Archive for the ‘Vancouver’ Category

Time For A Change – A Fantasy Platform for Vancouver

As recent weeks have shown us what might be the dying breaths of Vision Vancouver, and with an election on the horizon where none of the major parties seem to have their leadership candidates sorted out, we are living in a temporary political vacuum. With no one putting forward their ideas for the future of Vancouver, I figure now is a good time for a blue sky view. I’m not running for office, but hope to contribute to furthering the debate in our city. Call this a fantasy platform, a manifesto, or maybe just lunacy, it’s my two cents.

In the six years or so that I’ve lived here, virtually all the local political debates have been not about how to ensure we can pay for all the things we need, but how to best make use of the limited funds we’ve allocated to ourselves. There is another way.

Raise Property Taxes

I’ve previously written that I think Vancouver is long past due for a significant property tax increase. I propose phased-in tripling of property taxes. I’ll explain below where I think the money should go, but even if we didn’t need it I think there’s value in increasing property taxes at this stage of Vancouver’s history.

We are in a time of record-high property values, and a time where most of the city’s wealth is tied up in its real estate. Anyone who owns their home in the city (myself included) has seen annual percentage increases in value in the double digits, but property taxes in 2017 were set at a mere 0.255489%, including the amounts that go to TransLink, the school boards, and Metro Van. This rate is likely to be lower in 2018 if the status quo is maintained, because the city sets the amount of property taxes it wants to raise and adjusts the rate to match it – when values go up as much as they have lately, this means the property tax rate goes down. Indeed, the 2017 rate is almost 0.1 percentage points lower than it was in 2015.

I made comparisons to other cities in a previous entry, but let’s look at it from the perspective of the property owner. Even if property values were to increase at a much more modest 5% (an unlikely low amount in this city), a property tax rate of 0.75% (likely lower, for the same reasons mentioned above) brings the return on investment down to 4.25% – this is still better than a lot of investments that are less likely to maintain value, but frankly still quite reasonable. Regardless, we could continue to increase property tax rates and owners would still be far, far, ahead of those who don’t have the capital to buy into our overheated market. To put it another way, on a million dollar home, the cost of holding it long enough to get a $50,000 increase in value (one year at 5%) is $7,500. That seems more than fair.

This could also have some added side benefits. If the return on investment is decreased (by virtue of having to pay more property taxes) this reduces the economic return on property. This is pretty meaningless to those of us who live in our homes, but for those who are investing, speculating, flipping, or otherwise dabbling in our housing market without living it, this is just one more reason either not to do these things or, at least, to be willing to put less money into them. It could have the effect of cooling the property market, which is badly needed.

Mostly, though, now is the time to capitalise on the property value growth in the city – we do indeed need this money, and we have lots of infrastructure development to catch up on. It’s also time to shift the city’s revenues away from developer contributions (13.1% of the city’s revenues in 2016), which will eventually dry up when the city is fully developed, and towards long-term sustainable taxes.

Last time I raised this, some people raised some valid concerns – the biggest being that there are some people who have owned their houses since they were affordable (or inherited them from decedents who bought them that long ago), but who have very little income to pay the taxes. For seniors, there is the ability to defer property taxes altogether until sale, so while I don’t think public policy should encourage empty nesters to sit on oversized homes while young families can only afford one bedroom apartments, I think this policy should remain and would prevent them from being affected. For others, there is always private debt – it is not difficult to borrow against the equity of a million dollar home. Even after paying the interest, the ongoing value increases in their home will more than make up for any economic loss in these situations. Finally, I would make the case that serving entrenched interests is not the goal of my proposal, because those of us fortunate enough to own homes in this city do not need the help – everyone else does.

Property tax revenues for the latest year with data available, 2016, came to just under $721 million. They were budgeted to increase to a little over $750 million for 2017 and around $785 million for 2018. As a phase-in, I would suggest increasing taxes by 50% of the 2018 amount in each of the next four years (2019-2022). This would bring property tax revenues to $1.2 billion in 2019, $1.6 billion in 2020, $2 billion in 2021, and $2.4 billion in 2022. That’s an extra $1.6 billion per year that could be invested back in the city’s infrastructure.

Reduce Reliance on Metered Street Parking

Increasing property taxes could also help reduce the city’s reliance on other kinds of revenues. For example, the city brings in $87 million a year from parking, which includes metered street parking. For a variety of reasons, street parking is a very inefficient use of the city’s limited real estate: it significantly impedes bus travel, causes delays for those driving in the second lane while people pull into and out of the parking lane, and create significant danger for cyclists. We could eliminate on-street parking on major routes and throughout downtown and shift the revenues into property taxes, and free up space on our roads at the same time. This may require EasyPark to build new parkades in select areas, which could also be financed through the extra capital available from tax revenues.

Maintain Other Taxes

The city recently got the ability to levy an “Empty Homes Tax” to discourage people from acquiring homes and leaving them empty – i.e., not renting them out or living in them themselves. I support this tax and suggest that it, too, could be increased over time – I would want some data before suggesting such a thing.

Previous governments have suggested they would like the ability to levy a luxury home tax on homes valued over a certain dollar amount. I also support this, though it is not a power the municipal government currently has. There are other ways to solve the luxury home problem, and I’ll mention some below.

Increase Utility Charges

The city loses a little over $20 million a year on utilities. The utilities it provides – water, local energy, and refuse removal – are all things that should be priced at a rate to discourage their use, not at a price below cost that incentives environmental damage related to water, energy, and solid waste. I believe that prices on these utilities should gradually be increased until these services break even – we should not be subsidising the use of these services.

