Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

First off, I wanted to wish everyone a happy new year. Remember that transit runs late and is free tonight, so there is no reason to drink and drive.

Also, following up to my post yesterday, the 502 was on-time today with a new bus driver that didn’t stop at Starbucks. Go Translink for fixing this, and only in one day. Let’s hope this lasts. Anyway, I was thinking of the real solution to early/late buses problem. If the bus runs 15min or better and you miss a bus for whatever reason, you know the next one will arrive in a snap. My portion of the 502 only runs every 30min during peak period only. Imagine what it would be like to have an early bus like on some of the routes in Maple Ridge that only come every 2 hours. Ekk.

See you in the new year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


A hat tip to the Peak Energy Blog for helping me to find this gem of arrogance. Someone told me about this advertisement in Vancouver back in 2003, but I could never trace the original down as it was advertising. A Vancouver GM dealer arrogantly advertised that our transit system serves "creeps and weirdos".

Interurban trains across North America were replaced by sleek GM cars and buses. It was considered progress at the time, and even our very own BC Electric Chilliwack to Vancouver Interurban (that ran PROFITABLY from the early 1900's to the 1950's) was also replaced in the name of progress.

I fail to understand why people love automobiles so much. My vehicle is a utility (like a tool in my garage) and it is no more than that. If there was reliable and convenient transit I would park my vehicle as I did when I lived in Vancouver. My 2001 Honda Accord had only 6,000 km. on it when I sold it to a friend in 2005. What is this love affair all about? Why must half of The Province newspaper contain car advertising and all of these domestic firms are going broke?

The Big 3 are always fighting for market freedom and reduced government emission and other standards. But suddenly government is a big piggy bank and is needed. None of these companies shed any tears for the loss of great transportation systems like our interurban and now we have come full circle. The days of the one person per car ARE NUMBERED and we should be bombarding Ottawa and our local municipalities to get LIGHT RAIL INFRASTRUCTURE on the list of priorities for our cities. If we don't do it now during this time of massive infrastructure upgrading, then we will never see our transit needs met any time soon. Forget bailing out the Big 3 and let market forces take their course. Survival of the fittest. It's time to revive Light Rail Transit.

Along these lines I found this really neat account of Tacoma Washington's history and mention of their Interurban and the current Sounder trains. The author talks about looking to the past to find what the future may hold for us. He seems like a very wise man.

"In celebrating 125 years over the past 12 months, The News Tribune has shown, among other things, that the past is sometimes a harbinger of what will be. In 1898, city commuters rode 17 private streetcar lines – and now there is talk of streetcars once again. In 1902, the first Interurban train traveled from Tacoma to Seattle. Closed in 1930, 70 years would pass until a train called Sounder would once again deliver riders between the two cities."

Where is my bus?

Good morning, so my bus came on time today which was a great thing. Following up from yesterday's post about my bus not showing up. I spoke with my friend that takes the same bus from Langley Centre (I get on at 53rd and 204th). Apparently he was just really early. Two of us at the bus stop had to walk up to Langley Centre yesterday. Anyway, my friend told me that he was "driving like a bat out of hell" to the Starbucks at Fraser Highway and 201A Street. My driver pulled over to the same Starbucks today, but he wasn’t early. I have no problem with drivers getting coffee. With the stuff they have to deal with daily, they should all get free coffee cards. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of picking up riders.

I gave Translink's Customer Relations a call this morning to inquire about this. I spoke to a very nice lady who told me a few things. First, they normally hear complaints about the 502 being late, not early. This makes sense as traffic on Fraser Highway is unpredictable, but I’m one of the first bus stops in the morning. Second, bus drivers are allowed to pull over and grab a coffee as long as it doesn’t make the bus "like 30 minutes late." Third in theory, it would be alright for a bus driver to gun it from timing stop to timing stop. To put my bus stop into context. The timing point at the start of the route is 40th Ave at 208th St which is at 6:27am. I’m normally at the bus stop at 6:30am. The bus normally comes at around 6:35-6:40. There is no way you can make it from 40th at 208th to 53rd at 204th via 200th Street in 3 minutes unless you are doing some major speeding. I digress. The lady in the Customer Relations department told me that yesterday was the day when all the drivers changed their routes, so that might explain the very early bus. Anyway, she told me that a transit supervisor will be checking to see if the bus is leaving early from the timing stop tomorrow. I’ll let you know what happens...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Open Door Policy?

Managers often talk about an open door policy with their workers. This is the sign of a good boss, as he or she will be available to listen and talk with employees as needed. But an open door policy doesn't work well on a SkyTrain system!

During this past storm, regional transit did not get very high marks for reliability and operations. But a transit user used his cell phone to record this open door operation of the SkyTrain between two Expo Line stations, and then advised TransLink of the problem. The Vancouver Sun recorded the incident here. Apparently the train was being operated by a person at the time and the door alarms had been shunted because of some other door issues.

Several people that were on the train were interviewed by local news media and I saw some of that coverage on Global TV news. Two guys said they had to hold on to support poles so that they did not fall out of the open door. I'm relieved to see that TransLink is now considering this incident to be serious as over the weekend the TransLink spin doctors were unusually cavelier when interviewed about this very serious safety incident. Let's stop trying to explain things away guys and admit that this is UNACCEPTABLE for a transit system in a soon to be Olympic city. It is not acceptable even in the Third World. I try to be understanding with TransLink, but I was angered by their lack of concern over the weekend. If there was an issue with doors that required an operator to drive the train, then TransLink staff should have manned every car until the train was taken out of service. The spin ends here gentlemen.

What about the poor pedestrian - or – my three hour trip to Pitt Meadows

What a Christmas season it has been for public transit and the pedestrian in Metro Vancouver. I had the pleasure of taking Translink every day since the 22nd, and let me tell you, it has been an adventure. First let’s start with walking.

I commented on an earlier post about the lack of snow clearing on sidewalks in the region. Talking to people around Downtown Langley, many elderly commented that they felt trapped and like second rate citizens. One senior at a bus stop commented that “back in the day” the bus stops used to be cleared with a path to the road. She said that things are worse today. Another senior in my building said that things in Langley aren’t very “senior friendly” when talking about the snow. The Langleys, Surrey, New Westminster, Coquitlam, Vancouver, Burnaby, and Pitt Meadows (these are the places I walked this past week) are not pedestrian friendly in the snow period. While the major roads were cleared, the sidewalks were impassable. I saw a person in a wheelchair on the side of the road almost get run over because the sidewalk wasn’t cleared on Columbia Street in New Westminster. The snow really highlights the lack of priority placed on the pedestrian. Municipalities and the provincial government talk about the need to focus on walking and biking, but at the end of the day it really feels like an afterthought. Otherwise why would utility poles, lamp standards, snow, and sand piles be in the middle of sidewalks? Wouldn't their be more bike lanes?

What can be done about this? On the snow removal front, it always snows during the winter in Metro Vancouver. Municipalities should require (pass bylaws) that sidewalks are to be cleared by landowners, stratas, and businesses. This is done all over Canada. Cities in the Okanagan Valley, Calgary, and Edmonton all require this. In Vernon, they used to run ads in the papers, radio, and TV to remind people to clear their sidewalks. When I was talking to a business in Downtown Langley, she didn’t realize that in other parts of Canada local municipalities clear their downtown and high pedestrian areas. She seemed shocked that other snowy parts of Canada have cleared sidewalks. An impassable sidewalk can’t be good for business. On the general pedestrian accessibility front, move utility poles and lamps to the sides of the sidewalk as roads are being built or rebuilt. Also, require that sidewalks be passable and free of debris all year. Paint bike lanes on the road, many roads are wide enough for this. Surrey has been retrofitting some roads with bike lanes for a while, and the Township of Langley’s newer neighbourhoods are bike lane ready.

