Post updated on January 29th, 2017

Ill conceived, since according to Translink [1], The proposed Surrey L line (Guilford, Surrey central newton, titled LRT 4 in the transit study), was among the poorest options Translink has studied for Surrey. An option which will saddle translink with increased operation cost without matching revenue to sustain it, for generation to come [1]. and an option which provide a deeply negative return on investment:

Even  a multiple account  evaluation (taking account social benefit at large), The return on investment is simply not there!

Even a multiple account evaluation (taking account social benefit at large), The return on investment is simply not there! (figure from [1])

Ill conceived because the Surrey LRT approach is in essence local and ignore the regional demand.

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:

Context and opportunities

A first draft of Regional transportation in the Valley

A draft Regional transportation demand in the Fraser Valley

The region becoming more vast than Metro-Vancouver, people travel longer distance, with more dispersed destinations, the challenge is then to provide an appealing transit alternative for people in the Valley and the south Fraser area: that means, fast comfortable, and as few as possible transfer toward meaningful destinations.

A LRT running not faster than a bus is not a compelling solution on which to build a regional transportation backbone, but a transportation mode such as the skytrain is not suitable for long distance travel; Also the skytrain technology, designed for very frequent service, become too expensive to maintain as soon as less frequent service is needed [9], so extending the skytrain forever is not a solution able to address the need beyond Langley.

The Interurban vision

It is time for the Vancouver region to explore new paradigms, and reconsider the regional train with an European eye. That is to not entertain solution such as the West Coast Express, but to consider light passenger trains able to achieve a commercial speed in excess of 70km/h (typically means max speed in excess of 140km/h)[13], with comfortable seating: the bombardier Talent, once used for the Ottawa’s O train, is a good starting point to entertain the discussion. below is the kind of rolling stock we have in mind:

Bomabrdier Talent 2, able to run at up to 160km/h and a Alstom Regiolis tram-train, able to run at 100km/h on mainline, and still able to run as a tram on the street (credit wikipedia)

Thought the Fraser valley has the former interurban line, the BCER, this line is not suitable for most of its length: it presents a too meandering horizontal alignment. It is also already heavily used by freight trains in some sections[3], while in other, the tracks need to be completely renewed in order to accommodate off the shelve European train set [17], so there is no clear value at constraining the option on the sole BCER corridor. Below is an example addressing the challenge, with a 70km long rail line (in blue) from Richmond Bridgeport to Abbotsford (connecting with the former BCER for potential extension to Chilliwack) using mainly BC Hydro corridor (and rail rail fo way in Richmond).Part of the line reflects also a vision once expressed by the White Rock Transportation and safety committee [12]

Interurban line, from Richmond Bridgeport to Abbotsford; using  BC Hydro corridors on most of its length

Interurban line, from Richmond Bridgeport to Abbotsford; using BC Hydro corridors on most of its length (the map highlight the BC hydro as well as existing rail corridors)

The advantage of this line is that

  • it provides a fairly straight line without too short curvatures [4] and an adequate vertical profile [5]
  • it requires virtually no private land acquisition
  • It is completely separated from freight trains; a Transport Canada requirement to allow train built on European standard to operate on the line

The expo line then needs to be extended 3km along King George to provide a seamless transfer with the regional train[6].

Fraser crossing in the vicinity of MacAdam creek, in Delta, where the alignment takes advantage of the bluff on the south side, to reduce the approach to a bridge which clearance should be at least as high as the Alex Fraser bridge – new Panamax ship class allows an air draft of up to 58m

To preserve the future, The regional line should be built for European style standard train EMU (such as the Bombardier talent-2). That supposes to build the line to UIC standards allowing speed in excess of 160km/h, ideally 200km/h: that means in particular:

  • double track platform width of ~13m
  • no level crossing

Estimated travel time (in mn) between key stations with an express train calling only at the below mentioned station [19]

Abbotsford Langley Surrey Queensborough Richmond
Abbotsford 15 24 31 42
Langley 15 9 16 27
Surrey 24 9 7 18
Queensborough 31 16 7 11
Richmond 42 27 18 11

cross section of the track platform for the Lyon-Marseille High speed line ( 350km/h max speed) - source (2); 500kv double circuit tubular tower able to to replace a lattice tower if the tower foot print is an issue - source (15)

Numbers suggest such a line could be built at cad$35M/km [7] putting the total cost of the regional line at $2.5Billions (remember that the Brunette interchange alone costs $0.5B). However, the line doesn’t need to be built in one shot, and can be phased, a first phase consisting of the 12km Langley-Surrey section, estimated then at ~$500M.

