Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘streetcar

New Orleans Streetcars

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Back from a week in New Orleans (there was a wedding in the middle of that) where riding streetcars became a central theme. People were asking me if I was going to rent a car, but that seemed to me to be pointless. The French Quarter, where we were staying has very narrow streets and a distinct lack of parking. We intended to rely on NORTA (buses and streetcars) and walking. There were bikes, but my partner did not bring her phone with her, and there is no way to rent two bikes on one phone. As a matter of principle I will not install the Uber or Lyft app on my phone – though we did share my son’s Lyft for one ride. We did use taxis – but that would have to be another post.

Riverfront car at Jackson Square

You may have heard about the Hard Rock Hotel collapse four months ago. That occurred on a site at Rampart and Canal streets.

The Hard Rock Hotel

Entire blocks on all sides have been closed to traffic as a precaution – but there is still no work underway to remove the damaged building. Canal and Rampart streets are both streetcar routes. The Canal Street routes have a bus bridge. The Rampart Street route has simply been cancelled.

Rampart St at Ursulines streetcar station

We knew none of this when we arrived. We relied on the Transit App on my iPhone. That showed – and still does by the way – regular streetcar service on Rampart – with arrival times and the “real time” symbol – so not just the schedule. We sat at a streetcar station at Ursulines waiting for trams that never came. On RTA truck whipped past us and driver yelled something unintelligible – probably “there’s no service” but it didn’t sound like those words. There was no signage anywhere on the station showing the stop was closed. Though the street has bus services, no bus stops had been placed at the same intersections to allow intending streetcar users to board a bus instead of the tram.

Now it is true that there is information on – though you do have to dig around a bit to find it.

There is also a major hiatus on the Riverfront line as construction is under way at the foot of Canal Street. So the Riverfront cars now turn up Canal instead of proceeding south along the river. The new terminus is convenient for the St Charles streetcar which is unaffected by either blockade.

I took up the issue of misleading information with the Transit App people. This is their reply.

“Although we do work with transportation agencies to display prediction times, service alerts – such as notifications about the streetcars not running – are updated by the agencies directly.

We’re a third-party app based in Montreal, Canada, so we’re not involved in the operation of the agencies. I’d suggest getting in touch with the RTA about this. You can reach the RTA here:

So basically the RTA just relies on its own website and does not update the information on the Transit App, nor does it do any street postering. Some buses did have service change cards – but again not on display, just for the driver to give to passengers who asked questions.

Much of the New Orleans system has exclusive reserved rights of way for the streetcars: the St Charles route south of Lee Circle and most of the Canal Street route. But not the branch along South Carrollton to the City Park. There is a median but the streetcars are in traffic in the centre lanes. This of course results in streetcars being held up behind left turning traffic. I saw no evidence of any on-street priority for transit.

Along St Charles St the streetcar is actually better for sightseeing as the car proceeds at a leisurely pace and the tour busses whizz past in the traffic lanes. If you want to look at the charming old houses in the Garden District the hop-on hop-off bus service cannot be recommended. By the way, if you are concerned about trying to board a St Charles car at Canal, at least half of the load there gets off halfway to do the guided walk through the Garden District and most of the rest at Audubon Park.

St Charles streetcar at Canal St

There are also a number of streets that have wide medians that I suspect may once have been streetcar lines. Of course wikipedia is the place to go to find out about that.

I have also heard a lot about how streetcars are only for tourists but that is a gross misunderstanding. Where the streetcars run, and their general reliability, means everybody uses them. In fact the schedules for the streetcars seem to much more frequent than many bus routes. It is reliability and frequency that attracts ridership no matter what the vehicle.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 31, 2020 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Light Rail, tourism, transit

Tagged with ,

Consultations on the BLine for 41st and the Greenway

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Thanks to Rick Jelfs of Transport Action BC for the heads up on two sets of consultations going on at present. This illustration comes from the City of Vancouver’s PDF of the Arbutus Greenway in its expected final form with a streetcar!

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 10.00.32 AM

  • TransLink is asking for public input on four new B-Line routes – 41st Ave (UBC – Joyce Stn);  Fraser Hwy (Surrey Central – Langley); Lougheed Hwy (Coquitlam Central – Maple Ridge); Marine Drive (Dundarave – Phibbs Exchange). The 41st Ave. proposal includes the return of local trolley coach service along 41st Ave. More information at
  • Vancouver has a “proposed design concept” for the Arbutus Greenway at

I must admit I was a bit sceptical of the 41st Avenue B-Line until I saw what was actually proposed – which involves a considerable change to the current #41 – which would be cut back to Crown and would use trolleybuses – which is something that I have been pushing whenever anyone would listen for many years.

