The Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver areas are expected to grow almost 50 per cent within the next 20 years. That’s an added 150,000 people in the Fraser Valley and 1.4 million in Metro Vancouver.
Where will they all go? According to UBC community planning professor Lawrence Frank, it should be city centres easily accessed by public transit.
“One of the biggest problems that we face is that some of the suburban cities are permitting an incredible amount of development away from transit,” said Frank. “The low density development away from transit is car-dependent, making it difficult for transit to work.”
Getting more people to take transit reduces congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Buses fit more people into less space than cars, while rail transit takes passengers off the road entirely.
According to Statistics Canada, one-fifth of Metro Vancouver residents already take public transit to work.
Soon, even more commuters could be taking transit to work, as south of the Fraser communities introduce two light rail lines with 19 stops stretching over 27 kilometres with a projected ridership of 170,000 people per day.
The City of Surrey’s urban planning department has kicked into overdrive with public consultations on light rail, which is part of the regional mayors’ 10-year vision for transportation.
Surrey community planner Preet Heer said the municipality has been working on how to best integrate new transit lines into an ever-expanding city for years. Surrey is the fastest growing city in Metro Vancouver and its population is expected to grow by 300,000 people over the next three decades.
“The fact is that Surrey is diverse and huge and has lots of areas for growth,” said Heer.
Surrey plans out development by identifying frequent transit corridors in its official community plan, Heer said. Frequent transit is any public transit that comes every 15 minutes or less – bus or rail.
Then, city staff try to align growth along those corridors and in its town centres – such as City Centre and Guildford – by setting out density expectation for developers.
Surrey held three open houses in January for the Surrey Central-Newton-Guildford portion of the light rail lines.
“We’re taking a good hard look at exactly what kind of uses there are along that corridor,” Heer said.
Phase one of the light rail would connect Surrey City Centre and Guildford Town Centre along 104 Avenue, and Surrey City Centre and Newton Town Centre along King George Boulevard.
Heer said the city has already identified gaps along the City Centre-Guildford Town Centre line.
“We’ve identified 104 Avenue as a place where there could be more density,” she said.
There, the process that will take place will be much like what’s occurred in City Centre over the past few years.
“We just completed a plan showing areas where higher densities would be acceptable, as well as other uses that go along with that,” said Heer. “We’re starting to see changes already around the SkyTrain areas in terms of a mix of higher density residential and commercial uses.”