Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Surrey

A Guest Post by Professor Patrick Condon

with 4 comments

To appear in the Tyee

Dear Surrey Mayor McCallum.

Congratulations on your recent return to the mayor’s office in my favorite city, Surrey BC. I read where you are wasting no time to capitalize on the mandate granted you (by the 41 percent of the 33 percent of eligible voters that voted you in) to throw out 10 years of transit planning by former and current officials throughout the region. You have successfully trashed their plan for a 10 km surface light rail serving your Gildford and Newton Town Centers in favour of a 4 km Expo line extension to – Fleetwood?

I know you said during the election that you could build Skytrain all the way to Langley City Centre down the Fraser HIghway for the same money as the light rail plan, but sadly Translink and the Mayor’s Council dont agree. They say that since Skytrain costs twice as much per km as surface light rail, the 1.65 billion already allocated will only get you through Green Timbers Park (not a lot of riders there!) to Fleetwood (I bet the owners of the Fleetwood Park strip mall are overjoyed!).

Premier Horgan and PM Trudeau have already said they are still happy to fund the original plan but will not give you one dime extra for the switch to SKytrain. Worse still, the Mayors Council just voted to make you pay back the 56 million already spent on the light rail proposal, which ironically is about the same cost as the Grandview Heights Community Centre and Library, project you scrapped for lack of funds. Wow. That’s what i call a pretty bad day for sure.

But fear not, I can help. What if I told you that there is a way to serve Scot Road, West Surrey, North Delta, Newton Town Center, Cloverdale and Langley City Centre by rail for way less than the cost of the 4 km “FLeetwood Skytrain Express” (as some wags are calling it).

Wait, it gets better! What if I told you that you could also be a hero to the folks in Abbotsford and Chilliwack by extending the line all the way out to serve them too, still for the same money!

Wait! It gets better still! After all that there would still be enough to put a tram line down King George Highway to Newton Town Centre andover to Guildford so you won’t have to pay back that 65 million!

Interested? Here’s how.

For 75 years BC Electric served the locations listed above along a track that is still in use. It’s the old BC Electric Interurban Line. It turns out that the line was never sold, only leased, to CP rail. The conditions of the lease call for the return of the line to the Province if ever passenger rail service were to restart.

Better still, the lease also stipulates that if the frequency of rail service is such that the rail must be double tracked, CP must pay the costs! What can be better than a free double track ROW?

What about vehicles? Well you could run catenary lines on the route for an electric train, but they cost a ton.

Fortunately there is a simpler and far cheaper solution. Alstom Corporation , a global transit company that now supplies transit vehicles to Ottawa and Toronto, just launched a hydrogen powered transit vehicle that can be had for less than the cost of a handful of skytrain cars. And here is maybe the best part. Hydrogen fuel is manufactured right at the BC Hydro facility in Surrey . So the project supports the growth of local green jobs for Surrey too!

The concerns you have voiced about LRT vehicles getting slowed down in traffic and adding to congestion (which are misplaced I would argue, but admittedly strongly felt by some) go away with this plan since the track is in its own ROW for the whole distance with very few at grade crossings. And at grade crossings can be controlled by crossing gates (as is done for hundreds of commuter rail and tram/train systems in North America) or by simply slowing down the train to obey signals as they do in Portland OR. for the MAX Line tram/train.

More good news. This plan has already been studied. The engineering and business case was developed not too long ago in the “Proposal for Rail for the Valley” by Leewood Projects of Surrey UK (yet another Surrey tie in!). They estimated that it would cost around .6 billion for track, vehicles, stations and catenary for a commuter rail tram/train system of over 90 km! A tiny fraction of the cost per km of SKytrain and a 100 year transportation solution for the entire South of Fraser urban region.

That study was conducted in 2010 so it will cost more now. But the study assumed catenary infrastructure not needed if you use hydrogen power and track reconstruction which may not be a cost borne by you (as mentioned above) so who knows, costs could be less.

