Saturday, August 16, 2014

How much road is enough?

For reasons that should be obvious to everyone by now, I have been talking to a bunch of people about "the transportation issues" in New Westminster. It has been fun, informative, sometimes perplexing, often frustrating. For every person suggesting simplistic short-term solutions, there is another calling for bloody revolution. Unfortunately, the suggestion of gradual improvement though better planning, application of the best practices from other jurisdictions, and working with our neighbours to solve the regional transportation puzzle sounds unsatisfying compared to those extremes.

A local twitter follower I respect greatly raised an interesting point a couple of weeks ago, asking a seemingly simple question out of the blue: “does anyone know percentage of metro Van covered in asphalt?” I was (almost) embarrassed to admit I had written the answer down less than 24 hours before he asked, but his question led me to do a little more digging, and I found the data interesting.

First, the reason I wrote the information down was my job. I was attending a meeting at Metro Vancouver where a version of this question was answered. The meeting was of municipal engineering and environmental staff from around the region, and the subject was stormwater management. As part of the regional Liquid Waste Management Strategy, Metro is helping the municipalities of the region set some planning priorities around how the manage their stormwater.

Efficiently moving rainwater from your street, roof, and back yard to the river or ocean so that is doesn't flood your community is one of those big, expensive tasks that is almost invisible to most people, except the way it eats up your tax money. The amount of pavement covering the ground is important to stormwater management because rain that hits pavement doesn’t get absorbed and stored in the soil like it does if it falls in a park, the forest, or your back yard. Instead, it needs to be immediately dealt with by the storm sewer system. Also, rainwater that runs off of streets tends to get dirty, and is a major cause of pollution for sensitive estuarine and marine ecosystems near urban areas. Reducing this run-off, or encouraging natural filtration of parking lot run-off (for example) through bioswales or the such is one of those strategies that requires some investment in the short term, but can save Cities a lot of money in the long-term while improving the environment.

But I was talking about roads, so back to roads.

During this meeting, a pie chart went up on screen that showed how land use was divided up over the region, for the purposes of thinking about road run-off. The quick stat I wrote down was 17% of “developable” land was roads. After the fact, the Twitter question was raised, so I found the source data, and drew up my closest approximation of the pie charts we were shown. Note this is 2006 data I am using here, and I think the data I was shown at the meeting was 2011, so there will be a little change at the edges, but the major divisions are pretty clear.

Of all land in Metro Vancouver, here are the major land uses, of which “roads” (in red) equals about 7%:
Land use in Metro Vancouver, 2006, by area. Click to Enlarge.
If you remove from consideration all of the land that is protected from development: Active ALR land, Watersheds, Parks and Protected Natural areas, you end up with 17% of the “developable” lands being roads:
Land use for "developable" land in Metro Vancouver, 2006, by area. Click to Enlarge.
The reason I am using 2006 data is because Metro Vancouver very kindly broke it up into Municipalities, so you can play compare and contrast. Turns out the City with the highest proportion of roads? If you guessed New Westminster, you know where I am going here:
Land use for "developable" land in New Westminster, 2006, by area. Click to Enlarge.
Of the “developable” land in New Westminster, 29% is covered with asphalt so people can drive on it. If you include the City’s undevelopable Parks and Protected areas, that number only drops to 26.6% Both of these numbers are the highest in the region. Comparing our immediate neighbours: Burnaby is 17% road, Coquitlam 9%, and Surrey 11%.

OK, enough with the numbers, you say- what does it all mean?

Roads don’t pay taxes. Dedicating a large portion of your land space to roads means that land is not earning revenue for the City, so the taxes on the adjacent (commercial, industrial and residential) lands have to be proportionally higher to provide the same level of services to the residents and businesses of our community. However, it is worse than this, because roads are a huge financial burden on Municipalities. Pavement is expensive to install and maintain, as are the associated drainage works, curbs, road markings, signs, lights, overpasses, and other fixed assets that keep the road system operating. Add to this the less tangible policing, fire, and ambulance costs related to enforcement of traffic laws and dealing with accidents and injuries on the roads.

