Stephen Rees's blog

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

What’s happening on Broadway?

with 50 comments

That’s West Broadway in Vancouver BC, just to be clear.

For background I suggest you look at the Georgia Straight.  Here’s the relevant bit – with a link that works too

Monday (January 18), TransLink is hosting a stakeholder meeting from 6 to 9 p.m. on a proposed rapid-transit line to UBC. It will take place at the Plaza 500 Hotel at 500 West 12th Avenue.

The group Businesses and Residents for Sustainable Transit Alternatives claims that the Broadway Corridor has already been selected with no public input.

BARSTA says it’s not against transit, but prefers an affordable, low-impact, cost-effective, and community-accessible system rather than a SkyTrain-style project.

BARSTA favours a $360-million European-style, at-grade train, which would provide more stops along Broadway than a $2-billion subway.

“It is important that our community comes out in force and expresses our concerns in relation to Translink and above all the SKYTRAIN Technology option that Translink is pushing,” BARSTA stated in a widely distributed e-mail. “Our community organization is very concerned on the lack of honest and open discussions between Translink’s key decision makers, local politicians and provincial politicians.”

Related article: Patrick Condon highlights cost of Broadway transit

I did not go to that meeting, and as far as I can I have stood back from the ensuing debate – part of which is running full tilt on the discussion board at the Skyscraper page forum – and spills over into the comments section of this blog on a regular basis, despite my efforts to widen the discussion beyond the choice of skytrain versus trams (AKA streetcars or LRT). And, of course, I think Patrick’s recent book on Sustainable Communities is well worth reading.

I am not sure that there is much value in rehearsing how Skytrain got chosen for the Expo Line, the Millennium Line and how something similar but not the same got chosen for the Canada Line. Those choices were made and we are now stuck with them and their consequences. I think there are lessons to be learned about what that did – and did not do – for our communities and our region. Since one of the best definitions of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. But it was not the only decision, and other things have happened too, which are equally – or possibly – even more important.

The reasons why I did not go to the Translink meeting are significant. The first one is that whatever Translink concludes from its studies does not matter. The transit agency for Greater Vancouver has never made these decisions. They are made by the province because they are the level of government that has the financial ability to execute such an undertaking. BC Transit didn’t and Translink doesn’t. In the case of the Canada Line, the province forced the Translink Board to keep on voting on the issue until it came up with the “right” decision – and then got rid of the Board so it did not have to go through that process again.

Secondly, Translink could not do anything even it wanted to. Currently it has cancelled its Ten Year (growth) Plan and is in “stand still” mode. If the Plan was still in place, then the Evergreen Line would be the first priority. The province is still saying that it (EL) will go ahead, but I am not convinced. It certainly ought to go ahead and there is enough provincial and federal funding (apparently) to build something – just not the government favoured SkyTrain extension. There is still some planning work going ahead, but every rapid transit project that has been built in this region – including the #98 B-Line (formerly known as Richmond Rapid Bus) – was run by a project office separate from the transit agency of the day.

Thirdly, Translink is not listening. You can tell that by the way the process is structured. If community input really was important, then the debate about what and where and when really would be open. BARSTA is convinced it isn’t. And the fact that Gordon Campbell has made it clear that he wants a bored tube all the way to UBC under Broadway – and that he has no intention of stepping down as premier – means that his current Minister of Transportation has already been given her marching orders. Personally, I believe them to be “mark time” right now until the dust has settled a bit from the 2008 financial crash. That would make sense if they really were serious about a P3 for every project. Right now it is next to impossible to get a new P3 up and running using private sector capital – and lot of existing projects are looking dicey or are proceeding using government debt – which is cheaper anyway.

Translink employs planners – and has a new VP of planning imported from Chicago, who is a Good Egg. Indeed, so are they all. But what they are doing is busy work. It may even produce a very well written and illustrated plan. And it will look good. So do they all. I have a few myself. They could be bound into a combined volume of Projects that Might Have Been. Another fascinating academic exercise no doubt, but not much use on Broadway.

I am going to be speaking to BARSTA next month (Please Note: this is an update on the original post). I will get ten minutes to talk about why they don’t need to get too worried just yet. Others – including Patrick Condon – will talk about what ought to be happening. I happen to think that in a ten minute period I will be lucky to get out very much of what needs to be said, simply because all these problems are complex and particular. There is no one size fits all solution – no magic bullet – no simple idea that can be easily stated and absorbed. So, if you wish to read further I am going to use this space to get into that in more detail that I will probably be able to manage next month. After all, Patrick can refer people to his book – which is already published – and I could point people to this blog and expect them to root around and find the relevant bits on their own. But having tried that myself yesterday on bike routes, I do not think that is wise.

Clearly my starting position is going to be as stated in the opening paragraphs. Translink is all smoke and mirrors, pay attention to the Premier. He has his hands full right now, and I do not see that crowding on the 99 B-Line is the most significant problem he has to deal with.  The big transport issues are the Gateway and how to pay for it. H1PM and SFPR are both expensive and in their early phases. He is determined that they keep going. The big financial issue – and the current hot potato – is the HST and its expected stimulating economic effect. If he is right and it is fiscally neutral, I do not see much room for Keynesian stimulation. Indeed, shifting once again to regressive taxes on expenditure against reductions in progressive income taxes means that more money leaves the province. Poor people with extra cash tend to spend here: rich people spend – an invest – all over the place and insist that the workings of the free market require them to do so.  Health and education are also big problem areas where people are convinced that the government is not spending enough. We seem to have ridden out the recession better than the US but arguably not as well as the rest of Canada despite our reserves of fossil fuels and willingness to increase their exploitation.  Campbell also wants to look Green – but doesn’t to most people who understand what that term means. Hydro and salmon are the hot buttons there – not transit or transportation.  He is unpopular, but wants to stay on. I wonder how much he is looking at Point Grey – usually a very safe seat indeed – and thinking about how the UBC tube will play out in his own constituency.

Even though there has been a financial crisis – which is still not over – a lot of people are still employed and putting money into pension funds. So all that money needs to be invested in something safe. That used to be real estate. That got badly mucked up by the mortgage backed securities and derivatives scandal, but that effect seems to be largely confined to the US. Not only is the residential sector here newly bouyant, but people are still looking for commercial/industrial developments to invest in. And those investors are now worried about peak oil, and the impact of the latest offshore spill, so developments that feature energy savings and environmental kudos are getting more attention. At one time, you could not get Wall Street to look at anything that was not one of the seven standard types of development  (Leinberger) but now mixed use and new urbanism and LEED-ND seem like better bets.

One issue along Broadway is that if the big outside investors are calling the shots still, more nodes are likely to get built, because big institutions like big chunky projects. It is simply more efficient to deal with one large loan application than many. But if there is to be a pattern of more dispersed incremental growth, then there is much more opportunity for local input – both as investors and stakeholders. One real issue is the preference of public institutions for “economies of scale” too. It is not just national retailers who like big stores – so do health care providers and educational administrators. This also drives up the “need” for motorized travel. It is is not just the aging population that increases the need for HandyDART, it is also that more of the health care system is no longer available locally. Both UBC and SFU have opened their doors downtown: but neither seems to be able to fund more student accommodation on campus – which I would argue is one of the main drivers of demand for the need for more transit. That and UPass. To some extent the province is behind that too – since they were the authors of policies around tuition fees and funding for research which forced universities to become more market oriented, and not just in their use of land. And they have also promised UPass to all post secondary students.

Growth in this region is going to continue for some time to come. We are still expecting another million people to come here in the next twenty years. They have to go somewhere, and the present regional plan says pretty much what the LRSP said about that, but now with added words like “sustainability” and “affordability”. We do argue a lot in this region, but mostly it is about details not principles. We like the clean air, clean water and green space. We are not keen on density, but we are beginning to show that there are enough people here who will embrace the notion of not living in a detached house with three bedrooms and a large yard that other kinds of habitation are desirable and marketable.

Those same people are also showing that given the right environment they will walk and cycle more and drive less.  This is signifiant since we really do not have any great success in getting a greater market share for transit – something that I have been saying on this blog repeatedly.  There are parts of the region, and some journey purposes, where transit is doing better than others, but overall transit share is stagnant.  This suggests that we need to revisit how we assess mode choice. And that brings me to the other news story today.

What changed in Vancouver in recent months was the perception held by ordinary people of what streetcars or trams looked like – and felt like to use.

Bombardier Wins Award for the Olympic Line – Vancouver’s 2010 Streetcar

The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) recognizes Bombardier’s achievement for 60-day streetcar demonstration project in Vancouver, Canada

Berlin, May 18, 2010 – At the CUTA 2010 Annual Conference held in Ottawa, Canada, Bombardier Transportation received an award for the Olympic Line in the category “Exceptional Performance and Outstanding Achievement” under CUTA’s National Transit Corporate Recognition Award Program.

The National Transit Corporate Recognition Awards are designed to highlight successes and achievements at the organizational level of CUTA’s member transit systems, business or bgovernment agencies. The award recipients were selected by a national committee of transit professionals.

Bombardier Transportation and the City of Vancouver, co-sponsors of the 1.8-kilometre Olympic Line, provided free passenger service between January 21 and March 21, 2010.

