Thursday, July 31, 2008

Picnic in the Park - August 9th

On August 9, 2008 from 12:00 Noon -5:00pm, all of the major South Fraser transportation advocacy groups including VALTAC, Rail for the Valley and South Fraser OnTrax will be combining our resources, volunteers and time to promote “Picnic in the Park” at Douglas Park.

The day will be filled with music and entertainment, food and short speeches from light rail advocates, politicians and community leaders. The various participants will have tents and literature as well.

We also understand that VALTAC will be making an important announcement at Picnic in the Park 2008, and we know that you will not want to miss it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

July 28th Presentation Online

So as promised I relearned Final Cut Pro today (it’s been a surprisingly long time since I last used it in grade 11) and got Monday night’s presentation online. The audio’s poor because Township Hall was having some technical difficulties, but as they say on the TV show I’m watching right now. “Whadaya gonna do about it?” I’ve posted part one below. Parts two through seven can be watched on our YouTube page. PS: You might want to download a copy of the presentation before you start watching.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Presentation Slides Online

So it looks like Langley Politics beat us on getting last nights presentation slide online.... but, as promised here are Brent Graham’s, our light rail expert, presentation slides from his talk to Township of Langley Mayor and Council last night. We (I am learning Final Cut) are working on getting video from this presentation posted online. Stay tuned…

We Are Now A BC Society

Late last night I arrived home after a very busy day and evening of meetings. In the mail was a large envelope from the Ministry of Finance. The envelope contained a certification of our Society document filings, along with our official certificate, Number S-53980. Our official name is...

South Fraser OnTrax (SFOT) Transportation Advocacy Society

Nathan and I would like to give special thanks to the men who have stepped forward to serve with us as the first board of directors. They are:

William Arthur Taylor
Rudolph John Storteboom
Dietrich George Braun

Thanks for believing in the cause and in us. We promise to never let you or our members down. We will always be open and accountable, having done so since day one.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Brent Graham Presentation

Its been a long day, but Brent Graham's talk with Langley Township Council was great and there were lots of questions from council members. We will post the full presentation and more information tomorrow!

Light Rail Transit at Township Council This Afternoon

Light rail expert Brent Graham will address the Langley Township Special Council meeting that will start at 3:30pm or 4:00pm, following the in-camera meeting. Brent is the project manager for the largest LRT and streetcar/tram network outside of Europe and the third largest if Europe is counter. He will explain to council how LRT on the old Interurban rail line, and a streetcar/tram project along 200th Street are a no-brainer. He will also tell us how the technical challenges that most people exist along 200th Street corridor just aren't an issue.

Brent has been busy over the past few months absorbing the many local light rail consulting reports that South Fraser OnTrax has provided to him. The meeting is public of course and we hope that as many people as possible come out to show their support for Light Rail Transit.

Please join us!
Township of Langley Municipal Facility
20338 - 65 Avenue, 4th Floor
Around 3:30pm

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Matthew Claxton Comes Begging For Electric Cars

I was in Seattle all day Friday on a client emergency. Of course I traveled the rails with the AMTRAK Cascades trains service, leaving early in the morning, and getting back late Friday evening. I was lucky to get a ticket on such short notice. When I got to the station the ticket clerk announced that all trains south of Seattle were sold out today. I was going to stay the weekend to relax, but all the trains were booked solid until next Tuesday!

The Cascades has always been very popular and usually sold out every weekend. But now the weekdays are selling out. My fellow passengers all talked about high gas prices and stress bringing many people to the rails. I got some work done on the train, read three US newspapers, and ate my favourite Hebrew National hotdogs from the Bistro Car. How civilized. Anyway....

I returned to find myself doing a late night read of the Langley Advance. Matthew Claxton had an article about light rail expert Brent Graham that Nathan blogged about on Friday. Then I found this gem from Matthew on electric cars. Like Matthew I'm generally making lots of local trips and with a bus once per hour on many of the routes I travel, its not a viable option for me. I'm a big guy, so the sight of a middle-aged fat man on an electric scooter would not be a pretty sight around Langley, therefore that is not in my cards. There's no light rail or streetcars, so that's out...for now.

I could easily get into a sleek little electric vehicle and zip around town very easily. Like some cities in the UK, we could even have public charging stations and multifamily residences could get them if Township Councillor Kim Richter's motion that I wrote about on Thursday passes the vote this coming Monday.

Matthew said, "I asked the mayors of both Langleys if they had given any thought yet to the idea of low-speed electric vehicles.

"I've been getting a ton of emails," noted Township Mayor Kurt Alberts.

They aren't from residents clamouring for the cars, though, they're emails from a company that makes them.

He also pointed out, quite rightly, that there are a couple of problems with getting around the Township in a low-speed vehicle.

You could, for example, get around one neighbourhood with relative ease. But how do you get from Walnut Grove to Fort Langley? From Murrayville to Aldergrove? All the major connecting roads between communities have speed limits of 60 to 80 km/h. Even if you had a car that could travel up to 60 km/h, it probably wouldn't be welcome on 16th Avenue, where people prefer to travel 80 to 100 km/h.

While the low-speed vehicles may not be perfect for the Township, Alberts did note that electric vehicles of some kind will be coming soon.

"They're making some breakthroughs, and we probably have to get ready for it," he said.

In Langley City, Mayor Peter Fassbender has also been following the Oak Bay experiment.

"I suspect that we will look at it [as a council]," he said.

He noted that the cars can travel about 40 kilometres before recharging - but it costs just 80 cents to recharge. That's pretty good mileage."

Like Matthew Claxton of the Langley Advance, South Fraser OnTrax also begs our elected officials and ICBC to be innovative and act now on this issue. We need viable and clean options and we need these options sooner rather than later.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Trams expert calls for light rail action

Our light rail expert, Brent Graham, was interview by the Langley Advance and appeared on page 3 of today's paper.
After years of working with General Electric Transportation on projects in San Francisco, he found work with SKM, an Australian firm. He is the company's project director for rail projects in Melbourne, which has the third-largest system of light trains and trams in the world. Working with the system and riding it almost every day has made Graham an advocate of light rail as a
solution to road gridlock.
One of the questions that is brought up about the viability of a streetcar on 200th street is the hill.
One of the major problems often suggested for a 200th Street tram is the hill
between 68th and 72nd Avenues, with its six per cent grade. "We have quite a lot
of locations [in Melbourne] that are seven, eight per cent, and there's one
that's even nine per cent," said Graham.

