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.

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