Broadland is correct that, although his column implied that downtown bikelanes are wasteful and unfair, he didn’t actually use those words as my column suggested. However, his latest column continues with two critical mistakes which have important implications for affordability.
First, Broadland argues that regional policies should have only one goal: reducing climate change emissions. Although that certainly is important, there are other goals to consider, including affordability and economic opportunity. Some strategies, such as subsidizing electric cars, reduce emissions but provide few other benefits. Improving affordable and efficient modes such as walking, cycling and public transit, and increasing the portion of residents who live in walkable urban neighborhoods, not only help reduce pollution emissions, they also help increase affordability, reduce traffic and parking congestion, improve mobility options and economic opportunities for non-drivers, and improve public fitness and health. Smart policies favour these win-win solutions.
Second, Broadland ignores the ability of walking, cycling an public transit to leverage additional reductions in motor vehicle travel. This occurs because a short walking or cycling trip often substitutes for a longer automobile trip, or described differently, once people get a car they tend to use it, so transportation and development policies that help households reduce their vehicle ownership provide large reductions in per capita vehicle travel and associated costs.
For example, one study found that installing sidewalks on all streets in a typical North American community would increase per capita walking and cycling by 0.097 average daily miles, and reduce automobile travel by 1.142 daily vehicle-miles, about 12 miles of reduced driving for each mile of increased active travel, and residents in Transit Oriented Developments drive about half as many annual miles and spend far less money on transportation as residents of more automobile-dependent areas.
Having been car-free for nearly a decade, I can report from personal experience that walking, cycling and public transit are all helpful in allowing a household to reduce its vehicle ownership, and therefore its annual vehicle travel and transportation emissions. Walking is most suitable for trips less than a kilometer, public transit is most suitable for trips more than five kilometers, and cycling is generally the most time- and financially-efficient mode for trips within this range.
Because of this leverage factor, mode share (portion of trips made by a mode) is a poor indicator of transportation system efficiency since it does not directly measure travel distance, and therefore the energy savings from more compact, infill development. In his recent column, Broadland criticizes the Netherlands because, although the country is famous for cycling, 73% of travel is my automobile, as if that is a sign of failure, but in fact, despite comparable incomes the Dutch produce about half the per capita transport emissions as in Canada, as illustrated below. This is good news – it suggests that we can achieve our emission reduction targets with policies that also increase affordability.
Should public policies favor rental apartment or condo development? Cities need both: rentals tend to be cheaper and are best for people who don’t plan to stay long in a community, and condo ownership allows moderate-income households have more control over their housing and build equity.
A new study by the Victoria Innovation Council, Tourism Victoria, the Vancouver Island Construction Association and the region’s chambers of commerce indicates that unaffordable housing reduces businesses ability to recruit workers.
The report noted 78% said they had trouble filling entry-level positions, 42% had trouble luring people to middle- management positions and 24% had trouble attracting senior managers due to the region’s high housing costs.
Affordable housing and transportation are often promoted to achieve social goals – to improve opportunities for disadvantaged people – which they certainly do. But equally important, they also help achieve economic development goals by allowing attractive, economically successful cities to attract more workers, customers and jobs. Everybody benefits from policies that create more affordable and inclusive communities!
Inclusionary housing policies require that a certain portion (typically 5-15%) of units in new developments be affordably priced. This is a common tool for increasing affordable housing supply.
However, there are limits to the portion of affordable units that can be required without reducing the number of new units that can be built, and therefore future housing affordability. Don’t kill the golden goose!
The new Inclusionary Housing Calculator can help evaluate development costs and the impacts of various factors, including parking regulations and inclusionary housing policies would have on development profitability in a particular situation. This free tool incorporates various factors including land and construction costs, parking requirements and costs, and market conditions (e.g. strong or soft). The Calculator includes typical default values and can be adjusted by users to reflect a community’s specific circumstances.
This analysis can help policy makers and planners determine how cost burdens, such as inclusionary policies and parking requirements, affect project feasibility. In one example, the Calculator indicated that a large housing project in Chicago could be profitable if regulations required 16% of units to be affordable, but not if this was increased to 21% of units.
