Thursday, August 30, 2007

An open door?

While I'm not keen on TransLink vice-chairman Marvin Hunt's implication that light rail ideas are "crazy," I'll take what I can get in this Tri-City News story:
A rising clamour for more rapid transit lines around the region is about to get TransLink's full attention.

The authority will consult the public and other stakeholders and experts later this fall as it starts to draw up a first-ever 30-year vision for Lower Mainland transportation.

Where new light rail lines ought to go and anything else armchair transit planners want to float will be fair game for debate.

"Every crazy idea everybody has, let's put it on the table and have a look at it," said TransLink vice-chair Marvin Hunt. "This is a golden opportunity for us to be able to look at all the different possibilities that are there and work on the ones that are the most viable today."

Already there have been growing calls for light rail lines running from the SkyTrain system out the Fraser Valley through Langley to Abbotsford.

And one of the most ambitious ideas is to super-size the existing plan for the Evergreen Line, which is to run from Burnaby's Lougheed SkyTrain station through Port Moody to Coquitlam Centre.

Langley Coun. Jordan Bateman wants its scope expanded to run the light rail line further east, all the way to Maple Ridge, south across the new Golden Ears Bridge, down 200 Street to downtown Langley and back northwest on the Fraser Highway to the SkyTrain terminus at King George station in Surrey.

The proposed billion-dollar Evergreen Line, however, has long been planned but is still struggling to get the final go-ahead and money needed to start building it as far as Coquitlam.

A big bang approach to do much more, faster would require a massive injection of new money – far beyond what the reformed TransLink will even be permitted to raise through higher gas and property taxes.

"If somebody has got big bucks, we can do a big bang," Hunt said.


Hunt and TransLink officials also question how long it would take before light rail is justified on the 200 Street corridor. "There's no ridership to make it viable," he said.

TransLink's traditional approach has been to incrementally ramp up transit service – from community shuttles to full-sized buses to B-Line express buses – as the number of people served by a route grows.

The next step up is a bus way, which gives frequent express buses a dedicated corridor separated from other traffic and much improved stations. Bus ways would eventually be upgraded to light rail.

So far, TransLink has identified King George Highway and 104 Avenue in Surrey and the Fraser Highway to Langley as routes to get median bus ways between 2013 and 2021.

The push to move other routes up the agenda draws caution. "Will there be a market for a lot of commuters going back and forth between Surrey and Maple Ridge?" asks TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie, referring to the 200 Street corridor.

He says a key consideration in weighing routes to prioritize will be where homes and jobs will locate in the decades ahead. That will depend in part on Metro Vancouver's redrawing of its regional growth strategy and any changes in the areas where it determines future growth should concentrate.

The worst outcome, Hardie suggests, is if a state-of-the-art light rail line were built but the passengers don't come.

Quick note: after talking with Terry Lyster, I'm convinced that the Surrey leg of this loop should run on the Southern Railway line between Cloverdale, Newton and Scott Road. It's underused and is already under consideration by Surrey.

As for ridership concerns, everything in this region is going to change when Golden Ears is built. A region that is used to moving east-west will suddenly be able to flow north-south. Research shows that lines that go over water can count on at least a 30% boost in ridership. Lines that connect with other options like SkyTrain also receive higher than normal ridership. And a line that serves that many urban centres is bound to be used. And I know Langley: we will use rail. It's in our blood and heritage.

Ambitious? Maybe to old school politicians. I see it more as absolutely critical to giving people options other than cars. And as for money... don't forget the feds, Marvin. They're moving into another election cycle with $13.4 billion burning a hole in their pocket.


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