Governance & Politics
July 12, 2018

LRT vs Skytrain: Candidate Responses 2

Two more responses to our last question, sent to mayor and council candidates in the City of Surrey, Township of Langley, and City of Langley.

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?

Thanks to all candidates who responded, and to Price Tags contributors for your commentary. 

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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.

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Yesterday’s post about the Vancouver Sun op-ed by Alex Boston scraped the surface of what could comprise an effective business case for Skytrain south of the Fraser, let alone what numbers may (or may not) have been used to justify LRT in the first place.

Did Translink miss some data? As I hinted in Part I, perhaps they simply missed communicating the most relevant, top-line numbers the public have an appetite — and capacity — to understand (no offence to all of us).

But let’s assume they made a whole raft of calculations, such as those that can be found in “Regional Transportation Investments: A Vision for Metro Vancouver (Appendices)“, pointed to me by  Boston’s colleague Keane Gruending from the Centre for Dialogue. The Centre’s own analysis on this file is reminiscent of their Moving in a Livable Region program around the time of the 2015 transit plebiscite, which attempted to hold our leaders accountable (and the politics in check), using a facts-first approach.

Boston’s deeper piece on the Renewable Cities website also reminded me that a lot of the debate on whether to pause Phase 2 and 3 of the Mayors Plan to once again deal with the Skytrain question often fails to deal with two important metrics tied to land use: jobs density, and CO2 emissions.

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Despite the Mayor’s Council and its 10-year transportation plan that’s been around for a while now, along with a bunch of hard-to-get Federal and Provincial money, Surrey’s new mayor Doug McCallum wants to change it.

Mayor McCallum wants transit, but on a new route in Surrey to new destinations, using different (Skytrain) technology. Blow up the Mayor’s Council’s 10-year plan, and blow up the City of Surrey’s Community (Land Use) Plan.

And it’s sort of late in the game. More background HERE and HERE.

Not surprisingly, there has been reaction from several parties to this development:

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Like 15 other Metro Vancouver munis, the City of Surrey has a new Mayor — Doug McCallum. He’s also an old Mayor, having held the post from 1996 to 2005.  He and his party ran on two main issues:  replace LRT with Skytrain and Law n’ Order (replace RCMP with local police).

Mayor McCallum intends to cancel the LRT project on November 5, at his first council meeting.  He’s setting the wheels in motion.

So let’s look at the LRT vs. Skytrain thing.  It’s by far more fun than the other.  And has a lot less to do with technology, and a lot more to do with the fundamentals of city making.

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Just announced – again.  

Major rapid transit projects to ease congestion in Metro Vancouver

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and the Premier of British Columbia, John Horgan, have announced more than $3 billion in federal and provincial funding for two major rapid transit projects in Metro Vancouver: the Broadway Subway project and the Surrey-Newton-Guildford Light Rail Transit project.

The Broadway Subway project will add 5.7 kilometres and six stations to the line, bringing frequent and reliable SkyTrain access to one of the most congested transit corridors in Metro Vancouver.

The Surrey-Newton-Guildford Light Rail Transit project (LRT) will create the first light-rail transit system in British Columbia. With 11 new stations along 10.5 kilometres of street-level track, the LRT will provide much-needed transit services in underserved areas, connect and revitalize communities, and make it easier to travel across the Lower Mainland.

Quick Facts:

  • The Government of Canada will contribute $1.37 billion to the two projects, the Government of British Columbia will contribute $1.82 billion, and Translink, the City of Vancouver, and the City of Surrey will contribute $1.23 billion.
  • The Broadway Subway will be able to move 5,100 more passengers per hour, per direction than the existing B-Line bus service it will replace, increasing capacity by 250%. It will also be built to accommodate additional future capacity increases.
  • In Surrey, the Light Rail Transit project will take people from one end of the line to the other in approximately 27 minutes. The line will operate within dedicated train-only lanes on the road, allowing the trains to bypass traffic queues, making it an attractive public transit choice.

Announcement here.

A few things to notice:

Note that one of the routes is now called “The Broadway Subway.”

