Joe Zaccaria and Nathan Pachal: Land use, transportation must work together for South Fraser

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.




Jan 18, 2010 at 3:58pm

"’s because the Ministry of Transportation controls zoning around highways and won’t allow transit-oriented development within their zoning rules! "

AFAIK, Highways only controls the accesses, not the zoning.
Rod Smelser

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Jan 18, 2010 at 11:29pm

The myth that LRT is much cheaper than SkyTrain is getting rather tiresome. The Calgary LRT cost $24.5 million in 2000 dollars while the Millennium Line cost around $50 million per km. That is only twice as much, not 6 times as much.

The West extension is $700 million for only 8km, that is not much less expensive than the Canada Line.

Also note that with the opening of the Canada Line, rapid transit ridership in Metro Vancouver is around 364,000 riders per day verses 218,000 per day in Calgary. You get what you pay for.

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Jan 18, 2010 at 11:36pm

The MoT provides for minimum setbacks as well as control within 800 meters of certain highways. Check out section 52 of the BC Transportation Act.

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Sylvia Bishop

Jan 19, 2010 at 5:49am

The South Fraser Perimeter Road, as an example, should not be cutting through farmland and damaging unique bio- systems such as Burns Bog. What are they thinking?

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Evil Eye

Jan 19, 2010 at 10:27am

One tires of the SkyTrain lobby's feeble attempts to pervert the truth.

Since being on the market since the late 80's only 7 SkyTrain systems have been sold, all in private deals with Canadian government backing. Of the 7 sold, two were forced on the operating authority; 2 are airport people movers; 1 services a funfair; 1 was a demonstration line and only one is used as urban rapid transit.

During the same period over 136 new LRT/tram lines have been built. most in public competition with bus and SkyTrain type metro systems.

One wonders why SkyTrain is not built in greater numbers?

As for cost. The original SkyTrain cost twice as much per km. to build than Calgary's LRT and four times per km. to build than Portland's LRT.

The cost of the Millennium Line was over $100 million/km.

Cost of 1 km. of Helsinki tramway construction (track and OHLE) in 2008, $5 million/km.

There is no independent audit of SkyTrain's ridership and ridership numbers are mere guesstimates and are about 20% greater than actual independent estimates. TransLink also double counts Millennium and Expo Line passengers.

This is how TransLink has fallen into the faregate/turnstile fiasco - SkyTrain revenues do not match ridership figures, which means 1) Ridership is far less than claimed or 2) There is massive fare evasion.

As 80% of SkyTrain's ridership first takes a bus to the metro and bus drivers are very good in collecting fares, one would guess the number one "Ridership is far less than claimed" is the real indication of overstating ridership figures.

In 2006 Calgary's LRT carried 248,200 a day and annual ridership has increased to over 300,000 a day despite a downturn in the economy.

What Mr. Mythbuster stated is a myth.

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Jan 19, 2010 at 1:03pm

Evil Eye, this is really tiresome. The Millennium Line is 20.3km and the cost was 1.1 billion. Do the math. The cost is a bit over 50km, no where near 100 million per km.

And do some research, the ridership on Calgary's LRT has plummeted due to the recession, it is now at 218,000 per day:

And thanks for confirming that the original SkyTrain cost twice as much as the Calgary LRT, not the six times that was quoted in the article, at least we agree on something. As far as Portland goes, yes Light Metro is more expensive but it does attract more riders. The ridership here is getting close to four time that of Portland.

Regarding ridership numbers, find some actual proof they are being exaggerated. Otherwise, this is just idle speculation. Your statement that they are 20% off is just a guessimate as well. Note that the Canada Line does have laser counters.

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Jan 19, 2010 at 2:04pm


The MoT provides for minimum setbacks as well as control within 800 meters of certain highways. Check out section 52 of the BC Transportation Act.

You're right. I knew they controlled accesses, but I had no idea they could refuse various zonings.

Still, I don't know why the MOTH would use this power as the authors say to discourage transit oriented developments adjacent to controlled access highways, since those would presumably generate less traffic interaction with the highway.

Rod Smelser

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Evil Eye

Jan 19, 2010 at 2:13pm

The Mythbuster "Speak with fork tongue". You have also added in the 1.5 km. Glen-Clark Station Line which cost at least $150 million extra, as well portions of the Millennium Line include Expo Line as well. As well the cost of the Mk.2 cars were not added, nor the cost of signaling, which with an automatic transit system, is considerable.

At the time it was built, the Millennium Line was pegged at $98 million/km. but the Glen Clark NDP was as fuzzy with SkyTrain costs as were Bill Bennett and Gordo.

I find it interesting that you use American estimated ridership figures for Calgary and not the numbers posted by Calgary's operating authority. The APTA has no authority in Canada, thus the numbers are questionable. But this is how the SkyTrain lobby works, deception and propaganda, mixed with TransLink's own questionable statistics.

Lovely and I'll give three guesses by TransLink is bankrupt, and the first two don't count.

Matey, just answer this question: Why after being on the market for over 30 years, why has SkyTrain been never allowed to compete against light rail on any transit project? Why has only 7 SkyTrain systems been built, yet over the same time period over 136 LRT systems have been built?

Trouble is that the SkyTrain Lobby may bamboozle the local taxpayer, promoters of SkyTrain have utterly failed to sell the project overseas and can only build with SkyTrain in secret deals, with plenty of federal government financing.

One tires of the SkyTrain Lobby's BS, as the world has tired of SkyTrain. Who builds with SkyTrain?

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Jan 19, 2010 at 2:31pm

Where do you think the APTA gets their numbers from? It is from the agencies themselves so of course the numbers are likely accurate. Anyway, I could not find any for Calgary Transit on their web site. If you can find other 2009 numbers, post the link.

Regarding you numbers, include sources. Even with the items that you think were not included in the $1.1 billion, there is no way the cost is $98 million per km in 2000 dollars. By the way, I'm pretty sure the extension to VCC was included in the $1.1 billion. If you have evidence otherwise, include the link, otherwise, give it a rest.

Your comparison of one product by a company to an entire range of products by many companies is ridiculous. You should be comparing the number of metro systems to the number of LRT systems in the world.

According to LRTA, the number of metros in the world is 146 compared to only 90 for LRT. 12 metros are under construction compared to only 9 LRT.

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Jan 19, 2010 at 6:14pm

Evil Eye - "I find it interesting that you use American estimated ridership figures for Calgary and not the numbers posted by Calgary's operating authority. The APTA has no authority in Canada, thus the numbers are questionable. But this is how the SkyTrain lobby works, deception and propaganda, mixed with TransLink's own questionable statistics."

What a bizarre argument.

Just one post before you had argued that SkyTrain needs independent ridership audits, because the operating authority's own numbers were exaggerated and not to be trusted. Now in the same paragraph you simultaneously maintain that TransLink's official numbers are questionable - but that Calgary's official numbers are more reliable than those of a separate authority.

Is there any thought behind your comments, or just politics and emotional rhetoric? You give readers a lot less credit than they deserve.

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