Stephen Rees's blog

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

Vancouver’s CanadaLine to open in September

with 54 comments


Ken Hardie tried to get this out early on Twitter but forgot to post a link to anything – and I am sorry but a “tweet” is not the same as a story. They had a media event and “Premier Gordon Campbell and other officials rode the entire length of the route for the first time on Friday morning, with reporters.” Once again Translink appears to have favoured conventional media over “social media” – which is understandable.

I love this quote from our Premier

Campbell said the line will provide the same transportation capacity as 10 lanes of roadway along the route, reduce the number of one-way vehicle trips per day by 200,000, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 11,000 to 14,000 tonnes a year.

So Mr Campbell, in that case why have you decided to build ten lanes of roadway across the Fraser? If the reduction of one way vehicle trips and greenhouse gas emissions are important on Cambie Street, why are they not important everywhere else in the Metro Vancouver region?

Actually, the Canada Line will not reduce vehicle trips for very long or by very much – if at all. The people who use the Canada Line will mostly be people who are currently riding buses. The shift from car to transit will be unnoticeable since the trips moved to transit will be more than offset by  new induced car trips. These will occur because more road space will be available due to the design of the project and the relative absence of buses on currently crowded streets. (Toronto traffic engineers noticed very early on that the opening of subways made traffic worse on the streets under which they run.)

Oddly enough this would not be the effect if the H1PMR replacement was cancelled and replaced by an equal investment in streetcars.  Firstly because road space would be taken away from cars and dedicated to transit – a much more efficient people moving system. This would produce the mode shift which you appear to recognise as desirable – but which will not happen by nearly as much as you say thanks to your current policies. Secondly the shape of development will not change very much in Vancouver – the dense parts are already about as dense as they are likely to get – the golf course and the park along much of the southern part of the Canada line will not be redeveloped. But if you had streetcars in Surrey and Langley just watch the pace of redevelopment along those arterials! The ranchers, bungalows and sidesplits would become townhouses and apartments over shops seemingly overnight.

The argument has always been about serving or shaping growth. The Canada Line serves an already well served area. Therefore not much change will happen. Changing the proposed transportation infrastructure in Langley and Surrey, on the other hand, will start to shift the transit mode share significantly – because it is only 4% now and has almost nowhere to go but up – given the right kind of system. Widen the freeway and the number of car trips will increase much faster and further than your model is capable of predicting. Because propensity to make trips – assumed fixed by your model – will increase.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is a definition of madness.

It is time we changed direction.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 27, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Posted in transit

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  1. Stephen, I phoned ‘NW news about the statement (I was first alerted to it by the LRTA blog) “Campbell says the Canada Line will result in 200 thousand less one-way car trips every day.”

    I polite wee girl answered from the news room and after I said that the figure was “gasp” nonsense, she took umbrage that I dared to say that the news dept. didn’t check the number to see if it was realistic!

    “If the Premier said that, then it must be true” was her reply.

    It shows how easy the SkyTrain or RAV myth gets traction. I mean I doubt 200,000 cars go into Vancouver from the Laing and Oak St. Bridges on a daily basis!

    Malcolm J.

    March 27, 2009 at 3:07 pm

  2. Hi, I like the way you think but I question some of your numbers. Did you say 12% of people here use transit? Where did you get that number? I have read that 42% of gvrd residents (aged 16+) have taken the bus seabus and/or skytrain in the past 30 days. (Source: quarter 1, 2006 transit performance scorecard based on transit incidence questions conducted in April,June and Ocotber 2005)

    Kevan Rilcof

    March 27, 2009 at 5:01 pm

  3. No I did not say “12% of people here use transit”. The mode share is based on the total number of trips – and Translink claim that they now have a 12% share of all trips regionwide. Actually the provincial plan has the figure at 11% for 2008 according to this source. The point is that this share has hardly changed at all in the last ten years. Yes ridership has increased, but so has population and the trip rate.

    Given that this is a written and not a spoken discussion it is very easy for you to re-read what I wrote. I do not appreciate misattribution

    Stephen Rees

    March 27, 2009 at 6:49 pm

  4. Gee,200.000 less one way trips per day,lol—-Is that the same forecaster who stated that the Carbon tax was the equivelant of taking 400.000 cars off the road each year!
    Ya,pretty wild estimates,the port mann bridge has 130.000 vehicles cross it each day–65.000 each think that the Canada line is going to take 1 1/2 port mann bridges of traffic off the roads/ha ha–

    Grant G

    March 27, 2009 at 7:44 pm

  5. Why laugh at these numbers? Isn’t it time we called their bluff and demand they show the evidence. And if they’re wrong ask why they’re not putting policies in place to get their numbers right. (toll the bridges into Vancouver, improve the bus connections, what ever it takes…)

    We should be applauding the notion of getting 200K cars off the road, and making damn sure the figures hold.

    It is really important that we do get 200K cars off the road, for a multitude of reasons…


    March 27, 2009 at 9:40 pm

  6. “(Toronto traffic engineers noticed very early on that the opening of subways made traffic worse on the streets under which they run.)”

    I was curious if you had more information on this topic, since a quick search turned up nothing on that. It’s interesting.

    And on a side note, there is a lot of potential for increased density along the Canada Line, even though much of it likely won’t be realized. Richmond is already building much higher density, more mixed use neighbourhoods in anticipation of the Canada Line and has plans for more (which as a resident I’m sure you’re aware), while Oakridge mall has a plan for high density residential. There are also a lot of rancher style homes in that area of South Vancouver, and it’s not very dense yet. I also think the golf course should be redeveloped, though you are right that it won’t. It’s a minor point: surrey would be more effective, but I think there will be definately be an impact there.


