Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: a Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: a Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

Surrey Rapid Transit Vision - Minimap

Background

(scroll down to read the vision!)

If you’ve read about me in any way, you’ll likely know about my issue with the Surrey at-grade rail (Light Rail Transit) proposal. It was the turnkey issue that became responsible for dragging me into a world of politics. As a stakeholder,  it motivated me to educate myself as best as I could about issues in the community, and is the reason why I pay attention.

My problem with Light Rail? As much as everyone seems to like the option – especially over a SkyTrain expansion – and as much as it DOES work well in many locations around the world, the reality of Light Rail in Surrey is that it won’t help us achieve ambitious goals (rather restricting us from getting to them ever); won’t move our people the most efficiently; and won’t give us the most benefits for the cost.

These aren’t wild claims; these are facts and stats that have been made clear in numerous studies, including TransLink’s Surrey Rapid Transit Study. So far, people across the city of Surrey – from stakeholders to big advocacy organizations like the Surrey Board of Trade – have disregarded these facts and stats. It really dismays me to see that over $5 million that was put into the Surrey Rapid Transit Study – which was made specifically to compare the rapid transit options from a technical perspective – is largely going to waste.

One of the most alarming things about the proposal for me is that one of the proposed corridors (104 Ave to Guildford Town Centre) will actually see transit worsen with Light Rail, especially during its construction. It’s been a concern not just as a long-time resident of the Guildford area (and a rider on 104th Ave transit routes), but as a generally astute Surrey issues follower for the sake of citizens in all areas, and our region.

With over 5 years of advocacy of Light Rail Transit from numerous city organizations and politicians, stakeholders like me now face a situation where city organizations that control our future unanimously support Light Rail and unanimously disregard its serious downsides. Light Rail for Surrey was recently approved in the Mayors’ Council’s regional transit vision, which is why I believe the time for action is more urgent ever. It’s a perfect time, actually, with the next municipal elections only months away and the attractive lure of political discussion in this city being just around the corner. I think there’s a real potential to turn this around, and I think it has to be done more than ever.

So today I present you with a new Surrey Rapid Transit Vision: a vision that promises more practicality at a lower cost, and with more than twice the transit improvement benefits for our citizens. And, I plead that you don’t ignore this.

It’s the convergence of my best research, put together in a way that residents, current politicians and candidates for the upcoming Surrey municipal elections will be able to understand. In the following months you will be seeing me circulating this presentation to associations in the city and working hard to make this issue clear in advance of the next municipal elections. You’ll see me contacting potential Mayor and Council candidates,  current politicians, the media and stakeholders about this issue. You’ll see me working at this because I believe this is a big issue and people NEED to hear about it, right now.

Without further ado:

Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: A Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

(Recommended: Tap the icon on the bottom right to view in full screen!)

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Kuala Lumpur: New 36km SkyTrain line to complement extension

Kuala Lumpur: New 36km SkyTrain line to complement extension

UPDATE – 11th April 2015: SkyTrain technology has been CONFIRMED for the proposed Klang Valley Line.

Today I bring you news from Malaysia! A news release from a few days ago reveals details of a new 36km SkyTrain line to complement an already under-construction 17km extension of the Kelana Jaya line are beginning to surface. The new extension would run from a proposed new transit hub, intersect the Kelana Jaya Line, and then travel through Shah Alam to a terminus at Klang – a city of close to 850,000 people situated 32km west of Kuala Lumpur.

The original regional transportation plan finalized in 2011 [CLICK HERE] proposed that this line would be constructed after 2030; however, a re-examination of the business case in June 2013 has resulted in the project being pushed up to the pre-2020 timeframe. An even newer study focusing specifically on the line details itself has suggested that there are immediate benefits to reap – and with that, the line is now a top priority investment. Construction is likely to begin on the new SkyTrain extension at the beginning of next year, where it will parallel the ongoing extension of the Kelana Jaya Line.

See Also: Greater KL/Klang Valley Urban Rail Development Plan – June 2013 [PDF]

The new plan helps show that the technology we use in SkyTrain is becoming a serious rail rapid transit option for cities worldwide, with expansions of SkyTrain-type lines now well under way in multiple cities – including here in Vancouver, there in Kuala Lumpur, in Sendai, Japan and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Additional details

The “Shah Alam LRT” will be the second SkyTrain-type line in Kuala Lumpur (or the third if the Kelana Jaya Line extension is considered a separate line). The new line will connect directly to the Kelana Jaya Line and may offer a continuous service onto the line. With its completion, Kuala Lumpur’s RapidRail system will eclipse the SkyTrain system in the amount of in-service linear motor trackage, spanning a distance of 82km before 2020 – whereas SkyTrain (lines using linear induction motor tech) will span just 63km after the completion of the Evergreen Line. This will make Kuala Lumpur’s system the second longest linear motor rapid transit system in the world, after the 100km Guangzhou Metro system.

See also: List of Linear Induction Motor rapid transit systems

The new “Shah Alam LRT” line will complement an already in-service commuter rail transit line, similar to how the Evergreen Line will complement the non-stop West Coast Express service in the tri-cities. The rapid transit stock for the new line can be expected to be built by either Bombardier or CSR-Zhuzhou. Bombardier has been a major supplier for the rapid transit cars on the Kelana Jaya Line (ART 200/Mark II trains), while CSR-Zhuzhou has supplied standard rotary-motor rapid transit cars for the Ampang Line (but is also a major supplier of linear motor cars for the Guangzhou Metro system).

