Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reply from the Ministry of Transportation

Back in January, I sent a letter to Kevin Falcon at the Ministry of Transportation with some questions about his Ministry’s vision for transportation in the South Fraser. This letter was written before the BC Provincial Transit Plan was announced.

While the BC Provincial Transit Plan is a great start, 2020 for rapid transit in Surrey and 2030 for Langley is a long way out. Rail transit to Langley by 2030 is completely understandable when building with SkyTrain, but a light rail system can be completed for a fraction of the cost. We could have a starter system up in a relatively short time.

The second part of my letter dealt with my personal environmental concerns with the Gateway Program. There is a reason why the South Fraser Perimeter Road has been in the Environmental Assessment Office since 2003.

Anyway I’m not against roads, but I believe that we must put transit first in the South Fraser. Restoring the Interurban line and building streetcars would be a major step in the right direction. Remember, it could all be done for a faction of the cost of SkyTrain.

Here’s the reply letter.
April 28,2008

Nathan Pachal,
20454 53 Avenue, Suite 21 5
Langley BC V3A 7SI

Reference: 164009

Dear Nathan:

Re: Gateway Program

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding my ministry's Gateway Program. Please accept my apologies for the lateness of my reply. I understand you believe the Gateway Program will not create a more environmentally responsible transportation system in the Lower Mainland, but on that point I must respectfully disagree.

As you're probably aware, our government recently unveiled a plan to invest $1 4 billion to improve transit services throughout British Columbia. The plan is designed to double transit ridership by introducing more transit routes and services and promoting green technology. This plan will see the introduction of rapid bus services, the extension of existing SkyTrain lines and the completion of the Canada and Evergreen lines. For more about the Provincial Transit Plan, I would encourage you to visit my ministry's web site at

The Gateway Program integrates well with the transit plan, as it will extend the high occupancy vehicle lanes on Highway 1 in part to accommodate the rapid bus service for that corridor. Through the Gateway Program, we will also be providing park-and-ride sites as well as queue-jumper or priority access lanes for buses in this corridor.

In addition, the bridges over the Fraser and Pitt rivers are also being designed to accommodate light rail transit in the future. And we're committing $50 million through the program to new cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, the biggest such investment in our province's history.

Tolls will also be used on the Port Mann Bridge. Tolls will moderate traffic growth and greatly extend the useful life of the bridge. Tolls will also encourage the use of public transit, high occupancy vehicles and cycling over the crossing.

The provincial government is also working to protect the environment, and we're regularly reviewing our plans to see if they can be improved upon. After extensive consultations with the Greater Vancouver Regional District, the Ministry of Environment and the Canadian Wildlife Service, a portion of the South Fraser Perimeter Road's (SFPR) alignment has been shifted farther to the west of Bum Bog in order to further minimize any potential effects of this project. In addition, we've developed more detailed design concepts for the portion of the SFPR that will be located near Burns Bog, and these concepts include proposals for avoiding environmental impacts.

To ensure was have as little impact on the environment as possible, all Gateway projects will undergo a through environmental review, and issues like pollutions, noise and the effects on vegetation and wildlife will be addressed rigorously. Environmental applications, accompanying studies and reports are available on the BC Environmental Assessment Office web site at

I'm also pleased to tell you that our Gateway team has been meeting with representatives from the Delta Farmers' Institute and local farming community. They're working together to mitigate any negative effects the SFPR may have on agricultural land and enhance the area's agricultural productivity.

Finally, I'd like to address the alternate alignment proposed by Mr. Hoover and Mr. Naas. The Haover/Naas plans have been analyzed thoroughly, as have other proposals, to determine whether they're appropriate for the SFPR.

Based on the results of extensive and in-depth internal and independent studies, we've found the Hoover/Nass proposal simply does not meet the transportation and safety needs of the region nor our goals for this important project.

On the other hand, the SFPR will decrease travel times and reduce congestion on other routes such as Highway 91 and River Road. It will ease traffic concerns by moving more trucks and ferry traffic away from the existing Highway 17 and Ladner Trunk Road, better separating this regional traffic from local traffic in the community.

The SFPR provides a significantly faster and more efficient route to Delta's key industrial areas along River Road as well as increased safety for all traffic in the area. The Hoover/Naas proposal to limit truck access to the George Massey Tunnel would significantly impact the transportation services necessary for a strong economy.

If you'd like to lean more about the Gateway Program, you may wish to contact program staff. You can write to them at 4710 Kingsway, Suite 2400, Burnaby, British Columbia, V5H 4M2, or phone 604 775-0471. You can also visit my ministry's web site at

Thank you again for taking the time to write.


Kevin Falcon

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ridership Stats

I had a very pleasant phone call with an employee at Translink's SkyTrain last night. He provided me with some approximate ridership stats on SkyTrain. These numbers are total boardings and include transfers from buses.

Vancouver (Pop: 2.1m) SkyTrain Average Daily Weekday Ridership

2006: 220,000
2007: 225,000

During peak A.M. hour about 5,000 – 6,000 people use the SkyBridge.

Calgary (Pop: 1.1m) CTrain Average Daily Weekday Ridership
2006: 248,200

South Fraser OnTrax Announces Meeting Schedule

South Fraser OnTrax entered into a meeting room lease agreement with the Township of Langley on April 17, 2008 and we are pleased to announce the following meeting schedule:

Place: Township of Langley Civic Facility, 4th Floor
20338-65 Avenue, Langley

Time: 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Room Name: See below

Inaugural Meeting - All Invited! Please Join Us!
May 8, 2008 - Nicomekl River Meeting Room

June 10, 2008 - Yorkson Creek Meeting Room

July 10, 2008 - Nicomekl River Meeting Room

August 14, 2008 - Nicomekl River Meeting Room

Stay tuned for more information on our upcoming Sustainable Communities and Transportation Workshop/Brainstorming Event!

Please join our mailing list to get the latest meeting and workshop news from SFOT. We DO NOT abuse the mailing list and our emails are very infrequent.

Monday, April 28, 2008

In the News - Light Rail is a No-Brainer

"Planning for rail up the Fraser Valley is plain common sense" The Province newspaper says in today's editorial. It goes on to state that light rail for the South Fraser region is a no-brainer! Add this article to many over the past few weeks and years. Last week's Langley Advance featured yet another article on light rail for the south Fraser and concluded we will benefit from it. Can we all be wrong?

Why Langley Needs Light Rail Transit (LRT) Now

We desperately need to re-activate the old Interurban line from Langley to Surrey sooner rather than later. With this light rail project underway, we can begin to add street car service to our neighbourhoods. We can start with 200th Street, and grow the system from there.

In 2006 the Township commissioned a study to see if re-activation of the old Interurban line was possible. There were no major deal killers that we found in this report. The report recommended some follow-up work like a ridership study/computer modeling, an examination of alternative routes, protection of right-of-ways, and related matters. On May 5, 2008 the Township of Langley council will vote on a motion proposed by Councillor Jordan Bateman to take this next step. Approval of this motion will also generate letters to Translink, the Ministry of Transportation, and the Mayors and Councils of the Cities of Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack to invite them to participate in the routing and ridership studies.

Here are 8 reasons to support the LRT next steps:

1. Cheaper Than Buses to Operate

Light rail costs about half as much as it does to operate buses. This is at current gas prices, which are expected to quadruple over the next 10-15 years. Since the province and possibly the federal government will be paying the capital costs to build it, there will be no negative impacts on local property taxes. We can give more transit to Vancouver, or we can get our fair share.

2. Reduced Traffic Congestion

LRT lanes can be shared with cars or have a dedicated lane. Because the LRT will carry more people, there will be less traffic on the roadway, even with a dedicated lane.

