UBCM 2019

This year’s Union of BC Municipalities meeting was a crazy week for me, and I didn’t report out right away because I got behind on e-mail and council stuff and my other work and enough excuses I have a bit of time this weekend so here we go. Being a month and a half after actual event, I will try to keep this short, and if you want to hear longer details about what happens when a couple of thousand local government types get together and talk policy, you will have to buy me a beer, I guess.

Yes, there is a socializing/networking part to UBCM like any convention. It is often inspiring to meet your cohort from other Municipalities, like the super cool and visionary leadership of the District of Squamish.

The annual UBCM conference has several different elements for most participants, but I am going to skip past the AGM and appointment of executive stuff that is pretty inside baseball. The big three elements, and the reason we are all there, are the resolutions, the workshops, and the meetings. With so much going on, it is impossible to attend them all, but here were my experiences this year:

The Meetings: The City of New West had official meetings with several Ministers and senior provincial government staff to discuss specific issues. We share the load between my Council colleagues a bit on these meetings, so I was not able to attend them all. I did get to take part in the meeting with the Premier to discuss some aspects of our capital and strategic plans, and ways we thought the province could help us achieve them (and, of course, how us achieving them helps the provincial government meet some of their goals!). I’m not sure of the Premier deciding to put on his Victoria Shamrocks cap as he saw the New West contingent enter the meeting room was a good sign. New West Council also met with Ministers to discuss the future of the Massey Theatre site, the state of Indigenous Courts in New West, and the urgent need for support in building Child Care in New West.

I also serve a role on the executive of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, which is kind of a professional association for local government elected officials and acts as a sort of local chapter of the UBCM serving the Greater Vancouver, Fraser Valley, and Sea to Sky areas. The Lower Mainland LGA has its own resolution sessions at our spring conference, and the Executive takes the highest-priority resolutions from the conference and requests meetings with the appropriate Ministers to lobby on the resolution topics.

Through this process, I was able to attend a meeting with senior officials in the Ministry of Environment, calling on them to match Local Governments’ commitment to climate action by declaring a Climate Emergency and consummate acceleration of their efforts to get BC in line with the emissions targets in the Paris Agreement. I took part in a meeting with the Attorney General asking for better support for the Indigenous Court System, with the Ministry of Transportation reiterating our need to make it easier for Local Governments to reduce speed limits within our jurisdictions, and with the Minister of Finance to discuss expansion of the vacancy tax and speculation tax programs. Finally, we had a meeting with the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation where he and his staff outlined the Province’s intentions in introducing UNDRIP legislation.

The Resolutions:
This is the part of UBCM where the group collectively calls on senior governments to change policy or provide funding. The UBCM resolutions session is a bit of a gong show, not in the least because there were more than 200 resolutions on the agenda this year. As the meeting has a fixed schedule, there was no chance we would get through them all. Some are moved through a “consent” block, but some others take a long time to work through as amendments and debate are inevitable, especially when talking about potentially divisive topics like whether we are killing the planet and maybe should do something about that.

Yes, they literally throw you on the Big Screen when delegating on resolutions. It’s true what they say about TV adding 5 pounds to your beard.

New Westminster had seven (7!) resolutions, but only 6 were being considered:

B80: Declaration of Employee Compensation as Part of Annual SOFI Reporting was endorsed by the Membership. This was covered a bit here, and I was happy to hear that the members of UBCM supported this move to reduce harassment in our workplaces, especially for our public-facing workers.

B109: Fresh Voices #LostVotes Campaign call to open up voting in local elections to Permanent Residents was endorsed by the membership after a hearty debate lead by Councillor Nakagawa, and framed brilliantly by Councillor Sharmarke Dubow of Victoria.

B174: Investments in Local Government and Not-For-Profit Seniors’ Services and Supports;
B184: Creation of the Office of the Renters Advocate;
B194: School Bus Safety; and
B207: Support of Indigenous Court System.
None of these resolutions made it to the floor for debate. Simply put, the resolution session ran out of time, before these items got to the floor. We had about 220 resolutions (plus more than 60 “C” category resolution, see below), and only got through the first 168. These resolutions are “referred back to the Executive”, which means for the most part, they will disappear into a black hole. Some we may try to bring back next year.

C14: #AllOnBoardCampaign. This was the City of New West joining the call on the Province to make transit more equitable by removing fares for those under 18 years of age and to address the punitive structure of fare evasion fines for youth and those with low or no incomes. As a “C” category resolution, it was put aside in favour of another resolution that was thought to materially address the same topic. In this case, the UBCM resolutions committee saw Resolutions B113 and B114 by Burnaby (which addressed youth and restorative justice in fines, and increasing the low-income transportation subsidy, respectively) as being a more comprehensive approach to the issue, which is, in the technical term, bullshit. So we will have to go again next on this one with a better-structured resolution.

Alas, the resolutions session at UBCM is both exciting and frustrating. I can’t help but feel there needs to be a refresh of how resolutions are prioritized, and how the session is managed, as letting half of the resolutions die on the floor for lack of time is unsatisfactory to everyone. There is also a strange dichotomy of debate on the floor. I pledge next year to do a “slippery slope count” for how many times that phrase is used in an argument to not make change because it implies some sort of endorsement of much larger change. Not only is the “slippery slope” a logical fallacy – indeed I think it is the only logical fallacy we actually name while we make it – I think it is too often used to defend a status quo that even the delegate admits is not functional. Ah, governance.

