Riverfront fire

I’m hearbroken.

That’s about all I could tweet last night, typo and all, in true Twitter style.

At the time, I was walking back down from the middle of the Pattullo Bridge with Councillor Nakagawa, hoping like the many hundreds of people in downtown New West to get a better view. Not for prurient fascination; just trying to account what we were losing, to support our hope the flames would end. And the loss started to hit me.

When we got to the site after exchanging frantic texts, the W was engulfed in smoke and flames as firefighters tried desperately to get water onto the site. This was a shocking vision. Love it or hate it (and few are indifferent), WOW New Westminster has become iconic – a vital part of our skyline and our brand as a City. Still balanced there, thin steel cables holding it up, it seemed only a matter of time before it was gone.

We were able to catch peeks from Columbia Street or the Parkade as the flames moved along the aged creosote timbers to the Urban Beach, creeping under the deck, veiled in its own oily smoke, then surging out of gaps with unbelievable intensity, so orange as to be red. We could see the firefighters tearing through the fence, but water was not going to stop this, not with tar-soaked wood capped by asphalt.

It became clear the best possible outcome was the fire being stopped at the end of the “timber wharf”, and that the decking change under the grass field and the gap between sections will give firefighters a chance to stop the downriver spread. Even this was uncertain, as the fire at the gap was substantial and burning fiercely. If it didn’t stop there, it seemed all would be lost.

Former Mayor Wayne Wright was in the growing Parkade crowd, looking on. He was visibly shaken. It was Mayor Wright and the Council before me who made the brave move to buy this land, to dream big and complete a City-defining vision against some vocal and sometimes malicious opposition. We shared a few words, but I know if my heart was breaking, his must have been tenfold.

I chatted on the phone with Ruby Campbell, former City staff member who did so much of the hard legwork of getting the funding model together, the partners onside, and managed to get bitter Federal and Provincial political opponents together for a friendly Grand Opening event to celebrate the achievement of all – and God did it rain that day! So many stories were made in this park between that day and now.

I sat in the Park on Saturday, slightly cooler than I might have liked under the sepia skies as I worked on my Council package on a laptop and watched people of every age, shape, and size use the park. Of course I took a picture, the picture at the top of this post, because you always want to show this park off to your friends.

This loss is for the entire community, but it is also personal.

Before I went home last night to shower the tire fire smell off, I stopped once more to check that the W was still there. The fire at that end had been pretty tamped down, more white smoke than black, and the W was indeed still standing. Amazing.

I got home, and a friend was raging on Twitter about 2020. A friend with a big heart who has felt many of the impacts of this year’s compounding disasters more than some others. He asked “is it okay to be crying over a park?” That is how much this place is part of our home. It is our living room, a parlor and a back yard and a playroom. Friends replied – he wasn’t the only one crying. People around the region sent us notes sharing our grief for the loss of a park.

It’s hard to put things in any kind of perspective this year. So much strife and anger in the air. Death is around us in a way generations have forgotten. This very weekend, our eyes have been watered and lungs scratched by the smoke of entire communities lost down south of us, tens of thousands of homes burning to the ground. But that doesn’t make it wrong to feel a personal loss, to remember the things that matter to us every day, and mourn still if they are taken away.

This morning news was more reassuring. Thanks to the firefighters working in incredibly challenging conditions with limited access, unknown deck conditions, needing SCBA to protect them from the creosote smoke, the fire was indeed contained to the Timber Wharf, and damage to the western half of the park was limited. We all owe a thanks to the New West Fire Department and crews from across the region who faced these challenges, and limited the loss to our community.

The Riverfront still belongs to New West. We will make it a place for people again. Of course the deck is still burning, and we don’t know what this looks like yet, but I cannot imagine our community turning its back on the river again. When the fire is out, we will get to work.

Back at it

Back at it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask Pat: That old house

Zack asks—

What is the future for the historic (and seemingly abandoned) house across from the grocery store in Sapperton? If it was revitalized and turned into a community space (like a small library?) it could be quite the hidden gem in Sapperton. Currently it is a dilapidated eyesore

Short answer is: I have no idea. It is private property, so much like every other house in the City, the answer to your question is pretty much up to the owner, not the City.

If you go to the City’s public on-line Interactive Map, you can see that it is actually on a slightly unusual lot that stretches up the hill quite a bit, and it is zoned for a Single Family Detached house (RS-1). The house itself looks a little dilapidated, but it is one of the oldest intact buildings in New Westminster, apparently built in 1877.  As far as I can tell, it is not in the Heritage Register, so it doesn’t have an specific protection, though I image any redevelopment plans would consider if it is preservable.

