Will the new parks bylaw prove to be a ‘gigantic hammer’?

Published: The Global Canadian
April 1, 2018
714 words

Barry Rocks OnThe District of North Vancouver is preparing to adopt a new Parks Regulation Bylaw, the first update since 1961. The new Bylaw is nearly four times the size of the old one, growing from four pages to fifteen, and promises “public safety through regulation.” During last week’s Council Workshop District staff explained that the new Bylaw is needed to give them “teeth” to enforce and regulate the use of District parks, but promised that rules would only be enforced some of the time, for some activities, by some people. Teenage partiers are a particular target for the new Bylaw’s enforcement.

Much of the new Bylaw is devoted to either prohibiting or regulating almost anything that you might want to do in a public park. It governs where and when people can play “organized sports,” cook a burger, rent a kayak, or cycle, and prohibits residents from erecting a “memorial or other object” commemorating a family pet. The Bylaw includes a list of more than dozen commercial activities that will require permits and fees. As well as film shoots and dogwalking, the Bylaw now designates bus tours, exercise classes, “providing instruction,” and even walking tours as regulated activities.

The one group who will enjoy more access to Parks under the new Bylaw is homeless people, who will be specifically allowed to camp overnight during the hours when non-homeless people are prohibited from using the parks. When Councilor Robin Hicks worried that including homeless access in the Bylaw would “encourage” people to camp out, Parks staff explained that the District was forced to add this section in response to court cases that ordered Victoria and Abbotsford to allow camping where there was a lack of low-barrier shelter space.

The largest part of the discussion at Council’s Tuesday workshop revolved around the question of how much regulation is too much. When asked by Councilor Mathew Bond how this Bylaw would affect residents who do night time bike rides, or enter local parks before sunrise on long hikes, the District’s Parks Manager Susan Rogers explained that these are activities that aren’t allowed unless a permit has been granted.

The new Bylaw continues the practice of closing parks between “dusk and dawn.” Many parks like our local Princess Park are locked up at 6pm for much of the year, and officially “closed” at 10pm, effectively making criminals out of anyone who likes to take their dog out for a walk after dinner. Councilor Roger Bassam, exhibiting what he described as his “Libertarian streak,” argued for fewer rules, not more. When the argument was made that more rules were needed to help the RCMP shut down teenage parties in parks, Bassam told staff and Council that there were already enough rules on the books to deal with drinking parties and other problem activities, and that the new Bylaw was a “gigantic hammer” that would have prevented him and his friends from playing touch football in Princess Park during their high-school years, and would prevent late-night cyclists and walkers from using many of the newly installed network of trails that were intended to serve them.

District staff tried to reassure Council that there was nothing to fear, because the District would practice “selective enforcement,” and that the local RCMP could be relied upon to “use discretion.” As well, Council was told that “we don’t enforce unless there’s a complaint,” and besides, “we don’t have the staff to monitor every park.”

Bassam argued that if the District doesn’t apply the law equally to all citizens – to both teenagers and late-night dog walkers – the regulation shouldn’t go forward.

Much of the North Shore is undergoing a change from single-family homes to higher-density strata developments. As more families settle in North Vancouver without the luxury of having a back yard, the demand for public parks will grow. Even though in some neighborhoods like Deep Cove there is a real problem with overcrowding and overuse of local parks, most of the District will need to find ways to accommodate more park users, not less.

When the new Bylaw is put to the vote later this spring, the question that Council should ask is whether adding more rules, but promising they won’t often be enforced, is sensible way to give District residents an enjoyable outdoors experience.

Moving people away from oil isn’t just a question of cost. Consumer behaviour is complex, often contradictory

Published: North American Energy News (link)
June 2, 2017
828 words

Dear Reader, here is my question for you: how much extra are you willing to pay to speed up the Energy Transition? How much risk are you willing to assume?

This is not at all a simple question.  Would we be likely to retrofit our current townhouse to be super energy efficient, much less pull out the gas furnace and hot water and go all-electric?

Probably not, because we have other places to spend tens of thousands of dollars, and the payback period would, for us, be far too long.  There are also the questions about how much hassle it would be to get approval from our strata for this scope of work, and whether a forty year old wood structure is worth that kind of investment.  If we’re looking to sell, a new kitchen and bathroom is better choice.

