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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Vancouver to rebuild Granville Island streetcar route

with 23 comments



This is a bit puzzling. The City says it will spend money but Translink is unhappy? And where is this “Broadway Avenue” – they cannot mean that an infrequent heritage streetcar on Lamey’s Mill is going to threaten the viability of the bursting at the seams, over crowded B Line?

Can they?

The City of Vancouver will spend $8.5 million to revamp a streetcar line between Granville Island and the future Olympic Village, at Canada Line Skytrain Station at Second Avenue.

City staff hope the line will provide a green and efficient way of getting tourists to Granville Island during the Olympic games, and they hope to work with TransLink, the regional transportation authority, to make that happen.

TransLink staff, however, have already expressed concerns about the proposal, saying it will compete for funding from provincial and federal governments because it will effectively duplicate the bus service already running along nearby Broadway Avenue.

Eventually, the city hopes to extend the service north through Chinatown and Gastown, with one fork turning to run westward all the way out to Stanley Park and the other fork heading south into Yaletown.


UPDATE Mrach 13 there is a bit more detail in this week’s Straight

Written by Stephen Rees

March 11, 2008 at 4:43 pm

Posted in transit

23 Responses

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  1. City council approved a modern streetcar demonstration project between Granville Island and the Canada Line station at Cambie & 2nd Ave.

    It will overlap the 50 False Creek South bus route and a little of the 84 UBC/VCC-Clark, but Broadway routes? Bzzzt. Try again.

    BTW, the two private ferry operators on False Creek came out to speak in favour of the Downtown Streetcar.


    March 11, 2008 at 5:29 pm

  2. This is nothing more than a glorified heritage streetcar line, not a serious attempt to give another ‘real’ transit option. There is nothing wrong with a heritage line, but do not try to sell it as a transit option. TransLink is worried because, they certainly do not want any streetcar or light rail operating anywhere in the ‘metro’ region, simply because it would show how over priced their cherished SkyTrain is. A properly built and run streetcar line would show 30 years of inept planning and very questionable statements by the bureaucracy.

    As I said on the Bill Good show this AM, “If you want a viable streetcar operation in the city, for god sakes don’t let TransLink or the City of Vancouver be involved.” TransLink has absolutely no experience with LRT/streetcar and rely on consultants who equally do not have any experience with the mode. Most of their claims for/against streetcar/LRT are from studies 30 to 40 years old!

    If the city wants a heritage line, so be it, let the city of Vancouver pay for it. Certainly Bombardier Inc. could throw in a few million because we are again building with their obsolete proprietary light metro system.

    Vancouver city councillor Susan Anton is hinting that there could be streetcars operating on the Arbutus Corridor, such hypocrisy, as it was the NPA who lit their collective hairs on fire when there was a hint of LRT operation on the same route.

    As for streetcars on Broadway, well in Helsinki Finland, their modest streetcar (tramway)system offers a peak hour capacity of about 20,000 pphpd on one of the main thoroughfares in the city centre.

    The Hong Kong Tramway’s carry over 80 million passengers a year in their quaint double deck tram cars.

    Personally, I would like to see a streetcar operation in Vancouver, but what I see is a demonstration in mediocrity.

    Malcolm J.

    March 11, 2008 at 6:02 pm

  3. Broadway overlap? Uhh, no.

    Still seems like a silly expenditure on the city’s part, though.


    March 11, 2008 at 6:24 pm

  4. Helsinki has a much lower density than the City of Vancouver (similar population in a larger area) but its sparseness has made it “one of the most car-dependent major cities in Europe” (says Wikipedia). I think we took a train from Jyvaskyla to Helsinki (270 km) during our trip in 2000. They’ve got a coast-to-coast network there… serving a population of only 5.3 million!

    TransLink is going to have to face their past one of these days. They can’t keep digging a bigger hole.

    Check out Falcon’s bio:
    “He fought to ensure the 1.9 billion dollar Canada Line would get built. The Minister is also steering the Lower Mainland Gateway transportation Project, a three billion dollar initiative that will ensure British Columbia’s potential as the Asia-Pacific Gateway to North America is realized.” He “fights” to “ensure” things happen because he won’t have it any other way. Does he have any guilt about the past — does he know that LRT is cheaper?

    Erika Rathje

    March 11, 2008 at 7:32 pm

  5. Falcon doesn’t care, because he and his government want big show case transit projects to sell their P-3 spin. That the international banks refused to fund RAV (lend SNC Lavalin) is forgotten and the story not pursued by the media.

    RAV is now $2.4 billion and climbing and if the Cambie St. Merchants are successful in their lawsuits, the cost of RAV will rise even more. Capital costs are forgotten and at $200 million+ and climbing, the annual subsidy will soon equal a new light rail line every year.

    Here is a big surprise, we are all being told to densify for better transit, yet we have an example of Helsinki, a low density city with a rather large LRT/tramway/streetcar network. Vancouver could have the same, if we had not thrown all our transit money at SkyTrain.

    Malcolm J.

    March 11, 2008 at 8:46 pm

  6. Don’t confuse streetcars with LRT. This proposal is certainly the former. It will be slow, operating largely in mixed traffic – the exception of course being Phase 0. TransLink is concerned because it will compete with the Broadway West Rapid transit project – for FUNDING, not ridership.

    In fact, as far as ridership goes I’m afraid the city of Vancouver’s ambitious streetcar project is a dud. I’m all for streetcars & LRTs, however in this case I don’t see how we as a region can justify spending the kind of money proposed here for the extremely small returns in terms of new transit riders. Based on that metric, other projects across the region (especially South of the Fraser) would come much sooner.

    Instead, this has all the hallmarks of railfans playing connect the dots of interesting tourist spots (Granville Island, Science World, Gastown, Stanley Park), rather than any rational transit planning ridership analysis. Don’t be fooled by the Portland streetcar example where funding models are entirely different, and the project was essentially an economic development tool. We hardly need to spend taxpayer dollars to increase the attractiveness of development in downtown Vancouver. Instead what we sorely need is a cheaper way to move more people by transit. If that’s your interest, then focus your energies & support on proposed regional rapid transit corridors (Broadway, Hastings, 41st, King George Highway, Fraser Hwy, 200th St, etc..) as the right place for LRT. But the streetcar? Give me a break.

    Milton Mayer

    March 11, 2008 at 9:32 pm

  7. Only we don’t have the rail links like old cities like Helsinki has. Comparing European cities to North American ones is stupid. Cities like Helsinki implemented rail quickly and while it was still an enfant, while rail here was a well oiled machine, with no real use other than to move goods east or west, it was never used to get city to city. LRT in those cities used existing byways for rail, not rail that hasn’t been used for sixty years.

    And to say that using Arbutus for LRT is a complete joke, you would never get the ridership to make it worthwhile there. There’s simply not enough density/attactions/businesses along it.

    Mark B.

    March 11, 2008 at 9:41 pm

  8. Mark B’s comments are astonishingly inaccurate. The railways in North America were the main mode for passenger transport displacing both the stage coach and the river boats. At the end of the nineteenth century investors started buying up and building new lines to run electric interurbans – a technology developed from streetcars and other urban railways. They formed a dense network and started the huge growth of suburban and exurban development, long before the freeways. In the 1940’s 1950s they were nearly all shutdown, as the a direct result of the activities of the car makers and their allies. The North East Corridor is one of the few examples of good intercity passenger rail service since the PRR had electrified early – something other railroads were reluctant to do. But intercity passenger service was legendary – and the Amtrak system is merely a faint shadow of what were once the premier passenger trains in the world. Distance here was of course the issue, and the huge subsidies that the airline business enjoyed as American communities competed to build airports.

    As for the Vancouver tram competing for funds with the Broadway subway, that is also nonsense. The province will do that with another P3 of course. As with all the other extensions of ALRT, Translink will have only a very minor role – it might be allowed to build bus loops at some of the stations. You can also say farewell to the #9 trolleybus, and the current direct bus services to UBC from other places

    The False Creek route is an entirely different market. What would really impress me would be a commitment to reduce the amount of parking on Granville Island.

