COLUMN: No view of townhouses from their ivory towers

Metro Vancouver planners out of touch with Surrey's problems.

Metro Vancouver planners have demonstrated why a regional approach to planning issues simply doesn’t work.

The reality is that conditions are very different in different parts of the region. The Metro recommendation that there be fewer parking stalls required in strata developments is completely out of sync with areas like Surrey, where a lack of transit service means most residents have to own cars.

Metro planner Janet Kreda cited the fact that many young people do not own cars and are using transit more. This is true – but it mainly applies in areas where there is good transit service from early in the morning to late at night, such as most Vancouver neighbourhoods, Burnaby, New Westminster and parts of Richmond and the North Shore.

It most definitely does not apply in Surrey or Delta.

Just last week, I drove to the King George SkyTrain station to pick up my daughter, who was on her way home from university classes in Burnaby. It was 10 p.m. SkyTrain was running on its usual frequent schedule, but the connecting buses weren’t anywhere close to frequent. I could get to the station and back in the time she would have to wait for a bus.

On my way up to the station, I passed about 20 to 25 people, all of whom were waiting for a long period in the rain for the bus to come by. At that time of night on that particular route (502), one of the busiest in Surrey, buses run every half hour.

Contrast this with bus service in Burnaby near Metrotown, or on most of the Vancouver trolley routes. There is no comparison.

The issues surrounding parking in densely-populated areas of Surrey have been highlighted in recent news stories about East Clayton, the supposedly sustainable community that is littered with cars, and has almost no transit service.

The city has permitted the construction of many homes with carriage houses, and there is an extra parking slot for one occupant of the carriage house.

But there is no parking for the numerous residents who live in basement suites, whether they are legal or illegal. Thus finding a parking spot near home is a crap shoot at certain times of day. Those who arrive home early from work do best, but woe to them if they decide to go out in the evening.

Townhouse developments in East Clayton actually have more parking, as there are no suites. But there isn’t too much parking, because most two-adult households require two cars. It’s the only realistic way people can get to work on time.

Metro Vancouver planners, who likely still cite East Clayton as a model sustainable community, have no idea of the reality of living in such a community. They sit in their ivory tower on Kingsway in Burnaby, with buses whizzing by and SkyTrain a short walk away, and blithely recommend policies which are completely out of touch with reality.

Surrey residents in many neighbourhoods know reality. They know about the lack of parking, the necessity of owning a car, the infrequent bus service and the challenges of getting around in the region.

Fortunately, mayors on the committee involved poured cold water on the bureaucrats’ plans for reduced parking for strata units. Even Derek Corrigan, the Burnaby curmudgeon who loves nothing better than to tell Surrey residents they don’t deserve better transit service, agreed that the Metro suggestions were unrealistic.

The very fact that this recommendation came up for discussion indicates that Metro has no expertise in planning for the entire region.

It’s time for regional government to leave that process to local municipalities, and stick to regional issues like water, sewer and garbage.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.