A proposal for New Westminster’s street parking

If there’s one thing that really makes my head spin, it’s street parking in New Westminster.

I’m really of two minds about street parking.

On one hand, I really hate it. I think New Westminster’s residental parking permits are way too cheap at $5 per vehicle per year (for renewals — the first year is $10). Compare that with Toronto’s, where it’s currently $14.71 (plus GST) per month for the first vehicle, or 37 times more expensive than New Westminster’s, and that’s only if you don’t have any on-site parking! If you do have a garage or driveway, a parking pass costs $51.54 (plus GST) per month, nearly 130 times as expensive as New West’s! Five dollars a year for a place to store your vehicle is a huge gift from the city that’s only available to car owners, and it’s about time we change that.

On the same hand, I really hate it. It makes cycling dangerous, particularly along streets that allow parking on both sides. The Crosstown Greenway along Seventh Avenue is particularly bad for this, as it has minimal traffic calming and turns into a shitshow during rush hour because there’s only one travel lane on a street that’s about 8 metres wide. Cyclists can either cycle on the sidewalks (which gets pedestrians pissed off at them) or on the street (which gets drivers pissed off at them), and in both locations they’re likely to win a door prize.

On the other hand, street parking does mean that in theory land need not be turned into a parking spot, which could help increase housing density. Instead of being forced to build a garage, a landowner could build a laneway house. New Westminster is currently updating its Official Community Plan with the aim of increasing density in the city, and eliminating (or drastically reducing) the “put in a parking spot” requirements will help do this, and street parking will help fill the void.

So here’s my two-pronged proposal for New Westminster:

  1. Increase the fees for parking permits, and peg them to inflation. I really like Toronto’s two-tier structure, where you get charged a lower rate if you don’t have on-site parking. I also like their structure where the second car costs much more. My proposal is this: $5 per month per vehicle for the first two cars, then $15 per month per vehicle for every car after that.
  2. Eliminate parking minimums for low-density residential, which I consider everything from single-family detached houses to quadplexes. For rowhouses and townhouses, cut the parking requirements in half. For everything larger, cut parking requirements by 25% and have massive incentives for developers to promote alternate modes of transportation. I would really love to see a parking-free condo building like Calgary recently approved, but I doubt that’ll ever happen in New West. But by making street parking cheaper for those houses with no on-site parking, we can promote moving away from land for cars to land for people.

These two changes will make a lot of single-family detached house owners lose their shit. And you know what? Too bad. The single-family detached house is doomed for extinction in New Westminster, and this should be the beginning of the end of catering to this housing option. We need to do more to reduce car use in our city, and single-family houses are the largest source of cars here. If we increase the friction for car ownership, we reduce the number of car owners. If we reduce the number of car owners, we can hopefully reduce the number of cars on our streets, making them more accommodating to other forms of transportation, and making our city a nicer place in which to live.

Speed on the Pattullo Bridge

In April 2015 G. Ho Engineering Consultants prepared a report for TransLink titled Pattullo Bridge Road Safety Assessment. In it they examined (amongst other things) speed levels on the Pattullo.

The speed limit on the Pattullo Bridge is 50 km/h, as the bridge is narrow, lacks a barrier between opposing traffic flows, lacks a barrier between the sidewalk and the adjacent traffic lane, and lacks modern crash standards on the parapets (the sides of the bridge that would stop cars from swan diving into the Fraser).

They collected speed data on November 7, 2014, and what they found was fairly alarming. 50% of northbound (Surrey to New Westminster) were travelling over 50 km/h, while nearly 95% of southbound were breaking the speed limit. About 12% of the vehicles were travelling faster than 70 km/h, the critical speed to safely negotiate the curve on the south side of the bridge.

But in the week between November 2 and November 8, over 1600 vehicles were recorded going over 100 km/h. This is faster than the 90 km/h speed limit on parts of the new, five-lane Highway One, on a bridge that’s half the size!

The engineering consultants gave three recommendations for improving the safety on the Pattullo Bridge:

  1. close the middle lanes for 16 hours a day, opening them only for the morning and afternoon peak periods;
  2. install a permanent concrete median barrier and remove one northbound travel lane; or
  3. install a permanent concrete median barrier and remove one lane in each direction.

Options 2 and 3 are non-starters, as neither Surrey nor New Westminster want to deal with horrendous traffic caused by drivers trying to shoehorn into one lane on the bridge.

Of course, the proper fix is to tear down the Pattullo and build a new, safer bridge, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. As this story puts it: “A transit plebiscite that was to secure funding for the replacement had failed earlier this year.” And of course the province isn’t going to do anything about it (yet they can apparently study a bridge to the Sunshine Coast).

If I could be so bold as to offer another safety-improving measure (and I will) that would be photo radar. The Pattullo Bridge is the perfect location for it. Put cameras on the mid-bridge spans and at either end. Have them ticket drivers going faster than 65 km/h. The 1600 people driving faster than 100 km/h would be hit with a $368 fine for excessive speed, netting nearly $600,000 in fines. Over a year, that’s over $30 million!

But realistically that’s a non-starter as well. The Liberal government axed photo radar in BC because for some reason people enjoy breaking the laws of the road and getting away with it, and for some reason the Liberals listened to all of those people whining about getting a ticket in the mail. And that’s a shame, because whining wins out against safety.

