Stephen Rees's blog

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

The subway versus LRT debate on Broadway

with 34 comments

In yesterday’s blog post I said that I did not want to open up this debate again, but then Patrick Condon published an opinion piece in the Tyee called “Why Is TransLink’s Price for Light Rail Triple What Other Cities Pay?” The key to his argument is in this table, which for ease of reference I have lifted entire

The article explains how they made these figures as “fair and comparable as possible” but is strangely reticent on the source of the data: it simply says “publicly available documents” and there are no links, nor a list of sources. I sent an email to Patrick requesting that first thing this morning: he has not yet replied.

Actually if you have spent any time at all on this issue you will know that the internet is awash with comparisons of this kind (Google has 17.4 million results). I am going to suggest that you go to just one – which is I think a better source than most simply because I used to work for them. The UK Department of Transport is actually now quite keen on Light Rail – but it is still a wholly objective source of information. “Green Light for Light Rail” is a downloadable pdf – and it has up to date comparisons of existing UK systems. But what it also has is a sobering chapter entitled “Cost Structure of the Light Rail Industry”

Comparisons between the capital costs of light rail projects are difficult to make because no two schemes currently in operation in England are directly comparable. They all have different characteristics.

And then there is a very useful list of “cost drivers” which explains why the capital costs can be so different, even for comparable projects – there is a longish list of things that need to be taken into consideration such as moving utilities

Light rail routes that run on highways are often deemed to require the diversion of utilities apparatus (water, gas, telephone) which is usually placed in roads and pavements. This has often been a significant part of the cost of a scheme. Space along the highway is often limited which can make this work expensive. There is also a high risk that during the initial phases of the design some of the utilities are not located, especially in central, older parts of cities, leading to additional and more costly work when they are subsequently located during construction.

There is a notable absence in the list of projects – it does not talk about Edinburgh.

It does have this neat graphic which deals with comparing the UK’s civil engineering costs to the rest of Europe

It would have been nice if they felt the need to compare the UK to North America – but there is a very useful section about what can be done to control costs. The point I make in the comments underneath Patrick Condon’s article is a bit different

But just looking at costs – and trying to minimize them – is not a good way to plan a transit system. You have to look at the benefits too – and there are always judgements that are going to be made, even when a dollar price can be placed on both costs and benefits. Much of the City Engineer’s argument in favour of a subway right through to UBC can be summed up as “it keeps it out of the way of the traffic”. For him that justifies a great deal of additional expense. I am not sure I agree but equally there are going to be arguments over how to value the speed of the journey for users and how much it is worth spending to reduce or avoid collisions with pedestrians and cyclists. (Cllr Geoff Megs has a summary of the case that was made on his blog.)

To make the point about cost minimization a bit clearer, look at the Canada Line. It was built down to a price, not up to a standard. It is therefore less safe than it could be. There are no platform edge doors, which are standard for new automatic train operated subways elsewhere. It is inconvenient with only one entrance for each station, forcing passengers into crossing the road on the surface which is also a safety concern. It is not going to be big enough if Vancouver actually achieves its 2040 goals: the platforms in the stations just cannot accommodate much longer trains.

Because I do not know where Patrick got his data from, nor what each project cost includes – or does not include – I cannot really add much more to answer his question “why so much more” other than point to both the Bloomberg and DTp material. It’s not just us.

But the DTP does make the point “In general however, there is no doubt that the construction costs for light rail should be significantly less than building new heavy rail lines”. And surface light rail ought to be significantly cheaper than either cut and cover or bored tube tunnelling. But then Patrick has also argued elsewhere that there are very good urban design reasons why you would rather have transit on the surface than underground. And those might well be worth concentrating on, rather than getting into the arcana of comparative costing of transportation projects in different places. It is the kind of place we want Vancouver to become that ought to be the deciding factor, not simply the price tag.

And don’t forget that it was the City of Vancouver Engineering Department that managed to deliver two kilometres of mostly single track railway, used by trams for two months at a capital cost of $8.5 million for two kilometres.

Before I go I also want to recommend a couple of articles How is Besançon Building a Tramway at €16 million/kilometer? (~CAN$21m/km) and a Railway Gazette article on the same project.

UPDATE Kansas City – a postal ballot of residents of downtown has approved a two mile $100m streetcar project – or $31m per km

Further UPDATE 19 December 2012

The blog “Pedestrian Observations” has a list of subway – and other rail projects – which shows how different US and UK costs are to the rest of the world. It is worth noting the author’s introductory paragraph

This is a placeholder post, in which I’m just going to summarize the costs of projects in the US and the rest of the world. I will focus on subway tunnels, but also put some above-ground rail for comparison. No average is included – all I’m doing at this stage is eyeballing numbers. As far as possible, numbers are inflated or deflated from the midpoint of construction to 2010, and exclude rolling stock. The PPP exchange rate is €1 = $1.25, $1 = ¥100. For now, only dense infill subways are included.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 28, 2012 at 5:55 pm

34 Responses

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  1. Hi Stephen. I have not read your post today yet, but I have a feeling that my comments to today’s Vancouver Sun story on the City of Vancouver Transportation Department’s position on a Broadway subway line fit with your position (ie: cost of LRT vs subway) so I am reposting it here:

    Comment posted on (facebook page) on Wednesday, November 27, 2012 by Adam Fitch

    The major flaw in the CoV Transportation Department’s recommendation to CoV Council (and in the presentation to Council, is that it evaluates only the BROADWAY CORRIDOR. Of course streetcar and light rail are going to compare badly to subway in terms of capacity and speed. West Broadway is already so congested.

    The most appropriate solution, with due consideration for costs, transit priorities (e.e: Surrey, etc) and timeframe (10 years from now to build the subway, minimum) is to build streetcar or light rail along the CPR corridor, the Arbutus corridor, and West 16th Avenue.

    This would upset those who currently live along 16th, of course, and they will oppose it, but let’s get realistic. If a subway WERE to be constructed along Broadway, there would be a massive increase in traffic along Broadway for a several year period, during construction (see the effect on Granville, Main, Oak Streets, etc. when Cambie street was closed). Some of those who switch to 16th during construction will never go back to Broadway/10th Ave afterwards.

    For a streetcar or LRT along West 16th, it could dip into short cut and cover tunnels at major intersections, as does the Skytrain between Victoria Drive and Rupert (approximately), and as do portions of the Calgary and Edmonton LRTs.

    Such a route/technology option would be FAR less expensive to build than a Subway LRT (elel Skytrain), and could be built in a much shorter timeframe.

    If anyone thinks that a Broadway Subway can be built for $3 Billion, they are dreaming. Look at the cost and disruption of the Canada Line construction. The only congested part of that line (in Vancouver) was the northernmost portion, from King Edward to Downtown – a few kilometers. By comparison, the congested and difficult part of the Broadway line will be practically the whole thing – many kilometers – from VCC to the UBC Gates.

    To say that if a Broadway subway is constructed with a tunnel boring machine, it will have little disruption on Broadway during construction, is absolutely untrue and misleading.

    Tunnelled subways require MASSIVE excavations from the surface, for stations, electrical substations, track switches, ventilation systems, emergency exits, etc. I can guarantee you that if a subway is built along Broadway, even using a TBM, the street will be significantly disrupted (read: closed) for several years, at least.

    I fully realize that the position that CoV staff (and hence, the City) are taking is a negotiating tactic – ask for the moon, in hopes of getting something less), but can’t we be more mature than that, these days?

    For goodness sake, Translink and the Province are crying so poor right now that they cannot even afford to finish off a bus rapid transit facility that is almost finished (the 156th street transit exchange in Surrey), and I am sure the same applies to numerous other projects, programs and initiatives.

    So why ask for a $3 Billion project (read: $5 Billion) when there is NO chance of such happening in the near future. It is just rude and/or deluded.

    The City of Vancouver’s position looks even more rude and deluded when compared to the City of Surrey’s position, asking for streetcar/LRT. Good for Diane Watts.

    Adam Fitch

    November 28, 2012 at 6:22 pm

  2. Thanks Stephen for all this interesting info..
    I am not sure that using 16th avenue– even for part of the route to UBC– is the best way as for a subway or a LRT to be really useful it must run on /under/ above a major road. I wouldn’t want to have to walk from 16 to Broadway to shop on a rainy day.

    While the table from Mr. Condom is interesting, it doesn’t help to compare the US and Europe. In France the national government doesn’t mind funding a major portion of the cost of a tramway (as I prefer to call a LRT.). Then there is steady funding for operating the system.

    By the way the trams in Lyon are on secondary lines. Their main transit system is the subway, with 4 lines.

    What may not be included in the price per km shown in the table for French trams is moving and replacing all the underground utilities lines (they would have had to be eventually replaced anyway) nor cleaning up and restoring buildings etc. along the lines (as in Strasbourg, Bordeaux –what? not in the table?–and other cities).
    Both items were likely funded from totally different accounts… Not included in the budget for the Bordeaux tram –I bet–was providing free bikes to the public that couldn’t use buses and several electric shuttle buses, plus compensating businesses along the lines..

    3 tram lines were built in Bordeaux at the same time (25 km in total built in 3 years–2000 to 2003– for E. 638 millions…the lines were expanded in 2004-2006 by 18 km for E. 436 million..more expansions have being done, others planned)
    By all account it was ABSOLUTE PANDEMONIUM. I was there in the summer of 2003 and saw that several major streets were a mess from one side of the street to the other…

    Have a look at
    click on each photo to enlarge them..

