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

Is it time to bring back the streetcar to Vancouver?

with 42 comments


South Lake Union Streetcar Seattle - my photo

Posted at the request of Yuri Artibise

April 12, 2012, Vancouver, BC:

Vancouver-based online consultation platform PlaceSpeak launched a survey today asking if city residents support the reintroduction of streetcars to our neighbourhoods.

Vancouver is currently exploring the use of streetcars as a key element of our transition to more sustainable transportation modes. But if streetcars are to be reintroduced in today’s economic climate it is important that they are planned in a thoughtful, evidence-based manner that includes public input. With this in mind, PlaceSpeak teamed up with Patrick Condon at the University of British Columbia (UBC) to gauge the public’s interest in restoring streetcars—and associated amenities—to our city.

Historically, Vancouver began as a streetcar city with electric trams connecting neighbourhoods and the downtown core. By the 1920s, however, the introduction of the car proved so powerful that they quickly became the preferred mode of transportation. In fact, Vancouver’s original streetcar grid left such a strong imprint that many arterial streets continue to thrive. Indeed, if you ask a resident where the heart of their neighbourhood is, they will likely name the former streetcar street at its center.

In recent years, B.C. citizens have been struggling to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide we put into the air. In our province transportation produces more GHG than any other sector, and the bulk of that comes from the ordinary activity of residents travelling through the city each day.

In Vancouver, we have also been figuring out how to incorporate ‘livable density’ as we plan a sustainable, affordable, and livable future for our residents. Streetcars may be able to help with both. According to Condon, one part of the solution may be returning to our ‘routes’ and reintroducing streetcars to Vancouver:

Vancouver is slowly on track to meet our 2050 goals for reducing GHGs. We walk more, bike more, use transit more, and our cars less and less. But to make the next big leap requires us to think now about electrifying the transit system. It won’t help if we all use buses if those buses belch diesel fumes. Streetcars are one solution; and for many streets the cheapest one available. Our city grew with the streetcar. It might grow more sustainable with it again.

“Density without transit is just dense”,  says PlaceSpeak CEO Colleen Hardwick:

For Vancouver to meet its environmental goals while accommodating forecasted population growth it is crucial that we diversify our transit options.  Streetcars are the missing link in our transportation infrastructure.”

Find out more and take the short survey at

Written by Stephen Rees

April 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Posted in transit

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42 Responses

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  1. The reason that the old streetcar routes continue to thrive is because those streets are zoned commercial and the streetcars were replaced with trolley buses. Those streets are Vancouver’s commercial and transit corridors – that’s what distinguishes them today. Yes, their origins were tied to the streetcars – but that’s just because streetcars were the transit form of the day and the only alternative for the vast majority of people who didn’t own a car, not because of any intrinsic characteristic of the streetcar vs. other modern forms of transit.

    The only role I can see for a streetcar is where trolleys are incapable of servicing the demand. In Vancouver, the only route that fits that description in my mind is the Broadway corridor – but current and future demand in that corridor, combined with need to connect the Millennium line with the Canada line, means that a Skytrain extension is the much better choice for it.

    Until someone tells me what a streetcar can do for Vancouver’s other routes that trolley buses can’t, I just don’t see the need for more expensive technology that’s incompatible with what we’ve already got.

    Sean Nelson

    April 12, 2012 at 11:18 am

  2. I guess then that all the people in Europe, Asia and even the USA, that use all these modern trams systems built since the 90s are delusional?
    Those of us that have used modern trams now that no trolley bus can have as comfortable a ride as a

    Red frog

    April 12, 2012 at 11:37 am

  3. Seattle will start anytime now to build a new streetcar line, the First Hill streetcar.
    More streetcar are planned.

    Personally I think that having streetcars share a lane with cars is a dumb hare-brained scheme that will bad for everyone.

    Red frog

    April 12, 2012 at 11:59 am

  4. I agree with Sean.

    Trolleys are cheaper than streetcars and commercial and transit-oriented developments centres are more tied to zoning bylaws than the mode of transit. (Case in point: Expo Line development varies by municipality (i.e. different zoning priorities)).

    Streetcars apparently attract more riders than buses (and do attract tourists), likely because of the gee-whiz rail factor, but they are not “rapid” transit unless in an exclusive RoW (which may be possible in various places such as along 6th Ave. or the Arbutus RoW).


    April 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm

  5. I like taking a tram but in general the extra benifit in extra mobility is not there, so in a world with limited budgets it is not high on my list. The exception may be the Main street to Arbutus route, it is significantly in its own right of way, does not duplicate too much service and it would be attractive linking tourist destinations (I know but tourists can be transit users too)…still a question of how to fund it, it would be very hard to argue that it should go before a Broadway RRT line, or Surrey B-lines or any of a hundred other projects that will improve mobility more.


    April 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm

  6. Canada Line is incompatible with SkyTrain too. Long term that’s probably an advantage because trains compatible with those tunnels are readily available from a wide variety of manufacturers. SkyTrain is a proprietary system with one manufacturer that gets almost all its money from selling other types of transportation equipment.

