My Thoughts – Re: Transportation and the July 2014 SkyTrain meltdowns

My Thoughts – Re: Transportation and the July 2014 SkyTrain meltdowns

The July 2014 SkyTrain meltdowns have probably perplexed a lot of people. In the past week, a lot of us bore witness to a level of chaos that I think had yet to be seen on the SkyTrain system in 28 years of operation.

We enjoy our SkyTrain service so much that I think that we have developed a collective expectation that things will always work out the way they’re supposed to.

Here are some of the responses I spotted on Twitter regarding the breakdown:

http://twitter.com/SantiHenderson/status/489950692669267969

http://twitter.com/BaD_KiTTy_MeLz/statuses/489943859783168001

http://twitter.com/CTVVancouver/statuses/489943945120874496

You can clearly see that there’s a lot of frustration; there’s a record of the incovenience. There’s an aura of madness that goes up in the air, as no one wants to be made late.

http://twitter.com/Charlesvancity/statuses/491315698174414848

We’re tempted to question the SkyTrain system. Bus drivers’ union leader Nathan Wood – who, on CKNW, raised an issue that Light Rail systems have outnumbered SkyTrain-type systems in terms of construction around the world, is just a bit concerned that our main rapid transit backbone can have trouble fostering a busy transit network. While his numbers on the amount of SkyTrain systems in existence are slightly off of the actual amount, I can see why people would want to raise those questions after a series of unique, 5-hour closures.

How much service was actually disrupted?

Reliability chart - SkyTrain vs other systems
Reliability chart – SkyTrain vs other systems. CLICK TO ENLARGE

You might have already seen this graphic, actually. I was wanted for a guest post on the Vancity Buzz, and had just finished creating this chart when the second consecutive major SkyTrain issue hit commuters Monday mid-day for what was unfortunately the second time in under 7 days.

SEE ALSO: Vancouverites are spoiled with SkyTrain – Vancity Buzz guest post by Daryl

Usually SkyTrain is operating for 20 hours daily – and while it’s absolutely unfortunate that the recent issues that plagued SkyTrain commuters hit during busier times of day,  a 5.5 hour meltdown constitutes just over 25% of that service – meaning service was fine for the rest of the day. This is a far better record than what was achieved during the Portland transit meltdown of 3 weeks ago, where more than 60% of service fpr the day was not on time.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a 132 hour work-week for the SkyTrain. 5.5 hours represents approximately 4% of service provided for the week, and well under 1% of service provided for the entire year. We had this twice in one week – meaning 11 hours of service were not operated on time – but that still represents less than 0.2% of all service provided throughout the year.

SEE ALSO: Reality Check – Why is SkyTrain breaking down so frequently? – Vancity Buzz

For the rest of the year, SkyTrain is operating normally – 99.4% of service is provided, with a 94.7% on-time performance rate. SkyTrain lets us down sometimes, but this isn’t actually happening a lot of the time. We enjoy reliable, rapid service that gets us where we need to go.

On most days, we get a reliable service out of the SkyTrain system for the duration of the day.
On most days, we get a reliable service out of the SkyTrain system for the duration of the day.

What should we do about this

There’s no question that issues and system shutdowns like this can be inevitable – so is there something that we can do about it? I think that there absolutely is – and looking at these issues, it seems that there’s a lot we can learn from this. For example – a lot of the time SkyTrain will fail, it impacts all riders because many bus lines connect to SkyTrain stations. A strategy to minimize delays during system shutdowns could involve the redirection or extension of bus routes to key areas to serve riders where they already are.

Normally, the best transit agencies can do when this happens is implement a shuttle bus bridge to repace the rapid transit service. This was the same procedure in Toronto and Portland, as pointed out above. The bus bridges are released as demand allows, but there’s no specific protocol that is followed in the event of a failure – meaning it can take some time before the bus bridges actually start, with passengers delayed until then.

PHOTO: Shuttle buses line up to board passengers at Metrotown
No one llikes to deal with slower shuttle buses replacing SkyTrain service!

But, it’s important to be prepared.

So, here’s an important disclaimer: I was lucky enough to not be there for both of these recent SkyTrain disruptions.

But, before you lambast me with comments of “you don’t know what we face!” or “try being on a train when it happened”, I would like to comment that I have seen my share of SkyTrain delays and disruptions before.

Prominent was the one that hit our system in April 2013, when a power rail issue in New Westminster halted trains on the system for close to an hour and required the deployment of shuttle bus bridges. I was on the problem train, and remember what it felt like as my train was passing the problem area and the electricity was suddenly cut. I remember how staff restarted the train and tried to move it past the area again, only for it to once again come to a grinding halt. I was heading from Surrey to the last showing of the theatre play at Windermere Secondary School, to see the performance and meet some friends in a yearly event that I consider to be something of a tradition. With the level of delays, I was unfortunately not able to make it to Windermere until the play ended.

It’s important to remember that transit isn’t the only form of transportation that isn’t always reliable. Accidents on key arterials or bridges can disrupt the flow of traffic in the region, especially when there are two or more bridges blocked at the same time. As a driver, you might know an alternate route that might be slower but will get you there with less congestion and less time waste. I think the same needs to be true for riders of transit.

