Is better always the best choice? – Langley reporter writes about transit/infrastructure issues

The SkyTrain for Surrey Initiative would again like to send our applause and endorsement to a member of the community.  In recognition of his outstanding understanding of infrastructure projects and the realities that must be considered in the choices made for them, the Initiative would like to recognize Mr. Matthew Claxton, a reporter and blogger with the Langley Advance newspaper.

What Mr. Claxton has recognized in a recent editorial he wrote for a recent issue of the Advance is that there are realities in the designs and choices that are made for large-scale infrastructure projects.  He points out well that seemingly simple issues might be more complex than they really are, and there are serious considerations to the future that have to be taken into account in the design and planning process for these expensive projects.

He makes it clear at the end of his editorial what this article that at first might seemingly have to do with the City of Langley is for: how the same issues apply to the debate between the extension of SkyTrain or to build Light Rail Transit.

The realities of these projects and the realities of the rapid transit project in the South of Fraser (which may be a SkyTrain expansion or the creation of a new light rail system) that the region might soon be facing are very similar.  Profoundly, the statements he made and the information he provided are true to their word and their intent.

In his examples, the specially developed pen could be compared to a SkyTrain line (more advanced and generally more expensive, but suitable) while the pencil could be compared to a LRT line (older and more stable technology, but risky to try and quite unsuitable for this situation); likewise, the Nazi tanks can be compared to a SkyTrain line (more expensive but actually useful) while the T-34 tanks could be compared to a LRT line (cheaper but not immediately useful).

While a light rail transit (LRT) system might be cheaper up front in capital costs (although – and this is untrue to the examples presented – the technologies itself commonly used in LRT are actually more complicated than the technologies used in SkyTrain lines), it is possible that it may cost more to us in the end because it is likely that it will take a long time before the benefits of such a system are even seen – if there are any at all.

Is better always the best choice?

[LINK to Langley Advance site/article] – By Matthew Claxton, Langley Advance April 12, 2012

There’s an urban legend, spread by the internet and an old The West Wing episode, with a moral about simplicity versus complexity.

Supposedly, in the 1960s NASA realized that they didn’t have a pen that could write in zero gravity. So millions were spent to design a space pen for the Apollo astronauts.

The Soviets used pencils.

Sadly, the real story is almost exactly the reverse.

Early Mercury astronauts did use pencils in orbit, as did the Russian cosmonauts. But bits of graphite broke off and floated around the confines of a cabin, and the graphite and pencils could burn – a serious concern after the deaths of three men in the Apollo 1 fire.

So an independently developed pen was purchased, for $2.39 per pen. Pricey, by 1960s standards, but not that bad.

And the Soviets? They signed a contract with the same American company a year later, and got the same bulk discount that NASA did.

The real story is far more fascinating, because it forces us to think about the complexities of a seemingly simple issue. I would not have imagined that a pencil could be a hazard on a space capsule, but if a speck of graphite shorted out a critical system, it could be lethal.

So score one for complexity and technological superiority.

Even the stories where cheap and simple really did beat high tech and expensive turn out to be complicated.

To return to the Russians, (masters of the brutally simple mechanism) they created a relatively brutish machine that confounded their enemies: the T-34 tank.

The T-34 was created just before Nazi Germany foolishly decided to invade Russia. Hitler, who loved high-powered tanks, supported projects like the Tiger and Panther, powerful tanks that could blow apart just about anything else on the battlefield.

If they weren’t broken down, that is.

With their water-cooled engines and thousands of moving parts, the Tigers had a tendency to spend a lot of time under repair. The T-34s, on the other hand, were rugged and simple, designed so that a half-literate collective farm worker could figure out how to drive and repair one. Even more importantly, they were cheap to build. The Soviets followed the same credo as modern spam emailers: send a few thousand, some of them will get through.

But- in the early years of the war, German tanks killed a lot of Russian tanks. The Russian crews were badly trained. They had no radios. Stalin had spent a decade purging the Red Army, and as a side effect almost everyone in Russia who understood tank warfare had been shot, or starved to death in Siberia. The Russians had a steep learning curve before their cheap, reliable tanks were actually useful.

We face these questions about complexity, simplicity, and cost on a constant basis today, so there are lessons to be learned from both the space pen and the T-34.

If you’re designing a public transportation system, do you want it to be high tech and appealing to drivers? Then you want a light rail or SkyTrain system. But what if you want to change the system’s capacity rapidly, and build on the cheap? Then you want more buses. What about the F-35 fighter jets, versus unmanned drones? Build a wider, tolled highway bridge, or subsidize high-speed internet so people can work from home.