2149 Training on 41st at Cambie

Trolleybuses aren’t used on the 41 right now, but the wires on 41st are used for training and relocating trolleys. Probably much less now that Oakridge OMC has been sold.

V9486 Hybrid

The current generation of hybrid Novabus, has a final electric drive – but no poles even though 600v is within easy reach.

Xcelsior bendy on 41st at Arbutus

The articulated buses used on the 43 and 49 that will be on the B Line

BYD Battery Bus

The short lived experiment with loaned battery buses from China (BYD). Another trial of different battery buses was recently announced. They will be able to charge along the route (100 Marine Drive) but again not using trolleypoles.  All those pictures were taken by me along West 41st Avenue.

I am of course also pleased to see a cross North Shore B Line running through both West and North Vancouver. I was involved with the first groundbreaking bus service to cut through the iron curtain that used to separate transit on that side of the water. There is even talk of combining City and District in North Van which at that time was unthinkable! But I digress. Even if you can’t manage the open houses you can still do the surveys.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 20, 2018 at 10:45 am

Bombardier Flexity Freedom

with 6 comments

Bombardier has a mock up of the streetcar Light Rail Vehicle they are building for Toronto at Granville Island. Not at the DHR station, of course, which remains out of use – or even the Olympic Village station where they mounted a pre-Olympic event for the Brussels cars they brought here. This one is wider (2.65m) with two by two seating. And it is mounted on a truck chassis – so it is not quite as good a demonstration of its “low floor” quality as it might be.

"Freedom: Riding the winds of change"

The mock up has doors both sides – and a mirror at the back to make it appear double ended. The Toronto streetcar is single ended with doors on one side only as it uses turning loops at termini.

Front end

The real thing is low floor (about 30cm): the model – erm – not quite

Front end with stairs

Curiously this blind spot about the door mechanism cover also affected Rotem/Canada Line for its showcase

I think you forgot something

As you can see from this image the claim that this car is “100% low-floor, entirely step free interior” is not strictly true. There is a step to the floor between the seats over the front axle – you can see the yellow warning strip clearly in this image even at the size it appears on the blog page. The two by two seating is clearly better than the narrow Brussels cars that were here for the Olympic Line

You had privileged acces, and you still couldn't get out of the way

There is a wide clear area next to the door for mobility devices – and no doubt the cyclists will commandeer that if they can. In Paris it is the strollers that fill this area. And the sharp eyed will note that Mike Shiffer was an early bird visitor too.


Visitors were offered a cardboard push out model of their own


Now I do want to be fair, but it does seem to me that Bombardier could have made a bit more of an effort. It is true that this event is the second go here – they were out in Cloverdale, in Surrey for Canada Day. Maybe there was more organization there. There were media around today, and I am sure that the mainstream guys got their quotes and sound bites. But there were others, like me, who had their cameras and questions at the ready, even if they did not carry press credentials. They did have, on board, a full size brochure. One of the sales people dug one out when asked a question (about the hight of the step) that he did not know. The brochure went back into the carton with all the others. Of course you can get the info on line – but why keep the story from those who want to know?

Brochure PDF file

Giving adults a postcard and a cardboard model seems to me to be a bit cavalier. Especially when the card reads

“The streetcars that Bomardier will deliver to Toronto …”

But didn’t they want this referred to as an LRV? And how hard would it be to remove the stickers on the model that referred to the TTC? Yes I know the model and the publicity material was created for that market – and the western Canada is getting the benefit of the left overs. But Edmonton and Calgary both have light rail systems – and seem wedded to Siemens – one worth making an effort for, I think.

And I am also unconvinced about the claim “Combination of 100% low-floor technology and conventional axle wheel-set bogies for a significantly smoother ride”. There was nothing wrong with the ride on the T2 and T3 trains I rode on in Paris recently – and they both have flat floors due to “unconventional” axles. Smoother than what? They are also Alsthom-Bombardier products (Citadis). The floor of the mock up was definitely sloped over some quite significant areas  – so I hope they have got the tie down issue sorted for passengers who are in wheeled devices.