The City doesn’t really have much control over when or how a property owner plans to sell, fix up, or redevelop within their current zoning entitlement (i.e. replacing the single family house with another single family house). As long as the house is not a public health hazard and hasn’t had extensive work without building permit that violates the building code, the City doesn’t really have much power to force a homeowner to “fix it up” or do anything with it. Even the unsightly property Bylaws are more to do with housekeeping and untidy lawns than in keeping up the building paint, and these kinds of Bylaws are generally enforced only after complaints are received, and with a mind to encouraging compliance more than being punitive.

I don’t know the owner, or their plans. I could speculate that there may be a longer-term intent to develop the lot, as it superficially looks like a pretty attractive location for some mid-size housing, but no applications have come to Council in my memory, so I am only as able to speculate as you.

There are also no plans that I know of right now for the City to buy up properties like this, even if the owner was selling. Our already-aggressive capital plan for the next 5 years doesn’t leave us a lot of room for new buildings or programming spaces beyond what is already planned, and I’m afraid COVID may even slow plans more than accelerate them.

So the long version is also: I have no idea.

Calmer streets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask Pat: Drinking in Parks

Jeremy asked—

With suggestions from public health indicating that we should be avoiding indoor gatherings this summer, are there plans in the works to allow for alcohol consumption in our parks this summer to encourage outdoor socialization? Also related to this, will parks be open later to discourage groups from going back to ill-advised indoor gatherings?

Agnes Street Bandit asks—

When is New West going to follow suit with North Vancouver, Penticton and much of Europe and allow some forms of drinking in parks? With concerns of social distancing and it becoming clear that COVID is unlikely to be spread outdoors it seems like a no brainer. Without a rule in place it seems like another luxury people with detached homes and a backyard have over folks in condos. Beyond the virus does this not add to making New West a more livable city where the citizens want to enjoy the parks and public spaces without worrying about getting a ticket? As North Vancouver Mayor Buchanan says “…[treat] adults like adults.”

I am actually surprised about these questions. My surprise is that more people aren’t asking and this hasn’t been a bigger topic of conversation in the New West. The shortest answer is that we didn’t prioritize this for this summer, with all of the other stuff going on. I suspect it will happen sooner than later, but not in summer of 2020. As always, there is a longer answer.


The Provincial government a couple of years back made changes to the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Act so that a Municipality could designate a public place, or part of it, as a place where liquor can be consumed. There are some details in here, and I am *not* a Lawyer, but the way I read it, the City could designate part of a park, all of a park, or even the entire City (everywhere that is Municipal jurisdiction, anyway) as a place where it is legal to drink a beer, wine, or cocktail.

There are rules under the Liquor Control and Licensing Regulation, which exists under a similarly-named Act (I blogged about the difference between Acts and Regulations a little while ago). This regulation says that if a City wants to designate such a place for public drinking, they need to post signs that show the outline of the place, the hours when drinking is permitted, etc.

Of course, all of the other rules we have around booze would still apply – you cannot be a minor in possession of alcohol, you can’t be driving an automobile, you can’t be performing brain surgery, and you cannot be intoxicated. Remember, the rule that allows public drinking does not allow public drunkenness.

To designate this place-to-drink, the City needs to pass a Bylaw that fits the criteria set out by the province. A few cities have done it in selected areas of some parks, notably North Vancouver City and Port Coquitlam. Vancouver ran into a typically-Vancouver problem because they have a unique governance structure where the Parks Board strictly has *jurisdiction* over the parks, but the language in the Act specifically says a “Municipality or Regional District with jurisdiction may…” and the Parks Board is neither of those, so they need to get some special clearance from the Province because the legality of the Bylaw could be challenged and that would be a bit of a hassle… so they are working on it. But I digress.

If New Westminster wanted to pursue this, we would need to pass a Bylaw. That is neither a simple nor a particularly complex process. We would have to do all the legal stuff to make sure it is functional (see Parks Board, above) and decide where and how to appropriately designate and sign the place, but we have professional staff who can do this work. That said, when we mess with Parks space and how it is used or allocated, we need to talk to the community and user groups first. I have been through enough Dog Park consultations to know that people in New West take their park space very seriously, and changes need to be approached with a bit of caution and a lot of conversation.

I know that sounds like I’m slipping into bureaucrat speak, especially if you are one (like me) that likes the idea of having the occasional beer or goblet of wine during a picnic. But there is work to do here on two fronts, and we haven’t done the work yet.

