Stephen Rees's blog

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

Who will pay for the subway?

with 4 comments


This weekend Mike Smythe of the Province got a jump on the debate that will re-awaken this year.

“The Mobility Pricing Independent Commission is studying a range of new taxes, fees, levies, surcharges and, yes, tolls as a way to pay for badly needed transportation improvements.”

And as usual for the mouthpiece of the far right, business is all important, lobby he put the question in the way the Republicans like to see things framed

 “it could mean you’ll have to do something nobody likes: paying more money to the government. “

Actually there are quite a few things I am vehemently in favour of: healthcare, education, contract enforcement

Did that last one surprise you? If you are trying to run a business, or if you want to pay a business to provide what you need, contract enforcement is a critical issue. If people can cheat you without fear of consequences, then we have anarchy. Government delivers a wide range of services – and some of them could be delivered by private enterprise, but you would not want to live in such a society. You simply cannot afford to pay for private healthcare or private education. Very few people can, which is why we should be looking very hard indeed at the record of the BC Liberals who did their best to hobble public services in favour of their private sector friends. There used to be a system that ensured that people who could not afford a lawyer still had access to the courts. That has been carefully removed in BC. But the courts are a public service and must not become a tool of the wealthy to oppress the poor. Justice and the rule of law are too important to be contracted out to Securicor or the Hell’s Angels.

In the case of where we live and how we get around simple geometry means that not everyone can drive to meet every need all the time. Cars do not work very well in a crowded city – but a crowded city is exactly what is needed to meet most human requirements. Until cars were mass produced, most people got around under their own power and mostly on their own two feet. It has only been relatively recently that walking became a crime.

You need to read this article in the New York Times Magazine to understand why good transit is essential to the success of a city – if it isn’t already apparent to you.

This why Derek Corrigan is wrong when he says that the Patullo Bridge replacement is more important than the Broadway subway and the Surrey LRT. And it is not about the war on the car or the battle between the city and the suburbs – both of which make for Good Copy for papers like the Province, but are both largely mythical. It is about the kind of place we want to live in, the kind of place that will attract the footloose industries like hi-tech and tourism, and the kind of future we face. It is the economy – and it is also the environment. It is also livability, sustainability and whatever the current buzzword is that says, ‘we have seen what urban sprawl looks like and works like and we don’t want that here’.


Written by Stephen Rees

January 8, 2018 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Transportation

4 Responses

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  1. Thank you for this post, Stephen. And happy New Year!

    Regarding the Broadway subway, I am happy to see that you have come full circle. I believe that this corridor requires a full-scale subway in order to meet the foreseeable demand and criteria to increase urban sustainability far into the future. There are those that argue that trams or light rail would do the job as well but at far less cost. Given the already-high existing demand, the unique geometry of Broadway (e.g. almost every intersection is signal-controlled by pedestrians), the importance of both local and regional transit there, and the possible forms and rates of future growth in a land-constrained city, I would disagree. This is not to say these technologies would work best in other local corridors around the Metro.

    My letter below was published in the Sun on Dec 27th in response to an egregious missive in that paper by our friend from Delta. It seems now that people like Malcolm Johnston would like to see the complete destruction of TransLink and its Fat Cat bureaucrats and mayors who are bribed by developers to build megaprojects, or so the implications read. He is now counting on Derek Corrigan to throw the first grenade. Well, Corrigan’s is only one vote of many, but it could complicate or delay putting the last bit of funding in place, which would become a pointless exercise considering the majority of funding has already been committed by the feds and BC. I certainly hope Horgan sees the problem and resists any delaying or reprioritizing tactics.

    Space did not permit me to espouse the urban design benefits of a subway. Needless to say the surface road area will be alleviated of a lot of B-Line bus traffic and former car commuters attracted by a superior rapid transit amenity, certainly enough to expand the public space devoted to pedestrians. Corner bulges and mid-block crosswalks will no doubt become very practical and well-used amenities in central Broadway.

    Re: Mega projects not the transit answer, Sun Letters, Dec 23, 2017

    Malcolm Johnston’s conjecture that the Broadway subway is a developer-driven project does not hold water. Even without future development, the Broadway-UBC corridor already has the highest population, employment density and office/retail/institutional floor area in the Lower Mainland outside of downtown.

    Johnston’s misleading ridership numbers obscure the published TransLink estimate of 320,000 passengers a day within 10 years, at par or better than the ridership on four of 10 London Underground lines. It will outperform Seattle’s light rail by 400%. This one line will also move 3/4 of the ridership of the entire Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

    Johnston appears not to understand the Network Effect, the importance of transit frequency on influencing route geometry, or the differences between regional and local transit demand management.

    He describes the cost with overheated words like “cannibalize,” overlooking the already committed majority senior government funding. Its one-time capital cost will amount to only 2.2% of Metro Vancouver’s annual economic output. With 65 years of debt-free, profitable service during its 100-year life span, the subway is destined to be a vital investment in our future.

    Regarding his concern about “postponing other [transit] projects” — that has already occurred when senior governments sacrificed a decent regional public transit future in favour of the almighty car.

    The Broadway subway is long overdue.