Workshops:
This is the most typical “conference” part of the conference, where there are workshops and forums that let local government types find out what is happening around the province, what legislation is changing, what we could do better or stop doing badly so we can be better at our jobs.

Yes, passenger vehicles are a complex legislative framework in Canada and BC. And it is all going to have to change.

I attended a Policy Session on Ride Hailing “Passenger Directed Vehicle Services” legislation that was a bit of a hot mess, as it is clear that the provincial government is trying to responsibly regulate an industry whose business model is based on lack of regulatory oversight, and the audience’s essential message was “I want” despite the regulatory hurdles – which is a weird piece of cognitive dissonance for elected officials. I attended a Plenary on BC’s Energy Futures where the need to take immediate and meaningful action on climate was moderated against not asking a few “resource dependent” communities to change.Yes, this is a Panel on Energy Policy in local government featuring some powerful and intelligent local leaders, and some guy from Langley who was there for undefined reasons.

I was at the Large Cities Forum, where the dominant topic of conversation was clearly the housing crisis and the housing affordability crisis. I attended a workshop in the changing face of waste management and recycling as this area is shifting fast as the amount of waste we are generating is starting to increase again at the same time as global markets for recycling products is shrinking, and what that means for the targets we have set. I also attended a Cabinet Town Hall on Infrastructure investment.

there are always lots of bar charts at UBCM, and like every Homer ever, I am always looking to see how we measure up, even in the bad news statistics.

We heard addresses by the Premier (well done, funny at times, nothing ground-breaking, and clearly more directed towards the more rural communities present), the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Leader of the Green Party. The star of the room, however, was Selena Robinson, who as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is clearly getting a lot done and is building a lot of respect across party lines for the work she is doing.

I took part in the BC Municipal Climate Leadership breakfast with members of the Council and representatives from all three Provincial parties to discuss the alignment of local and provincial goals towards climate action. I am also the Chair of the Community Energy Association, so I was tasked with a bit of Awards Ceremony MCing, as the Minister of Energy and Mines handed out Climate and Energy Action Awards to local government across the province that have done exceptional work or are breaking new ground on reducing energy use and GHG emissions in their community.

So, yeah, looking back, it was a busy three days.

#ELXN2019

The election is over, and it ended with a bit of a whimper. I have been immersed in this election for a few months and have many resultant notions bouncing around in my head, so better to get them down on paper bits so I can sleep again at night. That said, I am not much of a political pundit, and am willing to lose an argument over beers on any of the points I raise below. If nothing else, it will be fun to read in two years when everything I say below is proved wrong.

I was not too surprised by the nationwide result. Even the day before the election I was thinking (and MsNWimby can attest to my many shifts of opinion about this) that a Liberal majority was still in the cards, based mostly on their apparent strength in the 905 and the Maritimes. Against my own advice, I allowed the poll aggregators to sway my betting pool entry, and under-guessed their strength. The full strength of the BQ surge was not something I saw coming through, and was more of a surprise to me than the fully-expected but nonetheless-satisfying no-show by the racists (may we never speak their name again). Scheer won the 32% Conservative base, and not a single vote more. I suspect he will be replaced as Leader before he gets another chance. Make no mistake, that is the long game of Jason Kenney’s silly “Alberta will separate” rhetoric, and when Kenny’s knives come out for Scheer, it is going to be a milk bath. May’s campaign was also likely to be her last, though she picked up a seat (notably in a jurisdiction where the only clinic offering abortion services is closing due to lack of public funds – coincidentally?), she is clearly bumping up against the ceiling of support she can bring the party, and needs to step aside for some new vision.

I already publicly threw my lot in with Jagmeet and do feel he was the breath of fresh air in this election, but I’m not going to sugar-coat a loss of 20 seats by pretending it is a victory. There are bright lights across the country, and the NDP indeed did elect members in every region, but 24 seats is a disappointment. That a terrible ultra-conservative parachute candidate with no apparent ability to remember her own party’s platform eaked out a victory over a dedicated hard working ass-kicker of a community leader like Bonita Zarrillo may be my biggest disappointment of the night. If the surge branded as the #upriSingh really extended past the base, Bonita would have taken that riding, as would have Ruth Ellen Brosseau in Berthier-Maskinong and Svend Robinson in North Burnaby. The poll surge was visible, but it may have reflected only the base coming back to camp after a bit of time in the wilderness. Singh’s growth may have just represented the progressive faith that many lent to Trudeau last election coming back to the NDP, as more people recognize that Trudeau’s “progressivness” is as skin deep as his Indigenous-themed tattoo.

The NDP gained come power in this loss (what is the opposite of Pyrric Victory? Lavenic Defeat?). I think the result that gives Liberals and NDP together that crucial 170+ seats is one that will lend itself to some stability (along with the inevitable Conservative milk bath mentioned above). In contrast to a formal coalition, a Confidence and Supply Agreement as was worked out in BC may be a positive path forward, if the peoples in the backrooms of both federal parties are mature enough to get that work done. But is suspect minority rule will be the model, with the opportunity to make some positive progressive change through this, including finally seeing the Liberals honour their many promises on National Pharmacare. Any talk of a potential referendum on Electoral Reform would have to be tempered by the recognition that such a measure would be doomed from the start, and would only serve to entrench the inequity that gives the NDP 7% of the seats with 18% of the vote.