    March 27, 2009 at 11:03 pm

  7. Tessa, density doesn’t = ridership. RAV serves just one transit route and if all those people moving into high density neighborhoods do not go where RAV goes, then they will not use it.

    TransLink’s philosophy in building light-metro is build a very expensive metro line and cascade every bus rider you can onto the metro – hence TransLink’s claim that 80% of SkyTrain’s users first take a bus to the metro. But if SkyTrain doesn’t go where you want it to go, you do not take it.

    Sure SkyTrain gets high ridership, but it’s mostly bus passengers forced onto the metro.

    This is why Condon’s LRT/tram plans for Surrey and Vancouver are a “different kettle of fish’, by providing a tram/streetcar/LRT network that serves not only where people live, but where they want to go.

    This is very old news because in Europe, where subways and metro’s were built, overall ridership dropped on those routes served. The public still wanted a door-step to door-step service, something the metro could not provide and thus was the beginnings of the LRT Renaissance, where trams were retained to keep transit customers.

    The density issue is one of land development and not one of transit.

    Trondheim has a tram-line (interurban), yet the city has a density of 480 persons/km. (Wikipedia)

    Malcolm J.

    March 28, 2009 at 7:38 am

  8. To add to Malcolm comment, this is why the subway maps of London, Paris, Tokyo, Osaka etc. look like a spaghetti bowl..the central area of these towns is relatively compact and it wasn’t that hard to bus then take any of the few original lines but passengers balked…hence the need to build so many subway lines that in some areas one has a choice of several lines to go where one want to go AND there is a big number of stations that connect lines together. TransLink–shall we say the transportation ministry?–didn’t even see the wisdom of connecting the Millenium line and the RAV line…talking about LRT, Malcolm likely knows much better than me about the 4 LRT lines in Paris and about the new LRT projects.

    Red frog

    March 28, 2009 at 2:00 pm

  9. Andrew – Quote: “Why laugh at these numbers? Isn’t it time we called their bluff and demand they show the evidence.”

    I wish we could. In the UK about a decade ago and reported by the LRTA, a pro tram group sued a anti tram group under the auspices of the UK’s Trade Description Act, for disseminating false and malicious information, in a pamphlet, about light rail; and they won!

    Sadly I just don’t how we could do that in BC today, as our truth in advertising laws are so terribly weak.

    The BBC, some years ago left LRTA members in the UK in a state of utter disbelief when a program about transit and LRT in Holland, when every time a tram went by, the noise of a very elderly UK tram was dubbed in. The producer for the show responded to the members that complained, that the Dutch trams were too quiet and it was felt that they needed to ‘dirty’ up the shot with ‘real’ tram noise to be believable!

    The LRTA were not amused, especially when they were trying to placate everyone that modern trams were indeed very quiet!

    Mr. Frog, the first tram route in Paris, the St. Dennis line, doubled ridership in the first year, than what the replaced buses carried; I believe the number is now three times what the replaced buses carried.. The success of the St. Dennis Line has now heralded over 60 km. of new LRT routes in Paris, to be completed in a few years.

    Malcolm J.

    March 28, 2009 at 4:44 pm

  10. @ Andrew–The reason I laugh at the numbers are…..

    Campbell stated that with the implementation of the carbon tax will take 400.000 cars off the road each year.
    ICBC has insured 86.000 more vehicles since the carbon tax has been active.Where I live there is NO Transit options.
    The south fraser perimeter road wouldn`t be necessary if these projections were true,without out massive parking stalls at skytrain people won`t use it.
    Airport patrons arrive at all hours,the system doesn`t run 24 hours,richmond`s population is spread over a wide area,if people have to walk a long way to wait for a bus then get driven to skytrain then transfer,well,they just won`t use it.
    Now if they force people to go downtown to get another connection to go to Burnaby,northshore,Coquitlam ,well,again,they won`t use it.
    Also,and I am not a bigot,but Richmond asians have a stigma about transit,their cars are status symbols,they left a country with no driving and once here,they drive,the people who will be using the Canada line in Richmond will be people already using transit,the ridership will remain about the same.

    I used to work in Richmond,the trip to Vancouver was always quick,but try getting to Burnaby or Coquitlam from Richmond,that gridlock won`t change.

    Light rail from Richmond to scott road station would have worked well.
    In the future,if massive dense housing projects are built around the skytrain(richmond)stations,the ridership will grow,there are many complaints from people who are taking transit now in Richmond/Delta and other areas who are happy with their route they take now,have been informed that now they we be diverted to translink.
    We will be spending more money diverting people to Translink without improving service,there is just too many places that translink doesn`t travel.

    Grant G

    March 28, 2009 at 11:18 pm

  11. Stephen

    Fortunately, in many cases, the road space used by the buses is not being given to traffic and actually space is being taken away from traffic.
    – On Number 3 Road, the space is being used for wider sidewalks, separated bike lanes and greenery. There still will be only 2 lanes for traffic in each direction and because the local buses will be using these 2 lanes, there actually will be less space for other traffic.
    – On Cambie street, south of 49th, there will only be 2 moving lanes. As there is a bike lane, the parking cannot be stripped at peak hours. North of 49th, I expect there will be pressure not to strip the parking during peak hours.
    – On Granville Street, there will be increased local bus service. While there will be fewer buses, the more frequent stopping local buses will likely discourage traffic from using the lane.
    – And last but not least, if council approves the 2 lane trial on Burrard Bridge, that will be a significant reduction in road space for traffic. The city is actually looking at bus lanes or parking in the curb lane from Broadway to the Bridge reducing lanes for traffic from 3 to 2. The opening of the Canada Line near Labour Day is ideal for the success of the trial.

