First of all, before this article is read, we would like to note that there needs to be a total understanding of the role that rail transit will play for Surrey in the future. This city needs rail transit not only to move the people who already are here more effectively, but also to accommodate population growth and encourage appropriate development in the right areas. All of these roles must be considered in depth before a decision is made on what rail transit implementation type is right for our city.
A recent Surrey transportation debate hosted by Surrey CiTI (Citizens’ Transportation Initiative) was held on 11/13/2011. This debate was attended by two independent candidates (Paul Griffin and John Wolanski), two candidates from Surrey First (Marvin Hunt and Barinder Rasode) and two candidates from the Surrey Civic Coalition (Grant Rice and Stephanie Ryan). The format provided for each to present their opinions on key election issues in Surrey, with a general theme of transportation. These were:
Light Rail/Street Car vs SkyTrain
Question: Assuming an ongoing financial challenge for TransLink, would you advocate for a) SkyTrain mixed with a system of smaller scope, or b) Light Rail/Street Car and the exclusion of SkyTrain?
Legal & Illegal Paving of Surrey
Question: How would you work to contain future legal paving, and what would you do about existing and future paving violations?
Transportation within Town Centres
Question: What is your vision for transportation within the Town Centres? Would you push for a free service?
Park & Rides
Question: Would you advocate for more Park & Rides in Surrey, especially at malls?
SkyTrain for Surrey was represented at this debate by founder and chief representative Daryl Dela Cruz. He noted a widespread lack of basis and statistical evidence from candidates during the “Light Rail/Street Car vs SkyTrain” segment of the debate, and later said he “…found that many opinions were presented without appropriate statistics to back them up, and that debating Candidates in support of at-grade LRT missed several disadvantages and realities, while lacking in knowledge of any advantages to choosing at-grade LRT implementation.” It would seem evident that several candidates who are in support of Light Rail Transit over SkyTrain/Rapid Rail Transit (RRT) are guided more by politics than realism.
The format of the debate allowed for questions to be asked from the gallery. SkyTrain for Surrey took this opportunity to out for what reasons the Candidates supported the implementation of an LRT system in Surrey.
Daryl posed the following questions:
“What is your basis for supporting Light Rail? Are you convinced that at-grade Light Rail will be successful in attracting riders and ensuing modal shifts, improving capacity, and providing good reliability when statistics and facts are pointing to otherwise?”
Before this question was asked, it is worth noting that Ms. Rasode (who has stated that she is in support of Light Rail) had this to say about the implementation of SkyTrain:
“Building this massive viaduct through a community, tearing down our trees, tearing up our streets, having to expropriate people’s land, I do not think is first-rate.”
This assertion that SkyTrain would be bound by these complications, while assuming that an implementation of Light Rail Transit would not be subject to the same conditions is exceptionally short-sighted. In actuality, Light Rail would do much more to disrupt our streets than an implementation of elevated SkyTrain/Rapid Rail Transit (RRT), both during and after construction.
While the elevated guideway for a SkyTrain-style implementation would be able to fit within the 4.5 metre median that Surrey allocates on its major thoroughfares, on-street Light Rail will not only take up more than twice the space, but would do this by removing traffic lanes on corridors which have been identified as critical to the movement of goods and traffic in this city. We will see major corridors such as 104th Ave. (an important goods movement corridor connecting the City Centre and Route 1, which alone carries in excess of 33,000 vehicles daily  and some of the Surrey’s busiest bus routes) being narrowed to a single lane in each direction, if Light Rail is implemented in accordance to the current City of Surrey plans and engineering reports.
We will see major corridors such as 104th Ave (pictured) being narrowed to a single lane in each direction, if Light Rail is implemented in accordance to the current City of Surrey plans and envisions.
The removal of any lanes on a key transportation corridor that connects the City Centre with many other destinations to the east, including Guildford Town Centre mall (which has recently been and is continuing to be expanded 
) will have devastating effects on the Guildford community. Congestion and capacity issues on the 104th Avenue corridor are already resulting in the offsetting of thousands of vehicles down alternate local roads such as 100th Ave. that are not built for to handle such intense traffic loads. Alleviating congestion by over utilizing these alternate roads can and will hamper movement throughout the entire community with exponentially detrimental effects to infrastructure and quality of life.
