Active Transportation

I know I haven’t blogged about this week’s Council meeting yet, I haven’t had time to edit and get the post up. It’s coming, I swear. In the meantime, I want to get this out, because it has been in my outbox for a little while and it has suddenly become time sensitive.

The Provincial Government is asking the public about active transportation. I have been known to criticize the Ministry of Transportation in the past about their approach to “cycling infrastructure”, but I am going to hope that this is the start of a new approach. You have until Monday to answer their questions!

If you are too busy to write your own thing, you can go to HUB and fill in their form letter, but as an elected person, I like to receive input that brings something new – a 1000-person petition is not as powerful as 100 personal letters that each bring different nuance. So I encourage you to take a few minutes and fill in the answers yourself. If you want some inspiration, here are my answers I will submit this weekend:

Question 1: What does active transportation mean to you and how does it fit into your life?
Active transportation means healthier, safer, happier communities where youth are safe to ride a bike to school and the elderly are comfortable walking to the grocery store. It is about replacing fossil fuel dependence with transportation independence. When we build the infrastructure to support active transportation, we give more people the freedom of choice in how they move around their community, reduce their reliance on volatile international oil markets, keep more of their money in the local economy, build resiliency in our communities and connections between neighbors.

Question 2: What are some of the challenges in your every day life that prevent you from moving towards using active transportation modes? What are some of your concerns about active transportation?
As an active transportation user, and a local government decision maker, the biggest challenge I face is addressing the “gaps” in our systems that make active transportation less safe and less comfortable. I am lucky to live in a compact, dense community where most services are a short walk or bike ride away, but so many of my neighbours still feel it is unsafe to make the journey unless surrounded by two tonnes of steel, which in turn reduces the perceived safety for other community members.

Too much of our active transportation infrastructure is developed as baubles attached to the side of new automobile infrastructure. Sidewalks, crosswalks, overpasses, cycling lanes, and transit supports are evaluated in how they support or hinder adequate “Levels of Service” for automobiles, while the high LOS goals (fast, uninterrupted vehicle travel) acts to make active transportation space less safe and less comfortable. An overpass over a busy road is seen as a pedestrian amenity, when it actually serves to provide more space for automobiles to have unrestricted travel. The trade-off is usually a longer more difficult journey for a pedestrian and introduction of a new barrier for people with mobility challenges. We need to see active transportation alternatives as a solution to community livability, not as a hindrance to the flow of traffic.

Even the language of “transportation” vs. “active transportation” reinforces the idea that using your feet and your own body to move around is somehow lesser than – a secondary consideration to – using an automobile. I have to explain to people that I use transit to get to work, I use a bike to run errands, I walk to City Hall, like that is some sort of radical action instead of a rational and normal way for a person to live in on a modern urban city. Let’s switch that default, for the good of our communities, the good of our budgets, and the good of our planet.

Question 3: What is the most important action that government could take to promote active transportation? What is unique in your community or region that needs to be considered?
Of course, funding. Local governments are straining to provide services as our infrastructure ages. We receive 8% of the tax revenue in Canada, yet own more than 50% of the infrastructure. This inequity is sharpest when it comes to transportation infrastructure. Billions flow for highways and bridges that direct automobiles into our communities (with, admittedly, the requisite active transportation baubles attached), but the local improvements to help us move around within our communities are tied to expectations about “Level of Service” for those automobiles. The cycle is vicious.

My community has one of the highest active transportation mode shares in the province. New Westminster is a transit city, it is an easy city to walk in and the revolution in electric assist bicycles means that residents no longer need to be athletes to manage our hills. We have some of the lowest car ownership rates in Canada. This is not an accident, the City has a dense urban fabric that puts most services near where people live, we are concentrating our growth around these transit hubs and working to make our pedestrian spaces safer and fully accessible. Yet we are choked by through-traffic that makes all of our active transportation spaces less safe and comfortable. This load means we need to spend millions of dollars every year in maintaining our asphalt to provide the level of service through-traffic expects, while struggling to find the thousands of dollars to build better cycling, pedestrian, and transit-supporting infrastructure.

We need help making our transportation system work better for our community, but as long as that transportation funding is tied to our ability to get cars moving, to provide high automobile “levels of service”, we are putting out fires with gasoline.

ASK PAT: a two-for-one

Bill asks—

I enjoyed the Bikes on the SFPR piece. Riding over the Alex Fraser is treacherous – the deck is slick in parts and the guard rail is not high enough to prevent you going over the edge if you fell off your bike – what can I do to influence change?

The Alex Fraser was a pretty cutting-edge piece of cycling infrastructure when it was built in the 1980s, now it is a sorry excuse for cycling access. With the Canada Line Bridge, the Port Mann, and the recently-refurbished Ironworkers Bridge, the remaining pieces of terrible infrastructure like the Pattullo, Knight, and Alex Fraser really stand out.

It was unique back in the 90s for having well-graded entrances and a uniquely grippy surface. It was almost enough to make us ignore the too-low barriers and narrowness, made worse by the occasional road sign pole in the middle of the path. Now the surface is worn so there are slippery parts, and the access paths at the Delta end are disconnected and disintegrating from neglect.

The bridge belongs to the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, so that is the place to go to raise concern. I would start by contacting your MLAs office with a respectful letter. It is timely, as there is currently a $70 Million project to expand car capacity on the bridge, and the same ministry is currently touting their new Cycling Infrastructure Program. I think the work recently completed at the Ironworkers is a great example of how a smart intervention into existing infrastructure can make the bridge safer for all users.

