Protectors

There is something else that has been going on in New West (and right next door in Burnaby) for several weeks that is not getting nearly enough attention. There have been a small group of people, led by Dr. Tim Takaro, leading a peaceful occupation of the Trans Mountain Pipeline right-of-way through the Brunette River riparian area. If you live in New West, or if you are concerned about the role your federal government plays in addressing Canada’s shameful climate change legacy, you should care.

It is possible in 2020 that many of us are feeling “protest fatigue”. After the Climate Strikes of last fall, the actions in support of the Wet’suwet’en in the spring, the seemingly unstoppable 24-hour news of protest and counter-protest around Black Lives Matter and Indigenous rights movements, the nation south of us in such a downward spiral, all while we are living under the fogbank of a global pandemic – how many people have capacity for another call to action or protest against injustice right now? For anyone who even gives even the littlest shit about the state of the world and future generations, it can all feel crushing. Not because this doesn’t matter, but because everything freaking matters.

Some people I talk to about this are lamenting (or sometimes celebrating) that the pipeline is fait accompli. The Federal Government has dropped its your money into it, the pipe is bought, the court cases are exhausted. Even as the dark reality of questionable financial viability dawns on us, and the guy who bought the pipeline slinks from office to find other opportunities to mess with global capital, the sunk cost fallacy is pushing us forward into a $12.5 Billion investment in stranded carbon assets. But that’s global macroeconomics and climate denialism, what does that have to do with us here in little old New West?

As I have talked about before, the new Trans Mountain pipeline is going to move more than half a million barrels a day of oil products through the Brunette River, just meters from the New Westminster border, and just before the Brunette flows into New Westminster and discharges to the Fraser immediately upstream of our waterfront. I say the new Trans Mountain Pipeline, because here in the Lower Mainland, they are not “twinning” or “expanding” the existing pipeline, they are routing a second pipeline kilometers from the existing one (which will still pump away as it always does). The new route passes through the most sensitive riparian area of the Brunette: a river that a small group of underappreciated local heroes spent decades bringing back from an industrial sewer to a place that hosts spawning salmon again. The new pipeline is proposed to dig through the very riparian area that supports those salmon and a rich diversity of other flora and fauna, one of the few remaining natural streams in the urban sprawl of the Burrard Peninsula.

So here we are again, another small group of dedicated people protecting a legacy for generations. With time a’ticking and construction equipment staging, they are occupying the space in the hopes that their presence will prevent the felling of trees and clearing of brush and digging of trenches. There has not been much mention of this protest that has been going for more than a month, aside from a couple of early news stories when Dr. Takaro initially went into the trees.

The protest came to the attention of New West council as the occupants were using lower Hume Park for staging some of the activity, it being the nearest open public assembly place to the protest site. Although the actual occupied site is in Burnaby, the crossing of North Road and the Brunette River is a jurisdictionally-challenging spot, where Burnaby, New West, and Coquitlam meet and the federal railways have some policing powers (don’t start with me about how multinational corporations have armed policing powers in Canada –that’s another rant for another time). So it is worthwhile to point out that the three municipalities have taken varying approaches to the TMX expansion.

New Westminster was an intervenor in the Environmental Assessment, strongly opposed the project and its re-location to the Brunette watershed, and have supported legal challenges to the project. Burnaby’s opposition to the project has taken them to the Supreme Court of Canada. Coquitlam has said “show us the money”.

As a City Council, we have received no formal correspondence from the pipeline project team since the federal government took over the project. After formally opposing it for a list of technical reasons in 2017, we received a letter in response from (then) Minister Sohi in 2018 letting us know they received our letter, but they had just bought the entire project, so they are moving ahead.

My reasons for opposition to this project are informed by my participation in the original Environmental Assessment process in a technical role, and honed by my role as an elected official in an impacted community. I have been at this long enough that I remember the Harper-led federal government listening to our concerns before telling us they don’t care, then tearing up the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Fisheries Act to prove the point. In hindsight, that seems more honest than the Trudeau-led federal government lying to us about accountability, promising to end subsidizing oil and gas, and then throwing our chips down on the biggest oil company bailout in Canadian history. I wonder where Minister Sohi is now, after so much was invested in trying to protect his lonely Alberta seat.

Anyway, I’m ranting.

The protest is ongoing in the woods just west of the North Road, south of the Highway 1 overpass, but you may see a few people spending time staging or handing out information in lower Hume Park. Drop by and say Hi if you are in the area, send them some support if you like. Maybe you might want to let your elected representatives know if you think building a pipeline to expedite bitumen sand development in the face of a Climate Emergency is a thing you want them to spend your money on in 2020, or whether you value healthy salmon habitat in your community.

Back at it

Back at it!

We had our first Council meeting today after a shortish summer break. We have yet to get through the Labour Day weekend, but back to work we are.

I want to use this blog post to point out a couple of things that happened in August that we kinda fun. For me, anyway.

I had a great chat with Christine Bruce, who runs a radio program called “Totally Spoke’d” on CICK radio (and the interwebs, or course, because it is 2020). The program is about cycling and active transportation advocacy. Christine invited me on to talk about the increased fines for dooring recently applied by the BC Government, which I talked to the New West Record about here.

Christine was an informed and fun person to chat with, and I think the conversation was a great introduction to the issue and the reasons the province made the changes. It was also a launching point to a bigger discussion about the tonne of work we have yet to do to make cycling spaces – and all active transportation spaces – safe and comfortable in urban areas. Have a listen here!

I also had a long chat with Dean Murdock (which he artfully edited down to a tight 20 minutes) who produces and hosts the Podcast Amazing Places. Dean is a former City Councillor from Saanich and is leading conversations in Greater Victoria about making public spaces better. He wanted to talk about the original capital’s Streets for People initiatives, and the efforts New Westminster is making to re-balance our public space allocation between storage-and-movement-of-automobiles and all the other uses the space can be used for. You can hear that conversation here, or wherever your favourite Podcasts are cast from. And unless you are my Mom, you will probably find more interesting episodes of his show than mine, Dean is definitely worth a follow.

Finally, I couldn’t help but stick my nose into the CBC’s Best Neighbourhood conversation/competition. Along with my fellow Browhillian Councillor Nadine Nakagawa, we made a compelling case (I think) for the Brow of the Hill. Enough that after we lost to much less worthy places, we were back on CBC to talk about the Brow. We were there to talk about how we define a great neighbourhood, and what we value in the pace that we live. It was all in good fun, but I think I’ll dig into a longer conversation about this “contest” for a follow-up Blog Post.

