Thursday, November 26, 2015

Riding BC Transit's 66X through the Fraser Valley - Part 3: Abbotsford's Past, Present, and Future

This week, I have been posting about the trip that my friend Paul Hillsdon and I took on the new BC Transit Fraser Valley Express/66X on the weekend. In part 1, we journeyed from the Carvolth Park and Ride to Downtown Chilliwack. We then travelled back to the McCallum Road stop in Abbotsford. In part 2, we meet up with Patrick Oystryk, a planner with the City of Abbotsford who is working on Abbotsforward, and walked along McCallum Road to Historic Downtown Abbotsford where we had lunch. Today is the final installment of this series.

While Paul, Patrick, and I were having lunch in a 100+ year old building in Downtown Abbotsford, we started talking about the history of the area. One of the things that I noticed was that while Downtown Abbotsford has some very old buildings, over the years many have been altered in such a way that you wouldn’t know their age.

Abbotsford has a rich history that predates the arrival of colonizers, and even has an interesting colonial history. For example, the community is home to the oldest existing Sikh temple in North America, the Gur Sikh Temple.

Present day Abbotsford was two municipalities up until 1995: the District of Matsqui and the District Municipality of Abbotsford. The word Matsqui is derived from the Halkomelem language and means a "stretch of higher ground." Abbotsford was named to commemorate a guy named Harry Braithwaite Abbott and some castle in Scotland. I don’t know if I’m reading too deep into this, but it is interesting that Matsqui wasn’t chosen as the name for the merged municipality.

After chatting about the history of Abbotsford, we started talking about growth in Abbotsford. Patrick told us that many people have the assumption that Abbotsford is growing at a fast pace. This was true in the past, but that growth has slowed significantly over the last decade. Another assumption about Abbotsford is that it is a sprawling city. This is actually not the case. As urban Abbotsford is bound by the Agricultural Land Reserve and Sumas Mountains, the only way that Abbotsford can grow is up.

After lunch, we decided to make our way to the High Street mall. Patrick was also really keen on taking us to Oldhand Coffee, a hipster coffee joint, which was along the way. Our plan was to take the 2 Bluejay – Huntingdon, another one of Abbotsford's “frequent” transit routes that runs every 30 minutes. As we were waiting for this bus, and for subsequent buses, it became apparent that the bus schedule was more of a suggested arrival time. Every bus we took in Abbotsford was late by at least 10 minutes.

Nathan, Patrick, and Paul enjoying a coffee at Oldhand Coffee

South Fraser Way is the main east/west commercial road through Abbotsford. It is also in the centre of urban Abbotsford. A large percentage of Abbotsford’s population is about a 15 minute walk from South Fraser Way.

The urban form is a mix of strip malls, regular malls, big box, offices, and even buildings that front the street. I wouldn’t want to walk on that street today, but the road reminded me of pictures I saw of Vancouver’s Broadway back in the 1970s. If Abbotsford is able to transform the built-form of South Fraser Way, it has the potential to create a great transit street like Broadway in Vancouver.

After coffee, we boarded another 2 towards High Street. High Street is a mall at the edge of town, and is a popular destination for both people in Abbotsford and Langley. The traffic jam around the mall was insane. Because there is no bus prioritization in Abbotsford, buses get stuck in traffic. This meant that Paul and I missed our bus back to Langley; we had two hours to kill at High Street. We ended up going to one of the restaurants in the mall after wondering around High Street for a bit. If you want to know my views about High Street, check out an earlier post I did.

Paul and I checking out the Christmas decorations in High Street. Select image to enlarge.

When it came time to catch the 66X back to Langley, Paul and I headed to its bus stop. We waited, and waited, then waited some more. We wondered if the bus was coming. In Metro Vancouver, there is real-time bus information that lets you know exactly where buses are. There is also a customer service department that can help you out. In Abbotsford, there is no real-time bus information, and customer service doesn’t have the best hours.

The bus did come, but it was 30 minutes late. This was due to an accident on Highway 1. There is nothing more frustrating than waiting for a bus that runs every 2 hours, and having no idea where it is. In Metro Vancouver, we really take for granted all the tech that makes taking TransLink easy.

Looking east from High Street. There is a city in there somewhere. Select image to enlarge.

If I'm heading out to Abbotsford or Chilliwack in the future, I will take the 66X again. It was really great of Patrick to take time out of his schedule to tour us around Abbotsford. For all those Vancouver urbanists that dismiss the Fraser Valley, you should take note. Good things are happening here, but it will take gentle nudges to ensure things move along the path of livability.


Anonymous said...

The provincial government is planning on widening hwy to 6 lanes to Abbotsford, unfortunately the new lanes will be for general traffic flow and not restricted to HOV or buses. That would better serve the FVX. Instead we will just have more single occupancy vehicles driving down the left lane for no reason.

David Y said...

As an alternate to the FVX from High Street Mall to Langley,one can
walk over to the Fraser Hwy via the Mt. Lehman Rd overpass and catch the
21 Aldergrove Connector to Aldergrove to connect with Translink's 503.

Frankly Speaking said...

A most interesting trip - the times between buses made for a lot of time to explore. Abbotsford at one time was three municipalities - the District of Sumas and the Village of Abbotsford amalgamated in the late 1960s.