I’m not arguing against roads, they are a service the City provides, through your taxes, for the general good (dare I say, they are an example of a benefit of socialism). I am arguing that the City with the highest proportion of roads in the British Columbia should continue to resist the calls from neighbouring communities to solve their traffic problems by turning more of New Westminster into road space.

It isn’t just a matter of livability, it is also because we simply cannot afford to give more of our land away to support their poor planning.

Bonus Graphing Excellence: Here is a plot of the Area of every Municipality in Metro Vancouver with the % of that area dedicated to roads. Note poor correlation between two data sets. You might need to click to make readable.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cultural Crawl weekend

Now that we all survived traffic-ferry-border-freeway chaos just to get to the beach-island-lake-forest for the long weekend, I am sure you have resolved to spend next weekend at home and never facing that again. Am I Right?

(disclosure: I spend all weekend in my backyard managing a fig harvest, in the kitchen making jam, in my basement/campaign office making plans and repairing bicycles, and consuming ice to keep from spontaneous combustion, but listening the radio most of the time, I was empathetic of those feeling the pain of the “three sailing wait”)

The good news is that you don’t have to leave New Westminster next weekend to have a weekend full of fun and variety, because the CulturalCrawl is August 9-10. There are events happening in all the different neighbourhoods of New Westminster: some passive, some interactive: some featuring emerging artists, some looking at our history; some a feast for your eyes, some hitting the other senses. And it's all free. 

When most of us think about Arts in the City, we think about the visual arts (and there is no lack of these on this tour), but Trudy Van Dop, the founder of the Culture Crawl, envisioned a distributed cultural experience, where a City can show the many aspects of its culture - the artists, the historic sites, the museums, the history and the hot spots. Think of what you would want to do if you had guests from outside of the country visiting New Westminster for a weekend- what are all the things you would you want them to see to show off the City’s best characteristics? The Cultural Crawl aims to make them all available on one weekend to encourage "Staycations", and to attract regional attention to the culture of the Royal City. 

The many private and public galleries in the City are open for the weekend, including Trudy’s beautiful gallery in Victory Heights and the brand new art space opened by Susan Grieg at 100 Braid Street. There will also be special shows at our various museums (including Irving House and Cap’s Bicycle Museum), specials at various retail shops with artsy appeals (including Brick&Mortar Living, Localo Living, the RiverMarket, etc.) and events everywhere from an English Tea at Port Royal Community Garden to the annual Uptown Live music event. Jeez- have you seen the Uptown Live lineup

This year, Ms.NWimby and I are contributing to the Cultural Crawl in the slightest way possible. I mentioned in an earlier post about the passing of our friend, the great painter and artist Jack Campbell. He was born and raised in New Westminster, and created many works chronicling the recent history of his hometown. He was also well known and respected in the local arts community, even after he “retired” to paint on Saturna Island, so it turns out many people in New Westminster have small collections of his work.

During the cultural crawl, there will be a retrospective showing of selected pieces of Jack’s work, loaned from various New Westminster residents owned by local residents, at the New Westminster Arts Council gallery at Centennial Lodge in Queens Park. We have lent a few Jack originals and prints for the show, both depictions of New Westminster’s (sometimes gritty) history, and some of his late works that find unique forms in the arbutus trees and rocky shores of his home on Saturna Island.

So make Centennial Lodge one of your stops on the Crawl this year, pay a tribute to Jack, but mostly enjoy the fact we live in such a diverse, active, and expressive community, thanks to the volunteer efforts of people like Trudy Van Dop. Summer is great time to be in New West – why drive anywhere else? 


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Disaster

This is bad. This may be the worst environmental disaster in BC’s history, potentially much larger than the Cheakamus River spill that happened, coincidentally, 9 years ago today.

And it should not have happened. It is simply unbelievable that this type of failure can occur in an operating mine in British Columbia in 2014. It is too early to tell who is to blame, but it is clear someone (or more likely, many people) didn't do their job here. The early press reports that the Mine had been warned numerous times over the last three years that their pond was inadequate, and that they had repeatedly been warned by the Ministry of Environment for violations related to releases from the pond, suggest that this was completely avoidable. It is hard for me to write this without swearing.

The company president suggesting the tailings water was safe to drink is, frankly, idiotic, and a terrible dismissive piece of PR. There is no doubt the huge wall or metalliferous slurry that blew Hazeltine Creek from a 4-foot-wide mountain stream into a 150 metre wide mudbog would be, in even the most conservative reading of Section 36 of the federal Fisheries Act, a “deleterious substance”. Plus, blowing the creek out, removing several square kilometres of riparian habitat, while coating the bottoms of two essentially pristine major lakes with potentially quite toxic metal sludge, emulsified chemicals, and entrained fine sediments could pretty safely be deemed a “HADD” under section 35 of the same Act.

Violations of these sections could should result in charges, and this should provide an excellent opportunity for the Harper Government to demonstrate that their "tough new fines" for serious offences under the Fisheries Act were not just for show. For a Corporation the size of Imperial Metals, this event should bring a maximum fine of $6 Million for a first offence (although, based on the record of recent violations, including spills of 150,000 litres of slurry in 2012, this might not be a “first offence”). If this event – 15 Billion litres (read that volume again) of saturated water/sediment full of a toxic brew of metals was discharged in to the spawning grounds of fully 1/3 of the sockeye salmon in the entire Fraser River system, right as the salmon are starting to return – doesn't qualify for the maximum environmental fine, what would one have to do?

However fining the company is only one approach- it is clear someone didn't do their job here. Someone can, and should, go to jail.

This is not all on the company, though. Two Ministries are responsible for assuring public safety and the environment are protected here – Mary Polak’s Ministry of Environment, and Bill Bennett’s Ministry of Mines. Did they do thier job? Bill seems mildly concerned in his press release, but isn’t talking to the public or the media. Mary Polak and the Premier are quiet. They should both be pulling out their trusty hardhats – the ones they wear at all of those photo-ops – and tell us, the people of the province, that they are going to get to the bottom of this, and that someone is going to jail here. But I don't honestly think that is going to happen.

I guess we were lucky. No-one got killed, and the damaging debris flow took place in pretty deep woods where there wasn’t a lot of infrastructure to be destroyed. We avoided the type of disaster I wrote about 5 years ago, cheekily suggesting this could never happen here. Our sludge wasn’t as caustic, and didn’t enter populated areas, but we released almost 15 times the volume of polluting sludge. This will not be cleaned up in any meaningful way, there is just too much material spread over too large an area. The best we can hope for is that the contaminants will be isolated and contained until such a time that concentrations of the toxic materials dissipate, and that the promised record sockeye run (if they show up) can make it past the slightly-too-hot lower Fraser River to find a place to spawn despite this setback.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

On soccer, caution, and optimism -UPDATED!

Right up front, I need to say the idea of having the Whitecaps’ second-tier team call New Westminster home, and having the first USL Pro team in Canada set up in Queens Park sounds like an exciting idea to me. I’m hardly a soccer fanatic, and have not attended a Whitecaps game since the new roof was put on the stadium downtown, but I am exactly the kind of guy who would buy tickets to see a pro soccer team operating in my hometown (as I would for a pro baseball team... but let’s not get off track here). A close friend of mine is a bit of a soccer fanatic, and is raising two pre-teen soccer fanatics, and when he found out New Westminster might be hosting a USL Pro team, he was immediately jealous (once again) of New Westminster.

