Light rail and B-Line combo better than Broadway SkyTrain?

As Vancouver hurtles toward a civic election in November, Mayor Gregor Robertson is on record as supporting a proposed $3-billion subway line in the Broadway corridor.

“He’s wrong on probably four or five fronts,” Adam Fitch, a planning technician for the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, told the Straight by phone from Kamloops.

Fitch, a former Vancouver resident, has a cheaper, off-Broadway solution to the overcrowding on the 99 B-Line buses. First of all, he suggests extending the Millennium SkyTrain line to the Great Northern Way Campus. From there, a new light-rail line would carry passengers to the University of British Columbia, using existing rail corridors and road medians for 80 percent of the way and tunnels for the rest.

On Saturday and Sunday (May 3 and 4), Fitch will give free bike tours of the proposed route as part of Jane’s Walk, an annual event inspired by the legacy of urbanist Jane Jacobs. He envisions the light-rail line meeting up with the Canada Line at Olympic Village Station, using the Olympic streetcar route and Canadian Pacific Railway corridor, and taking West 16th Avenue to the Point Grey campus.

Adam Fitch's proposal would see the 99 B-Line retained and light rail built off-Broadway.
Adam Fitch

According to Fitch, compared to a tunnelled SkyTrain line, light rail would involve one-quarter the cost and half the construction time, while also not taking away any traffic lanes. With double-decker trains and gated crossings, he believes this solution could offer the same capacity and speed as SkyTrain.

“I think the reason that the B-Line is so congested is because of people going out to UBC,” Fitch said. “They just want to get to UBC as fast and efficiently and pleasantly as possible. They don’t care whether they’re on Broadway or on 16th. And, if you did what I’m talking about, then you could keep the B-Line on Broadway—maybe even improve it.”

Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs told the Straight the B-Line is at capacity, as predicted by a 1999 study of the Broadway corridor.

“This proposal doesn’t offer any benefit to the second-largest business district in the province,” Meggs said by phone from City Hall.

Comments (52) Add New Comment
“This proposal doesn’t offer any benefit to the second-largest business district in the province,” other than maintaining surface transit (the B-Line) and the pedestrian traffic it generates along the Broadway corridor in a way that underground transit wouldn't.

Basing transit decisions on anything other than capacity and demand is kind of dumb to begin with. That's how you end up paying more than necessary for service that doesn't address actual needs. Meggs should be concerned only with the benefit to transit users (and, by extension, other road users) rather than worrying about business districts. If transit works, they'll benefit anyhow.
Rating: -3
An Adam Fitch contributed some posts to Bulablog earlier this year regarding the Tea Swamp - the bog that makes 16th avenue so interestingly wobbly - and if it is the same person, he would know that this fascinating street is in parts highly disjointed, requiring numerous deep pilings to keep new houses from bending over.

I'm into saving zillions of dollars on construction of course....
Rating: -5
You're not going to start using defunct rail-lines on the west side of Vancouver. That's kook-talk, no matter how it plays out in terms of anything else.

The subway will be built, and the sooner the better, because diesel is a carcinogen as well as just fucking ugly.
Rating: -30
This is the most realistic solution to our transit woes, and should be placed as a priority well ahead of another Skytrain megaproject.
Rating: -1
collarbone o'hare
Creme-de-la-creme push-back to using existing rail lines in the West side notwithstanding, the good old CPR won't give them up for nothing. They may offer to sell cheap, then extort development rights along the line.
We should expropriate these lines or get Basi and Virk to broker a deal.
Nelson Skalbania, on his bike, will placate all those West siders.
Rating: +23
Mr. Finch sure speaks like he's from the Thompson-Nicola district with it's population of barely 100,000. Less than the current number of daily passengers on the 99-Bline. I've used the MAX in Portland. It's too slow, requires a driver and displaces traffic. Running a light rail line along 16th is just plain absurd. While not the least expensive, a tunnelled Skytrain under Broadway is the best solution bar-none. Sometimes you just have to pay extra to get what you need done right. My ongoing solution to funding would be to toll ALL the bridges (except Burrard, Granville & Cambie) at a reasonable rate of say, $1 for the first crossing then $0.50 for each subsequent crossing within a 24 hour period. I think that it more than equitable to commuters instead of the extortional gouging currently imposed on those using the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges. With this measure, the Government would bring in close to a million dollars per weekday and close to a billion buck-a-roos within 10 years. There's your Skytrain to UBC and then some... now start diggin' that friggin' hole already. You can thank me later.
Rating: +5
Outsource all planning to Kamloops
Save on fancy computer graphics by getting some guy to sketch something with green marker on a dark air photo.

