Pipelined

I wanted to comment a bit on this story. Kinder Morgan is apparently using an industrial lot in the Braid Industrial Area of New Westminster for staging and equipment storage as part of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Extension Project. That has caused some people to send me correspondence around why the City is allowing this, people asking me why I am not opposing the pipeline. I replied to a Facebook Post, but I think this issue is important enough for me to expand a bit on it here on my blog.

The site within New West being used by Kinder Morgan is on Port of Vancouver land, not land where the City has any jurisdiction. Council members were very recently made aware this was happening, but we do not have any regulatory authority around land use on Port lands, as only the Federal Government can issue or withhold those permits. We were not involved in the planning for this, and we have not had any formal correspondence on the issue from the proponent or the Port.

This City and this Council have been involved in the NEB review of the Kinder Morgan pipeline from the onset. The City acted as an intervenor in the NEB review, raised a number of significant concerns during the process, and continues to emphasize these concerns since. Not the least of these concerns is the potential for impacts on the Brunette River and its riparian areas.

We have supported court cases challenging this project and the process towards its approval. The NEB and the Federal Governments (past and present) have demonstrated no interest in our position, nor do I feel they have adequately addressed our concerns. It is actually worse than that, as there were recent hearings in Burnaby to review some of the still-unresolved questions about the routing of the new pipeline along New Westminster’s border (and within the Brunette River riparian zone) and the NEB didn’t even invite New Westminster to attend. I was refused entry to the hearings when I showed up. They were held behind closed doors, and as the routing was some 30m outside of our City, my being able to even listen to the conversation was not seen as relevant. At least the Harper Government invited us into the room to be ignored.

I cannot speak for all of Council, nor is this the “official position” of the City, but I have been involved in this process for several years now. I bring a significant amount of professional and technical experience to this, having provided expert evidence as an Environmental Scientist to several Environmental Assessments in my career. I am concerned about the pipeline, but I am much, much more angry about the unaccountable and unacceptable process that has taken us to this point. In the last Federal election we were promised that the industry-focused reviews brought in by the Harper Government would be replaced; that didn’t happen. We were told that community consultations would be opened up, and that consent from communities would be sought; that didn’t happen. We were told that a new era of reconciliation would be ushered in before we impose unsustainable and  damaging infrastructure projects to unceded lands; that didn’t happen. We were told that subsidies to sunset oil industrial development would end and a new energy vision would be offered; that didn’t happen.

We were lied to, and now we are ignored.

Ask Pat: Housing crises

R57 asks:

I’m the one who suggested replacing the Bosa harbour front proposal with reproductions of the ‘Argonath’, and that not enough concern has been shown for the Temple of Doom half concealed in the plans for the 618 Carnarvon development. Over the past couple of years I have documented on Twitter the ongoing development of both condo and rental towers in my immediate neighbourhood: the noise, disruption, destruction of heritage or historic buildings, and so on. Ultimately, however, the greatest impact is on affordability and security for low income people in the downtown core.

I live [near] the development of the Novare tower and the site of the now demolished Masonic Hall. Our building has been sold twice in the past two years. We have now been informed that we are to be evicted for ‘renovations.’ This is from the same landlord who told us, on buying the building, that he planned not to spend a single cent on its upkeep. So, it is very fine to say that revenue from the development of a condo tower–whose ultimate purpose is to make mountains of money for developers and speculators–will partially go into an affordable housing strategy–but what have you actually done?

The last I looked, the city has approved a 42 unit affordable development to go ahead, but that was two years ago. What else? My rough tally, of just the 618 development, and the pointless, unnecessary exercise in megalomania called Bosa Pier West, amounts to about a thousand luxury units, and real, affordable housing available today–zero.

I note that the 618 developers will pay a million dollar penalty for bending the height or density bylaws, is that correct? If that is so, and that figure is still insufficient to build a few affordable units, may I suggest dividing that sum into a hundred individual grants of $10,000 each, which should be sufficient to help stressed citizens to relocate elsewhere here and abroad, and start over? I would prefer Tuscany myself, but Malaysia may be more affordable on my pension.

That’s a bit of a joke, but not much. So, we all have to go somewhere in two months. Any suggestions?

