Smart Mobility Manifesto and Our Transportation Future

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Last week I posted a story to Twitter about Oslo becoming a car-free city centre this year. There were some typical social media responses: “I think you should move to Oslo. You would like it there. I have a car not a bike.”

But there were also many thoughtful comments:

We need better public transportation systems for this to happen. More bus routes, timely buses, and it needs to be much more affordable.

“Lisa, what about providing access for EV vehicles? What about advocating for a Light Rail transit system that gives easy access to the downtown core for people who live in communities further afield?

Ok, but let’s improve bus service so I or my daughter or other women or men don’t have to walk in the dark 90 minutes before a 7 am shift to get to essential services at Vic General Hospital via bus. Does Oslo have rapid transit in place? For those of us raising or who’ve raised children (myself 4), I couldn’t just hop on a bike and drive in 4 directions then head to work. Let’s have some common sense solutions for all!

Yes, let’s!

Right now, in our region, there is an unprecedented opportunity to solve the transportation issues now and for the future. It’s an exciting time, with the Capital Regional District, the Province, local governments and the private sector all coming together to address transportation in the region in a meaningful and comprehensive way.

The South Island Prosperity Project, on behalf of its 10 municipal members, has been short listed for a $10 million Smart Cities Challenge prize from the federal government. This is a big deal. There were 200 applications and our region is among the 20 shortlisted. The focus of the Smart South Island Plan is to use data, technology and innovative approaches to improve transportation convenience, affordability and sustainability for residents of the region. We’re committed to this whether we win or not. And we need your help.

Do you believe in affordable, easy and convenient transportation? Do you believe in transportation options for the entire region? Do you believe in creating a better world for future generations? Please sign the Smart Mobility Manifesto. And please don’t stop there. Please take this short survey (less than five minutes!) and share your transportation needs and priorities.

It is transformation that is required in our transportation system in the region, not tinkering. I am often accused of waging a “war on the car;” and certainly those sentiments were shared in response to my Oslo post. I generally reject military metaphors, but if we’re doing anything, it’s waging a war for the future where all modes of transportation can work, together.

We need to act as if it’s wartime and mobilize extraordinary willpower and resources to combat climate change, the greatest challenge of our time. And with transportation accounting for 50% of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, a smart mobility future is one we need to create. What’s best of all, is that study after study shows that changing the way we move to a multi-modal transportation network, is more affordable, convenient and makes us happier and healthier at the same time.

For people interested in the City of Victoria’s transportation future specifically, please join us for the launch of “Go Victoria, Our Mobility Future.” It’s a free and exciting event at the Victoria Conference Centre on Thursday January 24th doors at 6pm, event at 7pm. Space is limited; please RSVP here.

 

 

Pandora Street Businesses Celebrate Bike Lanes and Endorse Lisa Helps

The owners of three popular businesses on the 500-block of Pandora in Downtown Victoria have endorsed Lisa Helps for re-election. They say that bike lanes are good for business.

They submitted this joint statement to our campaign:

“As established small business owners working downtown, we hear a lot of discussion about bike lanes, and, occasionally, about how they are bad for our city. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Bike lanes and their added bike parking have been nothing but positive for our businesses and we have seen firsthand how they’ve elevated the health of our community.

We feel Mayor Helps is the right choice for the future of our city. We’ve been in business for over a decade, and in the last four years we’ve been thriving in the climate conscious and business-forward Victoria that Mayor Helps is working to create. We believe in, trust, and support the direction Mayor Helps is taking Victoria.”

Shane Devereaux, Owner, Habit Coffee
Josh Miller Owner, Mo:Le Restaurant
Joe Cunliffe & Heather Benning Owners, Bliss Cafe

“I’m so thankful that these business leaders are choosing to speak up,” says Helps. “The benefits of active transportation that their businesses are experiencing are not unique to Victoria. The correlation between bike lanes, better walkability, and increased customer foot traffic to storefront businesses are tried and true in cities across Canada and around the world.”

Neighbourhoods are for everyone

Screenshot 2018-06-01 23.15.30.pngAffordable Sustainable Housing (ASH) concept developed by Fairfield resident Gene Miller.

In the Gonzales neighbourhood, posters are popping up on poles with a picture of a single family home about to be demolished by an illustration of a bulldozer with a wrecking ball with the words, “City Planners” written on it.

