Stephen Rees's blog

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

Paris – what do they know that we don’t?

with 17 comments

This story appears in Wired and carries the headline “Paris’ Metro Gets Bigger, Faster and Better”. But it is not about “metro”, it is about trams – or if you prefer American “Light Rail Transit”

Paris Tram line T3

Photo by Fanch on flickr

The €650 million ($1.02 billion US) project will include new 25 stations from Porte d’Ivry to Porte de la Chapelle, of which 13 will have transfers with a Metro or RER lines. The line will require 22 new train cars costing €67 million ($105 million US). The city will invest €137 million ($214 million US) in urban landscaping along the tram’s corridor.

The whole package that Wired describes costs half of the ridiculous Canada Line. The image shows a long tram running on a reserved right of way with grassed track. In other words what could have been put into the Arbutus Corridor easily and cheaply with no disruption to anyone. Certainly not one business would have needed to close. And the length of the trams and the frequency of service can be readily adjusted to meet needs. The Canada Line has short trains which cannot be lengthened without rebuilding all the stations, most of which are underground. Its frequency will be restricted to the time it takes a train to negotiate the last half mile of track (Lansdowne to Brighouse) unload, reload and then run back. That’s what cheaping out on single track gets you. And of course both branches will have to interleave service adding more delays and lowering service standards as the people of Surrey discovered when the Millennium Line opened.

As as Malcolm keeps repeating, this system and systems like it have been around for years, and are in use in cities of all shapes and sizes all over Europe and other parts of the world that understand concepts like “value for money”, “convenience” and “urbanity”

Some 155,000 daily passengers are expected to use the extension alone, which means some 255,000 passengers will use the T3 line each day

The Canada Line forecasts that peak hour loads will be 5,300 northbound and 3,400 southbound through Cambie Street in 2021. Or around 90,000 daily passengers. Less than half the ridership for twice the cost. (source: RAVP Final Report on Ridership and Revenues 2003

But of course when we need to carry a fraction of what the Parisian trams carry,  our provincial government thinks it makes sense to put yet another tunnelled system through Point Grey at a cost of over $2bn!

I hope a resident of the west side of Vancouver or along the new Evergreen line will give me one good reason – and the need to transfer is not an overwhelmingly convincing one – why a system like the one illustrated above is not acceptable in their area. I would also like someone to defend the idea that we cannot even consider a system like this for the Fraser Valley for another thirty years!

Written by Stephen Rees

May 21, 2008 at 9:49 am

17 Responses

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  1. You could almost cut & paste that photo over one of the Arbutus corridor — it’s taylor made, if you ask me.

    I’d like to see these streetcars everywhere in the burbs; King George Hwy is a prime candidate (in a dedicated centre median) and would help stimulate the redevelopment of those ubiquitous fifty-acre parking lot-fronted malls with pedestrian and transit oriented buildings and plazas. Then there’s the entire three-city length of Kingsway, not to mention other arterials.

    Except for Broadway, where I remain contrarian. The Broadway corridor mode arguement has been repeated at length here before. I was tempted to merely copy/paste my previous comments to save time that I can’t afford, but I decided to give it one more go. Next time will just be pure regurgitation … if I choose to repond at all.

    It all gets down to well-thought-out implementation and ultimate respect for pedestrians who not only would ride the streetcars, but who would have to cross the road in front of them in all kinds of weather and traffic conditions.

    Almost all the Paris shots indicate dedicated centre or offset medians for trams except at intersections. This is a crucial point. If Broadway is to be a test case for such a system, then the trains will have to be prepared to stop at over 90% of the intersections between Main St and Alma due to the fact the majority are signalized for N-S pedestrian, bike and commercial vehicle cross traffic. No other road outside of downtown areas in Western Canada has a similar existing density within a 10 minute walk of teh corridor.

    Moreover, Vancouver has invested millions of dollars and a decade of staff time building its bicycle greenwway system with several vital routes crossing Central Broadway between major arterials. A proposed surface train service on Broadway must account for this, otherwise the planning process will be incomplete. And inadequate planning has been the target of almost-daily critical comments in this blog.

    If the streetcar corridor is to be barriered in order to supply faster service than the B-Line, then all N-S ped crossings will be severed except at the eight major cross arterials as the price of improved E-W transit service.