Of course, each choice has its own problems and quirks that can’t be found in the up front costs.

The simple alternative isn’t always simpler, the best isn’t always better, and the most expensive option might save in the long run.

Visit Matthew Claxton’s blog at http://tinyurl.com/7mwo2qj

at www.langleyadvance.com

mclaxton@langleyadvance.com

© Copyright (c) Langley Advance

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104th Ave corridor 2021 to 2031 LRT

STUDY: The Effects of Light Rail Transit on the 104th Ave corridor

Surrey LRT vehicle - from concept video

Preface

——————-

Politicians of the City of Surrey have been lobbying for the use of Light Rail Transit (LRT) in the city in conjunction with TransLink’s efforts to conduct a Rapid Transit Study for the Surrey and South of Fraser area.

Three major corridors are being studied for the implementation: King George Highway, 104th Avenue and Fraser Highway.  These corridors link Surrey City Centre and the major Surrey Town Centres including: Guildford Town Centre (home to what will soon be the second largest mall in British Columbia), Newton Town Centre, Fleetwood Town Centre, Semiahmoo Town Centre, and Clayton Town Centre – and also to Langley City.  Surrey has featured their plan for Light Rail Transit in this video at [CLICK HERE].

The video features computer-generated renderings of an implementation if it were to be built along the 104th Avenue corridor linking Surrey City Centre to Guildford.  This is notorious because a single lane of road capacity is removed on 104th Avenue to make way for the light rail corridor.  This will impact both communities along the corridor and those beyond by significantly restricting the movement of both people and goods.

There may be implications to this reduction in capacity that are not being noticed by the City of Surrey, TransLink and other parties involved – such as the resulting inability to maintain parallel bus service on the 104th Avenue corridor, resulting in their cancellation.  Such realities that are not being noticed may prove that Light Rail will provide an end-result not so ideal for this corridor and others in the City of Surrey.

Scenarios

——————-

Below, two possible scenarios on the 104th Avenue corridor during the 2021-2031 time-frame will be compared:

  • 104th Ave continues to make use of bus services that will be in place
  • Rapid transit is implemented.

For ease of comparison, we will be comparing this to the highest-capacity option that TransLink plans to introduce on a rapid transit R.O.W. on 104th Avenue: at-grade light rail.  (Lower capacity options like bus rapid transit are also being pursued).  TransLink currently has no plans to introduce any higher-capacity options such as grade-separated rapid rail transit (SkyTrain).

There are various proposals indicating that a significant increase in bus services that will make use of the 104th Avenue corridor between Surrey City Centre and Guildford as well as Highway 1.  These bus services may be operating on 104th Avenue by 2021-2031:

  • The upcoming route 96 B-Line bus service between White Rock and Guildford via Newton and Surrey Central Station [2]
  • The Highway 1 RapidBus system at (up to) 5 minute frequency being introduced in conjunction with the Port Mann Bridge will provide a Walnut Grove to Surrey Centre service; according to the South of Fraser transit plan, this service may extend directly to Langley Centre [3][4][6]
  • A 10-minute bus service directly between Abbotsford and Surrey Centre that is being planned by B.C. Transit – this may integrate with or be an extension of the Highway 1 RapidBus system that would connect to Walnut Grove [4][5]
  • Local bus service underlying the B-Line/BRT service at every 10 minutes between Guildford and Surrey Municipal Hall on Highway 10 [6]
  • Parallel services already existing that ferry passengers to outward destinations such as the 501 (which will assume a 12 minute peak period frequency by 2031) and 337 (10 minutes from 15 by 2031) [6]

By 2013 and through to 2021 these bus services will be present and established on the 104th Avenue corridor (for simplicity of comparison, 2031 capacity and frequency expectations from the South of Fraser Transit Plan are being used throughout this 10-year period before 2031):

104th Ave corridor bus service by 2013 throuh 2021

104th Ave corridor bus service by 2013 through 2021

Frequencies and capacities are measured in the westbound direction during the A.M. peak.  Assuming continued use of New Flyer bus stock, a standard-sized 41 ft. bus carries 77 passengers and an articulated 62 ft. bus carries 120 passengers [7] (though a renewal of standard-sized stock so as to use Nova Bus stock could allow up to 82 passengers per standard bus – such a renewal could be expected to take place before 2021 as the New Flyer 40ft stock ages).  “Pphpd” means “persons per hour per direction” and measures capacity; it is calculated as in [THIS LINK]. Bus services on 104th Avenue will consist of:

  • 320 Fleetwood/Langley Centre – the 320 maintains an approximately 5 minute frequency during peak hours and is assumed to be slightly reduced after 399 implementation as per TransLink proposals, but it is a generally important route outside 104th Ave corridor.  By 2021, 10 minutes, 492 pphpd.
  • 337 Fraser Heights to Surrey Central Express. By 2021, 10 minutes, 492 pphpd.
  • 399L Guildford/Surrey Municipal – underlying local bus under the 399. By 2021, 10 minutes, 492 pphpd.
  • 399 (UPDATE 11 Apr: Confirmed as the 96 B-Line) is the proposed articulated bus B-Line service that will start with a 7.5 minute frequency later this year (to grow exponentially) and connect Guildford with White Rock through Surrey Central and Newton.  By 2021, 5 minutes, 1440 pphpd
  • 501 Langley Ctr/Surrey Central via Port KellsBy 2021, 12 minutes, 410 pphpd
  • 509 Walnut Grove/Surrey Central Express.  Currently 20 minutes. By 2021, 15 minutes, 328 pphpd
  • 590 Langley South/Surrey Central Express. Currently 15 minutes. By 2021, 15 minutes, 328 pphpd
  • H1RB – Highway 1 Rapid Bus Express to Walnut Grove and Abbotsford. By 2021, 5 minutes, 1440 pphpd

Together these routes provide a westbound A.M. peak capacity on 104th Avenue of 5422 pphpd.

For a total westbound Central-Guildford corridor capacity of 6160 pphpd, these additional bus routes operate on the 108th Avenue corridor – one of them also operates along 104th Avenue for a 6-block section:

  • 332 Guildford/Surrey Central via 108th. By 2021, 12 minutes, 410 pphpd
  • 335 Fleetwood/Surrey Central via 108th. By 2021, 15 minutes, 328 pphpd
104th Ave corridor 2021 to 2031 LRT

104th Avenue with LRT service in approximately 2021

The study assumes the cancellation of all outward parallel bus services with the introduction of LRT.  This is a realistic assumption because with the implementation of Light Rail Transit on 104th Avenue, the inability to provide parallel local services in a timely and efficient manner in the reduced road space may result in the termination of all of them on the LRT-served segments except the original bus route which paralleled the 399, as this route does not extend beyond the LRT corridor.  TransLink comments during a September 2011 consultation [9] and The South of Fraser Area Transit Plan confirm the assumption that should BRT or LRT with dedicated right-of-way on 104th Ave be pursued, that parallel services may be cut on large portions of 104th Avenue.  Some local buses on 156th St will have no choice but to continue to use a 2-block section of 104th Avenue to continue and make an important connection to at least Guildford Town Centre with no transfer need (or service the second portion of their routes); those buses will face significant scheduling delays there.

The question that needs to be answered is can the single LRT line handle the burden of multiple bus routes?

The 96 B-Line (399) will be terminated in favour of the LRT line which will run approximately the same route to Newton. These services will be truncated short of Surrey Central Station and riders have to transfer to the LRT: 320, 337, 501, 509, 590, and Highway 1 RapidBus.  Riders of the 337, 509, 590 and RapidBus can expect significant travel time increases as a result of the loss of express service and a new transfer requirement.

Services on 104th Avenue will consist of:

  • Light Rail Transit to Newton – pphpd varies with frequency (see below)
  • 399L Guildford/Surrey Municipal – underlying local bus under the 96 B-Line – 10 minutes by 2021-2031. 10 minutes, 492 pphpd.

Per-type evaluation of 104th Avenue transit capacity with LRT as part of the corridor

——————-

The capacity of the 104th Avenue corridor will depend on the type, length and passenger capacity of these trams and frequency of operation of these trams.

The concept video [CLICK HERE] released by the City of Surrey indicates through visual observation at several points in the video that the service that is being considered will make use of 32m length 5-section trams at frequencies of 3 minutes.  At 3 minute frequencies the overall amount of drivers servicing the corridor may still reduce – which may allow for a more cost-efficient service, although the lowered operating costs might be offset by new track and power supply maintenance costs.