The two 100% low-floor BOMBARDIER FLEXITY streetcars, operated by Bombardier, carried over 550,000 passengers, and made over 13,000 one-way trips with zero equipment failures, zero station delays and zero injuries.

Raymond Bachant, President, Bombardier Transportation North America, said: “The success of the Olympic Line attests to the extraordinary response to streetcars by commuters in Metro Vancouver. We are gratified by CUTA’s recognition and appreciate its active role to build support for sustainable public transit.” He added, “As communities face growing congestion, light rail can offer a cost-effective option with a positive impact on the urban environment.”

The Olympic Line demonstration project also won a Sustainability Star from the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, which acknowledged a product or service representing a new solution to local and global sustainability challenges.

I am pleased for them – but understand that trams are not a “new solution” – they have been around for years and we ignored them. They have been repackaged – and instead of being seen just as a transportation mode, they are now seen as part of a way of reclaiming the city from the car. The reason grade separated rapid transit was chosen was that it kept the transit system out of the way of the cars. European cities that put their streetcars underground into “pre-metro” systems found that traffic got worse and city centres did not prosper. So they stopped doing that – and made the streets in city centers car free. Trams got the street space instead – as did walking and cycling. And, most importantly, so did people who were not trying to get through but wanted to stay put. Sitting and people watching turned out to be the most popular thing to do. (Jan Gehl. Janette Sadik Khan) By the way, when Toronto replaced streetcars on Yonge and Bloor Streets with subways, traffic volumes increased – traffic expands to fill the space available.

It is also important to understand that the City does NOT think that it needs trams on Broadway. They wanted to show what a downtown streetcar would look like. That project has never been a regional priority. Equally, the City does not do much for transit. The #99 B-Line was introduced without any hoopla – all it did was introduce an express service on top of the local #9. The buses did not stop so often. Even then the City of Vancouver made sure it stopped much more frequently than the transit planners wanted. There was no transit priority for the new bus service – and still isn’t. A peak hours only nonstop UBC-Broadway/Commercial overlay was also short lived – and now extra capacity runs on several parallel routes to boost direct service to UBC. By transit priority I mean exclusive bus lanes – and the ability to extend green phases at signals for approaching buses. Both of these could be quickly implemented if the City thought they were necessary.

Regional transportation is all about getting people through places on their way to somewhere else. I have done consultations on rapid transit on Broadway, and one thing I know from that process is that locals do not want people from elsewhere rushing through their neighbourhood. And it really doesn’t matter what mode gets chosen to do that. They don’t like cars whizzing though, they don’t like rapid buses, they don’t want SkyTrain outside their bedroom windows or commuter rail along the backyard fence. They also do not want the disruption of tunnelling and do not believe any longer that bored tube is a solution to all those ills either.

Now that may seem like an insoluble conundrum, until you start to take the single occupant cars out of the picture. I expect the merchants along Broadway to defend parking along the curb. But the use of that lane for stationary vehicles is actually not very helpful. For one thing, the act of parking and unparking stops movement in the centre lane too. So street capacity of the two lane plus parking each way road is nothing like the theoretical 2,000 vphpd (vehicles per hour per direction) or the 2,600 pphpd (people per our per direction). That is why traffic engineers now say they can get more capacity out of a narrower road than a wider one (Dan Burden). Actually I have always thought that it was the shop keepers and their employees who used those spaces most – but I concede from my experience at 8:30 this morning that is not the case on West Broadway. The shops were open but the parking spaces were empty – even on the side streets. My experience in London was also that people do stop and pop into a shop even if there was supposed to be No Parking, on the bet that most times they would get away with it before the traffic warden came along. A lot of those fences at the curb were put up to stop parkers more than channel pedestrians.

People who stop – as opposed to people who are trying to get through – are what makes a street like West Broadway work. Streets are more important than simple traffic arteries. It is, as Jan Gehl, says the space between the buildings that matters. We have to make that a space where people want to be. If we reduce the space devoted to parking and moving cars, we have more space to move people – and more space for people who have no desire to move much for a while. What that means is that the car becomes relatively less attractive as a mode of transport. We currently focus on making car use as easy and convenient as possible and then wonder why people don’t want to use transit. It is not enough to “punish car users” (as their proponents love to say). What we do is follow the example of all those many places that have found ways to work without cars. Or with many fewer cars.

There are some common elements. Public parking off street is a common one: private parking which is controlled by the retailer is a disaster. It generates many very short motorized trips, and is the reason why No 3 Road – or most of Richmond’s central area – does not work well. The City of Victoria recognizes this and has parkades. So does Kansas City!  Some parking on some streets for special purposes may also be a good idea – but that has to be worked out locally, not prescribed. Taking a lane from cars and giving it to transit exclusively increases the number of people that can be moved. The numbers get too much attention, and the arguments rage over technologies, but the important point is that transit becomes relatively more attractive with respect to the car. (By the way 10,000 pphpd is not hard to do with conventional surface transit.) The car is always available whenever you want it, and goes almost exactly where and when you want it to. Transit can’t do that. But it can do much better than it does here now, and we can quite safely take some of the advantage away from the car user. After all, we don’t need to achieve very much in the way of shift from one mode to the other – and nothing like 100%! We now have around 11% overall, and wanted to get to 17% before now. That still seems to me to be doable. We just have to stop building freeways, and start getting smarter about street use and transit investment. We also have to recognize that many car trips are for short distances and quite trivial reasons – but mostly because of really bad land use decisions – like single purpose zoning. And very low density development.

The transit trip has several elements – at least two walks, some wait time and possibly a transfer or two. Each one of those will have a “penalty” value to in-vehicle time. Just looking at in-vehicle speeds is grossly misleading. We need to assess the whole trip and measure it the way the user perceives it. The good news is that transportation models have been doing that for many years. You just have to have good data to feed them. We have not had that here. We also need to understand that we are not just dealing with a transportation problem  but a livability or sustainability problem. So just looking at ridership is misleading. Moreover, on the Broadway corridor, we already have significant transit use, so simply switching people from buses to trams or trains gets you very little – though you do win some car users just from that change alone.UPass and increasing parking charges at UBC also won some car users to transit. Simply relying on transit technology choice to do the heavy lifting is expensive  – and counterproductive if all you do is just generate more motorized trips. There has to be a co-ordinated approach. “Balanced transport planning” is not just continuing to spend as much as we do now on roads but adding a bit more for transit. It means a long term commitment to reducing the space in the city devoted to moving and parking cars, at the same time as  making all other choices of movement and non-movement more attractive. That does not have to be about speed: it should also be about comfort, safety, convenience and indeed the pleasure of the experience. Just imagine that. Transit as fun. Which was what the Olympic Line achieved and what Disney does every day for all sorts of modes.

But along Broadway we also need to be talking about what sort of place the people who live and work there now want it to be. It will not stay the same no matter what choice is made. Change is the only constant. It is the direction of that change that is important, and change in land use and density has to be part of the discussion. And not just as way of paying for more transit infrastructure. Most of West Broadway is already zoned for four storey buildings. That ought to be a lot more acceptable to the locals than high rises clustered around rapid transit stops at one mile intervals.

The other important consideration is how wide the sidewalks need to be: currently parking serves the function of providing a barrier between pedestrians and moving traffic. But the area in front of the buildings can serve many purposes, mostly to do with allowing people to linger. The biggest change introduced on New York’s Broadway was the number of movable tables and chairs put into what had once been traffic lanes. Originally they were simply “protected” by barrels and paint. More recently it has been concrete planters – and boulders.

The regional transportation answer is going to be lot less than optimum – simply because regional transportation is not the only and far from the most important concern. There has to be a trade off between the need to move people around the region and the need for people to have reasonable places to do everything else. Vancouver rejected freeways through downtown for very good reasons. Unfortunately, there are some types of transit system that share some of the freeways unfortunate impacts – overshadowing, separating and deafening communities. A lot of cities got rid of their elevated trains for those reasons. Similarly not everyone thinks that riding in a hole in the ground is the best way to get around. Maybe if the people who want to drive everywhere were told they had to pay for tunnels they might think harder about their choices? Tunnelling is expensive. And if we stick to existing rights of way and subsurface cut and cover very disruptive. Even bored tube has to have some structures on or near the surface.

But there are, fortunately, plenty of places where the use of surface but separate transit does work very well. And we will not copy them slavishly but be inspired by them to do better – and do things which celebrate the place where we live and the sort of people we want to be.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 18, 2010 at 2:46 pm

50 Responses

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  1. Wow, been a while since I commented here…

    I would add that streetcars have the added benefit of focusing people’s attention on street design and ambiance, which often results in a finer detailing of streets and making them nicer places for pedestrians. Faster moving traffic, and I include cars and Skytrain in this, have the opposite effect – people moving through an area that quickly do not care what the urban area looks like – they are on their way to somewhere else. Cars and Skytrain also require lots of grey concrete, which adds to the negative image of the street. (Notice nice streets often have multi-coloured paving stones, etc.) Skytrain’s close connection with park and rides bothers me in that it is all part of that “fast connection” which ignores the pedestrian element.

