October 29, 2018

Mayor McCallum’s Surrey Skytrain

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.

It starts with the already-approved Mayor’s Council 10-year plan, an unlikely miracle of negotiation. In Surrey, (among a few other things), it involved two sections of Light Rail Transit (a.k.a. SNG LRT), 10.5 km., 11 stops, costing $ 1.63 B.  Funded locally, and by the Feds and by the Province, money in place, $50M spent on design efforts, some commercial work in progress (RFQ’s).  Plans call for construction to start in 2020 and operations in 2024.

  1. Heading east from Surrey Centre Skytrain station to Guildford
  2. Heading south from the same area to Newton.

Dump LRT lines (magenta), go for the big grey dashed line (16 km) to Langley, and, oh yeah, make it Skytrain will ya

Mayor McCallum has promised to dump LRT (small, slow, takes up car space), dump the two planned lines to Guildford & Newton, and instead go for Skytrain (like the big munis have) running from Surrey Centre to Langley along the Fraser Highway. This route is actually in current plans, as LRT, and in a distant phase.  There’s another distant phase involving transit heading south all the way to White Rock.

Mayor McCallum’s Promises that Won an Election

  • McCallum I: Skytrain (Fraser Highway, Fleetwood, Clayton, Langley): 16 km, 8 stops, $2.9B
  • McCallum II: Skytrain (Surrey City Centre through Newton to South Surrey, White Rock).  See HERE.

So this tosses a few apple carts into the bonfire.  Not to mention Mayor McCallum reminding me of the dog that finally caught the bus — and wonders what to do next. Or maybe it’s a tiger by the tail — you get the picture. Either way, it’s sure to be headline fodder for years.

The apple cart that interests me the most is probably causing concerted scrambling inside Surrey’s City Hall, as staff prepare to meet with Mayor McCallum & Council to discuss the changes he’s promised.

It’s land use planning, which is always inextricably tied to transportation planning.  Big apples; big cart.

HERE‘s the Surrey Official Community Plan, adopted October, 2014 by council, which envisions 6 Town Centres, starting with Surrey City Centre and including Guildford, Newton, Fleetwood, Cloverdale and Semiahmoo.

They’re described HERE. The general idea is to develop Surrey City Centre as a regional centre, and the 5 town centres as Surrey-specific areas of “… sufficient residential density to support urban services.”  The words “reducing sprawl” can be found here and there in the document.

Surrey Town Centres Overview

Looking at the current land use plan (below), the Guildford section of the SNG LRT is designated for “multiple residential” all along its route, with some commercial. At both terminus areas, the Central Business District (CBD; jobs!!) and Guildford are surrounded by big blobs of multiple residential.

Surrey’s vision for its City Centre is of a Metropolitan Core planned as a primary focus for employment, services, higher-density housing, commercial, cultural, entertainment, mixed and institutional uses that is supported by an integrated rapid transit system.

The Newton section of the planned SNG LRT travels through much of the CBD (jobs, multiple residential) and ends at Newton Town Centre, location of multiple residential, lots of commercial (jobs). On the way, it passes nearby and backs onto industrial (jobs).

The Newton Town Centre hosts a variety of land uses including civic and recreational facilities, transit, retail, commercial, light industrial and medium -to-high density residential.  This Town Centre will accommodate higher commercial and retail densities in conjunction with the extension of rapid transit infrastructure along King George Boulevard.

By contrast, the Fraser Highway Skytrain connects the CBD to only one Town Centre — Fleetwood, which contains less multiple residential and commercial.  But the Skytrain would run through a large park, and BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve (hmmm), which is floodplain territory, connected via the Nicomekl and Serpentine Rivers to Mud Bay on the southwest.

Most of the land along and nearby the Fraser Highway Skytrain route is designated as “Urban”, meaning low to medium densities of 15 units per acre.  The plan designates a few small Frequent Transit Development Areas for higher density, but these are mostly on the Guildford section of the SNG LRT.

Surrey Land Use Plan Overview

There are a few obstacles in the way of dumping this SNG LRT plan and moving to a Fraser Highway Skytrain.

    1. High cost (it’s much longer; more costly per km, likely an extra $1.3 B in total)
    2. Lower returns (only one smaller Town Centre affected; fewer riders due lower density; less development due to distance from Guildford and Newton job centres)
    3. 20 mayors concerned about their 10-year plan getting blown up (new costs not covered, delay in construction, scrambling to try and move Surrey’s SNG LRT money elsewhere)
    4. Feds concerned about the spending window for their contribution, with a Federal election not too far away
    5. Province of BC saying the budget is not there for higher costs; changes must get Mayor’s Council approval
    6. Surrey Board of Trade concerned about interference with economic development in Surrey (Newton and Guildford), including extra costs and time delay as population keeps growing
    7. Newton BIA concerned about existing area development and investment at risk:  The Newton BIA, which represents 386 Newton businesses, has been supporting light rail transit for “the last five years of our existence, the belief is that LRT was going to be a huge revitalization project for Newton, and when we put that in jeopardy I feel like Newton is going to be negatively impacted by investment dollars going to a different community.”  More HERE.
    8. Fleetwood BIA against Skytrain on Fraser Highway (“. . a noisy monstrosity”).
    9. Staff of City of Surrey concerns over current land use and development plans getting blown up — flipping the City’s vision of itself into something quite different.

I would also not be surprised if significant development money and work has gone into Guildford in anticipation of SNG LRT.  But I could be wrong.

The Skytrain on Fraser Highway to Langley doesn’t look like it’s a better plan than the SNG LRT.  There is significant opposition, and significant problems getting it approved and funded.  To me, this looks like delay, and lots of it, with possibility of outright failure, and of stretching past the current mayor’s term of office.

