The future of Metro Vancouver lies in Chilliwack

January 25, 2012

Here is a map of the Vancouver region

vancouver region is the Lower mainland, and the future of the region will be shaped in the Fraser Valley (click for larger map)

Metro Vancouver, fate is largely depending on which future the Fraser valley will decide. If GVRD used to be distinct of the Lower mainland, nowadays and in the future, both form a single region with a common destiny

It is nice to see this fact recognized by the Metro vancouver director heading out of the regional district to have a retreat in Chilliwack Jan 26 and 27 — the first of the kind according to Frances Bula.

The Fraser valley- offering some of the world best agriculture lands-is a fairly linear and relatively narrow valley surrounded by pristine mountains-and the US border. Its topography is not dissimilar to the one found in Riverside (Inland Empire, in the Los Angeles area) or from some valley found in the Alpes, like in Switzerland.

The region is at an important crossing roads:

  • Continue to follow the Riverside development model (LA region)
  • Or follow a swiss model

The former is largely underway, much to the credit of the Campbell government which has clearly embarked the region on a “car oriented” sprawl road, this knowing the disastrous outcome of such a policy.

The risk, is not only to have the valley to become a Riverside North, but to have also Vancouver becoming a Santa Monica North, or a Venice in the middle of Phoenix:

  • At Some point the Fraser Valley development model will acquire a critical Mass, which will cannibalize the Vancouver one, unless the later one retreat in splendid isolation, making it just a resort for tourist – “sun or historic heritage” not included.
  • And as we can already see with Surrey, satisfying the mobility needs of a car oriented model will always require more road investment, while the attempt to provide public transit will prove a very costly, and largely inefficient proposition

Thought already lot of damages has been done by the development road taken in the Valley, some can be contained if not reversed, and it is not too late to take another direction:

The Swiss model.

  • the freeways are generally tolled (via a once a time payment), but more importantly the Swisses have adopted, as soon as 1985, rail 2000, a very ambitious project indicative of a change of priority from the car oriented development to the revitalization of the public transit at first- but to also increase the competitiveness of the rail over the road for goods transportation.

Transportation choice is at the heart of this model, and it is grounded on an attractive public transit network, not only at local, but also at regional level. It is mostly achieved by train, but it is not a pre-requisite.


There is no such thing as attractive public transportation in the Fraser valley. Example:

  • Abbotsford-Vancouver : 70km, usually 1:50 hrs by Greyhound bus

…A non starter

Though some groups are advocating for the reopening of the Interurban between Surrey and Chilliwack and some other people are advocating for the extension of the Skytrain in the valley, there is not really an holistic vision of public transportation in the valley and how it integrates in the development model. Below is how such vision could starts from:

A first draft of Regional people transportation in the Valley

That is an important step, because, once agreed on the vision, which include the type of service, more noticeably speed and frequency level- the corridors can be identified, and then the development driven accordingly.

the future of the Region pass in Surrey

New Westminster has been the regional transportation node of the 19th century, but with the Fraser valley emergence, Surrey is called to be the one of the on-going century.

A wrong approach
Today the approach of transit in Surrey is a bottom-up one, basically involving 3 kind of players:

  • The lobbyist groups wanting to put some train on the interurban track, which have good ear in City Hall (noticeabily with Marvin Hunt)
  • The city wanting to see some streetcar to “foster” development
  • Translink acting in the context of its mandate, which is to service its juridiction…

Thought only the Translink approach seems to care of the transit users, Translink is still facing the task to prioritize different corridor into Surrey, Guilford, King George and Fraser Highway. It doesn’t help to see this task from a local prism.

A Better approach
Once the Region, including the Fraser Valley, agreed on a regional network,
it becomes a corollary to connect it with the Rapid Transit network of Metro-Vancouver, and clearly at this moment one of the several option pursued by Translink in Surrey will take obvious precedence on others.

Some Challenges ahead
One of the main challenge is one of a governance one:

  • How we can avoid that a city transportation plan, look likes the Surrey one [1]: an alignment of banality with not a single plan identifying future node or corridor, but with this sentence:
      advocate for good transit access to all economic lands, both existing and planned

    expressing the complete disconnection between land development and transit planning we have seen at play in this part of the region.

  • How we can avoid that a jurisdiction, like the tsawwassen first nation develop its land with a massive mall, not accessible otherwise by car, in contradiction will all the aspiration of the region?
  • More generally how we can avoid that parochialism take precedence on the general interest, and have a governance model driving vision going beyond municipalities boundary?

lot of good can be done by integrating Translink under the helm of Metro-Vancouver, but it is probably not good enough. Another part of the challenge is to integrate the Fraser Valley and metro Vancouver toward a common thinking for the future of the region.

We hope, all that will be discussed by the Metro vancouver in Chilliwack.

Transportation strategic plan, Surrey 2008


9 Responses to “The future of Metro Vancouver lies in Chilliwack”

  1. rico Says:

    Good post, hopefully it gets some people thinking. My two cents worth from a regional perspective King George is not as important to valley travel as Guilford or Fraser Highway (but may be important in the future dependant on Seattle traffic?). Also ‘regional’ public transit at this scale requires very wide spacing on transit stops coordinated with local services.