    Trolleys are cheaper than streetcars when demand is low. At a certain level (roughly 2000 pphpd) the operational cost savings make it worthwhile to lay tracks. Main Street would have hit that level had Canada Line not opened nearby and may yet do so next decade.

    Streetcars mixed in with other traffic are a pointless waste of money. Streetcars given their own lanes are fast, reliable and much more attractive to potential passengers than buses. The removal of lanes for other traffic is a positive.

    BRT is often touted as a cheaper solution, but it’s not that much cheaper to build, it doesn’t attract as many passengers and the operational costs are higher because each bus needs a driver. Trams can be hooked together so multiple vehicles only need a single driver in peak hours.

    The money required to build and operate a Broadway extension to the Millennium line would fund LRT on Broadway, the rail corridor from Broadway down to Science World, King George Blvd., 104th Ave and 152nd Street.

    Grade separation is not needed. Calgary’s transit mall has a design capacity greater than all the current peak hour passengers on the Expo, Millennium and Canada lines put together.

    If demand ever exceeds at-grade capacity you simply build a second parallel surface line. That doubles capacity and attracts additional passengers for whom transit is now more convenient.


    April 13, 2012 at 12:42 pm

  7. David, from Calgary transits website, when expanded to 4 car capability the Ctrain will have a practical capacity of 19440pphpd, current AM peak is 7255. I don’t know current, but Canada line is required to have a practical capacity of 15,000…..The numbers from the Broadway and Surrey corridor studies do not match your statements about how much LRT could be built for the equivalent of the Broadway RRT. Also note capacity is not the only metric that is important in evaluating a project…for instance new riders, total travel time, operating costs, green house gases….for instance you could put a 20,000pphpd LRT on Broadway, but I doubt you could put a 20,000pphpd LRT with signal priority on Broadway so if you want that you sacrifice travel time and if you sacrifice travel time you sacrifice ridership, when you lose ridership you affect operating costs….That said right now the priorty should be the improvements like the Blines in Surrey that look like they will be cut.


    April 13, 2012 at 1:45 pm

  8. Is time to bring back the streetcar to Vancouver?

    The short answer is “yes.”

    Now for the qualifiers:

    -As long as they don’t attempt to replace electric trolley buses, in which case there will be no or very little ridership / frequency gain for a very large public expenditure.

    -As long as false claims are not made that they can replace SkyTrain as the backbone of the regional rapid transit network, a network that is missing some very important segments.

    -As long as there is a full accounting of surface passenger rail safety risks, a point constantly ignored by proponents. Don’t get me to quote numbers … it ain’t pretty.

    -As long as there is qualified research and full accounting of the costs of relocating underground services that would otherwise underlay the track bed. This point is constantly ignored by proponents, almost like what you don’t see doesn’t exist.

    -As long as it doesn’t sever existing pedestrian and commercial cross traffic with dedicated medians in areas where the density of signalized crossings is greatest (e.g. Broadway between Main and Alma – 32 of 38 intersections are signalized).

    -As long as the proponents in all fairness address the problematic issue of frequency of service rather than ignoring it to parrot pphpd stats, which have significant limitations.

    -As long as there is enough operating funds to keep a large labour force active to increase frequency where possible.


    April 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm

  9. Forgot these points:

    -As long as proponents recognize that urban passenger rail falls in many categories, from grade-separated inter-city commuter rail to in-traffic trams doing the milk run. That is, that proponents quit the One Tech Fits All cliché.

    -As long as proponents stop misleading the public that building trams will lead to human-scaled urbanism with very little effort, when in fact changing urbanism requires several major and highly-coordinated efforts.

    -As long as proponents stop portraying tram costs as unrealistically cheap (read above points again).


    April 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm

  10. @ David:

    The money required to build and operate a Broadway extension to the Millennium line would fund LRT on Broadway, the rail corridor from Broadway down to Science World, King George Blvd., 104th Ave and 152nd Street.

    It’s obvious you have no design, project management or planning experience.

    First, this is an overly simplistic statement that leaves out a lot of accountability. Take a cruise down Kingsway presently between King Edward and Nanaimo and you’ll see what I mean. They’re currently replacing major sewer trunk lines. I used to think that a centre median down Kingsway would be a relatively benign place for several converging light rail lines. Now I see that the cost of relocating underground services would add hundreds of millions, perhaps over a billion, to such a project and cause disruption that may even exceed the Canada Line trench that was open for 22 months. The CL trench was 9 metres wide, permitting the road to still remain open. Underground services are spread anywhere in the road allowance and have connections to each property, so the entire road bed may have to be ripped up.

    Second, thanks for bringing up operating costs. SkyTrain is driverless and therein labour is much cheaper. This leads directly to greater service frequency compared to labour-intensive LRT. Yes, one driver can control a couple or three connected trains, but that wil lead to a direct reduction to frequency, something that is very important to users.