About Kuala Lumpur’s “Rapid Rail” system

Kuala Lumpur's integrated rail system. The Kelana Jaya line is in magenta.
Kuala Lumpur’s integrated rail system. The Kelana Jaya line is in magenta.

In case you weren’t initially aware, Kuala Lumpur’s “Rapid Rail” network is like a clone of our SkyTrain system overseas: the system is composed of several grade-separated, automated (driverless) rapid transit lines, many of which use the same linear induction motor propulsion technology and Bombardier Mark II vehicles used on SkyTrain here in Vancouver. The Ampang Line, the first rapid transit line using standard rotary motor technology, was opened in 1996 as the first rapid transit rail line in Kuala Lumpur. This was followed by the 1998 opening of the Kelana Jaya Line, the fully automated linear-motor type line that looks and works exactly like our SkyTrain system. The 29km Kelana Jaya Line is built with both overhead sections and bored tunnel sections through the city core. It is the busiest and most popular rapid transit line in metropolitan Kuala Lumpur with 160,000 riders daily [1], and was for a long time the only rapid transit service in the Klang Valley metropolis that broke even (revenues paid for operations costs) until the Ampang Line, which had historically fallen a few thousand riders short from breaking even [1][2], was equipped with the Thales SelTrac system to itself become fully automated (driverless) [3]. Both lines are currently receiving extensions that are due to open at around the same year the Evergreen Line is opened here in Vanouver. The extensions are shown in the above map (note the unnamed stations near the bottom). Kuala Lumpur’s Rapid Rail system has been immensely successful since its opening, being major money generators for the regional rapid transit system and the biggest drivers of ridership and high-density development. SkyTrain technology has helped the fares on RapidKL’s rapid transit lines remain completely unchanged for 10 years [4], and continue to remain the same (so far) through power tariff increases for the operating company, mainly because of increasing ridership [5]. The rapid transit lines are considered the “key revenue-generator contributor” for Prasarana, the regional transportation authority if the Klang Valley [6]

Sources/footnotes
  1. Passenger numbers from Urban Rail Development Study, page 19 [LINK]
  2. The Ampang Line breaks even at 170,000 riders daily, according to Malaysian Business (article “Red Flags” from 16 June, 2000 issue – not available online) – most recent recorded ridership was 141,000 daily
  3. The Kelana Jaya Line has been automated from start of service; the Ampang Line was refitted with the Thales SelTrac system in 2012 [SEE HERE]
  4. LRT, Monorail fares to go up next year – Astro Awani report [LINK]
  5. Prasarana Power Cost Up 17% since Jan 1 – The Edge Malaysia [LINK]
  6. Description page on Rapid Rail Sdn Bhd [LINK]
Featured image: Kelana Jaya Line train approaches station. CC-BY Flickr - @withcuriosity
Featured image: Kelana Jaya Line train approaches station. CC-BY Flickr – @withcuriosity

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

SkyTrain critics deny benefits of driverless rail

SkyTrain critics deny benefits of driverless rail

Transit gurus in the region constantly criticize SkyTrain and it doesn’t make sense.


I think I’ve pretty much seen it all: unfound claims on SkyTrain’s financial burden, claims that entire tram networks could be built at the same cost as a SkyTrain extension (ignoring the impracticalities of trying to conduct such a massive replacement of buses without ever improving transit speed), and other alternate light-rail transit (LRT) proposals that just don’t make any practical sense.

SkyTrain is constantly being challenged, and this contention has had a phenomenal effect in getting people involved with transit planning matters. Some of the biggest names we know in Metro Vancouver transit issues discussions – the ones you might hear about in newspapers; examples include: Paul Hillsdon, Nathan Pachal, Jordan Bateman, John Buker – are or at one point have been motivated by a criticism of SkyTrain rapid transit.

If there were no one to respond to these criticisms and unearth the problems with such a viewpoint – as I am doing so now – the quality of transit planning in Metro Vanouver would deteriorate to the point where perhaps no disagreement would be had on transit projects; and consequently, little progress would be made in changing communities and peoples’ lives for the better.

Denying the Benefits

SkyTrain critics deny SkyTrain’s potential as a high-quality rapid transit system. They don’t even want to see it acknowledged that SkyTrain generates billions of dollars in transportation, developmental and economic benefits. They clutter our blog-feeds, newsletter sections and comments with endlessly varied suggestions to perpetuate the belief that SkyTrain simply isn’t the best option for investment.

They’re often proponents of Light Rail Transit (LRT), an alternative option that could allow rail transit to be built in a somewhat more flexible manner (including at-grade and on-street), who are quick to bring forward the positives of community-building, lower capital cost and less obtrusive (at-grade) infrastructure as upsides when compared to SkyTrain.

Can LRT be an appropriate solution in the transit planning sense? Absolutely. That should be quite obvious: there’s a reason why light rail investments are so popular around the world, with hundreds of proposals to reference at any time. However, the versatility of LRT should not be resulting in the dismissal of SkyTrain as another great – and often better – solution to addressing transportation problems, especially here in Metro Vancouver.

And yet, the critics are relentless in their criticisms. . Worse – they’re ridiculing and, apparently, finding reasons to shame our system and the way we’ve built it. These are the worst kind – the kind that try to deny altogether that building SkyTrain has provided Metro Vancouver with any benefits – and the ones who should arguably be disallowed from participating in public policy debacles, because they seem to have no understanding of what has been happening here in Vancouver for the past 30 years.

Metrotown has been phenomenally influenced by the introduction of SkyTrain. In the past 9 months I have spent living in Burnaby, I have witnessed the growth of at least 6 new high-rises.
Metrotown has been phenomenally influenced positively by the introduction of SkyTrain. During the year I spent living in the Burnaby area, I witnessed the growth of at least 6 new high-rises. You can see many of them in this photo.

Sample contentions by SkyTrain critics that are incorrect

1. SkyTrain hasn’t gotten people out of their cars.

TransLink’s trip diary data is a difficulty: there is little bearing that can be had about the accuracy of the measurements (this is a sample size) and the types of commutes that were recorded (i.e. are they commutes to work, shopping, and at what time of day/day), but nevertheless, it is a valid source. It’s used by TransLink and Metro Vancouver in regional planning matters,  and is and often utilized by SkyTrain critics. As SkyTrain critics have been quick to point out, the 2011 value is only 3% higher than the valule recorded in 1994 – the year SkyTrain was expanded across the Fraser River and into Surrey. It’s tempting, when you look at this, to think that SkyTrain has failed us in serving its original purpose.

The problem with these numbers is that they really don’t tell the whole story.

The trip diary draws data from 22,000 households in the region, and is meant to take a “snapshot” of a day in Metro Vancouver transportation. It is a partial survey – it’s not the same as the much more accurate ‘journey-to-work mode-share’ numbers collected by Stats Canada from every household, which show that transit mode share in Metro Vancouver is a bit higher than that collected in the Trip Diary and – together with walking and cycling – has grown significantly since 1996.

Closer studies have suggested that the biggest impact in transit modal shift is coming from SkyTrain and SkyTrain expansion. The City of Vancouver has also collected more specific numbers [Vancouver Transportation Plan Update – CLICK HERE] that not only show a big increase in transit ridership from outside of the city (i.e. connected by SkyTrain) – but also that the amount of motor vehicle trips actually declined for the past decade, despite population growth.

An even closer 2009 study [Niko Juevic SFU study – LINK HERE] that more closely looked at households within both 400m and 1500m radii of Expo and Millennium SkyTrain stations showed even more significant changes – outpacing transit modal shift across the region. The opening of the Millennium Line SkyTrain had a phenomenal effect on the surrounding area: within a 1500m radius of each station, transit mode-share had nearly doubled 4 years after the line opened – growing at more than 4x the regional average rate.

I compiled a summary of these numbers in the graphic below:

Modal shift in Vancouver - data compiled from Statistics Canada, Metro Vancouver and 2009 study by Niko Juevic

2. 80% of SkyTrain riders are recycled bus riders

South Surrey Park and Ride's Expansion Lot. CC-BY; Photo credit: Tay.Freder on Flickr
351 buses at Bridgeport Station wait to depart for South Surrey Park & Ride. Photo credit: Flickr – Stephen Rees

While I’ve never really been able to track a definitive source for this statistic (I have seriously only ever heard it from one SkyTrain critic group), I see it repeated in discussion circles and used as justification that SkyTrain is weak at attracting ridership. SkyTrain critics have repeated this number to contend that the majority of riders on the SkyTrain were already taking transit before the line was built, claiming that this is “double the industry standard” – and were extremely vocal in certain situations where SkyTrain expansion replaced one or mutliple bus routes, especially in the case of the Canada Line (which replaced express segments for multiple south-of-Fraser bus routes heading into Vancouver).

Firsty, I have never understood why such a vague 80% number is being portrayed as a weakness. In the City of Calgary, a single centralized high-density core and the most expensive downtown parking in North America combine with free park-and-ride facilities along Light Rail Transit lines to give the Calgary C-Train the majority of its nearly 300,000 daily boardings. The Calgary C-Train is a versatile system and many of its riders have chosen to use transit, but not for their entire commute – the first segment of their trips is more often being done by car than by bus, walk or bike.

If the majority of SkyTrain riders are taking other transit to get there first, then that is at least as much a strength as much as it is a weakness (and, very likely, very much more a strength) – because this kind of transit commute coherency is simply not being replicated by other rail transit systems.

The versatile Calgary C-Train services nearly 300,000 boardings every day - but outside of the city core, Park'n'Rides such as this one contribute the majority of C-Train ridership. Image source: Calgary Transit website
The versatile Calgary C-Train services nearly 300,000 boardings every day – but outside of the city core, Park’n’Rides such as this one contribute the majority of C-Train ridership. Image source: Calgary Transit website

Secondly, this claim – at least in the case of the Canada Line – certainly doesn’t hold up to collected ridership numbers.

Passenger measurements by Canada Line operator ProTransBC collected by the Richmond Review were showing that Canada Line ridership in its first few weeks averaged 77,000 – meaning over 55% of today’s ridership numbers were already on board the Canada Line before September 7th, 2009 – when the 98 B-Line and 490-series express routes were terminated, and the many South-of-Fraser express buses (351, 601, etc) were terminated at Bridgeport rather than continuing to downtown Vancouver.

These bus routes make up only a small percent of the Canada Line’s total ridership – the vast majority were choosing to ride the Canada Line before any of these buses were transferred to terminate at Bridgeport or eliminated. A rider survey conducted in 2011 indicated that 40% of those surveyed were new to the system – that being, they previously drove and did not take transit at all for that commute – and that riders’ biggest vaues for the system were speed, frequency and reliabillity.

With the cancellation of the 98 B-Line and associated peak-hour express routes, it’s true that a number of the Canada Line’s passengers were riders of the previous bus-only system; however, this is something that needs to be expected from all rapid transit projects regardless of technology and alignment. Each and every SkyTrain line, C-Train Line, Portland MAX line, etc. replaced a previous bus service and took in riders from that bus service.

Claims like this also downpay the benefits being provided to any previous bus riders, whose faster commutes are fostering increased productivity, lower stress levels and better comfort. For most of the first month of operation, the 98 B-Line continued its operations alongside the new Canada Line until its termination on September 7th. Riders had the option of continuing to ride the 98 or take the new SkyTrain – and as evidenced by ridership numbers that averaged more than double what the 98 B-Line carried before the new SkyTrain opened, the majority of 98 riders were opting for the faster ride.

The proof is in the ridership

A Canada Line train pulls into Marine Dr Station - photo by Larry Chen, license obtained
A Canada Line train pulls into Marine Dr Station – photo by Larry Chen, license obtained

See also: Surrey’s Next Mayor should Push for SkyTrain – Surrey Leader letter

The Canada Line, which was introduced just 4 years ago, is already a Vancouver icon; a part of this city’s fabric of life. It’s hard to believe that less than 5 years ago, the link between downtown Vancouver and Richmond was a miserable bus trip that took as long as the SkyTrain’s Expo Line took to travel nearly twice the distance to Surrey. As a daily rider of the Canada Line to reach Kwantlen University in Richmond (and again later in the day to go from there to work downtown), the Canada Line’s benefits are evident to me in person. I don’t have to worry about potential traffic issues heading into Vancouver that can make buses (or even light rail trains) late – and neither do the 121,999 others who ride with me each and every day.

Riders, stakeholders and decision makers have been clamouring to build something similar and soon under Broadway between UBC and Commercial-Broadway Station. Support has been near unanimous, because previous experience with SkyTrain has shown us that we can be confident about the expanding the system.

Local mayors who were concerned that the expense of SkyTrain would make TransLink’s assets like electric trolleys “crash” were proved wrong when the Canada Line exceeded ridership expectations well ahead of time.

In walks of transit planning and provision, I have always thought that SkyTrain isn’t getting enough credit for what it does. SkyTrain has been part of why Metro Vancouver has lead North American cities in transit ridership. We rank third in transit trips per person per year, behind only New York and Toronto.  We’re ahead of Montreal, Boston, and Washington, D.C. – cities with full-size metro systems – and far ahead of cities with only LRT systems. This has grown from 4th in 2006.

We are achieving great things because we approved the construction and expansion of the SkyTrain system. Which is why making sure SkyTrain critics who mess up the facts do not get a grip on transit-planning decision makers is my top priority for this year.

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

NEWSLETTER: Next Surrey Mayor should support SkyTrain

NEWSLETTER: Next Surrey Mayor should support SkyTrain
Concept image of at-grade LRT on 104 Ave
Concept image of at-grade LRT on 104 Ave. Notice the reduction in through traffic lanes.
“The LRT or BRT plan to Guildford is very inconsiderate… Never mind the permanent effects – during construction, Guildford residents will be giving up quality transit altogether. Commute times to Surrey Central will double or worsen as 96 B-Line buses must share that one lane of traffic or detour.” All this for several (four plus) years to save one minute using the LRT.

If anything, these words probably highlight one of my original reasons to oppose the Surrey Light Rail transit plan, then as a resident of the Guildford area of Surrey. This later materialized into a strong research effort and the establishment of an advocacy website (skytrainforsurrey.org), one of my biggest efforts since I started discussing transportation and politics issues throughout this region.

My support for SkyTrain-type rapid transit in most any situation, something I understand a lot of you criticize me for, is probably no secret. Yesterday, in a gesture of support for planned SkyTrain on Broadway, I launched an article criticizing one planner’s poorly laid “alternative”. It was a big hit, achieving an April-May viewcount record for my blog and becoming a popular discussion topic on other blogs and boards such as on reddit.

See also: SkyTrain critic’s alternative to Broadway subway is half-baked

Now that I’m returning to this long-time advocacy priority of SkyTrain for Surrey, I hope to engage the same type of discussion. This is beginning to materialize: the Now just published a newsletter I sent encouraging the next running Mayor for Surrey to show some support for SkyTrain as a rapid transit alternative for Surrey. You can read the new letter in today’s Surrey Now issue or here online.

LETTER: I want Surrey’s next mayor to support SkyTrain – Surrey Now

One reader is adamant that expanding SkyTrain would serve Surrey much better than Light Rail Transit.

The Editor,

Surrey’s departing Mayor Dianne Watts told reporters at city hall one of the things she regrets is that she couldn’t secure Light Rail Transit (LRT) for this city, which will probably do all of us very good.

It was three years ago when she announced her LRT ambitions on the basis that SkyTrain is too expensive and disruptive. But SkyTrain has spurred billions in real estate, building entire communities like Metrotown, Brentwood and downtown Richmond. It’s building our city centre right now and is what’s responsible for making it a more vibrant area.

Because of SkyTrain, Metro Vancouver’s transit system isleading in ridership attraction in North America– ranking third in transit trips per person per year, behind only New York and Toronto. We’re ahead of Montreal, Boston, and Washington D.C. – cities with full-size metro systems – and far ahead of cities with only LRT systems.

LRT has its own downsides. It’s slower, vulnerable to accidents, and we don’t get many transportation benefits. A study suggested the monetary value of LRT’s benefits will not recover costs.

There are other implications. The LRT or BRT plan to Guildford is very inconsiderate, removing two traffic lanes on 104th Avenue. Never mind the permanent effects – during construction, Guildford residents will be giving up quality transit altogether. Commute times to Surrey Central will double or worsen as 96 B-Line buses must share that one lane of traffic or detour. Graduating students and Guildford’s many low-income residents won’t find the options they need to manage busy lives, access jobs and get to classes.

All this for several (four plus) years to save one minute using the LRT.

SkyTrain can cost more money to build but will give us actually veritable benefits. Imagine this: vibrant communities and productive citizens. Less traffic and safer roads. Newton to Guildford in 13 minutes.

Our high-quality, grade-separated rapid transit system gives us these benefits and more, and I want to see the next Surrey mayor pushing for SkyTrain.

Daryl Dela Cruz, Surrey

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Optimizing Transit: Ideas for Burnaby

Metrotown's growing skyline, as seen from Royal Oak SkyTrain Station
Metrotown’s growing skyline, as seen from Royal Oak SkyTrain Station

Introduction

As a Burnaby resident and transit user for the past 8 months, I must admit that I, perhaps among others, have been bothered by the lack of structure in Burnaby’s bus transit network.

It’s evident if you ever have a look at a map of Vancouver’s transit system and Burnaby’s transit system. Notice how Vanouver manages to conform to a standard grid – but once Boundary Road is crossed, the grid gives way to a series of indirectly routed buses that twist and turn along Burnaby’s many local streets. There’s some coherency in the form of the busiest and most popular routes crossing the city (the 25, 106, 123, 129, 130, 135 express) but most of the routes swerve around the city in a non-gridlike fashion, and are unable to manage frequent transit network (FTN) service levels.

Transit map, highlighting Burnaby's transit network
Transit map, highlighting Burnaby’s transit network

For example, through travellers from Kingsway to Edmonds St and 6th Ave on the 106 face a lengthy detour as the bus detours to reach Edmonds SkyTrain Station. And, you betcha, that lack of a through connection on the C5 from Royal Oak Station to Kingsway (where there are businesses, including a major grocery store) and points north is an annoyance. The winding state of many routes also makes commutes much longer – as such that if I want to travel home from – say – the bowling centre near Holdom Station, I’ll usually take the SkyTrain the long way around. This is often faster than timing the 129 and then actually taking it, but still much slower than if I could drive. Network gaps and limitations like this are a serious impediment to transit ridership growth in Burnaby.

According to TransLink, capacity utilization of Burnaby and New Westminster’s buses dropped 2.6% in 2012 – and it was the only area of Metro Vancouver where this value dropped. Cost per boarded passenger decreased – but did so at a lower rate compared to other areas of Metro Vancouver, exceeded by only the North Shore area where it rose 1.2%.

Burnaby and New West's fare in the most recent TransLink bus performance review. Values from left to right: revenue boardings per hour, capacity utiization, cost per boarding. [CLICK IMAGE] for full performance stats of all regional areas
Burnaby and New West’s fare in the most recent TransLink bus performance review. Values from left to right: revenue boardings per hour, capacity utiization, cost per boarding. [CLICK IMAGE] for full performance stats of all regional areas
Many of these bus routes were initiated with the introduction of Expo Line service in 1986, and received minimal redesigns with the introduction of the Millennium Line in 2002, probably not helped by the major transit strike that occurred just 1 year prior. There have been a few changes since that I feel have been particularly good, such as the current C5/C7 service in South Burnaby (which apparently replaced a number of bus routes that ran less frequently and not in both directions), but there are still a lot of gaps in the service. I would like to see a regular service down Imperial Avenue east of Kingsway, but instead riders are currently being forced to walk long distances to access their bus.

The Ideas

While I was browsing through the numerous transit-oriented articles on Voony’s Blog, I found the graphic that inspired me to write this article attached to a comment on a write-up focusing on the proposed route 49 change:

[CLICK IMAGE] for full size
[CLICK IMAGE] for full size
The concept points out a simplified Burnaby bus network where routes are straight, simplified and apparentlly more frequent. The commenter (mike0123) had this to say about his image:

The local transit network in the southeast corner of Vancouver, in all of Burnaby, and in all of New Westminster is poorly integrated with rapid transit and with other local transit. The loopy patterns are similar throughout, and they are inherently indirect and infrequent and slow. Nearly all routes currently run every 30 minutes off peak.