    My point is that transit is more intimately connected to the greater urban environment than most people realize, and we should expect the type of transit we use to influence our streets – more than most people would think possible I expect. Transit planners are often engineers (or, gasp economists 😉 and in my experience often forget about the “human element” when planning transit systems. A recent work experience where the engineers could only talk about bus capacities and park and rides left a sour taste in my mouth. There was not one mention of cycling to transit stops, or the importance of urban design in making transit attractive. After all, as we all know, every transit user is also a pedestrian, a fact that I think Skytrain and subways do not cater to very well. We need to start thinking of urban environments as places for people who are moving at walking pace, and listen more to folks like Jan Gehl and Patrick Condon. To be honest I think we also need to think about what a streetcar suburb with a large grey guideway hanging overtop of it will look like as well – I don’t think Vancouver has experienced THAT so far – it’s only been mostly thoroughfares for Skytrain up until now.

    Great essay Stephen, and good luck with your speech.


    May 18, 2010 at 8:45 pm

  2. Not that Broadway would get a guideway, but maybe that should be the test for considering what kind of transit system to install.


    May 18, 2010 at 8:48 pm

  3. Well said Stephen. Businesses along Broadway will scream blue murder at the suggestion of removing parking. Let them scream. According to the Downtown Business Improvement Assoc., among others, the Burrard Bridge Bike lanes were going to have a serious impact on business. Fortunately they didn’t get their way and as far as I can tell downtown is still there and thriving.

    Remove the street parking. When these new 4 storey buildings are built require sufficient off street parking to be included to satisfy the needs of local business.

    I’ve always been quite suspicious of the benefit of street parking to local businesses but it’s most certainly an environmental disaster. I suspect (it’s only a hunch) many people will not park more than a block from where they want to go and either circle the block waiting for a spot to materialize, cancel the trip or park off-street.


    May 18, 2010 at 8:51 pm

  4. There is lot of meat here, so I will comment only but eventually nastily on some contradictions I see:

    You mention about movement: “That does not have to be about speed: it should also be about comfort, safety, convenience and indeed the pleasure of the experience”

    but, when you were describing your commute a couple post ago: it was all about speed and choice to avoid transit to have “extra […] hours a day of useful time”

    and you have even mentioned “another transfer to a slow trolleybus when I am already on a fast train seems to me to be a retrograde step”: could it be different for the people on the M line?

    then you have mentioned 2 others important things:

    You use the Canada line where “service is both frequent and very reliable” but prefer your car to the UBC 480 bus because it is neither.

    That bring us to the transit dilemna:
    letting appart the “reliability”, either you have a direct route, but usually, they can’t support high frequency so they are not “convenient” enough, or a more frequent indirect route (and from Richmond to UBC there is ample choice, including the very high frequency 99), but then involve an overall to long journey (what was the primary reason you were mentioning to choice driving).

    From what you have said: One could conclude that to entice you, apriori a transit advocate, and other to choose transit over car to go to UBC, will require to provide a link from Canada line to UBC with frequency as good as the Canada line north of Bridgeport, if not better, but more important, fast enough, to be able to compete with the more direct route.

    That is for the movement part.

    Second important thing you have mentioned:
    “I used to drive to events in Vancouver – but the price of parking downtown came to be a deterrent to driving. As did the slowness and inconvenience of transit use which was the next best alternative”

    I understand that the #98 was not fast enough, and so it deter you to go to Down Town all together: I could have been in the same case, Canada line allow me to go to DT after my working day in the suburb in timely manner…

    and here is the urban planning point.
    To get a Vibrant “urban” DownTown, where you can successfully organize all sort of event and more specifically “niche market and educational” one like the interesting SFU lecture featuring Janette Sadik Khan and other, you need to make it accessible in reasonable time (to not be a deterrent) by a pretty large population. failing to do it leads invariably to the decline of it, and more often that not to the decline of the city.

    That is for the urban planning.
    No what you say is certainly good and I certainly agree with the “need to be talking about what sort of place the people who live and work [along Broadway] now want it to be”.

    But you have also mentioned that
    1/ we need to accommodate 1 million more people, and preferably not at expense of the urban sprawling, and people have also to think if their children will be able to afford the same neighborhood, and if not, what can be done.
    2/”on the Broadway corridor, we already have significant transit use”, that is good news and show eventually good adequation for local transit, but according to the census 2006 (cited by , near to 80% of people coming from outside Vancouver drive to the Broadway corridor…

    And that is something we should be certainly talking too, isn’it?


    May 18, 2010 at 10:32 pm

  5. Actually voony I don’t see as many contradictions as you. For example the 480 doesn’t run all day at all stops. Off peak it’s down to just two buses per hour from Richmond to UBC. Stephen also describes it as unreliable. His Canada Line trips are also based partly on comfort since rail offers a superior ride to buses.

    I now take Canada Line every day. I don’t like the underground experience, but the ride is smoother than it would be on a bus. There’s also no direct bus from my origin to my destination so I have no reasonable surface option. The best part of my commute, even on a rainy morning like today, is the 12 minute walk to/from Canada Line. There’s a bus along most of my route, but walking is better for me and much more pleasant in most weather. I also like not being tied to Coast Mountain’s idea of a schedule.

    If I took the bus the journey to/from the station would vary from 7 minutes to 19 minutes. On foot the trip always takes 11-12 minutes.

    I disagree on the need for the Evergreen line to proceed first on any grounds other than the fact that it was promised. Of course we were promised no HST during the last election and look how quickly that one got broken.

    Evergreen SkyTrain will never have the ridership to justify its construction costs, but I also disagree with it from an urban design standpoint.

    The project promises to reinforce the notion that Port Moody and northern Coquitlam are bedroom communities to be left in the morning and returned to in the evening. If built, there’s little doubt that high density residential nodes will replace current commercially zoned properties forcing even more people to commute for work. Such a project will also reinforce the concept of the private automobile as king. The future of the area appears to be more lanes of asphalt not fewer which should attract more through traffic. Through traffic discourages walking, cycling and local shopping, even that done by car.

    Small business is the engine of our economy and employs the vast majority of Canadians. Yet our elected representatives continue to act in ways that shift both money and power from the hands of the many to the hands of the few. We’re being governed, more or less, by large corporations.


    May 19, 2010 at 12:38 am

  6. By now you can guess that I am a Jarrett Walker-ite. Many of the points you raise have counter-ponts on his blog, including your thoughts on Disney making transit fun. [1]

    Putting a local-service tram system IMO will probably be a neighbourhood enhancement for Point Grey, but I am not able to see any regional benefit. Even a limited stop LRT-type service would provide more regional benefit and move people to Broadway /UBC faster. However, I would then fear that BARSTA would then morph into a ‘save our st clair’ type advocacy group.

    “inordinate attention and resources were devoted to dealing with individuals whose main interest was to ensure that the project would not proceed. Extension of the public debate in this manner really meant that ‘closure’ of the consultation process was never really achieved. Lack of closure plagued the entire implementation process.

    Anyone experienced in community consultation regarding public works, of course, recognizes that conflicts almost always arise between those charged with ‘getting something done’ and those who want to ensure that ‘nothing is done’.” [2]


    “This is signifiant since we really do not have any great success in getting a greater market share for transit – something that I have been saying on this blog repeatedly. There are parts of the region, and some journey purposes, where transit is doing better than others, but overall transit share is stagnant.”

    I think that’s incorrect. Recent trip diary studies show that transit mode share increased from 10.8 to 12.5% from 2004 to 2008. Compared to moe in 2004, which was stuck at 10.1%. And that’s for all trips, in all regions of the metro area, pre-canada line. We can certainly do better, but i think you give translink less credit than they deserve. [3]


    May 19, 2010 at 1:18 am

  7. David, you say “For example the 480 doesn’t run all day at all stops. Off peak it’s down to just two buses per hour from Richmond to UBC.”.

    I don’t argue this. but since you are mentioning explicitly the frequency. my reading at the VPL seems to indicate that the 480 bus has more or less the one of the streetcars touted by Patrick Condon. Sure our society has evolved, and what was acceptable a century ago, is not anymore…
    And higher frequency require higher market base…
    480 doesn’t eventually have it:
    so is the transit dilemna:

    direct route low frequency vs indirect route high frequency:

    But the later has its drawback…it practically works, only if it proves to provide a time gain. and it is what express the rider Stephen 😉

    On a side note, lot of people have said that the Canada line “will never have the ridership to justify its construction costs”: lesson is to not to do some doom prediction because we personally don’t like a project.


    May 19, 2010 at 9:18 am

  8. […] What’s happening on Broadway? [Stephen Rees's Blog] Squamish band wants to develop land near Burrard Bridge [The Vancouver Sun] […]

    re:place Magazine

    May 19, 2010 at 10:59 am

  9. It doesn’t matter how many passengers the Canada Line attracts. It simply doesn’t have the theoretical maximum capacity to justify its construction costs.

    Currently the time saving (not including station access time) versus LRT is about 4 minutes for someone going all the way from Waterfront to Bridgeport. When Canada Line starts hitting capacity during peak periods it will get slower than LRT because it will leave some passengers on the platform that LRT would have been able to take.

    Spend 4 times as much for minimal short term time savings. I cannot understand why anyone thinks that was a good idea.

    To have such lunacy on the table for West Broadway is a crime.


    May 19, 2010 at 11:12 am

  10. Corey

    you wrote

    Skytrain’s close connection with park and rides bothers me

    There is only one Translink park and ride on SkyTrain at Scott Road. Elsewhere municipal regulations ensure that street space is not used by those who want to park and ride. The Canada Line has a very useful arrangement with the casino at Bridgeport.


