Our most recent question, sent to mayor and council candidates in the City of Surrey, Township of Langley, and City of Langley, was the following:
For the portion of the Surrey-Langley rapid transit line running along Fraser Highway, do you believe LRT or Skytrain technology is best, and why?
Here are early responses. We welcome commentary from all candidates; we will continue to publish submissions as they come in.
Stacey Wakelin – Township of Langley (Independent)
The challenge with Skytrain would be cost—which one would assume would be between 2-3 billion. LRT needs to connect with Skytrain, etc to be most useful. This is a great question, with rapid development we need more transit options in the Langleys.
Vera LeFranc – City of Surrey (Surrey First)
Recently I responded to a constituent who wrote to let me know that they believe Skytrain should be the preferred technology to LRT. It is no secret that I support LRT, and it compelled me to put my thoughts to paper. The following is a refined version of that letter:
1. Housing affordability
We are in a crisis of housing affordability. Sky train stations cost $40M compared to about $3M for LRT. With LRT we will have about 19 stations. Why is this important? Development accelerates around stations, and if you notice the density around current stations is intense with towers as the main built form, small square footage, and high cost per square foot. Surrey is a city of families. More stations mean that the density will be more evenly distributed along the line, creating family friendly low rises along the line, and a mix of townhouse and single family homes moving away from the line. LRT builds the kind of city that we want to live in. LRT will create affordable housing within connected neighbourhoods.
I take Skytrain whenever I need to go to downtown Vancouver or to Metro Vancouver in Burnaby. I live on a frequent transit network so I’m able to walk from my home, catch a bus, and then take Skytrain. I’m able bodied, so I can access the Skytrain station. This is not true for those who are older, who have mobility challenges, or might have children and strollers. If you take Skytrain on a regular basis, you will note that often the escalators or elevators are out of service. In fact, during the Metrotown renovation, elevators were out of service for over a year and Granville Station will have the escalators out of service for 2 years! Imagine what that means for people with reduced mobility. LRT is incredibly seamless, with the ability to take strollers, wheelchairs and bicycles without negotiating stairs or elevators. In Phoenix I rode in a train car with one person in a wheelchair, two moms with strollers, and six bicycles hanging in the rack. LRT will create complete, connected and accessible neighbourhoods.
3. Local commutes
Most commutes in Surrey are within Surrey. About 46 per cent of our workers commute to other municipalities, which include New West, Langley, Delta, and yes, Vancouver. However, the further out you move, the lower the number of Vancouver bound commuters. Langley is endorsing LRT because fewer than 4 per cent of their citizens commute to Vancouver. They want LRT to ensure local commuter’s needs can be met.
Surrey is huge geographically, and can fit Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond within our borders. We envision a future when LRT connects every one of our city centres and where the vast majority of our residents are within a five minute walk to a frequent transit stop, and can navigate a system to get them from point A to point B within Surrey — whether they want to get from City Centre to Port Kells, or from South Surrey to Cloverdale. LRT will help us to achieve our goal of proximity to frequent transit by the majority of residents.
4. Support for local business
Skytrain flies over local business, making it difficult to access locally owned and operated retailers and restaurants. As previously mentioned, when development accelerates around Skytrain stations, real estate becomes very expensive, squeezing out the local retailers and restaurants. In order to compete with the high lease rates, you need to be a chain. In cities like Phoenix, LRT provides hop on and off which supports local business and increases economic opportunities for the people who live in their community. LRT will support a thriving local economy.
5. Stations as neighbourhood hubs
Skytrain stations are in themselves problematic. Not only are they inaccessible and incredibly expensive to build and operate, they also can be a magnet for crime. We have a vision of LRT stations that are community connectors, activated with significant public art that become points of neighbourhood pride and ownership. They will reflect the unique identities of the neighbourhoods that they serve. LRT Stations will create a sense of pride, place and points of connection.
6. Moving beyond the primacy of single occupancy vehicles
Skytrain seems to be the preferred mode for those who want to maintain the primacy of cars. By lifting skytrain above our streets we would leave room for vehicles to continue to use up road space. The argument is that LRT will cause collisions between vehicles and trains if the train is at grade. While there have definitely been instances of collisions of this sort, what we learned in Phoenix is that this happened in the beginning as drivers got used to the new road signals. We will do a better job, and learn from other communities how to implement seamlessly. As well, because there will be so few stations, residents will not be able to walk to the stations, and are far more likely to get into their cars. LRT will move people out of their cars and onto transit.
6. LRT is being embraced by cities around the world
Often I hear that LRT is second-best, i.e. “my cousin came from Calgary and took Skytrain and prefers it to the CTrain.” Many cities in the United States, Europe, China and Australia are either in the process of adopting this technology, or have adopted it and are expanding because not only is it working well, but the residents love it, and are riding it in record numbers. In Phoenix we heard from business, citizen groups and government that even those who adamantly opposed their LRT are now wholehearted fans. LRT is the best technology to achieve the city that we all want to live in.
So I believe that we do deserve LRT. It is better, more modern, more human scale, more adaptable, more accessible, builds neighbourhoods, is safer, and can connect us much more effectively than Skytrain. After years of study and community consultation, LRT is the technology of choice that has been endorsed by the Mayors Council, has received funding approval from both the Federal and Provincial Government, and will be built in Surrey.
Adam MacGillivray – City of Surrey (Proudly Surrey)
Thank you for including me in providing input from potential councillors for our plans on working with the federal and provincial governments to supply Surrey with this much needed upgrade to our transit infrastructure. Our first choice for the Fraser Highway expansion is Skytrain. It makes the most sense for that route and will be able to connect the most people in the fastest way to our neighbouring communities. In the end we will work to provide the best possible system for our residents.