Worst case, let’s say the cost is a cool billion. You still have $600 million left to play with. And if you want to get the other mayors off your back you could strip the bells and whistles out of the light rail proposal you hate (but the Board of Trade desperately wants) and do a Portland Oregon style tram to Guildford and Newton for less than 60 million per km.

Or maybe you can mollify the other mayors, the board of trade, and your local environmentalists with a hydrogen powered bus rapid transit to Newton and Guildford for even less.

In short, you have many ways to make Surrey the centre of a thriving metropolitan “South of Fraser Kingdom” rather than the dead end of the Vancouver Skytrain line (and get yourself out of what looks like a tight spot politically). Now that you have successfully blown up the whole regional transit plan I am sure you can see the benefits of grabbing this fantastic life preserver, and give Surrey and the whole South of Fraser region the futuristic transit it deserves.

Your humble servant and Surrey booster
Professor Patrick M. Condon.Screen Shot 2018-12-16 at 11.30.47 AM

Written by Stephen Rees

December 16, 2018 at 11:34 am

Election Impact on Transportation

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Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 3.16.55 PM

I got a call this morning from Global BC, inviting my opinions for their live cable news show which only goes to Shaw customers. So if you have some other way of getting tv, this will help fill the gap. Gordon Price was in the same coat closet sized “studio” ready to follow me, for another show and the same subject. While he was talking to me I heard the feed from Burnaby in my earpiece, where Keith Baldrey was playing down the likelihood of a Broadway Subway. He said that Christy Clark has no interest at all in funding a project for a constituency that had rejected her but would probably be very willing to help Surrey get LRT. Oddly, Gordon was pointing out almost simultaneously that former Mayor Diane Watts would be able to do some of the heavy lifting for the same project in Ottawa. So no wonder Linda Hepner seems so confident that she can deliver an LRT for Surrey by 2018.

What I had to say was that she seems to be implementing Plan B – what do we do if the referendum fails? – before Plan A had even been tried. Plan A requires agreement on the question – still to be decided – on how to fund the project list decided by the Mayors before the election. In order for any package to be acceptable there has to be something for everyone. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that if one project was seen to take precedence, that would be the death knell for any funding proposal that did not deliver for the rest of the region. The Mayors, under the guidance Greg Moore, re-elected Mayor of Port Coquitlam, have been acting very collegially up to now. Translink is not just a transit agency, so there would be some road projects for the parts of the region where transit cannot be a significant contributor for some time. And no-one was being allowed to play the “me first” card.

Actually, given the political cynicism  realism I was hearing from Baldrey and Price, perhaps this explains why Kirk LaPointe was so confident that he could deliver transit for Broadway better than Gregor Robertson. Peter Armstrong – who paid for much of the NPA campaign – must have given him some reason for believing that he would be favoured by the federal Conservatives (who featured so prominently in the revived NPA organization apparently) – and maybe even the province too.

It is very sad indeed that we cannot talk about how will build a sustainable region and meet the challenges of a world that will be sending us more people – whether we have plans to accommodate them or not. How we move to higher densities without upsetting existing residents, how more people can give up using their cars for every trip as things become more accessible and walkable, how transit becomes one of several better options than driving a single occupant car that is owned – not shared. How we have a region wide conversation on what needs to be done, and how we pay for that, in a way that satisfies a whole range of wants and needs across communities.

Worse, that is seems to be really easy to get funding for a major upgrade to a freeway interchange in North Vancouver when there seems to be no possibility of relieving overcrowding on the #99 B-Line. No doubt the new highway bridge between Richmond and Delta will still get precedence in provincial priorities. Once the Evergreen Line is finished there will be the usual protracted process before the next transit project starts moving and, as we saw with the Canada Line, perhaps expecting more than one major project at a time is over optimistic. The province also has to find a great deal of money for BC Ferries, since it seemed very easy to make a decision on the Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo route really quickly – without any clear source of additional financing for the identified structural upgrades its continuation demands.

If the fix is really in for Surrey, who is going to find the local contribution? Assume that the feds and province pick up a third each, can Surrey cover the rest alone? Is it likely that the other Mayors will vote for a package that gives the major capital spending preference to Surrey? And if not, and Surrey does find a way to that – a P3 is always a possibility – do Surrey transit riders and taxpayers pick up that tab? Who operates Surrey LRT and will it have the same fare system – or do the rest of us have to pay more for that?