The text of the poster goes like this: “Do you like the look of your neighbourhood? City planners are not happy with it! We have an award winning 2002 Neighbourhood Plan that is meeting the objectives of providing valuable housing opportunities and gentle densification. City Council wants to push through a number of aggressive densifying changes that will permanently change your neighbourhood’s character. Reclaim your power to plan the future of your neighbourhood. It has been taken away by city developers that supported your mayor’s campaign.”*

The “aggressive densifying changes” referred to in the poster are the addition of some three story buildings along Fairfield Road and the incorporation of townhouses into the Gonzales neighbourhood.

Above these posters another poster has been placed. It reads: “It’s easy to oppose densification from your single family dwelling. Got privilege? For every young family that doesn’t get to live here, one must live in Langford and commute. Let’s put an end to this NIMBYism.”

How do we resolve this conflict? In addition to townhouses, Fairfield resident Gene Miller has put forward one concept that might help. He calls it ASH – Affordable, Sustainable Housing. One ASH building is 2000 square feet and occupies about 40% site coverage on a standard city lot.  ASH is small-footprint living – ownership or rental – up to 12 suites, in a modest building that looks like a traditional two-and-a-half storey house with four units a floor (approximately 500sf one-bedrooms). With less units per floor, larger units could be incorporated to create homes for families.

ASH delivers up to 12 ‘front doors’ – 12 individual, private entrances distributed around the building.  This creates a sense of ‘arrival at home’ that lobby-and-corridor buildings of any size cannot provide. Each ASH building looks individual and distinctive, and the house-like scale and appearance go a long way to promoting neighbourliness and a sense of continuity and community on the street and within the ASH building.

Implementing the ASH concept and other forms of gentle density means there will be a significant increase in density in Gonzales. This will create new homes for families. At the same time, the look and feel of the neighbourhood can be retained. Here’s an idea Council might want to consider in the future: to save hundreds of rezonings, the City could create an ASH entitlement in the same way we have a garden suite entitlement – on any single family lot an ASH could be built, as long as there’s a mix of unit sizes and some form of clearly defined affordability in each building.

Victoria is growing. And as the single largest age demographic in the city according to the 2016 census – 25-29 year olds ­– start to have families, many of them will want to live in Victoria’s established neighbourhoods because they are amazing places. If we want a city that is inclusive and diverse, we must absolutely ensure that neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood residents make room for them.

*NB To put the statement in the poster in context, my 2014 campaign was funded 51% by corporate donations, 49% by individuals – the most even split of any candidate.

Originally published in the Victoria News here.

Bus Rapid Transit Key to Continued Prosperity of Region

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Bus rapid transit (BRT) between the Westshore and downtown is key to the future prosperity of our region and to meeting our climate action goals as a community.  In 2011, the Transit Commission adopted the Transit Futures Plan, which lays the foundation for transit development in the region. BRT between the Westshore and downtown is a key element of the plan. The lines are on the map for dedicated bus lanes. But the lanes are not yet on the roads.

This is because to date, the Transit Commission and local government partners have taken an incremental, patchwork approach to transit improvements. We’ve tackled one fragment of dedicated bus lanes at a time, starting in the City of Victoria.

But we haven’t conceived of BRT as a complete project, including all the stations, the Uptown Exchange, and an additional bus garage. We don’t have a total project budget nor do we have a current business case or a project implementation plan.

Although we hope it doesn’t take as long to get there, the sewage project serves as a good approach to thinking about transit. We received a business case and implementation plan for the project as a whole.  We call it the “$765 million sewage project.” With sewage we don’t think of the liquid processing facility, the conveyancing, and the solids processing plant as separate projects. All elements of the system are needed to make it work. This is also true with BRT.

It’s clear that incrementalism isn’t working. We know this because we haven’t moved the needle on transit ridership. In 2010 6.5% of the people in the region used transit. In 2017 6.5% of people in the region use transit. When BC Transit brought in BRT in Kelowna they expected 7% to 8% ridership; ridership jumped to 14%.

Thankfully at its December meeting the Victoria Transit Commission, which I sit on with a number of my colleagues from across the region, unanimously adopted a motion directing staff to develop a business case and implementation plan for a complete BRT project from downtown to the Westshore. We’ve asked staff to include all the necessary infrastructure in their business case. We’ve also asked them to include an analysis of the costs and benefit to our residents.

There will be an initial capital cost to building this infrastructure. But this infrastructure investment will keep money in people’s pockets and increase general well-being.  Recent research shows that people who commute daily by car spend at least 20% of household income on transportation. Research also shows that those stuck in traffic in daily commutes express lower levels of life satisfaction and well-being.