This was sent as a comment on one of my regular Council Report posts a month or so ago, but it raises enough issues (outside of architectural criticism) that I thought it deserved a fuller response, so I redacted a few personal-identification parts, and included it here. That said, I recognize I don’t really have an adequate response, but am thankful for the opportunity to go on a long rant here about the “Housing Crises”.

There is a lot going on in the housing market regionally, and the days have passed when New Westminster – a little tucked away, a little gritty, a little bypassed – could avoid the worst of the affordability crisis. We should have seen it coming. I think we did see it coming as we went through the Official Community Plan process, but while some made the case for urgency at that time, I think our reaction was (with benefit of hindsight) a tepid one.

One complexity of the problem is demonstrated in the inherent dichotomy in your comments: new building around your affordable apartment is seen as part of the problem, and not part of the solution to the regional housing squeeze. I hear a lot more concern from people (notably those who already have secure housing) that there is too much construction in the City. The reality is that growth of the City is tracking along with the Regional Growth Strategy expectations set out more than a decade ago. If there is a difference, it is in that we are building more high-density units and are not building into our single-family neighbourhoods. That is another entire blog rant I’ll have to save for later.

The newest of construction is rarely the most affordable housing, but if we bring in new supply while protecting older supply, market forces *should* result in that older stock remaining more affordable in the medium term. Even this approach creates a bunch of other problems – people buy up the less affordable stock with the expectation that they can knock it down and replace it with a tower and make more money. This is one area of speculation New West has (up to now) been pretty successful at avoiding, and we have not seen a large number of affordable housing units replaced with unaffordable condos. That is by New Westminster policy, not coincidence.

What we have seen is an increase in “reno-vicions” – tenants being displaced as an owner renovates a rental building only to raise rents substantially (doubled or more) once the renovation is done. As a City, we have no regulatory ability to prevent this, but we have been advocating at the provincial level for changes to the Residential Tenancy Act to prevent this. We have also been investing a bunch of resources and time into making sure tenants know their rights when landlords act unethically, and to provide as much support as we can to people when they are displaced. This is an ongoing effort at the City.

Building new homes is a business, and without a reasonable expectation of profit, no-one is going to do it. The construction market right now is crazy, and every construction project is burdened with a significant amount of financial risk. This risk is alleviated by building what they know, by pushing density limits, and by developing a pre-sale market that itself feeds speculation and inflated prices. It’s a vicious circle. It is clear we cannot trust “the market” to fix the affordability problem when the market is a large part of the problem. We need new construction, but we need much more than that.

We also need a supply of new homes not relying on the profit motive to get built. Few charities have the resources to do this work, so that leaves government. The federal government (with by far the deepest pockets) got out of the house-building business back in the 80s around the time we signed a new Constitution Act that put housing in the provincial realm. Since then, we have had a succession of provincial governments, each less interested in building public housing than the previous one. Local governments like New Westminster simply don’t have the resources to do this work when we have less than 8% of the tax revenue of the larger governments, and have our own increasing demands for expanded services and pressing infrastructure needs.

The upshot is that there was virtually no “non-market” housing built in the lower mainland for a good 30 years. At the same time, population has exploded and market housing has gotten completely detached from our stagnant wages (Why is no-one challenging the Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade about wages stagnation? ah…I digress). in 2018, it isn’t only the unemployed and the working poor who can’t find housing, it is the “middle class” struggling to find a place to raise a family. Rental vacancies have been stuck under 1% for a decade, and parochial concerns oppose any expansion of housing density into established single family neighbourhoods.

This is not a simple housing crisis, this is a bunch of different and overlapping housing crises coming together in a perfect storm. It was 20+ years in the making, predictable and avoidable, but here we are now. After 2 decades of bullshit neo-liberal responses (“we just need to Build the Economy, so everyone can afford a bigger house!”), the situation has only gotten worse.

So enough whining, what do we do now?

First off, anyone who tells you there is a simple or quick solution is lying or ignorant; probably both.

Clearly, we need to start investing again in non-market housing, like we did in the 50s and 60s when our country and economy were growing. We need to get back into building purpose-built rental buildings, so people who cannot or don’t want to own have a variety of housing available to them at various cost and scales. We need to incentivise the building of more “family friendly” middle-sized housing, and those have to extend into our once- (and sometimes still-) sacred single family neighbourhoods. And we need density around major transit hubs and commercial areas like downtown New Westminster to relieve market pressure. We need to shift our economic incentives (taxation regime, mortgage system, etc.) so that owning a home to live in is easier but buying investment property offers relatively less return. We need to do all of these things, and more. And we need to start doing it with the urgency usually afforded to something called a “crisis”.

