Stephen Rees's blog

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

Transit gets accessible

with 25 comments


As of yesterday …the region’s transit system, which includes buses, the SkyTrain, West Coast Express and SeaBus, became completely accessible.

KRISTEN THOMPSON/METRO VANCOUVERThe big difference being the retirement of the old E901 trolleybuses, which occurred sometime ago. I am not sure what happened yesterday that made a difference. I do hope it was not just a photo op for the Mayor.

It is an important landmark, and it shows admirable determination against people who kept up a constant barrage of complaints against the reduction of seats on low floor buses. Unlike the United States, we do not have the same legal framework, which imposes duties such as specialised van services for people with disabilities restricted to areas served by inaccessible conventional transit – that is within a mile of a bus route.

Since the trolleybus system was mainly in the City of Vancouver, and the demographics of the City are different to the region as a whole, demand for HandyDART – always more than can be provided everywhere – was a particular issue. However, it is not possible to make every bus stop accessible, since there needs to be a level landing pad and space to turn around – as well as step free access to that area by sidewalks and so on.

So while this is a big step forward, we are still some way back from a “completely accessible system” – we now have accessible vehicles. Much of the work that still needs to be done is the responsibility of the municipalities, and some of that requires retrofits to ill thought out cheap solutions. For example, the many ramps at intersections that are at 45 degrees. Saves money but shoots the user into traffic! Mostly it is fighting with property owners to get thin strips of land to make decent sidewalks – and often the expectation is that they will also pay for this provision!

But door to door service with operator assistance is still going to be needed for many people. And the growth of HandyDART has not been tracking the growth in demand for service.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 3, 2008 at 11:38 am

Posted in disability, transit

25 Responses

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  1. Please remember it was the low-floor light rail vehicle that started the universal accessibility revolution in public transport in the late 1970’s!

    Have they now installed an elevator at Granville St. SkyTrain station? If not, then the SkyTrain system is not 100% accessible by the mobility-impaired.

    With the introduction of low-floor LRV’s in Portland a decade ago, their LRT st system has been 100% mobility-impaired accessible.

    Malcolm J.

    June 3, 2008 at 11:55 am

  2. @Malcolm – Elevator access to Granville station was introduced from Dunsmuir street in September 2006.


    June 3, 2008 at 12:12 pm

  3. The accessibility effort by Vancouver has been admirable, better than any other Metro or Western Canadian city that I know of. Each sidewalk and corner cut has engineering standards including the slope, which is not to exceed 8%. A 45 degree cut is a 100% slope, so if that one is in Vancouver, the worker / contractor must have had 10 cups of coffee before a high-fibre breakfast and was in a hurry to use the port-o-john parked five blocks away. It should be reported and replaced.

    The Granville Station addition, which includes an elevator, opened about 18 months back with the opening of the Hudson complex. Bout time too.


    June 3, 2008 at 12:32 pm

  4. There’s been an elevator at Granville St. Station since September 2006, when the Dunsmuir entrance opened. However, the wheelchair lift at Columbia Station, when it is actually working, does not accommodate all standard wheelchairs, and the elevator at Scott Road Station does not offer access to the bus loop.


    June 3, 2008 at 1:33 pm

  5. Just a note:

    Just by adding low-floor LRV’s to a transit system, instantly brought public transport accessibility to the mobility impaired, without impeding regular transit users. But in Europe, there was an explosion of a new segment of the mobility impaired community; mothers with prams.

    Almost impossible to use the bus, moms (and dads) with prams & strollers found the new low-floor LRV’s easy to use and even less of a hassle using autos. The ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’ was in full force and the very user-friendly low-floor car has completely changed the dynamics of urban travel, where previously, people with children, traveling to town, almost always used the car!

    Malcolm J.

    June 3, 2008 at 3:40 pm

  6. The comment about prams and strollers reminds me – i had to carry a stroller (and son) up the steps at Metrotown skytrain station; the elevator is at the opposite end of the platform and getting to it is anything but straightforward, even for people with good mobility.


    June 3, 2008 at 3:55 pm

  7. Just a note that high subway platforms provide a level boarding surface into subway trains – and those would predate LRTs. The issue for many subways and metros would be the surrounding station access points rather than the vehicles.

    Meredith, I think Stephen means that at an intersection, instead of two ramps (set at 90 degress from each other, one each parallel to an adjacent roadway), the City (i.e. Vancouver!) will build only one ramp, and angle it to the corner of the two streets, meaning that a wheelchair heading down the ramp will end up a foot or so into the curb lane!!
    There’s actually a worse situation at Georgia & Howe in Vancouver, where the only ramp on the SE corner faces Howe (parallel to Georgia) meaning that a wheelchair must fully enter the curb lane on Howe to cross Georgia. I wrote the City about that some years ago when the sidewalk was being repaired and the City responded that a curb cut could not be made facing north across Georgia because of underground structures (presumably something to do with the roof of the Howe street tunnel).
    A similar situation exists at the NW corner of Georgia and Seymour (@ The Bay) due to areaways (i.e. for The Bay, like the old gambling dens in Chinatown) under the sidewalk.

    Ron C.

    June 3, 2008 at 5:06 pm

  8. As of yesterday?

    The last of the old trolleys was in service on April 22nd with 100% accessible service on April 23rd. Seems more like a photo op for the Mayor to me.

    Also, many of the older lift equipped coaches do not have working lifts. They are technically accessible but run with the lifts out of service due to a lack of maintenance spares. The good news is that once the Winter Olympics have passed, the vast majority of the bus fleet will be low floor. The only high floor lift equipped coaches that will be left after the Olympics will be the “Express” coaches that run on the Hwy 99 services and the 25 ex CNG coaches that are now in North Van.

    But Steven is right, while the fleet is by and large accessible, much work still needs to be done to make all bus stops accessible. There are also some major oversights that need to be tended to, like Scott Rd Stn where the elevator takes you to the park and ride lot instead of the bus loop, and one must take a w/c accessible taxi to get to the bus loop on the other side of Scott Rd. I’m hoping this oversight will finally be corrected in the plans to renovate/update many of the Expo Line stations.


    June 3, 2008 at 8:15 pm

  9. I think Ron C. has interpreted Stephen’s statement about 45 degree ramps. It’s not the incline, it’s the direction of the ramp. The ramps in Vancouver do point to the middle of an intersection. Less work for the city, but understandably dangerous for personal wheeled-transport.

    About a month ago, I happened to be walking behind a grandfather and his grandson. His grandson was riding one of those plastic tricycles where one of the wheels looked like it was going to fall off. We were walking northbound on Fir towards Broadway. The kid wasn’t really aware of his surroundings and never stopped when approached the road. Grandpa had a hard time controlling the little guy.

    Well, you can imagine what happened when we reached Broadway. The little boy shot right off the sidewalk via the curb cut into the middle of the nearest lane. Fortunately, no cars were actually coming head on. There was a car turning right that blocked oncoming traffic. Grandpa was furious, needless to say, and was able to wrangle the kid back into the crosswalk.

    The story does show you how dangerous a curb cut pointing to the middle of an intersection can be. I never thought having two curb cuts was that important before, but after seeing that close-call, I definitely have changed my mind.


    June 3, 2008 at 10:46 pm

  10. They’re probably referring to the 1989 Classics, which were the last fleet of non-accessible buses to arrive in Vancouver. (There was one lift equipped bus from that series in advance of the next year’s order of accessible buses.) A handful were still in use at the suburban depots (PoCo and Surrey) earlier this year.

    I’m trying to remember when the last time the wheelchair lift at Columbia was actually in service. Seems like it’s been broken for the last decade! The Scott Road situation is far worse; it’s both a busy transfer point and unlike Columbia or Granville pre-2006, there’s not another station within a few blocks.

    Ian King

    June 4, 2008 at 1:52 am

  11. The wheelchair lift at Columbia is not actually in the SkyTrain station – it belongs to the building that fronts Columbia Street. It has been an issue for as long as I have been involved in accessible transit – over ten years.

    At Scott Road, passengers who need the elevator but needing to transfer to/from a bus are supposed to be able to summon HandyDART or an accessible taxi at Translink’s expense to get between the two entrances.

    I would have thought that they would have retired those before some of the later ones I saw lined up at Oakridge when did that last trolley tour recently. I suppose it depends where they were in the maintenance cycle. The lifts on the Classics were never very reliable in any event

    Stephen Rees

    June 4, 2008 at 7:54 am

  12. Historical note:

    The low-floor light rail vehicle was not first developed for the mobility impaired, rather for quicker loading and unloading and reduced dwell times. It was only when the first prototypes were in operation that it was recognized that low-floor cars would be a boon for the mobility impaired. Now strong EEC laws demand low-floor cars and buses.