For this short first section, a tram-train, able to reach 100km/h and to ride the Langley streets could be considered at first [8]. Since it could benefit of a totally segregated infrastructure (in trench) between Langley and Surrey, a 12 mn travel time could be easily reach. (A Translink study [1] suggests such travel time could attract up to 6,000 pphpd in 2041, what is the relevance zone for such a transportation mode)

Cost and benefit

The skytrain extension has been costed at $85M/km (2010)[1] in viaduct and $140/km (2010)underground [11] (all including stations), so that the total cost of the project in its first phase could be keep in the $1B envelope, and still include a BRT lines Surrey 88th-Whiterock, as well as some B line connecting Guilford not only to Surrey central but also to the interurban and Coquitlam.

The closest studied option by Translink was the option titled RRT 1A (skytrain extended to Langley and BRT on KGH and 104th)[1]: our proposed option in its first phase is slightly less appealing on the Langley Surrey section (doens’t go directly to Surrey center, and doesn’t eliminate the skytrain transfer). On the other hand, it still provides similar travel time, between the 2 cities (and Vancouver), and a tram-train option allow a finer coverage of Langley downtown. Subsequent extensions make our proposal of better value.

A Skytrain to Langley , means, the train could run well below capacity (or at very spare frequency, what is not without issues). an extension collecting both the traffic flow coming from the King George corridor, and Langley could make better use of the skytrain capacity

Our proposal makes also a better use of the skytrain capacity (the extension collect ridership from both the Langley Regional train and the KGH BRT). Our proposal offers a shorter BRT route on the KGH branch (due to the skytrain expansion here), and equal on the 104th branch: We can consider our proposal carries all the benefit of the RRT 1A option, at half of the price tag. In any case, it is a much better solution than the one currently imposed by the Mayors’council, which will not benefit to Langley and will be detrimental to White Rock by introducing an additional transfer with no travel time benefit, and which cost has already escalated to a whopping $100M/km

[1] Surrey Rapid transit Alternatives Analysis – Phase 2 Evaluation, Translink, 2012.

[2] V. Profillidis, Railway Management and Engineering: Fourth Edition, Routeledge 2016

[3] In addition to the operating constraint imposed by the freight trains, Transport canada requirement for passenger train mixing with freight train make such solution a non starter beside commuter train such as the West coast express)

[4] The curvature suggests speed limit of 160 to 200km/h speed between Langley and Surrey, 160km/h around the Nordel Mac Adam Creek section (thought requiring some expropriation), 120-140Km/h, in the approach south of Langley…that is assuming a typically a minimum curve of 1250m for 160km/h; some figure also roughly and intrinsically adopted for the californian HST [10]

[5] French high speed rail tracks have gradient of up to 35/100, and 40/1000 on the german Koln Rhein [2].

[6] In the proposed scheme, the track along King George Highway could be branched before the eponymous station. The later could be retired, and
a new one built.

[7] French high speed line, built on higher standard, are typically build at a cost of cad$35M/km or €22M/km (10% for land acquisition, 65% for civil engineering, and 25% for rail, power and signalling)[16]. However the Fraser crossing could require a specific estimate

[8] Such choice, should not hinder the capacity of the line to run faster train. If electric, the tram-train should then be dual voltage, the main line, equipped with standard 25kv AC60Hz, the street extension in 750V. Similarly the stations should be designed to allow a layered service with tram train calling at local stations, while faster train could call only at main stations.

[9] The skytrain vehicles (and consists) are designed to maximize the throughout of the line, so seating is minimized, and comfort of it is not a priority. The driverless technology allow very high frequency at marginal cost, but it imposes also high “minimal operation” cost, to both maintain and operate the line, making this technology not a prime choice in the current condition.

[10] California High-Speed Train Project : Technical Memorandum, Alignment Design Standards for High-Speed Train Operation TM 2.1.2; California High-Speed Rail Authority, 2009

[11] UBC Line rapid transit study: Phase 2 Evaluation report Steer Davies Gleave, August 2012

[12] South Fraser Strategic area transit plan, Transportation and safety committee, City of White Rock, August 22, 2006

[13] This tends to be a typical requirement for new regional transit lines in european conurbation. As an example the new subway line planned in Paris area are targetted to have a commercial speed of 55 to 65km/h.

[14] It is interesting to notice that the LRT line in Surrey is costed higher than a french High speed line, the later arguably incurring more extended civil engineering work: it is possibly due to the fact that Surrey LRT construction cost include the relocation of the underground utilities, and the construction method must include important traffic mitigation.

[15] Proponent’s environmental Assessment: Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, Southern California Edison, 2009, Figure 3.2.4.

[16] La grande vitesse ferroviaire : un modèle porté au-delà de sa pertinence, Cour Des Comptes, Republique francaise, 2014

[17] the track renewal cost can be estimated at Cad$5M/km, including electrification, for a single track, and work progress can be as fast as 600m of track renewal/day, this from a similr work done to establish a tram-train in the vicinity of Nantes. This number is in line with the provided by a Leewood report[20] for the Rail for the Valley organization

[18] Camille Saïsset, Tram-train Nantes-Châteaubriant, une liaison efficace pour la réouverture de voies, Actu-Environnement, July 27, 2012.

[19] the numbers assume a average speed line of 140km/h, an average acceleration of 1m/s/s, and a dwelling time of 2.5mn. The 24 mn travel time between Surrey and ABbotsford, can be compared to the 44mn travel time given by [20] between Abbotsford and Surrey Newton using the BCER or the Google estimated 35mn road travel time between Abbotsford (Highway 1#11) and Surrey Central (with clear traffic)

[20] Lower Fraser Valley British Columbia, Chilliwack to Surrey Interurban, proposal fro rail for the Valley, David Cockle, Leewood Project, 2010.


The port Mann bridge/Highway 1 was promised to be costing $1.5Billion, to be financed by toll:

  • Price has skyrocketed at more than $3.3 Billion, while the government has divided per 2 the toll.
  • The project has been initiated with forecast of 150,000 averaged daily trip. The Province has quietly revised its number to 120,000 as of today [2] , which is still greater than the current traffic seen on the bridge which is free!

It looks like the Toll revenue will not be even enough to cover the interest of the debt! [1]

The bike lanes or lack of:

The Province promised this [3]

At King Edward Street, there will be bike lanes on both sides of the road, as well as a multi-user path on the west side of King Edward Street and bike lanes on the new King Edward Street Overpass connecting Lougheed Highway to United Boulevard.

The Province delivered that:

According to the Province, there are bike lanes on both side of this street (King Edward, connecting to the Lougheed ones

In case of the benefit of doubt was buying Indulgence toward the Province. Pass a certain point, to believe a single word of the province require either an heavy dose of naivety or stupidity….and we can’t help on such beatitude toward the Province actions…and still…

The province promised this:

The Province had promised a rapid bus along the Highway one, with a transit hub at Carvolth, and another one in the vicinity of 160st

For the Surrey transit Hub, the Province delivered that:

The province delivered this in the Surrey backyard – Apparently, some people there believe it is suitable for a transit hub (???)