Requiring more affordable units than the market can bear tends to reduce the total number of new units built, particularly moderate-priced units. For example, if the cheapest housing units cost $200,000 to build, and regulations require that 10% be priced at $100,000, each of the nine non-qualifying units bears an additional $11,111 ($100,000/9) cost, or about $20,000 including overhead and financing expenses. This is a small increase for high-priced housing (2% for a million dollar unit) but a large increase for lower-priced housing (10% for a $200,000 unit). Since lower-priced tend to be least profitable, they are most likely to be eliminated. In this way, inclusionary zoning tends to reduce production of moderately-priced housing which would become affordable housing in the future.
There is no single best way to create an inclusionary housing policy; such policies should reflect specific local needs and conditions.
Inclusionary requirements are no substitute for development policy reforms that support affordable infill housing development, such as increased allowable densities and reduced parking requirements.
A transportation system must be diverse in order to serve diverse demands. Walking, cycling, public transit and automobile travel all have important roles to play in an efficient and equitable city.
Focus Magazine Publisher David Broadland’s recent column, “Mayor Helps’ 1.5 Percent Solution,” complains that Victoria’s downtown bikelanes are wasteful and unfair to motorists. His arguments reflect fundamental misunderstandings of cycling impacts and benefits.
If we listen to critics like Broadland, we will implement a weak bicycle improvement program which places cycling facilities where they are cheap to build and never conflict with motor vehicle travel, resulting in bike lanes that look nice but do little to serve cyclists’ daily travel needs. If we want useful bicycle facilities that help solve transportation problems we must implement a strong program which places cycling facilities where they are needed. Although more costly and disruptive, a strong bicycle program can provide large benefits.
In a typical urban community, 20-40% of travellers cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive, and this portion is probably higher in Victoria due to our demographics (lots of youths, seniors, people with disabilities and struggling artists) and geography (a compact downtown and walkable neighborhoods).
An efficient and equitable transportation system must be diverse in order to serve these diverse demands, so travellers can choose the most appropriate mode for each trip. For many decades streets were designed to maximize automobile traffic flow, with little consideration for other modes. This is inefficient and unfair to non-drivers. Transportation planning is now becoming more multimodal, in recognition that streets must accommodate diverse users and uses, including walking, cycling, public transit, private automobiles, delivery and emergency vehicles, local businesses and residents.
Broadland’s column reflects the old paradigm which considered cycling unimportant. Times have changed. Cyclists just want a fair share of public resources (transportation funding and road space). What would be fair? You could argue that it should be about equal to cycling’s mode share: if 5% of trips are by cycling then it would be fair to invest 5% of public resources in cycling facilities, but this is backward looking since it reflects the travel patterns that occur under current conditions, ignoring “latent demand,” the additional cycling trips that some travellers want to make but cannot due to inadequate facilities. To respond to these demands it would be fair to invest the portion of money and road space that reflects the mode share after those programs are completed; if comprehensive planning is likely to results in 10% cycling mode share, it would be fair to invest 10% of transportation funds and road space in cycling facilities.
Even this could be considered inadequate. We are now emerging from a century of automobile-oriented transportation planning: for many decades there was little investment in walking, cycling and public transit. This can justify additional investments to make up for past underfunding. In addition, we can recognize that cycling provides both transportation and recreational benefits – cycling ranks as one of the most popular forms of exercise and recreation – so cycling facilities can be funded through both transportation budgets and through parks and recreation budgets.
Critics like Broadland imply that cycling facilities only benefit a small number of serious cyclists – those who ride expensive racing bikes wearing lycra. These critics couldn’t be more wrong. Those of us who ride regularly are able to hold our own on busy arterials; protected bike lanes are needed to allow inexperienced, less confident people bicycle. It has proven successful – the lane is full of diverse users, including many new riders who would not otherwise bike downtown.