    Third, you forgot the Arbutus corridor, 200th St (Maple Ridge – Langley City) and Lougheed Hwy east of Coquitlam Centre. Though I support RRT in twin bored tunnels in Broadway all the way to UBC (well, maybe daylighted in the UBC golf course) built to the highest engineering and architectural standards, I also favour LRT on the other roads you mentioned and several you didn’t. The difference is largely related to density, the size of existing employment centres, existing transit ridership and potential increased demand, available land and ability to tie development to transit. Subways are justified in dense urban cores, like Broadway, but LRT can more easily fit in suburbs that agree to urbanize.

    I feel that limiting transit to one form is also places limits on deciding how the public is best served given the very serious challenges ahead.


    April 13, 2012 at 4:11 pm

  11. @David: “Canada Line is incompatible with SkyTrain too.”

    That has nothing to do with the need to extend the Millenium line to Cambie so that downtown-bound passengers coming from Port Coquitlam (via the new Evergreen extension), Coquitlam and Burnaby have the option of transferring to EITHER the Expo line OR the Canada Line to complete their journey. Otherwise everyone will be forced to use the Expo line, which will saturate the Commercial/Broadway station and the line’s carrying capacity between Broadway and downtown.

    It also makes the Canada Line with its airport connection much more accessible to the rest of Vancouver and points east without having to take the Expo line all the way downtown to transfer.

    “Connecting the grid” in this case has nothing to do with technology. Passengers from the North Shore routinely use the Skytrain even though they took the Seabus to access it, and boy there’s no better example of incompatible transit technologies than that. Yet the technology distinction is irrelevant to the transit user – it’s frequency, speed and connections that matter.

    Sean Nelson

    April 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm

  12. If it makes sense to put streetcars in Vancouver, the best places to put them are in place of well-used, electrified bus routes where the investment can be justified on the basis of higher per-vehicle capacity resulting in lower per-passenger costs and greater reliability and speed achieved through pre-payment, separation from other traffic, and stop-consolidation.

    However, the article does not argue for pre-payment, separation, or fewer stops. Instead, it chiefly argues for electrification on the basis of reduced emissions while neglecting to mention that it proposes to replace an electrified system.


    April 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm

  13. The notion that the streetcar city is really the zoning city doesn’t answer the question it is purporting to address. It really wouldn’t matter if it was the “where green men landed from Mars city”.

    The point is that the arterial spacing from streetcars seems to work. It has to do with the confluence of the pedestrian shed (a measure of convenience) and the transit stop catchment (a measure of level of service). I will walk 10+ minutes to a subway or LRT; I will probably walk 5+ minutes to a BRT or B-Line; or I will drive.

    Trolleys would work even better with signal & lane priority as BRT. Such a consideration starts to ease the way for Streetcar as “rapid” transit per Guest’s observation. I see a logical progression from B-Line, to BRT, to LRT, to subway based on demand and funding.

    Rico will have to explain why signal priority on Bway won’t work. I remember Voony writing that the reason is that you penalize the N-S lines.

    I don’t understand why we are not boring tunnels now under Bway; dreaming up a Barcelona Ramblas street section to reduce the space for cars, and increase the space for social mixing.

    Double or triple Vancouver’s 1960s density, and it soon becomes clear that Trolleys and B-Lines are not enough. Broadway B-Line is carrying 100,000 ADT according to some estimates. But, the ride is not so good. Many UBC trips start as car trips, then ride transit to avoid paying parking fees. That should be a red flag to transit planners. So, that’s one example of what streetcars can do that trolleys & B-Lines can’t. OK?

    Sean is committing the “Transit Fallacy” when he states that Skytrain is the better technology for the Broadway corridor (or any corridor, for that matter).

    Like the traffic engineers that blighted our neighbourhoods and arterials by flooding them with as much traffic as the right-of-way will bear, Sean’s proposal will blight Broadway into a kind of No. 3 Road condition. Trains in the sky are just not good urbanism, and we have but to wait for the Evergreen Line on North Road to have ample proof of that (Skytrain on the ground is even worse urbanism as Port Moody will discover).

    What is the “Transit Fallacy”? It is the notion that transit cannot take cars off the road.
    While this is true for some technologies, it is not true for streetcars and BRT.

    Transit that occupies space in the public ROW takes space away from cars, and therefore, removes cars from that street.

    If two lanes of traffic carries 20,000 ADT and one line of Tram 200,000 ADT, then it stands to reason that LRT will take away space for 20,000 cars per day while providing up to 10x as much trip capacity. BRT can do the same, while delivering about 5x as much trip capacity. Both technologies are 0-GHG.

    [You guys have to give me a way to convert pphpd to ADT].

    In the final analysis we have to do two things well. Get people where they are going with fast and efficient transit; and build livable streets, walkable neighbourhoods, and affordable regions.

    Only some transit technologies can do all that lifting.

    lewis n. villegas

    April 14, 2012 at 11:22 pm

  14. The experience of older citie is that indeed there is no single solution.

    Paris, Tokyo and Dusseldorf (obviously 3 DIFFERENT cultures) use subways, buses, tramways (LRT in North America) and of course good old buses.
    Tokyo–like Osaka–also use Automated Guided Transit systems (similar to the French VAL—they sort of look like SkyTrain at first glance but have crucial differences) on elevated guideways to link the mainland to artificial islands.
    Tokyo and Osaka also have monorails..and an elevated–mostly–railway line that loop around all the major downtown neighbourhoods… .their tolled motorways across town are elevated.
    Tokyo even has a ferry that is a one-man small boat… the last of its kind..owned by a family that has been rowing across a river since the late 1800s.