Declaration for Resilience (Part 4)

I have to wrap up my mid-August long read, as labour day is fast approaching. It’s been so gloriously nice outside, as it always is after the PNE rains pass, I have really been putting this off. I have some more time this week, so here we go. This is Part 4 of the City’s response to the Declaration for Sustainability in Canadian Cities that Council approved early in the month. The final section are ideas that arose during local discussions that seem to be gaps in the original declaration, or are particularly relevant to the Metro Vancouver / New West context. As these are not part of the original text, this section will only have the staff-suggested additions, with my comments after – as always, speaking for myself and not on behalf of Council or the City.

Provide funding, land, and regulatory environment to increase the supply of affordable rental housing and non‐market housing in all neigbhourhoods, particularly in transit‐oriented locations.
I expressed a bit of concern with us opening this section (and others below) with “funding”. In the plainest language I can offer – non-market housing is a senior government responsibility to fund, and municipal governments, with less than 9% of all tax revenues and already suffering from a significant infrastructure gap in everything from roads to sewers to recreation facilities and parks, municipalities cannot take on the financial burden of providing housing because senior governments got out of the business of building it in the Great Austerity Shift of the 1990s. If paying for building housing falls on us and property tax revenue, it will be inadequate and ultimately a failure.

That said, I do not think Cities can turn their backs on the desperate need for supportive housing, and we have a supportive role to play – assuring our regulatory and policy environment doesn’t prevent the building of affordable housing in all of our neighborhoods. Most of us can also provide public land (which New Westminster has been doing, even with our severely constrained land base), and we have been stepping in and providing capital funding and a tonne of staff resources, both of which are a financial burden on the City, but one where we have to step up if any supportive housing of any type will get built in the City. We also need to cajole and/or shame (whatever works) the provincial and federal governments to bring some of their significant resources to the table to address this ongoing crisis.

Increase housing supplement though income assistance or implement Universal Basic Income.
This is 100% outside of municipal jurisdiction. We are limited to advocating to senior governments to make this happen.

Require all municipalities to provide shelters and other services and supports to homeless populations.
Again, our role in the City is to assure we have space and coordination to provide shelter support to all of our residents. As we are on the “front line” of the living experience of the unhoused in our communities, we are probably best positioned to do this. But until senior governments provide the housing and health care supports to address the problem, this will continue to be an inadequate approach.

Develop culturally sensitive and inclusive policies to protect tenants, maintain and enhance existing purpose‐built rental housing and non‐market housing
This is an area I think New Westminster has truly showed leadership, both before I joined Council and in the last few years. The first step in addressing homelessness is to prevent people from losing their current housing. We have aggressively taken action on demovictions and renovictions, have created and supported a rent bank program, and have dedicated, hard-working staff in City hall coordinating the efforts of local non-profits and provincial programs. We have also brought a region-leading number of purpose-built rental on line in the last few years, and are leveraging non-market supportive housing in new developments.

Support the provision of mental health, and addictions services in all communities.
I’m going to stay on my picky point here and say support: yes; provide: no. Again, as the front line for many residents needing these supports, the City has a role to assure health care and services are available in the community through coordination, assuring our policies and Bylaws support them, and even providing space if needed. However, the services themselves are primary health care services that must be provided by the provincial government through the local health authorities and funded through the Health Act. Municipalities do not have the authority, the staff, the expertise, or the funds to provide this kind of primary health care.

Take action in responding to the provincial overdose crisis and require all municipalities to provide overdose prevention sites and safe drug supply programs
Again, this is a health care issue that fits squarely within the Provincial mandate – they have two ministries funded and staffed to address this. The City should support and absolutely not get in their way. These are primary health care concerns that we clearly need much more of in our community. We have been in a crisis state with a poisoned drug supply for too long, and we need accessible safe supply and provision for safe consumption in New Westminster immediately. We also need to advocate both levels of senior government to make these things happen.

Support the development of local and sustainable food systems including improving local distribution systems.
Support the development of long‐term food security plans that build capacity in the faith‐based and non‐profit sector, who are on the front line in supporting the food insecure.
Food security systems are things we rarely think about except in crisis, and COVID was one of those crises that demonstrated how tenuous our food supply systems are, and how many people’s personal food security is tenuous. I could go on at length about this, and have in the past and have a detailed answer when people ask why we pay more for domestic milk and butter in BC when there are cheaper alternatives across the border, and why we need to support Farmers Markets and local food systems.

Require new buildings to utilize low‐emission building heating and hot water systems including district energy and heat pumps. &
Require existing building retrofits to utilize low‐emission building heating and hot water systems including district energy and heat pumps.
In our Bold Step #3 (Carbon Free Homes and Buildings), we set the goals for 2030 for no new fossil fuel heating in new buildings or retrofits. We currently cannot mandate this, because we don’t have the authority in the Local Government Act. What we can do is require for any building going through rezoning, incentivize it for other buildings and retrofits, and finally, advocate to the BC government to include it in the Building Code or give local governments the authority to mandate it. We are working on all three.

Incentivize new buildings to utilize low‐emission cooking equipment &
Incentivize existing building retrofits to utilize low‐emission cooking equipment.
This is another big step. The era of the fossil-fuel stove may be coming to an end. Yes, there is nothing quite like “cooking with gas”, and FortisBC is looking at ways to bring non-fossil source methane and boosting hydrogen content to get the fossil out of fossil gas, but with new technology (induction stoves are pretty cool), but we are a long way from people replacing all of their household appliances. We can, however, incentivize in new builds and retrofits.

Invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure for use by the general public.
We have been doing this. I am the Chair of a significant Not-for-Profit that does a lot of this work. But I wonder if incentivizing the auto industry should really be a high priority action for Government when that same industry continues to proactively make our Cities less safe, less livable, and less sustainable. I’m going to chew over this one for a while…

Adopt circular economy practices to reduce waste.
Sure. But I’m not sure what the role of local government is here. We collect recycling because it is the “right thing to do” despite most of it going to the landfill or incinerator because there is inadequate economic incentive built into our supply chains to promote recycling. We have no regulatory authority to change how packaging occurs (the source of most of our recyclable waste) nor can we force local manufacturers, suppliers, or retailers take responsibility for the single use products and packaging they sell. We collect your trash, we are allowed to charge you for that service, we can cajole you to separate or comingle to create more distinct waste streams, but the recycling system is broken at a fundamental level, so we are pissing into the wind – and spending way too much money being cheap about it. But hey, we all feel better if our peanut butter jar goes in a blue box instead of a black one.

Support the creation of more waste‐to‐energy sources.
There needs to be a big caveat on this one. In the context of a Climate Emergency, Waste-To-Energy only makes sense if it is not reliant upon the conversion of fossil carbon to atmospheric carbon. Burning waste plastics is no different that burning coal if the source of the hydrocarbon is fossil fuels. I have talked about this in the past, and still feel strongly that WTE solves the wrong problem. There are forms of WTE that do not rely on fossil fuels, but the technology is pretty raw, and some local companies have gone broke trying to make it work. Sewer heat recovery and waste wood gasification are operating in the region as district energy sources, and are the types of WTE that should be supported.