Thought that was happening in the Surrey backyard, Surrey transit advocates seem to have been surprised by the fact that Translink considers this HOV exit nearly useless [5]:

  • Passenger can’t safely wait on those ramps, which have no sidewalks, and no room to stop a bus without blocking the traffic
  • There is basically no decent connection with the rest of the network, no park&ride, no decent pedestrian access,…nothing

The Surrey Mayor, Diane Watts fainted to discover the problem (?) and was quick to put the onus of it on Translink. But Surrey just pay for its beatitude toward the Provincial government. Jeff Nagel has published a email from the BC transportation ministry [4]:

Q: Who decided not to build the park and ride/transit exchange at 156th Street?

A: TransLink was in discussions with several partners including the provincial government, City of Surrey and private developers on an agreement for commercial and residential development in the 156th Street area; a transit exchange would have been part of this development. No agreement was reached and development plans did not materialize.

The exchange was dependent on TransLink taking the lead position in acquiring necessary municipal and stakeholder approvals. Subsequently, TransLink intended to have the transit exchange as part of a proposed development…
that did not proceed.

Since that time TransLink has consulted extensively with elected officials, stakeholders and the public resulting in revisions to their plan.

The Hwy 1 project provides ramps for transit and HOV vehicles that allows TransLink direct access to the transit/HOV lanes. We anticipate TransLink will continue improve transit services in the region.

Q: How much money was saved by not building the transit exchange?
A: The park and ride facility was never budgeted for, so there is no cost available.

Q: How much did it cost to build the HOV lane at 156th Street – if there are no buses to use it, isn’t it a waste of money?

The on-ramps provide access to HOV lanes for all vehicles that have a minimum of two people in the vehicle.
Motorists at the 152nd Street interchange in Surrey experience extensive delays accessing Highway 1 during peak periods; the new interchange at 156th and the greater capacity of the Port Mann Bridge will ease that congestion.

The 156th intersection cost between $25 and $30 million dollars and was a partnership between Port Mann Highway 1 project and the City of Surrey.
It provides a new connection across the highway to serve this rapidly growing city, and will alleviate congestion at other intersections in the city.

Q. Why does the TICorp website promote transit access via HOV lane if there isn’t going to be any transit?

There will be transit buses using the 156th Street interchange. There will be a bus from Carvoth Park and Ride to the Surrey Central Station that will use the on-and-off HOV ramps at 156th Streets starting December 3. The #509 Walnut Grove and #590 Langley South buses access the 156 ramp.

In short:

    A restaurant sell you a 3 courses menu, but you get only two courses. If you complain about it, the restaurant’s owner wwill direct you to the cook, because himself he never intend to deliver the menu anyway…That is what the Province says

Every aspect of the Port Mann bridge project seems rotten from the root

The concept of HOV lane is in itself backward – it says that a family going to vacation, is more important than timely goods delivery- that is a $3.3 Billion economic non-sense. HOV lanes make sense to optimize an existing road infrastructure, but on new one, it should be at minimum HOT lane, and more ideally a wholly tolled freeway, on the model of the Toronto’s ETR407 (where tolls are set to grant free flow).

In any case:

  • who says HOV lanes, says car pooling.
  • who says car pooling, says car-pool parkings

Where are those car-pool parkings?

May be facilitated by Internet, car pooling has gained serious steam lately in Europe, and when infrastructure is not there- that is basically everywhere-, you will see most of the European freeway interchange approaches, surrounding important cities, looking like below:

Toll freeway/high gas price encourage car pooling, But Car poolers, meeting near freeway interchanges, need room to park their cars ! (top France - left UK (M5 near Bristol), right Germany (A8 near Munich

In fact, anarchic car pool parking has became an endemic European problem, a problem the various level of authorities address, by developing parking solution gathering the car-pooler need:

to address car pooler need, “organized” car pool parking are currently developed about everywhere in Europe.

Needless to say, the Province seems to not have put a single thought on how to develop car-pooling here. There is some good reason to it:

The Province is not interested by measure able to reduce car traffic: it needs to justify a posteriori an over sized road infrastructure:

  • car pooling is discouraged
  • bare lip service is paid to transit

What is delivered is not what has been promised by the Provincial Government…and still cost twice more than announced: Should we be surprised?