    Should I mention also the huge number of plain cheap bikes that one see all over the place? a relative of a friend of mine in Vancouver use a bike to go from his home in Kobe to a rail station nearby, hop on a commuter train to Osaka, change there to a subway then jump on his other bike–they costs $ 100-150– to go to his work place nearby. He has a car but use it only on weekends as tolls, plus expensive gas and parking (all much higher than here) cost too much to use it daily.

    Downtown areas of big Japanese towns are full of single family homes. They look small from the outside but aren’t that small inside, That guy I talked about has a house with 3 bedrooms, a living room, a family room, a bathroom that is actually 3 rooms, a garden and his very own parking spot (all the neighbours in the streets park their car in a lot they they own together. The cars are stacked one on top of the other). You should see all the electronics they have…including a pad in the bathroom that let each person in the family preset the water temperature they like. All their lights are controlled by remotes. One even use a remote to have the toilet wash and dry oneself while playing soothing music.

    Some of these houses are a bit like a tree. Small at ground level to leave space for a car or 2 (you can’t buy a car unless you can prove you have a parking spot NOT on the street) and a few rows of flowers and shrubs, then they widen on the upper floors and may even have a terrace on the roof.

    Unlike here, and in Europe, set backs around homes can only be a few feet and it is possible to build on the oddest shaped lots possible.

    Reading this makes it look terrible but it is not. Better a small 3 storeys single home with a bit of greenery around than a tiny condo on the 30th floor in Vancouver.

    Looking for the cheapest solution for Vancouver transit is shortsighted. When London, Paris etc. built their first subways many people tought it was an obscene waste of money and that no one would EVER go down underground to ride inside a closed box. Lucky for us that they built these subways anyways.

    Red frog

    April 15, 2012 at 12:10 am

  15. I did not mean to imply you could not have signal priority on Broadway, only that you could not have high capacity on Broadway. Train lengths will probably be limited to 2 or at most 3(not too likely) trains due to the short block length. Most traffic is North/South and there are about 30 lights on central Broadway. What this means is signal priority would likely only be possible on headways of greater than 5min or it will really screw up traffic on the major North/South routes.


    April 15, 2012 at 7:02 am

  16. There are a lot of different ideas about how to classify transit modes. I like to take a technology-agnostic view and define transit mode by the typical stopping pattern, which is similar to the meaning of mode in physics.

    In this spatial frequency sense, streetcars and trolleybuses can have the same mode. B-Lines, BRT, LRT, skytrain, and subways can have the same mode. Commuter rail and suburban express buses can have the same mode. This definition of mode separates out technology, capacity, location relative to grade, frequency, and span, which can be discussed separately. Often, these other properties follow from the mode. For example, local modes are put on the surface because underground/overground stations are expensive.

    A tramway, which is what I think Condon and Lewis are arguing for, fits somewhere in between streetcars and LRT, with stops spaced at half the arterial spacing. As an intermediate mode, it is fast enough to stand in for the limited-stop mode and it stops frequently enough to stand in for the local mode. Because only one mode is on the street, headways can be minimized (i.e. in the sense that the timetables of a limited-stop and a local cannot be coordinated due to their differing speeds) and street-space can be allocated to this mode without compromising another mode (i.e. in the sense that if a BRT occupies the median busway the local will not have to sit in traffic). Despite these benefits, tramways or “rapid streetcars” cannot really be rapid compared to grade-separated systems or surface BRT or LRT on suburban arterials.


    April 15, 2012 at 10:17 am

  17. @Lewis: “Trains in the sky are just not good urbanism”

    Firstly, when I say that Skytrain is the best choice for the Broadway corridor I’m not trying to suggest an elevated line. It seems fairly obvious that RRT in the Broadway corridor will be underground.

    Secondly, opponents of elevated lines always seem to concentrate on the street impacts and ignore the experience of actual transit users. Elevated Skytrain is a wonderful transit experience – far more desirable than being stuffed into a noisy, dark tunnel. I have no doubt that this has a positive effect on ridership. Nobody ever seems to consider the possibility that the positive effects for hundreds of thousands of transit riders every day might go a long way to balancing any negative effects on the lesser number of people on the street below. I’m not trying to claim an actual net benefit (although strictly from a transit users’ perspective I certainly think there is one), but this really is a positive impact of elevated transit that I think needs to be factored into the discussion.

    Sean Nelson

    April 15, 2012 at 12:54 pm

  18. Mike o123,
    From the Light Rail Transit Association at
    “What’s the difference between tramways and light rail?
    Mike Taplin, the LRTA’s Chairman answers: First, when we say tramway we mean streetcar in the American way of using words. For instance, there is a streetcar line in Seattle running from the Waterfront to the train depot. In Portland they have a light rail line running from the city centre to the eastside (and now a new line to the westside). These lines are light rail because they are mostly segregated from other traffic, passengers get on and off at stations rather than in the street, and the cars run faster. However there is no definite border line between streetcar and light rail – they merge gradually from one to another, and as a streetcar system gets upgraded it becomes light rail. A lot of this is to do with planning jargon; streetcars are seen to be old fashioned whereas light rail is trendy!”