I’m not going to shy away from saying that New Westminster, as a City, has been a regional leader in housing policy and investment, punching well above our weight. We have literally thousands of purpose-built rentals coming on line in the next year or two, because we have created an incentive package that makes them financially viable to build. We have managed to hold the line on demolition of older and more affordable rental stock. We have region-leading Family Friendly Housing policy, so there are more 2- and 3-bedroom suites being built. We have worked with service agencies to support affordable housing projects (two on the go, one more in the pipeline) being built on our very limited supply of City-owned properties. We have included an affordable housing component in our Master-Planned Community Developments such as Victoria Hill, and our OCP does open up more opportunities for infill density and flexible development forms. We direct amenity money from new developments into an Affordable Housing reserve fund to provide capital assistance to affordable housing agencies. We employ staff who do housing outreach and step in where (frankly) senior governments have failed, and try to connect residents with housing in any form they need. The brutal reality is that none of this is enough, and we are up against our limits as a local government, both in the resources and in legal authority. We need help. Back to the word “crisis” again.

You make reference (I think) to the bonus density charges made for the project at 618 Carnarvon. That money wouldn’t go to general revenue in the City, but is directed to specific capital funds – 30% of it directly to an Affordable Housing amenity fund, the rest to Childcare, Public Art, and General Amenity Funds to support capital projects like the Canada Games Pool replacement and the Library renovation. The City recently increased the value of these charges (reflecting recent increases in real estate prices), but have not reviewed how we apportion those funds in a few years. It might be time to do that. But even if we took $1,000,000 from that fund, it would only pay for building maybe a half dozen affordable units, if we had a place to build them, and an operator to manage them. As a local government, we simply cannot do this alone, and need to invest our capital in supporting the efforts of others to leverage our contributions into larger things we cannot do on our own.

I am encouraged by the work being done so far by the new provincial government, and hope we can see some serious investment here in New Westminster, and across the region. First in emergency housing to assist the homeless and those facing imminent homelessness, then supportive housing for those whose income doesn’t get them shelter in our market. We need to re-invest in the Co-op Housing model that worked so well 30 years ago, and we need to curtail the speculation market. We need to do all of these thing, and more. It is hard to be patient when so many people are so precariously housed, but this government is essentially starting from scratch, as a policy vacuum has existed in this province for 30 years. It is going to take some time to catch up.

All this is a long way of saying I have little advice for you. You can contact the Tenant Resource Advisory Centre (links/number for them and more contact info can be found here) and find out what your rights are, and what assistance my exist for you and your neighbours. I wish I had better answers. 

It is sad that the Lower Mainland is becoming so unaffordable that dreams of escape are only partially jokes. I have several friends who have left New West in the last couple of years, and housing affordability was a primary motivation for them. Some of them I would describe as pillars of the community. Volunteers, community builders, current and future leaders: the people who make a city into a community. Instead of here, they will now be building community in Winnipeg, in Saint-Lazare, in the Interior of BC. It saddens when people who want to call New West home cannot find a home they can afford here. It also angers me. We need more people to be angry about this to create the political will to make change, and willing to speak out for that change.

That New Premier Smell

You may have seen this graphic across the #CDNPoli Social Media this week:

It reinforces whatever political biases you bring into it: Horgan is doing OK; Wynne is a wreck; PEI doesn’t matter. But I took something else out of it, and had to draw my own graph to demonstrate it:

Politics is a hell of a business.

For the rest of us who slept through Statistics 101, an R of .92 is a pretty high correlation, so I can definitively say popularity as a Premier in Canada correlates negatively with time in office. Any Premier above that trend line is doing better than average, any premier below the line is doing worse than average. Arguably, Pallister is doing worse than McNeil on average, but you know which I would rather be going into re-election.

Because in politics, it doesn’t seem to matter if you are above or below the line here. The only lesson to be learned from this graph is that the best you can hope for in Provincial Politics in Canada is to get things done before that New Premier Smell wears off. As years in office accumulate, any successes or victories are quickly weighed down by a legacy of being to blame for everything that may have gone wrong. Inevitably some of that is your fault (no one is perfect) and some is beyond your control, but in politics at the highest level, it simply doesn’t matter.