So safe to say, I went into the open house on Tuesday evening with a pretty positive attitude, and wanted to be convinced that this was a viable plan that the City could get behind:


Unfortunately, I left with more questions than answers. I don’t think any of my concerns are “deal killers”, but I am afraid there is a complexity here that will be hard to get through to everyone’s satisfaction before the (very short) deadline. Although I would suggest a slim majority of the people in the room shared my cautious optimism, I heard many concerns raised, and maybe I’ll take my typical topic-by-topic approach to these issues, but first a short summary of the proposal, as I understand it.

The proposal is to re-purpose the Queens Park Stadium, repairing the concrete section and expanding bleacher seats to hold 3,500 people, while installing a new soccer-only regulation field. There would also be new bathrooms, concessions, locker rooms, and ancillary buildings to support those 3,500 fans and two pro soccer teams on game day. There would also be a smaller “warm-up” field built about where the tennis courts amd fill storage are no beside the Arenex. The (as of yet unnamed) USL Pro team would hold 14 home games a year here, and would have exclusive rights to those field at those times.

Now the issues:

Money: There was simply no discussion of what this will cost, and who is paying. The field changes and improvements will no doubt reach into the millions of dollars. As these facilities are being built on City-owned land, there are rules under the Local Government Act that must be followed. As the Whitecaps are a for-profit company (not a non-profit like other park users), they have to pay (at the minimum) “fair market value” for their use of public lands. Some sort of capital injection to build the facility along with a long-term lease deal will need to be worked out. Admittedly, I have no idea what that will look like, and there will be devils in those details. I am sure the negotiations around these numbers are going to be a key determinant if this deal gets done.

The spin-off value for the City is the second aspect of the financial equation here. There will be increased cost (policing, clean-up, traffic management, etc.) but they should be well offset by the spin-off financial benefits in jobs, driving customers to local businesses and that less-tangible benefit that comes with having your City named on the evening sports news with regularity and having pictures of one of the picturesque parts of our community beamed on TV around North America. One good detail that came out of the meeting was the commitment on the part of the City to have an independent third-party analysis of the economic impact of the proposal for the community.This will no doubt inform the property lease/capital injection math above, so the independence of the analysis is vital. See devil and details above.

Transportation: This was a commonly-discussed issue. With 3,500 people coming to 14 games a year, and only about 550 parking spots in Queens Park, the potential for parking chaos exists. Doing a quick scan of air photos, there are various lots around the Canada Games Pool and Justice Institute that are an acceptably short walk (1 km) from the stadium, and the Parkades of 6th and 6th are only a little further away (1.2 km). Ultimately, though, the plan will have to be for most attendees to NOT drive to the games. Between drawing a large number of locals, there is also a SkyTrain station only 1.2 km away. Sapperton Station is a little further, but a shuttle program to get people to these stations would likely be part of the plan.

In talking about getting to and from the games, I thought of Nat Bailey Stadium (5,000+ seats and only a few hundred parking spots), or Wrigley Field (40,000 seats and virtually no parking nearby). Build it and they will come, they say, but that doesn't mean they need to bring a car. Yes, there will need to be a traffic and pedestrian management plan to reduce the impact on the Queens Park neighbourhood for those 14 days a year, but this is a manageable problem, in my opinion.

Neighbourhood impacts: That is not to say there won’t be impacts on the Queens Park and Victoria Hill neighbourhoods. 14 games doesn't sound like a lot, but sports events in Vancouver can sometimes be loud and disruptive. The relatively pastoral setting of the existing stadium will change, and 3,500 people wandering the streets all hopped up on hotdogs, popcorn, and fight songs might be tiresome for many of the community members. This is a place where the Whitecaps organization is going to have to work with the very active Residents Association and nearby neighbours to assure complaints are addressed and problems managed before they become trends.

