What is obvious to everyone in North Vancouver City and District, and arguably Metro Vancouver, is that the livability standard of our community is directly affected by “transportation”, both public and private. Our inability to move about the City and the Lower Mainland quickly and efficiently has everyone frustrated, no matter where they live on the North Shore.
It is a fact beyond dispute that the ability of City residents to travel about North Vancouver quickly and effectively has declined dramatically in the last several years. It is true that some of the causes are short term in nature, driven principally by localized construction and LEC pipeline installations, which should abate unless the rate of construction remains constant. However, if I am to believe the Development Department and the discussions I hear around the City’s council table, the rate of densification may well increase, making todays transportation congestion issues the norm as opposed to the exception.
The City plans to spend $20,000 in 2016, $100,000 in $2018, and another $20,000 in 2021, solely for the purpose of studying transportation as a whole City-wide. The last serious study was done in 2008 and focused principally on bikes and bike lanes. The three expenditures disclosed above are also heavily focused on bicycling and bike lanes. The budget sheets provided by City staff do not disclose any intent to examine automobile related issues or methods for improving mobility in this regard.
It would appear that City council and staff plan to resolve our current transportation challenges by adding bike lanes, some of which will be at the expense of existing car lane capacity (not unlike Vancouver City), and to promote greater dependency on bicycles to replace cars. The focus and dependence on more and improved public transit also factors large in the mobility solutions upon which City planners intend to rely.
Transit for its part is fighting for its financial life, with no money for expansion or the funds necessary to even maintain the status quo unless a new funding source can be developed. Lower Mainland municipalities and the province are at loggerheads over this issue, including who will get a say (the public or just the mayors), when and how that say will be accomplished (referendum or local council decision), and the nature of the question to be considered. In any case the decision is intended to define the mechanism for increased public transit funding sources, which will result in an additional form of taxation on some or all residences of the City. It may be a line item on property taxes, or an annual mileage based toll system, or a gas tax or something else. The referendum on funding sources was planned to coincide with the 2014 municipal elections. That idea was recently nixed with the timing and even certainty of that process now in question. A funding mechanism for Transit remains necessary yet without a solution.
During a recent Metro Vancouver “Council-of-Councils” meeting held at the SD#44 offices in North Van, Metro’s transit committee members defined Trans-Link funding options which ranged from gas-taxes, through sales tax increases, road-use levies, property tax increases, bridge tolls, and a host of other options. The magnitude of the funding increase needed, just to maintain the status quo grows by $140m annually. Without this ever increasing funding, bridge projects, new buses, additional sea-bus capacity, higher frequency on bus transit routes, additional LRT line extensions and a host of other needs will continue to fall behind demand, or falter entirely. A new and better funding formula is essential to Trans-Links survival and success. What was made very clear during the “Council-of-Councils” meeting was that densification is driving down the quality and availability of Trans-Link services, and increasing the pressure on all levels of Metro Transit infrastructure.
Mass transit in North Vancouver can be summarized as one 40-passenger bus every 10 to 30 minutes (peak/off-peak) in each direction, on each route. By that definition our existing mass transit capacity is limited to between 80 to 240 people per bus route in each direction hourly. By this standard, North Vancouver can barely make claim to public transportation! And is certainly unable to make any claim that North Vancouverites have access to any form of “mass-transit”. The closest thing to mass-transit in our community is the Sea-Bus. Once exiting that system upon arrival on the North Shore, the limited capacity and frequency of the current bus fleet servicing the Quay bus-barn forms an immediate impediment to further prompt and effective forward movement. On April 24th 2014 I had the opportunity to sit down with a resident of our community whose son relies on bus service to move about the North Shore. She told me that as recently as one week earlier, it took her son 2 full hours to travel from the Quay to the south foot of Hoskin’s Rd, in Lynn Valley. The buses missed their own connections due to various traffic issues, leaving him waiting at bus stops for the next bus at each point of transfer. She said, he could have walked home faster. I tend to agree.
The existing Trans-Link bus parking lot and maintenance facilities, located at East Third and St. David, is currently planned to be repositioned to East Burnaby. The potential for positioning delays caused by a need to shift the bus fleet back and forth each day, to and from Burnaby, will leave the North Shore vulnerable to 2nd Narrows bridge traffic congestion plus any emergency bridge closures. Together these factors pose potential for significant impact on the quality of the North Shore Transit services. This move will not just result in Transit service becoming vulnerable to 2nd Narrows bridge congestion, it will added to that congestion problem, negatively effecting bridge utilization issues for all user groups.
My measurement for livability is much simpler than the complex formulas used by urban planners. A significant barometer of livability, for me, is how long it takes me to drive from home to anywhere I need to go in North Vancouver or Vancouver, versus the time it once took me. By my standard, North Vancouver’s livability index is declining at an alarming rate. Public transport and/or bicycle lanes are just not going to fix this problem. Nor do I believe that either solution brings a workable answer for most City residents. Politicians who say otherwise are simply out-of-step with the realities of our community.
What’s more, when I get to where I’m going in North Vancouver City, I spend 20 minutes driving around the block looking for a place to park. Why is that? Because today, the City is pursuing an automobile parking capacity target in each new development, which is at best, only ½ of what is truly necessary for each new building. The City is toying with even further parking capacity reductions, with the goal of creating a City whose population is wholly dependent on public transportation and bicycles, and not upon private vehicles. However, the reality is that the use of automobiles is on the rise and growing at a far greater pace than either bike or public transportation use or capacity, and without a workable solution to this mobility issue, the livability of our little City and the Lower Mainland generally will decline further. By accelerating densification, we are ensuring this problem worsens, and the City has not put forward the duel issues of automobile transportation and parking for study. Why?
IT IS MY POSITION THAT the City should initiate a study to determine the most cost effective methods of resolving our automobile traffic challenges. This analysis should be completed before the draft OCP is finalized. It is necessary because the additional density, at least as it is currently proposed, will result in tens of thousands of new high-rise and laneway homes, each of which will come with one or two cars. Accordingly:
- I will support funding of a transportation study, which will examine the current utilization of our road infrastructure (both during peak, shoulder and off-peak periods), in relation to both automobiles and commercial truck traffic; and
- I will support funding a public transit study to determine where Transit is and isn’t meeting the needs of City residents; and
- I will support funding of an alternative transportation mode study to determine the real opportunity and utilization of all other forms of transportation within the City, and what we can do to help these modes succeed better: and
- The studies will involve direct contact with a broad cross-section of City residence to determine the true functionality of the various transportation options and solutions available, given the diversity of age, ethnicity, physical health, purpose, frequency of need, trip duration and destination, and the City’s geography generally (hill-y); and
- The study will involve a review of current bridge crossing systems and highway interchanges, and the study will further examine the need for additional crossings, and how and where they may connect to the North Shore; and
- Once it has been determine what the best options and solutions for meeting the communities long-term needs are, I will support either ensuring implementation of those programs; or
- If it is determined that the communities needs lie outside the City’s jurisdiction to resolve (example: third crossing), I will actively lobby the appropriate levels of government to acquire the funding and gain approval for the projects necessary to resolve these challenges.
When I find myself in a position to effect these changes, the policies and principals setout above will guide my decision-making