By Joe Zaccaria and Nathan Pachal
Back in the early 1980s, both Calgary and Edmonton built light-rail systems. At that time, they had populations of about half-a-million each. Today, Calgary has a population of one million and has the fourth-busiest system in North America. In contrast, the South Fraser region, with a population of about 77,000, had a light-rail system up until the 1950s. Half-a-century later, we have no light rail and a population of over 600,000.
How is it that “unsustainable” Calgary has more sustainable transportation choices than the most livable region in the world? Well, there are many reasons. One obvious reason is that the province of B.C. decided to build the SkyTrain, which cost six times more than light rail would have cost us over the last three decades. This is only a symptom of a much larger issue in our region—a disconnect between land-use planning and transportation planning.
Any planner worth their weight in zoning ordinances will tell you that land-use and transportation options go hand in hand. If you zone for mixed-use, walkable, people-friendly development, you’d better have good transit, and active transportation options like cycling and walking, in your plan. Likewise, if you build only roads, you naturally get less efficient, auto-oriented land use.
A case in point: Downtown Vancouver compared to Surrey’s Guildford Town Centre.
Downtown Vancouver. velkr0 photo.
Guildford Town Centre. Marco Antonio Torres photo.
Linking land-use and transportation plans together must happen if we are to see sustainable transportation options in the South Fraser.
Right now there are six agencies or levels of government that are in the land-use and transportation planning business: the local municipality, Metro Vancouver, TransLink, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation, the federal government, and the Agricultural Land Commission. Talk about too many cooks in the kitchen! In theory, Metro Vancouver and TransLink are suppose to work together to come up with a regional transportation and growth strategy. Municipal governments’ official growth plans are supposed to fit within these regional growth plans—and all should be well.
Unfortunately, this is not the case, and we can see a huge disconnect between transportation and land-use planning. Even Metro Vancouver’s new draft 2040 Regional Growth Strategy document gives lip service to mass-transit options, while ignoring the vehicle that would propel us toward those options—tandem land use and transportation planning.
Take the northeast sector, Coquitlam and Port Moody; they build mixed-use, transit-oriented development, but are still waiting for the rapid transit. Closer to home, Surrey is still waiting for rapid transit on King George Highway, something that is several years past due. Langley wants to develop 200th Street in support of a transit hub, with the federal government supplying significant dollars for a new park and ride. But TransLink ignores the township’s community planning for high density (possibly high-rises) along the corridor and offers talk of a rapid bus or bus rapid transit.
This is no tangible transit commitment to speak of given the density that could soon be here, and what current poor traffic conditions along this corridor already look like. Adding insult to injury is the Ministry of Transportation that comes along and does whatever it wants, regardless of the regional or local plans that may be in play. We’ve spoken with many planners at the regional and local levels, and all have stated that, when the Ministry of Transportation comes to town, previous plans get flushed down the toilet. Ever wonder why the Langley Bypass is so auto-centric? It’s not because the City of Langley is into sprawl; it’s because the Ministry of Transportation controls zoning around highways and won’t allow transit-oriented development within their zoning rules!
So, how do we fix this mess we find ourselves in? First off, our region’s transportation plan must align with our region’s land-use plan. These land-use plans must be supported and vigorously defended by municipal governments that have provided significant input into these plans. Our region’s land-use plan must take into context the needs of the local municipal government. Checks and balances need to be put in place to ensure these plans all work together and that transportation options are growing. If not, corrective action must be swift.
Secondly, the province needs to be at the table during the development of our regional plans and respect the wishes of these plans once they become final. They can no longer live outside and work independently of our region’s land-use and transportation planning process.
Joe Zaccaria and Nathan Pachal are cofounders of the South Fraser OnTrax Transportation Advocacy Society.