12-km-long streetcar network in downtown Vancouver and False Creek to cost $1 billion: city report

Sep 17 2021, 12:43 am

The City of Vancouver recently completed an in-depth analysis that informs the steps needed to preserve the capability of building a 12-km-long streetcar network serving the Metro Core — the area encompassing the downtown Vancouver peninsula and Central Broadway Corridor.

The idea for reintroducing the streetcar into the city’s urban fabric has been floated by the municipality since the 1990s, and another analysis was performed in 2005. In 2018, a city-commissioned study to update the concept was completed by a consortium composed of engineering consultant firms Mott Macdonald and Steer Group and architectural firm DIALOG.

This latest study, retrieved through a freedom of information request, shows the entire streetcar network would carry a total construction and implementation cost of just under $1.1 billion in 2018 dollars.

Two streetcar lines serving the Metro Core

Route One — spanning a length of 8.8 km — would run from SkyTrain’s future Arbutus Station to Chilco Street at the edge of Stanley Park, making a U-shaped journey along South False Creek before running through Chinatown, Gastown, and Coal Harbour. It would serve other key destinations such as Granville Island, SkyTrain Olympic Village Station, Science World, SkyTrain Main Street-Science World Station, and the Waterfront Station transit hub. It would also be in very close proximity to the new St. Paul’s Hospital campus in the False Creek Flats, and Canada Place and Vancouver Convention Centre.

Route Two, as conceptualized, is shorter and overlaps with Route One along Quebec Street between Prior Street and 1st Avenue. It would have a length of 3.6 km, running from SkyTrain’s future Great Northern Way-Emily Carr Station at Thornton Street to Drake Street east of Granville Street — serving North False Creek along Pacific Boulevard, with stops for BC Place Stadium and Rogers Arena, and SkyTrain Yaletown-Roundhouse Station.

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar network map, 2018 concept. Blue: Route One from Arbutus Station (Broadway/Arbutus) to Stanley Park (Chilco Street); Green: Route Two from Great Northern Way-Emily Carr Station to intersection of Granville Street and Drake Street. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

The network would run at street level, sometimes sharing road space with vehicle traffic. In certain areas, the streetcar utilizes its own right-of-way, such as the short span of the Arbutus Greenway north of West Broadway, the existing South False Creek railway right-of-way between Granville Island and Olympic Village Station, and the 1st Avenue median between the Cambie Street Bridge and Quebec Street, which was retained for the potential future streetcar.

West Hastings Street through Coal Harbour was designed to accommodate a streetcar, including the provision of a median where the road ends at Cardero Street. Along the north side of West Georgia Street between Cardero Street and Chilco Street, a wide green space between the sidewalk and roadway was built to preserve the space needed for a potential streetcar reaching Stanley Park.

A wide median along Pacific Boulevard east of Drake Street already exists for the purpose of a possible streetcar.

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Columbia Street configuration option for Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Cordova Street configuration (west of Water Street) option for Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Pacific Boulevard configuration option for Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

In some areas, roads would need to be permanently closed to vehicles to accommodate the streetcar, such as the short one-block stretch of Drake Street between Granville and Seymour streets. A western terminus stop for Route 1 at this location would also serve as a connection to the Granville Street Bridge’s future pedestrian and cycling pathway.

Through Gastown, the westbound track would be located along Water Street, while the eastbound track would be on West Cordova Street. West of Water Street, the streetcar runs along West Cordova Street and transitions to West Hastings Street at Jervis Street.

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Potential traffic segregation and phasing of the Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

Given the scope of work, such a streetcar network would be constructed in phases.

The “minimal initial phase” is envisioned to revive the Olympic Line route — the temporary streetcar in place as a free shuttle between Granville Island and Olympic Village Station during the 2010 Winter Olympics. The free shuttle used two Bombardier streetcars from Brussels, but the consultants state at least three vehicles would be needed for regular operations.

This 1.7-km-long span is easiest to implement as the South False Creek railway right-of-way is owned by the city, and the off-road configuration (except at cross roads) would result in relatively minimal public impacts and lower early costs.