3. Choice Riders

Studies the world over have proven that more people that can choose to drive their cars or ride LRT will choose Light rail. Most will not choose buses or even rapid bus services. Because an LRT will carry more people than buses and be convenient, we will realize a net increase in LRT ridership and a net decrease in cars on the road.

4. LRT Will Serve The Elderly and Handicapped Well

Because the LRT will run beside the sidewalk’s curb, the lip of the curb will align with the sidewalk. Passengers should be able to board an LRT train without having to use any steps. Our elderly and handicapped neighbours deserve the ability to get out and enjoy what all residents enjoy. LRT will help them lead active lifestyles and connect them with our communities.

5. Technology Compatible with Land Use

Light rail can go anywhere. It can travel on roadways, on sidewalks, across a plaza, in the air, underground, and up a grade for example. LRT fits our environment and neighbourhoods well and can easily share space with other uses. Its done the world over.

6. Smarter Growth

Light rail has been proven to attract lots of investment dollars because developers see the rail as a permanent commitment to community infrastructure. Developers are aware that LRT attracts more “choice” riders than buses and that developments with close proximity to LRT stations are a major incentive to new home buyers. Those buyers will also benefit from capital appreciation of their new home asset due to LRT.

These developments are normally transit oriented developments (TOD’s) that contain mixed use live/work/retail spaces so that these neighbourhoods are occupied by people all day and night. We can enjoy tasteful and appealing mixed streetwalls of 5-6 storey buildings with retail and offices below and apartments and condos above. We can build taller 20 storey buildings behind these and again create mixed use spaces that will support round-the-clock occupancy. Developers don’t write cheques and build TOD for buses very quickly. They do for LRT.

7. Less Land for More

Because the LRT will reduce driving demands, our communities can reduce parking requirements and build more on less land along the light rail lines. People on the line can use the LRT and if a vehicle is required, local car shares systems can be readily available to them on a by the hour or day fee basis.

8. Opportunity to Expand the System and Community Amenities

LRT attracts the investment dollars and leads to immediate densification around the rail lines. This supports the community long-term growth strategies and plans. It builds more complete communities for us and allows us to better pay for the services and amenities our communities require or that we would like to have. It allows us more options by providing more spaces for parks and green space. More neighbourhoods can be connected and we can expand the ridership to support the connection of our neighbours. We can have smaller roadways and more parks and amenities for families.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Canadian Transit Facts for Your Sunday Read

60% Of Canadians say there is not enough support for their community's transit infrastructure.*

73% believe that the federal government is not doing enough to support local transit infrastructure across the country.*

66% Don't feel all three orders of government are working together for a long-term solution to transit infrastructure needs.*

79% Want the federal government to do more than give tax credits to individual commuters.*

1.7 billion trips on public transit annually in Canada.**

95% Of urban residents have transit service and 61% of all other Canadians have access.**

Average cost of one person-kilometre of travel in Canada:

By automobile = $0.50
By public transit = $0.12 **

Public transit consumes 3 times less energy per passenger-kilometre than the automobile.**

Congestion in urban areas costs Canadian between $2.3-3.7 billion per year.

1 bus = 40-50 automobiles
1 rail line = 15 lanes of traffic

No urban transit = 150 more transport fatalities each year.

No urban transit = $1.1 billion more in health care costs annually.


* Ipsos Reid survey conducted on behalf of the Canadian Urban Transit Association
** UITP Millennium Cities Database of Sustainable Transport

Friday, April 25, 2008

Of Road and Transit

I was going to write a post about stats today (how SkyTrain and CTrain in Calgary carry about the same amount of people even though Calgary is less than half the size of Metro Vancouver), but I got distracted.

As I was researching, I came across a great document on the BC Gateway Program’s website called “Road Pricing Review.

The report explains the Ministry of Transportation’s views on tolling based on their 2003 Guidelines. One of the points is very interesting: Tolls will be implemented only if a reasonable untolled alternative is available. We know that 58% of the Port Mann traffic is going to North Burnaby and the North East Sector Communities.

Travel distance to Coquitlam Centre from 200th and Fraser Highway via:
Port Mann: 25km
Golden Ears/Pitt River Bridge: 25km
Pattullo Bridge: 34km
Alex Fraser Bridge: 47km
George Massey Tunnel: 71km

The Golden Ears Bridge will be tolled. Are the other three bridges reasonable alternatives? I surely hope not.

Anyway the Gateway folks will admit that without road pricing, the Port Mann project will be pointless. The report concurs. “The phenomenon of induced traffic demand (increase in capacity leads to additional traffic) is clear.” Road pricing is the only way to go if this project will even remotely meet its main goal of long-term (and even short-term) congestion relief.

The report explains the different types of road pricing schemes, but I will focus on corridor and areas schemes as they are the most relevant to our region. Variable road pricing is the way to go if we want to reduce congestion, and has been proven effective.
Variable road pricing (higher prices under congested conditions and lower prices at less congested times and locations) is intended to reduce peak-period vehicle trips. Tolls can vary based on a fixed schedule, or they can be dynamic, meaning that rates change depending on the level of congestion that exists at a particular time.
The report then goes on to explain the effects of road pricing on traffic when new capacity it added.
New highway links (even when tolled) attract traffic from surrounding road network, improving conditions on the routes being relieved and often in turn leading to more traffic on these routes, so called induced traffic demand.
Let me try to tie this all together.

The provincial government is trying to get people out of their cars and into transit. (Because of green-house-gases and global warning, if you believe all those pinko scientist.) Either way, with gas prices going nowhere but up, people will want to get into transit. There is one major problem for people in the South Fraser. Transit service is currently inadequate. As it stands now, all our major road improvements will be complete around 2012. Quality transit improvements will be complete around 2020 (2030 for Langley). Building roads before transit is a very creative approach to get people onto transit.

I would suggest an alternative time-line and projects if getting people into transit, reducing congestion, getting goods moving, and reducing green-house-causing-gas is important.

On the people moving front:

-Improve frequent bus service in the South Fraser as quickly as possible.
-Get started on building light rail in the South Fraser.
-Complete the rapid transit network in the North Fraser.
-Once all this is complete, road price all the river crossings.

Road pricing has been proven to manage congestion. How does this relate to the Port Mann? Do you want managed congestion with 5 lanes or 8? At the same time, we still need to replace our aging infrastructure. The Lions Gate Bridge comes to mind. As Liberal MLA Ralph Sultan said, “we can't squeeze more cars over the [Lions Gate Bridge]. So one point they make, and I think it's a very green point, is that we've got to focus on moving people across the bridge, not vehicles, in the future.” Moving people, not cars is the key.

I had a conversation with a Translink planner a few months ago. We got talking about the Golden Ears and Pitt River bridges. He admitted to me that these two projects should a have major impacts in reducing the demand for the Port Mann. The Golden Ears Bridge is a great project and is long over due; creating new connections offers more value than expanding existing ones.

I truly believe that by putting transit first, using our current transportation (and almost complete) infrastructure more efficiently, and putting people first will reduce congestion and reduce green-house-gas causing emissions.

On the goods moving front:

As I blogged about earlier, rail is the solution that a recent Transport Canada paper suggests. Investing in rail will allow for better connections within and out of our region. The federal government will need to step up to the plate to make this happen. Also, a major side benefit of road pricing is that congestion will also be reduced for important local commercial traffic.

One finial provocative though. What would happened if we let private enterprise manage our major river crossings and roads? I’m sure they’d be creative in making our current infrastructure last longer.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Priorities – Making It Happen

We here at South Fraser OnTrax are all about realistic priorities and making the Interurban a reality sooner rather than later. While in the immediate short-term we would love to see an Interurban from Chilliwack to Surrey, there comes a time to prioritize in order to make this work.

Reality is an important perspective and as we study the old Interurban line and area density, we see a reasonable phased in plan most attractive to us and for the people that can sign and make this happen.

Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said a few months ago that the Interurban must be studied because, “we don’t want to blow our brains out financially”. He also made reference to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) when making that statement. While the South Fraser region is the steward of the ALR for our province, we should not be penalized for it. At the same time, we must think like smart business people and recognize the validity of the minister’s statement.

A Dose of Reality

Chilliwack densification is occurring, but not as quickly as Surrey and Langley. Abbotsford is gaining more density, but both Chilliwack and Abbotsford are outside of the GVRD. The Interurban is not impossible for these two communities, but Abby would need to negotiate with the GVRD and share some costs. We believe Chilliwack needs to realize more growth.

Smart Phasing

In recognition of reality, and significant council support in the Township of Langley for taking the next Interurban step as outlined in the UMA report for the Township on Community Rail, South Fraser OnTrax announces today our Smart Phasing plan for our local communities and the Minister of Transportation to consider:

Phase I – Revival of the Interurban Line from Langley to Surrey

Phase II – Interurban linkage of Abbotsford to Langley

Phase III - Eventual Interurban connection from Chilliwack to Abbotsford

The Thoughts Behind the Plan

The Township of Langley has approved high-rise mixed-use buildings along the 200th Street corridor. A 200th Street streetcar has often been discussed. Some have questioned the challenges of a streetcar climbing the hill up to 72nd Avenue and elsewhere, but Calgary has had this technology for some time past S.A.I.T., or in Little Rock, AR.

We believe that mayor and many councillors now see at least the Langley to Surrey portion of this plan to be do-able sooner than the timelines outlined in this original document.

As the Township connects various communities with light rail and the City of Langley makes a decision to link into the system, there will be increased demand and attraction for an eventual connection to Abbostford and beyond.

The Langley to Surrey light rail project will cost significantly less than an immediate Chilliwack to Surrey project, allowing TransLink to acquire land and partner in the building of numerous transit oriented developments to support and grow the system.

What do you say Minister Falcon?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Best Way to Langley

There has been much talk about the best route for rapid transit from Surrey to Langley. Obviously, I believe that using the old Interurban corridor from Surrey to Langley makes the most sense. The other options are using Fraser Highway or the Trans-Canada Highway.

There are a few things to remember when building a community rail line; the most important being that is serves areas where people live and work. Density is also important. With that in mind lets compare the three options.

On Density:

Legend for the Map: Solid Red Line is the Interurban Line, Dotted-Red Line is a possible future alignment of the Interurban Line, Circles are the growth areas the Interurban Line goes through, Squares are the current built-up areas the Interurban Line goes through, Arrows are areas that should be connected to the Interurban Line and other rapid transit lines via Streetcar, BRT, of frequent bus. - From MoT

-The Trans-Canada Highway alignment serves the least amount of people and is the lowest density corridor.

-The Fraser Highway alignment serves some dense areas, but only modest density increases are expected in the next 20 years.

-The Interurban alignment serves the most dense areas and will see the most growth compared to the other two alignments.

On Live and Work:

-The Trans-Canada alignment would serve some residential areas in Surrey and Langley, and the industrial areas at the 200th Street interchange.

-The Fraser Highway options would serve a large amount or residential areas, but would only service the few strip malls on Fraser Highway. It would also serve the major industrial and commercial areas in the Langley Regional Centre.

-The Interurban alignment would serve a larger amount of residential areas in Surrey and Langley, major commercial and industrial areas around Newton and Langley, and Kwantlen University. The Interurban alignment also has the advantage of servicing already walkable communities.

I’m am certain that a ridership study, that is focused on moving people within the South Fraser, will prove that the Interurban alignment from Surrey to the Langley Regional Centre would attract the most ridership. Now the wait for the report…

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

South Fraser Gets New Rubbers

TransLink Chair Dale Parker today joined by Mayor Dianne Watts of Surrey, Mayor Kurt Alberts, Township of Langley, and Mayor Peter Fassbender, City of Langley for an official announcement of the new bus services for Surrey, Delta, White Rock, the City of Langley and the Township of Langley. Under a windy tent in Surrey with plenty of hot coffee and donuts, Parker said,

Residents living in this area have told us they want alternatives to driving personal vehicles, but they need service that is more reliable and more frequent, and with a greater chance of getting a seat. The improvements now in place help to give them that.

New, clean-diesel coaches running low-sulphur diesel and using diesel particulate filters are replacing older diesel buses. The new buses are quieter and pollute less.

TransLink’s news release says that public input led to more frequent transit routes offering service every 15 minutes or less, 15 hours a day, every day. The proportion of south of Fraser residents living within walking distance (450 metres) of an FTN (frequent transit network) bus route is gradually increasing. Around Metro Vancouver, 47 % of residents will be within walking distance this year, and by 2010, that figure will go up to 50 %.

SFOT always views more transit options as a good and positive thing for our communities. Anything that will increase community transportation in the south of the Fraser region will help us while we await other solutions. As Mayor Kurt Alberts reminded the media today, perhaps as much as 90% of the trips in the south Fraser remain east of the Port Mann Bridge, or within the region.

New, cleaner buses are always a plus to improve our air quality in the south Fraser and we support that 100%. We are always happy to hear that the three mayors agreed that they will continue to chase TransLink for more services in the South Fraser to further reduce our transit deficit.

Regarding light rail and SkyTrain questions from the media, Mayor Dianne Watts said that her staff was receiving comparative information (SkyTrain & LRT) from the Ministry of Transportation, and they will be reviewing that. She indicated they have not made up their minds. Mayor Fassbender who has spoken often about buses in the past, said that the area mayors are less interested in the mode, and more focused on frequency and greater options.

We don’t want to be mean-spirited or appear to be slamming TransLink here. We have been supportive of them in the past. But obviously because this was an announcement on new bus service, no one was addressing the fact that around the world, and particularly in North America, people overwhelmingly favour light rail over other modes of transportation. It is clearly light rail that is getting people out of their cars in North America and we still don’t see why it wouldn’t work here. Dale Parker said, “The South Fraser need better transit, but without a corridor of density we have a challenge.” So once again we are back to the density issue, and you have to if you are TransLink building expensive SkyTrain. But they seem to be able to build much cheaper light rail everywhere else as we speak. Why is that? Not to mention the safety aspects that could lower ICBC costs and rates.

The media did press on about light rail vs. SkyTrain. I was thinking that possibly the politicians felt this light rail discussion might put a damper on the new bus service that was being announced.

TransLink’s plans for the South Fraser in the future call for Rapid Bus Services, but I found it interesting that many cities are scrapped bus rapid transit (BRT) for light rail solutions. I hope we can all work together and try a healthy experiment in light rail. I think the density is there, and more will come. It is not a field of dreams. I still hold on to the belief that our leaders have our best interests at heart and will see the case for light rail to ease our congestion nightmare, and the stress it places on our friends and neighbors. We hope to get more rail and less rubber soon.

SFOT Information Database

From TransLink - South of Fraser Service Improvements

# 311, #319 & #502 will have more trips during the morning rush hours; the #320, #321 & #501 will see more service throughout the day; and there will be extended hours on the #335 and #341. These will benefit customers traveling within the South Fraser area, such as between Surrey and Langley or from one area of Surrey to another.

More new highway coaches serving South Delta, Richmond and White Rock.

Frequent Transit Network Expands

The Frequent Transit Network (FTN) is made up of routes in which buses run no more than 15 minutes apart, 15 hours a day, seven days a week (15/15/7).

  • Three more routes (#100, #410 & #135) are officially being added to that list, largely due to lengthening the period in which buses run every 15 minutes or less.
  • The FTN is expanding so that by the end of this year, 46% of the Metro Vancouver residents will be living within walking distance (450 metres) of an FTN route. By 2010, that figure will be 50%.
  • The FTN continues to expand south of the Fraser, and many routes now offer frequency of 15 minutes or less, although not yet at the 15/15/7 level.

Township Councils Thoughts on Rail in Langley

As I posted last night, Township of Langley staff subjugated council to a biased presentation on the UMA Community Rail study. Township council was not swayed by this presentation, and appear to be on the path to continued study of the Interurban and community rail. The next step is to get a ridership study which I hear will be set in motion on May 5th.

Anyway, I thought I would share some of what council said on rail from last night.

Charlie Fox was on fire last night. He challenged staff to be visionary when it comes to rail. He then noted that freight traffic through the Langleys has been an ongoing problem. He said that replacing the over 100-year-old rail bridge at New Westminster should be a major priority. It would significantly reduce the amount of freight traffic through Langley (SFOT believes this too). He thinks that Township should write a letter to the federal government in support of replacing that bridge.

Steve Ferguson also noted that freight rail is an issues and said that he didn't want Langley to become "a community of overpasses." He also mentioned that the costs of light rail was a fraction of the cost of SkyTrain.

For background, passenger rights are a protected along the whole Interurban corridor. Councilor Fox brought up this fact, as did Kim Richter who asked the question, "Who has priority use of the track? People or freight?"

Bob Long asked the question of whether anyone has studied re-alignment of passenger or freight services through Langley. He noted that any line built should be good now and in the long term.

Township staff could not answer most of these questions.

Howie Vickberg said that the vast majority of people in the Langley travel within Langley. He said that a transportation solution needs to link all the communities within the Langleys. (I couldn't agree more.) With a combination of Interurban light rail and streetcars, Langley could become a leader in sustainable transportation.

A Ministry of Transportation staffer was at last nights meeting and Mayor Kurt Alberts requested that the MoT report back on the status of the Interurban study that was personally promised by Kevin Falcon.

I was impressed to hear Jordan Bateman's comments in support of community rail and light rail in general. It is wonderful to hear that he is pushing for a ridership study of the Interurban route.

An Interurban light rail system that connects all our communities in the South Fraser, with connections to streetcars (or even full light rail) that could service importation areas like 200th Street, would lay the foundation for a truly usable and sustainable transportation system.

Good job Township council!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Paul Cordeiro tells a whopper of a tale

Well, I can’t believe some of the things I heard at tonight’s meeting of Township council. Paul Cordeiro, a staffer at the Township of Langley, gave the usual nonsense about why the Interurban is not viable. Again, the smart people on council saw through it. I’ll post more tomorrow, but I’ll leave you with some new un-facts I learned. :-)

-SkyTrain costs as much as light rail.

-If we did a ridership study of the Interurban line today, it would be out of date because Translink is doing a new trip survey in 2009.

-The Interurban basically only goes through farmland.

-Passenger trains and freight trains would create almost hour long delays for each hour they run during the day.

Anyway, we are getting the audio from the presentation to have a more in-depth analysis of the presentation and should have a post up in the next week or so.

Tomorrow: Smart comments from the smart township councilors. (And I really do mean smart.)

PS: Interurban + 200th Streetcar = very good idea!
PPS: I heard that a motion to do a ridership study for the Interurban corridor will be put forth on May 5th. Stay Tuned!

Important Township Meeting Today


The Township of Langley will be holding a meeting at the Municipal Facility at around 4pm or 4:30pm today (after Council's in-camera meeting). Council and mayor have invited UMA Engineering, TransLink and Township staff to talk about the Township's high-level community rail study and the staff's report on said study. Its an open meeting, but not an open forum where the general public will be able to ask questions. But it wouldn't hurt for people to come out in force and show the Township folks that this is an important topic for us all.

We'd like to draw your attention to the comments made online to yesterday's excellent light rail for the Valley article by Brian Lewis. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and check it out. These are ordinary folks from around our area that see the reasonableness of Community Rail. So why don't so many of our leaders not see it? We at SFOT are not "protesters", so we would like to believe that our elected officials really govern their portfolios for our common good. But sometimes we just have to give our heads a shake.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Brian Lewis: Dismissing light rail in Valley short-sighted

The Province's Brian Lewis wrote a great article about a background paper called “Developing a Transportation Vision for the FVRD.” I previously blogged about some serious questions about the quality of this draft paper. Brian Lewis had similar concerns: "Since a proper analysis hasn't been done, I'd say the authors of this report have won a gold medal in jumping to conclusions." He then goes on to comment about the excuses in a Township of Langley staff report on the public transit and reviving the Interurban.

They've just filed a report with the township's council that recommends Langley do nothing about the proposed inter-urban light-rail proposal, which would see the old right-of-way upgraded for community rail linking Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford and ultimately Chilliwack.

It says Langley should wait and see if Surrey's proposed tourist/heritage light-rail service between Newton and Cloverdale on the inter-urban succeeds or not.

Surrey hopes to have that service ready for the 2010 Olympics and will use it as a test-run for eventual full light-rail service.

In fact, this report goes out of its way to derail the entire light-rail concept to the point where I feel it loses any value as a useful document.

And that's why the township's council is holding a special meeting tomorrow to re-examine its staff's report.

Please read the whole article on the Province's website.

PS: South Fraser OnTrax (that's us) tipped Brian off to the Township of Langley staff report...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rail, South Fraser, Population Density and Insanity

Rail, SF, Population Density

Note that the Interurban Line goes through areas more dense than the Millennium SkyTrain Line

This weekend we received a very cool map that was created and sent to us by Michael Kushnir, a UBC student from Vancouver. Mike has done a great job of mapping the rail lines from Vancouver to Chilliwack, and then including some great population density data in the mix. Michael did this work as part of a project at university. I’m sure you’ll agree that Mike has done a great job of also presenting his data in a very easy to understand graphic format. Take special note of the “Population Density per km” shading.

I spoke with Mike on the phone after he emailed us, and found him to be a very switched on young guy that has tasted the living overseas adventure life that I share with him. Riding the rails of the cities and rural areas of Asia and Europe can sure broaden your perspective and clue you in on what is possible here, if people only had the vision for it.

If we can resolve the arguments about population density and ridership, then we can focus our energy on building the actual light rail and marketing it to the “people of choice” that would get out of their cars if presented with a clean, safe, frequent alternative. Maybe the students of our day, like Michael Kushnir, can soon become the teachers? Thanks for the awesome work Mike, and please keep in touch with us!

Now for the Insanity

On another note we now know that the SkyTrain empire building will continue without fail, as the new Evergreen Line will use the same old proprietary Bombardier technology that is NOT used elsewhere around the world. Kevin Falcon, Minister of Transportation told the public on Friday that this will cost slightly more to build, but it will be cheaper to maintain. How is that possible Mr. Minister, when only Bombardier uses this technology?

There are over 20 companies (including Bombardier) that manufacture light rail and can support us with choice and price competitiveness. I’m sure that General Electric and the others would be very pleased to manufacture some light rail cars and systems here in BC if we made it a requirement of the bid package.

Its hilarious that even TransLink admits this system of building cars is very expensive, but we are going to do it anyway. Will this exercise in stubbornness even add to the Canadian economy and sustain Canadian jobs? NO. They will be produced in Mexico. What do you say about that Canadian taxpayers?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Light Rail Committee File: Light Rail Transit vs SkyTrain

The following fact sheet comparing Light Rail to SkyTrain is from Malcolm Johnston's Light Rail Committee. - 604-889-4484


The capacity, or ridership potential of a rail-transit system, is a function of headway - that is, the distance between trains. Many LRT/streetcar systems achieve very high capacities in peak hours. This is done by operating cars in short headways. The journal Tramways & Urban Transit has reported that, in Karlsruhe, Germany, trams run every 45 seconds on the main street during peak hours - 80 cars per hour per direction. The passenger-capacity of a three-section, articulated Karlsruhe tram car, is approximately 250. This gives us a total of 20,000 passengers per hour per direction (80 x 250 = 20,000).