I have now deleted the Bombardier press release – but I copied this snippet in case it proves useful to someone

 More information about Bombardier FLEXITY Freedom is available at:

Interior Citadis T2 tramway Paris

Interior Citadis T2 tramway Paris – my photo on flickr

To illustrate the discussion in the comments section, this is the competitor from Alsthom, the Citadis used in Paris and many other french systems. The floor is both low and flat since it does not have conventional bogies.


UPDATE 22 November 2012 CTV now has pictures of the new TTC streetcars 

Written by Stephen Rees

July 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Is it time to bring back the streetcar to Vancouver?

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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

Tagged with ,

Streetcars – op ed

with 27 comments

Streetcars if necessary – but not necessarily streetcars.

Now that I have had time to think about the conference – what we heard and what I spent so much time laboriously transcribing – I am going to give you the benefit of my opinions. I do not expect any agreement. We all have our own opinions and expectations. But there is quite a lot that came out of that meeting that I think needs a response, and we also need to think much more constructively about how we advance the cause of sustainable communities in this region. Because the one thing where Patrick Condon and I are in complete accord – and Chris de Marco for that matter – is that we have to be concerned about the place we are trying to make, and the choice of transit equipment is only part of the puzzle.

I am going to start with Dale Bracewell’s assertion that the City does not want to see streetcars in Kerrisdale. My gut reaction to that was that he was wrong – but it has taken me some time to process that into a coherent critique. There is indeed good transit service there already (by Translink’s standards) – trolleybuses on Arbutus and diesel buses (running under energized but unused trolley wire) on 41st Avenue. If there is a need for increased transit supply, it ought to be straightforward to upgrade those services. If Translink was adequately funded then obviously the first thing to do is increase service frequency. We can argue in other places about which area gets service increase first, but clearly the routes where there are pass-ups now get first attention. That includes increasing frequency on parallel routes. I have been passed up on 41st by the early morning #43 to UBC and I doubt that is an isolated experience. The way to go on 41st is to put on trolleybuses – which do not get to UBC but short turn to boost local service – and thus free up existing capacity to UBC.


My second recommendation flows from that. On all routes where there is crowding and a need for longer distance travel, there should be a B line type, limited stop service overlaying the local bus. Obviously that cannot be a trolleybus: they can’t overtake (something that operators apparently need to be reminded about by painting the poles yellow, a recent innovation here). For people trying to get around the region, in the absence of good long haul services,  B Line works quite well. Artics if needed, and hybrid would be a good choice. And to avoid the need for people to have schedules, put on a clock face service where it cannot be so frequent that you never have to wait long for a bus. While the real time info display is good, much better is a service that comes at 11, 31 and 51 minutes past the hour in a reliable fashion. All day and every day. With strengthening at peaks when necessary.  You can paint that on the bus stop cheaply – you do not need an electronic display.

My third recommendation is then that bus services in Vancouver need more priority in mixed traffic. This cannot be created by adding lanes – there is no room. But there is a very good argument that says we should be reducing capacity for car traffic. Lon LaClair was highly self congratulatory  on the recent stats, but I think he and his colleagues have not done nearly enough. If you are willing to take out parking lanes for bikes, why not for buses? Why are you willing to put in a streetcar downtown but not make the most of the transit capacity we now have, by making bus services more reliable? I am not in favour of putting a lot money into any kind of transit if all that happens is it spends most of its time stuck in traffic, with bunching and pass-ups. I would suggest that Translink – once it has money to increase transit supply – refuse to do so until the city – every city not just Vancouver – gives buses a distinct advantage over the single occupant car. There are lots of ways to do this, but the one I like most is the Copenhagen commitment – a small increment of moving and parking capacity is taken from SOVs every year – for the long term. Vancouver actually needs to live up that stated priority sequence (walk, bike, bus first) – and the other municipalities have to buy into that too.  And they do not get another nickel spent on transit in their area until they start delivering bus lanes, bus signal priority and cutting on-street parking on bus routes. And reducing their own minimum parking requirements for development: they should be adopting maximum parking requirements and be doing deals with developers for  bike lockers and showers in workplaces, car co-op parking spots and memberships in condos, cut through walk access to arterials in the dendritic pattern suburbs and so on. And the other thing that goes with that is much better street furniture in general and especially at bus stops – shelters, benches etc – in return for which Translink delivers better passenger information. Not just a little bit of Main Street as a demo project but the whole system – again allocating resources first to places which show they are serious abut playing their part.