That said, water in particular is an essential service and those with low income will not be able to handle significant increases in costs. I strongly believe that offsets and grants should be provided to people based on their income to prevent any serious negative consequences as a result of this policy.


Now that I’ve created a massive surplus (the city already has an annual surplus, but an extra $1.6 billion a year by 2022 is a lot of money), what would I do with it? Well, I can think of a number of things that could use improving in this city, and it will take money. Not having access to any of the necessary data, I have of course not costed this except where noted. Some of these things would need to be phased in along with the tax increase.

Most of my suggestions are long-term, capital projects. The City of Vancouver has grown from a small town to a big city, and is starting to deal with big city problems without the big city infrastructure to back it up. We have some great examples of good planning and investment, but for every success story there are many shortcomings lurking in the wings. It’s time the city made some “once and for all” investments.

Increase Operating Funding to Existing Departments

By many accounts, pretty well every city department is underfunded. Permit processing is taking obscene amounts of time, delaying development projects and approvals for local businesses. Maintenance crews during last winter’s snowmaggedons were virtually nonexistent, and some of the worst unshovelled sidewalks were on city property. Emergency services are overwhelmed with issues relating to the opioid crisis, which does not seem to be diminishing. I would propose a one-time across-the-board increase to department budgets by 10% (total cost, based on 2016 actuals, approximately $150 million), with a review done going forward to ensure departmental needs are met. It is likely that departments responsible for approving permits would need to receive an even larger increase in budget to help them catch up on the existing backlog.

Build More Housing

The biggest issue facing the city right now is housing. We don’t have enough of it, what is here is too expensive, and for most renters all housing is unstable. I believe that we need to address both supply and demand, and stop pretending that the entire problem is too many ‘undesirables’ making up the demand for housing. I believe that a significant increase in property tax as well as the empty homes tax are about as much as the City of Vancouver can do within its power to address the problematic demand from people who purchase property without occupying it themselves or renting it out. I’m now going to focus on the supply.

While the goals of the current modular housing projects are admirable, they don’t really provide permanent solutions, only temporary and cheap ones. I don’t think we need to have glamorous or expensive public housing, but we do need long term public housing solutions to solve this long term problem.

I propose investing a significant portion of the extra tax revenues generated into building permanent public housing through the city – even in the rich neighbourhoods that oppose them at every step. This could be done by utilising undeveloped city-owned land (like the massive VPD surface parking lot East of the Cambie Bridge), and by acquiring property where possible. We should not stop building until there are no longer any homeless people in the city – and I go beyond simply street homelessness in this. This is a lofty goal, but previous governments have proposed ending homelessness without meaning it – an ambitious building project puts real action behind it.

The city is also currently in contracts with a number of social service agencies for a variety of social housing that is often leased from private property owners. The city should invest directly in these properties and make them permanent facilities. Efforts should be made to work with First Nations housing organisations in the city to ensure that culturally-appropriate housing is available for indigenous residents of Vancouver, which may in some cases involve returning property to local First Nations from whom the land was taken in the first place. The governance of public housing buildings should be, where possible, given to residents to allow tenants to “take ownership” over their rented homes in a meaningful way.

Providing housing to those who most need it for little or no cost will, in addition to helping those who receive it, also help those who are just barely getting by now but are not homeless. Taking pressure off the extremely competitive market for affordable rental homes at any end of the market (even the lower-cost end) can only improve on the existing situation in market rentals.

Make it Easier for Property Owners to Build More Housing

Other changes can be made at little to no cost. A proposal was made last year to rezone the West Side’s mansion district to allow for more subdivision of the massive properties. This would incentivise development and densification, providing more supply to the market, but would also lead to higher property value assessments and higher taxes on these luxury homes. Not a perfect solution to the inability to levy luxury homes taxes, but an improvement over the current situation.

Zoning across the city should be evaluated to ensure the best use is being made of the limited land space that Vancouver has – particularly around SkyTrain stations, where density is logical. This includes the areas around Nanaimo, Renfrew, 29th Avenue, Rupert, and Joyce stations which have nowhere near the neighbourhood densities of their cousins East of Boundary Road.

Zoning, generally, should not be used to further entrench existing property owners, but to open the possibility of new property owners and to allow more people into housing that is accessible and affordable. This would take a variety of forms, from typical high-rise apartment buildings to more allowances for laneway housing, low-rise apartment buildings and townhouses. Those last two are often left out in our housing plans and should not be overlooked – it is possibly to build density that is somewhere between a single laneway house and a massive tower. Heritage preservation should, of course, be maintained, but should not be used as an excuse to prevent development on lands that are currently undeveloped or occupied by non-heritage buildings.

Encourage Better Buildings

Developments should still be required to fund or build affordable housing within their projects. The policy requiring family-sized units to be built in new development is also a good one, but more needs to be done to ensure this doesn’t just mean building more luxury apartments that no one can afford. Incentives for build-to-let buildings and co-ops should be continued and expanded, to ensure a steady supply of new rental buildings. And earthquake-proofing should be accelerated, with an aim for all buildings (not just housing) to be seismically upgraded by 2025, through a combination of building code changes and municipal grants to facilitate it.


The city is mostly responsible for roads and active transportation, but does have some ability to get involved in public transit. There are a number of shortcomings in this city’s transportation network, which is especially disappointing in light of the Greenest City brand machine.

