By Tamara Krawchenko (UBC) and Nicholas Scott (SFU)
This article published in Policy Options provides a strategic vision for creating more multimodal, and therefore more affordable, healthy and sustainable, transportation systems. It highlights the good work done in the Victoria region.
Professor Krawchenko explains, “I moved here over a year ago from Paris, where biking was a huge part of my family’s life. We weren’t willing to give that up. As a family of four with two young kids we have been thrilled to discover that we can live here car-free thanks to investments in a growing bike network. This network is the product of political vison, advocacy, regional planning and dedicated infrastructure funds; it’s leading to a culture shift. Cycling in Victoria isn’t just for the urban core – the network stretches far into the suburbs and peri-urban areas. The cycling paths in Saanich, View Royal and Esquimalt are just as busy as Victoria’s. Moreover, much of the early opposition has dissipated as the cycling network has proven to be good for business and tourism alongside health and wellbeing.”
Victoria is building an All Ages and Abilities (AAA) bike network to help achieve various community benefits. Although most residents seem to support this plan there are vocal critics. Critics argue that bikeways are unnecessary, wasteful, and unfair. These claims are inaccurate or greatly exaggerated.
A significant and growing portion of Victoria residents bicycle. In 2017, 7% of total trips were by bike, with higher rates under congested conditions. Victoria has more adult bicycles than cars, more than a quarter of residents bicycle at least occasionally, and more would do so if riding conditions improved. Experience demonstrates that bikeways significantly increase bicycle travel, and their costs are usually repaid many times over through vehicle and infrastructure cost savings, health and equity gains, improved environmental quality, and economic benefits.
Critics ignore the high costs that vehicle traffic imposes on urban neighborhoods and the large benefits provided by shifts to active modes. Because of their large size, speed and risk, cars impose more than ten times the infrastructure, crash and environmental costs as bicyclists travelling to the same destinations. These impacts are particularly large in compact cities like Victoria.
Critics exaggerate the negative impacts of bikeways and ignore potential benefits. Bikeways may slow some car trips, although far less than critics claim, but by improving active travel conditions they increase walking and bicycling trips, and reduce traffic problems, benefiting everybody, including motorists. Extensive research indicates that residents in walkable and bikeable neighborhoods are safer, healthier and happier, and spend less on transportation. An honest appraisal considers all of these impacts.
Critics are wrong to claim that Victoria’s bikeway investments are excessive and unfair. Bikeways use about 3% of road space, compared with 35% devoted to vehicle parking and 38% devoted to arterial traffic lanes that serve higher-speed vehicle traffic and are unsuitable for most bicycling. Less than 7% of Victoria’s current roadway spending and less than 2% of total road and parking facility spending is devoted to bicycle facilities. This is far less than the portion of residents who currently bicycle or our mode share targets. In contrast, more than 90% of Victoria’s road space and transportation spending is devoted to facilities that primarily serve automobiles, although they have only 63% mode share. Overall, bicyclists subsidize motorists and Victoria residents subsidize out-of-town car trips. That is unfair.
To be efficient and equitable, transportation planning should favor affordable, healthy and resource-efficient modes, such as active and public transport, over expensive, dangerous and resource-intensive modes such as private automobile travel. Our current transport system fails to do this, which increases costs to users and communities. We can do better.
The Capital Regional District is considering a resolution to shift transportation investments from higher to lower-emitting types of transportation (i.e., from automobile infrastructure to walking, bicycling, public transit infrastructure, plus transportation demand management programs). This will be considered at the February 17 Transportation Committee meeting.
Cities for Everyone supports this resolution as part of local, regional and provincial efforts to create a multimodal transportation system.
Why Multimodal Planning?
To be efficient and equitable a transportation system must be diverse, so it can serve diverse travel demands, including the mobility needs of people who cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive. Even now, a significant portion of regional travel is by non-auto trips. According to the 2017 CRD travel survey, 14% of trips in the region, 26% of trips in Victoria, and 33% of downtown trips are by active modes, as illustrated below. The survey also shows that about 10% of regional households, 20% of Victoria households, and 40% of downtown households are car-free.
About 21% of regional trips, 37% of Victoria trips, and 49% of downtown trips are by non-auto modes.
There are many good reasons to apply more multimodal transportation planning in the future. Current demographic and economic trends, including aging population, plus affordability, health and environmental concerns, are increasing demand for walking, bicycling and public transportation in every part of the CRD. Local, regional and provincial governments have ambitious goals to reduce automobile traffic and increase active travel. The CRD has targets that by 2038, 30% of regional trips and 50% of trips in densely populated areas will be by active modes. The Province has a target of doubling active mode shares by 2030. Victoria has a target that by 2041, at least 60% of all local trips are by walking, cycling and public transit. Similarly, the City of Saanich has targets to approximately double active travel mode share by 2036 and triple it by 2050.