Many European cities offer 30-second headways on their LRT/tramway systems during peak hours. Hong Kong's vintage 3'-6" tramway system, using double-deck cars, carries over 84 million passengers per year. That system runs a frequency of less than 90 second headways, and operates on-street in one of the world's most densely populated cities.


Modern light-rail vehicles operate as fast or faster than SkyTrain. In Karlsruhe, Germany, their famous zwei-system LRT operates in excess of 100 kph. This enables it to track-share with mainline railways. Most LRV's, except for the simplest of streetcars, obtain the same maximum speed as SkyTrain, at 80 kph.

'Commercial speed' is based on the time a transit vehicle takes from start to finish on a transit route, and is dependent on the quality of rights-of-way and the number of stops per route kilometre. The commercial speed of LRT lines tends to be slower, simply because there are many more stations or stops per kilometre. It should be noted that the St. Louis LRT has a commercial speed slightly higher than SkyTrain's commercial speed, whereas Calgary's LRT has a lower commercial speed. Calgary's LRT system, however, has many more stations - and more stations attract more transit customers, as proven by Calgary’s very high ridership numbers (now over 250,000 passengers a day!).

LRT, operating on reserved rights-of-ways (HOV lanes reserved for the exclusive use of LRT) at-grade/on-street can obtain the same commercial speeds as an elevated or underground metro, when it has been professionally designed to do so.


The notion that automated driverless transit systems are cheaper to operate than LRT because they have no drivers, was dispelled many years ago. In fact the opposite is true - driverless light-metros like SkyTrain actually cost more to operate than LRT.

In 2006, the Calgary LRT carried 250,000 passengers a day, yet its operating costs were only $32.8 million, of which only $6 million were driver's wages. By comparison, the last reported operating cost for Vancouver's SkyTrain system, which carries less passengers than Calgary's, was approximately $70-million per year

Breaking News! BC Government Rechooses Northwest Alignment for Evergreen Line

As I blogged about earlier, the BC government tried to get the Evergreen line rerouted from the already chosen northwest alignment to a southern alignment. The southern alignment would have allowed the government to sell off and develop the Riverview Hospital site. Of course, this created a huge ruckus from the Northeast mayors.
“We certainly heard loud and clear from the very communities which the Evergreen Line is meant to serve,” said Parker. “The northwest corridor has not only technical advantages, but also widespread public and local government support. We now need to roll up our sleeves and get the project built.”

“Now that we have decided on routing and technology for the Evergreen Line, we can proceed with project development and engineering to keep on track for planned 2014 completion,” said Falcon. “This important stage will include detailed procurement analysis and further environmental assessment work, including broad public consultation.”
It also looks like we are getting SkyTrain. I still don't understand why SkyTrain is such a popular thing out here; It has one of the least bang-for-the-buck of any transit technology.

Anyway, you can read the whole release at the government's website.

More Buses in the South Fraser and Tasers

In a Surrey parking lot of all places, Translink unveiled some transit improvements for the South Fraser. Highlights include:

319 from Scottsdale to Scott Road Station goes up to every 10 minutes during the am peak period.

320 between Fleetwood and Surrey Central improves from 10 to 7.5 minute service during peak periods.

321 between White Rock and Surrey Central now 15 minutes+ service.

335 from Fleetwood to Surrey Central will now run until 9 pm.

341 from Guildford to Langley will start at 5 am weekdays and run until 9 pm all week.

501 gets improved am peak period service from Surrey Central to Walnut Grove.

502 between Langley Centre and Surrey Central starts at 4:30 a.m.

Time to sell the car. :-)

Of course all this transit improvement was overshadowed by a little taser issue that was front page news in the Vancouver Sun today.

Transportation Safety and Security

As a security consultant who works internationally, I have access to several secure national security websites, along with many open-source newswire services related to global security ans safety. Several noteworthy events hit my wire in the last day and involve transportation. I’d like to share some interesting ones with you.


The US Department of Transportation will require the freight railroads there to run trains carrying toxic and dangerous materials onto the safest and most secure routes. The railways will be required to commence comprehensive safety and security risk assessments as of June 1, 2008, and implement new route plans by September 2009. The railroads will have to consider information provided by local communities, in correlation with a minimum of 27 risk factors in their analysis that includes population density. We can only keep our fingers crossed in Canada that a major incident will not occur, as no such requirements are in sight. You can read about and see real life examples of what can go wrong. I trust my Langley neighbors will never have to deal with this.

Bus Accidents

We’ve all seen those tourist motorcoach and other such buses involved in some horrendous accidents near Whistler or on the open roads of Alberta. This article geared towards motorcoach operators and managers recommend the common sense things to do to perhaps lessen the impact of one of these incidents. Let’s hope the “Freeze Your Documents” advice doesn’t include the use of a shredder.

Shocking Incidents

Lastly, the international wire was abuzz with news from our very own Metro Vancouver transit police that are accused of using their tasers on at least two fare cheaters. The only thing that makes me more uncomfortable about this whole scene is that one report I read suggested that these transit police be stripped of their tasers until an investigation is complete. As we have armed this police force, I’d like to see them retain the tasers for now, as this sort of poor judgment could lead to something worse. While I am always pro-law enforcement and support a professional transit police force in our area, I’m tired of not seeing them South of the Fraser, except with four cops in a car at a gas station or restaurant. Truly that is the only times I’ve seen them outside of downtown Vancouver. If they are TRANSIT police, why don’t they ride the system as in other cities around the world? Why are so many patrol cars required and why is it always two to four officers in a car? Gee, couldn't the B.C. Civil Liberties Association find a better phrase to describe this other than "shocking abuse"? Its similar to the teens getting stoned on the white rock, wouldn't you say?

I like Portland, OR. They have unarmed uniformed security officers that ride the rails and blend in by sitting in the light rail and MAX line cars. When they spot a problematic person they radio ahead to armed Transit Police who meet them at the next station to effect the arrest. Sounds like some smart and cost effective deployment of manpower to me!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

BC Gateway Project: Entrenching Consumption

This is a very interesting 10 minute mini-documentary about transportation in Metro Vancouver. There is even a bit on the Interurban.

Part Three Final on the Conference Board of Canada “Mission Possible” Report

To wrap it up on this report, allow me to bring things close to home. British Columbia was given credit for creating the Greater Vancouver Transport Authority (GVTA) in 1998 (also known as Translink). Many of us may argue over the apparent lack of public oversight and the way management runs and decisions are made over at Translink. As the report points out, regional coordination and management are needed. There must be an integrated approach to transit planning, management, operations, roads and more.

But what do we do about Abbotsford and Chilliwack, as they are not part of the GVRD? Also, what are we to do about Canada’s long period of “public disinvestment” from 1978 to 2000? When you add up in your mind the cost of various infrastructure upgrades across the board that is required in Canada (and including transportation), and then consider what new additions are needed going forward, you begin to understand that the taxpayers are not ever going to be able to fund it all.

Last month, Translink held a public meeting to talk about the taxes they collected, and how these funds should be spent. The discussions included the funding of future projects. The small group that attended made it loud and clear that taxpayers should not be considered as the folks with bottomless pockets. About two days after that meeting, Translink announced the formation of their real estate division that would create Public-Private Partnerships, a PPP or a P3’s, among other solutions. I sent an email of congratulations to the Translink Board of Directors, to applaud their innovation. I also encouraged them to consider rapid design and promotion of Transit Oriented Development to compliment their new real estate venture.

There are bad P3’s and there are good P3’s, and both our provincial and federal governments have supported the creation of agencies to promote this form of investing on massive infrastructure. P3 is used around the world, but it appears to be a bad word in Canada. However, I have lived around the world and have seen firsthand various public-private partnerships work brilliantly. It all boils down to knowing exactly what you want to have, vetting the P3 candidates and then holding them to task and managing them.