Usable Sidewalks on Every Block of the City

The city should budget the capital to build sidewalks on every block of every street in the City of Vancouver. It’s embarrassing that in Canada’s third largest city we have many streets with no sidewalks at all, or sidewalks on only one side of the street. This makes active transportation inconvenient, unpleasant, and often dangerous. The city should immediately commence construction on all the missing sidewalks throughout the city, particularly in East and South Vancouver which are oft-neglected in city spending. After this project is complete, another round of construction should repair or replace sidewalks that have degraded over time – last winter was particularly rough on our sidewalk infrastructure, and I’ve seen little to no work done since then to fix them.

Make it Safe and Pleasant to Cross Streets

The city should also move to make active transportation more efficient and accessible by ensuring that pedestrians can cross in all directions at every intersection – too many intersections currently have physical and/or signed prohibitions on crossing in certain directions, even in very urban parts of the city. This applies at signalised intersections where continuing in a straight line often requires crossing the intersection three times because of a crossing prohibition, which is unacceptable. But it also applies at unmarked crosswalks on major roads which, while legal crossings, are dangerous to cross at – lights, stop signs, or at least marked crosswalks should be deployed to improve this situation.

Build the Broadway Subway Extension Already

A large amount of the money raised from increased property taxes could go towards funding the Broadway subway extension, which is forecast to cost in the range of $2 billion. A large portion of this funding should come from the federal and/or provincial governments, but with a drastic increase in property taxes the city could easily afford to fund a substantial portion of the project, even if it has to borrow to pay for it over 5 or 10 years. Construction should beginning immediately.

Build the Rest of the Broadway Subway Extension, and Others

As soon as design work is complete on the Broadway Line extension, staff dedicated to that project should be retained to start design on further transit expansions. A long term plan for SkyTrain (or other rapid transit) expansion throughout the city should be developed, and should include completing the Broadway Line to UBC, which should be done immediately after completion of the initial extension to Arbutus. Plans should also be developed for a Hastings line to replace the 95 B-Line.

Bring Bike Share “In House”

The city should buy Mobi out of its contract, and bring bike sharing “in house” either at the City of Vancouver or, if the province agrees to it, at TransLink. TransLink recently granted a large amount of money to Mobi, which is a private company, so TransLink clearly has an interest in supporting bike sharing. If the system is to expand beyond the City of Vancouver’s borders, it is critical that TransLink be involved. Cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Portland all run their bike share systems out of one government entity or another, and it’s been disappointing to see a private company squander public money on a bike share system that consistently overpromises and underdelivers. Once it’s run publicly, I would suggest a complete refresh of the poorly-maintained equipment (or a replacement with a station-free system or half-stationed system like SoBi), and an expansion at least to all borders of the City of Vancouver.

Replace Pedestrian-Controlled Intersections with Real Traffic Lights

The city should generally replace some of the backwards street infrastructure that the city has implemented over the years. Pedestrian-controlled intersections seems to exist as a result of choosing cost savings over safety. Their use is ambiguous, completely foreign to non-BC drivers, and regularly leads to conflicts on the road. Pedestrian-controlled intersections should all be replaced with full traffic lights, to reflect how they are treated in practice anyway and increase safety of all road users. Money should also be invested to optimise traffic lights for improved traffic flow and to restore priority to pedestrians and cyclists where possible.

Replace Traffic Calming Circles with Real Roundabouts or Stop Signs

“Traffic calming circles,” which are like roundabouts but follow backwards rules to them, should be replaced with real roundabouts or stop signs. They confuse virtually everyone and legally function as “uncontrolled intersections” which are strange things to put in an urban centre.

Complete Ongoing and Proposed Transportation Projects

A significant amount of the remaining additional money raised should go towards finish ongoing projects. The viaduct removal should move forward already – we have been studying this for over a decade, and need to get on with it. The city should continue ongoing active transportation improvements, such as the Cambie Bridge, 10th Ave, Arbutus corridor, and the complete street on Commercial Drive. I would add Main and Kingsway to the list of street that should be converted into complete streets.

Other transit projects should include the first few phases of the proposed light rail projects, which have been ready to go for years now but given less priority. Given the significant growth in population around False Creek, and the Granville Island 2040 plans, there is now a much larger demand for this service.

Funds should also be dedicated towards permanently converting Granville Street downtown into a pedestrian mall, and connecting it to the new greenway to be built on the Granville Bridge. Buses could be moved permanently to Howe and Seymour, which would reduce confusion and improve bus reliability.

Invest in Long-Term Homes for Cultural Institutions

Our cultural institutions, ranging from the Vancouver Art Gallery to the Museum of Vancouver and even the City of Vancouver Archives are all outgrowing their current homes. Money should be dedicated to helping our cultural institutions find permanent homes that will last them for the foreseeable future.

Pay Off Debt

If these proposals doesn’t use up all of the surplus our new taxes have created, we could use the remainder to start to pay off the approximately $1 billion in debt the city owes, so that future generations are not straddled with the debt of the current and past ones. I strongly believe that passing government debt on from generation to generation only forces future government to engage in even worse austerity, and that is not the kind of society in which I want to live.