However, one voice is never as powerful as collected voices. If you really want to help cycling infrastructure not just in your neighbourhood but across the region, you should think about connecting with the two “All-Powerful Bike Lobby” groups in the Lower Mainland. I am a member and regular donor to HUB, who are great on-the-ground cycling advocates, with local chapters in every community in the Lower Mainland. The BC Cycling Coalition is a more of a coalition of local groups (including HUB) that do more provincial-level lobbying. Both organizations do great work, and are excellent resources for cycling advocacy info. If you want to push the needle forward on cycling infrastructure in the region, join one of both, and help them raise our voices.

In the meantime, keep the rubber side down!


Nicholas asked—

Hey Pat, I was just wondering if you knew what was happening with the old Commercial/Occidental Hotel on Columbia, across from the Westminster Block. Hoping theres some rehabilitation in the works!

No idea. It is a 120-year-old registered heritage building that has been under renovation for as long as I can remember now. There seems to be some slow progress on restoration based on my anecdotal observations, but I do not recall anything coming to City Council regarding the property in my time on Council. There is nothing shown in the City’s “Projects on the Go” listing for that property, and there are no applications for the property that I can see on the City’s public GIS. So your guess is as good as mine.

ASK PAT: Road Closures.

JF asked—

Pat, what are the City of New Westminster’s policies regarding road closures that impact cycling routes? Is there a requirement for the company requesting the road closure to identify and provision safe detours for people walking and bicycling through construction zones.

This past fall and winter has seen a large number of road closures in the Sapperton area for combined sewer separation and RCH related projects, and another sewer separation project on 7th Avenue near Moody Park. The Crosstown Greenway passes through both of these areas.

Many, many times over the past few months I have encountered road closures on the Crosstown greenway or connecting streets that I utilize. Most of these closures have little in the way of advanced warning and any detours in place don’t have cycling or walking in mind – ie being detoured down an alley onto Braid Street – FUN!

I’m a daily bicycle commuter passing through New West to/from my place of work in Burnaby and easily fall into the capable/confident category of rider. I don’t have any problem being detoured onto Braid or 8th Avenue and cycling alongside traffic moving at 50+km/h, but for a new or less confident rider I could easily picture them saying “forget it. I’m taking the car.” Not exactly the goal for any Active Transportation minded community.

To answer your first question, the City’s policy is that road closures caused by road/utility works are required to be well signed, and that safe alternate routes for all users including cyclists and pedestrians are to be maintained at all times. What you have discovered is that the policy sometimes fall short in practice. This is something I have spent much time ranting about in the past. It is a perennial problem, one that is (hopefully) getting better, but is (admittedly) a work in progress.

There is a *lot* of roadwork going on right now in New West. As you surmised, much of it is related to a sewer separation program accelerated somewhat by winning a federal grant to help pay for some of it. The situation in lower Sapperton has been especially intrusive, as that is where the sewer separation work is most intense along with utility works related to the expansion of the Hospital.

Almost all of this work is done by contractors (a city the size of New West doesn’t really have staff to do works at this scale anymore), and requirements to maintain rights of way and accommodate all types of road users are written right into the tender documents. They hire road flagging crews, do traffic plans, our engineers sign off on those plans, and our engineers sometimes drop by the site to see how things are going. However, these jobs are complicated and worksites are dynamic, so maintaining 100% access is difficult, and traffic plans necessarily shift as the project requires. This is often when the best laid plans get set aside for a bit, and people are inconvenienced. Sometimes, of course, they simply don’t care. Either way, the City needs to be let know.

Often, it results in a call to the Engineering Department or a SeeClickFix entry, an e-mail to a Councillor, or my better half bending my ear over dinner (if it impacted her riding route to work, like it did on 13th Ave last month). This usually means one of our engineering staff goes out there, sees what the situation is, and the contractor (if they haven’t already) are told to make it right.

This is, unfortunately, the reality of this type of work. I simply don’t know how to make it better.

I say that as someone who rides bikes around this city all the time, but I also say it as someone who at one point in his life got paid to stand with a hardhat next to an excavator or drill rig with flagging crews protecting me from traffic and vice versa. Any time you are interacting with heavy equipment, public streets and underground utilities, there are unpredictable conditions you encounter, and you need to make adjustments to plans on the fly, and the impact on traffic is but one (important) aspect of your contingency plans.

I was actually compelled early in the year to drop by the upper Sapperton project when I received two separate compliments from cyclists I know about how well the flagging personnel managed two different conflict situations with a bike route. This seriously never happens – I never get people pointing out when something goes good – so I had to check it out and let the Director of Engineering know. That said, I have also gone through lower Sapperton in the last couple of weeks, and have found through-signage lacking at times.

This is all to say I think we are doing better that we used to on this, as we have updated our policies. Our Engineering Department requires that cycling access or alternate routes must be part of the traffic plan, and that safe pedestrian access routes must be considered prior to starting work. At the same time, it still happens that I run into road works with no warning, and little indication of how I am supposed to route around them.

My best advice, when this happens, is to contact our engineering operations desk (604-526-4691  or engops@newwestcity.ca) and tell them about your experiences. We don’t have engineers on site every moment of the project, and if they don’t know there is a problem, they cannot address it. You can contact me as well, but I’m just going to contact Engineering Operations anyway, so you can cut out the middle man.

If you are into filling out web forms (you got here, didn’t you?) you can also use the SeeClickFix App to report these issues, with the bonus of being able to track how staff respond to them.

Making a complaint to Engineering may help in the short term, but it also helps longer-term. There are a limited number of contractors who do this type of work in the region, and a contractor that receives complaints about their inability to manage our traffic and access requirements is one we are less likely to hire for future contracts. Their ability to address traffic access is part of the quality assessment staff need to do at the end of every contract. That is, ultimately, the only way we will get better compliance.

I just want to say one more thing. This situation is frustrating at the time, but please try to be kind to the persons holding the Stop/Slow paddles at the worksite. Their job is surprisingly difficult and stressful. They often work in terrible conditions (noise, dust, weather, silly hours), and have to deal with irate drivers, angry neighbours and demanding construction managers, while carrying the responsibility of keeping the public and the workers on the site safe – often by putting themselves in dangerous situations. They know you are frustrated, they have little control over the hazards they are protecting you from, they honestly want to get you on your way as quickly and safely as they can.