Develop a plan to protect 50% of the land base of the region from development (currently 40%).
This is an interesting, if regional, goal. The City of New West is already developed, depending on how you define it, between 80 and 100%. There are simply no Greenfields for us to expand into. However, we have a role to play in curtailing regional development in assuring out Transit Oriented Development areas provide housing alternatives and livable communities that take the pressure off of undeveloped greenfield spaces in other communities.

Integrate natural assets into conventional asset management and decision‐making processes.
This topic was going to be the theme of a conference I was helping organize with the Lower Mainland LGA, until COVID shut us down. I could write quite a bit about this, but maybe it needs to go in its own blog post. In the meantime, look at the great work that is happening on this front on the Sunshine Coast.

Provide opportunities for voices of the marginalized to be empowered and advanced, inclusive of Indigenous people, racialized populations and lower‐income workers, ensuring all residents in the region are educated, aware and invited to participate. &
Develop a framework to ensure diversity, inclusion, equity and anti‐racism informs all government actions
These are two sides of the same coin, one outward looking (how do we get a more diverse cohort of our population to take active part in decision making in the community?) and one inward looking (are we actually listening and understanding the diverse voices of our community?). These are both things the City is supporting in policy and in practice.

So there we are, that’s the Declaration. Now all we need to do is measure up to our best intentions.

Declaration for Resilience (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of my reporting out the City’s response to the Declaration for Sustainability in Canadian Cities that Council approved earlier in the month. Part 1 on land use planning is here, Part 2 on transportation is here. Part 3 covers the Built and Natural Environments. As in the earlier parts, I provide the original Declaration Text, followed by the adaptation for NW/MV context provided to Council by staff, all followed by my comments (not necessarily speaking for the City or Council, but my own take on it) for each clause of the declaration.

Embracing Sustainability in our Built and Natural Environment
15. Require that all new government‐owned buildings (federal, provincial, and municipal) be carbon neutral.
Require all new buildings that are government‐owned (federal, provincial, and municipal) or built using public dollars to be energy efficient and carbon neutral over their lifetime.
The City has previously set a LEED standard for new buildings, but we have started to move beyond LEED and reviewed other rating/evaluation systems for new buildings. We are currently on pause with the Canada Games Pool replacement due to COVID uncertainty, but the plans as developed included upgrading to a zero-carbon building and energy generation on site. It makes sense when we own our own near-zero-carbon electrical utility, and when lifecycle costs of higher efficiency buildings are usually lower in the long run.

16. End the dumping of untreated sewage outflows into lakes, streams, and waterways.
End the dumping of untreated sewage outflows into lakes, streams, and waterways.
Some may think this sounds like a simple or even archaic goal in 2020, what with our modern sewers and big sewer treatment plants, and we should spend our time in debates about the value of secondary vs. tertiary sewer treatment and resource recovery at sewer plants. However, New West is one of several cities in the Lower Mainland that still has “combined flow sewers” in some areas. As a result, we sometimes still discharge untreated (but highly diluted) sewage to fisheries habitat in the Fraser River. There are complex historic reasons for this, and the City is continually working on (and investing in) sewer separation, but at the current pace, it will be 2050 or later before we achieve this goal. Much of this is a cost issue, as doing this work is very expensive – we have about $25M in the current 5-year financial plan to do this work at that done-by-2050-or-so pace.

Whether we beat or meet that timing is contingent on a few things alongside our tolerance for high utility rates or debt financing. Much of the separation will be funded by and timed on growth, as it is generally older single-family-detached neighborhoods that still rely on combined flow sewers. There is also a direct cost to land owners for this work, as property drainage must be separated to match the upgraded municipal system, which we require homeowners to do (at their cost, usually in the tens of thousands of dollars) when replacing their house or doing major renovations.

So we are working on it, but it is not going to happen soon, though recent support from senior governments has helped the City accelerate their program, which is good. Arguably, the environment would benefit more from federal government funding aggressive sewer separation programs in Vancouver, Burnaby, and New West than it does from the feds funding tertiary treatment upgrades in the sewer treatment plants the diverted sewage goes to, but that isn’t how politics works.

17. Enact a funded, detailed plan to achieve a 40% urban tree canopy.
Enact a funded, detailed plan to achieve a 40% urban tree canopy, within the context of competition for new development, recognize trees as city assets with parity to other city assets and incentivize tree retention and large tree species planting with development.
A 40% tree canopy is ambitious for any urban area. To put that in perspective, New West’s current canopy city-wide is about 18%, and our “greenest” neighbourhoods are on the order of 33% (Queens Park and Glenbrooke). Our Urban Forest Management Strategy calls for aggressive tree planting and preservation of existing trees (including the new Tree Protection Bylaw), and we have a goal to get to 27% tree canopy by 2030 as Bold Step #6. I am OK with 40% as an aspirational goal, and indeed there is some research suggesting this is a best practice level to aim for (Halifax is one of the few significant Canadian cities that has this level of canopy), but for now we are enacting a funded, detailed plan to get to 27% City-wide, which will put us among the greenest communities in the Lower Mainland.

18. Ensure 100% of municipal operations are powered by clean energy sources.
Ensure 100% of all government operations are powered by clean, renewable energy sources.
We are fortunate to be in British Columbia where most of our electricity is zero-carbon, or at least very low carbon. That means the easiest way to move to clean energy sources is to plug everything in. It is easy for buildings, a little tougher for pools and ice rinks (the type of heating and energy needed lends itself more easily to gas), and really problematic for a lot of equipment. Even as electric cars are becoming ubiquitous, you simply cannot buy an electric pickup truck in Canada in 2020, never mind an electric dump truck or backhoe. Back-up electrical generators (important to many of our critical systems), firetrucks, street sweepers, cement mixers, vac trucks, etc., etc., are all seemingly decades from being available in fully electric forms. And then we need to talk about the infrastructure needs for our electrical utility to be able to provide power for all of these needs.

We have already made a commitment to get there in our Bold Step #1, and are picking the low fruit right now, while making bold choices about new buildings by no relying on fossil gas, but we are quickly approaching the bleeding edge. We need every community, and more businesses, to demand that the market provide electrical alternatives for many of the equipment choices above. Though I would love to blog some time about the City of Oslo is taking this a next step – forcing all construction sites to be electric-driven, but that is a big digression.

19. Require every new building in Canada built using public dollars achieves LEED status.
See #15 above
As mentioned above, we can go beyond LEED, but it is not currently within the City’s jurisdiction to (for example) force a brand new hospital being built in 2020 to go zero carbon, despite the fact it will be the largest point source emitter of Greenhouse Gasses for decades ahead in our community. But we can ask.