  2. rico Says:

    Expanding a bit maybe there could be a role for the ‘interurban’ corridor from say Walnut Grove (as a hwy 1 park and ride) to Pacific Central if the Patullo Bridge rebuild includes a lower deck rail option. I know this is transit fantasy stuff but the line could be double tracked (if needed) or even shifted in alignment to improve grade and corners (I am thinking of the hill from 104th to 96th ave….maybe a trench or tunnel from before the Scott road crossing to past Nordel way eliminating busy crossings and improving the alignment and grade). Could even be a spur from Cloverdale to White Rock maybe connecting to the Burlington Northern line for Amtrack. Although I truely have no idea about ridership or costs I would envision a clockface, bi-directional service with very limited stops (Pacific Central, Broadway(if possible to integrate), Willington(BCIT), Scott Road station, 88th(‘under’ ground or trench), Newton, Cloverdale, Langley, Walnut grove). Don’t even know if the travel time would be competitive or if it would fit with regional growth plans (may just encourage sprawl) but it seems like one of the few opportunities we have for a more ‘Swiss’ style of transit.

  3. rico Says:

    Oops one more thing, obviously there would need to be better feeder services for this to work (maybe Dianne Watts 3 LRT lines).

  4. Voony Says:

    Also ‘regional’ public transit at this scale requires very wide spacing on transit stops coordinated with local services.

    Absolutely, How I see it is more of the “suburban train” service model we see in Europe – You don’t walk to the station, you take the bus/tram to a station where you get on an high average speed transit (greater than 80km/h, and ideally 100km/h, simply because it has to compete with a freeway alternative).

    here the speed, rather than the ridership, could be the justification for train rather than bus.

    -Having the train going up to Pacific Central: may be, but it can be an expensive proposition adding no too much to the current expo line.

    -Having the train going from Cloverdale to White Rock: in addition of probably low ridership potential, the problem is the freight train traffic

  5. rico Says:

    I agree with the need for speed. If it does not go fast it won’t work. Going to pacific central would also be about speed with no stops/transfers….speeking of that i had thought Broadwayfor the tranfer but Expo transfers at p.c. and Millenium transfers at Willington so no need. Actually for the Cloverdale to Whiterock spur i was thinking expensive new construction due south…not actually Whiterock proper. I have no idea if the ridership justifies any of this….i would be pretty sure it wouldnt but neither does SFPR.

  6. Voony Says:

    “I agree with the need for speed. If it does not go fast it won’t work. Going to pacific central would also be about speed ”

    Understand that, and ideally we would like that but the cost to implement the scheme is probably way much more than to lay some track in the Valley…and so reality could say otherwise…

    I am of the opinion that the Valley train should connect with as much as “Skytrain” lines as possible, but not necessarily by heading right to downtown:
    -it could follow the Fraser North Arm (be in Vancouver or Richmond) to eventually reach the Canada Line, so basically offering a quite significant coverage.

    …the problem in any option is how to cross the Fraser..

    .Integrating the track in Pattullo bridge…that should be certainly a pursued option – one of the problem could be the approach ramp.

    Another to avoid the steep grade at the approach is to have a vertical lifting bridge like this one:

    It accommodates a tramway (with catenary), is high enough to accommodate the daily marine movement and is lifted something like once a week for the occasional taller ship.

    The tramway is new (to be opened in 2012), so it is all in the trams design…and the line designers have found it was a good enough compromise putting a price on reliability- when the bridge is raised, the tram line operates like 2 independent lines, and some strategy can be put in place to allow people to cross the river, be by boat, or high clearance footbridge during the disruption which can be reasonably scheduled (out of service hour, or out of rush hour…).

    A later one is a tunnel…

  7. rico Says:

    Unlike your well thought posts i am just firing of ideas with no reality checks. As for the bridge i was thinking a lower deck for rail. Grade should ok on the south. I was thinking tunnel on the north. How about a connection to another line Coquitlam to marine drive instead?

  8. mike0123 Says:

    There are other models than the Swiss, though it is a good example, for effective transit over a metropolitan area with many dispersed centres. Holland (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, etc.) and the Rhine-Ruhr (Essen, Dusseldorf, Cologne, etc.) are on a similar scale to the Lower Mainland, and can be instructive in how to build a transit-connected region.

    The shape of the valley is linear when you zoom out, but two-dimensional on a smaller scale. At a high level, this geography lends itself to a fast, east-west line with widely-spaced stations at which slower north-south lines with finer spacing connect. The connection points should be near or at the centres of the dispersed centres.

    Regardless of the transit technologies, there are a fairly limited range of route options because of constraints like river crossings, steep hills, existing centres, and the persistent grid. If it is eventually decided that the resources should be allocated to make regional transit viable throughout the Lower Mainland, it should be relatively easy to reach consensus on how to do it.

  9. […] Missed opportunity because it will hinder the region to do the right thing to develop alternatives allowing the south Fraser area to become a less car dependent place before it is too late. At the root of this poor decision making is an original sin: A Vancouver centered optic where Surrey is seen as a fringe area in need to be connected to the Expo line; and a ideological bias from the Surrey City council making the streetcar the only answer whatever the question is. This optic ignore the development occurring in the Fraser valley, in Langley and beyond, more noticeably Abbotsford and Chilliwack, and the subsequent regional transportation demand; something we have touched in 2012: […]

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