Let’s Pride up New Westminster’s streets

New Westminster has a great LGBTQ Pride scene, led by (obviously) New West Pride. 2015 Pride Week is coming August 8th to 15th, capped with a huge street party on Columbia Street on the 15th.

New Westminster is putting in curb extensions around town, with the most-recent being installed at Fourth Street and Carnarvon Street.

So what do these two have to do with each other? In a discussion regarding these curb extensions, City Councillor Patrick Johnstone said, “I actually hoped there’d be a paint treatment on the slope as well to make the crossing more visible from below.” He’s right, it’s difficult to see the crosswalk when you’re driving up Fourth Street. And while he’s probably thinking of an X marking (like in Figure 7.46), I’m thinking we can do that and go one step further: Pride crosswalks.

They’re getting pretty common these days (Vancouver, Victoria, Philadelphia for example). To help celebrate Pride in New West, let’s make one (or two!) happen in our little city.

Fourth and Carnarvon would be a great place for a four-way Pride crosswalk (similar to Victoria’s). It would definitely make the intersection more visible to drivers, and provide a nice focal point for a pair of relatively quiet streets downtown.

But I think the perfect place for a permanent Pride crosswalk in New West would be the pedestrian-controlled crossing at Columbia Street and Church Street. One, it would brighten up and bring back a little life to that end of downtown. Two, it’s right outside of The Heritage Grill, which has supported the gay community for a number of years, right outside the Steam1 gay bath house, and steps from The Met Bar & Grill, which is also highly supportive of Pride.

So come on New Westminster, let’s gay up our city a bit!

Living car-free in New Westminster

Since moving to New Westminster from the USA in January 2010, we have not owned a car. “We” is me, my wife, and our now-six year old daughter, who was ten months old when we moved back. We’ve grown up as a family without owning a personal vehicle, and it hasn’t hindered our lives.

How? My wife and I are members of modo, Vancouver’s best (in my opinion) car-sharing option. When we signed up, modo (then The Car Co-op) had two or three cars in New West. Now they have eleven, and we’ve driven all of them.

We use modo for not-quite-daily trips, such as grocery shopping, visiting friends in other cities that are tough to reach by transit, or vacationing. I’ve even used it twice to get home when the SkyTrain had major delays in the evening! modo doesn’t restrict what we do with the vehicle (well, no loose pets, no off-roading) or how far we go, so we’ve used them to go on trips to Clearwater and Tofino, and many places in between. modo even has cargo vans, so when we needed to pick up a new table in Langley, not owning a car was no deterrent.

When our daughter was younger it was a little tougher, as she required a full car seat. We would either go as a family on the bus, with the car seat, to the car, or one of us would go pick up the car first, then bring it home and put the car seat in. Now that our daughter is in a booster seat it’s easier.

With modo we’re freed up from time obligations such as maintenance — they handle that. With modo we’re freed up from monetary obligations such as gas and tolls — every car has a gas card, and every car is equipped with a Treo chip for the Port Mann Bridge. If we clean the car, we get reimbursed. There are a lot of other perks for modo members too.

So what about daily trips? That’s easy: feet and transit. We walk quite a bit.

That’s a map of everywhere I walked in New West in 2014 (sorry Queensborough). Luckily New Westminster is very walkable. To walk to school takes 15 minutes. The nearest grocery store (shockingly not a Save-On Foods) is 10 minutes. The nearest park is 5 minutes, as is the nearest curling club.

And for further-flung trips, we take transit. My wife and I both work in Vancouver, so the vast majority of the time we take the bus and SkyTrain in. New West is fairly well-served with buses, and we have four routes within a ten-minute walking radius, two on streets that border our property. Getting to a SkyTrain station is no problem either, with five to choose from.

So what about the cost of all this? It’s widely said that the cost of owning a car in Metro Vancouver will cost you about $9,000 a year (this varies depending on what type of vehicle you drive, obviously). Our bus passes cost $124 a month (and we get a tax credit for them), and we spend about $50 a year on FareSaver tickets for our daughter, an annual cost of about $3000. With modo you only pay when you use a car, so driving less means paying less (or driving not at all means paying nothing!). Our usage goes from very little to very much. Last month was probably the most we’ve ever spent on modo, with our total bill coming in at about $900. Our average bill is about $300 though, which adds another $3600 to our transportation costs.

That comes to annual transportation costs for our family of about $6600 — let’s be generous and round that up to $7000. That’s a savings of $2000.

And keep in mind that the $9000/year is for one car. In 2009 the average number of light vehicles per household in BC was 1.43, so the average household is actually paying about $13000 for vehicle-based transportation.

Is giving up owning a car for everybody? No. You need to have the right attitude, first and foremost. You need access to decent public transit, and I’m of the firm opinion that you still need access to a vehicle of some sort. New Westminster has decent public transit, and with modo there’s easy access to a wide range of vehicles.

Is giving up owning a second car for everybody? Yes, I think so. I believe that the overwhelming majority of two-car households can easily do away with their second car and replace it with a carsharing option. Is it worth paying insurance on that second car that rarely gets used? And how about the time you spend having it maintained? Wouldn’t it be great to just do away with those costs?

So give it a try. New Westminster is a great city for walking, a great city for transit, and a great city to try out carsharing.