But what if we weren’t tied to a specific property?  A few years ago we were looking seriously at a stunning new house on Passage Island, just off of West Vancouver.  In the end we sadly concluded that boat only access just wouldn’t work for us, but that was about the only reason for not moving.

That house, like many in the Gulf Islands, and up Indian Arm in North Vancouver, is entirely off-grid.  Phone and Internet are by cel coverage, and all power is by solar and battery.  We looked at it and concluded that yes, we could get by just fine with the resources available: wood heat, rainwater collection to drink and wash, propane for cooking, and everything else electric from solar.

What we learned is that there are already a lot of people living very comfortably with solar power, and that it’s become reliable and affordable for most situations.  If we had purchased that house everything would have already been in place, so for our use case moving away from natural gas and BC Hydro wouldn’t mean an added cost, just some fairly painless changes to electricity usage – mainly eliminating the electric clothes dryer and replacing a few energy intensive appliances.

This is all within our reach, because it’s not just about “how much are you prepared to spend,” but also about “Are there changes you can make to your day to day activities that will make this possible.”

The phenomenal success of household recycling might be good model for the energy transition. Even with curbside pick up it’s more work, more containers, involves rules that change with every municipality, and delivers exactly no financial benefit to users.

There is no immediate upside to recycling, and no downside to throwing everything into one big black plastic bag, yet the vast majority of people religiously separate plastic and paper, and now often food scraps, into separate buckets.

This didn’t happen because it was mandated, or because there was a cost/benefit analysis. It happened because over the course of a couple of decades people as a whole became convinced that it was a good and productive thing to do. The challenge for EV proponents is to develop similar arguments, and sell them to the broader population. I’d argue that this is already happening, with most people thinking that, all things considered, electric cars are a good idea.

Moving people away from oil and towards renewable energy isn’t just a question of cost.  Consumer behaviour is complex and often contradictory.  Governments can help things along with incentives, but the big change will come when the population as a whole sees electric cars as part of “normal.”

You can ignore the part of the question about “risk.”  We’re already at a point where for the average consumer, that’s been eliminated.  For household use you add panels on the roof and batteries in the attic, and you’ve got a reliable system.  For autos the only “risk” seems to be the much repeated “range anxiety,” but the vast majority of urban driving is well under those limits so doesn’t apply.

As far as the costs of moving to an electric car, there are really two different questions.  One is the cost of charging, and that’s really in the hands of whoever sets the electricity rates.  If government decides to do some kind of smart metered cheap rate for auto charging that ceases to be an obstacle. The only remaining factor is the actual purchase price of a new electric car.  That is best answered by my former mother-in-law, who described buying a car by saying “Get the fancy model. The payments aren’t any bigger, they just last longer.”  If the monthly payment on a new electric car is only $50 more than  for a gas model – and again, government could do that easily with tax breaks – consumers would be there in a flash.

Barry Rueger is a North Vancouver writer, non-profit board member, and past Chair of the District of North Vancouver’s Transportation Consultation Committee.

Sidewalk poles make for an obstacle course

Published: North Shore News (link)
December 16, 2016
800 words

Pole in SidewalkLate last month, in a meeting at the District of North Vancouver, a cyclist, a pedestrian and a disabled person found common ground. Instead of discussing the broad visions of the district’s official community plan, or initiatives like Vision Zero or Barrier Free BC, talk turned to one of those mundane problems faced by anyone travelling without a car: telephone poles in the middle of sidewalks.

It sounds like a small thing to complain about if you compare it to the daily jams on the Upper Levels highway, but for anyone trying to travel the district on foot, by bike, or in a wheelchair, these poles can be as big a barrier as a stalled semi on the Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing.

The reasons why we wind up with poles in the middle of sidewalks are complicated. Sometimes it’s budgetary. Cash-strapped governments – because we all want to pay less tax – may decide that a less-than-perfect sidewalk is better than no sidewalk at all. Leaving a pole in the middle of the path means avoiding spending large amounts of money to move utilities, or to re-engineer larger projects to move the sidewalk. And there are jurisdictional issues – utility poles are often the domain of the utility companies, not the district. Moving a pole requires negotiating with BC Hydro, or Telus or whoever has wires on it.