    In Europe we call tramways (trams) old small historical trams, the big new ones from Alstom that are around 44 metres ones, the Avenio from Siemens that come in modules of 9 metres, all the way to 72 metres long
    (though I don’t think that have sold any that long yet) etc. .

    SkyTrain, the French VAL and what the Japanese call AGT (they are similar to the VAL, with rubber tires on their wheels and safety glass walls to separate the platforms from the tracks) are LRT too..but automated ones. .

    Red frog

    April 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm

  19. […] Stephen Rees has already posted on it, and you could find an ensuing discussion it on his blog […]

  20. David – “Grade separation is not needed. Calgary’s transit mall has a design capacity greater than all the current peak hour passengers on the Expo, Millennium and Canada lines put together.”

    I would like to challenge this. Where do you get your numbers on both sides? Prove your statement. Can Calgary’s single transit mall match the well over 75000 pphpd that could theoretically be provided if the (both longer) Expo/Millennium Line and Canada Line were parallel to each other and served the same route?

    You couldn’t get to that capacity even if C-Train ran 5-car trains (the max theoretical, whereas currently the system runs 3-car trains) because the C-Train’s frequency, so long as the system remains driver-manned (and it will never be otherwise), is capped at 2-minutes [Calgary transit website].


    April 16, 2012 at 12:29 am

  21. Daryl, David is actually comparing Calgary’s practical design capacity with our current capacity. I do not know our current capacity so can’t really compare but from Calgary Transits website the practical design capacity for 4 car trains is 19440ppphd (not sure if this includes the new line just about completed) with a current actual capacity used of 7225ppphd in the AM peak. I do know Calgary has a much higher percentage of peak riders (work commuters only) than Vancouver so his comments are likely true…but they are not necessarily relevant. And here is my prediction, the Calgary Transit mall will have its downtown at grade portion in a subway long before the practical design capacity is reached.


    April 16, 2012 at 10:22 am

  22. Actually it bugged me so I tried to look it up, did not find anything link worthy but a commentor on Skyscrapper stated that current capacity was about 16,000pphpd for Expo line and 8,000 for Millenium line, the thread was pre-Canada Line. Not sure if that was actual achieved capacity or theoretical based on number of trains/headways….If it is actual current capacity I guess David’s comment was wrong (and me for suggesting it may be correct)…..still not the major thing we should be basing our transit decisions on though.


    April 16, 2012 at 10:59 am

  23. There’s no merit to comparing the current design capacity of a system with the maximum practical capacity of another, so long as the system being compared using current design capacity can be significantly expanded.

    The Expo and Millennium Line combined portion can support well over 54000 pphpd (this competes with the Toronto subway!) with only the acquisition of new rolling stock (~80m 5-car Innovia ART 200/300 in Kuala Lumpur seating config can carry 1125/train in rush hour) and no requirement of platform lengthening.


    April 16, 2012 at 4:58 pm

  24. Wow I sure hit a nerve. I got my numbers from a Calgary planning document that envisioned 4-car trains on a 90 second headway. I resisted the urge to talk about Karlsruhe Germany because their laws permit trams to operate like buses just a few seconds apart. The point, of course, being that trams can get the job done if given the chance.

    Mike0123 did a great job of explaining the concept of half arterial stop spacing, but made the classic mistake at the end: equating vehicle travel time with passenger travel time.

    Real passengers walk to transit, wait for transit, usually transfer (more walking and waiting) along the way and finally walk to their destination. The train ride may be a small portion of their total travel time and any savings there might be offset by longer walks or more transfers to cope with the wide station spacing. Some won’t even consider taking a bus to get to a train.

    For many people along a line, “rapid” transit is neither rapid nor particularly useful.


    April 16, 2012 at 5:16 pm

  25. Urban arterials are simply not good places for any surface vehicle to travel at 80 km/h. Trams on urban arterials are very different from LRTs on suburban arterials, even if the same vehicle can be used in both situations. I think trams (or buses) operated as a mode between streetcars and LRTs on some urban arterials in Vancouver could potentially minimize aggregate travel time (i.e. for most people taking most trips most of the time) and transit operating costs (i.e. by operating a single mode instead of two) , despite it not being rapid transit.

    There are already a number of streets in Vancouver where the local mode has become insufficient for longer trips and a limited-stop mode has been put in place to improve transit on that street. Some of these routes operate some of the day, like on 4th and 41st, and some of these routes operate all day, like on Hastings and Broadway.

    Hastings, 4th, and 41st either have a parallel rapid transit line in the Millennium line or will have a parallel rapid transit line in its westward extension in the Broadway corridor. With less need to satisfy a regional demand, this intermediate mode becomes more viable, especially when urbanists and locals clamour for improved streetscapes and neighbourhoods with well-spaced, transit-oriented nodes.