20. Require all new large office buildings to be emissions‐free.
Require all new large commercial, institutional and residential buildings to be energy efficient and carbon neutral, resilient to local climate change impacts, and located in Urban Centres or in appropriate locations along the Frequent Transit Network.
This is a similar thing, there is only so far we can go as a Municipality in adopting aggressive energy efficiency under the Step Code, and we are one of the more aggressive communities in the Lower Mainland. Vancouver is mandating an end to fossil fuels in buildings, but have their own Building Code that allows them to take that extra step. This item specifically says “large office buildings”, and it is a good idea to expand to all larger buildings that would likely go through a rezoning process, which gives the City an extra lever to pull, as we have lots of flexibility to make demands during rezoning.

I’m curious about adding energy efficiency as a shared priority with carbon neutrality, and I’m not sure I agree. If we have a relatively inefficient building that uses 100% renewable carbon-free energy, that is a clear win over a carbon-intensive by highly efficient building – burning no carbon is better than burning a little carbon. Every step towards efficiency increases up-front cost, and carbon neutrality may increase lifecycle costs (a gas is really cheap right now), so of the choices of which to require or incentivize, I’d err towards carbon neutral. The efficiency addition muddies this water a bit, I think.

Finally, the addition of Urban Centres and Frequent Transit Network leans back on the sustainable city planning aspects already covered in Part 1, but it is worth noting, if you have the most energy efficient office building in the world, but if it is out in an exburb and everyone has to drive a car to get there every day, you are kinda missing the point. This is getting me to think I need to write a critique about some of the decisions around the RCH expansion.


OK, this covers the entirety of the Declaration in its original form, but Metro Vancouver and City of New Westminster staff identified some gaps that would make this Declaration more meaningful to our specific context, and i will write about those in Part 4. But it is August and the sun is out, so I gotta get out there. You should too!

Declaration for Resilience (Part 2)

Further sunny-days blogging on New Westminster’s response to the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities that was endorsed by Council on August 10. I wrote previously about the Land Use items; this section is on transportation. Once again, each item will start with the original Declaration Text, followed by the staff-recommended adaptation for NW/MV context, followed by my comments:

Decarbonization of our Transportation Systems

7. Prioritize the immediate transformation of existing streets and roadways for active transportation – both for the immediate, post-pandemic recovery period and as permanent measures – by adding additional space for pedestrians and protected bike lanes in a contiguous ‘everywhere‐to everywhere’ network that makes cycling a safe mobility choice for every resident, in every neighbourhood.
Prioritize the immediate transformation of existing streets and roadways for active transportation and high quality public realm – both for the immediate, post‐pandemic recovery period and as permanent measures – by adding additional space for pedestrians and protected bike lanes in contiguous ‘everywhere‐to everywhere’ network that makes cycling, rolling (i.e. mobility devices) and walking a safe mobility choice for every resident, in every neighbourhood and without impeding transit operations or goods movement. Capitalize on opportunities to improve public life on streets (i.e. seating/social areas, event spaces, public art, outdoor retail and street trees).

This action links directly to the City’s Master Transportation Plan, the Bold Steps for Climate Action, and the Streets for People motion, and we are on our way towards making it happen. This year there are a lot of “pilots” going on around town, much like in Vancouver and other communities on the Lower Mainland, and we are receiving both positive and negative feedback on them. But nothing can be clearer than the goal: less public space for cars, more public space for other uses.

We are not close yet to having the “everywhere-to-everywhere” bike network that we need, and this will require some significant shift in how we invest in roads infrastructure in the City. We have already made significant shifts towards walking and accessibility investments, cycling has lagged behind. With the advent of so many “new mobility” technologies (scooters, electric mobility aids, e-bike, and who knows what is coming next week), we need to be thinking about how they impact pedestrian spaces, and how we prioritize transit operations along the curb space. We need to fundamentally re-think the infrastructure we are building if we agree that driving a private automobile (which is only used for half of trips in the City) is not the centre of it.

My main push-back here against the revised wording is the way “goods movement” was lumped in as something we need to not impede. We all agree goods movement is an important part of our transportation realm, but this reads like we are not going to expect goods movement providers to aggressively adapt their practices, but will instead work around their status quo. If we are relying on larger and larger diesel semis to provide basic supplies to our City centre, if we are going to allow our surface streets to remain through-fares for moving containers from port to terminal, accept diesel trains idling and having ultimate right-of-way through our communities, then we are not going to meet our other goals around livability and safety on our streets. We need to bring the Goods Movement sector along and help them adapt to the new reality of decarbonized cities, not build these new cities with an asterisk around one sector of the economy.

8. Enhance bus service levels, recognizing that interim social distancing requirements will demand high levels of public transit service on existing routes, since passenger limits on buses will be required.
Enhance bus service levels, recognizing that interim social distancing requirements will demand high levels of public transit service on existing routes, since passenger limits on buses will be required.

This is not 100% on the City in our TransLink region, as we do not directly allocate funds or service levels for Transit, however, there is one thing we can do to improve service levels: give buses more priority on our streets. Queue-jumping lanes, transit-only lanes, and adapting our signals and other systems to assure buses are not stuck in traffic created by people who in cars. Alas, the bigger question about funding and building a more sustainable transit funding mechanism is bigger debate, and though we are (arguably) better in the TransLink region than any other transit region in North America, this is hardly a certainty going forward. We still have a lot of work to do towards truly sustainable long-term operational and capital funding models for the system.

9. On major arterial roadways, transform curbside lanes to dedicated Bus Rapid Transit Priority Lanes, to offer a higher level of service and to incentivize public transit usage as economies transition to normal.
On major arterial roadways, transform curbside lanes to dedicated Bus Rapid Transit Priority Lanes, to offer a higher level of service and to incentivize public transit usage as economies transition to normal.

As mentioned in the item above, dedication of priority lanes is something local government can do to make transit more reliable and efficient. There are not many opportunities for this in New Westminster, but even a few subtle planned changes around New Westminster Station may significantly impact reliability, and are being worked on now. I could go on a long rant about Queensborough transit service and bus queues at the freeway off-ramp, but maybe I’ll save that for a future blog post.

10. Enact an immediate and permanent moratorium on the construction and reconstruction of urban expressways, including those in process.
To avoid inducing new single‐occupancy vehicle demand, enact a moratorium on urban highway expansion, including those in process, and instead focus on Transportation Demand Management strategies including growth management.

This is really a provincial issue, as only the Ministry of Transportation has the financing to build new “urban expressways”/”urban highways”. However, I think this declaration should be used ot inform how we continue to engage on the Pattullo Bridge Replacement (where MOTI has essentially designed an urban expressway interchange smack in the middle of an Urban Area), and the ongoing- but not-seemingly-going-anywhere discussions of a Brunette Interchange replacement. What can we imagine these pieces of infrastructure looking like if they are to put into an urban context?