Even so, people who rely on sidewalks – or shared paths used by both cyclists and walkers – often find themselves asking, “Who, exactly, thought that leaving a pole in the middle of the sidewalk was a good idea?” Or, less charitably, “And can they show me a road for cars with a pole in the middle of the lane?”

The district’s own Pedestrian Master Plan (dnv.org/property-and-development/pedestrian-master-plan) makes some pretty specific recommendations.

It recommends explicitly that the district “adopt a policy to prioritize pedestrians over all other modes of travel or to consider pedestrian needs in decision-making.” The master plan also makes some specific recommendations about how sidewalks should be built, suggesting that “A complete sidewalk network also includes a continuous ‘clear zone’ (path free of any obstacles) of at least 1.5 metres width …”

Despite this, it still appears that plans are made first and foremost to keep cars moving easily, with pedestrians, cyclists and disabled residents expected to settle for whatever scraps of attention or budget remain after the “important” decisions are made.

This month the district has been looking for public feedback from users of East 29th Street, between Lonsdale and Lynn Valley. Drivers of that route will immediately point to the intersection of William and 29th for attention, but this is also a good time to look at the lack of crosswalks at any other place on 29th, and to eliminate the poles, sign posts and benches that make the district sidewalks an obstacle course. Or even, just for a change, to plan first to fix the sidewalks and crosswalks, then use the left over budget to make improvements for cars.

Further afield at the Seylynn development, cyclists who need to travel between Keith Road to Lower Lynn or Deep Cove are faced with brand new poles, bollards and other obstacles that look wonderful if you’re planning for cars, but put both pedestrians and walkers at risk.

urely brand new developments should try to make sure that everyone using our roadways is treated as equally important? These are the kinds of obstacles that could have been easy to avoid at the time of construction. Instead someone – the developer? The district? – is faced with an expensive upgrade.

The district’s Pedestrian Master Plan sets a specific goal: to have district residents make 10 per cent of all trips on foot by the year 2031. That’s pretty far off, so let’s bring the discussion closer to home.

A lot of people talk about maintaining a “village” atmosphere in Lynn Valley. To me that means getting people out of their cars to walk, bike or roll so that they meet face to face, talk and make connections with their neighbours. Dog owners know this already. You can’t take Rover for a walk without stopping to talk to the people you meet.

Every day we leave home to do shopping, visit the library or have a beer with friends. If you can leave your car at home and travel on foot, or with a stroller or wheelchair, you’ll actually find yourself getting to know the people around you, and will see your community in much different ways. Ultimately you’ll make friendships and alliances that will enrich your day-to-day life, and make the district the best possible place to live, work and even retire.

If that’s our priority, and I think that it is, then our sidewalks and shared trails should be treated as equally important as the roads we drive on.

Barry Rueger is a Lynn Valley writer, dog walker, non-profit board member, and for several years has been part of the District’s Transportation Consultation Committee.

Bicycles are not a North Shore Panacea, Transit Might Be

Published: Price Tags (link)
August 30, 2016
1135 words

For three years I’ve been part of the District of North  Vancouver’s Transportation Consultation Committee. Few things have enjoyed more discussion than cycling infrastructure.

The cycling community, including HUB, have done a tremendous job of lobbying local governments for better bike paths and lanes, and for the inclusion of bike specific amenities in major developments. When these discussions happen, bicycles are almost immediately proposed as the solution to traffic jams.

Good though that is, it isn’t about to solve the problems of the daily traffic jams on the Upper Levels highway. The problem is that our most avid cyclists don’t seem to understand the motivation of all of the thousands of people driving to and from their destinations.

The North Shore has a significant problem caused by the volume of automobiles trying to get to and from the North Shore via the two bridges. The people who are driving to and from work each day don’t generally enjoy it, and they don’t like what it costs them. No one chooses to sit for an hour in stop and go traffic, or to pay more and more for gas and insurance for the privilege. Just raising gas prices, eliminating parking, or laying on guilt trips won’t change this. You can probably make commuting by car twice as expensive and see little decrease in traffic volume – unless you can offer drivers a real and practical alternative. Or more to the point, offer drivers an alternative that they see as reasonable and attractive.