The only good way out of politics is to recognize when the door has been opened for you, and get out. Problem is, that kind of self-recognition is the first thing to be eroded by electoral success and access to power. Entering politics in the first place requires hubris, time in politics increases hubris, getting out requires absence of hubris. You can see the problem here.

I’m not sure how this plays out at the Municipal level, but I am just going to leave this post here, and hopefully someone will point it out to me when I am considering my 6th term for Council.

Innovation! Transportation!

Next week is Innovation Week in New West. It actually starts with an Opening Reception at City Hall this Friday night which should be off-the-hook (with free music and video presentations and a special Steel & Oak release!) If you are in the #NewWest #Twitterati, you probably know this already, but some of you may wonder: “What is Innovation Week? And what can it do for Me?”

Let. Me. Tell. You.

As part of New West’s Intelligent City initiatives, Innovation week is a showcase of how technology, innovation, and sharing information can make our City work better, can make us a stronger community, can make businesses more prosperous and residents happier. It is about strategically leveraging innovative ideas like the City’s award-winning Open Data portal with hardware like the BridgeNet fibre network to build a better and more equitable future.

Now I read that last paragraph, and it is all true, but it doesn’t really tell you what Innovation Week is, does it? Let me try again.

Innovation Week is a series of panel discussions, hands-on workshops, networking sessions, tours and activities all open to the public, and inclusive of all ages, experiences, and interests. There will be classes to teach kids about coding, a Hack-a-Thon for teams of coders to develop new tech, forum discussions about new ideas, chances for Tech start-ups and businesses of all sizes to connect with Private and Public funding sources to bring ideas to reality. All wrapped up in fun enough with arts and music to keep your mind fresh. Through the week, you will be given reasons to dream, and information and resources to make that dream work.

I will probably write again about more events (if I get time, or else I will live tweet from there!), but I want to call attention to two events in particular, as they are interesting (I think) to the entire region:

Metro Conversations is a talk series I have been helping to organize with council colleagues from other municipalities. Out Fifth Conversation will be on Tuesday the 27th in the evening on the topic of The Promise of Innovations in Transportation. But instead of just dreaming of autonomous vehicles and hyperloops and Tunnels, we are going to ask whether the technological promises addresses what we actually want from our Cities – safe streets, livable neighbourhoods, sustainable communities, social connections and equity. This will be a fast-paced hour-long conversation, free to attend, but you might want to register as we don’t have the biggest room.

As a bit of a primer: watch this video form 1958, and ask yourself, is this the community we want? And how does this differ from Elon Musk’s vision of tunnels and hyperloops “connecting” our community.

The second event I with broad regional appeal for people like me who care about Sustainable Transportation and how it interacts with City Planning will be the Transportation Forums on March 1st. I’d suggest you book the time off work and enjoy the entire day, but you really don’t want to miss the evening event, as Mobility Pricing is sure to be the hottest political topic in the Lower Mainland through the fall elections and into 2019.

The evening forum will feature the Chair of the Mobility Pricing Independent Commission, one of the most respected and outspoken Urban Planners in Canada, and an Economist who can unpack the idea of what “fairness” is when it comes to paying for our regional transportation infrastructure. The Mayor of New Westminster will moderate the discussion, and it is free to attend.

If you are like me, you may be interested but apprehensive about Mobility Pricing. I have engaged in TransLink’s “Its Time” consultations, and understand how Mobility Pricing works in Singpore and London and Helsinki, but am cognizant of the challenge we have in Vancouver setting up a system that fits our region, and can be politically supported by the broad interests of the region. I’m hoping this forum will answer some of the questions I have, and allow me to better engage with the proponents and critics of road pricing.

There is a tonne of other great stuff happening between February 23 and March 3. Please come out and support these events, and thanks the many sponsors who help lead these conversations in New West. That link again.

Ask Pat: Stormont redux?

CH of Burnaby asks—

Have you changed your views on the Stormont Connector now that there is an opportunity to revamp the access to the new Pattullo Bridge? You were against the connector a few years ago. Do you still want all that traffic meandering through your residential areas? 

To your first question: No. And your second question sets up a false premise.

