Who is paying for those bike lanes anyway?

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The Pandora two-way separated bike lane opened on time and on budget on May 1st. It’s been open for a month now and the use has been staggering. Preliminary data reveal that we’re seeing well over 1000 people per day using the infrastructure. This is a marked increase from usage on Pandora before the lanes opened.

In addition to data driven declarations of success even in these early days, anecdote and observation tell a deeper story. Before the installation of the Pandora bike lane, I can’t say I’d ever seen someone under the age of ten riding their own bike downtown. Now I’m seeing young kids, on their own two wheels, trailing closely behind their parents. And not only on sunny weekend days but also during the morning and afternoon commutes.

The new bike lane is making older kids and their parents feel safer too. I got this email from a Vic High parent last week, “Good morning Lisa. We attended my daughters last dance performance at Victoria High. After we left for home in our car, she left on her bike.  She got home shortly after us. We said, ‘That was quick how did you do that?’ She said, ‘I took the protected bike lanes; Lisa gave us a map.’ Thank you. Knowing my daughter is safe means a lot to us.”

These kids and teenagers are the people we built the bike lanes for. They’ll grow up knowing how to move through the city by bicycle and they’ll be able to do it safely. Biking will be normal for them not some “alternate” mode of transportation.

In addition to smiles and emails of thanks from parents, we’ve also received emails saying that cyclists should be paying their fair share for this new infrastructure. And that the Pandora bike lane was a waste of their property tax dollars.

In fact, it’s the opposite. People who ride bikes more than they drive cars subsidize infrastructure for cars. Everyone pays property taxes (those who rent pay them through their rent) and its property taxes that pay for roads. It’s enormously expensive to build and maintain roads for vehicles. Vehicles are much harder on roads than bikes or pedestrians. Vehicles lead to potholes and the need for pavement repair. Vehicles mean that when we build new infrastructure like the Johnson Street Bridge we need to build additional new wide, expensive lanes for cars. Those who bike, take transit, or walk more than they drive are subsidizing car infrastructure.

Second, the Pandora bike lanes were not paid for with property taxes but rather with gas taxes. Gas taxes are collected when people pump gas into their cars. Many people who ride bikes also drive cars from time to time so they are helping to pay for this infrastructure too.

Want to learn more about the economics of cycling? Watch the webcast of Portland’s Elly Blue, author of Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy giving a Lunch Time Lecture at City Hall.

Why I love to drive my car and Modeshift 2017

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It was the day after boxing day. Tired of turkey, we wanted Pad Thai for dinner. The Baan Thai on Blanshard St. was closed. The Oak Bay location was open. It was rainy and dark and cold. As I drove to the Victoria-Oak Bay border down Fort Street to pick up the warm delicious food, I felt happy and thankful to be driving my car.

In the future, I likely won’t have a car. I’ll order a self-driving car using my smartphone app to arrive at my door and pick me up to go get the food. But that’s a little ways off. In the meantime, people do drive and we’ve got some work to do on transportation solutions.

We’ve had lots of feedback about #Biketoria. Some people love it. Some people hate it. It has become a polarizing issue in the community. And when the community is polarized, it’s hard to move forward.

When the city builders of the 20th century started to build the road network, they did not call it #Cartoria. They just built the infrastructure for the emerging transportation technology, the car. And there was likely much protest and complaint from carriage drivers, horse riders, and people who walked and rode bikes. But the city leaders at the time could see the future.

In 2017 I think we need to ditch the car-bike polarity that has plagued us in 2016. We need to work towards something much more inspiring as a community that other cities in the 21st century are so far ahead of Victoria on. We need to set a transportation mode shift goal and work to meet it.

A few years ago, Vancouver set a goal that by 2020, 50% of all trips in the city would be by transit, cycling or walking. Last year they hit their 2020 goal!

We don’t have a Skytrain but the Smart Bus is coming; you’ll soon be able to see on your phone, in real time, when the bus is arriving. And this federal government is committed to transit. Yes not everyone can walk, bike, or take transit. But what if as a community we tried a bit harder. I drove my car to get Pad Thai that night, but most days I either walk or bike to City Hall so that I’m freeing up a parking space for someone else. What if those of us who could did this even a few days a week to start.

Why should we care about aiming for a 50% mode shift to walking, cycling and transit? To make parking easier for those who need it. Because it’s good for our health and makes us happy to get fresh air and exercise. Because cities are ground zero for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and taking climate action. But most of all, simply because it’s the future.

Thanks to the Victoria News for originally publishing this piece and also to the Times Colonist for their coverage today of the topic. And thanks also to Eric Haight President and Co-founder of Kano Apps for both the push and the inspiration!