Increasing roadway capacity is prohibitively expensive and contradicts other economic, social and environmental goals. Public transit, walking and cycling infrastructure are more cost effective, equitable and beneficial overall. More multimodal planning benefits everybody, including motorists who experience reduced traffic and parking congestion, safer roads, and reduced chauffeuring burdens.
In order to create a multimodal transportation system that serves everybody’s needs, we must invest more in transit, walking, and bicycling infrastructure, and avoiding projects that induce more driving. Although local jurisdictions have made progress, provincial and federal funding continues to favor automobile travel over resource-efficient modes, as indicated in the following map.
Most currently- transportation projects that are currently planned in the CRD region support automobile travel. More efficient and equitable transportation planning will invest more in resource-efficient modes and transportation demand management programs.
We recommend that the CRD Board support the following motion under agenda item 7.2.
“That the Board express its support for Union of BC Municipalities Resolution B143 – ‘Shifting Investment to Low-Emission Transportation’ which passed at the 2019 convention, and request that staff consider the commitment in the Pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change, to shift investments ‘from higher to lower-emitting types of transportation’ in their work.”
This policy would:
Accelerated implementation of our regional transit plan. BC Transit’s Victoria Transit Future Plan provides a strategic vision for improving our region’s transit network. It includes increased service (more frequency, destinations and operating hours), higher operating speeds (bus lanes, signal priority and faster loading), more comfort and amenities (better buses, stops and stations), plus improved user information and payment systems. It can include fare discounts for lower-income residents. The only problem is its 25-year completion target. Increased funding allows faster implementation.
Frequent and affordable interregional transit services. Public transit service between the CRD and areas north is infrequent and expensive. Four buses depart Duncan weekday mornings and return each afternoon. There is no reverse-commute or evening service, and only three weekend trips. The fare is $10 each way, about four times a local fare. Service to Nanaimo is even worse; one or two daily trips, with $24-34 one-way fares. This combination of poor service and high prices explains why transit serves a tiny portion trips over the Malahat. Increased funding could provide frequent and affordable transit service to reduce congestion, crashes, pollution and consumer costs, and provide mobility for people who want to travel without a car.
Improved Active Transportation (Walking and Bicycling) Conditions. Walking, bicycling, wheelchair and scooter travel play important roles in an efficient and equitable transport system. They provide basic mobility, connections to motorized modes, and healthy exercise. Improvements include sidewalks and crosswalks where lacking, more bike lanes and parking, separated paths, plus education, enforcement and encouragement programs. The CRD has a Regional Pedestrian & Cycling Masterplan, and local governments have similar plans, but implementation is slow due to inadequate funding.
Implementing Transportation Demand Management (TDM). The CRD can advocate that re-allocated provincial and federal funds be made available for TDM incentives. The South Island Transportation Strategy identifies various TDM programs that could be implemented in our region if funding was available. Other successful TDM programs show what could be achieved: UVic’s Sustainable Transport program and Camosun College’s TDM program significantly reduced vehicle travel to these campuses. California and Washington states, and some cities, support TDM and mandate Commute Trip Reduction programs for some businesses. Washington State’s Commute Trip Reduction law has significantly increased transit ridership and reduced automobile travel in the Puget Sound region.
Transit Oriented Development (TOD). Transit improvements complement local efforts to create compact, walkable neighborhoods. Presently, lack of transit investment is impeding local government and developer efforts to create TOD. This type of development maximizes the number of jobs and homes located in areas where residents can reduce their driving and transportation costs. Consumer surveys indicate that many households want to live in such neighborhoods, and many businesses want to locate in TODs in order to improve customer and employee access, and reduce parking costs.
Reduce parking costs. Investing in public transit and active transportation creates the conditions for reduced parking requirements. This can significantly increase housing affordability and reduce traffic problems. It also allows unbundling (rent parking spaces separately from building space), so car-free households are no longer forced to pay for costly parking facilities that they do not need. Reducing parking supply and shifting to cost-recovery pricing typically reduces affected vehicle trips by 10-30%, and allows more compact and efficient development.
Compact infill development can create affordable, inclusive and attractive cities, like Montreal, “plus belle ville au monde.”
To increase affordability Cities for Everyone recommends upzoning neighborhoods to create a competitive market for developable land. This allows the lowest-cost housing types – townhouses and low-rise apartment – to be built in walkable urban neighborhoods where families can minimize their transportation costs.