    There is a need to distinguish between what I think I need to do now to make the best use of my time on the current system, and what we could do to improve the system to encourage more people to switch from cars to transit. I tried really hard to use the transit system when I had a free pass – and I have written about that extensively. I am not convinced that it makes any difference at all what I chose to do on one trip compared to what we – as a region – need to do to change millions of trips. We cannot expect the general population to all become transit enthusiasts who go out of their way to ride interesting and unusual services.

    Actually one thing that does concern me about Translink’s methods of counting potential riders for its subway is that a lot of those riders originate in Richmond. If they build the UBC extension, I would expect them to cancel the #480. As usual they discount the benefits to the user of a direct, no transfer ride over the need to boost initial ridership on the new service. They did with the #98 B Line too and it did NOT work and they had to put back one seat services.


    I did not see that press release (I was out of town at the time) – and it does not seem to have created a great deal of coverage elsewhere either.

    You are right, mode share has improved – a bit. But still it is not nearly enough. 12.5 is better than 10.8 – but not even close to the target of 17% we set ourselves in the LRSP/Transport2021 for now. But the even more significant figure is “The rate of trips per person on all travel modes in Metro Vancouver declined significantly from a peak of 3.24 per day in 2004 to 2.65 in 2008”. Since transit improvements were very limited in their geographic coverage, there was clearly a major impact on behaviour – increasing gas prices being the most obvious candidate and possibly the impact of the 2008 financial crash too.

    Stephen Rees

    May 19, 2010 at 12:06 pm

  11. “I am not convinced that it makes any difference at all what I chose to do on one trip compared to what we – as a region – need to do to change millions of trips.”

    I do appreciate your candor, Mr Rees, but I really find this hard to accept.

    As a transit advocate, why did you have to say this? 😦


    May 19, 2010 at 12:20 pm

  12. I agree 100% with Stephen. I sent an e-mail to the West Broadway Business association warning them that, while I am personally a fan of trams, the Broadway businesses are kidding themselves if they think that building a tram will means business as usual. I purposely visited Bordeaux in 2003 while they were building their tram system (3 lines at once..)and the streets where the lines ran were totally closed off, except for the sidewalks (the businesses were wholly or partially compensated for losses).
    I also noted that in Europe tram lines along shopping streets means either a drastic reduction in the number of car lanes or no cars at all. I attached photos. Needless to say, they didn’t reply as my message wasn’t what they want to hear.
    here are some Bordeaux photos by a professional photograph:
    and a skilled amateur:

    Regarding the never ending battle about SkyTrain versus LRT (neve mind that Europeans often call them all LRT)..many towns use them all. Best example is Tokyo (I have been there 3 times). Besides the subways and the elevated trains with drivers they have 2 automated LRT (VAL type with ruber tires) AND a tram line.

    Even a “small” town like Kobe (it looks like the North Shore here, a tram wedged between the water and a mountain range) the transit is made of (besides buses) subways, train lines from 3 different companies and 2 automated LRT (VAL type). I have visited Kobe about 7 times.

    Red frog

    May 19, 2010 at 12:26 pm

  13. I should have added that the photos I sent to the West Broadway association were mine.
    Quite a few European towns that have trams have park and ride lots. Bordeaux has 15. For around 3 Euros a car driver can park there all day long and get a free return ticket from the Park and Ride lot to downtown. If there are passengers in that car each one also get a free return ticket. This has been a very popular incentive.

    Red frog

    May 19, 2010 at 12:36 pm

  14. Mezz – because the ad hominem attack by Voony needed a response. The transit system in Metro Vancouver is not nearly good enough – and has not really got very much better since I have been here. The system in the City of Vancouver is different – and in some parts of other cities in the region. To some extent this reflects the way this region grew in the automobile era, and getting the land use right – rebuilding the suburbs – is going to take a long time. In the interim, it seems to me that transit advocates have to keep up the pressure to make the transit system better – especially in the suburbs. Becoming a cheer leader for Translink is not the answer. Nor is making extraordinary efforts to use transit when it is inconvenient. Maybe the market power of use/non-use gets noticed? No, probably not. I never eat at McDonalds, or shop at WalMart, and it doesn’t seem to have affected them either.

    Stephen Rees

    May 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm

  15. @ Stephen Rees: “I am not convinced that it makes any difference at all what I chose to do on one trip compared to what we – as a region – need to do to change millions of trips. We cannot expect the general population to all become transit enthusiasts who go out of their way to ride interesting and unusual services.”

    Triple digit oil prices will surely drive up the demand for public transit, and it could happen very quickly especially when gasoline prices approach and exceed $2/litre, which is probably the next psychological barrier to breach. I suggest financing a Broadway tube to UBC will garner much greater support amongst the public then, as will trams and trolley busses elsewhere. Redesigning the suburbs may actually come easier once suburbanites wake up and see the tsunami approaching, but also see real alternatives being built on, under and above the ground.

    The conclusion to the following report (link below) starts with: “This report has laid out why we may be entering a near-term period of profound and abrupt change.” This one is very sobering.

    Click to access Tipping%20Point.pdf


    May 19, 2010 at 3:59 pm

  16. I would like to think Meredith that you are right. The problem I see is that in the car dependent suburbs, there really is little alternative to driving. And, since the province is committed to building more roads and freeways, that isn’t likely to change any time soon. We would need a lot of rapid transit to be installed very quickly across the eastern part of the region if we were going to crack the nut of transit mode shares of 4% in Surrey and less than 2% in Langley. Building very expensive subways at the extreme western end gets a very much lower rate of return if we measure it by points of mode shift per million dollars spent

    Stephen Rees

    May 19, 2010 at 4:10 pm

  17. “Building very expensive subways at the extreme western end gets a very much lower rate of return if we measure it by points of mode shift per million dollars spent”

    Don’t be so sure of this. The total cost per passenger trip and km over the life time of the project will likely be less expensive for a Broadway subway than providing bus service in the less dense areas of the region. And because rail and especially fast rail attracts more new passengers, the cost per new rider could be much less. Don’t forget that while debt serving costs remain the same over time, operating costs increase with inflation.

    A subway also allows street space to be used for other purposes such as separated bike lanes and wider sidewalks further decreasing car usage. There is likely more potential for people in the western areas to live without a car which is a very effective way of reducing car trips.

    Anyway, it would be good to wait until TransLink has provided more information on the costs and the ridership projections for the options before drawing conclusions.


    May 19, 2010 at 4:39 pm

  18. Don’t be so sure I meant bus service!

    Stephen Rees

    May 19, 2010 at 4:47 pm

  19. I feel sorry to read that my comments are considered as “ad hominem attack”, it was not their intends.

    Their intends were to highlight the fact that we, as an individual, use some rational to justify our personal choice/behavior (and here it is time), but eventually dismiss them when come to explain other people choice/behavior, eventually because it is not fitting our societal agenda, and you provided me this opportunity. That is possibly eventually what some call the Fundamental Error Attribution ( ).

    and sure, one people choice will not change the whole dynamic, but the fact is that the whole is the sum of millions of individual choices…and understand them is at the root of things.

    at the end, David: don’t be shine, why the skytrain is only 4 times more expensive than LRT? it has been lot of inflation there since the canada line, we are at least at 10 times more those day according to some source, ans still counting…


    May 19, 2010 at 8:26 pm

  20. “Don’t be so sure I meant bus service!”

    I’m not so sure rail in the valley would perform any better per passenger or new passenger financially than a Broadway subway. Anyway, I’m not sure it matters, both are badly needed.


    May 19, 2010 at 9:15 pm

  21. @ voony

    Unlike some who like to exaggerate the difference between at-grade and grade separated transit I try to use realistic numbers and account for challenging physical locations like crossing the Fraser River. I’m quite certain the Canada Line bridge cost a lot more than on-street construction does. I also try to stick with apples to apples comparisons where possible, but everyone should remember that when borrowing to finance a capital expenditure interest has to be factored into the total cost. Borrowing $1 billion that you can repay in 20 years is far different than borrowing $4 billion that takes 50 years to clear off the books.

    Should SW Richmond explode with higher density in the next 40 years it will need something better than the current bus system, but adding just 1km to the Canada Line will cost more than building light rail all the way from Brighouse to the heart of Steveston.

    Anyway I like the fact that Stephen is trying to focus on the built environment, on creating space for people. Any transportation decision that encourages people to move around individually packaged in 2 tonnes of metal, glass and plastic is the wrong one for the future.


    May 19, 2010 at 10:34 pm

  22. @ David:

    “Unlike some who like to exaggerate the difference between at-grade and grade separated transit I try to use realistic numbers and account for challenging physical locations like crossing the Fraser River.”

    Actually, Voony is asking you about the veracity of your numbers. For instance, I’m trying to parse what you said above:

    “It doesn’t matter how many passengers the Canada Line attracts. It simply doesn’t have the theoretical maximum capacity to justify its construction costs.”

    What does that mean, exactly? How would you justify the C-line as it is? ridership? potential ridership? speed? surface effects? the need to tunnel? don’t forget Ottawa’s new LRT proposal includes a tunnelled section in downtown, and a major cost-driver, but deemed important to avoid disrupting downtown surface traffic.