11. Enact congestion pricing policies, and dedicate 100% of the revenues to public transportation expansion.
Enact congestion pricing policies, and dedicate 100% of the revenues to public transportation expansion. Include consideration and mitigation of equity concerns.

This is long overdue, and a complete political non-starter. Road Pricing does everything that people across the political spectrum want done about traffic – it measurably reduces congestion (it may be the only thing that actually does), it funds alternatives, it internalizes the abhorrently externalized costs of driving. However, it doesn’t matter that it is clearly the best public policy solution, especially at this time, because no provincial government in British Columbia will have the guts to make that case and make it happen, because Bruce Allen and the AM radio angertainment industry will hate it.

12. Mandate a conversion timetable stipulating that 100% of taxi and ride‐sharing vehicles will be electric.
Mandate a conversion timetable stipulating that 100% of taxi and Transportation Network Service (TNS) vehicles will be zero‐emission.
This is again a provincial jurisdiction thing, and as I have lamented in the past, we have not even been successful at asking for more a more accessible Taxi and TNS fleet (yes, the change from “ride sharing” to “TNS” is important, there is nothing “sharing” about the TNS industry). The Passenger Transportation Board just doesn’t want to go there, and I am willing to bet that the Taxi and TNS industries will push back hard, as it may limit the number of hours in a day that a vehicle can be utilized, and that pushed back against their business model.

13. Commit to fully electrify public bus fleets.
14. Require the full electrification of public sector vehicular fleets
Commit to zero‐emission public sector vehicular fleets (including buses)

We don’t really buy public transit fleet vehicles as a local government, but we do have some influence over the operations of TransLink through the Mayor’s Council, and TransLink is working on increased electrification of their fleet.

That said, municipal governments have significant vehicle fleets – engineering and parks vehicles, police cars, firetrucks, and a variety of run-around cars. New West has set dome aggressive goals as part of our Bold Step towards a carbon-free corporation.


Following this will be Part 3: Sustainability in the Built and Natural Environment, when I get to it.

Declaration for Resilience (Part 1)

At the August 10 Council meeting, we endorsed actions addressing the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities.

This is a pan-Canadian (but admittedly very “urban”) movement that calls for a post-COVID recovery that doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the last century of city planning, but instead imagines a greener, cleaner, decarbonized economy, built on the foundation of how we build and operate our Cities. It is signed by people across the political spectrum and from local government politics, city planning, business, academia and environmental activism.

The report New West Council received also included some re-framing of the original 20 proposed policy changes to fit better into the Metro Vancouver / New Westminster context, and included some additional policy directions coming out of staff discussions at Metro Vancouver and within the City of New Westminster.

I thought I would take a bit of sunny summer time to go through this declaration and pick out some of the sometimes-subtle changes that local staff suggested, along with my own comments (speaking, as always, for myself, not for all of Council). This might get a little long, because there is a lot here, so maybe make a cup of tea and I’ll break it up to several blog posts (divided up by the major themes of the Declaration). Each section will start with the original Declaration Text, followed by the staff-recommended adaptation for NW/MV context, followed by my comments. I’d love to hear feedback about this.


Ensuring Responsible Use of Land

1. Update zoning policies to allow more households to access existing neighbourhoods by permitting appropriately scaled multi-tenanted housing, co‐housing, laneway housing, and other forms of “gentle density” to be built, as‐of‐right, alongside houses in lowrise residential neighbourhoods.
Update zoning policies to allow more households to access existing neighbourhoods by permitting appropriately scaled multi‐tenanted housing, co-housing, laneway housing, and other forms of “gentle density” to be built, as‐of‐right, alongside houses in low‐rise residential neighbourhoods, especially along the Frequent Transit Network and in Urban Centres.
Apply the principle of equity to land use decisions so that the appropriateness of land use is determined on the basis of its impact on society as a whole rather than only the applicant or immediate neigbhours.

I think it is appropriate that this is first in the list of actions, because zoning impacts how we allocate use of land across our Cities, and the way we do it now is failing to address equity, is failing to address climate impacts or housing form, and is 100% within the power of Local Government to change.

I want to start be addressing the phrase in scare quotes – “gentle density”. This is a code word, and one I have used myself in the past. It means “slightly more housing, only to the extent that it doesn’t cause too much opposition from the people already comfortable housed in our community”. I think inserting that phrase alone calls into question the commitment to applying the principle of equity to land use decisions. I’ll just leave it with that social justice trick of questioning the implied agency and ask “gentle to whom?”

That said, I had another problem with the local context re-framing of this point. It is clear from the original text that we are talking about single family detached housing here, and large neighbourhoods in urban areas where this is currently the only permitted form of housing. The Declaration says we need to challenge that assumption if we are to meet our sustainability goals, and I agree with that. To change this by inserting “Frequent Transit Network” and “Urban Centres” as the only places appropriate for this change, undercuts the actual intent. In its original form, this is challenging the paradigm that high-traffic corridors are not the only place for multi-family housing, and the change softens that call. We need to break the mindset that the only appropriate use of density is to buffer as-right single family detached houses from the noise and pollution of traffic corridors.

Recent discussions around development of 12th Street in New Westminster are a good example of this thinking. Some folks feel that commercial-at-grade with a few floors of housing above is appropriate to support a secondary commercial district like this. Others feel that there is simply too much commercial as is to be supported by the relatively low residential density of the neighbourhood, and more commercial will simply mean more vacant commercial space where housing would be more appropriate. I would argue that the problem is not the density on 12th Street, but the lack of business-sustaining density within that all-important 5-minute walk shed. Walk three blocks back from a health pedestrian-sustained shopping street in Montreal (for example), and you find moderate-density housing, not SFD suburbs in the middle of a City.

Walkable, functional, equitable neighbourhoods cannot be car-reliant neighbourhoods. And Frequent Transit Networks rely on a density to be supportable just as commercial districts do. So let’s expand our thinking to beyond “along Frequent Transit Networks” to “every neighbourhood within walking distance of a Frequent Transit Network”, and we are onto something, which brings us to the next item:

2. Commit to the creation of 15‐minute neighbourhoods in which it is possible to live, work, and shop, by among other things permitting corner stores, local retail, and live‐work housing, and by adding more local parks in all areas of cities
Commit to the creation of 15‐minute neighbourhoods (ie: complete communities) in which it is possible to live, work, play and shop, by among other things permitting child care, corner stores, local retail, and live‐work housing, and by adding more local parks equitably throughout cities.

This idea behind 15-minute neighbourhoods is that residents should be able to access most of their daily needs within a 15-minute walk, or within about 1,200m of their home. This could mean a 5-minute bike ride, a 10-minue roll in a mobility scooter, or a 15-minute walk, but the idea is that it reduces automobile reliance for most trips. Yes, people can and will own cars, yes, not everyone can live within 1,200m of their job so there need to be commuting options, but if shopping, schools, libraries, rec centres, parks and “third places” are close enough by, stronger communities are built. Of course, this also means there need to be enough people within that 15-minute walkshed to support the things we want to see there, which brings us back to density.