    Really, the only streets where road space for traffic will increase are Seymour and Howe Downtown, which, in the short term will provide people with an option instead of using Burrard during the trial. In the longer term, it would be great to see more road space reallocated to cycling, walking, outdoor cafes, pedestrian zones etc. Having the Canada Line underground makes all of this a lot easier. Indeed, this has been the real benefit of underground transit in many European cities.

    Barcelona is a great example of this where 53% of their streets are car-free. They have a great metro system and no trams that I know of. Their GHG emissions are 3.4 tonnes per person, one of the lowest for any large city in the world. Hard to argue with success, but I expect people will just out of habit.


    March 29, 2009 at 11:17 am

  12. Actually, Barcelona does have one tram line or LRT that I can think of.


    March 29, 2009 at 11:19 am

  13. “Tessa, density doesn’t = ridership. RAV serves just one transit route and if all those people moving into high density neighborhoods do not go where RAV goes, then they will not use it.”

    Of course it’s not that simple. I was speaking to a specific point in the blog entry. Our system is far from complete, and definately needs more inter-suburb ridership, but the fact is that systems like the Canada line spur development along them. This will be seen in the planned new commercial centre near Bridgeport in Richmond, where a whole lot of jobs will be added, and people who work there will want to live places with easy access. The high-density job nodes are all located in the town-centre areas, and this train connects four or five of those spots.

    Oh, and high density does equal higher transit ridership in general, both in numbers and in proportion of trips, and will mean more trips downtown/Richmond/wherever whether just for dinner, a show, or work. So technically density will bring with it higher ridership.


    March 29, 2009 at 2:05 pm

  14. @ Mr. Rees……

    Hello Mr. Rees–Today on the sean Leslie show on CKNW –He had Tom Prendercast the CEO of Translink on his program,there were talking about funding sources for Translink,including the ICBC vehicle levy–

    I called in to the show and asked the CEO a direct question about —If you pay the vehicle levy will you get a annual transit pass–He answered ” No,it would cost us more than we would get” I mentioned what Kevin Falcon stated in the Surrey leader–Again he denied the pass,although he did mention that there may be some coupons or a possible discount to allow some savings,but no annual pass!

    Like I stated before,everything out of Falcon`s mouth is cow manure!

    Here is the link to the CKNW audio vault—Cue up 3.00 pm sunday march 29th–the segment is between 3.30 pm and 4.00 pm—My call was about 3.54 pm (Brian)


    Grant G

    March 29, 2009 at 3:14 pm

  15. […] Political Honesty, Rovian Politics, and Evangelicals March 29, 2009 at 4:38 pm | In Politics | Vancouver’s Canada Line to open in September: […]

  16. Barcelona has two LRT/tram lines.

    Trambaix – Opened on 3 April 2004, this system is located in the southwestern part of Barcelona, linking the university area with the Baix Llobregat suburbs on the southern edge of the city. (See map, right; click on map for a larger image.) Total line length is 15.8 km (9.8 mi), with 28 station-stops. Capital cost was Eur 246, or about US$320 million.

    Trambesos – Opened on 8 May 2004, this system is located in the northeastern part of Barcelona, in the Badalona and Sant Adria de Besos districts. Total line length is 13.5 km (8.4 mi), with 27 station-stops. Capital cost was Eur 205, or about US$266 million.

    More are being planned for.

    Malcolm J.

    March 29, 2009 at 5:12 pm

  17. Richard, the 53% of streets in Barcelona that are car-free are located in the Bario Gothic, the oldest part of Barcelona and it is not surprising as some of the “streets” are narrow lanes where a small car could barely squeeze. Barcelona was drastically expanded in the 19th century with fancy looking districts. These have great buildings and wide avenues that most certainly have cars on them. These “newer” avenues are a great example of intelligent town planning as the wide central part is for fast through traffic then, on each side, there is a wide pedestrian promenade with trees. These promenades are separated from the buildings by a smaller street for local traffic and parking and a sidewalk. I am not a specialist of Barcelona but have gone there quite a few times. A beautiful (and bilingual)city plus the lure of the sea and the mountains…and a sophistication that put Vancouver to shame.. they got their first subway line in the 1920s…

    Red frog

    March 29, 2009 at 8:17 pm

  18. Anecdote from a friend…

    He was having coffee in one of the Millennium Line’s TODs (I forget which one) at a cafe which had a view of both the station entrance as well as the structured parking entrance for the nearest towers to the station.

    Apparently in the 30 minutes he sat there during the peak afternoon period, only about 3 people got off each train, while in the same time frame at least triple the number of cars entered the car park.

    I would guess that this is the case in much of Metro Vancouver, with its limited rail system. I have friends who live in Yaletown that drive everywhere, so no I don’t think that density necessarily equals ridership, especially here.

    In fact I think that some of the areas around Skytrain stations are so unpleasant that I would guess transit ridership is quite low, especially in developments with lots of underground parking.