Motordumb

This is terrifying.

I mean, that is what it’s supposed to be. Part of the macho-truck-tough-guy/gal image it is meant to project. Sports cars were sometimes jokingly referred to as phallic symbols, projecting compensatory manhood and virility. This is a more of a rolling sawed-off shotgun, projecting violence, instability, and wide destructive swath to compensate for an inability to aim.

Big Trucks are nothing new in Canada, but look at the language the puff piece in the “Drive” section of our national newspaper (ugh) uses to describe it:

“Insane”, “ridiculous”, “’roid rage”, “invincible”, “out of scale”.

This truck is too wide (“A single lane suddenly feels too narrow… a foot wider than an already-huge F-250”), too tall (“the bottom of the seat is at eye-level”), and both creates a visual barrier for others (“Once inside you can see clearly over the tops of all SUVs”), yet has terrible visbility itself (“Nothing directly in front of it is visible, thanks to the huge, wide hood”). This lack of visibility is enhanced by mating a 450 horsepower engine with a design that features “bad steering, bad ride and bad handling.” But don’t worry, “You’re so high off the ground, there’s little sense of speed. It’s like looking out the window of a 747 during takeoff.”

Yes, this vehicle is an exaggeration of a point, and not many are sold (although the Globe & Mail will no doubt help with that little problem). But it is symptomatic of a situation where the use of automobiles is,  for the first time in history, getting less safe. And it is increasingly innocent bystanders being killed by them, not drivers.

There are many factors leading to these trends, distracted driving being a bit part of the equation (which raises an entire new rant about big LCD screens in cars). However, we live in a situation were you can roll a Honda Civic off the lot that is faster on the racetrack than a Lamborghini Gallardo. Dodge is selling, over the counter and with no special training mind you, an 840hp drag racer that does a sub-10 second quarter mile. It is so fast, that it is actually illegal to use at a regulated drag strip without doing safety modifications, but you can drive through your local school zone with no such regulatory concerns.

Cars are getting bigger, they are getting more powerful, and things like outward visibility are being compromised for design reasons. Trucks, especially, are seemingly exempt from any regulations around bumper height and fender coverage. After-market modification of lights, suspension, and other critical safety equipment is essentially unregulated.

This is all coming from the position of someone who walks and cycles in a dense urban community, but also someone who sees it as part of his job to make it be safer for 8-year-olds to walk to school and 80-year-olds to cross the street. We already give so much of our urban space to automobiles, because they serve a utility that people value. Recognizing that, we can build wide, comfortable sidewalks. We can design better crosswalks, and paint green paint at conflict zones. We can impose speed limits, improve lighting, create walkable neighbourhoods and dynamic retail districts. But our public spaces will never feel safe – will never be safe – if some agro asshole can charge through it waving a sawed-off shotgun at everyone.

We need to have a discussion about how far is too far for automobiles that want to share our urban space. We need enforceable standards of power, speed, bumper height, and other design elements that emphasize the safety of not just the operator and the passenger, but of other who unwillingly share space with these machines.

Some will suggest this is an intrusion – the end of freedom as we know it. Of course, we already have an actual law telling people to wear a Styrofoam helmet when sharing road space with this monstrosity. And when you get run over by it, rest assured the driver will say “I didn’t even see him!” like that is a defense, and not an admission of guilt. And Crown Counsel will agree.

There is no “War on Cars”, but if that’s what it takes to get these tanks off of our city streets, sign me up.

Bikes on the SFPR

Bike lanes are in the news a bit again, here in New West, and out in one of our higher-profile western suburbs. It got me thinking about good and bad cycling infrastructure, and I haven’t gone off on a rant on this blog for a while, so make a cup of tea, because I am going to launch off on the Worst Piece of Cycling Infrastructure Ever®, known around these parts as the South Fraser Perimeter Road (“SFPR” or Highway 17). As this will most surely be tl;dr, you can skip down to the important part here.

When some previous Minister of Transportation (Falcon? Lekstrom? meh, it doesn’t matter) was hyping the region’s biggest-at-the-time motordom project, loosely defined as “the Gateway”, they were quick to point out the benefits to cyclists. The SFPR was announced as part of the largest MoT investment in cycling infrastructure of all time. This hyperbole was supported by the entire ~40km length of this glorious new road having cycling lanes affixed.

At the time, a few skeptics suggested that the shoulders of a high-speed truck route through farms and industrial areas may not be the ideal place to ride a bike, and by the time the new highway was opened, the previously-promised cyclist benefits were being seriously downplayed (hence all the dead links in that 4-year-old post above). But a Bike Route it is, to this day. There is a sign every 500m telling you so:

One of these green signs is found every 500 m for 40 km of great cycling infrastructure like this.

A couple of years on, the disaster of this poorly-placed, terribly-designed, and wholly-disingenuous cycling investment is pretty clear to anyone brave enough to venture onto this designated cycling route. No point dancing around the point: for cyclists of all skill levels, the SFPR is so unfriendly and dangerous that those “Bike Route” signs represent a reckless disregard for public safety.

That is a strong statement, so before I committed to it, I headed out to the SFPR with my bike to experience the length of the route in its harrowing glory, just to build up the temper necessary to commit that charge to hypertext. I went into it nervous, spent the ride terrified, and left enraged. Mission accomplished.

Funny I never ran into any other cyclists on this sunny fall day.

