The City of Surrey is ready to “speed up traffic”, reports the Surrey Now-Leader, in transportation news from the second-most populous city in Metro Vancouver (and the province).

Going into a civic election in October this year, Surrey council has decided that congestion is a noteworthy issue, and that the city can build its way out of congestion by widening roads and improving bridge interchanges. It’s called the Congestion Relief Strategy (2019 – 2023).

To be fair, there is mention of “complete streets” and bike lanes. But it comes along with potential widening of the roads that parallel the light rail lines, to maintain capacity on them.

Key outcomes of the strategy include:

  • 120 km of lanes added to the Surrey road network
  • 14 km of new protected cycle tracks and multi-use pathways
  • 13 intersections with capacity improvements
  • 9 km of road improvements, not included in the 10-year plan
  • 5 km of long term 10-YSP road projects advanced
  • 5 new/improved bridges/interchanges with Highway 99 in South Surrey (subject to an agreement with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure on cost-sharing)
  • Detectors installed to gather travel time data for better decision-making and enhanced real-time travel information for drivers.

All to the tune of $360M over the next 10 years.

It’s a great example of the thinking that suggests: “We will build our way out of traffic congestion”.  As in, another 120 km of car lanes, more and better bridges and interchanges, and that’ll fix congestion. Well, for a while at least. Until the new road capacity has enabled the next round of low-density car-oriented subdivisions and retail complexes, and the motordom merry-go-round takes another spin.

Not to mention the political prominence accorded to residents’ never-satisfied complaints about “congestion”.  Which covers for the totally unrealistic expectation that on any car trip, the car should rarely stop rolling.  A.K.A. “reducing travel time”.

It’s also a small-scale example of the consequences of sprawl, amid dozens of other consequences (thinking health problems due to inactivity). Larger-scale examples, right in front of our eyes, include several multi-billion dollar bridges, complete with massive freeways and interchanges. All to subsidize the car-dependent suburban lifestyle.  And this is just another lock-in.

On a crass political note, the spokesperson for this spending is current Surrey councillor Tom Gill, also now running for mayor in the fall election, along with (possibly) several other incumbents from council. Judging from social media and other low-level sources of voter sentiment, “congestion” is an ever-popular topic, and decisive action, with the attendant media halo, needs only an incumbent politician to promise “more and bigger and wider roads”. Oh yeah, and so what if it means spending a bunch of money.

As to alternatives — again, those few bike lanes and multi-use paths. But the interesting snippet is that roads parallel to the light rail lines are going to get some widening to ensure that them stinkin’ trains don’t interfere with motor vehicle capacity (see July 19, 2018 staff report HERE, page 4).  So it seems that light rail is a problem-causing impediment to real travellers.

To support Surrey-Newton-Guildford Light Rail Transit (“SNG-LRT”) a focus on improving parallel corridors to maintain mobility and circulation for all modes of transportation, and improving connections to the stations to attract and ensure accessibility for all users, is required. . . .  the Congestion Relief Strategy, 2019-2023 will investigate the technical and financial feasibility of widening 104 Avenue to 4-lanes along the entire length of the SNG-LRT alignment with potential inclusion in the Strategy.

It’s an interesting declaration of political stance and motordom focus.

Photo credit: City of Surrey.


  1. Does anyone know of some of the Surrey polls. I am curious if the anti tram pro skytrain politicians have a chance.

  2. It’s strange – on the one hand spending all this money to relieve congestion, and on the other, choosing LRT over Skytrain precisely because it will cause congestion…

    1. Surrey is of two minds about its transportation network: there’s downtown and there’s the rest of the city. They’re experimenting with the City Centre; foregoing the usual road capacity enhancement strategy in favour of an urban layout. From a traditional traffic engineering perspective, it’s been ‘written off’. However, they’re not as cavalier about the rest of their very large city. Drivers elsewhere still complain about traffic; elected officials take note and direct staff to do something that makes sense to them – build more roads. The fact that this has never worked – ever, anywhere – is no reason to think that this time’s not the charm. As with all things in Democracy, the people are ultimately to blame.

    2. “… precisely because it will cause congestion…”

      Really? Is that really what you think?

      Actually, it becomes more and more apparent that it is hard – very hard – to transition from a small town to a city. SkyTrain makes it easier to hold on to a small town mindset by allowing people to cling to their unimpeded road space for private motor vehicles. It’s a lot tougher to try to reign in the car by introducing surface mass transit and build on the notion of proximity to create better urban environments.

      It’s unfortunate than in our tragically car-dominated cities Surrey feels the need to to add road lanes for those that are lost to the LRT ROW. But that need not be permanent. Vancouver has proven that proximity reduces MV demand. This was first and foremost evident on the downtown peninsula where car use fell even as jobs and residential growth grew dramatically. And public transit through the core is horrible. Terrible. Slow. Painful.

      Yet we’ve been able to reduce road space (and parking space) to introduce separated bike lanes and parklets without creating any significant congestion for MVs. Perhaps when Surrey City Centre grows up they’ll be having similar discussions about how to reuse that additional road allowance for something better than motor vehicles.

      It’s true that improved public transit to downtown Vancouver (from elsewhere) is also responsible for some of the reduction in MV demand. And Surrey had that even before there was a Surrey City Centre. Downtown Vancouver had to wait until it was a relatively big city with an economy many time the size of SCC today. SCC already benefits from SkyTrain to the large workforce that can easily access the existing route. But they’ll evolve a better centre if they don’t allow SkyTrain to just bypass them so more people can sprawl to Langley. The relatively small and much less dense workforce beyond SCC doesn’t need SkyTrain. I think recent Surrey councils understands this.

  3. In truth, this will be the Congestion Promotion Strategy. Increased congestion is exactly what will happen when you provide generous amounts of expensive real estate for more and more cars. Just wait, in the mid-20s there will be another call to increase road space for the increased traffic. And on it goes.

    Surrey was very keen to strongly promote LRT over “unaffordable” SkyTrain. With 120 km of additional road lanes parallel to the LRT routes, no less, they are also very keen to keep people in their cars and off the trains. Do they even understand how they are dooming their local experiment with rail transit (the majority of the funding from outside of Surrey) to failure?

