Last weekend, I found myself reading a column written by local issues blogger Laila Yuile about her experience with a late night Surrey bus (Surrey transit after dark reveals ‘Boulevard of broken dreams’…( and they wonder why more people don’t take transit), something I’m sure can be shared by a number of people who live in the City of Surrey.
I know personally, as well, that being on the bus in Surrey at night can be a scary and unattractive experience. On the #320 not less than one year ago, I sharing the ride with a loud, bickering man who had his hand hidden inside his jacket pocket, as if to conceal a weapon of some sort (a gun or a knife). I found myself subconsciously moving away and to the back of the bus for the sake of my own safety.
Last night, I took the #321 bus from Surrey Central Station down King George Boulevard on my way home from a meeting with friends in Kitsilano.
It isn’t pretty, my friends.. if you’ve a weak stomach, turn away now – this is your only warning.
Now, transit in Surrey late at night is not that good. The three main routes out of Surrey Central (320, 321, 502) which get FTN (frequent transit network) service levels during the day-time, revert to 30 minute frequencies later at night. I usually find myself arranging for alternate transportation if I’m heading home from the SkyTrain or anywhere in Surrey late at night, although the introduction of the 96 B-Line in September may change that (the 96 will run a full 7.5 minute frequency to approximately 10:30 on all nights, and with 15 minute frequencies thereafter).
I don’t, however, think that the unsafe conditions of Surrey streets and transit late at night should be attributed not exclusively to our low late night transit service levels. It’s important to note that Surrey is not the only place in Metro Vancouver where transit services revert to half hour frequencies late at nights. This happens throughout the freqeunt transit network. On one of the region’s busiest bus routes outside of Vancouver, the #106 (the 106 services the busy Kingsway corridor in Burnaby and Edmonds Town Centre, and 6th St in New West), services run every half hour after 10PM in the same manner as bus routes in Surrey.
One of the problems I’ve always had with Surrey is a lack of any established nightlife. Here in Surrey, we just don’t have a well-lit, active night district just like Vancouver has downtown on Granville Street. It is the lack of this, coupled with the town-centre community model, that results in the entirety of the city (let alone the city centre) becoming what is essentially a dead-zone at night, along with any transit routes traversing major corridors. Crime during the late night is common, and is often reported on the news the next day if there was an incident. No one would dare walk the streets, and anyone who is out so late at night is probably in a car or a cab if not on the bus.
There are reasons that this doesn’t happen in Vancouver.
To start with, there’s a well-established and very active nightlife area in downtown on Granville Street, which creates an incentive for the street to always be well-lit at night – something one may notice upon getting off at Granville or City Centre SkyTrain station.
Also, on Vancouver’s numerous high streets and communities, late night activity tends to be abundant enough throughout the city to ensure that there’s activity if you’re on transit late at night. This is because businesses are concentrated on at-grade transit corridors (or high streets) and there’s late night activity to be found from local businesses even as far south as, say, 41st Ave. These businesses are on transit corridors, and so they are well positioned to serve the demands of people coming home from downtown nightlife districts, in addition to random go-to visitors, and so being open late at night is manageable for a few more businesses than usual.
But, in the City of Surrey, being open late at night seems to be manageable to only one business in this entire city that isn’t a fast-food restaurant or convenience store: the Bubble World in my neighbourhood. Bubble World is really the only business I happen to know in Surrey that is open after midnight, and part of the reason I know this is because it is in my neighbourhood. In Surrey, land use patterns are not the same as they are in Vancouver. There are no high-street corridors where businesses line a major road serviced by transit, and can potentially benefit from that activity. Most commercial development is concentrated in town centres (and not in between them), and so business tends to be very localized outside of the daytime or closed altogether.
A nightlife is simply not well-established for Surrey residents from any part of the city, and so the only large-scale demand for late night public transit is for people who are trying to get home from a SkyTrain station.
The City of Burnaby, by comparison, is also making do with half hour bus services (or worse) away from SkyTrain, but I have always found it to have a much better nightlife and night environment than Surrey does.
The ‘town centres’ in Burnaby are larger, denser, and house more residents; and this creates more localized demand for the sort of nightlife even more prevalent in the denser areas of downtown Vancouver, one that fights the fact that the town centre land-use model is less optimized for night-time business. In the vicinity of Metrotown or Edmonds Town Centres, some areas are actually fairly well-lit and have activity, and I have always felt safer in those areas late at night than I have in Surrey. I have memories from last summer of having a meal at the Cattle Cafe location in Edmonds Town Centre at midnight with some friends, and having absolutely no bad feelings about being there so late at night.
Surrey’s proximity to Vancouver actually does arguably bring a chance that one of those businesses with late night establishments elsewhere in Metro Vancouver opens a late night branch in Surrey. But, at the moment, despite current growth, there really aren’t many incentives for open-at-night activity in Surrey. One can only hope that with the further growth of Surrey City Centre, an established nightlife comes with it.