Sometimes, there’s just no way to make it on time. Regardless, I still think it’s important to be somewhat prepared for when there are issues – and handle ourselves calmly and responsibly in times of crisis.

Gas prices of late are reaching all-time highs in Metro Vancouver. Source: Vancity Buzz
Gas prices of late are reaching all-time highs in Metro Vancouver. Source: Vancity Buzz

There’s an important message that can be had from the recent issues, one of which is a need for all of us to step back and realize that every possible way to get around has some sort of volatility. Even as we walk, we risk tripping on something that can temporarily impair our most basic ability to get around. The reality is, no matter how we choose to get around, we may run into issues. And, with the amount of money we sink into our demand to get around, it’s understandable why there’s such a high level of frustration when a transportation service you must rely on does not work out – not just on the SkyTrain but everywhere else.

Think about it. It’s true, right? So much of the money we earn goes towards the basic function of getting around. Transportation defines the way all of us live – so much that I think we don’t realize that it costs a lot of money to get around in this society. We take our transportation for granted – and for the younger ones, who may have benefited from the subsidized and discounted U-PASS, it’s especially not easy to realize this. However, this is the reality of the life we live. An average suburban household might spend more than 60% of income on the house and car – dealing with gas prices at all-time highs and ownership costs.

But where do I start?

It all starts with looking at where you live and where you might be going, and looking at your alternatives well in advance. For example: what are the bus routes near your house, and where can they take you. Which routes are your best options (accounting for frequency, speed, etc.) Or, if you live in Surrey and you tend to need to get across the Fraser River a lot, how much money can you set aside in case you need to pay for a cab to get across? If you vaule your money, what are the alternate bus routes to get you around once you do get across? (for example: the 123 from New West Station goes to Brentwood, or the 100 22nd St Station goes to South Vancouver).

As a society, we have to be anticipative of issues and have the knowledge to deal with it in real time – because often, transit authorities have limited resources and can’t always do that.

Appendix

Anyway, to conclude this, I’ve seen the comments to the Vancity Buzz post on Facebook, etc. and some of you asked for the sources for my on-time performance numbers – which I have listed below.

I know it’s questionable given I have omitted certain systems, so to clarify – if there’s a system I omitted, it may be because of the difficulty in actually finding the numbers (the internet, in a limited time frame, can only get you so far!) or due to measurement standards that weren’t too comparable (I was looking at adding some Light Rail systems in New Jersey to the list, but NJ Transit’s stats measure with poor standards that consider runs on-time even if they are 6 minutes early or late, so I chose to omit). Listed below:

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

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.

The consequences of this BC educational conflict are real

The consequences of this BC educational conflict are real

Above video: the Johnston Heights senior choir performs for students

At Johnston Heights Secondary in Surrey, where I completed my grade 12 education early last year, the ongoing disputes between teachers and the government have caused the cancellation of at least one major school event, one of which I was looking forward to attending: the year-end music (band and choir) concert.

The J.H. Music Program is one of the best in the city, having participated in numerous major provincial events such as MusicFest in Ottawa, 2010 (earning the silver award for both band and choir), several consecutive Kiwanis Music Festivals, and the Envision Jazz Festival in Surrey. As an alumni of this program and a member of both the senior wind ensemble and jazz band, I cannot stress enough how important the year-end concert is in the spirit of learning and school culture.

The year-end concert is a celebration of music and school culture, and it represents the culmination of a year’s worth of practicing, learning, dedication and team-building. It attracts other students, parents, and alumni who were in the music program to witness the music-making talents of a new generation of students who participate in the Grade 8, 9 and 10-12 senior bands; the grade 8, 9-10 junior and 11-12 senior choir; the chamber choir; the string ensembe; and the intermediate and senior jazz bands. The latter four are courses that are held outside of the school time and are the culmination of willful attendance, participation and commitment from both the teachers and the students who are involved.

With the school inaccessible outside of normal school hours (which is also preventing students from using the bandroom facilities for practice), this event has been put off indefinitely for the year 2014. It may be the first year in several consecutive years that the school music program did not hold a year-end concert, and I am sad to see that my peers aren’t going to be able to celebrate their hard work and dedication to music.

This is just one of the many inconveniences students have to face because of the ongoing conflict between teachers and the government. Not just now, but in the past several years of deteriorating school conditions.

North Surrey Secondary's 5 block schedule

At the North Surrey Secondary school here in Surrey, too many students and an overcrowded school building have forced the school to adopt an awkward five-block schedule [CLICK HERE]. NSSS staggers students across the 5 blocks, so that older students study for the first four and younger ones for the last four (or combinations with study blocks).

I have often – in letters to the editor, and in other posts on this blog – discussed the realities being faced by students not just in the current conflict but on a year-by-year basis. Not far from Johnston Heights Secondary and at North Surrey Secondary, 5-block schedules are needing to be adopted to deal with increased overcrowding, lack of facilities, and growth in the community.