Vernon and Kelowna will soon be getting some new hospitals that will be built and leased back to the Province of BC. The government spelled out very clearly in the tender documents exactly what they wanted to see, from extra wiring to facilitate future expansion (up to 100% more) to state-of-the-art equipment and technology that the P3 partner will be required to replace every 10 years as part of this 30 year contract. If the government alone was funding this, how on earth would they afford all the extras and replace all of the technology every 10 years? They couldn’t, and that is why Vernon and Kelowna will have top-shelf facilities and equipment.

We can be closed-minded and struggle to update ourselves as a country, or we can be innovative and creative in managing the process to get what we need as a society; needs that government increasingly cannot afford to provide for us. Rest assured that a good P3 will not invest their money in a loser. We know how many people currently live South of the Fraser and we also know what numbers are expected soon, and some bright City of Surrey staff have already stripped away the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) myth to determine the true density in that community versus Burnaby. But for those of you who may be concerned that there is not enough ridership for light rail in the South Fraser region, or still feel there is way too much rural land for the Interurban to pass through, then I say lets bring in some good P3’s to bid on this rail project. We’ll soon sort out fact from fiction, and I can tell you that some good competition for this light rail contract would lead to some very creative solutions for the much talked about heavy freight logistics problems.

South Fraser OnTrax believes the solutions are there if our leaders and decision-makers truly wish to make this a reality. We’d really hate to see them trying to stuff in light rail after all these new communities are already built. Translink isn’t stupid and that is why they desire to give you rubber and buses in 2030. Just think of it as someone giving you the present Highway 1 from Abby to Surrey as “today’s solution”.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Part Two of a Series on the Conference Board of Canada "Mission Possible" Report

In our review of the "Mission Possible" report, I’d like to focus on some economic and transportation related themes contained in the document. One section I found fascinating was related to Canada’s “hub cities”. The research concludes that, “When hub cites grow and prosper, their success boots the economic performance of smaller communities in their region.” This phenomenon is called convergence in economic terms. Convergence examples used in the report included Abbotsford, BC, Kitchener-Waterloo and Oshawa in Ontario, and Fort McMurray, Alberta.

But surprisingly the report goes on to suggest that federal transfers funneled through the provinces be used for investments in infrastructure, affordable housing and other requirements only in Canada’s major cities. They support asking the federal government to curtail infrastructure investments, special exemptions, and their minimum funding level programs for public housing programs, the Public Transit Capital Trust in small cities and other related spending. So while they talk about this convergence impacting the suburbs in a positive way, they don't acknowledge is with any funding. We sure hope the folks at the Conference Board of Canada are not talking about cutting off the South Fraser region. After all, we are providing the affordable homes to folks working in this region and commuting also to Vancouver. Our population is not declining, and we will soon have over 1,000,000 people living here!

Has the Conference Board visited the GVRD to find our morning parking lot along Highway 1 from Abbotsford to Surrey, while the sleek SkyTrain and buses take very good care of taxpayers in Vancouver? Surely if this convergence is taking hold of us south of the Fraser we should get our fair share of the plunder to build some intelligent light rail and be able to move more than just goods. And lets include a bit to connect our people to ideas as well with some upgrades to our aging communications infrastructure. Are we expected to neglect our need for high-density, transit oriented development and transportation infrastructure now while it can be put in place more easily, or shall we wait 20 years and allow history to repeat itself as it did with Highway 1 and our gridlock?

Should 100% public funds be our only answer here in the South Fraser, or is there a better solution? What do you think?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Langley Advance: More transit sought from funds

The Langley Advance ran a great piece about the $408 million Translink slush fund today. Yours truly even had a sound bite.
Meanwhile, south Fraser transit advocate Nathan Pachal said that the money in the fund appears to be enough to set up an entire light rail system serving Surrey and Langley.

"Of course, we think that would be great to invest in the Interurban, or at least for studying it," Pachal said.

A TransLink study found that rebuilding the Interurban, using mainly the existing tracks between Surrey's SkyTrain Line and Langley City, would cost between $356 million and $697 million depending on what type of engines and cars are used.

Other reports showed an even lower cost for building a simple tram system from Surrey's Scott Road SkyTrain station as far as 264th Street in Surrey, Pachal said.

Please read the whole article at the Advance’s website.

Part One of a Series on The Conference Board of Canada Report – “Mission Possible”

While others may do some occasional “light reading”, the transportation and development fact-hungry folks here at SFOT eat large research reports like they were our favorite breakfast cereals.

Yesterday I snuggled up in my corner at Starbucks sipping mass quantities of coffee and consuming a report titled “Mission Possible: Successful Canadian Cities” that was published by the Conference Board of Canada in 2007. I started my journey with a 2008 Conference Board Report Card entitled "The Road Less Traveled". SFOT would like to share a bit of detail from both of these works. You can find the complete four volume "Mission Possible" report here.

These reports are part of The Canada Project, which is a three-year program to research and dialogue issues that should help decision-makers shape policy that will improve Canada’s standard of living and position within North America and the world.

The reports are informative, inspiring and disappointing all at once. Volume III Mission Possible, Successful Canadian Cities captivated my attention with its discussion of GDP and also transportation challenges in Canada. Sustainability is the common thread in all of these reports and strong indications are that we as a country are failing miserably. The report says, “Sustainability matters. It must become one of the yardsticks against which we measure productivity”.

In a broad sense the report goes on to say sadly that, “Canada is living with 19th-century architecture in the 21st century. We are living with architecture built for our earlier rural past – an architecture that fits badly with the new urban Canada”. The report goes on to speak to the needs of the major cities and the massive investments that are required to bring us up to speed. It speaks of the need for large overhauls of the regulatory, taxation and other foundational processes of government that can cause unprecedented growth or further decay for us. Although it addresses urban areas, the report points to Vancouver more as the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD).

“The challenges of managing growth are exacerbated by the deteriorating state of Canada’s urban infrastructure. Estimates of the national infrastructure gap ranged, in 2003, from $50 billion to $125 billion, with municipalities owning the largest stake in this gap”. And now for a taste of the transportation imperative, the report points to Four Cornerstones that create a strong foundation for success:

1. A strong knowledge economy
2. Connective physical infrastructure linking people, goods and ideas
3. Environmentally sound growth
4. Socially cohesive communities

You can simply read #2 as good transportation and we submit to you that in order to have #4, one element is a community rail system. More on the way tomorrow.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The UrbanSim Project: Urban Simulation

I came across this project and a video about it when I was doing a search on iTunes.

"The process of planning and constructing a new light rail system, expanding a freeway, or modifying zoning and land use plans is often politically charged. The goal in the UrbanSim project is to provide tools for planners, engaged citizens, and other stakeholders to be able to consider different scenarios, and then to evaluate these scenarios by modeling the resulting patterns of urban growth and redevelopment, of transportation usage, and of environmental impacts, over periods of 20- 30 years. Alan Borning, CSE, University of Washington, describes recent work on and applications of the project and gives some demonstrations."

The video is about an hour long and is produced by the Computer Science & Engineering Department as the University of Washington.

You can watch the video on the Research Channel.

South Fraser Community Rail in 2012

The year is 2012 and the sleek new Interurban rail line has received some track upgrades, sexy signaling to make things safe, and a European-style rail car that lets everyone know that the South Fraser Region has arrived.

The Southern Railway of British Columbia was selected to run the new Interurban line because they have been running freight on this BC Hydro track for years. Their selection made perfect sense from a coordination and passenger safety standpoint. South Fraser now has a community rail system that is actually run by friendly people who operate these trains hands-on, adding to the passenger’s peace of mind.