Locally, Peter Julian was no surprise, and it should be no surprise as he is an eminently electable guy, a hard worker, and a strong campaigner. Will Davis had an impressive lawn sign budget, but no other visible demonstration of a campaign or local bona fides, aside from leveraging the New West Progressive campaign “machine”. Megan Veck was another capable spaceholder for the Conservatives in town, aptly drawing their 20% vote base. Suzanne de Montigny showed up at every event, and put in a serious effort, but the positive Green campaign narrative was hampered by her random attacks on the NDP, culminating in a social media accusation of “corruption” in the last weekend of the campaign because she got an anonymous phone call she didn’t agree with. So aside from a couple of notable all candidates events no-shows by both Davis and Veck, there wasn’t much of a local campaign story, and the general lack in vote shift reflected that:

Percentage of vote in New Westminster – Burnaby riding, 2015-2019 Federal Elections.

BTWW 2019

My ride to work for Bike To Work Week yesterday was pretty typical. Nice weather for a 20km ride, and 4 people attempted to murder me.

One was a person in an SUV blowing through a stop sign into my path on a residential Vancouver street, which was easy to forgive because she gave me that ubiquitous “oops” wave. One person pulled a bone-headed u-turn right in front of me as I am going down a hill on another designated bike route in Vancouver, causing me to lock up both wheels on slick streets. No “oops” wave this time, but he did give me a dismissive spin of his tires as he shot away from the scene, which I guess is acknowledgement. One was an attempted dooring on a traffic-calmed bike route, followed a few hundred metres later by a guy in a CLK brush-passing me at 50km/h when I try to stay out of the door zone on another traffic calmed bike route. I foiled them all.

There were also two places where City works crews (one in Burnaby, one in Vancouver) chose to completely close off a relatively safe bike route with no warning and no indications of alternative routes in order to do horticulture work, which is kinda a nice nod to Bike to Work Week.

There were also three places where I was forced to make sketchy moves on the bike because of horrid cycling infrastructure failures. One infrastructure failure in Burnaby is a long-standing grievance at Royal Oak station that will get someone killed eventually. Another is the relatively new one in Burnaby I have already lamented, that the City of Burnaby has now made even worse with the addition of a pedestrian fence. The third one is related to recent construction at the Nanaimo Skytrain Station in Vancouver that has been there for a few months, and seems like it may continue to be there for a very long time. All three of them are adjacent to or near transit stations, so perhaps I should be complaining to TransLink? But not one of them would be acceptable, or last this long, if it was cars forced to make the sketchy move. If drivers were forced to even lighten up slightly on the gas pedal for a brief moment, there would be signs and flagging people and traffic studies. Because even where cycling routes meet transit stations in pedestrian-heavy areas adjacent to popular parks, it is cars that are accommodated first, and the rest of us can fuck right off and get killed. In the context of a ride where several people in cars did actually try to kill me, these little grievances and seemingly minor inconveniences start to grind your gears.

But I’m tired of complaining. And I’m tired of hearing that “scofflaw cyclists” are the bane of urban areas. I’m tired of reading study after study showing that pedestrians and cyclists are getting killed by cars at increasing rates at the same time that driver fatalities are going down. I am tired of Police and ICBC telling me to make eye contact and dress up like a Christmas tree or I had it coming when some asshole left hooks me. I am tired of the profound gap between the lack of responsibility that the people who choose to use cars feel, and their absolute righteousness around their use of cars. I am tired of arguing for basic cycling infrastructure against the societal priority of (preferably free) storage of cars in all public space. I am tired of meetings at City Hall where the only time we discuss cycling infrastructure, it is in the context of how we can maybe afford some half-measure some time off in the future if it doesn’t irritate too many people, but we certainly can’t afford to build something that is safe, connected, and integrated. I’m tired of ceding so much space and energy and money and atmosphere to cars. I’m tired of us treating this City-destroying and planet-killing addiction like it is untreatable, or even beneficial. I’m sick and tired of car culture, of Motordom.

Cycling is making me tired. But it isn’t my legs that hurt, its my heart. I’m afraid that this weariness has taken away the joy I used to get from riding a bicycle.

Voting For

My regular readers (Hi Mom!) will not be shocked to find out I have a bias this Federal Election. Still, there are some people who follow me on social media or read this blog hoping to read about City Council stuff who get angry that I sully that with politics. Some feel that I need to bury my partisan opinions not that I am elected and pretend I support everyone’s ideas equally. If you fall in this camp, I respectfully disagree, and suggest you might want to skip this post and go on to another one where I am ranting about bike lanes or climate change or housing or some other “non-political” subject.

This election has had some holding their nose, but I feel fortunate that I have someone and something to vote for in this election. I have not always been a strong supporter of the NDP (a point one of the campaign managers in this election tried to make hay with when he was running against me in the Muni election – strangely not recognizing it undermined his own narrative that I was a hopeless partisan hack, but I digress…) but I have become a stronger one with each passing year.

