Calming traffic by removing roads?

Controlling traffic speed and volume is a problem that has vexed planners and governments for almost 100 years. Most of the time the end result has been a misguided attempt to reduce congestion and speed flow by adding and expanding roads. Why is this misguided? Because you can’t build your way out of congestion and also, it seems, more connections can lead to worse congestion.

You can’t build your way out of congestion. There is even a fancy term for this: induced demand. Essentially, if you provide it, they will use it. Grocery stores understand this perfectly well. Why do you think all those candy bars in their shiny wrappers are right at kid height at the checkout aisle? This coin has two sides and if adding roads adds traffic, then removing them will reduce it. Sounds crazy, right? This isn’t just conjucture, both Seoul and San Francisco have both removed major roads and have reaped the rewards.

For more information, the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute‘s Todd Litman has a excellent summary report: Smart Transportation Investments: Reevaluating The Role Of Highway Expansion For Improving Urban Transportation (PDF).

Now what about closing connective roads to reduce congestion? This works on psycology of human driving behaviour: provide fewer choices and you will have an easier time choosing. Not only that, people instinctively choose the “fastest route”, which has predictable results. A little bit of mathmatical modelling and suddenly you can see what roads you need to keep, what ones can be cut and what roads should be cut. Sightline Daily has a good story and for the mathmatical modellers in the audience, the paper can read online: The Cost of Anarchy in Transportation Networks (PDF).

What does all this mean for Oak Bay? We need to be proactive. We need to figure out what streets are actually critical for traffic flow and which we can sever without causing major issues. All this would allow us to have the seeming paradox of safer streets with increased traffic flow and making Oak Bay a better place to live.

Premier freezes property taxes

As you have probably read already in the Times Colonist or on, the Premier froze property taxes at 2007 levels until 2009 and has allowed anybody, not just seniors, to defer property taxes for up to two years. While the short and long terms effects may be minor, it does shine on a light on the problem that municipal governments budgets are basically controlled via Victoria.

Lets look at the numbers. Oak Bay had a budget of about $27 million in 2007. About $15 million of that is property taxes. Property taxes are decided by a provincial authority, BC Assessment. Now imagine yourself a financial officer for a muncipality, trying to plan your budget, knowing that the vast majority of your budget is under the political control of another level of government.

Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear. Isn’t it time the provincial government stopped playing politics with municipal budgets?

Laneway housing in Oak Bay?

Sometimes an obvious solution to part of the housing crisis hits us in the face. Such is the case today, with the Vancouver City Council unanimously approving laneway housing. You can read more about it at and But what is laneway housing?

Essentially, it is housing built in people’s backyards, facing the rear lane. It often displaces existing garages and other such structures. Of course, you need laneways to do it and Oak Bay is uniquely blessed in having many of these lanes, a legacy of smart planning decisions when Oak Bay was just developing. Given Oak Bay is completely built out and losing heritage structures is problematic, laneway housing allows the addition of density without ripping down existing structures.

How big would these new houses be? With a 40 ft wide lot, 400 to 800 square feet is likely — essentially, a small house. The best part about all this new housing is that they are built without subdividing the land, meaning any and all new housing that is created is rental stock, helping bring to an end the failure to add rental stock in the past 40 years.

Being rental, many of these will be rented by people who might be having trouble currently making ends meet. Reducing the cost of transportation is a key problem. Luckily for them, many of these laneways are within a block or two of a bus route and the laneways themselves make excellent bike routes.

Like secondary suites, laneway housing is a logical step towards helping solve the housing crisis without the huge disruption of entirely new construction. It is time Oak Bay council starting taking a leadership role.

Council meeting Monday, new apartments approved on Haultain

I went to the council meeting on Monday night and was pleased to see that some new apartments are coming to an existing apartment building at 2181 Haultain. The owner is going to divide a 5000 sq ft space into two apartments, renovating up some dead space that apparently had been used as commercial office.

You would think that the current council would have supported this right away, given the extreme need for rental accommodation in this city. Instead, the owner, who wanted to put in five units, almost didn’t succeed. The development needed a variance to do with parking spaces and the subsequent discussion almost killed the proposal.

The irony of allowing two units instead of five is that anybody who is wealthy enough to rent a 2500 sq ft apartment in Oak Bay is likely wealthy enough to own two cars. Or they get rented by students, all of whom might have cars. The net result is that it is unlikely that this will produce less parking problems than the five units, which would have cheaper to rent and thus more likely to attract people without a car.