    April 16, 2012 at 8:57 pm

  26. Station access time is indeed an important component of total travel time. However in the Broadway context it is less so. A very high proportion of travellers are long distance travellers where speed improvements would be larger than station access time. Another major segment would access Broadway on the major arterials and so also benifit from faster speeds (wider spacing) vs station access. In general terms you only need to look at the ridership of the Bline vs the #9 to get an idea of the numbers who would benefit more from increased speed vs easy station access (the bline being speed/wide spacing, the #9 being easy station access). Ridership on the Bline is way way higher.


    April 16, 2012 at 9:30 pm

  27. I would like to point everyone to this blog post by Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker:
    Streetcars will provide only the appearance of mobility, and none actual extra. This article doesn’t even mention that the reduction in road capacity will completely prevent the utilization of effective express services.


    April 16, 2012 at 10:35 pm

  28. David, I hope you are aware that it is not possible to run train with 90s headway and keeping traffic signal priority for Transit at same time. So yes, a surface LRT can have a high pphpd throughput, it can have a good average speed,…but it can’t have both….

    and on speed, the previous contributors have answered why it is important – I could also point to its effects on the “freedom map”, what makes ultimately transit a useful and appealing proposition in a competitive landscape -not only for transportation mode choice, but also for dramatically for home/office/shop location choice.


    April 16, 2012 at 10:44 pm

  29. Thank you Voony you expressed what I was trying to say in a much clearer way.


    April 17, 2012 at 6:39 am

  30. Fairview, Kits and Point Grey will suffer, but wide spacing is probably more appropriate for Broadway.

    So here’s our choice:

    Triple capacity over the current #99. Provide a vastly superior ride that attracts more passengers. Run at better than #99 speed. Serve additional destinations and reduce bottlenecks at Broadway/Commercial by building the LRT2 option that includes a link from Main Street Station to Broadway & Arbutus. Easily and inexpensively extend from Main Street station to Stanley Park and Yaletown using the already designated downtown streetcar routes. Potentially extend south on the Arbutus rail line. Send a clear message that road space for private vehicles is not a priority. Build miles of LRT in Surrey on already identified routes.


    Build a subway under Broadway.

    Either way we’re looking at a Provincial contribution of about $700 million, matching Federal and TransLink contributions and TransLink payments (over and above actual operating costs) to the private partner of roughly $6 billion over 35 years.

    So if we can agree on nothing else, let’s use our voices to oppose the kind of one-sided PP partnerships that the Liberals brought us.


    April 17, 2012 at 11:04 am

  31. In a perfect world where transit was appropriately financed it is clear that Broadway should be RRT…..of course we are not in a perfect world and I have to admit that combo 1 has appeal to me even though it did not fair that well on the Broadway corridor evaluation. I am not a big fan of the LRT2 option, I think RRT at least as far as Arbutus is a no brainer, but hey thats me. That said the general point is moot right now, it is clear we need to fight to keep the current round of transit expansions going (Surrey B-lines etc) and Streetcars or RRT on Broadway will wait for another day.


    April 17, 2012 at 12:12 pm

  32. David and Rico, I agree our world is not perfect.

    But I would appreciate it if you could read the tea leaves a little more clearly. That is, public transit in ALL forms has been chronically underfunded for over a half century. By accepting the ‘either / or’ argument regarding subways and surface rail, you are accepting that political priorities will not change even when the economy tanks again as fossil fuels escalate radically in price. Your bar is set too low to be meaningful to those who make the decisions about spending.

    And you have misread the political priorities. Clearly, it’s for roads (hence petroleum)… and has been for a lifetime of elections.

    Its electric transit built for the highest quality service versus fossil fuels, not SkyTrain versus trams. And about living lighter and smarter on the land. This is where the most meaningful contribution can be made to instill resiliency in the face of the next wave of economic upheaval caused by unaffordable liquid energy costs. A federal government worth its salt would implement a well-funded National Transit Plan as part of an energy security policy before it hits the fan.

    As far as I am concerned a subway down the Broadway corridor all the way to UBC was justified economically over 40 years ago – certainly predating my UBC days in the early 80s — as was a new interurban rail service in lower density suburbs. Streetcars are incidental to these backbone systems. I would also enhance the pedestrian experience for the entire length of Broadway (wider sidewalks, bus stop and intersection and mid-block sidewalk bump outs, accent paving , public art …) and all other Metro streets that become transit boulevards, as well as improve the #9 electric trolley bus service. Broadway, given its high-density and rating as BC’s second largest CBD, not to mention its connection to the little city at the end of the peninsula called UBC, has had a screaming demand for all of this, from greater mobility / speed / frequency (subway) AND higher quality local transit service (#9 articulated trolley bus) AND pedestrian enhancements.

    It bears repeating: we need it all. This will become obvious before this decade is done. I just hope we can manage to elect some politicians who have figured it out before then.


    April 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm

  33. MB while I agree ‘we need it all,’ I am also aware that if I bang my head against a brick wall it is likely my head that is going to hurt, not the wall. For now I would be happy with the small improvements we are in danger of losing and I will focus my attention on keeping support for those going. Once there are new transit revenue sources identified I will worry about bigger things.


