Stephen Rees's blog

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

The Granville Street effect

with 20 comments

There was a story on the CBC News last night that I would have liked to link to. Unfortunately it is not on their web site so I will have to summarise it from memory. When the Canada Line opened, bus service along Granville Street was significantly reduced. This has had a significant effect on the merchants of Marpole, at the southern end of the street. There used to be many bus passengers getting off buses there to walk to their homes. The surrounding streets being mainly four storey walk up apartments. The removal of bus services has also meant that many parking spots have been “restored”  on Granville.

The merchants have been having a difficult time recently. In the months before the Canada Line sales had been falling due to the recession – the figure of “up to 40%” was quoted. Now the Marpole shop keepers are saying that the loss of bus service has cost them another 10% – hitting “impulse purchases” hard. For instance, a nursery still sells as many plants to people in cars but far fewer bunches of cut flowers. The loss of foot traffic is the cause. People who drive and park do not, apparently, spend as much as people who took the bus.

If I had not wasted so much time, prior to the introduction of the #98 B Line, dealing with the intransigence of the “Say NO to Granville Highway” crowd I might have let this go. But I want to know why Linda Meinhardt was not interviewed. She runs a shop, not in Marpole but on “South Granville” which is actually between 16th and Broadway to the north. She was the instigator and main driver of the campaign against buses and in favour of parking. And much misinformation, which worked up the residents into three nights of outrage at the hotel on 12th at Cambie, kitty corner to City Hall. She was especially contemptuous of the staff who had worked on the proposal. And she has now been proved wrong.

It is an important lesson too for the Downtown Business Improvement Association who have also consistently campaigned against buses and in favour of more parking – especially on streets like Granville and Robson.

The Canada Line has increased business – but that is for the casino, which is a “destination”. In fact I see the diversion of consumer spending into gambling as destructive of the economy. The “wealth creation”of a casino being as illusory as a ponzi scheme. Along its route, which efficiently whisks people through an area, underground, I would expect business to suffer. Yes, it will be better than during the construction phase, but street businesses do well from foot traffic, not high speed through traffic. And there is no station near the major on street shopping area known as Cambie Village, which suffered the worst during construction.

Every transit trip is an interrupted walk. Transit stops and stations ought to be seen as key to retailing. Far too often in Greater Vancouver bus passengers are banished to remote, sterile areas like Phibbs Exchange, or the Ladner bus loop. Always this is forced by local merchants who have only contempt for what they see as the low income bus passenger, and who regard buses as noisy, smelly nuisances. Of course, transit’s selection  of large diesel buses only confirms that view. We do have to learn from our experiences, and acknowledge our mistakes. Far too often, transit advocates are expected to be cheer leaders for a system which, sadly, often lets us down, and seems incapable of learning from its past mistakes. Let’s all learn from this when we design our next system change.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 21, 2009 at 11:47 am

20 Responses

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  1. Well the proof is in the pudding, now, isn’t it.

    I find the Canada Line unpleasant and what they lose in making it a “through” trip they try to make up for with grandiose advertising and a little bit of shopping accessibility at City Centre.

    Phibbs Exchange is indeed a very sterile and boring place to get stuck. Surrey Central is exciting in comparison, though if I had to choose which place I’d feel safest at 1am, it would be Phibbs but only because it doesn’t have a drug, poverty and violence problem. There are no eyes on the street at Phibbs to keep you safe. The nearest businesses if you’ve got 30 minutes to wait are A&W and Wendy’s in about a 10 minute walk. Beyond that is a McDonald’s and probably a Tim Horton’s. Sounds like a freeway in hell, right? It is flanked by green space that could be much better used as park space despite the highway exits that surround it. I had 30 minutes to bum around Lonsdale Quay last night and found it enjoyable, even though everything but the Waves Coffee shop up the street was closed.

    Erika Rathje

    November 21, 2009 at 2:18 pm

  2. The small business community is traditionally a strong supporter of the Liberal party, but they need to take a long hard look at what the current government is doing to them. Hiding transit riders underground clearly hurts business.

    As the push for higher capacity transit along Broadway intensifies, business leaders should vehemently reject any proposal that takes people off the streets and whisks them along either above or below street level. A Broadway subway would drive hundreds out of business by reducing sales and increasing taxes.

    Insist that our tax dollars be spent more wisely. Insist that future high capacity transit run on city streets where construction time is short, costs are low and the resulting service benefits everyone who lives, works or owns a business along the line.


    November 21, 2009 at 4:02 pm

  3. The CBC reporter may have been inspired by this Vancouver Courier article, “Marpole businesses suffer as Canada Line draws passengers to Cambie” ( article.