I will eventually write a post on the bus #555: As a primer, I think the service is good, frequency seems more than appropriate, so there is little grief toward Translink on it.

[1] see also Port Mann tolls will “pay all costs” of $3.3 billion project, Fraseropolis, Feb 24, 20112

[2] Traffic Forecast Review, Steer Davies Gleave, September 2011

[3] as retrieved on November 25, 2012

[4] No stops in Surrey for Port Mann express buses, Jeff Nagel, Surrey Leader, Nov 21, 2012.

[5] See Civic Surrey and Skytrain for Surrey

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

Last week, Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang, president of the Korea Transport Institute, was in town for two enlightening presentations [5].

the dismantling of a downtown freeway to restore the Cheonggye Stream,

SightLineDaily has a good report of this lecture [6]. As noticed in the report, Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang, has insisted on the historically cultural and spiritual (Feng shui) importance of the stream in the Seoul context.

Thought that the dismantling of the freeway was a campaign promise of the then mayoral candidate Lee Myung-bak, it is not clear how central this promise was in the campaign, since Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang himself admitted he was not expecting to see this promise fulfilled.

It is not clear too how much of the Seoul electorate was using the freeway versus the suburbanite not participating in the vote. In that instance, Seoulites heavily relying on public transit could have got a different opinion of its suburbanite neighbors, like did the Londoner or Stockholm people on congestion charge, or Parisian on the Delanoë program to close the freeway on the Seine river banks (at least during summer month) and introduce bike and bus lanes in the city.

Nevertheless, the point to retain, is that in Seoul; like in Paris with Delanoë or London with Livingstone;

  • once invested in a mandate legitimated by recent election, civic leaders have to act fast to ensure that the their constituents are able to measure the positive effect of the controversial shift, that in the time of a mandate.

That is what has been achieved by the very controversial congestion charge in London, that s what has been achieved by the bus lanes and other initiatives from Delanoë in Paris, and that is what has been achieved by the restoration of the Cheonggye Stream in Seoul.

Cheonggye Stream before and after the restoration project: freeway has disappeared, and new space is enjoyed by people. credit photos (3)

Another important thing to retain and key to the success of the Cheonggye Stream restoration is that in Seoul, like in New York with pedestrianization of Time square, that has eased the congestion.

  • the reduction of road space has not to be done at the expense of the mobility in the city

More, the freeway dismantling was part of a package on refocusing transportation on public transit, object of the second lecture presented at Surrey SFU.

The improving of Seoul’s bus service by reforming operating practice

you will find some materials similar to the one presented in [1] and [2].

Considering the Vancouver political context, you could have think sensible from the part of SFU to schedule this second lecture in Surrey, since South of the Fraser is well known for not lacking of full time whiner when come to talk of bus service in Surrey and other low density suburbs of the valley.

After waiting 30mn at this bus stop on Garden City at Richmond, if you believe this bus gonna be yours: you are heading for disappointment! Only one route among 3 servicing Garden city stop here. How to know which one? neither the bus stop, the bus livery or transit map will tell you...there is certainly room for improvement of bus service in Vancouver area too

If I have spotted Jonathan Cote, from New Westminster council, I have failed to see any of those SoF “full time” whiners, including their civic leaders in the very scarce attendance. They seems in fact to show little appetite at listening ideas on how to improve transit in their jurisdiction…may be because they follow a different agenda which is more driven by the promotion of a pet project than anything else.

However in this lecture, Dr. Kee Yeon Hwan has put himself more or less in the shoes of the typical SoF bus rider:

  • Low bus frequency with pass-up at that
  • Low reliability with lack of information
  • slow and circuitous routes
  • lack of readability of system
  • no fare integration

In brief, the bus system was built to serve a “captive” market, with little regard for its patrons, and in numerous regard was falling behind the rest of the world standard in many aspect.

In the 80’s, Seoul has aggressively developed his subway network- it is one of the busiest in the world- eventually at the expense of its bus system… and global impact on the overall transit modeshare was tiny.