Fate of the Stadium: In the Queens Park Master Plan developed in 2012, it was suggested that the y may knock the stadium down. It is an old building, and pone in need of extensive repair. This was considered to be bad money after good by the City for a relatively unused asset (the field was well used, the stands were not). There was serious consideration of removing most of the stadium building and having a more open ballpark design. This plan will “save” the stadium, but upgrading and expanding it. It will also result in the building of an adjacent all-weather field, and (see below) a replacement baseball field. Presumably, these fields will all be useable by other community groups and the general public on the 350 days of the year when USL Pro teams are not using it.

One interesting discussion I had was with a Queens Park resident talking about the (my term, not his) Social Licence implications of allowing a for-profit corporation use City-owned park space to make that profit. It is an interesting topic, and I could only think that there needs to be a demonstrated good for all of the residents of the City, be it a financial gain for City Hall (and the taxpaying residents and businesses) that outweighs the lost opportunity of the space. I am sure there are people who will never be happy with an arrangement like this, and I’m not sure that philosophical debate can be solved on this issue alone.

Baseball: Of the vocal opponents at the meeting, it seemed to me the members and supporters of the New Westminster baseball community. The existing stadium is the only “full size” baseball facility in the City. The New Westminster Baseball Association have invested energy and money into making it an exceptional field for long-ball, and don’t want to lose that investment. There was a lot of discussion of moving the baseball field elsewhere, but that’s not an easy proposition. Aside from the cost of building a high-quality baseball facility and moving things like lights and batting cages, there is a simple geography problem. A “full size” baseball field requires a square about 400 feet on a side, or a 1.5 hectare square (to fit ~350 foot foul lines, a ~400 foot centre field, and ancillary buildings behind home plate). People suggested a few locations, so I played a bit of cut’n’paste with GoogleMaps images of the existing field to see what a relocated field would mean to the few existing park-owned spots in the City:
Moody Park - the Stadium footprint is much larger than Justin Morneau field.
Upper Hume might be a tight fit, if we removed other facilities.
There just isn't enough room in Lower Hume
The currently no-quite-completed Muni Evers Park is also a tight squeeze,
with a bit of a water problem on one side, and road problem on the other.. 
This is the biggest space in Queensborough, but the existing powerlines probably
 make this a non-starter.
It is only when you try to find an empty 1.5-ha space in New Westminster when you start to realize just how compact our city is!

The idea of just putting the field behind the proposed new soccer field is the one that was suggested as most favourable for the proponents, and might be the only place in the city where the field would actually fit without taking too much dedicated space from existing facilities:

Note, this is my depiction, based on verbal description, and not the official plan. 
Fortunately, even this issue appears to not be a “deal-killer” as long as there is a plan in place to have a field ready for NWBA to use before they lose their existing field.

So where from here? There is another open house next weekend (August 9th), where hopefully a few more details will be available. After that, time is short for Council to approve this very complex plan by September 15, which is required for the Sappers to be included in the 2015 USL Pro schedule (see what I did there?). So go to that open house if you missed the first, and fill out the on-line survey here. It is early yet, but we need to get the right questions in now so they can provide us the answers we need to make this thing work.

Despite the tight deadline, this should not be your only opportunity to listen, learn, and provide feedback. I heard suggestions at the meeting that Council might decide to have a Public Hearing-type meeting before the September 15th decision is made. As much of the detailed negotiation over real estate terms will be (necessarily and completely legitimately) in camera, we may not know the full details until that Public Hearing. So until then, right me down as somewhere between cautiously optimistic and optimistically concerned. I need to learn more.

UPDATE: As irascible commentor "Anonymous" pointed out, I missed one potential spot - the all-weather field between the Justice Institute and the Glenbrook Firehall. This is actually a pretty good spot for reasons my unknown critic points out, and it just fits the footprint:

 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Truck Routes – Disappointing, not surprising.

I suppose the refusal by TransLink to remove various New Westminster streets from the designated truck route network is not surprising, but the wholesale dismissal of the concerns with a paucity of supporting arguments is definitely a disappointment. I hope this is not the end of this discussion, but the beginning of a conversation about the specific routes, and just a small setback to eventual progress*.

