New bus stop enables Surrey access to #555 rapid bus

New bus stop enables Surrey access to #555 rapid bus

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was delighted to learn that the new bus stop at the 156th Street-Highway 1 off-ramp to the 555 Port Mann Express rapid bus would open earlier than expected – in time for the 2014 back-to-school season, and saving commuters to downtown and students at post-secondary institutions like Simon Fraser University and Douglas College minutes upon minutes every day.

The new stop helps Surrey residents in Guildford and Fraser Heights connect to the Millenium Line SkyTrain in Coquitlam, significantly improving links to SFU, Brentwood Town Centre and Downtown Vancouver.

This diagram shows the travel time benefits for Surrey riders now able to access the 555. From my "unofficial business case" (see below)
This diagram shows the travel time benefits for Surrey riders now able to access the 555. From my “unofficial business case” (see below) – CLICK TO ENLARGE

A complicated history

See also: No Stops in Surrey for Port Mann Express Bus – Surrey Leader, Nov 2012

See also: Surrey left out of rapid bus line – CTV News (Video)

For those who didn’t know, the bus stop for the Highway 1 Rapid Bus (#555 Port Mann Express) has been a topic of controversy for some time after a bus stop for the service was not provided in Surrey, due to several issues of mis-communication between TransLink, the Provincial Government, and the City of Surrey. A private developer who was expected to build a transit exchange may also have been involved in the fray.

Original concept images by the provincial ministry of transportation showed buses turning and making a stop at 156th Street, giving a new rapid transit access to Surrey residents in Guildford and Fraser Heights. When the HOV ramp and bridge were opened in late 2012 – along with the introduction of the rapid bus route – this didn’t materialize, secluding Surrey residents from improved transit access in the face of a new toll on the bridge.

Picture of 156th Street underpass and HOV ramps, showing buses that would have been using the interchange.
Picture of 156th Street underpass and HOV ramps, showing buses that would have been using the interchange and stopping for passengers.

Fraser Heights residents would feel the pinch of this when ridership on the bus route #337 grew at the fastest rate of any Surrey bus route – and this was before the introduction of Port Mann Bridge tolls – indicating a high level of demand for the new #555 service that was never provided.

My work ensured that this got built!

We have TransLink (who worked and cooperated with other parties to ensure this would be in service) and the City of Surrey (who ended up providing the bulk of the funding, according to recent Transportation & Infrastructure Committee reports) to officially give thanks to for this stop – but I’m not sure how many people will be talking about the role I and some others had in actually ensuring that this stop was built and in service yesterday!

The surprise retraction of the project and the transit service put a significant amount of pressure on me as I was hoping to benefit from the new stop service, being a Guildford resident and a major transit user facing a transition from high school to university. It prompted me to launch a big advocacy effort myself, which culminated with the creation and presentation of an unofficial “business case” telling city officials why this stop would be so important – not just for me but for several others who could have been benefitting, and were now otherwise losing.

See also: 156th St Rapid Bus Stop Project – Unofficial Business Case

In fact, the expected construction timing and inability to provide the bus stop in due time would become one of many factors behind my decision last year to pack my bags, leave Surrey, and temporarily move to the North of Fraser – making a new home for myself near a Burnaby SkyTrain Station, where I have lived for the past year.

I worked with many individuals – including the vocal and active Daniel Badragan, a local-area student, who wrote quite a few letters to the editor in protest surrounding the missing stop – coming up with ways to advocate for the missing stop.

See also: “Surrey needs transit for Port Mann” – letter, Daniel Badragan, on Surrey Leader
See also: “Make your voice heard on Bus Stop” – letter, Daniel Badragan, on Surrey Leader

It’s probably no surprise that my delight has been intensified by the coincidence of the opening date of the stop with my return to residency in the South of Fraser (I moved back to Surrey yesterday and will be here for a few days before embarking on a major study abroad tenure). The opening of the stop was suddenly added to the TransLink fall service changes page, to a fanfare of probably a few commuters and people except those I heard around me who were talking about it on the bus.

Being labour day, the ridership was markedly low and the buses were running on a Sunday/Holiday schedule, every half hour. But, that didn’t stop me from making use of the new bus stop for the commute to my workplace downtown. See the slideshow above for an early look! 🙂

View my original unofficial “business case” for this rapid bus stop, below!

TransLink maps: 2004 vs. 2014

TransLink maps: 2004 vs. 2014

Now that I guess we’re all in a sort of transit thinking mindset with yesterday’s Mayors’ Council plan reveal, here’s a bit of transit history!