At the Federal level, I was inspired by the strength, vision, and positivity of Jack Layton. I appreciate that it was Tom Mulcair who served as Judge, Jury and Executioner on the corruption of the Harper government and opened up the gap that Trudeau was ultimately more effective at filling in 2015. I can debate at length (and have!) the direction the NDP Campaign went that election, but the principles of the party, including speaking out strongly against the Hijab ban, stood in contrast to the alleged progressiveness of the Liberals, who predictably swerved back to the Right once elected. I have had the opportunity to meet, eat, and ride bikes with Jagmeet Singh, and am always amazed at his grace, his firmness of vision, and the intensity with which he listens. He sees people as good, and sees Canada as a force for good, and wants to see that vision realized. Dude is the real deal.

Fortunately, here in New West we are represented by Peter Julian, and it is easy for me to support him as well. He has a well-deserved reputation as one of the hardest working MPs. His busy Constituency Office here in New West has helped thousands of people address everyday problems with the federal government. He has spent more than a decade running seminars to help people with disabilities and other barriers assure they receive the benefits to which they are entitled in their income tax filings. Representing one of the most culturally diverse ridings in Canada, Peter has learned to greet constituents in dozens of languages (some put the count at 50) because he feels it is important that every resident of this riding feel welcome here. In Ottawa he is bringing forward issues that matter to this constituency, most recently including the Canadian Green New Deal bill he brought to Parliament, hoping we can begin to justly and fairly transition away from a fossil-fuel reliant economy.

I’ve got at least 1,000 more words about the other local candidates that I wrote a few times and deleted, because I am trying really hard to avoid negativity here. Perhaps I can sum it all up wondering where these people were before the election. Other parties parachuting in candidates with zero name recognition and no history working on issues in this community, only to have them avoid all candidates events and play duck-and weave with voters, will assure this remains an “NDP stronghold”. I see no effort by another party to develop a following, or even identify local leaders to carry their brand. Based on the last 5 years in this riding, it appears the NDP are the only party to take New Westminster seriously. After the election other parties will no doubt lament the NDP is unfair or too strong in New West, blaming voters for the work the parties and candidates themselves simply didn’t do to earn their votes.

No federal platform is perfect. There are things in the NDP platform I would like to see them push further on, and things I am critical of (e.g.: electric car subsidies are not great climate policy). Their housing plan is ambitious, and realistically relies less on incentivizing the market (which if done poorly only pushes prices up and is ultimately a better policy area for provincial and local governments) and instead emphasizes doing what Canadian governments did successfully in the decades between WW2 and Brian Mulroney: investing in subsidized housing to provide supply at the lowest parts of the affordability scale. The NDP Climate Plan pushes the edge of possibility (as it is now too late for half-measures) and rightfully centers the marginalized and those displaced by the inevitable economic shift. Their platform more holistically addresses Truth & Reconciliation than any other federal platform. The time for universal pharmacare and sliding-scale dental coverage is now, and will get our health care program up to speed with those provided in advanced European economies while ultimately saving the government and employers money. And we will pay for the (short-term) cost by taking the subsidies away from the companies that are using them to nuke our climate, and by charging more tax to very wealthy people. And, of course, the type of social investments the NDP are talking about are the type that actually grow an economy, not the type that the wealthy can squirrel away in the Caymans…

There is stuff in here for me to vote for, and lots of it.

So I count myself lucky. No holding my nose and no ill-informed strategic hedge betting. A local candidate who walks the walk and does the work, a federal leader I believe in, and a platform I can support. I voted NDP at the Advance Poll last Sunday morning and was enthusiastic in doing it, and on Monday I will be spending my time Getting out the Vote and thinking of a better Canada.

More recycling

There was a good letter in the Record that asked some questions about curbside recycling. So I thought I would try my best to answer them. They make reference to the current recycling yard is closing, if you are here wondering about that, I talked about that here. Short version: the road accessing the current recycling yard will most certainly NOT be accessible during most of the construction period for the Canada Games Pool replacement as it will be a hole in the ground for much of that time, so the City is working on some alternatives, and there will be more to report on this soon.

The most holistic answer to most of the questions in the letter is that the City of New Westminster does not operate in a vacuum, but is a relatively small community in a large, dynamic region. There are multiple jurisdictions involved in our solid waste systems, including Metro Vancouver (who manage all landfill waste and organic waste recycling) and the province (who manage paper and packaging recycling through Recycle BC). These operate alongside Extended Product Responsibility (EPR) programs (like oil waste management and tire recycling), and within a larger regional and global commodities market for the recycled materials, without which there would be no recycling at all.

So the answer to the question why is one type of thing collected at the curbside (newspapers and soup cans) and another is not (glass jars and Styrofoam) is because the organization that takes our recycling from us (be that a government agency, a commercial operation, or a hybrid of both) has the ability to dictate what they will and will not take as part of that commercial arrangement. If no-one will take a type of waste, has to go to landfill, so recycling relies on these agencies and businesses.

When we made the big shift to “comingled” recyclables a number of years ago, it necessarily sent us down a path where we were reliant on a certain type of Materials Recovery Facility to separate those wastes into material we can sell or have someone take off of our hands for a lower cost than sending the material to a landfill or the Burnaby incinerator. For example, the simplest reason why glass jars cannot go in comingled curbside recycling is because the newsprint and mixed paper has some value in the recycling market, and that value goes away if a little bit of broken glass is mixed in with it. We can sell recycled mixed paper for up to $85/Tonne (if we can find a customer, which is becoming harder as there is a significant oversupply of paper fibre right now), but if that paper is contaminated with a broken peanut butter jar, that paper is more likely going to landfill at a cost of $140/Tonne or more for disposal.

