Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves


with 11 comments

South Fraser Way Abbotsford, originally uploaded by Stephen Rees.

This image was taken in the early evening around 6:30. The rush is long past.

The mountains are, it goes without saying, magnificent. The urban fabric much less impressive. There is a lot more of this. And you need to bear in mind that it is supposed to look like this. It is not the result of unhindered private sector decision making. There is planning, a building code and zoning, traffic and transportation standards – and public sector parsimony. The wirescape is actually quite restrained – I have seen far worse, I am sad to say.

Note the number and size of parked vehicles. Most of the businesses in this part of town seem to be tire stores. I did not see any pedestrians – or cyclists, come to think of it – from the window of the White Spot where I had supper last night. The only walking is from car to front door. Though the intersection behind me did have a pedestrian push button.

This is not really suburb. It is a free standing town beyond the Vancouver region – though the main flow of commuting from here is to Langley and Surrey. Abbotsford did not want to be a commuter suburb for Vancouver so it opted out of West Coast Express – though it is quite a short run on existing CP track from Mission. Much attention now focusses on the old BCE Interurban line used by SRY for four short wayfreights a day.

Abbotsford has five freeway intersections – and spreads along Highway 1. You do not have to go very far north or south to find yourself back into countryside. And oddly familiar, too, since the roads are forced to acknowledge the topography. Unlike the wide, straight grid of arterials further west.

What will happen to this place as gas prices rise? The widening of the freeway stops at Langley, and there are no commitments to transit expansion either from the province – well not any time soon anyway.

There is a lot of talk about Abbotsford Airport too – as though somehow it is immune from the impact of rising aviation fuel costs.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 2, 2008 at 11:07 am

11 Responses

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  1. Abbotsford did not want to be a commuter suburb for Vancouver so it opted out of West Coast Express – though it is quite a short run on existing CP track from Mission.

    What’s the story behind this? I always thought there should be a link across from Mission on the existing tracks, but thought the issue was with use of the bridge.

    Ron C.

    May 2, 2008 at 2:42 pm

  2. That photo is a spitting image of Kunstler’s photo of a sprawling American mid-west city, only with auto food instead of fast food restaurants. Without the trees and mountains in the background, I could be convinced that it’s Fraser Highway or a section of Langley City given the ugly scars of autoshops. (There’s a cluster of them on Main St. in Vancouver between Terminal and 7th, and yet it retains its density and doesn’t look half as bad as our examples, so clearly, they can coexist.)

    My boyfriend works on airplanes at the Abbotsford Airport and says there’s enough oil to keep planes flying (for the foreseeable future anyway) but this discussion happened before gas hit $1.30/litre so he didn’t mention the cost. Boy, I gotta say, people in Europe have it good: they may have expensive gasoline relatively speaking but they can cross three continents without using a plane if they want to. I don’t know how widespread the passenger rail network is between the continents, but to go anywhere vastly different here is a long, long way that probably takes little advantage of rail.

    Erika Rathje

    May 2, 2008 at 10:59 pm

  3. Ron – that is all I know.

    Erika – Abbotsford does have a Main Street area further west closer to the former railway station. There has even been talk of a streetcar there. But you are right, this is replicated across North America. A lot of our development is funded by Wall Street and they have only 15 types of development they recognize (source: Chris Leinberger). The fast food restaurants are about a kilometre east on this road, where the strip malls are. White Spot seems to prefer free standing operations, and I much prefer table service and real plates with metal cutlery.

    I have done a number of cross country road trips, and it was usually impossible to tell where we were just by looking out of the motel window in the morning. The development off the freeway ramp is the same all across the US. It wasn’t here – as we used to try to keep that area free for later expansion. But recent use of MoT land to fund “improvements” has brought the same pattern here.

    I note that the auto generated link after the end of my post is to “roundabouts” – and Abbotsford has at least two on Mount Lehman Road near the freeway

    Stephen Rees

    May 3, 2008 at 8:47 am

  4. Skytrain should connect Abbotsford to Surrey and Vancouver and take many thousand cars off the freeway

    Abbotsford BC

    May 3, 2008 at 11:43 am

  5. You entitled to your opinion, Raj, and certainly transit options need to be expanded out to the Valley. The current provincial plan doesn’t even envisage extending SkyTrain into Langley, so at present you will have along wait for it to get further.

    Many people in the Valley think we should look at other, cheaper alternatives that will increase transportation choices in the near future, and using existing railways is the first place to look, even if they are not ideal. For connection to Vancouver a simple extension to West Coast Express is the easiest. But most people in Abbotsford commute to Langley and Surrey, not Vancouver. So this is what the InterRegional Transportation Select Committee is going to concentrate on. We have only had one meeting so far, but there will be more information coming out by the end of the summer, and I understand that Abbotsford City Council pout meeting minutes on their web page

    Stephen Rees

    May 3, 2008 at 11:54 am

  6. What would be the cost of extending SkyTrain to Abbotsford @ $100 million/km.? This is an important question for those who want to pursue SkyTrain. The long time Socred, Grace McCarthy promised if she were to lead the Social Credit Party, that SkyTrain would be built to Abbotsford.