    November 21, 2009 at 4:23 pm

  4. Well said Stephen. We are apparently still not learning from our mistakes, as the monstruous Gateway project keeps plodding along. The Canada line did not have to include increased car traffic.

    Luc Rensonnet

    November 21, 2009 at 9:40 pm

  5. Portland “at grade” transit, including the airport line, is the model of what should have been done on Cambie and should be done along Broadway. The argument that we need to extend SkyTrain all the way to UBC to avoid changing vehicles at Cambie, for example, is a poor one. In all major towns people change from one transit system to another or, at least, from one line to another line, if not several others, during a long trip

    Adopting the “unique” SkyTrain technology was a horrible mistake as SkyTrain cannot be used at grade, even with drivers. The new Seattle LRT is another example of what can be done as it run underground, at grade and on a viaduct.
    personally I like the Canada line and use it several times a week.

    I have no solution for the pickle the merchants along Granville find themselves in, yet wonder what the difference is between them and businesses in Toronto and Montreal (not to mention many other towns) that are located on streets over the underground transit. In Toronto I used to live near Bloor and Spadina at one time, Broadview and Danforth at another. There were hundreds of small businesses that did well at street level. But then pretty much each subway station had a bus line or 2 running perpendicular to the subway line..same along the Yonge subway etc. Passengers changing from a bus to the subway or vice-versa patronized the stores near the subway station.
    We don’t seem to have a dense bus system in Vancouver, by comparison, and the population density in residential areas with mostly single houses appear much lower here. Many houses in downtown and midtown TO, including all the ones I have lived in, had several suites.

    Red frog

    November 21, 2009 at 10:09 pm

  6. The Courier had an article on store closures in South Granville a week ago – but no mention at all about less transit being a possible clause.

    As well as an article on stores closing on Broadway and in Kits:

    I wonder if businesses on Kingsway saw a drop in business when the Expo Line was built?


    Regarding merchants on Cambie in Cambie Village – if you examine customer traffic before and after the Canada Line, you also have to take into account that during the Canada Line construction period, an urban big box retail core was simultaneously built between 6th and Broadway with Canadian Tire, Best Buy, Homesense/Winners, Home Depot (the boutique Home Depot store that was blocked from Broadway & Arbutus), Save-on-Foods, London Drugs, Whole Foods and Lululemon. I hear that the old London Drugs will be leased to Michael’s Craft stores and a new office building on Broadway across from the new London Drugs will house a large Shoppers Drug Mart on the grond floor (fairly close to the one that opened in the old Capers location at Cambie & 16th.).
    Seems like Cambie & Broadway is a mnajor shopping destination that could draw customers away from Cambie Village (although the two could be considered separate districts (as Shoppers apparently seems to think).

    Ron C.

    November 21, 2009 at 10:56 pm

  7. Cambie between 6th and Broadway has the advantage of having two Canada Line stations plus several bus lines, but I don’t think that will really have much effect on sales because many of the retailers in the area are big box stores. Nobody shops at a big box store without an SUV or minivan. Ever seen someone trying to carry $300 worth of groceries on the bus? How about getting a new gas barbecue or 42″ TV onto a Canada Line train?

    This isn’t really about large retailers anyway. They have deep pockets and can always locate near stations so whether transit is on the surface or elsewhere they’ll do fine. It’s the little people who get screwed by SkyTrain.

    The types of small businesses that make a neighbourhood worth living in are the places that disappear when transit construction diverts customers, when grade separation hides their shops from potential customers and when high construction and operating costs drive property taxes through the roof.

    I hope that the updated streetscape and addition of the #33 to part of Cambie village will help make up for the loss of north-south passengers on the surface, but I believe it will be many years before any business recovers from the construction years. I also believe that any gains on Cambie will be smaller than the losses on Granville.

    Unlike Red Frog I’m not a fan of Canada Line. I find the lighting harsh, I don’t like being underground and the ride home in the afternoon is more crowded than SkyTrain. It reminds me of the Monday morning I tried to get from Golders Green to Victoria Station via the London Underground.


    November 22, 2009 at 12:21 am

  8. Reading Steven’s Courier Article, it seems the area by the old B-line stop at Granville and 70th saw the big hit and other stops along Marpole seem to be less affected. I do agree that transit brings in foot traffic, especially ‘BRT’-like service like the B-line.

    To play devil’s advocate, would people remember stores affected 10-20 years from now affected by C-line construction? What will the line look like 50 years from now? City Centre and King Ed stations look like plain boxes because new development is planned on those sites themselves.