All of this points to the evil that minimum parking bylaws create. New buildings are built with too much parking, encouraging car ownership and older buildings that are being renovated end up having to get a variance, a process that is fraught with failure and uncertainty.

The new Oak Bay council needs to take a leadership position on the development of new rental accommodation and not wait until owners take the initiative to push this through. I want to see Oak Bay be part of the solution to our housing crisis, not stuck on the sidelines, wondering what to do.

Cycling in New York up 35% after millions in new bike infrastructure

Streetsblog, a New York blog dedicated to the Livable Streets movement, is reporting that bicycling is up 35% over 2007. Given a Portland State University researcher just showed how a lot of bicyclists will go out of their way to ride on bike lanes and bike boulevards and New York City has spent millions building new bike lanes, paths and a host of other improvements to help bikes, pedestrians and transit, this increase is not exactly shocking.

It is high time that Oak Bay ceased being the laggard in bike infrastructure in our fine region. We need a comprehensive network of bike lanes, boulevards and paths to help get people out of their cars and into bikes.

Bashing broom, interviews and more

Invasive species in our parks is a big deal, but thankfully some local citizens are here to deal with it. This weekend Margaret Lidkea led her annual broom bash in Uplands Park with local Girl Guides and other concerned residents and today I went to go lend a hand. Saanich News covered her work a few weeks ago. I had forgotten just how difficult removing Scotch broom really is. There was pretty good attendance, at least 20 people that I saw, and some very large plants were taken out. Sadly, I learned that Margaret might not be running this next year, due to retiring, so hopefully somebody will step up to the plate and keep it going.

I also met with Jeff Bartlett and Darshan Stevens, journalism students at the Western Academy of Photography. They were conducting interviews with candidates as part of one of their asignments. They had both done some good research before interviewing me and I look forward to seeing their work, both now and in the future.

One of the interesting things they both said to me was that most candidates were hard to get hold of. Needless to say, I am baffled, as candidates are running largely on their name recognition, especially in a crowded field such as Victoria, with 35 candidates. Making yourself hard to contact is not going to help you there. Have other people run into the same issue?

In other news, while walking around today, a dog walker in Willows Park mentioned that I should talk more about seniors. With that in mind, I intend to post something this week on how legalizing secondary suites will help seniors (as well as students and the rest of the renting populace).

Urban agriculture

Like most urban areas, Greater Victoria imports a great deal of its food. Given our climate and large amounts of greenspace in the yards of nearly every house, it doesn’t have to be that way. Oak Bay has been taking some positive steps in the past, including allowing small plot intensive agriculture (something even the Times Colonist argued for) after Paula Sobie and Martin Scaia ran afoul of the old rules, and also allowing honey bees on smaller plots.

While this recent progress is good, more needs to happen. We need to take a look at allowing chickens (without roosters), much as Saanich allows. We need to restore the tax break that places with farm status used to enjoy, to help promote agriculture. We also need to follow Victoria’s lead and allow farming as an acceptable home occupation.

We also need to be promoting gardening to younger people. Vancouver’s Lord Roberts School has had a garden for over 22 years. If you catch them young, the love will stay with them for their entire life, as I can personally attest to. Beyond the young, gardening is often used as therapy and experience for those with disabilites, such as the Local Yokels which I visited today, or addictions, with the proposed farm in Saanich.

With all this locally grown food, places are needed to sell it so that locals can enjoy it. After much wrangling, Oak Bay finally has one pocket market, in Estevan Village near my house. I know from speaking with Food Roots, who run the current market, that they would love to expand into other parts of Oak Bay and the current council has cautiously endorsed the idea.

However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that  Oak Bay is still an urban place and thus we need to recognize that certain farming activities are not welcome here, including large animals, roosters and pesticides. But we can do a great deal to encourage small plots, market gardens and school gardens that could become an integral, exciting part of a future greener, more self-sufficient Oak Bay.

Final candidate list up

The nomination period has finished and the final candidate list is up (PDF). Unexpectedly, we have a race for the mayors chair, with incumbent Chris Causton running against Ronald Telfer, for which I can find no information about.

For the six seat council, five incumbents have decided to running again: Hazel Braithwaite, Allan Cassidy, Pam Copley, John Herbert and Nils Jensen.

For the lone seat left over, there are four of us, including myself, Michelle Kirby, Tara Ney and Chris Smith. Nine candidates is slightly down from 2005, when 12 people ran.

It should be an interesting race. I look forward to debating everybody at an all candidates meeting, once one gets organized. It is nice to see so many new people stepping up with such similar ideas about climate change, housing and more. It shows how out of touch some of the current councillors are.