Broadland begins by criticizing travel surveys. He is right that most surveys are incomplete and biased, but not the way he suggests. Conventional travel surveys were designed to measure motor vehicle travel; they tend to undercount short trips, off-peak travel, non-commute travel, travel by children, recreational travel, and walking and cycling trips to access motorized modes (the census classifies a bike-bus-walk trip simply as a transit trip, and walking trips between parked cars and destinations are generally ignored even if they involve several blocks of walking on public sidewalks). As a result, the actual number of walking and cycling trips is much greater than conventional travel statistics indicate.
We now have good success stories. Starting in the 1960s, Davis, California and Eugene, Oregon started developing an extensive bike network. Although there was no economic analysis demonstrating that these investments were cost effective, their local officials realized intuitively that cycling improvements are worthwhile. Since then, both cities have experienced high cycling mode shares and low per capita automobile travel compared with other U.S. cities, and both cities have experienced much lower than average traffic fatality rates, demonstrating that bike-friendly cities are safer for all road users.
According to the CRD travel survey, in 2011 there were 4,796 average daily cycling trips to, from and within Victoria, representing 7% of the total 72,667 trips. If the City’s comprehensive bicycle program can increase cycling trips by 20-170%, as research suggests, this can reduce a few thousand urban-peak automobile trips, and their associated costs. Virtually everybody benefits if the travellers who want to cycle are able to do so, because it helps reduce traffic and parking congestion and therefore roadway facility costs, saves users money and increases affordability (savings to lower-income households), reduces total traffic accidents, improves public fitness and health, and improves mobility options for non-drivers. Even people who don’t bicycle benefit from reduced congestion and parking problems, and reduced chauffeuring burdens.
Automobile travel requires far more road space than cycling or public transit.
Broadland criticizes the downtown bike lanes because, he argues, they can do little to reduce regional automobile trips. This confuses local and regional scales: downtown cycling improvements are justified to address downtown transportation goals, regional policies will be needed to address regional goals.
Broadland assumes that the only reason for increasing bicycling is to reduce climate emissions. This ignores the many other benefits that cycling provides, including direct savings and benefits to users, plus savings and benefits to non-users including reduced traffic and parking congestion.
In an accompanying video, Focus Magazine argues that bike lanes cause traffic delays that increase pollution emission, a silly argument. A typical car consumes less than one liter of fuel per hour when idling, or about 7 grams of fuel during 25 seconds of delay so each additional bicycle commuter offsets a couple hundred car intersection delays. Delays and emissions caused by bike lanes are insignificant compared with those that result form traffic congestion caused by too many automobiles driving on urban roads. The best solution is to reduce automobile traffic by making space-efficient modes more attractive.
Broadland is hyper-sensitive to delays that bike lanes may cause motorists but ignores the much larger delays and risks that automobile traffic imposes on cyclists, and therefore the justification for separated cycling facilities. Just as railroad companies have a responsibility to help pay for rail crossings to protect motorists, motorists should help pay for protected bike lanes that reduce the risks their vehicles impose on cyclists.
By extrapolating the Pandora bike lane cost to other downtown arterials, Broadland estimates that Victoria’s cycling program will cost $16 million, which is almost certainly an exaggeration since the first project is always more costly than those that follow. Described that way, the bike program sounds expensive, but you could equally say that its cost is equivalent to just 320 downtown parking spaces, 18% of the McKenzie Intersection improvements, about $6 annual per urban core resident, or less than two-cents-per-day per capita. Cycling costs are tiny compared with what residents, governments and businesses spend on vehicles, fuel roads and parking facilities in automobile dependent communities, and compared with the potential savings from reduced driving.
This is not a “war on cars.” A multimodal transportation system is no more anti-car than a healthy diet is anti-food. Motorists have good reasons to support cycling improvements.
A July 9 Times Colonist article, “Victoria Seeks to Nurture its Aging Rental Housing Buildings” indicates that the city is commissioning a study concerning how best to address aging rental housing, in order to maintain affordability and protect renters’ interests. Council wants to increase energy efficiency, and therefore reduce climate change emissions, without replacing existing buildings. This overlooks other important factors to consider when deciding whether to retrofit or replace outdated building.
The study scope should include the following factors:
Building longevity (replacing aging and outdated materials and equipment).
Building energy efficiency.
Seismic security (reducing earthquake risks).