Brent Graham will be speaking to the Township of Langley Council at about 3:30pm on Monday, July 28th.

Getting a Charge Next Monday

As previously reported, Township Councillor Kim Richter filed a Notice of Motion that will be voted on in the upcoming July 28th Regular Council Meeting. South Fraser OnTrax goes on record as supporting this green initiative and we look forward to it receiving a favourable response from council. We hope to see more of these green initiatives that will help us and future generations. Thanks to Councillor Richter for the full text.

"Whereas increasing oil and gas prices are leading to changes in consumer behaviour and preferences; and

Whereas electric cars are more sustainable and will become more prevalent;

Therefore, be it resolved that the Township of Langley require the provision of electrical outlets for cars in all future developments particularly multi-family developments, similar to the City of Vancouver's new building requirements in this regard."

-- Councillor Kim Richter, Township of Langley

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Turnstiles for Skytrain - What Do You Think?

Over the past 24 hours there has been a firestorm of controversy as Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon and TransLink disagreed on the installation of turnstiles to fight fare evasion, after a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report. Late yesterday TransLink issued a statement to the media that does not appear in their online press releases. In that statement they seemed to back away from their position that turnstiles were not required.

Minister Falcon insists that it is not simply a matter of fare evasion, more than it is about passenger safety and keeping undesirables off the system and stations. Others say that more attendants and transit police around the stations would curb the problems, and the turnstile money could be better used for this purpose.

Even some of the South Fraser OnTrax membership is divided on this issue. For instance, Nathan is against the turnstile plan, while as a physical security consultant, I see the case for them. I also believe the turnstiles could contribute to enhanced security.

I also realize that many of these undesirables hang out at the exits to Skytrain and buses and ask people for their tickets. Its common practice for people to give them their old tickets as well. Unless enforcement staff are visibly present at the stations, I see this practice of loitering around exits increasing with the turnstile installation, hence the SmartCard proposal.

So as our loyal readers, what do you think? Its open season, so post your comments here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Township Council and In the News

Several things that I can finally get to after a very busy morning....

Township Councillor Charlie Fox has researched the problems on 16th Avenue and provided South Fraser OnTrax with a copy of his Notice of Motion to help solve this problem. It was presented at the July 21st meeting of TOL council. The Notice of Motion reads:

"Whereas south Langley residents continue to express concerns regarding the safety, speed of traffic, and driving habits along the 16th Avenue corridor, and

Whereas 16th Avenue is an important east-west corridor for traffic movement south of the Fraser, and

Whereas concerns have been expressed regarding the use of roundabouts and other plans for 16th Avenue,

Therefore be it resolved that the 16th Avenue corridor be upgraded to include coordinated traffic signals at 200th, 208th, 216th, 224th, 232nd, 240th, 248th, 256th, 264th and 272nd Streets, and

Be it further resolved that these lights be connected using "Green Wave" technology, including synchronization to ensure that motorists travelling at a safe and appropriate (70km) speed would move smoothly through the corridor, and

Be it further resolved that this Green Wave be advertised properly, including signage along 16th Ave., and

Be it further resolved that left-turn bays along 16th Avenue be added at appropriate intersections, and that north-south lights be traffic-activated within the parameters of the Green Wave, and

Be it further resolved that the monies in the 2008 Budget for the traffic circle at 216th and 16th Ave. be used to commence phase 1 implementation of this initiative immediately and that the remaining monies necessary to complete the project be budgeted for completion in the 2009 budget cycle.

Be it further resolved that the Township write the Cities of Surrey and Abbotsford, inviting them to upgrade 16th Avenue in their jurisdictions to join the Township Green Wave."

Township Councillor Kim Richter presented an interesting Notice of Motion at the July 21st council meeting as well. The motion calls for developers of new multifamily housing units to provide electrical receptacles for the charging of electric cars. SFOT has requested a copy of this NOM from Councillor Richter and staff and will publish the text as soon as we receive it.

We think this is a great idea that should be considered for our community. You can find more information on public charging here. You can also download a detailed manual on the charging technology available and some costs for both single-family and multi-family structures (dated 1999) in our documents archive.

BC Transporation Minister Kevin Falcon says that he is having discussions with the new TransLink Board of Directors to implement "innovative ways" to pay for the cost of transit. South Fraser OnTrax welcomes any innovation that will allow transit to operate, but more importantly, to expand in our region. We look forward to seeing these new funding initiatives announced soon.

Strange Train Accident: Last night a man was struck by an AMTRAK passenger train at Crescent Beach. Them man was seen on the tracks by an AMTRAK engineer who blew the air horns to warn him. Apparently the guy didn't respond to the horn and failed to get off the tracks.

People need to really be aware of rail safety and the need to stay off the railroad tracks. The tracks ans surrounding area are a right-of-way (in this case owned by BNSF), and the railway can arrest trespassers. Here's some stats on rail accidents and what we can do to prevent them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

LRT Expert Has Arrived in Langley

Brent Graham, is a long-time Langley resident and Project Manager-Rail for one of the three largest LRT and Streetcar programs in the world. Mr. Graham has been in communication with South Fraser OnTrax for many months, and had previously emailed comments surrounding a discussion on streetcars for Langley Township. Mr. Graham's major job responsibility involves the review of area technical challenges to the installation of various LRT lines, and then applying various engineering and problem-solving techniques to remove these technical obstacles to light rail.

Mr. Graham is highly credentialed and has spent many hours of his personal time reading the various TransLink and Township reports that SFOT has provided to him related to the re-activation of the old Interurban rail line. He has also reviewed many technical drawings and other materials related to the Interurban, as well as the 200th Street Transit Corridor that is being discussed and preserved by Township staff. Mr. Graham is on his annual holidays and has volunteered many hours to engage our local community to advance light rail. He has also been helping some volunteer groups in Vancouver with their programs.