There is solid research indicating that allowing more private development increases overall affordability. A study by economist Evan Mast described in Daniel Herriges’s, The Connectedness of Our Housing Ecosystem, used an innovative approach to measure these impacts. It tracked the previous residences of the occupants of 802 new multifamily developments in 12 North American cities, and the previous residences of the households that replaced them, through six cycles. It found that building market-price apartments causes a kind of housing musical chairs, as households move into new units. This analysis indicates that for every 100 new market-rate units built, approximately 65 units are freed up in existing buildings, accommodating up to 48 moderate- and low-income families.
As evidence that upzoning can increase affordability in attractive and economically successful cities, look to Montreal, Canada. Although it is considered plus belle ville au monde (the world’s most beautiful city), its housing prices there are 30% lower than in the peer cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver, as indicated in this recent comparison:
Montreal allows multifamily housing on about twice as much land as comparable Canadian cities, and eliminated parking requirements in central neighborhoods. This helps explains why it is attractive, economically successful and affordable too.
As a result of these flexible development policies, central Montreal neighborhoods are full of missing middle housing types, townhouses and low-rise apartment building, which creates an abundant, competitive market for inexpensive homes. These neighborhoods are compact and mixed, very walkable, and well served by public transit, which makes them truly affordable for both housing and transportation.
Compact development also reduces environmental impacts. Compact infill consumes much less land per capita, particularly if it reduces vehicle ownership and therefore the amount of land that must be paved for roads and parking facilities, and it greatly reduces pollution emissions. The figure below shows a map produced by the environmental group, Green Resilience, based on analysis of the differences in emissions between walkable and sprawled neighborhoods. Compact neighborhood residents typically produce 30-60% lower emissions than the same households types would produce living in single-family houses located in conventional, automobile-oriented suburbs.
Residents of central Montreal neighborhoods drive only about one-third of the regional average, providing financial savings and environmental benefits.
Because it is accessible, affordable and efficient, Montreal is an exciting, creative and integrated city. It has a dynamic art scene, fantastic food and music, great theater and music, incredible cultural diversity, plus plenty of innovation and business. There’s something for everybody, and newcomers are always welcome. The key is to this success is building lots of moderate-priced housing in walkable urban neighborhoods.
This is very good news for anybody who cares about affordability, economic opportunity, and joie de vivre (“love of life”). C’est bon!
Underutilized parking lots are a costly waste. By managing parking more efficiently, cities can free up land to house people rather than cars.
Our current laws do not mandate housing for people, but all local jurisdictions mandate an abundant and costly supply of housing for motor vehicles. This is a huge and unfair subsidy for automobile use which increases housing costs, encourages driving, and forces car-free households to pay for expensive parking facilities they don’t need.
The costs are huge. Recent studies have counted the number of parking spaces that exist in various areas. They indicate that there are typically 3-6 off-street parking spaces per motor vehicle, with lower rates in central cities and higher rates in sprawled areas. Considering land, construction and operating expenses, a typical surface parking space has an annualized cost of $500-1,500, and structured parking costs about three times as much. Yet, most of this parking is provided free. Every time somebody purchases a vehicle they expect somebody else—businesses and local governments—to provide thousands of dollars worth of parking for its use, a matching grant for driving.
A large portion of urban land is devoted to off-street parking facilities (orange). With more efficient management, this could be used for housing.
What does this indicate about our communal values? We consider housing for automobiles a necessity that, by law, everybody must subsidize, while housing for people is optional, to be financed by users or subsidized at whatever level governments can fit into their budgets. This helps explain why so many cities have a housing unaffordability crisis.
This is a good time to reform our vehicle parking policies for affordability and efficiency. These reforms don’t eliminate parking supply, but they make parking facilities work harder, so parking lots serve multiple destinations and achieve higher occupancy rates, which reduces the number of spaces needed to serve demands.
Many studies indicate that conventional parking minimums result in far more spaces than are really needed, particularly for affordable housing in multimodal neighborhoods. For example, a recent study of multifamily developments in the Denver region found that 40% of spaces in market-based buildings and 50% of spaced in below-market buildings are virtually never used. A study of 27 mixed-use districts around the United States found that parking is oversupplied by 65% on average. A Seattle study found that developers built about 40% fewer parking spaces when parking minimums were eliminated in central neighborhoods. This research indicates that many urban developments could significantly reduce their parking supply, particularly if they implemented parking management programs, which could free up a lot of land for affordable housing.
Here’s one way to think about this issue. Most cities require between one and two parking spaces per housing unit, including secondary suites, townhouses and apartments. A typical off-street parking space is 10 x 20 feet and so requires about 200 square feet of land, and about double that to include driveways and access lanes. Assuming this totals about 333 per parking space, each parking space uses as much land as a 1,000 square foot three-story townhouse or apartment building. Requiring just one off-street space doubles the amount of land required per housing unit.