    March 29, 2009 at 8:42 pm

  19. And Barcelona is great; worth at least a couple of hours in Google Streetview!


    March 29, 2009 at 8:42 pm

  20. regarding the 200K cars remark of Premier Campbell…
    yes I realize there’s alot of fluff in the numbers, but I do think we all need to cheer when Campbell talks about getting 200K cars off the road, and get really angry when he doesn’t deliver…

    If we’re spending $2billion (RAV line) to get 200K cars off the road, a project that was explicitly the choice of his govn’t, then he’d better start making sure his project delivers… of course if we don’t get upset with failed projections, then they’re bound to do it again…

    People have pretty much rolled over and played dead when it comes to govn’t projections on the Gateway project. A repeating pattern?

    Grant G. thanks for the interesting stat on how many new cars we have on the road, since the gas tax was introduced. Of course none of the gas tax went to providing people with more alternatives to driving so I think the best we got out it was to maybe encourage people to buy more fuel efficent cars. A step in the right direction, maybe, but does nothing for congestion…


    March 29, 2009 at 9:54 pm

  21. Red Frog

    I was there last year. There are car-free streets all around Barcelona even in the newer sections. It is a great city.


    March 30, 2009 at 6:28 am

  22. Car free streets are made possible by LRT, not metro or commuter rail. It is the modern tram that has pushed for pedestrian only streets and car free city centres.

    Also Barcelona, with a city population of 1.6 million and a metro population of 3.1 region, has the population to a large commuter rail network (some metre guage) and metro (operating standard gauge and broad gauge) which first ran in 1924.

    The two new tram routes have heralded an new era of thinking about public transport in Barcelona and Spain as well. Madrid is building two tram lines and there is also trams lines being built in Seville. Spain’s cities operates 11 tram lines (not to be confused with light railways), with more being planned and/or under construction.

    Malcolm J.

    March 30, 2009 at 9:15 am

  23. Don’t forget that Barcelona also has a public bike sharing system, which dovetails nicely with a tram system.


    March 30, 2009 at 10:02 am

  24. Malcolm

    That is just not the case. Barcelona, Paris, Lyon, Amsterdam, Copenhagen all have large car-free areas that have had nothing to do with LRT. Yes, LRT can be useful in creating car-free zones but so are metros and cycling for that matter. The advantage of having the transit underground is that there is more surface space for sidewalks, cycling, cafes etc and the entire right of way can be used for non-transportation purposes.

    Copenhagen just build a metro line that is practically a twin of the Canada Line and I believe they are expanding it into a another new development.

    Madrid is massively expanding their metro system as well. Their cost including stations is only $80 million per


    March 30, 2009 at 10:03 am

  25. Richard, every city you have mentioned has LRT, even trams are returning to Copenhagen! All the new light rail/tram lines in Barcelona, Paris, Lyon, Amsterdam, Copenhagen are part of planned “traffic calming” that just can’t be accomplished with metro.

    Metro is very expensive as the ‘good burghers’ f Copenhagen have found out and they can’t get the route mileage with metro as they they can with LRT.

    Cities in Europe only build with metro, when the have the mass of ridership to sustain it, yet in heavily populated cities like Barcelona, trams flourish.

    Quote: “The advantage of having the transit underground is that there is more surface space for sidewalks, cycling, cafes etc and the entire right of way can be used for non-transportation purposes.”

    I know this a popular belief with the ‘metro crowd’ here but you are reading far too much into subway construction. Cities that want traffic calming and pedestrianized streets are turning to LRT/trams to fulfill their wishes.

    Metro and LRT are two different transit modes, built to solve two different kinds of transit problems.

    Malcolm J.

    March 30, 2009 at 1:04 pm

  26. Obviously both LRT and metro are solutions that can be used to help create car-free streets.


    March 30, 2009 at 3:51 pm

  27. Sungsu

    As far as bike sharing and trams being complimentary, I suspect this is not really the case. As far as regular bicycles go, the faster the transit mode, the more people use bicycles to access transit. People don’t bother using bicycles to access trams as it is just quicker to cycle all the way. There is also the problem with cyclists slipping and falling on the tracks.

    According to Patrick Condon, the average tram trip is a bit over 2km. If this is true, trams probably get more people off there bikes and feet than out of cars. There are good solutions for these short trips, including walking, cycling and small electric vehicles. Meanwhile, the average SkyTrain trip is over 10km, a distance that people are going to drive if they don’t use transit.


    March 30, 2009 at 3:59 pm

  28. Richard, thank you for the latest news about Barcelona. Do you have photos and can you post them on a photo pool from our very own Stephen. As an advocate of pedestrian areas I rejoice any time a town expand its pedestrian area. I say pedestrian as in France, and other countries, towns have one or many pedestrian zone(s) 365 days a year AND a wider car-free area once a month or once a year. Corey, your friend was likely sitting at the S…S coffee shop just opposite Gilmore station..

    Red frog

    March 30, 2009 at 7:44 pm

  29. While it may be true that the average tram journey is shorter than the average SkyTrain journey I doubt that’s the whole story. In a transit oriented cities journeys tend to be short because people are much more likely to live near shops and services and transit is convenient for everyday activities. People are much more likely to hop on a tram when it picks them up close to their origin and drops them off close to their destination.

    In car oriented cities people get in their minivan or SUV and drive anywhere up to 10 km to a big box retailer. SkyTrain, with only two lines and awkwardly located stations, only makes sense for long journeys where the inconvenience is made up for by short travel times between stations.

