Langley residents may be getting the short end of the stick with the suggested transportation improvements put forward by the Mayors’ Council.
While the addition of bus service to Willoughby is a positive step, and one that is long overdue, the plan to build an LRT line down Fraser Highway from Whalley to Langley City means that there will never be a fast way of getting around the region by transit — if you happen to be travelling to or from Langley.
According to the TransLink plan (which can be viewed and commented on at tenyearvision.translink.ca), which is currently the subject of open houses in various communities (but not Langley), work will begin on LRT lines in Surrey in 2018.
One of those lines will run along 104 Avenue from Guildford to Whalley, and then south on King George Boulevard to Newton.
The other line will extend along Fraser Highway from King George SkyTrain station all the way to Langley City.
This LRT line is being pushed by the city of Surrey in the belief that more Surrey residents will hop on and off an LRT train, which is at-grade, and Surrey neighbourhoods will thus become more transit-oriented.
This is well and good, and experience in other cities suggests this could work.
Recently, Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat was in Surrey to expound on the benefits of LRT
She says LRT allows for “place making.”
It boosts opportunities for affordable housing, neighbourhood shopping and a better sense of community.
Keesmaat went as far as to say, “If Surrey … wants to begin transition into becoming a place where people can work and play, then don’t put some high-speed infrastructure in the sky.
Start creating excellent destinations in your city you can access from excellent transit.”
Notably, her comments did not mention the people in Langley who would like the opportunity to get to destinations in Surrey, New Westminster, Burnaby and Vancouver quickly, without the necessity of driving.
Surrey has completely ignored Langley’s needs in its unrelenting push for LRT.
At-grade LRT will not improve the current travel time from Langley to the King George station.
It will remain almost exactly what it is today aboard the perpetually-crowded 502 and 503 buses.
As LRT moves along city streets, it is affected by what happens on those city streets —everything from traffic lights to car crashes.
Between 200 Street in Langley and King George station, there are 23 traffic lights.
Daryl Dela Cruz, who is the most vocal advocate for SkyTrain instead of LRT in Surrey through his SkyTrain for Surrey advocacy group, has pointed out that if SkyTrain were extended to Langley City, it would be possible to get from there to Waterfront station in under an hour.
He says it makes more sense to have rapid buses along Fraser Highway for local movement, and SkyTrain for long distance travel.
Building SkyTrain all the way to Langley could be more costly than building LRT, although Dela Cruz disputes that.
It is quite possible that this is one of the main reasons the transit plan including LRT has been endorsed by mayors — including Langley City Mayor Ted Schaffer and Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese.
Schaffer did say earlier this year that he would prefer SkyTrain.
If SkyTrain is such a non-starter along Fraser Highway, why is it that SkyTrain was chosen for the Evergreen Line into Coquitlam and Port Moody?
That line is set to open before the end of the year.
If what Keesmaat says is so important, why did the mayors and TransLink choose SkyTrain technology instead of LRT?
The mayors’ 10-year plan comes with some hefty costs for residents, including a boost to property taxes, a jump in transit fares, a new development cost charge on housing that will increase the cost of housing, and mobility pricing on all major roads.
If Langley residents are to pay all those additional costs — and they will — they deserve rapid transit along Fraser Highway, along with much-needed improvements to the bus system.
The population of the two Langleys will keep growing, and the Township in particular will be much more populated within the next 25 years.
Those residents who use the transit system to come from the far reaches of Metro Vancouver, in Aldergrove and eastern Langley, particularly deserve a faster trip once they arrive in Langley City, not the rail equivalent of the 502 or 503 buses.
Frank Bucholtz is a retired editor. He writes monthly for the Langley Times, as well as sharing his insights on his Frankly Speaking blog. It can found at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca.