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

2c for your thoughts UPDATED

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When the news radio called me about the Mayor’s “decision” to ask for 2c on the gas tax to pay for the region’s share of the Evergreen Line, I did not think I had much to say about it. After all, it was merely a recommendation – and would have to survive the summer and some public consultation. I recognize that the summer is a slow news time, but the amount of coverage this proposal is now getting is surprising me, though not the level of the “debate” so far. Perhaps the least expected contribution came from BC’s answer to Sarah Palin.

“When British Columbians say that they’re not really excited about paying more gas taxes, I get that. Because my focus as Premier is how do we make life more affordable for people rather than less affordable,” she said.

The Mayors were given very little leeway: they have to come up with a payment from this region’s taxpayers since the province and the feds have both already committed at their level. Since the current levels of taxes collected by Translink are only enough to keep on a current levels, the only way to raise $400m had to be an increase in currently permitted taxes. There is no time left in the funding agreement to come up with a new source so it either had to be property taxes or the gas tax, and the Mayors had made clear from the outset the very cogent reasons why property tax was not going to be the way they did it. Indeed, quite why our Premier thinks that the people of this region will like to see their property taxes raised is not exactly clear either. There is a $400m hit to our pockets and the only question is what is the most sensible way to do that. Property tax increases are no more “affordable” than gas tax increases.

As Geoff Meggs points out this also shows some lack of co-ordination inside Christy’s cabinet. Doesn’t she talk to her Ministers? Or is she deliberately trying to weaken Lekstrom?

The Sun gets itself into an interesting position “Transit taxes odious but necessary for growth of our city”. The link says that it is a “story” but there is no by line and it reads like an editorial. They sum up

“In the past, the province has stepped in and vetoed transit fundraising plans, including an earlier vehicle levy and a proposed parking stall tax. We hope that doesn’t happen this time.”

But Christy does seem to be ready to repeat the steps taken by the last caretaker premier, Ujjal Dosanjh – who went down to a stunning defeat in his last provincial election despite his last minute, and probably illegal, rejection of the vehicle levy.

For those of you who are of a mind to stick to the “no new taxes” mantra just take a read of what happened in California when they slashed their car tax. It is becoming very clear that the right wing belief that leaving money in tax payers’ pockets is the right thing to do in any set of circumstances is just that: a belief. Some people believe in Santa Claus too. Faith is holding on to a belief despite all evidence to the contrary. I have always been very much impressed by the American constitution’s requirement of a complete separation between church and state. What I cannot fathom is the right wing’s ignorance of why that is so important.

Added July 13

Blair Lekstrom is now saying that  “he has the full support of Premier Christy Clark in agreeing to Metro Vancouver mayors’ plan for a two-cent gas tax increase for TransLink.”

“I stand behind what I’ve committed to,” Lekstrom said Wednesday, adding he has spoken with the premier and ensured they’re both on the same page.

“Nobody likes new taxes – I would concur with that.”

But he said the mayors can count on the province legislating the fuel tax increase this fall – as he promised – provided mayors formally vote for it in a pending financial supplement after public consultation and review by the TransLink commissioner.

“I will not waver one inch,” Lekstrom said. “This has gone on far longer than I think the public wanted.”

Clark has also penned a letter to mayors pledging her support, he confirmed.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm

61 Responses

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  1. Blair Lekstrom seems like a reasonable man who is actually trying to be knowledgeable about his portfolio. No political party based on “faith” is going to want a minister basing his decisions on facts or science.

    Sarah, I mean, Christy is responding to this only because the public is yelling about it. Nobody wants to pay more, but it’s unavoidable. We are going to have to come up with $400M, the only question is whether it gets added to our property taxes/rent or our gasoline purchases.

    A gas tax might actually reduce pollution and GHG. Jacking up rents is only going to force people to live even farther from the city thus increasing pollution and GHG emissions.


    July 12, 2011 at 5:01 pm

  2. Another example (like Hydro with “smart” meters, wood frame high rises, health care and ..and….) of B.C. politicians and businessmen not even been aware of what has been done for eons–and works– in many other countries.

    I am not advocating copying blindly…but actually finding out what works, what doesn’t, and why, then finding a solution based on scientific/ technological sound reasons, not ideological ones..or stereotypes (like “Europeans have separated bike lanes and pedestrian streets because they don’t drive cars”)..

    Red frog

    July 12, 2011 at 8:58 pm

  3. The elephant in the room, IMO, is the HST referendum. I only hope that Clark is only saying what she is saying for politcal posturing and we can get firm support for the gas levy in the fall.

    Unfortunately, much of the anti-HST arguement is an anti-tax-in-general argument. This was interesting the the LA times link posted above:

    “California’s sales tax dropped by a penny on the dollar. That levy is an outdated relic of a mid-20th century manufacturing and retail economy. Now we’re more service-oriented. No political leader — Brown included — has had the guts to do what is needed: push to lower the tax rate while broadening the tax base to include services, as many other states have done.”


    July 13, 2011 at 8:38 am

  4. Until we finally enter thje 21st Century and there is a National Transit Plan in Canada I don’t see many alternatives to an increase in liquid fuel taxes to help pay form transit. It’s quite fair as it adheres to a user-pay principle.

    The surcharge proposed on vehicles was also quite fair, but its flaw, in my opinion (and if memory serves), was that it penalized all vehicles equally, whether you drove a Hummer or a Cooper. A vehicle levy should have a sliding scale set to vehicle weight and engine size. This may help to make it more acceptable to the driving public and actually lead to changing habits, and stifle the inevitable pro-car prognostications by Fraser Institute alumni. It should also recognize that necessary commercial activity performed by vehicles needs to be at the opposite end of the fee scale than single occupant commuters insulated in their Navigators. A vehicle levy may help make the commercial sector more efficient by making company-leased Navigators less affordable, especially if the levy was impossible to write-off as an expense claim.


    July 13, 2011 at 9:22 am

  5. Am I just being too cynical in thinking that if the Evergreen line does not go ahead Christy does not have to make $400 million in tough choices?


    July 13, 2011 at 1:32 pm

  6. Strange thought….regarding the phrase “liquid fuel taxes”

    How about a tax on alcohol to fund transit?
    Drunk driving laws require use of an alternate form of transportation, and given the copius amounts of booze consumed in the province, that should fill the coffers too.


    July 13, 2011 at 3:54 pm

  7. I have an idea that’s pretty far out there, but it’s still an idea. I propose having a levy on all vehicles that enter and exit metro vancouver. This would discourage sprawl, and generate money. What I’m thinking of is something like a toll booth just east of abbotsford. The problem that might exist in the future is people living east of abbotsford working in surrey. Because homes are bigger east of abbotsford, people will start moving there, while working in Surrey. Therefore, to prevent people sprawling eastward, make a toll now on Highway 1 traffic in and out of the city.
    Or, instead of a toll booth, make it very inconvenient to move in and out of the area. Have all people going in and out of the area go through a check, like what they do at the US/CAD borders.

    I think that the evergreen line is long overdue. The ship is all set to sail, but It’s waiting for one passenger. If we wait any longer, the ship will sail, and Coquitlam will drive into a driver oriented city. Now is the time when transit must prove itself. Now is the time that the evergreen line has to be built. If you still are worrying about that cash, just build it now and find the $ later. The people of coquitlam can’t suffer any longer.

    I believe that Christy clark is a very weak leader. The only reason she got elected is because people believe she wasn’t involved in the HST mess. Clark is trying to follow up on all her promises and make herself look good, but she is not doing the thing good for BC. Here’s a quote that all politicians should consider: “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.”
    — Albert Einstein


    July 13, 2011 at 10:39 pm

  8. I just don’t think we have the money for this. Too bad, so sad. Money has been spent on other things & now this pretty project needs to be shelved. It’s like if I went on a grand caribbean holiday & shopping spree and then came back and wanted to furnish my home. Ooops. I’d spent my money on the trip; now I need to do without my furniture or find much more economical options.

    My suggestion for Coquitlam is widen the road & commit electric bus rapid transit for the route. Like this:

    disclosure: I live just a couple blocks from the proposed Evergeen route. We’re a one car family & my spouse has used transit exclusively for work commuting for >15 years. We choose where we live based on distance to a skytrain station. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the importance of transit. It’s that this plan is way too expensive for govt’s which are crippled by debt in an uncertain global economy.


    July 14, 2011 at 10:20 am

  9. But we (BC) do have the money for freeway building. Odd, isn’t it, that projects that are going to wreck the region are always high priority – like the Highway #1 expansion which will of course fill with traffic and spread sprawl. Or the SFPR which is destroying the ecology and archaeology of Delta. There’s just never any money “left” for transit. And this has been going on in this region for generations.

    And the Government of Canada thinks there is no limit to the amount it can spend on massive, quite useless prisons, or fighter jets.

    “Widen the road” is always the first choice but somehow it never actually works for very long

    Its all about choices – and why we keep making silly ones

    Stephen Rees

    July 14, 2011 at 10:44 am

  10. Stephen, you are too diplomatic. A new category of nation nomenclature is going to have to be developed do describe Canada. We have gone beyond “rogue nation” status or “petro-state” to the brand-new category of Mentally Challenged Nation with the mentally challenged nitwits in the legislatures of British Columbia and Alberta leading the way to the perfect Ayn Rand state of being..


    July 14, 2011 at 2:28 pm

  11. Glad to see the July 13th addition. Glad I was being too cynical. Hopefully things will get going…..and I don’t even live in the lower mainland anymore.


    July 15, 2011 at 9:54 am

  12. FTR, I also think that we should not be spending $ on highway expansion or the SFPR or the prisons or the jets….. I agree that the choices being made suck. 🙂

    But we should be building something small, efficient, & cheap, not an expensive system.

    ~ regards


    July 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm

  13. “small, efficient, & cheap” also often means inadequate for future needs – if not for present ones. The Canada Line is a good example of a system which was built down to a price – and will cost us plenty as we need to expand its capacity. But I am not going to open up the stale BRT/LRT/SkyTrain debate yet again. We need appropriate, scalable technologies.

    Stephen Rees

    July 15, 2011 at 1:05 pm

  14. It is interesting how much effort some people make to object to a relatively minor tax. I did a quick Google search and found that the average driver would use approximately 1400L of gas in a year. So a 2 cent per L tax amounts to $28.00 per year.

    Obviously some people drive more than the average, or have larger vehicles, and it will cost them more than this, but it seems to me that there are other tax issues that will have a much more significant impact on people’s finances.

    Alex Pope

    July 15, 2011 at 1:28 pm

  15. As a non-driver –BY CHOICE–I am dead against a toll system because most people don’t have much of a choice when it comes to where they live and work (and not just in the Lower Mainland, it is a world wide problem). i also agree with Stephen that building a “cheaper” system doesn’t pay in the long run. Cheap never pays…

    I lived in Toronto for nearly 10 years before moving here. I was able to get to jobs quite far from downtown Toronto and rent a studio downtown—perfect for a young single person– thanks to the great transit system (subways, streetcars, buses and 7 lines of commuter trains)

    An article by Jeff Nagel in a free local paper notes that the mayors feel that people that live and work in areas of Metro Vancouver without adequate* transit should pay a minimum vehicle levy while those in Vancouver should pay a high one if they insist on driving a car.
    * inadequate transit to me is when a trip home to work takes 2 hrs–one way–using 2 or 3 buses..

    I find interesting that in France, where toll fees on motorways have long been the norm, there is not toll within a rather wide area around each major town in a region.

    Red frog

    July 16, 2011 at 1:24 am

  16. My Letter to the Editors this morning:

    All tax payers will now decide: Stop the “Evergreen Tax” and the lunacy in Port Moody-Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam transit planning. Translink has enough money to build the original plan—an Olympic Tram-style System, sleek and modern, just like Paris or London.

    Yet, Tri-City leaders want Skytrain. Why? Skytrain will blight Port Moody waterfront riding on grade, guarded by barbed-wire fence. Skytrian will blight Burquitlam-North Road where apartment properties will get a new view… Skytrain elevated track outside their windows, and screeching noise. Skytrain will not be within walking distance of residents in Coquitlam, along the Lougheed Highway. That community lives near Guilford Way.

    On the other hand, Olympic-style trams revitalize corridors they cross: Burquitlam-North Road will become an “urban village”; St. John’s Street Port Moody a vibrant heritage district; and Guilford Way a modern, transit-oriented neighbourhood.

    Tram will deliver twice as many stations as Skytrain for a fraction of the cost. Walk-on Trams are more sustainable than Skytrain. Yet, these facts are glossed as local governments sell density to pay for Skytrain. Why bother with right place, right price tag, and the fact that both systems deliver equivalent passenger trips and travel times?


    July 18, 2011 at 8:37 am

  17. Lewis – let me know if it gets published and I can add a link to the on line version

    Stephen Rees

    July 18, 2011 at 8:41 am

  18. Lewis, that ship sailed when the Millennium plan changed to Skytrain in 1998… Completing the “Evergreen” line with Skytrain makes sense. one less transfer, and will enable the frequency on the Millennium from its current 5-6 minutes, which currently is overcrowded and prone to passups during the peaks.

    Also, I didn’t find Calgary’s LRT always village-friendly; many stations utilized extensive fencing to corral passengers; sometimes to a safe spot to cross the tracks on foot.


    July 18, 2011 at 11:03 pm

  19. I don’ t want to start SkyTrain war # 3….but Seattle and Portland LRT both work fine …The one in Seattle has definitely revitalized big stretches of the Martin Luther King Way after barely one year. The choice of SkyTrain is another example of politicians not bothering to go out and look at other places.

    Not that the average Mary and Joe in Metro Vancouver tries very hard to inform her/himself.
    Quite puzzling, considering the high number of us that are from other shores and have used various modes of transit.
    In Toronto I never found changing from the Bloor line to the Yonge line then to a streetcar such a harrowing chore..

    Red frog

    July 19, 2011 at 1:20 pm

  20. David, interesting to hear about the “fences to corral people” in Calgary—nice metaphor. I’m going to try to steer into new territory—metaphor extended—and argue on: (1) the merits of the urbanism; and (2) on the quality of the design of the transit system itself. On that score, a couple of pictures of tram stops that transfer to the Queen Streetcar in Toronto:

    If LRT is not “village friendly” perhaps we can agree that Skytrain is even worse… Skytrain on the ground where it will get chain link fencing all along the route; and in Burquitlam—where it will go up against buildings that are already there—it will blight the property values.

    Along with Frog Red, Mayor Adams of Portland was here a year ago telling us that he has no trouble selling redevelopment on a tram line. That in spite of the real estate market unravelling at break neck speed. A Metro Portland Councillor speaking in Langley (Transit is regional in Portland) said that the mayors fight a beauty contest over who will get the next line. And, that the next line is likely to be BRT to Tigard a strip mall city that will redevelop as village urbanism.

    More attention to the design of the line, and the operating protocol, on the one hand; and better understanding of the urbanism and the resulting quality of the built place; and the Evergreen Line becomes an open question.

    With a 2% gas tax hike on the side of the argument that say “Really Go Green; Stay on the Ground” my hopes have not abated.


    July 19, 2011 at 6:44 pm

  21. ^but portland’s street car has different objectives and scale than its MAX LRT.

    I’m with david, that skytrain would be a better choice for this corridor. Skytrain would provide better mobility outcomes for an area where the region has decided to concentrate denser growth.

    Of note, Jarret Walker has a nice post on urbanism versus mobility realities in transit:


    July 19, 2011 at 8:06 pm

  22. “… better mobility outcomes for an area where the region has decided to concentrate denser growth.”

    Mezz, translation please?

    I can try with “the region has decided to concentrate denser growth”. Stephen’s points about the Gateway project suggests that regardless of what the “region” has decided, the provincial ministry is quite happy with more sprawl. (You’ll recall I’ve argued elsewhere that “towers” are high-density sprawl).

    So, the issue that I raise has to do with the “quality” of that denser growth. I worry that selling density to pay for Skytrain stations will not deliver sound planning. Do you?


    July 19, 2011 at 9:26 pm

  23. Lewis,

    I appreciate your relentless “battle against the skytrain blighting our neighborhood”, but so doing in this post, you seems to believe or at least convey the belief that the taxes are justified by the skytrain technology choice (and couldn’t be needed whether another technology had been chosen).

    Nothing is farther apart of he reality.

    In last November showdown, Translink was requiring $40million/year for a bundle including the construction of the Evergreen line (and at this time the notoriously infamous UBE among other goodies)

    Now, Translink requires $70 million, close to double, in another bundle, including lot more goodies (it is apriori the same bundle which has been submitted in November 2010, but may be with a better giftpaper).

    Translink so far has yet to present a budget with only the Evergreen line project as an addition to the current base plan…Why it doesn’t do just that?

    A priori, the 2c gas tax will raise in the tune of $40 millions – when only $10 millions or so could be needed to finance the Evergreen line (see ) – so more than enough to finance the evergreen line…most of the money raised will serve to expand bus service in territories where land development choice make transit structurally unsustainable,…a Streetcar instead of a skytrain on North Road will not change that at all.

    So everyone is playing an act in this Evergreen line show…


    July 19, 2011 at 9:56 pm

  24. ^ again, i would look to jarrett walker for a simple definition of mobility:

    How many places can you get to in a fixed amount of time?

    He also approaches it from an urbanist perspective:

    One puzzling thing about the [neighbourhoods]-not-mobility argument is that it suggests that much of what we travel for is generic and interchangeable. Many things are. I insist on living within 300m of a grocery store, dry cleaner, and several other services because I need them all the time and don’t want those trips to generate much movement. But I go to a gym that’s about 1500m away because I really like it, and don’t like the ones that are closer. And every city worth living in is packed with unique businesses and activities and venues that must draw from the whole city. A lot of us want more of that uniqueness, less interchangability, in our cities. How is that possilble if citizens aren’t insisting on the freedom to go where they want? (Not demanding to do it for free, not demanding to impose costs on others, but still demanding that freedom to move, and potentially buying a car if the transit system won’t provide it.)

    I’m not saying it is not important. I would argue that there are other methods to improve the urban realm aside from transit technology, like zoning.

    And skytrain stations not delivering sound planning? Look at the planned redevelopment of safeway at burquitlam station. We have experience with this. maybe in a few years time, we might get more experience with mid-rise zoning along the cambie corridor.

    However, Mayor Richard Stewart said it would be wasteful to provide too many parking spaces since they will sit vacant once the Evergreen Line is built.

    “If we don’t think SkyTrain is coming, let’s not approve this rezoning because it’s inappropriate if SkyTrain isn’t coming. But we know it is. We know SkyTrain is coming,” Stewart said.

    “We’re working with staff right now on that, and that means we can’t be building a bunch of empty parking spaces. It’s a waste of resources.”

    While Coun. Selina Robinson empathized with the anxieties of her fellow councillors, she said the project needs to move forward now.

    “We’re also moving into, I believe, a different generation … Some families will continue to have two cars, but really there are many families who only have one and some have none,” Robinson said.

    “With a transit-oriented community, with SkyTrain there, we’re trying again to predict and look into a crystal ball. I think that given that we’re not the first community to do this, I think this is a pretty safe bet that it will be OK.”

    links to follow.


    July 19, 2011 at 10:05 pm

  25. Cambie isn’t going mid rise. Marine Drive is going to 35 storeys and Oakridge to 18. The non-existant 57th station is already home to 18 storeys. I don’t see any lessons there. We’ve seen this show before.

    Calgary LRT isn’t really urban friendly. It’s a high floor system with widely spaced stations outside the downtown strip. It’s really just a metro built at grade. One quick look at Calgary explains why. I can’t think of any walkable residential area and the farther out you go the more car oriented things get. Everything there was built around the highway system and by necessity the LRT is fed by park and ride lots.

    I agree with the other David that a huge opportunity to get LRT into Metro Vancouver was lost when the NDP switched the Millennium Line to SkyTrain. That’s probably all I agree with him on though.

    Light metro is still too expensive for what it delivers and is going to do little for the Evergreen route. Burquitlam may get transit oriented development but every point between there and Lougheed is going to get a guideway in front of people’s windows and new higher density developments on a hill with no stations. Say hello to more car commuters not fewer.

    Much as I hate that connecting Coquitlam Centre to SkyTrain is going to cost $1.4B rather than the $600M it would have cost to go LRT on Lougheed and much as I hate that the North Road choice means a future connection to Surrey via Port Mann is pretty much out of the question, the Tri-cities have been planning around North Road for decades and further delays will only drive the cost even higher.


    July 19, 2011 at 11:01 pm

  26. @ David,

    Looking at the planning documents, for most of the corridor it looks like zoning will range from 6 to 8 stories. The remarkable thing is that this will be in areas where there is existing single-family houses which is a big leap as opposed to brownfield, like Joyce.

    marine drive is brownfield development with less existing surrounding neighbourhood. oakridge also has potential for more intense development in some of the dead space on the shopping mall property.

    One can go up to 10 stories by 49th ave. i’m not sure where you got your information re: 57th ave and future zoning.

    Click to access CambieCorridorPlan.pdf


    July 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm

  27. “[You] convey the belief that the taxes are justified by the skytrain technology choice (and couldn’t be needed whether another technology had been chosen).”

    Voony, I am basing my analysis on expectations about the resulting quality of the neighbourhood or quartier, not “technology choice”. I am asking a question that goes beyond engineering metrics.

    I think that the 2-cent tax would not be needed if we had an integrated transit and community planning system. But that’s a gut level reaction. What I do know is that bus service in the suburbs is horrible. I have experienced that. And there is no “system” fix there. The suburb is what has to change. I wouldn’t raise taxes for that. I would just say “no” to areas that can’t meet a threshold for intensification.

    The point I am raising is that ‘some’ choices in technology blight neighbourhoods. That leads inexorably to higher taxes, because blighted urban land reduces the return on investment, and reduces the local taxes collected on the de-valued property.

    What is the price of lowering the property value, and the quality of the neighbourhood, in Port Moody’s Clarke Street and on Burquitlam-Lougheed? No one knows, and no one has bothered to try to figure that out.

    What’s the boost in property value (and taxes) of a revitalized St. John’s Street Historic District, a Burquitlam Urban Village, and a Guilford TOD? We don’t know because no one has bothered to figure that out, either.

    Yet, these are fundamental questions in urbanism.

    Transportation decisions have been blighting local areas for decades, and no one has bothered to ask why or how much it ultimately cost us both individually and as a society. And, no one has bothered to figure out the price the other way around.

    What is the gain from good urbanism? Even the folks that like Skytrain wouldn’t want it running down the middle of their street. They want it out by the areas that they feel are already blighted–Terminal Avenue; the Granview Cut; out by Edmonds and the Railroad tracks in New West (ooops! Too bad about Begbie Square!); North Surrey; the Lougheed Highway in Burnaby and Coquitlam; No. 3 Road; etc.

    But, soon, urban development pinches into those areas and we discover that we have a BIG problem.

    No, its not a “technology choice” for me. It is the quality of the resulting urban space that spells out: “Skytrain is a Bad Deal. Avoid it.”

    I am answering in good humour.


    July 20, 2011 at 12:15 am

  28. Mezz,

    You must have been at the JW lecture a while back where he said that he likes Skytrain, travels North American singing the praises of Vancovuer Skytrain… everywhere except in Vancouver (or Lower Mainland).

    I found that was revealing. I want to talk about both good transportation and good urbanism, and insist that we can afford to do both. I’ll go a step further, and suggest that unless we do both, we won’t be able to afford either.

    “I insist on living within 300m of a grocery store, dry cleaner, and several other services because I need them all the time and don’t want those trips to generate much movement. But I go to a gym that’s about 1500m away because I really like it, and don’t like the ones that are closer.”

    I think this quote is out by an order of difference. My family once rented a house within 300 m of a grocery store. But by the time you walked around the block to get there (no thru-block connectivity in the suburbs), you were back to a 5 minute driving distance, not a 5 minute walk. And the building types were all single family. The zoning had not taken into account densification within easy walking distance of services, etc.

    Besides, the key trip is to work. That was 12,700 meters away according to Google—42×300 meters away!

    “I would argue that there are other methods to improve the urban realm aside from transit technology, like zoning.”

    Nope. That horse died a cruel death some decades ago. Zoning is just too coarse a tool to deliver urban quality at high densities. And, putting in the wrong technology on the streets is a sure way to F-up a place. See for yourself, you don’t have to travel far in our region.

    “And skytrain stations not delivering sound planning? Look at the planned redevelopment of safeway at burquitlam station…”

    Let’s look at one that I did design work on in architecture school, like the Safeway at Commercial & Broadway. Turns its back on transit. There’s a mean little parking lot on the west side of the station that could have connected in as an urban square. The intersection itself is a pedestrian’s nightmare. So are the cues for the “Beezer” (99 B-Line).


    July 20, 2011 at 12:34 am

  29. I’m living in a Sherlock Holmes story that Connan-Doyle never wrote, “The Case of the Two Davids”.

    Maybe the Evergreen line will go Skytrain, and maybe it will not. It is telling that he decision was pushed back to 2015 a while back, with not much mention made of it.

    Frances Bula is running a letter from Mayor Watts fulminating about having her projects on “stop” until the Evergreen is a “go”.

    Two or three editors in the region picked up my letter a while back suggesting that the Evergreen was already up and running as the 97-B. All that the mayors had to do was provide dedicated lanes and signal priority and we could match or exceed Broadway bus numbers. (Is the option to start as BRT and then go LRT what Stephen means by “scaleable” transit?)

    The other piece of clear thinking that came our way courtesy of the Vancouver Director of Engineering at the Alan Jacobs lecture was this:

    200,000 daily trips Expo line
    130,000 DT Canada Line
    100,000 DT buses on Broadway (!!)
    60,000 DT Millennium Line

    Can’t see the Evergreen feeding enough transfers into the Millennium Line to get it near capacity (200,000 DT). But, you set me straight on that, David. I can see a Port Mann connection to Surrey. I can see the BC Electric ROW growing TOD from Richmond all the way to Chilliwack. And, I can see LRT(tram) on Lougheed all the way to Maple Ridge, if not Mission. BRT does the connecting work between the major nodes.