Engage with the Community to Develop Priorities

I’m leaving this rather open-ended, because while I have my own pet projects especially when it comes to transportation, I know that others will have theirs. I think the city can engage in more open forms of governance, and allow people to propose ways to use this surplus. What is important is that we stop dwelling on how to divide up the pittance of taxes that we currently collect among cash-strapped departments. The city could create formal engagement tools beyond just inviting people to show up at city hall – a Talk Vancouver for the future that allows citizens to propose their own suggestions for how to invest the city’s wealth.

Some ideas that come to mind could include improving 3-1-1 service to provide more city services, and to expand the use of VanConnect for all departments (including parking enforcement) to use it. We could build more parks, invest in green energy and energy efficiency, or simply improve existing municipal buildings. We could open more safe injection sites, fund community health centres, and work with local First Nations to better serve indigenous residents. The possibilities are endless when we stop thinking of property tax dollars as a finite resource. I invite readers to comment on what you would spend such a surplus on.


Many will probably call these proposals radical, and to a degree they are – tripling taxes is unheard of in recent years. But I consider the status quo to be equally radical – a status quo in which homelessness abounds, the opioid crisis seems neverending, and our transportation networks are bursting at the seams. We can afford to make this shift towards a long-term sustainable public sector with well-funded and well-developed public infrastructure – now is the time to do it.


Open email on 10th Avenue bike improvements, and the Mount Pleasant transportation problem.

I received this when I got home today:




My response:



I received on my door today a notice from an organisation calling itself “The Neighbourhood Stratas” (alternatively “Kingsgate Stratas,” as suggested by their email address), advocating against the proposed improvements to Prince Edward Street, and spreading some misinformation (particularly regarding the number of parking spaces to be removed). I have attached a photo of their cover letter.

As a unit owner and resident at The Uptown, 2788 Prince Edward Street, I would like to make it very clear that this organisation does not speak on behalf of me, and I suspect many of my neighbours would also say the same.  I assume, by virtue of the fact that the notice was left on my door and not my mailbox, that the building’s strata council is participating in this organisation, though we have yet to receive any meeting minutes that suggest as much.  Regardless, residents of the building have absolutely not been consulted on this topic at all. The strata does not have a clear mandate from residents of the building to proceed with lobbying on this matter.

All this said, I’d like to address the concerns highlighted in their flyer, as some of them at least are valid and worth addressing. I apologise in advance for the great length of this message, but I think that there are some very important issues to be addressed, many of which are much, much, bigger than this single project. As such, I’ve copied the mayor-and-council email address on here because there are broader development, planning, and transportation concerns impacting this situation.

First and foremost, I am strongly in favour of the street closure, parking removal, and one-way adjustment proposals as written. As currently designed, this portion of 10th Avenue (and in particular the “jog” at Prince Edward) is dangerous for people travelling by any means – on foot, on bike, or by car. I’ve previously attended open houses at earlier stages of the 10th Avenue improvements consultations and after several discussions with staff I’m convinced that there is no other way to solve this issue other than to change the half-block-jog to bicycle-and-pedestrian-only. As someone who walks, cycles, and drives through this intersection multiple times a day, the current situation is unacceptable.

Specifically with respect to access to my building, we have two parkades. One is a virtually-unused permit-only commercial parkade with access on Prince Edward Street, which I admit will have slightly-more-difficult access, though access via Kingsway-11th-Prince Edward is, frankly, more obvious than via Broadway anyway.  The other is the one used by people who actually live here, and is accessed from the laneway between Prince Edward and Guelph.  This laneway is accessible from 12th Avenue directly, and from 11th Avenue via Kingsway/Prince Edward or via Broadway/Guelph.  The proposals will not affect this access, at all.  If anything, I’d like to suggest that improved access to the laneway from 12th Avenue (especially turning left Eastbound 12th to Northbound laneway) and/or via a full traffic light at Broadway and Guelph might help to alleviate any parking access issues for our building that may be caused by this change to 10th Avenue.

The flyer also raises concerns that residents may have to leave the area via 11th to Kingsway, which would be difficult if doing anything other than turning right (Northbound).  The Kingsway and 11th intersection is, indeed, a disaster. With no signal and no crosswalks, it’s completely impossible to navigate by bike or on foot (this is officially an unmarked crosswalk, but on a six-lane highway, drivers do not respect this), and even by car is still very difficult to navigate – even if only making a right turn onto or off of Kingsway. I’ve personally been in more than a few near-collisions at this intersection.

I’d like to suggest that, rather than backtrack on the proposed plans (which I think are mostly sound), the city consider improvements to the intersection of Kingsway and 11th alongside the changes to 10th Avenue. In previous correspondence with the city, I was informed that I am not the only one to have raised the problem of this intersection, so perhaps the city can take a “two birds with one stone” approach and improve access for everyone by signalising or otherwise better controlling this intersection. In fact, this might give people less reason to drive down Prince Edward in the first place (since it will improve access to major roads other than Broadway), lightening traffic loads across the board.

The other two “concerns” raised by the flyer are with respect to several new developments opening soon in this neighbourhood – concerns that traffic measurements were taken recently without considering the impact of three new buildings currently under construction (presumably The Independent, The Duke, and Vya Living).  First, none of these buildings require access to Prince Edward Street at all – they all face Kingsway. The Independent will have its parkade access via Watson Street, several blocks away, and on the other side of Kingsway, so I don’t think it’s worth considering – given how difficult it is to cross Kingsway, I don’t imagine there’s a lot of risk of people trying to park on the East side of Kingsway for this building. The other two have parkade access from the laneway behind Kingsway, which is unaffected by the plans – there are no changes proposed to the mini-block between Kingsway and the laneway, on either 10th or 11th Avenue, besides the narrowing of 10th for the protected bikeway, but if anything this just moves bikes out of the way of motor vehicles – this block is usually so busy with bikes (in the summer at least) that there isn’t a lot of free space for people to drive anyway.