There has been much talk about SkyTrain and Translink in the media this past week. Trains driving with open doors, failure of track switching and the automation system; the list goes on. It really builds the case for an at-grade, non-automated system. Anyway, the people at Coast Mountain Bus and SkyTrain really did an amazing job keeping the system going. I over heard many SkyTrain Attendants talking about working 6 hours with no breaks driving trains. Also, bus drivers were packing on people to make sure that everyone could get a ride, sometimes bending the rules. These people deserve a big thanks, but there seems to be some issues with the way that Translink deals with major events. As an example, when the SkyTrain broke between Sapperton and Columbia on Saturday, Translink told everyone to take the 112 bus instead. This bus only ran every 30min. When I lived in Calgary, they had emergency shuttle bus stops that were marked year round for when the light rail system had issues. When there was an issue, there was frequent shuttle bus service. This should be happening in Metro Vancouver today.

Anyway to wrap this up, I found it funny that today of all the days the 502 didn’t show up at my bus stop. This made me 30min late for work. During all the snow and horrible weather, the 502 remained on time. Today on the clear, rainy roads, it was a no show, go figure...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New Rail Overpass For Langley?

During the civic election campaign some handbills were circulated by opponents to what is being called the Mufford Crescent Overpass. Mayoral candidate (now mayor) Rick Green stated during that campaign that if elected, he would oppose such an overpass and let the federal government know that we won't be taking their money from them nor other partners. Mayor Green's inaugural address also included statements about this project, and are recorded here and here. The Langley Times recently published this article on the overpass project.

At Monday's Special Council Meeting at 3:00pm on December 15, 2008, Township staff including Colin Wright, General Manager of Engineering and Doug Hyde, Project Manager made a presentation to council on this important project, then answered questions from mayor and council. The presentation outlined the three (3) possible alignments considered for this area of Mufford Crescent and 64th Avenue. It is interesting to note that during the election campaign it was alleged that this project came out of nowhere was going forward without any public consultation. But we reprint this timeline from a TOL Memorandum dated December 3, 2008 from Project Manager Doug Hyde to Township Administrator Mark Bakken. This document was distributed to council on December 11th:

Public Documents relating to Mufford/64 Avenue:
  • October 25, 2004 - Council Report 04-303 "Conceptual Alignments for 64th Avenue" and associated Power Point presentation
  • April 4, 2005 - Council Report 05-55 "Deltaport Third Berth Environmental Assessment Application"
  • Township and City of Langley Public Display - April 30, 2005 relating to Deltaport Third Birth Environmental Assessment Application
  • Joint Township/City of Langley Council Meeting, May 3, 2005, 7:00pm, re Deltaport Third Birth Environmental Assessment Application at Christian Life Assembly
  • May 16, 2005 - Council Report 05-98 "Final Submission re Deltaport Third Birth Environmental Assessment Application"
  • August 28, 2006 - Council Report 06-164 "Proposed Deltaport Third Birth Environmental Assessment Application Report"
  • November 16, 2005 - Willowbrook Regional Town Centre Traffic Improvement and Rail Separation Task Force Meeting notes
  • March 27, 2006 - Council Report 06-55 "Rail Issues in Langley"
  • February 5, 2007 - Council Report 07-15 "Master Transporation Plan"
  • March 22, 2007 - Public Open House re Master Transportation Plan
All of these reports are available publicly and there has been considerable public information and consultation sessions. After hiring MCELHANNEY CONSULTING SERVICES INC. to provide conceptual designs and analysis for the extension of 64th Avenue from 204th Street to 216th Street, it was determined that after reviewing the three possible options, only two were viable. Reviewing all of the viable options for this alignment, a focus was placed on the current choice that unfortunately is very difficult for us to reproduce a graphic for on this blog.

Consideration had to be given to other roadways in the TOL that would be impacted by current and future traffic patterns. This analysis included a look at the Langley Memorial Hospital access roads, 200th Street, the Bypass/Hwy. 10, and thirty-seven (37) rail crossings without grade separation in Langley! Of course there were many more considerations that the engineers examined.

Mayor Green acknowledged at the end of this staff to council presentation that there was considerable public interest and opinion on this plan during his campaign. Unlike the campaign rhetoric offered back then, Mayor Green now says that it is not a question of giving back any monies to TransLink and the Federal Government, more than it is about finding the right alignment. It is also interesting to note that a friend of mine was present to monitor this meeting. Her and her colleague work for TransLink. I'm certain they were present at this council meeting because of regional concerns and the support for this project. I know that Mayor Peter Fassbender in the City of Langley is highly supportive of this program, as well as many members of his council members.

I was happy to see Mayor Green listening to the staff presentation. He appeared to be keeping an open mind on this project. There will be a public information meeting in the New Year and in fact, Mayor Green made some suggestions to Colin Wright and Doug Hyde as to what slides and maps might be worthy of including for this public meeting.

South Fraser OnTrax offers this opinion on this overpass project.
  1. We do not wish the two Langleys to become the communities of overpasses, as these structures are costly and kill lots of business and life underneath these structures
  2. We recognize that there is considerable freight/heavy rail traffic in our communities and despite all good intentions by some, this traffic is not going to go away anytime soon
  3. Current rail traffic on the Langleys already cause major disruptions here and with the number of trains increasing with Deltaport expansion, relief is needed
  4. The railroads are not willing to bargain or negotiate and they feel they were here before the residents and that guarantees their position (right or wrong)
  5. It is apparent that Colin Wright and his staff have done an excellent job of looking at all the options and impacts on other roadways in the future
  6. As less crossing delays with heavy rail will always help make passenger rail more viable for us, we support this important overpass project
We look forward to participating in the public consultation process on this vital project and we will also continue to listen to the experts and keep an open mind. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all of you. We will write here over the holidays in between mouth fulls of turkey and other goodies. Not sure if we will be able to post every day, but we sure will give it a try. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter Weather II

Here is a quick follow-up to my post yesterday on winter weather and transit. I found a post on a blog call “Light rail and I: a love story 28 years in the making”. It is written by a light rail operator in Portland, OR. Anyway, she had some interesting insights on winter weather on the MAX (light rail system). Apparent even with 1.2 feet of snow, the system was running.
Snow and ice make it necessary to run the trains all night to prevent the overhead wire from freezing over. With 750 volts running through the catanary wire, you would think it could not freeze. It can, and it does in some places. The train momentarily looses power when the pantrograph slides past a section covered by ice. It is an annoying feeling, and at first I did not understand what it was. A couple of times I had to stop and restart the train, other times I just kept on going.

The snow along the tracks was incredible. At some intersections on Burnside Avenue in Gresham, I knew there were probably tracks ahead of me. Since I could not see them, going forward was something I did on pure faith, a strange feeling with a 109 ton train...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter Weather

While riding transit and walking around both Vancouver and Downtown Langley the last few days, I have had the following observations. 1.) Businesses, Stratas, and Joe Landowner really need to clear their sidewalks. Where I grew up (Vernon), if you didn’t clear your sidewalk the city would come and clear it for you. You'd then get a nice bill from the city. Now I realize that it only snows for about two weeks a year in the South Coast, but sidewalk clearing is a major safety issue and needs to happen. I found myself walking on the road last night and today because the sidewalks in some parts of Langley were impassable.

My second observation is this: SkyTrain does not work well in the snow. I applaud the efforts of SkyTrain staff that worked all day to remove snow buildup with hockey sticks so the SkyTrain doors would close (and I can only imagine the other behind-the-scenes work that was going on), but it really speak to the lack of robustness in SkyTrain’s design. Snow was even blowing through the doors when they were closed.