    The winning argument has to be the one that integrates the system choices with the resulting quality of the urbanism. It is not just the time it takes to get there. It is also about how there and here feels on a livability meter.

    That’s going to take team work. Because we can’t pretend to be experts in the other discipline’s turf.

    JW seems to be spinning his wheels in the quote that Mezz provided. And, if Cambie corridor does not take lessons from venerable sites like San Francisco’s Pan Handle, or the 19th century building fronting Regent’s Park in London, it’s going to be another piece of urban tragedy.


    July 20, 2011 at 12:57 am

  30. @LNV,

    Nope. That horse died a cruel death some decades ago. Zoning is just too coarse a tool to deliver urban quality at high densities.

    I would use an example champlain mall’s redevelopment for the use of zoning to bring about change. it is a relatively transit poor area, and will be for some time to come, but it is now a dense area with access to stores,schools and services on a walkable scale.

    WRT safeway @ broadway, that was built before skytrain was there and you are right, it does not reflect the fact it is there. translink already has plans to develop the east side of broadway station for another platform when safeway is ever re-developed.

    I would look to plaza 88 as a model for potential development.

    Campbell said the theatre will attract people to downtown New Westminster, which will be a “huge boon” to the area. The theatres are being built on the top level of the commercial component of Plaza 88.

    Campbell has received a number of phone calls from people in the industry who are interested in the project because the theatre is being incorporated into a SkyTrain station and next to condos.

    “It really is maximizing urban density,” he said.

    Built around the SkyTrain station, Plaza 88 includes residential highrises and commercial space that will be home to retailers including Safeway.


    July 20, 2011 at 1:00 am

  31. Mezz, I haven’t been to Champlain Mall since the early 1990’s when I did a design for a store there. The problem for the store was getting people off the street and in the door. Malls are the Queens of turning a back on the street, putting out a gigantic parking lot as a moat against the neighbourhood; and lately redeveloping with towers and multi-story underground parkades. Hard to like any of that.

    Maybe that has changed at Champlain. I heard it referenced once before. However, that “walkable scale” has to read at the level of the block, the street, and the building.

    It will not be “walkable scale” if the redevelopment is like it is along Lougheed & Willingdon @ Millennium Line. The blocks are super blocks; the scale of the street is enormous; and the redevelopment in and around Brentwood Plaza after Skytrain turns its back on the street. It’s not that Metrotown and Brentwood don’t attract a huge number of people. It is the fact that the result of the equation of Skytrian+Density (read towers) results in an urbanism that does not put people first.

    When I picked up my passport at Surrey Central, for example, I took the time to walk around the place and check it out. Same Metrotown Urbanism. My wife with kids in tow was freaked out by some of the people hanging around the corner in one of the ramps.

    Giant blocks; huge buildings; and King George Highway as the poster child for that other kind of urbanism. The station on the King George doesn’t even have a stair that connects down to the street. And when you finally get to the street, there is a fence erected on the middle of the road to make sure you walk that extra two minutes to cross on the corner because j-walking is just not part of that urbanism.

    BTW SFU repeats the mistake of the Bentall Towers. The multi-level parkade, once it is fully operational, will probably take about 1 hour to empty in the afternoon, adding extra travel time to the commute, and more carbons into the air.

    ‘Good’ urbanism is a kit of parts, including transportation, that all have to fit. We buy good furniture by testing it with our rump—we sit on it. We test good urbanism with our feet. There is not a single elevated Skytrain station I’ve walked to that has worked at that level.


    July 20, 2011 at 7:50 am

  32. @LNV,

    well i think we agree to disagree about skytrain urbanism. 🙂


    July 20, 2011 at 8:25 am

  33. Mezz—while you’re musing about the shape of urbanism to come, here’s a video presentation where I lay it out with pictures and numbers (Part II shows examples across Canada that are high-density; low-rise; and infinitely walkable):

    It’s not a matter of my urbanism vs. someone else’s urbanism. At a very pedestrian level, these places either work or they don’t work. A tower zone downtown is fine. Downtown is the core and centre of gravity for the region. All roads lead to that rome.

    But, I drove past the Willingdon tower zone on the freeway this morning. Taking JW’s 300 metre distance—it seemed to me most of those towers were at least 300 meters apart, if not more. Yet, I think you and I would agree on this: Willingdon is the Skytrain urbanism paradigm.


    July 20, 2011 at 2:40 pm

  34. Mezzanine, when the Portland Mayor talk about a tram, he is likely to refer to a Max LRT… as there are more lines of them —including the latest built one going to Clackamas–while there is only one street car line.
    Just like all over Europe we call tram anything, from a small historical 1 coach vehicle to an articulated 50 metres one (Siemens offer 72 metres long ones but I have never seen one yet, not even in photos).

    Photos of Bordeaux tram: et bus de la CUB [TBC]

    Red frog

    July 21, 2011 at 12:38 am

  35. Sorry, the second link works on and off… try to cut and paste the whole thing..

    Red frog

    July 21, 2011 at 12:40 am

  36. @ Lewis: “Willingdon is the Skytrain urbanism paradigm.”

    I don’t agree with that. Metrotown is a black hole that was created by the car, not SkyTrain. SkyTrain only became an excuse to densify the areas around Metrotown, as would have any regional scale rail-based system built there. The fact it exists at the periphery of the complex, not the centre, is very telling. And you haven’t seemed to grasp that cars have a long history of blighting neighbourhoods far, far in excess than any form of elevated passenger rail system you can cite, be it Chicago’s El, London’s Docklands Railway or Vancouver’s SkyTrain.

    The entire Metrotown complex is completely dominated by several hundred acres of parking. The small storefront streetwall that used to exist on the south side of Kingsway was removed for said parking. Certainly the former was better urbanism then the current, and I would agree that a streetcars on Kingsway may, just may (there’s a lot of ifs here) help bring them back. However, the 60s mall design mentality dictated the Number One policy of that age: Cars Shall Reign Supreme Up To Every Door. Enormous expense was apportioned not to improve access to the complex and the surrounding residential development by public transit or pedestrians, but to guarantee full access by the car from the four cardinal directions and underground.

    SkyTrain was built on an old BC Electric R/W next to Metrotown, and even after a generation of use the pedestrian connections to the surrounding community – and this is one of the most heavily-used stations in the entire system – remains very poor, almost as if there was a policy to specifically diminish human beings in the presence of cars, and what attention was paid to transit-pedestrians would be of exceptionally poor quality. This fact applies equally to any transit technology – trams, subway, elevated rail, bus – and I contend that the results would have been similar with any of them given the development community’s, the Burnaby planning department’s, and society’s car-dependent attitude of a generation ago. Moreover, poor station design is not limited to Vancouver’s Expo Line, but is common worldwide on a variety of transit systems.

    I would go farther, Lewis, and say that I certainly hope that you are not approaching Zwei’s level of obsession with slagging SkyTrain. Your comments on Surrey Central lean toward blaming a transit system for the social dysfunction of Whalley that happens to predate the system by several decades. Some of us see Bing Thom’s tower there as a blessing to that community. It brought hundreds of jobs and a significant institution to an area that was downtrodden, and is a major step in the right direction. And it’s damn fine architecture … though I remain doubtful that level of quality will be replicated further there. Yes the urbanism needs a lot of work at the human scale, but they’ve set a great precedence with that development. It wouldn’t have happened without a major regional rapid transit station, be it in this case the form of SkyTrain.

    And the druggie that scared your wife? I’ll bet he would’ve been lurking there for passengers disembarking from even the cutest Eurotram to see.


    July 25, 2011 at 10:51 am

  37. A fine post MB, and coupled to the one on FB about federal-municipal linking on housing, food safety, transportation and energy, gives us a few things to talk about.

    I don’t know Zwei, and don’t follow his full agenda.

    What I see for BRT/LRT that is different from Subways is that the former physically occupy car space (or take it back if you want to romanticize about life in Vancouver with trams rolling).

    The ability to combine (1) add trip capacity; (2) remove cars; and (3) use transit implementation to achieve street revitalization; is the trifecta that has got my hair on fire. I cant see any other way to return to balance the ecology of Vancouver arterials that with a combined BRT/LRT/Subway system along with some other pieces that we already have. But where is the integrated plan? Are we at no vision, no guts?

    Of course there is a whole lot that has gone wrong with Metrotown, not the least of which is planning policy in the City of Burnaby, and the history of development on the Kingsway corridor over the past 50 years or so. Where to begin?

    I think there were towers in Central Park before there was Skytrain (I may be wrong about that). Yet, it is impossible to travel the Trans-Canada; cross the Alex Fraser; or fly into YVR over the Fraser without coming out with the impression that towers are clustering around the Skytrian Stations.