    Lastly, many people promote LRT because of the rather nebulous claim that human-scaled Euro-urbanism automatically follows. How on earth is that even possible now with the leading urban form being more asphalt urbanism?

    Maybe Alberta really should cut of oil to BC to indicate just how stupid car dependency really is.

      1. They’re predicting MV traffic in 2040!

        22 years from now.

        Maybe they should talk to Vancouver traffic engineers and urban planners and find out how they got MV traffic to go down as population and jobs went up.

        1. And said Vancouver engineers/planners will tell them to scrap light rail in favour of bike lanes, B-Lines and SkyTrain. Possibly streetcars in mixed traffic, if they ask the NEFC team.

          Rapid transit projects are meant to last as long as next century. A 22-year projection is the least they could do as good engineers.
          If it’s a short-term solution we’re looking for, let’s increase B-Line service to 3-5 minutes at rush hour, on-par with the 99. At 55,700 riders daily per line, that’ll meet light rail’s ridership projections beyond 2030 for a fraction of the cost… and if you take some of that saved money and run a line to Coquitlam, White Rock, et all, much more service.

        2. Location, location, location! The reason City of Vancouver can cut traffic while growing pop and jobs is because new and existing residents are closer to the biggest job and service centre in the region (in fact west of downtown Toronto). Proximity to employment centre is the biggest determinant of transportation mode and total driving distances. City of Van residents benefit from a local and regional work force plugging up its roads and pushing them onto a range of good transportation choices.

      2. Skytrain, subway, the Jetson pneumatic tube won’t cut congestion in Surrey (or anywhere) when most growth is happening beyond the rapid transit corridors. LRT can play a HUGE role cutting congestion if growth is re-allocated and goes into these corridors, and gold plated transit infrastructure is not outpaced by a platinum plated road network.

        1. Ah, the endless ridership/coverage argument:

          It’s true that SkyTrain leans toward the “ridership” side of the equation, but don’t think that light rail is on the “coverage” side – most of the time, it’s just really bad at both.
          That’s where an improved bus network comes in. Surrey should really be aiming to improve their lousy service up to a B-Line every five minutes (for non-SkyTrain corridors) and a trolley every ten. Just as much service and coverage as Surrey First’s pipe dream, but without the $24B tag attached to it.

  4. So how many pedestrians are going to get killed while attempting to cross the wider roads. King George Blvd is already a (paved) killing field.

  5. If you look at some of the details, you’ll see that some of the road widenings are to 4 or 5 lanes.

    Those roads would have fewer lanes than many major Vancouver arterials such as Granville, Oak and Knight. Cambie and Main have been narrowed to 4 lanes in places – but amount to 5 lanes with turning lanes at major intersections.

    New and Advanced Projects
    The new and advanced projects in the proposed strategy include:

    72 Ave widening to 5 lanes – 144 St to 152 St

    80 Ave widening to 5 lanes – 172 St to 188 St (preload)

    132 St widening to 4 lanes – 72 Ave to 96 Ave

    Advanced from long-term
    80 Ave widening to 5 lanes – 122 St to 128 St

    Advanced from long term
    160 St widening – Fraser Highway to 96 Ave

  6. Surrey envisions 140 km of LRT in the long term.

    I am surprised that only 14km of separated bike lanes are planned with all that expansion. Lately Surrey has been building separated lanes with all of their widening projects, even outside of the City Centre:
    – Bridgeview Drive from King George to Hwy 17
    – 100 Ave from 140 St to 148 St (Phase 1) completed
    – 100 Ave from King George to 140 St (Phase 2) in progress
    – 80 Ave from 128 St to 132 St

  7. Actually if you read the actual report and know Surrey at all, you will see there is not much here to wag fingers at. Calling it a Congestion Relief Strategy is an unfortunate name, but likely one chosen to score a quick win with electorate who are distressed over the big fuss being made about LRT. A more apt name would be a strategy about modernizing Surrey’s road network. Most of these projects in the report are to finish off improvements made to sections of those various thoroughfares that have already gradually occurred in the past 20 years in order to bring all stretches up to the entire corridor to the same standard. Many of these streets are 4 lanes or 5 with a turning lane and median and bike lane and sidewalk, then drop back down to a two lane road which may or may not have gravel shoulders or sidewalks. Really these measures are to continue the upgrade of older suburban/rural streets to upgrade them to modern standards to support the increased densities being built in these neigbourhoods. If you want to get a good look at why, go drive down 192 St between Port Kells and Clayton to see how radical the change in the form of these neigbhourhoods is.

    There is actually precious little in the report about streets on proposed LRT routes. The real contentious corridor is 104th Avenue where a current 4 lane road will be dropped down to 2 for LRT. Its a busy road. Its like taking any major 4-lane Vancouver thoroughfare and cutting out two lanes for a train. Its not going to be popular. For 104th, there really is only promises to eventually restore it to 4 lanes as development occurs along 104th. That will take some time and there are no funds dedicated here to actually do it.

    Surrey is growing up from a not very dense bedroom community to a big city in a hurry. The transformation is astonishing. What’s more the development blend is more than just condos! There is far more affordable medium density family oriented housing going up in Surrey than in Vancouver. The number of families being put into these neighbourhoods is impressive.

    I think Surrey deserves a lot more credit than it gets. The LRT vision is bold. Surrey wants to be a big city in its own right. It wants to support the mix of work, live and play within its borders that makes it a more sustainable choice. This is the heart of the battle of SkyTrain vs LRT. SkyTrain would see Surrey continue to be relegated to its status as a bedroom community that provides affordable places to live but feeds an economic monster far away. Having people travel ever farther distances to get to work is not sustainable no matter what the mode. Surrey needs to build itself as a complete community and that is what LRT is best at doing. Unfortunately when Vancouver’s real estate market become permanently torched for affordability for the average person, the side effect necessitates that Surrey has to become the economic engine of this region over the long term. People have to live close to where they work. Having large number of commuters travelling long distances to get to work creates a huge infrastructure burden whether it be by car or transit. I think Surrey is doing its best to position itself to try and take that role.

