Vancouver city staff believe a subway SkyTrain line to UBC is the best way to meet the growing demand along the Broadway corridor, outweighing the option of a light-rail system that they say would not accommodate the transit needs along the busy route.
Vancouver transportation director Jerry Dobrovolny told city council today (November 27) that staff have “major concerns” about the anticipated impacts of a surface rapid-transit system west of Arbutus Street, and see a subway line as the best mode to meet the projected growth in trips along what they say is the busiest bus route in North America.
“We’ve tried very hard and we’ve looked at it for years, to see if there was a surface solution west of Arbutus, and our conclusion today is no there is not a surface solution west of Arbutus that moves the number of people that need to move in that corridor, without tremendous impacts on the corridor,” Dobrovolny told reporters following his presentation to council.
Those anticipated impacts include turn restrictions on over 90 percent of the intersections along the corridor, removal of over 90 percent of the parking spaces, narrowed sidewalks, the removal or replacement of street trees, and “an entire reconstruction of the street corridor”, according to Dobrovolny.
Long-term city policy has identified rapid transit along the Broadway corridor as a priority, he noted. Council has also identified a tunnel SkyTrain along Broadway to Arbutus Street as the preferred rapid transit option.
“This project has been identified as a priority for decades,” he said. “The time for a decision we feel is now. And it’s important to understand that a major project like this could take five years or longer to be realized, in terms of design and construction.”
Broadway currently sees over 100,000 people moving down the corridor daily, and approximately 2,000 passengers are passed by full buses during the peak morning hours at Commercial and Broadway, noted Dobrovolny.
“What that tells us is that transit capacity is not there to meet the job and population demand that currently exists in that corridor,” he told council, noting the number of passengers travelling along the route is anticipated to balloon faster than projected.
Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs said today’s presentation clarified why staff believe a subway is the preferred option over a light-rail transit system.
“I think there’s been a lot of interest in the LRT from people who are very committed to transit, and if the city’s going to keep going ahead on the bored tunnel option, citizens need to know why staff take a strong position, so we got a lot more clarity on that,” Meggs said in a phone interview with the Straight.
“I think it’s also important from a regional perspective to underline why we’re proposing a technology which superficially looks more expensive, but we believe would deliver more in the long run, by a country mile,” he added.
The “high-level” estimated cost of an underground SkyTrain from VCC Clark to UBC is $2.8 billion, according to Dobrovolny. The price tag for an initial stage of subway construction to Arbutus Street is estimated at $1.5 billion.
City manager Penny Ballem noted the operating costs of a machine-operated SkyTrain are lower than a driver-operated LRT.
“SkyTrain is one of the only technologies in the world that actually costs less to deliver than the revenues it receives once it’s built,” she told council.
University of British Columbia officials indicated they remain concerned about guaranteed funding for the rapid transit line all the way to the west-side campus.
“We’re still concerned that once the funding discussion has been held, that if there is not enough money to make the solutions as proposed happen all the way to UBC, that we might get stranded with buses running between Arbutus and our campus, which is the one solution we really don’t want,” Pascal Spothelfer, the vice-president of community partnerships at UBC, told the Straight in a phone interview.
Derek Zabel, a spokesperson for TransLink, said the authority is currently conducting a study that will identify and evaluate various possible solutions for the transit corridor, which will be followed by a “regional dialogue” with municipalities. He expects results of the study to be released early in the new year.
According to city staff, over half the trips made along the Broadway corridor to Central Broadway or UBC originate from outside Vancouver.
Meggs said from Vancouver’s point of view, the next votes on the rapid transit issue should take place at the regional level.
“All transportation investment is regional, so you’ve got to make the argument to all 22 municipalities that they have a stake in the outcome..because rapid transit is expensive,” he said. “But in this case, at least half the riders are from all over the region, so this is something citizens in every municipality would benefit from.”