City of Victoria Stormwater Utility – A Primer

In 2014 the City of Victoria will be rolling out its new Stormwater Utility. Modeled in part on a similar utility in Kitchener-Waterloo, the utility will remove the portion of money that comes to the City from residents and businesses from the property tax bill (about $4.5 million per year). Instead, people will receive a utility bill based primarily on the percentage of non-permeable surfaces on a property. The good news? This is a user-pay system, you pay for what you use. And, it’s possible to get up to a 40% credit on your stormwater bill by implementing rainwater cachement solutions on your property. The bad news? It’s all a little bit complicated to understand! This blog post is meant to provide some resources to help.

A few weeks ago, City staff updated Council on the roll out of the proposed Stormwater Utility. This powerpoint presentation contains a great deal of detail, including a list of solutions that property owners can implement to get a rebate on their bill. This CBC interview I did with Jo-Ann Roberts on All Points West explains in a bit more detail how the utility will work. And this Times Colonist article has a helpful infographic that details what people can expect based on the class of property they own.

To be clear, and to clear up some more confusion around the issue, the Stormwater Utility isn’t a new tax. The City will charge $4.5 million less in property taxes in 2014; this is the amount that the City currently spends on the storm water system. Instead the City will charge residents, businesses and institutions for the portion of the storm water system they actually use. It’s more fair that way. Right now, large institutions, like the provincial government for example don’t pay any property taxes or any grants in lieu of taxes but there is still stormwater runoff that comes from their properties. Currently, everyone who pays property taxes is subsidizing this.

Finally, the Stormwater Utility is something that makes the City of Victoria a leader in Canada. It’s innovative because it encourages people, at the level of their own properities, to take responsibility and leadership for creating solutions – like rain barrels, cisterns, raingardens, bioswales – that are good for the planet and good for the City’s stormwater system.

In the twentieth century we put lots of pipes in the ground to deal with the City’s stormwater runoff. In the 21st century we are implementing smaller-scale solutions. In the long-term, this will produce a savings for the City and taxpayers. If property owners, from single-family dwellers to large developers embrace the rainwater management techniques outlined in this powerpoint presentation, in the long-run we will have more above-ground infrastructure which is less expensive to build and maintain, mimics what the earth already does, and can also be really beautiful (check on the raingarden at Fisherman’s Wharf Park) and enhance public and private spaces.

Stay tuned at the City’s stormwater site for more information including information sessions.

On Deep Sustainability

I received an email this week from someone working on economic development and entrepreneurship in the region. His work shows that the general public wants to see a more socially inclusive and clean economy. He wrote to me concerned that I’m being perceived as ‘anti-sustainability’ in the eyes of some people who are vocal about sustainability in the region. Allegedly, I’m being grouped in with people who would sell the region’s resources and its future. It seems an explanation of my approach to sustainability is required.

I’ll begin with a story. It was the mid 1980s. I was thirteen years old. A group of friends and I were tired of seeing garbage on the roadside as we biked back and forth between each other’s houses. So we bought plain white t-shirts and fabric markers and founded T.I.M.E. – Teens Interested in Maintaining the Environment. We never did more than pick up garbage. Yet from that early age, the sustainability of the planet and its people has been one of my core commitments. 

Sustainability for me is a common sense way of life. It’s why I convinced my landlord to let me dig up the entire front lawn to grow food. It’s why I travel by bicycle. It’s why I keep backyard chickens. It’s why I help to create a strong local economy as the founder and Executive Director of Community Micro Lending. It’s why I started a backyard business – The Backyard Project – with a friend. And it’s why I’ve worked as a facilitator with Lifecycles Project Society, the Good Food Box Society, the Moss Street Market and other organizations to help focus their visions and actions.

The problem that the people who think I’m anti-sustainability have is that I’ve been advocating to do away with the City’s Sustainability Department since I was elected. I just don’t think having a sustainability silo alongside all the other silos is the way to go. But, I had a conversation recently with a young local change-maker, Jill Doucette of Synergy Enterprises. She sang the praises of the Sustainability Department and pointed out what an important point of contact it is for her and others working on green economy initiatives. Others in the community working on green economy and other sustainability initiatives laud the Sustainability Department for taking leadership on these issues.

I appreciate the leadership of the Sustainability Department. And I’m starting to realize that maybe we’re just not sustainable enough yet and a stand-alone sustainability department is necessary. (An internal City E-Bulletin a few weeks ago noted that the Department of Legislative Services is now accepting reports printed on two-sides of the paper!) So let me be clear: I’m not against sustainability; I think sustainability must be interwoven into the practices of each and every department. I think that each decision request that comes to Council should outline how the proposed project furthers the sustainability goals – financial, social and environmental – of the City. I think the City of Victoria itself should be the department of sustainability, all departments working interdependently to achieve the vision laid out in the City’s Official Community Plan.

If the City and its residents and businesses are to achieve this aspirational vision, the goal of the Sustainability Department should be to embed sustainability in every nook and cranny of the City and to work itself out of existence.