3. Restrict short‐term rentals to ensure that rental homes are not once again removed from the rental market post‐COVID‐19.
Regulate short‐term rentals to ensure that rental homes are not once again removed from the rental market post‐COVID‐19.

The shift from “restrict” to “regulate” is a subtle one, perhaps. I have been banging the drum about the need for us to address AirBnB/VRBO/etc. in the City for several years, but it has just never been seen as a priority for New West staff or Council. It is a bit challenging to enforce, and we do not receive a lot of complaints about it, so perhaps the urgency is not there, and the COVID situation has probably delayed any eventual STR crisis, but the impact on the affordable rental market is pretty clear. Add this to the pile of better rental regulation we need in the province, but this one is 100% within the power of local governments to enact – we can’t pass the buck on this one.

4. Remove all mandatory minimum parking requirements for any new building, to both signal a shift in mobility priorities, and to remove the costly burden of parking, on housing.
Remove parking minimums, enhance visitor parking and bicycle parking supply and include vehicle sharing option for any new multi‐family and mixed‐use building particularly along the Frequent Transit Network, to both signal a shift in mobility priorities, and to remove the costly burden of parking on housing. Consider the introduction of parking maximums in transit‐oriented locations.

I think the changes here are again subtle (removing “all”, then adding other qualifiers that may soften it a bit), but reducing the requirement to build off-street parking for new multifamily developments has been an ongoing process in the City, and one Council has asked staff to advance recently. There is no doubt about the data: we are building way more parking than we need in transit-oriented developments, and there are real costs related to this overbuilding – cost to the housing, and costs to society. I think the one part missing from this is the acknowledgement that off-street parking policy needs to be coupled with properly allocating and pricing on-street storage of cars, and one again, planning policy and transportation policy overlap.

5. Prioritize the use of existing municipally‐owned land for the creation of affordable housing that remains affordable in perpetuity, and for strategic public green space that supports increased density.
Prioritize the use of existing municipally‐owned land for the creation of affordable housing and non‐profit childcare that remains affordable in perpetuity, and for strategic public green space that supports increased density.

This is another area New Westminster is already moving on. We do not have a great legacy of City-owned land compared to some jurisdictions, but we have been successful at getting two small-lot affordable housing developments built in the last couple of years, a TMH supportive housing project just opened in Queensborough on City land, and we are looking at two other sites for upcoming projects. We have also been successful at leveraging childcare space with new development. The greenspace issue is a bit of a harder nut to crack in some of our neighbourhoods, but I hope the Streets for People motion and our Bold Step #7  on re-allocated road space will provide some unexpected opportunities here.

6. Enact stronger restrictions on urban sprawl, including moratoria limiting additional, auto‐dependent, suburban sprawl developments
Enact stronger restrictions on low density, auto‐dependent residential, commercial, and employment developments.
This doesn’t speak directly to New Westminster, as we are already a built-out community, and growth will generally be through density increases and towards less sprawl. However, it does induce us to move towards less car-dependent and sprawly communities as we look at new master-planned communities like Sapperton Green and the future of the 22nd Street area in Connaught Heights.


The next section will be on “Decarbonization of our Transportation Systems”, whenever I get to writing about it.

Calmer streets

Earlier in the year, I brought this motion to Council, asking that the City be bolder in finding ways to re-level the balance between car use and other users for public space in the City. We had already made commitments in our Climate Action goals that we are going to change how road space is allocated in the City over the next decade. Then along came COVID to shine a brighter light on some of the inequities in our communities, and cities around the world started acting more aggressively on road space reallocation as a pandemic response. The time was right for New West to accelerate the ideas in our Master Transportation Plan.

Early on, there was some rapid work to address pedestrian and active transportation “pinch points”, especially in the Uptown and on a few Greenways. The city was able to quickly create more safe public space downtown by re-applying the weekend vehicle closure plan of Front Street that we already had experience with. Uptown, the BIA asked the City to allow temporary weekend-only opening of some street space for lightly-programmed public space. Response has been pretty positive:

There is a bit of push-back on these interventions, as there always is when status quo is challenged in the transportation realm. Predictably, the traffic chaos, accidents, parking hassles and general mayhem that was predicted by more vocal opposition just didn’t occur. Staff is tracking actual data, but I have made a point to visit these areas often (COVID and working from home has made me into one of those walking-for-recreation types) and have been collecting admittedly anecdotal views of how these sites are working.

There are two more ideas that are being launched for the second half of the summer, and I want to talk about them because they came from different directions, but ended up in the same place, and are also eliciting some public comments right now (as was the intent!)

The City is piloting a “Cool Streets” program that identifies key pedestrian routes in the City for light interventions to reduce the through-traffic load and give pedestrians more space to stretch out. The way these streets were identified for the pilot is what makes this interesting, and speaks to one of my previous lives when I was briefly a GIS geek.

The goal to identify areas of the City where more vulnerable people have less access to green space, shade, and safe waling/rolling routes to parks and services. The approach very much aligns with the City’s Intelligent City initiative by using data-driven analysis to help make decisions. The City used its Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data set to identify areas that met the following criteria: higher population density, lower household incomes, larger proportion of seniors, and lower parks space per capita. Using GIS to “overlay” these layers, they identified area where many of these criteria overlap:

Once the “dense” areas of this map were identified, staff went through looking at the routes that combine connectivity to key destinations (parks and services), where grades were lower and where the most tree canopy cover was available:

They then identified priority routes for “green street” interventions (1, 2, and the west part of 3 in the map below), and extended these along streets that get to key destinations (the east part of 3 and 4):

The interventions here are very light. The roads are not “closed” to cars, but are calmed using ideas drawn from experiences in other cities from New York to Oakland to Toronto to Vancouver. The hope is to create truly traffic-calmed streets where local access by car is still available, but the space is open for people to share and program as they wish. Local streets acting like streets for locals, not as through-fares.

A second initiative was led by a community group in Sapperton. Concerned about some recent close calls on the part of the Central Valley Greenway that runs through lower Sapperton, they surveyed their neighbours and brought a proposal to staff asking if a pinching down of one block of the greenway could be trialed in light of the Streets for People motion. Again, the road is not closed, but signage was installed to discourage through-traffic and removable soft barriers installed.

Both of these interventions are temporary pilots. They cost very little to put in action, and provide valuable data to our transportation planners, while also giving the public a chance to see what changes would look like before we invest in more permanent or expanded road re-allocation.

In her great book Street Fight, Jeannette Sadik-Khan talks about successes in urban residential areas where more local and lower-key interventions like this have occurred. A major part of this is trying some things (lightly, quickly, and cheaply) as a form of consultation and data collection. This allows us to get past the baked-in institutional resistance to change that says everyone has to agree on paper before we even try the most minor change, and before we can test whether a change is a net good. The Summer Streets program in New York was her model of this – feared by many, embraced by almost everyone once implemented, with the fears proving unfounded in the long term.

