The most encouraging comment in response to the Province’s $14-billion transit vision comes from the Mayor of Surrey, Diane Watts:

“Once we know (the transit projects) are coming, the municipalities can plan their land use and make sure the densities are supportive.”

And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  The destination, not the trip; what you build, not how you move; the place, not the road.  The whole point of good transporation planning is complementary land-use and development strategies.
My criticism of Gateway was the message it sent: build around the car and truck; it’s the only realistic transport you’ll get.  And when congestion occurs, we’ll build you more roads and bridges. The Province was effectively locking in another generation to car-dependent urban form – what Chris Leinberger calls ‘drivable surburban.”  (More on that in the current Price Tags.) 
The Province’s transit plan is already being sliced and diced by critics, particularly for its absence of interurban rail south of the Fraser and the lack of guaranteed funds now and in the future from other jurisdictions.  But that misses the point: the government has captured the initiative, it has connected the dots between urban form, transportation and climate change.  It has made a convincing case that we can and will build our region around transit.  If we do it right, it may well turn out the much of Gateway’s road commitments was unnecessary
Importantly, there’s a substantial commitment to expanding the bus fleet, dedicating rights-of-way and quickly bringing in Rapidbus.  The lessons of Curitiba have finally made it north.  The Province has respected the bus as the work-horse of a good transit system, surprising those who thought it would, like most senior governments, have a rail obsession.
Sure, there will be more debate to come, particularly on local impacts and financial pressures.  But more powerful will be the consensus: we have the vision, the projects are identified, we can see how local areas connect to a regional strategy. Let’s move.
For those who fear that a downturn in the economy will see commitments drop away, I suspect that will be offset by the need to respond to climate change as a society and the need for transportation choice as the cost of oil and energy bite at the personal level.  In fact, I think you’ll see more projects added to the province’s list, particularly streetcars.
As a culture, we’re good at doing livable, dense, transit-supportive development.  In fact, we’ve been building more of it than the supportive transit.  Look at development in Port Moody, White Rock, Coquitlam, construction along the Millennium Line, and plans for station-areas on the Canada Line.   Unlike most places, which build the transit first and then hope for the development, we’ve done it the other way around.  Our problem has been too much success – too many people taking not enough transit.  Finally, we’ll be running faster to catch up to the social change that’s already occurred.


  1. diane watts also said that the devil is in the details.
    $14 billion is a lot of money and i wonder what the final amount will be and where it will come from. nevertheless, its an interesting and exciting start and i’m happy that there is some sort of plan being hashed out.

  2. Great essay, Gordon. What has frustrated me in is how quick everyone who is lobbying for better transit has been to downplay and critique this announcement.
    While it’s fine to worry about the details and the funding, it’s also beneficial to start considering the possibilities new and improved transit services will bring to many areas.

  3. I think the most beneficial thing about Premier Campbell’s pronouncement is simply the very substantial price sticker, $14 billion. I think that helps to put to rest the rather perverse contention that $4 billion for Gateway was somehow crowding out the available fund for transit.
    Now, will someone please tell me what kind of freeway system the GVRD could build for $14 billion? What if a fifteenth billion were then spent on express buses to move people in the HOV lanes on those freeways?
    The critical missing elements from the Campbell announcement is any expanded role for commuter rail. No additional West Coast Express trains, no faster times on those trains, and no new commuter trains for the areas south of the Fraser River. Think about what we could accomplish if a commuter train went down the Arbutus line, into Richmond, then into Delta through an expanded Deas Island tunnel, then on to Surrey, White Rock and Bellingham.

  4. Of that 14 billion, 2 billion is for the Canada Line. For the remainder, the province has committed only 4.75 billion. The rest must come from other sources: 3.1 billion from the federal government, 2.75 billion from TransLink, and 0.5 billion from local governments.

  5. $14 billion does seem greater than $4 billion, until you consider Gateway will be completed in the next 5 years, and the transit plan is spread over the next 12. In addition, of the $14 billion, only $11.1 billion is new money. And of that, the provincial government is only contributing %40, which gives us a grand total of $4.5 billion, spread over 12 years or under 400,000 per year. Keep in mind that last year, the provincial government spent over $1.6 billion on new road projects, and that’s before the Gateway project costs have been realized.

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