Growing Surrey needs transit: Mayor
Dianne Watts calls for light rail, fair road tolls
Surrey has grown 18 per cent in five years, three times faster than the national average. Pockets have boomed: Clayton Heights has grown an astonishing 239 per cent.
“We’ve evolved . . . to become a city unto our-selves with a population of about half-a-million people. We need to think differently about how we plan,” Watts said during her 2012 state of the city address at the Sheraton Guildford Hotel on Tuesday.
Watts said better transit within the city is a priority or there will be 40 per cent more gridlock by 2040 as the population soars to 750,000 from its current 468,250 – with 50 per cent more cars but only 12 per cent more road capacity.
“When we are faced with the growth that we have had, exponentially, we’ve seen the challenges in that,” Watts said.
To cope, the city is promoting density with smaller lots, new zoning for secondary suites and coach houses, more townhouses and con-dos, and urbanization of town centres.
The mayor was adamant Surrey needs light rail to prosper.
“I think that it is something that we really want here south of the Fraser. It shapes our community . . . so we are not going to give up.”
She rejected TransLink’s view that more buses or rapid buses were the solution, nor did she want to pay for an expensive SkyTrain extension to Langley. For less than the $2-billion price tag of a SkyTrain extension, Watts noted, Surrey could have three light-rail (LRT) routes running along 104th Avenue, Fraser Highway and King George Boulevard.
“We’ve seen that [LRT] technology work all over the world, and I don’t know what we are missing here,” she said.
Watts stressed that Surrey and other Fraser Valley commuters must not be penalized by heavy bridge tolling.
“Our position has been that in an ideal world we do not want tolls,” she said. But if tolls are the future, the province and TransLink must ensure they’re fair and equitable, tolling roads like the improved Sea-to-Sky Highway, too, she said.
Tolls need to be affordable, at 75 cents to $1 per trip, she said, adding it was important to ensure “that the people south of the Fraser are not being penalized, because currently they are.”
Meanwhile, Surrey residents interviewed on Tuesday by The Province said they like what they’re seeing in their burgeoning city.
Devin Hughes, 26, moved to Whalley from Calgary in August 2011 to attend Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus.
“Everybody was saying it used to be pretty bad around here,” said Hughes. “But from what I can see, it seems like a really nice area now with brand new condos. It looks like it’s really redeveloped and turned around.”
Longtime Surrey resident Cathy Eiswerth lives in Newton and likes Watts’s light-rail transit idea.
“It’s better to have more transit, but I think that the level of improvement we’ve had thus far is pretty good,” said Eiswerth.
“I think whatever gets us more transit quicker is what I’m in favour of.”
As Vancouver housing prices continue to rise, Mayor Gregor Robertson’s office has released a set of recommendations to address affordability.
Fast-tracking development permits for affordable rentals, zoning for more rental housing in the Cambie corridor and using city land for non-profit and co-op housing were among the suggestions put forward in a preliminary report released this week by the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordability.
The task force is focusing on measures to ease housing costs for those with incomes ranging from around $21,500 a year for individuals up to $86,500 for combined-income households.
Task force chairwoman Olga Ilich said in a statement that “there is no magic solution to housing affordability in Vancouver, but these initial recommendations will put the city on a clearer path” to its goals.