Maybe someone that knows more about SkyTrain can comment on why the system doesn’t handle bad weather. In Calgary when there was bad weather, it seemed the only thing that would run was the light rail system. The doors opened and closed without issue. Signaling and control worked. And while this would not be needed in Vancouver, all the switch gear was heated to prevent freezing. It just seems very strange that the SkyTrain system, which is one of the most expensive types of systems in the world, can’t handle 10cm of snow. Light rail and streetcar work in all weather.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Meaning of the Season

The members of South Fraser OnTrax is taking an extended "pause" as we enter this Christmas and New Year season. There will still be posts and information found here frequently. But we must take time out of our busy schedules to recognize Township of Langley Councillor Charlie Fox. Councillor Fox is a VERY strong supporter of light rail transit in the south Fraser and is very vocal about his LRT views in council. We very much appreciate his advocacy and support.

Cllr. Charlie Fox is one heck of a guy and I greatly enjoy his wisdom, spirit, determination and friendship. But during this holiday season Charlie, his wife Diane and their family will need your prayers, encouragement and thoughts. This past week Councillor Charlie Fox received word that his kidney transplant will take place on January 7, 2009.

Charlie's wonderful wife Diane is the donor and as Charlie jokes, "We are a match in more ways than one." While this transplant schedule is great news for the councillor's overall health, we must keep them in our thoughts and prayers that the transplant goes very well and there are no complications. We wish Charlie and Diane a speedy recovery and we look forward to reporting some great news shortly after January 7th. Thank you Councillor Fox for enriching our lives as residents of the Township.

Let us all remember the meaning of this season.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Keep The Pressure On

Langley Times editor Frank Bucholtz offers his opinion in his sister paper, The Surrey North Delta Leader today. Frank credits the south Fraser mayors and community leaders with TransLink getting the message. Also just as we have pointed out several times here, Tom Prendergas, new CEO of TransLink needs to be given some credit as well. I guess you could say that us rail advocates had to prepare the soil a bit by spreading some fertilizer. I won't continue on with any more thoughts of this analogy :)

New buses are being added and minds in various transportation sections are beginning to think. Frank Bucholtz has a good understanding of the light rail issues and mentions that a connection of Langley and Surrey make perfect sense. I would add Abbotsford to that list Frank, but we must start somewhere and as we and Frank point out, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts is a VERY vocal advocate and she will pull lots of weight with the provincial election coming up in 2009. That is why we say that a recently announced transportation study for Surrey is not bad news for Langley.

It should be noted that Township Councillors Jordan Bateman, Charlie Fox, and Grant Ward have been strong advocates, as well as a few positive statements that have come from Mel Kositsky and Bob Long in the past. Mayor Rick Green and new Councillor Bev Dornan were vocal about transportation and specifically light rail transit over the course of their municple campaigns and it will be intersting to see where they take that vocal support. After all, Mayor Green is the primary GVRD/MetroVancouver representative for the Township and that should bring some major pressure on the Provincial government to do something.

We are also hopeful that the Township mayor and council will rally our provincial MLA's and federal MP to place light rail south of the Fraser on a list of priority infrastructure projects for federal consideration in this big spending spree that is to come. Also on our wish list is the replacement of the New West rail bridge. MP Mark Warawa is very well versed on these subjects and it would not hurt our case of the Township and the MLA's voiced some words of encouragement to the MP sooner rather than later.

Sign that it’s time to get serious about South Fraser transit…

…before someone gets hurt: The platform at King George SkyTrain is so packed that people going up the escalator are being pushed into people at the top. Someone had to press the emergency stop button, so no one would get hurt. I was one of the lucky people being squashed this morning. Not a very fun feeling, let me tell you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


In Michigan state, all levels of government and the private sector are coming together to upgrade a 44km section of single track rail to serve as a commuter line between Ann Arbor, Michigan (POP: 341,000) and Howell, Michigan (POP: 9,232). These communities are near Detroit. This project was proposed by the government because they had the choice of spending $500 million to add an additional lane of highway between these communities, or spending $33 million to get a simple commuter rail system up and running. They will be upgrading the signaling, crossings, tracks, and adding some passing sidings. Capital funding for the rail upgrade are in process. The short line operator, Great Lakes Central Railroad, will be providing the train-sets and operating the line. It is expected that passenger revenue and a government subsidy will cover the operating cost. They plan on running eight trains a day to start.

I wanted to point this project out for three reasons. First, it shows that you don’t need to spend lots of money to get a simple rail system going. Second, there are some parallels to our Interurban line. (short line operator, underutilized line, etc.) Third, you don’t need a large population to get a rail system up and running.

I invite you to read the business plan for this project.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Evergreen Line

Well, it looks like we are one step closer to seeing SkyTrain to Coquitlam according to an article in The Province:
But top of his Christmas wish list for Baird was extending rapid transit to Coquitlam, which would go through Port Moody, at an estimated cost of $1.4 billion.

"I feel very, very, very confident in the minister's support for that particular project," said Falcon, after their meeting.

"It's just, really, I think, a matter of dotting the i's and crossing the t's.
Added Baird: "The Evergreen Line can be important, not just for reducing congestion, but improving the quality of the air."

The pair are ironing out the details of federal funding, coming from Ottawa's $33-billion infrastructure fund.
It is really interesting to seeing how the project turned from light rail to SkyTrain, and from a completion date back in the NDP days, to hopefully a start date next year. It remains to be seen what the South Fraser will get. All I know is that if we get SkyTrain to Guilford it will be a generation before we see light rail out to Langley, and even other parts of Surrey. That scares me to thing that I'll be dead before Langley will see rail.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Price of Traffic

A friend of mine pointed me to a PBS series called e squared. I highly suggest that you watch the episode called “London: The Price of Traffic”. The episode talks about the London congestion charge and how it allowed for the removal of vehicle lanes for widened sidewalks, bike lanes, and bus lanes. It also talks about how the revenue from the charge is used only for public transport. In London, they are actual seeing a modal shift to transit. This is NOT happening in metro Vancouver. What was also interesting was how London is trying to charge their roads to shared spaces to “tame the auto.” They used the example of how removing dividers from one of their streets reduced congestion and traffic fatalities. Also, they have seen a reduction in emissions that are harmful to our health. Anyway, I hope you get the chance to check out the show.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Weekend Newswire

Here are a few items to review from the past couple of days:

28 Ways to Treat Your Lover
If you haven't already heard, TransLink has listed 28 potential ways to get them out of their financial troubles in 2009. Some or all of the 28 will be adopted. The Province newspaper covered that here yesterday. One of the most controversial is a "cellphone tax". People are asking what connection cellphones have with transit and most people I talked with over the past couple of days thinks we already pay far too much for cellphones and a new tax is ridiculous!

This is a Re-Announcement
BC Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon has been busy making re-announcements of plans already announced. The Province newspaper also covered that on December 11th. South Fraser OnTrax is not happy that this extension does not include Langley and we hope that campaign promises in the civic elections will change that.

This article from yesterday's Province newspaper speaks about the Surrey and Vancouver studies that ignore the rest of the south Fraser. Again, people expect transit to appear out of thin air without any studies. Just spend billions of taxpayer dollars on transit and don't study or engineer anything. While I'm all for transit and as motivated as anyone to get light rail in operation now, I don't get this lack of logic with regards to studies and engineering. Do these people comprehend passenger safety and the requirements that go with it? I've heard people say that they should just throw a train down on the old interurban tracks and run an experimental passenger train. But if they took the time to read what qualified engineers said in the Township of Langley commissioned UMA Report, they would soon see that there are many old industrial shipping spurs on that line that by Federal Law must be decommissioned by removing them. There are many other examples, but the bottom line is that this is PASSENGER rail and we must put safety first.

