Stephen Rees's blog

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

An Alternative to the Broadway Subway

with 22 comments

At the request of its leader, Adam Fitch

Saturday May 4 at 10am a Jane’s Walk (on bicycles!) to look at CPR RoW/16th Avenue for LRT


Written by Stephen Rees

April 25, 2013 at 10:59 am

22 Responses

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  1. Slooooow. And misses most of the density nodes, like VGH/life sciences research/healthcare mega-density pocket. We’re building for the next century, we should plan that way. Don’t fall in to the “there’s a limited amount of funding/not enough money” false argument, there was magically money for a $2b bridge, $1b highway upgrades, $1.5b SFPR, if the political will is there we can have a fast, future-thinking subway on Broadway AND a rapid transit network in Surrey. It’s all up to the politicians, at *all* levels.


    April 25, 2013 at 11:08 am

  2. I think this is a good idea, as it will encourage growth south of Broadway. That said, I predict the residents along 16th ave will pull the same NIMBY card that the residents along Arbutus pulled for the Canada Line.


    April 25, 2013 at 11:36 am

  3. This is a really good idea in theory, cutting down on costs. But skytrain uses LIM technology so it would have to be completely separated from traffic, like the segments at 29th Avenue Station. Better in my opinion would be to have Skytrain to Arbutus and LRT from Cambie to UBC. Even though there’s space on Bdway, traffic still must cross broadway, and that would mean either blocking cars altogether, or making the route go underground at every major intersection. Another idea is to not use Skytrain technology and use Underground/above ground LRT. But compared to the Billions we’re spending on Roads, transit advocates should be happy if the province decides to spend an extra billion to bury the subway.


    April 25, 2013 at 12:10 pm

  4. @ lairdm, the Widest and Stupidest Bridge in the World cost over $3B.

    @ Kyle, all you’re doing is creating another transfer point and passenger back ups at Arbutus, not to mention two separate contracts, two separate contractor mobilizations, two separate construction periods, and two separate ridership capabilities.

    If quality of service was the most important measure to meet future demand, then seemless, region-wide operation of the rapid transit system would come out on top.


    April 25, 2013 at 12:56 pm

  5. It would be a bit cheaper to build than a line on Broadway but would have less than half the ridership so its costs per rider would be way way higher. Great for UBC students, crappy for everyone else.


    April 25, 2013 at 1:21 pm

  6. MB,
    That’s a common mistake –
    The entire Port Mann Bridge AND Highway 1 widening and reconstruction (almost all overpasses are being replaced with seismically stable ones) is costing $3.3 billion, not just the bridge alone.

    A survey of the webcams for the project shows the immense scope of the project, which goes far beyond just the bridge itself.

    That includes the HOV ramps used by transit buses, including the one at 202 St. in Langley (the one to Lougheed Station isn’t finished yet) – Check it out at the 4:00 mark in this video.


    April 25, 2013 at 3:45 pm

  7. Sorry, wrong video (and didn’t mean to insert the picture itself, either).
    But you can see it at the beginning of that video.


    April 25, 2013 at 3:48 pm

  8. See additional comments at http//


    April 25, 2013 at 4:23 pm

  9. The Jane’s Walk proposal is impractical and full of technical mistakes.

    1. North is up not down.
    2. The route does an amazing job of avoiding the corridor it was designed to serve.
    3. The 16th Avenue median carries some of the city’s largest natural gas, water and sewer pipes relatively close to the surface. You simply can’t put tracks there without years of utility reconstruction.
    4. LRT simply could not make it up the hill from Blenheim to Dunbar without Swiss style mountain tracks or grade separation.
    5. 16th and Dunbar is already one of the city’s most complicated intersections. I don’t see how traffic in the area would move if you added an LRT station.
    6. The proposal calls for underground sections while decrying underground as too expensive.

    @Kyle, spending another billion (two actually) to bury the subway is continuing down the same path we’ve been on since 1980. The government of the day picks a single route and the most expensive way to provide medium capacity rail transit for that route and then crows about how much money they’ve spent.

    It’s not about how much you spend, it’s about the network that results from that expenditure. After 33 years of planning and building we still don’t have an interconnected rail network or even a vision of one.

    @MB, The widest and stupidest bridge didn’t cost $3B. That’s the price tag for the entire project from Cassiar to 216th.

    Running SkyTrain only to Arbutus does introduce a discontinuity, but it better matches supply to demand than running SkyTrain all the way to UBC. I don’t think either is a good use of money.