And note too that I include walk and bike in all this – they are the essential feeders to transit but also the canary in the coal mine that shows if the city is working properly. I ignore people who complain that the bike lanes are empty when its raining. What I do notice is that the city came to life for two weeks last February – and that we are rapidly letting that progress slip through our fingers. Putting back the parking on Granville Island – something I heard at the meeting which made my heart sink – being just one example.  But in the longer term we need to have a place where human powered transportation is the norm not the exception. And for a sustainable, vital city we need spaces between the buildings where people want to linger, where they are encouraged to loiter. And to achieve that we have to recognize that through movement needs to be accommodated in other ways. When San Francisco took down its elevated freeways, traffic movement actually improved. The same thing happened in New York when bits of Broadway were closed. These are important lessons.

So to return to Kerrisdale, does a streetcar on the old CP (and prior to that BCER Interurban) tracks actually make much improvement over the #16 trolleybus? No, not really. But that does not mean we abandon the idea of re-opening that line for passenger service. “Corridors” or rights of way through a city are difficult to provide once they have developed and matured. So you cannot let any of them go unused – and you should never, ever build over them. You have to take a good hard look at your future needs – and if you cannot do something grand at first, at least keep it going at some level. I am a bit reluctant to advocate rails to trails since rails are hardly ever put back – but the current state of the line is a disgrace.

CP signs Arbutus at 33rd 2006_0417

The “No Trespassing” signs are – thankfully – cheerfully ignored. And you do see lots of people walking and cycling. Sometimes not easily. But in this case, the route was ignored for rapid transit in favour of a tunnel under Cambie. Pointless now to revisit that decision but we can note that the obsession with P3s at any price meant that the Canada Line is going to be exceedingly expensive to expand. It might be cheaper – it will certainly have a better rate of return – that after the third cars have been inserted and the 2 minute headway on the combined part of the route reached  then Arbutus will have to be looked at. So keep it available for the future, but in all seriousness look at buying some modern trams and hooking that into the Olympic Line. NOW.  You can do that now quite cheaply – you do not have to wait until armageddon hits. Yes the creme de la creme will whine, but that does not mean they get to make the decisions for the rest of us. And the service on those tracks is NOT a streetcar. It is more like bringing back the interurban. Because if it stops infrequently (like the B Lines) and gets signal pre-emption at crossings (something trains always get but buses seldom if ever do) than travel times are attractive. And you can put on services to Richmond and New Westminster on existing tracks. Which can be augmented incrementally. You do not have to go to build out from day 1 – you design the system to allow for graceful expansion.   What they call “scalability” in software.

Which brings me nicely to thing we didn’t talk about nearly enough on Wednesday but ought to have done. The next million people who are going to come to this region are going to be living mostly south of the Fraser. While I appreciate Chris de Marco’s pitch for putting them on the Burrard Peninsula the only way we can do that is to increase density. That isn’t going to be easy, and I appreciate Patrick’s notion that “mid rise” density along arterials (for which zoning is already in place) is going to be an easier sell than high rises at stations – and is actually a “better” solution. I would like to think that Chris is right and that the new regional strategy will be followed (especially where industrial land is concerned). But experience has not been good – and what we still really need is a regional land use (and transportation) planning authority with teeth. And we have a sub-region SoF which is freeway dependant now and that is being strengthened. Once again, we cannot afford to let existing rights of way go under utilized. The former interurban line is needed now – and so are the mainline railways.We only use a small part of the CP mainline and not much of the CN and BNSF for passenger trains. No, these tracks are far from ideal in many respects, and the CP deal with West Coast Express is not a model to follow. But we still need to do something far sighted with these assets.

The Premier is quite wrong to say that we will extend SkyTrain to Langley. That is the wrong technology – and it costs a fortune. We have made that mistake more than once too often. Translink cannot afford to build it and keep a bus system going. And without a bus system at the sort of densities we see in much of Langley and Surrey, SkyTrain will not work. BUT there are places in those cities now which have comparable densities to Vancouver and which might even become walkable, with a bit of imagination and good community consultation. A few design charrettes no doubt. But those people are going to have to be persuaded that the transit that is going to be provided will be a whole order of magnitude improvement over what is there today and comparable to what is now in Vancouver, New Westminster and Burnaby. BRT is going to be part of the mix – just because you can do that quicker than any rails – but once again has to have priority over SOVs. Passenger trains on existing freight railways – something GO Transit has been doing for years on busier lines – also have to happen. I do not think that anywhere outside of North America accepts the concept of “commuter rail” (one way peak hours only service). Even here train bus is run to provide something off peak even if not counter peak (though why not when the bus has to dead head anyway beats me.) GO Transit runs a lot of buses too.  And, as Chris noted with respect to Melbourne, just having good railways does not control sprawl – in fact, the suburban train services created it and facilitate it.

