Rapid Transit to nowhere – The land-use issue with SkyTrain on Fraser Hwy


Since my last post on the differences between the proposed LRT and SkyTrain generated much discussion – I felt it would be good to highlight in more detail – the key land-use, route, and scope differences between the 2 routes, and why SkyTrain down Fraser Highway – makes no rational sense from a land-use or planning perspective.

LRT (Phase 1)

The proposed LRT route along 104 Avenue and King George Blvd serves Surrey’s City Centre, 2 largest Town Centres, and 2 most urban corridors, designated to handle the bulk of Surrey’s urban growth and revitalization over the next few decades. The 104 Avenue and King George Corridors contain numerous major trip-generating destinations which include:

  • Surrey City Centre – would be served by 4 LRT stations
  • Guildford Town Centre – Largest Town Centre in Surrey with existing high-rise residential, hotels, offices.
  • Guildford Shopping Centre – 3rd largest shopping centre in Metro Vancouver
  • Guildford – 104 Avenue Corridor PlanCurrently underway land-use plan which will direct increased density, growth, and revitalization along this key corridor linking City Centre and Guildford – would be served by 4 LRT stations.
  • Surrey Memorial Hospital – As well as the emerging Health & Technology District surrounding it would be served by 96th Avenue Station
  • Bear Creek Park / Surrey Art Gallery – and surrounding area would be served by 88th Avenue Station
  • Newton Industrial Area – Large employment area consisting of light industrial, business parks, commercial – would be served by 2 LRT stations.
  • Newton Town Centre – 2nd largest Town Centre in Surrey – already significant retail, offices and planned increased density/growth.

In addition LRT would create 2 vibrant multi-modal transfer hub stations at Surrey Central and King George – integrated into new urban plazas.


Multi-Modal Transfer Hub Station at Surrey Central integrated into Plaza
Envisioned Newton Town Centre Plaza with LRT integration

SkyTrain (Phase 1?)

While it is unclear how far down Fraser Hwy SkyTrain could be extended given current funding, an extension to Langley is unlikely within the 1.65 Billion approved budget. As such, the Fraser Highway SkyTrain line would have to be phased, with Phase 1 likely going as far as Fleetwood, and future extension to Langley at a later undermined date (by 2030?). Such a SkyTrain extension down Fraser Highway makes absolutely no rational sense from a land-use or planning perspective. Fleetwood is Surrey’s smallest Town Centre, with no plans for any significant increases in density or growth. Fraser Highway is also a very low density, predominantly single family / strip mall corridor with few trip-generating destinations along the route. The only nodes of significance are:

  • Fleetwood Town Centre – Smallest of Surrey’s Town Centres. The current Fleetwood Town Centre Plan designates this area for modest urban growth, consisting of townhouses, village like commercial, and some 4-6 storey apartments.
  • RCMP E-Division / Jim Pattison Outpatient – The only major destinations along this route would be at the 140th & Fraser Hwy station (assuming a station is proposed at this location)
  • 152 & Fraser Hwy Commercial Area – Currently a low-density strip mall area with no current land-use plans underway for revitalization. A land-use plan to change the density in this area would be necessary given the introduction of rapid transit to the area. This would present a major change to the Surrey OCP and where future density/growth directed to in Surrey.

In addition, a Fraser Highway SkyTrain extension would lack any vibrant multi-modal transfer hub stations centered on plazas. A missed opportunity for city building / urban revitalization.


Likely 3-stop ‘Phase 1’ SkyTrain extension to Fleetwood with current funding
Likely terminus of Phase 1 Fraser Hwy SkyTrain extension in Fleetwood


  • LRT is scheduled to begin construction in 2019 with the 10.5km Phase 1 completed by 2024.
  • SkyTrain would need to start from scratch in 2019, beginning with at least 2 years of design, planning, consultation. New land-use plans would have to be initiated along the route – as land-use must be planned in cohesion with rapid transit. A 5.5 km Phase 1 extension of SkyTrain to Fleetwood could likely be completed by 2026.