    Alex Botta

    January 9, 2018 at 4:34 pm

  2. I have not come “full circle” on the subway. It is all a matter of timing, and given the dependence of this project on senior governments, the commitments made to date could quickly get diverted elsewhere if Translink does not get its act together. [According to the David Suzuki Foundation the federal government has committed $2.2 billion over 10 years to improve transit and transportation in the region: the province has committed 40 per cent of capital costs.] That’s a lot of money to miss out on.

    The subway as far as Arbutus is suboptimal, to put it kindly, but right now is about the only option. And even then it will be a while before it gets to ribbon cutting and it the meantime there is a lot the City of Vancouver could do to improve service quality and reliability on the 99 B Line. Which may make it clear that the subway may have been a bit more expensive than an optimal solution.

    When the Yonge subway opened in Toronto was opened, traffic in downtown got worse. Cars rushed to fill the street space formerly used by streetcars. The same experience was seen in several European cities who built “pre-metro” subways and sent their trams underground in city centres. Not long afterwards, those cities decided to get much more restrictive on cars in central areas. It took TO a bit longer but they seem to get it now.

    I hope you are right about the city re-allocating street space on Broadway after the subway is opened. But that is all that is – hope. I have been disappointed far too often to think anything else.

    Stephen Rees

    January 9, 2018 at 7:31 pm

  3. I have to hope the rush hour bus lanes would be put to a higher purpose than right turns, deliveries and parking, but as Stephen says that’s merely hope at this point.

    I don’t understand how Derek Corrigan managed to get where he is today being so out of sync with virtually all the other mayors and, in my opinion, reality. His claims that we’re moving too quickly on new transit couldn’t be farther from the truth. I feel we’re moving far too slowly and not embracing a big picture for the next 50-100 years.

    The provincial government can be blamed for almost all the foot dragging, cost cutting and bizarre prioritizing in the past. I had hoped that this new government would move swiftly to start righting the ship, but Site C will likely soak up those billions and now we have a mayors’ council spokesperson suggesting things stay at the same weird glacial pace we’ve seen for the last 30 years.

    Malcolm Johnston is correct in saying our SkyTrain lines are designed for developers, but originally that wasn’t on purpose. The LRT proposal that became the Expo line was simply reinstating the original interurban decades after auto-oriented development had left it derelict. The route was chosen because little land would need to be acquired and what was needed would be dirt cheap. The fact that it managed to avoid nearly every passenger trip generator along the way and would need billions in private sector construction to make it a success was just a happy coincidence for developers. Since then I think avoiding existing developed areas in favour of brown fields has been deliberate. Those in power have chosen to build new high density communities like Gilmore-Brentwood instead of fighting tooth and nail to increase density in already developed places like 29th Avenue Station. Whether or not you agree with that approach is fodder for a much larger discussion.

    If Mr. Johnston’s goal is to save South Delta then I recommend he stop fighting mega-projects in other municipalities and instead turn his attention to the Massey Tunnel replacement proposals. A 10 lane bridge to Ladner will make the current chunk of paving paradise to put up a parking lot on Tsawwassen First Nation land look like a mere postage stamp. I can see it now… English Bluff lined with 20-40 storey towers overlooking the water.


    January 10, 2018 at 12:10 am

  4. Stephen, I agree that it would be foolish to delay these major projects and place part or all of the senior government funding at risk. Given the urgency of committing to action on climate change and the massive inertia required to turn around our city-building models, even a 10-year time period seems too long. I’m with David on the delays too, but I would put the subway 40-years overdue rather than 30 given my experience commuting to UBC in the early 80s. I also agree that someone needs to commit to taking the thing all the way to the campus in one contract rather then tendering Phase Two at mid-century or beyond. First Nations own the ~150-acre UBC golf course, roughly 2 1/2 times larger than the Jericho Lands. I really don’t think the low value golfing land use will be preserved forever. You also gave a lot of low rise infill potential in Kits and Point Grey that could add significant density near Broadway.

    That brings me to urban form, David. I don’t buy the too-convenient developer-drive motive any more being that all constructs everywhere are built by private entities, and especially now that all local and provincial political campaigns will be free of big money from developers and unions. They may still be able to contribute to the $1,200 cap for individuals, but the Wild West is now over. Some may see the density along SkyTrain corridors as developer-driven today, but that ignores the original and highly ethical and progressive planning initiatives of the Livable Regions Strategic Plan. It has been very successful, so successful that development followed. It is also a perfect demonstration of the power of transit to provide ongoing economic stimulus — decades of employment for workers who don’t give a fig about politics and shape urban form away from the car like no other. No road system can claim that.

    Further, my perception is oriented more toward its power of mobility for hundreds of thousands of riders a day, a very affordable form of mobility compared to the enormous cost of moving the equivalent number of people by car. It is also a form of sustainable urbanism that occupies another rung on the same ladder as the tram / Missing Middle (housing and mixed use zoning) rung. As I’ve said before, we need all the tools in the toolkit to make it through the next crucial decade or two, and to survive to the end of the century.

    Alex Botta

    January 11, 2018 at 4:59 pm

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