For the majority of the SFPR, the “Bike Route” is a 2.5 metre wide paved shoulder adjacent to industrial traffic moving at highway speeds. Nowhere is there a barrier protecting the shoulder from intrusions by trucks, not even rumble strips to warn drivers who may vary from their lane. The traffic is mixed, but the route was ostensibly built for and dominated by large trucks. The speed limit is allegedly 80 km/h, but speeds vary incredibly, from closer to 60 km/h around intersections (trucks accelerate slowly, after all, creating great rage moments for commuters!) to well over 100 km/h in the more open stretches.

Seriously?

In places where there is a soft shoulder or a low jersey barrier, having 80 km/h truck traffic blow by 2 metres from your left shoulder is unsettling. Where you are between those trucks and a 4 metre-high sound barrier wall (marked by the occasional gouge from vehicle swipes) or a 10-m concrete buttress, it is nerve-rattling.

shudder…

The knowledge that a momentary lack of attention by one of those drivers, or an impromptu swerve or technical problem with your bike means certain death provides a certain… clarity of thought. That thought is not “sure am glad I wore my helmet!”

The rational move (other than to avoid the SFPR altogether, which I will get to later) is to squeeze as far over to the right and put as much space between your body and the trucks. The problem with this strategy is that the SFPR “Bike Routes” are dotted with particularly deep and treacherous rainwater catch basins, and the further you get from the traffic-swept white line, the thicker and more challenging the road shoulder debris becomes:

Rocks and a hard place.

The road debris on this route is not surprising for an industrial truck route, unless you are surprised by the raw number of rusty and broken bolts and other important-looking parts that are ejected from trucks. Debris encountered on my ride included rocks large and small, glass, plastic vehicle parts, kitty-littered oil slicks, random lumber, nails, tire carcasses, tie-downs and bungie cords, and the occasional dead animal. These only serve to heighten the chances of one of those life-limiting impromptu swerves or technical failures. Once you realize the “swept clear” parts of the bike lanes are only done so by vehicles crossing the line at speed that you start to wonder if the route is designed specifically to kill you.

I hope that speeding truck didn’t need those parts…

Or just designed to confuse you…

Seriously, what are they trying to do to us here?

To add another layer of frustration to this alleged “bike route” is its isolation. Choose the SFPR and you are stuck with the SFPR, because it largely fails to connect to an established regional network and actively prevents you from getting on or off the SFPR where these types of connections may be obvious.

There are two locations on either side of the Alex Fraser Bridge, where a perfectly safe, low-traffic road is separated from the SFPR (one by a tall sound barrier wall) in such a way that getting out of danger’s way is impossible. For lack of a connection here, crossing this 5 foot barrier requires a multi-kilometre detour.

That over there on the left is NOT a designated bike route.

This lack of connection to regional cycling infrastructure is most obvious at the three regionally-important bridges under which the SFPR passes. The quality of the cycling paths on those three bridges is (east-to-west) really good, terrible, and not too bad, but they are all nonetheless important links. Again, either no connection has been contemplated for the bike route, or actual multi-layer physical barriers have been installed to prevent an SFPR cyclist from getting to the bridge where connections would be natural.

You can’t get there from here.

To get on the Alex Fraser Bridge from the SFPR requires a 3-km detour through two hairy multi-lane intersections. The Pattullo requires 1.5km and riding right past a pedestrian overpass, which would make for a great connection if it wasn’t barriered from access from the bike lane. The connection to the great bike infrastructure on the Port Mann is so far that is it actually a shorter distance just to ride to the terrible cycling infrastructure on the Pattullo.

Multi-layer protection – keeping cyclists from entering or leaving the SFPR at the Pattullo.

So the SFPR fails at every aspect of effective cycling infrastructure: it lacks the most basic safety and comfort considerations, it lacks connections, it lacks any form of appeal. It is not surprising that during my ride of the entire 40km length of the SFPR, both ways (done over two sunny mid-week days early in the fall), I never saw a single other person on a bicycle on the entire route. However, every 500m there is one of those little green signs. Or something like this:

Share the Road!

So it is time for the cycling community to wake up and recognize we got played. Of course, this is the Ministry of Transportation’s standard playbook, so we could have seen it coming: This “bike route” is a safety pull-off area for trucks.

One of these signs improves safety.

We were sold “cycling benefits” of a Billion-plus-dollar piece of transportation infrastructure, and got something else: bike signs placed on paved shoulder really intended to keep trucks in the other two lanes moving if the occasional vehicle needs to pull over, or of someone just needs to park a trailer for a few hours. Aside from that, it is a gutter for gravel and trash and carcasses and truck parts to prevent them from accumulating where they may impede truck travel. This “Bike Route” is just a part of the truck route, nothing else.

This is why this shoulder exists, signage be damned.

(I need to super-emphasize this) The SFPR it was never meant to be a Bike Route. 


So what to do? I’d like first to call upon the new Minister of Transportation to take down those “Bike Route” signs.

It isn’t her fault, she didn’t create this mess, but she adopted it by getting elected, so it is on her to do the right thing. The MoTI must stop threatening the lives of cyclists. Removing the signs and anything else that may incite otherwise-unaware bicycle users from mistakenly entering this cycling abattoir. Put an end to the ruse that this is any place for bicycles.

I could ask her for many more things – investment in cycling infrastructure for Surrey and Delta to make up for the funding-securing lies told by her predecessors, a commitment to policy changes to prevent her staff from ever doing this kind of bait-and-switch again – but those are opportunities for the future, and will require budget and policy decisions and such. She is a busy person with a huge mandate and new to the job; there will be time for those niceties later. First we must undo this mistake made intentionally by the previous government.

In the short term, someone in Minister Trevena’s office needs to call up the road maintenance contractor that bought the rights to not clean the shoulders here, and ask them to send a crew out to remove those signs. It shouldn’t take more than a day, it won’t cost any money, and it’s the right thing to do.

Where the SFPR meets another truck freeway, cooler heads prevail.