In the same manner as North Surrey, many schools have been forced to make serious, critical cuts to deal with cut funding levels and increased teacher stress. I’m not sure if North Surrey still requires a 5-block schedule this year, but I was hearing about it from numerous close friends when I was in high school – and I was also hearing about the troubles this schedule gave them – troubles in scheduling conflicts and stress.

See also: The Real Reason Children Have Lost the Freedom to Roam

One of the dangerous criticisms I’m hearing in the current debate is how kids are being used as “bargaining chips”, resulting in the implication that the teachers fighting their battle over class sizes and competition and pay levels are careless.

However, critics also forget that many teachers have kids too – and these kids are as much participants in the pubic education program as the ones who are being taught. Many of the teachers I personally knew were parents of one or more kids, and a few of them gave birth to new kin while I was in my high school years. In the short term, these kids will theoretically suffer as much from their parents’ course of actions as the rest of the students participating in this school system, and I think it shows that what the teachers are fighting for is more than just their own living conditions and demands. I think it is evident that it is also about good learning conditions for their kids and ours.

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.

SkyTrain critic's "alternative" to Broadway subway is half-baked

SkyTrain critic's "alternative" to Broadway subway is half-baked

Introduction

Critics of SkyTrain as a technology and rapid transit option are everywhere. Largely motivated by a fear of all megaprojects with high capital costs, SkyTrain critics are vocal, active, and will stop at nothing to act on this fear. They deny the productivity and developmental benefits that the system has given our region, and they refuse the potential that SkyTrain has to continue to be useful to our region if extended further.

With a $3 billion capital cost, it’s no surprise that numerous SkyTrain critics, fearing the investment cost, have scrambled to promote or find alternatives. “Just another SkyTrain critic” was my first response when I first read about an “alternate proposal” for a Light Rail Transit (LRT) line on 16th over a Broadway subway crafted together by Adam Fitch – a planning technician for the Thompson Nicola Regional District – just over 1 year ago when it was featured suddenly in the Vancouver Sun.

But, the response seemed to be triggered by an absolutely valid series of concerns over the impact on businesses on Central and West Broadway if an at-grade LRT were to be built on Broadway itself – including the loss of parking, impacts to parallel cycling routes, and expropriation at a few properties (particularly at Broadway and Kingsway/Main) where it would indeed be necessary. I suspected that Fitch crafted the idea to counter the imminent disappearance of LRT consideration from public policy in Vancouver.

Graphic showing Adam Fitch's LRT proposal - as reuploaded onto the Georgia Straight
Graphic showing Adam Fitch’s LRT proposal

Forget about a Broadway subway, think LRT along West 16th – Vancouver Sun

…The most appropriate solution, with due consideration for costs, regional transit priorities (i.e. Surrey, etc.) and time frame (10 years from now to build the subway at a minimum) is to build a mainly street-level light rail along the CPR corridor, the Arbutus corridor, and West 16th Avenue to UBC. Compare this route with a Broadway subway on cost, construction time and capacity, and it prevails. [READ MORE]

Over the years, this idea continued to circulate in the local discussion scene. It has been featured on a number of regional transit issues outlets, including: Price Tags, Stephen Rees, Rail for the Valley (obviously) and – most notably, but not surprisingly given the paper’s perpetual pro-LRT bias – the Georgia Straight newspaper, in a feature with an intimidating headline that immediately implies that the alternative is “better” – or at least, as reviewed by editor Stephen Hui.

Critics of the planned Broadway SkyTrain wasted no time backing this idea, calling it the next big thing, triumphing it as a “realistic priority” and denouncing the SkyTrain extension proposal as “another megaproject” in the comments for this article.

I find it unfortunate that these people were given this opportunity to further this cause, because it honestly surprises me that the idea – despite the objections from many others aside from myself – has not already died. The fact of the matter that some editors at the Georgia Straight (among others) haven’t seen is that the 16th Ave LRT and B-Line combo idea is a poor, discredited and badly planned idea from someone who doesn’t have a clue how this city works.

A 16th Ave LRT just doesn’t work

I contend that advocating for this idea is a collosal waste of time and money for three simple reasons:

  1. No benefits to Central Broadway riders

  2. Few, if any, benefits to UBC students

  3. Doubling of annual operating debt

Let’s put it into context:

Map outlining LRT proposal by Adam Fitch, planned Broadway SkyTrain and major Broadway business and activity areas.
Map outlining LRT proposal by Adam Fitch, along with planned Broadway SkyTrain and major Broadway business and activity areas. Dashed portions in tunnels.

Take a look at this stylized map showing both the routings for the planned Broadway SkyTrain extension and Adam Fitch’s LRT proposal. Notice how the planned Broadway SkyTrain services all of the busy business and activity districts on Broadway, but the LRT misses them – making the only possible benefactors the rider from either existing SkyTrain Lines, Broadway & Arbutus, and residents along the 16th Avenue corridor.

What this show is that there are clearly no benefits to Central Broadway riders – which actually make up a significant majority of the current 99 B-Line’s ridership, as opposed to UBC – and the West Broadway business district is missed as well. That’s millions of dollars in economic potential that could be unlocked, but that isn’t happening under Fitch’s plan. In what would quite possibly be the least equitable planning move in Metro Vancouver transportation planning history, billions of dollars would be spent to benefit only a small portion of the tens of thousands who are actually facing the problems that riders are facing on the Broadway corridor daily.