The inaugural trip from Abbotsford to Delta was a sight to behold as young and old presented big smiles to each other as they boarded the sleek new passenger cars. It was great to see young families board the train in mass. One could see this was truly “community rail” from all the chatter between neighbors and friends. Everyone was commenting on how this mode of travel was much better in that they could talk with friends and neighbors instead of sitting alone in their car in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

All the local mayors and politicians were on hand for the event. Those that had previously considered buses to be our only saving grace, now joked about catching the vision. They spoke of the numerous council debates, discussions and letters that prompted the technical studies and eventual agreements and work that made this dream a reality.

It was a grand day for those South of the Fraser and something that will impact many generations to come. One of the highlights of this day was that there were no losers or bitterness. We all won, and even Translink who is frequently dumped upon, enjoyed the sweet smell of success on this special day.

In 2008 Translink formed a new real estate division that swiftly sought to develop land along the transit lines. With the ambitious reality of a new Interurban community rail moving forward, Translink gathered some of the brightest global Transit Oriented Development (TOD) ideas and planners together to plot out a vibrant TOD strategy around the revived line. Phase I of the development was opened in Langley on this same historic day of the inaugural new Interurban journey. The development was as sleek as the new community rail cars. Timber, stone, and large glass panels enclosed stunning live/work suites with plenty of shops and restaurants surrounding the family-friendly parks, fountains and benches. The proud new residents all talked about how it was like living and working in a resort. The new train brought in customers and friends.

The South Fraser also received another benefit on this faithful day. Because this rail line was street level with nice new curbing that was level with the rail cars, those with disabilities could for once enjoy an effortless ride without worry. This street-level design also facilitated good security and public safety. The large glass panels on the rail cars, metal spacers between the seats, wider rail cars and an actual person driving the train allowed the passengers to feel that much safer.

The new station platforms were designed in a contemporary manner with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) elements like natural surveillance and ownership. The lighting is better than the elevated SkyTrain because these stations can get more light from the surrounding street scene. More eyes and ears on the streets reduce the need for lots of special policing.

With the density on the rise along 200th Street the rail and curbs are going in for the new streetcar service that will connect to the Interurban. A very happy young local councilor was spotted boarding an Interurban car with his wife and two daughters, along with several other councilors and mayors. The group stopped briefly to speak to the media about the new 200th Street project. Several councilors and mayors were chatting on the train with citizens about connecting their communities and roadways with the Interurban or the upcoming 200th Street systems. Several area councils recently approved changes to their development permit process by requiring all new developments to include TOD principles in the design plans where applicable. Provision of trackage will now be required to be provided during build-out of all these new neighborhoods.

There is now talk in the City of Langley of bringing another streetcar down the Fraser Highway to connect the shops and reduce vehicular traffic. For now they plan to use a free shuttle van that will pick up and drop off passengers at one of the new Interurban stations. Its rumored that developers are watching the ridership numbers and may be buying land and going through the process of making the new vision for Langley City a reality sooner rather than later.

The City of Surrey has reviewed a new Translink and P3 real estate proposal for some exciting TOD developments there along the line. With these new communities approved, the new Interurban will soon see more cars added.

Chilliwack has decided to jump on board the Interurban solution after voters there rallied the Transportation Minister for new funding. Speaking of the minister, he was seen getting in an Interurban car earlier this morning in Cloverdale along with a very popular mayor that got behind the light rail idea several years ago. The minister himself has become very popular and he is backing several major initiatives for massive communities centered around light rail. His P3 strategies have made good sense and have greatly reduced the need for huge amounts of public money to be poured into these transportation infrastructure investments.

This community rail experiment has certainly proved to be a beneficial one. It is bringing communities back together in a major way and creating some exciting opportunities. Its amazing that the revival of a 100 year old rail gem is causing a major renaissance in the South Fraser.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Interurban Community Rail Study Executive Summary

So on March 10th, as I reported earlier, the staff of the Township of Langley with the help of Translink recommended that Township council support Translink’s South of the Fraser Area Transit Plan while holding off support of restoring the Interurban. The staff report included negative statements such as:
The study identifies a number of significant obstacles that would need resolution before such a service could be established. The finalization of the study was delayed to allow for the incorporation of the findings of the other studies into the document but does not include the latest information on the Provincial Transit Plan. Due to the number of significant obstacles, the time and resources required to pursue further work, the significant duplication that the proposed service now has with the SoFA Transit Plan and Provincial Transit Plan along with the lack of analysis on potential ridership or a cost/benefit analysis staff does not recommend pursuing Community Passenger Rail at this time.
All this basically translates into, “We really, really, really don’t want you to support the Interurban because if you do, we won’t need SkyTrain or Rapid Bus on Fraser Highway.” The staff's recommendations were supposedly based on a UMA Community Rail study done for the Township. (This is the same company that did the same study for Surrey.) I would like to point out that Township staff didn’t release the original report from UMA to the public or council, and are only now providing access to their updated version. Sounds a bit fishy to me…

Luckily the Township of Langley council saw beyond the excuses and voted to “write to Minister Falcon requesting his urgent review of the inclusion of the interurban line in current Lower Mainland transportation plans.”

Anyway, I have obtained the Executive Summary of the updated Township of Langley UMA Community Rail study. I’m working on getting the complete report online. Even the updated UMA study is not as bleak as Township staff would have you beleive.

The report states that the Interurban could run on the exciting downtown corridor as long as freight service through the downtown Langleys is not double tracked. It also states that “recent indications from work completed in regard to the expansion of the Roberts Bank area are that a double track for freight traffic through the Langleys downtown in the exciting freight corridor may be required, as well as the creation of new long siding facilities.” That is a very scary statement, but even triple tracking is not a show stopper for the reintroducing the Interurban. It goes on to say that it would be ideal to create a new corridor through the Langleys downtown area. The report does not address the costs of new corridor section which would be about 4km, but Translink did a study of restoring the Interurban service and recommended that light rail use the old Interurban alignment. Today this is Michaud Crescent in the City of Langley. The City of Surrey UMA report states that service could get up and running from Scott Road SkyTrain to 264th Street for about $200 million. If we use the Translink report cost of $27 million per kilometer for light rail, the total cost of getting the Interurban restored would be $296 million. This is less then the cost of 2km of the proposed UBC SkyTrain.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Day 3

Well I know this isn’t the usually chat about transportation, but we at the SFB have been working hard at launching a brand-new website. Today, I spent most my time sorting out domain name issues and other such technical nonsense. Also, we made some headway on our new website with lots of exciting new stuff. (Don’t worry, the blog isn’t going anyway.) We should have the new website up and running next week. :-)

So, I leave you today with a picture of a streetcar running on the MAX line in Portland.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Day 2

Well, today has been exciting to say the least. I’ve been busy getting the new blog up and running. I posted the Community Rail Study from Surrey to the Document Archive. This report is well worth the read.

Also, Paul Hillsdon used the archive to find some exciting information about Interurban travel times back in the day.
From New West, it took:

* 24 mins to Newton
* 40 mins to Cloverdale
* 53 mins to Langley City
* 1 hour and 40 mins to Abbotsford
* 2 hours and 40 mins to Chilliwack
With modern technology, the travel time he posted would be cut in half at the least.

Anyway, I back to having fun with domain names registration...

PS: If you want me to link to your website or blog (and it’s about transportation and urbany thing), just leave a comment.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hello World

Welcome to my new blog. As you may have noticed, there are lots of posts for today. I moved some of the posting from the previous blog I used to write for the last eight months. The posts represent days of research and blogging. Please feel free to leave a comments and let me know what you think.