Bus routes should run primarily on arterials perpendicular to rapid transit and connect at the stations. They should cross the city so that connections are possible at Hastings, the Millennium Line, the Expo Line, and at Marine. There should be fewer routes that are more direct and have higher frequency.

The image [above] shows a network in which most of the routes run better than 15 minutes off peak and all of the routes run at most every 20 minutes off peak. This is possible just be redistributing service without any increase in cost.

The last line captured me before I clicked on the full-size image because I see this as a value riders do consider important and may consider in their favour when discussing changing Burnaby’s transit network.

Mike makes a great point. TransLink has pointed out in their transit system performance analyses in 2013 that the highest performing routes on the system had these four common characteristics:

  • Direct, simple and consistent routing
  • Serve areas of strong demand
  • Busy destinations at both ends (strong anchors) and along the route
  • Services are designed to maximize ridership

This isn’t the only concept I’ve seen. Blogger Kyle Zheng (257van) also put together an impressive concept for Burnaby’s bus network in late 2012.

Kyle (van257)'s Burnaby bus network proposal. [CLICK IMAGE] for full size. The original network is on the top right, and there are three proposals
Kyle (van257)’s Burnaby bus network proposal. [CLICK IMAGE] for full size. The original network is on the top right, and there are three proposals

In my proposal, I have determined that there are overlapping services, and many places with extremely lacking services. By removing bus routes, higher frequencies may be achieved. This though, will decrease the coverage level (eg: I have removed the 116). From my analysis, the higher frequencies and less routes in my proposal will save money, or at least cost less than the current system.

There’s a useful point-out of which routes have what frequencies (8 or better, 15 or better, or above 15) during a mid-day time point just before the PM peak, which shows us that many of the current routes/corridors simply do not manage 15 minute off-peak frequencies. The whole plan is based on a “bus skeleton” basis of focusing on frequency and simplification. The proposals manage to give the entire network a 15 minute off-peak frequencies.

The proposal also comes with a fully costed business case analysis, which analyzes the cost of providing the current and proposed bus networks (it seems that Mike’s proposal has also been included in this analysis). All in all, it checks out: many Burnaby residents receive a 15-minute off-peak bus service in return for routing changes, and it’s possible within existing budget limitations: it doesn’t cost TransLink any (or much) more money to do this.

The Practical Limitations

TransLink's highest-performing routes. The routes highlighted in red service the City of Burnaby.
TransLink’s highest-performing routes. The routes highlighted in red service the City of Burnaby.

Unfortunately, all proposals have their flaws – and these ones are no exception. Both of the concepts are impressive in that they try to get all services to improve in frequency, but such improvements can often come at a cost to mobility.

In Mike’s proposal, many areas lose their direct connections with important travel markets and anchors. For example: services cease to exist where the 110 currently runs north of Metrotown Station, cutting off service to a major local travel anchor (Burnaby Central Secondary School – a very large school that hosts special programs not found in other schools) in addition to Central Burnaby residents in general. It would also limit connections to Burnaby’s City Hall and Art Gallery from the rest of the city and region.

Burnaby Central Secondary School is newly built and one of the region's largest. Under Mike's plan, students throughout Burnaby would lose useful direct connections to this school.
Burnaby Central Secondary School is newly built and one of the region’s largest. Under Mike’s plan, students throughout Burnaby would lose useful direct connections to this school.

The proposal also eschews major, popular portions of route 106, including Kingsway west of Imperial Street and in front of Metrotown Mall; direct connections between Edmonds Station and both Kingsway and 6th Street are also cut off. I think these changes to the 106 will become a huge problem, because the 106 is one of the 10 most cost-effective routes on TransLink’s entire bus network. As well, entire corridors in New Westminster that currently see frequent, 15-minute service – including both 8th Street and 8th Avenue – are cut from service, alienating several local businesses and residents from the service that drives their sales and productivity.

Entire areas are seeing a significant cut in bus service options. South Burnaby, for example, loses a lot of the service coverage provided by the C5, C6, C7 and 116 in favour of just one service that seems to replicate what existed before the C5 and C7 were created. Riders have less choice, and it is not as easy to travel to places like Metrotown.

All in all, the more frequent service comes at a cost: new walking distances to buses in some instances exceeds 10 minutes – something that could become particularly problematic for disabled transit users, as well as senior citizens.

*****

In Kyle’s proposal, much of the existing bus network coverage is actually retained, but there area number of obvious flaws: the first that stood out to me being the removal of the C5 – a popular transit link from my station of residence (Royal Oak). Not only does the plan limit an otherwise quick connection with SkyTrain for South Burnaby residents, but the whole plan prevents South Burnaby area commuters from making any connection to Marine Drive (route 100) and South Vancouver altogether, unless they travel to 22nd Street Station.

In many of the proposals, connections with major anchors are compromised. Proposals 2 and 3 cut 8th Street service, as with Mike’s proposal, limiting connections to Douglas College, New Westminster Secondary and many local businesses. In some instances, major anchors are just barely missed; proposal 1 has a great bus route going down Royal Oak that could offer a connection to Metrotown or Royal Oak, but this is eschewed in favour of a turn on Oakland to reach Edmonds Station, which has become a centre for several routes.