    April 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm

  34. …it will take an integrated approach of land use, energy policy, and innovative technology to transition to a low carbon economy [and create more resilient cities].

    The above, except my insertion, is excerpted from an abstract on ‘Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change’, a book by Peter Calthorpe.

    Calthorpe also promotes and actually builds what he calls “transit boulevards”, the components of which equally consist of LRT / BRT placed on suburban arterials along with pedestrian-oriented urbanism. He hasn’t practiced or written very much on urban inner city sites, but I feel he’d promote subways where appropriate.


    April 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm

  35. @MB: “Its electric transit built for the highest quality service versus fossil fuels, not SkyTrain versus trams. ”

    Nicely said! My only quibble would be to replace “for the highest quality service” with “to attract the largest ridership”, which could mean (for example) maximizing mobility.

    Sean Nelson

    April 17, 2012 at 5:32 pm

  36. Sure we need it all, but we all know that isn’t going to happen until the fossil fuel people like Harper are tossed out of office. One need only look at the rise of the Wild Rose party in Alberta to see that things are going to get worse before they get better.

    So far we’ve seen one SkyTrain line, followed by two highway projects, followed by one SkyTrain line, followed by two highway projects, etc. The focus has always been on a single transit mega-project to make it look like there is balanced spending. If the SkyTrain project is expensive enough the next highway project will look comparable. In reality none of the provincial governments in the last 30 years needed to spend a penny on transit. Appealing to drivers has always gotten you elected in BC.

    The desire to build a “backbone” ignores the fact that travel in Metro Vancouver is getting less centralized every year. The future is multiple origin/destination pairs. It’s wrong headed to think that a small number of backbone lines with feeder buses can serve the future needs of a city that will not only have two major downtowns, but see a vast number of trips go nowhere near either one.

    Even a seemingly perfect isolated node like UBC is not what it appears to be. In the last few years several new universities and satellite UBC campuses have opened in other parts of the province. It’s inevitable that regional universities and electronic learning will make the big university in the big city a historical relic. Any growth in passenger counts will come from the increasingly large residential population on campus lands, but those people will either stay on campus or travel in the reverse direction occupying capacity that currently goes unused.

    What’s needed is a network of routes a few miles apart throughout Metro Vancouver. If we continue to build only expensive backbone lines my children will be 6 feet under before anything resembling such a network exists.


    April 18, 2012 at 11:40 pm

  37. David, I agree that we need to look at other jurisdictions, but believe me, Alberta is not it! I’d rather look to France, the UK …even part of the US (densest cities). More later.


    April 19, 2012 at 4:38 pm

  38. Nobody ever seems to consider the possibility that the positive effects for hundreds of thousands of transit riders every day might go a long way to balancing any negative effects on the lesser number of people on the street below.

    We need to embrace “both and” thinking, rather than “either or” visions. We need to provide a pleasurable transit experience and a walkable, livable & affordable urbanism. The “lesser number of people” typically live there.

    David 17 April: Two Options
    (not an “either or” scenario since we are looking at two plans, and making a choice).

    David makes the case based on transportation choices, yet it is important that we also measure the impacts to the livability of the streets in question. Most of them have residential fronting, and will have even more residential fronting in the future. Removing cars to run streetcar will have significant positive effects.

    Old Amsterdam, outside the incredible railway station with that gigantic board that keeps updating itself ‘magically’… trams or streetcars are stopped with their doors open. It takes a minute or two for me to see why. Amsterdammers walk thru them! Rather than have to walk the long way around, on their way to where ever they are going, they just walk through the stopped trains. Message here is that long trains are experienced as barriers in urban space.

    Missing from the discussion so far is that trip length shortens dramatically as we move from periphery to the core. It is 5 miles from the Fraser to Burrard Inlet. I can run that far in less than an hour. Main to Broadway is 6.5 miles. That’s a one hour run. Not sure we need to increase speed so much as to remove encumbrances. If the only stops are at the stations, and the ride is superior, then we have given the 99BL the needed boost.

    If David has it right, then 3x capacity is 300,000 ADT. We can build walkable neighbourhoods all along the way using that population boost.

    The other issue is with train length and frequency. Do we have a model for the kind impact running the streetcar/LRT on surface on Broadway?

    I don’t. So I rely on two Broadway experiences. The first I’ll call “Swimming with the Dolphins”. On occasion I have travelled in the family van from Main to Alma on Broadway. I try to keep up with the 99-B Line and track the 9 bus progress. The experience leaves me with the impression that there is enough road space.

    The second experience came during two appointments I had on Broadway during the Olympic Spring of 2010 (the first week of the Olympics when the sun was shining). I experienced Broadway on those two days in a way I had ever experienced before, or since. Broadway was bereft of cars. The buses were barely noticeable. And the size, the scale of the black top surface in relation to everything else seemed gargantuan. To boot, the radio reported one commuter saying that crossing the Port Mann that day was unlike anything he had experienced since the 1960s.