South Fraser OnTrax recently contacted the office of Mayor Kurt Alberts in the Township of Langley to inquire as to the interest level for Brent Graham to address Township Council. We note that previously council had many questions related to the Interurban and Streetcars. Some of those questions coming from Councillors Long, Richter and others. We thought it would be a good opportunity to get new ideas and discussions going, while allowing all the councillors to ask their questions and get an expert to reply to them.

Mayor Alberts was very receptive to the idea of allowing a discussion of transit options to take place and for our guest to present some fresh ideas and eyes to the subject. He proposed that South Fraser OnTrax send his office Mr. Graham's biography, and promised he would present it to council for a motion to invite Mr. Graham to speak. This information was presented yesterday to Township Council at the Special Council Meeting. The Motion passed, with Councillor Richter opposed.

I addressed Councillor Richter's vote in a private letter. I received a prompt and courteous reply late today from the councillor. She has extended an apology for "possible misinterpretation" of her questions in council and I have accepted this apology. In the interest of focusing on light rail transit and related advocacy for our community, I trust that we can move forward with engaging our community leaders and politicians in a positive manner.

Mr. Brent Graham, BSc MSc Dipl T, will address council on July 28, 2008 at approximately 3:30pm in the Township of Langley's Special Council Meeting. It is a public meeting (although public questions will not taken by council). We encourage our members and the general public to come out and show their support for Light Rail Transit if you can make it out during this time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Going to the Mountain...

Well, I'm actually going to one of my work's transmitter sites in Abbotsford to do some emergency work. In the meantime, this is from a newspaper article about community rail in the UK. Rising fuel costs are even causing people to get out of their cars in places where gas prices are already substantially higher than Canada.
Mr Walford added that the railways had also been seeing a 'massive upsurge' in passengers because of rising fuel costs.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Toll Me

Last night I took the 501 to Colossus Langley and saw the new Batman movie. I have to say it was pretty darn good. Anyway when I was on the bus, I happened upon a 24 newspaper (the bus was covered with them.) On page 6 was a column called “Time to motorist tolls”. It touches on Surrey’s rejection on Translink’s 2040 plan, Translink's impending financial doom, and the crazy cost of building SkyTrain compared to restoring the Interurban.

Finally, it talks about the $30 million annual operating cost of the major road network. (FYI: Translink has spend $336 million on the major road network to date, and over the next 35 years will spend $808 million on the Golden Ears Bridge.)
[The Major Road Network is] supposed to be funded by those same taxes that pay for the rest of TransLink's operations, but unlike transit, there are no additional user fees - or put more simply, tolls.

The only toll bridge to come in the near future is the Golden Ears Bridge. The rest of the road network doesn't carry any fee at all.

It's high time that road users started paying user fees in addition to taxes. Transit users have been doing so for over a century.

Makes sense to me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How to Fund Capital Transit Project in a Creative Way

We'll call this the last post in a three-part miniseries about Translink and funding. On Wednesday, I blogged on how gas tax revenue is not a sustainable source of revenue for public transit. On Thursday, I posted on funding ideas to cover Translink's operating budget shortfall. Today I will talk about creative ways to fund and build capital transit projects.

When I think of our transit infrastructure in Metro Vancouver, the word mega-project comes to mind. We have rational transit like diesel buses, trolley buses, community shuttles, and the SeaBus. But, we also have the SkyTrain/Canada Line rail network. This rail network affects Translink in many different ways. Beside providing a rapid transit network, the capital cost of this system is one of the major reasons why Translink a.) has a $1.6 billion debt and b.) doesn’t have enough buses. Now the federal and provincial government could provide 100% funding to Translink for future mega-projects (this does not happened today), but I don’t see that happening. If we are to see quality rail transit in Metro Vancouver, and especially in the South of Fraser, we’ll need to move away from our business as usual.

The first step is to use proven technology that is used throughout the world: at-grade light rail/trams/streetcars. Moving away from elevated/underground systems can cut cost substantially and allow for innovative funding solutions.

Innovative Local Funding Solution: Local Improvement Areas

People like living near streetcars, developers like building on streetcar routes. Portland is one of the first examples of modern streetcar systems in North America that comes to mind. Portland’s first $88.7 million, 3.8 kilometers of streetcar was built as a partnership between the City and the development community. Through a local improvement area, the property owners along the route paid for 39% of the cost of the system. The City paid for 32% of the system through a bond back by implementing a $.20/hour parking rate increase on City owned parking garages. The remainder of the funding came from other city source 12% and 16% from the regional transit authority. The City owns the streetcar system and contracts operation and maintenances to Tri-Met, the regional transit authority. The streetcar system to date has attracted over $2.8 billion in investment along the 3.8 kilometer streetcar corridor.

Seattle just opened up a 2.1-kilometer streetcar system in December 2007 for $50.5 million. Just like Portland, the property owners/developers paid for 50% of the system’s cost. The City sold property and development rights to cover 15% of the coast. The remaining 35% was paid for with state and federal funding.

Grand Rapids, Michigan is proposing a streetcar system like Portland and Seattle with a similar funding arrangement. This $80 million system is expected to generate $388 million in development.

Innovative Regional Funding Solution: Private Partnerships

The Interurban line, when it ran, from Vancouver to Chilliwack was as profitable business. The cities at the time basically sold road/rail rights off in exchange for transit service. This was very regulated, and I've over-simplified how it worked, but this is certainly something we could consider in a modified form today.

Right now Southern Rail of BC operates and maintains the interurban as a freight line. The provincial government could partner with Southern Rail, enter into a community rail operating agreement, and upgrade the line to passenger standards ($6 million/km). Southern Rail could be required to provide maintenance and operation of the community rail system in exchange for fare revenue for example. Melbourne, Australia, which has the largest modern streetcar network outside of Europe, runs their transit system similarly.