I found this old transit map dating from about 10 years ago while on a recent internet browsing rampage. Here are some highlights about our previous transit network:

Translink system Map - circa ~2004
Translink system Map – circa ~2004. [CLICK] for full size
  • Unbuilt/nonexistent: Canada Line SkyTrain, VCC-Clark Station, 96 B-Line
  • Other nonexistent routes: 84 VCC-Clark/UBC,555 Port Mann Express, 301 Newton/Richmond, 791 Maple Ridge/Braid Stn, 620 Tsawassen/Vancouver, 430 Metrotown/Richmond, 531 White Rock/Langley, 364 Scottsdale/Langley, C12 Lions Bay
  • The routes were coloured in red!
  • Different route numbers! The #10 was part of the #8, and the #14 was the #10
  • No #9 service whatsoever past Alma
  • #135 continues to Stanley Park Loop
  • Today’s C21 and C23 were previously the #1
  • Today’s C5 and C7 were previously the #114 and #115
  • Today’s C71 and C73 were previously the #317 and #328
  • Richmond had several peak hour express routes (491, 496, etc) that complemented local routes and ran to Vancouver
  • The #41 used to do an evening detour onto Thunderbird Blvd at UBC
  • The #640 was the Tsawassen Ferry route!
  • The #319 portion between Scottsdale and Newton was served by separate #322
  • The #340 was one huge, confusing mess of a route running on today’s 340 and 341 bus routes
  • South Surrey just introduced community shuttles

For comparison: today’s map at [CLICK HERE]

Toronto rapid transit review recommends SkyTrain expansion over LRT

Toronto rapid transit review recommends SkyTrain expansion over LRT
Scarborough RT
A Scarborough RT train in Toronto boards passengers. The Scarborough RT uses the same propulsion technology as Vancouver’s SkyTrain system, using a fleet of Mark I cars.

Looks like my calls are being echoed in the City of Toronto. Someone out there is seriously listening to me, for I had previously proposed the very idea this think tank is proposing through Better Surrey Rapid Transit (SkyTrain for Surrey), in an attempt to communicate to people that SkyTrain expansion can make sense.

I have been pushing for quite some years now for a SkyTrain expansion in my home city (Surrey) over the current Light Rail expansion plan on account of SkyTrain making a lot more sense (most of you reading probably know this of me). As part of that, I went ahead and applied some of my thinking onto Toronto’s transit proposals in a special article I wrote regarding the under-construction Eglinton Crosstown Line. I published that write-up more than 1.5 years ago, in March 2012.

The use of [SkyTrain technology] would provide the same cost savings that moving a portion of the LRT at-grade would and more, despite a need for complete grade separation.  It would provide faster, more reliable service and be more flexible in capacity expansion, and also remove the travel time penalty associated with at-grade LRT.
[READ MORE – “The Compromise is SkyTrain – Toronto should be pursuing this technology and not LRT on Eglinton” on SkyTrain for Surrey]

I supposed that using linear motor-propulsion “ALRT” (also known by some critics here as “SkyTrain technology”) would cut down on the Eglinton Crosstown Line’s tunnel size and tunneling costs (the LRT is being built with a 6.5m diameter tunnel, whereas SkyTrain technology requires just a 5.3m diameter tunnel), saving billions and billions of dollars, and opening up the room for grade-separating the rest of the line and providing better service throughout, increasing ridership numbers and improving the business case. The Crosstown Line is currently being built for at-grade LRT technology, assuming that further expansions would be at-grade.

A map of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT in contrast to Toronto's current rapid transit system
A map of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT in contrast to Toronto’s current rapid transit system

The Neptis Foundation yesterday submitted a very bold critique of the Metrolinx “Big Move” plan that seems to agree with a lot of my previous propositions. The 144-page study recommends a different Toronto rapid transit plan than the one being recommended by Metrolinx. It thinks in the same way I have thought, in that leveraging the Scarborough RT’s ALRT/SkyTrain technology and extending it would make more financial and practical sense than the current proposal to build LRT.

Business case of LRT proposals vs. study's SkyTrain proposal [CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Neither Metrolinx nor TTC seems to have given serious consideration to development of Scarborough and Eglinton Crosstown lines using ALRT or similar “light metro” technology. This technology has been applied very successfully in more than 20 cities around the world. 89 Some architects and urban designers prefer surface LRT, because it is less visually intrusive, and can run in mixed traffic and pedestrian environments, albeit at much lower speeds. But faster services on exclusive rights-of-way are far more effective, and efficient, at getting motorists to switch to transit.
The Toronto LRT schemes could be greatly improved by building them with fully exclusive rights of way, perhaps automated ALRT or similar technology. Ridership would be much higher, as would the benefits to the region. And the costs could actually be less.
[READ THE FULL REPORT – CLICK HERE]

The author, a UK-based railway consultant, is calling for the full package: a switch of the Eglinton LRT line to a SkyTrain-technology ALRT line with driverless train automation, grade-separation of the full line (including Phase II) to offer faster journeys, and shorter station platforms (appropriate given higher train frequency). He cites that such a setup would generate more than twice the benefits and cost half as much per new daily transit rider. This is based largely on the basis that as a faster SkyTrain-type line it could provide better service and attract more ridership, which is very sound. It isn’t rocket science: when compared against light rail transit systems throughout North America, our 68km SkyTrain system here in Metro Vancouver is outperforming all of them in ridership numbers. There is value in better rapid transit service.

Here is one excellent question I would like to highlight: the study questions a proposal to refurbish the existing Scarborough RT line (a 1980s-era SkyTrain technology line traversing eastern Toronto), noting that the costs to refurbish the RT line to use LRT technology are higher per kilometre than the from-scratch SkyTrain construction costs for the Evergreen Line in Vancouver:

At $1.8 billion for 10 km, the Scarborough LRT line would be considerably more expensive than the Sheppard Line, 68 or about $180 million per km. About half the cost is for conversion of the existing 6.5-km RT to accommodate low-floor LRT cars, with overhead power collection. This involves substantial reconstruction of six intermediate stations, and complete reconstruction of Kennedy Station to provide a larger underground loop, and track connection with the Eglinton LRT so TTC can exchange cars for maintenance purposes (but not for through-running with passengers). The balance is for construction of 4 km of new line, mostly elevated, from McCowan to Sheppard Avenue.
Note that at $180 million per km, the cost per km for the Scarborough RT is about 30% higher than the cost of the Evergreen Line, a fully grade-separated ALRT line in Vancouver, even though the Scarborough line uses mostly existing infrastructure, and otherwise operates through a broadly similar corridor.
Concept: Douglas-Lafarge Lake SkyTrain Station on the Evergreen Line SkyTrain
Concept: Douglas-Lafarge Lake Station on the Evergreen Line SkyTrain

The study recommends building on SkyTrain technology on account of finding that the LRT proposals in Transit City and following plans had low (or negative) benefit:cost ratios, in exactly the same manner as I am recommending SkyTrain technology in Surrey based on a negative benefit:cost ratio for LRT – and does a great job at making a case for it, addressing issues raised with capacity and size of rolling stock, among other things.

The author officially proposes the “Scarborough Wye” concept, for 3 rapid transit lines using SkyTrain technology: the existing Scarborough RT with renewed infrastructure, its extension to Malvern Centre, and a new line from Scarborough Centre to North York via an elevated right-of-way in the centre of the 401 Freeway and down the existing Sheppard Subway tunnels. He makes the case that the whole concept could be built for an outstandingly low cost per new transit rider and a high benefit-cost ratio – better than any of the LRT proposals that have gone through thus far.

Scarborough Wye proposal from Toronto transit plan critique; CLICK TO ENLARGE
Scarborough Wye proposal from Toronto transit plan critique; CLICK TO ENLARGE

We can only wonder if the common sense overflowing from this study could possibly prevail in the upcoming decisions at TTC and Metrolinx, and I hope something moves forward because it does look like SkyTrain technology is the solution for providing a lot of high quality transit. I think it would send a good message across Canada and to Metro Vancouver’s decision-makers and planning authorities as well.

More on Michael Schabas, the study author

Michael Schabas is a UK-based railway consultant who has been involved in launching several new railway projects and businesses.

With a background in urban rail projects in the Canada and the United States, he came to London in 1988 as Vice President for Transport for Olympia & York (O&Y), who were developing the Canary Wharf project in London Docklands. He led O&Y’s involvement in planning and promotion of the Jubilee Line Extension, and also instigated the re-signalling and re-engineering of the Docklands Light Railway.

Between 1981-1986, he worked for the UTDC (Urban Transportation Development Corporation) and was involved in the early development of the automated rapid transit technology used in Vancouver’s SkyTrain system.