    The Rise tower in Mt. Pleasant has all the hallmarks of betting down on Skytrian extension along Broadway.

    I think we can state categorically that Skytrain blights neighbourhoods. And, that this result is visible in other places with elevated systems like Chicago and Paris to name two. Elevated track is fine in farm fields; along railway yards and freeways. But they don’t belong inside the urban footprint.

    You won’t meet me for coffee on Terminal Avenue (now appropriately named—Skytrain being a kind of ‘last nail in the coffin’), but if you look at the build out since 1986 it is this: carpet and tile stores like on Bridgeport; and now personal storage warehouses for the condos downtown. Tell me that this is not directly a result of having the Skytrain overhead. One office building; perhaps two; over by the CN Station. Don’t seem to be doing good business. The Starbucks is on the ‘going to work’ side of the street, and is virtually empty except on peak hour.

    Over on your neck of the woods, don’t you feel that Skytrain on Broadway would be a total fiasco? Wouldn’t you agree with me that the most agreeable part of the Expo line is when it enters the Dunsmuir tunnel? Begging the question: why didn’t we put more of it underground?


    July 25, 2011 at 7:04 pm

  38. MB the Willingdon I was referring to is Lougheed & Willingdon (Brentwood Mall). I put a couple of images up that illustrate what I see it as representative of a Skytrain Urbanism Paradigm.


    July 25, 2011 at 7:54 pm

  39. Lewis wrotes:

    “don’t you feel that Skytrain on Broadway would be a total fiasco? Wouldn’t you agree with me that the most agreeable part of the Expo line is when it enters the Dunsmuir tunnel? Begging the question: why didn’t we put more of it underground?”

    and Livy already noticed that
    “We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them”…


    July 25, 2011 at 10:09 pm

  40. I’ll play the devils’ advocate in saying that elevated subways / railways in Paris and Japan, for example, aren’t not a blight. Both use the area under the tracks for promenades, markets etc. The Japanese have, in some areas, like Ueno in Tokyo, hundreds of stores and restaurants under the elevated tracks..In other areas the space under the tracks is used by warehouses, stores etc.

    Granted, the environment in Japanese and European towns is, more often than not, pretty chaotic and not the glossy, polished fantasy that too many urban planners and architects like to show-off with their latest small scale model of their latest pie-in the sky project, but some ugliness and untidiness is much more life-affirming and exciting than a photo shopped unrealistic beauty….

    The French love women they call a “jolie-laide”. Women that are objectively not that good looking, but have such a unique personality and style, that are truly original, not a copy of anyone else, that people gravitate to them and feel uplifted by their presence. Drop dead gorgeous women don’t have a chance when a jolie-laide is around! It is the same with cities!!!

    Red frog

    July 26, 2011 at 12:07 am

  41. @ Lewis: “…don’t you feel that Skytrain on Broadway would be a total fiasco?”

    The short answer is an easy ‘no’, provided it is in a top notch subway built to 21st Century standards in harmony with an enhanced No. 9 electric trolley bus service on the surface.


    July 26, 2011 at 9:22 am

  42. I would also add a much improved public realm on the surface on Broadway in the form of very high quality and much expanded pedestrian spaces.


    July 26, 2011 at 9:24 am

  43. Lewis, I don’t have a problem with trams per se and I agree that they contribute to “good urbanism”. But their contribution is not exactly indicative of the Moses Effect. That is, they are not a required precondition to developing appropriate human habitation, like striking a rock with a stick in the desert to get water to grow crops.

    What I have a problem with is generalizations like “SkyTrain blights neighbourhoods.” You are referring specifically to a guideway structure, not the good quality service SkyTrain provides, even when its capacity remains shortchanged, as all forms of transit are continually shortchanged in the reality of automobile dependency that saturates our cities to the core. Slag away on the guideways, but also recognize SkyTrain’s superb potential to provide one of the best alternatives to long-distant car commutes in the Metro. Stephen can probably provide greater detail, but my understanding is that the current SkyTrain system is running at about 40% under its design capacity due to a lack of cars and stations that cannot currently accommodate 8+ car trains.

    The distinction to me when discussing transit is the service, not the technology. Too often the tech reigns in these discussions. SkyTrain provides a fast regional commuter service that meets a very real need, as would a limited-stop LRT system. Trams address slow local service. All are valid and require intelligent responses to specific conditions, not predetermined blanket solutions. In Vancouver (but not the outer suburbs) this is accomplished with SkyTrain (regional) interplaying with a bus fleet (local). When Zwei proposes to dynamite the SkyTrain system and replace it with trams, he essentially bins regional service for local, and without fail chooses wilful ignorance about the essential marriage between land-use / urban design and transportation.

    Regarding Brentwood, it’s an incomplete project. Dawson St is slated to become a somewhat diluted version of the low rise urbanism that you and I aspire to. But converting the existing car shops and light industry with primarily residential and retail shops is a slow process. I am not a fan of most of the towers, especially those with the ubiquitous witch’s hat on top (an unfortunate motif left over from the terrible corporate architecture of the PoMo 80s). Having said that, I am delighted to see the industrial plants and truck-lots of the old Lougheed slowly disappear and a new community arise, and to finally see the massive mall parking lot removed and office space and retail brought to the Willingdon street edge (the mall owners are waiting for improved market conditions for office space ). As for Lougheed, it will remain a major truck route until the oil runs out, with or without the overbearing concrete SkyTrain guideway.

    With Evergreen connecting to the east, and Broadway connecting to the west, I predict the Millennium Line will become supremely energized and evolve to be the most heavily travelled rapid transit line west of Toronto, provided the Coquitlam Centre-to-UBC connection is seamless. That will have a very dynamic effect on the economy all along its path. It’s up to the latest generation of planners, architects, urban designers, developers and citizen reps to seriously consider the low rise and spread out human scaled urbanist vision. I predict this may occur between stations, but towers will still dominate at major stations simply because of land assembly economics. But they don’t have to be ugly and energy inefficient, and they don’t have to treat public space as the leftovers once the private interests have had their fill. It’s up to us to challenge all involved parties to do it better.


    July 26, 2011 at 12:56 pm

  44. MB, I agree with pretty much with everything you wrote..but believe that we should keep businesses and even car lots (with cars stored in transparent vertical silos and easily accessible when needed (ever seen the ubiquitous automated parking garages in Japan?) rather than wasting precious real estate.
    Apartment buildings, especially along major arteries, should also have a couple of floors reserved for offices and small craftsmen.

    If we were to use the space below the SkyTrain guideways for businesses this would make them more acceptable..
    under a (former) railway line

    businesses under a freeway (I ate in one of he restaurants under the freeway)
    see click on the photos to enlarge them)

    Red frog

    July 26, 2011 at 8:04 pm

  45. Frog Red, yours is a good “devil’s advocate” post. I agree. In Japan (never been there) the elevated trains may work. They did fall on their side during the Kobe earthquake, though…

    I don’t think they work in Paris, New York or Chicago. An ‘El’ was built on Sixth Avenue through the Village in NYC in the 1870’s, only to be taken down in 1938. By that time it had been replaced by a subway. Surely, the problem was blight. Wikipedia mentions the “loss of real estate value”.


    Skytrain is not Subway. So, I take it we are on the same page with our director of engineering… the choices for Broadway are:

    (a) Subway under Broadway, or
    (b) Tram on Broadway… but not “Train-In-the-Sky”.

    Your next point is also very important. Transit implementation should come complete with street revitalization. Where “revitalization” is understood to mean the ecological sustainability and design to support social functioning. Neighbourhood intensification should also be in the mix.

    “The Moses Effect” … somehow, I don’t think you will be discussing Freud’s obsession with the Michelangelo statue in Rome…

    “Skytrain blights neighbourhoods” means that putting trains up in the air doesn’t work in urban places. Just that. Let’s measure it any number of ways. They all are bad.

    It doesn’t matter if the systems are running at 80% capacity or 20% capacity. If you and I do not want to live anywhere near them, then the system is a bust. Period. (Frog Red, that means that IMO housing under the Skytrain wouldn’t sell in our market).

    I am not making a “technology” argument. I am making a “resulting quality of the urban space” argument. The technology is not what is being “blighted”. It is the lives of the people living near the system that are “blighted” everyday.

    It’s the same thing as with towers. Fine for those living in the towers—sort of. But, boy, hope you’re not unfortunate enough to own a house that is being overlooked and shadowed by the towers. Like the row of house lots on the south side of Knight and Kingsway. I wonder what the effect on the property values was when the Behemoth went up?

    Diddo for apartment dwellers on North Road should Evergreen goes Skytrain. Or businesses and residents along Clark Street in Port Moody if Skytrain goes on the ground. Passengers on the service will not notice. Much as commuters don’t give a damn about the places they drive thru on the way to work. But how about the people who are invested in the places where Skytrain will surely be the agent of blight?

