Column: How will SkyTrain change Langley?

Columnist Frank Bucholtz looks at density, bus routes, and the possiblity of other light rail lines

As SkyTrain to Langley moves one step closer, it’s important to think of what changes that can bring to the community.

TransLink is in the midst of a consultation process about the proposed line between King George Station and Langley City. It is part of an expedited effort to build a business case and bring the project to the TransLink board and the Mayors’ Council by July, in order to get the whole complicated process of actually building the line underway as soon as possible. Likely completion date for at least the first part of the line is 2025.

Whether that line will extend all the way to Langley City at first is questionable. The amount currently available for construction is not likely to cover the cost of the whole line. However, the commitment to go to Langley has not changed.

SkyTrain in Langley almost certainly means there needs to be higher density along and near the corridor. This could mean high-rises near Willowbrook and along a portion of 200 Street and Fraser Highway. While that may seem a fantasy, consider what has been and is happening in places like Lougheed Mall, Brentwood and Metrotown. Most of the high-rises in those areas are a direct result of SkyTrain.

SkyTrain also needs an extensive system of bus feeder routes. Langley does not have a lot of bus routes and large areas of the Township have no transit service at all. This will need to change. SkyTrain in Langley would also benefit from a large park and ride lot, which would encourage people who do not live near bus routes to use transit for at least part of their journey.

There are not too many large properties in the Willowbrook and Langley City areas, but future uses of those properties will be critical to both the success of SkyTrain and future community development. Will industrial use of land along the current rail corridor be replaced with high-rises, or other transit-oriented development? And if so, where will those businesses go, when there is already a shortage of industrial land in the Lower Mainland?

The existing rail corridor also raises some additional questions. Former Langley Township mayor Rick Green is actively pushing for use of the interurban corridor, which extends all the way to Chilliwack, for a hydrogen-powered passenger rail operation.

The cost to establish such a passenger service would be significantly lower than any purpose-built rapid transit line, and the corridor is already owned by BC Hydro. In addition, provincial legislation has preserved it for future passenger use.

If such a service does come about, an ideal junction between the two types of rail transit would be in Langley City. This would make it much more practical for users from further up the valley, in Abbotsford and Chilliwack, to consider transit. It would also reduce pressure on Highway 1, which is rapidly becoming a parking lot. The high cost of housing has pushed many people further out and this type of service could provide a viable, low-cost option to daily commuting.

Langley City has been giving plenty of thought to its future over the past decade, and it may become a much more populated city than plans have called for. The Township has significant plans for the 200 Street corridor, a significant portion if which remains undeveloped. While the plans call for density, SkyTrain may mean even more density is desirable.

Langley residents will have to weigh these possibilities as they consider the possibility of SkyTrain. They can take part in TransLink’s online survey at www.surreylangleyskytrain.ca until April 26.

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