    Our major universities are two of the worst possible destinations for transit service. Both are geographically isolated and demand is heavily skewed to a few peak hours from September through March. Most of the day buses west of Arbutus run less than half full in both directions and many run completely empty (NIS) in the direction of lower demand. Now that winter session is over even some peak hour buses have empty seats.

    Building a $3 billion subway to replace buses with empty seats is a colossal waste of money.


    April 25, 2013 at 4:45 pm

  10. @ David,

    I am a bit confused, what is your suggestion? The status quo? I could not tell from your post. To date I would argue that Skytrain has been a good investment for Metro Vancouver with lower costs per rider than almost any other North American system…so a pretty good use of our money (not that it means we should always build skytrain but it seems a good fit for Broadway…at least as far as Arbutus).


    April 25, 2013 at 5:52 pm

  11. Here’s what vanmap has to say about 16th Avenue:


    April 25, 2013 at 8:59 pm

  12. I told people before that there is no point in building LRT on this corridor for several reasons.
    1. Route completely misses/does not service central Broadway, necessitating keeping the 99 B-Line operating alongside it (double operating cost)
    2. Route is 3km longer, removing most travel time benefit over 99 B-Line. In fact, during off-peak and non-congested hours, the existing 99 B-Line would be faster to use, making this line redundant
    3. Fewer potential transit-oriented development sites on 16th, meaning the region will lose out on land-use benefits


    April 26, 2013 at 8:53 am

  13. Here’s what I posted over on Voony’s blog on this topic:

    April 23, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Here is one major component that will jack the costs dramatically or outright kill light rail on West 16th:

    These are 3-foot diameter trunk mains that cannot in any circumstances have railway tracks overlain on them for many reasons, least of all quick access in case of a rupture or leak.

    There is also a major gas main on West 16th x Blenheim. Moving these utilities would add tens of millions to the cost of building a streetcar route west of Arbutus, let alone on any other arterial where major utilities exist.

    As usual, everyday conditions such as underground utilties are ignored by too many light rail aficiandos who toss out construction figures like candy to children. I too thought W 16th would make a great tram route (when connected to Arbutus – King Edward – Kingsway etc. all the way to New Westminster) until I dodged utility construction crews for several months on W 16th and Kingsway and realized that even a billion dollars added to the overall cost to reconfigure 20 km of utilities on these arterials for light rail would likely not be enough.

    Then there is the unmet ridership of today, let alone tomorrow, and service levels required to meet the demand in future on Broadway and at UBC, issues I am not convinced surface rail can ever address short of severing 30 existing very active crossings and relocating all major underground utilities.

    These alternatives to a full Broadway subway just don’t add up — and in fact are just pie in the sky — when you truly attempt to address the realities on the ground. It’s a far better process to suggest light rail be located where it will actually work and be truly affordable, and that is not possible until important documents like maps of utilities are researched. Until that is done, then there is just too much energy and time devoted to defending the indefensible.

    @ Guest and David, thanks for correcting my $3.3 billion assumption about the scope of the Port Mann. Still, with the SFPR and other subsets of the Gateway freeway project, the numbers hover around $6B, more with compounded interest financing costs over the amortization period. This at a time when people are driving less and the success of the City of Vancouver in decreasing traffic to downtown by 20% is winning attention in planning circles all over the world.


    April 26, 2013 at 11:09 am

  14. @ David, transit was not part of the calculation in 1877 when the idea of a provincial university was first floated. Streetcars and the Interurban were just starting when the University Endowment Act was passed in 1907 and the Point Grey site was selected in 1910. Vancouver, South Vancouver and Point Grey were separate towns then, and a fully integrated Metro wasn’t even a dream yet. But the large provincial scale was intended from Day One 136 years ago.

    Today there are billions in education, research, residential and related support infrastructure. It is a small city now and will grow much more in future. After 2005 over 50,000 people take transit to the campus, a big portion along the Broadway corridor. UBC cannot be ignored in any tranportation study on the west side.

    While satellite campuses have sprouted up, notably in downtown, these will never replace the main campus at Point Grey, especially considering the coninuing expansion and intensity of the core campus to meet demand, their funding legacy via residential development, and the corporate research facilities (e.g. Triumf).

    It’s a similar situation with SFU, so improved transit to both sites seems to be the least expensive and onerous option.


    April 26, 2013 at 11:32 am

  15. @MB all true – but I suspect that for most of that time, most people thinking about a provincial university would have expected there to be student accommodation on campus. “funding legacy via residential development” is very recent and incredibly bad policy – both from an educational and environmental viewpoint. Reducing the need for motorized transport ought to have been a high priority – long before greenhouse gas emissions caught our attention, we were worrying about tailpipe emissions of common air contaminants in Greater Vancouver.