    1. Let’s not confuse cause and effect. SkyTrain is just a transportation method; it’s as capable as trams or buses or bikes or sidewalks of drawing passengers to an area, or shooting them off to another. Some intermediate stations like Nanaimo remain suburban sprawl because Vision fears the NIMBYs, yet other stations like Metrotown or Lougheed or Oakridge are turning into regional centres; what really matters is how city planners and politicians decide to reshape and rezone that chunk of the city.

      If Surrey First wants a complete community, absolutely… but then it’s mostly up to them with their zoning powers to make it happen. TransLink just gives them transportation options. Believing that a certain technology will create a car-free utopia all by itself is fantastical thinking.
      In fact, looking at other North American cities that adopted light rail, it’s a lot less about lofty ideals and more about attracting developers.

      1. The video references streetcar projects. Typically they are smaller scale and used more as a smaller scale means to get around a community with capacity more akin to a bus. The bulk of the new projects in the US are not intended to be the main mode of public transportation or connect far afield communities.

        Light rail is the step between that and metro or Subway systems. Surrey LRT will be much bigger in scale than the streetcar projects cited.

        That said what you say about zoning is true. Light rail however does better integrate with more pedestrian friendly development than the concrete jungle of skyscrapers that SkyTrain develops. It’s hard to build certain types of development where massive concrete columns and large station structures are a design elements that have to be accommodated.

        Too much discourse has gone into SkyTrain vs LRT trying to prove one better than another. Both have their benefits and drawbacks. Both fit into some development forms better than others.

        It is true that LRT is not a panacea in and of itself. It’s part of a whole suite of measures that are required to build a complete community. SkyTrain isn’t magic in and of itself either. Both forms of rail transit however will have an effect on a community and those affects are different.

        The pro auto crowd loves SkyTrain as it involves no sacrifice in road space and stays out of the motorist’s way. It’s the singular reason why LRT always struggles because the pro auto lobby starts it’s fear mongering campaign and we always seem to inevitably cave in.

        1. The line between LRT and streetcars is pretty blurry. Some streetcars have bigger cars, medians and/or signal priority, some LRVs have to wait at lights. At any rate, TransLink and Surrey’s studies have both found the best they can do is a two-car 60m train (400 riders each) every five minutes; any more leads to disruption for not just drivers, but for bikers, pedestrians and the LRT itself. So the Newton-Guildford and Langley routes would have a combined capacity of 4,800 pphpd, putting each on par with Toronto’s streetcars. Which also include light rail features such as partial signal priority and ROWs, as well as having parallel subway lines.
          Of the LRTs that have an actual difference in speed/capacity/reliability over other surface transit, they all feature partial or complete grade-separation, like a light metro (Confederation Line, Eglinton-Crosstown, etc); technically, SkyTrain’s official name is “ALRT!”

          Two problems with that integration argument. One, that SkyTrain only “creates” towers, never townhomes or low/midrises – Olympic Village and the Cambie Corridor Phase 3 plan beg to differ.
          Two, that Surrey First’s ambitions involve mostly people-scale redevelopment. Hell no:
          ^ If that Metrotown wannabe comes to pass, they’ll need a whole lot more than just tram lines. If it doesn’t, then all they need is Broadway-level bus capacity – really, compared to the 99, the 96’s current 7-8 minute peak headways are kind of a joke.

          It’s true that SkyTrain isn’t some kind of magic bullet either, but it IS good at its stated job. Transit users like it for the same reasons drivers do – it takes rapid transit straight off the road and onto its own car-free space, with no intersections, traffic or speed limits whatsoever.
          Conversely, everything that LRT does can be done by a B-Line, and for a fraction of the price and disruption. And when the B-Line starts overflowing, it’s usually time for a SkyTrain. New tram lines really only make sense when there’s a preexisting ROW like an ex-railway (so it’s as cheap as the bus, but larger and faster) and/or a metro rail backbone to do most of the work (so it’s just carrying the runoff). Unlike Arbutus or the downtown core, Surrey First’s plan would have neither, hence the controversy.

          1. I would accept that a “bar-bell” like relationship between Surrey and Vancouver is the likely and best course for the region. Two urban centres that feed off each other in different ways ideally in a synergistic fashion. You seem to infer however that there is no room for LRT period. It’s either buses or SkyTrain and LRT has no role in the middle. To that I disagree. LRT can practically carry more than buses and serve that in between role better. The incidences you cite with Olympic Village and Cambie Corridor deal with underground stations. Yes, when the line is buried and the station is underground the development potential up top is open to whatever one desires. Unfortunately building a subway is the most expensive form of rail transit there is. In a perfect world everything would be in a subway out of sight and out of mind. Perhaps Hyperloop will save us. Until then we have to deal with the varying shades of gray.

            I will also grant you that grade separation will speed up travel time for both train and auto. It also drives up the cost of the project and reinforces the notion that there shall be no loss of auto capacity or travel time at all to make way for transit. It’s the classic auto centric planning approach. Let’s not inconvenience any motorist by the notion of public transit. Unfortunately that is a reality that must be contended with because most voters drive cars and all transit is approved by politicians beholden to those who elect them. It’s the same logic that allows the Koch brothers such success in curbing transit expansion across the US.


            The reality is that SkyTrain can really only adequately serve one corridor in Surrey and that is Fraser Hwy. To do more than that would require forking the line to two or more different directions with the requisite hit on headways if we want to maintain a system that does not force transfers. To do so would erode the efficiency of SkyTrain significantly. Surrey is a large city with a lot of space to cover. There is no way that SkyTrain can serve it all. Serving one single corridor will not do. While we would all like to have a mode with no drawbacks to the motorist cover every corridor it is not financially feasible. In comes LRT to fill the gap. While still not cheap, it can go a lot further to cover more distance for less.