Parking typically represents 10-20% of total housing costs. A major study using data from the American Housing Survey found that parking facilities cost renter households approximately $1,700 per year, adding 17% to an average unit’s rent. This portion is higher for lower-priced housing in areas with high land prices. For example, two $50,000 parking spaces represent just 10% of the cost of a million dollar home, but one $40,000 space represents 20% of the cost of a basic $200,000 condominium. If parking represents 20% of residential development costs and parking supply is 50% higher than demand, more efficient parking management can reduce housing costs by 10% or more. For households that do not own an automobile, efficient parking requirements and unbundling parking can reduce housing costs by 10-20%.
Our city is currently experiencing a homeless crisis, and so allowes unhoused people to camp in some city parks, which harms the parks, and causes flooding problems during heavy rains. A local group is currently fundraising to build 30 container or modular houses to provide more comfortable housing. Such housing is relatively inexpensive, as low as $12,500 per home, and can be quickly installed, but requires sufficient land. Where? Underutilized parking lots are the obvious answer.
The best solution for permanent, affordable urban infill housing are generally missing middle types, such as townhouses and low-rise apartments. These are resource-efficient and generally have the lowest total costs, considering land, construction and future operating expenses. For example, a quarter-acre (10,000 square foot) parcel that currently accommodates about 30 parking spaces can instead hold 15-20 apartments averaging 1,000 square feet in a three- or four-story building, and still leave half of the parcel in green space, provided that residents can be satisfied with the five on-street parking spaces (eight if it is a corner lot), which avoids the costs and land requirements of off-street parking. This is typically sufficient for lower-income households living in walkable urban neighborhoods where many households are car-free.
A typical underused parking lot that could be used for temporary or permanent housing, if the City reduced parking requirements.
Cities can create more affordable housing by eliminating parking minimums and encouraging property owners to replace underutilized parking lots with moderate-priced housing. Even if the new units are initially not affordable to lower-income households, they increase overall affordability through filtering, as some of the new occupants move from nearby lower-priced housing, making it available to new families.
Next time you see an ugly, underutilized parking lot, think of it as a land bank for beautiful, affordable homes. Housing for people, not vehicles!
The BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure recently released its South Island Transportation Strategy which describes various possible transportation improvements in our region, including highways, rail, bus transit, active transport (walking and bicycling) and transportation demand management programs.
Here are key recommendations included in a letter we sent to the CRD Board to ensure that this strategy maximizes efficiency and social equity.
1. Accelerate implementation of our regional transit plan. BC Transit’s Victoria Transit Future Plan provides a strategic vision for improving our region’s transit network. It includes increased service (more frequency, destinations and operating hours), higher operating speeds (bus lanes, signal priority and faster loading), more comfort and amenities (better buses, stops and stations), plus improved user information and payment systems. It can include fare discounts for lower-income residents. The only problem is its 25-year completion target. Increased funding will allow faster implementation.
2. Offer frequent and affordable interregional transit services. Public transit service between the CRD and areas north is infrequent and expensive. Four buses depart Duncan between 5:30 and 6:30 am, and return between 3:15 and 5:15 pm weekdays. There is no reverse-commute or evening service, and only three weekend trips. The fare is $10 each way, about four times a local fare. Service to Nanaimo is even worse. The Island Connector makes one or two daily trips, with $24-34 one-way fares. This combination of poor service and high prices explains why transit serves less than 0.1% of trips over the Malahat.
Experience elsewhere indicates that many interregional travellers will choose bus transit if it is convenient and affordable. For example, according to the CRD’s 2017 Capital Reginal District Origin Destination Household Travel Survey, 12% of total trips and 22% of peak-period trips between Sooke and Victoria are by transit. On this corridor, the #61 bus makes 30 daily round trips between 6:00 am and midnight, with $2.50 one-way fares or $5.00 for an unlimited-use daily pass. Similarly, 20-40% of weekday trips between Fraser Valley towns, such as Langley and Pitt Meadows, and Vancouver, are by public transit. Service on this corridor is frequent and fares are just $3-12 each way.
Frequent (at least hourly service between 6:00 am and midnight) bus service between Victoria and Nanaimo, with prices no more than two local fares ($5.00 maximum each way), is the most cost effective and beneficial way to improve mobility on this corridor. According to a recent study, Rethinking Malahat Solutions, frequent and affordable bus service, with Transportation Demand Management (TDM) incentives, could attract 10-30% of trips, and only cost $10-18 million in annual public expenses. This is cheaper than other potential improvements, and provides more benefits including reduced driver stress, consumer savings and affordability, more independent mobility for non-drivers, reduced congestion, parking savings, energy savings, emission reductions and habitat protection. It directly benefits disadvantaged groups, and so helps achieve social equity goals, and motorists benefit from reduced congestion, risk and chauffeuring burdens.
