LRT to SkyTrain not a simple ‘switch’

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With Doug McCallum’s win in last weekend’s election, Surrey appears to be in for change. Campaigning heavily on LRT and Safety, the topic of discussion now is whether he will deliver on his promise to ‘scrap’ LRT and ‘replace’ it with SkyTrain. It appears the majority of Surrey residents are in favour of this – fuelled by non-stop negative publicity of LRT in the media – but what does an LRT to SkyTrain ‘switch’ actually mean for Surrey? A few key implications to consider:

SkyTrain vs LRT – 2 different routes

A misconception that many who ‘voted’ for SkyTrain over LRT may have may have is that the proposed LRT will simply be ‘switched’ to SkyTrain. This is not the case – each would run along a different route. Let’s look at the difference:

LRT – City Centre-Newton-Guildford: The proposed ‘Phase 1’ LRT route – with secured funding and significant planning and design work already completed – is planned run from Guildford along 104 Avenue to City Centre, then south on King George Blvd to Newton. This is known as the ‘L’ Line or Surrey-Netwon-Guildford Line – serving Surrey’s most populated, and urban town centres.

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Phase 1 LRT route along 104 Ave & King George Blvd + future Phase 2 route to Langley

SkyTrain – Fraser Highway: Doug McCallum’s SkyTrain – which would need to be planned and designed from scratch – would provide no rapid transit to Guildford or Newton (Surrey’s most populated / urban town centres) – but instead be an extension of the existing Expo Line down Fraser Highway to Fleetwood, Cloverdale (Surrey’s least populated / urban town centres) and Langley.

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SkyTrain extension to Langley along Fraser Hwy through low density suburbs / ALR to Langley

The Land-Use Difference

LRT: The proposed ‘Phase 1’ LRT route would serve Surrey’s most established urban corridors with the highest densities – 104 Avenue and King George Blvd. Guildford Town Centre contains the regions 2nd largest shopping centre, numerous high-rises and offices. Further, the currently underway Guildford-104 Avenue Corridor Plan which is set to become adopted in 2019, has designated land all along 104 Avenue between City Centre and Guildford for increased urban densities appropriate for a rapid transit corridor. A similar plan is set to follow for the King George corridor between City Centre and Newton. Simply put – 104 Avenue and King George Blvd are the most appropriate corridors for initial rapid transit expansion in Surrey due to their already underway land-use planning for higher density, and their existing densities, land-use, and most urban character of Surrey’s corridors.

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Phase 1 LRT route along existing urban corridors with planned density
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Guildford – 104 Avenue Corridor Plan – urban density planned along LRT route

SkyTrain: Doug McCallum’s SkyTrain would run down Fraser Highway which currently has no land-use plans for significant urban density underway, and is currently of the lowest density and suburban of corridors in Surrey. The SkyTrain route would run through:

  • Green Timbers Forest for the first 2km of its route
  • the low density suburban neighbourhood of Fleetwood for the next 5km
  • ALR farm land for the next 2km
  • and finally low density suburban Clayton/Cloverdale and Langley for the remaining 6km of the route

This route would have the lowest densities of any SkyTrain corridor in the region – including significant stretches through forest and ALR farm land – unseen anywhere else on the SkyTrain system. SkyTrain along Fraser Highway would require significant land-use changes along Fraser Highway to justify it – including significant increases in density, high-rise towers, and transit-oriented development – similar to elsewhere along the SkyTrain network. This would require changes to the Official Community Plan (OCP) – ironically Doug McCallum campaigned against OCP amendments.

Simply put – this type of development is incompatible with the scale and character of the Fraser Highway corridor that is predominantly newer single family homes and townhomes. Many living along that corridor would surely object to such drastic land-use changes appropriate for a SkyTrain line.

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SkyTrain extension through low density suburbs / ALR with no planned urban density

From a land-use planning perspective – it makes the most sense to serve the highest density corridors and urban centres (104 Avenue – King George Blvd) with rapid transit prior to lower density corridors such as Fraser Highway. Instead, a SkyTrain extension over LRT would do the exact opposite of what makes sense. While it is important to provide a rapid transit link to Langley, and connect the communities of Fleetwood, Clayton/Cloverdale with regional rapid transit – from a land-use and planning perspective these areas are lower priority than Guildford and Newton – and Fraser Highway does not have density appropriate for SkyTrain. In an ideal world, Langley would be serviced by long-distance commuter rail such as all-day WestCoast Express – but realistically – LRT may be the best option for serving Langley down Fraser Highway as a Phase 2 project – given the density, scale, and character of that corridor.

Uncertain Timeline

LRT: Funding for the proposed ‘Phase 1’ LRT route is “in the mail” from the Federal and Provincial Governments. Significant planning, consultation work, and design has been underway for years, and the project is now at the procurement stage with construction set to begin in 2019 and completion by 2024.

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LRT scheduled to begin construction in 2019 – years of planning, consultation, design already complete.