So to turn to land use again, what worries me more than anything is the ease with which our urban containment boundary is being nibbled away. The ALR is disappearing before our eyes. The green zone is going to be the next target. The purpose of the Sea to Sky widening had nothing whatever to do with the Olympics but everything to do with blasting a hole in the Squamish Lillooet regional growth strategy. It will not be enough to finally get around to providing a viable alternative to car use. We also have to get down to some real land use control. Part of that is providing municipalities with a new source of revenue. Much of the pressure that developers can exert comes from the desperate need for money to provide municipal facilities and services. Just as the private sector is now dictating what we get in terms of health care: the donors put in the MRI machines, but the Health Authority cuts staffing to run them. As long as City Hall is on the pockets of the developers, the broader public interest is not going to be well served. The profit of a few overrules the needs of the many. Which is also why I do not think it should matter if there are private sector developers who want to fund streetcars. I really do not care how much they are willing to spend. I want to be able to look at projects and proposals with Mike Shiffer’s MAE framework. Which I will bet Mr Campbell had never even heard of let alone used for his decision making on rapid transit.

The truth in this region is that projects are picked on political criteria – and any analysis done is to shine up a decision that has already been reached. Any public consultation is window dressing. I think that MUST change. Without a credible process, no-one is going to believe that we are serious about sustainability or any other fine policy objective. I also do not think that what has worked in some US cities is a good model for Vancouver and its hinterland. We simply do not have the same frameworks and support systems as they do. It should be a source of shame in Canada that US cities can now do better than we do in providing affordable and socially necessary housing. (Not that they do that very well either, but it’s still more than we do, which is now nearly nothing.)

When you look at what I am talking about here, it becomes clear that the choice of transit technology is not actually all that difficult. Its really a technical issue of horses for courses. There are some real hurdles but they are political and administrative, and they are rooted in the need to change from business as usual. If we continue to think that we need more businesslike decision making, then we should not be surprised when only profit matters. Business is not allowed to think much beyond its bottom line as it has a duty of care, not to the community, but to its shareholders. We also have some pretty shabby politics here. Low turn out at the polls. Short term thinking. Spin not truth. Sound bites not careful, objective analysis.

And the last point is the possibly the hardest in terms of the conference, but actually quite straightforward if you think regionally. Vancouver is doing pretty well. Compared to the rest of the region its need for improved transit does not, in my reckoning, put it at the head of the queue. It is already mostly built out. The downtown streetcar never seemed to make a lot of sense to me – and it still doesn’t. Of course it would be nice – but the development of Coal Harbour and False Creek is mostly complete. And this year we seemed to manage without the DHR (the nearest thing we have to the proposal – even though as I keep on repeating it isn’t a streetcar). The stats are pointing in the right direction. Vancouver could do better – and if I had to fight the entrenched motordom of this city, I would draw a deep breath before proposing bus lanes and signal priority too. But most of the rest of the region and the outlying exurbia beyond it is going to hell in handbasket. We are repeating all the mistakes made in the 1950s, but with slightly better mpg stats.  And one or two streetcars here or there makes no difference to that at all. I don’t think Vancouver does get any rail rapid transit along Broadway for a while. It can do a lot for itself with good traffic management (for instance, regulating traffic by using value of time instead of vehicle flow) and must get on with that until we can free up some good funding for transit for the region in general. The Evergreen Line, the SFU cable car and passenger services on as many of the existing railways that we can all come to the top of my priority list. And lots more transit everywhere. I actually do not care what sort of wheels it has under it. It has to be frequent, comfortable and easy to use for everybody: and it goes first when the lights change. The car drivers can sit and watch as the bus/tram/train whizzes by.

Now, when we have got transit figured out, we are going to have to deal with much tougher questions.  Decent housing for all at affordable prices. Protection of our natural resources. Good urban design standards. Better health through prevention. Representative and responsible government. Real democracy. Some future for the human race on this planet. Some future, come to that, for life as we know it – all species seem to be at risk from our nasty habits, not just us.

