COLUMN: Head-in-the-sand leadership hits home

COLUMN: Head-in-the-sand leadership hits home

Frustration over parking issues in Surrey’s East Clayton neighbourhood can be a teachable moment

Surrey Coun. Mike Starchuk’s frustration over parking issues in East Clayton has the potential to be a teachable moment for other city officials.

As Starchuk pointed out in asking last month for a staff report on options available to council, the parking problem has seemed insoluble for more than a decade. Despite bylaw enforcement and a number of awareness campaigns, including one encouraging people to clean out their garages, stresses over parking continue.

This is what happens when there is too much density and not enough transportation options. Residents are forced to use cars most of the time.

East Clayton was supposedly a community planned for the future. It included coach houses, small storefront businesses in homes and was mainly built as a community with detached homes on small lots. It quickly became a community where cars are ever-present, and dominate many aspects of life.

Narrow streets and innumerable bulges for pedestrian crossings mean there is limited street parking.

Cycling on such streets is a challenge. When there is snow on the ground, two cars cannot pass. Parking is at a premium, and moves to restrict parking have led to angry confrontations.

This issue has been exacerbated by the high cost of housing, and the increasing challenges of finding rental accommodation. Three housing units per detached home has become the norm.

A study by Simon Fraser University’s Andy Yan shows that in Vancouver, just 15 per cent of homes are actually being used for single families. Yan found the actual density in supposed single-family areas is much higher. He calls it “hidden density.”

Such density in Vancouver is more manageable, because there is a strong transit network and good bike routes. There are alternatives to owning a car.

There is plenty of hidden density in Surrey and throughout Metro Vancouver. East Clayton actually was in the vanguard of some aspects of densification. The building of coach houses on homes with small lots legally added to the density.

After the homes with coach houses were occupied, most homeowners added suites as well, meaning there were three dwelling units on a small piece of land. The city and TransLink ignored this density. A few bike lanes were added.

When it comes to transit, one lonely community shuttle route serves most of East Clayton, unless residents happen to live near Fraser Highway. One other route has been proposed, but has yet to start service.

Then there is the school problem. There are far too few classrooms. Parents drive their kids to schools outside East Clayton, because the few neighbourhood schools are full. Kids cannot walk to those schools and the additional driving leads to congestion at drop-off and pick-up times.

TransLink and Metro Vancouver mayors now say the only way to boost transit service is to increase density – something Surrey has done through rezoning in many parts of the city. They do not take hidden density into account, and continue to let areas like East Clayton become poster children for poor planning and head-in-the-sand civic leadership.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News. frank.bucholtz@gmail.com