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Opinion: This LRT vision for Broadway instead of subway is deeply flawed

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Kenneth Chan Oct 11, 2018 3:13 pm 52

There seems to be a major split in opinion within the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) party on the underground Broadway extension of the Millennium Line to Arbutus Street.

While NPA mayoral candidate Ken Sim supports the subway project to Arbutus Street, Colleen Hardwick, one of the party’s city councillor candidates, has gone as far as calling the project the “subway to nowhere” and wants it cancelled in favour of streetcars and surface rail.

Hardwick is a longtime resident of Kitsilano and has a degree in urban planning, but over the past three decades her work has mainly revolved around the film industry.

She believes that the subway will only generate high-rises around stations, whereas streetcar lines would create low-rise developments of between five to seven stories.

“With subways, you have stops that come up every kilometre or whatever the distance is between them. And you aggregate. You have nodal high rises that grow up around them,” she said, going as far as calling it “honey to property developers who build high rises.”

“The key thing is the liveability, the healthy street-level culture instead of having a wasteland in between nodal subway stops.”

Hardwick’s streetcar idea

Her plan would revive the NPA-dominated City Council’s plans in the late-1990s and mid-2000s to build a streetcar network in the downtown Vancouver peninsula, with lines branching on both the north and south sides of False Creek and connecting together on Quebec Street next to Science World.

In lieu of the Broadway Extension, the streetcar would run along the West 1st Avenue right-of-way through the Olympic Village and onto the railway corridor that parallels West 6th Avenue just west of Cambie Street – following the route of the now-decommissioned temporary Olympic Line demonstration streetcar that operated during the 2010 Games.

Vision for the Downtown Vancouver streetcar network, created in the late-1990s. (City of Vancouver)

The streetcar would continue to Granville Island, then follow the Arbutus Greenway to the intersection of Arbutus Street and Broadway. At this intersection, the line would split into two lines, with one line travelling on Broadway to UBC and a second line travelling along the Arbutus Greenway – eventually reaching East Vancouver’s Fraser Lands.

However, the City of Vancouver’s current longer-term plans for a streetcar network is designed to supplement the expanded arterial backbone SkyTrain network rather than replace it, as Hardwick would have it.

The Arbutus Corridor streetcar line will be a part of a future downtown Vancouver streetcar network that will have lines along South False Creek, North False Creek, and between Chinatown, Gastown, Coal Harbour – ending at Stanley Park. (City of Vancouver)

Not so fast… literally and figuratively

Hardwick claims $700 million of the $2.8-billion cost of building the six-km-long, six-station subway extension will come directly from the City of Vancouver.

However, according to the provincial government, which recently took over the responsibility of executing and planning the extension project from TransLink, this is not accurate at all.

As stated during September’s joint funding announcement, the provincial government says it will contribute the lions’ share of the funding, with $1.82 billion coming from the provincial government, $888.4 million from the federal government, and only $99.8 million from the City of Vancouver through the in-kind value of the municipal-owned land used for the project.

She claims that her stance is “not about NIMBYism” but rather “about responding to the people who live here and pay taxes here.”

Perhaps it is not about NIMBYism, but this hyper-neighbourhood focus certainly lacks a regional awareness and perspective, and ignores the realities of the existing transit system.

A streetcar line running close to False Creek – along the right-of-ways that parallel West 1st Avenue and West 6th Avenue – would miss nearly all of the major regional employment centres along the Central Broadway Corridor, including the regional health district anchored by Vancouver General Hospital.

The 99 B-Line at the Broadway-City Hall Station bus stop. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

The current 99 B-Line running on Broadway enjoys its high ridership levels largely because it is relatively fast, directly and conveniently services the employment centres on the corridor, and has a route that serves the region’s busiest transit hub – Commercial-Broadway Station.

With a streetcar line travelling on a different route, several blocks north at the bottom of the hill near False Creek, ridership would certainly be far lower. It would also eliminate the convenient ability to transfer to north-south bus services that run on Oak Street and Granville Street.