    I remember living in Kitsilano. I walked to the produce market, the bank and the big grocery store. If I was tired or the weather was particularly bad I had a choice of buses to help with my trips. Where I live now in east Van there’s nothing but 7-Eleven and gas stations within a 15 minute walk. The nearest shops of interest are located diagonally from here meaning two separate buses. Why deal with long walks and transfers when I can drive there in 5 minutes? Once I’m in the car why not go an extra few km to a big box store with lower prices?

    While I have no practical alternative for shopping I do have a choice of transit options to get to work. When Canada Line opens my options will increase further. I’ll be able to catch a bus going east, west or north and arrive at work in reasonable time.

    Suburbia generally has no practical transit options for anything. They’re entirely dependent on cars to get around and so it’s no surprise they want better roads and sometimes cast disdain on tram supporters. What they don’t accept is that car dependence isn’t natural, efficient, sustainable, etc. In order to prosper in the next century the suburbs simply must be re-built as complete communities because getting around in cars will be too expensive and time consuming.


    March 31, 2009 at 12:18 am

  30. Boy, there sure is a lot of nonsense being propagated here…

    1) transit systems suffer from (or thrive on) network effects. In short, every time you add a line, the whole system’s utility increases. Skytrain suffers from being new and small. Look at the size of the big subway/metro/elevated systems in the world, and note that they got that way after a century of construction.

    2) in-road rail systems are slow. They’re basically buses in terms of speed and capacity, except the routes can’t be adjusted. If you think a trolley bus with a pole off its wire is bad, you should have heard the two Toronto streetcar drivers I heard last year gossiping idly about a derailment. The argument I’m reading here in their favor is basically that they force people out of their cars by removing capacity from the existing road grid. If that’s really your goal, there are cheaper methods. If you really want an incentive process, might I suggest a congestion charge?

    3) there are a lot of stations on the Millennium line that were, to put it euphemistically, built for the future. But the major stations (Lougheed, Brentwood, Production/SFU, Commercial) are huge hub points already, and a lot of people are using that line to get around. It is also only stage one of the planned line. Up next after the completion of the Evergreen line will be the extension of Millennium from VCC-Clark to UBC. Hello, network effects.

    4) The Gateway alterna-plans I have seen are crap. It’s not about serving the people within 5 km of the Port Mann landing, which appears to be what the proposed “for the same money” rail projects I’ve seen are about. It’s about allowing commercial and personal traffic coming from 40 km out (because, you know, Vancouver is an attractive hub, what with all the hockey games and concerts) to cross the Fraser without bearing a ridiculous, hopeless 30-40 minute wait in traffic. Your plans would do nothing but consign that current traffic to ever-longer waits, until basically it became an economic choke-point. Not a great plan.

    4) personal to Grant G, who complains up there about non-24-hour service to the airport. First, alleviating congestion at 4 am isn’t necessary. Just use a car or taxi if you’re there. Second, if people ride it, it will run. I know that’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, but LRT and buses have the technical capability to run 24 hours.

    5) y’all can comfort yourself with the idea that, given what has been demonstrated at the Darpa Grand Challenges and in other projects, the era of self-driving cars is nearly upon us. The challenges are largely legal, not technical.

    I know you’re all recoiling in horror just about now, but contemplate that such a development has the potential to all but eliminate traffic deaths, plus it makes on-demand fleets of EVs totally feasible as a form of “personal mass transit” (think Zipcar, if everybody in the city used Zipcar). Oh, and a few clever tricks robots can safely pull that humans can’t mean that road capacity can increase and congestion can decrease all at the same time. Brad Templeton’s page on the subject is a good starting point.

    6) I write this as a person who lives in the suburbs and who almost always commutes by bike (to a job in the suburbs). SkyTrain, when combined with a bicycle, is a beautiful thing: fast long-haul travel along its covered routes combined with flexible short-haul transit at each end. I know not everybody can ride a bike, but if everybody who could, did…

    Ryan Cousineau

    March 31, 2009 at 1:11 am

  31. Quote: “Boy, there sure is a lot of nonsense being propagated here…”

    Comments on the previous post.

    1) SkyTrain costs over $100 million/km. to build, LRT can be built for as little as $6 million/km. One gets far more bang for your light-rail buck.

    2) No. Trams, LRT, what have you, are about 10% faster than buses operating on the same route. The commercial speed of the tram increases with the amount of priority signaling and track reservation. LRT, operating on-street, on a ‘reserved rights-of-way’, with priority signaling is almost as fast as a metro, with commercial speed being determined by the number of stations or stops per km.

    3) The Evergreen line has little demand and probably will not attract a whole lot of new customers; the B-Line Express buses give a good clue to passenger demand.

    4) Automated transit systems, SkyTrain, RAV, VAL, etc. need regular daily technical maintenance because unlike LRT, an automated, once there is a glitch, they stop running.

    5) It will be a long tine before self-driving cars will be allowed on the roads. The safety challenges are numerous and the pitfalls of optically guided buses should be noted.

    6) SkyTrain is great if you live near a station and it goes where you want to go. If not, the chances of it servicing where I live, is slim to none.

    Malcolm J.

    March 31, 2009 at 9:17 am

  32. Hello, have been following this conversation for a while, now I have to provide a comment on some of the points above.

    1) yes, skytrain is expensive but at least it provides a tangible improvement for longer distance commuters. LRT is certainly CHEAP but why spend even that money if it doesnt really provide any improvement compared to buses. Since the main driver for LRT seem indeed to remove road capacity from cars, why not simply put speed bumps on everywhere on roads, or close them. This will be even cheaper!