RRT ridership boardings and alightings on Broadway - from TransLink report, referenced on Voony's blog
RRT ridership boardings and alightings on Broadway – from TransLink report, referenced on Voony’s blog

As many, the Adam’s proposal apparently assumes that the main demand is on UBC. It is worth to mention that the numbers ran by Translink suggests that the highest demand is on the central Broadway portion (Voony’s Blog)

It was one of the shortfalls I mentioned in my original letter to the sun responding to the concept. The City of Vancouver’s report on Broadway rapid transit finds that the Central Broadway area generates at least as many trips as UBC, if not more.

It is extremely important to bring any rapid transit to where the anchors and trip generators actually are – both at the ends and along the route itself. That’s why the Canada Line uses the Cambie Street corridor, as opposed to either Granville or Arbutus Streets – because it provides strategic connections to busy anchors like Central Broadway, City Hall, various major hospitals, Queen Elizabeth Park, and Oakridge Mall along the way.

Map outlining LRT proposal by Adam Fitch and major Broadway business and activity areas.
Here’s the same map again, but with the LRT proposal on its own. See the discrepancy?

The indirectness of the proposal also has some other consequences: the proposal is 2.3km longer than any route going down Broadway, an additional distance that not only adds to the proposal’s capital costs – it brings up the travel times as well.

the Adam Fitch LRT proposal is 2.3km longer than any route on Broadway, including the current B-Line
the Adam Fitch LRT proposal is 2.3km longer than any route on Broadway, including the current B-Line

On top of the longer line distance, while parts of the line will be capable of 80-90km/h operation like SkyTrain – supported by crossing gates and some tunnelling – there are several portions of the line that will need to be limited to 50-60km/h speed limits – further dampening the supposed speed benefit:

Speed restrictions on some parts of the proposal corridor, limiting trams to the speed of the parallel road, are necessary in order to maintain community safety, structure and integrity.
Speed restrictions on some parts of the proposal corridor are necessary in order to maintain and preserve community safety, structure and integrity.

As a result of the longer distance combined with the speed restrictions, the proposal fails to offer a significant benefit to the one possible travel crowd that could seriously benefit: the UBC traveller; which brings me to my second contention: the Fitch proposal offers few, if any, benefits to UBC students.

With the longer route and deferred connections, it’s reasonable to think that many riders – especially in non-congested off-peak hours, when the 99 B-Line trip takes as little as 30-minutes end-to-end – will opt to continue using the 99 B-Line on Broadway.

This especially applies for UBC students who live on campus, where the 99 is an important connection to businesses in Point Grey/Sasamat, West Broadway and Central Broadway. Fitch’s proposed LRT links fewer business centres, with the first major business cluster from UBC being reached when the line hits Dunbar – a full 6km away, twice as far as Sasamat. Meaning, for items and needs like groceries, doctor’s appointments and other outings, UBC students likely won’t be utilizing the billions of dollars spent on Fitch’s LRT – they’ll be continuing to use the 99 B-Line.

Which brings me to the third reason why Fitch’s LRT proposal is an extremely bad idea: with the required retention of the 99 B-Line, the Fitch LRT proposal doubles the annual operating debt of providing Broadway-UBC corridor transit. By not replacing the 99 B-Line, the operating cost of providing UBC-Broadway corridor transit can only increase.

Versus the current (“business-as-usual”) setup that includes the 99 B-Line, the planned Broadway SkyTrain is expected to save $7 million incrementally in annual operating costs (see: design guide). With estimates already pitting the operating cost of a separate LRT on Broadway itself at over $10 million annually by 2041 (in 2011 dollars), the operating debt with the Fitch LRT simply doubles over the existing setup.

The bigger picture

I could go so far as to say that the Fitch LRT proposal hurts the entire region, because it is really that short-sighted in terms of practical thinking.

As aforementioned, the planned driverless SkyTrain extension is expected to save $7 million in annual operating costs – savings that could be redirected to improving transit around the region. With over 54,000 new transit trips daily attracted around the region – more than double other studied options, including any theoretical LRT on Broadway itself – the planned Broadway SkyTrain generates new fare revenue. That would have also been a serious contributor to expanded transit around the region.

The elimination of the 99 B-Line also means bus services improve throughout the region – because the 99 B-Line consumes more than half of TransLink’s articulated diesel bus fleet. These buses could be redirected to other busy routes in the region to address growing transit demands.

With the Fitch LRT proposal, none of these improvements are able to materialize.