Hazardous material risks (reducing exposure to lead, asbestos, and mould, and improving indoor air quality).
Universal design (accommodating people with disabilities with wider doorways and lower knobs, ramps, elevators, lower countertops, new toilets, grab-bars, etc.).
More diverse and flexible units, including larger family-size units, and adjacent units that can be connected or separated depending on needs.
Improved design, including more shared space for socializing such as courtyards and common rooms, more daylighting, and better window orientation.
More efficient parking and transport management, including reduced parking supply, unbundling, bicycle parking, and carsharing, which reduces costs, reduces traffic impacts, and frees up land for greenspace or more units.
Rooftop gardens and solar panels.
More total units.
Considering just one or two of these objectives, retrofits may be cost effective, but considering them together, rebuilding is often more cost effective and beneficial overall. For example, by itself, replacing aging materials and equipment to increase longevity may cost less than constructing a new building; by itself, basic weatherization may cost less than constructing a new building; and by itself improving wheelchair access may cost less than constructing a new building, but such projects would only address a limited set of objectives. When all objectives are considered, replacement is often more cost effective and beneficial overall.
An important factor for long-term affordability is the opportunity that building replacement offers to increase density and total housing supply. The Beacon Arms Apartment is a good example: a current proposal would replace 34 existing units with 87 new units, a 2.5 increase. Of course, not every project can provide that much gain, but if the city allows building owners to increase densities and reduced parking requirements, large housing supply gains are possible. Even if they not initially affordable to low-income households the additional units will help drive down rents and contribute to future affordable housing stock.
We certainly understand why many people prefer incremental revitalization over replacement – it seems cheaper and less disruptive – but that is false economy. If building owners only address one or two objectives by replacing aging materials and basic weatherization, but ignore others, the resulting building will continue to be unsafe (earthquake risk), unhealthy (hazardous materials and poor air quality), inaccessible (lack of ramps), and poorly suited for many households. If the building owners address multiple objectives, there will generally be no savings, so rents will need to increase the same as with replacement, and we lose the opportunity to add more units and more efficiently manage parking and traffic. Major retrofits are nearly as disruptive as new building construction, and require similar tenant displacement. There is little reason for public policies to favor retrofits over replacement, particularly if new construction can increase total housing units.
For that reason, it is important that the city apply comprehensive analysis when evaluating policies that affect retrofit versus replacement of aging rental stock.
Like most products, buildings wear out over time, and at some point it is cheaper to replace than repair. This is often good news overall because it offers an opportunity to increase total housing supply, and therefore long-term housing affordability.
It is tempting to blame somebody else for the problems we cause, but that prevents us from making changes needed for real solutions. Such is the case with housing inaffordability.
Chris Douglas’ July 8 Times Colonist Comment, “Victoria City Council Lacks Urgency on Housing” argued that foreign investors are the primary cause of Victoria’s high housing prices, stating that “The Globe and Mail recently reported that foreign nationals are purchasing 23.8 per cent of Victoria’s housing.” This claim is based on an error that the newspaper subsequently corrected. The revised article includes this Editor’s Note: “An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that in Victoria, the number of purchases by foreign nationals increased from 16.5 per cent to 23.8 per cent after the imposition of a foreign buyers’ tax. In fact, the number of purchases by foreign nationals has remained fairly static, increasing slightly from 3.9 per cent before the tax to 4.7 per cent since.”
These numbers are small and include foreign workers and immigrants in the process of obtaining citizenship, indicating that speculative foreign investments are a very small portion of total housing purchases. For more detailed analysis see the recent Sightline Institute technical study, “Stop Blaming Foreign Home Buyers” which found that foreign buyers, empty units and short-term rentals only explain a small portion of housing price appreciation: the primary cause is the inability of markets in attractive cities to respond to growing demand.
Rather than point fingers at others it is time to ask, “Why is it so difficult to add housing in our region?” The main answer is vocal opposition to the infill development local markets demand.