The two specific concerns with these new buildings were increased traffic volumes and loss of parking in spite of increased residents.  With respect to traffic volumes, it’s clear that the proposals made by the city are to reduce the volume of non-local traffic, since people who actually need to go to these blocks will still drive there anyway, but people who don’t will be frustrated by the traffic-calming (and blocking) measures. If anything, this frees up space on the mini-block between Kingsway and the laneway, because in theory the only people still driving there will be local residents and people going to Buy-Low Foods, as opposed to the current situation where this block regularly attracts rat-runners between Kingsway or Main and Broadway. Paired with the conversion of 10th West of Kingsway to Westbound-only, this will help reduce the volume of people using 10th-> Prince Edward or Prince Edward-> 10th to get between Main Street and Broadway without having to navigate the various no-turn intersections.

With respect to the loss of street parking in combination with the gain of large quantities of new residents, I would normally dismiss such comments since residents generally have in-building parking and visitors can come by other means. Generally speaking, I believe it is the city’s responsibility to encourage active transportation and public transportation use, and not to be concerned about storage of private motor vehicles on public property.

However, in this case this concern does speak to a broader issue of the increase in the number of residents in the neighbourhood. I’m strongly in favour of development and of increased density, generally, but this neighbourhood is about to be hit by a perfect storm of transportation problems. The latest development selling in this neighbourhood (on Broadway at Prince Edward) is marketing itself to be near a “proposed” SkyTrain station which may never come.  Bus service has been decreased consistently in the three years I’ve lived here (particularly on the 19), and buses are only going to get more crowded with the several new developments in the area, plus all the new housing the city is building just North of Broadway on Main.  I realise this is well, well, beyond the scope of the 10th Avenue team (which is why council is copied), but I hope that you could communicate to whoever is capable of addressing this that this neighbourhood badly needs a broader transportation plan, and one that addresses the increased number of residents with real, concrete, improvements.  I must reiterate that I think a AAA bike route, in the form of 10th Avenue (and Broadway, if I’m being greedy), and more bike share stations need to be part of this plan. The plan should also include completing the Millennium Line extension, and improving the pedestrian realm through traffic calming and improved crossings.  In the meantime, I’m living in a neighbourhood that is rapidly being built to Transit-Oriented Development density, without the actual transit to support it.

So to bring this back around to the original point surrounding parking, I can sympathise with concerns about loss of street parking for visitors and for car-sharing vehicles (the latter, frankly, often occupy about 50% of the on-street parking in this area). I think a lot of this could be remedied, on a short-term basis anyway, by negotiating for some space with Kingsgate Mall – there are currently no Car2Go or Evo parking spots in any of their three lots, and of course non-customers are not allowed to park there. However, their lots (particularly the large Buy-Low lot at 10th and Kingsway) are frequently virtually empty.  If even just the Buy-Low lot were opened to paid parking and/or some Car2Go and Evo spots, this could completely offset the loss of 20 (not 30 as implied by the flyer) parking spaces on Prince Edward.  I also wonder if you could clarify for those concerned whether any visitor and/or public parking will be available in Vya Living or The Duke.

To sum up this very long message (apologies again) – 1) the group claiming to represent the stratas in my neighbourhood does not represent me, 2) I encourage you to move forward with the improvements to 10th Avenue, 3) there are several other problem areas in and around the mega-block bounded by 12th, Kingsway, Broadway and Guelph that need to be addressed, the solutions to which I think should be expedited to address some of the concerns raised about the 10th Avenue changes (but these things need to be fixed, regardless), and 4) this neighbourhood badly needs a transportation plan; one that is actually funded and implemented as soon as possible. Further developments should, and I’m sure will, continue to come to this neighbourhood, but we can’t sustain any more until the transportation situation is addressed more broadly, including the completion of the SkyTrain to Main and Broadway.

Thank you for your time,

Neal Jennings

Vancouver’s real estate story is not about houses – it can’t be.

I promised I would start blogging again this year, so I’m finally doing it!

Vancouver has long been notorious for having expensive and unaffordable real estate.  I’m not going to try to convince anyone that’s not the case, since affordability here is demonstrably a very real problem.  We need to speak out more about the problems the city has with homelessness, underhousing, and the ability of younger generations to have access to the housing market.  These are all real problems, and some people are discussing them very sensibly and urgently.

But over the last year I’ve found myself throwing my arms up in frustration at an endless barrage of reports and infographics portraying a Vancouver that I don’t recognize at all as the one I live in.  Everything from the #DontHave1Million campaign, to this HuffPost infographic, to this $2.4 million teardown. All the reports from this crazy place portray Vancouver’s real estate story, its housing story, as one of million-dollar single-family homes that naturally no one can afford.  I find most tend to be dishonest (or silent) about one fact or another to yield more-sensational-than-reality results – frequently things like geography (how you define “Vancouver”), home type, calculation type, sales period, and others are misrepresented.

There has been some more nuanced coverage, for sure, but it seems like all anyone wants to talk about is houses and why young middle-class people can’t afford them. Most people would have you believe there is a crisis of epic proportions resulting from the fact that only a small minority of people can afford single-family homes in a dense urban area.

