Surrey is one of the fastest growing cities in Metro Vancouver. And with that growth comes the need to improve transportation so that residents and visitors can move between home and work and social events. Enter light rail, Surrey’s and TransLink’s silver bullet to making that future a reality.
Unfortunately, that silver bullet is nothing more than a lead weight, heavy with unnecessary spending, ill-advised ideas and a misunderstanding of the community. The first phase is to have street-level light rail transit (LRT) run down the middle of King George Boulevard between Surrey Central station and the Newton Exchange near 72nd Avenue, with another line out east to the Guildford Exchange on 152nd Street.
A map of the proposed Surrey LRT and future expansion to SkyTrain Expo Line. Source: TransLink
It sounds like a good idea considering that these routes are busy on any given day when taking the existing bus service or driving. However, street-level LRT down a major thoroughfare is not the best answer to this problem. Here’s why.
The LRT routes are not grade separated. This means that trains will run down the centre of King George Boulevard and 104th Avenue. This means that these trains will be subject to all existing traffic lights at intersections and traffic. Take into consideration of vehicles making left-hand turns off of King George or 104th and you can easily back a train up. Existing bus service is not subject to this (unless they themselves need to make said turn) as they run in the right/curb lanes. In turn, this is a glorified bus route that is restricted to the rails and can’t go any faster than what traffic dictates.
Then you have to factor in pedestrians. With the platforms for the LRT routes being in the middle of these roads, the potential for jaywalking and pedestrian-related incidents increase as passengers rush to catch a train or seek to cross the roadway after exiting to get to their destination. Watch the video below to see how trams and other LRT vehicles interact with cars and pedestrians.
Capacity is also an issue. Any LRT trains will need to limited to a certain length to prevent them from blocking intersections when stopped or delayed. Trains that are too long and moving too slowly could cause backups for traffic intending to cross when passing through an intersection as lights change or due to other circumstances (e.g collisions, pedestrians, etc). With a bus, you can add and remove vehicles as demand allows — and they can manoeuvre around any issues brought on by traffic, construction, etc.
With LRT sharing the same path as cars, trucks and SUVs, what’s to stop a vehicle from driving into support pillar for the overhead lines, bringing it down and necessitating a halt to transit service? Or if a vehicle collides with a train thus backing up service?
What about the cost? As of June 24th, 2018, the LRT project is projected to cost 1.65 billion CAD. And once the project begins, what’s to stop it from snowballing? That money could be put to better use, like more buses or towards expanding SkyTrain further into Surrey.
These are just a few of the many issues facing this boondoggle of a project. There’s so much wrong with putting a light to medium capacity system in the middle of a continuously growing city — it’s just as hilarious as the idea to limit the Canada Line to two cars per train with short station platforms. It’s not a sustainable vision.
Over the last, local community groups have been calling for extension to the existing Expo Line which terminates at King George. SkyTrain has the added benefit of elevation, meaning it is grade separated keeping it away from vehicle traffic and errant pedestrians. SkyTrain service can also be increased due to demand if necessary, to a max headway of 90 seconds between trains.
The Surrey LRT project is a novelty that might work well in other cities where road traffic is lighter, but it’s not right for Surrey. Surrey council needs to realize that there is demand for SkyTrain and improved bus service, not a dedicated LRT system that has no potential for growth and fuel for commuter’s headaches. You can voice your feedback through any of the community meetings or online.