October 29, 2018

Mayor McCallum’s Langley Express

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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  1. This will induce problems for Vancouver as well. More long distance commuters from Surrey and Langley will fill the trains on Expo line further and displace people in Vancouver and Burnaby in the AM peak. Already people in Vancouver can’t get in SkyTrain because it is too full. This will only get worse with more South of Fraser people trying to get into Vancouver. SkyTrain does have a finite capacity that we are rapidly approaching. What happens when we hit the wall? Being more efficient at transporting people longer distances is not the solution no matter what the mode. It all requires a lot of expensive infrastructure that we all end up paying for.

  2. What a mess. We mock the US for voting in idiots like Trump yet here we have the same thing, a populist con man and people just got suckered.

    It’s striking how little people know about this topic and how pervasive the ‘grunt skytrain faster’ message resonates. And that people voted for that. This will set back the City for years/decades.

  3. (1) If LRT is better because there are more stops than skytrain—– Then have more skytrain stations——– (2) If the expo line has to many passengers, have longer trains & longer stations on the Expo line. —-(3) Not all passengers will be going downtown from Langley ,Many will go to Surrey Central,New west & Burnaby —(4) Potential for future skytrain beyond Langley to Maple ridge

      1. True but we can make the trains and stations longer. Also with this logic does that mean you are against the millennium line extension because it will give us too many riders?

  4. In the past, arguments I have seen for switching away from LRT have almost always proposed BRT in its place, with claims that this would give more bang for the buck (is this true?). Since McCallum won, I have heard no mentions of it. That seems a shame: if LRT is to be abandoned, it seems there should be an emphasis on finding a replacement for the L-line. But if this is really about prestige rather than city-building, I guess that explains why no-one’s talking about buses.

  5. If you check https://surreylightrail.ca/Documents/Surrey_Rapid_Transit_Study_Phase_2_Alternatives_Evaluation_Executive_Summary.pdf
    (especially Exhibit E.6 )

    you will see that both option rrt1 (Mac callum, surrey and Langley voters preferred option) and lrt1 (Watts/Hepner preferred option) end up to cost the same, …but one is performing much better on many metrics, include impact on climate change (co2 reduction), and it is not the lrt1 option, which cost has increased much more dramatically than the skytrain option since 2012,
    …and eventually informed voters from south of the surrey asked their politicians to listen to the expert!

    So the L line will probably end up as a BRT (most of the outcome of the preliminary $50M engineering design, could apply to BRT anyway, so it is not a pure lost), but the switch could help to extend it to south-surrey/White rock, saving one nasty transfer at Newton, for no transportation benefit, to those folks, while still leaving enough money to fund a skytrain extension up to Fleetwood…where eventually Translink will be happy to find affordable land to build a new yard, which will be probably needed to accommodate fleet expansion (which will be needed disregarding the skytrain extension to Langley or not).

    At the end the L line is a pure local line, and building local lines before building the backbone network (skytrain extension) is not the necessary the wisest move..

    1. I note more people voted for Gill/Hayne who favour LRT, but hey, who’s counting.

      I also note Hayne won almost every South Surrey voting station, but again, who’s counting.

        1. A referendum? No he didn’t. He said he wanted to think about it more which is politician speak for ‘I need to be different from Gill otherwise we’re basically the same thing’ so he said that. He’s been pro LRT for years. He was successful in splitting the vote though as more people voted for him and Gill than Mcallum.

          1. McCallum supported LRT too at one time. Opinions and platforms can evolve, especially if you’re a politician facing reelection; whether Hayne genuinely had a change of heart or just flip-flopped, he’s literally on the record as preferring SkyTrain (https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/surrey-mayoral-candidate-bruce-hayne-wants-to-pause-light-rail-project).

            Apologies, he wanted to hold a referendum on the RCMP; he wanted to halt LRT planning and see what the residents wanted. RRT got 45% of the vote, LRT got 26%, and his Integrity Now and Proudly Surrey (also on the fence) got 29%, so now he’s got his answer.

