Climate Change
September 11, 2018

Pachal On Light Rail South of the Fraser

Nathan Pachal is a councilor in Langley City, and a friend of Price Tags.  HERE, he discusses the business case (105-page PDF) just released by TransLink on the Surrey-Newton-Guilford light rail project.  This SNG-LRT is Phase One, with Fraser Highway to Langley to follow as Phase Two.

Transportation nerd quiz:  what percentage of trips that originate South of the Fraser end there? Write down your answer, then read on. Prepare to be astonished.

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There was much anticipation before the federal budget was unlocked yesterday. Many of us were particularly interested in how much money would go towards transit investments in our region and whether the 33.3% x 3 percentage split for transportation infrastructure amongst federal, provincial, and municipal governments would be adjusted.
At first I was underwhelmed by the initial commitment of $370M for transit projects in Metro Vancouver. It doesn’t seem like much for the next 3 years. I have been assured by those in the know it’s a great start for the planning and design of projects in The Mayors’ Plan (pedestrian and bicycle improvements, subway and LRT, for instance) with more funding to come after that. That depends on re-election, of course.
The federal government also announced it will cover up to 50% of transit project construction costs. It seems to me, assuming the provincial portion remains at 33% and the max of 50% doesn’t depend on the provincial portion changing*, 100%-50-33=17% for municipalities – a long overdue improvement in the funding structure.
My federal budget scoop on Monday about The Mayors’ Plan, directing our regional requests for federal funds, continues to be good scoop. The Mayors’ Council put out a PDF statement on the federal budget yesterday. The federal Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sohi meets our Mayors’ Council tomorrow. My source tells me we will get more details after that meeting. Stay tuned.
 

*The BC provincial election is May 9, 2017: contact BC political parties now urging them to put sustainable transportation in their platforms.

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Remember the under-appreciated miracle that was The Mayors’ Plan?
That plan that almost all of the Mayors, 1 Chief, and 1 Director of Metro Vancouver agreed upon? Most voters had no idea what a huge accomplishment it was for 21 municipalities, 1 Treaty First Nation, and Electoral Area A to agree on the transportation infrastructure we needed as a region for the next 10 years – and in what order – just in time for our first transportation plebiscite.
The bad news is, those projects have been delayed ever since. The good news is, that plan is still useful. I’ve heard from a reliable source that The Mayors’ Plan continues to represent Metro Vancouver’s transportation needs to the federal government in recent budget preparations and negotiations. This includes a Broadway subway, LRT south of the Fraser, and 2700 kms of bikeways. My guess is that 11 new rapid bus routes will be the fastest to implement.
Further to Ken’s post earlier today Federal Budget — the Wish List in anticipation of tomorrow’s announcement, here’s another interesting bit from Toronto Mayor John Tory’s op-ed piece:

Every day, more than 2.7 million trips are taken on Toronto’s transit system. In Montreal, more than 2.2 million are taken on the Metro on an average day, while the Vancouver system sees more than 1.1 million.

[…] Taken together, their daily ridership numbers are higher than the combined populations of eight Canadian provinces and territories.

What’s not in The Mayors’ Plan? A 10 lane bridge to a fertile land that might soon be literally and figuratively below sea level. Let’s hope the federal budget focusses on sustainable transportation.
Stay tuned for more on this tomorrow.
 
 

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Many PT readers will by now have seen some of these snazzy renderings of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed light rail along 17 miles (27.3 kms) of the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront.
 

 

 

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The purpose of this roughly $2B line is laudable: provide transportation access along one of the city’s fastest-growing development areas. Like many cities, NYC is no longer strictly a ‘spoke and wheel’ entity, with commuters rushing into Manhattan and then back out again. More people now live and work across and between the boroughs. And aside from a single local bus line, there is no transit along the East River’s east shore.
However, there’s a catch. It will be a streetcar, not a fully-dedicated light rail. Traveling with vehicle traffic, it will only average 12mph (19 km/hr) and take about 1 hour 15 minutes to travel from Astoria, Queens to Red Hook, Brooklyn. This trip will test patience. Riding it will make you swear you could lie down in the street and grow that distance quicker. I’m curious to see how long NY’ers will be enamored with this proposal as its details become more commonly known.
Just ask the folks in Edmonton, where the transit system recently opened up the much-delayed and problematic Metro Line light rail line from downtown to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Untangling the new extension’s signalling problems is the stuff of masters’ theses, and Edmontonions were annoyed about the delays in its opening. But when they realized that the line would cause real, actual traffic delays, the poutine hit the fan.

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Self-described transit supporter and Edmonton National Post reporter Tristin Hopper called the new line ““the equivalent of a candy company releasing a new chocolate bar called ‘Herpes Al-Qaeda’.” That’s both funny and harsh, and I look forward to reading his column when he realizes the the planned Valley Line (western extension) towards the Edmonton Mall will run as a fully-integrated streetcar with no dedicated right of way along some of the city’s busiest arterial roads.

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Back our way, Surrey’s light rail will not have these problems. Both lines will function more like Edmonton’s older north-south network does now: mostly along their own rights-of-way but with signalized priority across intersecting streets.
So, streetcars are cheaper and provide far fewer benefits than dedicated light rail, yet more than buses. Are they worth it? Do you support such a system around False Creek or Olympic Village? Along 3rd Street and Marine Drive on the North Shore? A return to the 1940 network?

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What about streetcars in the old Lower Mainland?

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Every rail-rapid transit proposals in Metro Vancouver started off as (mostly) at-grade light rail.

If you’ve ever ridden the MAX light rail system in Portland, I’m sure this is what the original rapid transit planners had in mind.
We ended up with SkyTrain because essentially the federal government wrote a big fat cheque to help support high-tech jobs in Ontario. Urban Transportation Development Corporation, the creators of SkyTrain, was an Ontario crown corporation. Since that original decision to build SkyTrain, the provincial government has never looked back.

The Millennium Line was originally planned to be light rail until the provincial government “undertook a comparison of light rail (LRT) and SkyTrain technologies.” In 1998, the provincial government proceeded to unilaterally decide that SkyTrain was the solution.

The same thing happened with the Evergreen Line. TransLink was originally going to build light rail, but the province released a completely unbiased business case which proved that SkyTrain was the way to go. The province unilaterally took over the management of the Evergreen Line project, and paid the extra cost of converting from light rail to SkyTrain.
The original vision for getting rail rapid transit to Richmond put both light rail and SkyTrain on the table. Because the Canada Line was a P3, a fully-automated SkyTrain-like system was built instead of the real McCoy, but still no light rail. So, what does this have to do with the title of this post?
The City of Surrey is committed to supporting the construction of light rail along King George Boulevard and Fraser Highway. Surrey’s Mayor Linda Hepner has even promised light rail by 2018 regardless of the failed transit referendum.

While some urbanists and transit geeks will debate the benefits of various transit technologies until they are blue in the face, in Metro Vancouver, it’s really just wasting energy.
Given the history of rail-rapid transit in Metro Vancouver, it is likely that Surrey Light Rail will become SkyTrain along Fraser Highway. In a recent interview, Peter Fassbender hinted at SkyTrain. There is no doubt in my mind that the province is working on a business case for SkyTrain along Fraser Highway right now.
I don’t know why both the NDP and BC Liberals are in love with SkyTrain, but the fact is that rail-rapid transit in Metro Vancouver equals SkyTrain.
I used to spend a lot of effort plugging the benefits of building light rail over SkyTrain, but I’ve come to learn that it is more important to promote the value of funding frequent, fast transit service.

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