ACTBiPed Meeting Report for September 20, 2017

Okay, this report is three weeks late. Sorry! At the September 20, 2017 ACTBiPed meeting we talked mainly about snow and ice removal and a development on Royal Avenue that could have seen improvements to multi-use paths near Qayqayt Elementary but won’t. Let’s go!

First, snow and ice removal. Last winter was pretty brutal on the Lower Mainland, and it was especially brutal for people who rely on safe access to sidewalks to get around. There are already bylaws on the books for getting residents and businesses to clear their sidewalks, but those bylaws are slow to be enforced, and they have issues. What happens for residents that are physically incapable of clearing their sidewalks? Not everybody can rely on a nice neighbour to help them out.

Further, there are large gaps in the snow removal plan that have bad repercussions on pedestrians. Take lanes as an example. They’re very low on the city’s priority list for being plowed. But sidewalks cross lanes, and if a lane doesn’t get plowed then the part of the lane that the sidewalk crosses doesn’t get cleared, which is a poor result for pedestrians. Whose responsibility is it to clear these paths? It’s city property so the city should, but at what priority?

The city has updated their snow and ice removal plan, and council has directed staff to prioritize pedestrian safety, which is pretty much what we advised council to do.

The city is also going to be improving its communications around residents’ responsibility for snow and ice removal. I suggested that it might become a Metro Vancouver communications issue, given most municipalities have similar bylaws and issues around snow and ice removal, but honestly I’d be surprised if that happened. Honestly, there’s more communication about watering your lawn than there is clearing your sidewalk, and given the latter is a safety issue, that balance seems all wrong to me.

We received a report on a rezoning application for 118 Royal Avenue. Normally we wouldn’t receive reports on rezoning applications, but in 2015 and 2016 ACTBiPed committee members identified this section of Royal Avenue as being a potential connection for a multi-use path, and the properties along that route were flagged within the city’s GIS system for provision of a multi-use path upon receiving a rezoning application.

Qayqayt area multi-use paths

The proposed land use for this site will have multiple townhouses instead of the single family house currently on the lot. Unfortunately because of economic considerations, the developer wasn’t willing to give up a part of the front of the lot to allow the city to widen the existing sidewalk into a multi-use path that would connect to the existing path along the north side of Qayqayt Elementary.

This section of New Westminster has been a bit of a disappointment for multi-use paths. It’s disappointing that one wasn’t built into the east side of Qayqayt Elementary to lead down from Royal Avenue to Cunningham Street, and then to the future Agnes Street Greenway. This, in my opinion, partly falls on the school district, as they seem to talk the talk about promoting cycling and walking to school to make healthier children, but don’t walk the walk when it comes time to actually put improvements into place that would enable this. There was a similar lack of will when we were talking about a multi-use path through a part of the Fraser River Middle School grounds leading from Ninth Street to the corner of Royal Avenue and Eighth Street.

We also talked about our action plan a little bit, which is a list of all of the things ACTBiPed has raised with city staff and that the city staff may or may not be working on. One of these items is the corner of McBride Boulevard and Columbia Street. A lot of people I know think it’s a dangerous intersection for cyclists and pedestrians, and the current signage is… sub-optimal. The city is going to change the sign to make it clearer that vehicles cannot turn right on a red light, which is about all the improvement that they can make without reconfiguring the corner. And that won’t happen because the new Pattullo Bridge is going to change all of that anyhow, and plus there’s that pesky heritage wall to deal with…

Our next meeting is October 18, and hopefully I’ll have a quicker turnaround time for putting up my report!

Richard McBride Elementary School to be replaced

BC’s Ministry of Education announced today that New Westminster’s Richard McBride Elementary School will be replaced with construction starting in 2018.

“We have known for a long time that Richard McBride Elementary has been seismically unsafe, and we are glad to announce its replacement,” said Education Minister Rob Fleming in a press release. “As an H1-ranked school, McBride has been a priority for years and although the previous government chose not to act to keep our children safe, we are glad to put the focus on learning in a safe environment.”

The school will be replaced with 26 earthquake-safe portables that will arrive in time for September 2019.

“By using portables we can quickly adapt to changing enrollment numbers, making education in New Westminster cost-effective yet safe for our children,” Fleming said.

McBride Parent Advisory Committee co-chair Janet Arbeau has been raising the issue of the safety of the school for a number of years, and said she gets a lot of questions from parents about the fate of the school.

“Especially some of the new parents. They’ve just enrolled their kids in kindergarten or what have you and they’re very excited, and they recognized McBride is an old school, and then they maybe do a little bit of googling, and the next thing you know, they find out the status of McBride is an H1-rated school, so then they ask the PAC what’s going on.”

She met with New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy to share her concerns and said she was “satisfied” with the discussions.