    If anything, if you’ve looked at voony’s blog, it is meticulously footnoted to reputable links. It’s a great blog, BTW.


    May 20, 2010 at 11:28 am

  23. @David

    Transit projects need to be evaluated financially on both capital costs, operating costs and revenue.

    The Canada Line south of 41st could have been surface rail and operated by drivers. It was actually expected by most people that it would be LRT as people assumed that option would perform better financially. Well, guess what, the winning bidder, a private business concerned about profits, chose to make it entirely grade separated.

    On creating space for people, grade separated transit is more effective than surface transit. It is much easier to create car free streets, wider sidewalks and separated bike lanes if the transit is underground.


    May 20, 2010 at 12:32 pm

  24. I have lived, shopped, socialized and commuted to, from and through the Broadway corridor for 30 years, four of which were spent in transit hell to UBC from Main Street during the 80s. I lean strongly in favour of a subway to UBC coupled with an improved #9 trolley bus service on the Broadway corridor for the reasons outlined below. This does not mean I am a SkyTrain Lobbyist or am anti-light rail. I am pro-transit in all its forms, but believe that the appropriate form must be adapted to specific conditions.

    In my opinion there are six issues that must be equitably addressed when considering Broadway rapid transit:

    1. Regional importance.
    2. Balance between local access and regional mobility.
    3. Quality of service and safety.
    4. The small city at the end of the line.
    5. Human-scaled urban design.
    6. Full cost accounting over the life of the project.

    1./ Broadway, like it or not, is one of the top-rated and densest corridors in the region, not just for transit usage and traffic, but for commercial businesses of all sizes and service industries, notably Western Canada’s largest hospital complex. It is not merely a road, but a vital regional economic component with a huge influence for several blocks on either side west of Commercial Drive covering roughly 1,000 hectares of land containing high and medium density urban development. It is second only to the downtown peninsula in economic activity and residential density. It is also the missing right leg and lower spine of the regional rapid transit network, which works at great disadvantage without it. Any connection to the existing rapid transit system works best if it is seamless. This leads naturally to an extension of the Millennium Line.

    2./ Broadway has a duo identity not only related to regional connectivity, but to six distinct local neighbourhoods which must be respected. While trams will afford support of the fine grain streetwall of shops and accommodate local needs to a degree, mostly through the slower speed options and denser ‘bus stop’ station spacing, I believe proponents, local residents and shop owners underestimate the disruption to the functional character of the street when higher surface speeds and dedicated medians are considered to address the important regional mobility demand on Broadway. A dedicated median will likely be fenced to separate faster trains from other traffic, including pedestrians, and this will sever 30 of 38 existing signalized crossings for pedestrians and impact the walk-in foot traffic so vital to businesses, much of which originates from across the street. Forcing pedestrians to walk 500+ metres out of the way merely to cross the street and walk back is not an option worthy of consideration in this corridor. A slow tram will accommodate the pedestrian traffic, but regional mobility is then sacrificed. Moreover, a slow tram will essentially replace existing heavily used buses at great expense, but will show marginal improvement at best in the transit service. In this case, it is more financially prudent to improve the bus service on the surface, but because Broadway neighbourhoods are not isolated villages but are in fact connected to a metropolis, regional mobility must be addressed. Hence the subway option coupled with an improved #9 bus service may be the best option to strike the vital balance between local needs and regional mobility.

    3./ It is terribly unfortunate that light-rail advocates have placed monoculture technology and capital costs ahead of quality of service and safety here. How very limiting and backward that is, especially when considering the city Metro Vancouver will become in future, and the consequence of long-term operating costs which are routinely ignored in the capital cost cacophony. It runs counter to the transit planning objectives in Europe and Asia where quality of service is at or near the top of the planning criteria list, and where technology choice and its attached costs are tailored to the specific conditions, not imposed on every condition. As a result, cities on those continents will remain far in advance of Vancouver in terms of sustainability, efficient use of energy and non-automobile mobility. Moreover, I suspect the transit financing models are far superior on those continents, and underfunding by senior governments is not s serious issue. Any amateur can make overtly simplistic and highly selective cost comparisons between transit modes followed by adolescent rhetorical flourishes (“you could give each UBC student a Prius for the cost of a Broadway subway”) conveniently downplaying the not-insignificant capital costs of tram services and ignoring their high permanent operating costs compared to driverless rapid transit. But which advocate will do the research to calculate the per capita expenditures on transit between cities of equal size in Europe or Asia and rate their quality of service, then compare them to Western North America? A level playing field is required, and service quality and per capita expenditure calculations help accomplish that by removing the kindergarten politics, childish commentary and ignorance about the plethora of transit services in the great cities of the world, cities we can learn from.

    Safety at crossings with surface rail of any kind is also of paramount consequence. If a surface rail option is chosen for Broadway, then every few minutes hundreds of passengers would be dumped at station platforms in the centre of the road at rush hours. The passengers will have to cross at least two lanes of traffic to get to the sidewalk pedestrian zones in addition to what they already encounter now. The stations will also be located at major intersections with heavily-trafficked arterials and significant volumes of turning movements. The potential for conflict between all manner of vehicle (trains, trucks, cars, motorcycles, bikes) and human beings will thus increase by several orders of magnitude. If a risk assessment was performed on every rapid transit option proposed for Broadway, then my loonie is on the subway as being the safest, notably for its grade separation and absence of surface crossings.

    4./ There are two factors that make Broadway vital to regional mobility. One is the fact is a regional destination within itself. The other is the fact UBC is at the end of the line. Both destinations have high existing commuting destination numbers. The UBC through-commuters complicate the local access and trip speed issues on Broadway. It is not unreasonable to consider separating these commuters to a degree by offering both an 80 kph speed between widely spaced stations, and a slower two-block stop speed, as proposed with the subway + improved #9 bus services.

    5./ Stephen inferred with much assurance, but with little substance, proof or references, that the decision to provide a grade-separated SkyTrain in the 80s was to protect the surface car traffic from interference, and by extension this would be so with a Broadway tube. I place that statement in the same box of comments as trams bring good urbanism / SkyTrain bad, or that anyone who doesn’t support trams is a “SkyTrain Lobbyist”. It is just as possible that Bill Vanderzalm and his deputies in government at the time were somehow taken with the ‘high tech’ of the 70s Disco Decade and grade separation was necessary to obviously support driverless trains, which became a gleaming bauble built for Expo 86. Soaring over the gridlock may have been only a side benefit. The guideway as currently built is an urban abomination (it didn’t have to be), but that is somewhat mitigated by the quality of architecture on the M-Line, and the fact old railway rights-of-way and primary highways running through the suburbs are big enough to absorb a guideway, which by comparison is about ¼ the size of an average viaduct for cars. Broadway does not have the luxuries of width, parallel right-of-way, or low existing density.

    SkyTrain in a subway is all but invisible, as proven on the downtown peninsula. Even Dan Burden was impressed with the frequency of SkyTrain service and opinionated on the potential of station spaces to be unique people-only places generously extended outwards in a tour I attended with a group organized by Michael Geller a few years back. Urban design and architecture are products of city halls and architectural firms, not of transit technologies. The black hole known as Metrotown could have just as easily resulted from a light rail line as it did SkyTrain. The provincial government and TransLink are not responsible for urban planning, though the transit lines they build can sure stimulate the urban economy.

    It is my opinion that whatever rapid transit option is imposed on Broadway should be accompanied by design charrettes in each neighbourhood where the human scale is profoundly influential on any development related to transit, especially at the neighbourhood level. Moreover, if I had my way, the sidewalks at every intersection and subway station would be widened everywhere on Broadway, therein taking out a big chunk of parking / road space, not just to accommodate electric trolleys on the #9 route (i.e. curb bump outs), but for mid-block crosswalks in Central Broadway. The expanded pedestrian realm would also be treated with high quality materials, public art, rain shelters, and buskers, food kiosks, outdoor cafes and small shops would all be widely encouraged.

    6./ The capital and financing costs of a subway could top $4 billion over a 30-year amortization period, especially if it was built for future demand and to the highest standards, rather than emulate the Canada Line which was built for today’s political expediency and private partner benefit. Metro Vancouver will exceed Montreal as Canada’s second largest city by mid-century at existing growth rates. Broadway will remain a very important corridor superior to any other corridor, therefore any rapid transit option must feature things like minimum 100 m station platforms, two points of access / egress beyond emergency exits, etc.

    I suggest that a tram line on Broadway will also cost $4+ billion over 30 years. First, the capital costs are routinely underestimated by amateur proponents with little construction experience. I contend it will be half the cost of a subway at least. But what you save in initial apital expenditures will quickly be made up in labour costs and the costs of litigation from the inevitable hundreds of tragic accidents that will occur during that period at surface crossings.

    A subway will last 100+ years, and will have at least 70 years of amortization-free service. Subways do not depreciate quickly in normal circumstances, and the concrete is usually harder at 50 years than at 5. Moreover, driverless trains have very low labour costs, unlike trams where driver’s average pay exceeds $30/hr today, and increasing the frequency of trains is not tied to a large labour pool of drivers on standby. It is reasonable to suggest that the huge increases in ridership and low overhead for decade after decade of high frequency service would make the long-term prospects of a subway more feasible.