    I venture that the city and the thousands of pedstrians, bike riders and transit passengers crossing Broadway daily between major crossroads/stations, especially in the very dense hospital district rife with infirm elderly people, will be in an uproar about the barrier.

    On the other hand, if streetcars are to occupy an unbarriered corridor (like the photos of Paris), than all you will accomplish is the expenditure of a billion dollars to replicate the existing B-Line service. But, hey, the trains will look cool.

    That can be rightly called wasteful, but also a highly ironic Catch 22.

    Lastly, I would really appreciate it Stephen if you or your readers would respond directly to the Broadway Catch 22 pedestrian issue and the necessity for detailed planning and fine-grained design and implementation for EVERY INDIVIDUAL ROUTE — which could very well have results you may not agree with, or that vary route to route — rather than just repeat the same generalities about Broadway and “light rail” every few weeks as though we don’t remember previous comments or know the road well.


    May 21, 2008 at 12:19 pm

  2. I am not sure I can satisfy you, Meredith. As you say, it all depends on local considerations and detail design. I disagree that a tram in an exclusive right of way with signal priority has the same speed and capacity as a BLine which has no priority at all and has to mix with GP traffic. I also do not accept that Broadway has some magic associated with it that stops it working like the many other streets in the world which cope somehow with multiple roles. And inevitably some interests are met better than others. At present we bend over backwards to make sure that car drivers are happy, and everyone else fits around them. I do not know why we continue to do that. I think that by actually adhering to the policy priorities set out by the City of Vancouver’s own plan several possible solutions can be compared. None will be perfect but most will be better than what we have now, and all will be much cheaper than a bored tube which is top of the line in transit terms and requires an oder of magnitude greater passenger demand to justify it.

    My personal choice would be to follow the example of Grenoble and close the street entirely to all but trams, pedestrians and cyclists – but streets in Grenoble are narrower and closer together

    The new information in this post is the cost and capacity data which is both up to date and directly comparable to the Canada Line. Plus I liked the picture and the fact that Wired picked it up!

    Stephen Rees

    May 21, 2008 at 1:46 pm

  3. In fact I said just the opposite. One last time,

    “If the [Broadway] streetcar corridor is to be BARRIERED in order to supply FASTER SERVICE than the B-Line, then all N-S ped crossings will be severed except at the eight major cross arterials as the price of improved E-W transit service”,

    which implies exclusive service (signal priority, perhaps a fence) but with a notable drawback. Make that 11 major arterials when the Main-Commercial Drive stretch is included.

    In a perfect world a tram will outperform the B-Line WITHOUT creating a barrier to pedestrians at 45 out of 56 intersections between Commercial Drive & Alma. But I don’t see how that’s possible in an exclusive R/W. This is not about cars — take away as many traffic lanes as you like. It’s about the ability of people to cross Broadway on foot and bike over an 8.5 km stretch, but especially in the crowded Main-Arbutus stretch. Better yet, stand at Broadway x Willow anytime during office hours and merely observe the numbers of people crossing in four directions.

    I respect your arguements about the Canada Line, and I agree that a surface line could have worked parallel to the median as long as the large irreplaceable heritage trees, notably the 70-year old sequoias just south of King Edward and Japanese cherrys gifted to Vancouver, were protected. But the corridor narrows in the Cambie Village and my feeling is that the trains would have to slow down and respect the signalized pedestrian crossings at 19th, 18th and 10th avenues. It’s also my feeling that there should be many more ped crossings all over.

    This is why I make the distiction between rapid transit and slower trams. Pick one or the other; they are not interchangeable all the time.


    May 21, 2008 at 3:04 pm

  4. Barriers are a North American obsession. On LRT they are not necessary. Of course that means that there will be some clots who try and outrun the tram at intersections in the first few weeks of operation, and the only way to stop that is a heavy police presence and significant penalties.

    The absolute speed of transit is less important than the relative speed and reliability. If a regular headway can be maintained, so that tram arrivals are predictable, and cars have been significantly slowed down by traffic management, then you can still get lots of people out of cars.

    “Rapid transit” is marketing speak. Most systems have a combination of street running in town and segregated r.o.w elsewhere. It is the generalised cost of the trip that matters, not speeds over one segment. For instance, for many trips in London now it is faster to take a bus than use the Underground – and a lot more people are doing that. And Undergound trains are still running through the tunnels as fast (and as full) as ever.