First are the legislative questions. One example I can think of is: how does this impact Special Event licensing? If a group wants to have an event (as commonly happens in our City in normal times, like Music by the River or the Pecha Kucha at the Queens Park Bandstand) where alcohol is served with a special event license, can we still do that if this is a designated “bring your own booze” area? There is a provincial rule that says a place cannot have two licenses at the same time, so is “open for drinking” considered a license? We don’t want to put unexpected barriers in place to community groups who use our space for events, and if we designate the Bandshell (for example) as an area where drinking is OK, does that preclude youth events at the Bandshell? These are technical questions, so we should be able to get straight-forward answers as we work through them, but that takes a bit of time and legal review.

What will take more time is talking to the community about where and how much. I have spent enough time on other continents where Protestant alcohol rules are not as common, and could imagine opening all of New West to open carry without chaos breaking out. However, in my role I need to hear from and respect the voices of others who don’t share that feeling. Our goals as a community include being as inclusive and welcoming as possible. We need to consider how this change would impact everyone in the community.

Some people simply don’t want to be around others drinking alcohol. It may be a religion thing, it may be related to trauma people have experienced around alcohol use, it may be people going through recovery from addiction, it may just be people would rather not be in that space. It doesn’t really matter where it comes from, everyone has a right to reasonable access to public space. When we change the standards for public behaviours in a community – and how we use laws to enforce those behaviours – it needs to be the community driving it. We need to find the balance between how different people want to use public space, especially as those wants are often contradictory. some don;t want booze near playgounds, some parent specifically want to be able to have a beer while watching their kids use the playground. The balance is often hard to find.

There is an interesting equity lens on this, as well. How is our current prohibition on public drinking enforced, and how would a more permissive set of regulations (you can have a beer on this side of the line, not on that side) be enforced? We need to talk to our Bylaws and Police staff to talk about enforcement and complaints-response strategies, because our anecdotal history here is that youth and marginalized populations are enforced very differently than white 50 year old middle class picnickers like me.

So with that background, I can say with confidence it’s not going to happen this summer. There was no community push to have it happen this summer, and with the large number of things going on through our Pandemic response, it simply wasn’t a priority. To the best of my knowledge, no staff have it on their current work plan to start this process. Depending on how things go with recovery this fall, we may be able to task staff with doing this work for the 2021 summer season. As always, I cannot speak for all of Council, so I’m not sure how a proposed change would be received, but I think opening up public spaces to responsible drinking is the inevitable direction. I just can’t give you a timeline.

ASK PAT: Sidewalks

Still getting caught up on queued ASK PATs. If you have a question, click that ASK PAT spot up in the right corner there. I’ll try to answer them succinctly, but I am likely to go on a digression, which takes a while to write so I get behind and here we go again…

Jim asks—

I thought that the City had a policy for barrier free sidewalks. If you look on the south sidewalk on Seventh Avenue – a greenway – you will see that the new utility box covers resulting from the recent work were placed right in the middle of the sidewalk. I don’t think that they need to be there as I think that there is room between the sidewalk and the private property for the utility boxes. They are plastic, not metal, but they still make the sidewalk uneven and in a few weeks when the snow comes they will ice up and be a barrier.

There is a worse example in the Moody Park entry plaza at 6th Ave and 8th Street. The recent work there was capped off by a metal utility box cover that is in the main travel path for pedestrians and was installed with a slope. This one is slippery in the rain. I believe that none of these utility box covers needed to be placed in the sidewalk. So, what happened?

I’m not sure I agree with you. I suspect if a utility box cover is placed on a sidewalk, it is because it needs to be within the corridor of a significant piece of linear infrastructure, be it a pipe or an electrical conduit. More likely, they need to be at the intersection of two major pieces of linear infrastructure, which severely limits their location. I can name several unfortunately-located box covers, from the sidewalk on Eighth Street near the entrance to the Lawn Bowling Club to the half-in the bike lane force ewer main cover on Columbia Street just east of 4th. I would suggest all of them need to be pretty much where they are.

That stretch of Eighth Street has a lot going on under your feet. There is a fiber optic conduit right-of-way, a buried 3-phase electrical distribution line, a concrete Storm Sewer gravity main, two separate combined-sewer gravity mains, and two separate potable water supply mains. For all I know, there may be private utility lines as well (BC Gas, Telus, Shaw, etc.). All of them have specific offsets from each other that must be maintained, can’t be too close to property lines or under power poles or interfere with each other. Their location now is a result of almost a century of decisions about rights-of-way and avoidance of conflict and need to upgrade as the City grew. All this to say, they are really hard to move now.

Your point is taken, though, that the surface treatment of these necessary pieces of infrastructure need to consider walkers, rollers, and people with mobility challenges. They should not be trip hazards. At times they are installed to be flush and as integrated as possible to the driving lane or sidewalk, but settle differently or swell up from frost or are damaged by heavy machinery. I would suggest efforts to make them visually “blend in” are probably a bad idea, as a changes in surface texture or material should probably stand out as warnings for those with cognitive or visual impairments. They certainly should not be slipperier than the adjacent sidewalk, even when wet.

