The Story of Willoughby’s 208th Street: The Last Decade

It’s difficult enough for those of us who attend every council meeting and follow the news as closely as possible to track everything going on, so I can only imagine where the general public might be on the status of Willoughby’s 208th Street. Below is a semi-brief outline of what’s going on with Willoughby’s perceived problematic corridor, including what’s been done so far (this post), actions of Council this term, including Councillor Woodward’s plan (next post), and my own alternative (in a future post).

Background

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Historical “Dominion Map, 1958” from Roads & Other Place Names in Langley, B.C. (Maureen L. Pepin)

Historically named Alexander Road after George Alexander, who owned 160 acres east of 208th in the late 19th century & John (his son?) Alexander who owned 160 acres west of 208th after the turn of the century. 208th Street is the primary North-South arterial road for the populous Yorkson neighbourhood and is a connection between Walnut Grove, Willoughby/Willowbrook, and Langley City. Since the Township of Langley requires development to pay for development, 208th Street, as with other arterial roads, must wait for development sites to be complete to finish various sections of the road. Since the Township of Langley did not institute a planned phased development mechanism in Willoughby, this has led to a patchwork of lane completions along the corridor.

What’s Been Done & What’s Getting Done

208th Street Overpass
208th Street Overpass

The former 2-lane overpass that was between Willoughby and Walnut Grove from 84th Avenue to 88th Avenue was widened to 4 lanes and officially opened in May 2018. Travelling southbound, 208th Street is 100% complete with 2 wider-than average lanes, left turning lanes and a bike lane from the overpass to 82nd Avenue. But at 82nd Avenue, we lose one lane where Polygon’s “Union Park” apartment condos are currently being developed. Interestingly enough, there is seldom any congestion here despite the loss of a lane. Either way, we can expect this section to be complete in the next 2 years. This single lane is a single lane for one block. From 8100 block to Willoughby Town Centre Drive, the road is complete again with a 2-lane “racetrack” & bike lane in front of Willoughby Elementary school with no road calming measures or School Zone.

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At WTC Drive is where some minor congestion going southbound can occasionally start to build. From the 7600 Block to WTC Drive, there are a number of active developments (See here and here) that will also see completion in the next couple years. Moving southbound from 7600 to 72nd Avenue, however, there are no current applications. That said, once traffic clears the 1/2 block of merging after WTC Drive, congestion along this corridor is rare until around 74B Avenue. It should be noted that from 80th Avenue until 74B Avenue, there are no connector roads that run from 208th Street to 202A Street, at least not until 77A/78th Avenue & 76th Avenue are fully complete. Thankfully, 78th Avenue should connect to 202A Street in the next couple years as a number of Qualico applications should complete this crucial corridor (and one reason I am NOT in favour of fast tracking applications along arterial roads). Hopefully the Township of Langley keeps children in mind as build this strategic connector road knowing that it will be heavily populated with teens and pre-teens and not create more problematic intersections such as 208th and 80th or anything done on 72nd Avenue.

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The unfinished intersection at 72nd Avenue and 208th Street is where the heaviest congestion travelling southbound is along the corridor. There is one travel lane moving south, no right turn lane, and one truncated left turn lane. This important intersection is the gateway to Milner, Murrayville and Highway 1 leading to Aldergrove. Not to mention, it is often the preferred route to Fort Langley via Glover Road (this preference, however, has been mitigated by the connection at 80th Avenue, allowing most of Yorkson better access east – however, as this route is not yet appropriate for highway access, Yorkson residents will still use 72nd Avenue until the 216th Street interchange is open).

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208th Street & 72nd Ave

Going straight, 208th Street leads to Willowbrook & Langley City, whereas turning right leads to the rest of Willoughby, 200th Street, & Cloverdale). This problem is directly related to the delay of the Smith plan. By not following a Grandview (South Surrey) like version of phasing along arteries, the Township of Langley allowed for Smith to become a crossroads between developed and developing neighbourhoods. The problem at this junction is not the consistent travel in any one of these three directions, but rather the accumulation of them. If you travel in any one direction from this point, there is basically no congestion after the intersection even though there are single lanes in each of the three routes.