  6. I’m honestly not sure why we should be upset here Gordon.

    The Skytrain / BRT combos always had the most favorable economics in all the Skytrain studies presented by Translink. The LRT combos generally had the worst economics, especially in terms of the operating costs. As an exercise in trying to generate land-lift, the LRT may have been able to affect more of Surrey, but I don’t think it is a panacea for transport. The long term higher costs of operating expenditures would also have hurt Translink as a whole.

    A few properly developed BRT lines can more than sufficiently service Surrey’s rapid transit demand with superior coverage to the LRT. I don’t think that the demand on any given line will reach the point where the added rail vehicle capacity is needed for quite some time.

    Since the Skytrain formula is fairly well established, we just need to make sure that the BRT concept isn’t watered down too much.

  7. An understanding of the impact of McCallum’s pledge to blow up the agreements to build a modern light rail network to serve Surrey’s growing population and the Region’s second City Center, will take time.

    My sense of all this is, neither McCallum nor any of his councillors elect, have any understanding of the consequenses of what they have embarked upon.

    Surely they need to take the time to better understand why Surrey has chosen the path it has, before undoing the 10 years of work and 10s of millions of dollars in investment that have led to were we are today.

  8. Disagree with your %’s, but regardless. The whole thing is up the air now, he can say he’ll just cancel and build skytrain but it’s not that simple.

    We’ll see when his developer buddies who’ve bought a lot of land on the assumption LRT was coming start calling him how long he sticks to his statements. He wants to ‘pause growth’ and see what the people want…well he was the most pro-growth guy out there last time he was in office. I have 0 faith this tiger changes his stripes especially when the first person he thanks in his acceptance speech is his favourite developer.

    It’s bad he got in, it’s insane he got a full slate.

    1. The percentages are out for everybody to see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Columbia_municipal_elections,_2018#Mayoral_election_39. Disagree with them, but they’re not wrong, and they’re not changing.

      We’ve got an equal amount of developers backing light rail; after all, they only care about how the train increases their condo values, not whether or not the train works. Safe Surrey’s been backing “smart” development, which they explain as keeping infrastructure and growth going at the same pace; whether McCallum’s the same as before or not, that’s what he ran on and that’s what most of Surrey preferred.

      1. I disagree that a vote for Hayne was a vote for skytrain. 50%+ voted for Gill/Hayne who, at the end of th e day are pro LRT.

        It’s not what most of Surrey preferred, as your link shows, but that’s our democracy.

        1. Again, Hayne’s said during the campaign that he wanted SkyTrain for Newton and Langley, and would leave it up to public feedback and consultation: https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/surrey-mayoral-candidate-bruce-hayne-wants-to-pause-light-rail-project

          A vote for him or Graves is a vote for “I don’t know” – otherwise they’d have gone with Gill or McCallum. At best, you could split the undecided vote halfway to get 59-40 in favour of RRT and BRT.

          1. I guess I’d rather believe 3.9 years on Council championing LRT over 1 month of electioneering. But hey, that’s politics nowadays right?

            Don’t look at my track record or things I’ve said in the past, just listen to me say whatever I want right now. And we all just play along like idiots.

          2. And McCallum voted for LRT when he was mayor. Again people change their minds – doubly so for politicians. Only difference is that Hayne was smart enough to abandon the ship, but Gill decided to go down with it.

  9. Surrey and Langley will get nothing but another study. You think that LRT money is just going to slide over to the still-unfunded Fraser Hwy segment? No. It’s going to UBC. Surrey and Langley will get bumped behind Hastings St and the North Shore for major transit funding. I’m glad so many folks in Surrey are willing to wait for Skytrain. Because wait they will.

  10. Also, to further my point. This isn’t about LRT vs skytrain, it’s about two different routes with two different objectives linking different communities. Something that was never made clear and people still obviously don’t get. Even in the article you posted Gill is on record saying he’s open to skytrain down Fraser Hwy. The discussed skytrain line in Surrey is not the same as the discussed LRT line.

    But no one understood that and nobody did a good job explaining that either intentionally or not.