    I fashion two hypothesis from these observations, both of which have to be tested.

    (1) The ability to remove cars from the road—to really do it—has impacts that we can’t readily understand. This can be the game changer. That “clear message” that David is talking about really needs to be re-tooled to speak about “a clear air message” for locals and region-wide. The livability of the arterial is in bad need of repair. Removing cars is the most important part of that plan. Is it possible that the snow on Baker will look white, not pink, again?

    (2) The current level of transit vehicles on Broadway, especially the mixing of a local and an express, is a fair demonstration of how much space and bulk BRT/LRT implementation would take. Redesign of the R.O.W. will add the missing pedestrian amenity. With less noise, less pollution, two continuous rows of street trees either side of the LRT, reduced car lanes, and wider sidewalks, the place will be transformed.

    lewis n. villegas

    April 20, 2012 at 7:00 am

  39. CORRECTION: main to ubc on Broadway is 6.5 miles…

    lewis n. villegas

    April 20, 2012 at 7:03 am

  40. Lewis, conjecture about Broadway is fine —– until you crash into the realities, which will make it Disneyworld.

    What realities, you ask?

    Here are the realities you have never adequately addressed after years of posting your Broadway Dream:

    Taking the bus. Please take both the B-Line and #9 extensively. Take it all the way to UBC every school day for the equivalent of a typical four year degree period. Take it mostly at crush hours, but also at midnight and noon, and every second day make stops in your commute on Broadway to eat, shop, meet friends. Then you, like me and 140,000 others every day, will have an adequate level of experience to judge and make realistic recommendations about Broadway.

    UBC students are not just passing through. They are also residents and shoppers in the Broadway corridor. Their experience should not be sacrificed for the residents of Kitsilano, Fairview and Mount Pleasant when myopically improving transit only for slower, local travel. Their experience should improve with any expensive transit initiative proposed for the Broadway corridor. UBC is a legitimate and fast growing destination for students, employees (it is the second largest single employer in BC), and new residents.

    Trams / dedicated BRT medians and underground utilities do not mix. You may see only a large expanse of asphalt, but that’s like saying trees don’t have roots, or buildings don’t have foundations. Before you proceed any farther with trams on arterials, please access City engineering plans to assess the locations of (especially, but not exclusively) major underground utilities. They are located anywhere under the roadbed or sidewalks, and can change directions or be concentrated without any evidence of their location on the surface. Please never suggest that you can build a track bed over major utilities. That just isn’t going to happen. Please never suggest that trams can be built so cheaply, then ignore the astronomical additional costs of relocating sewers and trunk water and gas mains. That just isn’t going to happen either. Real urban designers listen to their engineers on real projects BEFORE they propose a design.

    People need to cross Broadway at almost every single intersection west of Kingsway. They have a plethora of absolutely necessary reasons. Very few intersections are not signalized. A dedicated median for trams or BRT will sever Broadway down the middle except at the eight major cross arterials. Yet it is still very necessary to expect that ridership, speed and frequency should be vastly improved for any major expenditure on public transit in this corridor, and a dedicated median is the only way to do it on the surface. This is where grade separation (i.e. a subway) is justified in this corridor, given the vital existing physical and economic characteristics of Broadway and UBC combined, and the century-long life span of this next generation transit, which will exceed the amortization period by at least 70 years. Broadway is long past due. Logic dictates that very few gains will be made with a huge expenditure on surface transit – especially when the inevitable additional expense and disruption to relocate utilities and the public reaction against a dedicated median come into play, notwithstanding urbanism.

    Removing cars and improving the pedestrian experience on Broadway can be accomplished in several ways, not just one based solely on surface transit. The best option, when accounting for the future in a heavy corridor like Broadway is rail rapid transit seamlessly connected to the regional rapid transit network with stations every kilometre, coupled with a vastly improcved #9 trolley bus surface, and accompanied by sidewalk expansion, curb bump outs at all intersections and mid-block in Central Broadway, urban plazas with public art, fountains, accent paving, etc etc at each station.

    Using a lack of transit funding to justify “cheaper” trams and BRT in the densest corridors like Broadway is not an excuse. The issue is not a lack of funds, but a skewed, auto-centric priority for the more-than-adequate funds that already exist at senior levels.

    I keep saying it, but the above points are ignored time and time again, yet these are the very items that will hurt surface transit options when the detailed planning and design is underway. If they are ignored by the entity that builds next generation transit on Broadway, then there will be hell to pay with the users and the taxpayers who paid so much for so little improvement in service.


    April 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm

  41. Hello David, you wouldn’t happen to know the streetcar routing system in downtown Vancouver in 1902-03? I presume there would have been a trolley on Burrard Street and Granville and along Hastings. I am writing a book that includes captain Mowatt of the CPR in need of getting from his ship to his home on Barclay Street as fast as possible.

    Much appreciated, Milo Hicks, North Vancouver

    milo hicks

    November 17, 2013 at 1:03 pm

  42. There is a Google Earth app for electric railways in Canada which includes the Vancouver streetcar routes at

    Stephen Rees

    November 17, 2013 at 4:07 pm

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