The introduction of the Canada Line and the displacement of several articulated 98 B-Line buses allowed capacity to be improved in services around the region, and in new travel markets such as Surrey. Seen here isa 96 B-Line bus departing Newton; the bus rapid transit route was introduced in Surrey just last year. Photo credit: The Buzzer
The introduction of the Canada Line and the displacement of several articulated 98 B-Line buses allowed capacity to be improved in services around the region, and in new travel markets such as Surrey. Seen here is a 96 B-Line bus departing Newton for Guildford; the express B-Line route was introduced in Surrey just last year. Photo credit: The Buzzer

Such bus service redirection can also take from the numerous other high-frequency bus routes that connect to UBC from different parts of the city, usually during peak hour periods. These are the:

  • 43 Joyce Station – via 41st Ave and Oakridge
  • 44 Downtown – via 4th Ave
  • 84 VCC-Clark Station (ALL-DAY) via 4th Ave, Olympic Village and Great Northern Way
  • 480 Bridgeport Station (ALL-DAY Weekdays) – via Kerrisdale and Marpole

The planned Broadway SkyTrain is the only option that offers the significant travel time benefits (cutting travel time between Commercial-Broadway and UBC in half, to 19 minutes!) that could enable the truncation of some of these routes to save even more money annually. For example: the 44 duplicates the 84, and is likely to be eliminated in favour of the faster connections downtown riders will get by utilizing the Broadway Subway with connecting routes and the Canada Line. The 480 could also be eliminated, perhaps following my suggestion. However, with the incremental operating cost savings, bus service on even these routes could theoretically be increased without costing more than the transit on the Broadway-UBC corridor today.

By denying these benefits and choosing an alternative simply because it offers the prospect of less initial capital cost, the region loses out on better transit both on Broadway itself and elsewhere.

Conclusion

Responding to the Straight over the mention of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson being on record for supporting the planned Broadway SkyTrain extension, Fitch rather arrogantly proclaimed in the opening of the recent article on his proposal:

“He’s wrong on probably four or five fronts.”

But, as an upvoted commenter pointed out, he didn’t list a single one. Which I think highlights another problem with critics who fear studied and decided megaprojects and act quickly to try and debase them: they don’t do a good job at it. In this case that doesn’t help, because I think that the City of Vancouver has done an excellent job at laying down the benefits and the business case of a Broadway SkyTrain extension – probably much to the dismay of many critics who have already quit.

As for Adam Fitch’s 16th Ave LRT proposal, it’s evident that not only does it have no case – it really has no argument either.

*****

Author’s note: Thanks for reading this far! I encourage you to subscribe to my blog by clicking the “follow” button on the left sidebar! As I previously mentioned, I will be detailing why there is really no alternative to the Broadway subway – how its business case is proven, and why any alternatives just do not work – in a follow-up article.

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

No credit for TransLink – 4: Rising efficiency

No credit for TransLink – 4: Rising efficiency

No Credit for TransLink - A blog series on darylvsworld.wordpress.com. Original photo: CC BY-SA Lisa Parker, flickr

TransLink has released the 2013 year-end financial & performance report, and the numbers in terms of TransLink’s financial situation are looking pretty tasty.

In spite of wide, dubious claims of “taxpayer waste” and awards that were given based on such claims, TransLink managed a surplus last year of almost $50 million, helping restore a reserve fund that has been largely dipped into in the past few years in order to maintain service levels. Revenues increased by 1.6% while expenses were reduced by 1.7%. This happened despite some major introductions in 2013 such as the 96 B-Line rapid bus in Surrey.

Here’s one extremely interesting line in the new report:

Operating cost per service hour in 2013 at $143.55 is 6.3 per cent lower than budget.

I reported last year that TransLink’s operating cost efficiency already surpasses Montreal’s and Toronto’s transit systems. It looks like this is getting better.

There was one more interesting line for me, in 24 Hour newspaper’s report on the matter:

In terms of service cuts, Expo and Millennium SkyTrains did have weekend mid-day frequencies reduced by one minute, but that won’t continue, she added.

In 2013, weekend SkyTrain service frequencies shifted from 6 minutes on individual lines and 3 on combined portions (Columbia-Waterfront, Bridgeport-Waterfront) to 7/3.5 minutes. This is something I campaigned against in 2012 (resulting in a presentation to the Regional Mayor’s Council) contending that savings could be offset by decreased revenue as ridership drops with rider discomfort.

And, indeed, riders weren’t enjoying the reduced service. There was little impact to be had on Sunday…. but on Saturday, it was easy to find yourself passed up if a smaller 4-car Mark I train pulled into the station. Strollers and cyclists faced limitations in boarding trains, and it really did “feel like rush hour all day”. I ended up sending numerous complaint forms myself over Saturday SkyTrain overcrowding, probably among many as complaints per 1 million riders went up this year. Thankfully, due to other efficiencies that have been found in the system, this is going to be over soon. Hooray!

An overcrowded platform at VCC-Clark SkyTrain station. SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the "efficiency" recommendations in the recent TransLink audits.
An overcrowded platform at VCC-Clark SkyTrain station. SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the “efficiency” recommendations in the recent TransLink audits.

The amount of boarded passengers across the regional transit system dropped 2.2% this year. I could contend that reducing SkyTrain weekend frequencies might have had to do with this, but it’s important to remember that there were two fewer business days than 2012 (2012 was a leap year, and Family Day was introduced in 2013). Farebox revenues nevertheless increased, and at 7.3% this appears to be in line with the average fare increase rate (cash fares rose in January for the first time in 5 years); much of this increase was in shifts to prepaid fares (less cash fare payments! yay!), indicating that riders are choosing to commit to more regular transit use.