I don’t think anyone really thought Royal Ave would be removed from the designated routes at this time, not at least until there is a significant change in how the Pattullo Bridge connects on the north side of the River. However, there is no reason for keeping East Columbia through the Sapperton business area as a truck route, and a re-evaluation of the East 8th Ave connections are definitely in order.

Part of the frustration is the TransLink news release itself. Apparently released to a few news outlets, there is nothing on the TransLink media page, and the reasoning behind the decision is not made clear. The City of New Westminster provided rationale, alternate routing proposals, and justifications, and TransLink essentially said “no” without addressing the specific points.

Of course, they “took feedback from... Port Metro Vancouver, BC Trucking Association, and the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council” - that last agency essentially being the marriage of Port Metro Vancouver and the BC Trucking Association. It is unclear of they consulted with any of the residents being impacted by these trucks, by the PACs of the impacted schools, or by the businesses in Sapperton or elsewhere in the City that are meant to be serviced by these trucks. Nor are they reporting out on the feedback they received.

They basically asked kids if they want ice cream or Brussels sprouts, and got the predictable answer.

On the positive side, there is language in the news story about working with the impacted neighbourhoods to find solutions, so let’s hope this dismissing the proposed solution out of hand doesn't set the City back too far, and we can start an expanded conversation about accommodating goods movement while protecting the livability of our City.

"No" isn't an answer I want from any level of Government. I would rather hear: "That solution doesn't work, but lets find one that does".

There is an ongoing Facebook conversation about this topic in the Group “Rattled About Traffic In New West” with a variety of voices piping in, some more rational than others. The voice I find most interesting is that of Dave Tate, who is both a trucker, and cognizant of the impacts truckers have on neighbourhoods. He has been promoting the idea that a weight restriction on the Pattullo would increase safety, prolong the life of the bridge, and would remove much of the heaviest cohort of the truck traffic from Royal- those triple-axle container trucks that are typically the ones that rattle and bang down Royal, have the biggest impact on road wear and traffic, are typically the worst performers in the random roadside safety inspections, and are most likely to be using the Pattullo as the “toll free alternative” between two points that could easily be connected by an alternate route.

It is good to hear from a balanced group of people on this issue, as it is refreshing compared to the comments one might hear on the AM radio call-in shows. Yes, I’m looking at you Simi Sara.

If you listen to CKNW and (I cannot believe I am suggesting this) listen to the comments, you hear little but ill-informed people complaining that New Westminster is a progress-hating problem child, and has always been. There are a few major themes that are constantly repeated, so I thought I would touch on them as a point of retort:

“If New West keeps putting up barriers, I will avoid it, and will not shop there!”
If a significant proportion of the several hundred thousand cars that pass through New Westminster every day actually stopped to shop here, this would indeed be a strong argument to use, but unfortunately, this is just not the case. In actuality, it is the massive number of through-commuters and heavy truck traffic that makes it harder for people from around the region (and our own residents!) to access our business storefronts. It also makes our retail areas less attractive to spend time wandering around in. Removing trucks from East Columbia would improve, not worsen, conditions for businesses in Sapperton.

“Without all these trucks, your store shelves will be empty!”
Admittedly, New West does have a resounding number of Save-on-Foods outlets, but I doubt they require the 3,500 trucks a day crossing the Pattullo, with similar numbers coming in from Brunette and across the Queensborough to keep the lettuce shelves stocked. Besides, these truck route changes would not impact at all local delivery or pick-up of goods, because trucks are permitted on non-truck-route roads when actually having business on that road.These closures would only effect through-traffic trucks with no business in New Westminster, the ones that we just spent $5 Billion on new bridges and highways to accommodate.

