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?

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.

LRT showcase brings prototype train display to Surrey

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Numerous community and business leaders joined Mayor Linda Hepner today to launch an 8-week LRT showcase, offering residents a first glimpse at Surrey’s future LRT. As part of the showcase, a prototype LRT train car has been brought in from Europe and put on display in the Central City parking lot next to King George Blvd. It will remain there for the next couple of weeks before being relocated to Newton Town Centre, Guildford Town Centre, and finally the Surrey Canada Day celebration in Cloverdale.

The goal of the showcase is to give residents a first-hand look at what the urban-style LRT train will look like. Unlike high-floor commuter-type LRT trains like those in Calgary and Edmonton, Surrey’s LRT will be low-floored, similar to those found in many cities throughout Europe, and even Toronto. Despite being more integrated with the urban environment, the trains will nonetheless run on a dedicated right-of-way, apart from traffic, offering significant improvement over a bus – not only in speed, but also through more consistent/reliable schedules, frequency, capacity, boarding doors, and comfort. It is important to point out that the particular train car brought in for display is just a prototype, and the actual trains chosen for the Surrey line, will likely look a bit different.

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LRT was chosen as the mode of choice for rapid transit in Surrey following years of study that began as far back as 2010. Numerous options, and combinations were looked at including LRT, SkyTrain, and Bus Rapid Transit. The results found LRT to be the most cost effective system for Surrey – with 27km of LRT track (2 lines) able to be built for the same $2.2 billion price tag as 16km of SkyTrain (1 line). Surrey gets a more extensive rail transit network, better integrated with the community, creating more pedestrian-orientated streetscapes, with LRT. Further, operating costs for LRT were found to be $6 million cheaper annually, with negligible differences in travel times.

Since securing funding back in March, the first phase of Surrey’s LRT network – the Guildford-City Centre-Newton line – is now on track to begin construction by late 2019 and be in service by 2024.

For more on Surrey’s LRT project:
https://surreylightrail.ca

For a detailed look at the Surrey Rapid Transit Study:
https://surreylightrail.ca/Documents/Surrey_Rapid_Transit_Study_%20Alternatives_Analysis_Findings.pdf

For an infographic of the findings of the Rapid Transit Study:
https://surreylightrail.ca/Documents/surrey_rapid_transit_study_infographic.pdf

Surrey LRT a go-ahead with funding announcement

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The long-awaited first phase of Surrey’s LRT is a go-ahead, following today’s announcement of an agreement between the provincial government and the Mayor’s Council to fund the project. Billed as the largest transit and transportation investment in the history of the Metro Vancouver region, the plan will see:

  • Construction of the Surrey Guildford-Newton Light Rail (LRT)
  • Construction of Millennium Line Broadway Extension
  • Significant upgrade of existing Expo-Millennium Lines to expand capacity to meet and improve the customer experience
  • An 8% increase in bus service to address overcrowding, reduce wait times and bring bus services to communities with limited service
  • Improvements to sidewalks, bikeways, multi-use pathways and roadways

According to the media release, delivery of these projects will be funded by:

  • $1.6 billion in fare revenues expected from higher ridership resulting from service expansion in Phase Two, TransLink resources and efficiencies.
  • A 2% increase to all transit fares over two years beginning in 2020.
  • Parking lot sales tax increase of 15 cents per hour for an average $5 per hour parking.
  • $5.50 increase in property taxes per average household each year or about 46 cents a month, beginning in 2019.
  • About $300 to $600/unit increase to the Development Cost Charge on new residential developments depending on type of dwelling.
  • Revenue from a variety of transit-related commercial opportunities.

Construction by 2019 – Phase 1 Completion by 2024

While federal matching of the provincial funding still needs to be finalized, it is expected that the first phase of the Surrey LRT line between Guildford – City Centre – Newton will likely be under construction by late 2019, with completion by 2024. Not only will the project bring a new a rapid transit line to the South Fraser, it will also be a game-changer in how it will integrate with, and transform the neighbourhoods it passes through. In conjunction with the City Centre Plan and the Guildford-104 Avenue Plan, LRT corridors will be gradually transformed with 4-6-storey density along each route, with higher density mixed-use nodes at key intersections and throughout City Centre, Guildford Town Centre, and Newton Town Centre.

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Planned route of Phase 1 & 2 of the Surrey LRT network
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Conceptual rendering of a revitalized Newton Town Centre with LRT integration
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Conceptual rendering of King George Blvd in Newton with LRT, bike-lanes, and 4-6-storey urban density
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Conceptual rendering of LRT plaza integration at Newton Town Centre
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Conceptual rendering of LRT integration along a repurposed 104 Avenue corridor
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LRT integration on a pedestrianized City Parkway at Central Ave in City Centre

A new tier of rapid transit for Metro Vancouver

LRT will introduce a new layer of rapid transit service to Metro Vancouver that is complimentary to SkyTrain. It will serve as a more localized, finer-grained service, compared to SkyTrain which can be seen as more of a regional commuter train service. Tiered transit systems are common around the world, with various forms of rail combining to form an intricate and dynamic transit network. A good example of this is Berlin, Germany where there are 4 tiers of rail within its robust transit network. These include:

  • Regional Train (Comparable to WestCoast Express)
  • S-Bahn (Suburban service)
  • U-Bahn (Urban service – Comparable to SkyTrain)
  • MetroTram LRT (Fine-grained urban service)

All of these lines converge at hub stations, with each tier serving a specific purpose.

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Berlin rapid transit system featuring 4 tiers of rail – LRT lines shown in light grey

Example – Tiers of Rail Transit in Berlin

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Regional Train (Comparable to West Coast Express)
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S-Bahn – Suburban service (No comparison in Metro Vancouver)
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U-Bahn – Urban service (Comparable to SkyTrain)
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MetroTram (LRT) – Fine-grained urban service

Surrey LRT will bring the first fine-grained rail service to Metro Vancouver – appropriate for routes that are more localized, and less regional – such as the Guildford-City Centre-Newton line – but connecting to SkyTrain for regional commuter travel at hub stations. It is likely that we could see LRT build elsewhere in the region following Surrey, given its cost-effectiveness and appropriate scale for many other parts of the region.