    Since universities first appeared they have always had a significant student residential component. And either “halls” or “colleges” was were many undergraduates lived – and still do in most places. Indeed, that part of student life was always considered very important. But then that was in the days when there was adequate funding for post secondary education, and tax breaks for the exceedingly wealthy were not the first priority for the government at any level.

    Stephen Rees

    April 26, 2013 at 11:47 am

  16. @ Stephen, one must keep in mind that UBC is the second largest employer in the province, and VGH follows closely behind. Employee commuting is a huge part of the transport reality in the Broadway corridor.

    I suspect there has always been some student spillover into neighbouring communities at every university, some more than others. Speaking for myself, I moved twice within the same apartment building in my UBC days in the early & mid 80s. All suites were self contained with private amenities, even in the smallest bachelor suite. I was close to Main and Broadway and did the UBC milkrun at all hours over a four-year period. There was no B-Line back then.

    Student housing was mostly shared accommodation and probably still is, except for family quarters. Based on the prior three years of often very negative experiences, I vowed never to share bathrooms or kitchens again. Most of my classmates felt the same and shared only in exceptional circumstances. West Point Grey and Kits are filled with basement suites and carved up houses catering to a great extent to UBC students.

    SFU created additional student housing within their recent residential developments, and were very innovative in providing creative solutions like rentable self-contained bachelor suites for students within private condos with separate doors. I’m uncertain whether UBC was as creative.

    Some units downtown (e.g. Atelier opposite the VPL) created “mingle” suites with each bedroom having a private ensuite bathroom and with larger kitchens with two lockable fridges to allow two singles to obtain creative affordable mortgages on one unit, and it strikes me as possible that similar solutions can be found for students who don’t want to share at a 4:1 ratio on campus.

    Lastly, as so often expressed about chosing transit technology and service within a constrained budgetary world, public educational institutions are fighting for crumbs from debt-laden governments and they’ve had to come up with their own sources using their own available assets, like land. It’s not perfect, but I can’t blame them.


    April 26, 2013 at 4:21 pm

  17. Transit lines the world over have been built along the most travelled streets..kind of a no-brainer..Check the very basic layout –but it works very well–of Toronto subway lines..Note that the lines link all sorts of major institutions, shopping malls, high density areas etc. etc.

    In Paris the very first line was originally built from Porte de Vincennes in the East end to Porte Maillot in the West end. These “portes” were gates in the fortified wall then surrounding Paris (the last of many such walls, each one built farther and farther away from the heart of Paris). That #1 line (now fully automated) links lots of major places along the way and isn’t far from other important buildings or areas.

    All the other lines also “hit’ major places, be they railway stations or shopping areas or universities etc.

    As for a LRT at grade preventing cars from turning left or …??? lots of towns around the world had trams for years, there are still lots of trams around, and there is definitely no problem with cars and trucks doing a left turn across tracks. Unless car drivers want to prove how macho they are (but then SkyTrain, like many subways, has regular suicides).

    Have a look at trams in Toronto, Portland and Seattle–if you guys don’t want to go to Europe or Japan..

    The Seattle LRT goes from street level to viaduct level (similar in height to the average SkyTrain guideway) in just over a block. I made a point of looking at that area April 16th 2013, and was impressed to see how fast the tram went on the incline.

    Red frog

    April 26, 2013 at 9:40 pm

  18. In the early 1980s 16th Avenue was my chosen route to UBC architecture school. My ’72 Beetle had a generator malfunction one memorable morning on the hill going up to Dunbar. While the route was scenic—and posed some challenges—I never really thought of it as a transit corridor.

    On its eastern segments it is the former southern boundary of the City of Vancouver prior to 1929 amalgamation of South Vancouver and …err, well, yes… Point Grey (University and all!). I ‘discovered’ Sophia Street trying to figure out how to get from 16th to 12th Avenue, and then to the Freeway. Cross Main on the light, then hang a left on Sophia. Driving meant I was going too fast to notice Watson Street—not a route choice, but by far the more interesting piece of urban platting.

    Broadway is the no-brainer. I am persuaded that we don’t need a subway on Broadway, and that either LRT or BRT(trolley) will be just fine.

    What is going to get some getting used to is the idea of giving up road space (1) to transit; and (2) to widening the pedestrian realm. Redevelopment can set back 10-feet either side to get to a width of 120-feet. Broadway was initially just 66-feet wide until the Bartholomew widening in the years leading up to amalgamation.

    My hope is that we can capture a greater share of commuter trips, getting cars off roads like Broadway. Trucks are going to be a bit tougher (maybe we just call them ‘lorries’ and scale them down in size). I always remember the story about Ceasar banning traffic from the streets of Rome during the day, only to have to reverse himself when faced by the clamouring hordes of sleepless Roman citizens.