“New Westminster needs to get with the program and build roads around the perimeter!”
Problem is, there is no perimeter, unless you define perimeter as “where someone else lives”. The roads at the perimeter of our City run right through the heart (and other vital organs) of our community, and right past people’s homes. 10th Ave is residential west of Kingsway, and residential and way too steep for trucks east of McBride. 8th Ave is residential most of it’s length. Columbia is both residential and home to a lot of ground-based retail, and is the heart of two of our most historic neighbourhoods. One can argue Brunette is a perimeter, but it only connects to non-perimeter roads to the west. Front Street cuts through our resurgent waterfront area – downtown will only succeed if Front Street succeeds as human space that connects downtown to the River. McBride, Royal, 12th Street, 8th Street – these are urban streets in the middle of bustling neighbourhoods surrounded with parks, residences, and commercial districts. Where is this mythical “perimeter” where you want to put all the trucks?

“How many of those New West people commute through surrounding Cities – they’re just being selfish!”
The short answer to the rhetorical question: fewer than any neighbouring community. New Westminster generates fewer car trips per capita than any Municipality in Metro Vancouver excepting Vancouver proper. Our “alternative mode share” (people who use their feet or transit for their daily commute instead of their car) is the second highest in the region. If the Northeast Sector (~82% of trips in a car) and South of Fraser region (~82% of trips by car) [data available here] had New Westminster’s mode share (~65% of trips by car) or took steps towards reaching the goal New Westminster is reaching for in the new Master Transportation Plan (~50% of trips by car), that would be a huge step towards addressing the traffic problems in New West, and a huge step forward for the region and the Province.
  
This all brings me to the real point here: New Westminster is not the selfish, parochial, progress-impeding “speed bump” in the regional transportation system and we need desperately to get past that narrative. New Westminster is a leader in moving towards meeting its regional commitments to a more sustainable transportation network. It has lead by building a more compact City, investing in mixed-use developments near transit hubs, but taking a SkyTrain station that Coquitlam refused, and by holding the line on mega-freeway development while suggesting increased transit investment might be preferable if the region hopes to meet its Sustainable Region goals. New Westminster has been demonstrating transportation leadership, both in words and in action, and we should not be shy talking about it.

*Since someone asked:  Progress, by my definition, is moving towards an efficient transportation system that serves the community, not a community that serves the least efficient transportation systems. “Building more lanes” has not represented progress in traffic management circles since the late 1970s; where providing affordable, efficient alternatives is how the 21st Century sees progress in Transportation planning.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Announcement

Yes, it is true. I have decided to run for City Council in New Westminster in the upcoming November election.

I think many of my regular readers suspected this, and it was funny at the PechaKuchaNW event this past weekend, pretty much every second person asked me if I was running. My standard answer was something along the lines of “not yet”, but playing coy starts to get stale. That is why I am announcing a little earlier that usual. Once I was sure I was actually going to do this thing, I wanted to announce as soon as I could get a press release together.

There is another reason for announcing now. I like to talk, and I like to listen. I like to have conversations with people about issues in the City and hear what people think. I even like talking to people I disagree with, because that is where the learning opportunity lives. So I plan to spend the summer talking to people. I’m going to knock on doors and attend City events, and I have a few fun and creative ideas to better connect with people. I want to get outside of my usual “bubble” and talk to people not in my Twitter-sphere, people who don’t read this blog, and people who aren’t in the various groups I volunteer with in the City. For all of those people in New Westminster who I don’t already know, saying “Hi, I’m running for Council” is a natural conversation starter.

I will be doing the typical roll-out-the-platform activities in early September. I have some ideas, some themes, and some goals, but for the summer, I want to listen more than talk.

Naturally, there are going to be some changes around here, mostly in the frequency of my blogging, as I just won’t have as much time to write. However, I do plan to keep blogging here, and @NWimby will continue on Twitter. For the purposes of the campaign, there will be a new website (patrickjohnstone.ca), there will be a campaign-only Twitter account (@PJNewWest), and a campaign-oriented Facebook Page. I encourage you to go to those places and link, like, tweet, comment, vote, volunteer, donate, or pretty much hit any other button you are presented with.