            I’ll grant you one more concession though. Should SkyTrain stop at King George? I’ve always argued it should go further into the heart of Surrey but not all the way to Langley. Going to Langley takes the system to BART like proportions, but the system was never designed to cover those sorts of distances. Ideally I’d see the Expo Line extend to about 160 St and stop there with a LRT system supporting it in all directions beyond that. The SNG line would extend down 104th east to 160th and then south to Fraser Hwy to meet an Expo Line Fleetwood terminus and then go east to Langley from there. If Langley wants a higher speed service to the core, putting LRT on the 555 route along Hwy 1 to Lougheeed would be the better bet to get people to the core more quickly. Those HOV lanes are supposed to be able to carry LRT after all…or so the MoT always says.

            The problem with SkyTrain is an identity crisis. Is it a long distance commuter railway or an urban metro system? Truth is it’s in-between. It is not and should not be the system that takes us to Maple Ridge, Langley….or Abbotsford, Mission or Chilliwack. It has to have its limits somewhere. Nobody is stepping up to say what those limits are. LRT has more flexibility to adapt to be he chameleon it needs to be. It can be that high density system on short headways with everything grade separated and out of the way and it can also be the pedestrian and urban form friendly system that integrates well into the community on more limited headways. It can be what you need it to be where appropriate. SkyTrain plays one note well, but it only plays that one note. We’re entering an era where more than one note or style has to be played to provide effective overall network coverage across the region. SkyTrain is an answer but it’s not the only answer. LRT is far more adaptable to bet what it needs to be given the urban environment it happens to be operating through. It’s a mode that we need to give a chance to at some point in time. SkyTrain is not and can not be the only rail based answer for our region.

          2. Actually John, we agree on that entirely – light rail fills a niche heavier than B-Lines, but lighter than metros. What I’m trying to say is that said niche is pretty minimal here: in terms of cost-benefit/speed/ridership, tram>B-Line isn’t as clear an advantage as metro>tram. And that once our B-Lines start maxing out, demand tends to shoot straight up to “we need a metro yesterday,” completely bypassing the middle.

            So LRT would work where A) surface rail’s as cheap to implement as buses, B) future usage plateaus at 3k-5k pphpd for the next 30-50 years, or C) the corridor can handle 6k+ without messing up the street (pedestrians, buses and bikers included). Again, old ROWs satisfy A and C just fine, and streets beside a metro or side arterials satisfy B; however, for main arterials, A and B are non-starters, and C would requires grade separation for most of the route. At that point, it’s no cheaper than SkyTrain (plus it needs drivers).

            Applied to Surrey: light rail would be great on the interurban, greenways, and streets like 72nd/88th/120th in the far future (B-Lines in the interim), but Langley’s got to be SkyTrain, even if that means we short-turn some trains at Fleetwood for now.
            Indeed, a triple-branched Expo makes no sense, so Newton-Guildford would be a separate line perpendicular to the Expo. IDC if that one’s LRT or RRT, so long as it tunnels through Whalley/Guildford for high capacity and can connect to White Rock in the future (maybe Coquitlam?). Surrey First’s approved design has neither – doesn’t even have crossing barriers, or a completely straight alignment:

            Nah, Hyperloop’s a pipe dream. I do hope Musk’s Boring Company finds a way to make tunnels cheaper; otherwise, he really should stick to space colonies and solar-powered cars and useless Thai rescue subs.

            The thing about the States is that federal funding comes in the form of a $1-2B “use it or lose it” grant; no way to save up for a metro, few ways for a city/state to earn the funds on their own.
            Canada in general lacks that problem. And I doubt the BC Liberals or CTF cared how expensive light rail vs SkyTrain was back in 2014 – practically anything that’s spent on transit over roads is a “waste of money” to them.

            You’re right in that SkyTrain can’t seem to figure out if it’s a U-Bahn or an S-Bahn. I don’t see that as a problem though: there’s still time to build new RT lines before ours reach peak capacity, and there’s often room for a new commuter rail line shadowing them that solves the “local/express subway” problem.
            Again, light rail does have a place, but as a semi-express feeder. It doesn’t have the speed or capacity to be a backbone like the one Surrey wants.

          3. For your Point A, I would argue that there are very few places in the world where LRT is as cheap to implement as buses….even in places where LRT is an unabashed success. If we’re talking about electric trolley buses on dedicated rights of way with traffic signal priority, then perhaps we get closer. Also depends what you mean by implement. Operating costs can be comparable for sure. Capital costs are another thing. Rail will always cost more than a road network that is subsidized by the public at large without question or link to cost. This gets to assumption B.

            For B, LRT can achieve capacities in excess of 10,000 pphpd on 5 minute headways. The trains have to be long enough of course. Generally 5 minutes is considered the limit where tend to be overly disruptive to traffic. Sub 5 minutes you need to look at grade separation more and more. Of course the heart of all this comes down to ridership estimates.

            The heart of all these projects is indeed the ridership estimates. The scary thing is that these estimates tend to be more art than science. Interestingly enough, future development potential is not allowed to be included in future ridership estimates. The ridership estimates for Surrey LRT show that the proposed capacities are enough to satisfy demand out to 2045 and beyond. Is there sufficient rigour around the development of these ridership estimates? I don’t know…but then again how much rigour can you put into the practice of gazing into a crystal ball? There are those out there that say that the current ridership estimates for Surrey LRT are wildly inflated while others saying they are too conservative. Do we need better rigour and transparency with how these ridership estimate are come up with? I’d say yes and would think we’d both agree. These estimates are truly at the heart of the decision on what gets built. If somebody came up with a credible number that showed that the Newton to Whalley to Guildford stretch needed 15k pphpd in 20 years, then we’d all agree LRT is a non starter. That’s not what the numbers show.

            For C, can the corridor accept LRT without messing up the street? For King George I would say yes. There should be no loss of travel lanes and it is sufficiently wide. For 104th….well that is the contentious bit. Surrey in attempting to compensate however by building the new 105th Ave connector as well as converting 100 Ave to 4 lanes. It is anticipated that once people get used to new travel options, they will figure other ways around the problem area. Fraser Hwy should also not suffer any loss of capacity with LRT.