    Most high-floor LRV’s have now had a low-floor section added; so previous high-floor 2 section artics. have become 3 or 4 section low-floor artic.!

    The Europeans were never happy with lifts, etc. on buses, trams or stations due to the critical time taken to operate. One has to remember, despite the TransLink claim that LRT can’t operate at close headways, many European tramway’s operate 30 second to 45 second headways on main routes during peak hours and a 1 minute to 2 minute lift cycle would greatly disrupt service.

    Malcolm J.

    June 4, 2008 at 8:31 am

  13. Regarding accessible curb cuts, I stand corrected. I agree that one letdown set at 45 degrees to the cross streets is not completely safe, and two are better. Perhaps the best sidewalk / crosswalk interfaces in the most crowded areas should be one big curb letdown over a 90 degree radius (the entire corner curb) with some stout bollards (preferably granite) planted where the curb would have been.


    June 4, 2008 at 11:10 am

  14. Also, I believe the south side of Georgia contains a big underground steam pipe from the district heating plant. One certainly should not puncture that thing with a jackhammer.


    June 4, 2008 at 11:12 am

  15. The 1989 Classics were all pretty much out of service by September 2007. The 1990 lift equipped Classics are also pretty much all gone except for 10 left in PoCo…of which I think the lifts are broken on all of them. Those will be gone once the new Nova low floors go into service in North Van over the next month.

    Even though TransLink will pay for a cab at Scott Rd Stn, the situation is still not acceptable. It is not uncommon for someone having to wait for an hour for a wheelchair taxi or handy DART to become available for that service. There is no dedicated vehicle for providing that service.

    I forgot about Columbia Stn, but it too is not acceptable. For all intents and purposes, that station is not accessible unless you want to cross from one side of the platform to the other….but forget about going out to Columbia St. This is something that will also need to be addressed in upcoming renovations. Columbia Stn is one of the stations that could use a lot of work to get up to scratch…..especially if the intent is to further branch the Expo line if/when any extension past King George goes ahead. At that point the Millennium Line will have to be separated from the Expo line requiring a third platform at Columbia Stn. Either that or folks trying to catch a train on any extension to either Guildford or Newton will be getting really sub par service.


    June 4, 2008 at 11:43 am

  16. The wheelchair lift at Columbia is not actually in the SkyTrain station – it belongs to the building that fronts Columbia Street. It has been an issue for as long as I have been involved in accessible transit – over ten years.

    I would have thought that the contract with the property owner would allow for BCRTC or Translink to step-in and fix the elevator (where the property owner fails to do so) and then claim back the costs from the property owner (and failing cooperation, in court).

    WRT a third platform at Columbia, I’m not sure if the ROW is wide enough to add a third platform, and without it, I wouldn’t expect any reversing movements at Columbia for that reason. Expo Line trains running through to the M-Line could be short-turned at Lougheed (where, after the Evergreen Line is completed) there is an existing provision for a third platform. Evergreen trains could then run through to/from VCC-Clark (or UBC). The proportion of trains running the Columbia-Lougheed leg could be reduced from the current 1 in 3 to provide more trains south of the Fraser.

    Ron C.

    June 4, 2008 at 12:25 pm

  17. As a side note here’s speculative diagram that I created some time ago for the SkyscraperPage forum as to how Lougheed station could work after the PMC/Evergreen Line is built. It could even accommodate a direct routing from Coquitlam to/from Columbia (as envisaged by the original LSRP T-Line) – apart from the issues of congestion at Columbia. More likely, for simplicity, Expo Line/M-Line trains would be short-turned at Lougheed.

    Ron C.

    June 4, 2008 at 12:51 pm

  18. I believe that TransLink owns the building that the Transit Police now use as their headquarters on Columbia St just past Columbia Stn and close to where the two lines actually split. I’ve heard that TransLink is looking for a new headquarters for the Transit Police due to the increasing size and complexity of that organization.

    Once the Transit Police are out of there, one could easily demolish the old building of no architectural value and build a new extension of Columbia Stn there that would service the Millennium Line exclusively. The would require some changes to the existing track work, but if planned properly would be a short term pain for a long term gain. A corridor between the existing Columbia Stn and the new Columbia Stn annex (for lack of a better name) could easily be constructed in the current space available….plus one could finally design a proper accessible exit out to Columbia St.