Ahead of the Olympics, the municipal government made an $8.5 million upgrade to this railway right-of-way to demonstrate the possible broader streetcar network, with nearly all of the route only single tracked. And for 15 years, up until 2012, a heritage streetcar operated on this route over weekends and holidays during the peak tourist season.

However, the consultants deemed the more optimal initial phase to be from the Arbutus Greenway at Broadway to Science World, as it would be able to feed on the ridership of SkyTrain’s Arbutus Station, Olympic Village Station, and Main Street-Science World Station. The estimated cost for this full first phase, including eight vehicles, is about $500 million.

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. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

vancouver heritage streetcar quebec street science world

Remnants of a station for the defunct Vancouver heritage streetcar platform on Quebec Street, outside Science World. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

More ridership than the 99 B-Line

The end-to-end travel time for Route One’s entire 8.8-km length is 36 minutes with an average speed of 15 km/hr, while Route Two’s entire 3.6-km length is 15 minutes with an average speed of 14 km/hr.

These travel times are also based on a combined total of 26 stops, with each stop consisting of 35-metre-long platforms — slightly under the 40-metre length of most Canada Line platforms.

Both routes would operate with eight-minute frequencies during peak hours, and every 16 minutes during mid-day hours, with service hours lasting 19 to 20 hours each day. For the short shared overlapping span on Quebec Street, trains would run every four minutes.

At least 18 streetcar vehicles are necessary to reach these frequencies and meet the forecast passenger demand. An operations and maintenance facility for the network and its trains would likely require a large site in the False Creek Flats.

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Potential operations and maintenance facility site option north of Pacific Central Station in the False Creek Flats, for the Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

1st avenue vancouver streetcar median cambie

Median for future streetcar on 1st Avenue, looking east from near the Cambie Street Bridge. (Google Maps)

1st avenue streetcar median olympic village

Median for future streetcar on 1st Avenue, looking west in Olympic Village. (Google Maps)

west hastings streetcar median cardero

Median for future streetcar on West Hastings Street, looking east from near the Cardero Street. (Google Maps)

Upon opening, the streetcar could see high ridership levels of 65,500 boardings each weekday, with 55,000 boarding on Route One, and 10,500 on Route Two. The combined ridership would exceed the 99 B-Line, the region’s busiest bus route, which sees about 54,000 daily boardings.

The study notes the high streetcar boardings are the result of direct connections to regional transit services, as well as the proximity to major tourist destinations and routes through dense, urban areas.

But unlike the 99 B-Line and SkyTrain, the trips performed on streetcar are expected to be relatively short trips, with passengers using this mode to access other public transit services. A third (32%) of the trips are forecast to be very short, less than 800 metres.

The operating and maintenance cost of the entire network is estimated at approximately $12 million annually. It is assumed that the streetcar network, including its fares, would be fully integrated into the region’s public transit system, and operated and maintained by TransLink.

The public transit authority previously considered street-level light rail transit (LRT) — which generally has higher speeds and capacities than streetcar — for the future rail rapid transit extension project between Arbutus Station and the University of British Columbia. It contemplated LRT using the city’s Route One segment from Main Street-Science World Station to Arbutus Station, and then on-street along West Broadway to reach campus.

UBC SkyTrain

Rejected concept for a street-level LRT from Main Street-Science World Station to UBC, with a transfer connection to Arbutus Street subway station. (TransLink)

But it was determined that this UBC LRT option would reach its maximum capacity of 6,120 passengers per hour per direction by 2045, largely due to the limit on longer train lengths as a result of the short city-block lengths. LRT’s estimated construction cost of about $3 billion in 2018 would not be entirely dissimilar to SkyTrain, which has been since been selected by the City of Vancouver, TransLink’s Mayors’ Council, and TransLink staff as the technology for the UBC extension beyond Arbutus.

Under Transport 2050, TransLink is currently in the process of drafting a new 30-year regional transportation plan that identifies the next transit expansion priorities. Before the end of 2021, the public transit authority will release a draft detailed plan for further consultation. Previous consultation materials for Transport 2050’s early planning did not suggest the inclusion of the Vancouver streetcar into the region’s long-term priorities.