            What about intersections? That depends on how well the train’s signalling system and the traffic signalling system is integrated. Surrey LRT will not be like Calgary and Edmonton where the train is given unconditional priority where the world must stop and the train must pass through without slowing an iota. For Surrey LRT the train will have priority in that most of the time it will get the preferred signal without delay although it may need to slow a bit. This difference between the two protocols gives the traffic signal system much greater flexibility to regulate traffic flows for what is proposed in Surrey than you see in Calgary and Edmonton. In fact the Valley Line in Edmonton and the Green Line in Calgary will use similar newer protocols as well. There will be a few intersections where Surrey LRT will have to have its own dedicated phase, but there won’t be many. Most cases car traffic can use the same N/S or E/W phase the LRT uses. Surrey LRT will also not have the problem that Portland has where short block lengths limit the swiftness of progression through the CBD.

            On your point with SkyTrain being cheaper as it needs no drivers, that is not the case it used to be. Staffing levels have gone up over the years in order to provide more staff so that a more timely response to major failures can be provided. SkyTrain is different than LRT in that when the system has a big failure, it fails hard. It takes time to get staff out to disabled trains to drive them and the system is not really set up to deal with multiple simultaneous human drivers. LRT can quite often hobble along fairly well with a partial or even completely disabled signalling system. SkyTrain has to shut down, regroup and start up again. SkyTrain does not fail often, but when major failures do occur public confidence is shaken. Better maintenance can help, but there is always a myriad of things that could go wrong to bring the system to a halt and the major weakness is always a lot of stranded trains with the challenge of scrambling staff to get to them. The only way to cover that risk effectively is to scale the number of staff to the number of trains, hence the savings of having no drivers tends to erode.

            Your vision of a line from White Rock to Coquitlam with a tunnel under Whalley sounds grand, but I think the demand to justify a line of that quality is a good 100 years out. LRT can be installed and live out its life cycle in the interim before such a line would be viable. Of course, if credible ridership projections could be provided that could change things but funding would be a huge challenge in the current environment. Doing nothing and relying on buses until such a time that a perfect grade separated solution is feasible is not sensible in my opinion. I think we have a couple of examples where ridership growth is so huge that we can go straight from bus to metro and skip the LRT stage…but I think in the long run those are the outliers. Beyond the Broadway and Vancouver-Richmond corridors, I do not see any others that have such a potential pent up demand. In an ideal world the Steveston Interurban would have modernized to contemporary LRT before it made the leap to metro and work on the Broadway subway should have started a decade ago. Beyond that however, not sure what other extreme pent up demand to skip the LRT stage there is. Heck one of the main arguments against LRT in Surrey is that the demand is simply not there. I don’t think that is true, but I don’t think its a Richmond-Vancouver or Broadway corridor trajectory either.

            Your final point has some merit in that nobody is looking into the far future at all. We know Expo Line will max out in capacity somewhere around 2045. Currently we are looking at how we get to 2045 in one piece. Nobody is asking the question yet about what is next beyond that. At best we plan 30 years out. Not 50 or 100….and we certainly don’t look that far from a funding or real estate acquisition perspective. Our long term planning to shape the region with transit is pretty clumsy…but then again we’ve only been at it since the mid 70s and have spent a lot of that time to convince the powers that be that the current level of planning and funding that we do is necessary. We are considered very fortunate to have gotten where we have gotten now and the funds to build what we intend to in the next 20 years. At the end of the day we are really just adolescents at this regional planning game.

            The region as a whole (and our political dialogue) has a lot of maturing yet to get as far ahead of the game as you envision. Until then, we have to be careful to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Is LRT as planned for Surrey completely ideal, no it is not. Will it do more good than harm in creating the over arching goals we want for the community until something better is attainable. I say it will. Buses alone will not cut it. They’re not attractive, they tend to have no advantage over regular traffic (unless you provide LRT like priority and give it near LRT like infrastructure). Even if you do, the size of the vehicle becomes a capacity constraint. If you have LRT like priority, a bus getting priority every 3 minutes is more disruptive than a much higher capacity train every 5. We can make the middle way of LRT work. It will take some courage and commitment and ingenuity but I do believe it is possible. Money and resources are not yet limitless inputs into the system. If they were…yes subways for everyone would certainly be the answer.

          4. A) That’s the problem. “We can get two trams for every metro” can easily be flipped around to say “we can get a metro and a BRT for two trams.” Doesn’t help that LRT & BRT have similar operating costs and service.
            Hence greenways, old railways or other preexisting ROWs: no road to rebuild or pipes/cables to move means that tram construction is cost-competitive with buses, and being off-road with minimal intersections means it can distinctly outperform buses without impacting its street.

            B) For five-minute surface rail to yield 10k pphpd – 833/train x 12 trains/hr – you’d need LRVs in excess of 120m. That’s longer than some of Surrey’s city blocks, and much longer than any surface tram in existence; possible, but not necessarily practical.
            Yeah, I get it. Sometimes the line’s already full days after opening, other times it’s ghost trains for the next twenty years (although TransLink’s crystal ball has been pretty accurate so far). That said, needing capacity but not having it is much more challenging. I for one doubt that we’d ever end up with a Sheppard subway.

            C) Thing is, grade separation (or even an LRT on 105th instead) allows a bike lane down 104th and reduction to two lanes and a left-turn median – three MV lanes, three non-MV. The current plan means that 104 and 105 will now have two lanes each, and that all four are irreplaceable.
            And as you noted in the OP, there’s not much more roadspace for traffic to adjust to. Surrey’s own engineers have concluded that they’ll still need to widen 104 back to four lanes in a couple of decades, defeating the purpose of having rapid transit in the first place:
            I’ll leave you to find all the videos/headlines of light rail collisions – cars and bikers and pedestrians – causing shutdowns even decades after people should know better. Often it’s not even the LRV’s fault, it’s just there’s a crash or a stall up ahead that blocks the tracks. Not good for an express line; by contrast, I can only think of one time that surface traffic messed up SkyTrain service (driver somehow hit a pillar).