    The price per km for the Canada line was not bad, compared to the price per km of line 14 in Paris that was –in 1998–250 million CAD per km. Granted, it was a subway with more cars, and a bit wider too, and the stations were/are quite nice…

    It is an automated subway so there are glass wall separating the platforms from the tracks for safety sake. A feature used in the automated light metros in France and Japan that were built before SkyTrain since day one.

    Talking about the Canada line, the architect for the new Oakridge development said that the platforms in the Canada line underground stations could be expanded (lengthwise i guess). I am no engineer but I do know that widening a tunnel is not that easy and quite costly…the Line would have have to be shut by the work site and shuttle buses used for a year …or am I stupid?

    Red frog

    November 28, 2012 at 8:55 pm

  3. LRT with grade separation at key intersections is exactly how to make LRT as expensive as Skytrain. Seee Portland Milwaukie, Calgary West, Ottawa, Seattle for nearby and Canadian examples of LRT that costs more on a per-km basis than the Evergreen line.

    I suspect that Condon wants a tramway instead of LRT, and his basis for that choice is based on an expectation of tramway-like costs and LRT-like performance. He should, I think, advocate improving local bus routes so that they become as fast and reliable as trams. Eventually capacity and labour cost considerations will justify local-bus-to-tramway conversions.


    November 28, 2012 at 9:08 pm

  4. Good article, but I think you let Cordon off lightly. Looking at the list of LRTs in his analysis it could only be cherry picking data to reach a predetermined conclusion…although his general premise seems sound, why is it so expensive (yes I know every situation is different but I do think there is some value in a suitable comparison)?


    November 28, 2012 at 10:01 pm

  5. “Light rail routes that run on highways are often deemed to require the diversion of utilities apparatus (water, gas, telephone) which is usually placed in roads and pavements. This has often been a significant part of the cost of a scheme.”

    This is one of the major arguments in favor of bus rapid transit (BRT), and one of the reasons that electric trolley bus rapid transit should be considered on King George and Fraser Highway in Surrey, as well as on Broadway, 16th, 41st and other routes in the region.

    Eric Doherty

    November 28, 2012 at 10:07 pm

  6. “Light rail routes that run on highways are often deemed to require the diversion of utilities apparatus (water, gas, telephone) which is usually placed in roads and pavements. This has often been a significant part of the cost of a scheme”

    To the defense of LRT advocates, Sometimes (it is true in France, but probably in US too), there is over engineering of diversion of utilities: the reason is:

    Transportation system are heavily subsidized by senior government (fed in US): that provide a good opportunity for local authority to replace aging utilities (which anyway need to be replaced) on the dime…

    But it is also true that utilities can’t stand reasonably below a trackbed. (and that apply as well to the subway)

    At the end, Most of the number provided by Patrick Condon are 10 years old …since that time, construction cost of anything has more than doubled…
    (back to 2009, I had plotted over time the construction cost of several system, and you can see it: )

    Broadway equivalent you could find in Europe (in term of how demand on the system, urban integration) are more in the league of Paris than Angers…and in Paris, tram cost in the $100M/km…


    November 28, 2012 at 10:09 pm

  7. @Adam Fitch: “To say that if a Broadway subway is constructed with a tunnel boring machine, it will have little disruption on Broadway during construction, is absolutely untrue and misleading.”

    I was under the impression that boring was to be done under 10th Avenue to take advantage of the grade between there and Broadway along much of the route so that the entrances extending to Broadway would be more-or-less level.

    Sean Nelson

    November 29, 2012 at 9:02 am

  8. Far too soon to tell where a possible subway might be: Translink is still at the stage of assessing technologies – and a number of possible combinations and routes. See “UBC Line Rapid Transit Study – Phase 2” on their web page for more details

    Stephen Rees

    November 29, 2012 at 11:07 am

  9. From local experience, the use of a TBM from Olympic Village Station to Waterfront in Vancouver went unnoticed except at station locations where a pit was dug for the station.
    i.e. Davie Street near Emery Barnes Park and Granville Street south of Robson were not dug up. The City of Vancouver concurrently renovated the street, but that mess was not due to TBM construction.


    November 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm

  10. With 3-car trains every 3 minutes, 28min travel time assumed by TransLink, and reasonable recovery and spare, it would required at least 77 cars to run the line. At 4M per car, the train alone would cost 26M/km. There’s no way Broadway Line could be built at a cost anywhere near the ones listed on that table.


