Stephen Rees's blog

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

South-of-Fraser communities push for light rail transit

with 15 comments

Vancouver Sun

It is very pleasing to see that our efforts over the past few months are beginning to get some attention. It will be really interesting if that lasts after the election – but then that’s just me being cynical.

Abbotsford council voted unanimously last week to support a citizens’ group report that called for a light rail demonstration project during the 2010 Olympics.

Now to correct the sloppiness of Doug Ward’s reporting. It wasn’t a “citizens group” but a an official Select Committee appointed by Council and with representation from the community, businesses, interested citizens, two of the several interest groups that have been formed to promote the idea and a couple of people from outside Abbotsford who know something about passenger railways.

The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce was represented on the Committee by Alvin Epp, who is now running for Mayor. And the council staff did a lot of work on a new “horseshoe” shaped development corridor which could support rapid transit and is entirely consistent with the OCP.

Epp, who was until recently president of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, said the provincial government “needs to understand that there is a whole movement in this region for light rail.”


Light rail is the key issue for Paul Hillsdon, an 18-year-old Surrey council candidate who estimates that TransLink could fund 43 kilometres of light rail for the amount of money it will cost to build the six-kilometre SkyTrain expansion.

“Light rail makes sense in the south Fraser region,” said Hillsdon, “because we don’t have the density for SkyTrain but we do have the density for light rail.”

Hillsdon, who intends to study planning at the University of B.C. next year, added that light rail could “transform Surrey from a suburban community into a real urban centre.”

Unfortunately Paul here demonstrates that he needs to do his planning course before making pronouncements like this. SkyTrain’s capacity – at least in the way it currently exists here now – is no different to many light rail systems: at one time its manufacturer used to refer to it as “Advanced Light Rail”. The main difference is that grade separated systems cost a lot more, make transfers from other modes less convenient but keep the trains out of the way of the traffic. So the result is often that, as bus service is cut to divert riders onto SkyTrain, there is more traffic on the streets, not less.

Recent studies showed the density of the developed parts of Surrey (when you take out the green bits where development is not allowed) is actually higher than the same type of land in Burnaby.  Burnaby has lots of SkyTrain because it is an NDP stronghold. Glen Clark decided to favour building a circular route that does very little for the region instead LRT for the whole of the T line, which would not only have made some sense, but actually been in keeping with the spirit of the LRSP, and was what BC Transit was actively planning for at the time of the Millennium Line announcement.

Paul Hillsdon’s facebook page reveals that he is a supporter of Gordon Campbell and has taken a somewhat regrettable stance on the Gateway project, saying it is going to be built anyway. Which if it does happen will ensure that not only Surrey but the whole of the area south of the Fraser will be locked into auto oriented sprawl for the foreseeable future.

And, by the way, Translink in its recent (February 2008) estimates for the costs of the yet to be built Evergreen Line says that SkyTrain is only marginally more expensive than Light Rail, which is breathtaking in its chutzpah.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 12, 2008 at 10:12 am

15 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. The NW LRT option is 11.2 km, has 12 stations and two tunnels. The NW ALRT is 10.9 km, has 8 stations and one tunnel. I wonder how much cheaper the LRT would have been if it followed the same alignment and cut 4 stations.


    November 12, 2008 at 11:10 am

  2. Haha come off it Stephen. It’s the media, he took the bad quote, and quite frankly that whole article was sloppily put together. I know all the thins you spoke of here – try explaining that in one sentence to a shitty reporter though. And I certainly don’t appreciate being talked down to like this.

    I’m not about to argue here with you either but please quit being so polarized. All you are doing is pushing away potential supporters. I mean, look how easily you all seemed to turn on me. Just ridiculous.


    November 12, 2008 at 11:34 am

  3. When talking to reporters who are looking for quotes you need to be very careful. Are you saying you were misquoted or quoted out of context?

    And you have expressed support for Gordon Campbell (whose policies now are very different to when he chaired the GVRD) and you did say that you were “neutral” on the Gateway. And that last, I am afraid, is a very divisive issue that you cannot afford to be “neutral” about. The potential impact on this region being all too predictable – and which both Campbell and Falcon have consistently misrepresented

    Stephen Rees

    November 12, 2008 at 12:32 pm

  4. “So the result is often that, as bus service is cut to divert riders onto SkyTrain, there is more traffic on the streets, not less.”

    You wouldn’t happen to know of any studies that support this claim, would you?