Assumptions:

  • A 3 minute frequencyis the maximum possible maintainable frequency for 104th Avenue light rail implementations, due to several challenges:
    • Ensuring movement for 104th Ave automobiles and LRT while also ensuring fair movement on cross streets King George Boulevard and 152nd St (major cross thoroughfares carrying more than 35,000 automobiles daily)
    • Ensuring movement for King George Blvd. automobiles and LRT while also ensuring fair movement on major cross streets 88th Ave., 72nd Ave. and 64th Ave. (major city thoroughfares, all carrying
    • Need to accommodate doubled frequency trains for a short interlined segment with any potential Fraser Highway LRT line in order to allow it to connect with Surrey Central Station (this is the prime limiter of on LRT on King George Highway & 104th Ave). Note that it will not be possible to continue those trains to provide doubled 104th Ave. frequency due to the aforementioned restrictions.
  • 32m LRV capacity is based on a low-floor Bombardier Flexity Freedom in 5-section config – can carry 198 passengers: 68 seated and 130 standing [8][9]
  • 45m LRV capacity is based on a low-floor Bombardier Flexity Freedom in hypothetical 7-section config – can carry 267 passengers: 86 seated and 181 standing [8][9]
  • 40 ft. bus capacity is based on a low-floor New Flyer D40LF(R) – can carry 77 passengers: 36-38 seated and 39-41 standing [7]
  • 60 ft. articulated bus capacity is based on a low-floor New Flyer D60LF(R) – can carry 120 passengers: 48 seated and 72 standing
  • The use of trams longer than 45m is not practical due to several challenges:
    • Station platform length issues that may arise on the street in the Surrey Central Station area (where more than two platforms will be required to potentially also serve the terminus for a Fraser Highway line)
    • Slope limits on station placement and length on some portions of the on-street ROW.
    • With longer trams, a longer acceleration period is also required to clear the station which may impact the minimum possible frequency of the line – this impact may negate any possible gains with longer trams.
    • The use of longer trams as well as longer station platforms and the need a larger train yard at a maintenance centre (if possible) in Surrey with more land requirement may significantly increase capital costs to the point where Light Rail Transit is no longer a very economic rapid transit solution against other options.

The proposed service in the video involves 5-section trams running every 3 minutes.  Under this service, these routes would provide this level of service:

  • Light Rail Transit to Newton – 3 minutes, 3960 pphpd.
  • 399L Guildford/Surrey Municipal10 minutes, 492 pphpd
  • 332 Guildford/Surrey Central via 108th. 12 minutes, 410 pphpd
  • 335 Fleetwood/Surrey Central via 108th. 15 minutes, 328 pphpd
  • Total projected westbound AM peak capacity of transit on 104th Avenue: 4452 pphpd
  • Total projected westbound AM peak capacity of transit between Guildford and Surrey Central: 5190 pphpd
  • Capacity change on 104th Avenue: -18%
  • Overall corridor capacity change: -16%

A hypothetical service with 7-section trams every 3 minutes (the maximum possible frequency and capacity) would provide this level of service:

  • Light Rail Transit to Newton – 3 minutes, 5340 pphpd.
  • 399L Guildford/Surrey Municipal10 minutes, 492 pphpd
  • 332 Guildford/Surrey Central via 108th –  12 minutes, 410 pphpd
  • 335 Fleetwood/Surrey Central via 108th – 15 minutes, 328 pphpd
  • Total projected westbound AM peak capacity of transit on 104th Avenue: 5832 pphpd
  • Total projected westbound AM peak capacity of transit between Guildford and Surrey Central: 6570 pphpd
  • Capacity change on 104th Avenue: +7.5%
  • Overall corridor capacity change:+6.65%

Hypothetical capacity with dedicated BRT lanes as opposed to an LRT line

For the purpose of accurate comparison, we are including calculations towards the capacity that might be provided if dedicated BRT lanes were to be put on 104th Avenue – an option TransLink is pursuing. This would allow the integration of and continuation of any express services – such as the 337, 509, 590 and RapidBus service connecting from Walnut Grove and beyond, as opposed to their cancellations.

However, the interlining of several routes on one corridor with signal priority limits would mean that each route would be moreso limited in frequency than a single LRT line. Local transit routes that would otherwise use 104th Ave would face the same limits as it would if LRT were in place and may need to be reconfigured.