“My son Chard has been attending McBride since kindergarten and is now in Grade Four. Every year we have been told that McBride is unsafe, that it’s rated H1, and either upgrading it or replacing it has been a priority. I’m glad that we are finally seeing progress. I’m sad that Chard won’t be seeing a safe McBride Elementary, but I’m very glad that other kids will be getting the safe education they deserve.”

Fleming said some of the delays stemmed from the previous Liberal government.

“We are sorry that we could not act quicker than the 2019 school year, but unfortunately due to years of underfunding by the Liberal government, demand for portables is at an all-time high. The portables McBride will be replaced with are currently in use in Surrey, and moving them to New Westminster and other cities around the province will help us meet our promise to do away with all of the portables in Surrey within four years.”

“We didn’t say anything about portables in other cities,” he added.

Be Like Brow

On 18 September 2017 I visited New West City Hall and addressed city council about the Official Community Plan that they were voting on later that night. Here’s the transcript of what I said.

My name is Brad Cavanagh and I am a resident of New Westminster. I would like to speak with you about the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood and the Official Community Plan.

Brow of the Hill is a neighbourhood unlike any other in New Westminster. Its population is about 11,000 people, making up 15% of New Westminster’s population. It has a higher proportion of renters than the average New West neighbourhood. It has a higher proportion of lower-income families, a higher proportion of recent immigrants to Canada, and a higher proportion of younger families. It has recovery houses and churches. And the older low-rise apartments mean that it has some of the lowest rents in New Westminster, meaning it’s more affordable as well.

It is one of the most walkable neighbourhoods in New West, and has one of the highest percentage of residents using active transportation — walking, cycling, and transit — despite having zero SkyTrain stations. Traffic calming done over the past few years has resulted in quiet streets where often the only sound you hear is that of children playing in the front yards of apartment buildings, people singing while they cook dinner, or families going for a walk to the corner store.

I live in Brow of the Hill. It’s a great neighbourhood. I can walk to get groceries or to the library. I know my neighbours, we have block parties, and we have fig parties. It’s a fantastic community made up of all kinds of people from all walks of life.

And it’s been an experiment in gentle densification over the past forty years. On my block are single-family houses, townhouses, and low-rise apartment buildings. We don’t have moving vans clogging our streets as “transient renters” come and go — the renters that are in Brow stay in Brow. We don’t have traffic racing up and down our street despite having three low-rise apartment buildings on our one block alone. What we do have is a great community.

And we have heritage houses in our community too — a house across the street from me was built in 1885 and is being painstakingly restored after a 2011 fire. An 1892 house on Third Avenue is being preserved thanks to an innovative Heritage Revitalization Agreement that will restore the house and add four townhouse units.

So that’s why I’m disappointed with the Land Use Designation map for the Official Community Plan. It keeps large portions of the city untouched and reserved for single-family homes, which shows that we have not learned anything from the gentle densification of Brow of the Hill over the past 40 years. Brow shows with flying colours that you can have gentle densification in a community. Single-family houses and townhouses and low-rise apartments can all coexist on a block without negatively affecting a community. Heritage can be maintained. In fact, this all adds to the diversity, vitality, and livability of a community.

The OCP and the Land Use Designation map are meant to form a vision for what New Westminster will look like 40 years from now. 40 years from now, I wish that the rest of the city would be like Brow — a walkable, affordable, and livable community that’s welcoming to immigrants, lower-income people, and younger families, but unfortunately the OCP won’t allow that to happen for the majority of our city.

I support the passage of the OCP bylaw, but hope that when rezoning requests cross your desks for other New Westminster neighbourhoods in the coming years you keep these three words in mind: be like Brow.

I thank you for your time.

New Westminster is not defined by its numbers

Maclean’s recently came up with a ranking of Canada’s Best Places To Live by mixing together a bunch of numbers and throwing them into a formula. New Westminster placed 136th, which led some to bemoan how New West is a wasteland of bridal shops and hair salons.

There’s a couple of ways you could respond to this, and I’m going to respond both ways.

First, the study looked at nine different criteria and weighed them all equally. But what if you personally rank them differently? Feel free to hit up that survey and weight things differently. I did, ranking “transit friendly”, “health accessibility”, and “arts & community” higher and “low crime”, “high wealth & incomes”, and “nice weather” lower. New West ended up 33rd for me.

(Side note: if all you care about is low taxes, New Westminster slots in at #6, due mostly to the low provincial income taxes and relatively low property taxes.)

But secondly and most importantly, a city isn’t defined by its numbers. It’s defined by its people. You can’t distill down a community into nine numbers. Where on those numbers do you put Steel & Oak’s awesome community-building efforts? How does Tenth To The Fraser slot in there? Or PechaKucha New West? How about last night’s super-successful Music By The River, or tonight’s sure-to-be-super-successful Fridays On Front? Or how the city’s credit unions came together to help form a rent bank?