By building our rail transit system with rational technology, we can bring the development community and private rail operators on board to help build a world-class network that won’t break the bank.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

We Have No Money

Yesterday I touched on the sticky financial situation Translink will find itself in over the next few years. According to the CBC by 2012, Translink will need an extra $150 million annually to fund existing services and another $150 million for expansions. Where will that money come from?

It should be noted that we are talking about operating expenses and not capital projects. The federal gas tax can only be used for capital projects, and one-off provincial funding is usually only for capital improvements. BTW, Translink would be required to come up with some $2.75 billion and $500 million from our local governments to fund the Province’s transit plan. This would result in more property tax. I don't see that happening, and I don’t see how Translink could come up with that kind of money without going into more debt. Anyway...

Right now Translink gets revenue from the following sources:

Fares – 39%
Fuel Tax – 29%
Property Tax - 29%
Parking Sales Tax - 1%
Hydro Levy – 2%

It would seem that in the current political climate, we will not see a major hike in any of these revenue streams. So, we most look to other sources of funding.

Translink Real Estate
According a March 19 article in the Vancouver Sun, Translink expects to take in $30 million to $150 million from their new real estate venture.

Tolling bridges in Metro Vancouver has been talked about since before Transport 2021 in the early 1990’s. Bridge tolling is nothing new (it will be done on the Golden Ears Bridge and on the potential new Port Mann Bridge). Bridge tolling would provide a dual benefited. If done right, it would help reduce congestion and help funding Translink.

Debt Reduction
In 2007, Translink spent $126.5 million on servicing its $1.6 billion in debt. If other orders of government were to provide a one-off payment to help Translink reduce that debt load, it would free up money to fund improved transportation. For example if Translink's debt was paid off, combine with their Real Estate division, Translink could be in the black.

Federal Funding
Translink does not get any operational funding from the provincial or federal government. On June 26th, the US House passed a bill to provide funding to help with both capital and operational costs for transit systems in America. Maybe it’s time for the Canadian Federal Government to step up and provide operating funding to our transit systems. Barring that, the provincial government could also provide funding to cover Translink’s shortfall.

Service Reduction
This is not an option.

At the end of the day it will take a combination of funding source (old and new) to “save” Translink.

According to an article today’s Province titled Surrey report tosses Translink plans in the trash:
Without new funding, he said, the options available to TransLink are to raise fares or property taxes, or cut service.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts wants to discuss the looming funding shortfall with Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon.

She expects that meeting, which was recommended by the council of mayors on transportation, to be held this week or early next week.
Well at least we'll get a new Highway 1.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

U.S. cities scrambling to meet rising mass transit demands

According to CNN, some transit systems in the US are having a hard time keeping up with the demand for public transit. They are running out of money.
While the rise in ridership has been a relatively easy adjustment for some systems, others are facing difficulties in meeting operating costs, which hampers their ability to ramp up service or maintain normal levels.

Cal Marsella, the head of Denver, Colorado's transit system, calls it the "paradox of public transportation."

Denver's system, like many U.S. cities, is partly funded by revenues from sales taxes. As consumers spend less because of high fuel costs and a sour economy, the city earns less revenue. Consequently, funding for the transit system is decreasing just when their operating costs are higher than ever before.

"Just when our demand is highest, our ability to provide is being undermined by the whole crunch," Marsella said. "The last thing we want to do is curtail service but there is not a lot you can do when revenues are down and fuel prices are up."
Translink is also having the same issues. According to their annual report, gas tax accounts for about 30% of their total revue. The tax is not based on a percent, but a fixed $0.12/litre on gas. So while demand for transit is up, cost of diesel for Translink is up, and therefore the operating cost of transit is going up, their major source of funding is stagnating. This is reflected in their 2007 financials. It is ironic that as more people choose transit and leave their car, the less service Translink can provide.

Translink's other major sources of revenue are fares (38%) and property tax (28%). The mayors of Metro Vancouver will not raise property tax or transit fares beyond inflation, so that leave Translink in a really pickle. Who will step up to fund Translink in a time when good quality public transportation is so desperately needed?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

TransLink to Take Care of New West Rail Bridge

Federal Transportation Minister Lawrence Cannon wrote to Mayor Kurt Alberts after Township Council wrote to him and MP Mark Warawa regarding the New Westminster Rail Bridge.

"I am aware of the issue identified in your letter related to the Fraser River Rail Bridge. I also understand that TransLink is undertaking a Pattulo Bridge Corridor Study to develop a long-term replacement and/or rehabilitation strategy for the existing bridge. Among the strategies that will be examined is a proposal to combine the Pattulo Bridge and the Fraser Rail Bridge into a single structure. Allow me to assure you that Transport Canada officials will monitor the study's progress and keep you informed of new developments."

- The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, P.C., M.P.

So, an intermodal bridge may be the end result and Metro Vancouver would finally realize a modern bridge that is similar to other inter-modal bridges around the world, but nothing like this. We hope TransLink's financial troubles won't cause this bridge program to be delayed.

While SFOT does not wish to entangle itself in the Gateway debate, we would like to point out that the replacement of the New Westminster Rail Bridge and the Pattulo Bridge, were the top two infrastructure projects needed for the wider Gateway initiative to be fully successful.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Calgary Really Loves Transit

This is a bit of oldish new, but Calgary has decided to shift their transportation spending from roads into public transit. According to the Calgary Herald:
"We know, everybody knows, people have known for 15 years, that building roads is not the way to deal with transportation in an urban centre," Ald. Brian Pincott said. "Transit is much more efficient and building a community is about walking and biking."

In this 10-year plan, spending is split 54 per cent for transit and 42 per cent for roads, with the remaining four per cent dedicated to pedestrian and cycling projects. In the previous decade, about 65 per cent of funding went to roads, with 35 per cent going to transit. Pedestrians and cyclists are now being included in transportation planning rather than recreation. In the report going to committee, it points out that the money spent on those projects will increase to $126 million from $45 million in the last list of priorities.”
The city is set to spend $3.9 billion on public transportation improvement in the next decade. That is in addition to a new $2 billion that the Government of Alberta announced on July 8th for public transit.

