Time to rethink Tsawwassen road access before more development in Southlands and downtown (by Peter van der Velden)

Tsawwassen Google satellite view Mar 2019 - RED LINE

Google Maps image with red line showing 56th Street in Tsawwassen

Intro: In this article Peter Van der Velden points out density, and transportation challenges facing Tsawwassen as big new proposals come forward for residential and commercial developments. He points out that Tsawwassen is isolated from the rest of Metro Vancouver in terms of geography and transportation services, looks at the impacts of proposed developments on road traffic on the main access road into town, and concludes with several recommendations for policy makers. 


Time to rethink Tsawwassen road access before more development in Southlands and downtown (by Peter van der Velden)


As with all communities in Metro Vancouver, Delta is experiencing growth. Decisions by council have been made for densification and two large developments of 900+ units are under way in the Ladner and Tsawwassen area.

It’s always interesting to see where people place themselves in community discussions around these issues. The reality is that most of us are interested in community well-being as well as general quality of life. Naturally, how we qualify or achieve those issues is where we tend to differ. And that can become the basis of disagreement.

The development of residential as well as industrial plans are putting stress on farmland in Canada’s finest climate zone. This is cause for interesting dialogue in the community. There are people that support growth and naturally there are those that oppose the growth, or, at least, the speed of this growth.

Growth brings with it all manner of issues not the least of which is infrastructure needs, cost and adequacy. Are there enough schools, is policing adequate and will the road system, sewer and water supply handle the new requirements?

Similarly, growth can be seen as beneficial. Business looks forward to the possibility of expansion and a successful growth of the supply of goods and services. A strong economy can sustain a community through hard times. It can support employment and community facilities which all add to quality of life.

Business in downtown Tsawwassen and Ladner has been hurt by the build up of the new Tsawwassen Mills Mall. As a result, Council is more seriously looking at densification to assist local businesses to improve commerce in these two areas of Delta.

In terms of traffic infrastructure this brings about a serious concern for both Ladner and Tsawwassen.

Recent development in Ladner has caused serious parking problems along 47th Street. Visibility at intersections has become difficult as a result. This will continue to get worse. For both pedestrians and vehicles, it will be the cause of accidents and frustration and affect quality of life. All of these ‘symptoms’ are created by ‘growth’. However, growth as such does not present progress.


For Tsawwassen, traffic in and out of town is limited at this time to 56th and 52nd Street. 52nd Street is a restrictive two-lane arterial road that serves the upper areas of town and is a direct route to the golf course community and the Mills mall. 56th Street is the main road in and out of the community. This four-lane road accesses Highway 17, leading onto Highway 99 which serves access to Metro Vancouver or the border. However, only two lanes reach the Southlands development at 4th Ave from 6th Ave.

The bulk of traffic moving into and out of Tsawwassen uses 56th Street.Tsawwassen Future Land Use Plan

There should be serious concern in our planning department and council about building up density when we have limited access and egress to Tsawwassen. Both the Southlands development and the mall proposal will add very large amounts of traffic to current statistics. As well, other new housing development and densification in Delta continuous to add to traffic (see later notes).

Both of the Southlands and mall developments are located along 56th Street. Any suggestion that 52nd street should be considered as a means of egress for these developments is unrealistic. 56th street will bear the brunt of traffic for both of these developments.


The first phase of Southlands, when completed will add 950 housing units. These houses will realistically require at least one working person to support the mortgage. It is not unreasonable to assume that this will mean at least an additional 950 automobile trips added to the “rush hour” traffic.

It was suggested by a Century representative that this won’t be the case due to demographics. “Older people will sell their homes and downsize to the Southlands”. Following this logic, they will sell their existing (larger) homes to a younger couple with children. Alternatively, these larger homes could be sold to an extended family. This will mean MORE, not less than 950 cars added to rush hour as at least one adult will be working and children that may be driving to college. Again, the larger percentage of these cars will use 56th Street.

Southlands Master Plan Transportation Review May 2013 coverCouncil is currently basing much of its consideration upon the Southlands Master Plan Transportation Review (see link in references), prepared for Century Group by Bunt & Associates, in May 2013. Note that this was a developer-funded study for the developer, not an independent study commissioned for Council (i.e., for the public interest). The parameters used for the Southlands study were of a generic nature that was supported with “industry standards”. The concern over using these standards brings up one very serious question: Can Tsawwassen be considered to be a standard urban community?

Tsawwassen is isolated from the urban network of Vancouver as well as the two other connecting communities of Surrey and Richmond. In the strictest definition that really makes as a rural and not an urban community.