            It’s indeed good to know that Surrey won’t be getting the Valley Line treatment, but it also means that the tram has little to no speed advantage over a B-Line; total travel time from Newton to Guildford is currently estimated at two minutes faster than the 96.

            The chaos of SkyTrain shutdowns (mostly medical emergencies these days) is less to do with the nature of a metro and more to do with Vancouver being a young city with only three RT lines and poor crisis management; delays are common in most big cities, and easily solved by clear communication and a much more redundant network. I’d hate to have a complete shutdown on a tram line, which is indeed a thing.
            As for having more staff, it’s not like the operator/train ratio is now 1:1 – we’d never break even if that were the case.

            Right, a Tri-Cities (or at least a White Rock) extension would likely be sometimes around 2070 or later. I don’t expect them to happen anytime soon, but I expect them to happen; they physically can’t with the shortsighted current plan, because there’s no room to extend further.
            Don’t discount B-Lines. Wouldn’t 55,700 riders/day on every arterial be the exact same thing we’re aiming for with LRT?

            True, it’s hard to say exactly how big Surrey will get and what technology it’ll need. Then again, we could say the same of Cambie or Kingsway pre-SkyTrain.
            What we do know is that Surrey-as-envisioned will need a whole lot more than 4,800 pphpd; the Canada Line’s doing 6,000 with much less towers and density, and it’s packed. Obviously, somewhere between suburbia and a second downtown are the townhomes/duplexes/lowrises you and TransLink are likely expecting… but that’s not what Surrey First has in mind. They’ve been pretty open in wanting LRT mostly to cut off the SoF region from Vancouver and centre it around themselves; the more big redevelopments buying in, the better.

            Attractiveness is nice, but it’s a bit of a red herring. The New York subway isn’t the busiest network in the Western world because it’s new or gentle or pretty. What riders want is speed, frequency and reliability – if the tram’s got none of those over a bus, then it’s just an expensive bus. Drivers aren’t going to ditch their cars for that.

            Buses are part of general traffic; even at three minutes, the 99 is hardly disruptive at all. Rail with a median mostly follows its own rules independent of traffic, BUT still uses the road (and forces traffic to squeeze onto two less lanes), so it’s way more of a hassle when crossing – personally, I hope any completed tram line will not cut your light off early like it sometimes does in Alberta.

            Sure, SkyTrain does cost more, but it turns a profit; the more we expand, the more net income we get, the more self-sufficient we are for the next phase of expansion. Light rail’s relative cheapness to subways and el-rail is mitigated by how almost no tram lines (if any) break even; the capital cost might as well be washed down a storm drain.

          5. Well we can ping and pong back and forth and not change each other’s mind. There are a few more misconceptions I do wish to correct.

            The comparison of costs is not a straight forward one. Even in professional circles its hard to get down to the truth and real apples to apples comparisons between systems based on how various items are accounted for and how hidden costs are reconciled. There are systems out there that show good financial performance from their LRT system.

            As for train lengths, yes 125ish metres is about as long as you’ll see an LRV consist in the extreme examples. For Surrey, it would be rare to have blocks with 120m separation and if they are, its probably safe to T one of the intersections. Surrey is not planning for those lengths mind you. That said if the system is designed right it is much easier and less costly to extend platforms to accommodate larger trains in the future on a LRT system than on modes that are either elevated, tunneled or in a guideway of some sort.

            You say that TransLink’s crystal ball has been rather good of late. That is excellent news because their crystal ball is showing that LRT will fill the foreseeable demand and SkyTrain would be overkill in Surrey. In fact, their figures state that with SkyTrain Langley would likely be over serviced as the big 5 car trains that will go on the busy part of the Expo line will still have to go to Langley and will provide more capacity that required even with either Fleetwood or King George short turns.

            As for collisions with LRT systems, yet they happen but they are not as frequent as people make out. Most of the ones you see online are for Eastern European or Russian systems where there is very poor road design and the level of competence of motorists makes local motorists look good. Many of the North American examples come down to poor intersection design at specific locations that eventually get corrected. Unfortunately the video lives on forever making things seem worse than it is. With good intersection and ROW design, good collision prevention techniques taught to Train Operators and good public awareness, collisions can be a fairly rare event. Of those that happen, many are fender benders that can be readily cleared in short order. The big bad collisions do happen but they are few and far between….somewhere around the same level of where people jump in front of SkyTrain. SkyTrain is not immune to small level delays either. Lots of delays in the sub half hour category because people decide to go for a walk along the guideway. With no drivers everything must stop and nothing can move until staff do a thorough check of the area. Let’s not also forget the many delays due to issues with intrusion sensing systems. LRT does not experience these sorts of delays. LRT can still post very good on time performance. Not saying it would be better than SkyTrain, but it can still be very good and competitive. Both systems have their weaknesses.

            As for the comment on poor crisis management at SkyTrain. Depends on what expectations are. The staffing model that SkyTrain has is lean and with that comes the consequences when major disruptions arise. Investment in renewal of signage and PA infrastructure are only starting to see the light of day in the next few years. A consequence of keeping budgets pared back for many years.

            As for network redundancy, that speaks in favour of LRT. With its lower costs you can build more for the same money, hence a finer grained network. Funding is not limitless after all. A finer grained network has more options to divert around issues.

            Is a BRT with 55,700 riders a day like the 99 a nice experience? I don’t find the 99 a nice experience. In fact given the predicted trajectory for the Broadway subway it would seem many people do not. The 99 should have gone rail long, long ago. The bus concept has been stretched too far. Such a marked increase in ridership projected when a subway gets built means there is lots of pent up demand…they prefer transit but just don’t want to put up with the buses. So now a small percentage take the bus and all those extra riders are presumably driving. If LRT had gone in as an interim stage, how many of those car drivers would have converted to rail years ago?

            Your reference to the NYC subway is interesting. Reliable it is not. It is among the worst if not the worst rail transit system in North America for on time performance. People put up with it because they have no other choice. Parking is so expensive and rents so high that if you want to live anywhere remotely close you put your money into paying rent and suffer with transit. The NYC subway will need massive investment to be reliable again. The point is is that just because its grade separated and high capacity, it is not inherently better. The success of the NYC subway has more to do with a lot of other factors, but its on time performance and reliability of the last several years is not one of those attributes. Ridership going down by the way.

