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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Serving Surrey: Rapid Transit South of the Fraser

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alternative_surrey_brt1Following a similar format to the UBC Line study for the Broadway corridor in Vancouver, TransLink’s public consultation focus has shifted to the southeast fringe of Metro Vancouver’s rapid transit system. Building off SkyTrain’s beachhead in Surrey City Centre are many options to bring improved service – be it LRT, BRT, SkyTrain, or some combination thereof – to much of Surrey and Langley.

By Brian Gould, re:place Magazine

Like the UBC study, there are ten options on the table to serve riders south of the Fraser, but they cover a much larger area across four key corridors. Three of these radiate from Surrey City Centre – 104 Avenue to Guildford, Fraser Highway to Langley Centre, and King George Boulevard to Newton – while a fourth is a potential further connection from Newton down to King George and 152 Street to White Rock.

There are diminishing returns here; this last connection, for example, would cost around $300 million for BRT and wouldn’t necessarily add riders. Similarly, while it takes a little bit of wrangling of the options to make a direct comparison, LRT doesn’t show much ridership benefit over BRT for the higher price point.

Over the three main corridors (104 Avenue, Fraser Highway, and King George Boulevard), BRT would cost approximately $650 million for 61,000 daily boardings in 2021 and 115,000 in 2041. LRT over an identical route would cost around $1.8 billion for 69,000 rides in 2021 and 135,000 in 2041. Boardings over the entire study area would be essentially identical, and this tripling in cost may put the damper on recent LRT boosterism.

There’s no comparable SkyTrain-only option, but there is an extension of the Expo line down King George to Surrey with BRT connecting to Guildford and Langley Centre. This option (RRT 2) is by far the best performing of all ten options in terms of ridership at 95,000 (2021) and 170,000 (2041), at a relative bargain of $1.4 billion. Assuming that Surrey’s going to want more than buses, this seems to be the early compromise winner.

There is, of course, the “Best Bus” option, with four B-Line routes and additional expresses. It has the highest ratio of operating costs ($61 million) to capital costs ($250 million) to put all those buses on the road, but serves as a nice reality check with its projected total study area daily boardings at 439,000 in 2021 and 710,000 in 2041. In this context, the best-performing SkyTrain/BRT combo at 465,000 and 790,000 doesn’t look quite as productive.

Rather than providing ammunition for opponents, however, it would better serve as impetus to make some serious changes in land use decisions south of the Fraser. Even three new corridors are going to have a hard time serving an area much larger than the City of Vancouver without the clustered density to match. The area may be calling for LRT or SkyTrain, but a large regional commitment for improved transit needs to come with an equally large commitment to improved urban form.

Brian Gould is a transportation planner, urbanist, advocate, and recent graduate of the Master of City Planning program at UC Berkeley.