Jordan Bateman, from The canadian tax payer federation has released an alternative funding plan to fund the Mayor’s plan, let’s have a look at it:

The CTF funding plan

The CTF notes that the aggregated local revenues (all municipalities and the regional district) growth at an average rate of 5.7% annually. It is well above the ~2.5% combined inflation and population growth rate in Metro Vancouver, and also significantly above the GDP growth rate (~3%). So, the CTF suggests that future local spending could be certainly restrained, to earnmark 0.5% of them toward Translink.

Below is the projected local revenues according different hypothesis.

historical and projected aggregated GVRD revenues. The CTF’s plan suggests to earnmark 0.5% of the revenues growth to Translink. if the growth is 4.7%, it could be enough to fund the 10 years Mayors’ plan.

The CTF report [5] assumes an aggregate regional revenues growth of 4.7% which seems reasonable and below the 5.7% historical trend. Given this assumption, earnmarking 0.5% of these revenues growth to Translink could generate $2Billion on the next 10 years. That is enough to finance the mayors’ plan [7].

What is kind of baffling, is that the mayors, especially the tax addicted ones, have not only implicitly endorsed the out of control taxation growth, but becomes apoplectic at the mere suggestion to put rein on it. The narrative is worded by Bill Tieleman like it:

    “To suggest that you can make savings out of growth when you need more schools, when you need more roads, when you need more sewer lines, when you need more garbage trucks — that doesn’t make any sense”

It is time to introduce Charles Marohn:

“No More Road”
“no more sewer line, and no more garbage truck…keep the school thought!”

A rarity in the field, Charles Marohn believes in fiscally responsible urban planning. The main theory developed in his blog is that municipalities are generally engaged in a Ponzi scheme:

  • Cities invest in new infrastructure disregarding of the return on investment, which generally tend to be bad: Capital cost can be paid by Development charge, but the generated property taxes are not enough to cover the maintenance cost of it.
  • Cities then invest in more new infrastructure, to increase their tax base. The new constituents’ taxes pay to maintain the older infrastructure in the city, but then again there is no revenue to maintain the newly built infrastructure…

Thought things here could not be as bad as in US, we still have a financially unsustainable development model as illustrates the graph above.

Charles Marohn solutions

  • A full accounting of all short and long-term financial obligations local governments have assumed for maintaining infrastructure.
  • A stop to infrastructure projects that expand a community’s long-term maintenance obligations.
  • The adoption of strategies to improve the public’s return on investment and improve the use of existing infrastructure.

Charles Marohn often reminds us: More ≠ Better :
Bus 430 lining up at Knight Bridge: more buses will not make the bus any faster than the bike

How much room we have to make better use of our existing infrastructures?

Most city’s “liabilities” can be correlated to its street network length:

  • basic road maintenance, including snow plowing and cleaning
  • lampposts and other urban furnitures
  • police presence, number of fire stations,…
  • sewer and water mains underneath
  • garbage truck running on it

The list obviously includes transit. The shorter the road network is, the more efficiently a city can be ran. The meters of road per capita is a good proxy to estimate how efficiently a city can be ran or not. Below some comparisons

meters of road per capita
transit rich cities are not road rich

As suggests the graph above: We have already more than enough roads! Growth without no new roads, and all the service liabilities they implies, is not only a very reasonnable proposition, but should even be a requirement.

How make that happens?

As witnessed by the cold reception of the CTF plan, many municipalities show no intention to take a more fiscally responsible route for future development. However, using the municipal revenue sources to finance Transit creates an impetuous to control spending (“there is so much water a faucet can deliver”).

Notice that financing transit by municipal revenue sources is also of nature to encourage municipalities to adopt development pattern enabling efficient transit, to effectively maximize revenue sources room for other municipal services [6].

For those reasons, the CTF plan has significant merits.

How good is the CTF plan?

Some have criticized the form of the message, Many other have critized the messenger [4]. some are eventually trying to spin misinformation, but we still have to see an argumented rebuttal of the plan content. It is that good!

However, it is not what we are asked to plebiscite or not. What we are asked to vote for is a tax, which contours are still not specified. This to finance a plan which so far has not been audited, and has still to allocate $700M of tax revenue [7]. Without Bill of law insight to clarify all that, it effectively sounds like we are asked a blank check. Strangely enough the proponents of the plan don’t seem much concerned about that… That is concerning.

What come somewhat as a surprise: The CTF plan doesn’t question the mayors’ plan, and accept all of it, so they are not framing the debate as a “yes or no to Transit” as “yes” advocate try to do. Do they will be succesfull ? time will tell.

[1] CTF unveils alternative to Metro Vancouver transit sales tax, Jen St. Denis, Business in Vancouver, Jan 15th 2014.

[2] Cities, TransLink should scrimp to avoid new transit tax: No campaigner, Jeff Nagel , Surrey North Delta Leader, Jan 15th 2014.

[3] Number for Hong Kong from “Hong Kong: The facts”, for Vancouver, from 2014 Capital and operating budget, from “Transportation Inventory” for surrey, from Bureau of street service for LA, Greater London authority for London and from wikipedia for Paris

[4] Jordan Bateman could have many defaults, but it is not an election to put Mr Bateman in an office. In a referendum, at the difference of an office election, the message trumps the messenger whoever he can be. We will have opportunity to explain more about that point in another post

[5] No Translink Tax: A better plan, January 15th 2015.