All that to say, these light interventions are designed to elicit not just public participation, but public feedback. And I have received feedback already. I’ve received e-mail form people very upset that they were not consulted; e-mail form people predicting traffic chaos; and e-mail from people asking if they can do this on their street. My short answer to those questions are, respectively: this is the consultation; the sites selected were local streets, not traffic-challenged throughfares, but staff will be collecting data to assess the impacts on traffic; and not likely this year just because of timing, but if things go well, I hope these kinds of pilots can be expanded in 2021.

So, if you like this kind of intervention, let us know. If you don’t, tell us why. Staff have included in the analysis above other priority areas for Cool Streets that may be implemented in the future, including Downtown and the McBride commercial area in Glenbrooke North. As for the community-driven version, if you would like to see this type of intervention as a temporary or permanent feature of your street, start reaching out to your neighbors (maybe hold a social distance block party?) and talk about it. If you can gather enough interest, maybe the City can make something happen in 2021.  To me, local communities reclaiming space is a major part of making Streets for People again.

Feedback

I like to complain as much as the next guy. However, I do try to keep it constructive and useful. I recently send a complaint to TransLink via a short Twitter thread, photos and all. The very pleasant person on the other side of the anonymous @TransLink twitter account replied that they noted the concern, and asked that I follow up with the on-line TransLink feedback form. I was admittedly slow to do this, in part because the feedback form is limited to 2,000 characters (I can’t sing Happy Birthday in less than 2,000 characters) and I thought the issue really needed the photos I took to highlight my concern. So, I sent them a TL;dnr complaint to the suggestion box and added a link to this post, where I expand on my Twitter thread and add the photos that I think tell the story.


Hello.

I had a pleasant conversation through Twitter (yes, that is possible) with your social media staff last month, and they recommended I send this concern directly to this e-mail, so here we are, I finally got my rant together.

There is a bus stop on Westminster Highway right across the street from the Hamilton Transit Centre. Stop #59555 I think. The bus stop is on a (painted) bike lane. Not a perfect design, but sometimes you need to make due as there are lot of challenges for road space and curb space in the City. A bus stopping for a few seconds to pick up or drop off customers is a minor hassle for someone using the bike lane, and I think supporting transit users is really important for all cyclists – we active transportation users are all in this together!

Though it is not optimal in design, this is kind of an important bike lane. That area of Queensborough/Hamilton is a bit of a pinch point with the freeway jammed through it, and the route along Westminster Highway is really the only accessible, low-gradient and family-friendly route between the residential areas of Hamilton and the residential areas of Queensborough. It serves as an important connection for parks, shopping, the child care centre, and other travel. There really isn’t another way around here (except a ridiculous, really high, steep, and narrow pedestrian overpass a little way to the South, which no cycle should ever be on, and which doesn’t connect to anything, and is a prime example of why MOTI should not be trusted to build anything in an urban area, but I digress).

Now, the problem with Stop #59555 is that it has increasingly been used as place to store buses. It seems there is always one or two buses staged there, sometimes shut off with no drivers. I realize the 410 route often has delay/deadheading issues, but I also assume this is a spot for shift changes or other reasons bus are stored here. I have cycle commuted on this route for years, and I do not recall buses staging here prior to the opening of the Transit Centre. So now, instead of people on bikes waiting a few seconds for the bus to pick up or drop off, we need to travel around the bus.

A >2m-wide bus parked in a <2m painted bike lane means cyclists wishing to pass by must enter the driving lane of a road with the name “Highway”, and one with a significant portion of truck traffic. For experienced cyclists like myself, that is merely a bothersome decrease in my safety as I signal and take the lane and hope drivers respect my space (no doubt irritating a small number of them, pushing them towards writing their own long impotent screeds on the Vancouver Sun Facebook page about scofflaw cyclists not staying in their lane). But for other users it creates a serious barrier. Here is what I happened upon while riding along that route a few weeks ago, which launched this specific impotent screed:

As someone who cares about active transportation, as someone who proudly extols the virtues of TransLink as one of the greatest urban transit systems in North America, as someone elected to advocate for the safety and comfort of active transportation users in my community, all I want is for this mother to feel comfortable taking her daughter for a bike ride. I want the daughter to grow up confident and free and empowered by her bicycle. I want mom and daughter to be safe. The bikeway here is not optimal, but Translink’s operational choice here is making it markedly less safe every day. I mean, what is she supposed to do here? What message are we sending?

So please, see if you can change this operational practice, hopefully this summer, until a proper engineered work-around (a pull-out for the bus, or a bike lane routed behind the bus stop) can be implemented. If you need help from the City to make that happen, or if there is someone else I need to call, please let me know. Don’t do it for me, the “experienced rider” who doesn’t mind irritating the occasional driver if road engineering forces me into that choice. Do it for this family, for this mom trying to teach her daughter how to navigate her community safely, for this youth discovering one of the greatest tools for empowerment and freedom ever invented – riding a bicycle.

Thanks.

ASK PAT: Brews & Patios

Wes asks—

Why can’t a brewery get a non-temporary patio in New West?

Has anyone in city hall ever been to Portland (or even Port Moody)? Every brewery literally gets rid of their parking lots and replace them with picnic tables and umbrellas.

They can. It is a bit hard for me to answer this question directly, because there are only two breweries operating in New West, and that makes it challenging to talk  about general City policy without uncomfortable references to specific cases. This is probably not the appropriate medium to talk about specific sites when those are private small businesses in the City. So I’m going to try to make this as general as possible to be fair to those owners.

Yes, I have been to Portland. I know most other members of Council have been to Portland. Some even attended the Livable Cities Conference there last year and have brought back ideas to make New West weirder. There are aspects of the Portland streetscape that the Mayor can’t stop extolling. I’ve also sipped beers on sunny patios around the world, from Montreal to Hue to Lesotho to Cologne. I’ve never heard of Port Moody, though.

New Westminster has allowed patios for the three main categories of food and beverage businesses (Food Primary restaurants, Liquor Primary pubs, and Manufacturer breweries) for some time , and many of them across the City have patios. However, the City is not the only regulatory body involved in licensing these spaces, and often there are complicating details between City zoning bylaws, provincial liquor licencing, and a variety of other rules that apply to businesses, especially the strange amalgam of light industrial activity and hospitality that is represented by breweries with tasting rooms.

I can’t talk about how it works in Portland, because I have no idea how their regulatory regime works, but I’ll try to outline my understanding of the local regulatory environment while avoiding any direct reference to any specific businesses.