    1. – Read it again. Gill said that Phase 1, light rail for Newton-Guildford, was starting to sound like a bad idea, and that he wanted to put both lines on pause for consultation. Wasn’t enough for almost half of Surrey.

      – People get it just fine. Safe Surrey and SkyTrain for Surrey have been proposing BRT for the Phase 1 route since forever; same speed, same frequency, easy to replace with RRT when the time comes.

      1. “Tom Gill, the mayoral candidate for Surrey First, has advocated for light rail, saying it is meant to be a technology that builds communities, while SkyTrain is meant to move a lot of people over a long distance. Gill has said he is open to discussions about the line to Langley using SkyTrain technology.”

        Skytrain for Surrey? You mean one blogger

        I guess we’ll see what happens. Consider me skeptical.

        1. Just last month, Hayne told Postmedia he believed the Surrey-Newton-Guildford line likely could not be altered substantially. He said there has been a great deal of work done already in terms of planning and pre-construction, and “it’s so far along that it probably won’t and can’t be changed at this point.”

          However, he said that after looking at documentation for the project, including the recently released redacted business case, and talking to the public, he is not convinced that the current council and TransLink have made the right decision in pursuing light rail over SkyTrain….

          ….Hayne envisions building SkyTrain between King George Station and Newton and using rapid bus routes to serve Guildford. SkyTrain to Langley would be the next phase, and in the future the line between City Centre and Newton could be extended toward South Surrey.

          Community leader too. The average random blogger doesn’t successfully lobby for bus stops and crosswalks, nor get invited to conferences (usually the opposite).

          Yeah, that’s fair.

  11. I doubt McCallum, or members of his Council elect have any understanding of the rationale for Surrey’s decision to adopt a modern Light Rail Transit system to serve our growing population and the Region’s Second City Centre.

    That decision followed a three day delegation of Council and staff in 2011 to Portland and now 10 years
    of planning, negotiations and 10s of millions of dollars spent by Surrey, Trans Link, the Federal and the Provincial Governments to reach the point of agreement we are now at.

    To scrap LRT at this stage, will put Surrey back a decade in it’s efforts to be served by mass transit. To scrap LRT, will put the entire process back to square one. There can be no business case for McCallums plans to extend Skytrain through low density Fleetwood, across miles of ALR lands, then Clayton to Langley City; population 20,000.

    One has to ask, who will be served by this change direction? Certainly not Surrey. and where will the additional $1.5 billion come from, to complete the project.

    It is one thing to tap into beliefs expressed at the doorsteps aduring a campaign, and quite another to make solid business decisions, once in office.

  12. There’s nothing wrong with a delay – even for a few years – when you think that buildings an LRT or a SkyTrain line is a 100 year commitment.
    Get that wrong and your are screwed for a much longer period.

    And did anyone actually attend the open houses that shows the proposed alignment in Surrey City Centre? The number of curves and road crossing would slow down the trains and make for many potential accident locations – that’s what people are complaining about.
    It may be fine and well to promote neighborhoods and look pretty on a map, but if it’s only marginally faster than a bus and does not serve as a fast transit system, then no one will ride it.

    It wasn’t just a middle of the road alignment – it snaked around major streets in Surrey City Centre – think of Edmonton’s screwed-up LRT extension.
    At a minimum, if built as at-grade LRT, the segment through downtown Surrey should have proposed underpasses below King George Boulevard.

    Here are the June 2017 open house plans from Skyscraperpage.com.

    More alignment pics here:

    1. It’s also worthy to note that a few years delay is nothing in comparison to the lifespan of the infrastructure itself. If it’s built wrong, then it’s a longer term screw-up than a few years delay.

    2. Incorrect. Edmonton’s Metro Line fiasco was a failure to install proper signalling technology at mid-block locations and diagonally through a complex intersection at Kingsway. This is a lot more like the Capital Line alignments along 114 and 111 streets that run adjacent and parallel to existing arterials and have always worked just fine. This alignment runs the trains more easily with the existing traffic signals by treating the trains as simply an extension of the major arterial’s ‘green phase’. This alignment has long proven to work fine in Edmonton. It will work fine in Surrey; or rather would have. I hope they enjoy their skytrain study. It’s all they’re getting now.

