Op-ed column by Anita Huberman, CEO of Surrey Board of Trade
Surrey is growing rapidly, and as it grows, the opportunity exists to shape it into a world-class destination in its own right. With nearly 1,000 new residents coming here monthly, the need for a vision has never been more necessary. The LRT provides an opportunity to consider how to manage the growth, where to densify, how to move people and how to create commercial space while achieving an attractive streetscape.
This is Surrey’s moment to truly consider what it wants to be and what it wants to look like going forward – streets of half-empty strip malls, or city streets of shops and services supported by residents in affordable multi-family units above and nearby? Do we want isolating suburban sprawl? Or do we want attractive, walkable communities? Do we want to use cars to get around contributing to air pollution? Or, do we want to use the latest green technology to get to art and culture venues and run errands?
Businesses are on board with creating an economically viable city that is attractive to clients, customers and employees alike. LRT sparks development along its corridors – a mid-rise, medium density, mixed-used type of development that will attract both families and business to the area.
A quick overview of the project may be required for those who are curious, as little has been published in this newspaper on what the project actually is – other than those who are opposed who have taken to speaking for the “greater majority,” which, given survey results, they certainly do not.
The Light Rail Transit project is a flexible, affordable, technologically advanced rapid-transit line that will connect Newton to Surrey Centre, then on to Guildford (SNG) as part of phase 1. Phase 2 will be the Surrey-Langley Line down the Fraser Highway. In total, there will be 27 kilometres of rail with approximately 19 stops. Each train will be from two to five “cars” long with the ability to move up to 200 people every five minutes – more than triple the capacity of the current B-Line buses. Each train will have a driver that can respond to situations as they arise.
The rails will be located mostly down the centre of each road, in their own dedicated lanes. The intersections will be controlled so that impact on cross traffic will be minimized. These are not trams or streetcars that will impede traffic, as in Toronto. And unlike the clunky Calgary line that many disparage, the project will be utilizing the latest in technology that far exceeds what we have now.
We have done our due diligence and read through all available reports. We have had roundtables and panel dialogues. We have had all of our advocacy team members review material and provide feedback (12 teams with more than 400 volunteers). We’ve reviewed the number of alternatives that were examined using multiple metrics to evaluate their effectiveness. Reports can be found at translink.ca and surreylightrail.ca.
The Surrey Board of Trade has taken the position that the project should be completed in one phase, as waiting for Phase 2 will unnecessarily delay needed transit through Surrey.
The Skytrain was originally built as a demonstration for the 1986 Expo. It was received as a futuristic, cool-looking train. However, it is seen as a clunky anachronism. In fact, cities with elevated rail are dismantling them at great cost: New York and Philadelphia are but two examples. More than 400 cities are choosing the much more affordable and flexible light rail transit systems. Something to seriously consider when paying the bills. Using the evaluation report, building just the Fraser Highway Skytrain line will cost nearly twice the entire 27 kilometres of light rail, with stations costing more than 10 times that of an LRT stop, not to mention environmental impacts. Unfortunately, those opposed are using out-of-date reports and old data, or data lifted out of context for dramatic purposes.
Other things to consider include the ability for LRT to be elevated where needed, and that it will be quiet (no bells, whistles, rattles or high-volume screeches). Also, people won’t be stuck for hours packed in a rail car or have to risk walking along edges of elevated rail. Emergencies are easier to handle, and LRT is easier for people of all abilities to access. It’s “street friendly,” as passengers can see shops and services that they can access, just like in Europe and other places across the world.
In the end, the independent evaluators reviewed all possible alternatives and found that the LRT is the most effective and affordable solution for Surrey, as it meets current and future needs out 30 years, can be upgraded and expanded where needed and, as is hoped by many, can be developed into a much larger loop that will link all areas of Surrey with each other. We anticipate TransLink to release its business case very soon, so that readers can likewise be assured of the value of the LRT.
We have determined that Surrey is the destination, not a thoroughfare to somewhere else. The demand for more transit increases annually, as reflected on our own surveys. Studies have shown that already over 70 per cent of car trips in Surrey are staying in Surrey. Surrey is becoming the hub of the South Fraser region. It is no longer a convenient bedroom community for Vancouver to supply cheap housing for Vancouver’s labour. Businesses are moving here. People are moving here. It makes no sense to build a system that by-passes the opportunity to develop and grow a city of our choosing to meet our own vision. Without doubt, the LRT is the best system, dollar for dollar, for Surrey and South Fraser area.