When it comes to “depot items”, there are a lot of things that cannot be recycled curbside, from waste paint to toasters to batteries, because handling them in a MRF is hazardous and results in contamination of potentially-recyclable materials. There may be a market for them if the initial separation of materials can happen, so they can;t go in the curbside bin, but can go in their own special bin in a collection point, be that London Drugs or a Return-It depot, or the tire store. This is why so much of our solid waste system regionally relies on education programs about recycling – what can got in curbside, and what can’t. Things that are “technically” recyclable become non-recyclable when they enter the wrong stream, and potentially make a bunch of other stuff not recyclable at the same time. As you allude to, putting technically recyclable stuff in the wrong stream may assuage guilt, it doesn’t help the environment.

Most of these technically-recyclable but not-at-the-curbside materials have multiple places they can be taken in New Westminster, including very likely, the place you bought the actual item. In my earlier post, I linked to this tool from Metro Vancouver that allows you to search for places where you recycle your wastes. There are a half dozen places in New Westminster where you can take Styrofoam or plastic shopping begs to recycle them. Glass jars can also go to a few places in town, but the commodity value of that waste glass is so low, that it is challenging to find anyone to take it. Of course, glass is environmentally inert and non-polluting, so aside from the cost ($140/Tonne +) there is little reason to divert it from the landfill, unless it can be brought into an industrial process like cement making at a lower environmental cost than other raw materials like crushed aggregate, but we are getting deep down the rabbit hole here…

The hardest part about this conversation for an environmentalist like me is the reaction you get when you tell people that recycling is not a particularly effective environmental intervention. For many materials, it simply makes no environmental or economic sense. “Reduce Reuse Recycle” is too often offered as a circular, as if they are all equal in weight when it comes to environmental sustainability. They should always instead be offered as a hierarchy. Reducing your use of single-use plastics and items that are difficult or impossible to recycle (and I am going to throw in here – economically unsustainable to recycle) should be your first priority.

If we are playing with “R” words, we can add “Refuse” – as in refuse to buy items that are packaged in unsustainable ways, and “Rechoose” – as in seek out products and formats that don’t create hard to recycle waste. We have been well trained as a society to think about recycling at the time when we are finished with a product, but we are terrible at thinking about it at the time we purchase something. I suspect our reliance on (even blind faith in) EPR programs was part of this problem. 

Trip Diary 2

In my recent post about the TransLink Trip Diary data release, I talked about how the use of cars in New Westminster is going down. Even as our population grows, the number of people using cars to get around is stable, and the actual number of car trips generated by New West residents on the average day is going down.

I also wrote this does not mean there are fewer cars on the road, or that traffic is getting better, because New Westminster is in the centre of a connected region, and that region is growing. Unfortunately, New Westminster’s decrease in car use is not being seen across the region, and our roads and livability are being  impacted by those trips generated mostly from the south and east of us.

All but three municipalities in the Trip Diary data had an increase in car trips, and the combined number of regional trip increased by more than half a million trips a day between 2011 and 2017. This is only slightly offset by the combined decrease in trips seen in New West, West Van and White Rock:

There are a couple of other ways to look at this data, using percentages instead of raw numbers. If there are 520,000 new car trips across the region, this pie shows the percentage of that total traffic load that is generated by each municipality:

So no surprise Surrey and Vancouver lead the way in new car trips, as they are the largest municipalities, nor is it surprising that 50% of the new trips are generated South of the Fraser, and most trips are generated in areas where the region has spent billions of dollars building new freeway infrastructure and new river crossings.

But what about population growth? The South of Fraser an northeast communities are growing fastest, so it makes sense that their car trips will increase in correlation with this, right? More people = more trips is the meme I challenged last post, and it clearly is not the case for New West, but how true is that across the region? The blue bars here represent the percentage increase in car tips between 2011 and 2017, and the red bars represent the population increases over the same time period (2011 – 2017) from the BC Government stats page:

Note that in almost every municipality, car trip numbers are increasing at a faster rate than population. In Port Moody and North Vancouver District – two communities where the councils are using increased traffic congestion as a reason to slow or halt new housing – actual population did not significantly increase over that 6-year period (the fact they show a slight decrease in population is quirk in how BC Population stats are estimated between census years), yet this did not prevent car trips increasing. The short point:

Car trips and resultant congestion do not correlate with local population changes.

I leave you to speculate about what is happening in White Rock and West Vancouver, two municipalities where population has been stagnant or decreasing for a decade, and neither specifically transit-oriented relative to those of us sprinkled along the Rapid Transit spines, but both seeing much reduced car use. Each has its own tale to tell as West Vancouver had a significant increases in walking and transit use to balance out to about the same number of total trips, while the entire trip count for White Rock across all modes went down significantly. This graph shows the percentage increase or decease in each mode for all Cities, and you can’t help but wonder what people in White Rock are doing at home all the time: 

Also note the latest data was collected not long after the opening of the Evergreen Line, but before the changes that have come with the Mayor’s 10-year Plan investments, which has brought more and more reliable bus service across the region, both in undeserved and overcrowded areas. It is also worth noting that the 2011 data was before the opening of the expanded Port Mann Bridge, and the 2017 data was from the very time when tolls on that bridge were being removed, so the longer term impact on transportation patterns related to toll removal are muted here. Like all surveys, this represents a snapshot in time, and only by collecting this type of data over a longer period can we see the long-term trends our transportation policy is creating.