Source: Wikipedia; Also see: his website

LETTER: For the friends and family of Amarpreet Sivia, Surrey crash victim

LETTER: For the friends and family of Amarpreet Sivia, Surrey crash victim
Looking south on 128th Street from 72nd Avenue, at the crosswalk-less stretch. Courtesy: Google Street View
Looking south on 128th Street from 72nd Avenue, at the crosswalk-less stretch. Courtesy: Google Street View

To the friends and family of Amarpreet Sivia, a victim of a deadly accident a few days ago near Princess Margaret Secondary (P.M.),

As I feel that I have become a major voice in raising awareness about the issues that may have been behind the cause of this accident, I feel it imperative that I write an address to you regarding my thoughts.

I discovered this issue when I saw a post about Amarpreet’s death on my Facebook news feed. These posts were made by students at P.M. who are my good friends. As I am not far from most of you in age and position, being a student and just one year older than Amarpreet, I am hoping I can identify with most of you naturally. I am a socio-civic issues blogger who graduated from high school earlier this year; I’m currently studying at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, which is right across the street from PM.

At my old high school, Johnston Heights Secondary (J.H.), crossing the street at an unmarked location as a shortcut to reach local businesses during lunch time was, in the heydays of my 8th and 9th grade, a huge problem. In the lunch hour, large groups of students would cross between signal lights on 100th Ave and on 152nd St, despite staff warnings and staff presence. It was relentless. It became so persistent that in 2009, two signalized crosswalks were finally installed on both roads – at 100th Avenue and 153rd Street, and at 152nd Street and 99th Ave.

This has become a huge success; the signals are used at different times of day now that they are there, and have generated massive safety benefits for the community.

A study you may have heard about in the media that looked at schools in Surrey – including Princess Margaret – to determine the need for crosswalks and additional safety facilities was completed one year after the new J.H. crosswalks were installed. Your school requested for crosswalk facilities in the same year; although, as far as I’m aware, it also took notice of the jaywalking three years prior (in 2007) and requested a median fence on 128th Street.

I have reasons to believe that political views in this city may have shifted between the time my school got crosswalks and that study was completed.

128th Street near your school is like 100th Avenue near my high school: both roads carry between 10,000 and 15,000 vehicles daily, both are four lane arterials signed at 60km/h, and both have/had unmarked places on the road that were crossed for various reasons throughout the day. A clear justification for this crosswalk should have already been established by the demand alone, in addition to the fact that students will require crossing facilities on a more on-demand basis, as the inability of youth to always process information and make the choices adults would needs to be taken into consideration.

As far as the many sources I have read say, two crosswalk locations were considered on 128th Street; at 69A Avenue, a crosswalk was simply refused, despite that the location fronts local businesses and there are bus stops on both sides of the street that need to be crossed to. At the other, closer to the school, it was determined that a crosswalk would be needed, but not until 2014. As we now know, that’s way too late.

A crosswalk can be as simple as painting markings on the road and installing a few signs: this is an inexpensive, upgradeable solution for a significant increase in road and pedestrian safety.

I often hear the Mayor and Council triumphing about how Surrey has the lowest residential taxes of any city in the region. What I don’t hear are that many voices, alongside my own, pointing out how this policy choice can hurt (and in this case, kill) our citizens. I think it is an issue that deserves much more attention than it currently has.

With my experience at J.H. and previous observations of crash areas in mind, I decided to write a now very popular blog post (Political Incompetence Kills – LINK HERE) on what I observed in the crash area, what contributing factors I thought were a part of this, and what I think needs to be done (that is, the fast-tracking of improved safety facilities and crosswalks on Surrey roads). CBC television called me about this yesterday, and asked me to come into their Vancouver office for an interview. If you were watching CBC news on Friday, 20th September, you would have heard me speaking about the issue of crosswalks being needed, wearing the black shirt and red polo over-shirt. You can view this clip online by [CLICKING HERE].

I’m hoping that I can strike a chord in some of you and engage discussion amongst yourselves and to others about your experiences and your thoughts, and speak up on city policies that you don’t like, or maybe find a reason not to like.

To end this letter, I would like to offer my condolences to her family and her friends. It might comfort you in knowing that this is an issue that I know that I’m going to look back at for the rest of my life, throughout the places and the interesting worlds that my blogging efforts or political issues involvement takes me to. I feel as if this is going to become a referential example for me of a situation where something was needed and then left amiss. I don’t think that I will ever forget.

Sincerely,

Daryl Dela Cruz