SkyTrain to Fleetwood: Cut-short and short-sighted

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With yesterday’s Mayors Council vote in favour of finalizing the business case for the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain project, it is now certain that SkyTrain will be extended along Fraser Highway, but only as far as Fleetwood within the foreseeable future. As expected, the 1.65 billion in funding currently secured for rapid transit in Surrey will only allow for a 7km / 4 station extension of the Expo Line from King George Station to 166 Street, not to be in service until the end of 2025. With no funding secured, and no timeline in place for a phase 2 extension to Langley, it’s unlikely that SkyTrain will reach Langley before the 2030’s.

Given the decision to go ahead with SkyTrain on Fraser Highway, Surrey’s most urban corridors of 104 Ave and King George Blvd serving the 2 largest Town Centres of Guildford and Newton will likely now see no rapid transit for the next decade, due to the limited 3.55 billion funding envelope (with 1.9 billion yet to be secured) for rapid transit South of the Fraser. This funding envelope would have provided Surrey 27km of LRT across the city, including both the Guildford-City Centre-Newton ‘L’ line, and Fraser Hwy line to Langley. With SkyTrain, Surrey will just receive a single 16.5km line down Fraser Highway instead, along a corridor much more suburban in form, and with much less opportunity for land assembly to higher densities to support a SkyTrain line.

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While rapid transit to Langley is definitely a good thing, the reality of the line not likely reaching Langley until the 2030’s, while rapid transit elsewhere in Surrey is stalled, is very unfortunate when Surrey could have had a full 19-Stop (27km) LRT system across the City inclusive of Langley within the same timeframe as an 8-Stop (16.5km) SkyTrain line. LRT additionally would have transformed, urbanized, and distinguished Surrey in ways that SkyTrain will not. LRT and trams are common fixtures and symbols of inner urban cores in major cities around the world, of which Metro Vancouver currently lacks. Cities such as Berlin, with robust multi-tiered rail transit networks, are embarking on major expansions of their LRT networks, on top of their existing metro rail networks. LRT would have urbanized and distinguished Surrey as a city on its own, as an inner core of the region. With SkyTrain, Surrey remains similar to Burnaby, a by-pass suburb along the line to Vancouver. This is not to mention, the negative effects of SkyTrain on the streetscape – obtrusive overhead guideways that cast shadows, are noisy, unsightly, and ultimately very suburban in nature, compared to urbanized street-integrated LRT which can transform a city and its streetscapes.

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Eventual 8-Stop (16.5km) SkyTrain to Langley by 2030’s
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Cancelled 19-Stop (27km) LRT network that would have been completed within same time frame as SkyTrain

It’s hard to imagine rationalizing a 4-station SkyTrain extension to suburban Fleetwood over an 11-station LRT line servicing Surrey’s most urban corridors and largest Town Centres, but here we are. Ultimately once the line does reach Langley in the 2030’s it will help to move people through the region, benefit Surrey’s City Centre (although with less new stations), and those living near the line, but at the expense of what could have been a much more extensive rapid transit system, more urbanizing, distinguishing, and transformative for Surrey.

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

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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.

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Multi-Modal Transfer Hub Station at Surrey Central integrated into Plaza
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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.

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

Timeline?

  • 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.

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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.

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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?