    Lastly, much has been made by critics of the amount of concrete used in subways and its attendant GHG emissions, while the century-long displacement of billions of tonnes of emissions from cars gets ignored. A 19-year-old Econ 101 student can spot this childish omission in seconds. Moreover, up to a third of the Portland cement component of concrete (the component that produces the highest emissions) can be displaced with other materials with lower or non-existent inherent emissions. It’s only a matter of time when Portland cement will be made in electric induction kilns powered by the tides, hydro or wind and funded by carbon taxes or international cap and trade programs.

    Here’s to a more thorough analysis of the Broadway rapid transit project. And BTW, I do support lots and lots of light rail and vastly increased bus service in the Valley and everywhere else, like Vancouver Island. But Broadway is different.


    May 20, 2010 at 4:29 pm

  25. @ mezzanine:

    I’m in the Patrick Condon camp when it comes to the number of passengers needed to justify subways. Canada Line, as currently built, cannot carry anywhere close to the number of passengers he says are needed to justify such construction.

    @ Richard

    While I often disagree with Richard, he at least has reasons for thinking grade separation is a good thing. He is able to justify it by placing high value on the public space it leaves available for other uses. If most of that space wasn’t being used to move/park cars, trucks and SUVs I would be more inclined to agree with him.

    But he fails to look beyond what has been built. Sure it’s nice to have a bicycle path paralleling the Millennium line, but the choice of technology produced a 20 year delay getting rail transit to the Tri-cities and a 20-25 year delay getting rail to Central Broadway. The impact on other parts of Metro Vancouver has been just as great.

    If we ignore numbers completely for a moment and just consider social impacts, the cost of those delays must be enormous. We’ve raised another whole generation of auto-dependent people and set the stage for Gateway to happen.

    My final comment is not directed at anyone here because even those who debate me seem to want what’s best. I will close simply by saying that anyone who promotes grade separated transit where it’s not economically viable is directly supporting more highways and that I cannot condone.


    May 20, 2010 at 5:07 pm

  26. Here’s a question that I haven’t seen answered (maybe I missed it): What would the change in transit mode share to destinations on Broadway be if light rail was built? Skytrain? I’m trying, but I don’t understand the justification to spend money to replace the 99 with something that will travel at the same rate of speed.

    Re cars parked on the street: street parking inevitably makes the street safer (and I presume) more inviting for pedestrians. The elimination of street parking on Broadway will certainly degrade the pedestrian environment by forcing them to walk adjacent to either speeding or idling cars. The removal of street parking was a favorite 60s tactic of traffic engineers to speed up traffic.

    We already have excellent short-distance transit service on Broadway – the 9 and 99. We don’t need another short-distance transit service, we need a long-distance one.


    May 20, 2010 at 6:07 pm

  27. @David

    It is a lack of funding from the provincial government that is the issue regarding the Evergreen Line and the Millennium Line extension, not the choice of technology. If the vehicle levy had not been rejected by the province, both projects would have been completed by now. The province has plenty of money for transportation in the Lower Mainland, the problem is that most of it has been used for roads.

    There is no evidence from other places in North America that would support the contention that using LRT results in a faster network build out or higher ridership. In fact, most cities in North America similar in size to Vancouver have smaller rail networks and much lower transit ridership.

    I must admit that I suspect part of the reason for greater willingness of governments and taxpayers to pay more grade separated transit is the perception that it doesn’t impact traffic. However, I also expect that part of the willingness is the perception that it is faster and that more people will use it. People and politicians see a greater benefit for it and are willing to pay for it.

    Also, higher operating costs and lower revenue of LRT also may have negated any savings in capital costs anyway.

    In the end, what matters is getting rail on the ground and while I wish that it would happen much quicker, realistically, I don’t think that would have happened with LRT.

    What I do know is that the constant bashing of each others favourite type of transit is not an effective way of convincing politicians to transit. In fact, it is probably a great way to get the province to fund roads instead.

    A better strategy is to continue to point out all the economic, social, health and environmental benefits of all transit. The reality is that even the most expensive forms of transit, are typically good investments. Of course, there are obviously projects that would not make any sense, like a SkyTrain to Hope, but no one is seriously proposing something like that.


    May 20, 2010 at 6:12 pm

  28. @ David:
    “I’m in the Patrick Condon camp when it comes to the number of passengers needed to justify subways. Canada Line, as currently built, cannot carry anywhere close to the number of passengers he says are needed to justify such construction.”

    I am guessing that is the 400,000 daily ridership that you are alluding to. Is that apocryphal, or a true spec Condon?

    David, I have been searching myself where he has stated that, to no avail. If you have a link to where he says that, I would be grateful.


    May 20, 2010 at 6:43 pm

  29. @ Chris: “Re cars parked on the street: street parking inevitably makes the street safer (and I presume) more inviting for pedestrians. The elimination of street parking on Broadway will certainly degrade the pedestrian environment by forcing them to walk adjacent to either speeding or idling cars. The removal of street parking was a favorite 60s tactic of traffic engineers to speed up traffic.”

    The Showcase Project on Main St a few years back produced many curb bumpouts at bus stops as well as many intersections, notably in mid-Main. It took out some parking.

    As the result, the pedestrian realm is larger and the length of crosswalks has been shorter. Busses dwell time at stops is also much shorter becasue they are not having to pull back into traffic. It is inconvenient for some drivers to be stuck behind a stopped bus, but that’s tough. My only beef is that they had to stretch $6 million from the inlet to the river, so better quality design options couldn’t be explored.

    Main is a heavily travelled commercial and commuter street, not unlike Broadway. Although Broadway is longer and more dense, there is no over-riding reason why bumpouts and mid-block crosswalks cannot be used there, while keeping some parking, namely for commercial loading.


    May 20, 2010 at 7:53 pm

  30. While I respect Richard’s skepticism, the original LRT vision for what became the Millennium Line stretched from Broadway and Granville to Coquitlam Centre. When the technology changed, the number of route miles was cut back to what we have today and the seemingly endless wait for rail in the Tri-cities and Central Broadway began.

    I would have chosen a somewhat different configuration and timing for Broadway. I haven’t worked it all out just yet, but I would have risked annoying Port Moody in order to avoid the horrendous cost of traversing the Clarke Road hill. The rest of my network would have reduced demand for Port Moody to Lougheed travel making it likely that a bus would be sufficient until long after I’m dead and buried.

    Very quickly what could have happened instead of Millennium and Canada Lines:

    UBC to Douglas College via Broadway, Lougheed, Pinetree.
    Waterfront to Steveston via Arbutus, No. 3, Granville, Railway
    Additional track on Granville in Vancouver allowing direct trains from UBC to Waterfront and Coquitlam to Waterfront.
    Burquitlam to New West mainly to link LRT to SkyTrain.

    Future projects that make sense even with the SkyTrain/Canada Line network in place:

    * Vancouver – Langley via CN, SRY railways
    * Newton, Surrey City Centre, Guildford, Fleetwood loop
    * E-W line along Hastings/Barnet all the way to Mission as an all-day, bi-directional replacement for the WCE. Obviously not all trains would go all the way.
    * Interurban branches and extensions to Walnut Grove, south Langley, Abbotsford, YXX, Chilliwack. Again there would be a mix of train destinations such as Surrey City Centre to YXX and south Langley to Vancouver.
    * E-W line from UBC to uptown New Westminster along Marine, 41st, Kingsway and a suitable street in New West.
    * N-S line from Stanley Park to Steveston Highway via Main Street and the soon to be abandoned CN line in Richmond.
    * Some sort of tourist oriented service as proposed by the City of Vancouver in their downtown streetcar plans.


    May 21, 2010 at 1:37 am

  31. Since, I read here and there what I think are some misconception about european trams, and more specifically french ones, pretty often showcased by translink staff, I have quickly added a post on it, dealing more specifically on the public space sharing:


    May 21, 2010 at 2:27 am

  32. Personally I don’t like walking on sidewalks next to high speed traffic. There are several blocks of Smithe and Nelson Streets that are like that (some without the buffer of street trees).

    While I recognize the benefits of bus bulges, as a pedestrian, I’m not keen on the corner bulges because they make it harder for me as a pedestrian to signal my intent to cross (a busy) street. Without a bulge, I can start walking across by inching across and cars will stop. But with the corner bulge -> one step and I’m in a travelled lane of traffic.


    May 21, 2010 at 11:48 am

  33. MB “Safety at crossings with surface rail of any kind is also of paramount consequence. If a surface rail option is chosen for Broadway…” and you visualize all sorts of problems..

    Have you ever seen the trams that have been built in many European towns in the past 15 years? they only run in a median if the street is wide enough. Otherwise the 2 tracks are on one side of the road and the platform stop near the centre of the road has protective railings if the street has lots of traffic. After a tram leaves then passengers cross both tracks at a crossing located at this stop
    Passengers using stations built on a wide median have less problems than pedestrians crossing a wide boulevard without trams. The formers only have 2 car lanes to cross, at a stop light, while the later have to walk fast to cross many more car lanes.

    I was in Seattle yesterday May 20, and rode their LRT from one end to the other. I made a point of getting off at a couple of stations built on a median and there was no problems crossing the street.
    I noticed that the Tram had green lights all the way. My only complaint is that it runs only every 10 or 15 minutes..
    I prefer subways, especially for long distance trips but, unlike Europe and Asia it appears that BC can’t afford one.