    2) 10% faster, so average speed would increase to 20km/h from current 18km/h! Wow! Priority signalling would improve the situation a bit, at the expense of other transportation modes, and it will only work one direction at a time. I would like to see a tram system on the where the streetcars blast on the streets of Vancouver at skytrain speed of 80mk/h and to both directions! Even if all the cars magically disappeared, there would be still tons of pedestrians, buses and OTHER TRAMS that the tram would have to constantly yield to.

    4) And LRT will not need maintenance at all? I am sure the trams and rails will wear and eventually will need replacement. Every tram also needs a sober driver.

    6) In less densely populated suburbias, skytrain and free (or at least subsidised) parking by the stations would be the way to go. Short drive from home to to skytrain is fast and skytrain itself will cover most of the distance. Then the final destination could be reached by walk or short bus ride.

    Jari VW

    March 31, 2009 at 10:47 am

  33. In road LRT vehicles are larger than buses so even if they’re no faster, they offer greater comfort because there’s less crowding and the rails provide a smoother ride than the curb lane of your average road with its potholes, sunken drains, etc. Broadway isn’t suffering from a lack of speed because the current transit services are operating at capacity. Broadway is suffering from the inability to move a lot of people in a short period of time. Larger vehicles solve that problem without needing to hire more drivers.

    If everyone using the 99 B-Line was going to UBC then non-stop buses on Broadway would be a success, but the 99S was discontinued because it wasn’t an efficient use of the buses. A large number of passengers want or need intermediate stops.

    As Malcolm says, speed is entirely a function of how often the tram has to stop. The Premier just took a Canada Line ride that lasted 19 minutes. Adding all the stops will only increase that to 24 minutes. Adding double the number of stops like a typical on-street railway would increase running time to roughly 30 minutes. I’d argue that it’s next to impossible to drive from Richmond Centre to Waterfront Station or vice versa in 30 minutes during peak hours.

    Ryan is correct that a tram can’t make the trip in 30 minutes if it’s stuck in traffic, but take away all the red lights, left turns, etc. and it’ll come awfully close.

    The Gateway alterna-plan seen here is a light rail network connecting all areas of north Delta, Surrey, White Rock and Langley to each other. It comes from a desire to improve transportation south of the Fraser. It’s an attempt to re-make the region so people don’t necessarily need to drive everywhere and make it more attractive for people to live and work on the same side of the river.

    Gateway is based on late 1990’s thinking that everything that goes up will continue to go up. In the last two years we’ve learned that growth isn’t continuous or inevitable. Few are willing to admit yet that it’s not even desirable, but hopefully that day will come before it’s too late. The earth simply can’t handle 8 billion people living an eastern European lifestyle let alone a North American lifestyle.


    March 31, 2009 at 11:00 am

  34. Malcom, ridership on the 97 B-Line is probably not a good indicator of Evergreen demand. When I lived at Coquitlam Centre, I frequently used the bus service (we have two cars, but I generally prefer transit to driving). But I only took the B-Line once: it was just too slow. Furthermore, as I recall the schedule was set up so that alternative buses left just before it. I found it quicker to bus to Braid Skytrain. I imagine many others made the same choice, including anyone heading clockwise on the train. Point being, there are many details specific to a given route that might make it a poor predictor of demand.


    March 31, 2009 at 11:17 am

  35. Using a best case scenario, say that ridership would be double the present B-Line express bus, still would not be enough to justify light-rail, let alone a metro like SkyTrain. Like RAV, a SkyTrain Evergreen Line will underperform wonderfully and add to the already Translink debt.

    Just about every transit specialist I have talk too, in the past two decades have all said the same thing; “If you keep building with SkyTrain, you will have a small metro network, that will, in the end, not offer an attractive alternative to the car, while at the same time, bankrupt the operating authority.”

    Malcolm J.

    March 31, 2009 at 11:27 am

  36. >, ridership on the 97 B-Line is probably not a good indicator of Evergreen demand

    Indeed, certainly the M line, with trains every five minutes in the peaks, carries far more passengers than the old every 15 minute articulated 99 B-Line it replaced back in ’02.


    March 31, 2009 at 12:26 pm

  37. Malcolm

    “Just about every transit specialist I have talk too, in the past two decades have all said the same thing; “If you keep building with SkyTrain, you will have a small metro network, that will, in the end, not offer an attractive alternative to the car, while at the same time, bankrupt the operating authority.””

    Then how come our rapid transit network is almost as large or larger than cities such as Calgary and Portland who build LRT?

    Vancouver – 49.5km (current) + 19km (Canada Line) = 68.5km
    Portland – 71.3 km
    Calgary – 44.8 km

    As far as ridership goes, even if the Canada Line is way below projects, the total rapid ridership here will be greater than any light rail system in North America.


    March 31, 2009 at 1:25 pm

  38. Richard, we have paid 5 or 6 times more for SkyTrain, than Calgary and 3 to 4 times more for SkyTrain than Portland.

    As American transit expert Gerald Fox has said; “The world has moved on” and that means building with light rail and not SkyTrain. When the Canada Line is finished, the taxpayer will have invested $8 billion dollars or more for SkyTrain and that amount increases every year. There is only one taxpayer.

    The SkyTrain/light-rail debate is over and has been over for over two decades, if we had invested the same amount of money into light-rail than SkyTrain, we would have at least three times the light rail network, which would be something to brag about, but it is not to be and building more metro is quite frankly, a complete waste of money.