ASK PAT: the Missing Link

Tom asks—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

on Data

This isn’t exactly an Ask Pat, but I was asked a question on Facebook comments thread discussing the new Crosstown Greenway changes along 7th Ave, and I needed more than a Facebook post to answer:

I read two questions here, tied up into one. Paraphrased, the first is “How many cyclist injuries or deaths are there in the City to justify all of this money spent on bike lanes?”, and the second, perhaps more nuanced, is “What data justifies spending money on all these new bike lanes”.

I didn’t answer the first question, because I think it is a terrible question, but never got around to explaining why I feel that way. If we have a spike in deaths or injuries, it may be an indication that we have a problem that needs immediate attention, but we don’t wait for those spike if we can anticipate and prevent incidents. A raw count of deaths or injuries as the sole driver of infrastructure investment is not responsible governance.

The actual data being asked for is hard to come by. Local governments do not (to the best of my knowledge) collect these stats in any kind of comprehensive way for public consumption. ICBC presumably still collects stats, but their reporting out has become pretty inconsistent, and their crash maps for New Westminster have not been updated since 2013 (for Pedestrians and cyclists) or 2015 (for cars) and cannot be filtered by injury/death/property damage: 

Anecdotally (and off the top of my head) I can think of two cyclist and three pedestrian deaths in New Westminster in the last few years (there have surely been more). One of them I am comfortable in calling an “accident”, a second was clearly an act of negligence on the part of a pedestrian. The rest were just as clearly acts of negligence on the part of the drivers of a vehicles, resulting in the death of 3 innocent road users. I have also spent the last year watching a good friend struggle through recovery from a near-fatal cycling crash where he was clearly a victim of a negligent driver. New West is not unique here, as across the region, there is news every day of cyclist endangered by the negligence of drivers.

Of course, I acknowledge the obvious point that cyclists and pedestrians also sometimes act negligently, and cause accidents. However studies have shown that accidents causing injury or death of pedestrians and cyclist are in the vast majority, caused by the actions of drivers, most notably not yielding right-of way while making turns.

That said, we are talking about infrastructure, and part of designing and investing in transportation infrastructure is in making it harder for people (drivers or vulnerable users) to be negligent, and to reduce the potential impacts of any negligence on vulnerable road users. We can do this through design that reduces conflict points, improves visibility, slows cars, or puts barriers between vulnerable users and the vehicles that endanger them. At some level, this should be the primary goal of all transportation engineering. But perhaps I am already digressing too far from the point, so let me answer more succinctly:

We don’t measure the need for a bridge by counting the number of people drowning in a river.

The second question seems to be more relevant to how governance works: What kind of data do we use to make transportation investment decisions?

The City passed a Master Transportation Plan back in early 2014, and it sets out priorities for the City’s transportation investments. It was developed in context of a bunch of other planning documents, including larger regional plans like the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy and the TransLink Transport 2040 regional transportation plan, both of which the City participated in. Internally, we have our own Official Community Plan (currently being updated), a relatively recent Sustainability Plan, and a variety of other strategies to make the City more equitable, safer, livable, and sustainable.

These plans all point to making active transportation modes (pedestrians, cycling, and transit) easier to access, safer, and more comfortable, as an important strategy towards the larger regional and local community development goals. This was reflected in our Master Transportation Plan with an established hierarchy for our transportation system:

In an ideal world, our transportation spending would reflect that hierarchy, but we are not there yet. This year, we will spend something like $4 Million* on asphalt, mostly to make roads smoother for drivers. At the same time, we will spend about $500,000* on sidewalk improvements and maintenance (which represents a pretty significant proportional increase over previous years), and the Crosstown Greenway improvements that started this entire conversation will cost us less than $125,000*. By any measure, the hierarchy in the MTP is aspirational, as travelling by car is still the preferred mode for a little more than 60% of residents.

(* all budget estimates, very close to reality, but not exact numbers) 

So the City has a well established and regionally-supported goal to encourage active modes, mostly by making them safer and more comfortable for all users. The only question left is what evidence do we have to suggest making active modes safer and more comfortable encourages their use, or provides the livability, sustainability, and inclusion goals the City is after?

I could start with Montreal, or Copenhagen, or Medellin, or even Vancouver. I can refer you to books by Jeanette Sadik-Khan or Charles Montgomery. We are not inventing a new wheel here (we are too small and too fiscally conservative a City to do that), but we are taking the best of what other jurisdictions have already demonstrated to work, and are warned by failures in other jurisdictions.

If you want to dig in to the academic underpinnings here, I can link you to resources about how protected bike lanes save lives and reduce injuries, and studies showing that communities where people are encouraged and supported in choosing active modes are happier, healthier, and more inclusive ones. Perhaps most importantly, I can show you the data that building proper infrastructure increases the number of cyclists, which actually correlates with cyclist safety much more than does helmet use (for example):

The Crosstown Greenway improvements are very small part of our transportation budget (less than 3% of this year’s budget for road improvements), and has numerous potential benefits to the community at large. As the City’s first foray into modern separated bikeway design, it may have a few kinks to work out, and it may take a bit of time for drivers to get their head around the new layout, but it is based on well-established design principles, and is a big step towards creating a safe, effective, and all-ages cycling network in the City.

That said, they were done as a bit of a trial, and I encourage everyone to let the City know what you like and don’t about the design – and provide suggestions about how the City could improve upon the design.