By 2030 – assuming a second round of funding is made available – there are 2 possible scenarios for rapid transit in Surrey:

Scenario 1 – Surrey’s 2030 Rapid Transit Network – LRT

Scenario 1 would see 27km of rapid transit built in Surrey, serving both the Guildford – Newton corridors, as well as the Fraser Highway corridor to Langley.


Scenario 2 – Surrey’s 2030 Rapid Transit Network – SkyTrain

Scenario 2 would see 15.5km of rapid transit built serving only the Fraser Highway corridor to Langley. Guildford and Newton – Surrey’s 2 largest and most urban centre’s would have no rapid transit. While Doug McCallum does mention a future SkyTrain extension down King George Highway to Newton – this is unlikely until the Langley extension is complete – so post 2030.


Best way to spend $1.65 Billion?

Each of these scenarios costs the same $1.65 Billion price tag.

  • Which option do you think provides more value to Surrey?
  • Which option will result in the most rapid transit for Surrey by 2030?
  • Which option will best integrate with the neighbourhoods it passes through, create a sense of place, and be a catalyst for vibrant communities? Rather than just a means of by-passing Surrey to get somewhere else.
  • Which communities should be prioritized for rapid transit?

18 thoughts on “Rapid Transit to nowhere – The land-use issue with SkyTrain on Fraser Hwy

  1. Phase 1 – More buses along Guildford, 104 Avenue, King George Blvd, and Newton
    – No need to wait for years of construction.
    – Worked right away as long as the buses are available.
    – Less cost
    – Faster to see the result and avoid the road congestion issue LRT has

    Phase 2 – Skytrain to Langley


    1. More buses will only create more congestion as the population grows. A dedicated LRT extension would ease the problem. It costs more to run compared to buses, but if there is enough demand along a corridor, then a light rail train would have lower operating costs than buses. This is a good read. I will just wait and see what happened after the new mayors pass the motion to cancel the LRT and meet with the mayor council. https://www.thoughtco.com/bus-and-light-rail-costs-2798852

      Liked by 1 person

  2. BTW, if we compared the cost of the skytrain and LRT, the last part should be substituted into “Should we really put the financial stability of our transit systems at risk by building and operating skytrain in areas that do not have enough demand to support them?” in Surrey case. It would not make any economic sense at all to build the Skytrain to Langley right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Surrey voters rejected LRT because they don’t want a street car interrupting traffic flows. LRT was rejected twice before with the Canada Line and the Evergreen Line. No other city in Metro Van is asking for it either. Regional money shouldn’t be used to fund a Surrey vanity project. The voters saw straight through Watts/Hepner’s plan.


    1. This is hardly a vanity project, I don’t think you know what that even means. You think translink and the mayors council would endorse a multi billion dollar project so the mayor of Surrey could feel good about themselves? These are elected officials, not oil Sultans. They’re trying to find a plan that will serve the city of Surrey, not get Langley Skytrain.

      Vanity is sending the most expensive transit system down to a region that isn’t prepared to handle it. LRT is a rational choice for South of the Fraser. At the very least transit to newton & guilford was be a smarter choice.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree 100 % with what you’re saying, the mayor if you call him that better due some fine digging and how he will take this all the way to Langley, as it will not occur due to cost

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 1. This is a great article, and the concepts presented as well thought out. What would have made the LRT concept exceptional and ‘possibly acceptable’ is if the LRT plan & the land-use plans envisioned for Guildford and Newton would have also included a referendum/consultation with Surrey Residents on transit. This consultation would have been part of an education and outreach campaign to Surrey Residents on all the points you have so eloquently laid out. Maybe there would have been a wider acceptance and buy-in of the vision you have presented, maybe. Contrary to that, what surrey first created is a massive opportunity cost. Surrey first knew that voters arent as sophisticated in their ‘visioning’ as urban planners. Voters want a solution now, not a vision that will take decades to actualize. You mention that skytrain will not be a reality until 2026. Well the vision you have presented, the excellent pictures of an urban, revitalized and economic/vibrant 104 and king george corridor will not be realized for decades. Surrey first knew this, and effectively they curbed transparency and essentially attempted to bypass and cheat the voter. However, the voter responded in kind at the polls. Now, sentiments aside:

