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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Everything old is new again in the City of Delta, where the 1950’s transportation infrastructure policy of ex Mayor  Lois Jackson is being bolstered by her former Chief Administrative Officer George Harvie who was voted in as Mayor. Making a corporate tag team, 80 year old Lois Jackson is back as a councillor to support her former city manager.

No surprise that many voters in Ladner and Tsawwassen  familiar with the City’s dismissive public processes and lack of attention to local residential matters moved their Mayoral vote elsewhere. However Harvie appealed to the voters in north Delta that responded to his call to get building the overpriced and not funded Massey Bridge and won the election.

Here we go again with George Harvie, who originally said he was interested in alternatives to the proposed multi  billion dollar bridge, but tightened his rhetoric to reflect the past Provincial Liberal dogma of a big ten lane bridge regardless of the environmental or economic costs.

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None of this for Surrey, thank you.

 

Let’s call Mayor McCallum’s proposal to scrap the LRT L-line for SkyTrain down the Fraser Highway for what it is: an express train to Langley.

No wonder the new mayor of Langley is heartily in support.  No wonder the Surrey Board of Trade isn’t.  The benefits will largely accrue to the businesses, real-estate developers and commuters up and down the 200th-Street corridor, east of the Surrey border.  Meanwhile, Guildford and Newton will have to settle for its B-line.

As Ken Ohrn mentioned below, transportation and land use go together – arguably, the latter being more the point than the former. We rarely travel just for the purpose or pleasure of moving; it’s to get to a place to do something.  The more places where you can stop along the way, the more economic development is likely to occur, the more passengers generated.  And that was Surrey’s rationale for LRT along 104th and King George.

LRT is more about local access; SkyTrain is more about regional access.  We need both, but clearly the priority for a growing municipality like Surrey was to shape that growth to be more transit-oriented, to be denser, to have more destinations.  That’s not going to be as likely when a Langley-anchored SkyTrain passes through a large park, ALR flood plain, and lower-density suburban development like Clayton/Cloverdale.  Indeed, the only true regional centres will be at King George and Langley City itself.

Surrey’s hopes to have job-supportive mixed-use development at Guildford and Newton will be frustrated and delayed – and Surrey will have to pay more to do that.

The most likely reason why McCallum went for SkyTrain is the populist sentiment he detected (and felt) that LRT was second-class; Surrey deserved SkyTrain, damn it, since Vancouver got it.  Ironically, it’s Vancouver that will again benefit if the locally oriented LRT is scrapped.  SkyTrain will deliver and concentrate more jobs in the regional core, while Surrey remains the bedroom suburb it has been the building of the first Port Mann Bridge.

Thanks, Doug!

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