[6] In that regard the current translink levy on property is a good thing, but because it is not directly correlated to the cost to serve a city, it is not good enough to encourage policies optimizing Transit efficiency: A more direct contribution from the city coffers tied to the Transit subsidies in it, could be an improvment.

[7] The mayor plan is originally based on $2B revenues of a “new tax” over 10 years, while the “Congestion Improvement tax” will bring ~$2.7B in the Translink coffers. See our December 22nd post for more detail. The hereby discussed CTF plan conclude basically the same.


Newton New Town

February 22, 2010

Recently Surrey, BC has organized an urban planning competition Townsift mounted by Trevor Boddy. Several area was brought for consideration by contestant, but lets take a look at the one supposed to integrate a transit centre: Newton.

Most master planned communities are a failure in the sense they are unable to be anything else than bedroom communities: they can be considered nice and desirable  suburbs like Columbia MD, or Irvine, CA, but they are not by any measure vibrant cities you can think as a destination…In that matter Richmond is more successful than the previously  mentioned suburbs.

At the exhibition presentation, the question of “why all the master planned communities fails to be nothing more than bedroom communities?” has been raised. the panel composed of Lisa Rochon and Bing Thom eventually had some opinion, mostly related on the architecture design.

Capitalizing on Bing Thom “living organism” parabola for our living place, we think that the transportation network, road and transit, are the blood of the city, when architects/designer see them more often than not  as a constraint not much different than a sewage system: so if there is no blood, there is no life, and it is what happen to most of the “master planned communities“.

More often than not, the “master planned community” has road surrounding a “village” organized around a “pedestrian plaza“: it can eventually work in a resort where people have nothing much else to do than hang around and sipping coffee at the “pedestrian plaza“, but in the real life people  eventually work, and have little reason to go especially to a place just to “hang around sipping a coffee“…

How the contestants fare against this idea

Preliminary: None of the contestants have brought into consideration a “vertical” integration of the transit centre, it is unclear if it was due to an unfortunate  constraint of the contest or to the own choice of the contestants.

Newton 73

The good idea:

the water element

The major flaws

  • they have designed a nice pedestrian Plaza, but why people would go there? what is the point?  The plaza is not visible of the outside, and there is no natural straightforward way to invite people from outside to experiment it
  • You are in suburbs, natural traffic pedestrian flow will be from and to the “transit station”: the walkway is carefully avoiding it…the whole concept is turning his back to connectors (blood bringing life), and this concept is typical of master plan communities.
  • The pedestrian alley seems to be grade separated of other traffic: a bad idea in itself for such location: Not only geography, but also because pedestrian and motor traffic level couldn’t justify this grade separation[1].
  • Worst, the car oriented strip mall is well recognized and reinforced, by furthering the disconnection of it with the rest of the pedestrian oriented place.
  • The lack of grid readability with rather weird road turns is prejudicial to the urban quality of the environment. At the end, the 70s’ish curved building form is not really convincing.

Newton 30

the good idea
The green corridor

The major flaws

  • The corridor is not visible of King George Boulevard and in fact the whole block design turn its back to this boulevard
  • The retail space is seen as an extension of the strip mall  neither connecting to the Transit mall neither open to the major thoroughfare.
  • The green corridor doesn’t connect to the park nearby, neither to the civic area, especially the library.
  • The transit hub looks like to be a constraint more than the center of the project.

Newton 110

the good idea
the orchard and community gardens: the civic space designed as a peaceful, intimate one is well though, the connection to a more active space via a cenotaph transition is a brilliant idea.

The major flaw

  • The pedestrian Public space (square) is insulated, sterilized, neither connecting to major street or transit.
  • The scale and building from on the South West are inappropriate to compliment an urban King George Boulevard.
  • Transit Hub is ignored, he is surrounded by ground oriented residential!

Newton 77

The good idea(s)

The transit hub is the focal point: It is the only proposal capitalizing on it, and recognizing that in a successful transit oriented environment, this will be the main public place, with its esplanade.

The penetration of the nearby park into the block (the green link concept).
The slightly grade separated sport field.

The building form contribute to give an interesting urban feeling to the 72th avenue and contribute also positively to the King Georges Boulevard streetscape.

The major flaw

The location of the esplanade not opened  to a major thoroughfare is not inviting enough, in such a sort as non transit user could totally ignore its existence:

  • It could generate some safety issue feeling late at night (lack of “eyes” on the Esplanade)
  • it could be also not well located in the event of a streetcar on King Georges. Overall the contribution to  King Gorge Blvd could be improved
  • Retail street location are hardly identifiable on this design (“Main street”)?, and it looks they could be hardly noticeable from outside the block.

In despite of still significant major flaws in term of space utilization, It  seems pretty clear that the proposal 77 is dominating the competition.  Thought it brings some improvement to the urban space organization  compared to the concept brought to public consideration by the city of Surrey, it doesn’t bring any major breakthrough thinkings.

whether the transit centre had been replaced by a dump field, other contestant’s proposal couldn’t have been different , but there is  some interesting idea to pick up here and there to improve the current concept of the Surrey department planning which is far to be free of flaw itself in term of space organization, since it also tend to ignore the block contribution to King Georges, and “sterilize” ex -nihilo purposeless public plaza.

[1] A good urban plan should make the pedestrian feel safe, and at night car traffic provide this feeling… the contestant proposes here the “walk in a park at night” experience for their pedestrian experience… the master planned city Cergy Pontoise in France was offering it, that has proven to be a dramatic failure.