Streetcar’s transit-oriented development potential

The streetcar network — particularly Route One, from Olympic Village Station to Granville Island or further west to Arbutus Station — has been identified as a key long-term strategy by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to reduce Granville Island’s dependence on car access for visitation.

CMHC’s 2017-made master plan for revitalizing Granville Island states the streetcar network would be a “transformational improvement” to Granville Island’s accessibility, reducing the need for some surface parking lots, which could be converted to public spaces or developments that enhance the tourist and arts hub.

Just to the west, Squamish First Nation’s Senakw development plans for their 12-acre reserve at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge highlight the possibility of a streetcar to help meet the major transportation demand of the high-density, car-light housing complex. Towers on the small site are planned to contain a total of 6,000 homes, enough to house as many as 9,000 people, but only about 10% of the homes will be provided with a vehicle parking stall.

The city’s 2018 streetcar study did not consider Senakw as a factor for routing and ridership, as the development was revealed and approved by the First Nation in late 2019 — after the study’s completion.

The First Nation has set aside a small parcel of the easternmost end of its reserve for a streetcar stop, which can be linked to the network by a one-block northern extension of Route One. This streetcar stop would also have a dual purpose of serving both Senakw and Concord Pacific’s potential major redevelopment of the former Molson brewery.

senakw squamish first nation vancouver

Sites of the office tower (left) and potential streetcar station at Senakw. (Daily Hive; Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation)

senakw streetcar

Artistic rendering of the Senakw streetcar station at the easternmost end of the reserve at the intersection of West 1st Avenue and 1st Street. (Revery Architecture/Westbank/Squamish First Nation)

To the east of Senakw, there is significant high-density redevelopment potential for the 80 acres of city-owned waterfront land in the False Creek South neighbourhood between the Burrard Street Bridge and Cambie Street Bridge, where 60-year leases for the area’s existing residential buildings are set to expire between 2036 and 2046. The city’s current work on creating a new master plan for False Creek South could integrate new development and a reimagined public realm with the streetcar.

The municipal government also owns the large city-block-sized surface parking lot that surrounds Olympic Village Station, which could possibly see a major development in the future oriented around both the SkyTrain and streetcar stations.

For the operations and maintenance facility in the False Creek Flats, the study identifies the possibility of an overbuild development on top of the train yard, such as office and light industrial spaces.

1595 West 2nd Avenue Vancouver

In 2020, Vancouver City Council approved the potential form of development for the city-owned site at 1595 West 2nd Avenue that carefully takes into account the preservation of the future streetcar link reaching Senakw, which is just one block to the north. (City of Vancouver)

1595 West 2nd Avenue Vancouver

In 2020, Vancouver City Council approved the potential form of development for the city-owned site at 1595 West 2nd Avenue that carefully takes into account the preservation of the future streetcar link reaching Senakw, which is just one block to the north. (City of Vancouver)

Extension for the Arbutus streetcar

The 2018 Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar study did not fully take into account the city’s long-term plans for a streetcar line along the Arbutus Greenway running from Arbutus Station towards the Fraser River. However, it highlighted the Arbutus streetcar would be a seamless southward extension of Route One, reaching as far south as Marine Drive Station to provide a connection to the Canada Line.

Under the terms of the municipal government’s 2016 agreement with Canadian Pacific to acquire the Arbutus Corridor, the city is required to plan and design the former railway corridor for “light rail use and walking and cycling use.”

In 2018, the city approved a master plan for the future permanent design of the Arbutus Greenway’s pedestrian and cycling pathways and public spaces, which will be constructed in phases over the long term. The configuration of the design sets aside dedicated space for the streetcar line.

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

downtown vancouver false creek streetcar

Downtown Vancouver-False Creek streetcar potential route configuration, 2018 concept. (Mott Macdonald/City of Vancouver)

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. Concept created in 2017 for the Arbutus Greenway planning process. (City of Vancouver)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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