    2. With any major infrastructure, whether it is utilities, roads, Information technology, transit…you begin by planning and developing its backbone. With roads, you have your highways & arterial road backbone that serves as your major routes, then you have collector and local roads feeding into those arterial and highways. With watermains or sewers, you have your local and distribution mains that then feed into your regional trunk mains. With IT, you’d begin with your high capacity fibre backbone and lower cappacity networks feeding into it. Similar to Berlin, in the centre of Berlin is its transit backbone and then a system of connected multimodal transportation networks. What you do in the infancy stages of your transit network is spending major project funds on developing the backbone, and spending much less (buses/b-lines/greenways) in developing the connections to that backbone (simple economics of transit). Once you have a backbone, you can more wisely mature your current transit nodes to more advanced ones that serve local nodes and achieves certain visions and goals in those nodes. While LRT may help in transforming, mobilizing, revitalizing and creating a vibrant urban centre (over decades), it’s business case (in this case) is far inferior to a much faster, safer, and separated transit network that acts as the backbone to future transit connections. Skytrain has much more direct and indirect benefits as far as mobility, ridership, safety, travel time, emmisions and climate change, curbing urban sprawl, driving the regional growth strategy and stimulating the regional economy. Regional major funding for transit projects should not be used in advancing economic growth in select urban centres in a municipality. It should be used in developing a transit backbone, improving access across the region and across the municipality, and advancing other strategic regional priorities. This is what has happened in every single lower mainland municipality that is currently served by rapid transit.

    3. After developing a regional backborne, there is provincial legislation that can then enable fast growing municipalities such as Surrey to develop their own transit authorities and then advance their own major local priorities. A local transit authority gives those municipalities the governance and power to be able to make decisions pertaining to transit, whilst being able to achieve economic growth and other visions/goals in those nodes. Translink is a branch of what started out as BC Transit. There are future plans of what may end up being a south of the fraser transit authority. But that doesn’t preclude the regional backbone that is owned, managed and governed by Translink. There is a process to get there and that will require transparency and engagement. This is how a transit network grows from infancy to maturity.


  6. The bottom line is that people don’t want a street car (LRT) running down the middle of the streets messing up traffic. 104th is absolutely the wrong place to do this. It needs to remain a 4 lane east/west major corridor. Buses handle the volume just fine. Car is king at this point in time. Maybe in 100 years things will be different. Surrey First tried to ram their vision through and got hammered for it. BTW, Surrey voters are very educated on the issues and not stupid as you imply.


    1. You think adding more buses on 104 will make your drive better? FYI, buses share the roads with cars. King George is already very congested at rush hour, adding on more buses on the road is counter intuitive. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy yielding to buses coming back to driving lane at every block.

      100th got an upgrade for a reason, there are other alternatives to 104. Why should you drive on a different route other than 104? So hundreds of others who take public transit can enjoy the convenience of LRT between guildford and surrey central without stopping and going with cars on the road.

      Regardless of LRT or skytrain. The transit connection between surrey central/guildford/newton with it’s own dedicated lanes should be a priority. The extension to Fleetwood and Langley does not make sense at this point in time.


  7. Excellent points. I agree with you on most points regarding the fraser highway corridor with regards to current land use and density. I still believe though that from a transit planning perspective, the business case is much stronger for skytrain along Fraser highway. But let’s just say for now that it would probably make a great debate i.e which corridor is more appropriate for rapid transit.

    However, there is a bit of historical context here. The disconnect between local politicians and their constituents regarding sky train vs lrt dates back to what happened in Richmond in 2003, and probably much earlier than that. It happened in coquitlam with the evergreen and in Vancouver as well. The debate has typically been that municipal council preferred a more locally integrative at grade light rail transit network while the community members wanted a faster, safer, proven and more connective option. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/98_B-Line

    I think with all the great points you have laid out, and the historic context in the region, it’s extremely important to ultimately respect the wishes of voters. Because alot of time and money ($50 million in this particular case, and let’s not talk about the same debate currenrly going on in Hamilton ontario), alot of it goes down the drain when regional authorities, local councils or subject matter experts impose their will against those of voters. That’s the lesson here. The voter as the taxpayer has the ultimate decision. That said, the voters in surrey do have to be mindful of the will of the remainder of the region in the form of the mayor’s council.

    With the historical context in mind, fast forward from 2003 to 2018, what a majority of voters south of the fraser have said is that they do not want to be disconnected from the region. They want faster access and mobility across the region. They want to get out of their vehicles. Students want to be able to get to ubc faster. They want a technology that would be safer and less disruptive, alot more than they want a technology that would integrate better with the city’s vision. I disagree that the media and local voter is not aware of the different routing of the proposed lrt vs skytrain. I think the common voter is more informed than you suggest. I think if there were exit polls, you’d see that alot of surrey residents who drive along 104th and king george quite adamantly opposed an at grade transit line. These residents possibly live in those very same neighborhoods. They went as far as preferring a different route all together. When a majority of them (upto 80%) are not in favour of an at grade system and when they wipe out an entire council, clearly there is a mandate that’s been set. And that mandate has to be respected, no matter what the experts or politicians say otherwise. Whilst these type of decisions on rapid transit are made at the mayors council, they absolutely have to be in line with the wishes of the majority of constituents most affected. And i believe thats how this will eventually play out.


  8. Great article. I do disagree with your analysis suggesting that Rapid Rail Transit (RRT) such as skytrain is overbuilt and is akin to having transit to nowhere (Langley is not a small city anymore, nor is Abbotsford where it will influence commuters to park in Langley and take transit to Surrey and Vancouver).

    As well, you indicated the land-use along the Fraser Hwy corridor is inappropriate to be served by skytrain, and cite examples of single detached homes (SDH’s) and townhouses. All other skytrain networks especially the Evergreen line are lined with SDHs and the purpose of the lines are to interconnect town centres, not drive development along the corridor (which you already know). So it’s not an appropriate claim to make against RRT. On the other hand, LRT tends to develop corridors, however, it will not develop the Fraser Hwy corridor any further along, either, as your very own examples indicate Fraser Hwy is lined by brand new SDH and townhomes, which will not be demolished anytime soon to construct small low rise apartments. Where RRT may at least develop hi rises in Fleetwood Town Centre and Claytown town centre, and densify the nodes, LRT in this case will not influence that level of development, despite costing almost the same as skytrain.

    I like LRT, but I don’t think it is appropriate for Fraser Hwy. I really think it had a chance of being successful for connecting Newton and Guildford to Central City. All cities need levels of transit, not just RRT and bus.


  9. Why didn’t they consider having an above grade sky train link from King George to Guildford Town centre? Think most Surrey residents would have been more acceptable to that.


    1. This would have made the most sense. I have lived in a city with LRT before, and everyttime a car hits a train it locks up street traffic for hours.


  10. Given the <40% voter turnout and the vote splitting by Surrey First
    54% vs McCallum 41%-hardly a runaway Citizens and mayors council need to know was it LRT or Crime or RCMP issues. Even the 41,000 With a low 32% turnout is not reflective of Surrey tax payers in the face of new found tax increases. Referendums needed on separate issues with price tags to the tax payers of Surrey

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Much better and more detailed than your last post on it, and the maps make a lot more sense now. I think you present your case much better this time. I still don’t agree on LRT, and I do think some of your points are a little overly-negative, but I respect your opinion.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s