SkyTrain: Doug McCallum claims that secured funding for LRT can simply be ‘switched’ to fund a SkyTrain extension to Langley instead of the Guildford Newton line. While this may be possible, as the funding doesn’t specify a type of rail – the fact is – no planning, consultation, or design work has been completed on a SkyTrain extension down Fraser Highway. The amount of time and additional resources that would need to go into a SkyTrain extension prior to its construction would not only delay the project for an unforeseen number of extra years – pushing completion of this line to the late 2020’s.

By that time, Phase 2 of the LRT is likely to be under construction – resulting in Surrey having 2 new rapid transit lines by the late 2020’s instead of just a single SkyTrain extension down low-density Fraser Hwy within the same time frame.

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While these reasons aren’t exhaustive in the debate – they are very key ones that have been surprisingly absent talking points. Surrey residents may not have been the best informed on the SkyTrain vs LRT debate thanks to the media – to make an educated decision that weighs more factors than just ‘speed of service’ and ‘glamour of SkyTrain vs LRT’ – but in the end it may not matter. The LRT project is likely too far along at this stage and with too much else to consider to simply be ‘switched’. It is being led by non-partisan land-use and transit planning experts in the Planning & Transportation Departments (not the former Mayor or Councillors as some may believe) – experts who should be leading such projects – rather than transit planning on a whim by politicians and voters.

Updated plans and station concepts unveiled for Surrey LRT

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The City of Surrey began a series of 3 open houses on Thursday for Phase 1 of the upcoming Surrey LRT project. This latest public engagement is the 3rd round of open houses on Phase 1 the project, providing refined plans based on public input from previous consultations. Presented at the open house were preliminary station designs, road designs, information on construction planning, environmental and socio-economic study results, and more. A full set of the Open House Boards can be found here.

Station Designs

Overall, stations are designed to be highly visible, well-lit, and well integrated into the community – accessible by well-marked pedestrian crossings providing universal accessibility for all riders. Lengthy platform shelters protect riders from weather, and include space for ATM’s, information boards, seating, and more – while maintaining a clear line of sight to the street and approaching trains. Stations will in most cases be located in the centre median of the street, with the exception of King George, Surrey Central and Newton Town Centre – where they will be plaza oriented, or off to the side. Public art will also be integrated into stations along the route.

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Roadway Design

LRT will run on its own dedicated track for the entirety of the line, with the exception of City Parkway where it will be integrated into a pedestrian plaza. Placement of the LRT track will vary – typically located in the centre median for most of the route, but off to the side in some sections.

Roadway design for 104 Avenue will consist of LRT in the centre median, and 1 traffic lane in each direction, widening to include an additional turning lane at major intersections. The 104 Avenue design will also provide upgraded and enhanced sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, and connections to stations. Currently 104 Avenue functions as a non-pedestrian friendly, busy arterial for cars. A re-purposed 104 Avenue with LRT will transform the street into a calmed, pedestrianized and transit-oriented corridor, supported by multi-family housing and streetfront shops along the route. The newly widened 100 Avenue and existing 108th Avenue corridors will become the new car-prioritized east-west routes between City Centre and Guildford while 104 Avenue will be the pedestrian/transit prioritized corridor.

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Roadway design for King George Blvd will retain 2 traffic lanes in each direction while allowing for LRT in the median for the majority of the route. Sections of King George in City Centre will see LRT routed off to one side. New separated bike lanes, enhanced sidewalks, and pedestrian crossings will also be a key component of the re-designed King George.

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Pedestrianized Plazas at Surrey Central & King George Stations

Taking inspiration from leading cities around the world, Surrey Central and King George Stations in City Centre are designed to be integrated into new pedestrianized public plazas. These plazas will help to create vibrant transfer points between LRT and SkyTrain’s expo line, similar to plaza’s found throughout Europe with multi-modal rail connections running through them. 

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Socio-Economic Study: Improved Travel Times

A key finding of the socio-economic study released at the open house, was the improvement in travel times that LRT will offer over the existing 96 B-Line bus service, as well as private automobile. Under Section 7.2 of the study it was found that the existing 96 B-Line service between Guilford-Newton currently takes 29 minutes under ideal conditions. During periods of congestion however, this trip can take longer than 50 minutes. Further, this travel time is expected to worsen as population grows. LRT is able to cut this travel time by up to half, taking a consistent 27-minutes every time, on opening day, and a decade later, due to its dedicated track. In addition to this, LRT offers faster service and improved experience due to:

  • More doors for boarding, significantly reducing stop times at stations, and travel times overall.
  • Nearly twice as frequent peak service as the existing 96 B-Line peak bus service.
  • A smoother, more comfortable ride than B-Line bus, with less stop and go.
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96 B-Line subject to traffic congestion – travel times between Guildford and Newton up to 50 mins during peak hours.

Integration with the Community

One of the key benefits of LRT is its integration with the community and streetscape compared to SkyTrain. While SkyTrain serves well as a long distance commuter rail service, LRT is better suited to more localized routes in the region – similar to other cities where there are various tiers of rail transit making up the regional transit network.  Not every line in a city needs to be the same type of rail transit – LRT, Subway, and Commuter Rail are often combined to compliment each other and serve different needs. The introduction of LRT to Metro Vancouver represents a maturing of our rail transit network into a multi-modal system, and it is very likely we will see LRT implemented elsewhere in the region following Surrey.