Fortunately, a few thousand new units are under construction around Victoria’s city center, which should start to drive down prices in that market, but not all households want to live in downtown highrises; we are not building enough townhouses and mid-rise apartments in walkable neighborhoods. The project proposed at 1201 Fort Street, which Douglas opposes, is the type of development we need. It will provide 91 new housing units in a walkable area on major bus routes. Opponents complain that the new buildings will be taller than what currently exists, as if that’s a bad thing. It’s called “change,” and is exactly what our community needs to meet future housing demands.
Our current development policies are unsuited to serving new housing needs. They reflect the outdated assumption that middle-class households require single-family homes and apartments are undesirable, so neighborhoods should strive to banish multifamily housing. But housing preferences are changing: many middle-class households now want townhouses, condominiums and apartments located in walkable urban neighborhoods. Regulations must change if we are to meet these needs.
Infill opponents often assume that new housing is for somebody else, but many of them may eventually want to live in those buildings in order to remain in their neighborhoods when it is time to downsize from their single-family homes. Let’s build enough housing for our own future selves.
I am writing to speak for the 53 households that will be deprived of needed housing if the City prevents demolition of the Beacon Arms apartments, and the much larger number of future residents who will be harmed if the City imposes a proposed blanket moratorium on older apartment demolitions.
Demolition of the 34 unit Beacon Arms Apartment will allow construction of 83 new rental apartment units plus four rental townhouses, a net increase of 53 units. This represents a trade-off between the interests of a smaller number of existing residents (the 15-25 households that would find it very difficult to obtain equivalent housing) and a much larger number of future households, including the additional building occupants, plus many non-occupants who will benefit if increasing supply drives down rental prices city-wide.
These future beneficiaries are generally unaware of their interests, so their needs are often overlooked. It is much easier to identify the interests of existing occupants, but if you care about overall future affordability it is important to implement forward-looking policies that significantly increase housing supply, rather than policies that simply protect older housing without responding to growing demands.
Since for decades Victoria built too little housing to serve growing demands we have a shortage of thousands of moderate priced units. Fortunately, current high prices motivate developers to fill this gap, including many in the moderate price range (e.g. $300,000-500,000 condominiums), but most are downtown highrises so we still have a major shortage of moderate-priced mid-rise (3-6 story) units in neighborhoods. Current high housing prices are therefore good for long-run affordability if the city allows developers to build the thousands of infill units needed.
Because higher priced units are generally most profitable, restrictions on development density, and minimum parking requirements, cause developers to build fewer affordable units. Reducing such restrictions and regulations is essential to increasing both market and subsidized affordable housing supply.
For these reasons, Cities for Everyone recommends that the City implement policies that allow more infill, in which older housing is replaced by newer, denser housing, with support for displaced households, rather than simply prohibiting demolitions.
Like many attractive, economically successful and geographically constrained cities, Victoria is experiencing housing unaffordability. To address this problem we need thousands of new housing units. Fortunately, many hundreds of units are under development in the downtown core, but these are unsuitable to many households, particularly families with children. We need more townhouses and apartments in walkable neighborhoods throughout our City.
To help address this need, Cities for Everybody supports the development proposed at 1201 Fort Street and 1050 Pentrelew Place. This project increases housing supply and improves housing options in our city. It can provide 91 new housing units in a very accessible location, and sets an example for future development in the areas. Adding constraints to this project will discourage more of this type of housing.
I would like to respond to some objections critics raise about this project:
It is too tall for a residential neighborhood.
Grow up, Victoria! This development is on a major urban arterial, not inside a neighborhood. Six stories is an appropriate height in such locations. Our Official Community Plan allows floor space ratios (FSRs) up to 3.5 in that area, far higher than the project’s 1.39.
It will increase traffic problems.
Infill development tends to increase local vehicle trips, but because the project is in a walkable area near downtown and on major bus routes, it will generate far fewer trips than those residents would in most neighborhoods. Recent studies (Millard-Ball 2015; Schneider, Handy and Shafizadeh 2014) show that conventional traffic models greatly exaggerate the number of vehicle trips actually generated in Smart Growth locations, so if a study predicts that this project will generate 100 daily vehicle trips, the actual number is probably less than 50. As a result, this project may slightly increase local traffic but will significantly reduce regional traffic problems compared with those households locating in more automobile-oriented areas.
