September 13, 2018

Questions for Candidates: The Independents (Part II)

In Part I yesterday, our four featured independent candidates for Vancouver city council shared their position on housing, and how they would approach the affordability crisis.

Today, the question is transportation. Do independents think differently from the party candidates? What are they saying that nobody else is?

But first, some explanation of why the focus on independents — and why these four candidates — among the estimated 15 confirmed indie council hopefuls.

For one thing, as fascinating as Vancouver’s partisan echo chamber can be, it’s quite frustrating for anyone wanting to cast votes on the basis of, you know, issues.

Independents are unfettered in their ability to express intentions and positions on matters of governance and policy. Furthermore, in this election some high profile mayoral candidates have paved the way forward for substantive conversations on these issues, perhaps tapping into a ‘zeitgeist’ moment in the history of Vancouver politics.

Admittedly, they’re also a totally, non-random sample — candidates that have been judged (by a panel of one) to have credibly translatable skills and advocacy experience related to policy issues quite relevant to Vancouver, let alone many cities across the province. They also have followings — constituencies, one might say — focused on those same issues. Intersectionality and social justice. Youth, addiction and homelessness. Housing and transit policy reform. Environmental protection and community revitalization.

All that said, we welcome feedback in the comments from the other dozen or so independent candidates not featured here, to express their views as well.

Now — on to our second question…

What is your personal experience and policy approach to transportation in Vancouver?

I love the idea of as many environmentally friendly transportation methods as we can have. Getting people around, especially those who live in the city, easily and safely. Electric bikes, skateboards, scooters — good quality paths for people to get from A to B.

I take the bus. There’s some push for getting the bus fare dropped for 16 and under, I think. That would be a good step forward; we want our young people to easily get around.

Another thing that’s really important to me is, when you’re investing, lining up municipal budgets with Vancouver Public Library and Park Board, even the fire department or the police department. There’s the swimming pool, the gym, the ice rink, the school, the community library — if we line everything up so it’s all together. It’s cheaper than building one-offs, and it’s really nice for families to have everything all together. And it’s simple.

Britannia is a great example — my son can go to the pool, then he can go play basketball, and then he can go to the library, and it’s all within a very short distance. If you invest in these sites all together, you can get all your public services in one space, and it’s cheaper because everyone puts their capital budgets together. It’s environmentally friendly, because you go to one place, you’re not going to several. So, community hubs; ideally, when you in the future we’re not doing one-offs anymore.

And it creates nice, safe communities for people to get around. Many communities are too spread out, and so people end up running around. I don’t think there’s been enough attention paid to that.

Throughout my life, I’ve gone through periods where I’ve owned cars and not owned cars, and for the last few years I haven’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t use cars; obviously I recognize their role. Occasionally I have to load up my kids into a car and take them somewhere that for whatever reason is inaccessible or tough to get to by transit.

Every housing choice is also a transportation choice; transportation plays a huge role in how we form our communities and how sustainable those communities are. This is one of the reasons why I started Abundant Transit BC — to advocate for more transit options throughout the region. Often it doesn’t matter to me what form those transit options take, as long as they’re in abundance. So when we get into debates about whether it’s Skytrain or LRT, I’m not as fussed about that, although I do prefer the former. In our region we’ve got so much high-frequency transit already that we should be looking at ways we can lower parking minimums around any area within the walkshed of high frequency transit, so we’re not overbuilding parking.

For me the more you can do to increase transit abundance, the more you can do to increase social equity. Renters and people on lower income use transit disproportionately more than homeowners and people of higher incomes, so servicing that group more raises their ability to compete on the job market, and in the housing market it gives them more choices as well. It makes sense as a social equity lever to use transit as much as you can.

Communities that build more density should get more transit, and that’s part of I’m running on. If you’re willing to accept more density, you get more transit, and vice versa. It just makes sense. And things like the Broadway subway — why we would stop that at Arbutus? It makes no sense. This is something that needs to go all the way to the university. It goes hand in hand with land use reform. Right now, we’re building a Broadway subway because we refuse to up-zone the west side to be able to create affordable residences for students going to UBC. So we have to create a multi-billion dollar subway to take them across the single family house preserve, basically.

It’s an odd paradox we got ourselves into here. Housing and transit all comes together to solve it basically. You can’t do one without the other.

I’ve been riding the buses in Vancouver since I was eight. I remember my first solo trip to the Arts Science and Technology Centre. It was me and a few friends, and our parents let us take the bus by ourselves the summer after grade 3. It was the most exciting thing in the world. So I’ve been in love with Vancouver buses since 1983.

I recently moved to southeast Vancouver after having lived in Kits, Mount Pleasant and Commercial — usually places that were closer to the Broadway corridor. And I found, especially down where I’m living now, the routes are really problematic. South Van really doesn’t have enough north-south transit routes.

In terms of financing transportation, I’d like to see a lot more buses. A lot more B-lines — I think we could run a B-line along Marine. I even think a north-south B-line — you could do Kerr, Rupert, something like that, connected to Marine and the new River District. There’s thousands of people down there, and the transportation just isn’t there to service them. So I think that we can get a lot done by expanding the above-ground transportation networks that we have.

I’m a little bit wary of the amount of money that it looks like is going to cost for tunnelling the Skytrain from Cambie-Broadway to Broadway-Arbutus. I haven’t yet heard the business case that explains why it’s a good investment, because to me it just seems like a huge waste of money to be spending all of the billions of dollars just to go 15 blocks. Someone needs to convince me of it, because it doesn’t make sense. I think we could get a lot more done by investing in more buses, particularly out in the valley. Those are the people that are really, really, really poorly serviced right now. Why does the West Coast Express only go one way into town and one way out of town? If we could get the West Coast Express going in two directions, that would be great. Toronto and Montreal don’t seem to have an issue getting commuter rail on the CP and CN lines. That seem to be an absolute impossibility in the Lower Mainland. I don’t know what exactly is behind that. I’d like to see greater use of the rail lines if possible to add commuter rail.

And streetcars. I’d like to bring back the streetcar that was running during the Olympics. Put it so that it runs right around False Creek, and we could get it going from the entrance of Granville Island, and loop around past the casino there, and then go down Carrall Street to Waterfront Station. I think that would be a really useful addition.

I would love to cycle more than I do; I’ve cycled a lot in other cities. For me, the biggest issue is hills. If there was some kind of incentive or rebate program to help me purchase an electric bicycle, and also if there were more secure bike storage facilities — like the kinds of lockers you have at Skytrain stations —that would really help.

I don’t drive. I walk as much as I can, and otherwise I take transit. If I got on a bike I’d probably swerve to not hit a crow and take down four lanes of traffic, so I just do not put myself in the bike lanes.

I was born and grew up in Metro Van, and I’ve lived in Halifax and Toronto, and I’ve taken transit in all those cities and in different places across Canada and the world, and I have to say Vancouver transit is still the best. I still have so much love for it. That’s my personal perspective.

In terms of the policy perspective, if elected I’d like to commit council to upholding 21st century approaches to movement and commuting through efficient and symbiotic relationships between pedestrians, transit, cars and bikes. And also to promote a walk-to-work approach to planning and development that favours a blend of mixed-use office, groceries, small business, and residential zoning so that folks can get what they need within walking distance, or transit distance in their community and their home. Because global, local, national continue to show that if we do not decrease our dependence on burning carbon, there’s going to be serious, serious health and social repercussions.

So for me it’s all about committing to those 21st century approaches that reduce our dependency on burning carbon.

In Part III tomorrow, we get a little more personal with the candidates. Why would they take time away from their family and careers to run for, let alone possibly enter, public office?

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