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

Archive for May 6th, 2011

Vancouver considers higher-density housing plans for Cambie Street corridor

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The City of Vancouver is running public consultation meetings on changes to planning policies in the wake of the Canada Line. Jeff Lee has a useful summary of the issue – and local attitudes –  in the Sun today.

Of course I am very much in favour of increased density around the stations that did get built. No point now worrying about the ones that were promised for the future. Just like the ones on the Expo line that we have long forgotten about. The lesson to be learned was what happened back then when communities around the stations at 29th Avenue and Nanaimo were consulted. Communities tend to be resistant to change – especially the people who come out to consultation meetings. Such is the strength of feeling that some will feel reluctant to be seen to be on the wrong side. But having invested huge sums in infrastructure, it is folly to allow the capacity to remain unused. Of course, on the Expo Line that is exactly what happened. The trains were  so expensive that BC Transit could not afford to buy more.

But the question of capacity is going to get mighty tricky on the Canada Line. Ridership is already well above forecast – and the lack of ability to increase service has been discussed here often enough (click on the tag at the bottom of this piece to find articles). The current restraints that matter are Translink’s lack of funding – they cannot expand service overall and currently are simply reallocating service hours around the system. The secret contract seems to contain some very expensive provisions too: even though we pay for these we are not allowed to know the details. They could run trains more often – though the length of single tracks at the outer ends limits that considerably. They could switch capacity from the airport to Richmond but won’t, due to the deal with YVR. In the future they might be able to get some centre cars added to the trains, and operate with selective door opening at many stations. I say “might” because that capital project would compete with other projects. The contest between relieving overcrowding or providing new services to places with little transit has usually been won by Vancouver, but may not necessarily.

Fortunately there is also plenty of on street capacity available. Andrea Reimer wants to dictate to the developers about LEED standards for the new buildings (see Michael Geller’s blog about why that is not quite as simple as she thinks). I think she might be better occupied with cutting parking requirements for new developments (with a bonus for developers who give their buyers membership in car coops and provide space exclusive to shared cars), cutting on street parking – and making provision for bike parking and bike sharing. Ideally of course there would be some co-ordination between the City planning and the transit planning. Richmond jumped on the ability to get greater density near its stations and much of that is now visible – with more to come at Sexsmith at about the same time as the new developments at Marine Drive come on line I should think. The plan should also look beyond residential and be determinedly mixed use – especially in the vicinity of Marine Drive station where there are huge amounts of riverside land available due to the loss of saw mills and related uses. Instead of seeing the area as a dormitory for Richmond’s business parks – none of which has much viable alternative to car use for commuters – the developments should positively encourage a mix of uses so that the people who move into the new houses can find employment in walking or cycling distance.

Articulated trolleybus whizzes by a bump out stop

Articulated trolleybus whizzes by a bump out stop - my photo

And we can also increase bus service on Cambie – and may well have no choice in the short term as the trains fill up and the lead time to raise more money and get new cars for them increases. Indeed one transit advocacy group has been calling for the reinstatement of the trolley wire ever since Canada line construction finished. As we have seen on Main Street, frequent regular high capacity trolley buses can move lots of people. Given the design of stations, access times to board a train are actually a deterrent and for short trips bus – with suitable priority measures such as the bus boarders at stops already installed on Main – will be competitive if service is frequent enough. At a recent meeting with Translink planners they changed their tune about the current design of Canada Line stations being essential for passengers’ security and even said that additional entrances were always part of the long term plan. So expect some digging on the west side of Cambie at 41st for a start! I will believe that when I see it. But i do think that there is a case for local transit improvements as well as regional transit improvements. It is a bit like the argument for streetcars: but of course for some people anything on the surface with steel wheels is a streetcar.

Portland Streetcar

Portland Streetcar - photo by K Gradinger on flickr

Written by Stephen Rees

May 6, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

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