    I don’t quite follow the regional-local examples you cite MB.

    1. Regional commuter=Skytrain;
    2. Slow local=tram=bus in Vancouver.

    However, the Evergreen Line is not Regional. And the differences in travel time do not equate to a fast/slow analysis. It will take the same amount of time to travel Evergreen whether it is either Tram or Skytrain. The great leveller of this equation is the time and effort required to get to the Skyrain stations. There are 2x fewer stations; and they are separated from grade.

    Then, “… the essential marriage between land-use / urban design and transportation…”

    How does my analysis of the Evergreen not fit this criteria to the max??

    “Brentwood [i]s an incomplete project.”

    MB, Brentwood is a DEE-saster! And the City Burnaby Community Plan is probably the No. 1 culprit. I designed a building there in the early 1990’s, and I couldn’t believe what their urban code had written down in black and white. Reefer madness pure and simple.

    No community is ever going to arise on Lougheed until we tear the Millennium down (seriously underperforming at 60.000 daily trips); put in either BRT/LRT/or Subway; take 80% of the cars off the road; and re-plat the place to have human-scale blocks that don’t stretch on for what seems to be a mile or more.

    Of course, the hope is that Evergreen will feed transfers into Millennium and thus “prove” the investment in Millennium wasn’t a bust. But that’s really only pushing the bust down the track, isn’t it?

    It is just as likely that Evergreen will have fewer passengers than Millennium; just as Millennium has fewer passengers than either Canada Line or Expo Line. It’s the core-periphery phenomenon of urbanism.

    Right away that should be an argument for Tram instead of Skytrain. More scalable if the ridership isn’t there.

    Consider that we could wake up to discover that Millennium should have been tram for the same reasons that Evergreen will be a better fit if it is tram. And, I have to reiterate that if you are travelling between Lougheed Mall and Coquitlam Centre, tram will be just as fast as Skytrain. The length of the trip is not the only consideration; getting on the system must also factor in the equation.

    There, Skytrain comes out the loser because—if you look at Brentwood—nobody seems to live within easy walking distance of that station. So, getting to Sktyrrain Brentwood could turn out to be your worst leg in the commuting trip plan.

    Frog Red, we are not using the space under the guideway on Terminal for parking, much less for habitable space of any kind. So, it is hard to follow the argument that Skytrain is alright ’cause we can build under the elevated guideway. That just has not happened in 100 years of building trains in the sky, only to tear them down ASAP (60 years in Greenwich Village, NYC).


    July 27, 2011 at 2:06 am

  46. The fundamental question that arises from any transit development is what happens to the space between the stations. Usually that’s low to mid rise redevelopment. That’s a good thing because it’s necessary to accommodate additional people and services and focuses the growth.

    The problem with limited stop systems like we have in Metro Vancouver is that much of the new development is not within easy walking distance of a station. The area between Royal Oak and Edmonds has accommodated a lot of new residents. Burnaby did a great job of putting the development near the SkyTrain line, but the train doesn’t stop there so nobody can use it easily. Virtually all of the people are dependent on a private vehicle to get around.

    Billions invested in transit and the result is more pressure on the road system to expand.

    Cambie is different because there is a parallel bus to take people to Canada Line stations, but that’s not a panacea. The bus is a psychological barrier to many prospective transit users. They’ll take a train, but not a bus. Having to transfer is another barrier to acceptance especially when headways exceed 7.5 minutes on one or both systems.

    That is addressed by moving the stations closer together so the entire corridor is served. While 500-600m spacing is optimal, adding stations at 57th, 33rd and 17th would provide satisfactory coverage.

    But that would add a few minutes to travel times for a large number of passengers and potentially discourage them from using transit. The loss of a suburban passenger hurts the region more than gaining an urban passenger so planners can justify it. Keeping station numbers low is also important from a financial standpoint because grade separated stations are expensive to build and maintain.

    Is there an alternative?

    Where surface rights of way exist there are other options that don’t cost a fortune to build or operate. Parallel tram and express train services can be built for the same kind of money as a single metro system and operated for less than the metro plus its requisite parallel local bus.

    When replacing a bus with a tram…

    What is lost?
    – The convenience of a bus stop every city block.
    – The illusion of being able to walk across the street at a point other than a designated crosswalk.
    – The opportunity to host parades or street parties

    What is gained?
    – Frequency of service
    – Ride comfort
    – Capacity
    – Reliability
    – Speed
    – Operating cost savings

    For many passengers the tram is just as fast as metro with system access time replaced by time spent aboard the tram.

    From an urban planning standpoint the express service focuses development around town centres. The 500m tram service creates continuous strips of development opportunity. Every point along the line is within easy walking distance of rail service making it possible to locate towers away from stations or do without them altogether.

    I don’t want anyone here thinking this is the solution for a large number of routes. Obviously building a tram only makes sense on a few routes and even fewer places have the option for an express service. I just think that too many in this region, especially those in positions of power, can’t envision anything other than more of the same.


    July 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm

  47. Hmmmm. A lotta detail there that I can’t possibly respond to. But I will say, Lewis, that we are not on the same page, at least not on how to achieve quality urbanism within the structural realities of our current system. Change the system? … yeah sure, but having worked in both the private and public sectors for 29 years, and read a lot about cities and economy and energy, I’m at a loss as how exactly to do that outside of dreamworld academia where armchair criticism is cheap and tenured, and doesn’t have to face the everyday development and planning realities on the ground. Write books? … well there’s a good idea. I may even have one or in me too.

    For a non-techie guy you sure know a lot about transit tech. For me, I am in a roundabout way perfectly aware of the warts, advantages, tragedies and efficiencies of most transit modes. We have to keep in mind that nothing will better the human body as the best possible influence on urban design. What I see here in Vancouver is an incomplete regional rapid transit system, a paradigm of car dependency that will not likely stop until the oil runs out, and an economic system that is powerful, but also extraordinarily fragile given it’s sensitivity to energy price fluctuations and super-long supply chains.

    It is my opinion that we have no time to waste to have the transit in place this decade when the next wave of downturns occur and liquid fuel turns to gold, financial institutions turn to dust, and imported food disappears. We have already allowed the politicians to hobble transit, emissions reductions and energy + food security with their vacillating and wilful ignorance, and there’s no more time to waste. There is so much more to worry about than replicating 19th Century urbanism in our neighbourhoods … though that would be nice in appropriate places.

    Finish the SkyTrain system, don’t tear it down or divide the transit lobby further with incessant arguments about mode. It’s here to stay, and we have to make the best of it, including undergrounding it where needed. Compliment it with surface light rail (fast and slow), a much expanded bus fleet, bicycle routes and a new emphasis on pedestrian urbanism. Densify our suburbs around transit and shoe leather. The cost of all of the above will be far less than the asphalt politics that have drained our urban resources for the past seven decades. Promote politicians who get it, and who will in turn promote appropriate urbanism (who they are remains a mystery at present .. except, of course, for Stephen who was a Green Party canditate at one time).

    Stephen’s original post was about a fuel tax to pay for TransLink projects. My, how have we digressed. Two cents a litre is nothing to cry about. Currently about 42 cents is directed to all forms of fuel tax, including transit levies and the carbon tax. That leaves 92 cents (or more than 2/3rds) for an exclusive revenue stream that goes directly to the oil companies. Notice how the oil companies removed the posters they used to have at the pumps indicating the portion that goes to taxes? They don’t want us to see how much they take now. And their prices are set with enormous government subsidies in the bank, and a few drops for environmental remediation. The latter wouldn’t even cover a fraction of the healthcare costs of urban asthma and ground level ozone-related illness and death in seniors.

    Moreover, for every dollar the feds take from fuel taxes in Metro Vancouver, they return eight cents, and of that they devote most of it to road projects. Transit in all its variations – let alone adapting to less energy (and far higher prices) and promoting resiliency in our cities — is perfectly affordable in our wealthy society.


    July 27, 2011 at 1:18 pm

  48. @Lewis,

    “Skytrain blights neighbourhoods” means that putting trains up in the air doesn’t work in urban places. Just that. Let’s measure it any number of ways. They all are bad.

    What I disagree with, lewis, is the absolutism in that.

    If you ever visited the eiffel tower, chances are you took metro # 6 and walked from the Bir Hakeim station.

    And people should have better mobility outcomes with skytrain compared to local service tram. Even red frog would appreciate it:

    What bothers me is having to spend so much time going by transit from Coquitlam to Richmond just to go buy a magazine at the Yahoan Mall.


