The complete Broadway Corridor stretching from Commercial Drive to the University of British Columbia (UBC) is far too economically vital to Metro Vancouver to not be connected by the regional SkyTrain network.
A new study by KPMG, commissioned by UBC and the City of Vancouver, reaffirms much of what has long been said about the importance of the corridor to the region’s economy and the need for drastically improved connectivity in order to resolve current transportation issues and realize the corridor’s full economic potential for the benefit of the entire region.
It based its findings around five key pillars that will determine the area’s economic vitality and success: employment, economy, housing, community, and connectivity.
According to the findings, about 10% of Metro Vancouver’s economic activity is generated within the corridor, accounting for $9.2 billion in GDP, $15.5 billion in direct economic output, and $6.8 billion in household income annually.
There are currently 105,000 jobs within the corridor — equal to about 9% of the region’s entire employment. This means the corridor is the second largest employment centre in the entire region, just after the downtown Vancouver peninsula.
Of this figure, 17% of the jobs are in educational services and public administration (UBC, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver Community College), 13% are in healthcare and social assistance (centred around the medical and health sciences precincts of the UBC campus and Vancouver General Hospital near Oak Street), and 12% are in information, tech, and cultural industries.
When all of the corridor’s economic impact is accounted for, the corridor is deemed to be directly and indirectly responsible for $14 billion in GDP and 155,000 jobs in the entire province.
The corridor currently has over 40 million sq. ft. of employment space, including 15 million sq. ft. of institutional space within the UBC campus alone and seven million sq. ft. of office space within the Vancouver portion of the area.
With an office space vacancy rate of less than 2%, office spaces are in exceedingly high demand.
Moreover, the study notes there are 10,000 businesses within the corridor, including 8% of the retail businesses in the entire region, and much of their activity is supported directly and indirectly by UBC.
“Metro Vancouver’s post-secondary institutions play a key role in the innovation, research, and development ecosystem along the Broadway Corridor, leading to significant employment opportunities,” reads the study.
“The corridor is home to a number of business clusters. It has existing transportation access and congestion problems, and its continued economic growth is vital not only locally for businesses and people in the area but also the wider Metro Vancouver region.”
The study recommends an increase in mixed-use zoning and densification and, in particular, the creation of new job space to meet the requirements of the corridor’s key employment sectors. As well, new connectivity from the SkyTrain extension, accompanied with new commercial services and cultural amenities, will provide the corridor with a strong competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent.
On the matter of housing, the corridor accounts for 5% of the region’s entire population and 7% of all homes in the region, with over 68,000 homes and 12,000 UBC student beds.
Over one-fifth of the region’s rental housing supply is found in the corridor, and about 23,000 purpose-built rental homes in the area represent more than one-third of all corridor housing units. The vacancy rate for these units is extremely low, within the rage of 0.3% to 0.8% as of October 2018 — lower than the regional average of 1%.
The majority of these housing units are suitable for larger families, with two bedrooms or more. In fact, this definition of family housing accounts for over half of the homes within the corridor and more than 70% of the bedrooms.
At the westernmost end of the corridor, UBC’s population fluctuates to a daily peak of 80,000 faculty, students, staff, and residents, with about 24,000 of these people living on campus.
The university currently has about 12,000 student beds — up from about 8,000 beds in 2010 — and plans to grow to 15,000 beds by 2025.
There are also nearly 700 below-market, on-campus rental units reserved for full-time faculty and staff, plus over 500 market rental units for the general public.
Furthermore, the university has set a target of building 30% of all new residential developments on campus as rental housing, with two-thirds of future units targeted as below-market rental housing for faculty and staff.
But the university has been unable to keep up with the high demand for on-campus housing: the current student waitlist sits at 6,400 people and the faculty-staff rental waitlist is at more than 2,000 people.
“This UBC community housing takes pressure off the regional housing market and builds community on campus,” reads the study. “Still, the university cannot meet all the demand for campus housing.”
With all that said, the study’s general recommendations for resolving both the corridor and wider region’s housing challenges is to “pursue land use and housing policies and support zoning that encourage a variety of rental housing supply.”
The City of Vancouver is already engaged in a planning process for the corridor between Commercial Drive and Vine Street, and a separate process is expected to follow for the city’s remaining corridor area between Vine Street and Blanca Street. New affordable housing options, especially rental, and employment spaces will be key to the new area plans.
If there is an area with a proven ridership demand for a new SkyTrain connection, it is the Broadway Corridor.
The study highlights there are 160,000 riders on the various bus routes running along Broadway, with much of this ridership seen on the 99 B-Line — by far the busiest bus route in the entire region.
UBC is most certainly a regional destination; 70% of daily trips to and from the university are made on the Broadway Corridor, with 24% of the trips made on-campus, 8% made within Vancouver proper, and 38% made from the rest of the region outside of the city. The modal share for these trips is 23% by public transit, 33% by single-occupancy vehicle, 11% by car pooling, and 3% by walking and cycling.
“Transportation and traffic along the Corridor have become increasingly congested. The Corridor has grown and matured over the past decade, attracting a variety of businesses and institutions, leading to increased volumes of all modes of transportation,” continues the study.
“While this bodes well for businesses operating in the Corridor, the effects of congestion delays, lack of reliability and transit overcrowding are significantly impacting the area. Broadway Corridor capacity for vehicles and buses is an issue. Long queues and frequent transit rider pass-ups impact travel times negatively and discourage sustainable transportation choices. As congestion grows, the Corridor becomes a less reliable link for all users.”
Construction on the 5.7-km-long, six-station extension of SkyTrain’s Millennium Line to Arbutus Street — serving the central portion of the corridor, and roughly half of the journey to UBC from the existing VCC-Clark Station terminus — is set to begin next year for an opening in 2025.
The remaining leg to the campus, roughly seven kms in length, is unfunded, although it has received preliminary approval from both TransLink’s Mayors’ Council and Vancouver City Council after both bodies green lighted the planning of the project as an extension of SkyTrain earlier this year.
Travel times with SkyTrain between VCC-Clark Station and Arbutus Street will be approximately 10 minutes. From Arbutus Street to UBC, it will only take another 10 minutes. Station locations will roughly replicate the existing stops for the 99 B-Line.
“The Broadway Subway Project will dramatically increase capacity, speed and reliability of transit service on the most congested section of the Broadway Corridor and address one of the missing high-capacity links in Metro Vancouver’s transit network,” notes the study.
“However, this still leaves the Broadway Corridor west of Arbutus Street to UBC as a key missing link. While remote collaboration facilitates connections between UBC and the rest of the corridor and region, physical connections by way of shared-facilities and transportation are also required to strengthen ties that further the economic goals and output potential of the corridor.”
TransLink estimates 2045 ridership levels for the Millennium Line extension between VCC-Clark Station and UBC will reach 311,500 boardings per day — more than twice the current ridership of the Canada Line.
Until SkyTrain reaches UBC, the future Millennium Line terminus station at Arbutus Street is anticipated to become one of the busiest transit hubs in the region, if not the busiest, with transit riders transferring between SkyTrain and a truncated 99 B-Line service.