Trip Diary

The venn diagram overlap of transportation geeks and data geeks shines brightest when Trip Diary numbers are released. So despite the zillion other things I have to do, I sat down for some Excel Spreadsheet fun this weekend to look at what the Trip Diary data release tells us about New Westminster.

The Translink Trip Diary is a survey-based analysis of how people in Greater Vancouver get around. Unlike the Canada Census that asks simply “How do you usually get to work?” and “How long does that take you?”, the Trip Diary digs down into details about how people get around. What types of trips do they take, where do they go, how far, and how often? The difference matters because many people, especially those who use active transportation modes, use more than one way to get to work and travel for non-commuting reasons as well. I have two jobs, one I either walk or cycle to, the other I either cycle or ride transit (after a 5-minute walk on one end). My “usual” could be transit or cycling or walking, depending on the week. I usually walk to shopping, but sometimes drive. I sometimes drive to recreation, sometimes I bike or walk. For most of us living in a modern urban area, our modes are mixed, and understanding that mix is more important to how we plan our transportation system than the simplistic census question.

I’m going to skip over some of the regional stuff (maybe a later post when I find time because there is some fascinating data in here) to concentrate on New Westminster. All of the numbers below that I refer to as “New Westminster trips” are trips by people who call New West their city of residence – whether their trips start and/or end in New West or elsewhere in the region, every trip made by a New West resident is considered a New West trip.

The last Trip Diary provided data from 2011, and at the time, New West was doing OK as far as “mode share”, which is transportation geek speak for “what percentage of people are travelling by X mode.”

As might be expected for a compact city with 5 Skytrain stations, New West has high transit mode share at 17% of all trips. In 2011 we used transit at a higher rate per trip than any other City in the Lower Mainland except the City of Vancouver itself (at 20%). We also had higher walking mode share than most cities (11% of all trips, which is only behind Vancouver, North Van City and White Rock). Our 2011 cycling mode share was a dismal 0.4%, which was, even more dismally, close to the regional average. Add these up, and we had one of the lowest automobile mode shares in the region. 59% of trips were drivers, 13% were passengers, totalling 72% of trips, which was lowest in the region except (natch) Vancouver. Contrast that with the traffic we need to deal with and the amount of space we have given over to that traffic. But more on that later.

The 2017 Trip Diary data shows how our mode share has shifted over a 6-year span:

As you can see, the shift is subtle, but in a positive direction if you hate traffic. Our transit rode share went up to 20% and is now the highest in the region (Vancouver’s dropped a bit to 18%) New Westminster is now the City in BC with the highest transit mode share! Our walk share went up to 15% and is still 4th in the region, and our bike mode share doubled from dismal to still pretty bad. Or car mode share, however, dropped from 72% of all trips to 64.5%, and “passengers” went up a little bit in share, suggesting that single occupancy vehicle trips went down. Going from 59% to 51% of driving trips in 6 years is (a 14% decrease) is a really positive sign for the livability of our community.

All of those numbers are percentages of trips, but they mask that New Westminster is a growing city. Based on BC Government population estimates (BC Gov’t Local Government Statistics Schedule 201), our population went from 67,880 to 73,928 over that 6-year span, an 8.9% population increase. The trip diary raw numbers show that our number of trips went up at a higher rate: a 12% increase from 194,000 individual trips on the average day to 217,000 trips. We are moving around more. And this is where things get interesting:

With a modest increase in cycling (around 1,000), and significant increases in walk trips (11,000) and transit trips (10,000), there was no increase in trips taken by car – the increase in passengers almost exactly offset the reduced trips by drivers. I need to emphasize this, in bold, italics and in colour, because this is the big story in all of these numbers:

All of the new trips taken by New Westminster residents, as our population grew by 8.9% and our travelling around grew by 12%, resulted in no increase in car use by residents of the City. All of the extra trips were counted as transit, walking, or cycling. Simply put, this logical connection perpetuated by people who oppose the transit-oriented development model, is not supported by the data:

Admittedly, this does not necessarily mean traffic is getting better; That a smaller proportion of people are driving and that driving is becoming less convenient, are not contradictory ideas. Other parts of the region have not seen the same shift, and growth to the south and east of us especially is increasing demand on our local roads. This also means there are more pedestrians and cyclists about, so crosswalks are fuller and taking more time to clear, meaning some tiny amount of through-capacity from cars is lost to accommodate the mode shift and keep vulnerable road users safe. The City shifting resources to serve the growing proportion of our residents that don’t rely on a car every day also makes sense from a planning principle. If I am car-reliant (and some in our City definitely are) I can rest assured that a huge proportion of our public land space is still dedicated to moving and storing cars, and a large portion of our budget to accommodating the expectations of drivers.

But the writing is on the wall, and we need to continue to adapt our practices and resources to reflect the success that is starting to show in our regional transportation numbers.

Climate Strike

I don’t usually do community announcements at the end of Council meetings, but I made an exception this week (I promise not to make it a practice). But I could not let the meeting pass without calling extra attention to the events of last Friday.