    November 12, 2008 at 12:36 pm

  5. In my view the main reason to complete the M-Line to Coquitlam as SkyTrain is to put all of the Regional Town Centres on an equal footing – all connected by mainline exclusive ROW rapid transit. Completion as SkyTrain will allow interlining and a one seat ride to/from Coquitlam from/to transfer points at Broadway/Commercial and Broadway-City Hall. Lower capacity non-exclusive ROW light rail can then feed into each of those Regional Town Centres (as was originally planned for Surrey Central and is planned likely for Richmond).

    Ron C.

    November 12, 2008 at 1:01 pm

  6. Corey

    It is not a “claim”. It is inevitable. The policy at Translink is not to run buses “in competition” with SkyTrain – which for the purposes of this discussion includes the Canada Line. When the new line opens a number of bus services will be cut back – most obviously the express services to South Delta, South Surrey and White Rock that use Highway #99 – and currently Granville St. When that happens there will be some road space freed up. Traffic expands to fill the space available.

    The most effective way to reduce traffic in towns is to increase transit service while at the same time reducing the amount of road space available to cars – both for movement and parking. This policy has been pursued successfully all over the world – and even in North America cities like New York have adopted this strategy. In downtown Manhattan, lanes have been taken away from motorised traffic on Broadway to allow for better pedestrian movement. Even Park Avenue has exclusive bus lanes.

    In Vancouver there is adamant resistance to every suggestion that space devoted to cars needs to be reduced. Yet until we do that, traffic congestion will continue. There are much better things that can be done with a 10 ft wide strip of tarmac than using it for single occupant motor vehicles.

    Stephen Rees

    November 12, 2008 at 2:44 pm

  7. Vancouver City Council refused to reduce the number of lanes on Cambie Street after Canada Line construction, even for a trial period.


    November 12, 2008 at 3:11 pm

  8. Ron

    If surface light rail is indeed going to come to Richmond, it can still be on an exclusive right of way – except for a short bit at the end of Railway Avenue which was redeveloped for housing.

    There will also be some CN right of way becoming available once they finish (re) building the link from Fraser Wharves to LaFarge.

    But I do not expect either to happen in my lifetime

    Stephen Rees

    November 12, 2008 at 4:26 pm

  9. After some lackluster results from the VAL automatic metro, French transit planners in the 90’s rethought how and why they build ‘rail’ transit. VAL (like SkyTrain) did not reduce congestion.

    With modern LRT (Le Tram), by building it on-street effectively reduced traffic capacity, in turn reducing congestion. This is know as the push pull theory of transit – the high quality LRT service ‘pulled’ new people to transit and by reducing auto capacity on city streets, some people were gently ‘pushed’ to transit.

    Because trams were much more cheaper to build that the automatic VAL system, one can build much more tram, servicing major destinations, further pulling people to transit and reducing auto capacity on more and more routes.

    It seems to be very successful.

    TransLink cascades as many buses onto the SkyTrain metro system, creating a very user-unfriendly situation that for many, taking the car is just a better way to go.

    Though TransLink can crow that 200,000 or more people use SkyTrain, 80% come from buses and I have yet to see any study done by TransLink that SkyTrain actually attracts the motorist from the car.

    RAV will be a case in point, will transit customers from south of the Fraser abandon their previous direct bus services, when they are forced onto the RAV Line. Will RAV take daily the 100,000 to 200,000 cars off the road as claimed by Campbell, Falcon, Sullivan, etc.

    If South of the River transit users abandon the bus for the car when the metro opens, RAV may very well increase congestion and pollution!

    Example: My wife commutes to a job at Granville at 6th Ave. and naturally takes the the 602, 603, or 604 express buses. When RAV opens and with two transfers, she will take the car.

    Do we have to relearn transit lessons that our European brethren have learn 20 to 30 years ago?

    Malcolm J.

    November 12, 2008 at 6:38 pm

  10. Oh I agree that it is inevitable, but I am trying to write a paper to that effect and am finding very few published sources to back it up.


    November 12, 2008 at 7:35 pm

  11. Sungsu, what was the rationale behind that decision? I find it unbelievable that they didn’t take the opportunity to put in “Copenhagen” style bike lanes, especially after TransLink is inviting guys like John Pucher to Vancouver.


    November 12, 2008 at 7:38 pm

  12. Stephen Rees

    November 12, 2008 at 7:54 pm

  13. Sungsu

    November 12, 2008 at 8:28 pm

  14. Just a note: Copenhagen has a two line automatic metro system but now is planning for light rail because of the high construction and operating costs of the automated metro system. Sound familiar?

    Malcolm J.

    November 13, 2008 at 10:26 am

  15. Sorry, I am doing some research for an American transit group and I have come upon this item regarding operating costs of automatic transit systems and LRT and it may prove interesting.

    Malcolm J.

    November 13, 2008 at 10:33 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: