Friday, September 5, 2008

News From IRTSC Abbotsford - A Highway 1 Rail Line?

Last night I attended the City of Abbotsford's Inter-Regional Transportation Select Committee (IRTSC) meeting as an alternate for Nathan who was attending the City of Langley's Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission. This committee has been formed to advise Abbotsford City Council on a transportation plan for the city, and tasked to provide a final report to council by September or October, 2008.

A good portion of this meeting featured a presentation by a city planner, which looked at current and future densification efforts in relation to the Official Community Plan (OCP) and growth and development patterns. Carl Johannsen, Senior Planner for the City is very switched on and spoke of the dramatic need for transit-supportive policies and transit-oriented mixed-use development. This plan has been moving along in Abby and this includes lots of local job growth. Its all good news as the City of Abbotsford sees the need for transit planning to be tied to land use planning, as witnessed in the 2005 OCP.

Johannsen spoke of pursuing transit via the 3 D's or Density - Diversity - Design. Diversity is just another name for mixed land use. As we mentioned many times, frequent rapid transit must be supported by the creation of pedestrian-friendly streets and development. Transit users start and end every journey with a walk, unless they use ugly park and ride lots that remain empty for many hours per day/evening and are a waste of valuable land.

Then presentation included some "beads on a string", or a link of areas and amenities that Abbotsford residents need to get to. Johannsen listed several beads as the City Hall/Civic Precinct, Historic District, Abbotsford Airport (YXX), and University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) which has 10,000 enrolled students, as reported by the city. It was mentioned that the population of Abbotsford will exceed 200,000 people in 25 years and the airport area will see job growth of a projected 260%. The City Hall to Historic District is projected to see +60% new or re-developed residential density.

The presentation made a case for Abbotsford's need for East-West travel and concluded that the IRTSC would be wise to present Abbotsford City Council with a presentation and an eventual final report that endorses the use of Provincial Highway 1 as a transit corridor to advance as far as 216th Street, where it could connect to an eventual revived Interurban rail line near Trinity Western University. The presentation would seek council's approval for meeting with the Provincial Ministry of Transportation for this new alignment along Highway 1, with a loop around these other city areas that could connect to the airport.

Interurban proponents that were present at the meeting were asked to consider the Abbotsford needs with this plan (East-West travel), and that this plan is viewed as a compliment to the Interurban, and would not preclude Interurban use.

The Johannsen discussion mentioned the mode of transit in Abbotsford being "Buses - More Buses - Rapid Bus - LRT". Johannsen suggested that busways cost about $15-25M per Km.. The committee decided to include a projected LRT budget for the Highway 1 portion of the plan. The committee approved the endorsement of this plan with a unanimous vote of confidence.

Interesting Comments of the Evening:
Stephen Rees - "Transit must come before development and rail works best in this instance. You should also be prepared to run the system empty for a time."

Right on Stephen, we couldn't agree more! - SFOT

Regina Dalton - "The federal government is giving $4B to Quebec City and another $4B to Ottawa (including matching provincial funds) to those that ask."

Good point. So why aren't we demanding this money yesterday? - SFOT

Bryan Vogler - "Why not bring the West Coast Express into Abbotsford?"

While the West Coast Express serves the needs of residents across the Fraser River to get to Vancouver for work and such, the South Fraser travel patterns demand a system that moves people within their community and within the South Fraser Region. That's why Bryan, with all due respect to you. - SFOT

Abbotsford Councillor Lynne Harris (on the committee-endorsed plan)- "This plan will give us a reason to connect to the region."

The IRTSC has set a tentative date of October 6, 2008 for a formal presentation of this plan to council.

Final Thoughts

As regular readers of this blog know, South Fraser OnTrax has supported a proposed 200th Street Streetcar system in the Township of Langley and possibly connecting to Langley City, in order to serve our growing (and anticipated exploding future) transportation needs. Much of the need will be North-South. So, just as Abbotsford is looking at providing a new alignment (East-West) for them based on local need, these plans will not scrap the Interurban alignment or its use. If anything, I believe these local-service lines will only build the case larger for a revived Interurban that serves the regional transportation needs of the South Fraser.

The bottom line is that we must be open and progressive in our planning. Build transit nodes and build development around those nodes. Think local, but with the greater region in mind. Don't be a one trick pony or a one issue thinker.


Corey said...

I always thought that a streetcar loop, with its main stop at an interurban station (or 2) would be an excellent option for any city. Connect the local destinations with the local streetcar system, and the regional destinations with light rail on the interurban.

This would allow a large majority of people to travel to any city along the interurban line quickly, AND get where they're going within that city just as easily.

Abbotsford loop line, Chilliwack loop, etc...

Is that the gist of the 200th St Streetcar?

Joe Zaccaria said...