Glenlyon business park is a major commute destination for 116 riders - and it's still growing
Glenlyon business park is a major commute destination for 116 riders – and it’s still growing

The 116 is also removed – which, while explicitly mentioned in his article on the matter – is done without the provision of any replacement, alienating commuters into the South Burnaby industrial areas altogether. The reason for the removal was just something I didn’t understand, especially seeing as the 116 is doing better than many of Burnaby’s less frequent bus routes, ranking 94 of 212 Metro Vancouver bus routes in terms of cost per boarded passenger.

There are also a number of less optimal route choices. In all three proposals, the Forest Grove and Government Street areas are relegated to using a one-way 136 bus service. This will provide a one-way service every 15 minutes or better, but as I (and hopefully you also) know from TransLink’s guidelines on good route design, one-way services usually aren’t very cost-effective, nor are they in any way optimal for mobility at the end of the day.

So what should we do, anyway?

I agree – there’s a lot of room for improvement in Burnaby’s bus transit network. Mike’s proposal shows us that by pursuing a more Vancouver-styled network based on intersecting routes in straight lines, better frequencies throughout can be achieved. Kyle’s proposal also shows us that by simplifying the skeleton, we can make vast improvements to service frequencies.

I do, however, think there’s another important question we need to ask before trying to proceed with anything, that being: Is Burnaby ready for a modified network?

Some of these ideas can be carried forward. Kingsway/12th Street residents (especially those between Edmonds and 14th) coud benefit from a straight route that offers more direct connections to major anchors such as the growing Edmonds Village and Community Centre, Tommy Douglas Library, and Nikkei Japanese Cultural Centre. Straight north-south connections, so long as connections to places like Burnaby Central Secondary aren’t affected, could help residents better and faster connect with SkyTrain service and regional centres. #28 riders could probably live with the longer walk to the bus stop in favour of a straighter and more direct service on Boundary, and a route down Royal Oak Street north of the station would be absolutely great for riders. Optimizations for increased frequency always help.

However, the current network is actually doing fairly well.

Burnaby and New West's fare in the most recent TransLink bus performance review. Values from left to right: revenue boardings per hour, capacity utiization, cost per boarding
Once again: Burnaby and New West’s fare in the most recent TransLink bus performance review. Values from left to right: revenue boardings per hour, capacity utilization, cost per boarding

As I mentioned earlier, cost per boarded passenger decreased – but did so at a lower rate compared to other areas of Metro Vancouver, exceeded by only the North Shore area where it rose 1.2%. Nevertheless, at $1.33/boarded passenger, this is still the second lowest cost of any area in Metro Vancouver, defeated only by Vancouver itself.

That means that the current bus network is nevertheless working: the amount of passengers attracted to each bus justifies the costs better than in many other areas of Metro Vancouver.

The power of community consultation

A HandyDart bus is stopped outside a residential complex in South Burnaby. Photo by myself
A HandyDart bus is stopped outside a residential complex in South Burnaby. Photo by myself

The community consultations for the recent route 49 changes were popular, that would have resulted in the end of a longtime service detour to Champlain Heights that has existed since before the Expo line was built, and before the route even serviced Metrotown in Burnaby.

More than 150 stakeholders showed up to the Metrotown consultation centre in protest of the change that would have seen 49 Ave service remain on 49th rather than detour in Southeast Vancouver to service the Champlain Heights area, seen by many planners, riders and myself as a barrier to ridership and reliability on the route. The pre-Expo Line detour costs riders 5 to 10 minutes, mostly affecting riders from Metrotown heading to points on 49th, Langara College and the Canada Line SkyTrain and Richmond.

These stakeholders cited heavy ridership in Champlain Heights as well as the service needs of many seniors in the area as reasons to keep the current 49 arrangement – and I believe they had legitimate concerns. A good friend of mine who I work with in organizing the Northwest Fan Fest event lives on 49th west of Champlain Heights, and was among the more active opposition of the 49th change.

While the end of the detour would have also allowed the route to become more efficient resulting in an increased frequency for the riders who face daily pass-ups on the 49 (the 49 has the highest pass-up rate of any bus route in Metro Vancouver), the City of Vancouver ended up voting unanimously against the change, with the introduction of a motion by Councillor Geoff Meggs – meaning crosstown 49th travellers are, so far, out of luck.

I think this shows two problems with trying to make the transit network better:

  1. Improving the network overall often requires more funding (which we currently are figuring out how to provide) in order to make sure certain groups don’t lose out from the changes
  2. It’s important that there is an active discussion with the community before any bus route changes are made.

Many of the proposals sought forward by individuals like Mike and Kyle or by TransLink itself in any finalized concepts could be shot down in favour of established and subjective needs. At the end of the day, while there’s a lot of room for improvements, I think we’re going to have to be careful to ensure that in the end, both connections are improved and everyone is happy with the new service.

Impressive growth in Metrotown has created its most impressive skyline ever. More is coming in the Brentwood area and throughout Burnaby.
Impressive growth in Metrotown has created its most impressive skyline ever. More is coming in the Brentwood area and throughout Burnaby.