    Stephen Rees

    March 12, 2008 at 8:30 am

  9. Mark, even TransLink admitted there was more density along the Arbutus corridor, than along Cambie Street, that’s why they always used the ‘destination’ argument for RAV. Just what density is needed for LRT? TransLink never gives an answer. Is it 2,000 persons per sq, km. or more?

    Here is another hint; If we do not have the density for LRT, we certainly do not have the density for SkyTrain, a fact that TransLink wishes to forget.

    In the 21st century, the difference between a streetcar and LRT, is that the former operates on-street, with or without signal preemption at intersections. LRT operates on what is called a ‘reserved rights-of-way” (not to be confused with a grade separated R-O-W), which can be as simple as a HOV lane with rails or a median R-O-W. The Arbutus corridor is an excellent example of a reserved R-O-W.

    Streetcars can handle very heavy loads, when the need arises and in many cities, peak hour capacities reach or even surpass 20,000 pphpd! What is happening in North America is that people confuse streetcars with heritage streetcars and I think this is what is happening in Vancouver. A heritage streetcar line may provide a fun tourist trip, but is not a serious attempt to give a realistic transit option.

    In Europe in the 60’s and 70’s, there was great debate that many city tramways would be history by the yet 2000, as new and posh subways would make them redundant. Many subway schemes went broke (at one time in the 80’s there was 100 km of uncompleted subway tunnels in Europe) and when they were completed, overall ridership on the transit system dropped. For many, the convenient local tram, became the inconvenient subway or S-Bahn, and taking the car was that much easier.

    Modern LRT, with low-floor cars, operating on reserved R-O-W’s reversed this trend simply because they could provide a comparable journey time with a metro, yet cost a fraction to build. Many streetcar or tramway systems were upgraded to light rail status by simply providing a few kilometres of R-O-W’s in strategic areas, yet still retaining on-street trackage in city centres.

    We can compare European cities with ours, only in Vancouver, we are about 40 years behind the times. (Dresden streetcars in the snow) (Low-floor trams) (Paris trams) Milan trams on-street) (Lisbon 13.7% grades and close headway’s)

    Malcolm J.

    March 12, 2008 at 9:08 am

  10. Further to Stephen’s response to Mark B., here’s a description of the former ubiquity of streetcars in North America, and an explanation of how the automobile industry deliberately destroyed that investment. Via a recent post on Salon.

    Regarding Granville Island, cut the parking. Please. Because I hate parking there. I have never understood the praise for that place. It’s basically an outdoor mall with the cars on the inside. Only a specific errand ever persuades me to go. I want to get in and get out, so I drive (the curse of car culture everywhere). I don’t like driving there, I don’t like parking there, and I don’t like dodging cars while on foot. If it was a pleasant pedestrian-oriented space, I might actually spend some time and taking transit might be worth it. I would also consider transit if it had a better connection or if the walk from Broadway wasn’t a trek through a lonely wasteland of asphalt and traffic.


    March 12, 2008 at 9:43 am

  11. Granville Island has reduced the number of free three-hour parking spaces, turning them into pay parking spots. I can see that trend continuing until there is no longer any free parking. And once the demand for parking is reduced, the parking spaces can be developed into other uses; I think more artist studios would work well.


    March 12, 2008 at 9:44 am

  12. The Arbutus line serves the Kerrisdale shopping district, Arbutus Village mall, which is going to be redeveloped at higher density, the Arbutus Walk neighbourhood, the Fourth Avenue shopping area, and eastern Kits, which is quite dense. The tracks also eventually come within about three blocks of the Marine Drive Canada Line station, and continue on to New Westminster.


    March 12, 2008 at 9:52 am

  13. This is bringing back memories.

    In 1962 my mother took my brother and I to Vancouver from Calgary by train. We were very impressionable kids. I remember the stunning scenery (sunrise over a misty Shushwap lake …), the freight trains pulling over for our very long passenger train to pass, the superb dining car service that included excellent food served on Sterling silver, and the remarkable Vancouver CPR Station with oil paintings of mountain landscapes mounted high up by the clerestory windows. It’s sad to realize the only thing that remains is the terminus, now the Waterfront Station. At least they kept the paintings.