I can ask staff about what type of standards exist for these installations, and ask what we do as far as inspections after contractors install them. If you have a specific one that you think needs repair or constitutes a hazard, the best response is to report it through SeeClickFix or drop a line to Engineering Ops and see what transportation staff say.

That said, I do want to take this opportunity to address this letter to the local paper, because it is related. As the writer suggests, more people are walking because of COVID, and more people are noting places where sidewalks are in disrepair. Confirmation bias is a powerful thing, but the City has recognized the need to increase its sidewalk repair and upkeep budget for a few years now, and are putting money into the problem at an unprecedented rate.

As we implemented the Master Transportation Plan adopted in 2015, we have prioritized pedestrian spaces. A major part of this is spending the money to assure every sidewalk at every corner in the City has an accessibility ramp. This is not a minor thing, and it was not inexpensive to do, but as the first “quick win” to improve pedestrian spaces, we prioritized that spending. New Westminster is the only City in the Lower Mainland that has achieved 100% corner ramp cuts. Some are admittedly older design, and resources as now being put to updating some of these older ones to bring them to modern standards.

We are also spending more than ever on updating and improving sidewalks and crosswalks. Our current Capital Budget has more than $7 million dedicated specifically to pedestrian improvement projects. This is above and beyond the investments we are making in Greenways and Great Streets (where improved pedestrian spaces are part of the bigger project) and the improvements that we implement to coincide with lot development. This is a huge increase over what we spent on pedestrian improvements only a decade ago. We have some catching up to do, and this work is expensive, but we are getting it done.

That said there are often local spots that degrade quickly because of frost, vehicle, or root damage. If they create a trip hazard or accessibility barrier, the best way to assure fixing this ends up in someone’s work plan is to do a SeeClickFix report or contact Engineering Ops as I linked to a few paragraphs above.

Feedback

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


Hello.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks.

ASK PAT: Brews & Patios

Wes asks—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASK PAT: NWSS safe biking routes

I have a bunch of queued up ASK PATS. Sorry, folks, some have been here for quite a while. Things have been busy, and priorities at Council have been shifting so fast and furiously that I have let these linger. I am going to try to clear the queue here in the next little bit. So the answers may be shorter than usual. But probably not, because I like to go on about things…

Don asks—

NWSS safe biking routes need some help. One of those problems is the car traffic cutting through the gas station at 6th and 8th. Perhaps if barriers were installed on the double yellow lines on both those streets would improve safety and traffic flow. Is this possible?

Maybe. That is a pretty “operational” question, and I frankly don’t know the technical requirements when it comes to installing mid-road barriers. I suspect come of those flexi-posts would reduce the number of illegal turns here, but I have also seen drivers do some pretty bizarre things to get around them. Jerks gotta jerk. As this is a more technical operational question than a Council Policy one, you may want to enter it to SeeClickFix or drop a line to Engineering Ops and see what transportation staff say.

As for bike routes to NWSS, we are working on it. The building of the new High School has given us an opportunity to review how cycling and pedestrian connections to the High School work. With the “main entrance” for the School shifting form 8th Street to 6th Street, there will definitely be a shift in how students get to the school:

An older drawing o the proposed new school site I cribbed from this source. Some stuff may have changed since then, but I wanted to show the lay of the land, and this works.

The City has worked with the School Board and project delivery team on this. The first priority is assuring safe and accessible pedestrian access a the two main “entry points”which will be mid-block on Eighth Ave (“C”) and mid-block on Sixth Street (“D”). The pathway across Eighth Street through the existing school site (“A”) is also identified as important, but will be addressed in the future as the demolition of the existing school and design of the memorialization area will delay works on that side. Light-controlled intersections, crosswalks, and sidewalk upgrades are planned at “C” and “D”.

The City is also committed to assuring there is a safe separated cycling route from Seventh Ave (part of the Crosstown Greenway) to the school. By the time the School opens, that will be a separated path along Eighth Street to Eighth Ave, a new intersection treatment at Eighth and Eighth, and improvements of the pathway past the Massey Theatre.

The Connection of the Crosstown Greenway to the Sixth Street entrance to the school property is going to be designed and implemented as part of the Uptown Streetscape Vision, which will redesign all of Sixth Street from Fourth Ave to Tenth Ave. This is currently going through some stakeholder engagement, but is a bigger road redesign project that will not be implemented by the time the School opens.

on Phase 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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