SkyTrain for Surrey, not LRT!

Metrotown from Brentwood town Centre. CC-BY-SA: http://www.flickr.com/photos/canadapenguin/4213834763/

From Daryl Dela Cruz, Chief Statistics Analyst at SkyTrain for Surrey

The words you see below were published in a recent article [CLICK HERE] posted to the web by Nathan Pachal of the South Fraser blog (http://www.southfraser.net/).  I was more than appalled to see someone of such initiative-taking nature make such a mistake in assumption.

I could only laugh otherwise I might have cried because it was a public consultation notice from the 1970’s asking people for input on where rapid transit should be built. What is a bit sad is that we are still having the same conversation about the same corridors some 30+ years later.

Some observations about the public consultation notice. First, it’s interesting that the picture of rapid transit is a low-floor light rail vehicle integrated into the community.  This is something that our current SkyTrain system lacks.  Also, it looks like there wasn’t really a plan for the current Millennium Line SkyTrain alignment and that the Evergreen Line alignment was supposed to be a priority corridor…

South Fraser Blog – READ MORE

Although Nathan’s rather blatant mention that caught my attention was responsible for a large part of the reason that I wrote this article, I don’t want to put any blame or shame on him in particular.  I have recognized that this ideal seems to be a rather general ideal that may have been possibly brought forward by the recent wave of thinking that has caused several in Surrey and area to resolve in favour of building at-grade Light Rail Transit (LRT) implementations over SkyTrain-type implementations to serve the city’s future for several reasons, some of which have been unfortunately brought forward as misconceptions and misaligned realities.

Unfortunately it seems that the misguided ideal that SkyTrain lacks community integration is a very common one in in the South of Fraser community; I have seen and heard even our City Councillors and Council Candidates of the last elections having made such extravagant claims.  I have these two things to say about this:

Firstly, those of you who are claiming that SkyTrain apparently cannot integrate with the surrounding community are – simply – completely and utterly wrong.

Perhaps you forget of the several examples of existing and successful community integration developments such as the new Plaza 88 development in New Westminster (which we detailed in a another recent post); other stations on SkyTrain that may not have been directly integrated with surrounding development have been the centre-point for other community-building successes, with places such as Metrotown, Lougheed Town Centre, Richmond City Centre and other various areas having seen booms in the creation of pedestrian-friendly and transit/community-oriented development as SkyTrain service has been brought forward to these areas.

I of course do not want to forget to mention the several future community integration and building opportunities that will be arising such as upcoming development integration at Aberdeen Station along the Canada Line and potential integration on new rapid transit stations as part of the Evergreen Line.

Metrotown from Brentwood town Centre. CC-BY-SA: http://www.flickr.com/photos/canadapenguin/4213834763/
Metrotown is an example of a community that was successfully built in tune with Skytrain.  Photo credit: CC-BY-SA: http://www.flickr.com/photos/canadapenguin/4213834763/

Secondly: How exactly does light rail offer “better” community integration than SkyTrain?

This is an ideal I would like to challenge for there is really no incentive proof that ground rail lines, which may provide the benefits of lower station access times from the street-level, provides at the end of the day improved opportunities over those provided by the grade-separated stations of SkyTrain.

Again I would like to return to Plaza 88 in New Westminster.  Plaza 88 is a new urban transit community has been directly integrated as an extension of the original New Westminster SkyTrain station, a station that has been standing for more than 25 years stand-alone.  The new development features several residential units in three high-rise towers that rise over the property, and more than 200,000 square metres of retail space.

A rendering of the nearly-complete Plaza 88 SkyTrain-oriented development in New Westminster
A rendering of the nearly-complete Plaza 88 SkyTrain-integrated development in New Westminster

You just can’t do that with an at-grade on-street Light Rail implementation, as has been envisioned for Surrey.  As all light rail stations are probably going to be located in the middle of the street and being a wait-for-walk-signal and 1-3 lanes cross away from any economic development, one could argue that an at-grade, on-street Light Rail implementation would provide community integration potential.

Light Rail’s wide, space-taking ROW splits up streets and/or widens them, impacting pedestrian friendliness by introducing longer street-crossing distances and times.  This can have an impact on future community integration; in fact, there may even be some impacts to the existing community, as property acquisitions and demolitions may be required to widen road rights-of-way both on the LRT’s own corridor and as well on parallel corridors where road capacities may have to be increased to compensate for the losses of road capacity on corridors that may be essential for various different reasons, i.e. goods movement corridors.  The widening of these additional corridors would be sure to have a negative impact on the community by increasing traffic congestion, pollution and noise levels in what would otherwise be stable communities.

Station access times and street-level-to-station-platform times can be increased with SkyTrain implementations but there really hasn’t been any basis provided as to this ideal that faster station access times have a higher power in attracting ridership and thus investment opportunity than other very important factors such as service frequency and reliability – in both factors which SkyTrain-type implementations will consistently excel at over any at-grade LRT solutions.

Misconceptions: SkyTrain "lacks community integration"