One commitment I will make right up front: I am not going to stop communicating during the campaign, nor will I stop communicating once elected in November. The way I see it, my success as a Councillor will be in remaining the outspoken, opinionated, honest, and talkative guy who wrote more than 400 blog posts over the last few years.

So things are going to be weird around here for the next few months, but hang in there, and it should be fun.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When Pipelines come home

I apologise once again for not posting as often as I would like here. There are many things afoot, bringing a completely different meaning to what I call “free time”. I am also working on a major project related to my pledge (a little more than a year ago) to take a risk – more details on that will be released really soon.

However, this issue has piqued my interest and I had to stay up late to write about it, because these hydrocarbon pipeline projects people keep talking about in other regions of the Province have come home to New Westminster.

After having attended last week’s NWEP meeting where Mark Allison from the City outlined the City’s approach to the project, and Elmer Rudolph from the Sapperton Fish and Game Club came to talk about the Brunette River, I think it is time we in New West started talking about Kinder Morgan.

You probably have heard that Kinder Morgan, the Houston-based uber-pipeline company that purchased the Trans Mountain Pipeline in 2005, wants to “twin” thee pipeline. To quote directly from the project site:

"Trans Mountain is proposing an expansion of its current 1,150-kilometre pipeline between Strathcona County (near Edmonton), Alberta and Burnaby, BC. The proposed expansion, if approved, would create a twinned pipeline that would increase the nominal capacity of the system from 300,000 barrels per day, to 890,000 barrels per day. At present, the Westridge Marine Terminal handles approximately five tankers per month. Should the proposed expansion be approved, the number of tankers loaded at the Westridge Marine Terminal could increase to approximately 34 per month."

What we don't know about this project could fill a blog post, but for a variety of reasons, I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of this project here. There has been some excellent analysis of the project opportunities and risks prepared by CRED, which you can read here.

However, few people in New Westminster up to now realized that this project will likely be passing though our own backyard, and may have a significant impact on one of the few remaining local areas of high ecological value: the Brunette River. When first announced, it appeared that the pipeline was to be “expanded”, suggesting that it would follow the existing right-of-way through central Coquitlam and skirting along the south side of Burnaby Mountain. However, the proposal showed a different routing for the new pipe, which passed through south Coquitlam, and essentially paralleled the Lougheed Highway. Now, and “alternative route” has become the favoured one – and this one passes though the green spaces on the New Westminster – Burnaby border, immediately adjacent to the Brunette River.

This is where Elmer Rudolph comes in. For those who may not know him, Elmer is a real local hero and a legend amongst western Canada’s Streamkeeper groups. He and his group from the Sapperton F&G Club have spent 40 years pushing the envelope on salmon habitat restoration in urban streams, improving the world’s knowledge of salmon ecology, habitat recovery, and environmental protection in urban areas. He did this mostly through sheer persistence and elbow grease. When the Brunette was a “dead” river as recently as 1970, a lot of very smart people thought any attempt to bring salmon back to the River and its would be wasted time. It was only 15 years later that the River came alive again, and for 20 years since, Elmer and his volunteers have made slow, steady improvement in habitat and water quality along the river and throughout its massive basin.

The route along the Brunette is also part of the region’s best Greenway route, the Central Valley Greenway. That route is a green oasis paralleled by development, density, and traffic, a heavily-used place for pedestrians, cyclists, dog walkers, and anyone wanting to escape the sun on these hot summer days and cool off along a bubbling salmon-bearing stream, right in the middle of our City. If you travel along the CVG, you see large areas of habitat enhancement – areas that were improved to improve water quality and habitat diversity – for the Port Mann Highway 1 expansion project only a year or two ago.

So I’m glad the City is getting involved in the project, and the idea of a Public Meeting in New Westminster to discuss the project and get the mood of the community about putting this project adjacent to the Brunette River (like the City did last year for the still-up-in-the-air Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal project) is a good idea.