In Surrey, the 104 Avenue and King George Highway corridors that make up the ‘L’ line are much better suited to urban-style LRT than SkyTrain. Not only is this route more localized than regionally serving, but SkyTrain just doesn’t make sense from a cost perspective, and the impacts that such guideways would have on the streetscapes. Looking at a comparison between SkyTrain guideways in Richmond City Centre and Coquitlam City Centre, it is clear to see how much better LRT integrates with the streetscape and community it passes through, rather than bisecting it with an obtrusive, shadowing, and noisy concrete structure. LRT can transform a streetscape into an inviting, pedestrian friendly, vibrant urban environment – whereas SkyTrain does the opposite. 

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Impact of SkyTrain guideways on the urban environment/streetscape vs urban-style LRT

For more on Surrey LRT:

https://surreylightrail.ca

City seeks public input on Guildford Town Centre – 104 Avenue Plan

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The City of Surrey held a public open house last week on the in-progress, Guildford Town Centre – 104 Avenue Plan. The plan, which has been under study since last year, is seeking to define a vision and prepare a long-range land-use plan to guide future growth along the 104 Avenue Corridor and Guildford Town Centre areas.

Presented to the public at the open house last week were 2 land-use concept options, along with a proposed street network, bicycle and pedestrian network, and parks and open space concept.

Land-Use Concept Option 1: Focused Growth

Land-Use Concept Option 1 seeks to focus growth and density in key areas of the plan, such as along 104 Avenue and areas surrounding Guildford Town Centre. The plan envisions:

  • A continuous stretch of 6-storey mixed-use/apartments (Dark orange) along 104 Avenue
  • Mid to high-rise mixed-use (pink) at 104 Ave & 144 St.
  • Mid to high-rise along 104 Ave east of 148 St and to the north and east of Guildford Town Centre – with the tallest tower heights (purple) concentrated on the former Sears site.
  • 4-storey apartment areas (light orange) dispersed throughout the plan area
  • Townhouses (yellow) in a few areas
  • Single Family housing preserved in a number of areas, mostly west of 148 St.
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Land-Use Concept Option 1: Focused Growth

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Land-Use Concept Option 2: Dispersed Growth

Land-Use Concept Option 2, while very similar, seeks to disperse growth and densities over the plan area, with lower intensities of density, but increased density covering more area. This includes:

  • A wider continuous stretch of 6-storey mixed-use/apartments (Dark orange) along 104 Avenue
  • Mid to high-rise mixed-use (Pink) to the north and east of Guildford Town Centre.
  • 4-storey apartment areas (light orange) more widely dispersed throughout the plan area
  • Townhouses (yellow) more widely dispersed across the plan area
  • Slightly less preserved Single Family housing.
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Land-Use Concept Option 2: Dispersed Growth

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Proposed Street Network

The proposed street network adds a number of new local and collector streets to improve connectivity through a finer-grained network. One of these new collectors is the currently underway 105A Avenue connector project which will provide an alternate east-west route to 104 Avenue linking City Centre to Guildford. A long-range new street network is shown on the site of Guildford Town Shopping Centre – envisioning the future redevelopment of this mall into an urban district far into the future – similar to the vision for the Metropolis at Metrotown Shopping Centre site in Burnaby under the Metrotown Plan.

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Proposed Bike and Pedestrian Network

The proposed bike and pedestrian network creates a number of new multi-use paths and road-separated bike lanes improving connectivity throughout the plan area. Pedestrian and cycling crossings at busy intersections would be enhanced under the plan to improve safety and streetscape integration. Existing bike lanes would be upgraded to be physically separated from the road.

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Proposed Parks and Open Space

The proposed parks and open space plan illustrates how parks, habitat areas, and the city’s Green Infrastructure Network will be integrated into the plan area. A key feature of the plan is a ‘Green Loop’ pedestrian and cycling network stretching east-west with north-south connections – improving non-automobile connectivity in the area and connecting the many parks. In addition to existing parks shown in light green, many new parks are shown in dark green, including expansions to Hawthorne Park.

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Future Light Rail Transit (LRT)

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An integral part of the 104 Avenue – Guildford Town Centre Plan area will be the new LRT line linking City Centre to Guildford along 104 Avenue, and further south to Newton. This urban-style, low floor, LRT system will not just be a rapid transit line passing through the area, but a fully streetscape-integrated, centrepiece of the 104 Avenue corridor. Combined with a continuous 6-storey mixed-use density along 104 Avenue, the corridor will be transformed into a transit/pedestrian-oriented and prioritized streetscape, similar to precedents in Europe and elsewhere around the world. The LRT will support the densities along the the 104 Avenue Corridor, and integrate seamlessly into the community – unlike SkyTrain which bisects and has a negative visual and physical impact on the streetscape.

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To find out more about the Guildford Town Centre – 104 Avenue Plan, and participate in the public survey – visit:
http://www.surrey.ca/city-services/24723.aspx