This is what we know so far about the design of Vancouver’s next big rail rapid transit project.
With funding now confirmed for the so-called ‘Broadway Subway’ as part of the Mayors’ Council’s 10-year $7-billion transit expansion plan, planning on the big transit project in Vancouver is now accelerating.
The six-km-long project is not a standalone line but a seamless extension of SkyTrain’s existing Millennium Line from VCC-Clark Station, the line’s existing western terminus in Vancouver’s False Creek Flats, to Arbutus Street in the Vancouver Westside.
TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond previously told Daily Hive the Broadway Extension, the project’s formal name, will allow passengers to take a one-train ride from Arbutus Street to the Millennium Line’s eastern terminus in at Lafarge Lake-Douglas Station in Coquitlam in just 47 minutes.
The travel time between the new section of track between VCC-Clark Station and Arbutus Street will be just 11 minutes – at least half of the time of the 99 B-Line in the same span from Commercial-Broadway Station.
Based on available documents, all six stations are below grade and almost the entire extension will be underground, except for the first 700 metres of the new track west of VCC-Clark Station in the False Creek Flats, which will be an elevated guideway.
As the new guideway nears Thornton Street, it will transition to ground level and dive underground, with the first station located near the intersection of Thornton Street and Great Northern Way.
From this intersection, the extension will use tunnel boring technology for all the tunnelling work; boring will occur deep under Mount Pleasant before the tunnel makes a turn west as it approaches the intersection of West Broadway and Main Street.
Tunnel boring is a requirement of the City of Vancouver after the disruption caused by the Canada Line’s cut-and-cover trench construction on Cambie Street.
At this time, it is unclear whether the extension will use two separate tunnels for each train direction (like the Canada Line under downtown and False Creek) or one large tunnel for both train directions (like the Evergreen Extension north of Burquitlam Station).
The other stations are all along Broadway – located at Main Street, Cambie Street (direct connection to the Canada Line), Oak Street, Granville Street, and Arbutus Street. These station locations along Broadway, of course, parallel the existing bus stops of the 99 B-Line.
While the entire tunnel will be bored, some cut-and-cover work will still be required to build the stations.
And in some cases, parts of the station spaces – such as entrances and concourse areas – are already built into recent redevelopments as per agreement with the City of Vancouver during the rezoning application process to provide provisional future subway station space.
The remaining leg of the subway to UBC beyond Arbutus Street will be built as a future phase after the current 10-year plan. Until then, the 99 B-Line will operate a truncated route between a new bus exchange at Arbutus Street to UBC.
The last publicly known cost estimate of $2 billion was made in 2015, but it is widely believed costs have gone up due to rising real estate, labour, and materials prices.
This will not be an under-built system like the Canada Line as it is a direct extension of the Millennium Line – just like the Evergreen Extension.
Desmond confirmed that the platforms will follow the same platform design standards of the Expo and Millennium lines with a minimum platform length of 80 metres to fit trains as long as a five-car Mark III train.
“Our stations will be plenty long… platform length will be fine there,” he said. “The lesson learnt with the Canada Line is you have to think of these infrastructure assets as 50 to 100 year assets. If you choose to make decisions to spend less now, at least go into it with your eyes open.”
“You ought to be thinking about how to make the right investments for our success and for our children so that down the road for the Canada Line, for example, you’re not faced with years from now the not necessarily appealing consequence of having to extend the stations. It will cost a lot more to extend the stations years from now than just to build them longer in the first place.”
After the region’s experience with the Canada Line, capacity and accessibility is certainly on the forefront of priorities for both planners and politicians.
If the designs of the stations on the Evergreen Extension are any indication of the standard we could see on the Broadway Extension, it could include both up and down escalators to each level of every station.
Both up and down escalators are highlighted as one of the design features the public wants to see based on last year’s early public consultation phase on the extension’s design. These escalators are seen as necessary for both capacity and accessibility reasons, especially to accommodate the region’s growing elderly population.
The availability of public washrooms were also some of the most frequently-mentioned amenities during the consultation, and this is something TransLink is already considering for general planning purposes for the existing transit system.
And in late-2017, the City of Vancouver’s Seniors’ Advisory Committee wrote a letter advising public washrooms be included in the design of the Broadway Extension’s stations.
Other recommendations from public respondents include:
Here is a preview of what each of the six stations could look like (Note: these station names are for this article’s descriptive purposes only):
A large pit will be dug just north of the intersection of Great Northern Way and Thornton Street for both the main staging area of the tunnel construction process and the station that serves the area. This is where the tunnel boring machine will begin to burrow itself deep under the city.
This will likely be the last station to reach completion, as the tunnel boring pit also doubles as the space for the underground station. Construction on the station can only begin when the tunnel boring process is fully complete and the tunnel boring equipment is fully removed, similar to the construction process of the Canada Line’s Olympic Village Station as it was the tunnel boring pit for that project.
Based on existing various planning documents, the station entrance could be on the northeast corner of the intersection – right next to the new campus of Emily Carr University of Art & Design.
The tunnel portal – where the elevated guideway transitions to below-grade – is potentially slated for the site where the Equinox and Monte Clark galleries are located at 525 Great Northern Way.
This station will serve much of the employment growth outlined in the City’s approved False Creek Flats Plan, which calls for the creation of a creative and tech industry hub on the southwestern corner of the Flats. There will be an additional 22,000 jobs and 3,000 residents in the area over the next 20 years.