    July 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm

  49. Wow, the youtube like went up directly!

    anyhoo, here is the link to RF’s need for mobility:


    July 27, 2011 at 2:55 pm

  50. @ David. I live very close to Main Street and find the articulated trolleys offer great service. Vancouver’s arterials are already developing in a low-rise linear fashion, as you iterated would happen with trams

    What I have a problem with is when cost is bandied about regarding SkyTrain, but is convenienty ignored when proposing replacing perfectly fine and quite flexible, clean electric trolley service on Vancouver’s arterials with trams. If you’re starting from scratch, fine. But spending enormous sums merely to replace one surface vehicle with another without significant proven gains in ridership doesn’t make sense, and would be a ludicrous proposition if proposed by a professional transit planner.

    And those gains in ridership? Impossible when trams will be stuck even more seriously than the existing buses in traffic congestion. Buses can be rerouted around accidents. Trams cannot.

    And the bus system already has a two-block (+/- 400m) stop pattern, not a one block pattern.


    July 27, 2011 at 4:18 pm

  51. @Lewis… the recent development around Brentwood may not be perfect; the scale of the streetscape in

    your ‘west’ picture is large; the sidewalks are wide, almost too wide, but it’s better than what existed

    in the late 90s. The Saturn dealership and the Lougheed Hotel had _no_ sidewalks, even the block of

    Lougheeed in front of Brentwood Mall had no sidewalk, only a dirt trail worn into the grass strip… Sure, it’s not Yaletown, but before this redevelopment you were walking along a highway shoulder, constantly looking over your shoulder.

    >if you look at Brentwood—nobody seems to live within easy walking distance of that station. So, getting

    to Sktyrrain Brentwood could turn out to be your worst leg in the commuting trip plan.

    I may be biased.. I live a 6 minute walk from my front door to the BTC platform… I see your point when

    centering Google maps on BTC… dominated by the Mall parking lot, Car Dealerships, and two cemeteries

    (none of which are a large source of commuters), north of the mall is mostly single family housing… but. on the other hand.. Lougheed and Beta to the east, and Lougheed and Rosser to the east has seen a lot of high density development in recent years, some of which is too new to show up on Google, and anyone in the new high-rises east of Madison are closer to Gilmore than BTC.

    >No community is ever going to arise on Lougheed until we tear the Millennium down (seriously underperforming at 60.000 daily trips); put in either BRT/LRT/or Subway; take 80% of the cars off the road; and re-plat the place to have human-scale blocks that don’t stretch on for what seems to be a mile or more.

    How old are those M. Line numbers? Anecdotally, 5-6 years ago there were maybe 3, 4 people waiting on the inbound Brentwood platform in the AM, I used to bask in the early morning sun at the east end of the platform.. Not any more… the platform is packed in the AM, if you don’t know the best place to get on, you may find yourself waiting 300-360 seconds for the next train (an interval not unreasonable for many LRT lines in North America, but an eternity compared to the 108 second interval (or less) in the AM peak on the combined E-M line)

    and tear down the new high-rises and the M line? maybe in 2150…tearing down all the new high-rises built in the 2000s isn’t likely during the lifetime of the first occupants… and the blocksize is less than it seems.. about 200 metres. or 1/8 mile.

    >Skytrain is not Subway. So, I take it we are on the same page with our director of engineering… the choices for Broadway are:

    (a) Subway under Broadway, or
    (b) Tram on Broadway… but not “Train-In-the-Sky”.

    Now we’re splitting hairs (Skytrain is not Subway). in NYC many Subway lines runs elevated in the outer boroughs, some Chigago El lines run in tunnels downtown, in London much of the Underground is above ground, even the new Overground runs under ground in places…. Locally, I see signs for “Skytrain” pointing to the Canada Line, even though it’s mostly underground, and not even “Skytrain” ALRT LIM technology….

    That said, though I never take the 99 BLine in the UBC-In Session AM rush (though I see the long lines), I’ve recently found myself on the 99 on Saturday and Sunday… not pleasent… if only we could have stayed on our M Line train, we would have been at Broadway City Hall in 4-5 minutes, (Translink says it’s only 10 minutes from Comercial-Broadway to Broadway-City Hall, seemed longer than that, not counting waiting 8+ minutes for the 99 at the bus stop)

    Maybe we can chat about this at Starbucks… not on Terminal Ave, but at Brentwood Town Centre; there are three within a 3 minute walk of BTC station… that I know of 🙂

    (Oh, funding the Nevergreen Line… the subject of this post… Cancel Air-Care, convert the $24/year or $48/2 year fee into a vehicle fee, and divert the operating costs into transit..l.

    The Other David

    July 27, 2011 at 11:34 pm

  52. @MB – I’ve talked to others who like the Main Street bus too. I think the fact that it’s a trolley rather than a diesel is one of the factors. I find it all a bit strange because Main from 33rd north to the water has to be one of the slowest streets in Vancouver to drive along. There must be times when it’s possible to walk faster than the #3.

    I wouldn’t rip out a perfectly good bus to put in a tram. Trams belong where demand exceeds the economical capacity of articulated buses.

    Street level rail does have trouble with collisions that block the tracks, but exceed the performance of buses 99% of the time. Even the B-Line has to contend with people invading the bus lane to make turns.

    While 200-400m spacing is common in Vancouver I’m sure we can both cite examples where there seem to be too many stops. Personally I know of 4 stops in a 400m stretch and a span of 12 consecutive intersections with a stop. Neither of those is downtown.

    @ Other David – I like the suggestion of diverting AirCare funds to transit funding. New car emission requirements plus low maintenance engines mean the program is of very limited value.

    It would definitely be easier to sell a new graduated vehicle levy if the existing, mostly useless one, was removed.


    July 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm

  53. Pleasure to read, and get instructed by the posts here. I’m just going to pick a few of the cherries. The posts clearly stand on their own.

    Linear High Density Development

    The analysis provided works for me. We walk 400m in 5 minutes, so 500m stop spacing is an advantage of tram over subway/skytrain.

    Most people I know that have used transportation to get to and from work (and school) think that the cut off for a walking distance to the subway is in the 12 minute range (not 11, and not 13). So that is a 960m radius for the catchment of an efficient service.

    From an urban design point of view, stops in 500 to 1000m distances would work just fine Vancouver has been platted to support just such a system. The better the system, the farther I would assume people will walk. Canada Line will pull them from 1 km away.

    The urban design can play a key role in “extending” the length of the walk by making it safer & more pleasurable (i.e. trees, fewer cars, shop windows, spaces that support social functioning).

    Interesting note about gaining a suburban rider vs. and urban one. The 60k tally for Millennium came from the new Vancouver Director of Engineering at the Alan Jacobs lecture this summer. He classified Expo Line as 200,000 but I see that Translink talks about is as 230,000 daily trips.

    My Hair Is Still On Fire

    The point that the discussion has missed so far is the value to the resulting quality of place of removing cars from the road.

    A lane carries up to about 10,000 cars per day. Knight Street near the bridge over the Fraser is shown on Vanmap as carrying 66,000 vpd (year 2006 count).

    According to Appleyard’s “Livable Streets” (1981) neighbourhood functioning starts at around 18,000 vpd. 2,000 is better, but probably impractical for the arterials.

    The real win-win of BRT/LRT stands to be providing additional trip capacity (at the same lecture we heard Broadway handles 100,000 bus trips/day); and removing cars. That last bit—removing the cars—is just as important from a point of view of urban design or resulting neighbourhood quality.

    Especially if neighbourhood plans like Mt. Pleasant get approved, where 100% of the density is added to the Main Street-Broadway “Great St. George’s Cross”.

    I think we can take a page from history, and wonder if the trams in Vancouver were taken away not for reasons like MB suggests, but rather to make more room for private automobiles.

    I am seeing us come full circle. We are now in a position to remove cars and regain neighbourhood function.

    BRT Still Not Appreciated?

    I have nothing against the buses, except that the one stop per block turn the trip into a milk run (and futile for all but the young, and the retired). Friends who use the Evergreen B-Line love it. My point is about giving the Main bus, for example, lane and signal priority—and stretching the stops as necessary.

    However, following on the previous argument about returning neighbourhood function by reducing the space for vehicles at the same time that we greatly boost trip capacity on the same road, makes me wonder why we are not building 12 BRT lines in Vancouver this year. It can’t be the costs, can it?

    One per arterial from Arbutus to Renfrew; then, Hastings, Vennables, First, Twelfth, (one more), 41st, 49th and Marine Drive. Okay, maybe that’s more like 16 lines.

    1. They would put stops within 1000m of every front door in the city.
    2. My hair wouldn’t be alight any more (cars off the street); and
    3. To the transportation planners: wouldn’t it re-organize the bus fleet in a meaningful way?

    Walking for 10 minutes twice a day is a health advantage for those who can manage it.

    Was that our “Translink Commissioner” on the Bill Goode Show today talking about BRT over the Port Mann into Burnaby? If it works there, why not do it now on the Evergreen corridor.