But that is all beyond the scope of this particular op ed.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 3, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with

Streetcars: The Missing Link?

with 11 comments

MOST RECENT UPDATE November 17, 2010 ~10am

Yesterday I went to a conference called Streetcars: The Missing Link. They did not have power outlets near where I sat and they had not paid the extortionate fee the Renaissance Hotel wants from users of its wi-fi. My battery went dead after a couple of hours, so I now have a lot of hand written scrawl to transcribe, but I did manage to make electronic notes of the first two presentations. The conference was recorded and will be available as audio for the whole thing and video for the presentations (not the “town hall” at the end) in due course. I would hope that, since they put everyone’s powerpoint slides on one laptop, that these could be uploaded to a website – which might be a lot quicker and easier to get out the main information points.

[email received from the organizers  2010.11.17

Thank you for your attendance at September’s Streetcars: The Missing Link? symposium.

Links to speaker presentations and audio from the town hall meeting forum are now available for viewing and downloading here:

Audio recordings of the speaker presentations will be made available shortly.]

I am not going to try to cover the everything straight away. It is far too nice outside right now and that is not going to last. I have posted summaries after this post.  In this one I just wanted to give a flavour of the day. It started with a review of the Toronto system – which is going to replace its streetcars – and then expand its transit system mainly by using LRT. This got the day revolving around what distinguishes streetcars from LRT. Basically its about speed and distance. “Streetcar” is the term used for the usually quite slow, frequent stop local service within a central place: “downtown circulator” was a term often used. LRT was for faster, longer distance “line haul” or suburb to centre services – larger, longer more powerful trains that do not stop so often and usually have quite a lot of exclusive rights of way.

Encouragingly, much of the discussion was about what sort of land use gets shaped and served by streetcars. Many cities are using streetcar as a way to revitalize old industrial/commercial areas in inner areas by linking them to downtowns and line haul transit services. Streetcars are also seen as a way of attracting investments for redevelopment. This tends to produce a midrise density pattern in “corridors” – the three to four block walk from the streetcar line – rather than the highrise tower clusters to be seen around some rapid transit stations. Much discussion centered around this distinction and the desirability of the different development patterns.

I have to say that I though the day was heavily focussed on the City of Vancouver. I think another conference needs to be held in Surrey to discuss how transit investments may help offset the sprawl creation that is going to follow freeway expansion. There is no doubt that “motordom” got all it wanted from the Gateway program. Some think that this means there is now a window of opportunity for more transit spending (much hope seems to be pinned on the recent MoU). Others, more cynical think motordom can never be satisfied.

There was also a lot about the Olympic Line. I will get to that in due course, but I do want to make a couple of observations. While the line was operated by modern trams from Brussels (where they work in “streetcar” mode, mostly)  the right of way was an old railway. It is now – at least from Granville to Cambie – a modern, heavy duty, single track railway line with a passing loop and overhead power and two stations. It is not a “streetcar line” and there is no intention that it will be used to shape development along its current route. It is hoped that one day it may become part of a downtown streetcar, but it needs to noticed that most of downtown is now “built out”. The development happened without streetcars – although the downtown (and especially the West End) is still recognizable as a “streetcar village”. There are lots of stores and services that have no parking – a pattern that to-day is impermissible. And it seems to work quite nicely with trolleybuses. I also note that while the Olympic Line was an undoubted success, the Downtown Historic Railway has not operated at all since.

There was a lot about how we need to have the complete set of transit services. There is a widespread belief that we have spent too much on regional rapid transit – and that the development pattern that has produced is distinctly different to the old streetcar villages. If more people are to be absorbed on the Burrard Peninsula – and especially in the City of Vancouver – then a low rise set of corridors along arterials would be an easier sell to those who will resist development for whom “high rise” is a red flag ( see for instance the reaction to development proposals adjacent to the Marine Drive Canada line station). If, on the other hand, the political power of those who are in the highest price areas already is preserved – as it seems to be – let alone strengthened – then absorbing more people may well be left to the suburbs, which are already growing faster than Vancouver and with very little transit of any kind.  The next million to arrive will mostly be absorbed south of the Fraser – and if nothing is done that will be in low density suburban sprawl with everyone having to drive everywhere. And we know that does not work. Not for human health and not for a society that intends to ensure its long term survival.


Keynote: Jack Collins Vice President, Project Implementation, Metrolinx

Metrolinx is embarking on a transit expansion program called The Big Move . The authority is similar to Translink and covers the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas: GO Transit (the regional commuter rail and bus operator) is a Metrolinx subsidiary. In 2008 a common supported vision was approved that has a list of 54 projects that will cost $50bn in the next 25 years. Up until now the TTC has been “just keeping up”: there was not much investment in recent years, and the cost of congestion has been steadily increasing.