Friday was the last resolution session at UBCM (yes, I will report out on that in the next little while). Members New Westminster council were at this annual conference of local governments from across the province, and we helped move resolutions that emphasized the urgent need for climate action. Some, like the Resolution asking the UBCM to endorse a Call to Action on the Climate Emergency passed, some like the call to hold fossil fuel industries legally responsible for the cost of climate change adaptation in our Cities, failed. Thanks to CBC Reporter Justin McElroy, there is a scorecard of the resolutions around climate:
Green surrounds the “passed” resolutions, Red is “failed”, purple is “withdrawn”.

There was significant debate on the floor on these climate action resolutions. Some arguing we need to slow down and be cautious, we cannot risk “investor confidence” or we need to show more respect for “resource communities”. Such is the nature of democratic debate, good points were made, hyperbole was engaged, passions were expressed:

Then, we went outside. And some youth were there to talk to the media about the Climate Strike that was about to start a few km up the road. Then there were 100,000+ people on the street, lead by inspiring youth from across the region, calling on politicians and other leaders to stop pretending a lack of climate action is an example of caution – call it what it is – an act of dereliction.

Some of us on council joined that Climate Strike, and I think we all went to show support – to be allies. But I was reminded time and again during the event that this strike, this protest, was directed at me. Those signs, those chants, the anger, were directed at me, and at my fellow Councillors, and the other delegates at UBCM, and at the generation to which I belong who have known about this issue, but failed to act. We continue to fail to deliver the change needed to assure these students have a future as good as our present.

Recognizing that hit me hard. And I am still processing it.

So I had to speak at Council on Monday to tell them that I heard them.

And in every way, this Monday – from the way we talked about our capital budget in the afternoon workshop to the renewed call for fossil fuel divestment to my vote about preserving a heritage house 300m from a Sky Train station – this Monday is different because of what happened on Friday.

Shit like this needs to be stopped. There is no place in a Climate Emergency mandate for expanding freeways. The myth of congestion relief through building traffic lanes is abhorrent in this context, and we have to stop lying to people about it.

No more business as usual as a reason not to move forward. No more incremental-until-meaningless actions. I can’t continue to compartmentalize climate action and climate justice in this work. And I won’t.

Pedestrian Cages

I’m going to pick one specific part of the new pedestrian overpass on Stewardson that bugs me. I dropped by to look at the near-completed project (which, I hasten to note, was paid for by the Province and Feds, not the City), and have a bunch of negative feelings about it for a variety of reasons I mentioned here, and concerns I raised here, but it is this picture shows what currently bugs me the most:

Why the hell do pedestrians need to be kept in cages?

A quick Google Map tour of the overpasses rebuilt as part of the recently-expanded Highway 1 through Burnaby and Surrey provides these images of overpasses for cars that have sidewalks on them for pedestrians:

Willingdon Ave
Sprott Street
Kensington Ave.
Cariboo Road
160th Street

Now compare these to overpasses build specifically for pedestrians:112th Ave.

Tynehead Park

Notice the difference?

This isn’t limited to Highway 1, or even to Ministry of Transportation infrastructure. Go to your favourite road-overpass-with-a-sidewalk-over-another-road anywhere, and you see a normal elbow-to-shoulder height fence to keep pedestrians from falling off the edge:

Winston Street, Burnaby.

Gaglardi Way, Burnaby.

But look at any pedestrian-only-overpass, and you have the perimeter fence from San Quentin:

Winston Street, Burnaby.

Gaglardi Way, Burnaby.

Can anyone explain this to me? Presumably, this is to protect the underflowing traffic from nefarious activity of suspicious non-car-having people. But if that is so, why not also put a cage up at the overpass where non-car-having people are walking beside car-having people? Is simply the presence of car-having people enough to keep non-car-having people from doing nefarious activity? Is not having a car such a suspicious activity that even when non-having, being proximal to those who are currently having is enough to mitigate the suspicious activity so the cage isn’t necessary?

Of course, I don’t  think is the actual thought process that creates this strange discrepancy, but I think it is a window in the cultural bias of transportation engineering. Building a pedestrian overpass? Need a cage to protect the drivers. Building a car overpass? Sure, we’ll throw a sidewalk on it (not like anyone is going to use it!). Pedestrians (and cyclists to a lesser extent) are accessories to transportation at best, impediments to efficient transportation at worst. They are something that needs to be accommodated as we decide the best way to move the real road users – cars and trucks – around in the City. Look around at how our transportation systems are built, even today, and you see this bias built in, even in the most walkable urban neighbourhoods like New Westminster.

It is this bias that decided spending $5.2 Million to get pedestrians out of the way was a better solution than spending a fraction of this to slow trucks and cars down to the posted speed limit to make Stewardson safe for pedestrians and cyclists. This expensive intervention is the exact opposite of Active Transportation infrastructure, because it gives up on the idea of slowing cars and trucks down to the posted speed limit before they get to the crosswalks at 5th Ave or 3rd Ave so those pedestrian spaces don’t feel so terrifying.

I hope, but am not confident, that the provincial Active Transportation Strategy will include a cultural shift in the Ministry of Transportation to one where active transportation will be found to be equal to, or even emphasized over, the dangerously rapid movement of cars and trucks. I also hope that the City New Westminster can make this cultural shift across the organization, because without this commitment our Master Transportation Plan is just lines on maps in a book on a shelf.