I have neighbours who cycle from Lynn Valley to downtown Vancouver and UBC respectively, but they are part of a very, very small minority. The number of North Shore residents who will be prepared to cycle or walk to jobs in Vancouver or Surrey is marginal at best. Despite the apocryphal stories about cyclists whizzing by slow moving cars on Lions Gate Bridge, the majority of drivers believe that, all things being equal, driving will get them to their destination faster than cycling. For the vast majority of drivers that’s entirely true, and the only possible options are private automobiles or public transit.

Travelling long distances by bike, over hilly terrain, at the same speed as driving, requires a high level of fitness, probably a bike costing at least thousand dollars, plus an employer who either doesn’t mind wet, smelly employees, or has shower and change facilitates at the office. The cyclists who have all of these things available really do represent a pretty elite group.

As an elite, they leave out the people who are physically unable to ride a bike. The people who are moving three or four children to various activities each day, as well as shopping and medical appointments. People moving appliances and parcels. People who carry the tools of their trade to work each day, or who work in different places and at different times. People who can’t afford the bike, and clothing, and helmet, and the extra time to travel by bike. And, of course, people who simply don’t want to ride bicycles.

For the North Shore, a solution that relies solely or mostly on cycling is not reasonable. Lecturing commuters about the “real costs” of driving (either in terms of infrastructure or in terms of the environment) won’t move more than a marginal number of people out of their cars.

The factors that keep people driving are entirely different. The person who is commuting by car will ask a few specific questions about any transportation option you offer them.

They’ll ask how long it takes to get to and from their job. If they can’t get to work on time, or if they are forced leave home a half hour early just to be sure, they’ll stay in their car. If they arrive home an hour later, and miss their kid’s soccer game, they’ll stay in their car. If their commute includes a transfer in the middle – or two – and those connections are unreliable, they’ll stay in their car. They’ll ask how close the transit start point is from their home, and how far the end point is from their work. If it’s five blocks at each end, they’ll stay in their car. If the trip involves standing or riding in the rain, they’ll stay in their car. They might not ask about it, but they care about comfort. If the bus is old, noisy, and crowded, they’ll stay in their car. If the driver is rude, or the passengers smelly, or if they usually wind up standing for much of the trip, they’ll stay in their car.

They’ll ask what it costs to take transit. In real world terms that means: is the transit fare more than what I pay for gas? Because usually it is. The other costs of driving – purchase, financing, insurance, maintenance – don’t enter into the discussion. They’re sunk costs that remain the same whether the car is parked, or being used to commute. The only variable cost is gasoline, and that’s what transit fares need to beat.

Downtown dwellers can get by with Car2Go and similar services. People living at the ends of suburban communities usually can’t – The District of North Vancouver is designed on the assumption that you’ll drive to shop, to work, to play, and a car in the driveway becomes a necessity. Even the newer, high density “town centres” being built now in  Lynn Valley, and at the bottoms of Capilano Road and Mountain Highway, assume that they’ll be a shopping hub for the surrounding residential areas, and include ample parking for all of the families who will drive to them from their homes. Despite including bike racks and designated bike routes, the prevailing assumption is still that transportation is primarily provided by cars.

Consequently, on the North Shore, you can’t assume that the choice is cars vs transit or bikes.  It’s actually, “I’ve already got a car in my driveway, so why should I take the bus?”  People are commuting by car to and from the North Shore because they do not see an alternative that is as good. Not even close. Whether you’re promoting transit or bicycles, you’re working against convenience, comfort, reliability, and a sense of control.

That’s a combination that is worth a lot to people.

As it stands now bicycles aren’t going to replace cars on the North Shore, and North Shore transit isn’t close to offering most commuters what they think is a palatable alternative. It’s really a chicken and egg, cart and horse problem. Before you can start trying to get people out of their cars, you need to put in place the alternatives that they will be happy to use.

Or, more positively, if you build a super good transit system, people will move to it on their own because it’s better.