    Where’s Gracie now? Where is the Social Credit Party?

    What schools and hospitals would you close to fund metro construction?

    Important questions that need to be answered before one invests in more SkyTrain.

    Malcolm J.

    May 3, 2008 at 6:34 pm

  7. I’ll equate Abbotsford with Hamilton – suitable for regular commuter service – even both way all day if demand warrants, but too far from Vancouver for rapid transit (subway, Skytrain, LRT).
    Now, in future, when Surrey grows, lines will feed into downtown Surrey (from Langley, etc.), but given the length of time it will take Surrey to grow and the distance even between Surrey and Abbotsford, I can just foresee a commuter service (i.e. DMU on the former BC Electric line) in the foreseeeable future.

    Ron C.

    May 4, 2008 at 4:27 pm

  8. Remember, Hamilton rejected Skytrain in the early 80’s.

    Malcolm J.

    May 4, 2008 at 7:17 pm

  9. You’re missing the point – I’m not talking technology, I’m talking frequency and manner of service.

    BTW – the GO ALRT project was more of a commuter train type service (or maybe a hybrid like BART), not a metro-like service. Station spacing was proposed to be 3km. Info available here:

    Ron C.

    May 5, 2008 at 12:00 pm

  10. A Little Recent History of Malls and Sprawl in the Central and Eastern Fraser Valley

    South Fraser Way is actually the former Fraser Highway (predecessor of Trans-Canada), along which Seven Oaks and West Oaks malls sprang up. The Eaton’s in downtown Chilliwack and Mission consolidated to the new Seven Oaks mall, along with Woodwards. The downtowns of both Chilliwack and Mission suffered, and but are slowly recovering. A mall near the freeway in Chilliwack popped up just before the ALR was instituted. In Chilliwack, a downtown restoration was attempted, along with a failed one way street system. The downtown Safeway store remains and a Save-On-Foods built, but the Woolworth’s, which became Woolco, has now been replaced with Liquidation World.

    Perhaps Eaton’s thought that people in Chilliwack and Mission would drive all the way to Abbotsford to shop, but Sears had a store built in the mall and scooped the former Eaton’s business.

    Yale Road East, the main drag in Chilliwack, looks similar to South Fraser Way. It is amazing how much of the business is related to the automotive industry – Cherry Ford, O’Connor Chrysler, Canadian Tire, Firestone Tire, gas stations, O’Connor R-V, Husky truck-stop. Yet, much of the banking, attorneys offices and even a Buckerfield’s feed store remained near the city centre.

    Passenger and Freight Rail on Southern Railway as Fuel Prices Climb

    The preamble above shows that private investment will follow on the heels of public transportation spending. The Gateway Project is a farce as you have tenaciously pointed out, Stephen. It is basically a sop to the trucking and road/asphalt construction industries. An alternative path to take would be to tax the rather parasitical trucking industry, as will logically be done in Europe: EU eyes pollution tolls for truckers, Would pollution taxes and restraint of the Gateway Project occur here? Doubtful.

    The truckers have long evaded the GVRD transit gas tax by purchasing fuel in the neighbouring Fraser Valley Regional District, so only tolls would work. The trucking industry is very powerful, and definitely have the ear of this government and particularly Falcon. The tolls on the Coquihalla have remained steady for years except for truckers who enjoyed their tolls cut in half soon after Falcon became minister.

    Currently the trucking and railway companies are aligned as part of the Gateway Council, but perhaps there is an opening to split Southern Railway off from this unholy alliance. In the past couple of years, railways have gained cargo at the expense of long-distance trucking, in spite of the massive subsidies that trucking firms get in the form of highway infrastructure compared to railways which pay land taxes in municipal areas. Southern Rail sees a business opportunity, as described in the Province: Southern Railway has big shipping ideas,

    The four daily trains of cargo on the Southern Railway should not be seen as an impediment to passenger rail, but rather an opportunity to share the benefits of efficient rail, grabbing freight from trucking, which should only be used in the most local of instances.


    May 5, 2008 at 12:40 pm

  11. Abbotsford is a commuter suburb of Vancouver. Not having a train is only a damaging effect and blind disregard for the environment and state of traffic.
    There needs to be a commuter train to the Fraser Valley that runs more frequently and daily to Vancouver. There are hundreds of examples in other cities of Canada, the US, and Europe, Abbotsford needs only to wake up and adopt the reality in which we live.


    October 24, 2008 at 7:43 am

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