    November 30, 2012 at 10:25 am

  11. Thanks Stephen for a balanced view.

    When Patrick Condon says “…we looked at costs…” I have to assume from prior articles that “we” didn’t include an engineer. His entire angle is predicated on human-scale urban design, and urban design in practice is multi-disciplinary. You do not build railways over vertically parallel underground services. Had he made a 5-minute call to the Engineering Department as part of his research program (rather than cavalierly dismissing their rapid transit decision on Broadway) he would’ve been able to consult a map of the utilities under Broadway. It’s almost as if Condon, who otherwise does good theoretical work at the UBC Design Centre, is completely oblivious to what goes on under the streets on a practical basis.

    I don’t have this map, but I am determined get one now to confirm my suspicion that Broadway’s utilities will profoundly affect surface-based rail transit there. Why surface rail? Because tunnels can be bored below said utilities therein minimizing their relocation or alteration (if necessary) to station excavations. A subway will not prevent maintenance access to underground utilities, but a surface track bed will for its entire length.

    To those who mentioned putting a tram on 16th Ave, what will you do about the 3-foot diameter water main Metro Vancouver just installed in the median over several km? It swings from the south side of the median to the north as it ascends west from Blenheim. Anyone who has experienced upgrades to sewer or water trunk lines under most arterials will attest that is a major form of construction that takes months, and are obviously very expensive and highly disruptive. The relocation of utilities will therefore jack up the costs of light rail. This is not an anti-LRT statement. It is a construction fact that must be accounted for in an actual tendered project regardless of what technology is specified. And a fact that receives cursory – if any – attention by those who believe light rail can just be rolled out anywhere at unrealistically low cost and automatically produce European village character in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

    The illustration published in the Tyee places a gloss of prettiness over the real world, just as come consultants look good on paper and in the press and in the ideal theoretical world of academia, but who fail when thrown into the practical inconveniences of managing real projects. I have known a few such managers, and it always required a lot of staff time to educate them when their unrealistic dreams hit the ground. What is Condon’s project management and construction experience? Has he consulted widely with those who actually have experience building transit projects, and actively sought out information that may be contrary to his own in order to round out and ground some otherwise floating excellent ideas? There are lots of successful tram projects out there, but which ones are specifically similar to the intense context of Vancouver’s Broadway corridor? Broadway is unique in Western Canada.

    The illustration shows Broadway at Bayswater just west of McDonald* where, presumably, a station would be placed. Without a dedicated median included in the graphic to show how trains are able to gain speed greater frequencies over the existing B-Line, the station spacing is left up to the reader’s imagination. With, as illustrated, the absence of a dedicated median the station spacing would probably replicate the existing #9 bus two-block rhythm. When you’re only replicating existing bus service, what is the justification for the $1.5+ billion expense (read comments above on relocating utilities)? How would the station platforms and passenger circulation routes be configured? What safety measures would be in place to lessen the risk to passengers and other pedestrians who obviously must walk in front of the trains in the middle of the road at every station?

    *[Incidently the Tomato Café in the graphic, an old favourite of ours, sadly closed months ago. They were driven away from Cambie x 17th when they lost 40% of their business due to the open trench warfare of the Canada Line construction. But their business in Kits was even less for various reasons. One long-time staff person told us that by their calculations they would’ve survived if they stuck it out on Cambie.]

    Having said all this, those cute Flexity streetcars would look great on the Arbutus corridor. King George may require a heavier surface rail approach, especially if it connecting Surrey Centre and Newton to Coquitlam Centre via the ‘widest – and most wasteful — bridge in the world.’ Surface light rail could work on 41st Ave (Metrotown-UBC) and on many other routes throughout the Lower Mainland.

    But my cautionary notes on cost lift related to underground services and safety still apply.


    November 30, 2012 at 11:03 am

  12. I’d like to emphasise again the issue of safety and it’s unfortunate imprint on surface rail transit, an issue that continues to be glossed over by tramophilia, especially in the Broadway debate.

    The trams illustrated in the Tyee accompanying Condon’s editorial would hold perhaps 300 people each during rush hours. You’ll have potentially hundreds of people disgorging or running to catch the train at stations placed in the middle of the road. Does someone have a station design for a narrow and busy corridor like Broadway that guides passengers away from walking in front of the trains and other road traffic?

    Just a practical concern. In my view light rail works best when you’ve got corridor with adquate width to build the safest stations, as well as to either grade separate pedestrians from all traffic or minimize the number of level crossings. Broadway is not Arbutus or King George.

    It bears reposting a link to Voony’s very helpful analysis comparing accident rates between modes of transport. This is an issue every transit project — and their supporters — should address head on.

