My latest Business in Vancouver column:
The NPA has lost the last two civic elections. It’s time for a new approach.
In 2011, the strategy was one of ridicule for the Visionista’s green agenda: chickens in the backyard, wheat in the front. In 2014 it had a more presentable candidate and a more subtle approach: dog-whistling key words to base. With bike lanes, for instance, the requirement for “community backing” could be interpreted as “no more of that annoyance” without actually having to say so.
But Kirk LaPointe did one thing well: he restored the NPA’s credibility. He worked with a good slate of candidates, and they worked well together – with leadership and funding by some key business people. Even if he wasn’t likely to beat Gregor Robertson, he might have taken away the Vision majority. But in the end, the NPA came up short on council, sadly losing the 10th spot. (Ian Robertson, who missed by a narrow margin, might have been the NPA’s next best shot at the mayor’s chair.)
So NPA, what now? (Disclosure: I was an NPA councillor from 1986 to 2002, under mayors Gordon Campbell and Philip Owen.)
First, recognition that the NPA base is no longer big enough, even with a fractured political spectrum on the left. The NPA reflects the worldview of those who mostly have it made – homeowners in particular, whether on the Westside or Southeast. But it doesn’t have an aspirational vocabulary for the young and insecure, who have a different view of Vancouver than those from the aging single-family neighbourhoods.
Second, it has to embrace – not just begrudgingly accept – that lifestyles are changing when it comes to how we get around. Those annoying bike lanes are a manifestation of something that’s neither trivial nor temporary.
The NPA failure to get it was articulated by LaPointe in two words: counterflow lanes.
It was a minor promise in the scheme of things – “create counterflow lanes and utilize technology to reduce congestion on major arterial routes” – and the appeal was understandable, particularly for someone like LaPointe, who lives in the University Endowment Lands and works in North Vancouver, and no doubt has to battle traffic on that route. Why wouldn’t people want an easier way to drive through the city?
He clearly did not grasp that those two words meant the reversal of two generations of policy, mostly by NPA councils, with respect to auto capacity in this city. LaPointe would have been the first Vancouver mayor in memory to say to suburban drivers: Come on back. All is forgiven!
It wasn’t a serious proposal. But it was a kind of code, along with more free parking, that was meant to signal a return to the city that Vancouver was in the 20th century, not the city it was in the process of becoming – albeit with some surprising clumsiness on the part of the Vision council. The NPA, if it expects to govern, has to depart from the comfort and convention of that past.
“Transparency,” “consultation” and “conversation” are not substitutes for a real vision of the this city, one that resonates with the way of life being adopted by the people who want to live here but know that it will be under vastly different circumstances than those who have paid off their mortgages and get to cash out.
When it comes to contentiously symbolic issues, the NPA has to embrace not just bike lanes but the entire strategy of active transportation and lifestyles, with actual proposals and policies to expand their reach.
And fortunately, it has the opportunity.
The NPA now has control of the park board, a traditional place for the next generation of municipal leaders. And it’s the place that will have to finally figure out how to design and build bike routes through major parks, primarily Stanley, and connect to the network that surrounds and joins up its entire system. No park board in the last three decades has provided the political will and funding to resolve it.
And of course, there’s the outstanding question of what to do about Hadden Park at Kitsilano Point.
The NPA park board can now provide leadership; it can demonstrate how it more effectively works with the community – the cyclists, the residents, park users of every kind – to resolve conflict; it can provide vision for the future; it can change its image and back it up with real projects and commitments.
The NPA park commissioners can demonstrate that the NPA itself is the party of an aspirational future, not the declining voices of a begrudging past.
Scot picks up on another chapter in Surrey’s East Clayton parking saga:
From Frank Luba in The Province:
When Clayton was first designed and developed about 15 years ago, it was meant to be a , walking community,” said Hayne. “It was kind of ahead of its time.”
The intention was to have small lots, just nine metres wide, with small houses — although there was an option for coach houses.
“One of the key things that was to be utilized was public transit,” said Hayne. “The concept sounded great.”
But transit doesn’t fully serve the area, and many homes put in a basement suite in addition to a coach house — so there could be three families on one lot.
“It makes it almost impossible to contain the number of cars on your premises,” said Hayne.
Not everyone has a problem with removing parking.
Clayton Heights resident Mike Wellar thinks the issue is the excessive number of secondary suites in the area.
“You need to definitely enforce the rules in terms of suites,” said Wellar.
Surrey allows one secondary suite per home and charges an annual fee of approximately $500.
But some homes have more than one suite, according to Hayne.
Wellar also thinks the parking problem could be reduced if people cleaned out garages and used them for parking, as he does.
Another solution could be to have permit parking.
Another angle on the empty-house issue. From The Guardian: Property investors in Islington who leave homes empty could face jail:
Property investors who leave homes empty just to make money from property price rises could be fined or even jailed under proposals made by a London council.
Islington plans to force owners of newly built homes to prove they are occupied. If homes are left empty for longer than three months owners will face high court injunctions which if breached, could bring fines, repossession and, in the worst cases, jail for owners, the council said.
The drastic action has been proposed as the north London borough revealed that 30% of a representative sample of 2,000 homes built in the last six years have nobody on the electoral register and, even when students and foreign tenants are discounted, close to a quarter of homes in five of the newest residential developments appear to be empty.
Dianna listens in:
Overheard yesterday in Aquarius Mews:
Three- or four-year-old boy: But I NEED a baby brother!
Mom: Honey, I’m not the only one who gets to decide that.
From Alan Robinson:
I’m dumbfounded as to how Translink has gained a bad reputation.
1) They are about the only transit agency I can think of in North America that sees riders as customers.
2) They’ve overseen dramatic growth in ridership and service since the late ’90’s
3) They run a tight ship (obvious if anyone’s actually read how the provincial audits. Their wording were heavily biased against Translink yet found next to nothing in actual waste or efficiencies.)
4) They activily find efficiencies (Canada Line P3 contract, low-cost community shuttle buses, “on the way” routes)
5) They’re incredably transparent (extensive public consultation, long term plans, Buzzer, blog, Twitter, etc…)
For constrast, take Chicago. We have three transit agencies that barely talk to each other, the ‘L’ has maintenance slow zone over about 1/3rd of it’s trackage, Metra can’t run it’s trains reliably during the winter, or at all mid-day. Busses are bunched reliably every day leaving half-hour or worse gaps in service on major routes. Farebox recovery is less than 50% and mode share is far worse than in Vancouver.
Let’s take Toronto. They also can’t manage to keep buses and streetcars running on time, haven’t yet committed to solving extreme congesting on their subway or surface transit, and are wasting a billion dollars on a politically motivated sub-par subway extension to the burbs.
New York can’t even build a subway station for less than $4 billion, let alone be able to run cross-town buses that you could out-walk.
Seattle definition of frequent service is a bus every 20 minutes, although they’re also struggling with the state over the ability to implement a local tax.
Why are people trashing one of the best transportation agencies in North America?