The Stormont Connector is a really expensive solution to a poorly defined problem, as I wrote about at length six (!) years ago. Nothing has substantially changed since I wrote that, except that the plans for Pattullo replacement have shifted from a 6-lane bridge to a 4-lane bridge, and the Port Mann now provides 10 toll-free lanes shifting even more regional traffic to that bridge. If anything, we have less reason to spend billions of dollars building a freeway through the middle of our city, and asking Burnaby to do the same.

Do I want rush hour traffic meandering through New West neighbourhoods? Not really, but I also don’t want a freeway running through the centre of the City, and there is no reason to believe that adding the latter will take away the former.  It simply doesn’t work like that.

So TransLink and the Ministry of Transportation are going to replace the Pattullo with a similar-capacity bridge, and there will be some minor increases in vehicle through-put, mostly related to better designed intersections at each end of the bridge. I think the opportunities New West has through this process are to improve the east-west connections through our City. We can make it safer and easier for Victoria Hill residents to walk and cycle to Downtown or to QayQayt. We can safely connect the Central Valley Greenway across McBride (finally) with enhanced connections to the proposed Agnes Street Greenway. We can vastly improve the public realm around Albert Crescent Park. There are many potential wins here for the City of New West, I just don’t see how a Stormont connector is one of them.

This topic also gives me a chance to give props to North Vancouver MLA Bowinn Ma, whom I was able to chat with at the Pattullo press event on Friday, and who continues to impress with her straightforward smarts and ability to engage on technical topics. It is refreshing to have an MLA speak so clearly and knowledgeably about urban transportation issues as Ma did on twitter last night:

Yep, She gets it.

Whither a plan?

It appears the Mayor’s Council are once again on the hot seat.

For the best part of a decade, the Council has demonstrated apparent amity, likely due to recognition that they were going to need to work together to get a disinterested Provincial Government to support any kind of transit funding stability as the region’s growth exploded. Alas, they recently seem ready to take a step back into parochial foot-shooting. With a federal government hot to spend money on urban infrastructure renewal and low-carbon transportation and a provincial government equally willing to prioritize sustainable transportation investments, the 10 year plan developed by a consensus of Mayors is suddenly being questioned by the very Mayors that put the plan together.

The first shot in this apparent internal battle was the vote to make Mayor Corrigan of Burnaby (the one Mayor who questioned the 10-year vision all along, leading random bloggers to suggest he was “transit regressive”) the new Chair of the Mayors Council, giving him more power to set the agenda and negotiate with the province over the terms of transit investment. He did this (presumably, because the voting was secret ballot), only through a one-mayor one-vote system that provides the Mayors of Anmore and Lions Bay equal voices to those of Vancouver and Surrey. However, most votes at the Mayor’s Council have a weighted vote system in an effort to closer approximate the population differences across the region and the relative sources of the budgets that TransLink spends.

The Agenda for Thursday’s Mayors Council meeting is out, and it suggests this tenuous situation will be tested right away. The only substantive agenda item is a motion put forward by Mayor Greg Moore of Port Coquitlam:

…that the Mayors Council supports the implementation of the Phase Two Plan in early-2018 as planned, including construction of the Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT, Millennium Line Broadway Extension, the SkyTrain Upgrade Strategy and the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge, along with increases to bus and HandyDART service and funding for walking, cycling and Major Road Network infrastructure across the region;

There is more there (you can read the Agenda and resolution, with all its whereases and nuanced language, here), but the message is clear. At least one member of the Mayors Council (the one who happens to be the Chair of Metro Vancouver) wants the plan forward to be made clear to Translink planning staff, the Provincial and Federal Governments, and to all of the regional partners involved in planning our transportation system. It is clear that at least some of the mayors on the Council still believe in the vision, see its urgency, and are willing to speak up to the pall of suspicion that has resulted from Mayor Corrigan’s election (not the least by semi-informed bloggers, like me)

This is the vote to watch to see who is on-side with well-developed and integrated sustainable transportation investments, and who is willing to delay solutions to our regional transportation challenges for yet another decade.

Pipeline Project

There is a lot to grab your attention right now when it comes to local government. Budget deliberations, mobility pricing, the ongoing housing crisis, election 2018; it is hard to pick your battles sometimes.