3. Improve Active Transportation (Walking and Bicycling) Conditions. Walking and bicycling play important roles in an efficient and equitable transport system. They provide basic mobility, connections to motorized modes, and healthy exercise. Improvements include sidewalks and crosswalks where lacking, more bike lanes and parking, separated paths, plus education, enforcement and encouragement programs. The CRD has a Regional Pedestrian & Cycling Masterplan, and local governments are improving walking and bicycling conditions, but implementation is slow due to inadequate funding.
How much should we invest in active transport programs? According to the 2017 CRD travel survey, 14% of trips in the region, 26% of trips in Victoria, and 33% of downtown trips are by active modes (graph below). The survey also found that about 10% of regional households, 20% of Victoria households, and 40% of downtown households are car-free. Provincial, regional and local governments have ambitious goals to increase active travel. The Province has a target of doubling active mode shares by 2030. The CRD has targets that by 2038, 30% of regional trips and 50% of trips in densely populated areas will be by active modes. Victoria has a target that by 2041, at least 60% of all local trips are by walking, cycling and public transit. Similarly, the City of Saanich has targets to approximately double active travel mode share by 2036 and triple it by 2050. Achieving these goals will require increasing active travel investments.
5. Support Transit Oriented Development (TOD). Transit improvements and local policy reforms to create compact, walkable neighborhoods along frequent transit. This type of development maximizes the number of jobs and homes located in areas where residents can reduce their driving. Consumer surveys indicate that many households want to live in such neighborhoods, and many businesses want to locate in TODs in order to improve customer and employee access, and reduce parking costs. Peer communities, including Edmonton, Hamilton and Saskatoon, have TOD guidelines and incentives.
6. Eliminate or reduce parking minimums. Local policy reforms can reduce parking requirements and more efficiently manage parking supply. Eliminating parking minimums does not eliminate off-street parking, it simply allows businesses to decide how many spaces to supply based on consumer demands. It allows unbundling (rent parking spaces separately from building space), so car-free households are no longer forced to pay for costly parking facilities that they do not need. This can significantly increase housing affordability and reduce traffic problems. Reducing parking supply and shifting to cost-recovery pricing typically reduces affected vehicle trips by 10-30%, and allows more compact and efficient development.
These six recommendations are consistent with local, regional and provincial goals to improve affordable mobility, increase traffic safety and public health, reduce climate emissions, and support rural economic development. We encourage the CRD to consider them when developing its policies and programs.
A Candidate Profile Guide containing information submitted by each candidate will be available here on November 17.
Below is a short discussion of local affordability problems and solutions, and specific questions that you can use to evaluate candidates’ support policies that can help make our community more affordable and inclusive.
The Victoria region is an attractive, economically successful, healthy and resource-efficient place to live. Unfortunately, the region is unaffordable to many low- and moderate-income households due to its high housing prices. This leaves many families with excessive cost burdens, inadequate homes, or no homes at all. The Victoria Foundation’s recent Vital Signs report indicates that unaffordability, homelessness, and associated mental stress affect a large portion of our population.
Several types of housing are needed, including emergency shelters for people who currently lack homes, supportive and transition housing for people with special needs, subsidized housing for families with low incomes, and moderate-priced rental and owner occupied market housing (often called “workforce housing”) for families with moderate incomes.
An important priority is to eliminate homelessness. According to the 2020 Point in Time Homelessness and Housing Needs Survey there are approximately 1,500 homeless people in our region, including 270 who are unsheltered, 350 in emergency sheltered and at least 743 in transitional housing and institutions. The local governments and non-profit service providers are working to move some transition housing residents to more permanent homes, and offer rent top-ups to allow more homeless people to afford to homes. As a result, increasing the supply of lower-priced rental apartments is key to reduce homelessness and associated problems.
A key factor that drives up housing prices is that our housing supply has not increased with population growth. The CRD’s population currently grows about 1.5% per year, adding about 5,000 people annually. To accommodate this growth and drive down housing prices the region must add 2,000-4,000 new units annually. While the region has added housing supply most new units are either downtown highrises or expensive single-family homes. To increase affordability our region must add far more moderate-priced ($200,000-600,000) new homes in walkable urban neighborhoods that are suitable for moderate-income families (those earning $50,000-100,000 annually). Housing experts call this “missing middle” housing. Even if these new homes are too expensive for low-income households, they help increase affordability as some occupants of lower-priced housing move into the new units, making them available to new occupants, and over the long run as the depreciate in value, adding to the stock of older, lower-priced homes.
