimated – with significant contingency) tens of thousands of dollars to do the removal work.

As for the Heritage value, there already was a preliminary assessment of the Sub. The value is considered very limited and “sentimental”, but not representing a significant heritage artifact. Its provenance is not New Westminster, and it is separated from its context. Although there are legends about a connection to West Edmonton Mall, in reality the submarine was the only machine of the 200 that made up the Highway 86 installation that wasn’t a real, operating machine before it was installed. It is a semi-sub; half of a fake boat. The “U” in this U-boat stands for “Unecht”. You get the message.

That said, on kitsch value alone I’m not opposed to the idea, and wish we had more time to allow someone passionate about such a plan to cook up a solution to the above concerns. Problem is, this project has been discussed and on the books for many months (including a few public consultation rounds and public meetings), and the topic of saving the submarine has not been put forward as an important component of the engineering work or playground replacement. I also touched bases with a few people in the Publci Art realm, and they were… underwhelmed. Unfortunately, we are now well past the eleventh hour, and jeopardizing the timeline and budget of the planned work for the site at this point would be irresponsible.

So in sumary, I’m going to suggest this is an interesting idea, likely impractical, definitely costly, and probably undoable considering the pressures on the City to get the engineering work at the Quayside done. I would suggest the submarine is finally heasded off towards the sunny horizon it has pointed at for more than a generaiton: the metal recycling and junkyards south of the Fraser.

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