POST SCRIPT: I swear I did not read the New West Record that came out today before writing this post… 

The Grand Prix

The New West Grand Prix happened last week. Our City joined Vancouver, White Rock, Delta, Port Coquitlam, and Burnaby in hosting a BC Superweek professional bike race. And what a show it was. You can read the good news stories here, here, and (especially) here. But this is my Blog, so I’m going to take my time to (space?) to thank the many people who need to be thanked for making this project work. At least, I will try to thank as many of them as I can think of. An event like this is a partnership between many groups, and I’m going to risk missing a few important people here…

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First and foremost, we had an army of volunteers making this happen, some who gave a few hours on the day, some who spent month ahead of time putting vital pieces in place. Community member Ron Cann provided great leadership and savvy guidance as the Chair of our organizing committee, Diane Perry organized the kids’ races and events, Bill DeGroot shook the bushes of the community for volunteers, and he and Jennifer Wolowic made sure the volunteer efforts were as organized as could be. Jennifer was also a star on Race Day, bringing her knowledge of high-level cycle racing to do any of a thousand small tasks that needed to be done. Mario Bartel helped put the Grand Prix on the social- and traditional-media map, and did what he does best by capturing stories through his camera lens. Ross “Mr. Jen” Arbo helped find a bunch of places for visiting racers to billet here in New West. This was the command structure of a volunteer army.

Add to this core group more than 100 volunteers who did everything from set up and tear down fences to standing at crosswalks for hours keeping people safe and many other tasks you didn’t even see being done. Here is where the greater New West community stepped up. We had teams from the local HUB Cycling chapter, The Queens Park Running Club, and from the Fraser River Fuggitivi road riding group. We had corporate teams, Youth Ambassadors, and a team from Last Door who were particularly adept at large-fence-panel moving, and scores f individuals who just wanted to help out. I don’t know where Bill found all of these people, but the first time I felt confident about this event working was the day of the Volunteer Dinner, a week before the event, when more than 100 people showed up eager to help make race day work. Thank you to everyone!

I want to thank some City staff who really stood up, but I don’t want to name them (I am, in some weird sense, their employer, and privacy rights and all…) I think they know who they are, and I’ve tried to thank them personally. An event like this pushes them past what is normally “just their job” and takes a passion and effort that is out of scale with their everyday, and so much of this work occurs of the side of the desk along with their everyday busy schedules. Council put a little extra stress on our staff because we (frankly) started a little late on this project. This meant we had to rush some parts of the program, it also meant we weren’t able to do a few of the things that would have made the program bigger or more exciting (many learnings in the can for next year!). However, staff coordinated with the volunteers and those running the bigger BC Superweek program and answered a thousand phone calls and e-mails about every aspect of the event, then showed up on event day to do a thousand tasks, big and small. Kudos all around.

This event relies on sponsors to pay a huge portion of the bills. Again, we were a little late to get started in 2017, but it is incredible how many sponsors stepped up to contribute. Bosa Developments, Domus Homes, I4 Property Group, and Skyllen Pacific were all major partners with the City on this community-building adventure. Strongside Conditioning and Billard Architecture were two local businesses that had their front door access impacted by the event, but turned that into a reason to get involved as major sponsors.

Of course Gordon from Cap’s Original Bike Shop got involved, providing prizes for the kids race, a great draw prize for the volunteers, and the professional “pit services” for the race. Boston Pizza made sure VIPs and volunteers got fed, S&O partnered to keep folks otherwise refreshed, and the Record and Global BC helped get the word out. Champion Systems, Gateway Casinos and Alpine Credits also pitched in, and Old Crow Coffee hosted our volunteer corral. Next time you visit one of these sponsors, thank them for taking part and helping to bring this event to New West. We really couldn’t do it without them, and they are making your City more fun to live in.

Similarly, we got a lot of support from downtown New Westminster. Both the Downtown BIA and Tourism New West came on board with support, but the merchants and residents of downtown also made adjustments to their day to allow us to have one of the large road closures in recent New West history. Can’t have a road bike race without a road.

Finally*, the fans and racers. The show was great, a kicking of butt by the Woman’s winner, and a late break almost caught by the sprint in the Men’s race… there were no spills but many thrills, and a marriage proposal to cap it off. The crowd was above expectations for our first year, and seemed really enthused by the event. It was a good evening. So whether you volunteered, sponsored, raced, spectated, were inconvenienced by the traffic, or just wandered by and asked “What tha heck?”, then decided to watch for a bit – thanks! I love when this town shows up!

*postscript: Thanks to Councillor Trentadue for invoking Rule #5 at the best possible time. You were right.

Plans and Promises

I have had interesting interactions on social and traditional media this week, and it got me thinking about plans the City makes, and where those interact with promises made by politicians. I am new to making the latter, have made the former for a long time, but haven’t really thought about the differences. let me see if I can tie this together into a cogent discussion.

It started with this Facebook post:

Hey Patrick, Earlier this year you spoke of the pedestrian and cycle improvements that were soon to be built along Braid. What does soon mean? You spoke of right away, seems you’ve become just another politician, promises promises…….

I have a slightly vague memory of having this conversation, as it was around the time some public consultation was being planned around this project. I knew the project was coming along because we talked about it at ACTBiPed, and because I attended an event as Acting Mayor just before the last Federal election where an MP from and adjacent riding announced some federal funding to help fund the project.

So I replied to the Facebook post with a link to the project page (above), and slightly cheekily followed with “no promises, though”, because it seemed to me the poke about “promises” by my inquisitor was slightly tongue-in-cheek. Or maybe not, as another person took slight offence to my flippant attitude, requiring yet another response by me that provided more detail, proving once again that Social Media is a terrible place to infer nuance.

The longer version of my response is that the project is coming along, but this isn’t really something I would think of as a “political promise”. I don’t think anyone ran for Council supporting or opposing a plan to put green separated lanes on the north side of Braid Street to connect to the United Boulevard bikeway. However, some of us were more supportive than others of the Master Transportation Plan for the City adopted just before the election (I don’t think anyone NOT supportive of it was elected). I am not only still supportive of it, but am supportive of rapidly implementing the active transportation measures included in that plan, including filling some of the important gaps in our bicycling network.