The units will be unaffordable.
Although these units may initially be too costly for lower-income households, they will contribute to affordability in three important ways.
Buildings typically depreciate in value 1-3% annually, so housing that initially seems expensive becomes more affordable over time.
The rate by which housing depreciates depends on the speed with which housing supply grows: if supply does not increase to meet demand, existing units will only depreciate about 1% annually, but if supplies increase, they will depreciate faster, such as 3% annually.
Increasing middle-priced housing supply allows more middle-income households to move up from lower- to higher-priced units, more renters to purchase new homes, more older homes to become rentals, and older housing to depreciate more rapidly, a process called filtering. In this way, increasing middle-priced housing supply helps increase affordability overall, even if the new units are initially seem expensive to lower-income households.
Increasing allowable density only benefits greedy developers.
No, increasing urban densities allows more households to live in walkable urban neighborhoods. However, the households that would benefit have no voice; they are unaware that their future homes depend on current development polices and so are unable to advocate for pro-infill policies. Their interests are represented by developers. Developers are no greedier than other business people, including farmers, bakers and bikeshop owners, all of whom produce useful products in order to earn a profit.
It displaces greenspace.
This development can provide 91 units on approximately two acres, a very efficient use of land. Despite this density, more than half the site is openspace, which is only possible with taller buildings. Although this project may reduce greenspace compared with what previously existed, it preserves greenspace compared with the same households living in conventional suburban sprawl.
Allowing developers to construct more mid-rise (3-6 story) townhouses and multi-family housing in walkable urban neighborhoods is the best way for Victoria to accommodate more residents and increase overall affordability. Please approve and support this and similar projects.
Reform property taxes to reduce speculative and foreign real estate purchases, and discourage vacancies.
Shift from homeowner to income-based grants to provide financial benefits to renters.
Invest $750 million annually to build approximately 4,000 housing units annually, and in other ways support more social housing.
Lead a comprehensive “rethink” of zoning to ensure that it is consistent with government objectives such as affordable housing. This would include densification around transit, neighborhood revitalization, cultural and social amenities, and complete communities.
Incentives to increase rental housing development.
Better tenant and landlord legal protections, including more rent control, and allowing private rental properties to receive affordable housing funds.
Invest an additional $152 million and work with local governments to improve public transit, and consider mobility pricing.
Increase investments in walking, cycling and public transit, and ensure that transit fares are affordable, to encourage mode shifting as an emission reduction strategy.
Encourage more compact, multi-modal community design.
Allow “ridesharing” (actually called “ride hailing”) services such as Uber and Lyft.
Invest $2.2 billion in Metro Vancouver transit and $333 million in BC Transit
Increase housing supply by working with municipalities to speed up permitting and open new opportunities for housing.
Invested more than $230 million in cycling infrastructure since 2001 (this averages about $15 million annually, or about 0.7% of the provincial transportation budget).
Provide mortgage down payment assistance loans to first-time home buyers.
Provide targeted rental assistance to low-income households.
Of the three platforms, the BC Greens offer the most comprehensive range of affordability strategies, including policies that would reduce real estate price inflation, support more affordable infill housing development, and improve affordable transport modes (walking, cycling and public transit).
The NDP platform relies largely on financial subsidies to develop social housing, and reduce bridge tolls, electricity rates, vehicle insurance premiums and ferry fares. These reduce costs to households that receive subsidized housing or commute on currently-tolled bridges, but do little to increase affordable housing and transport options for other households.
The BC Liberal platform also relies significantly on subsidies to reduce costs. Their first-time home buyers’ loan program is criticized for inflating the prices of moderate-priced housing and encouraging moderate-income households to spend more than they can afford in the long-run on housing. Although they claim to invest in public transit, the BC Liberals have rejected requests for new transit funding options such as dedicated fuel taxes.
NDP and Liberal proposals to reduce or eliminate bridge tolls have been criticized as unfair to most households, those that don’t travel regularly over those bridges and will bear additional costs, and for contradicting efforts to use tolls to reduce traffic congestion and encourage shifts to use of resource-efficient modes.