It was becoming clearly evident that an “all subway” policy -limited by funding- couldn’t be good enough to address the mobility needs of Seoul.

Numerous actions have been taken to change it, the first one being the governance of the public transit system. In that instance, the system was apparently one looking like a “leasehold” bus route offering little flexibility for adjustment in the public interest, and has been changed to one of public service concession of 3 years in length. Notice that the later model has became the modus operandi of most of the public transit agencies in Europe and Australia.

This change done, the route network has been rationalized according to the served market, trunk route, feeder route,… straight route preferred to circuitous route… beside it the main change could be considered as marketing ones

  • bus route numbering representing origin destination
  • bus colored according to the served market
  • Real time information of patrons
  • All buses running on CNG

The list couldn’t have been complete without the introduction of the smart-card, which address the problem of fare integration (transfer). Some of the most visible change have already been discussed in Regarding Place.

It could be some case (right picture), where a more complex livery like the one adopted by the operator of route X5 in London northern suburbs, could provide more useful information to the not yet transit rider -the bus advise route, price, frequency (notice that the advised frequency is 30mn...) -than a simpler color code understood mainly by already transit rider (left picture)

Lot of expectation was carried with those changes, and aggressive targets was set. the conclusions of the exercise are more dim.

While the reform of the bus system has lead to a dramatically improved service on several metrics like bus speed or bus punctuality…in despite of a significant increase in ridership, it has failed to reach the very aggressive goal originally set in that aspect, and eventually has translated in concerns over the subsidiary level of the bus system which is greater than expected. A noticed problem is that the route concession is paid on a mileage bus service basis disregarding the ridership, hence providing no incentive for the bus operator to increase it.

But the main lesson is that an extensive subway network shouldered by a massive bus network will never replace the -at least perceived- convenience of car. and at some point you have also to take action to control the usage of it to avoid road congestion, and that is road pricing.

The idea seems to have been introduced in Seoul in the 90’s [4], but the currency crisis in 97 will have stopped the implementation of it (it is not clear why it has no been resumed later on). The Chair of the lecture, will conclude it by the very relevant question:

What level of public transit is good enough to reach before introducing congestion pricing?

The answer of the speaker will be not less interesting, and was understood like it:

If you listen the naysayers, it will never be good enough transit

[1] Seoul Bus System Reform Project, D. Kim and S. Gaham, fall 2009

[2] Environmentally Sustainable
Transport Policies in Korea
, S. Lee, 2009


[4] Four year old Namsan Tunnel Congestion Pricing scheme in Seoul: success or failure?. B. Son, and K. Y Hwang, Int Assoc Traffic Saf Sci journal, vol. 26, no 1, pp28-36, 2002

[5] You will aslo find an interview at the Translink’s Buzzer blog

[6] VPSN has also blogged on this lecture. Geoff meggs has also written on the topic.

Bridge Traffic

December 1, 2010

For purpose of illustration, below is a map overlaid with the traffic volume on the main bridges of the Vancouver area.

Traffic on the Main bridges of the greater Vancouver area (click on the map for more detail)

Some comments on it:


  • Traffic volume distribution is hourly, for weekday, and estimated when data is not available [3]
  • truck traffic on Knight bridge is estimated at 15% of the overall traffic
  • Red line indicate the capacity of the bridge, assuming a 1400 vehicle/hr capacity per lane
  • For bridge over the Fraser, A suggested Congestion pricing toll [5] has been added in yellow

below is the tabulaton of weekday daily traffic, and source for the considered bridge

Bridge Juridiction Lanes Traffic
Arthur Laing Bridge YVR 4 84,000 [2]
Oak Bridge Province 4 80,700 [1][4]
Knight Bridge Translink 4 99,500 [2]
QueensBorough Bridge Province 4 84,000 [2]
George Massey Tunnel Province 4 89,500 [1]
Alex Fraser Bridge Province 6 117,500 [1]
Pattullo Bridge Translink 4 74,500 [2]
Port Mann Bridge Province 5 116,000 [1]
Iron Workers Bridge Province 6 127,400 [1]
Lions gate Bridge Province 3 63,000 [1]

Comments on the Congestion pricing data

They come from the thesis of Peter Wightman [5], which is the most complete work I have uncovered on the topic applied on the Vancouver area, but still limited on the Fraser crossing bridges.