The time to act is now. We have a provincial and federal government interested in funding transit. We have a thriving economy and a growing population. And for the first time in history with the millennials, we have a generation that is driving less than the generation before them. This trend will continue. Our current and future citizens want to live and work in places with high-quality, high-speed transit. We can’t leave our future behind.

 

On Affordable Housing, Bike Lanes, and Building a Liveable City

I’ve been receiving questions lately with regard to both bike lanes and affordable housing. They go something like this: “Why are you spending so much money on bike lanes and nothing on affordable housing?” And, “Why don’t you use your role as mayor to do something real about affordable housing instead of just asking people to open up their homes?”

The simple answers are, “We aren’t.” And, “I am.” Both of these need some explaining.

By the end of 2018, Victoria will have a 5.6km network of All Ages and Abilities bike lanes in the downtown. This will cost approximately $9 million. By 2022, 75% of Victorians will live within 400m of a complete All Ages and Abilities network. The cost of the complete network has not yet been determined as the design of many components still needs to be undertaken through work with the community. This network, which takes a “complete streets” approach, improves conditions for all road users.

The active transportation network that we’re building, including bike lanes, is funded by gas taxes. These are monies collected at the gas pump and distributed back to local governments. There are restrictions as to what gas tax funds can be used for. They must be used for projects that have a sustainability impact; they cannot be used for affordable housing.

Yet bikes lanes, do contribute to affordability for Victorians. How? According to the Canadian Automobile Association, the cost of car ownership for a compact car is approximately $9500 per year. On average, Canadians spend more per year on owning and operating a car than they do on groceries.

We’re building a city where, in the not so distant future, car ownership might not be a necessity for many people. Victoria’s All Ages and Abilities network, when complete, will connect 75% of Victorians from their homes safely to the rest of the city. That means Victorians who now have to use cars will have approximately $9500 more in their pockets every year. That’s $800 more per month that can be spent on rent, groceries, piano lessons etc. Bike lanes contribute to making life more affordable for Victorians and making the city more liveable too.

As for affordable housing, and how much we’re spending in both time and money, it’s a lot more than on bike lanes. For those who don’t know about all the work doing as city and region on this issue, we’re using every tool in our municipal and regional tool boxes to get affordable housing built.

Right after the last election, Council struck a Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing. The task force was made up of non-profit and for-profit housing developers, housing advocates and others. In five short meetings the Task Force developed detailed and concrete recommendations. After receiving public input, Council quickly adopted these and staff created Victoria’s 2016-2025 Municipal Housing Strategy.

Since adopting the Housing Strategy Council has removed restrictions on garden suites, making it possible for anyone living in a single family dwelling to build a small rental unit in their backyard. It used to cost $4000 and take 12 months for permission. Now it costs $200 and takes four weeks.

We’ve also made it easier for homeowners to build secondary suites by removing restrictions in zoning that limited the amount of exterior changes that could be made to a building containing a secondary suite. These zoning changes increase the number of properties eligible for secondary suites while still maintaining livability, safety and affordability.

We’re fast tracking all new multi-unit residential buildings. And we’re in the process of revamping the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to incentivize the building of larger units, to prioritize women, children and First Nations, and to allow the Trust Fund to be used for affordable home ownership projects.

And all that is just in the city! In the early fall of 2015, myself and two of my council colleagues at the City of Victoria took the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness’s research and turned it into a funding strategy. We proposed – quite boldly and with much initial consternation from the media and some of our colleagues – that the CRD borrow up the $30 million to build new supportive and affordable housing in our region subject to the Provincial government matching with $30 million and Island Health covering the costs of health supports as needed.

We were thrilled in May 2016 when the Province showed strong leadership and matched the Region’s $30 million contribution. The $60 million Regional Housing First Program will build 880 units of affordable housing over the next five years, including 268 units that rent at $375 per month. And, I was recently in Ottawa advocating to the federal government to contribute their $30 million share; with federal funding we will build close to 1400 new units of affordable, and where needed, supportive housing.

Finally, we are ensuring that the monies are well spent and directed to where the need is. A refreshed Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, which I co-chair, is responsible for developing a Community Plan which will guide both new capital spending and system improvements to the existing housing ecosystem. This plan has been developed with a wide range of community members including people with lived experiences of homelessness.

Affordable housing, bike lanes, high-quality transit and compact, walkable land-uses are all key to building a healthy, prosperous and sustainable city. To do so we can’t make “either or” choices, we must take a systems-based and ecosystem-based approach.

 

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!