See also: No Credit for TransLink – 2: Where are the good stats?

Here’s to hoping more media agencies take notice and give TransLink deserved credit for following up with audit demands.

Cost-cutting measures such as optimization of bus routes and new software upgrades for SkyTrain have helped put TransLink in the black, according to its annual report.

TransLink chief financial officer Cathy McLay told 24 hours on Wednesday the transit provider had a surplus of $47.9 million at the end of 2013, an amount that’s been added to its “safety net” totaling $342.7 million.

“We’re particularly proud this year,” she said.

 [READ MORE – 24 Hours Vancouver]

Big savings in 2013

  • Service optimization: $1.5 million
  • Not ordering 66 buses and associated parts: $2 million
  • New park and ride revenue: $100,000
  • Reducing weekend SkyTrain service: $390,000
  • Using community shuttles on low-frequency routes: $411,000

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.

Pattullo Problems – 1: Advocating for Six Lanes

Introduction

This is the first in a series of several blog articles I’m going to be publishing on why I think a Six-lane Pattullo bridge (as opposed to a four-lane Pattullo bridge or other options) does make sense and should be built. The articles will publish every week and discuss my viewpoint in-depth.

Six-lane Pattullo makes sense

Re: New West makes Pattullo pitch in Burnaby (NewsLeader, March 14)

I am in favour of a six-lane Pattullo 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.

[READ MORE – Burnaby NewsLeader]

^ This is the headliner for a recent Letter to the Editor I submitted to the Burnaby News Leader (and to other local newspapers, pending publishing) with my viewpoint on the Pattullo Bridge. In it, one of the things I’m trying to do is get readers to start asking and finding answers to the question:

Why do we need a new Pattullo Bridge? And how could it be useful to us?

I think the first and foremost reason and benefit is the most obvious and well known: the current bridge is built to old standards with narrow lanes and poor seismic resistance, and could potentially be a major liability for the regional transportation authority. It is past its lifespan and needs to be removed or replaced. Since the bridge is an established goods movement corridor for close to 70,000 vehicles daily, the consensus has been that it needs to be replaced – but some decision-makers, including a few in my current city of residence, are suggesting that the bridge should be torn down with no replacement.

I think the most important things we need to consider – the aforementioned questions of why and how, and the establishment of the actual issues – have been missing from the many viewpoints I have read over what needs to be done for the Pattullo Bridge, from both locals with an opinion and officials with decision-making authorities.

What makes 6 lanes more special than 4

Featured image: Construction crews build the six-lane Golden Ears Bridge, completed in 2009 linking Langley and Maple Ridge
Featured image: Construction crews build the six-lane Golden Ears Bridge, completed in 2009 linking Langley and Maple Ridge

As early as two years back I had been commenting on opinions discouraging the build-out of the Pattullo as a six-lane bridge, finding that the writers are not exactly seeing the big picture. When I lived in Surrey two years ago, I sent a letter to the New West News Leader pushing very much the same viewpoint I am trying to push now. I contended a person with the thinking that the lineups approaching the bridge will increase with the expansion of the lanes and the removal of merge points:

Pattullo Bridge problem is merging, not lane count

posted Jun 11, 2012 at 11:00 AM

There is an unusual mentality among many New Westminster residents complaining about a six-lane Pattullo Bridge expansion. It particularly caught my attention last week when Mr. Vladimir Krasnogor sent in a letter to this paper.

I’d like to point out one ridiculous claim: “With a new six-lane bridge, the traffic jams will extend to five to six blocks, but the actual number of cars going over the bridge to Surrey will not increase by much.”

If there will be no more vehicles crossing the new bridge than the existing one but the bridge will have more capacity and through lanes that prevent merging movements, wouldn’t lineups through New Westminster get shorter? His logic defies itself.

[READ MORE – New West Leader]

While the City of Surrey has contended that a six-lane Pattullo Bridge is necessary, it has done so in a way that many New Westminster residents and officials have found to be quite ignorant – which has allowed this wave of incomplete, not-so-well-thought-out opinions to dominate the public scene. While I don’t disagree in that the city of Surrey has not exactly been very mindful of New Westminster’s community integrity, I do agree with the need for a new six-lane connection over the Fraser River to replace the Pattullo Bridge.

It’s just the fact that constructing a six-lane Pattullo is the most practical solution for so many problems – more than New Westminster residents have been thinking of. In one go, we could solve all of these problems with widespread support for a six-lane Pattullo Bridge:

  • Seismic and road-standard safety issues on the existing Pattullo Bridge
  • Safety issues on the existing Queensborough Bridge – which, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, also has very narrow lanes
  • Congestion and pollution on New Westminster’s Front Street, Columbia Street and Royal Avenue(s) through SFPR connections
  • Major flaws in New Westminster’s plan to revitalize Front Street
  • Growing congestion levels on the Queensborough Bridge, hampering commutes on some of the region’s fastest growing regional bus routes and hampering growth, prosperity and productivity in Queensborough
  • Growing congestion levels on approaching roads such as 20th Street and 6th Avenue, which hamper intra-community movement in New Westminster
  • Growing congestion levels on the Alex Fraser Bridge, affecting goods movement from port to port
  • Funding (because a six-lane Pattullo Bridge expansion decongests the Queensborough and Alex Fraser Bridges, which are important ports and goods movement corridors for the region and for the country, there is a significantly improved case for provincial and federal funding for the Pattullo replacement).