Ms. Rasodes assertions that Light Rail Transit would not disrupt our communities are not only careless and baseless, they serve as evidence that she, along with many other candidates who claim to support for at-grade Light Rail, have not made themselves fully aware of the complications that would arise from an implementation of it.
It is alleged that much of the reason that the current City Council is so caught up with at-grade Light Rail is because of a visit to Portland (a city that has implemented an extensive Light Rail system and a downtown streetcar) in late 2010/early 2011. This would appear to be the unfortunately true; Ms. Rasode referenced Portland as an excellent role model for the City of Surrey. Unfortunately, as we have demonstrated in another write-up, this is not the case.
Candidate Grant Rice, who responded to the question posed by Mr. Dela Cruz, claimed that SkyTrain is not a perfect system – exclaiming that he was stuck for 5 hours during a SkyTrain system failure the previous day. It is a fact that, as independent Council Candidate Paul Griffin (a SkyTrain supporter) pointed out, that SkyTrain delivers more than approximately 95 percent of its service on-time. This is true: according to consecutive TransLink annual and quarterly reports, SkyTrain delivered more than 95 percent of the service it provided on time in 2010 and has been delivering at least 94 percent of the service it provides on-time for the past 5 years (measured with a high standard of within 2 minutes) .
However, because on-street at-grade light rail implementations cannot be safely automated, and trains must interface with cross traffic and crossing pedestrians, such an arrangement cannot provide the same reliability, speed, and level of service. Just this past year, TriMet measured that the MAX Light Rail in Portland, OR was able to provide approximately just 86.7 percent of its service on-time (measured with a lower standard of within 5 minutes) .
At-grade Light Rail systems such as the Portland MAX cannot experience the same reliability levels that automated rapid transit systems like SkyTrain provide.
While claims from other debating Candidates that at-grade stations are much more accessible – especially for the elderly, women and children – were certainly well grounded, it should be noted that community connectivity is still possible in above ground (RRT) systems. This may have more to do with how the stations are designed so that people don’t mind interacting with the system (people are able to use escalators, elevators and stairs even if disabled or otherwise physically challenged).
It also seems that a lot of the support for Light Rail has to do with an allegation that Light Rail will be cheaper to implement and SkyTrain costs would be excessive. This allegation is not entirely true.
Daryl has been studying with other SkyTrain for Surrey supporters and contributors and has found that the high cost of SkyTrain/RRT implementation is nothing more than urban myth. For several years previous, SkyTrain has been generally described as having costs close to or higher than $100 million/km. What has been proven is that this depends on the conditions of the actual implementation.
While the Canada Line, the proposed Evergreen Line, and the still-debated and planned Broadway (UBC) line costs per kilometre come close to these figures of per kilometre expense, the costs of actual SkyTrain/RRT construction without any special provisions that may inflate costs (such as bored tunnels, which are present in all of the three aforementioned lines and/or planned implementations) are much lower and much more acceptable. SkyTrain/RRT construction in Surrey will not involve or require any such special provisions, and could realistically be on par with the cost of implementing Light Rail.
When more realistic implementation costs (such as those of the 1994 SkyTrain extension into Surrey  and the 2002 Millennium Line ) are compared (and, of course, adjusted for inflation), the shocking truth is that SkyTrain/RRT will not cost significantly more than on-street, at-grade Light Rail at all. It is estimated that an on-street, at-grade light rail service in Surrey will require $55 million per kilometre to totally put into place as a best case scenario. . It will only cost approximately 20 percent more per kilometre for the provision of elevated RRT/SkyTrain in Surrey utilising existing infrastructure tie ins. 20 percent is a small price to pay for the provision of a rapid rail transit system with much better capabilities, capacity, speed and reliability.
If one has no basis to support something, then why support it in the first place? There seems to be a lack of evidence of why Light Rail Transit – as believed by many, including several City Council candidates – is the best choice for the City of Surrey. We as the representative citizens of the City of Surrey need to elect leaders that are guided by realism and research, rather than politics and trends. We need to ensure that it is in the best interest of the leaders of this city that we will be electing in a few days that the implementation of rail transit we choose for Surrey improves capacity and service, as well as connections between communities, rather than doing otherwise.
References: Please visit THIS PAGE [LINK] to view our unified reference list
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