Ears and Hearts

One challenging part about this job is that you are always learning, at least if you are doing it right. Politics and policy making are complex things. Despite North American media’s lamentable fascination with covering them like they cover sports – scores kept and hot takes and winners and losers – the reality is that there are never clear winners or losers. Politics is never (and should never be) a zero-sum game, and the simpler your answer the more wrong it probably is.

For people doing the work of elected official, there is rarely time for self-reflection. Worse, if we continue the zero-sum sports analogy model of politics, there is nothing to be gained from reflection. Make a decision and move on, hunker down if challenged. But if you are in this to make change, to build a better community or a better world, some decisions stick with you, and cost you as much sleep after you make them as they did before. I’m not saying it’s healthy.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the Begbie Statue since casting one of the minority votes against having the statue removed from a its eponymous square. I have also had numerous discussions and read a lot of correspondence on the topic. Since this story resulted more than a dozen TV news reports and the same number of newspaper stories across the province, I even received the benefit of kudos for “taking a stand” from people all over the country.

Problem was, not a single one of them actually knew why I voted the way I did, or even cared to find out. My process concerns and desire for better policy guidance was not noted, they just presumed I was on “their team” in this us vs. them zero-win battle and that my brave stand against the forces of political correctness (ugh) was appreciated. These were hard e-mails to read, and near impossible to reply to. I also talked to people who did not agree with the way I voted, and I have to say they were generally much more aware of my actual concerns, and most expressed appreciation for my attempt to have a fuller understanding of the issue. The difference between the two “camps” was stark.

In the last few months, I have had to read some lamentable commentary on the topic in the dead tree media. Recently, some blow-hard named Douglas Todd was quick to infer intentions in writing without ever taking the time to contact anyone on our Council of from the Tŝilhqot’in to discuss the issue. Not surprisingly, this self-proclaimed expert got the entire argument wrong. I also got to enjoy a recent gaslighting attempt by New Westminster’s own Minister of Absurd Apologetics. I have to admit that reading those commentaries provided real value to me, because they helped me to understand the issues a little better. By beating away at strawmen to provide Facebook clicks for their Postmedia Oberherren, they helped me to better frame my understanding of what my Council colleagues were striving for in the removal of the statue.

It would be wrong for me to overstate the influence these conservative white guys, comfortably shouting from their money-hemorrhaging big media platforms, had on me. Their expressed opinions may have convinced me I had to write this piece, but it wasn’t them that changed my mind. That happened weeks ago around the time that I attended the ceremony where members of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government came down to honour and remember the members of their family that were unjustly killed in New Westminster.

It was then that I started to understand that this is not about the person cast in bronze, and it is not about ancient history. This is about the place, and it is about the now.

Begbie square is a place where the current justice system manifests our continued unjust treatment of Indigenous people. The place where the statue stood overlooked that entrance in a way the statue of Lady Justice did not – not with a blindfold offering balance, but with a Stetson and a pipe, on a pedestal above and staring down on those who would enter. The statue also looked over the old court house yard across Carnarvon Street, figuratively Lording over the very place where the family of the Tŝilhqot’in were killed. You do not have to oppose the idea of there being statues of Judge Begbie displayed in New Westminster or elsewhere to agree that perhaps this one place is the single least appropriate for this symbol. To place it there perpetuates the affront for which our Federal and Provincial governments have already expressed remorse.

Through this lens, it doesn’t matter if Judge Begbie was a racist or he was an ahead-of-his-time defender of the rights of Indigenous peoples (this is where Douglas Todd goes so wrong). The statue that just happens to carry Begbie’s countenance is (as expressed by the plaque on the statue) a representation of a colonial justice system that “brought order” through injustice, standing over where a most egregious injustice took place, and at a place where the impacts of structural injustice still take place today. That could not stand, and should not stand. To claim we are “erasing history” is a silly distraction; removing it acknowledges history.

I expressed concern during our Council deliberations about whether we had really done the work to remove the statue. I did not feel we had consulted with the community, with the Tŝilhqot’in, with the Qayqayt and other nations about this act. As we were only beginning our community’s Truth and Reconciliation journey, I was concerned the outcome of an action seen by many as provocative was getting us off on the wrong foot, and would close ears and hearts before the conversation started.

Then the Tŝilhqot’in honoured us by sharing their commemoration with us, and were able to tell us their stories about what this injustice meant to them as a people, the pivotal impact the loss of those leaders had on their community, how their quest to know where the remains of their family are. The true story of this place was related to me in a way it had not before. These are not my stories to tell, but after hearing them and recognizing that this is not ancient history to them, but something that they still experience today, I was lead to reconsider the importance of the symbol of the statue and of the place.

I suppose I err too often in pondering over process and policy and not enough about the importance of action. Even when I was a “rabble rouser” about town, I was always trying to think of how we can creatively and cajolingly make change happen through system shift instead of just showing up at Council guns cocked demanding change. Sometimes it worked, but that is probably a reflection of my privilege more than any kind of superpower I may have. Reconciliation is going to be a different experience, and it will challenge all of us to think about our assumptions, our processes, and our privilege.

It is clear to me now that that removing the statue was the right thing to do, perhaps I just wasn’t brave enough to agree that the time was now. I was wrong, the time was overdue.