    One statement I have trouble with is that subways are built to avoid disrupting car traffic on the surface. I don’t beleive that to be the case with the majority of metros, many of which predate the car dependent, planet-busting road expansions of the last half of the last century. In my view a Broadway subway must be accompanied by a much expanded pedestrian realm on the surface that would remove road space for cars, and that entails sidewalks widened into the curb lanes at all intersections and mid-block in the already-high pedestrian traffic areas of Central Broadway and parts west of Arbutus. And the #9 bus service would be enhanced with bus stop bump outs every two blocks, signal priority and greater capacity articulated electric trolleys to increase local neighbourhood slow access. Perhaps half the existing curb parking would be kept, but a significant amount of it could be converted to commercial loading to give business a leg up. Attractive public plazas should also be built at station entrances on both sides of the road. I’d throw in public art, fountains, tree planting and special paving treatments as well.


    November 30, 2012 at 11:38 am

  13. MB I agree hoppefully any subway would include pedestrian realm improvements. I also think everyone should look carefully at the picture on the report. Now picture a station in the center of the road (I would expect a station would need to be at least 4m wide), that would take out half the sidewalk for the length of the station. If you are a business also think how will car users access your business…remembering cars would not be able to turn left at most intersections and there is no on street parking.


    November 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm

  14. […] gonna get messy: The subway versus LRT debate on Broadway. Wow! Just reading that made me want to stop reading […]

  15. You cannot compare the LRT lines using such a simple 1-dimensional view as $/km. It may be a good ball-park indicator, but as I like to say “the devil’s in the details, and when planning rapid transit, angels are usually absent.” That’s like comparing people using the BMI. For an academic, i’m surprised to the simplicity and assumptions implied to such a complex subject. However, i’m sure conversely, if an engineering prof were to comment on architecture you’d maybe get the same type of quality analysis.

    These are dated figures, but if you want to have a better understanding of the categories and range of costs dealing with actually building one of these lines you can refer to page 7-6 of this report:

    Click to access attach2.pdf

    And these are ball-park estimates good for evaluation planning purposes, not actual detailed design and final costing. However, may help to educate those that are non-engineers as to the tip of the iceberg of the various cost components involved. And you can do the math to see what the $/km is for each of the options presented if you are so tempted.

    Although these lines may seem the same as they are “just trams and LRT”, i’m sure you’re all aware that’s where the similarities end and they are all apples-oranges-pineapple-all-meat-wings(tm) comparisons. How about doing a comparison which shows value-for-money to the best interest of society? A 3BL ROI assessment? It can be done. We have the technology.


    December 1, 2012 at 1:44 am

  16. Thanks for the link. Interesting if dated. Not sure those who believe in a Translink lobby will be swayed by it though.


    December 1, 2012 at 10:55 am

  17. It still amazes me after all these years in Vancouver to read that business people must have parking by their store, restaurants etc. when so many businesses around the world manage very well—in both big and small towns–along either major streets without parking at all to ensure an easy flow of vehicles OR streets that are car-free 365 days a year in South America, Australia, Asia, the Middle-East, North Africa…and Europe.
    Different cultures yet a common attitude..

    On a more cheerful note Today’s Railways Europe-issue 203 (unfortunately they aren’t on the web) has a short article about problems in the Stockholm Metro and in railway stations.
    They have installed fare gates and 1-they close so fast people have been hurt–including one of the transit operator’s directors..
    2- they have fare evaders already! they stick real close to a passenger with a ticket and go in free of charge…

    There is also an article about the brand new tram in Dijon that opened shortly after the one in Brest (they both got cheaper trams by buying then together). Tours is also building a tram. The one in Dijon cost euros 20 million per km ( 2 lines for a total length of 20 km).

    Red frog.

    December 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm

  18. MB, that was an excellent, detailed critique, and I was not aware of the new watermain installation on 16th Ave. that is too bad, because it will have to be ripped out when people finally come to their senses and accept that my concept is superior.

    As to the argument about city engineers loving grade level LRT projects because they can get their old street utilities replaced at someone else’s expense (read provincial or federal), this is not really true. Cities and other governments are smart enough to figure this out. they make all kinds of complicated cost sharing agreements, taking into account the age of the infrastructure, the capacity of the utilities, the anticipated date of replacement, etc.

    On the subject of subway tunnels avoiding shallow utilities, I stand by my previous position. Are you crazy?
    Did you see when they built the Canada Line? They had MANY surface trench excavations, and they were relocating utilities for months, if not years. I do not know whether using a TBM is a cost saving measure at all, but I am very curious to know the answer.

    Adam Fitch

    December 3, 2012 at 6:49 pm

  19. @Adam Fitch: “Did you see when they built the Canada Line? They had MANY surface trench excavations, and they were relocating utilities for months, if not years.”

