Top 20 transportation stories of 2019 in Metro Vancouver

Dec 31 2019, 1:15 pm

2019 was quite the year for transportation-related stories in Metro Vancouver, with both major public transit and road infrastructure stories dominating the headlines.

Amongst the biggest stories of the year were TransLink’s continued rollout of expanded and improved service, as well as decisions made by elected bodies on long-term regional transportation projects.

Here is a ranking of the region’s most important transportation stories, as told by Daily Hive Urbanized in 2019:

20. New counterflow installed on Alex Fraser Bridge

A zipper-like moveable barrier system became operational on the Alex Fraser Bridge in December, enabling an additional counterflow seventh lane of traffic — providing more traffic capacity for the peak hour direction.

19. Prior-Venables route for downsized False Creek Flats Arterial

After much debate, Vancouver city council chose the $125-million option of placing the False Creek Flats Arterial Road project on the Prior Street and Venables Street route.

The plan includes a road underpass beneath the railway, but city council also opted to engage in a pilot project that downgrades the route to a collector road — far short of the project’s original intention of being a true arterial road.

Prior Venables False Creek Flats Arterial Road

Artistic rendering of the Prior/Venables option for the False Creek Flats Arterial Road. (City of Vancouver)

18. Granville Bridge pathway design options released

Staff with the City of Vancouver released a shortlist of six design options for the new pedestrian and cycling pathway on the Granville Street Bridge. The final options include configurations that place the pathway on the side of the bridge, instead of the earlier sole idea of a centre-lane configuration. All options retain three traffic lanes in each direction.

Granville Bridge Connector

Granville Bridge Connector: Option 1 – West Side. (City of Vancouver)

17. Port Coquitlam to study SkyTrain extension

The City of Port Coquitlam announced its plans to perform a feasibility and technical study in 2020 on extending SkyTrain’s Millennium Line eastward from Coquitlam Central Station to downtown Port Coquitlam.

There are four tracks on the Millennium Line west of Coquitlam Central Station, with two tracks (left) leading towards the existing station platforms and two other tracks (right) enabled by track switches allowing for a future extension to Port Coquitlam. (Canada Road, 4K Virtual Tour / YouTube screenshot)

16. BC Ferries Horseshoe Bay terminal revamp proposal

In 2019, BC Ferries released its preliminary design concepts for the planned rebuild of Horseshoe Bay terminal, complete with new berths, road infrastructure upgrades, and a new world-class terminal hub building that includes amenities and allows for multi-modal connections.

BC Ferries Horseshoe Bay terminal

Phase 2 upgrade for BC Ferries’ Horseshoe Bay terminal. (BC Ferries)

15. Broadway Subway station locations and design concepts

The provincial government finalized the precise station entrance locations for all six stations of the $2.8-billion, 5.7-km-long extension of the Millennium Line from VCC-Clark Station to Arbutus Street.

The design of the integrated Broadway-City Hall Station — an impressive system of pathways between the existing Canada Line platforms and the new Millennium Line platforms — was also released.

SkyTrain Millennium Line Broadway Extension Subway Broadway-City Hall Station

October 2019 preliminary conceptual cross-section artistic rendering of Broadway-City Hall Station’s interchange between the Millennium Line and existing Canada Line. (Government of BC)

14. Opening of Surrey Central Station expansion

TransLink opened its $24-million upgrade of SkyTrain’s Surrey Central Station, consisting of a new entrance building on the north end of the station.

SkyTrain Surrey Central Station

New expansion of SkyTrain’s Surrey Central Station. (TransLink)

13. Opening of Joyce-Collingwood Station expansion

The second phase of upgrades for SkyTrain’s Joyce-Collingwood Station, entailing a $19-million rebuild of the west entrance, reached completion.

Joyce-Collingwood Station SkyTrain

Completed west stationhouse upgrades at SkyTrain’s Joyce-Collingwood Station. (TransLink)

12. Opening of Commercial-Broadway Station expansion

After years of construction, the significant capacity expansion of Commercial-Broadway Station reached completion.

The $81-million project constructed an additional platform for the Expo Line’s inbound direction, allowing for boarding and deboarding on both sides of the train. The upgrades also included an additional pedestrian bridge over East Broadway connecting the Expo Line and Millennium Line platforms, a widened pedestrian bridge over the Grandview Cut, and expanded concourse areas.

SkyTrain Commercial-Broadway Station

New expansion of SkyTrain’s Commercial-Broadway Station, taken January 29, 2019. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

11. Launch of double-decker buses

In October, the public transit authority began operating its first regular double-decker bus service. The first batch of 32 double-decker buses manufactured by UK-based Alexander Dennis will serve longer-haul suburban routes. By Fall 2020, a second batch of 25 double-decker buses will arrive, bringing the double-decker bus fleet size to 57 vehicles.

TransLink double-decker bus

TransLink’s first new double-decker bus. (TransLink)

10. Electric-battery buses are the future

The first of four electric-battery buses began regular service on Route 100 on Marine Drive between Marpole Loop in South Vancouver and 22nd Street Station in New Westminster.

In an effort to significantly reduce emissions, TransLink has long-term plans to replace all of its conventional combustible fuelled buses with electric-battery bus models.