Between 72nd Avenue and 65th Avenue (think Costco as your landmark), there is a single lane all the way down and, again, congestion is very rare. For review purposes, pulling an illegal U-turn here to go back northbound from 65th Avenue, there is a single lane with ALR on your right (east) up until just past 68th Avenue. At this segment, we hit Vesta Properties “Milner Heights” community where there is actually two lanes, but the right hand lane is rarely used for travelling – and there is no parking allowed. So even though there is zero congestion and therefore next to no use of the second lane between 68th and 70th Avenue, there is no parking allowed in front of rowhomes. At 70th Avenue, the two lanes continue, but a third parking lane opens up for this section of rowhomes. Over the last few years, this second lane between 70th and about 7100 block has been basically a merging lane during Milner Heights development.

This merging lane was generally unused up until recently because there was no point to go back and forth since it ended so far away from the 72nd intersection. This again created significant congestion at 72nd and 208th Street – the same problematic intersection as travelling Southbound. However, the Milner Heights homes along 208th, including the Lattice2 building, are basically complete and this will allow for traffic to diverge to the three destinations: west to 200th/Surrey, east to Glover/Hwy 1, and north to Yorkson and Walnut Grove – all three provide immediate single lane traffic. Admittedly, however, going northbound from 72nd is more of a grind during peak hours than it is on the southbound side.

208th Street northbound from 72nd to 76th Avenue is a single lane road without a single application among the 15 properties that front the east side of 208th Street – probably because that is the Smith NCP. If there was a chief city planner in the Township I would be scratching my head at this, but there isn’t, so moving on.

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7600 Block of 208th Street (East): Nice sidewalk, fire hydrant, transit shelter

Then between 76th Avenue to about the 7800 block, a single travel lane remains despite there having been finished development, complete with inaccessible fire hydrants, transit shelters, and sidewalks behind concrete barriers. This is probably because utilities still have to be done up the corridor, and until properties until 80th Avenue are complete, it doesn’t make much sense to open and close up lanes. The good news for those concerned with this section is that there are 2 active applications of the 4 properties. However, you’re still going to have several controlled intersections back to back.

Just as in between 7600-7800, the roads between WTC Drive and 80th Avenue are also complete, but mainly used for construction parking, again, due to incomplete utilities. Medium congestion can build at the WTC Drive and 80th Avenue lights, but rarely would anyone wait more than one light at either of these. So if drivers are thinking that expanding 208th Street into 4 lanes all the way is going to create a mini-freeway where they can blast through, they’re probably mistaken. The primary difference between 200th Street (where there is a fair bit of stop-go as well) is that this is primarily a medium density residential corridor, whereas 200th Street is, so far, mainly light industrial from the highway until 72nd Avenue with very few residences diverting from the path. This means 200th Street only stops traffic at the arterial connectors (80th and 72nd). 208th Street, on the other hand, requires many more connectors and therefore will always have more stop-go traffic which will always create congestion and wait times – a problem widening the street will not fix.

Going northbound from 80th Avenue, there are technically two travel lanes, but just like south of 7100 block, the second lane is rarely used, again, because it merges at the 8100 block again. There are 5 properties between 8100 and 8300 block fronting 208th Street with one 3-year old application involved. However, for the most part, traffic flows steadily through here because splitting into 2 lanes in front of some single family homes just before 84th Avenue. This second lane becomes a right turn only lane at 84th Avenue the same point that there is a left turn lane towards Yorkson Middle School – basically what needs to be emulated southbound on 72nd Avenue. With the twinning of the 208th Street overpass, traffic flows as suspected as west-east connector roads cease until the bridge is crossed.

When Streets Get Political

Back in late 2009, the Township of Langley finalized its Master Transportation Plan which proposed an odd truck route up 208th Street from Langley City, passing current Township truck routes at 64th and 72nd Ave before veering right around 73A  Avenue and snaking its way through some road that doesn’t exist and will never exist to 80th Avenue. So with the understanding that a truck route status going up the actual road of 208th Street would provide funding from Translink, staff showed off an alternative truck plan to the public in May of 2010. Hundreds of emails and letters were written to council and a month later, Mayor Green and council canned the truck route. My understanding is that this potential funding was to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, nothing like what is needed to complete 208th Street.