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Pattullo Problems – 2: Front Street

ALSO SEE: Pattullo Problems – 1: Advocating for Six Lanes

Railway crossing - Front Street, New Westminster
Railway crossing – Front Street, New Westminster

Last year I was working in a building in New Westminster with a window that overlooked the railway crossing at Front Street. There, I witnessed the passing of trains and truck traffic on a daily basis. I still remember wanting to close the window every time I opened it to enjoy the fresh air, because the air smelled like diesel. It just wasn’t something I wanted to breathe, and I kept that window closed as much as I can for the duration of my stay. According to Councillor Bill Harper, Front Street is one of the “most toxic” areas in the Lower Mainland in terms of air quality.

Trucks that use Front Street, as they do regularly with Columbia Street not being suitable for large amounts of trucks, have to contend with these trains, which slowly continue onto the Fraser River Bridge into Surrey. As well, New Westminster residents have to contend with the train whistles, and the air pollution resulting from the stop and go movement. On a transportation basis, it’s not efficient and not predictable to use front street.

This is where a new six-lane Pattullo bridge replacement – which I discussed in a previous blog article and through letters now published in three Burnaby and New Westminster newspapers – can most handily come in.

This summary map shows the highway projects that were proposed with the Gateway Program (along with other recent major road projects in the region). The previously proposed NFPR is highlighted in purple.
This summary map shows the highway projects that were proposed with the Gateway Program (along with other recent major road projects in the region). The previously proposed NFPR is highlighted in purple.

The Front Street corridor was part of a previous highway proposal called the North Fraser Perimeter Road (NFPR), which was part of the regional Gateway Program. However, both New Westminster and TransLink have placed this project on the backburner, perhaps indefinitely. Plans for a new Pattullo Bridge no longer show a connection with Front Street, and the United Boulevard Extension is off the table.

Instead, the City of New Westminster has discussed the potential to revitalize Front Street into a “neighbourhood street” lined with business and mixed-use development, deconstructing it as the current through route for many trucks travelling from the southwest to the northeast.

The revitalized Front Street concept included a car, bike and pedestrian overpass at Sixth Street, connecting with the new Waterfront Park, to eliminate the railway crossing at Eight Street and – along with the elimination of the Front Street crossing and the closure of Front Street as a through route – result in the elimination of all railway crossings in New Westminster, and associated train whistle habits.

Concept: Revitalized Front Street with Sixth Street rail overpass
Concept: Revitalized Front Street with Sixth Street rail overpass

As a proponent of sustainable urban development and a nearby resident just 10 minutes away by SkyTrain in Burnaby, a revitalized Front Street is something I really look forward to. It has the potential to bring increased business, quality of life and tourism to New Westminster, benefitting everyone in the big picture.

Already, new investments into the community like the Waterfront Park have greatly improved the quality of life in New Westminster, and have given people across the region more reasons to come into New Westminster. More than ever, New Westminster is an accessible, vibrant regional centre – and I think that planners and decision makers should be building on that momentum that started with first steps like Plaza 88 at New Westminster Station and the under construction civic centre across the street.

However, the construction of a six-lane Pattullo Bridge with extra capacity to redirect traffic is the only way the City of New Westminster can realistically follow through with this priority.

While the City has discussed redirecting trucks onto alternate parallel corridors like 10th and Royal Avenues, neither are very suitable for trucks. The former is a two-lane, low-capacity corridor for much of its length not suitable for schedule-oriented goods movement. The latter puts trucks through a climb on a very steep hill, which apart from being an issue for truckers themselves, creates noise and pollution for New Westminster residents.

The issues with 10th and Royal were being discussed in detail in New Westminster’s official downtown community plan. However, these discussions seem to have been ignored in more recent viewpoint establishments.

It remains a fact that the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) with an expanded Pattullo Bridge can fulfill a role that Front Street currently dominates: getting trucks and goods from the South-of-Fraser ports in Delta to Northeast sector ports and industrial centres. A six-lane Pattullo Bridge is the only way to facilitate a direct connection between the SFPR and Columbia Street and totally replace Front Street as well as the heavily congested Queensborough Bridge in this segment with a reliable alternative.

Featured image: The SkyBridge, with the New Westminster Waterfront in the background. From the "Inn at the Quay" website - no copyright specified
Featured image: The SkyBridge, with the New Westminster Waterfront in the background. I think we could we be seeing this view differently with a six-lane Pattullo Bridge in place. From the “Inn at the Quay” website – no copyright specified

I think the City of New Westminster could be taking this into account in having a position on a Pattullo Bridge replacement. Being open to six lanes, the possibilities with Front Street would be endless.

NEXT UP: Pattullo Problems – 3: Queensborough Matters

NEW: Read my letter supporting a six-lane Pattullo Bridge as it appeared on the Royal City Record

Pattullo Bridge needs six lanes – Royal City Record

Dear Editor:

New Westminster’s Jim Lowrie told us that a six-lane Pattullo would cost about twice as much as a four-lane bridge, but the released study reports an entirely different number. Given the actual premium for two extra lanes stands at a more reasonable $200 to $300 million, I am in favour of a six-lane bridge.

Before anyone complains, I think it’s important to establish first what exactly the extra lanes will be for, where will they go, and what are the benefits.

I have heard some complaints about how McBride would become a “six-lane expressway” and overload New Westminster and Burnaby streets with traffic. But TransLink’s concepts from last year’s consultations show that the third lane is intended to split off towards Columbia Street north of the bridge – a road leading away from New Westminster….

[READ MORE – Royal City Record]

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.