A variety of local and regional policy actions can increase housing and transportation affordability in ways that also help achieve public health and environmental protection goals. The CRD Origin Destination Household Travel Survey, and the recent study, Housing and Transportation Cost Estimate Study 2020 for the Capital Regional District, show that people who live in more compact, walkable neighborhoods own fewer vehicles, drive significantly less, spend much less on transportation, produce far less pollution, and exercise more than they would in more automobile dependent areas. As a result, advocates for affordability, public health and climate protection recommend that cities like Victoria allow more compact, infill housing (more housing units within existing urban areas) so most regional population growth can occur in compact, walkable neighborhoods.
Eleven Municipal Actions and Questions
Below are eleven such actions, and specific questions to ask municipal candidates and policy makers to evaluate their commitment to local solutions to unaffordability, homelessness and environmental risks.
If not, what changes or additions do you proposes?
2. Some people, particularly those with disabilities, mental illness and low incomes, need subsidized housing. The CRD Regional Housing Trust Fund (RHTF) has leveraged tens of millions of private, local, provincial, and federal dollars to finance various housing projects, many based on “Housing First” principles.
Do you support reducing, maintaining or increasing your jurisdiction’s contribution to the RHTF?
Do you propose any other local housing subsidy programs?
Do you support efforts to participate in the provincial Rapid Response Housing Program, which requires local government to provide free land for modular transition housing?
3. Some jurisdictions have inclusivity mandates which require that a portion of new private developments be sold or rented below market rates (i.e., market rate housing units subsidize affordable units). However, if these requirements are too high, this can reduce total new housing construction, particularly less profitable, moderate-priced units.
Do you support inclusivity requirements for new development?
If so, what types of inclusivity requirements do you support?
Should moderate-priced housing be excluded from this requirement?
4. To serve our growing population and drive down prices our region must add 2,000-4,000 new housing units annually, including a diverse range of moderate-priced homes. Some jurisdictions, such as Calgary, meet their housing demand by allowing more urban fringe development. Others, such as Montreal, meet their housing demand by allowing more compact infill development, more missing middle housing within existing urban neighborhoods.
Do you support policies to encourage more affordable housing construction in the CRD?
Where and what type of housing growth do you think should accommodate that demand?
Do you think that your jurisdiction’s housing development targets should be lower, equal to, or greater than the regional growth rate?
5. Many housing experts recommend that communities support missing middle housing development, such as secondary suites, multi-plexes (3-6 unit houses), townhouses and low-rise apartments, in order to accommodate more moderate-income families. Currently, most residential neighborhoods only allow lower-density (i.e., two-story with low Floor Area Ratios) houses. In such areas, infill projects require zoning variances and city council approval, which adds delays and drives up costs. Many cities are reforming zoning codes to encourage affordable infill in existing urban neighborhoods.
Do you support policy reforms to allow more missing middle infill housing in residential neighborhoods that currently forbid them?
Do you support policy reforms to allow taller and denser homes on corner lots and larger lots (more than 10,000 square feet) where they impact fewer neighbors?
6. Victoria’s Official Community Plan (OCP) identifies various areas (mainly downtown and along major arterials) for higher density development (more than three stories), but the city’s zoning codes have not been adjusted to reflect these targets. This forces developers to seek variances for each infill project, which increases costs and discourages them from achieving the city’s density targets. Many affordability advocates recommend that the city “upzone” all properties to their OCP density targets.
Do you support upzoning properties to OCP density targets?
Do you support upzoning within neighborhoods (not just along arterials), to allow more families to live on quite, low pollution streets?
7. Zoning codes in most neighborhoods (excepting downtown Victoria) require developers to provide off-street parking with each housing units. This typically costs $30,000-60,000 per parking space. That only adds 5-10% to higher-cost (more than $1,000,000 per unit) housing, but often adds 10-25% to the cost of moderate-priced (200,000-600,000 per unit) housing. This is inefficient and unfair: it drives up housing costs and forces car-free households to pay for costly parking spaces they don’t need. According to the CRD Origin Destination Household Travel Survey, 20% of Victoria households, and 40% of downtown households, are car-free.
To increase affordability and fairness many jurisdictions are eliminating parking minimums and requiring landlords to unbundle parking (rent parking separately from housing units). This does not eliminate parking; it simply allows developers to supply the number of parking spaces that the market demands rather than based on generic standards.
To address neighborhood concerns about parking congestion on neighborhood streets, many jurisdictions are expanding parking management policies into residential neighborhoods, including more parking permits, regulations and pricing of parking.
Do you support significantly reducing or eliminating the city’s parking minimums, and policies that encourage or require landlords to unbundle parking, so car-free households are no longer required to pay for parking facilities they don’t need?
Do you support more efficient management of on-street parking in residential areas to address neighborhood concerns?