    Sadly, Vancouver is considered a footnote (if anyone really cares) in transit history, by building metro on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them – the result will only be higher taxes and poor bus service. I think the reality of the situation will hit home in less than two years time.

    Quote: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is a definition of madness.”

    Malcolm J.

    March 31, 2009 at 3:18 pm

  39. Light rail, huh? What’s the operating-cost rate of return and ridership rate on those systems? SkyTrain carries more people than C-Train with about the same length of track. SkyTrain is fast.

    Footnote? Our OPERATING-COST-POSITIVE system is the envy of places like Portland.

    Metrotown is a signature example of a new city centre that was was possible because of rapid transit.

    No matter how much priority you give to a streetcar, those systems can’t do 80 km/h, and they’re not going to get from Coquitlam Centre to Lougheed Station in 30 minutes, much less 15. Also, they’ll run every 10 minutes, instead of every 90 seconds in peak times.

    BTW Malcolm, your streetcar guideway cost estimates are wildly low. Aside from the fact that I can’t find a $6m/mile system on this continent, the core cost of the Evergreen line will be in the tunnel for the Clarke Road grade. This is non-negotiable, as a regular light-rail system won’t do that without a tunnel either. Indeed, LIM drive (as used on the Expo/Millennium lines) can handle steeper gradients than traction drives.

    Skytrain works. It moves people cost-effectively, it acts as a nucleus for development, and it has tons of upside capacity that is hardly available in on-road systems (90-second headway light rail? It is to laugh).

    Y’all are creating transit systems to serve your fantasies, not the populace. Pretending your fantasies are cheap is doubling the delusion.

    Ryan Cousineau

    March 31, 2009 at 4:23 pm

  40. Your continuing argument It seems that for whatever reason the politicians and people in this region seem to be willing to make the investment in SkyTrain at the same or faster pace than the politicians and public in Portland and Calgary. There is no reason to believe that the pace of investment and construction LRT would not be similar to that in Portland and Calgary. There seems to be little basis for your argument that we would have a larger system here if we had invested in LRT instead.

    Anyway, our ridership is going to be much greater than either of those cities once the Canada Line and the new SkyTrain cars are onboard. You get what you pay for and the public here seems willing to pay for it.

    We also have a higher transit mode share than Calgary and a much higher transit mode share than Portland.


    March 31, 2009 at 6:45 pm

  41. Ryan, check your facts. it is well documented that the C-Train carries more passengers than SkyTrain. Their audited boarding counts now have exceeded 250,000 passengers a day. TransLink doesn’t have audited boarding counts and their numbers a a guesstimate.

    Also for costing of light rail, please remember that most US figures include the total cost of the system over its financing lifetime, not direct costs as used here. SkyTrain cost recovery is a myth because they forget to mention the pesky $200 million annual subsidy.

    When one compares SkyTrain and LRT on a equal level, it loses out badly, that’s why it has failed to find a market in the USA, Europe and can only be sold in secret private deals that the Canadian government will finance!

    Who builds with SkyTrain.

    Dream on SkyTrain types, dream on – TransLink is meeting its financial doom very soon, bankrupted by the very metro you praise.

    You just can’t keep building metro on routes that do not have the ridership to sustain them, that is simple transit economics and fudging figures isn’t going to help because the transit customer is not flocking to transit and TransLink’s modal share is ‘gridlocked’ at 12% has has been for a long time!

    Malcolm J.

    March 31, 2009 at 8:32 pm

  42. “3) The Evergreen line has little demand and probably will not attract a whole lot of new customers; the B-Line Express buses give a good clue to passenger demand.”

    If that is so why even build Evergreen line using either SkyTrain or tram?? Just keep the buses going until north east sector grows enough to warrant a Sky Train line. In the meantime they have the WestCoast Express and the B Line which is plenty more than what a typical bedroom suburb gets. In the meantime build the SkyTrain extensions to UBC and Langley and start running commuter trains down into the valley.

    Port Moody has 27000 people for crying out in a low density neighborhoods with no significant commercial/employment centers.

    Dejan K

    March 31, 2009 at 9:41 pm

  43. Malcolm

    I said once the Canada Line opens and the new SkyTrain cars arrive, our rapid transit system will have significantly more passengers than Calgary’s. As well, they get 20,000 passengers from the downtown fare free zone and I suspect the average trip length is shorter as well.

    As far as TL goes, it is the province that has covered the majority of SkyTrain capital costs. The debt simply is not on TL’s books so it won’t bankrupt TL. I suspect in other jurisdictions, this funding from the state or province has gone towards highway construction instead of rapid transit.

    And be careful, your “mode share stuck at 12% in the region” argument is the same argument anti LRT people are using against LRT in regions where the transit mode share has not increased after investment in LRT. This is an invalid argument against LRT as is SkyTrain. In a region of our size, single projects do not have much impact on the total mode share.

    What you should be doing is looking at the increases in transit mode share in Burnaby and New West where they have increase dramatically in last 10 years.

    Anyway, very few places in North America have increased their transit mode shares in the last couple of decades. I suspect the main problem was cheap oil, not the mode of transit chosen.


    March 31, 2009 at 9:48 pm

  44. They are not flocking, they are cramming themselves into trains and buses. When was the last time you where at Broadway Station during rush hour.