  • toll is applied once the traffic volume exceed the road capacity
  • Price elasticity demand is assumed at -0.2 peak hours, and -0.25 off peak, That is pricing evaluation has been done in 2006, assuming the transit option of the time, i.e. no Canada line and no transit over Port Mann bridge. Another study suggests a price elasticity demand closer to 0.35, in case of improved transit (i.e. Congestion regulation could be achieved with significant lower toll that those envisioned by [5], and revenue of congestion pricing too)

For information, below are the estimated revenue of congestion pricing, in the case of all bridge crossing the Fraser tolled (this assuming the 2006 situation, and a relatively low elasticity of -0.2 peak, and -0.25 off peak period) according to [5].

Bridge daily revenue (South dir) daily revenue (North dir)
George Massey Tunnel 89,600 64,400
Alex Fraser Bridge 126,000 67,200
Pattullo Bridge 35,000 21,000
Port Mann Bridge 271,600 90,300
Total (daily) 765,100
Total Annual 191,275,000

It is worth to note that congestion pricing could apply only when bridge reach capacity. At the exception of the Port Mann bridge West bound, that is an average of only 4 hours per bridge (or put in other way, crossing a bridge could be free 20hours per day),… but still generating close to 200 millions of annual revenue only on the bridge crossing the Fraser river.

it is also worth to notice that under a congestion pricing scheme as proposed by [5], the Port Mann bridge toll could have been lower than the one considered by the province (in green on the map above) most of the time…and the Pattullo bridge needs to be tolled less than 3hrs per day (per direction).

[1] Number from BC MOT as of Sept 2010 (weekday average on the month

[2] Number from Bridging the Infrastructure Gap, Get Moving BC, Sept 2008. Data are mostly from 2006

[3] I got hourly distribution only for BC MOT bridge, hourly distribution is estimated for other bridge to provide an idea of level of congestion on them (and eventually pricing level/period). While data Provincial bidge are from 2010, and other bridge from 2006, it has been no noticeable increase in traffic in the interim, what is consistent with a longer trend already exhibited in a gateway program definition report of january 2006

[4] There is a discrepancy with number from the MovingBC report[2] eventually due to the fact, that the authors of this report overlooked the fact that the traffic counter is installed south of the Sea Island exit ramp on the Highway 99 south bound. That explains why there is a traffic increase on that bridge

[5] From Freeway to feeway: Congestion pricing policies for BC’s Fraser River crossing, Peter Wightman, Simon Fraser University, 2008

[6] Estimating Commuter Mode choice: A discrete choice Analysis impact of road pricing and parking charge, Washbrook, Haider and Jaccard, Transportation, 2006.

[7] Toll for new Port Mann Bridge will be $5.15 for casual users, Damian Inwood, The province, June 2010.

Newton New Town

February 22, 2010

Recently Surrey, BC has organized an urban planning competition Townsift mounted by Trevor Boddy. Several area was brought for consideration by contestant, but lets take a look at the one supposed to integrate a transit centre: Newton.

Most master planned communities are a failure in the sense they are unable to be anything else than bedroom communities: they can be considered nice and desirable  suburbs like Columbia MD, or Irvine, CA, but they are not by any measure vibrant cities you can think as a destination…In that matter Richmond is more successful than the previously  mentioned suburbs.

At the exhibition presentation, the question of “why all the master planned communities fails to be nothing more than bedroom communities?” has been raised. the panel composed of Lisa Rochon and Bing Thom eventually had some opinion, mostly related on the architecture design.

Capitalizing on Bing Thom “living organism” parabola for our living place, we think that the transportation network, road and transit, are the blood of the city, when architects/designer see them more often than not  as a constraint not much different than a sewage system: so if there is no blood, there is no life, and it is what happen to most of the “master planned communities“.