8. Municipal governments impose various development fees, inclusivity mandates, and project approval requirements that apply to most new multi-family developments. Because they are applied per unit, they represent a small cost burden to higher-priced units but a large cost burden to lower-priced units, and so tend to discourage moderate-priced housing development, the types of housing that many moderate-income households need.
Do you support development fee and inclusivity requirement exemptions for smaller, moderate-priced infill housing projects?
Do you support expedited approval requirements for smaller and moderate-priced infill housing projects?
Do you support allowing higher densities and building heights in exchange for more affordable units?
9. Energy efficiency design features, such as increased insulation, higher quality windows and doors, and more efficient appliances, tend to repay their costs through future energy savings. This also helps reduce climate emissions.
Do you support strong building energy efficiency standards for new developments, such as Passive House standards?
Do you support municipal and regional programs to retrofit of existing homes to increase efficiency?
10. Housing and transportation are the two largest household budget burdens for most low- and moderate-income households. A cheap house is not truly affordable if located in an isolated area with high transportation costs. As a result, lower cost transportation options (walking, bicycling and public transit), and lower-priced housing located in walkable urban neighborhoods, are critical for true affordability. They also tend to be resource-efficient and healthy to use, and so help achieve environmental and public health goals. Walking and bicycling have proven to be particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, for mobility and health.
Many Victoria households have members who cannot, should not, or prefer not to drive for many trips. According to the CRD Origin Destination Household Travel Survey, within Core communities (Esquimalt, Victoria, Oak Bay and Saanich) 26% of trips are by walking and bicycling, and 9% are by public transit. Within Victoria, 50% of trips are by walking and bicycling, and 7% are by public transit. These modes currently receive a smaller share of transportation infrastructure investments. Recent pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvements, and public transit service improvements, have increased use of these modes, indicating significant latent demand. Investing in walking, bicycling and public transit ensures that non-drivers receive a fair share of transportation infrastructure investments.
Many people drive to our community to work, shop or recreate, incurring road and parking facility costs, and adding to our traffic problems. Many communities are expanding when and where public parking is priced in order to help reduce traffic and parking congestion and to ensure that non-resident motorists help pay for the road and parking facilities they use.
Do you support current efforts to improve walking and bicycling facilities, public transit services, and complete streets policies (streets designed to accommodate all modes)?
Do you support allocating funding to walking, bicycling and public transit infrastructure at least up to their mode shares (i.e., if 10% of trips are by walking, the city will invest at least 10% of funding to pedestrian facilities), to ensure that local pedestrians and bicyclists receive a fair share of public investments?
Do you support traffic calming and other traffic speed reduction strategies if justified to increase pedestrian and bicyclist safety?
Do you support expanding when and where public parking is priced (such as more parking meters in commercial districts, and charges on Sundays and evenings) in order to recover more local road and parking facility costs from non-residential motorists?
How do you think our community should accommodate growing demand for walking, bicycling and public transit?
Do you support reducing, current or increased public transit investments in our regions?
The Capital Regional District (CRD) has released the 2020 Housing and Transportation Cost Estimate Study which examines combined housing and transportation costs as a measure of overall household affordability in the capital region.
Housing affordability has previously defined as families being able to spend less than 30% of their household budget on housing, but this does not reflect the full cost of housing location choices. Transportation costs can be a major household expense depending on where one lives and if one owns a vehicle for primary transportation. As a result, many experts now recommend that affordability be defined as families being able to spend less than 45% of their household budget on housing and transportation combined, called a Housing and Transportation (H&T) Affordability Index.
The CRD study found that the combined housing and transportation costs vary depending on where people live in the region. It found:
the cost of vehicle ownership is significant regardless of how much it is used;
areas where there are older apartments and condominiums with longer tenant tenure have lower housing costs;
transportation costs tend to be lower in areas where more transportation options are available; and,
some developing areas in the outer areas of the region show more housing affordability due to land values and availability.
The study indicates that a cheap house is not truly affordable if located in an automobile-dependent area where households must bear high transportation costs, and households can rationally spend more than 30% of their budget for housing located in a walkable urban neighborhood where they can minimize their transportation costs.
These results indicate that unaffordability and mental stress are broad issues that affect a large portion of the population. Although the report is rather long, it is very readable and includes interesting graphics and survey respondent quotes.
Respondents’ top three issues (out of twelve):
Cost of living
Of twelve quality of life indictors, the largest change is a decline from B- to D+ for “Getting Started” (ability of young people and immigrants to become established in the community). Specifically, 73% of survey respondents believe that newcomers and 82% of young adults lack affordable housing.
The survey also found that 17% frequently feel lonely, 22% lack loving family and friends, and 37% do not know their neighbors. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 29% have lost income, 40% feel a decline in physical health, 51% feel a decline in mental health, and 60% are experiencing worse stress.