When I hear things like “Don’t have 1 million” (and its many variations – I don’t mean to single out any one campaign), what I hear is people insisting that the houses that are selling for a million dollars right now are the kinds of homes that should be affordable to middle-class people (however you define that).  That kind of thinking – that single-family houses are the crisis point – is distracting from the (very real) problems that we actually have.

Single-family houses are not where the crisis lies.  In fact, single-family houses are simply not a realistic urban dwelling – at least not in Vancouver.  This isn’t because I want to take away everyone’s suburban American dream, or because I think younger generations are less deserving of single-family home-ownership than our parents’ generations.  There are simply more of us – some basic math can show why it’s not practical to expect anyone to live in a single-family home in Vancouver. There’s simply not enough space.

I ran a search on of homes in the City of Vancouver listed around the $1 million mark, that magic number everyone likes to scream about.  I selected all homes (which by no small coincidence were all single-family houses, exclusively in East Vancouver) listed between $990,000 and $1,010,000 – there were six of them.  From the listing I summarised the street addresses, prices, and square footage of the land:


This yields an average lot size of 3,266.46 square feet (apologies for using imperial measures, but it seems to be standard in real estate). Dividing into Vancouver’s total surface area of 44.39 square miles (1,237,522,176 square feet), this means that if everyone lived in a million dollar home, and the city had no parkland, commercial or industrial space, or even streets or roads, we would have room for 378,857 single-family homes.  If we subtract only the 2,997 hectares [11.57 sq mi] of roads (this [page 17] is the best link I can find – the number is cited several places but the original source is a dead link), that leaves us with 32.82 sq. mi, or 914,969,088 sq. ft. Doing the math, we get space for 280,110 lots.

Even with the ludicrous assumption of turning the entire City of Vancouver into one huge jobless and parkless suburb (remember, those numbers above don’t account for any land use other than single-family homes and roads), that’s not a lot of homes for our 532K+ people, especially giving shrinking family sizes.  As of the last census, the City of Vancouver had 264,575 households, an increase of 4.4% from 2006. Assuming a similar increase to this census year (2016), that gives us 276,216 households today – just barely shy of the 280,110 number above.

So, the way I see it, we have a few options. We can continue to demand single-family houses for every single household, and use some combination of reducing the population of the city and converting parkland, commercial, and industrial lots to residential in order to achieve it. Or, we can start addressing the real issues, and tackle the issues of affordability at the other end of the spectrum, and give up the expectation of average people (or any people, for that matter) owning single-family houses in the City of Vancouver.

I choose the latter. I know I’m very privileged to own the modest condo I own. I know that many others are less fortunate, and I do believe they should be entitled to participate in home ownership.  Houses will become consistently more expensive as their supply goes down and demand (via population growth) goes up.  It will mean that houses become unaffordable for more and more people – this is an unavoidable reality.

So, let’s focus on the real issues. Let’s look at the price of family-sized apartments and question whether those are affordable for average families (generally, they’re not). Let’s look at the ability of young people to afford starter homes (not the average house, but the low-end condo). And let’s look at how renters are affected. Let’s look at near-zero vacancy rates for rental housing in Vancouver. Let’s look at the impact of how rental housing is structured (a complex mishmash of rented-condos, build-to-let buildings, partial-house rentals, co-ops, and social housing). Let’s look at the shortage of social housing across the city. Let’s look at the large numbers of homeless people in the city who can’t even afford to rent any home.

But please, let’s give up on the urban single-family house.

Email to Mayor and Council about Roundabouts

This evening, in an incident that has happened countless times before, I had a near-collision with a car while cycling on the 10th Avenue bike route.  I don’t recall the exact intersection (I believe it was Prince Albert), but I was headed Eastbound and approached a roundabout.  There was no traffic (bicycle or car) in the roundabout, and no one coming to my left.  I headed straight through – I would guess at around 20 or 25 km/h given that I was going downhill.  This is still well under the speed limit of 30km/h on this road.

As I was travelling through the roundabout, a Northbound car approached on my right.  Rather than a) recognising that one is required to yield to traffic in roundabouts (the BC government has a lovely little page on this) or b) looking up and realising that driving straight through would involve hitting a cyclist, this car just kept driving anyway.  I was able to brake and swerve to avoid hitting her car (or being sideswiped by her), but then she stopped in the roundabout and had to carefully manoeuvre around me to keep going.

In my frustration I yelled out “what are you doing?!” because I honestly had no idea – she seemed uncertain as to whether she was going to continue or stop and let me through.  She responded with “it’s not your turn!”  The fact that this was her response suggested to me she had no idea how roundabouts work.  They don’t involve “turns” – they always involve yielding to whomever is in the roundabout.  Period.  You wait until it’s clear, then you go.

While the complete incompetence of Vancouver drivers is pretty common, and to be expected, I have to think at least part of this is connected to the way the road communicates to them.  I took this photo shortly before moving to Vancouver:

Just so I'm clear- are these roundabouts or do you make left turns to the left of them?


If you click through to the Flickr page it’s on, you’ll see by the caption that I was just as confused when I first saw them.  These signs do not mean roundabout.  And yet the City of Vancouver uses them on virtually every single roundabout in the city.  I’ve heard somewhere that the difference is that these are “traffic calming circles” and not “roundabouts,” but frankly the wording is academic only – this has no meaning when it comes to how they are used.

So, I wrote the following email to Mayor and Council.  I sincerely hope something is done, because the way people behave around these things right now is incredibly dangerous.