No I couldn’t cover all of that in the time allotted to me. I spent longer getting down there and back than I did talking. But these ideas and the questions they raise seem worth discussion below.

Translink’s Surrey consultation

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This morning I attended a meeting with Translink – I think the first time they have invited me (personally) to anything in six years. They want to get the word out on line about their current consultation exercise and to do that they also invited Raul Pacheco, Rebecca Bollwit, Karen Quinn Fung and Carrie Saxifrage from the Vancouver Observer .

Curiously, someone organised a kids event today downtown. The Canada Line at 07:30 is already crowded: adding an additional load of 12 year olds – who also seemed to be highly caffeinated – made for an interesting ride.

The process, we learned, is already under way with the first workshop last night in Langley. Apparently 60 people came out and sat through a 3 hour process – open house, presentation and break out into tables – that simply looks at the scope of the possible projects to be evaluated. Translink does not want people to make a choice yet. They simply want confirmation that the range of routes and technologies is reasonable. They also think that people need to be educated about the differences between bus, BRT, LRT and what they now call “Rail Rapid Transit” but we know as SkyTrain. Or, as Malcolm would have it, mini-metro.

My first reaction is that getting 60 people out to a hotel in Langley to talk about transit is a considerable achievement. I shows how much has changed in the last fifteen years. That was the first time I had to run an open house in Langley for what was then BC Transit (I think). We mostly talked among ourselves then. I think in the course of three hours perhaps half a dozen people looked in – none stayed longer than 5 minutes. There is a great appetite now for transit in the South of the Fraser area that there was not then. To some extent promises of SkyTrain – and interest around the interurban – have played their part. As has a growing awareness that business is not going to be as usual in the future.

Of course regular readers of this blog will need no education on these topics. And have probably already been to the Translink web page to check out the information on line. Basically what they have are a variety of “hub and spoke” routes for higher quality transit and a range of four transit technologies. Oddly, “best bus” is illustrated with a #9 trolleybus – which fails to meet my definition of rapid transit. The illustration of BRT was also notably not a BLine – not even the former #98 (short length of) exclusive right of way on No 3 Road. There is also an “underlay” on the maps of bus routes – I think (but someone will doubtless correct me) the planned “frequent bus network”. I am not of the opinion that 15 minutes headway is necessarily the same thing as “frequent”  – but if it were clock face it might allow for what Translink wants – a service you do not need a schedule for. It does not show that these routes do not really form a grid – as they do in Vancouver  – but wander around looking for passengers to haul to a hub. Indeed, even “best bus” does not mean a grid service. So in terms of meeting the “many to many” origin/destination pattern of Surrey, no-one is suggesting Vancouver quality of service for Surrey.

The routes they are evaluating did not come out of thin air but previous exercises, notably the South of Fraser Transit Plan. So no surprises there. Do not look for any details like ridership or cost. Those, together with capacity data and environmental impacts will all be available “early 2011” when Translink presents its multiple account evaluation. That is when you get to state your preference. All they want to know now is have they got enough route and technology choices.

They are doing a concurrent study of the Broadway corridor and expect both to be ready for route and technology choice around the same time. That will then give them a chance to ask about priorities. They think they can also credibly ask if both should happen at once. I don’t.

I was a bit reluctant, I will admit, to go to this meeting, but it was nice to be asked. I am not sure that there is a great deal of value in the exercise, since the final choice of which route is chosen, and the technology will be made – as usual – by the Premier. Whoever that happens to be at the time. And, of course, Gordon Campbell is on record recently stating to UBCM that it will be SkyTrain extension to Langley. In reality of course, he may not still be premier by then. And even if he is, I would not believe that he can deliver both rapid transit to UBC and Langley at the same time. They said they would deliver the Evergreen Line and the Canada Line simultaneously too – and didn’t. But the folks at Translink – all new since my days – are fresh and full of enthusiasm, and happy to listen. So do go to a meeting near you if you have three hours with nothing better to do. Just don’t expect that it will make a lot of difference to the outcome. Whoever is in power in Victoria next time.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 15, 2010 at 10:34 am

Posted in transit

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Surrey rejects Bear Creek Park road

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Some good news for a change. A council that  listens.