Finally there is much talk in the USA about what President Elect Obama is going to spend that nation's infrastructure dollars on. This news blog out of Chicago speaks about light rail possibilities and greener cars. I sure wish our own Canadian Federal Government was talking more about passenger rail and light rail transit. On the subject of cars I"m getting a big kick out of all this talk about bailing out the big automobile makers. These guys have been arrogant and failing to deliver what North American consumers want for years now and we contemplate bailing them out? They were asked to reduce worker wages to Toyota and Honda pay levels and they refused. What about a cap on executive compensation?

I'm not eager to give these big auto manufacturers one cent of my tax dollars. In 2005 I ordered a loaded Chrysler 300 from a Burnaby dealer. The car was being manufactured in Brampton, ON and I did not get the car within the window of delivery the salesman promised. I was told Chrysler Canada was ignoring Canadian buyers and had my car in a large parking lot in Ontario as Chrysler Canada shipped cars to the USA because the exchange at the time made them more money. The local dealership manager called me arrogantly on the phone to tell me that he wasn't happy that I was calling his salesman for the car and that if I wanted to, they would sell it to someone else. I faxed the CEO of Chrysler Canada and said that one day the economy was going to change and they would only wish for customers like me. His office was arrogant to, but they put my car on a train to fast-track it to BC. I vowed never to buy from these North American manufacturers again. Arrogance, overspending, and lack of customer service is what killed them. Let them die off and replace them with the tram manufacturers and car companies that will produce VERY green cars at very affordable prices.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Oh, SkyTrain

Good morning, I just walked into work and last nights’ OMNI NEWS: PUNJABI EDITION was airing a lengthy story about yesterday’s re-announcement of SkyTrain by Minister of Transportation Kevin Falcon for Fleetwood. Officially it looks like the ministry is still pushing the SkyTrain option. While I couldn’t understand most of the story (not in English) the new CEO of Translink, Thomas Prendergast, was talking about the need for better transit in the South Fraser as did Mayor Dianne Watts. I also noticed they used the words rapid transit, not SkyTrain. Maybe I missed something, but this is important as both Prendergast and Watts appear to show more interest in light rail over SkyTrain for the South Fraser. At the very least they want to give it a good, fair study…

Thursday, December 11, 2008

You Gotta Love Em - Light Rail in South Fraser Gaining Traction

In today's Province Newspapers Brian Lewis talks about a recent chat that new TransLink chief executive officer Thomas Prendergast had with the Surrey Board of Trade at their invitation. As Brian points out, Prendergast came to us from the USA where he served over 30 years in posts that included senior vice-president of New York's subway system and president of the Long Island Rail Road, the largest commuter railroad in the US.

So why do we love him? Because he gets it! Here is what Brian Lewis had to say:

"Yes, the man knows his rails and, as he said yesterday, he's not about to dismiss either light rail or the existing Interurban right-of-way options as TransLink plans its options for south of the Fraser.

Nor is he convinced that SkyTrain's extension in Surrey has to be a continuation of the elevated system.

In fact, when TransLink announces today that it's embarking on two new major studies -- one covering a westward, rapid-transit extension to the University of B.C. and the other focusing on Surrey -- the latter study will look at all options, Prendergast told me yesterday."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Portland Streetcar

Portland Streetcar

Looks like the next phase of the Portland Streetcar expansion program is going ahead. This is from the Daily Journal of Commerce:
The project is moving forward after a July report issued by the Federal Transit Administration indicated that the project would pose no significant impacts to the environment.

The loop will add 3.3 miles, at a cost of $77 million, to the streetcar line, extending it east across the Broadway Bridge and south to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

TriMet News

Portland Metro’s transit authority, TriMet, has been very busy building a world class transit system. To date they have built or are building the following:

53km Blue Line opened in 1986
41km Red Line opened in 2001
11.5km Yellow Line opened in 2004
22.7km Green Line will open in 2009

At the same time, they are building a streetcar system that has been in a state of constant expansion since 2001.

Well, to top that TriMet has recently finished a document called a "Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS)" this November for their federally funded Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project which is slated to open in 2015. One of the interesting components of this project is a multi-use transit bridge that will cross the Willamette River. The bridge will carry light rail, buses, pedestrians, and cyclists. The private automobile will not be allowed on the bridge. This is some very progressive thinking, and it’s a great example of governments working together. The whole project will cost approximately $1.4 billion. The US federal government's share is expected to range from $710 to $850 million, $250 million is coming from the Oregon State Lottery Bonds, and the rest should be coming from local governments. Anyway, I suggest that you check out their website on this project.

The Orange line is the new Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail

The Green line will open in 2009

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pretty Lights

December has shaped up to be a very busy month for me. With 2009 looking to be a not-so-hot year in media (layoffs at Rogers, CTV, Canwest), we are busy cramming as much projects into 2008 so 2009 will look nice to all the shareholders. Anyway, all this is to say that my blog postings will be a bit light for the remainder of this year.

I had a bit of an epiphany while taking the bus this morning about street lamp Christmas lights. It's a pretty good indication that you're in a walkable neighbourhood/town centre if you have Christmas lights on your street lamps. One sure sign that Whalley is transforming into a walkabout town centre is the appearance of pretty lights on the street during the holidays. Who needs fancy density charts and zoning maps when all you need to do is look for the lights?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Watts On LRT - Priority

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts recently granted an interview with Province newspaper columnist Brian Lewis. In today's newspaper Watt's says:

While new people help drive Surrey's economy via needs for housing, shops, jobs, etc., they also need many services. Thus, public transportation is a top priority, she says, and it will include developing plans for expanded bus services, light rail, rapid bus systems, as well as utilization of the old Inter-Urban rail line in some fashion.

Watts will push hard for Victoria to drop plans to extend Surrey's elevated SkyTrain line and select a ground-level extension instead. She's disappointed that Victoria's recently announced Valley transit study does not include Surrey. "Planning collectively gives you a better result," Watts says.

Wow, if ever a politician gets it! Mayor Watts is right on top of this file and she understands Light Rail Transit for sure. Very early this year she announced that she had received some information from the BC MoT regarding a comparison of SkyTrain vs. Light Rail. So it appears that the good mayor has done her homework and has made up her mind. For the past several months she has been making very pro-LRT statements. Good on her!

So, I was thinking this morning of a list of politicians that get it with regards to Light Rail Transit in the south Fraser. Here is what I've come up with based on words that have been met by action:

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts
Langley City Councillor Rudy Storteboom
Langley City Councillor Gail Martin
Township of Langley Councillor Jordan Bateman
Township of Langley Councillor Charlie Fox
Abbotsford Councillor Lynne Harris
Abbotsford Councillor Dave Lowen

There could be other strong supporters, but these are the people that I am familiar with and heard their voices in council. There are a few new politicians that made some campaign promises and so the jury is out on them. Maybe we can update this list as time goes on and add these new people in time.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Translink Security

Way back in April of this year, I wrote a post about SkyTrain security. For some background, the provincial government is proposing to spend $125+ million to add security gates at all stations. I thought they could skip the gate system plus gate attendants, and just add security guards at the stations to save money while providing enhanced security.

Today I received an email from "TransLink Listens" email saying:

TransLink has introduced dedicated station attendants at the four SkyTrain stations (Surrey Central, New Westminster, Broadway and Main) where people have the most security concerns, as well as increasing staff presence at Metrotown in the evenings whenever possible. 61% of TransLink Listens panelists support dedicated staff at stations.
This is a very good step as there will now be attendants at these stations at all times. It would be great to see this program roled out at more station in the future. It looks like there are some positive changes happening at Translink...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Newswire Surrey

I received the following news second hand. I was told that Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts during her inaugural council meeting speech said that by the next municipal election, in 2011, she will have the Interurban restored in Surrey. This is truly exciting news. From Surrey to Abbotsford, and now even Chilliwack, there is a real desire from our local leaders to see light rail in the South Fraser and Fraser Valley. I hope the Province and Translink are paying close attention. The time is right for light rail.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Opportunities for Urban Density - Part One

Part One of a Three Part Series

I'm behind in my writing projects. When security consulting work rains, it pours. As this is a labour of love for Nathan and I, sometimes life overrules this blog. We try not to though!