While many things can be said about Alberta (Calgary), they sure know how to build good public transit.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Langley Times SFOT Letter Printed

Today's Langley Times contains the South Fraser OnTrax letter referenced in our post below. We appreciate and are very thankful that our local media like the Langley Times and The Langley Advance both support light rail transit in our region. Both papers have published numerous articles, opinions and letters in favour of community rail. The staff and editors are members of our community of communities and they "get it" when it comes to understanding what we need as a community moving forward.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Download July 10 Meeting Audio

Our July 10th, 2008 meeting audio minutes are available for downloading.

Download the MP3 Audio File

(Remember to select "Save As" if you want to save it to your desktop, otherwise it will play in your browser.)

Seeing Langley from the Rails

Frank Bucholtz at the Langley Times wrote an opinion piece called “Seeing Langley from the rails.” This was a good piece, but there were some points that needed to be clarified. We sent the following letter to the Langley Times.

July 10, 2008

Langley Times
20258 Fraser Hwy.
Langley, BC V3A 4E6

Dear Editor,

It is good to read that you have discovered the comfort and convenience of rail travel. While I enjoyed reading your opinion article “Seeing Langley from the rails,” there are some points that must be clarified. All the rail groups in the South Fraser and Fraser Valley have been advocating for community light rail, which is different from commuter rail. Community light rail is about connecting the communities within our sub-region, while commuter rail is concerned with getting people from our sub-region into downtown Vancouver. As an example, according to the most recently published Translink Trip Diary a full 85% of all trips stay within Langley and Surrey. Community light rail is what we need. South Fraser OnTrax supports the concept of using the old Interurban alignment. The alignment goes through key industrial areas, high employment centers, major universities, key transit interchanges, commercial areas, and near both the Langley and Abbotsford airports. The interurban alignment would also tie into the Scott Road SkyTrain allowing people to continue on into Vancouver. Using commuter rail on the CN mainline with a West Coast Express service would provide service to people in Fort Langley and possibly Walnut Grove, while completely bypassing Surrey. This would not help the 85% of trips within our sub-region.

Freight rail traffic has always been an issue in Langley. This April the Township of Langley wrote to the Federal Minister of Transportation and MP Mark Warawa requesting that the New Westminster rail bridge be replaced. Mark Warawa replied to this letter stating that it was a priority of his. This would go a long way to reducing rail traffic through Langley. Even if that bridge isn’t replaced, building a community light rail system is still very feasible. In 2006, Translink commissioned a report on the estimated costs of restoring service on the Interurban corridor. They took into account the freight rail issue and came to a number of $27 million/km. That is a song compared to the $233 million/km for UBC SkyTrain.

Finally you mentioned at-grade crossing safety. While there is a major concern with freight traffic, at-grade crossing and even running on the same streets as cars are used by pretty much by all light rail systems in North America. For example Calgary, Alberta and Portland, Oregon run their light rail systems on regular roads in their downtown cores, and mostly use at-grade crossings once they are out of the core.

With the ever-rising cost of fuel, community light rail is what we need in our sub-region. That is why the Township of Langley passed a resolution to further study community light rail. Also, Minister Kevin Falcon personally promised back in January to study the Interurban corridor. We hope a fair and impartial report will be ready soon.


South Fraser OnTrax


South Fraser OnTrax was formed to provide a sounding board for discussions centred around quality, sustainable development and transportation. Last night's meeting at Langley Township Hall was no exception. Township of Langley Mayor Kurt Alberts provided an excellent presentation about the history of Translink, some very good insight into funding, and what is shaping up to be a huge funding dilemma for Translink. Here is the full presentation.

The .mac site was down as I write this in the wee hours of Friday morning, so I will upload the complete audio file once .mac is back up and running, hopefully today. As usual, the full meeting audio file will be posted unedited.

There were some other special guests at last night's meeting as well. Besides Mayor Kurt Alberts and Councillor Grant Ward, Mr. Henry Ewert joined us for the meeting. Mr. Ewert is our region's foremost authority on the history of the old B.C. Electric Railway and the Interurban. He had some very interesting observations and insights. The man is a legend and has authored at least four books.

I'd like to also acknowledge our fellow blogger Bob Richter who joined us for the evening. Bob is the husband of Langley Township Councillor Kim Richter. We were honoured to have Bob Richter join us.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Big Meeting Tonight

South Fraser OnTrax will be holding our third regular meeting tonight:

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

Our Guest Speaker: Mayor Kurt Alberts, Township of Langley
Topic: “Getting Things Done”

Download the Agenda in PDF format and please join us for an exciting meeting!

Reasons to Like High Gas Prices

Today's Commercial-News out of Illinois included a republished list of "10 Things You Can Like About $4 Gas." It included things like the return of foreign jobs; slowing of urban sprawl; four-day work weeks for some; less pollution; more frugality; fewer traffic deaths; cheaper insurance; less traffic and more physical exercise.

The article's author Kevin Cullen then added some of his own and included this:

"More freight and passengers moved by rail. Wouldn’t it be nice to go somewhere without a semi on your tail? The loss of our once-great network of passenger trains, streetcars and interurban lines had to be one of the dumbest moves in U.S. history."

We couldn't agree with Kevin more. And it also has to rank high on the list of the dumbest moves in Canadian history as well.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Federal Government Responds Regarding Transportation

South Fraser OnTrax Board Member Bill Taylor sent the following e-mail to the Prime Minister of Canada and some Federal Officials. The views expressed may not fully represent the views of SFOT:

From: Bill Taylor
Cc: ; ; ; ;
Sent: Wednesday, April 09, 2008 4:53 PM
Subject: Transportation and Pollution

To: Prime Minister Steven Harper and our Honorable Members of Parliament.

In British Columbia the Provincial Liberal Government is doing a great job in Vancouver. There is a problem though on the south side of the Fraser River. There is very little choice for us but to use our own vehicles, as there is no major transportation system except for buses every half hour, meeting up with Skytrain. However, a passenger rail right-of-way is owned by the Provincial Government.

Light Passenger Rail would do a great deal of good to get us out of our own private vehicles. This would be an interurban route which would also connect Langley Airport and Abbotsford International Airport.