When it comes to building certain connections, though, that is really a complicated discussion between Council, staff, our Advisory Committees and other stakeholders, and is influenced by the capital budget and various priorities. This particular project was seen as a good chance for some senior government grants (applied for and won), represented an important gap, and was generally seen as ready to go. Drawings were created, some cost estimates done along with some public and stakeholder consultation. Capital budget was set aside in the 2017 year to do the works. My “supporting” this plan was a very minor part of the plan coming together for 2017, even as one of the members of a seven person Council.

That said, I can see a couple of potential issues that may prevent this from happening on the existing timeline. If you look at the poster boards from the Public Consultation, you will note that the map has red lines on it. Those are property lines, and a large part of the project is within rail property. I understand that we have agreements for these properties, but as we are learning with whistle cessation measures elsewhere in the City, the way rules and agreements work on rail lines is not always straight-forward, and it is best not to be too hasty predicting how those agreements will work out when it comes time to roll out the excavator. The second issue is, of course, the upcoming Brunette Interchange project by the Ministry of Transportation. I can’t tell you too much about it because MoT has not yet released their project drawings, but if there are changes in how Braid Street works through this area, we may need to go back to the drawing board. I don’t know the answers to the questions, nor are they completely in Council’s control.

I have every reason to expect this project will proceed in 2017 as planned, but all plans are subject to change, based on the rule of best laid plans. This doesn’t mean we won’t build a safe cycling and pedestrian route between Braid and the Bailey Bridge, it just means that the connection may not arrive exactly as we envision it today, or on that timeline. We’ll stick to the goals, we may need to change the plan. Stay tuned.

As for “promises”, I remember promising to support the Master Transportation Plan, to support and work towards implementation of the transit, pedestrian, and bike infrastructure improvements in that plan, I promised that stakeholders like HUB and the members of ACTBiPed would be involved more in planning these types of projects. I also promised I would do everything I can to be the most open Councillor about talking about how decisions around the Council table are made – mostly through this blog and other Social Media, hoping that openness would build more trust in the work City Hall is doing. If we make a decision you don’t agree with, I hope you will at least understand my motivation for making that decision, and hopefully you will be angry at me for the right reasons.

Which brings us to this week’s editorial in the Record, where they are critical of Council’s approach to the Q2Q bridge. They are right that the current situation is a let-down, and that, ultimately, Council has to own that disappointment. I may (cheekily) offer surprise that they claim to have known all along it was impossible to build the bridge, and didn’t bother to point that out to anyone, even when previous engineering reports suggested it was well within scale of our budget, but that is not the part of the editorial that made me retort. Instead, I was pretty much with their argument until this:

It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out that Queensborough’s project would be low on the priority list. In fact, you just have to drive down Ewen Avenue to know that Queensborough often gets the short end of the stick.

I have to respectfully disagree with the suggestion that this Council ignores Queensborough as some sort of political calculation. That the Editor used Ewen Avenue as an example suggests to me they have not been to Queensborough in some time. Ewen Avenue is undergoing the single largest road improvement project in New Westminster in the last decade. Two years into a three-year $29 Million upgrade, the entire length of Ewen Avenue is going to be a brand new transportation spine for all modes. It has been a big, disruptive construction project, but the end result is becoming visible now, and will change how Ewen Avenue connects the community in a pretty great way.

If the issue is priorities, the Editor may be reminded that the Q2Q plan was part of a series of DAC-funded projects that started with $6.2 Million towards the $7.7 Million renovation of the Queensborough Community Centre, including the opening of the City’s first remote library. It included another $5 Million in Park and greenway improvements for Queensborough (including the South Dyke Road Walkway, Boundary Road Greenway, Sukh Sagar and Queensborough Neighbourhood Parks, and a pretty kick-ass all-wheel park). These were the first thing done with DAC funds, not a low priority.

Just two weeks ago at Council, we turned down capital funding support for a Child Care facility in Uptown because we placed the need in Queensborough as higher priority, and dedicated our limited child care funds toward filling that need. That isn’t “the short end of the stick”, that is including Queensborough’s needs along with the other neighbourhoods of the City when directing limited resources towards where the need is greatest. This council has a record of fighting (and winning!) to keep Queensborough in the same federal riding as the mainland, and a record of fighting (and losing) to keep it in the same provincial riding. Queensborough has never been an afterthought at the Council table during my time there, but a neighbourhood we continue to invest in and be proud of.

The situation for Q2Q sucks, there is no way to dress that up or say it more elegantly. A set of projects was conceived a decade ago, and of them, this project does not appear workable in the current form. The work is ongoing right now to determine how the remaining DAC funds can best be used connecting Queensborough to the mainland, and I am hoping a new and viable plan will come along soon. Call the current set-back a broken promise if you must, but the decision to not move ahead with a $40 Million option right now is not proof of a City disregarding one neighbourhood, it is a matter of understanding our fiscal limits as a City of 70,000 people with dreams perhaps bigger than our reality.

Ask Pat: Whither bike lanes?

It’s been a while since I answered an Ask Pat question, and there are a bunch of them in the queue, so I’m sorry if I haven’t gotten to yours! I’m a little over programmed right now. All good stuff, just too much! So here we go with an Ask Pat from a guy with a suspicious name:

Patrick P. asks—

Hi Pat. I find it totally bizarre that while we allow new apartment towers to be built with hundreds of new parking spots for cars, it seems no thought has been given to mitigating all the extra traffic on the road, or to giving people a cycling alternative — or to the impact on our environment. We have no dedicated (separated) bike lanes, and my bicycle commute to central Burnaby has been a challenge as there are no signs indicating a safe route. Moreover I am very worried for the safety of children like mine who want to get around town by bicycle.
Are there any plans to make our city more cycling friendly, particularly around shopping areas? What can I do to help?

