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.
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.
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.
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 Plan – Currently 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.
In addition LRT would create 2 vibrant multi-modal transfer hub stations at Surrey Central and King George – integrated into new urban plazas.
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 HighwaySkyTrain extension would lack any vibrant multi-modal transfer hub stations centered on plazas. A missed opportunity for city building / urban revitalization.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, andthe project is now at the procurement stage with construction set to begin in 2019 and completion by 2024.
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.
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.