            No the 99 is not overly disruptive, but its not overly fast either. Its speed is a bit of a misnomer. Many a time can the local 9 trolleybus get you from Commercial to Cambie as fast as the 99. The corridor has virtually no transit priority. It’s easy for the CoV to do nothing about it. LRT forces some level of priority in the infrastructure that it requires. True Surrey LRT is not much faster over the 96 now, but in the long run it will be. Traffic will get worse and road speeds will get slower while LRT speeds stay the same. This is because LRT will have priority over road traffic. Of course, if you are of the camp that the automobile must remain dominant and cannot suffer any loss of travel time at the expense of transit, you’re not going to like that. That auto-centric approach however is not sustainable. Spending tons of extra money on transit infrastructure just so it stays out of the way of the car is not the way of the future. The big problem with our cities is that we put the car first at the expense of all else. Spending lots of money to keep public transit away from slowing the car down is not the way forward. I think really that is the choice being made here.

            At any rate, we will find out in October what the residents of Surrey will choose. Doug McCallum seems to wish to force this into a wedge election issue. He is creating a referendum on LRT. We will see what the residents of Surrey choose. If it’s clear cut they end up rejecting LRT they will have rejected any sort of new rail transit for another decade at least. It takes a lot of time to go back to the drawing board and redo everything to get things to the point of ready to go to procurement.

            LRT is not the big bogeyman it’s made out to be. Whether people can see the arguments from both sides….and whoever ends up actually showing up at the polls on voting day….is something that remains to be seen. Anything is possible at the end of the day, but choices have consequences. At least after the election we hopefully have a clear choice and a way forward no matter what it ends up being.

          6. Ain’t that the truth – online arguments usually break down into a point-by-point slugfest after the first couple of exchanges. If it’s worth anything, thanks for being mature and insightful throughout, unlike a lot of other people on the internet; I hope that the feeling is mutual.

            There are indeed many more things to consider than just operational profit: mode share increase, reduced emissions, impact on biodiversity, land use, and so on… but the SkyTrain/BRT combo ties or wins against LRT in every single one of them save for noise and integration:
            In fact, most of TransLink’s communication until recently – and the Expo literally pointing to Langley – has favoured RRT1 (hell, they posted the Vox video above on the Buzzer). So it’s strange to see them suddenly pushing for light rail and saying SkyTrain is unnecessary; I try not to speculate without proof, but they are beholden to our governing bodies, and it is election year…
            Things will indeed be interesting if McCallum wins. But given that the Evergreen was also switched from LRT to SkyTrain at the last minute, I doubt it’ll be another ten-year wait.

            Nope, most of the collisions I see online are in North America, the continent we live on… though most of our drivers do seem to have graduated from a Russian driving school. And it doesn’t matter how well you train the operator if a pedestrian/cyclist/driver has earphones, overconfidence and/or no situational awareness, as in most media about said collisions.
            Fair point about sensor malfunctions, but those “walks along the guideway” are usually when the SkyTrain breaks down halfway and people get sick of waiting, which is a breakdown problem – otherwise, strolling on the guideway would first require climbing equipment. Not saying any system is perfect either, only that SkyTrain requires much less idiot-proofing, and (statistically speaking) gets much fewer collisions and injuries per km (see Broadway Phase 2 study for details).

            “Poor crisis management” meaning lack of coordination and information; of the four breakdowns I’ve been stuck in, two had comprehensible station announcements, and none had attendants who were any more informed or prepared than we were.
            Somehow, I highly doubt that less than 9,600 pphpd capacity (two parallel LRT routes, already mostly occupied) will be enough to absorb another 15-26,000 each way every hour. That’s a job for a second SkyTrain, or an off-road LRT.

            American ridership is down nationwide for some reason. Yeah, the New York subway’s falling apart, but my original point was that it’s still busy regardless of ugliness or breakdowns or disrepair; I highly doubt fancy new streetcars through their Broadway would produce any better results than through ours.

            Speaking of which, ours would have gotten rail long ago, if not for Christy Clark. And she was hell-bent on spiting Vancouver for voting her out of her own riding, so we’d have gotten nothing even if we just wanted a mixed-traffic streetcar. How many drivers would’ve switched? According to TransLink, up to 11k by 2041… compared to 7k for BRT and 54k for RRT.
            See, the 99 currently averages 20.7 kph every three minutes. The projected speed and frequency for Newton-Guildford light rail is 21.4 every five minutes, saving two minutes over the 96. So if I’m a driver, I’m not going to care if the LRV’s bigger and gentler than an articulated bus, because that extra two minutes (mitigated by eight less trips/hr) is not only insignificant, but still slower than driving. But a SkyTrain that runs every ninety seconds and saves half an hour? Well, that does mean I don’t have to park or waste gas…
            Like it or not, replacing the car mostly means replacing the convenience that the car provides. And for people who already don’t drive , getting cars out of transit’s way is equally important as the opposite. Traffic on either side and at the next light prevents full speed – and if the MVs are stuck in traffic, then my bus is stuck in traffic with them, and it’s much harder to cross (or more commonly, jaywalk). Roads are small, trains are big, and big things don’t fit well into small spaces.

            Again, I wholly support LRT on side arterials and preexisting ROWs. The problem is that neither applies to the Broadway or Surrey plans. If it’s any consolation, the station renders include removal of roadspace for sidewalks, enhanced bus shelters and a median; it’ll be a carrot AND stick approach.

  8. I’ve enjoyed debating with you as well. You raise some good points. In a perfect world we’d have LRT like systems feeding Metro like systems which are coordinated with commuter rail type systems. SkyTrain blurs boundaries which is probably good at a certain population level but gets to be problematic at higher densities. Unfortunately our real estate situation has thrown a monkey wrench into the planning equation as well where real estate values have shot up based on speculation and global demand for investment properties instead of based on sheer demand and good land use planning. Industrial real estate is equally skewed and that does not help. In an ideal world people live close to jobs where they can afford to live in close proximity.