McCallum’s Choices

1. Back down, blaming Mayor’s Council (us against them)

Existing SNG LRT goes ahead

2. Cancel SNG LRT – say goodbye to $50M already spent

Push Mayors & Translink for Fraser Hwy Skytrain detailed cost/tech study

Continue to work Region, Ottawa & BC for extra $$

Uncertain outcome

Delay of many years, perhaps a decade

3. Move Federal money to roads n’ bridges to open up development on Fraser Hwy, especially ALR.

Suits no-transit view of Surrey

4. Agree to a shortened Fraser Hwy Skytrain, stopping at Fleetwood / 164 St.

Costs look better

Significant delay

Uncertain alignment with land-use planning

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  1. The quicker Surrey cancels the LRT, the faster UBC gets its Skytrain. If MaCullum and the sweet, gullible rubes who voted for him think they’re somehow going to strong-arm the region into swapping LRT for Skytrain, then what they’d REALLY be interested in is this little bridge in Brooklyn I happen to own. Frankly I’ve just been waiting for the right offer and it sounds like this trailblazing new mayor is just the sharp, silver-tongued devil to steal it out from under me!

  2. McCallum won’t back down. It looks like the car wins again.

    What is much more disappointing is Stewart. What does he know about Surrey’s planning of the last decade? At least he’s more likely to see reason. I hope he does.

    Meanwhile Surrey will get nothing, fail to focus development in their city core and continue in its sprawling ways.

  3. A better option would be to put the skytrain where the LRT was supposed to go. Then you get the potential ridership densities combined with the faster technology.

  4. Fraser highway was forecast to have WAY higher ridership than the SNL LRT. The SNL LRT was only forecast to have 3000 people per hour per direction at peak…that is terrible for a billion and a half dollars. A real brt (lanes, signal priority) will provide most of the benefits at a fractin of the cost.

  5. Surrey does NOT want LRT, period! How hard to understand this?!! Even Newton, Guildford residents don’t want it! Most Surrey residents have cars and LRT would only create traffic jam to those two already busy roads. And why anyone would want something essentially a “bus on track”? What can LRT do that a bus on dedicated bus route can NOT do?

    This election sent a clear message, that Surrey want and deserve skytrain despite the price tag. Even the current mayor Linda got it so she is too afraid to run re-election.

    So stop whining!

    1. So, Bill, SkyTrain is all about catering to people in cars. Thanks for voicing what I’ve been saying. But how is that going to encourage people to get out of their cars? “Surrey” (what ever that means) doesn’t want LRT but it also doesn’t want to help with climate change. It wants a fancy, expensive, overbuilt SkyTrain so car drivers can remain doing what they’re doing and Surrey can continue it’s destructive sprawly ways.

      LRT is a more comfortable ride, uses much less energy to run and can be expanded to long trains – something “a bus on dedicated bus route can NOT do”. But why bring up a bus in a dedicated lane in the first place? A red herring. You (er “Surrey”) don’t want anything that might interfere with the freest flow of the almighty car and a dedicated bus lane would surely do that.

      By what definition does Surrey “deserve” SkyTrain?

      1. More people ride on skytrain means less cars. easy math. Longer ridership from langley means even more car removed.

        I hope you read the report projecting skytrain takes more ridership than LRT.

        LRT on 104 will make that busy street a big parking lot with cars idle most of the time. Want to experience it, I can give you an example, St Clair West in Toronto is a daily live example. I have been stuck there for hours looking for a intersection to make a left turn, only try to run away from it. I was lucky I could run away but image you would want to take the 104 to hw1 when LRT took away two vital lanes?

        That is exactly even Guildford don’t want LRT.

        Surrey support other place for skytrain. Surrey deserve something better. Surrey is not 2nd class citizen.

        BTW, I live in Surrey. You?

        And if there is skytrain down to clovedale, I will take it instead of driving on HWY 1 as my daily commute.

        1. Sounds like it’s all about the car again.

          But if we spend absurd $tens-of- billions to build expensive SkyTrain to your house then you’d use it for your commute. Awesome! But I wouldn’t bet the farm on that nor put TransLink into bankruptcy on your word.

          Where do you work?

          SkyTrain can carry more people. With such a small population and suburban sprawly density it doesn’t mean it would come anywhere near the numbers to justify it. Why overbuild something that isn’t needed for half a century or more when LRT could meet all capacity demand for a century?

          1. Another exaggerated argument. Oh, build skytrain will bankrupt Surrey, BC, whatever..

            When Canada line was built, I bet there was less people in Richmond than the current population in Clovedale/Langley. Richmond did not bankrupt, instead canada line made Richmond an prospective city.

            All but one Surrey First survived the election. I guess stubborn to LRT has its consequences.

          2. Check out a map, Bill. Look at the size of Richmond. Look at the distance to Vancouver. Look at the spraaaaaawl of Surrey/Langley and Cloverdale(?) and the distance to Vancouver.

            If you really think SkyTrain to Cloverdale would be a wise investment I fully understand now why Surryites are so stubborn about grossly overbuilding.

    2. You question why anyone would want “something essentially a bus on track”, in essence suggesting that no-one would. As evidenced by the hundreds of LRT systems built in cities all over the world, it is clear that many places have decided they did want this so-called bus on track.

      The problem with the arguments re future SOF transit options is that the issue of which technology to use has been too closely tied to the areas and routes to serve. If the overpriced Skytrain technology is to be used it would better be applied to the heavily populated and closer Guildford-Newton areas. Keep bus rapid transit for the longer distance route through lower density park and agricultural land along the Fraser Highway to Langley. The mayor is sabotaging progress.

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