    And I still think Arbutus made more sense than Cambie

    Stephen Rees

    May 21, 2008 at 3:32 pm

  5. In fact, what we have in Paris is not a streetcar (the term is never used there) but a tramway or light rail. A tramway is a vehicle which has a legal right to operate on the street.

    Arbutus would be a perfect example of light rail, because it is a ‘reserved rights-of-way’ or a right of way used exclusively for LRT. A tramway (streetcar) is considered LRT when at least 30% of it route operates on reserved rights-of-ways’ (Such as the photo shows). A reserved rights-of-way’ can be as simple as a HOV lane with rails.

    The French Renaissance for LRT came after years of careful and logical study and boils down to this: 1 street lane can carry about 1,200 persons per hour with cars; 5,000 to 6,000 pph with buses; or over 20,000 pph with light rail. Also, the passive traffic calming aspects of LRT promotes the ‘push – pull’ theory of ‘rail’ transit. No carrot or stick in France; provide a high quality LRT line and people will use it and by restricting road space, drivers will be gently and not so gently ‘pushed’ onto transit.

    That being said, the early success of Grenoble and Nantes has now paved the way for a French LRT construction boom.


    If LRT were to operate on Broadway, there would be stops every 600 metres (based on the fact that the majority of transit customers come from about 300 metres of each side of the line) and maximum speed would be about 60 kph to 70 kph, depending on the distance of the stops.

    Trams would not be speeding through intersections because every major intersection would be a tram-stop. The quick dwell times and faster acceleration of trams, would make the commercial speeds almost the same as a subway, with the bonus of attracting more ridership.

    What is forgotten is that there is no such thing as ‘rapid transit’, rather metro or LRT (The EEC legal beagles only recognize metro or light rail and give legal definitions for both); the speed of the system is dependent on the quality of rights-of-ways and station spacing. This why, Light-metros such as SkyTrain, VAL, and RAV have been made obsolete by LRT.

    Extensive studies in Europe have shown that metro’s do not attract new ridership to the same degree as street operating light rail, that is why so many are being built. LRT is safe in congested cities, carries large loads, cheaper to operate than buses, and is convenient.

    It’s strange that Europeans in just about every major European city seem to trundle around LRT lines with no problem, why not here? Are we more stupid?

    Broadway is a natural for light rail, a subway would only drive up taxes and in the end drive more people away from public transport.

    Malcolm J.

    May 21, 2008 at 3:53 pm

  6. Absolutely, Arbutus should have been the right of way. No matter what the good intentions may have been, and I’m not sure there were any, the argument that a line along Cambie gives improved access to Oakridge, Langara or City hall is idiotic.
    The best thing to come down the pike in the last 5 years (at least) are the artic trolleys. If those units were deployed along Cambie I believe they would have been more than adequate to meet future demand along Cambie (read Oakridge and Langara).
    The Canada Line is a link to the airport. At least it’s supposed to be. Time will tell if it gets used. I don’t think Vancouver got al that 2010 loot so people could take the subway to Oakridge. The CP right of way along Arbutus is a logical route to the airport.
    As far as getting to and from the rest of Richmond goes, the biggest problem I see is, not enough buses and no traffic priority. Fix those two issues and the Bline would work pretty well.


    May 21, 2008 at 4:11 pm

  7. Quote:

    – Its frequency will be restricted to the time it takes a train to negotiate the last half mile of track (Lansdowne to Brighouse) unload, reload and then run back.” –

    Stephen, I am not so up to date on RAV in Richmond and I did know there was going to be some single track operation, but is the terminal station at Brighouse going to be a single stub station and not have two tracks?

    If this is true, who were the idiots who designed this?

    I have been told that the absolute maximum capacity that can be achieved by RAV is 15,000 pphpd. Yes, all this for $2.4 billion and oh yes, simple LRT operating on Arbutus or Cambie could achieve 20,000 pphpd! Ah yes, what bright sparks do we have planning transit.

    Malcolm J.

    May 21, 2008 at 4:50 pm

  8. The single track starts just south of Lansdowne Station. I think the Brighouse station may have an overrun track (to get a broken down train out of the way) but as far as I can see only one patform. Even single track with platforms both sides would speed up turnround.