      1. Dan, I think your analogy if flawed, I am pretty sure the 111th and 114th intersections are LRT crossings only. This means signalling only neads to coordinate traffic on these streets with the LRT. 104th and King George will still remain major vehicle routes….the LRT priority will work fine at low frequencies…..but not at higher frequencies…resulting in inevitable conflicts with cars until the politicians take away signal priority and the line becomes unreliable and slow.

  13. A remarkably similar situation has been playing out in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough during the past decade . Initially planners and the government were set to expand Scarborough’s LRT network. It was a cost effective option tailored to the communty’s needs. Then Toronto mayor Doug Ford declared that Scarborough deserved a subway as LRT was for second class citizens . That it would be exorbitantly expensive and ultimately would carry fewer riders did not enter into his calculations . They have been squabbling about this ever since. If you research this on the net you could get a vision of the grim future which could unfold in Surrey.

    1. Actually, I see the scenario as this:
      Original 1980s plan: Streetcar in exclusive RoW (i.e. LRT)
      As Built 1980s: ALRT (SRT same as our SkyTrain)
      Either required a transfer at Kennedy Station from Subway to another mode of transit.

      Several years ago: ALRT (SRT) allowed to deteriorate and proposed to be replaced with LRT
      Now: ALRT (SRT) to be replaced with 1-stop subway extension.

      The anger towards both the ALRT (SRT) and the proposed LRT was the forced transfer between modes.

      Building LRT in Surrey on the rapid transit mainline would create the same issues here
      (and would have created the same issues if the Evergreen Extension had been built as an LRT Line).

      Locally, the same sort of anger was expressed when long haul coach bus passengers from Ladner and Tsawwassen lost their 1 seat ride and were forced to transfer at Bridgeport Station to ride the Canada Line to complete their journeys.

  14. I’m a huge fan of transit, and increased density and smart growth, and I’m very happy to see the chance for LRT to be switched up to Skytrain.

    As a few posters above have noted, with the LRT you were paying a ton of money for not much in the way of improved transit times or improved transportation capacity through Surrey. It seems like BRT and LRT were almost equivalent except for price. I would much rather see the existing skytrain network extended.

    You characterize Clayton as a low density suburban neighbourhood, but it is higher density and on a better street grid than most of Surrey including anything on the planned King George LRT alignment except around 72nd st.

    This whole ‘now Surrey will remain a suburb’ thing seems like a red herring. If the goal is to make it hard for people to get to Vancouver so that companies have to move jobs to Surrey, then maybe they should demolish some bridges?

    Greg points to Toronto as a cautionary tale, but it was the ill-fated decision decades ago to build LRT instead of extending the subway out to Scarborough Town Centre decades ago that set Toronto onto its ill-fated transit path. I grew up in Ontario and the Scarborough LRT was a mess. Yes, it made it difficult to get downtown using it, and yes, that helped isolate Scarborough from the rest of the city and no, that did not turn out to be a good thing.

    I’m glad the Evergreen extension is not LRT (would be totally useless due to the traffic constraints, nobody would ride it beyond the existing set of people so desperate that they had no choice but to ride the horrible 97 B line), and I can’t imagine converting any of the other skytrain lines to LRT would be an improvement, so it seems unlikely that King George – 104 alignment is some special case where LRT would be superior to skytrain.

  15. With the sheer volume of comments already posted here, I hardly have anything new to say, but much like a crowded Skytrain car at rush hour, I feel compelled to squeeze in.

    Skytrain / station capacity increases cannot happen fast enough, and they are still rather limited. The gains Vancouver first saw with Skytrain will never be matched with an extension to Surrey / Langley. Heck, a bullet train to Abbotsford might be more beneficial.

    It will be interesting to see what happens at the next election, once many of the new downtown Surrey condos are fully occupied and all these new residents decide where it is they want to go and how they wish to get there.

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