    I don’t recall seeing any of that in the bored sections downtown, except where they excavated station boxes. Of course there was a ton of it along Cambie because of the cut-and-cover method of construction.

    Sean Nelson

    December 4, 2012 at 9:29 am

  20. It depends what’s down there.

    I don’t recall a lot of “suspended” pipes or lines when Vancouver City Centre station was excavated (and they went right to the wall of Sears (the sidewalk was bolted/cantilered off the building).

    If there are gas or water mains across a station box excavation site, they could do what is currently being done at the Telus Garden excavation of Georgia – suspend it in air (the yellow truss is holding up a pipe of some kind that runs along the alley in these pics)


    December 4, 2012 at 4:03 pm

  21. @ Adam Fitch, I’d venture a guess here that relocating utilities on Broadway could add potentially $300-500 million to the cost of surface light rail and disrupt a major road several km longer than the Cambie trench warfare created by a tunneling method from the Dark Ages.

    Then you’ve got all the other issues:

     Severing the vast majority of the existing very active signalized crossings between Main & Alma by creating an 8 km barrier (dedicated fenced median) to achieve service speeds and capacity adequate for a regional transit service .

     Creating a hazardous situation for pedestrians trying to cross Broadway at 38 intersections.

     Creating a hazardous situation for passengers / pedestrians when a train disgorges hundreds of people at a station in the middle of an extraordinarily busy road.

     Frustrating business owners whose walk-in traffic is cut significantly by patrons on foot not being able to cross Broadway between stations due to a median barrier filled with moving trains.

     The expenditure of over a billion dollars just to replicate an existing transit service provided by buses.

    These are issues that have not been adequately addressed to date in the Broadway debate. Perhaps the decision for light rail will rest on the absence or ease of mitigation of the above issues on other corridors like King George or 41st Ave, but Broadway is a special case and remains one of the most important “demand loci” for regional AND local transit service.


    December 5, 2012 at 9:55 am

  22. “Creating a hazardous situation for passengers / pedestrians when a train disgorges hundreds of people at a station in the middle of an extraordinarily busy road”

    I have used trams in Europe at rush hours. They had 300 people inside and have never seen ALL of them getting off or on at the same time in one station….

    I used the trams running on Queen street and King street in Toronto for YEARS…these lines run in 2 of the very busy streets in downtown Toronto and I don’t remember problems.

    Surely Broadway can’t be more busy that the Champs Elysees? with 10 lanes of cars, motor bikes etc. going full speed between red lights..and Yes–like many people– I have taken photos of the Arc de Triomphe while walking on the crosswalk..then seen the cars starting to move fast and ran with others people to a narrow divider in the middle, where we had to squeeze against one another..
    I have yet to hear or read of a gaggle of slow pedestrians being turned into long and thin rugs by cars..

    No matter what we talk about why is it that Vancouverites believe there is much more of this or that than elsewhere! (including rain..)

    Red frog.

    December 5, 2012 at 10:24 pm

  23. Red Frog, my view is that of a designer. Please draw up what you solution would be.

    I note that many of the systems you listed are located in cities with great metros. Is there a reason why trams are not part of their metro systems, but only complimentary at the periphery?

    So far I’ve not seen any station illustration, not even that provided in the TransLink info on Broadway, which adequately illustrates a hard design where thousands will embark and disembark from light rail trains onto a platform every day, potentially well over 100 at a time during rush hours. Besides being too narrow, the stations in the illustrations are inconveniently split to fit on the roadway, and this provides totally inadequate access to adjacent transit services where transferring passengers travelling in one direction or another are forced to cross two crosswalks. This seems too inadequate of a response to our future challenges, especially as the majority of citizens and transit users consider Broadway one of the most important missing sections of a regional rapid transit network.

    If this isn’t a concern for you, then I urge you to take a scaled drawing of Broadway x Cambie and carefully draw up a light rail hub station and map out pedestrian movements to / from the station platform located in the middle of the road, along with estimated train and existing car + truck movements. Then apply ridership designed for mid-century. In my view, cramming as much stuff onto the surface of this corridor and applying exorbitantly low costs not based on real engineering studies specifically for Broadway (advocates do tend to over-theorize) won’t work in reality on this corridor today, let alone tomorrow.

    When they are challenged to actually draw their ideas and apply real pedestrian and vehicle counts for Broadway, tramopliles appear to suffer from paralysis, then change venues to repeat their theories to another audience. They are also very quiet when the inevitable tragedies occur at crossings.

    And just what is their vision for Broadway, local slow access or faster regional service? There is no way that light rail can be both in this corridor, and either choice has ramifications on service quality, cost and safety.