    That trip planted the seed to move here in the 70s. I’ve lived in five inner city neighbourhods since, one of them adjacent to Granville Island for a decade. I didn’t own a car during that period, and it was a 3-minute door-to-desk commute on foot to work. I took the ferry and walked downtown when I switched jobs. From that experience I’ve concluded that South False Creek is a fantastic, model walkable community.

    The proposed streetcar is not necessary to the success of SFC and the downtown communities it would pass through, at least not for transportation or community form. It would be only complementary and ornamental, and would modestly benefit tourism. If these factors stand by themselves, then it’s an expensive toy.

    However, if it was implemented as a first step to its eventual expansion with modern streetcars to other neighbourhoods on existing arterials (Granville, Main, Kingsway, Arbutus corridor …), then now we’re onto something because it would surely stimulate more transit-oriented development. (Doing so on the surface on Broadway, though, would have debateable results.)

    South Vancouver and Kerrisdale could really use a stimulus to change to a more sustainable model — to depart from large single lots — while protecting its heritage. Density alone won’t cut it, especially if it’s perceived to be contrary to the already-performed community vision and shoved down a neighbourhood’s throat and not linked to the essentials like transit.

    Building a streetcar system on arterials could perhaps be the biggest contribution to community acceptance of increased density.

    A note on funding. I think the fact that funding distribution between transit modes has become the subject for much infighting is indicative of how futile and circular that persective really is. The real issue is the chronic absense of senior government funding for public transit compared to private transportation. Our fight isn’t against SkyTrain or subways or “heritage” streetcars or buses or jitneys or skateboards, it’s first and foremost against the car and its worldwide production which has resulted in debilitating effects of biblical proportions and sucks the life out of every municipal and regional public budget.


    March 12, 2008 at 11:02 am

  14. Agreed re: GI parkimng. While I used to live within a 5-minute walk of Granville Island and really appreciated it, I now hate driving there. The area devoted to dead spaces for cars is excessive, and if the streetcar helps to remove cars, then let’s do it.


    March 12, 2008 at 11:08 am

  15. To be frank, I agree with the proposal for this streetcar. While I understand the rationale behind trying to sell it as a ‘green, sustainable’ option (and I agree, this would be really a fallacy), I thoroughly would enjoy travelling on this streetcar, for a couple of reasons.

    a) It’s false that this proposal duplicates coverage on Broadway. And for the record, even if it did, you have to transfer THREE buses and walk 11 blocks to achieve the same goal (walk 10 blocks from Granville Island to Broadway, take the 9 east, get off at Main and Broadway, take the 3 Main north, transfer at Main Street/Science World skytrain to a C23 Davie Street (I did count correctly, you walk another block to the C23).

    b) This would provide a link that is already provided by AquaBus (true, but the fact is, the streetcar would probably have more capacity to move people around).

    And I should stop here as many other commenters have already made more cogent and articulate suggestions.


    March 12, 2008 at 1:44 pm

  16. Ooops, before somebody rebuts my comment, I recognize that the street car would have much more coverage than what I just described in my comment. I was just thinking of ways of getting to basically BC Place and that area (Chinatown/Yaletown borders)


    March 12, 2008 at 1:50 pm

  17. I think the primary role of the streetcar (vis-a-vis the transit network) will be as a feeder to the Canada Line and Skytrain – but that assumes there is fare integration with Translink.

    The problem I see is that the streetcar will take a slow circuitious route that would be more quickly tarvelled by Canada Line or by Skytrain.
    If you examine the destinations – Waterfront Station, Yaletown Roundhouse Station, Main Street Station, BC Place Stadium & 2nd Ave. Station, the streetcar route duplicates many destinations already served by rapid transit.
    No one will ride the streetcar from 2nd Ave. station to Yaletown Roundhouse Station – it’s one stop on the Canada Line.
    Likewise, no one will ride the streetcar from 2nd Ave. station to Waterfront Station – it’s only 3 stops on the Canada Line.
    Of course that depends on fare integration with Translink if the streetcar is used as a feeder line.
    Without fare integration, the accessibility of the Canada Line and Skytrain stations by foot makes the streetcar an easily avoidable extra fare.

