Mayors' Council approves TransLink's Transport 2050 plan of 300 km of rapid transit

Jan 27 2022, 8:52 pm

After three years of planning and extensive consultation, TransLink has a new blueprint, Transport 2050, for guiding how it will expand its public transit network across Metro Vancouver over the next 30 years.

During a joint meeting today, the Mayors’ Council and TransLink’s board of directors finalized and approved Transport 2050.

This replaces the region’s previous transportation plan created in 1993, which outlined a plan that eventually led to SkyTrain projects such as the Canada Line, Millennium Line and its Evergreen Extension, and the Millennium Line’s future Broadway Extension and Surrey-Langley (Fraser Highway) Extension. A new plan was needed given that these projects are either completed or in the process of being confirmed and implemented, and to address the region’s growing population and economy, and changing interests.

Metro Vancouver’s population is expected to reach 3.8 million by 2050 — up from 2.7 million today. The number of jobs will also rise from 1.4 million to 1.9 million over the same period.

Transport 2050 essentially has five key components, with the largest component being building 300 km of new additional rapid transit.

“If one looks at the history of transit and transportation in this region, for the past 30 or 40 years, the criticism that can be fairly levelled is we didn’t do enough, soon enough, and we weren’t ambitious enough,” said West Vancouver councillor Craig Cameron, who is the district’s representative in the Mayors’ Council, during his remarks.

“Infrastructure like SkyTrain lines took way too long to get built, and we didn’t think big enough. I think the region has suffered from that lack of vision and action on the transit front, and so I am really heartened and even excited by this vision, which I think is appropriately ambitious. It is still realistic, and we’re also shaping the region… the future of the region is going to depend significantly on mobility, and people being able to get around the region as it grows.”

This expansion would grow the region’s rapid transit network from 100 km in 2028 (including the Broadway and Surrey-Langley extensions of SkyTrain) to 400 km by 2050. To achieve this growth, TransLink anticipates most of this rapid transit will be implemented at street level in the form of bus rapid transit (BRT), including the eventual use of automated buses when the technology matures, but there would still be a sizeable expansion of grade-separated rapid transit such as SkyTrain.

translink transport 2050 rapid transit expansion

Transport 2050 plan for additional grade-separated rapid transit (SkyTrain) and bus rapid transit (BRT). Click on the map for an expanded version. (TransLink)

Here is a rundown of the seven project corridors with grade separation:

  1. Surrey-Langley SkyTrain: The $3.95 billion, 16 km, eight-station extension of the Expo Line from King George to Langley Centre is already confirmed, with construction set to begin in 2024 for an opening in 2028.
  2. King George Boulevard: Rapid transit serving the north-south corridor through Surrey City Centre to Newton.
  3. Willingdon/Hastings Street/2nd Narrows: Rapid transit from downtown Vancouver to the North Shore via Hastings Street and the Second Narrows, along Willingdon Avenue reaching Brentwood Town Centre and Metrotown Station. The provincial government recently led a study exploring fixed-link rapid transit options to the North Shore such as SkyTrain extensions.
  4. 41st Avenue/49th Avenue: Rapid transit from UBC to Metrotown Station.
  5. SFU Burnaby Mountain Gondola: Detailed planning is already underway, but the project is in need of funding. TransLink has identified the shortest, most direct route from Production Way-University Station as its preferred route for reasons that include lowest cost, highest ridership potential, and lowest impact on green spaces.
  6. UBC SkyTrain: Extension of the Millennium Line from Arbutus to UBC. The federal and provincial governments have promised to cover 80% of the detailed planning costs of creating a business case.
  7. Port Coquitlam SkyTrain: A possible short two-kilometre-long extension of the Millennium Line from Coquitlam Central Station to Port Coquitlam’s downtown. The Evergreen Extension’s pre-built segments of track at Coquitlam Central Station allows for a future extension towards Port Coquitlam.

Transport 2050’s rapid transit component also identifies a need to provide the Expo Line and Canada Line with capacity relief measures.

As well, it calls for maintaining and enhancing existing heavy passenger rail service, specifically the West Coast Express, by supporting investments that could increase freight and passenger rail reliability, including additional capacity and span of service along existing and potential future passenger rail corridors.

Regional and interregional travel would be further supported by a new network of dedicated express bus routes supported by bus lanes and priority measures, including on regional or provincial highways. Such express bus services would not only link Metro Vancouver, but reach the Fraser Valley, Sea to Sky Corridor to Whistler, BC Ferries’ terminals reaching Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, and Washington State.

translink transport 2050 express buses regional

Transport 2050 plan for express bus routes, and regional and interregional transit connections. Click on the map for an expanded version. (TransLink)

Additional rail-based transit coupled with expansive BRT, express buses, and improved conventional local bus services are all part of the goal of having all residents who live within Metro Vancouver’s urban areas are within a five-minute walk of frequent, all-day, everyday public transit services, which is the second key component of Transport 2050.

Currently, 48% of the region’s residents (1.26 million) and 60% of jobs are within 400 metres from frequent transit services. If all goes as planned, this would increase to 91% of residents (3.34 million) and 88% of jobs (1.58 million) by 2050.

Close walking distance proximity to rapid transit would grow from 16% of residents (0.43 million) and 32% of jobs (0.43 million, as well) today to 55% of residents (2.04 million) and 65% (1.16 million) of jobs by 2050.

The larger public transit network also serves to open up new housing opportunities and improve overall living affordability, by not only making lower cost housing in lower-density areas more accessible by public transit — reaching more areas with employment — but also enabling public transit as a feasible, lower cost transportation option compared to private vehicles.

“This plan also really digs into the affordability issue, which came up in the public consultation process as one of the top concerns our region is facing. Housing affordability is first and foremost, but I think the issue is much broader than that, and there are many in this region that face challenges,” said Jonathan Cote, the mayor of New Westminster and the chair of the Mayors’ Council.

“I think our region has been very successful in increasing density and mixed-use neighbourhoods around transit, but I think if we’ve had any failures in past plans, we’ve failed to make sure the affordability components with housing would match with our transportation investments. This plan makes some whole steps and ambitious towards correcting those issues, ensuring people of all walks of life have access to good transit, and that we’re making space for people who need transit most in our communities have access and can afford to live near transit.”

But implementing these multi-billion dollar public transit expansion plans necessitate significant funding, which is largely dependent on the federal and provincial governments. TransLink does not have a stable, reliable source for funding expansion and improvements, and it is currently challenged by lower ridership as a result of how the pandemic may have changed behaviours over the long term, and lower fuel tax revenues from newer vehicles with fuel efficiency or battery power.

Three other key components of Transport 2050 entail creating more people-first streets for walking, biking, rolling, and public transit, as well as building 850 km of the major bikeway network, and encouraging the use of electric-battery vehicles and shared vehicles.

Major considerations were also given to new and improved arterial road infrastructure, the efficient movement of goods, the eventuality of automated vehicles, and climate-related goals.

Transport 2050 runs in parallel with TransLink’s newly established plan to become net-zero emissions by 2050, including the transition away from fossil-fuel buses when they age to electric-battery buses, the use of renewable fuels for West Coast Express and SeaBus, the introduction of new electric-battery SeaBus vessels, and green design renovations to existing buildings and facilities.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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