Vital Signs references a recent CRD study, Housing and Transportation Cost Estimate Study 2020 for the Capital Regional District which found that household transportation expenses tend to be lower in areas with more transportation options and more mixed-use development such as Victoria, southern Saanich, and Sidney, and higher in more automobile-dependent areas. Most survey respondents find it easy to get around by walking, bicycling and driving, but rate public transit service very low.
This highlights the importance of increasing affordable housing and transportation options, providing opportunities for neighborhood interactions and friendships, support healthy lifestyles (such as more physical activity, such as walking and bicycling), and help for people experiencing mental stress and illness.
Here’s an old joke: A motorist stops on a rural road and asks a local farmer, “How do I get to Midville?”
The farmer ponders for a moment and replies, “Sorry. Ya can’t get there from here.”
That is funny because we know that, given proper directions and sufficient fuel, motorists can reach virtually any destination connected to a public road. The farmer must be wrong. But for numerous travellers who rely on public transit, many destinations really are inaccessible: “you can’t get there from here.”
Currently, many Vancouver Island communities have terrible intercity transit service. For example, between Duncan and Victoria there are only four daily trips, all departing Duncan before 6:30 am and returning late afternoons. There is no reverse commute or evening service, and only three weekend trips. The fare is $10 each way. Service to Nanaimo is even worse. There are only one or two buses per day, with $24-34 one-way fares. This combination of poor service and high prices explains why less than 0.1% of trips over the Malahat are made by public transit.
It wasn’t always that way and needn’t be in the future. With more multi-modal planning, we can ensure that everybody, including transit users, have convenient and affordable mobility options. Everybody benefits, including people who use those services, and motorists who experience less traffic congestion, crash risk, and chauffeuring burdens.
The BC Ministry of Transportation and Highways new South Island Transportation Strategy identifies various ways to solve regional transportation problems. These include giant Saanich Inlet bridges ($2.25-2.74 billion), Malahat Highway expansions ($560-967 million), and commuter rail service ($513+ million). However, the Strategy ignores the most cost-effective and beneficial option: frequent and affordable bus service between Victoria and Nanaimo, with at least hourly departures from 6:00 am until 11:00 pm, and prices no greater than two local fares, so a one-way trip between Victoria and Nanaimo costs less than $5. Because it requires no new infrastructure, bus transit is by far the most cost-effective travel option, saving hundreds of millions of dollars that can be reinvested in other critical services. It would take advantage of the Island Highway’s new bus lanes between Victoria and Langford, which makes bus commuting faster than driving to many destinations.
This speed helps make transit useful and attractive, increasing ridership, but even more important is service frequency and operating hours. For many trips, travellers need to know that if they miss one departure they can catch another, or another, or another, late into the evening.
Many travellers will use bus service if it is frequent and affordable. For example, 22% of Sooke-to-Victoria commuters take transit because it is frequent and affordable. The #61 bus makes 30 daily round trips, starting before 6:00 am and continuing until after midnight, with rush hour express service. Fares are just $2.50 one-way, or $5.00 for an unlimited-use daily pass. Similarly, 20-40% of weekday trips between Fraser Valley towns, such as Langley and Pitt Meadows, to Vancouver, are by public transit.
The Strategy includes various incentives to encourage travellers to use the most efficient option for each trip, such as commute trip reduction programs and mobility. If implemented with frequent and affordable transit service, this approach should attract a significant portion of trips, including travellers who cannot drive, and motorists who want to avoid driving stress or save money. This can be the cheapest way to reduce Malahat Highway congestion and accidents.
Many people are enamored with rail transit. I certainly appreciate the romance of trains. However, regardless of whether or not service is reestablished on the E&N line, Island travellers need frequent and affordable bus service. According to the South Island Transportation Strategy it would cost more than one billion dollars to provide just one daily train that departs Courtenay early weekday mornings and returns late afternoons, with $10-30 one-way fares. If ridership grows sufficiently, a second daily train may be added by 2038, but the Strategy includes no reverse commute, evening and weekend service. Because the rail line ends in Vic West, most travellers must transfer to buses to reach their final destinations. For many trips, buses will be faster, more affordable and convenient than either rail or driving. As a result, even if rail service is reestablished many travellers will need bus transit if they want to depart earlier or stay later than the train, travel on weekends, or reach destinations away from the train stations.
For the last century, transportation planning has favored automobile travel. This is unfair and inefficient. It deprives many people of their independence, and it increases consumer costs, traffic and parking congestion, accidents and pollution. We can do better.
It’s time to implement more multi-modal solutions to Vancouver Island’s transportation problems. The South Island Transportation Strategy contains many good ideas, but overlooks one of the most important: frequent and affordable intercity bus service connecting our communities.