Currently there are four  LRT lines being built and one busway. It is also desired to expand GO services but Union Station is now a major bottleneck and is being rehabilitated. The Province of Ontario is spending $9.5bn on the “big 5” projects with a  $330m federal contribution.

They have recently placed an order for 182 LRVs with Bombardier, the first 35 of which are for the Sheppard line in 2014. This will be in the  middle of the street on a raised median with signal priority at intersections. [This line was originally intended to be subway from Yonge Street to Scarborough: the tunnel stopped short at Don Mills].

On Eglinton Avenue a cross town service will be established 11km of which will be in tunnel: “it is impossible to build on the road”.  Four Tunnel Boring Machines have recently be acquired at bargain prices. The former Eglinton subway which was filled in will be reopened.

The York VIVA BRT runs on Highway 7 on exclusive bus lanes and the former Pearson link – which was to have been a P3 has now been taken over by Metrolinx. It runs on existing railway lines but requires a 2km length of new build track – as well as the station at the airport. Metrolinx is also in the early stages of replacing the roof of Union station to improve the passenger experience.

TTC 4127 on 501 Queen St at Yonge 2006_0111

The TTC has operated its current streetcars since 1978 when the CLRV was introduced. It is a high floor single ended car  15.4m long that can carry 130 passengers.

TTC 4215 on 501 Queen St at Yonge 2006_0111

In 1987 the articulated CLRV was introduced. It is a high floor, 23m car that can carry 205 passengers at crush load. While many LRT systems have minimum radius curves of  around ~80m, 0n several routes in Toronto there are tight curves of 11m radius. Since the cars are single ended they require turning loops at each end of the line. There is also a requirement to climb  8% grades [most modern systems try to stay under 6%].

Bombardier Flexity car for the TTC

This is an impression of what the new Flexity cars will look like. They will be introduced into service between 2012 – 2018 at a cost of $4.5m each. The first three prototypes are due in 2011. The car is similar to that used on the Olympic Line “but it won’t have leather seats!” It will be able to carry 250 passengers (crush load) and is 30.2m long with 4 doors: it is also single ended. One innovation designed by the TTC is super resilient wheels to reduce ground borne vibration using a “hockey puck” design.

There has recently been a resurgence of interest in streetcars in the US.

  • St Louis MO Loop Trolley – urban circulator
  • Charlotte NC – urban circulator
  • Cincinnati OH – connects CBD to two districts being redeveloped
  • Fort Worth TX – connect commuter rail and transit centre
  • Portland OR – pioneer of streetcars

The theme common to these systems is to tie in to a line haul system . He then discussed what distinguishes light rail from a streetcar (see above) and noted that places like  Phoenix, Seattle, Houston, Edmonton and Calgary all connect their downtown to the suburbs using light rail. This also will be built in the Toronto/Hamilton region.  There has been a heated streetcar debate  but the key for LRT is to “never share lanes” with other traffic.  Sometimes the tracks will be physically segregated. Modern low floor LRT cars with multiple doors allow for faster boarding, with train lengths of  up to 90m with a three car consist can carry over 600 people. These cars will be bi-directional (to eliminate the need for loops at termini) with longer stop spacing – at least 1km apart.

On the St Clair streetcar an average speed of 13km/hr is accomplished. On the new Sheppard line this will be raised to 22 km/hr, Eglinton will manage 30 overall with the subway sections at 32.  “The streetcar is slow and unreliable” because it has to run in mixed traffic. Transit line capacity is a function of train capacity and service frequency. Metrolinx is designing its LRT  for 9 to 12,000 persons per hour per direction (pphpd) compared to the 3,000 pphpd for streetcar. They have the “green light” foe the extension of LRT 57-58 per km on surface, 214 in tunnel.

Costs for LRT vary widely. The Scarborough LRT cost $158/km [same technology as SkyTrain] the VTA in San Jose cost $56m/km with some exclusive row mostly at grade. Streetcars, on the other hand tend to come in the $25m/km range in US systems:  “streetcar is about half the cost of LRT”

He concluded that at these prices it is important to get it right [mode choice] for future generations.

Q & A

In answer to the first question he said that the streetcars run on 600v, will have a trolley pole and will use the existing Toronto (broad) gauge. The LRT cars will run on 750v, have pantographs and run on standard gauge track. The new lines will be owned and operated by the provincial agency but contracted to the TTC for operations and maintenance. This has been a hot button issue.

Asked about “blending” the use of streetcars and light rail he said that due to the different specifications in TO that is not possible.