Last Thursday morning I got up before the sun and made my way to BCIT in downtown Vancouver. MetroVancouver sponsored a Sustainable Community Breakfast entitled, "The Opportunity for Urban Density". Three speakers presented some excellent information and included:

Ms. Ronda Howard, Assistant Director of Planning - City of Vancouver

Mr. Norm Shearing, VP of Development for ParkLand Homes

Mr. Jean Lamontage, General Manager of Planning & Development - City of Surrey

The information at this breakfast was exceptional as always. As transit advocates, we welcome this kind of forum and the information presented. It's a shame that more members of the general public don't attend these events, as they are attended mostly by people working in the field of planning, development and government. When people attend these events on a regular basis, they begin to understand much more about efficient/highest land use and the need for walkable neighbourhoods that support good public transportation networks. I encourage you to view and digest these cutting-edge community planning slide shows.

Ronda Howard must help the mature City of Vancouver find density opportunities. Vancouver is doing this by allowing home owners with garages in laneways to develop those garages as apartments and offices. Ronda calls this "Hidden Density". From a crime prevention standpoint I love this idea, as it brings more eyes and ears to a part of the street that often goes neglected and unobserved. The more natural surveillance and "legitimate users" we bring into an area, the safer our communities become.

Ronda communicated that there is also some "Gentle Density" available by seeking out "Neighbourhood Centres" which many of us in Langley call the "Urban Village concept". These are basically complete and walkable communities that provide housing diversity, shopping and other needs into a compact community village.

Lastly, Ronda spoke about "Invisible Density", which are secondary suites. Many areas of Vancouver will soon allow for a secondary suite plus a lanehouse, creating quite a mortgage helper for the homeowner, but perhaps more importantly, affordable housing options for more people. With many single-family homes in Vancouver costing more than $1M, options are needed for the masses. This is VERY smart growth that Ronda Howard and her team are planning.

More to come tomorrow!

Friday, November 28, 2008

New Chilliwack Mayor Cautiously Supportive of LRT

The Chilliwack Times reported today that mayor-elect Sharon Gaetz is being cautiously practical in her support for light rail transit in Chilliwack. As many are aware, former Mayor Clint Hames questioned the immediate need for LRT in Chilliwack and felt that because of density and other issues he could not support it at this time.

"Am I in favour? Well, ya, but we need to outline some of the difficulties because each crossing grade costs the city $500,000," she told the Times Thursday.

Another concern she has is that trains would only be able to travel at 50 kilometres per hour over some stretches making a trip to Vancouver about three hours, something RFV says is untrue if rail upgrades are completed.

That and the fact that parking and transfer stations would have to be built and at least some would be on farmland."

-- Mayor-Elect Sharon Gaetz

But people in the Fraser Valley are very supportive of light rail. The BC government through the Ministry of Transportation has agreed to study it. Even today's Langley Advance published a letter from TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie which rebuts a previous letter from Malcolm Johnston. Hardie ends his letter by saying,
"...SkyTrain, while proven to be an extremely efficient way to move large numbers of people, is not in any way, shape, or form assumed to be the only choice. Indeed, we join with many, including Mr. Johnson, in believing that LRT's time has come."
For the record we here at South Fraser OnTrax would like to say:
  1. We are supportive of a study that is professionally managed by a firm with good credentials, and which is fair and reasonable. We trust that older data will be reviewed, but will not form the entire basis for the results.
  2. A professional study is what any prudent business or government manager would do. You do not embark on projects in the millions of dollars without a proper study and accounting for an order of magnitude budget for your project. To do any less is failing to exercise fiduciary responsibility on behalf of the taxpayer, and would amount to political suicide.
  3. Rail advocates MUST realize that any system be designed with passenger safety as a hallmark. Safety systems cost money and are not thrown together overnight.
  4. Proponents must be open to alignments that make technical and practical sense. The communities along the routing must examine their current and future density and advocate for an alignment that meets these needs.
  5. Finally, we must remain open-minded and supportive of refined recommendations from the experts. We must put aside suggestions of conspiracy theories and act on the facts.
We congratulate Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz for her rational and prudent leadership. It is very apparent to us that Mayor Gaetz is embarking on her new role in a very professional and purposeful manner.

The Economy and Carbon Tax

Well it looks like the economy is on peoples minds in BC, according to a poll released by Mustel Group Market Research. What is interesting to note is the other top issue (thought it’s like comparing iPods to Zunes) is the environment.

I was listening to a speaker on Monday night talk about how, in the hard times, societies can change for the better. Take the Great Depression in Canada. We got the Bank of Canada in 1934 to control the money supply, federal government funding for public infrastructure, and the introduction of unemployment insurance and other forms of social security. Now, I’m not saying that depressions are good, but because they take us out of our comfort zones, we are more apt to trying new ideas.

If you know me, you know that I have some issues with the current government at the federal and provincial levels. I will stay this very strongly: the Provincial government should be praised for introducing a carbon tax while at the same time lowering our income tax. I don’t know why the “lowering income tax” message is not getting across. Incoming tax is not a good idea; it’s confusing, costly to manage, and unfair. By shifting to a consumption tax we can ensure that everyone pays their fair share taxes (no matter how much income they are hiding), encourage savings and investment (a consumption tax would not be levied on savings, investments or capital gains), and use the tax in the same way as our PST (Social Service Tax) for the good of the province. That is why I support Carbon Tax. In fact if we move to a complete consumption tax system, I’m sure it would energize the economy, lift stagnant wages, give people more money in their pockets, and create jobs in this hard time: all this while doing well by the environment and providing revenue for things like light rail. In this new era, our governments have the chance to try out new ideas. Let’s give consumption tax and carbon tax a try.

Shame on ANY political party that tried to oppose a carbon tax or any other consumption tax that reduces our income tax. It’s time for consumption tax; we must keep the carbon tax.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Intersections Can Be A Killer

Now that we have your attention, it is not really true that intersections can be killers. Leanne gives us the real truth here...
"Generally, intersections on the top crash location list tend to have very high traffic volumes. When you combine that with high-risk driving behaviours the crash incident numbers are high. The important thing to remember though is that crashes can happen at any intersection, not just these locations."

-- Leanne Cassap, ICBC
I spent much of today keeping track of world events in Bangkok, Thailand and Mumbai, India (formerly Bombay). Constant checking of current crisis conditions and investigating the possibility and route options to facilitate the evacuation of a an important C-Level executive from one of these global hot spots. I lived in Asia for over 10 years and know the "roads least traveled." At least it was 2:00 am for her and not for me this time around. I don't know how many hours of sleepless night's I've had over the years, but it must number in the hundreds. It all started for me at 08:00 hours this morning when I got a call from California's Silicon Valley. The voice was stern but worried. I know immediately by the tone what I should expect before any details were spoken. My kidnapping and ransom training kicks in and I speak like a calm negotiator to ease the nerves on the other side of the line. Such is the life of a global security consultant. Now I can blog.

I've been wanting to introduce our latest Public Service Announcement (PSA) from ICBC related to intersections. ICBC's Leanne Cassap served together with me on the TOL Community Safety Commission and we stay in touch. She works day and night on the various projects and I like us to help her out when we can. South Fraser OnTrax loves light rail transit, but we also realize that passenger vehicles will not totally go away and this is a transportation and smart growth blog.