Note the head: Apparently the purpose of transit is to “ease congestion.”  Implicit, of course, is that the congestion is vehicle traffic.  If it was to ease transit congestion, it would say so.  

Further, rapid transit really won’t ease congestion all by itself over time.  Any capacity on the roads that will be freed up, in areas of high growth, will be filled by induced traffic (unless those areas are connected with a frequent transit network too.)  The Broadway Subway may well help the City maintain the level of vehicle trips while growth is accommodated by the so-called alternatives, which will actually provide the majority of trips.  But it will also create more transit passenger congestion on stations elsewhere on the connecting lines.  The next major projects may in fact be ways to add and maximize capacity on the Expo and underbuilt Canada Lines.

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Andrew T. Jones, an Urban Studies student at SFU, has just started to post excerpts from his research project on the students’ blog, Urban Studies.  Lots of detail, of course, as you’d expect for an academic work, examining in depth the origins of a pioneering piece of infrastructure: the first ALRT (or SkyTrain) station. 

But it’s extremely well illustrated, and includes some of the politics – big P and small P – that was happening in the rush to Expo ’86.  Worth following here.

LRT Station designed for centre median of Terminal Ave. GVRD, 1979.

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I wrote earlier about the six proposed routes that could connect the North Shore municipalities of West Vancouver, the City of North Vancouver and District of North Vancouver with the region’s rapid transit line.  I also wrote about what I thought would be the preferred option which is a rail or tunnel crossing at the Second Narrows Bridge which would tie into either Brentwood or Metrotown in Burnaby for access to the region’s rapid transit system. I also think the existing  seabus will be augmented with more sailings.

Of course you could hear the guffaws from West Vancouver where even a rapid bus was seen as causing congestion and not needed. But the truth is that this connection is not about them, but about future residents and future town centers which could locate on the north shore, and which would require access to some kind of rapid transit system to get people to services and jobs.

As the region continues to develop, several North Shore town centres can develop and an enhanced seabus service and rail link through Burnaby could connect the downtown and the region.

Intrepid Price Tags reader Ross Bligh (yes, he is the Dad of Price Tags’ Architectural Reporter James Bligh) wrote to the editors regarding this Simon Fraser University study covered by Brent Richter in the North Shore News.

Stephan Nieweler, transportation instructor in Simon Fraser University’s  department of geography, and  former students did work two years ago on where a rapid transit alignment would go.  Their vision encompassed a connection across the Second Narrows Bridge and a gondola that rode up to Capilano University.

The team went one step further, examining the density of people that lived within a five minute or 400 meter walk of  already established rapid train stations.

Using a metric developed by sustainable transportation author Robert Cervero,  Nieweler concluded  that 14 to 30 residents/positions  per acre were needed for a light rail line  to be placed on the North Shore.  A density of  27 to 45 per acre was needed  for a subway or Skytrain. Surprisingly the existing Lonsdale stretch has almost 75 people per acre.

As  North Shore News Brent Richter wrote:

“In raw numbers, Nieweler’s analysis found the North Shore LRT, if it existed today, would have more than 111,000 people and employees within 400 metres of the line, compared to 93,500 on the proposed Arbutus to UBC line or 46,680 for Surrey LRT.

They also forecast into the future, using the Official Community Plans to gauge population and employment growth. Over the next 20 years, the case is even stronger, Nieweler found, with almost 160,000 residents or jobs within 400 metres of the North Shore line, compared to 113,500 for the Broadway extension and 78,100 in Surrey.”

While the Nieweler study did not examine car ownership rates, population demographics, employment types and current commuting, it still provides a pattern language of how the North Shore can densify and can connect to the regional system It is well worth a read.

Nieweler also soberly states that such a line is in the preliminary planning stages, but remember we’ve only had SkyTrain since the 1980’s. That’s less than 40 years.

“Unfortunately, I feel the congestion on the North Shore is going to get much worse over the next decade and at this rate, we’re not going to see a significant solution for 20 years maybe,” he said. “I don’t think the North Shore can wait that long. I think it’s going to be a crisis situation with the traffic if we wait that long.”

Images: Bowinn MaMLA & CBC.ca

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