I hear you. As a person who rides a bike for recreation and for daily chores, and tries to commute by bike as much as I can, with a partner who commutes to Burnaby every day on a bike, I know we aren’t yet where we should be as far as cycling infrastructure. Short answer to Question 1 is yes, answer to Question 2 is way down below at the bottom of this post, so fix a cup of tea, sit back and enjoy (or just scroll past all the fluff to the bottom couple of paragraphs)

There is a strange thing about traffic in New West: it mostly isn’t us. Two great statistics that tell you about our traffic problem is that the City has the highest percentage of its land dedicated to roads of any municipality in BC, and that New Westies drive less and own fewer cars per capita than the residents of any municipality in BC (with the exception of the City of Vancouver). Yet traffic is our #1 problem, because people like driving through New West. Presumably, they like it because they don’t have better options, not because of the nice views or the friendly demeanor of our residents.

So in that sense, if we have a car traffic problem, it isn’t the people living in towers on top of SkyTrain nodes. The extra 300 residents with (following our demographic trends) 200 more cars, used only 50% of the time, are a drop in the bucket of the 400,000 cars a day (a number I do NOT have a source for, but a number used anecdotally to describe our through-traffic for rhetorical purposes by virtually everyone) that ply our streets. There is an entire political conversation about whether parking minimums for new developments are good public policy, but I don’t think that is where you are going with your question.

Arguably, providing more housing alternatives in New Westminster (including those towers on SkyTrain nodes, and “missing middle” family-friendly housing forms) will act as a disincentive to people commuting through our City, by providing people better options that living to the east of us when they work to the west of us (you can change either of those directions to point to the same problem). The entire model for the Regional Growth Strategy and Regional Transportation Plan is based on that idea – compact, transit-friendly, mixed-use development as opposed to car-centric sprawled single-use development. New Westminster is (IMHO) leading the way for this development model regionally, and is, unfortunately, still straddled with the traffic impacts of neighbouring communities not talking as active a role in changing how they develop to suit the regional vision.

But you live in New West, work in nearby Burnaby, and want to be more comfortable riding your bike to work and to shop. Even better you want to feel safe sending your kids off to school riding their bikes. You (and I’m not just saying this because of your great given name) are part of the solution, and are fortunate to have the opportunities in your work/life/health/etc. to make that choice. The City should be making it easier for you.

I think we are, but perhaps not as quickly as either of us would like, through implementation of our new Master Transportation Plan. Passed before I was elected (although I served on the advisory committee), this plan represents a monumental shift in how we, as a City, are going to look at investing in our transportation system.

First off, it places active modes at the top of the priority list:

heirarchy

To me, that means we are going to spend less on making the asphalt smooth, and more on making the sidewalks, bike routes, and transit system operate better for all users. To you and me, that may seem obvious; to enshrine it in a master planning document means we are charged (us elected types and staff of the City) to do it, and put our budget where out mouth is.

What does this look like on the ground? For the first time, New Westminster is investing in green paint. It has taken a bit of time, and in the first year of MTP implementation we really invested more in primary pedestrian and transit accessibility (we are aiming for 100% accessible sidewalk curb cuts by 2018, and 96% accessible bus stops, which leads the region on both counts). We have also staffed up a bit in our transportation department to expand our ability to plan and deliver these projects. This next phase does include some significant cycling improvements.

We have already identified some “quick wins” for cyclists, where a bit of engineering can make a few key links on our established greenways work better. You will see things at 20th and London Street, 7th Ave between Moody Park and 5th Street, under the Queensborough Bridge in Queensborough, and between Braid Station and United Boulevard (for a few examples) right away. A few other slightly more challenging issues (a hill-friendly bike route connecting Downtown to Uptown) are being worked on, as are designs for the Agnes Greenway, and an extended greenway from Braid Station to Sapperton Landing Park. Safe Routes to School and Safe cycling to school are also high on the priority list.

As an aside, you probably have no idea how much that green paint costs. On a square-foot basis, it would be cheaper to do engineered hardwood. But we will probably save long-term on maintenance.

The best I can offer you is small relief in the immediate future, with a long-term vision towards a properly developed integrated and complete bike network. It is going to take a few years, but the MTP gives us the vision, and I think Council has the political drive to make it happen. When compared to Vancouver, we are a small municipality with a limited budget, so multiple separated bike lanes and the assorted infrastructure (lights, signs, paint, paving) to make them really work ideally, are an expensive prospect. I can’t guarantee they will arrive tomorrow, only that this is the direction we are headed, and I’ll be advocating for our budget allocations to suit the priorities we have set through our MTP.

If you think you have good ideas about cycling infrastructure needs in New West, there are two ways you can help.

You can apply to join the advisory committee in the City that works to make New West a better place for cyclists, pedestrians and transit users: ACTBiPed. I happen to chair that committee, and served on it for a couple of years before I was elected. I think we have managed to make it an effective group where staff and community members work together on “big picture” strategies, and also take time to dig into the detailed design elements of new infrastructure to assure they work for active transportation users. The City is receiving applications right now for 2017 Committee appointments, and you can get all the info you need to apply right here.

If working within the system doesn’t satisfy your needs, you can also get involved with the local HUB Chapter, who advocate for better cycling infrastructure and funding, locally and at the regional level. New West hosted their AGM a couple of weeks ago, and it was great to hear about the work being done in the local chapters across the region. The local group is also instrumental in getting elementary school kids trained to ride their bikes safely, running cycling safety and skills courses with the School District. They are also a very helpful voice at the table when we are making decisions about cycling infrastructure in the City. You should become a member, and then decide if you can give them your time, donate them some money, or whatever combination of the two fits your lifestyle the best!

Finally, you can ride your bike, and use SeeClickFix when you run into problems, to let City staff know that good cycling infrastructure is wanted, and bad cycling infrastructure is noticed, by residents of the City.

We are working on the MTP, on making this a better place to ride a bike, but we could always use more motivation from our residents!