Rendering of a planned Surrey light rail train. (Photo: surrey.ca)

Light rail transit

Some Surrey intersections may be safer with LRT: TransLink

Surrey and TransLink say safety is a top priority as they plan the Surrey-Newton-Guildford line, set to break ground in 2019

TransLink says some of Surrey’s intersections will work “much better” after the “transformational” light rail line is running.

“The most important part that we’re working on is road safety,” said Stephan Mehr, who was introduced to the media at Surrey City Hall Thursday as TransLink’s project lead for the 10.5-kilometre Surrey-Newton-Guildford phase of the city’s LRT project.

“Safety is our number one priority,” he told reporters.

How major intersections will function is key, said Mehr, who has more than 28 years of experience working on light rail lines, including projects Bangkok, Istanbul and Moscow. Here in Canada, Mehr has worked on LRT projects in Hamilton, Calgary and most recently, Toronto. He also helped deliver the Canada Line here in Metro Vancouver.

Mehr said all of the intersections where Surrey’s LRT line will run are being redesigned to incorporate a process called “channelizing,” which is said to make turning “safer.”

Essentially, this involves upgrades so left turns are only permitted with a left-turn arrow.

“That will be the big differentiator for this,” said Mehr, ensuring there’s “no interference between two different moves between LRT and other traffic.”

See also: Surrey light rail price tag hits $1.65 billion

See also: VIDEOS: LRT car showcased for first time in Surrey

While light rail vehicles will go through intersections on a “priority basis,” they must abide by red lights, like all other modes of transport, he noted.

“We’ve been looking very carefully at how we will make these intersections work,” said Mehr. “They will work, in some cases, we believe, much better given that we will be able to control all the traffic going through these intersections in a much more positive way.”

Equally important to intersection design will be educating the public “how to interact” with the driver-operated, electric light rail vehicles, said Mehr.

TransLink and the city have looked at programs in other cities, and plan to roll out an education program with ICBC.

“It’s not just about passenger or pedestrian education, it’s also about driver education. In this jurisdiction, in this province, it’s a new technology. If you look at Ontario or Waterloo, they have already set up programs we can definitely take from in terms of passenger safety and road safety. That’s going to be key.”

Mehr said he heard from colleagues in Phoenix that when intersections become “channelized and signalized,” coupled with a thorough education campaign “accidents generally tend to decrease.”

“Then people pay attention and don’t make the same kind of mistakes they would normally make when they’re asked to make a choice,” he added.

Vote: POLL: Light rail or SkyTrain for Surrey?

But what about congestion?

After hearing concerns about LRT increasing road traffic from the public, TransLink made changes to its plans along 104th Avenue, where the line will run from Surrey Central to Guildford.

TransLink says updated plans mean 70 per cent of the 104th Avenue route will maintain two lanes in each direction.

“In some cases we’ve widened the lane to be safer, to have more room, to get around an incident. In others we’ve looked very carefully… for a solution where we are able to bring back two lanes in each direction for most of the corridor,” said Mehr.

In another effort to ease construction in that area, the city is currently building the 105 Avenue Connector Road, which runs from City Centre, through Hawthorne Park and ends at roughly 144th Avenue. It’s expected to be complete in September.

King George Boulevard, meantime, will be “much the same as it is today,” said Mehr, with two lanes along the entire route, which when built connect Surrey Central to Newton Town Centre, just past 72nd Avenue.

In order to achieve four lanes along the corridor, HOV lanes are to go.

“We’re using the benefit of a very wide right of way to enable the same traffic flow as we have today, and introduce the LRT, and at the same time, have cycling paths, and develop a boulevard that’s much more urban in nature rather than a highway,” said Mehr of King George. “We’ve been working very closely on the traffic elements, making sure traffic continues to flow, continues to do what it does, and at the same time, more people gravitate to the LRT as a main mode of transport.”

Dedicated crosswalks along King George for cyclists are also planned.

The city is also upgrading other arterial routes, to help reduce congestion, as part of a 10-year plan.

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The transit authority revealed Thursday details about its environmental and socio-economic reviews for the project, including spill prevention, emergency response, air quality and greenhouse gas management, construction environmental management and incident management.

Protocols will be set up to “ensure fast and efficient clearing of traffic incidents, keeping LRT moving.”

While SkyTrain has a history of problems whenever snow materializes, TransLink says the light rail line will be able to run fine in snow and ice.

Mehr said other cities in Canada, such as Toronto, are able to run the services in snow and ice

“Sometimes in Toronto, when it was snowing, nothing else was running but LRT,” he noted.

TransLink and the City of Surrey also say they will launch a liaison programs for residents and businesses to help manage construction impacts, including a storefront and mobile office, as well as a 24/7 information line.

In another effort to reduce business impact, TransLink said it will be “staging” construction in three phases to keep a minimum number of lanes open and minimize impact.

Some “customer convenience” items were also revealed Thursday, including extended overhangs to “better protect” passengers from the elements while waiting for a train, and the installation of ATMs in stations.

See also: SkyTrain for Surrey wants LRT pulled from Mayors’ Council plan

Despite ongoing opposition from some in the community, TransLink says there has been “constant” for the Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT line, which will have 11 stops and take 27 minutes, from start to finish.

TransLink reports that in a survey last May, 67 per cent of respondents from Surrey who used transit in the previous 30 days considered the project “extremely” or “very” important.

A 2016 TransLink survey suggested 58 per cent of Surrey residents were likely to use the system, but Mehr said it’s now expected that ridership will be much higher.

“B-Line bus ridership has grown considerably over the years,” he noted. “In the last couple of years, there’s been more than a 16 per cent increase. Ridership of B-Line is going to transfer over to the LRT line and increase in number of vehicles per hour or trains per hour, to a five-minute headway. That will make this service much more attractive. While that may sound like a figure that has a line to it, we believe it’s going to be much more than that.”

In fact, TransLink anticipates that current ridership will triple once LRT it is operational and estimates that by 2045, it will see more than 70,000 daily boardings.

Mehr said right now, 75 per cent of transit trips in Surrey both begin and end in the city. The SNG line, he noted, will be a faster, more frequent, more reliable mode of transportation for those riders.

See also: TransLink defends huge spike in cost of SkyTrain, light-rail projects

It’s anticipated that shovels will be in the ground for the first phase of Surrey LRT in 2019, and that it will be operational by 2024, at a cost of $1.65 billion.

Although, Mehr said testing is expected to commence on the roads in early to mid 2023.

Three open houses are planned in Surrey, which are an opportunity to learn more about the project and ask questions. They are set for May 31 3 to 6 p.m. at Surrey City Hall (13450 104th Ave.), at Peoples Church on Saturday, June 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (14455 104th Ave.) and June 5 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Surrey Arts Centre (13750 88th Ave).

There is also an online survey, open from May 25 to June 14, through the Surrey LRT website, surreylightrail.ca.

-With files from Black Press

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(TransLink renderings of Surrey’s LRT line)

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(Early renderings of what Surrey LRT stops might look like. Photo submitted)

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