City councillors in Surrey, B.C. voted against pushing a new four-lane road through Bear Creek Park, after several hundred opponents of the plan showed up at Monday night’s council meeting.

The vocal crowd filled the council chambers and spilled into the adjoining foyer, prompting Coun. Tom Gill to reflect on the public mood before the final vote.

One of the dispiriting things I posted not so long ago talked about how “the elites” have perfected their techniques for (mostly) ignoring public opinion. The only other recent success of this kind that I can recall was against a private power project on the Pitt River – also in a park. Even in Surrey where nearly everyone has to drive (transit mode share 4%) they love their parks.

On the other hand it has to be remarked that three councillors care nothing for the environment – and that you can never ever assume that just because a road has been defeated by the process that it will not keep coming back as a “new” proposal. This is only the fourth time this idea has been rejected – so even though it has been killed, does not mean that  it is dead.

The CBC does not make the connection between the need for this road and all the other road building going on in Surrey. The opening of the Golden Ears Bridge, the construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road and the widening of Highway #1 all contribute to the growth of traffic in that municipality.  The network within Surrey to collect and distribute trips from these major arteries will find itself under increasing stress – and the politicians under pressure from both the province and people who drive to “do something” about that. And the something will, inevitably, include more road capacity. This will of course fill up quickly, creating the never ending spiral. Road building has never ever solved traffic congestion for very long. But that does not stop it being proposed by those who stand to make a lot of money from it.

UPDATE – almost as soon as I posted this, and tweeted it, Miss604 picked up the same story from CTV – which adds this gem,

Hundreds of opposed residents turned out to protest the plans, but victory celebrations may be short lived. Instead of permanently scrapping Bear Creek plans altogether, the city decided to move in favour of public consultations.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 6, 2009 at 9:26 am

Posted in Traffic, Transportation

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Surrey mayor unveils radical economic development plan

with 7 comments

Vancouver Sun

What Dianne Watts has done is broken ranks. She has declared that Bridgeview and Surrey Central will be areas where major new projects won’t have to pay property taxes for three years. The Sun mostly quotes people who think this is a good idea. Only Derek Corrigan of Burnaby thinks it might not be so smart:

…Surrey might get a temporary advantage, but the move will pit municipalities against one another. He said his city already has some of the lowest development cost charges and has no plans to cut or defer them.

“We’ve been a popular place for development so we’re not in a position where we’re trying to encourage developers in what we see is a race to the bottom. It’s very discouraging,” he said.

Indeed, I could not have put it better myself. I have been in BC since 1994 and one of the first things they told me about when I got here was that municipalities would not try to take an advantage by offering this kind of deal to industry. Industrial development is the only land use that pays more in taxes than it costs in municipal services. Other kinds of development – especially residential – cost more to service than they bring in in new taxes. This kind of “beggar my neighbour” policy has been generally avoided. Because in the long run, no municipality gains from this approach – the developers simply pit the municipalities against each other. Moreover, once this competition starts there is nothing to stop a business packing up and leaving once its tax concessions run out and get them from some other municipality.  And there are plenty of places where that has happened. Mostly to the south of here.

Bridgeview is also the community where houses are being torn down to make way for the South Fraser Perimeter Road. As Bernadette “No Trucking Freeway” Keenan has noticed, this area really does not see any traffic congestion in the afternoon peak – usually the busiest time of day for most roads in the region.

Her comments can be heard at 2 minutes in to this video.

But of course the SFPR is not about traffic – or the needs of the truckers to get to the port – it is about turning residential land into industrial land. Just that zoning change will make money – as it has along the same route through North Delta, where the prize is even bigger since even more money  can be made if the land was formerly protected bog or farmland.

