Surrey – The New Urban Core

Surrey is destined to be the new metropolitan core of our region.  It has the land area and will be the largest municipality in a couple of decades.

The Tyee features current mayor, Dianne Watts, in a recent article.  She has done well for herself since defeating long-time mayor, Doug McCallum, three years ago.  Now she’s up for re-election.

It seems that the key to Surrey is what happens to the Surrey Central/Whalley downtown area of Surrey.  It currently has glimpses of something promising like the SFU tower and Central City shopping centre.  There is a large community centre and bus exchange beside them and a lot of construction of new condo projects.  However, King George Highway is still lined with strip malls and huge parking lots that separate stores from the sidewalks and the road.  It’s a very tough to actually walk from shop to shop outside of Central City Mall.

City of Surrey has had a transit village plan (PDF Summary) for Downtown Surrey for over a year now.  Some of the key elements include shrinking the size of a block so it is more pedestrian friendly instead of built around the idea that you drive from store to store.  There is also a plan to make City Parkway extend all the way from the north of downtown to the south of downtown and run a rapid bus route up and down the street.

There are a lot of great things about the plan, and we can only hope that Surrey will succeed.  As Surrey grows, it will want to preserve it’s large amounts of green space for parks and farming so that Surrey will probably be a more complete community than Vancouver in the future.

In terms of transportation, The Tyee covers some important points of the current plans.

At the moment, the province is proposing a $1.1 billion Skytrain extension and the Gateway freeway expansion as the solution to Surrey’s transportation woes. By encouraging commuters to leave the city, Price warns the projects could “suck the oxygen” out of any plans for a new downtown core.

Mayor Watts has been lobbying for an integrated system of light rail transit in Surrey instead of a Skytrain extension, but she says the transportation minister has been unresponsive. She’s also concerned that Gateway hasn’t been properly integrated into a provincial plan that looks at all the transportation options for the municipality.

The SkyTrain extension is probably going to be a huge waste of money because it will only try to funnel people in North Surrey onto the Expo Line to get to New Westminster, Burnaby, or Vancouver.  It does little to actually help the South of the Fraser communities in general.  A light rail system would be ideal for Surrey and Langley and actually get people moving efficiently in those communities.  For 1.1 billion, you can set up a lot of light rail.  In the meantime, Bus Rapid Transit can be implemented very quickly to get people used to the idea of moving quickly via transit in Surrey.

Paul Hillsdon has such a transit plan on his blog. In fact, he is actually running to become a city councillor.  He is young, but he is very passionate about Surrey and getting transit right.  If I lived in Surrey, I’d likely vote for Paul.  You can see his Paul in ’08 site.

There are some good things starting in Surrey, I hope it keeps going.

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