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

Archive for November 27th, 2012

Direct light-rail line to campus the way to go, UBC says

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Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail has been talking to Pascal Spothelfer, the university’s vice-president of community partnerships. He seems not to understand that the way to make a partnership is to look at the combined interest of both – or all – parties rather than than your own self interest. Of course UBC wants to get more people onto transit than the current bus lines can carry – and as usual all eyes are on the Broadway corridor. Prior to today, the City has been favouring an underground line from VCC to Arbutus, with bus the rest of the way. The city’s engineers have delivered an update today (see foot of this post).

I am a bit reluctant to open up the comments on this since it will almost inevitably revert to the tired old debate of SkyTrain vs LRT. What we really need to be talking about right now is what do we do to resuscitate Translink – which is starved of operating dollars and is busy cutting service in much of the region in order to get some more service into areas where there is now severe overcrowding. For UBC to be pushing its own agenda at this time seems more than a little insensitive. For the decisions that matter will not be made in the City of Vancouver, which is unlikely to be swayed by views of the unincorporated area to its west. UBC’s population may be growing, but they don’t vote in City elections. And the areas that are going to be impacted by whatever is built are some of the most expensive and politically influential bits not just of the city but the province.

And, like it or not, rapid transit is – and always has been – a provincial issue. “TransLink typically only takes on a big transit expansion once a decade. ” And that being the case, really ought be concentrating its attention on the part of the region that is growing fastest, has the greatest current and future car dependance, and is currently grossly underserved by transit of all kinds. Any new dollars that Translink gets seem to me should be ear marked for Surrey, so that the 555 Highway #1 rapid bus can have a park and ride and service connections into Surrey (instead of blasting straight through non-stop) and the #96 B-Line can be extended along the rest of King George all the way to White Rock. Rapid bus may not be as sexy as light rail, but it can at least be introduced in the next few years, given some political will.

Next year we will have a new provincial government. Let us dream a little and imagine that it is not only NOT the BC Liberals, but also the NDP with some significant Green influence – given last night’s federal by-election result of 34.3% in Victoria. That new administration might well want to reconsider the once a decade track record, and conclude that what BC’s major urban area needs is a program of steady transit expansion – with perhaps a moratorium on major new road building projects. Stop talking about six lane Patullo replacement and a new Deas Island crossing, start talking about managing the steady decline in driving that we have been seeing and how to provide all kinds of alternative ways of getting around. Don’t put all your investment into one big project, but start a long term program of continuous improvement in affordable increments. And the only way that gets thrown into doubt is if there is some change in funding strategy from other levels of government. As long as Canada is cutting is transit spending, and province is playing blacktop politics (where the NDP has a very similar record to the small c conservatives) Metro Vancouver needs a strategy that it can fund – likely from road user charges and parking fees.

The other thing that gets put back on the table with the a new provincial government has to be land use and higher education. Making universities behave like businesses was really silly since UBC had land that could have been used for student housing and might well have gone some way to cutting the distance that “140,000 people a day” have to travel. Allowing university land to be developed for market housing only makes sense if you view UBC as a commercial venture with a cash bottom line that overrules any other consideration. That does not seem to me to be a sensible way to run any educational service – or any public sector enterprise come to that. Of course we cannot unscramble that egg now, but we can resolve to do much better in future, and putting both UBC and SFU into downtown(s) was a good first step – but not nearly enough.

It also means that the region gets effective land use powers to overcome local resistance to increased density at rapid transit stations and along transit lines. I am not at all convinced that we could adopt a Hong Kong model, but given that developers pay for so much transportation and parking infrastructure now, diverting that to a broader toolbox of urbanization and public space management seems to make a great deal of sense.  As Brent Toderian has been saying – it’s not about the bike lanes it’s about building better cities. But it also seems to me that it is insufficient for one or two cities to follow that strategy while the rest continue with business as usual. We need a regional approach, both at setting priorities for major infrastructure investments and also to tackle the shape (as opposed to serve) development role.

POSTSCRIPT see the latest BC polling – and Bill Tieleman’s view – in the Tyee and here is the presentation that went to Council today – pushing for underground on Broadway all the way to UBC

“Given the impacts of surface rapid transit west of Arbutus, a Broadway Subway should be extended all the way to UBC.” staff presentation

Written by Stephen Rees

November 27, 2012 at 9:48 am