More often than not, the “master planned community” has road surrounding a “village” organized around a “pedestrian plaza“: it can eventually work in a resort where people have nothing much else to do than hang around and sipping coffee at the “pedestrian plaza“, but in the real life people  eventually work, and have little reason to go especially to a place just to “hang around sipping a coffee“…

How the contestants fare against this idea

Preliminary: None of the contestants have brought into consideration a “vertical” integration of the transit centre, it is unclear if it was due to an unfortunate  constraint of the contest or to the own choice of the contestants.

Newton 73

The good idea:

the water element

The major flaws

  • they have designed a nice pedestrian Plaza, but why people would go there? what is the point?  The plaza is not visible of the outside, and there is no natural straightforward way to invite people from outside to experiment it
  • You are in suburbs, natural traffic pedestrian flow will be from and to the “transit station”: the walkway is carefully avoiding it…the whole concept is turning his back to connectors (blood bringing life), and this concept is typical of master plan communities.
  • The pedestrian alley seems to be grade separated of other traffic: a bad idea in itself for such location: Not only geography, but also because pedestrian and motor traffic level couldn’t justify this grade separation[1].
  • Worst, the car oriented strip mall is well recognized and reinforced, by furthering the disconnection of it with the rest of the pedestrian oriented place.
  • The lack of grid readability with rather weird road turns is prejudicial to the urban quality of the environment. At the end, the 70s’ish curved building form is not really convincing.

Newton 30

the good idea
The green corridor

The major flaws

  • The corridor is not visible of King George Boulevard and in fact the whole block design turn its back to this boulevard
  • The retail space is seen as an extension of the strip mall  neither connecting to the Transit mall neither open to the major thoroughfare.
  • The green corridor doesn’t connect to the park nearby, neither to the civic area, especially the library.
  • The transit hub looks like to be a constraint more than the center of the project.

Newton 110

the good idea
the orchard and community gardens: the civic space designed as a peaceful, intimate one is well though, the connection to a more active space via a cenotaph transition is a brilliant idea.

The major flaw

  • The pedestrian Public space (square) is insulated, sterilized, neither connecting to major street or transit.
  • The scale and building from on the South West are inappropriate to compliment an urban King George Boulevard.
  • Transit Hub is ignored, he is surrounded by ground oriented residential!

Newton 77

The good idea(s)

The transit hub is the focal point: It is the only proposal capitalizing on it, and recognizing that in a successful transit oriented environment, this will be the main public place, with its esplanade.

The penetration of the nearby park into the block (the green link concept).
The slightly grade separated sport field.

The building form contribute to give an interesting urban feeling to the 72th avenue and contribute also positively to the King Georges Boulevard streetscape.

The major flaw

The location of the esplanade not opened  to a major thoroughfare is not inviting enough, in such a sort as non transit user could totally ignore its existence:

  • It could generate some safety issue feeling late at night (lack of “eyes” on the Esplanade)
  • it could be also not well located in the event of a streetcar on King Georges. Overall the contribution to  King Gorge Blvd could be improved
  • Retail street location are hardly identifiable on this design (“Main street”)?, and it looks they could be hardly noticeable from outside the block.

In despite of still significant major flaws in term of space utilization, It  seems pretty clear that the proposal 77 is dominating the competition.  Thought it brings some improvement to the urban space organization  compared to the concept brought to public consideration by the city of Surrey, it doesn’t bring any major breakthrough thinkings.

whether the transit centre had been replaced by a dump field, other contestant’s proposal couldn’t have been different , but there is  some interesting idea to pick up here and there to improve the current concept of the Surrey department planning which is far to be free of flaw itself in term of space organization, since it also tend to ignore the block contribution to King Georges, and “sterilize” ex -nihilo purposeless public plaza.

[1] A good urban plan should make the pedestrian feel safe, and at night car traffic provide this feeling… the contestant proposes here the “walk in a park at night” experience for their pedestrian experience… the master planned city Cergy Pontoise in France was offering it, that has proven to be a dramatic failure.