    March 31, 2009 at 9:51 pm

  45. Calgary’s current C-Train network cost only $538 million and has a higher ridership than SkyTrain which cost us many billions. Which region got the better deal?

    Even if all we had today was a trio of LRT lines where SkyTrain is now and the province had ignored the bus system as always, TransLink would still be further ahead because they wouldn’t be carrying any debt from their rail system. We’d have a better bus system than we have now.

    Maybe the Province would have wanted to build a new bridge with all the money they saved on rail transit. Maybe we’d have a brand new Pattullo Bridge and Fraser River rail bridge too. Maybe some of the people who died on the old Pattullo would still be alive.

    If the province had put even a fraction of the SkyTrain dollars into LRT we could have 5 or 6 lines by now, an actual network of trains going from and to multiple destinations, a system that wouldn’t need to have all the buses feeding it in order to justify its existence.

    If you take away the price tag and just look at the trains SkyTrain isn’t bad. It’s reasonably fast, not too loud, and fairly reliable. The cars are a bit too narrow to properly fill with standees anywhere but the doorways, but in exchange the overhead guideway is a bit smaller than the one needed for the full width Korean trains that will be running on the Canada line. I ride SkyTrain to and from work every day even though I could get there just as fast on the bus because I prefer the smooth ride to the potholes and constant stops and starts of the bus.

    I find it ironic that the suburbs complain about city folks pushing LRT for the valley. We’re trying to get affordable transit out to you and all you do is complain that we got the “better” trains and you want them too. Seriously folks do you want to keep repeating the same mistake? Do you want one train going to New Westminster or 6 going to Delta, Surrey, Langley, White Rock and across the river to Coquitlam and Maple Ridge? Because that’s what you’re giving up if you choose SkyTrain over LRT.

    At the same time don’t whine if Vancouver gets more rail transit in the near future. Our mode share is several times yours and the buses simply can’t keep up with the demand.


    March 31, 2009 at 10:35 pm

  46. I wish I had a camera last week at Commercial Drive station at 5:30 PM. Masses of passengers on the platform, masses of passenger crossing the overpass over the BNSF, masses of passengers disembarking a pair of B lines on Commercial… a real O Winston Link moment.


    March 31, 2009 at 10:37 pm

  47. David, what are you smoking? It always astounds me how the SkyTrain lobby are so defensive about an obsolete proprietary metro system that has 80% of its ridership forced to transfer from the bus to the metro.

    How many cars has SkyTrain taken off the road? In all my years researching transit, not one and I repeat not one transit specialist I have talked to has ever mentioned Vancouver as a transit model to follow. In an era where there has been unprecedented investment in urban transit, SkyTrain has been sidelined, rejected and can only be sold in private deals that no one is allowed to look at.

    Sorry, to treat mediocrity as something to strive for is sad.


    April 1, 2009 at 7:47 am

  48. Woah, this debate has grown way out of proportion.

    Light rail and metro have different uses and suit different situations, and an effective transit system will likely use both. It’s not a question of one or the other. Transit choices shouldn’t be turned into a dogmatic ideology.


    April 1, 2009 at 11:29 am

  49. I apologize if I’m starting to sound dogmatic. I just resent billions of our tax dollars going to just 3 light metro lines when other cities have achieved the same people moving capacity for so much less.

    Like I said, I ride SkyTrain 10-12 times a week. It’s a good system that carries a lot of people. I even enjoy the ride when I’ve got at least a couple square feet to myself. The problem is that it cost too much and our government continues to lie about both the costs and benefits.


    April 1, 2009 at 12:39 pm

  50. Ryan Cousineau wrote:

    “Metrotown is a signature example of a new city centre that was was possible because of rapid transit.”

    Please. Only in Vancouver would you hear this comment made. Metrotown a “city centre?” Metrotown is a private mall surrounded by a sea of auto-oriented development! If that is the goal for this region, then we are setting the bar pretty low.

    It astounds me that people always perpetuate the myth of how livable Vancouver is, when the reality is that the majority of Vancouver is very poor urbanism like Metrotown, where the only pleasant place to be for a pedestrian is essentially privatized, commercial space owned by one entity.

    I’m sorry, but even for a “new city centre” Metrotown is a sorry excuse for good urbanism around rapid transit.


    April 1, 2009 at 3:56 pm

  51. According to Metro Vancouver, Burnaby-Metrotown is considered a town centre, with over 12,000 housing units, 24,000 residents, 18,000 jobs, and 1.7 million sq. ft. of office space.


    April 1, 2009 at 6:00 pm

  52. zweisystem: how many cars has SkyTrain taken off the road?

    The Millenium Line has taken at least 2 cars off the road… Thanks to the Millenium Line our family has gone car free for >5 years. We would never have done it without the reliable, excellent service of SkyTrain. (and I don’t even use it every day)

    The problem with the cost of SkyTrain is that there’s no way to factor the $10k’s of car money our family has saved over the years into cost of building the line. But we’re much better off because of it. I would not complain if my tax $$s were to go to other parts of the region so that others could benefit similarly.


    April 1, 2009 at 10:22 pm

  53. If we could take 10% of the money spent on private cars every year in Metro Vancouver (~$1billion), we’d have a new SkyTrain line every year…

    The cost argument against SkyTrain is a red herring. We spend lots of money on transportation in Metro Van every year. But most of it is in the wrong places…


    April 1, 2009 at 10:25 pm

  54. A town centre it may be, but that doesn’t make it a good example of urbanism.


    April 2, 2009 at 11:56 am

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