A highly preliminary analysis of rail rapid transit options across Burrard Inlet, between the Vancouver peninsula and the North Shore, states a route that roughly follows the existing SeaBus route would likely be the best option for ridership.
This is the initial finding of a recent report by the Integrated North Shore Transportation Planning Project (INSTPP), a committee comprised of senior officials from all three North Shore municipal governments, TransLink, and the Port of Vancouver.
Over the years, there have been low-level discussions on which route a theoretical rail rapid transit line could take, which included suggestions of a rail rapid transit crossing near the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge at the Second Narrows. However, this route would be hampered by low ridership.
“Our analysis showed that ridership would be low on a rapid transit line connecting to the area south and east of the Second Narrows Bridge because of the dispersed development it would serve,” reads the report, which notes that North Shore municipalities have a stated preference for rail rapid transit. It would provide a crossing across Burrard Inlet and run east-west along the North Shore.
Instead, a route that establishes a direct connection with Lonsdale City Centre in North Vancouver and Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver is an early favourite based on the ridership potential. The report states that some of the new transit ridership from this option would come from a shift in automobile use, but most of the increase would be from new travel patterns.
It warns that rail rapid transit alone may not create a significant impact on the level of congestion currently experienced on the Lions Gate Bridge and Ironworkers Memorial Bridge.
“For example, a North Shore resident who shopped locally might shift their activity to downtown because of improved transit accessibility and vice versa. While rapid transit would offer more choice for people, it may have little impact on bridge congestion,” states the report.
“Additional benefits could, however, result from combining rapid transit with incentives to change travel patterns – leading to increased use of transit by existing commuters, particularly people travelling to the North Shore by car for work each day.”
Three planned B-Line routes serving the North Shore could be the precursors to rail rapid transit. The Marine-Main B-Line running between Dundarave and Phibbs Exchange is estimated to result in travel time savings of about 30 minutes, and this service is set to begin by the end of 2019.
Two additional B-Line routes are envisioned for Phase 3 of the Mayors’ Council’s vision, including a route from Lynn Valley Centre to downtown Vancouver via Lonsdale Avenue, Marine Drive, and the Lions Gate Bridge. There could also be a route from Capilano University to Metrotown Station via the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge and Willingdon Avenue.
“Success of the B-Line services and associated ridership growth will lay the foundation for higher levels of rapid transit (possibly rail rapid transit),” adds the report.
Furthermore, SeaBus frequencies will be increased to every 10 minutes during the peak hours starting next year. This will also increase the ferry system’s capacity by 1,500 passengers per hour.
The INSTPP also examined other possible transportation improvements, such as the “popular suggestions” of building new bridges across Burrard Inlet and adding more lanes to existing bridges.
On the idea of building a new wider bridge to replace one of the existing bridges, the report warns that it would “ultimately increase congestion” over the longer term as more people would use a car to travel to and from the North Shore.
A new bridge with additional capacity would also require an expansion of the road network that connects the bridges, which is particularly a challenge for downtown Vancouver end of the Lions Gate Bridge.
“Bridge replacement may be considered in the future, and the potential change in capacity will need to be evaluated along with additional transit and road network improvements, the best allocation of capacity to different modes and potential socio-economic impacts,” reads the report.
It should also be noted that the Lions Gate Bridge is increasingly a problem for the Port of Vancouver as newer cruise ships are generally taller, and cannot fit under the Lions Gate Bridge to reach the cruise ship terminal at Canada Place.
As for widening the bridge decks of either of the Lions Gate Bridge and the Second Narrows Bridge to accommodate additional lanes, this is not an option due to structural limitations, according to the provincial government.
Establishing bus lanes on the existing bridges to help speed up the buses would actually increase congestion levels. Instead, the INSTPP recommends improving transit priority and access at the bridgeheads, which are a leading cause of the delays.
“Long queues near the North Shore bridgeheads happen daily, and our analysis shows that travel across the Second Narrows Bridge during rush hours often takes three to four times as long as at other times of the day,” continues the report.
“A five-minute, seven-kilometre trip on the Upper Levels Highway from Lonsdale Interchange to just south of the bridge can take 15 or more minutes during rush hours. Incidents on the bridges and highway further increase delays. Employers have expressed their frustration and challenges with attracting and keeping employees who either must commute from other parts of the region on congested roads and bridges or make a long transit journey. ”
Additionally, the report notes that the CN Rail Bridge at the Second Narrows is not suitable for buses or bikes because the lift bridge is usually in the raised position to accommodate marine traffic. But it recommends that future planning to replace this rail bridge should include options for transit and multimodal transportation.
The report recommends a reassessment of the feasibility of new passenger-only ferry services. This is effectively an update of a 2004 study, which found that there were significant challenges to create a feasible ferry service. Issues identified at the time included high fuel costs, development of suitable docking facilities, and poor connections with existing transit services.
One of the routes examined in the study was a ferry service between Ambleside Pier in West Vancouver and Jericho Pier in the Vancouver Westside.
“Municipal partners expressed interest in exploring the idea of expanding the use of passenger ferries to provide more options for crossing Burrard Inlet, particularly in the event of incidents that preclude the use of the bridges,” the report continues.
“It was noted that other coastal cities successfully utilize waterways for transportation.”
While previous studies show a gondola between Production Way-University Station and Simon Fraser University would be feasible, the report notes that a gondola solution to the transportation challenges within the eastern areas of North Vancouver between Phibbs Exchange, Capilano University, and Maplewood would not create significant travel time savings compared to buses on existing roads. The costs of this option would also be high.