  • This would cost far less than anything the Provincial Government is suggesting that they may study in twenty (20) years time.
  • Interurban Passenger Rail Transportation for the South side of the Fraser river would be affordable (even by the TransLink’s own figures) reliable, and sustainable. Bombardier can make these cars, if there is any preference.
  • The vehicle traffic is a nightmare now, what will it be like in twenty years time?
  • I am for Gateway but with all due respect, there is a better and shorter route that at least one-half the heavy rail traffic could use. This heavy rail situation is now blocking up vehicles on both sides of the Fraser River needlessly.
  • The Federal and Provincial Governments both say they want to cut down on Pollution, and Interurban Light Passenger Rail going from the Skytrain in Surrey, and eventually to Chilliwack, would be a good way to do just that.
  • The LRT service could be built in two to three years, depending on how many cities are connected in the first phase.
  • The taxpayers in Surrey are going to have a demonstration railway established by 2010 on a portion of the old Interurban track, paid for mostly from their own pockets and will run from the Skytrain to Cloverdale.
Congratulations for getting into power. I am sure this LRT plan would win you all votes, for by far the majority of people I have been talking to believe the carbon tax is just a money grab.

Yours truly,

Bill Taylor

He received this response:

From: "Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities / Ministre des
Transports, de l'infrastructure et des Collectivit├ęs"
To: Bill Taylor
Sent: Thursday, June 19, 2008 1:17 PM
Subject: Building Canada Fund

Dear Mr. Taylor:

The Prime Minister’s Office has forwarded to the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, a copy of your correspondence of April 9, 2008, regarding various transportation issues in Vancouver. Minister Cannon has asked me to reply on his behalf. Please be assured that the Government of Canada believes that funding for public transportation is a priority that will make cities more livable, ease traffic congestion and contribute to cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The federal government is taking significant action to address gridlock, improve the environment and increase economic growth in the Greater Vancouver Area by providing $450 million toward the construction of the Canada Line. This important rapid transit project linking Richmond and Vancouver International Airport with downtown Vancouver is expected to open in 2009.

In addition, Budget 2008 provides an allocation of $66.7 million to the Province of British Columbia under the Public Transit Capital Trust 2008. As announced on March 11, 2008, by Premier Gordon Campbell and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Province has decided to designate the entire amount to the Evergreen Line rapid transit project.

With the recent launch of the $33-billion Building Canada plan, the federal government will provide more support for infrastructure investments than ever before. A significant portion of this funding is expected to flow to public transit, which has been identified as one of five national priorities under the new $8.8-billion Building Canada Fund. Furthermore, Provincial and Territorial Base Funding will provide $2.275 billion over the next seven years, on an equal per jurisdiction basis, which can also be used to support priority transit projects. Transit is also an eligible category under the $1.25-billion Public-Private Partnership Fund.

The Building Canada plan also includes continuing federal contributions from a full rebate of the Goods and Services Tax, and from the Gas Tax Fund, which was made permanent in Budget 2008. By 2014, municipal governments in

British Columbia will have received close to $1.5 billion, through the Gas Tax Fund, for environmentally sustainable municipal infrastructure, including public transit. From 2007 to 2010, the Greater Vancouver Regional District will receive over $233 million in Gas Tax funding, which will be dedicated to public transit. I trust that the foregoing has clarified the Minister’s position with respect to this matter. Again, thank you for writing.

Yours truly,

Andrew Walasek
Senior Special Assistant

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Breaking News - Township Transit Round-Table Called Off

Back in May of this year we reported on the transit round-table meeting that was to take place between Township of Langley Mayor, Council, VALTAC and South Fraser OnTrax. VALTAC had requested the forum, and South Fraser OnTrax requested our inclusion. A Motion was put forth by Councillor Kim Richter calling for this gathering, and it was approved by Council. The Langley Times reported about this round-table here. I could not find any Langley Advance article. Perhaps it is in their late archives.

Beginning in early May, several dates had been discussed. Then in late June, a July 22nd meeting date seemed to be firming up. But at yesterday's Special Township Council meeting, Mayor Kurt Alberts reported to Council and the public that the Transit Round-Table would be canceled indefinitely. The mayor reported that VALTAC opined that because two members of Township Council will be absent on July 22nd, and further the attendance of both MLA's and the MP could not be guaranteed, that the round-table be canceled.

We are sorry to hear that this Transit Round-Table has been canceled as the planning of it has consumed both Township council and staff's time. Also, South Fraser OnTrax had been working hard for several months arranging for a special guest to fly in for the meeting.

Nevertheless, South Fraser OnTrax will now be organizing another opportunity for our overseas expert to address our civic leaders for an important discussion related to Light Rail Transit. Our guest is confirmed to arrive in Langley shortly. Stay tuned for the special announcement.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Streetcars Feasible - $388M In New Development and 700 Jobs

Grand Rapids, Michigan has just concluded a Streetcar Feasibility Study that concludes that streetcars are feasible there. The report estimates that with the first 1.6-mile segment of downtown track, this will spur some $388M in new development and create more than 700 new jobs.

The report goes on to state that the streetcar would stimulate a 74% increase in residential units that would include condos, apartments and student housing. Occupied square footage of office space within the same timeframe would increase some 24%, with occupied square footage of retail space likely to jump some 67%! The proposed route would also spur a 31% increase in the number of hotel rooms in their downtown area. Each $1 of capital investment in the streetcar would generate an estimated $3.77 in sales within the county businesses and $4.58 in sales for the state.

The study reports that the initial 1.6 mile segment would stimulate the creation of 772 jobs in the county, with an average annual wage of $38K or $72M in earnings from new jobs in the county. This is slightly less than the projected $78.7M it will take to construct the first leg of the project. 1,269 new jobs within the state are projected as well, with the streetcar project moving forward. It is further estimated that the streetcar will add nearly $15.7M in personal income tax and property tax to the county and an additional $6.9M in taxes for the state.

The American Public Transit Association and the Community Streetcar Association both conclude that streetcars generally provide 10 to 20 times their initial construction cost in private investment on or near the streetcar routing. The Grand Rapids development calculations are based on new developments all being within a one-quarter mile radius of the proposed streetcar route.