Mayor and council,

After the most recent in a long string of near-collisions in this city’s roundabouts, I’ve had enough. I think roundabouts are an excellent traffic management tool and I don’t believe the city should get rid of them. I do, however, strongly believe city needs to do a heck of a lot more to tell people how they’re supposed to use them.

Besides a public education campaign, I think the number one thing the city needs to do is adopt standard signage. Vancouver is the only place in the world I’ve ever seen “bear right” signs to signify a roundabout. If we all bear right without yielding, we crash into one another – that’s kind of how it works. In case you aren’t familiar with what I’m saying, the BC government’s Graphic Sign Index that includes this sign (item number R-014-R) is here: It refers to this sign (in the index) as “Median symbol (keep) RIGHT ARROW.” This does NOT signify to anyone how they are actually supposed to behave at such an intersection, or who has the right of way.

Everywhere else I’ve travelled, including virtually every other municipality in the Lower Mainland, uses a sign similar to Rb-R-502-T in the BC Roundabout Signs Index ( This clearly signifies to all road users that they are to yield to traffic in the roundabout. I have often seen such signs in combination with something like Rb-W-500 to show the direction of traffic flow (many road users, especially cyclists, turn left against traffic through these, suggesting they don’t realise how they should navigate these intersections at all).

I would like to see council adopt a motion that mandates the usage of these signs universally throughout the City of Vancouver to signify roundabouts or traffic circles. A limited number of roundabouts in the city use these signs (though often in combination with the bear right one, which is even more confusing); I see no reason they can’t all be used this way.

Before I get a response that these are “traffic calming circles” and not “roundabouts,” the distinction is completely meaningless when one is travelling around one of these things and someone decides to drive or cycle directly in front of you (or side-swipe you). If the rules are the same, the size of island in the middle of the circle should not change the signage or communication made by the city. These are universally (outside of Vancouver) used and perceived as roundabouts, and it should be communicated to road users that this is what they are. The next time I’m cut off in one of these might be my last, and that’s not a result anyone wants.

Thank you,

Neal Jennings



Email to TransLink Commission on the YVR AddFare

I mentioned in a previous post a number of Compass Fare Hikes set to take place with the rollout of the new smart card in the Vancouver area.  At the time, I questioned  TransLink’s legal interpretation of the Commission’s ruling in 2009 about non-cash fares not being subject to the YVR AddFare.

On December 23rd, TransLink quietly applied to the admission to get their approval for this change.  I guess they realised the error in their ways.  If they’d be honest about this for the rest of their fare hikes, that would be wonderful.  Anyways, here is my email to the Commission.


I’m writing with respect to the proposed additional AddFare at YVR stations. I was hoping to refer to your previous decision on this topic, but the commission has conveniently deleted from your website all the relevant documents linked from the page about the decision here: . I will thus go from memory as best possible.

First, I’m thankful TransLink has finally decided to put this issue to the Commission, as their initial communications have all suggested they would simply be implementing this fare increase because they believed they had the right to do so under the original agreement. I believe that TransLink has been incredibly dishonest about this and other fare changes and I almost want to oppose this on principle. The new double-fare for those who pay cash on buses is another example of this. This type of dishonest approach to fares risks losing faith in the transit system that many Lower Mainlanders are very proud of, and the Commission has an opportunity here to show that the public will truly be represented, regardless of poor decisions made by TransLink management.

Next, I must say that the answers provided in the document titled “Information Requested by the Regional Transportation Commission” are wholly unsatisfactory. In many cases, management hasn’t even bothered to answer your questions. It is as if management expect the Commission to simply rubber stamp whatever it asks for, rather than treating this as a serious process of public engagement.

The answer to question c, in particular, doesn’t answer most of the question. What it does say, though, is telling. The AddFare program has been a total failure in coming up with revenue for TransLink, bringing in over $5million less than anticipated. This doesn’t appear to be an effective revenue tool. This could be a result of the Commission denying TransLink the ability to charge the AddFare on FareSavers initially. But adding it to Compass card charges isn’t going to remedy the problem, as demonstrated by the numbers presented by management in question d.

Speaking of question d, I find the rationale fascinating. TransLink has chosen to move forward with Compass cards, which will result in an effective fare increase for those who used FareSavers or cash before due to the discount rates applied to prepaid cards and the problem with transferring from buses to trains. And yet at the same time, TransLink and is complaining that its own decision is going to lose it $1.4 million as a result of it being so successful!! This is illogical for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that the effective fare paid by someone with a stored-value card as opposed to a FareSaver will be higher system-wide. Next, people using FareSavers currently at YVR stations are not going to cause losses (since if you decide against this change, we aren’t paying it now and won’t pay it in future). Only people who currently use cash and will eventually use Compass cards will cause a reduction in the AddFare revenues. Why should FareSaver users (who provide significant financing to TransLink through interest-free loans) be punished for this? And is it really plausible that people who are currently paying cash at YVR station will switch to prepaid Compass cards at the same rate as people paying cash elsewhere in the system? Such people are likely to be travellers in town for the first time (who will be unlikely to already have purchased a fare before arriving at the station), or people who use transit so infrequently that they don’t even buy FareSavers. Even if these people have the ability to buy prepaid Compass cards at the airport somewhere before getting to the station, they will be paying $6 just to obtain the card (which can’t be used towards their fare) – which is more than the AddFare!! This will mean a one-way trip into the city for such a person will cost them $6 + $4 x 86% + $5 = $14.44 after applying the 14% discount! I highly doubt such users will “switch” to stored value Compass cards over cash (would would yield a $9 fare, being $4 for two zones plus the $5 AddFare) based on this cost!! Even without the AddFare, it will be cheaper to pay cash of $9 than to pay $9.44 to buy a Compass card with enough value to get them into the city. If anything, this is a great way to encourage people to take taxis, which I suspect is not the goal of the Commission.