In pre-COVID times (when this question was asked, and yep, I’m slow with answers these days), the City had a Sidewalk Cafe policy, guidelines, and a process in place to approve said patios, and on-site patios (those that are on private property of the pub/restaurant) were permitted in all commercial zones in the City. Sometimes a zoning variance would be required to change parking use to patio use (as amount of parking is regulated by zoning), but there was a process to do this, and I don’t recall Council ever saying no. There would also have to be an expansion of the liquor licence, which is provincially regulated and comes with requirements around access and fencing and such, because non-drinking people in BC must be strictly separated from drinking people or else… uh… chaos, I guess.  There are some other details that may be City Zoning or may be Building Code that can get in the way: for example, the patio has to be accessible (ramps less than 5% grade, 2m wide access points, etc) or number of washrooms and accessible washroom consistent with the occupancy of the room, but again those details can usually be worked out.

If the above require zoning variances, then that may trigger a need for some sort of public process – a public consultation or Opportunity to be Heard, and this makes sense. If you live next door to a restaurant, and they decide to put 50 guests outside making noise until 10:00pm every night, you may have concerns with that above and beyond and concerns you may have had, and it is only fair that you have an opportunity to bring those concerns to Council. Of course, Breweries are generally in industrial areas where this is not as much of a concern.

Finally, if a business wanted to put a patio on City land (the sidewalk, a public parking spot, etc.) then there is another step around the need to licence public space for private use. They need to pay a licence fee, there are insurance and liability issues to clear up, and the City has to decide if there is a public benefit served by this use of public land. Again, this all sounds like a hassle, but it is important when allocating public resources that it is guided by some kind of policy or at least a transparent set of principles and to assure transparency, fairness, and (frankly) accountability.

We are now in COVID times, and things have changed. Most notably, the Provincial Government has made some changes to how patio spaces for business with liquor licences are regulated, in an effort to support recovery for these businesses. The changes will allow near-immediate licencing for “temporary” patios to the end of October as long as it doesn’t increase the overall occupancy capacity of the business (which makes sense, as physical distancing requirements are making it hard or businesses to fit their occupancy limits inside). By doing this in a temporary way to the end of October, it gives business a chance to get going right now, and time for them to get more permanent plans in place if that is the way they want to go.

At our last Council Meeting, New Westminster Council made some changes to our zoning bylaw to further support these “temporary” applications, and further established some strong policy guidance to give staff the clear direction that we want to support the opening of patios asap. This sounds a little self-congratulatory, but in reality, City Staff did a great job putting together the documentation, providing clarity about the rapid changes in the regulatory environment, and bringing local business associations onboard with a regime that works for them. This guidance document shows the straightforward pathway to opening a patio in time for this summer’s patio season.

This effectively kicks the ball down the road to the end of the 2020 patio season, but it also gets patios up and running ASAP, and gives us time to get things in place for more permanent changes. As a bonus, and also gives us a chance to “try out” a process and see what works or where the process needs adjustment, which is really the most effective form of public consultation.

on Phase 2

There is a lot of stuff going on right now. There are stories local and international that are causing people alarm, confusion, and anxiety. I cannot tell if things are spinning faster now, or if we are all so apprehensive about our imminent release from social quarantine that the tension is making us hyper aware. There will be a reams of sociology research coming out of the time we are in, and the times to come over the next 6 months. Or 8 months. Or 12. Who knows, and maybe that we don’t know timelines is part of this. Or maybe its just me.

I get a lot of correspondence as an elected type, and like many of you have been spending a lot of time looking out through social media at the conversation in my community. I have been stepping out to shop, to exercise, to smell the flowers in a park. Talking to friends from 7 feet apart and stepping sideways to yield some sidewalk space. Wondering if I send the wrong signal when I tried to hold the door for someone, not at first recognizing that they didn’t want to walk past me. There is a common thread through all of this – anxiety. Or maybe nervousness is a better word, and anxiety best reserved for when it becomes disproportionate and disabling, Even then how are we to know what level of discomfort is “disproportionate” right now?

Last year, the City of New West was reviewing applications for cannabis retail stores. These were, nominally, just regular rezoning applications to add another legal use to existing retail locations. We had many people write to us and come to the Public Hearing expressing fear and concern about the impact of these stores on their neighbourhood, their community, and their children. With cannabis made legal and its use already ubiquitous in our community, it was hard to understand where this seemingly disproportionate anxiety was coming from.

A wise colleague put this into context for me. Government at every level, police, schools, churches, and the media, had spent most of the last century telling the public that cannabis was a terrible threat. Reefer Madness, gateway drug, a surefire way for your child to throw their life away. We invested millions in scaring the population about this menace, and incarcerating people for using or trading in it. Then one day, government declared it legal and all fine now, with very little fanfare, and (most importantly) limited education about the reality of its health impacts. They frankly never said “we were wrong”, or if they weren’t wrong, why those fears they transmitted are now not important. What right do we have now to act surprised that everyone didn’t just say OK when that shift happened? We need to recognize that the anxiety came from a place not of the anxious person’s making. We must be compassionate about the impact it is having on them while working on re-doing the public education about this issue.

I feel that the same applies right now as people start to transition out of lockdown, and into whatever modes come next. Except it is on a compressed timeline, and a threat more imminent. Parents are understandably unsure about sending their kids to school, some are nervous about playgrounds opening while others are chagrined that we are not moving faster to open them up. Some feel inconvenienced by the lineups and physical distancing requirements at the Farmers’ Market, others are comforted to see that they can buy food with crowding managed for safety, still others feel the Farmers’ Market is not doing enough to satisfy their personal comfort.

It’s not necessarily because people don’t trust guidance from government or public health officials. Though some may feel that way, the people of BC have demonstrated over the last 4 months incredible faith in the leadership guiding us through this, and faith in their community. However, as that guidance changes, people need time to interpret and adapt to that change. Very few people alive have been through anything like this before, and we are all (experts and lay people) making this up as we go along, doing the best we can. We are all taking different paths through this crisis, some are more vulnerable, some feel more vulnerable. As this is a crisis that has required collective action, our vulnerability and sense of vulnerability are impacted by the actions of others as much as our own action.

So all this to say what Dr. Henry said eloquently in so few words: “Be calm, be kind, be safe

As we transition to re-opening, try to do so with other people’s anxiety in mind. It may not be rational to you, but that is a sign to listen, not to dismiss. We need to be kind to each other and recognize their path is different than our own. Before we criticize others for attending events, or refusing to attend events, before we judge decisions other parents make about how their children interact or play in the weeks ahead, before we mask-shame someone or question their picnic habits, use kindness to inform your view.

And be kind to yourself. It is okay to feel uncomfortable or unsure. We are all making this up as we go along, we are all doing our best, and we are all wondering if it is enough. BC has done a great job up to now, potentially thousands of lives have been saved, and we did it by working together. Let’s keep that collective spirit, keep thinking of each other.