    Also to play devil’s advocate – not planning for a 16th avenue c-line station was an unfortunate, but probably proper decision:
    -a lack of a heavily used bus route to transfer to. Even if a bus route on 16th starts up, broadway/king ed would be the major bus routes.
    -limited rezoning potential – unlike the future 33rd avenue precinct with st vincent’s/RCMP office zone to be vacated and redeveloped. the existing area is established SFHs, and rezoning will be shied-away-from, like in the nanaimo/29th ave station precincts.
    -why build a station 4 blocks away from B/CH station? even though it is uphill from B/CH, couldn’t access to cambie village be improved by building an entrance to B/CH on 12th avenue?


    November 22, 2009 at 8:50 am

  9. […] The Granville Street effect [Stephen Rees's Blog] Anton and Robertson Offer Empty Criticisms of Northeast False Creek [The […]

    re:place Magazine

    November 22, 2009 at 9:31 am

  10. To correct my previous post, The #33 bus does run along 16th ave.


    November 22, 2009 at 10:35 am

  11. Well said Stephen. I really wish there were some data on what percent of Robson street merchants’ business is from customers who didn’t arrive by automobile. I’m sure it’s greater than anyone on the DBIA would expect.


    November 22, 2009 at 2:05 pm

  12. It seems to me that the Canada Line was never designed to serve Cambie Street, it was designed to move people quickly from Richmond and YVR to downtown Vancouver. It didn’t matter what it had to bypass as long as it didn’t have to stop too many times. Cambie Street and Village were served very well by an environmentally friendly trolley bus but unfortunately that did not get replaced. Now we have smelly diesels. Sustainable anyone?

    Richmond built some nice dedicated bus lanes that would have worked beautifully with a streetcar and it could have run over the Fraser on a new bridge and down Cambie on the grass in the center and stopped all down Cambie Village. Or it could have gone down Granville and commuters and visitors could have been wowed by the sight of downtown as they came down to False Creek. Either way would give the riders a whole variety of interesting stores, and restaurants to stop at on the way home. We could have had streetcars on both for the cost of the Canada line and had money for the Evergreen line too. What do we have with the Canada Line? Tubes of concrete which we will be paying for for years to come.

    Now they want to do the same with Broadway to UBC except that with the Canada Line they were expecting to pay for it with Cruise ship passengers and people from South of the Frazer who have money and jobs in Vancouver, now they want to try it with UBC students who pay $29 a month for a U-Pass. Get real and do what the rest of the world, USA, and Europe is doing and install a streetcar.

    Please everybody, if you don’t do anything else during the Olympics, go for a ride on the Olympic Line, the demo streetcar from the Canada Line Olympic Village station to Granville Island and compare it with underground on the Canada Line or the ability to get off at ground level. Imagine how much money that will save.

    The cost for the trip is free.


    November 22, 2009 at 4:00 pm

  13. One thing should be factored into the equation as well – Cambie Village attracts a lot of customers who arrive by car. The drop in business during construction is evidence of that. Just because an area is called a “neighbourhood” shopping street doesn’t mean that the majority of customers walk to it – especially when it is surrounded by predomnantly single family housing.

    Robson, on the ther hand, is surrounded by multi-family apartment and condo blocks, hotels with hotel guests, and offices with workers who may take transit to work. While Robson is a destination shopping street, it is also draws from people who just “happen” to be downtown. Cambie doesn’t have that luxury – not when surrounded by single family homes (and a few apartment blocks).

    Location, location, location.

    Ron C.

    November 22, 2009 at 4:09 pm

  14. Another thought – maybe the level of business that Cambie is trying to attain is too lofty a goal for a neighbourhood shopping district that isn’t supported by the car or with a station for mass transit. Maybe Cambie Village (or Marpole) should be looking to Main Street or Kingsway (i.e. Collingwood, away from Joyce Station) for the type of neighbourhood shopping it can achieve.

    Ron C.

    November 22, 2009 at 4:14 pm

  15. Russ. I’ll be riding the Olympic line LRT a lot I hope…perhaps carrying my binder of photos of LRT from around the world that have known and loved….

    Ron C makes a good point in his latest post. However the merchants are caught between the proverbial rock and.. as their rents and taxes are substantial..and keep increasing.
    In other countries many small store merchants own their stores and this give then a big advantage. In the town where I was born/raised there are quite a few stores (including a very famous bookstore) that go back to the late 19th or early 20th century). They have resisted the temptation to become a mini-chain in the town and/or region and offer unique goods and services. They are a “not-to-be-missed” shopping destination. Their exclusivity is their strength but the financial stability produced by the ownership of the store is also an important factor.