The conversion of the Scarborough ALRT will allow the operation of 3 car LRT trains: demand currently is over 9,000 pphpd at peak periods which exceeds the capacity of of the mark I “SkyTrain” [note that term is not used in TTC parlance]. The system will be shut down for three years and will be rebuilt, with a review of the structure to ensure that it can cope with lager trains. The Mark I cars are no longer made and it is hard to get parts. The TTC chose not go with a Mark II car.

He was then asked about the consultation of the public and businesses during the building of the Sheppard line.They are only starting construction now but have been actively engaging the business community. Traffic is congested in Don Mills but the City owns a wide right of way, and the LRT will be built in the median. He said that they will not repeat the mistakes made in the construction of the St Clair streetcar right of way.

Asked about Bus Rapid Transit he said that they were building the infrastructure in the expectation of a 20 year life. It could potentially morph into  a guideway for LRT at a later date but that is not presently contemplated.

The next three presentations looked at the Vancouver’s historical development around streetcars and future growth implications.

I am going to limit myself to Gordon Price’s talk – as that one has electronic notes.  The rest was added in the Part 2 post.

In 1887 -the CPR arrived in Vancouver on May 23. In that same year in Richmond, Virginia the trolley was invented. Actually a version was produced in 1882 but that did not get to commercial development. The electric trolley was one of the most rapidly accepted innovations. Quickly the standard flat fare fare dropped to a nickel – and stuck there (which lead to financial problems for the streetcar owners and a lack of cash for renewals and improvements). The streetcar was “the Internet of the 19th century” and there was a cycle of boom and bust speculation. Many North American cities were built around the streetcar: the wilderness was converted to real estate. Walt Disney has turned this into his illusion “Main Street USA”, the idyll of the ideal American place.

In 1890 the BCER opened its new station at Hastings and Carrall (the building is till there) and there is a movie on youtube of a Vancouver streetcar ride in 1907.

The streetcar meant that Vancouver had no inner city tenements for working people who needed to walk to work. The streetcar was a sprawl machine. Transport is about land use: the rapid development of the streetcar drove the price of land down as land subdivision exceeded the pace of development. We went  straight to suburbs and never had the compact urban development seen in older cities. There was no crowded, dangerous polluted city centre. In 1900 Main and Broadway in Mount Pleasant was where the streetcar lines cross – and became a new suburban centre. The streetcar strips deteriorated over time as development took a while but by 1929, 14 out of 15 residents within 400m of the streetcar tracks. There was no zoning back then, so when people got off the streetcar, you could sell them something. So stores sprang up in the front gardens of the houses along the streetcar route. These streetcar villages with everyone walking to the services they needed are still intact today. You can see along Commercial Drive the “DNA of development”. There has been some  evolution – the streetcars have been replaced by trolleybuses. They may not be fast but they’re frequent – you don’t need a schedule.

The shops on Denman Street have no parking that would be illegal now! In the west end 40,000 people now live in a 19th century grid

Kerrisdale (originally Kerry’s Dale) at the intersection of the interurban and the 41st Avenue streetcar, there is still the collection of retail activities arranged to meet the needs of the people getting off the cars and then walking home.

In this city we walk in the centre – elsewhere we put trillions into the car. The real success is the streetcar/trolley city and that will be the model for the post motordom city.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 30, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Posted in land use, transit, Transportation

Tagged with

Streetcars for Langley?

with 7 comments

Langley Times

Maybe I need a new category called “retrofitting the suburbs”. If Langley – and especially the dreadful 200 St – is going to become human something like this is essential.

Why is 200 St dreadful? Because it was turned over to the developers for Highway Oriented Development, which of course is the easiest option if all you want to do is make money. But it does not have a human scale, and is inimical to walking and cycling. It screams at you that only people in cars are worth considering – actually make that oversized pick up trucks.

Jordan Bateman is proposing a new mass transit option for Langley’s 200 Street corridor

Turn 200 Street into San Francisco, with streetcars running up and down the hill, taking travellers to shopping, sporting and business parks, says Township Councillor Jordan Bateman.

I don’t think he means the cable cars.

San Francisco - Cable Car

Photo by “Blende8” on flickr

Though I think these could find a useful home in North Vancouver and New Westminster


Here is his slideshow

and here is that image of a streetcar climbing a hill in Lisbon

Lisbon tram

Image from John Mariani

Written by Stephen Rees

May 5, 2008 at 12:21 pm

Posted in transit, Transportation

Tagged with , ,