What Mayor Watts is tacitly admitting is that in these tough economic times, even ripping down houses and building a new four lane road is not enough to attract business. The premise of the SFPR is that growth is always good – and that land prices will always rise. But that ceased to be true around the middle of last year in this region – and about 18 months earlier than that in the US. Indeed, it is hard now to find financing for almost any kind of development since the people who used to fund this sort of thing are now bankrupt – or left holding all sorts of unpriceable paper “assets” and are hoping for yet more bailout funds. The first tranche of which has already been squandered by the  bankers on their own bonuses.

For the life of me I cannot understand why the Sun thinks it should be a business booster. There are plenty of people around like Maureen Enser who will do that. Surely the role of a newspaper should be to ask questions and try to look behind the smoke and mirrors? The Sun of course is not really a newspaper at all. You have to look elsewhere for examples of real journalistic standards. This story is, sadly, typical of their uncritical view “what benefits a business must be good for all of us” – which most of us with some experience of the world know is far from true.

“People who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” George Santayana

It is a sad day for Surrey – and the region as a whole – that we all now face yet another first hand learning experience that we could easily have avoided.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 12, 2009 at 9:22 pm

City of Surrey trying to halt radio orchestra’s swan song

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I have tried to keep my personal views about the deliberate sabotaging of culture here and on CBC Radio 2 off this blog. I have another one for that. But this article shows how Surrey is really leading the region. They understand that a real city is more than just real estate and property taxes.

“This is an opportunity looking us square in the face,” says Surrey Coun. Linda Hepner, who introduced the resolution. “Bringing the orchestra here marries nicely with the shift in direction that we’ve taken to develop our city centre core.”

Mayor Dianne Watts agrees.

“We’ve already crunched some of the numbers and we certainly think that bringing this orchestra to Surrey can be done,” she says.

The mayor explains that establishing a resident symphony orchestra fits hand-in-glove with Surrey’s larger plans to move city hall from its current hinterland location on Highway 10 to the emerging downtown core in Whalley, where the new Simon Fraser University campus, an increasing number of high-rise buildings and SkyTrain are located.

It is Surrey’s good fortune that Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan has been far too busy fighting off a challenge from Peter Ladner to notice what is happening to culture in his own city. And the idea of Surrey City Centre finally rising out of the disaster area that “Whalley” was when I got here ten years ago is very encouraging. And Surrey is, of course, much more a Central Place than downtown Vancouver geographically for the region as whole .   Surrey has been growing faster than Vancouver for some time, and it will be salutory for the people who have been overly confident that the downtown core will always be the centre to realize that the competition is real. There is more to a city than thin high expensive condos.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 25, 2008 at 8:09 am

Posted in Urban Planning

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Of Nice and Men

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Frances Bula, Vancouver Sun

A longish piece comparing the style of politics now prevalent in Surrey compared to Vancouver, and the extent to which the role of women can explain the differences.

What I looked for was some reference to Doug McCallum, the former Mayor of Surrey. That was missing. He treated politics as a kind of blood sport, but mostly he was an egotist. While he was Chair of Translink, every quote that appeared in the media about the organization had to have his name on it. And that was because how he ran Surrey. I suspect that when he was replaced almost any new leader would have been a welcome relief, especially someone who showed that they were prepared to listen sometimes.

The role of gender may be important, but a lot of women politicians that I have had to deal with climbed the slippery pole by fighting men and being better at it than them. The first generation of female world leaders were a pretty scary bunch – Mrs Thatcher (“the best man we’ve got”) Indira Ghandi and Golda Meir for instance. Hilary seems to be forged from the same metal. Yes, women are usually better at consensus building, but I think that probably reflects more recent socialisation, and possibly the influence of some feminist theorists, who rejected the notion that woman could only succeed if they used classic male techniques. But some places manage to organise themselves differently. Canada’s northern territories for example.

Anyway, well done Frances. A good piece which left me feeling I knew more when I finished it than when I started. It would be nice to see some competent politician in the Mayor’s office in Richmond too, but somehow I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 6, 2008 at 10:39 am

Posted in politics

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