    Then you’ve got all the other issues I listed that have not been addressed, like underground utilities, those many, many inconvenient crossings (90% are signalized) spaced every 250m or so over 38 blocks, and the City’s view that Broadway transit initiatives will always need to provide a fast regional service. This part of Vancouver doesn’t remotely resemble Surrey or any other suburb.

    RRT ridership on Broadway is estimated to eventually exceed 300,000 people a day, achieved largely by its grade-separated frequencies, speed and hopefully minimum 100m station platform length. I’d say in the case for Broadway, a full subway line all the way to UBC is an appropriate expenditure and service quality goal, especially if enhancements to the #9 bus service and the pedestrian realm on the surface were part of the package. I wouldn’t say that for most other corridors because they don’t have the same residential, employment, institutional, business and pedestrian crossing densities and safety concerns.


    December 6, 2012 at 10:21 am

  24. King street and Queen street in Toronto are long east -west street and both have sections RIGHT DOWNTOWN. They have streetcars running in the middle of the street and there is NO STATION in the middle of the street.
    One wait on the sidewalk. When the tram stops, cars stop behind the back doors and wait for the tram passengers to cross 1/2 the width of the street to go on and off.. They were already doing it before we were born…
    The subways are under Yonge street and University, 2 major streets going North -South that intersect King and Queen and many other streets.

    One hope you will be able to open the links below. I got them by Googling streetcars on King and King street.

    The tramways T3 in Paris run near the edge of Paris–within Paris itself– on a wide boulevard and links several subway stations that are all on different lines.

    T2 runs on what once a was a railway line (like the former Arbutus rail line). T1 in a suburb, outside the circular motorway that circle Paris in the area where a fortified wall used to be until the 1920s or so.
    T4 is also running on train lines in the suburbs..
    There is no need for trams right in downtown Paris because there is pretty much a subway station within 500 metres of any place, in all directions, and there are also many bus lines stopping by subway stops.

    I am not advocating trams on Broadway , much as I like them, because it would means a huge disruption on Broadway while they are being built.
    In a perfect world –i.e if most Vancouverites had experienced life outside Vancouver—there would be NO PARKING AT ALL along Broadway. Businesses in many other cities do very well without parking in front of the store, restaurant etc.
    IF that was the case then the tramways would run on each side of the street, along the sidewalks. The sidewalks would be stations… please Google it if it doesn’t work.
    This photo–not by me– shows a tram of the Toden Arakawa tram line in Tokyo, It is stopped at Otsuka ekimae, right under the elevated tracks of the JR Yamanote loop line that goes around most of Tokyo’s major wards (we are talking about Tokyo itself, not the whole huge agglomeration).

    The Yamanote carry about 3.7 million passengers a day… Some of its 29 stations do have huge crowds–Shinjuku for one—yet somehow one manages to go where on wants to go without loosing one’s mind or shoes.
    Should you wonder, I have been to Japan many times and used their subways, Automated LRT, commuter trains, Shinkansen, old fashioned trams (that do have electronic bilingual display boards inside), buses etc. many times..

    I have said enough. Let other jump on the train

    Red frog.

    December 7, 2012 at 12:43 am

  25. Just wondering if Patrick Cordon ever got back to you about his sources/methodology/trains included verses excluded defense of cherry picking data?


    December 7, 2012 at 1:43 pm

  26. no

    Stephen Rees

    December 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm

  27. Red Frog, thanks for your excellent comments. I’ll have to check your links when I have more time.

    Cheers. MB


    December 7, 2012 at 11:39 pm

  28. Side note: Even if there’s a water main under the median of 16th Ave., the LRT wouldn’t need to be in the median. It could be on the side and occupy what is now roadway (i.e. think outside the box). (But I think the hill on 16th at Alma (or even at Arbutus) is way to steep for surface LRT without tunnelling or building a viaduct to lessen the grade (for “normal operation” faster than a snails pace or with cogs in the tracks))


    December 10, 2012 at 2:05 pm

  29. Whenever I read this canard about LRTs being unable to climb hills, I show people a picture of an ancient tram in Lisbon. No rack and pinion here.Carris 575 - Lisbon

    Stephen Rees

    December 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm

  30. These Lisbon tramways are pleasant, rickety old things that connect neighbourhoods over a short distance to a stop on Lisbon’s extensive metro and regional rail networks. The description on Wikipedia of “primarily a tourist attraction” agrees with my short experience of them.

    There are also some funiculars for the really steep slopes.