TransLink electric-battery bus

TransLink electric-battery bus. (TransLink)

9. SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola takes its next steps

In 2019, both Burnaby city council and the Mayors’ Council provided new life to the proposed project to build the SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola transit line by approving further planning work for the project. But the exact routing of this aerial transit route has not been determined.

SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola

Routes depicted for Option 1 and Option 2 for the SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola. (City of Burnaby)

8. Capstan Station to open by 2022

In December, TransLink and the City of Richmond officially confirmed the construction of an additional station for the Canada Line near the northeast corner of the intersection of Capstan Way and No. 3 Road — between Bridgeport Station and Aberdeen Station.

The $31.5-million project, largely funded by the area’s dense residential developments, will reach completion in 2022.

Canada Line Capstan Station

Artistic rendering depicting the location of the Canada Line’s new Capstan Way Station near the intersection of Capstan Way and No. 3 Road. This rendering depicts the general form and location of the station, not the actual design. (GBL Architects)

7. One-hour train from Metro Vancouver to Seattle

In July, the most in-depth analysis yet on a high-speed rail line connecting Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland was released. The study, conducted by both state governments and the provincial government, with additional support from Microsoft, determined that such a transportation system would bring immense benefits — enacting the true economic potential of the Cascadia megaregion.

However, an emerging routing concept within Metro Vancouver is to place the line’s northern terminus in Surrey instead of bringing the line to end in downtown Vancouver.

high-speed rail

High-speed railway train. (Shutterstock)

6. Transport 2050

Throughout much of the year, the region was inundated with TransLink’s messaging of encouraging residents to participate in Transport 2050 — the planning process that will lead to the creation of a 30-year transportation strategy for Metro Vancouver.

Tens of thousands of people participated in the months-long engagement, with the survey results indicative there is strong support for continued public transit expansion. A wide range of ideas were submitted by the public, including SkyTrain extensions to seemingly every corner of the region and improved interregional links to the Fraser Valley.

TransLink will finalize the strategy by the end of 2020.

5. Immersed tunnel option chosen for George Massey replacement

Regional mayors of cities most affected by the existing George Massey Tunnel route chose an eight-lane immersed tunnel replacement as their preferred option for the new replacement crossing. However, subject to funding, the project could still be a decade away from completion.

George Massey Tunnel

Highly preliminary conceptual artistic rendering of an immersed-tube tunnel replacement for the George Massey Tunnel. (Government of BC)

4. TransLink named best public transit system in North America

The American Public Transportation Association named the TransLink system as the best public transit system in Canada and the United States. Factors that were considered include operational efficiency, maintenance, customer service, financial management, marketing, sustainability, and ridership growth.

Ridership over the last three years increased by 18% — far higher than all other public transit systems in Canada and the United States, and far exceeding local growth in population and employment.

3. SkyTrain extension to UBC sees initial approvals

Early in 2019, both Vancouver city council and the Mayors’ Council approved the preferred technology of a seamless western extension of the Millennium Line from the future Arbutus Station to the UBC campus. Early studies currently underway will help determine the possible routing, station locations, and tunnelled/elevated configurations. However, this extension west of Arbutus Street is likely still at least a decade away.

UBC SkyTrain

Map route of the proposed Millennium Line extension to UBC. (UBC)

2. SkyTrain extension approved to at least Fleetwood

Following the 2018 cancellation of the Surrey Newton-Guildford LRT, in 2019 the Mayors’ Council approved a seven-km-long, four-station extension of the Expo Line along Fraser Highway from King George Station to Fleetwood. This project is subject to senior governments permitting the reallocation of $1.6 billion in LRT funding; if this final approval is received in 2020, construction could begin in 2022 for a 2025 opening.

Another $1.5 billion is needed to take the SkyTrain extension from 166 Street in Fleetwood to Langley Centre, providing an additional nine kms of routing and four stations. TransLink says this portion of the project could also be completed by 2025 if funding is confirmed.

Fraser Highway SkyTrain King George Station Langley Centre

2019 map of the Fraser Highway SkyTrain extension from King George Station to Langley Centre. (TransLink)

1. Transit shutdowns avoided

“If this strike is long-term, I’ll either be failing my classes for being unable to attend or be fired from my job,” a reader told Daily Hive ahead of the complete shutdown of bus and SeaBus services, which was narrowly avoided.

For weeks in Fall 2019, with few alternatives, regular transit riders faced uncertainty with getting around the region without their transit services, whether it be the buses and SeaBus or the Expo Line and Millennium Line.

If there is one takeaway from the labour action, it is that Metro Vancouver is now deeply reliant on its public transit system — far more reliant than 2001 when the last transit strike occurred.

Notable mention: Ridehailing consternation

How should ridehailing be regulated by the province’s Passenger Transportation Board (PTB)? How should municipal governments regulate ridehailing in their jurisdictions? Should municipalities be even allowed to touch ridehailing with their own business licenses? Should ridehailing be even permitted at all?

These were all major ridehailing topics of discussion throughout 2019, but they were not unique to the year.

As of December 31, there is still no ridehailing in Metro Vancouver.

And even when the main ridehailing providers — Uber and Lyft — receive their PTB approvals, they will still need to seek local business licenses. In December, the Mayors’ Council agreed to expedite the process of creating a single regional business license for ridehailing in early 2020, instead of creating separate business license and fee requirements for each of their municipal jurisdictions.