In lieu of the subway, the east-west streetcar route would essentially start at Main Street-Science World Station, requiring riders from the Millennium Line to make one additional transfer to the Expo Line.

An extra transfer may not be acceptable to some riders, given the inconvenience and added travel time, but for those that choose to continue the journey on this route would board the streetcar to Arbutus Street and UBC from a streetcar stop outside Main Street-Science World Station.

A surge in ridership will only add unnecessary pressure to the busiest, most congested span of the Expo Line – the span between Main Street-Science World Station and Commercial-Broadway Station.

Olympic Line Streetcar Vancouver

An abandoned streetcar stop, located next to the Canada Line’s Olympic Village Station, built for the temporary Olympic Line demonstration streetcar system during the 2010 Winter Olympics. This is the same route Colleen Hardwick’s streetcar would take. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

In contrast, synergies and network effects are gained from the planned seamless extension of the existing Millennium Line west of VCC-Clark Station. It reduces a transfer for Millennium Line passengers, enabling a one-seat ride from Coquitlam to Arbutus Street in about 45 minutes and, perhaps, eventually UBC in just under one hour.

This extension would also provide a fast connection to the Canada Line at Broadway-City Hall, making it far easier and more feasible for residents in the Vancouver Eastside, Burnaby, and other eastern suburban municipalities to use the Canada Line for trips downtown, along the Cambie Corridor, the airport, and Richmond.

In Hardwick’s vision, streetcar passengers could transfer to the Canada Line at Olympic Village Station, but the journey to reach the Canada Line would be far less convenient and expedient.

Most people highly value their time, especially for residents of the region who live further away from their place of work or school, so the importance of speed should never be underestimated for ridership; the ultimate goal is to use positive enforcement to get more people out of their cars to advance the region’s climate change action goals.

And to some extent, the Broadway Extension establishes a level of required redundancy in the region’s transit backbone system that ensures the transit system remains functional in the event of service disruptions. This redundancy also allows for ridership growth, both planned and unplanned.

Options previously considered by TransLink

Earlier in the decade, TransLink evaluated options for rail rapid transit on the Broadway Corridor, including the option of an improved version of Hardwick’s streetcar idea – a two-lined streetcar system with one branch from Commercial-Broadway Station to UBC and a second branch from Main Street-Science World via the railway right-of-way to merge with the main streetcar line at Arbutus and Broadway.

Broadway LRT Vancouver

One of TransLink’s earlier LRT options along the Broadway Corridor, which includes Colleen Hardwick’s streetcar vision from Main Street-Science World Station to Arbutus Street. (TransLink)

According to an independent study commissioned by the public transit authority, this two-lined option would attract 166,000 boardings per day – approximately half of the 322,000 boardings from the direct Millennium Line extension from VCC-Clark Station to UBC.

This past August, Sany Zein, the Vice-President of Infrastructure Management and Engineering for TransLink, expanded on this study’s findings during a town hall on the Broadway Extension.

“LRT on its own right-of-way would not get us to where we need to be in the context of a 100-year system,” said Zein, who noted that 200 options and routes for the extension were previously evaluated. “The trains would be so long they’d be occupying an entire city block to satisfy capacity.”

Jerry Dobrovolny, the Chief Engineer and General Manager of Engineering Services for the City of Vancouver, added that the municipal government is deeply against street-level LRT for the project.

“There is no urban LRT system in the world carrying the volume of people we need to carry on this corridor. There are systems in the world that carry many more than 5,000 pphpd. But that’s a train that is essentially a city block, we don’t want to go longer than that,” said Dobrovolny.

“In models, we’ve left a very thin margin – every second green light will go through and that train will be the length of the city block. And even then it would be incredibly disruptive for the surface with a train going every second light.”

When it opens in 2025, the Broadway Extension between VCC-Clark Station and Arbutus Street is anticipated to attract 140,000 boardings per day – the same ridership number that is currently being experienced on the entire Canada Line system on a daily basis.

 

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Kenneth Chan
National Features Editor at Daily Hive, the evolution of Vancity Buzz. He covers local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation and infrastructure, and the travel industry. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]dailyhive.com

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