    December 10, 2012 at 7:21 pm

  31. […] Stephen Rees says it best on his blog when talking about the Vancouver subway proposal: […]

  32. Better late than never…
    I was annoyed at the Patrick Cordon article in that I felt his premise was potentially valid (why is the LRT on Broadway option so expensive) but his data was so skewed it could not be taken seriously…..So while I understand no two projects are alike and every project has its own costs I did a quick list of the very new, under construction or proposed LRT projects in Canada and listed their cost per km for comparison. Note I did this quickly, the sources are varied and particularily for the Toronto projects their scope and costs have changed repeatedly so take these with a huge grain of salt….I am sure I screwed up at least some of them (but not intentionally). Also did not check to see if everything was apples to apples, I assume all costs are total costs including property, utilities, vehicles etc. but did not check too closely. I also did not bother with year of cost estimate and standardizing them all. Here goes…..cheapest to most expensive.

    Waterloo LRT at grade 818million for 19km = 43.1million/km
    Calgary LRT extension…so no maintainance facilities or vehicles etc., at grade 2.9km for 130million = 44.8million/km
    Victoria LRT early stages, at grade 950million for 18km = 52.8million/km
    Hamilton LRT (B-line first phase), at grade, 13.5km for 830million = 61.5million/km
    Toronto, Sheppard LRT, mainly at grade, 14km, 1 billion = 71.4million/km
    Broadway = 91.7million/km (from Patricks article I did not check Translink…I assume he got the correct numbers)
    Toronto, Finch LRT phase 1, mainly at grade, 1.2billion for 11km = 109.1million/km
    Toronto, Scarborough, at grade?, 1.8billion for 11.4km = 157.9million per km
    Ottawa LRT, substancial tunneled section downtown, grade seperated in busway, large stations, 2.1billion for 12.5km = 168million/km
    Calgary recently opened extension, includes elevated, tunnelled and at grade, 1.5billion for 8km = 187.5million/km, not sure if it needed ops yard extension.
    Edmonton NAIT extension = 755million for 3.3km, substancially grade seperated, not sure about ops yard requirements.= 251.7million/km
    Toronto Eglington = 5billion for 19km = 263million per km (I think this is for the current plan but things keep changing so it may not be), has a substancial tunnelled section.

    It should be noted that none of these projects have a cost per km remotely like those used by Patrick, even the Calgary extension at grade without ops building works or I assume extra vehicle purchases, not sure why the Waterloo cost seem so low in comparison (also still more expensive than all the examples used by Patrick).


    January 12, 2013 at 4:40 pm

  33. o MB. On December 5 you wrote: “(the steet level lrt would result in) Severing the vast majority of the existing very active signalized crossings between Main & Alma by creating an 8 km barrier (dedicated fenced median) to achieve service speeds and capacity adequate for a regional transit service.”

    I do not envision alrd with any barrier (fenced median). Go down and look at the median on 1st avenue by olympic village, that has been prepared for a future streetcar. I envision that the same thing would be continued east to connect to the Millenium line at the VCC Clark Station, and west to run up the arbutus corridor to 16, and then west to UBC. I believe that with some creative design, and some compromises, some land could be borrowed from the centre median and from the travel lanes and from the wide outer boulevards (now sidewalks and “front yard” areas) to accomodate an lrt corridor WITHOUT removing most of the trees in the centre median.

    It would not be as fast as a subway, but it might be of comparable capacity. the lrt trains could travel more frequently than skytrains do because more capital investment could be devoted to more train sets, instead of super-expensive guideway. It might not make up for all the capacity that would be foregone, but that is not my essential point. It does not make sense, in the current economic situation, to design and support a tunneled train system that has huge capacity serve for a long time horizon, projecting exponential demand growth for 50 years, when we do not know what things will be like 50 years from now.

    Who know what will be in 50 years. Maybe nobody will want to commute to UBCC in 50 years. Maybe there will be no UBC in 50 years. Maybe people will get their degrees online. I can remember when there was a VCC at 12th and Oak, and a VVI in Maple Ridge. Both long gone now. No Okala in Burnaby, either.

    Why spend 5 billion on a system that we do not know if we will need? (I do not believe the 2.8 billion estimates. they are already out of date now, having been done in 2008. How much more outdated will they be by the time a decision is made?)

    My approach is more INCREMENTAL. I say, lets have a system that will suffice for the next 10 or 20 years. then let’s see. If we still need a subway 20 years from now, then maybe we will be in a different fiscal and economic situation where it could be considered reasonable. But that time is not now.

    Adam Fitch

    February 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm

  34. Hi Adam. A late comment here.

    I doubt any of the corridors you mentioned, including the False Creek tram or 16th Ave would meet today’s ridership demand on Broadway (~150,000/day) let alone tomorrow’s (~300,000+/day), nor offer a seamless extension to the regional rapid transit system. They would, however, replicate the slower Number 9 trolley service, which could be expanded at far, far less cost than a tram line.

    This service is for Broadway AND UBC combined, not either / or.

    Cheers. MB


    February 28, 2013 at 4:33 pm

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