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Proposed Truck Route in the 2009 Master Transportation Plan

Back in late 2009, the Township of Langley finalized its Master Transportation Plan which proposed an odd truck route up 208th Street from Langley City, passing current Township truck routes at 64th and 72nd Ave before veering right around 73A  Avenue and snaking its way through some road that doesn’t exist and will never exist to 80th Avenue. So with the understanding that a truck route status going up the actual road of 208th Street would provide funding from Translink, staff showed off an alternative truck plan to the public in May of 2010. Hundreds of emails and letters were written to council and a month later, Mayor Green and council canned the truck route. My understanding is that this potential funding was to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, nothing like what is needed to complete 208th Street.

Every election season since then, 208th Street became a major issue, but Willoughby’s voting numbers were relatively small. In 2014, my peer Solon Bucholtz was among one of the candidates that aggressively campaigned on fixing Willoughby’s traffic solutions (with his notable “TRAFFIC SUCKS” signage), but even the young REALTOR with a famous last name could only grab a few thousand votes – mostly from Willoughby. Of course, following the 2014 election an attempt to look into costs came up with some astronomical figures that allowed that Mayor and Council to all but shelve any solutions. But 2018 was a different story.

Now officially the largest neighbourhood in Langley with almost 8,000 people moving to Willoughby in 4 years, and a population base that was few years older and more likely to vote, smart candidates listened to what Willoughby wanted and 208th Street was a sure winner. Following some Facebook comments of mine, Matthew Claxton interviewed me in early 2018 as I continued to argue that the completion of 208th Street is a red herring:

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Brad Richert on 208th Street, photo by Matthew Claxton, Langley Advance

“Some of the older areas of Willoughby, like Yorkson east of 208th Street, don’t have nearly enough connectivity, Richert argues.

The Langley realtor said the whole area needs more of a grid-based system to allow traffic to get off the main arterial roads like 208th Street. At present, no north-south roads other than 200th or 208th allow traffic to get all the way through Willoughby from 72nd Avenue to 86th.” –Brad Richert, Langley Advance

However, the ball was rolling and my academic arguments don’t mean much in the political realm. Drivers don’t like traffic, they see an incomplete road and they want it done. Early in 2018, Councillor Petrina Arnason asked for an updated study on the road and then former-Councillor Steve Ferguson, who was an obvious candidate for 2018, wrote an op-ed suggesting a few ideas to pay for it without endorsing one, only that it couldn’t fall back on higher taxes or long term debt.

In July of 2018, Councillor Arnason’s requested report asking for costing details to complete 208th Street along the Willoughby corridor came back with an estimated cost of $83 million. The timing of the report was perfect fodder for the 2018 municipal election. We now knew how much it was going to cost and it was up to candidates to convince the voter they could come up with a solution.

Harold Whittell 208th Street
2018 Council Candidate Harold Whittell 208th Street campaign

As the election approached, several first time candidates joined Arnason and Ferguson in aggressively campaigning to tackle the perceived problem of 208th Street. Harold Whittell, Michael V. Pratt and Eric Woodward all campaigned heavily with promises to address 208th Street. In fact, of the candidates who answered my questionnaire, only Councillor Bob Long stood out as someone who didn’t feel this was a priority:

“Grid lock is a part of life these days so there is no easy answer. I think the traffic woes are equally or more obvious on other routes in and around the region. As the Willoughby neighbourhoods near completion, more walkability will give residents choices rather than always the single trip in an automobile. There simply are never ‘enough’ when it comes to roads as the supply of folks in cars to fill them is never ending as people transverse the region.” – Councillor Bob Long

Proving himself a formidable campaigner, Woodward easily made it on council and immediately set to work on a number of his campaign promises. 6 months after his election win, Councillor Woodward offered two proposals that directly affect 208th Street: 1) fast-tracking applications that front onto Willoughby’s arterial roads and 2) paying for arterial roads through a new amenity contribution, similar to the way the Township funds greenspaces and other community amenities. In my next post, I’ll cover the details of these two plans, including their advantages, as well as some critiques.

Part 2 Coming Soon – The Story of Willoughby’s 208th Street: The Woodward Plan

Part 3 Coming Soon – The Story of Willoughby’s 208th Street: An  Alternative Solution

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