If I had 3+ Billion Dollars…

…for transportation, this is what I would do. First (and you don’t need too much money for this), I would make Translink report to a democratically elected GVRD or Metro Vancouver. We could base this on the Portland model. It’s not prefect, but it’s a great start as it gives our region a direct say in something that is very important to our daily lives. I would hand over all of the provincially controlled roads to the new GVRD, in addition to the roads they already look after. I would also insure they get the proper funding to maintain the roads. Again, this is to give the public control over their future. I would put all the major projects that are not under construction on hold, and engaged the population in transportation charrettes. In a charrettes, you combine input from the public and experts. This always results in excellent plans. They are excellent because the public knows what's going on in their local communities, and usually have creative solutions to making things better that many experts would never think of. The experts have the ability to work with the public to guide their thoughts into a workable plan.

Based on what I’ve heard, and the couple of charrettes I’ve been at, I think the future might look something like this…

On the people movement side… I would add quality bus service right away to the South Fraser. This includes King George, Fraser Highway, 104th, and 200th. I would also add bus service from Surrey to the Tri-Cities right away. All this is doable on the cheap. PS, buses could go over the Port Mann today with the help of something called a queue-jumper lane. At the same time, I would start construction on a King George Highway/104th/Evergreen Line LRT from White Rock to Douglas College in Coquitlam. This would help with the 30% of traffic that goes from Surrey to Coquitlam. It would also provide a north/south backbone for Surrey. I would twin the Port Mann Bridge for different reasons. I would twin it to allow the proceeding LRT line to be built. I would also use that bridge to extend the HOV lanes to 200th Street. We could also look at things like variable tolling during peak hours. I would build the Interurban line in three phases: Scott Road to Trinity Western University, then to Abbotsford, and finally to Chilliwack. This Interurban line would be the west/east backbone for the Valley. Finally, I would extend either LRT (or SkyTrain) to UBC.

On the freight side… I would replace the 100+-year-old rail bridge at New Westminster, so the rail companies could stop sending trains through Langley City. This would be cheaper then building the currently proposed overpasses. On the trucking side, the people in Delta have great ideas for truck traffic that doesn’t involve wiping out entire neighborhoods and destroying Burn’s Bog.

Again, I think the public has been left out of the planning process for too long. It’s our region and we should have a real voice.

City of Burnaby Questions Evergreen Line SkyTrain

As I posted earlier the year, I suspected that there was something fishy about the provincial government’s plan to shift the Evergreen line from light rail to SkyTrain and restudy the southern alignment. Well, the City of Burnaby also has similar concerns. A report from Burnaby’s city manager calls into question many of the findings in the Evergreen Line Rapid Transit Project – Business Case (2008).
The announcement of the "Evergreen Line Rapid Transit Project – Business Case” by the Province sets the conditions for the senior government funding for the Evergreen Line to proceed to implementation. Business Case 2008 concludes that ALRT is the preferred technology primarily due to its higher ridership, better service to transit riders and the capability for system integration with the Millennium Line. However, ridership estimates appear to exaggerate the case for ALRT by overestimating ALRT ridership and underestimating LRT ridership. Comparing the model forecasted ridership against actual ridership of existing ALRT and LRT systems in Canada shows that ALRT to have only slightly higher ridership than LRT.

As the evaluation of the two corridors in the business case notes the Northwest Corridor as superior to the Southeast Corridor on almost every account except for its potential community impacts. As such, it is difficult to understand the conclusion in Business Case 2008 that the Northwest Corridor is considered to be only slightly better than the Southwest Corridor. Burnaby Council has consistently supported the Northwest alignment for rapid transit to the Northeast Sector. However, recognizing the potential impacts of rapid transit along North Road, the City has set a number of conditions (“Essential Elements”) which are appropriate requirements to guide the planning and construction of rapid transit through Lougheed Town Centre.
Thanks to Jordan Bateman for tipping me off to this.

Ottawa: Goodbye BRT

I’ve never been a fan of the name “Bus Rapid Transit”. It gets bandied about to described everything from limited-stop buses to full-on exclusive right-of-way systems. To me BRT means exclusive right-of-way systems, so…

Ottawa is the only region in Canada that currently has a BRT system. It has been toted as THE example of how great BRT is. There is only one little problem, people in Ottawa would rather have light rail.

As reported in the April 4th Ottawa Citizen, thousands of people provided comment on the future transit plan for the Ottawa region, and they overwhelmingly supported replacing BRT and building new LRT.
The consultations also found the public would like the city to think even bigger by running light-rail lines all the way out to the eastern and western suburbs even if it costs more, and that there was some support for extending the current diesel O-Train south to growth areas beyond the airport until a new electric line is built.

The consultations found almost no support for continuing to try to serve the city's transit needs with buses.

During 500 on-street interviews, 79 per cent of people said the city needs a light-rail system, and 71 per cent said it would be better to spend more money up front to lower operating costs in the future, which matches the expected economics of a rail system.

The Options:

This is the option the people in Ottawa want SkyTrain or Light Rail

About two or three years about Translink conducted a series of workshops asking people about their future South of the Fraser transit system. Paul Hillsdon posted some of the information that came out of that on his blog. Interestingly enough people were not fans of SkyTrain, instead they wanted a mix of buses and light rail. You can read more about it at his blog, but I wanted to show you the SkyTrain vs. Light Rail map. (PS: The Interurban was a popular choice.)

The Interurban is the bluest colour line

Stop the Presses: More transit = more riders

On April 2nd, Statistic Canada released Commuting Patterns and Places of Work of Canadians.

What I Learned

-From 2001 to 2006 the median distance traveled to work in Canadian metropolitan areas increased from 7.3 to 7.5km. Metro Vancouver was the only region in Canada to see no change in travel time (every other area saw an increase) and a decrease in the distance travel to work.

-From 1996 to 2006 only Metro Vancouver and Calgary saw sizable gains in transit to work mode share. Metro Vancouver saw a 2.2% increase while Calgary saw a 3% increase. Stats Canada attributed the growth in Calgary to the extension of its CTrain light rail. Vancouver built the Millennium Line SkyTrain in the same time period. It would seem that there is a connection between rail expansion and transit mode share.

-Victoria has the highest percent of people that walk and bike to work. Victoria also has a well developed cycling and walking network with the Galloping Goose/Lochside regional trail system.

-Surrey is one of Canada's fastest growing cities. It also saw the second largest percent growth of jobs in Canada. Sadly, Surrey was one of the least likely places for people to use transit. I wonder if it has something to do with the lack of buses and rail transit in the area.


If I was in charge of transportation in BC, I would invest in buses, rail, and bike lane; as well as support documents like the Livable Region’s Plan. Highways would come second because:

Compact Cities + Rail Transit + Buses = High Transit Usage

And isn't that what we all want?

Light Rail Cheaper than Bus

Here’s some interest facts about light rail that may surprise you.

According to 2005 numbers in Calgary “with an average of 600 boarding passengers per operating hour the average cost per LRT passenger is only $0.27 ($0.23 USD). In comparison, the average cost for bus passenger boardings is approximately $1.50 ($1.28 USD) or almost 6 times the cost of carrying an LRT passenger.”

According to 2007 numbers in Portland, the operating cost of LRT is $1.48 USD per boarding rider compared to $2.66 USB for bus.

Now you may be saying buses are way cheaper to buy than setting up a light rail system. That is true, it does cost more to setup a light rail system (PS: about the same as a full-meal-deal bus rapid transit system), but it is an investment in the community and attracts: transit oriented development, developers paying for light rail, higher transit ridership, mode shift from cars, and helps build people friendly communities. Buses don't. Once a light rail line has been built, maintaining it is cheap as the operating costs show. The second capital cost is the purchase of vehicles. Buses are cheaper in the short term. A standard 60-foot articulated bus that can hold 105 passengers cost about $460,000 USD in Oregon State. Buses have a service life of about 10-15 year. The cost of a light rail vehicle that can hold 232 passengers cost $3,500,000 USD in Oregon State. Light rail vehicles have a service life of 30+ years. Over the long-term both light rail vehicles and buses cost about the same.

So really, why waste money on bus rapid transit when you can invest in light rail?