For the parcels immediately adjacent to the station site, significant office buildings are planned by PCI Development as part of the final phase of its six-building project totalling two million sq. ft. of office space.
“We have to wait on the last buildings because it will be difficult to build our buildings and the station at the same time,” Tim Grant with PCI Developments told Daily Hive. “We’re waiting until transit is well on its way.”
According to the City of Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant Community Plan, the undeveloped ground-level parking lot site on the southeast corner of Main Street and East Broadway is slated to become the site of the future station entrance.
The plan states this station location “at East Broadway and Main Street reinforces the heart of Mount Pleasant becoming a major destination point.” Additionally, the station will provide good connections to Watson Street to “reinforce the importance of laneways throughout Main Street and the Broadway Corridor.”
The final station entrance has not been confirmed by the Broadway Extension’s project planners, but this location is highly likely.
The convergence of the Canada Line and the Millennium Line at the intersection of Broadway and Cambie Street will have phenomenal impact on the area. This is the most important station on the entire extension.
Broadway-City Hall Station will become a major interchange on the SkyTrain system that could rival Commercial-Broadway Station and Lougheed Town Centre Station.
This means there will be a direct underground passageway from the Canada Line station that links to the Broadway Extension’s new perpendicular platforms burrowed deep underneath Broadway and the Canada Line tunnels.
A former project planner with RAVCO told Daily Hive that the wall at the end of the Canada Line’s concourse level, past the Jugo Juice store between the elevator and escalator to the Canada Line’s outbound platform, where advertising is plastered, is a “knockout panel” about 10 ft wide that provides the future ability to provide an underground connection to the Millennium Line extension.
A new entrance into the station could also be built into PCI Development’s Crossroads building as there is built-in space for the allowance of a future subway station as part of the developer’s agreement with the City prior to the redevelopment’s approval.
A portion of the space is underground and currently used by Whole Foods Market as extra storage space until the room is sealed off from the store for the station area.
“We called it the ‘Subway Room’ because it was so enormous,” a former employee with Whole Foods Market Cambie told Daily Hive under the condition of anonymity. “I think it was about two storeys high and square shaped. We used it for storage space.”
Daily Hive reached out to Whole Foods Market for access into this room in 2016 and again in early-2017, but they were unable to provide us with entry.
The ‘Subway Room’ is a dedicated space for the concourse area of the station, and the new station entrance would be located in the former retail space of lululemon, which is now leased by the City of Vancouver as a temporary public consultation and information centre space for major projects in the city including the Broadway Extension.
In effect, Broadway-City Hall could have two station entrances located diagonally at the intersection.
A station at the intersection of Broadway and Oak Street will directly serve Central Broadway’s health care and medical research campus anchored by Vancouver General Hospital.
BlueSky Properties allocated space at the corner of their new office building at 988 West Broadway – the southeast corner of the intersection of Oak Street and West Broadway – for the entrance to the subway station.
But the use of that space for the Broadway Extension was not a certainty.
In an interview with Daily Hive in early-2016 during the building’s groundbreaking, BlueSky Properties CEO Dale Bosa said the municipal government had informed his project team that the station location had moved and the entrance will not be located in the building.
He added that although a large subway entrance is no longer needed, the building will still provide space for an emergency access to the underground station.
It remains to be seen whether the site of the one-storey building across the street – at the southwest corner of the intersection – will be turned into the primary station entrance. This former Scotiabank space was acquired by the municipal government in 2014 for $5 million.
No provisional space has been prepared for a subway station at the intersection of Broadway and Granville Station.
This leaves the station entrance at the location with two options.
It could either be an on-street entrance similar to the Canada Line’s Waterfront Station secondary entrance on West Hastings Street or an in-building entrance, although that would come with a very hefty real estate acquisition cost.
Pinnacle Living’s retail and residential building at 2080 West Broadway has set aside space for an underground station at the westernmost end of the development – a plaza space wedged by the BC Liquor Store and the Arbutus Greenway.
Not only does it reserve street-level space for the subway station entrance, the development also provides provisional underground space.
This new western terminus station to the Millennium Line will serve as an important interchange to the truncated 99 B-Line, which will provide rapid bus service for the remaining journey to UBC. A significant bus exchange will be built at this station to serve the anticipated passenger volumes for the 99 B-Line.
Broadway-Arbutus Station will also be the interchange station to the future streetcar line along the Arbutus Greenway.
A future underground phase of the Millennium Line will extend the system west of Arbutus Street to the UBC campus.
According to TransLink, the phased approach makes sense not only due to budget constraints but also passenger volume patterns. The public transit authority says 47% of 99 B-Line passengers currently end their journey somewhere along Central Broadway between Main Street and Arbutus Street.
West of Arbutus Street, 6% disembark at Alma Street, 1% at Sasamat Street, and 44% at UBC.
Of course, the station locations are not set, but preliminary studies by TransLink highlighted potential stations at Macdonald Street, Alma Street, Sasamat Street, and UBC.
The locations of the stations and the number of stations could also be determined by the future major redevelopments at the Jericho Lands and the University Endowment Lands.
As for the current phase to Arbutus Street, an RFP for the project will likely be issued to potential private contractors later this year, and a contractor to design and build the project could be selected by early-2019.
Construction could begin in 2019 for a completion and opening in 2025.