You’re a pro-transit advocate. Why do you even support more lanes!?

There are actually a number of transit-related problems that a Pattullo replacement with six lanes could help solve – in particular, I’m talking about transit routes downriver crossing the Alex Fraser and Queensborough Bridges. In the following weeks, I will be elaborating and writing on the above reasons and many others in a new topic-centric blog series (akin to my popular “No Credit for TransLink” series) titled “Pattullo Problems“, which will discuss the many problems brought up by the current Pattullo setup and potentially solved by a new one.

The next article will discuss how a 6-lane Pattullo Bridge can tie in with New Westminster’s Front Street revitalization plan.

UPDATE: This article has been published as Pattullo Problems – 2: Front Street

Self-taken: the SkyBridge (SkyTrain rapid transit bridge), with the Pattullo Bridge in the background.
Self-taken: the SkyBridge (SkyTrain rapid transit bridge), with the Pattullo Bridge in the background.

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

No credit for TransLink – 3: Growth investment

No credit for TransLink – 3: Growth investment

No Credit for TransLink - A blog series on darylvsworld.wordpress.com. Original photo: CC BY-SA Lisa Parker, flickr

Introduction

There were a few other people with me in the waiting room at Surrey’s (old) city hall on January 15th. I was waiting to present to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on the missing 156 St Rapid Bus Stop and a few other were sat with me, which compelled me to start a discussion on matters of transit.

This was where I first heard a concern about the expansion and usage of the South Surrey Park and Ride, hearing that the new lot wasn’t being used effectively and also hearing that the new park-n-ride fees had something to do with it. Earlier in the day I had passed this park-n-ride lot on the commute to city hall from my university in Richmond. Looking at the facility from the windows of my 351 bus, I did indeed notice that the newly expanded portion was sitting there largely unused – and this was at 1PM on a Monday, when commuters using the lot had parked there to ride to their jobs.

South Surrey Park and Ride's Expansion Lot. CC-BY; Photo credit: Tay.Freder on Flickr
South Surrey Park and Ride’s Expansion Lot. CC-BY; Photo credit: Tay.Freder on Flickr

So, I’m sure there were a lot of people in Metro Vancouver who raised their eyebrows and turned their heads this week when the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation – an avid and frequent critic of TransLink – awarded TransLink with a “Teddy Award” for wasteful spending over this issue.

TransLink takes a Teddy Award for wasteful spending for building an empty $4.5-million parking lot

BY GORDON MCINTYRE, THE PROVINCE  – FEBRUARY 27, 2014

Like the hospital with no patients in the old British comedy Yes Minister, like the “road to nowhere” in Alaska that leads to a non-existent bridge, TransLink can boast of an expensive tax-funded project that isn’t used, too.

It’s a vacant lot. The problem is, it’s also a parking lot, a lot no one parks in, and it cost $4.5 million to build.

“Aren’t there better ways to spend that money?” Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, asked. “I’ve been here four times during workdays and there has never been a car here.”

(READ MORE – The Province)

Did TransLink sit still? Not at all. And, they were correct in stating that the $4.5 million expansion was funded by the provincial government in its entirety, with TransLink in charge of only the operations and maintenance. I think this was a great defense and really all that they needed to do – but CTF’s Bateman doesn’t believe it. Accusations on TransLink have taken the media and public by storm as media agencies rushed to report on the matter.

Seeing the empty new park-n-ride lot for myself demonstrated to me that the model with which TransLink is approaching park-n-ride users is not currently working, and in this regard the CTF may have a point. However, I also think that they are wrong in two regards: 1. that the expansion of this park-n-ride facility is an impractical and wasteful decision at the end of the day; 2. that TransLink should be chastised for this apparent “waste”. I think that TransLink made a great decision to allow the park-n-ride expansion a priority while the funding was available from the provincial government.

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

So, to introduce the third installment in my “No credit for TransLink” blog series, let me tell you what’s wrong with the CTF’s rationale for the Teddy Award given to TransLink:

Part I: A reality check

I think one of the things that really helps us get the correct picture about issues like these is to get a view of how something began and progressed. To aid readers, I have created a timeline graphic that shows this park & ride issue from start to finish. Pay attention to the dates and ordering of events.

South Surrey Park & Ride Expansion - From then to now

I don’t think anyone realized this, but the park-n-ride expansion itself was announced by the B.C. Government as part of a $60.5 million highway improvement package on October 12, 2012 – an expansion commitment was made after TransLink’s proposal to start charging fees across all parking lots in the region, which was part of the draft 2013 base plan being discussed in September.

This was a sudden announcement by the B.C. Government. The minutes for meetings of Surrey’s Transportation and Infrasructure Committee and other relevant reports that were made approaching the announcement suggest not only that the expansion was not being discussed until about the time it was announced, but also that TransLink was looking to alleviate the overcrowding issue in South Surrey through other means.