Finally, I’ve noticed that none of management’s answers to your questions come with any sort of backup or support. For example, they say “most” travelers from YVR will be air travelers, without any studies to support this. They have provided no explanation for how much administration of this new “exemption” program will cost, and whether it will even come close to being paid for by the nominal amount of additional revenue this whole scheme is trying to earn. If this increase is to be approved, the public should be able to see a logical and evidence-based analysis to support it.

If TransLink is trying to encourage people to take public transport to and from the airport, and is trying to encourage people to use the Compass card, then I strongly believe this is not the way to do it. Applying the AddFare to day passes and stored value cards gives visitors and residents alike a disincentive for taking transit. For many visitors, the Canada Line is the first experience of transit they have in our city – if that experience is marred by perceived gouging, they may choose not to take transit in the rest of their stay. I think this would be a terrible result, and I strongly oppose this proposal.


Neal Jennings


Open letter to TransLink on Compass Fare Hikes

Dear TransLink,

I’m writing about what I’ve decided to call the Compass Fare Hikes.  You don’t call them that, but more on that in a moment.

It’s come to light over the last couple of months that with the full implementation of Compass a number of changes will also come to the way we will pay our fares.  Specifically:

  • To obtain a Compass Card, which you have suggested will be the primary method of fare payment, users have to pay $6 in exchange for only $5.50 of credit, meaning riders will be incurring an extra 50 cents on each card purchase.
  • This will entitle users to a 14% discount on fares, which is significantly less than the FareSavers currently offer.
  • The elimination of FareSavers also eliminates the ability of anyone without a monthly pass to prepay to avoid the AddFare at the YVR stations, since your questionable interpretation of the Commission’s ruling suggests you think Compass is NOT “non-cash fare media.”
  • Bus riders who currently pay cash and subsequently transfer to SkyTrain or SeaBus will be forced to pay twice to continue their trip.  TransLink Police recently confirmed this isn’t just because of faregates, and that bus tickets will be completely invalid within the system (presumably even if the gates are open).
  • This is all in addition to the Tariff Changes announced last month, made under the guise of what “makes sense” and a suggestion that TransLink has too many riders.  These changes affect those who used Employer Passes, monthly passholders with family who ride with them, and West Coast Express riders.

Call these things what you like, but for anyone who uses these fare media or routes, these are fare increases.  Anyone who buys a Compass Card is paying more for their ride than we would have before.   Casual riders who use FareSavers will pay more than we would have before, both in general and at YVR stations.  Bus riders who transfer to SkyTrain after paying cash will pay more than they would have before.  These changes undoubtedly increase the amount of money riders are paying and, in turn, the amount of money received by TransLink on account of fares.

Some of these things have come as a surprise to many – such as the policy change on the YVR AddFare and the bus transfer issue.  They haven’t been announced clearly or publicised, at best hidden stealthily in texts about how great Compass cards will be.  And when they do surface, you have told half-truths about the alternatives (insisting the cost of allowing bus transfers was $25M when the cheapest alternative was only $9M) in order to distract from the fact that you are effectively increasing fares.

I worry about what other surprises TransLink has in store for us.

I’ve heard the arguments about these things affecting a small number of riders, though I question whether that’s still true after you add up all of the people affected by these things.  I’ve also heard all the spin that suggests these are just making things make “more sense” or that they are meant to encourage Compass use.  But at the end of the day, these things are fare hikes for a lot of people.

I love that we are upgrading to a smart card system – it’s about time. I want Compass to succeed.  This is why this frustrates me so much – if Compass is blamed for all of these fare hikes, you will only continue to build public opposition to it, and the data you so covet will be less useful to you.  You are also putting at risk what I think is a very positive reputation in the community – of all the cities I’ve lived in, I’ve never known one where most people look at the transit authority and say “yeah, they’re pretty good” the way people in the Lower Mainland (particularly in the city of Vancouver) do.  Your planning, quality, and customer service are phenomenal compared to other transit agencies.

So I ask of you: be honest with us.  It’s so blatantly obvious to me and other transit users that these changes are intended to increase funds flowing from riders to TransLink.  We know you have budget issues – we can’t escape this news.  So tell us the truth and call these changes what they are: fare increases.  Tell us that you’re sorry you have to do it, but that you have no other choice but to make up for budget shortfalls.  We might not like it, we might not sing your praises for it, but we’ll appreciate your honesty.  And, eventually, we’ll accept it.  Stop the lies, and stop the distractions.

Tell the public the truth and maybe some people will be on your side.  Until then, I will continue to find it hard to believe the sincerity of your statements on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Neal Jennings

More NIMBYism in Yaletown: Emery Barnes Park Community Association

A few weeks ago, these posters went up all over Yaletown, suggesting amongst other things that homeless people who suffer with addiction are biohazards.  I personally found offense in both the language and the suggestion that the people of Yaletown don’t want a low barrier heat shelter in our neighbourhood.  I responded by emailing all the people mentioned on the poster with the following:

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