ICBC has produced this great web page that gives us the latest details on intersections and where the problem areas are. They tell us that more than 40% of all motor vehicle crashes in BC happen at intersections and that since 2003, more than 1 million drivers have been impacted. Here are the bad intersections for Langley. Thankfully we didn't make the Top Crash Locations in BC List for 2007 though.

So, what can you do? Well, ICBC has identified these high-risk driving signals that can give you a clue that you need to be more careful!
  1. Passing on the right hand side, unsafe lane change, unsafe speed.
  2. Left hand turn, failure to yield to pedestrian at crosswalk
  3. Illegal u-turn at signalized intersection.
  4. Late left turn on red signal, following too close.
  5. Following too close during left hand turn.
  6. Unsafe right hand turn from through lane.
  7. Unsafe lane changes, tailgating.
  8. Motorcycle, riding on shoulder.
You can also watch a video they have produced. Its only 2 min. and 48 sec. You can also be aware of these...

5 most common driver actions involved in intersection crashes
  • Failing to yield the right of way
  • Disobeying a traffic control device
  • Following too closely
  • Speeding
  • Driver error

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

East Clayton

The busiest bus stop (save for the terminus stops) on the 502 bus route that runs from Langley to Surrey Central on Fraser Highway is by the strip mall in East Clayton. There is a good reason why this stop is the busiest on the route, the neighbourhood was designed with Smart Growth principles. Smart Growth BC has a webpage that details the principles that went into the design of this new neighbourhood:

-Conserve land and energy by designing compact walkable neighborhoods.
-Provide different dwelling types (a mix of housing types, including a broad range of densities from single-family homes to apartment buildings) in the same neighborhood and even on the same street.
-Communities are designed for people; therefore, all dwellings should present a friendly face to the street in order to promote social interaction.
-Ensure that car storage and services are handled at the rear of the dwellings.
-Provide an interconnected street network, in a grid or modified grid pattern, to ensure a variety of itineraries and to disperse traffic congestion, and provide public transit to connect East Clayton with the surrounding region.
-Provide narrow streets shaded by rows of trees in order to save costs and to provide a greener, friendlier environment.
-Preserve the natural environment and promote natural drainage systems (in which storm water is held on the surface and permitted to seep naturally into the ground).

For the most part this plan has been followed. If you look around the strip mall, you’ll see the mix of housing option, and higher densities as you move closer to the mall. The original plan was to have mixed-used on 188th Street. Also, between 188th Street and 192nd Street along the Fraser Highway was planned as a business park to provide local employment options.

It remains to be seen what the commercial/mixed-use component, which is key, of East Clayton will look like, but the housing plan seems to be on track.

When you build smart neighbourhoods, you can provide alternative forms of transportation that people will actually use.

Find out more on East Clayton at the City of Surrey’s website.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Are Bad Times Good Times For Light Rail?

We've all see the articles and news stories that suggest the US federal government under President Obama will spend billions of dollars on infrastructure projects, much like that which was done under FDR. Our own federal government is talking the same talk and we can only HOPE that this spending will include massive amounts of transit, to include light rail!

A Globe and Mail editorial yesterday spoke of economic stimulus and government infrastructure spending. It was interesting that they noted interurban passenger trains and the expansion of the port of Prince Rupert. I know that both of these will make Nathan very happy and he has scratched his head over the lack of port expansion in Prince Rupert. While the Vancouver and DeltaPort operations provide considerable jobs for metro Vancouver residents, there's nothing wrong with some expansion and jobs in Prince Rupert to help reduce increased heavy rail traffic in Langley.
"Some of these undertakings could greatly facilitate trade. Commerce with Asia would be promoted by multiplying the container capacity of the port of Prince Rupert, B.C., with matching roads and railway tracks. Similarly, this would be a fine time to relieve the transportation congestion in the Lower Mainland of B.C."
We like it and it may be the only way we see something sooner rather than later here! BC Finance Minister Colin Hansen says that although BC will remain in the black, we will see an $800M decline in revenue and he warns that although budget items will be covered, no one should expect an expansion of programs or any new additions. He said that over the next 3 years we could see as much as a $3 billion dollar fall (yes, that was billion). This is all due to a number of factors colliding. They range from declining real estate sales that reduce the amount of Property Transfer Tax revenue that is collected by the province, to loses in businesses that result in less corporate income taxes owed.

Federal infrastructure spending in Canada has been pitiful for many years now and this is a perfect time for them to step up to the plate and create many jobs in the process. I'd love to see Langley become a major LRT train design and manufacturing hub as suggested by our Australia-based LRT expert Brent Graham.

Now that Councillor Jordan Bateman (our very vocal LRT supporter) has been re-elected along with Councillors Charlie Fox and Grant Ward, maybe we will see some action. Mayor-Elect Rick Green has promised to be a big advocate for light rail, as well as new Councillor-Elect Bev Dornan who supported LRT in during her campaign. I'd like to see this happen sooner rather than later, especially with the current economic times and the huge federal spending potential. MP Mark Warawa retained his position as the federal Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment this year. I see a very nice environmentally-friendly infrastructure project that would generate MANY jobs right here at home. Maybe we here at SFOT will initiate a winter petition project to gather names for presentation to our MP. It will be very interesting to see how many names of citizens of the Langleys we can collect. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Province Transit Ad

So, I guess people in the provincial government have been reading and watching the same media stories about the public outcry for light rail and better transit service in the South Fraser and Valley. The first bullet point in the ad is the Surrey SkyTrain extension through Guildford to Fleetwood. As you know SkyTrain is an order of magnitude more expensive than light rail, and it is a technology is not popular with local people and government in the South Fraser due to its cost and inflexibility. Anyways, I have attached the ad for your viewing pleasure.

We can Fix Gridlock

The following post is from South Fraser OnTrax board member Bill Taylor on an article he read in Readers Digest.
December 2007, when GO Transit, the Greater Toronto Area's (GTA) regional commuter agency, extended its rail service up to Barrie of 132,000 by Lake Simcoe. "Every Day," he says, "I hear three or four people tell someone it's their first time.”

Inside, Roslyn Tyrell is still bundled in her wool coat as she waits for the train so she can commence her 90 minute journey. She works as an office manager in a tower just steps away from Union Station in downtown Toronto. She's been commuting from Barrie for eight years, either by bus or by car. The trek down Highway 400 can take up to three hours if the weather's bad-and that's just one way. “The train,” she says, "is a lot more convenient. It's still a three-hour commute both ways. But on a day like today, I'm saving a couple of hours."

Tyrell isn't just saving time. By avoiding crowded highways, she and her fellow passengers are helping to reduce gridlock, which exacts a toll on the wealth, environment and quality of life in Canada's urban areas. These problems are not unique to Toronto. In Vancouver, the bridges spanning Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River are congested, while Montreal's aging highways are chronically clogged, especially with thousands of commuters streaming in from the West Island and the off-island suburbs that circle the city. Ottawa's Highway 417 is jammed with civil servants driving in from the capital's far-flung suburbs. Booming, Edmonton and Calgary, meanwhile, are Canada's lowest -density big cities, which means car dependency is especially high.

"It's a misconception that gridlock is going to go away," observes Michael Roschlau, president and C. E. O. of the Canadian Urban Transit Association. The question is, how do you give people choices or options that simplify their daily routines.
As someone indicated in one of the Township meetings in Langley, there has been a lot of money spent in the South Fraser on new roads and the upkeep of the old roads. There is another piece of the puzzle that is missing. We need light rail. The province through BC Hydro, as I understand, still has passenger rights in the Interurban corridor. Having an under-utilized rail right-of-way through the heart of urban center (Surrey) is envied by most places in the world. By using the right-of-way we would be able to give people the choice to get out of the gridlock on our roads.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Metro Card

A friend of mine just got back from New York. Does this look familiar? Apparently New York transit uses the same system as Translink.