However, the pending start of construction activity along the proposed Kinder Morgan TransMountain Pipeline Expansion is likely to spend some time in the news this spring and summer. Although directly-impacted local governments such as Coquitlam and Burnaby have taken very different approaches to the project, there have been people in New Westminster raising alarm about the potential impacts on the Brunette River watershed, along our eastern border.

What has not been discussed as much in our local government context, is what this project means to the First Nations along the route and to the indigenous people upon whose traditional lands this project will impose itself. As our own City approaches reconciliation, we need to start thinking more broadly about how we engage the indigenous community when we are evaluating our support or opposition to resource projects – even ones we have little jurisdiction over.

Next week, the Massey Theatre Society is partnering with Savage Society and Itsazoo Productions to present “The Pipeline Project”, a multi-media theatre event and conversation that explores these themes. As part of the Massey’s ongoing “Skookum Indigenous Arts Program

By all reviews, it is a serious, but at times humourous and disarming discussion of pipeline politics, and the sometimes unrecognized push-pull between “environmentalism” and the ongoing fight for indigenous rights. There are even a couple of matinee performances/discussions for those who can’t get out at night.

Here is a (slightly NSFW, but funny when it is) preview:

I think it is pretty timely with where New West, the province, and the nation are on this discussion. It’s gut check time when it comes to defining what kind of place we want Canada to be. This is a good chance to start listening. Get tickets here.

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.

Truth before Reconciliation

We had a discussion at Council this week on the next steps for Truth and Reconciliation. As I noted in my Council Report, I didn’t support the staff recommendation to launch a Task Force to bring partners together and talk about an implementation strategy. I suggested that we may be headed down the wrong path, and need a bit of a gut check here on how we will engage this process.

First off, I want to make it clear I am not critical of the work staff have done so far, nor do I want this early course-correction to make it look like we are slowing the process or any less committed to it. Quite the opposite, I take to heart requests I have heard from members of our community that we go into this process with intention, and do it right. And that takes some explanation.

Every time we discuss reconciliation, I feel the need to put a big caveat before all of my comments: I am not a person who lived an indigenous experience. I recognize I have a whole bunch to learn about what that experience is, about what reconciliation means to people who have suffered under the residential school system and other forms of cultural repression that fill our history as Canadians.

Yet here we are, and with the best of intentions, I am another settler being asked to provide leadership over a process that is, fundamentally, not about my voice or my community.

Like many of my council colleagues, I attended an event a Douglas College last week where the intersections between local governments and the Truth and Reconciliation process were the topic. Again I left feeling that there is so much I don’t know, that I feel challenged in understanding where we even start. It was actually in discussions with participants after the event that some questions were framed for me in a way that got me to think about our path forward in New Westminster.

First off, we have a staff working group, charged with determining how our City’s internal processes and larger policies may need to change in order to fulfill our community’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. I think that is an important step, and within the structure of a local government, we need to do this. I have faith in our staff’s ability to interface our internal structures and regulatory frameworks with whatever comes out of the reconciliation conversation.

However, the proposed next step, forming a Task Force of internal and external people, first had me asking who would serve on such a task force, and what role does Council have on it. How would we decide on representation? Wait – why am *I* deciding on representation? Ultimately, this led to questioning if a Task Force is really the structure we want to use to answer questions – or even to raise questions.

One thing that has been bothering me since this Council opened the discussion about reconciliation is that every news story, every debate eventually ends up at talking about a statue. It seems that some think we need to deal with the statue, or take a few similar simple (but arguably very symbolic) actions like changing road signs, then the City can say we have done something and move on to worrying about roads and sewers and parks. And of course, the topic of the names of places becomes a rallying point for supporters and opponents of… well I guess what they support or oppose is pretty loosely defined, but “us” and “them” is at the heart of all of those arguments. It’s “their” statue, it’s “our” name, why do “they” not respect our position?

When I was discussing this the other day with a really wise friend, she asked me (and I paraphrase) what is reconciliation before we have truth? We need to first open up respectful discussion, and explore the truth of this community. Not about statues or place names, but about our experiences. To do that, we need to create spaces and opportunities for people to speak their truth. And those conversations may be very difficult.