    With the way Surrey is destined to grow, as many trains as possible will need to be pushed over that SkyBridge. Personally I’m not a big fan of the Expo line extensions in Surrey as planned. If there is to be an extension, it should be to the south with no further forking of the line. I’d prefer to see Light Rail along Fraser Hwy that would meet up with SkyTrain and Surrey Central, coming from the east and gradually extend its way into the Fraser Valley with a branch perhaps coming out at Langley Ctr going up over the Golden Ears Bridge into Maple Ridge and back over to the Evergreen Line at Coquitlam Stn. There seems to be no appetite for such a plan from the “powers that be” at this time however. If Surrey Central is destined to become the new “Downtown” of the region, then an efficient rail connection from the Fraser Valley will be paramount.


    June 4, 2008 at 12:57 pm

  19. I should also add, the immediately practical solution for Scott Rd Stn is to simply move the bus loop to the side the elevator is on. There are not that many services left using Scott Rd Stn and there would easily be enough room on the east side of the station to build a new smaller bus loop. The old bus loop on the west side could be converted to additional park and ride parking to make up for the spots that would be lost on the east side. In fact, entrance and egress for buses would be better if the loop were placed on the east side as the bus could more easily avoid the traffic tie ups often leading onto the Patullo Bridge that block entrance to the current bus loop whenever there is an accident causing major backlogs on the Patullo.

    The only down side to this plan is that the access from the east side to the platform is somewhat capacity constrained due to the single escalator and narrow set of stairs. Though not optimal, I would think it good enough and the benefits of having the elevator go down to the bus loop would far outweigh this disadvantage.


    June 4, 2008 at 1:23 pm

  20. If the above expansion leads to a light-filled beautifully-designed public space, then I’m all for it. The Columbia Sation is currently a dark, dingy and horrible public space.


    June 4, 2008 at 3:53 pm

  21. An annex would probably work for an M-Line terminus near Columbia.
    There’s a lowrise to the east and north of the existing Columbia Stattion that could be a site, I suppose.
    Adding a platform at the existing station is very tight (as the ROW is through an alley), as can be seen in this Global Air Photo (link below). Columbia Station is visible with the open roof over the tracks under the “o”. It appears that there is an older apartment tower immediately adjacent to the station to the north. The new Quantum condo tower (site of the white crane in this pic from last year) sits directly over top of the Skytrain ROW.

    Ron C.

    June 4, 2008 at 4:04 pm

  22. Another Global Air Photo shot showing Quantum over the ROW:

    Ron C.

    June 4, 2008 at 4:08 pm

  23. Drew Snider here from TransLink. Thanks for the positive comments about accessibility. As John pointed out earlier, the last of the non-accessible trolleys (the old New Flyers) went out of service in April, and that 100% milestone does warrant some celebration. We picked the June 2 date because we wanted to invite the Mayor but also make sure the disability community was properly represented. They’re the ones — those from BC Paraplegic Ass’n, the BC Coalition of Persons with Disabilities, SPARC BC and the Committee to Promote Accessible Conventional Transit (ComPACT), among others — who made this happen through their lobbying and participation in the consultation process over the years. They now form the nucleus of the Access Transit Users Advisory Committee, which works with TransLink’s Access Transit division, to keep improving accessibility.
    There are still some areas we need to work on, and not just for the mobility-impaired. As Stephen pointed out the lift at Columbia station has been a problem, but we recently reached an agreement with the property owner to ensure a faster response to repair calls; Scott Road is something we need to work on as well; re-working Metrotown, Broadway and Main Street are also in the plans.
    I’m sorry some people saw it as a photo op for Mayor Sullivan: it was mainly to recognize the hard work so many people put into reaching this goal. And a great quote came from one of the UAC members, who said, “people say Vancouver is the most accessible city in North America, and that’s wrong. This is the most accessible city in the world!”

    Drew Snider

    June 4, 2008 at 4:22 pm

  24. Thanks for the clarification Drew.

    I am afraid that the UAC member got a bit carried away “the most accessible city in the world!” is almost certainly Grenoble. There is a University there built specifically to accommodate people with disabilities and nearly everywhere – including the transit system – has been designed or retrofitted to provide maximum access for everyone.

    A Google search shows that this claim is also made for Toronto, New York, Stockholm and London, England

    Stephen Rees

    June 4, 2008 at 4:45 pm

  25. Richmond’s No. 3 Rd. ramps will be set at 90 degrees to each other.
    See plans here (warning: download “Save target as…” since it is 10MB):

    Ron C.

    June 5, 2008 at 12:21 pm

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