Sewer Lines

As you might already know, I sit on the Park, Environment, Culture, and Recreation committee at the City of Langley. Anyway last night at the meeting, Metro Vancouver was telling us that they are upgrading the main sewer trunk (west/east) through the City. What does this have to do with Smart Growth? Well, part of the Downtown Langley plan is to increase density in the core. This will require an upgrade to all sorts of infrastructure from electrical to sewer. This Metro Vancouver upgrade will allow for higher densities in the core. The sewer trunk also has an important benefit for the Township of Langley and the City of Abbotsford.

Aldergrove’s sewer is currently routed into the Abbotsford system. Due to all the growth in Abbotsford, the City requested that the Township get off their system to free up capacity. The upgrade of the sewer trunk will allow for Aldergrove’s sewer to be routed to the Annacis Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Of course the Township also has some work to do on their end; I believe it is one of their major projects.)

Also, Metro Vancouver will be contributing labour and/or funds to do some park improvements at the Nicomekl Park as the sewer line will be going along the edge of the flood plan.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

McKee Peak

Abbotsford has been implementing some very progressive policies when it comes to Smart Growth and urban planning. As their Official Community Plan says they want to be “a liveable, sustainable and prosperous ‘City in the Country’”. The core of the community bound by South Fraser Way, Clearbrook Road, Maclure Road, and Old Downtown Abbotsford is slated for a mixed-used city centre. Also, light rail may be making its way there in the hopefully, near future. This is all very exciting stuff, but there is one large part of Abbotsford that is developing in a business-as-usually way.

I work in television, and one of my jobs is to maintain a transmitter on McKee Peak on Sumas Mountain. Back in 2003 it was a mountain with trees, today it is a mountain full of houses. While I don’t want to question the placement of housing on a mountain that people use as a de facto park, there are some serious issues. First, there are townhouses and row houses in an area where there is minimal bus service and no walkable amenities. The nearest grocery store is on Old Clayburn Road. Second, with no walkable amenities, jobs, or mixed-used, people are forced to drive. I can see this part of town getting very busy.

Anyway as I see the east side of Abbotsford develop, I can only hope that there will be an opportunities to provide a mixed-used community core on McKee Peak. This would give people access to a walkable area, plus the mixed-used density would allow for better transit access.

I will give Abbotsford credit for installing bike lanes on Old Clayburn Road.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why the Interuban will not work today

An opinion article named “Why the Interuban won’t work today” appears in the Aldergrove Star today. In it the author says:

I'd like to see the Interurban service revived as I live only a block away from the tracks and the former "Jackman" station, about 1.5 kms north of Hwy. 1 on 264 Street. However, I'd be hard-pressed to make a solid business case for it, as there are only about a dozen families who reside within walking distance of the station. It's the same situation all the way out to Chilliwack, as urban growth has not settled alongside the rail line.

Southern Railway purchased the section of B.C. Electric rail line between Langley and Huntingdon from the province about 20 years ago, and uses it for shuttling one or two trains a day, so there would be no technical problem in accommodating revival of a transit service. The problem lies in the fact that there is no population density to justify it, nor are there any available non-ALR properties for park and rides, let alone connecting buses to travel to the urban areas from the old Interurban stations.

For that matter, this section of the Interurban is so far out in the "boonies" that none of the level crossings are controlled with lights or gates — some don't even have a street light for illumination.

There is a much better business case for running a tram along the BCR line from the Surrey SkyTrain station out to Langley City. The section of the BCR line along Glover Road was sold to the CPR many years ago and is heavily used for coal trains, but Langley Township councillor Jordan Bateman has led a worthy campaign to build a connecting tram line from Langley City along 200 Street to Hwy. 1. Willowbrook-Willoughby-Walnut Grove is a major urban corridor that would support such a transit system.

Now there is one fact that I wanted to correct from the article. BC Hydro still owns the right-of-way on the Interurban corridor. Southern and CPR own a freight license, track, and equipment. This is important to remember.

Anyway, I agree with the author that there is a “much better business case for running a tram along the BCR line from” Scott Road to Langley City. In fact, I believe that when Kevin Falcon's study comes out it will say that the Interurban line makes the most sense alone that alignment. I believe that Surrey to Langley will be best served by that route. As far as the Township of Langley goes, I believe that a tram/light rail along 200th Street makes the most sense for connecting the growing population of Langley Township with itself and the region via a connection in/near Langley City. The City of Abbotsford has come out with their preferred concept for light rail. This covers the urban areas of the South Fraser. Between Abbotsford, Trinity Western, and 200th is a lot of ALR land. Does it make sense to run between 200th and Abbotsford via the Interurban or Highway 1? At the end of the day, cost and speed will be the deciding factor.

I could get all worked up about this article, but the facts are these: Surrey wants light rail, Langley wants light rail, and Abbotsford wants light rail. At the end of the day, if all these communities (and the province) agree on how to make the system cover the most area for the least amount of money, and they system gets built in the next 10 years, I’ll be a happy camper.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Main Street, Canada

I was listening to the Vinyl Cafe last night and I was pleasantly surprising to hear the host Stuart McLean talking about the importance of Main Street. He praised the people of Picton, Ontario for having a Main Street in an era when “many Main Streets are boarded up.” Here spoke about how, unlike strip malls and power centers, Main Street provides a sense of community and place. At times I though I was listening to a lecture on urban planning. He went on to explain that in the Netherlands, some communities require big box retailers to setup outlets on Main Street. Well talking, he told the people in Picton that he was glad they resisted Wal-Mart. The audience erupted into clapping and cheering. He went on to say that having people living on top of stores was important, and how in Picton they are seeing a resurgence of development on Main Street.

View of Main Street in Picton, Ontario. From:

Basically Stuart McLean was speaking about Smart Growth, mixed-use development: stuff that SFOT has been advocating for. I hope that you have time to download and listen to the first 15 minutes of the show. I leave you with this paraphrase from the show: Sure Picton has its problem, like all communities. But a community with a working Main Street is 1000 times better off then one that’s lost it.

Download the MP3 Podcast

LRT ALL Over the News

Over the busy civic election days there were several noteworthy news articles that came out in print that are very encouraging and sends the message that Light Rail Transit will not go away! Here are a few:
The Surrey Leader reported last week that BC Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon says that SkyTrain is no "slam dunk" in expanding rapid transit from Surrey to Langley. The article mentions that TransLink has yet to put the study tender out and talk has been that the results of the study will not be out until after the Provincial election. I'm at least happy to see that talk of rapid bus service is deminishing and SkyTrain vs. LRT is being discussed.

"Light rail could be the smartest, wisest thing to do," Falcon told The Surrey-North Delta Leader.

"I wouldn't rule that in or out. But for goodness sakes, let's do our homework first and make sure we actually know what we're talking about before we make a decision on what the answer should be."

-- Minister Falcon

SFOT Board Member Bill Taylor pointed us this morning to this Vancouver Sun article on LRT comments made by Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts, the most popular mayor in metro Vancouver!
"Watts has asked city officials to investigate the cost of an at-grade light-rail line as a possible alternative to a costly and elevated SkyTrain extension. She said light rail would cost about one-fifth the price of a SkyTrain extension and would be more pedestrian-friendly, adding to street ambience."
Finally, not an LRT story but, in The Province newspaper today, Jon Ferry wonders why the federal government is putting roadblocks up to block more regular trains from Vancouver to Seattle and most especially high-speed rail on that route. He mentions the hoops set up by the Canadian Border Services Agency, but neglects to mention that a Washington State Department of Transportation report points to the replacement of the New Westminster rail bridge as a significant obstacle to high-speed rail service between Vancouver, BC and Seattle.

