Monday, April 21, 2008

Langley Township Talking Rail Today

Today's scheduled presentation from our UMA emgineering consultants on the high level review of Langley Township Community Rail report is getting a lot of buzz around the blogsophere already. (UMA will present at 4 or 4:30 today, at the Council meeting in the Fraser River Presentation Theatre).

Having read the UMA report carefully, I have come to some conclusions and have put together a notice of motion for our May 5 meeting.

I think the most perplexing part of this issue is the resistance of the transportation establishment to really look at the growing desire for light rail in the South Fraser. In TransLink's own trip diary report, we read the following statistics:
- The vast majority of trips in Langley and Surrey stay within their municipal boundaries (1.1 million internal trips in Surrey every day, 284,200 in Langley--that's almost 1.4 million total trips).
- A grand total of 78,000 trips are made from Surrey and Langley into Vancouver. To get there, they have all of the local transit options--every bus route in this region is designed to feed SkyTrain, which is designed to get our residents into Vancouver.
- But almost twice that number, 140,000 trips, are made between Surrey and Langley every day. And we have the lowest per-capita transit service to help them get there.
- On top of that 140,000, another 37,000 trips leave Langley and Surrey to go outside the GVRD, presumably Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

More than double the trips are happening amongst the Interurban communities that happen from Langley and Surrey into Vancouver--let alone the trips that stay within our own municipal borders. These are the people that light rail and streetcars can serve, and in a way that will attract riders who would never set foot on a bus.

Community rail, based on the British model and proposed by UMA in this report, makes sense to me. It's a good place to start--and I think it would so successful that we would soon be upgrading both its frequency and its reach. Whether it ends up on the old Interurban line, or on a new alignment through Langley and Surrey, I don't know. Local Interurban enthusiasts, please don't panic over that statement. I'm merely saying that we should look at options for the Fraser Hwy. and Hwy. 10 corridors, as well. While the Interurban line may be the cheapest, it may not be the best value for dollar, and we need to keep all of the options open at this point. If the Interurban is as viable as many of us think it is, it will stand up to that type of comparative scrutiny.

There are some exciting things happening around the world with community rail and streetcars. I read on the weekend that Charlotte, North Carolina, has designed their system so light rail vehicles and streetcars can use each other's tracks. This is the kind of innovative thinking we need south of the Fraser.

I do know that we need to get rolling. We need a plan, the research and documentation to support it, and the will to move it forward.

I prefer light rail to SkyTrain in every way. It is less intrusive, and has a better community feel. It is also far more saleable politically to our communities. SkyTrain frightens many people, with its industrial, concrete, overhead guideways, and the perception that crime springs up around every station. Light rail is also much, much cheaper. And when light rail is one-quarter the cost of SkyTrain, that means you can go four times further.

None of the obstacles in this report seem insurmountable. The key now is to get TransLink's attention with some well-researched business plans, ridership studies, and development scenarios.

This leads me to some practical questions. Clearly, we need to approach Surrey (whose mayor, Dianne Watts, is already on record as supporting light rail) and see how we can work together to get this done.

I read on page 24 of the UMA report that "EMME2 and micro-simulation modeling be completed for these rail service scenarios in combination with future employment and potential scenarios for various combinations of bus, bus rapid transit, and rail improvements in the South of Fraser area and outside the region to the Fraser Valley." I also know that from recent changes at TransLink, that the transportation authority will look carefully at options that can be funded through development of stations and surrounding areas. I think Surrey and Langley are better positioned than any other community in the Lower Mainland to provide that type of financial upside for TransLink.

So my question to the UMA folks today is simple: how do we get this rolling? What are the next steps? UMA's answers, some of which are in their report, will refine a notice of motion I plan to put on the agenda for our May 5 afternoon meeting (a draft version of which is below):

Whereas transit service in the Township of Langley is the poorest, per capita, in the Lower Mainland, and

Whereas the vast majority of trips south of the Fraser stays south of the Fraser, and

Whereas a desire for light rail, streetcars, and community rail has been expressed throughout the entire south Fraser region, including the Council of the Township of Langley,

Therefore be it resolved that the Township support the concept of community rail and pursue the following measures:

1. A study of the possible routes for community rail within the South of Fraser region,

2. An EMME2 and micro-simulation study, as recommended in the UMA community rail report, for community rail improvements in the south of the Fraser and Fraser Valley regions,

3. The Township continue to protect key right-of-ways for possible community rail or other transit use, including, but not limited to, the Interurban rail line, 200th Street, 208th Street, Fraser Highway, 88th Avenue, and 96th Avenue.

4. Send a letter of support to the Fraser Valley Heritage Rail Society reinforcing the Township's support for their efforts, and

5. Send an update to the TransLink Board, Ministry of Transportation, and the Mayors and Councils of the Cities of Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack regarding this motion, and offering these agencies an opportunity to participate in the routing and ridership studies.


At April 21, 2008 2:36 PM , Blogger Andrew said...

Good on you, Jordan! I think you are doing the right thing with this one.


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