This creates a direct need for vehicles to those people leaving town for work, school or any number of reasons. Relying on transit is not possible as the transit system does not serve this area in an effective way. To suggest that this could be remedied is naïve at best. One only has to look at how transit to this area has changed over the past 10 years. The truth is that it has been reduced significantly.

The Southlands study maintains that the need for and use of the car is diminishing to less than 2 vehicles per household. This assumption needs to be challenged.

Many of the newer homes developed in Tsawwassen since the Southlands study are large homes. This is not surprising. The lots here are larger and less costly than Vancouver. This appears to be driving families to relocate here. All of these homes have at least double garages and a large percentage of these homes have 3 car garages (see photos above). The need for more cars can be seen in older homes as well. Many homes have 3 and 4 vehicles in the driveway. These observations suggest that the Southlands study is wrong when it states that the ‘number of vehicles per household’ is decreasing.


The City of Delta has undertaken a traffic study. The Southlands traffic study looks at urban areas that, unlike Tsawwassen, are connected or a part of centers such as Metro Vancouver. For one thing, these areas have effective and available transit. Transit, at best, is restricted. As well, Tsawwassen is removed from any reasonable size job market, entertainment and secondary schooling.

For any effective traffic study, these factors need to be taken into account. You cannot apply standardized statistics to this unique location. The Southlands study is a perfect example of this. The results of the study are not born out in real life; we don’t live in a community where fewer vehicles are possible or, for that matter, likely. The need for vehicles is especially true if the goal is to have a young and vibrant population live here.


To take cars off the road, mass transit is desperately needed. However, it is needed now, not 10 years from now. All along the Highway 99 corridor more effective transit would limit the numbers of cars on the road. However, this has historically been avoided by successive governments. This will be the ultimate challenge; to provide transit effective at taking cars off the road.


The driving force behind the Tsawwassen downtown mall proposal is to enhance local business. The developer is proposing three additional residential towers. These towers would add 500 condo units as a part of the plan. Can the local economy add enough jobs to support mortgages for these units? This means a possible additional 500 traffic units to the 950 units from the Southlands added to the existing traffic. 56th Street cannot sustain this level of traffic.

Even when 1450 traffic units are spread over a rush hour period it presents a significant traffic increase. These numbers alone will mean little to the average commuter. Put into recognizable language it will make traffic in and out of Tsawwassen look like traffic in and out of the Massey Tunnel.

As such, it is hard to believe the mall project will actually enhance local business. With the additional traffic it is questionable if anyone will get in and out of their cars to buy a loaf of bread let alone non-essentials. Walking traffic to these businesses will likely have to sustain them. Will that be enough? Will it actually create the “green heart” the developer is hoping to achieve?

In addition to residential vehicle traffic what about commercial traffic? Deliveries to supply the various new commercial needs will add further stress to the traffic system. The current proposal for a 200 seat bar with additional winery and distillery in the Southlands would add an additional traffic load. That is the first commercial proposal for that area, and more are likely to come.


• It is for these reasons that any development proposed at the mall as well as additional phases of the Southlands site should be put on hold, at least until a credible study can show that the traffic infrastructure will be able to actually handle ALL of the growth and the ensuing traffic volumes.

• If the idea is really to “re-energize the retail environment” or create a “green heart” to town, the planning department needs to get more involved with the public. Adding more density and traffic and little in the way of an actual “active downtown core” will only diminish quality of life.

• There are good planning models out there and many of them have been achieved without excessive traffic build-up (see links below). It is really up to the planning department working with council, committees and the local merchants to ensure that this can be achieved.

• The current drive by a hired consultant relies heavily on densification. If we don’t have the infrastructure to support more density, this limited outlook will fail in the long run. We can’t rely on the development community to dictate growth or community direction. We need an open-ended strategy that looks at all elements of growth to ensure it presents actual progress and not just growth.

• Work with the communities along the Highway 99 corridor to convince the Province that transit improvements will help everyone. We are being taxed for transit and getting minimal benefits.


(This article was contributed by Tsawwassen resident Peter van der Velden, who has written several previous articles for MetroVanWatch on development and transportation issues affecting Delta, including the popular “The $3 billion hoodwink: George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project” of August 2014, and “Bridging Troubled Waters: The Industrialization of the Fraser” in February 2016.)


Southlands Master Plan Transportation Review, prepared for Century Group, by Bunt & Associates, May 14, 2013.

Examples of Downtown Revitalization Programs

Strategies will transform city’s downtown

Ten things every successful small town downtown does

Four big ideas for small downtown revitalization (Perhaps more applicable to Ladner, has many links to other ideas and websites geared to this level of information)

A vision for Ladner Village


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