A hypothetical service with BRT lanes and articulated 60 ft buses in convoys coming every 3 minutes would provide this level of service:

  • Bus Rapid Transit to Newton5 minutes, 1440 pphpd
  • H1RB – Highway 1 Rapid Bus Express – 5 minutes, 1440 pphpd
  • 337 Fraser Heights Express10 minutes, 492 pphpd.
  • 399L Guildford/Surrey Municipal10 minutes, 492 pphpd
  • 509 Walnut Grove/Surrey Central Express - 15 minutes, 328 pphpd
  • 590 Langley South/Surrey Central Express15 minutes, 328 pphpd
  • 332 Guildford/Surrey Central via 108th – 12 minutes, 410 pphpd
  • 335 Fleetwood/Surrey Central via 108th – 15 minutes, 328 pphpd
  • Total projected westbound AM peak capacity of transit on 104th Avenue: 4520 pphpd
  • Total projected westbound AM peak capacity of transit between Guildford and Surrey Central: 5258 pphpd
  • Capacity change on 104th Avenue: -17.7%
  • Overall corridor capacity change: -14.7%

Conclusion

——————-

Neither Light Rail Transit nor Bus Rapid Transit are acceptable solutions for providing future transit on Surrey’s 104th Avenue corridor.

While speed and reliability might possibly be increased (though increased would be thwarted by accidents, especially with the LRT option), the only type of service that would increase capacity over the planned bus service is one that uses 7-section, 45m trams – longer then planned.  This would provide only a 7% capacity increase, and this would not be able to be increased much if any further.

LRT will also cause significant problems that both the Guildford and Surrey City Centre communities will face as a result of lowered road and goods movement capacity between both and beyond.

Regardless of implementation type, tram size and frequency, the implementation of Light Rail Transit also does not solve the problem that additional transfers will be required across all local routes and travel times will significantly increase for those who were formerly able to ride express services – particularly those from Abbotsford and Langley on the RapidBus.  This is unreasonable because while LRT or BRT will be able to run on a segregated, prioritized corridor, it will be limited to the maximum speed of the street (60km/h) and stop at all stations, and not provide a significant travel time savings over express bus services.  While dedicated BRT lanes will solves these problems, it will still result in a decrease in transit capacity and hampering community effects from the reduction of general traffic lanes.

The consideration that other services from other major areas such as Coquitlam which are planned to terminate in Guildford and not continue to Surrey Central Station exist should also be taken into account, as transfers from these routes may further increase demand on 104th Avenue transit routes beyond that which would be expected.

The new service(s) would need to handle additional growth over bus services to cater to additional ridership demand and attraction to any rapid transit service and to accommodate for the population growth of both town centres and those beyond served, which includes points east-ward along Highway 1 such as Langley communities and Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley.  As designed, they will not be able to do that.

Recommendations

——————-

A recommendation that can be made from this study is the exploration of other options on the 104th Avenue corridor.  All of the proposed rapid transit options by TransLink for 104th Avenue in Surrey will either decrease corridor capacity by the time of implementation or increase but with no room for expansion.  If not the continuation of whatever bus services exist at the time, other rapid transit options such as grade-separated SkyTrain-type automated rapid rail transit should be explored for use on the 104th Avenue corridor.

Given that 104th Avenue corridor links the two fastest growing city centre or town centre areas in Surrey (as measured by TransLink – see this map) and will serve as a major corridor to both what will be the second largest City Centre in the Lower Mainland and the second largest mall in British Columbia, there is definitely a solid business case for the implementation of rapid transit in the future.  However, as light rail transit will not provide any of the benefits of rapid transit that should be expected, it should not be pursued as an option for rapid transit on this corridor.

Footnotes:
  1. “Pphpd” means “persons per hour per direction” and measures capacity; it is calculated as in [THIS LINK].
  2. 2012 Supplemental Transit Plan – [LINK]
  3. Moving Forward: Improving Metro Vancouver’s Transportation Network – 2012 Supplemental Plan and Outlook [PDF] – page 18 map – [LINK]
  4. Future Inter-Regional & Regional Network Development – Abbotsford-Mission Future Transit Plan – [LINK] – Highway 1 RapidBusBC Report, August 2009 – page 7-8
  5. Future Inter-Regional & Regional Network Development – Abbotsford-Mission Future Transit Plan – [LINK] – Recommended Inter-Regional and Regional Network – page 13
  6. South of Fraser AREA Transit Plan – [LINK]
  7. TransLink – 2011 fleet pictorial and specifications – [LINK]
  8. Standing room capacity is measured at a standing passenger density of 6 passengers per square metre
  9. About the Bombardier Flexity Outlook trams from Brussels, Belgium – Bombardier – [LINK]
  10. Klitz, Peter. “TransLink Supplement Consultation, South of the Fraser, Public Open House [PDF] [LINK]