    Red frog

    November 22, 2009 at 5:59 pm

  16. What is important for small businesses is to provide people with effective transit options so people don’t have to waste their money owning and operating a car. That leaves people with more disposable income that they can spend at local shops and businesses.

    The choice of transit technology likely doesn’t matter to small business as a whole but obviously, some businesses may suffer while others may benefit depending on the route and technology chosen. The lost flower sales on Granville Street likely means that other flower shops are getting the business instead.

    And David, be careful of the arguments you make. They seem to be the standard ones that get used against transit in general. I suspect the big box retailers panicked when gas prices went through the roof and are looking at ways of making their businesses less car dependent.

    Their customers don’t have 6,000 square foot McMansions that requiring filling with cheap stuff from China. People with 800 square foot condos will likely purchase smaller, higher quality stuff that has higher margins. Perfect for the “big box” stores along Cambie as the rents in these stores are likely much higher than suburban big box stores. I suspect that a high percentage of shopper at these stores arrive by foot and transit and purchase small, high margin items. These stores likely have vary high sales per square foot and are likely some of the most profitable. And even if people do buy large items, I suspect that these stores are more than happy to deliver the four wheel drive supercharged CharMaster 6000 bbq so people don’t have to stuff it on the Canada Line.


    November 22, 2009 at 10:44 pm

  17. Agreed – I take property ownership to be a sign of stability for a business – so when you saw the Eaton’s and Woodward’s of the world selling off their real estate assets for short term gain (to leverage their assets), you knew they were in trouble.

    WRT rents, if there is a steady turn-over of stores due to high rent, then those rents should come down – but that doesn’t help the optimistic store owner with a dream.

    WRT Big Box stores in urban locations –
    The “boutique” Home Depot on Cambie doesn’t carry lumber and has a better selection of interior decor items and flower pots than the Terminal Ave. store.
    Apparently, the HomeSense at Robson & Richards is doing very, very well. Although you wonder how much stuff downtowners can accumulate (and who the heck is buying those big rugs?)

    Ron C.

    November 23, 2009 at 1:30 pm

  18. “What is important for small businesses is to provide people with effective transit options (Richard)” in the Euro town I mentioned in my previous post a car driver and his passengers can park in a secure (fence, staff) suburban Park and ride lot. It cost 3 Euros to park for the whole day and, in addition, the driver and the passengers each get a free transit day pass. This brings a lot of shoppers downtown, by LRT, that wouldn’t have gone there otherwise, as chances of finding a parking spot near the shopping streets are less than winning the lottery.
    One big difference with Vancouver is that the mayors of the town and its suburbs are in charge of transit, and roads, and have to keep businesses and customers happy.
    When the LRT system was being built (3 lines built at once, disrupting many major roads across downtown for 3 years) stores owners in the worse affected areas got compensated and free shuttles and bikes were made available.

    Red frog

    November 24, 2009 at 12:19 pm

  19. “Along [Canada Line’s] route, which efficiently whisks people through an area, underground, I would expect business to suffer… street businesses do well from foot traffic, not high speed through traffic.”

    The case in point for the Canada Line is that the City of Vancouver planned and built a subway running under Single Family Residential neighborhoods.

    When within a 10 minute walking radius of each Canada Line station we house high density, human-scaled, walkable neighborhoods, the foot traffic that makes street business flourish will materialize.

    Thus, the real problem with the Canada Line is that it was not used as a driver for neighborhood intensification.

    This may not be a bad thing, if we take the Olympic Village typology, or the tower-and-podium, as the “state of the art” for what this city can produce in the way of urban density.

    To the second point:

    “And there is no station near the major on street shopping area known as Cambie Village, which suffered the worst during construction.”

    Well, not locating the station in the heart of the shopping area demonstrates the thinking of the planners. Neighborhood convenience is something they like to talk about, not something they actually do.

    But there’s more.

    Cambie Street between 16th and King Ed was completely rebuilt at great tax payer expense. What an opportunity to create a “Great Street” and boost neighborhood identity!

    Instead, the streetscape design is the worst possible for enhancing the Cambie Village experience. Six lanes of traffic without separating medians, with curb side parking taking up the outer two.

    My favourite symbol of the lack of capacity shown in this area of design practice is the introduction of “park benches” on the sidewalks facing parked cars.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    November 28, 2009 at 5:02 pm

  20. Far too often in Greater Vancouver bus passengers are banished to remote, sterile areas like Phibbs Exchange, or the Ladner bus loop.

    … or Seymour and Howe Streets! I’m interested in how you square this sentiment with your advocacy of leaving Vancouver’s main bus routes on Seymour/Howe, where passengers experience a car-dominated environment, rather than the “front door” experience of Granville Mall.

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