    Our ‘traffic solutions’ must always come second to that more important function of the city—raising the quality of its livability.

    lewis n. villegas

    April 29, 2013 at 12:09 am

  19. The LRT on Broadway as currently proposed would take away road space but also pedestrian space at several locations (mainly stations). It will also make crossing Broadway more difficult. My pipe dream is a subway that also takes away road space and gives it to the pedestrian realm.


    April 29, 2013 at 6:16 am

  20. @ Rico:

    My pipe dream is a subway that also takes away road space and gives it to the pedestrian realm.

    Mine too. But with an improved #9 trolley and a significant pedestrian realm enhancement budget added to the project, as well as a major architectural and urban design contribution at stations and on all sidewalks.

    We keep rehashing this Broadway / LRT thing, forcing repetitive rebuttals. Perhaps we should choose another route instead, one where light rail would generate a net benefit in most regards. May I suggest 41st Ave from Patterson Station to UBC? Alternatively, Surrey has some worthwhile LRT objectives.

    First steps though: Let’s find those underground utility plans and budget adequately for their relocation if required. Plot out all pedestrian crossings and perform Risk Assessments with the purpose of enhancing pedestrian safety. Ensure trams are not merely replacing viable bus routes that can be improved much less expensively. And perform life-cycle cost and revenue estimates.


    April 29, 2013 at 2:06 pm

  21. While Mayor Robertson dream of Vancouver being crowned the greenest city in the world in 2020, it is more likely that it will be crowned the only city in the world over 2 million that still doesn’t have one single all year long car-free shopping street.

    While I do not necessarily advocate tramways on Broadway–much as I like them– I do wonder if any of the posters that object to trams being a problem for cars turning left, or believe that tram stations will reduce the pedestrian realm have actually seen and used tramways/LRT?

    How many of the posters actually bike and/ or use the buses and SkyTrain at least 3 days a week every week? how many manage without a car or bike at all?
    How many plan a vacation specifically to use various transit systems?

    As for the Bus rapid transit….the Richmond Bus rapid line looked great and the bus was fast BUT it was overcrowded, just like the other B lines are right now…These articulated buses just don’t carry enough passengers.

    In countless of towns, both big and small, on several continents, they haven’t allowed parking all day long along major streets/avenues for many many years YET none of the stores along these arteries have problems attracting shoppers (as long as they sell something people want…).

    What makes Vancouverites so different?

    Red frog

    May 2, 2013 at 12:24 am

  22. @ Red Frog, the issue with Broadway is meeting the future, not replicating the present. With ~30 of the 38 intersections between Main & Alma signalized (~20 for pedestrians, especially where bike routes and greenways cross) and a future where over 300,000 riders a day are anticipated … well, I hope you can see the challenge on the ground trying to mitigate slower local travel with faster regional mobility with only one mode.

    There is a myriad of tasks that must be undertaken before the shovel hits the ground. I see many of the comments supporting trams on Broadway or substitute routes like 16th Ave as completely out of touch with detailed design and construction reality and therein costs … a project manager’s nightmare. Unfortunately, some people who should know better don’t and prefer to promote pie in the sky.

    There are excellent reasons why some of the finest big city transit systems employ both trams and metro systems as well as a backbone of buses. They perform separate but supportive functions.

    I love the Strasbourg trams, but the real challenge there was in the extensive planning, protest, the very painfull, overextended constructon period and blown budgets. The disruption was horrible, so I’ve heard (source: Jarrett Walker). But all that is fogotten by those who would love to replicate them everywhere without regard to their difficult history to initiate and in addressing the specific conditions of individual corridors, in some cases inappropriately so. Nowhere have I heard that the beautiful Strasbourg trams (or others) replaced the most heavily travelled bus route on the continent.

    And if you read at least my comments you’ll see that I promote both, but prefer to not force one over the other in total disregard to the conditions and future demand, but let them respond to circumstances in accordance to their capabilities and fit. Wthat means to me is a full SkyTrain subway on Broadway and other missing segments of the regional rapid transit system, limited stop mixed grade separated + surface regional commuter rail up the Valley and to Whistler, slower trams with denser stop spacing in the suburbs where densities must increase, passenger ferries of all kinds within the Metro, up the Sunshine Coast and to Vancouver Island (where the E&N Railway is rebuilt as a regional commuter rail and freight system) and, of course, beefed up electric trolleys in every urban area in between.

    One size doesn’t fit all.


    May 2, 2013 at 4:02 pm

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