    The whole project is a P3 – so the design is part of the package “InTransitBC for the design,construction, operations, maintenance and partial financing of the Line”

    Stephen Rees

    May 21, 2008 at 5:56 pm

  9. It’s almost impossible for me not to be cynical, so here we go again. The Canada Line isn’t so much a transit project. I see it as a P3 construction project that happens to building an LRT line. If the Liberals form the next gov’t the next P3 will be Gateway.
    It all helps to keeps Liberal backers in the style to which they have grown accustomed.
    Sorry, I just can’t stop myself.


    May 21, 2008 at 7:43 pm

  10. The Canada Line platforms need to be extended to 50m and extra trains purchased to reach 15,000 pphpd.


    May 21, 2008 at 7:46 pm

  11. Obviously that will not be needed based on their projections. They barely get over 5,000 by 2021. I would have a hard time recommending bus lanes at that rate!

    Stephen Rees

    May 21, 2008 at 7:57 pm

  12. In all the years I have been advocating LRT, I always have said if we go to Richmond, then we must build LRT as cheaply as possible to make it viable. This included using the using the the existing swing bridge and ROW’s and keep engineering to a minimum. This is because the ridership forcasts would not support an expensive ‘showcase’ line. Also, to ensure success, light rail had to service Steveston, that would enable someone in Steveston to get to Brighouse by rail. RAV doesn’t offer this very important transit option.

    By using LRT, Richmond could also operate a ‘heritage tram’ service proviing some sort of tourist attracttion, someting Richmond lacks, again something that RAV can’t do.

    Of course all is for naught and when Richmond residents wake up and ‘smell the coffee’ that they have been sold out by Brodie and his gang, there will be bloodshed at the polls.

    Malcolm J.

    May 22, 2008 at 8:47 am

  13. Back to Broadway, if LRT stations are spaced are spaced every 600 metres, then what happens to the existing heavily-used pedestrian-activated signalized crossings at Ash, Heather, Willow and Laurel (i.e. every single intersection in the very active and crowded hospital desitrict)? These intersections are spaced every 120-170m.


    May 22, 2008 at 12:09 pm

  14. Meredith, I am sorry but I cannot do a detail design of a possible Broadway LRT. The general principles stand – surface LRT works better than grade separated and is adequate for the levels of demand likely to be seen in this region. A bored tube is ludicrously expensive, much worse for short trips, and will starve the rest of the system of needed expansion funds. All the rest is detail best left to public consultation and design experts when the time comes to build. Let us kill the tube first then sort out what that does to regional priorities. I do not see rapid transit to UBC as the first or only thing we need to do.

    Stephen Rees

    May 22, 2008 at 12:21 pm

  15. Most light rail systems (tramways) allow pedestrian crossings. In France and Germany simple cross walks are used designed for the pedestrian to face the oncoming trains. Some systems use a pedestrian activated signal (like a regular crossing signal) which alerts the driver that someone is crossing in front of the train and he can take appropriate action.

    Also in a district such as the hospital district, stops would be 300 or so metres apart, thus slowing down the service in that particular area. The flexibility of LRT enables it to operate safely in all traffics.

    Some crosswalks will be closed and others changed to accommodate cross street traffic. In traffic, LRT operates just the same as a bus and are safer than buses.

    The bonus for LRT is that it would attract more transit customers than a subway.

    Malcolm J.

    May 22, 2008 at 2:35 pm

  16. Well, god (or the devil) will be in the details.


    May 23, 2008 at 12:50 pm

  17. I ride the T3 all the time. There’s no way to compare the T3 tramline with Vancouver’s Canada line, either with cost or ridership. They serve completely different purposes.

    The Canada line was designed and built as quickly as possible in order to link the airport with downtown Vancouver before the 2010 Olympics (at the expense of platform length and other cost-cutting measures).

    Paris’ tramlines serve a totally different purpose. The T2, for example, connects La Defense, Europe’s largest most populated economic centre, with the affluent suburbs immediately south. T1 links Saint Denis and its large industrial complexes with the dense northern suburbs. T3 was designed mostly to link the 13th district, under massive redesign and improvement works, with higher paying jobs to the west. The 13th district is Paris’ densest and cheapest neighbourhood, but it also had the worst transit connections until a couple years ago.

    Paris is a city that gets transit right, so it’s smart to look to them for inspiration. But big changes need to be done to land use and city planning before a line like T3 could be built in Vancouver, or anywhere else in N America, and expect to see similar success.


    April 24, 2009 at 12:44 am

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