As driving from Langley to Vancouver to park at near the seedy Via Rail station downtown doesn't thrill me, I will be driving to the beautiful Fairhaven AMTRAK train station in Bellingham this Wednesday for my business trip to Seattle. The USA is getting their rail act together in a big way. If our federal government doesn't want to get on board, I have no problem giving my money to the Americans for a very reasonable, enjoyable and stress-free ride to SEA to conduct my business. Fairhaven is like our historic Fort Langley and AMTRAK even offers some decent food in the Bistro car. The AMTRAK staff are exceptional people as well!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Civic Election is Over

Storteboom Wins!
Hardworking and very community active South Fraser OnTrax board member Rudy Storteboom is now Councillor Elect Rudy Storteboom in Langley City! Rudy spends much of his time serving our community on boards and committees. He has worked extremely hard over the years and he deserves this council seat so much. Way to go Rudy!

Now that the civic elections are over we will see if candidate promises materialize and we can re-focus on the issues at hand. The political campaigns in the region have all highlighted transportation and light rail transit as huge issues for our people. Now let's see what will be done with this much-needed public infrastructure.

In other election news in the Township of Langley, Councillor and long-time LRT advocate Jordan Bateman received overwhelming public support by getting more votes than any other mayoral or council candidate with 9,273 votes. Strong LRT advocate Charlie Fox was next with 7,956 votes. Grant Ward who has been very active in the LRT discussions was also re-elected last night and we are very thankful for that.

Langley Township lost a very sincere and hard-working mayor last night with Mayor Kurt Alberts losing his bid for re-elected (6,588 votes). With his deep background in urban planning and his creative support for LRT, I will greatly miss my discussions with him on these issues, but he will always remain a friend. We know that with his background and personal integrity he will do well in future endeavors.

Langley Advance photo

The electorate in the Township has spoken and Rick Green is now the mayor elect with 7,842 votes. In the interest of keeping our community a dynamic one, we must support our elected leaders and trust that smart growth in line with the Township's Sustainability Charter and light rail will happen sooner rather than later. During his campaign, Rick Green discussed LRT and said that current mayor and council have not done enough to remove the heavy rail traffic from the Township, and to speed the building of light rail in the south Fraser region. I called Rick Green this morning to congratulate him on his victory and to let him know that we would greatly appreciate efforts to remove or reduce heavy rail from the Township. I also expressed our desire to see light rail transit now. Rick assured me that, "You will not see a stronger advocate for passenger rail".

Friday, November 14, 2008

Planning Meeting Minutes Online

Since this was a planning meeting for 2009, we decided to post paper minutes of last night’s meeting. You can download the minutes from our Document Archive. Have a great weekend

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

I refer to your Brian Lewis column dated November 13, 2008 regarding candidate endorsements by Rail for the Valley. While Rail for the Valley has been actively advocating for light rail transit (LRT) in Chilliwack and Abbotsford, they have not closely followed the Langleys or Surrey councils and motions approved this year.

As a sustainable transportation advocacy group, South Fraser OnTrax remains open to LRT proposals that make practical sense for our regional transit needs. As a non-profit society, we respect our public officials and have greatly valued their input. We are not an elector organization and as such, we have refrained from endorsing candidates.

In attended every council meeting and all public hearings in the Township of Langley, we feel we must set the record straight. The voting record of current Township mayor and council has not been fully examined and we question the endorsement list. This voting record clearly shows Mayor Kurt Alberts remains a strong advocate of improved transit and LRT options south of the Fraser. Councillor Jordan Bateman has supported light rail transit for many years now. His recent motion asked for action on next steps outlined in the UMA Consulting report on the Interurban. Township council also approved other pro-LRT motions in 2008. Another such vote was for a Councillor Charlie Fox motion for the Township to urge the federal government to replace the old New Westminster rail bridge, as a new bridge would make passenger rail technically possible. Abbotsford City Councillor Dave Loewen was actively involved in the committee there. Mayor Diane Watts and many incumbent councillors in Surrey endorsed light rail over SkyTrain, yet they were excluded from endorsement. Even often-criticized BC Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said yesterday that he is not ruling out LRT in the region now, as long as the homework is done.

Future 200th Street densification and the new Golden Ears Bridge present a common sense north-south LRT need to ease traffic congestion in Langley Township. This, just as Abbotsford made their case for an east-west LRT connection to serve density there. These options will not precluded use of the Interurban from discussions. In fact the 200th Street LRT and east-west LRT in Abbotsford would be complimentary to the Interurban making it even more viable and sustainable, and may help the case to obtain system funding from other orders of government.

Light Rail Now

Well I have to say that light rail and the Interurban has been getting lots of press coverage lately. On last night's CTV News, there was a piece about the Interregional Transportation Select Committee and Abbotsford Council's support of light rail. You can read the story and watch the clip on CTV’s website.

"We felt if people in the community were serious about this, that they needed to see what it could potentially be and impact their lives,'' said Abbotsford
Councillor Lynn Harris.
If you listen to the comments from Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon, it is interesting to see that he seems more kind to the thought of light rail then he did back in February when CTV ran a piece about the Interurban.

In today’s Province newspaper, Brain Lewis wrote an article about “An issue that just won’t go away.” He talks about the wide spread support for the Interurban and light rail in the Valley from municipal candidates.

If the B.C. government, which has been dragging its heels on the call for light rail in the Valley, ever hoped to sidetrack the issue, that hope is now gone.


Many Surrey civic candidates, including Mayor Dianne Watts, are also positive about light rail.

"We know that light rail is much cheaper and that you can get better value for the dollar and we could link our town centres," Watts said.

The Vancouver Sun also ran a story about the growing politics support for light rail.
A campaign to bring light rail transit to the Fraser Valley has gained momentum during civic election campaigns in the region.

Many mayoral and council candidates have spoken in favour of a light-rail system south of the Fraser River

In other news, Jeff Nagel from the Surrey Leader wrote a story on Southern Rail (who operates freight on the Interurban line) willingness to review operating rail transit.

Southern president Frank Butzelaar said he has an open mind toward a rail transit revival, but says it depends on Victoria's wishes.

"We are open to the concept," he said. "It really requires that the province comes to us and says 'Look, this is something we're interested in.'

"To date, that hasn't happened."

The article also points out that the Interurban study that was personally promised by Kevin Falcon back in January of this year may not be available until the end of 2009.

Finally, the Langley Time asked Township candidates a few questions. One of these questions deals with transportation. I suggest that you check out the story to see what the answers were.

It will be interesting to see after November 15th how the Interurban and light rail fairs. The public wants light rail, and they want it now. Not in 2030. I have a feeling that the BC government will start paying attention to the demand for light rail in the South Fraser and Fraser Valley as their election approaches early in 2009.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

SFOT Meeting Tomorrow

Thursday, November 13th
7:00pm - 9:00pm
Township of Langley Municipal Facility
4th Floor, Nicomekl River Meeting Room
20338 - 65 Avenue, Langley

This is our year in review and planning 2009 meeting. Be sure to
attend and have your say for our 2009 meeting schedule, fundraising
and project ideas. Download a copy of the agenda.


6:45pm - 7:00pm Self-Registration /Greeting

7:00pm - 7:10pm Group introductions
-Place of Residence

7:10pm - 7:25pm Reports
-Financial Report
-State of Advertising / Promotion

7:25pm - 7:45pm Recap of past speakers and main points

7:45pm - 8:00pm Comments on past speakers and information presented

8:00pm - 8:30pm Ideas - What to do in 2009 - Fundraising and Projects

8:30pm - 9:00pm Blog & Website
Help Needed
New Business
December Eggnog - Spouses/Guests

Meeting Adjourned