Shortfall 1: No communication

While TransLink had been studying the expansion of the park and ride back in 2010, this wasn’t the solution TransLink was looking for in July 2012, just as TransLink was beginning to tow cars out of the park-n-ride in order to deal with its overuse. At the time, TransLink contacted Grace Point Church, a nearby church on 34th Ave and King George Blvd that is served by stops for the same routes that pass through the park-and-ride.

As the Church parking lot is of course largely disused on weekdays, it represented an opportunity to service riding passengers on South Surrey buses. TransLink would have required a temporary use permit and to install revenue machines on the lot to operate it as an extension of South Surrey’s Park & Ride.

Grace Point Church in relation to the Park and Ride
Grace Point Church in relation to the Park and Ride

The plan was to begin negotiating the temporary use permit in the fall, but by then it had been made unnecessary with the provincial government’s announcement of a park and ride expansnion, as part of a highway improvement project that would have also added many interchanges to the area.

Any solution would have appeased many residents in the area and Surrey’s Citizen’s Transportation Initiative (CiTI), who had been advocating for a solution to address park-n-ride overcrowding. However, CiTI did not specify that it had to be an expansion of this lot – rather suggesting that new park and rides were necessary.

What this showcases is that the direct expansion of the park-n-ride really wasn’t in the interests of TransLink or any stakeholders at all. There appears to have been no communication with TransLink on whether other solutions were possible, no consultation with the public, and no prior communication with the City of Surrey. Mention of the park-n-ride’s $4.5 million expansion did not show up in the city’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee discussions and minutes until October 15 – 3 days after the province’s announcement.

Shortfall 2: Surrey’s failed anticipation and action

Expanded South Surrey park-and-ride lot loses patrons after $2 fee added

BY KELLY SINOSKI, VANCOUVER SUN  – JANUARY 15, 2014

Surrey city officials are poised to impose parking restrictions around the South Surrey park-and-ride lot, following complaints that drivers are clogging local streets to avoid a $2 parking fee at the lot.

Coun. Tom Gill said the issue will likely be raised at the transportation and infrastructure committee Monday and will probably involve posting ‘no parking’ signs around the area.

The city has shied away from Vancouver’s practice of having permit-only residential areas, he said, and likely won’t adopt that here.

“We are looking at a new strategy,” Gill said. “I would suggest we’re going to be forced to look at some sort of parking restrictions on the side streets given the demand.”

[READ MORE]

The issue of the park and ride’s underutilization was paralleled by resident complains that local streets near King George Blvd were being used as free “park and ride” spots, a major shortfall that had not been anticipated by the City of Surrey. As reported by the Sun’s Kelly Sinoski, Councillor Tom Gill suggested that the issue woud be raised at the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting during which I was in attendance.

This didn’t happen. Meaning, this issue for now remains unresolved.

In conclusion, we’re pointing the blame finger in the wrong direction.

The park-and-ride fees were put into place at about the same time the park-and-ride expansion opened – but this had little to do with the underutilization of the new parking lot. The fees were actually in place over a week before the expansion opened and the decision making process that resulted in the fees neither had to do with the expansion, nor did it target that park-and-ride exclusively.The CTF’s Teddy Award also completely fails to consider municipal-level issues that have not yet been solved.

It’s clear that TransLink had no responsibility in the current situation facing South Surrey commuters, and the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation does not have a suitable rationale for giving TransLink a “Teddy Award” for taxpayer waste over this situation. The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation should revoke this award, apologize to TransLink, and make a statement to the public about its mistake.

The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation should revoke the municipal Teddy award given to TransLink, apologize to TransLink, make a statement to the public about its mistake, and reassess its criteria for future Teddy Awards ceremonies. (darylvsworld.wordpress.com)

Part II: Bad coincidence, or growth investment?

I don’t think that it’s viable to see this as a waste of taxpayer’s money, and there are good reasons for this. At the end of the day, there are two ways in which you can properly view the decision to expand the South Surrey Park & Ride while charging fees on it.

Morgan Crossing: Original image posted on Metro 604

This is a picture of Morgan Crossing. It is the built-out centerpiece of Surrey’s Grandview Heights NCP (new community plan) and features a center where residents of the area can access retail and services. Accompanying this centre is a set of medium-density apartments: the center is largely built as mixed-use development, with shops at street level and condominiums up above it. There’s a lot of population in this newly developed area of South Surrey.

Grandview Heights Map

This is a picture showing the extent of the city’s Grandview Heights NCP.

Grandview from the sky, May 2013 - Google Earth

And this is a picture showing how much of it is actually built. (Google Earth – May 2013 image)

As I was mentioning, you can see the expansion of this park-and-ride and implementation of parking fees as a bad coincidence. Or, you can see it as a growth investment to accompany one of the largest community build-outs in Metro Vancouver.

I think we should give the decision-makers some credit for anticipating high growth in this area and increased demand for transit, especially as the coming development increases congestion on Highway 99 (that expanded Massey Tunnel or Bridge is at least 10 years out!)

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