As I was quoted (and again, I was paraphrasing someone smarter than me), a Task Force that meets once a month in an office and operates by Roberts Rules of Order in relation to a Term of Reference is about as colonial a structure as anyone can imagine. It is actually designed to avoid and get past difficult conversations in the interest of getting business done. The Witness Blanket visiting our community and the resultant conversations that happened at the Anvil and at kitchen tables around that installation, were a beginning to the conversation, but I don’t think the conversation is over. The bigger issue is – I don’t know how to write the continuation of that conversation into a Terms of Reference.

I don’t want to constrain those conversations with the wrong structure. We need know from the indigenous community what space they need to share their truth, and we need to allow settlers here in New Westminster, whether they arrived yesterday or are fourth generation, to equally share their truth. To be offended. To self-reflect. To learn.

We may end up putting together a Task Force at some point to make recommendations to Council, but we are not there yet. To get there, we need to get some people experienced in leading these conversations, preferably someone who has viewed this challenge through a lived indigenous experience, and ask them how best to connect with indigenous communities and the voices we often fail to hear. We need guidance on creating the space for that conversation. It may be here in New West, it may be somewhere else. It may be around a table, it may be around a fire. What is important is that we not ask our partners to fit into our space, or into our structure, The point is, I DON’T KNOW, and I argue few in the City do know.

So I moved that the Staff Working Group on Reconciliation seek an external consulting organization experienced in working on reconciliation dialogues to develop a communication and relationship-building process that all parties are welcomed to share their experience and their vision for reconciliation.

We are starting a journey here, and there is almost guaranteed to be bumpy points along the path, but we believe in the destination, and need to travel together.

Campaign on

We are one year from voting in local elections, and based on increased activity in the local blogosphere and a perceptible sharpening of local social media jabs, we can safely assume the silly season has begun.

The more serious campaign news this week is that the provincial government has provided a heads-up on how to organize our 2018 campaigns. We knew there were going to be spending limits, but it is good to have some certainty on the ending of Corporate and Organized Labour donations.

New campaign spending limits based on the voting population were established early this year with amendments to the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act. In 2018 New Westminster, Mayoral candidates will be limited to about $45,000, and Councillors to about $23,000.

After some speculation, and more than a little uncertainty, the provincial government introduced yesterday proposed legislation to ban donations to local election campaigns by Corporations and Labour Unions. It is safe to assume that the Green Party will support the legislation (it is something they have called for), so we can now say the playing field for the next election is set.

To get an idea what this means in New West, you can look at how money was raised last election. The data is available at the Elections BC site where financial disclosure forms for 2014 are still posted.

Starting with the Mayoral election, you can see that in aggregate, most fundraising was from businesses:

However, the main candidates did vary quite a bit in how they raised their funds. Candidate Cote, by far, collected the most from individual donations in 2014 (twice that of all other candidates), and received the bulk of available labour support (though only a little more than ¼ of his funding). In contrast, Mayor Wright received most of the business support, and was in turn mostly supported by businesses. Both main candidates spent more in 2014 than will be allowed in 2018, and neither collected enough from individuals to meet the proposed maximum spending amount.

In aggregate, Council candidates collected most of their funding from individuals. Labour provided less than 1/4 of the funding, and business less than 1/5. (I’m going to avoid talking about the couple of candidates who were mostly “anonymously” supported):

Individually, only two candidates (yes, I’m one of them!) got even close to the proposed 2018 spending limit. Notably, both of us were also within the top 3 in fundraising from individuals:

Although the ranking of overall spending closely parallels that of fundraising from individuals, there is no doubt that the gap between the biggest and lowest spenders was widened by business and labour contributions. Based on that trend, it is probably safe to assume that the removal of so-called “big money” from local elections will result in more equality in campaign fundraising/spending. This is a good thing.

Maybe.

My equivocation is part of the reason why I haven’t taken a vocal side in the “Ban Big Money” rhetoric. I absolutely think it is a good thing in the long run for democracy, however I was elected under the old system, and received the benefit of business and labour contributions. Now I have a potentially bigger advantage: incumbency.

There is no doubt in council elections that incumbency is an advantage. One way to overcome that burned-in advantage is to raise more money and run the kind of super-organized and hit-all-the-bases campaign we all dream of running. It could be argued that having used a “big money advantage” to get a seat, my now campaigning to take that potential opportunity away from others is, well, self-serving. And that always made me feel a bit itchy about actively campaigning for this change.

In the end, this is where we are for 2018, and I’m glad we all have lots of heads-up about what the rules are going to be. Game on.