    Red frog

    May 21, 2010 at 1:37 pm

  34. I guess I’m just one of those people who doesn’t like being underground for more than a few minutes at a time. It’s not claustrophobia or anything like that, I just find it unpleasant and don’t like the fact that there’s nothing to look at except fellow passengers who wish you’d look somewhere else.

    Subway maps are invariably representative and not geographically accurate so in many cities I’ve found myself a bit disoriented when leaving a subway station.

    When I was in Berlin I rode both U-bahn (subway) and S-bahn (at grade/elevated) systems. The old S-bahn trains had manual doors so you could just slide them open and stick your camera out. On one occasion I had most of my body hanging outside the moving train and barely got back inside before we passed a train coming the other way.

    I enjoyed riding trams in Amsterdam, Brussels, Heidelberg and Stuttgart, and definitely prefer the above ground portions of the London tube, BART, MuniMetro, Toronto subway and Edmonton LRT to their underground sections.

    Many cities have railway lines for long distance freight and passenger trains. I would prefer limited stop trains over such lines to subways for long distances like Newton to Vancouver. There’d probably be one stop in Kings, one in Kennedy, one at Scott Road SkyTrain, one near Braid, one at Sperling, one at Renfrew and then a whole lot of options in Vancouver itself. Direct trains to downtown could use the CN and CP to Waterfront or the downtown streetcar route for better connections to other parts of the city.

    If demand warrants direct Coquitlam and Surrey to UBC connections there are two reasonable options for trams coming in on the main line: either turning south at Main and joining the Broadway line there or continuing west along the Olympic line to Granville Island and then up the hill joining Broadway at Arbutus.


    May 21, 2010 at 4:56 pm

  35. I’m never sure what the “U” and “S” stand for in Gemany, parts of the U-Bahn in Berlin are above ground, and parts of the S-Bahn are underground. The S-Bahn goes to the suburbs, and the U-Bahn is mostly Urban, but the sign at the entrance at Wittenbergplatz suggests that the U stands for “Underground” …

    I’m of two minds on this… on the one hand, if you take the same train each and every day, the scenery almost doesn’t matter… on the other hand, the view from the front of M-Line tonight eastbound before sunset was breathtaking… but on the other hand, for 1/3 of the year it’s dark out during the commute home anyway.

    As for grade separation keeping “the transit system out of the way of the cars.”, remember that it’s equally true that grade separation keeps the cars out of the way of the transit system. For all its warts, SkyTrain is never interferred with by traffic accidents, emergency vehicles, downed lines, malfunctioning traffic lights, or any of the various screw-ups that can cause turmoil on the streets.

    Is this even necessary? Well, even though it’s May and UBC is not in session, the line up for the 99 at Commercial-Broadway still backs up into the station in the morning… where are these people going?

    One last thought, iirc the parking on Broadway in Kits is limited to 1 hour, any merchant or employee that regularly parks there is surely likley to be ticketed.

    Dave 2

    May 21, 2010 at 10:49 pm

  36. Re Bordeaux (in Voony latest post)..
    two reasons for the Park and Rides in Bordeaux.
    1-Bordeaux has about 240 000 people at the last count and cannot expand horizontally–as it is entirely surrounded by suburbs–or vertically as most of downtown is historical and high rises neither allowed nor wanted.
    2-Bordeaux, like many if not most, European cities both big and small, turned its major downtown shopping streets into pedestrian ones starting in 1977 (this was only made possible by the construction of a freeway around the town)

    The construction of 3 tram lines at once from 2000 to 2003 meant that several car lanes had to be removed from all the streets used by the trams. Along the river the wide quais that had been used as parking lots for ages were turned into flower gardens and green spaces for sports.
    Most of the people that live downtown cannot have a parking in their building but can rent a reserved spot in their street or nearby (if parking is allowed at all) for 1 Euro per day.

    As a result parking for shoppers is restricted downtown. Park and Ride lots, along with a free return ticker for the driver and all his passengers, was needed to ensure that suburbanites would keep shopping downtown.

    Most of the suburbs are now more populated than Bordeaux itself..mostly with single family houses and a few buildings of a medium height.

    Red frog

    May 22, 2010 at 12:41 am

  37. @David

    “When the technology changed, the number of route miles was cut back to what we have today.”

    The technology changed and something actually got built and the route miles of rail transit increased. The planning work was well underway for the Tri-cities link and it was starting for the Millennium Line extension. The extensions were delayed for political reasons not because of the technology. TransLink even switch to LRT for the Evergreen Line and that didn’t help. There was not much public support for LRT so the province switched back to SkyTrain

    And instead of building the Alex Fraser Bridge, the Massey Tunnel and Highway 1, we could have had an excellent rail network over the entire reason.

    It is easy to think that the situation would have been better if other decisions were made but it is impossible to know whether or not the rail network would be longer today or that the system ridership would be greater. Again, just look at the size and ridership of rail networks in other cities around North America. If it was true that with LRT the system on the ground would be larger today, then many cities would have networks that are 3 to 4 times longer than ours and that is simply not the case.

    Anyway, reflecting on what might have been does not do any good at all. The system in place today, while not perfect, has been successful or at least the majority of people in the region perceive it as being successful and want more. The way forward is push for further expansion and not endlessly debate what might have been.

    I like your idea of a higher speed, limited stop network to compliment the current network as well as trams and I expect others do as well. A vision of a more expansive and comprehensive network will bring more people on board as they see benefit for them and thus, there will be more pressure on the politicians to make the system happen.


    May 22, 2010 at 11:15 am

  38. Just as I should stop talking about what we should have done instead of SkyTrain, Richard should keep highway projects from the car crazy 1950’s and 60’s out of the discussion.

    Although there were LRT studies done here in the late 60’s nobody really paid any attention to passenger rail until the first energy crisis in the 1970’s. At that time the fear was that oil prices were going to make driving too expensive for ordinary citizens. That didn’t happen for a number of reasons including the fact that higher prices depressed world economies and dramatically reduced demand, OPEC realized that they couldn’t keep raising prices without hurting themselves and the US realized that they were getting nothing out of Vietnam except thousands of full body bags and a growing national debt.

    And so things went back to “normal”, if the fervour of the 1950’s for big, powerful cars can be considered normal.

    It has taken us a long time to realize what we should have in 1973, that eventually we’re not going to be able to afford to drive everywhere. Even today there are peak oil deniers and people who foolishly think electric cars, mostly powered by coal or natural gas generators, will do more than just delay the inevitable.

    While many ignore or forget the fact that electric cars only move the pollution around, not actually reduce it, they also forget about the enormous amount of land devoted to moving and storing them. In Metro Vancouver there are 4 parking spaces per licensed car. Even reducing that to just 3 per car would free up an amazing amount of land for more human-centric activities. Likewise removing a few lanes of asphalt in favour of something more efficient would do wonders.

    Our current leaders were mostly kids and teenagers during the energy crisis and thus learned nothing from it. If they learned anything at all it might have been the mistaken belief that what goes up must come down. Not only that, but the most powerful leaders of our time owe great personal wealth to unsustainable industries like petro-chemicals. Our provincial government is in love with the revenues generated by oil and gas and our premier is a land speculator and developer at heart. His success is the misery and misfortune of others. Such people simply cannot be expected to act in the best interest of anyone but themselves.

    Unfortunately for the visionaries, most North Americans are in love with their cars and would give up virtually anything else first. That simply must change if our grandchildren are going to have any quality of life whatsoever. On that point Richard and I seem to be in full agreement.


    May 22, 2010 at 10:02 pm

  39. “While many ignore or forget the fact that electric cars only move the pollution around, not actually reduce it, they also forget about the enormous amount of land devoted to moving and storing them. In Metro Vancouver there are 4 parking spaces per licensed car. Even reducing that to just 3 per car would free up an amazing amount of land for more human-centric activities. Likewise removing a few lanes of asphalt in favour of something more efficient would do wonders.”

    I’ve always felt that there are two sides to the number of parking spaces. As more houses build secondary suites and most likely laneway houses. The number of parking spots at home can’t increase. So as more people live in that block. There is going to come a point where someone isn’t going to be able to park their car. There might be 4 parking spots for every car at the mall or wherever. But if people have no place for their car at home. Then someone people might give owning a car.

    Paul C

    May 24, 2010 at 12:20 am

  40. Well said David.

    One point though on “Unfortunately for the visionaries, most North Americans are in love with their cars and would give up virtually anything else first.”

    This is certainly what the auto industry would like people to believe, but the reality is much more nuanced than that. While there are some people that are “in love with their cars and would give up virtually anything else first”, that is a relatively small portion of the population. Most simply are forced to use cars because there are no other choices available or they haven’t even bothered trying to see if other options will work for them. There is also a big difference between giving up and using much less. They certainly are not in love with everyone else’s cars either.

    Even for the few that are truly “in love” with their cars, what they typically are “in love” with is the times when they can really enjoy driving on the open road. The daily grind of always using the car for daily transportation on congested roads really takes away the joy of driving. Even these people might consider commuting by transit during the week and just driving on the weekend when they can have some fun. Many people are “in love” with horses but they don’t use them for transportation.

    And, just as some people who take legally binding vows that they will love each other forever, grow apart and separate after a few short years, even people who are in love with their cars now, may not be in love forever.