Where’s the slider for “number of high fives given to friends walking down the street”? Or “too many volunteers came out so we had to hope that the fire marshal didn’t show up for our volunteer meet-and-greet dinner”? Or “number of mayors who turn their parking spot into bike parking and then into a parklet”?

Sure, go on about how New Westminster came 136th on some arbitrary measurement. But if you truly believe that New Westminster is the 136th best place to live in Canada, then obviously you’re missing out on the awesome community we have here, because there’s no way that New West has the 136th best community in Canada. Top ten, definitely.

ACTBiPed Meeting Report for May 3, 2017

Sorry this one’s a little late, everybody! The May 3 ACTBiPed meeting had a bunch of interesting items, including reports from staff about new 30 km/h zones, a new bike lane for the Brunette Fraser Regional Greenway, and the first steps on the Connaught Heights Traffic Calming Plan. Let’s go!

We first talked about a recommendation from ACTBiPed that city staff report on the possibility of moving to a 30 km/h speed limit on New Westminster’s streets. Staff came back with a report that raised a number of interesting points:

  1. The Motor Vehicle Act forbids municipalities from enacting a blanket speed limit for all streets within their boundaries. Every residential street must have a speed limit of 50 km/h unless directed otherwise.
  2. “Directed otherwise” means that if you’re going to impose a speed limit other than 50 km/h, every chunk of street between intersections needs to have a sign stating what the changed speed limit is. This is for enforcement reasons — if you enter a street with a 30 km/h limit but do not pass a sign stating that, the police have no grounds to give you a speeding ticket as you weren’t “directed otherwise”, you were going the 50 km/h limit the MVA says applies.
  3. Signs cost about $150 to purchase and install.
  4. Pedestrians have a 90% chance of survival in a pedestrian/vehicle collision when the vehicle is travelling at 30 km/h. They have a 15% chance of survival if the vehicle is travelling at 50 km/h.

The city is going to start a pilot project along the upgraded Rotary Crosstown Greenway, and then design the 6th Street “Great Street” such that the engineering design lends itself to a 30 km/h limit, and then also continue the project into 2018 along all greenways, bikeways, and streets where it’s illegal to cycle on the sidewalk, approximately 15km of streets.

A rough order of magnitude calculation puts the cost of installing all of these signs to be about $22,500 (about 150 signs at about $150 each).

This project is just a pilot project, and can be made permanent with Council’s support. If you want a 30 km/h limit on New Westminster’s streets, write to Council!

The city will soon be enacting a Downtown Strategic Transportation Plan, including such hot topics as traffic calming, bicycle networks (including the Agnes Street Greenway!) and dealing with all of the new developments in progress and in the plans. Look for more information on this in fall 2017.

We received an update on the Connaught Heights Traffic Calming Plan. Not much to report here other than some “quick wins”: new sidewalks along 21st Street between 7th and 9th Avenues and along 8th Avenue between 22nd Street and a bus stop mid-block, and traffic circles at the intersections of 21st Avenue and Edinburgh Street and 21st Avenue and London Street. Don’t worry, Connaught Heights residents, more is coming! There’s a workshop coming up on June 15th at the Connaught Heights Elementary gym at 6pm. Go check it out!

The item that most interested me, even though I’m not a cyclist, is the design of the Braid Street section of the Brunette Fraser Regional Greenway between Brunette Avenue and Canfor Avenue. Here are a couple of pictures of the design (click through for larger versions):

West end of the Braid Street section of the Brunette Fraser Regional Greenway

East end of the Braid Street section of the Brunette Fraser Regional Greenway

I think it looks pretty cool! The little dipsy-doo at the Bailey Bridge end is because of some utility poles that the path obviously can’t go through. ACTBiPed members recommended some treatment along the path to remind cyclists to watch out for large trucks turning into their path, and this is what staff thought up:

Watch for construction to start later this year and for it to be substantially complete before year-end.

Andrew Feltham (an ACTBiPed member) gave a presentation on transit priorities, with a bit of a focus on Queensborough. Transit priorities are things like bus lanes or bus-only traffic signals, like the one at the south end of 20th Street to get onto the Queensborough Bridge. If you can think of any areas that could benefit from transit priorities, shoot me a comment below!

There’s a new draft bike route map out too. We had some comments about it (like why in the world would staff remove Columbia & McBride from the “Caution! Extra Care Needed” category?!?) and they’ll be revising the map accordingly.

Next ACTBiPed meeting is scheduled for June 7 at 6:30pm at New Westminster City Hall. As always, it’s open to the public.