Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Complete Streets

The U.S. Department of Transportation under the Obama administration is taking the country's transportation policy in an exciting new direction.  Secretary Ray LaHood stood up recently at a gathering of advocates in Washington to talk about bicycling and walking and the move to embrace them as transportation in the eyes of the federal government.  (For more click on the post title "Complete Streets")

It's an important policy statement that signals a direction for the nation's local, regional and state governments, but also to engineers and practioners in the private sector who also shape land use and transportation systems design across the continent.  (As an advocate I drift across the border and learn from colleagues abroad, and likewise professionals and community activists are increasingly bringing their expertise and ideas to share with us).

It's a short news release but rich in content that expresses where we need to be too.  The future of transportation and our future as a species depends upon a mobility revolution that must shift us to  more sustainable choices.  Obama was a dependable supporter of alternative transportation as he worked through the earlier stages of his career in Chicago, sponsoring bills and initiatives for my friends at the then Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (now the Active Transportation Alliance).  It's nice to see the commitment given new expression.

Here at home I'm working on my own initiatives on corridor protection for cycling and pedestrian facilities, a complete streets policy that aims to level the playing (and investment) fields to better support cycling, walking and transit, and, key to our Johnson Street bridge discussion, a policy directive to ensure accommodation on new or rehabilitated bridge projects (at no less the level of service provided to motorists) as a matter of municipal policy and as a requirement of federal and provincial funding and gas tax allocations.  I hope to bring it to my council and from there to the Union of BC Municipalities convention in the fall.

In the meantime, check the fresh news section (to your right), where I'll be highlighting the latest on current issues and events in the community that I'm working on or lending my support to.  To bring it back to the discussion of sustainable transportation, a threat to the integrity of the Galloping Goose is behind my concern for corridor protectio.  The news item on this will lead you to a call to action on this important issue.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Food for thought

Some of us on council have been pushing to allow for more productive uses on our city boulevards and in some park spaces. Local food is an important emerging issue and we've got our parks department working to be part of the solution.

Read more at:

A glimpse of one of Portland's neighbourhood boulevards where crops and other things are growing.

New Bike Parking Initiatives

With the conversion of the city's parking meters to pay by space, a system that is more convenient for drivers and vandal resistant to protect city revenue sources, old meter heads are disappearing in favour of more compact designs that identify stall numbers. Trouble is that they no longer serve for informal bicycle parking, but the city is now working to meet the need with hundreds of new racks using the increasingly familiar inverted "U" design.

The inverted "U" was introduced to Victoria in the late '90s when Denise Savoie and I lobbied the city to change their standard bike rack from the less ideal "ribbon" rack (a.k.a the "serpentine" or "wave" rack). Denise was then working as our Bike to Work Week coordinator and myself I w as president of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition. The inverted "U" was a design introduced to me by the bicycle coordinator for the city of Denver who presented at the 1998 Pro Bike conference in Santa Barbara. It was a great conference to discover and this is just one of the ideas I've brought back to Victoria (including the whole conference itself in 2004 - and $500,000 in economic benefits), with the biking and walking conference.

Putting a replacement program on the front burner was one of my early efforts as a new councillor. I knew the conversion program was coming and the city wasn't quite ready for the dislocation it would mean for area cyclists working or shopping downtown.

I also initiated a project that converted on-street parking to a now busy weather protected bike shelter in front of our local Mountain Equipment Co-op store on Government St. It spurred a nearby business (Habit Coffee and Culture on Pandora) to ask for their own and we worked together to make it happen.

Fast forward to this year and the nudging I've been doing with the DVBA and with the enthusiasm now of other organizations, the initiatives have taken on a life of their own. Two new "corrals" will be set up for an extended cycling season at another couple of on-street parking locations where bike racks are needed and local business is supportive.

The DVBA did a great job of working with their members to solicit support (as many as 30 locations were identified by businesses downtown where more bike parking is wanted), and with MEC, other members of Capital Bike and Walk, Bike to Work and the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition (kudos also to Bike to Work president Rob Wickson who kicked in from his Discovery Economic Consulting business), and the pilots have been announced to launch for Bike to Work Week - May 31 - June 5, 2010.

See the news release at:

Bike to Work:

The Good: the inverted "U":

The Bad: the "wave":

What happens when no bike racks are available:

State of the art at MEC:
Low tech in Portland:

Local elections task force

The province is leading a task force to review local government elections and municipal governance. The key issue is the concept of the corporate vote, a privilege we dispensed with in the 90's when the NDP was in office.

I don't believe property or corporate votes have a place in democratic governance. The rights of citizenship belong to people alone. It's something I often struggle with on the road where many believe a driver's license gives them title to our public rights of way - after all, they argue, they "pay for the roads". They don't, and that's another issue, but attaching a price tag to public office or any other rights of citizenship is offensive to the notion of government by the people.

Corporate voting right are nearly extinct in western democracies, anachronisms of historical privilege and we don't need to bring the system back.

The provincial task force has been hearing a lot of that from local government representatives serving through the Union of BC Municipalities. Still, the Liberal government seems enamoured of the concept and may still try and introduce changes, though the oppositon has been loud and clear.

Several other issues are also being reviewed by the task force, and on those, the province and the task force are doing good work. The Minister has, to his credit, also canvassed the opposition on their views, and that's keeping up a finer tradition of government.

I submitted my own thoughts, which I think closely reflect what I've heard from other, urban based representatives I have the privilege to connect with when I attend regional or provincial gatherings of various other local government leaders. Here's what I submitted to the task force:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on local elections in British Columbia.

With respect to the Task Force issues here are some of my thoughts:

Campaign financing is an issue in our larger municipalities and particularly those where the stakes may be high - valuable land, concentrations of business and commercial properties, and the opportunity for significant and profitable development.

Campaign contribution and spending limits make sense to me. They can level the playing field to ensure that access to office is not limited to those with wealthy backers. Our democratic institutions need representation from those that want to serve and who can earn the confidence of their fellow citizens, not just those who can afford to run for office.

At the same time transparency and accountability must be resilient. Anonymous contributions have no place in elections, or for that matter, in our referenda and counter-petition processes. Citizens and communities have a right to know who is financing the campaigns of those who run for office, or those who take on the role of supporting or opposing initiatives of local governments by way of non-election year campaigns.

Tax credits may also be useful. Public financing has been effective at federal and provincial levels and does provide some support for ordinary citizens to contribute to support the candidates of their choice. This too helps to level the playing field and provide some support for people of modest means to run for office or to support those who do. They have a voice that needs to be heard.

Enforcement of election rules is important. There should be a role for the BC Chief Electoral Officer in supporting the efforts of local government to ensure fair and transparent adherence to election rules. Many small communities may not have the resources to ensure the thorough and professional oversight that could be provided by an office like the Chief Electoral Officer.

Terms of office could be extended to 4 years as has been recommended in some communities. It will provide for more long term planning and less campaigning (and at reduced cost to taxpayers) and can provide for more stable and thoughtful approaches to municipal governance. Election cycles that do not compete with provincial elections would also be useful to focus campaigns on relevant local issues free from the distractions of competing provincial campaigns. With fixed election dates now provided for in provincial legislation, this cycle should be simple to achieve with a 4 year term.

Corporate Vote: I believe the corporate vote was discarded for good reasons and it would be a step backward to re-introduce this anti-democratic initiative. The principle of any democracy is a vote by the people, not attached to property or business rights. It is not available in other jurisdictions, at the federal or provincial levels and it has no place in local elections in British Columbia. The rights of citizenship belong to people, not corporations. Businesses, their owners, directors, shareholders or employees all have rights as individuals that should not be abridged by providing votes assigned to and exercised by corporate leadership.

Thank you again for the opportunity to contribute my thoughts on these important issues.

John Luton, Councillor
City of Victoria

Monday, April 12, 2010

Central Saanich under siege

Former Central Saanich Councillor Zeb King keeps me apprised of threats posed to the agricultural lands of this peninsula municipality. New developments proposed are threatening the Agricultural Land Reserve that protects some of our local food sources. Housing and commercial development are the main threats and a Zeb is trying to build community awareness about the issues and challenges.

Here's a couple of sources you can look at to find out more:

And here's one of my pics on the peninsula: