City Engineer’s Authority is Increased

Summary

When Vancouver City Council adopted a Citywide Complete Streets policy framework it also approved a recommendation from the Engineering Services Department a recommendation to undertake amendments to the Street and Traffic By-law so as to increase the City Engineer’s delegated authority, unchanged since 1944, to approve modifications in road space allocations, such as widening sidewalks, improving cycling facilities, and calming local traffic, without first reporting to Council for advice or decision.

While the Complete Streets framework is intended to create a holistic approach to street design for all modes of travel, the increase in delegated authority is to facilitate more efficient delivery of important sustainable transportation and safety improvements. Council approval was given with an amendment that directed staff to report back to Council annually on City Engineer decisions made as a result of the change.


City engineers’ authority expanded for first time since 1944

On May 17, 2017, when Council adopted a Citywide Complete Streets policy framework it also approved a recommendation from the Engineering Services Department a recommendation to undertake amendments to the Street and Traffic By-law so as to increase the City Engineer’s delegated authority, unchanged since 1944, to approve modifications in road space allocations, such as widening sidewalks, improving cycling facilities, and calming local traffic, without first reporting to Council for advice or decision. The Complete Streets policy framework is intended to create a holistic approach to street design for all modes of travel, while the increase in delegated authority is to facilitate more efficient delivery of important sustainable transportation and safety improvements.

Significance

The objective of achieving complete streets which better integrate the various transportation modes holds much promise, building upon staff work to date on developing complete streets on the Cambie Corridor, on Commercial Drive and on Water Street in Gastown, holds much promise. On the other, concerns are raised by a major expansion of the City Engineer’s authority to include what have previously been Council or political decisions. Some of these, such as the closure of vehicle lanes for bicycles and the partial closure of Point Grey Road, have been controversial. These concerns were acknowledged by City Council who directed staff to report back on an annual basis on the City Engineer decisions made as a result of this amendment, and how these have changed from what was done previously.

Background

Vancouver City Council first referenced a commitment to Complete Streets as part of the “Renewable City Strategy” approved at Council meeting of November 3, 2015. Among a wide range of measures, “Renewably Powered Transportation Priorities” were approved, including the “Use (of) land‐use and zoning policies to develop complete compact communities and complete streets that encourage active transportation and transit”.

In June 2016, the City’s Active Transportation Policy Council (ATPC) passed a Motion recommending development of a Complete Streets Policy. The 15-member ATPC is a citizen’s advisory body with a mandate to advise City Council on strategic priorities relating to walking, cycling, public transit and all active transportation modes in Vancouver.

Prior to the staff report Complete Streets were already being explored in the City, for Commercial Drive in follow up to the Grandview-Woodland Plan, as part of Cambie Corridor Phase 3 Planning Program and in Gastown. The policy framework recommended by the city engineers builds upon this context, addressing the need for a unified approach towards Complete Streets [see more details below] and was proposed for the following reasons:

  • Help achieve Transportation 2040 targets on mode share and safety
  • (Help achieve) Renewable City Strategy T.1.2 (to) Enhance and accelerate the development of complete streets and green infrastructure
  • Deliver better streets for all users and promote sustainable transportation.

To facilitate more efficient delivery of important Complete Street improvements, staff examined the Street and Traffic By-law and the extent of existing City Engineer’s delegated authority to approve modifications such as widening sidewalks, improving cycling facilities, and calming local traffic. First enacted in 1944, the By-law delegates authority to the City Engineer to modify streets (egs. marking and modifying traffic lanes for moving vehicles, designating and regulating parking on streets, and locating and establishing vehicle traffic controls on streets)

This authority has been revised from time to time but has not been substantively updated to reflect current Transportation 2040 policies and directions. In particular it doesn’t allow for modification to infrastructure to improve walking, biking and transit infrastructure. Staff found that these categories of projects, despite addressing explicit Transportation 2040 goals and following robust public consultation, most often still required Council approval following a full staff report.

Staff concluded that the Street and Traffic By-law should be modernized through minor amendments to the City Engineer’s delegated authority to facilitate street modifications in support of a Complete Streets design approach. These amendments would update the City Engineer’s delegated authority to:

  • Reallocate public right-of-way for different modes and uses
  • Divert general motor vehicle traffic from streets
  • Reroute transit access onto different streets

A more efficient delivery of improvements to achieve T2040 targets would follow if staff did not need to write a full staff report every time a streets infrastructure change was needed to implement pedestrian, transit and bicycle related improvements. The City Manager included a comment on the staff report that “The modernization of the Street and Traffic By-law called for in this report would update the delegated authority of the City Engineer to more efficiently deliver on these Complete Street goals. While this would provide the City Engineer with additional delegated authority in road space allocations, the City Engineer would still consult with the City Manager’s office as to which projects will be brought forward as staff reports for Council approval.”

Under section 161 of the Vancouver Charter, a City Council decision on the delegation of authority to the City Engineer required a vote of 2/3 of the Council members, or 8 votes. On May 17, 2017, Council approved with the required majority the city engineers’ recommendations, with a further instruction that “ staff report back to Council on an annual basis on what implementation has occurred under this Street and Traffic By-law change, and how that has changed from the previous by-law.”

Three city councillors opposed the recommendations in Committee. One councillor described himself as “very uncomfortable” with the proposed bylaw changes. Given the intense public backlash over Point Grey Road, Commercial Drive, a proposed bike lane through Kitsilano Beach and reduced parking around Vancouver General Hospital, councillor George Affleck said he’s not comfortable with staff making any similar road use changes in the future without city council’s oversight. “In my mind, the buck stops at council. Decisions on major developments, how we build our city, streets … those kind of decisions should be discussed in public with council oversight. That’s our job and when we start skipping that process, we’re in big trouble.” Affleck said he voted in favour of the city’s long-term Transportation 2040 plan with the understanding council would be the ones making “decisions on specific details as they move forward.” He said “Changing a speed bump is one thing. But if you’re changing and getting rid of a lane or parking for bike lanes, making change that has significant impact not only on the neighbourhood but the city at large, city council should be making a decision on it.”

What’s a complete street?

Taking everything into account to create a complete street:

  • Providing direct and convenient access to shops and services for people of all ages and abilities using all modes of transportation.
  • Improving safety and comfort for people travelling by all modes of transportation, with a focus on walking, cycling, and transit.
  • Ensuring loading, delivery, and access works well for local businesses to help them continue to thrive.
  • Making it easy for people access to shops and services, and participate in public life through accessible design.
  • Considering flexible design approaches to facilitate special events.
  • Exploring opportunities to integrate sustainable rainwater management techniques.

Sources


Prepared by: Phil Mondor, Vancouver City Planning Commission Chronology Committee
Revised: Tuesday, November 28, 2017