    The only real destinations on the streetcar will be the ones not served by rapid transit -Granville Island, east Gastown/Chinatown (which are served by the Main St. bus) and Stanley Park.
    In the absence of fare integration, a rider may ride the loop just to avoid an extra fare.
    With fare integration, you’ll see a lot of transfers at 2nd Ave. Station and Main St. Station to Granville Island, and eventually the same at Waterfont Station headed to Stanley Park. Gastown could also become a destination, although Waterfront Sttaion serves its western side.

    Alternatively, the streetcar could be free – like it is in Portland for its downtown zone – that would certainly boost ridership.

    Ron C.

    March 13, 2008 at 3:31 am

  18. At one time they wanted to extend the streetcar service west under the Burrard Bridge to the planetarium and Vancouver Museum. I’m not sure what happened to that idea. Someone has since built a magnificent bandit garden right on the tracks at 1st x Fir.

    If it is to terminate at 2nd Ave x Anderson / Lamey’s Mill and go no further. then I think they should take a sharp right and bring the thing right into the heart of Granville Island.

    Someone also suggested a few years back that a huge staircase and bicycle elevator should decend onto the Island from the overhead Granville Bridge.

    Again, I see it as currently proposed as merely a tourist moving device. But it will have some convenient stops at rapid transit stations, and therefore as Ron pointed out should have fare integration.


    March 13, 2008 at 9:15 am

  19. The Vanier Park extension as well as Arbutus are probably in the longer term.
    The Starbucks @ Granville Island is built on the ROW, but I understand that the line can be diverted into the street at that location to continue west.
    Crossing the reserve lands under the Burrard Bridge to get to Vanier Park could be an issue – although the line would benefit eventual development there.

    Ron C.

    March 13, 2008 at 11:26 am

  20. have not any of you figured it out yet –the IOC (olympic organizing committee ) has given gordon campbell another little nudge — like the one to spend 200million dollars on a retractable roof for bc place, mearly so the olympic flame can burn continously inside the( ready for replacement ) bc place — no one is serious about creating light rail! its a pleasent novelty for olympic visitors ( bc cannot be out done by bejing!) the only problem is bejing workers get paid 2 to 5 dollars a day,even for tradesmen or tradewomen– you cant compete with that! why do you think the entire western hemisphere has lost the manufactoring battle ! one last point -how many spaced out drug addicts are going to become road kill -A trolley ride and horror all rolled into one.

    grant g

    March 15, 2008 at 12:24 pm

  21. People seem to be ignoring the simplicity factor of a streetcar system. I live in the Concord Pacific development along False Creek and I would take this streetcar all the time. It would be a nice alternative to the Aquabus to get to Granville Island or to get home from Bard on the Beach at Vanier Park. I would also take it to Stanley Park. I know there are ways to take buses to get to Stanley Park (and I have done it) but I would much prefer a streetcar. I think a streetcar would be a much less intimidating for tourists than our bus system.

    Tom Rey

    April 24, 2008 at 1:25 pm

  22. All I have to say about the reconstruction of the Historic Railway….. Green transportation option – I DON”T THINK SO.

    They’ve cut down ALL the trees along the retaining wall along Lamey’s Mill for the reconstruction of this line. They are not planning to re-plant. Some of these trees were mature 40 foot trees.

    Green option – I think not!

    I am in favor with the Historic streetcar project, but they could have spared all those trees.

    Please write to the Mayor if you think this was un-necessary.


    December 18, 2008 at 4:33 pm

  23. For the price of the one subway line to UBC They could put light rail/trams through downtown vancouver, over the major theroufares, and all the way out to Chilliwack. Vancouver will probably need a subway line to UBC eventually, but making the whole transit system more efficient should come first.


    February 1, 2009 at 4:33 pm

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