As South Fraser OnTrax has said many times, developers will write cheques for light rail. They do not so the same for buses. We will be following the Grand Rapids and other new projects closely. The full draft report is now available here. The study was approved by the Interurban Transit Partnership Board on June 25, 2008. It will be studied further, subject to availability of funding.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

TransLink Police – Where Are You?

I can vaguely recall the 1960’s television cop comedy show, “Car 54 Where Are You?” Each week the show started with a very distinctive announcer’s voice loudly asking this burning question. This past week, Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender was asking roughly the same question, after yet another vicious assault on a man using a pay phone in the Logan Avenue Bus Loop.

It took the Langley RCMP 10 minutes to arrive on the scene, once the call came in. They found a 36 year old man that had been kicked, punched, and had a whiskey bottle smashed over his head. It was yet another unprovoked attach in the city. Three boys age 16-18 and three girls age 15 – 18 where apprehended by Langley RCMP. The accused were actually still on site when police arrived.

Apart from me seeing two South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Police Service (SCBCTAPS), formerly known as the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Police Service (GVTAPS)….OK, let’s just call them TransLink Police Officers… at a skytrain station in Vancouver once, the only other times I have seen them, there were four officers in a car that pulled up and came in to eat at Knight and Day Restaurant in Vancouver. On another occasion, I saw four officers in a car at a Langley gas station.

Why are these transit police always in cars? Shouldn’t they be riding the buses and skytrains like the commuters? Must they always travel in packs of 4? I notice that there are buses that run in the area of Knight and Day at Boundary and Lougheed. Maybe the bus schedule is inconvenient for them?

When TransLink started to propose an armed, uniformed transit police force with full police powers I was 100% in favour of it. However, it now appears to me that this force operates under no intelligence-driven plan. Without an operational plan and system-wide coverage, I think it is useless as a police agency.

In the UK and elsewhere around our world, police agencies utilize a computer-based system where reports and intelligence data are entered. At Gatwick Airport in the UK, police use their computer system to provide “Proactive Policing”. The system scans the database and also adds in daily events to produce lists of checks and patrols that the Gatwick Airport police utilize to deliver services. New York City Transit Police have been operating for years and this is very much an intelligence-driven force.

Let’s get rid of the SCBCTAPS patrol cars and get these 121+ transit police taking transit across the system. If not, then place one transit police officer at each Skytrain station and use the balance of the budget to help pay for local police to patrol the bus loops and bus stations.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

First Sustainable Healthy Living Co-op in Langley

Statistics Canada says that of the 93,725 residents of the Township of Langley, 45,770 are age 40 to 85 years old. In TransLink’s new Transport 2040 strategic draft, their research indicates that one-quarter of the population of Metro Vancouver will be over 65 years of age by 2040. Note that I previously blogged about Township staff taking steps to preserve the 200th Street transit corridor, which is vital to this development and all future growth in the area. We will need transportation options, keeping this high-density development area traffic-congestion free, while servicing the needs of our seniors and handicapped residents.

Our population is aging, and we desperately need to plan now for new sustainable communities and transportation options that support our aging population. Enter Leo Mitrunen of the Mitrunen Development Corporation, a man with a sustainable plan. Leo and his family own land in the Township of Langley’s planned Jericho Sub-Neighbourhood in the Willoughby area. Its together with the new Events and Recreation Centre at the Willoughby Community Park. Leo says that before the Township began to implement sustainable community strategies and a Sustainability Charter, his group was advocating for a healthy living co-op development.

Leo Mitrunen’s dream is to see a high quality, innovative, development and neighbourhood. This community would embrace a new approach to a healthy and complete way of living. Leo believes this Jericho community can become a model for pro-active health options and sustainable planning for seniors across Canada.

The Mitrunen's land, the Maples at Latimer is located on 20 acres of the approximate 100 acres total, at the south end of the project site. Much of their lands will be dedicated to park and green spaces. The Maples at Latimer will be a 55+ independent living campus community that will provide four stages of senior support to include:
  • Independent Living
  • Supportive Home Care
  • Assisted Living
  • Complex/Palliative Care
The community will embrace a holistic and sustainable way of life. Residents will own their own homes and afforded an opportunity to participate in the on-site Maples Healthy Living Co-op that will deliver health services to them. The mission of the co-op will be “Taking Care Home”. The community members will own and control the co-op. Leo envisions a range of health, support, and advocacy services being provided right there to residents of the Maples at Latimer Creek. The community will promote and support “active seniors” that will pro-actively participate in their health, in order to achieve their full potential. To thrive over their years of aging. Health and social needs will therefore be met within this local community whenever possible. The residents will be very connected to the greater Langley community of communities, as the Township is taking steps to protect our very important 200th transit corridor. Leo is a strong supporter of transportation options that include walking, cycling, the Interurban, streetcars, and bus connections where necessary. He hopes his development's residents will be able to enjoy this elderly and handicapped friendly mode of travel. The streetcars would provide loading direct from the curb, without the need for stepping up at all.

Leo’s dream is that the Jericho Community and the Maples at Latimer Creek will be a walkable community, including the supportive transportation options we have identified. A nearby neighbourhood-scaled commercial centre will cater to the day-to-day living and health needs of the community and the Maples at Latimer Creek residents. This commercial complex will be mixed-use and will also provide live-work options.

Lastly, Leo’s group embraces Smart Growth BC’s strategies for smart development. They have distilled these down to seven (7) short planning and design guiding principals that they consider the keys to building this vibrant, healthy community:
  • Neighbourhood Connectivity
  • A Healthy Community
  • Diverse Seniors Residential
  • Environment + Open Space
  • Neighbourhood Commercial
  • Employment Opportunities
  • Sustainability + Smart Growth
The Township of Langley staff will be scheduling the preparation of a new Jericho Sub-Neighbourhood Plan, which will then allow Leo and his team to file a development application and obtain a permit for this project.

South Fraser OnTrax joins with Leo in encouraging high-density, transit-friendly development along this important transportation corridor. Such development will support the walking, cycling, streetcar, and Light Rail/Interurban options that we desperately need in the Township and our region. The Jericho Community will provide the mixed-use shopping and amenities to make our neighbourhoods more walkable and complete.