    Two Problems with Skytrain

    I’m working on a post for Greenwich Village—Mezz you’ll appreciate this one. I found out from the Wikipedia that in 1868 there was an El built on 6th Avneue.

    Sixth was an addition to the Village plat courtesy of the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, laying to rest the notion that the plan “worked around” the footprint of the Village. The El was removed in 1938 (dates from top of my head).

    I think for the same reasons I have argued. If you know the Village, Sixth and Eighth are out of character with the area. Eighth is the real culprit (that one came in 1914 and the 8th Avenue Subway followed four years later—I’m trying to find out if it was cut & fill construction).

    But, even if the Millennium comes down in 2070, the point towers are here to stay. I don’t see the improvement on Lougheed today. Nobody walks there, I think the photos in my previous post show why. It’s a no man’s land with cars zipping by. Imagine it at night, in a dark, cold evening. That’s a skytrain problem (either here, in Paris, Chicago, or in the Village in the 19th century). It feels like there can be an unsavoury character standing behind every pier.

    The other problem for Skytrain is that it is worse on the ground that in the sky. And that is a problem arising from the LIM technology—it’s lethality.

    In a tunnel—no problem. So, MB has it right. When I berate “Skytrain” i am really arguing against an elevated guideway in an urban context or neighbourhood.

    Nevergreen except for the greed factor

    What is surprising about the 60k number for Millennium is that it is so low. With Evergreen, what is the number of riders that we expect to enter the Millennium system?

    Anybody’s guess. But we have to plan with something in hand. Whatever that number is, we can assume that it will be significantly lower than 60,000. Part of the reason is the redistribution of jobs in the economy.

    If Expo from Surrey carries 230,000 daily trips, I wonder if Millennium all the way into the Evergreen will carry 100,000? This problem is looming greater for me as decisions are pushed forward to 2015.

    I’ve had discussions with the last three Coquitlam mayors up to the present. Ten years ago we could talk openly about that City wanting the “prestige” of Skytrain. That still seems to be driving the decision making process, though it is not mentioned as often.

    Yet, Portland is all Tram and the results are economically very robust.

    Stephen’s Scalability Factor

    Aside from longer trains and platforms, what does Stephen mean by that? And, how realistic is it from the transport planning perspective to think in terms of Bus/BRT/LRT/Subway as the logical scalability of transit service in a given corridor over the long run.

    Found it fascinating to hear discussed the role of the parallel buses to the various systems. I always found it remarkable that the Bloor Line never ousted the Bloor Trams.


    July 28, 2011 at 8:11 pm

  54. @Lewis, I don’t know if 60,000 is “good” or “bad”… or even what year that number was recorded… All I know is that 4 car MK-I trains are increasingly sardine packed inbound in the AM and outbound in the PM… and when SFU is in session the trains in the opposite direction look just as bad; certainly busier than outbound Expo Line trains in the AM….

    >And that is a problem arising from the LIM technology—it’s lethality.

    Yes, trains can be dangerous if not respected… [recent personal incident withheld].. but LRT isn’t necessarily better, in fact, has SkyTrain ever struck a cyclist, or a motorist? LRT in Calgary certainly has

    The Other David

    July 28, 2011 at 11:38 pm

  55. “What is surprising about the 60k number for Millennium is that it is so low.”

    well the good news is that we consider a 60k number as low, this even for an unfinished line ending in the middle of nowhere (VCC) … In the meantimes in Portland, where on average a Max line carries 30,000 rider a`day (not much more than the bus 3 on Main)

    Lewis, you gave yourself the projected Evergreen line ridership on the Fabula blog: it is in the tune of 70,000.

    For matter of comparison, the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail project, similar in scope (length and number of station) to the Evergreen line, is estimated to the same price ($1.4M…yes i know, some people in Vancouver want you to believe tram cost peanuts, but project after project prove them wrong)…but with a ridership three time less (~20,000)…

    May you elaborate why you say “Yet, Portland is all Tram and the results are economically very robust” ?


    July 29, 2011 at 12:20 am

  56. Since we are in number:

    According to Appleyard’s “Livable Streets” (1981) neighbourhood functioning starts at around 18,000 vpd. 2,000 is better, but probably impractical for the arterials.

    My Eugene Henard book on Paris teach me, that in 1891, it was counted 33,000 vehicles Rue de Rivoli (in those year it was not too many cars…and not much bike either): They will build the first Parisian subway later under it:

    not sure how such a street could be classified in the Appleyard’s work ?


    July 29, 2011 at 12:47 am

  57. Some interesting digressions. For me the bottom line is we need rapid transit and we need to fund it. The $0.02 gas tax is not ideal but will work on the short term. Is the Evergreen line as SkyTrain a bit of overkill? Maybe, but history in Vancouver has shown build it and they will come….even with the Millenium line that runs in the middle of nowhere. It is ready to go as Skytrain lets build it before the next ‘crisis’ that takes away funding…..and if it ever gets extended under Broadway we will be glad it is Skytrain.


    July 29, 2011 at 9:28 am

  58. Just a few more notes before the long weekend.

    SkyTrain never was the primary blight-factor on Lougheed. The Lougheed Highway blighted Lougheed generations before SkyTrain arrived. Brentwood / Lougheed still suffers from car saturation despite a plethora of transit and housing initiatives. However, the traffic has slowed on the surface because there are more crossings, and the road has more organizing features like the curbs, sidewalks, planted medians and street trees it never had before. As long as Lougheed remains a designated major regional truck route, then Lougheed will continue to blight itself and be hostile to pedestrians, though it’s a far sight better than it was because of the SkyTrain-induced development. The mezzanine (the object, not the person who contributes scintilating conversation to this and other blogs) under the Brentwood Station platform is screaming to be extended straight into the shopping centre parking lot once it develops into commercial/retail. The grades work in favour to diminish the effect of the guideway from the north side of Lougheed. Brentwood will never achieve human-scaled urbanism until Lougheed is tamed, and I’d say that even if trams were placed in the median instead of SkyTrain.

    The Other David addressed the bain of surface rail that aspires to be scaled up to a regional level rapid transit service. Twenty-one people were killed at pedestrian and vehicular crossings between 1990 and 1999 (source: an email from Calgary Transit that arrived after a year of pleading for information about a relative who was tragically included in that group). That figure does not include suicides and maintenance-related deaths. The death toll is perhaps around four dozen now. This is why I would always promote a detailed risk assessment in every transit project. The score in the 90s was C-Train: 21, SkyTrain: 0. SkyTrain remains at zero in the Preventable Accidental Deaths at Crossings category.

    The Millennium Line started with a lot less than 60,000 riders/day. What we’re seeing I believe is a ridership increase attributable to new residents at Brentwood, Holdom and Lougheed stations, with more to come at Sperling once the old Dairyland site rezones. My gut feeling is that this ridership count will jump exponentially with an extension of the Millennium Line to Central Broadway and UBC, let alone points east via Evergreen. Perhaps a tram line could connect Brentwood to Metrotown via Willingdon Ave with a major stop at BCIT. The M-Line currently reminds me of incomplete house wiring; join these always-intended, long overdue extensions together and you’ve got a very dynamic system simply because it connects millions more people to their places of work, their homes, their services and their recreation.

    To gain a modicum of understanding why we need as much transit (and initiatives to increase energy and food security at all levels) as quickly as possible, here’s a link to Richard Heinberg’s latest post:

    Happy BC Day!


    July 29, 2011 at 4:01 pm

  59. “Found it fascinating to hear discussed the role of the parallel buses to the various systems. I always found it remarkable that the Bloor Line never ousted the Bloor Trams”

    What Bloor trams? There was no trams on Bloor when I lived there and there are none today still . see the Toronto map linked below. Tram lines in red.

    Red frog

    July 29, 2011 at 9:47 pm

  60. I still kind of object to the characterization of the M line as being in the middle of nowhere…. when house-hunting 6 years ago, proximity to SkyTrain was the main factor, M Line or E line was irrelevant. Zone 1 vs Zone 2 was a more pressing concern, even though we settled on a home near Brentwood on the M line… Less than 30 minutes to downtown, no wonder Brentwood/Gilmore is now One can live car free at Brentwood, though a few times a year (BBQ Propane, Xmas Tree) you miss having your own car.

    >The mezzanine under the Brentwood Station platform is screaming to be extended straight into the shopping centre parking lot once it develops into commercial/retail.

    I’ve heard complaints about this before, but really, it’s not that far from the end of the ramp to the mall… though I suppose the parking lot could be developed… though most mall parking lots tend to spawn T.G.I Lobsters,

    The Other David

    July 30, 2011 at 1:42 am

  61. Perhaps I should state the Millenium line was in the middle of nowhere, it is slowly (quickly?) densifying and becoming something better.


    July 31, 2011 at 1:46 pm

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