Month: August 2016

Who is Local?
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Who is Local?

“Ahmadi is still months away from getting permanent resident status, putting him in the unlucky group of middle-class British Columbians who have found themselves targeted by a tax purportedly imposed to crack down on rich real estate speculators from overseas”

I’ve never been this hopeless

I would not call Hamed Ahmadi unlucky, he’s a victim of the all too common policy apparatus that confuses residency with visa status. The BC non-resident tax of 15% on properties is supposed to target “foreign” (read Chinese) investors buying in Vancouver with no intentions of living there. I presume there are multiple other ways to determine residency and “localness” for the purpose of determining who lives here and who does not. The BC government, in its haste to demonstrate it was doing something, took the easy route and used visa status as a proxy.

Hamed lives and works in BC, which meets my definition of local. While a speculation tax on non-residents is a reasonable approach, using visa status to determine residency, and providing no sensible exceptions for locals with alternative paper work is lazy and thoughtless policy making, so is not providing exceptions for people with home buying applications already in process. It’s almost as if someone looked at the polls and press and wrote the law in a day.

In many ways, this is personal for me because I lived in the US for 10+ years under various non-permanent visas that left me vulnerable to these poorly designed, thoughtless policy measures. I lived in the same town for 10 years, was very much a local by the time I’d left, with a stable set of friends, family, work, places I shopped in, hiked to, causes I supported, volunteer work I did, and more. So, Hamed’s story could have been mine, and in some smaller ways, was mine for other parts of my life.

“CTV News spoke with BC Liberal cabinet minister Andrew Wilkinson on Wednesday and asked several times for comment on Ahmadi’s situation. Wilkinson responded by repeating a piece of blanket advice for the people impacted. “Those who find themselves affected by the tax should seek legal advice because individual circumstances vary,” Wilkinson said.

This is typical of policy makers who are so removed from the day to day lives of the people whose behaviour they seek to regulate. The casual assumption that regular people can afford professionals who bill at multiple hundreds of dollars an hour speaks more about the types of people these ministers hang out with than anything else. But this sounds familiar too, I needed to consult lawyers multiple times to help me with immigration paper work.

As someone with a high level of institutional trust, and who thinks governments can affect our lives for the better with sound and thoughtful policy interventions, these types of hasty policy making are deeply disappointing. There are multiple other policy measures to make housing more affordable. The CCPA just released a comprehensive document of policies, focusing on the actual problem, the lack of affordable housing. Investment in affordable housing with a focus on cohousing and social housing, and zoning changes that reduce the protections afforded to affluent property owners would go a long way.

Originally posted on Interrobang 04-August-2016

Retire the Beg Button

Retire the Beg Button

Photo of a button which says push to cross, with an added hashtag DontMakeMeBegBiking down the Galloping Goose Sunday on my way to the excellent Panama Flats park, I came up on the intersection of the Goose with Tillicum Road, and traffic on Highway 1 (running parallel to the Goose) was flowing. It was in the middle of a minutes long traffic cycle, the appropriate time for people on foot and on bikes to be moving through unimpeded.

Except, that orange stick figure was telling me I should not go, which meant I had to push the “Beg” button first. Voila, the orange stick figure was replaced by the white one telling me I could cross. Of course I could cross, I was moving in the same direction as traffic and it was logical! Why was this even an issue?

I abhor beg buttons, and here’s why, this has been documented repeatedly.

It’s annoying for walkers: have you ever tried to walk a few blocks, stopping to hit the button at every single intersection? Or hit the button just a few seconds too late and had to wait a whole additional cycle? But it also illustrates the backwardness of our street design: pedestrians, who are supposed to have the right-of-way, are required to press a button at an intersection in order to get a walk signal, which should happen automatically

I’ve written many an unpublished diatribe that had those exact same words!

Especially here in Victoria, pedestrians take first priority, then people on bikes (pdf), all prioritized above car traffic in the official community plan. This is true in Saanich as well. If that is the case, and our municipalities were serious about improving the non car driver’s experience, then they need to aggressively retire all beg buttons. Remove them, or note that they are not to be used. I’ve of course heard anecdotal information from people in engineering/planning that they are disabled in some places. That’s not good enough. If you are going to disable a button, you need to label it as so, say DO NOT PRESS! And, while you’re at it, time your pedestrian crossing signs to maximize crossing time. I’m tired of seeing “Do not Walk” signs come up a good twenty seconds before car traffic stops, this is not necessary, and harkens back to a car first mentality that needed to have gone away with the 20th century. Why, I crossed a 3 lane (+ wide turning cuts) in Sidney at a deliberate saunter starting after the “Do not walk” (not the warning) had come on and still had a good few seconds before the car light changed to red.

Victoria is getting better, but there are still too many intersections where cars are prioritized. Take Fairfield and Moss, corners are two shopping/office blocks, a church and a busy community center/child care. But, guess what, there’s beg buttons still, and certain times of the day when crossing Fairfield is something you have to accomplish in 10 seconds or less. Completely unnecessary.

Time for a campaign to Retire the Beg Button at traffic lights and move them all to mid block crosswalks where we can cross the road by pressing a button that will make cars stop for a few seconds.

Originally posted on Interrobang on 17-May-2016