    We don’t live in fantasy land and have to make do with what we’ve got and try to sort some sensible and correct direction out of this mess. Surrey and the Fraser Valley by extension is a huge land mass and LRT alone will not solve problems. What we need is a much longer term regional transportation strategy. We need to think 50-100 years out and shape where we want to go. We need to define roles for where various modes are appropriate. What places/conditions/criteria should LRT be built? We should define a SkyTrain containment boundary to limit the system to a space that is sensible. We need a regional strategy on Commuter Rail and look to Commuter Rail that is more than a peak period train running on Freight ROW. We need something that is going to take people from Abbotsford and Langley into the core that is not going to make a ton of stops. We need to start thinking what happens when SkyTrain does max out capacity.

    In the grand scheme of things being more efficient at hurling people ever longer distances no matter what the mode is not sustainable. Ideally you’d design land use to avoid that but the alignment of Metro Vancouver’s real estate market with global and investment interests instead of local interests is a huge factor that will likely never go away. In Manhattan and Tokyo real estate goes through the roof when demand far outstrips supply and there is no more room up down or sideways. Here demand outstrips supply not because of space or numbers of people who actually want to live in a given area but because we are too afraid to optimize the land that we have and make it practical and affordable for the common person. Even if we tried to centre the region around Surrey and had the optimal mix of transportation, the market is so skewed it may still not work. In Surrey there is a ton of land available and at the right densities a variety of housing for a variety of incomes provided at a level where there is a true balance between supply and demand could exist….but it requires very deliberate strategies now to succeed. I don’t know to what extent developers hang on the vision of LRT to make it happen. I’d even wager that BRT could do it, but it would have to be European style BRT. Call it LRT without the rails. Triple section buses. Dedicated lanes and LRT style signal priority. A certain level of infrastructure must be provided to give that sense of place and permanence. If that is the style of BRT that is built, then yes it could compete with LRT.

    We agree that LRT could work where the ROW is already there. One great untapped corridor I’ve always thought would be perfect is the CP corridor from Marpole to New West along Kent Avenue. A cross town connection between Marine Drive Station and New Westminster along the old frieght line could be quite successful and provide a quick connection across town without having to hump your way along SkyTrain through Downtown. I do think if a road corridor is wide enough LRT can work as well. I don’t see much in terms of compromise to car traffic by running a LRT down King George or Fraser Highway.

    Last point. The LRT vision for Evergreen was cancelled when it was less developed than where Surrey LRT Is now. There were also no other extensions on the SkyTrain network at the same time. There is a limit on resources available to build these things. It would be near impossible to support a simultaneous extension on both the Millennium Line and Expo Line at the same time…not while trying to also renew 30+ year old infrastructure and radically expand service on the current existing lines. That’s the limitation that could cause Surrey to wait if they chose to switch horses to RRT at this stage in the game.

    We’re also in the headspace where building anything for rail is still hard from a funding perspective. Better to take what you know now than roll the dice on tomorrow. Ongoing predictable long term funding would change that. There is the mentality that a lottery of sorts is hit when funding comes together and it must be taken advantage of because you don’t know when the next will come. That is not sustainable. To make progress we need to move from that model. At the same time, Municipalities still drive how they want development done and how the various parts connect. TransLink’s role is to build what they want and make it work as best as it can.

    1. Thanks… and good thinking on making a new comment chain. It’s true that we don’t have an infinite budget, but we’re not exactly in the poorhouse either; we’ve been getting a new SkyTrain extension roughly every seven years, regardless of who is or isn’t in charge and what they decide to fund.
      So do we take that 7-year funding and spread rails over the biggest area possible, hoping we’ll eventually cover 100% of the city and eventually not need funding? Or do we concentrate rails on specific areas to maximize profit, hoping our own funding will accelerate that same process? I suspect that people will be arguing both sides of the ridership-coverage problem until the stars go out.

      We’ve already got a strategy ( – there’s other images under “vancouver livable region plan.” The idea is to connect all the squares within the black dotted line with SkyTrain; anything beyond it is BC Transit’s domain, so none there, and all the in-between is up for debate. I’m still convinced that Newton-Guildford and UBC need to be RRT eventually (and that Condon and Hepner have no idea what they’re talking about), but rest assured, any proposed extension to Aldergrove or Ladner or Chilliwack will be laughed and/or booed out of the building.

      For the “city of the future,” Surrey is indeed horribly suburban, but I think I should repeat that it’s more of a zoning problem than a transit problem, and that nobody wants their daily commute to be longer than necessary; most drivers would switch if they had something better or lived closer.

      Again, I think light rail’d be fine as a future solution. B-Lines/BRT everywhere work in the interim because they’re both good-enough and temporary; we can always wait a decade and decide which ones need to be LRT or RRT. If we go with LRT right off the bat and we guess wrong, we’re stuck with overcapacity and damage control for the next few decades.
      Meanwhile, the arterials that didn’t get LRT are still stuck with regular service only… and TransLink will have moved right on to building for Hastings and Willingdon and the North Shore.

      The SW Marine corridor should most definitely be the Phase 2 for any Arbutus Line. Arbutus-Cambie and Knight notwithstanding, it could even run along the south lanes – nothing on that side but decaying warehouses and near-dead big box stores.

      I’m not sure about that. More roadspace = more traffic, and more traffic + intersections = more “space conflict,” as the ICBC manual calls it. Buses can tiptoe around an accident with difficulty, but an LRV often has to cancel through service for the next few hours even if it’s not the accident; many cities opt to run their tracks down a freeway to solve that, but then they get low ridership because almost nobody lives or works beside a freeway.

      TransLink was planning to finish Newton-Guildford’s LRT in 2025 and the M-Line extension in ‘26, starting construction on both almost simultaneously. Sure, a SkyTrain is more ambitious than an LRT line, but it’s not impossible; both LRT1 and RRT1A cost about the same even with inflation and budget creep, and the province and feds have already agreed to put that much funding forward.

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