South Fraser OnTrax could not agree more with you. We view the solution for the Langleys as just that, a streetcar program that connects to the Interurban and an Interurban that also has a Surrey node that will connect to Skytrain via Community Shuttle or rail. The streetcars serve local transit needs and the Interurban serves the regional connection requirement. Skytrain interface then serves the lower percentage of commuters that need to get to Vancouver for work, and may increase demand for leisure travel to Vancouver with a decent transit system (LRT) that choice riders would use.

In the case o Abbotsford, the City Planning Department, Chamber of Commerce and many with the political will feel that their Hwy. 1 rail will have greater leverage with the MoT because major work will have to be done soon by the Province on Hwy. 1 and this rail project could commence at the same time, thereby greatly reducing costs and making more do-able for the MoT, or easier to say yes. The plan does not preclude the introduction of streetcars connecting the other portion of their transit corridor, but they view that as reported...Buses - More Buses - Rapid Bus - LRT/Streetcars. They admit that it could go from bus directly to LRT. The old Interurban alignment would cross this system and could be utilized if future Abbotsford densification provided the business case. They would take this LRT line to 216th and the Township could then connect to that and utilize the Interurban from there.

I can only speak for the Langleys when I say that a Hwy. 1 alignment for us beyond 216th would be worthless, as the Interurban would serve our needs in a more cost-effective manner, and become extremely practical if a 200th Street Streetcar program provided greater ridership for the Interurban system and this new link to Abby.

Light Rail Guy said...

Using the #1 highway would be frightfully expensive, all being 'greenfields' construction. Also it would be of little use to Langley or Cloverdale.

I'm afraid the 'powers that be' are still thinking in rapid transit/metro mode and not light rail.

Cost of refurbishing the existing 'interurban' rights of way would be $1 million to $2 million/km.; with some double tracking $10 million/km.

The cost of using the #1 would be $40 million/km. or more.

Cost of LRT is dropping (except in North America, where planners insist planning light rail as a metro) and with rights-of-ways there, ready to use, it boarders on insanity to think going down the median of the #1.

Here we have 5 km. of double track light rail costing EUR 15 million or CAD $22.8 million or CAD $4.56 million/km. Compare with TransLink's Evergreen Line's over $100 million/km. for LRT!

Here we have 4.6 km. of LRT (including 3 cars) costing EUR 18 million or CAD $27.3 million or $5.9 million/km. to build.

Here lies the problem, our transit planners do not plan for light rail, but a very expensive hybrid light metro system, which for all its extra costs achieves very little more than basic or real LRT.

The problem about buses and more buses - just where have buses attracted the motorist from the car? Answer that one and transit agencies around the world will come knocking at your door. Buses do not attract ridership, a lesson that no one is willing to learn.

Bob said...


As a regular member of Abbotsford's IRTSC, I appreciated your report of last evening's meeting. You summarized the main gist of the meeting very clearly. I share your high opinion of City Planner Carl Johannsen's presentation and his grasp of the key issues.

I would add, however, that Alvin Epp, president of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, was a co-presenter of part of the proposal. Seems to me that support from that quarter is important.

I support Interurban but also support this proposal as you outlined it. It was very encouraging to see how it unified the committee. I see it as complementary to the Interurban, especially that section to the west of Abbotsford. Much of the route of the Interurban by-passes Abbotsford's urban core by some distance and would not service the densist residential district, the commercial core, the new hospital, the main industrial area and the airport. That would hinder it from gaining ridership from much of Abbotsford.

Hopefully, this proposal, in a refined form, will be well received by Abbotsford City Council.


Joe Zaccaria said...

Thanks Bob! It was late when I wrote this and I'm thankful that you pointed out Alvin Epp's hard work on the plan and presentation. Regular members of the committee would have great knowledge of his contribution than I.

Good comments from you as well and we are appreciative of your interaction here. Please visit often!

Light Rail Guy said...

Message to Bob.

Here is the problem. LRT, using the median of Hwy. 1, just going to Abbotsford would be $2.5 billion to $4 billion, depending on the amount of engineering to be done on the route.

Using the existing rights-of-way (Southern RR of BC or the interurban route, $1 billion would buy us a deluxe service to Chilliwack, a rail connection to the Abbotsford airport and LRT serving (in the form of a streetcar) Abbotsford's downtown and neighbourhoods.

As well, Langley could have LRT (in the form of a streetcar) going from Langley town centre and down 200th.

Here we have TransLink's SkyTrain trap - All urban rail transit is planned as an expensive metro, all I see with the #1 route is a sop to the Road builders Association, using precocious transit money to subsidize highway construction.

Here is the conundrum - if LRT were to build down the median of HWY. 1, they the highway itself should not be expanded to 3 lanes.

Google maps shows another passenger generator if we build a light rail link from Huntington to Abbotsford Airport, there are several prison complexes along the route.

With a little creative thinking, we see that the interurban route connects more people to more destinations than a HWY 1 route.

Think light rail - Not SkyTrain! Let the tram take you where you want to go.