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Translink wants you to help plan Greater Vancouver

A few minutes early to Translink’s breakfast for bloggers, I listened to the planners compare the public transportation tours in different cities. The Chicago transit tour wows planners, takes twenty hours and includes an overnight in a hotel. The Vancouver transit tour is more like going to Disneyland – six hours and lots of different rides.

Of course, the population of Chicago’s greater metropolitan area is ten million compared to Greater Vancouver’s two million. And Vancouver’s transit is looking up. We have ambitious goals to help free ourselves from the health and climate consequences of too much driving.

Jeff Busby, Translink’s Project Planning Manager, presented alternatives for Surrey’s rapid transit. When tough decisions arise, he wants an informed and engaged citizenry. Translink’s website, public meetings and workshops provide great opportunities for learning and comment.

Surrey transit is important for Vancouver citizens as well as Surrey because good transit planning in the Surrey area will encourage compact urban centers and preserve agricultural land use. For Surrey transit users, transit centers close to civic infrastructure will encourage use of an area as a hub. A Frequent Transit Network (FTN) will enable riders to hit the street knowing that a bus will arrive within 15 minutes or less, morning to evening all days of the week. This helps Translink meet its goal of enabling people to take most trips without a car by 2040.

With Vancouver hitting density limits, Surrey (pop. 500,000) is capturing new growth to become the economic hub south of the Fraser. With employment opportunities in Surrey, fewer people will need to travel the distance to Vancouver. By investing in civic infrastructure such as libraries and a performing arts center, Surrey invites people to stay closer to home for recreation as well.

Translink seeks public input on potential technologies and corridors for Surrey. Technologies include rail or light rail (electricity powered, on the street with a dedicated lane or off the street through elevated or tunnel tracks), bus rapid transit, and “best bus.” Best bus can include alternative fuels and hybrid vehicles. All bus technologies can include some of rail’s attractive assets: dedicated lanes, payment before loading, stylized vehicles and stations with amenities.

The proposed corridors include a Frequent Transit Network to Langley (pop. 128,000) and White Rock (pop. 20,000). The radial structure of the proposed lines protects the Agricultural Land Reserves in the area. Longer term plans include interurban grids in Surrey and Langley. Technologies will be combined to cover varying levels of demand.

Once Translink has received the public’s feedback on whether it has the right menu of technologies and corridors, it will study the costs and consequences of each option more deeply. Its carbon accounting will include embodied emissions (for example, cement manufacture has huge carbon emissions) and emissions over the life time of the system (in which electric power would be likely to outperform diesel buses).

Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega, UBC instructor and consultant in environmental politics and policy, raised the question most urgent to his students: which rapid transit plan will get funding precedence tradeoff, UBC or Surrey? Translink planners fastidiously avoided answering, noting that question is being discussed in an information vacuum. Both corridors are being studied and will have conclusions at approximately the same time. At that point, informed public discussion can occur.

Until then, however, riders will speculate. Maybe in five years UBC students will find themselves riding a commodious light rail while their clamourous alumni find themselves buying affordable homes in Surrey and establishing the preliminary outlines of future light rail yet again, in refurbished B-Line busses.

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