    For example, people in supposedly capital of car culture, LA, voted to spend billions on rapid transit and people in the state, voted to spend billions more on high speed rail. They may be in still in love with their cars but they certainly are not acting like they are being 100% faithful.


    May 24, 2010 at 1:24 pm

  41. Love may be too strong a word, but according to the World Wildlife Fund – – Canadians would rather go without junk food, cell phones, coffee and even sex before they’d give up their cars.

    I do see hope in places like California. Maybe Arnold will consider running for Premier of BC 😉


    May 24, 2010 at 9:37 pm

  42. @David

    It is really puzzling why WWF bothered with and released such a obviously flawed survey that was counter to the campaign that they are running, which is to encourage people to drive less.

    First of all, they should have surveyed on people’s willingness to drive less if improved options are provided. Other surveys and more importantly, peoples actions indicate that this is indeed the case. Asking people to give up their car entirely provides no insight into this. Many countries in Europe, for example, have much lower levels of car use than Canada and yet, car ownership rates are still relatively high.

    The news from TransLink today that transit use has increased by almost 20% since last year is a sign that people are willing to drive less:
    The 25% increase in cycling as a result of the Burrard Bridge bike lanes is another sign.

    The survey results don’t even support the conclusion that people would give up sex before they would give up their cars as the result for sex and cars differed by less than the margin of error for the survey.

    On a personal note, if you asked me when I was sixteen, you would have got a similar result to the WWF survey. My attitudes have changed in ways I would not have predicted back then and the same is true for many other people.

    Lastly, I suspect that we all are strongly convinced that people will drive less if better transit is provided as witnessed by the ongoing debates we have over what the best solutions to do that are.


    May 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm

  43. RedFrog,

    I don’t question the reason why there is more plethora of P&R in Bordeaux. I just notice they are and also notice the logic you states:
    “As a result parking for shoppers is restricted downtown. Park and Ride lots, along with a free return ticker for the driver and all his passengers, was needed to ensure that suburbanites would keep shopping downtown.”
    …which is a car centric one (and the price you mention show how insanely subsidized the car usage is in Bordeaux area).

    The wording of your comment seems to indicate that the tramway systematically reduce car traffic lane. It is eventually the product of a car addicted culture where we hardly fathom use of public space for something else than car lanes, but in the example of Bordeaux, it could have been used for this:

    you will note the “megabus”, and how this picture illustrates the limit of an “all bus” philosophy. this has disappeared and people on bus are now “force feeded” , to reuse a terminology used by a prolific contributor, to the tramway 😉

    Looking at Googlemap: the 4 lanes bld is still there. the garden you mention has not been built at its expense.

    Downtown parking space lost not only has been more than largely compensated by the P&R, but since that was not enough, Bordeaux has built at great tax payer expense huge underground parking under the garden you mention…it is the one at 1€/day you are referring too.

    Do the math: you can see that is not even close to finance the cost of the debt service of an underground parking, not even talking of paying back the capital or maintenance…

    You seems to think that it is a good model for reason you mention: that is fine.

    I believe it is not and I believe it is bad because it is a model encouraging urban sprawl:

    I will write later a post on it, to explain why (but a previous post of Stephen comparing 3 cities, show that Calgary having embraced the P&R is the most sprawling city, that is not the only reason, but it is one…).


    May 25, 2010 at 10:25 pm

  44. From Voony
    “Looking at Googlemap: the 4 lanes bld is still there. the garden you mention has not been built at its expense.
    Downtown parking space lost not only has been more than largely compensated by the P&R, but since that was not enough, Bordeaux has built at great tax payer expense huge underground parking under the garden you mention…it is the one at 1€/day you are referring too”.

    You seems to think that it is a good model for reason you mention: that is fine.
    I believe it is not and I believe it is bad because it is a model encouraging urban sprawl.

    Voony, how can you base your reasoning on Googlemap when Google only started to take photos of Bordeaux AFTER all the renovations were finished?? There are still huge parts of the region, along with other regions of France, that have not being photographed.

    The Left bank gardens along the quais, and the new parking underneath, replace huge warehouses that were used for parking after the port moved downstream, on the right bank (other side of the river). At one time-until the 70s–that area was fenced off and off limits to the public.
    There were definitely more car lanes until 2000 between the parkings by the river and the 18th century buildings fronting the area than there are now! I know for sure as I drove a car there for the very first time after getting my driver licence. No choice as there was only one bridge to cross the river.
    check les quais en 1979, Place de la Bourse in 1979 and count all the car lanes..then check the same Place in 2009..

    The renovations of Bordeaux, and not just the construction of the tram and parkings, but also the restoration of historical buildings etc. were paid by the town, the region, the National government and the EU. Yes I know..all get money from the same least the later uses what his money built.

    The 1 Euro parking wouldn’t be the underground one by the quais. It is along the city residential streets, a close from drivers homes as possible. Nobody would walk across 1/2 the city to get their car. Not everyone living in town own a car anyway. My parents never had a car until their jobs required them to move from Bordeaux to a rural community.

    As for encouraging urban sprawl..
    You may not be aware that Bordeaux and its suburbs have long been known a a city that sprawl more than any with a similar population.
    Only the oldest part of downtown has buildings that go up to 6 storeys high. I lived in one of them as a child. Right by St Projet square. A “brasserie” i.e a big restaurant serving food all day long took the ground floor and a mezzanine. Above there was 3 apartments, one per floor, of about 250 m2 each(around 2700 sq ft?). The attic had rooms for the 3 families maids but most maids went home at night. Not exactly high density housing.

    All the 19th century districts of Bordeaux, past the 18th century boulevards, are made of row houses 1 to 2 stories max. with a garden in the back. There are also a few modern multi-family buildings 5 storeys high.
    One exception is the 1960s Meriadeck district–formerly the red light district–with high rises that are up to 15 stories I think. There is lots of space between buildings and even a park. Most of the buildings are offices, hotels. Only a few are for housing.

    Bordeaux is completely surrounded by 26 small towns. They used to be small towns that, when I was growing up, still had fields, woods, vineyards or, as in the suburb where my grand parents lived (in a single family house with a garden all around, like everyone else) quite a few huge week-end estates owned by Bordeaux wine merchants that also had really big apartments in town. 20 minutes away by car..

    The people living in these small towns decided, as far back as the 1960s, that they wanted to live in “real” towns with more public amenities. Building subdivisions of single families houses on relatively small lots where private estates once stood, while preserving some green spaces, allowed the population to increase a lot and to pay for services etc.
    Urban/suburban sprawl is nothing new. They were complaining about it in the Middle Ages. Or was it in Roman times?

    It is not up to us to tell them how to live their lives. I am reporting what I know, not taking sides. Note that I made the choice, when moving to Canada, to live without a car.
    All the same, I can’t see what is so wrong about suburbanites being encouraged to leave their car in a Park and Ride at Bordeaux city limits and take a tram, practically for free, when this profits the downtown stores?

    The fact that Bordeaux had the same mayor from 1947 to 1995 then only 2 mayors since–one for a 2 years interim period–means that the locals are content with City Hall.

    In the mid 1960s the town built a suspension bridge and 2 low bridge plus a circular freeway. In the 1970s they pedestrianized many streets. In the 1990s the town build a new library and restored the 18th cent. Opera house for 60 million can.$ each. The tram costs were nearly 2 billions Can $, not including the renovation of squares ans streets downtown. They also built a new district –low rise–on the right bank and a botanical garden.
    Right now there they are building another big bridge

    and renovating a big district by the main rail station (the later will double up in size) and across the river. This project will house 30 000 people.

    Bordeaux was a Celtic village from 600 BC to 50 BC, when the Romans moved in. The main churches are nearly 1000 years old, City hall and many buildings 200 years old..The region old families go back a long long way too.
    They don’t worry if they don’t make their money back in a few years only.

    Red frog

    May 26, 2010 at 2:24 am

  45. SORRY!!! here is a better link about Bordeaux in 1979 and 2009

    check les quais en 1979, Place de la Bourse in 1979 and count all the car lanes..then check the same Place in 2009..

    Red frog

    May 26, 2010 at 2:30 am

  46. Most sincere apologies… Google hate me tonight..
    please try

    or Google Bordeaux 1979-2009

    You will be surprised by the difference..

    Red frog

    May 26, 2010 at 2:42 am

  47. @ David: “In Metro Vancouver there are 4 parking spaces per licensed car. Even reducing that to just 3 per car would free up an amazing amount of land for more human-centric activities. Likewise removing a few lanes of asphalt in favour of something more efficient would do wonders.”

    At an average of 14.2 m2 per stall, that works out to over 19 million m2 for +/- 1,350,000 cars in the Metro, or +/- 4,730 acres devoted to dead space (car storage). These figures may even be conservative, and do not include public and private roads, alleys and driveways, which consume almost half of our urban land base.

    What kind of society have we created anyway?


    May 26, 2010 at 4:27 pm

  48. @ Richard: “The survey results don’t even support the conclusion that people would give up sex before they would give up their cars as the result for sex and cars differed by less than the margin of error for the survey.”

    Perhaps completing the rapid transit network would be Viagra for the masses.


    May 26, 2010 at 4:33 pm

  49. […]  I spoke at the BARSTA meeting this week, I made the point that Translink cannot expand its system. They are all worried about what they see […]

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