We wish Leo and his Mitrunen Development Corporation much success with this mixed-use sustainable community and health co-op. South Fraser OnTrax will follow the progress of this exciting Maples at Latimer Creek project, and keep you informed.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Annacis Island

Yesterday on a work trip to Annacis Island, I got thinking about the future role of freight rail in our region.

Industrial areas like Annacis Island, Gloucester, Langley City, and Port Kells all have great rail access. While some of sidings and spurs in these areas are underutilized today, they will prove to be increasing important as the cost of fuel and therefore the cost of long-distance trucking continues to rise.

The trucking industry is in a bind today on more than the cost-of-fuel front too. They are having a hard time attracting younger people into their field.
The study shows that between 1991 and 2001, younger drivers between the ages of 20 and 24 have been increasingly under-represented when compared to other employed Canadians. In 1991, more than 9% of drivers were between 20 and 24. By 2001, the number was cut in half to around 4.5%. Those in the same age group employed in other occupations remained at above 9%.
I have a friend, my age, that just quit trucking; he hated the long hours and being away from friends and family. He didn’t mind local trucking though. High Gas + Labour Shortage = High Shipping Cost. All of a sudden developments like Campbell Height Industrial Area with no rail access don’t sound that great.

While trucking will not being going away anytime soon, the whole transportation industry will have to realign in the next several years as we find ways to be more efficient with our energy. Maybe we should also redesign some our industrial areas too.

A few years ago during a Sustainability by Design event, some planner from the City of Burnaby talked about combining housing with industrial areas. I wish I had the drawings they came up with, it was very exciting. This kind of development is happening in other parts of the world too. Singapore has mixed-use high technology business areas. Also Granville Island, the tourist areas, has a cement factory right in the middle of it. While you wouldn't build a mixed-use industrial area by a steel factory, the fact is that most industrial areas today a very quiet and free of above-average air pollution. Whatever happens, business as usual can no longer happen.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Breaking the Code

Here is a great presentation on some of the issues communities in the US (and therefore Canada) face when planning and developing Smart Growth neighborhoods. I uploaded the presentation with SlideShare which only took the first 78 slides. You can download the whole 93 slide presentation from our document archive. We would like to thank Jeffrey Tumlin at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting for allowing us to post this very informative presentation.

Over the last four years, Nelson\Nygaard has completed over three dozen station area, infill development and Transit Oriented Development projects across the United States. In our work we continually find that federal, state and local regulations make Smart Growth more difficult to build than conventional sprawl. This presentation identifies 12 of the most common regulatory obstacles preventing Smart Growth -- and what local communities are doing to get around those obstacles.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cost of Gas - New York Times

The New York Time has a great little article about the cost of gas. Here is the chart (click on it for a larger view) from the article. Even with our new carbon tax, gas is a steal of a deal.

In the News

Yesterday, the Langley Times ran a great article about our transportation workshop last month.

Pachal said some of the key themes brought up in the first discussion were restoring interurban light rail, providing access to local roads for transit users, cyclists and drivers, ensuring housing developments are sustainable and engaging the community in discussions about zoning, transit and development.

“The community has to be involved in the planning aspect,” he said. “Neighbourhoods need to be consulted on all plans.”

Also, the Surrey Leader wrote on how the new Translink mayor’s council won’t be raising taxes to cover Translink’s shortfall.
Both the levy – which is already permitted in TransLink’s legislation – and congestion pricing are mentioned as possible sources in TransLink’s new long-range planning vision.

But Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender said imposing any new taxes on driving, including the extra three cents a litre, looks politically impossible.

Translink is in a real pickle, they need to improve transit service, but there is no money to pay for it. I would support congestion pricing if that went directly into improving transit.
The situation leaves TransLink where it’s been for years – underfunded and at an impasse with the province over how to solve it.

TransLink gets diminishing returns on gas tax

Since TransLink gets a hefty slice of existing fuel taxes, it must be raking in windfall revenues as gas prices soar. Right?

That’s very scary considering we are in the age of climate change and costly oil.

Carbon Tax and Road Building

I had an e-mail exchange over the past couple of days with a friend on the topic of the carbon tax and roadway expansion. In my morning reading I found this letter to the Vancouver Sun that somewhat matches my sentiments.

I support the new carbon tax, and I fully stand behind the upgrading of old infrastructure. But, I sure wish that before we earmarked billions on highway expansion programs, we would have looked outside our box to see what others are doing. I would have preferred that we upgrade our transit system to include a healthy investment in light rail, to include a re-activation of the interurban and streetcar program. Once viable and popular light rail transit is in place, then you do your best to drive ridership to these green options. Finally, you use road tolling to encourage more people to leave their single occupancy vehicles at home.

Its too late to turn back the hands of time, but I can't help think that we could have realized billions of dollars for transit and related options had the previous Provincial governments spent our money on smart infrastructure. I firmly believe that the price tag for today's Gateway Program would have been much less expensive. The savings could have been used to fund the other elements of a Gateway.

I still hold out hope that people will see beyond the need for roads and to move goods, and expand our Gateway to include things like ideas, technology, knowledge and many other things that make up a true gateway.

Transit Oriented Development

We've published a page on the South Fraser OnTrax website about Transit Oriented Development. Be sure to check it out.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pretty Charts for Canada Day

The Sightline Institute always has great graphs and charts about land-use, sprawl, etc. And what better way to say Happy Canada Day than to look at some pretty charts and a video.

The first chart is from their Report on Smart-Growth in the Lower Mainland. It shows the percentage of people living in compact neighborhoods. Compact neighborhoods are defined as 20 or more people per acre. Of course this doesn’t take into account mixed-use. There would be no point in living in a compact neighborhood if you couldn’t walk anywhere.

The next is a map of growth in Metro Vancouver of the last 15 years.

Finally this video tries to make the point that we need more transportation options. While this video is about Seattle, it is true of the South Fraser as well. We need transportation options.

Happy Canada Day!