Save on time by forcing Expo Line passengers to make the pedway transfer to the Millenium Line at Commercial to transfer again in the Flats to head north to W 1st to head south to W 16th and make a whole bunch of stops out in the middle of nowhere.

Save on construction impacts to the province's second largest employment centre by doing nothing to serve it.

Save effort by running the same Jane's Walk you did last year and proclaiming “He’s wrong on probably four or five fronts” but not listing a single one.

Save being fact-checked by sending it in to a paper who can't even be bothered to look for the TransLink report that studied alternatives better than this that still took 10 minutes longer than the subway, attracted virtually no new riders, and still cost multiple billions.
Rating: +15
Evil Eye part 1
If one talks to 'real' transit experts and not the career bureaucrats working a both the City of Vancouver and TransLink, one would very soon discover that there isn't the ridership to justify a subway at all. Present peak hour traffic flows along Broadway are well under 4,000 persons per hour per direction which is barely the ridership to justify building with much cheaper LRT. Peak hour congestion and pass-ups on the 99 B-Line has more to do with bad management, with TransLink failing to provide the buses to deal with present passenger flows and I am convinced this is being done deliberately by TransLink to force the impression onto transit customers for the need of a subway.

The claim that LRT would take away all parking and that trees would be cut down is another juvenile scare tactic by the CoV and Translink, to make local residents and merchants fear modern LRT. Real transit experts know that parking is very important to local merchants and would design a LRT in such a way to keep the all important merchant's parking on Broadway. The tree issue is all the more bizarre when one considers the supports and span wires for the proposed LRT are already in place, holdovers from when streetcars operated along Broadway in the early 1950's. In fact, the foundation for modern LRT is already in place along Broadway from the streetcar days and building LRT would be far cheaper than Translink and the CoV would have us think.

The LRT/SkyTrain capacity debate is more ludicrous as in revenue service, modern LRT has proven to obtain higher capacities than SkyTrain. The City of Ottawa rejected SkyTrain, in favour of modern LRT, due to its lack of capacity. The notion that SkyTrain has a higher capacity than LRT is based on 1970's studies in Toronto, comparing ICTS (early version of what we call SkyTrain) with 40 year old PCC streetcars and not modern articulated light rail vehicles. For comparison, a modern tram has the same capacity of four car train of MK.1 stock. Modern trams, operating in coupled sets, would give a higher capacity than a six car train of SkyTrain MK. 1 stock or a four car train of MK. 2 stock.

SkyTrain's capacity is also constrained because of its small 80m station platforms, which limits SkyTrain's practical capacity to its contracted 15,000 persons per hour per direction.
Rating: -33
Evil Eye part 2
Most modern LRT station platforms are now 120m in length and the City of Ottawa is designing its stations with 150m station platforms to accommodate even longer trains. A SkyTrain subway would be limited to 15,000 pphpd unless all SkyTrain station platforms were extended by at least 40m, which would increase the cost of a Broadway SkyTrain subway by $1billion to $1.5 billion!

Modern LRT is both a 'Green' and economic. Green because is leaves a small carbon footprint and its proven ability to attract the motorist from the car. Economic because LRT greatly reduces operating cost of the transit route. One modern tram or streetcar (1 driver) is as efficient as six buses (6 bus drivers) and with wages accounting for about 80% of a transit systems operating costs, the economy of LRT replacing buses is easy to see. Even though SkyTrain is driverless, it still has more employees than comparable LRT operations making it about 40% more expensive to operate and SkyTrain needs buses to shuttle passengers between widely spaced stations. Operating SkyTrain only drives up operating costs of a transit route, not reducing operating costs as does modern LRT.

Subways are notorious for their high energy use as the cost of electricity to power lights, elevators, escalators, and ventilation is about the same as the electricity consumed by the subway trains themselves.

Doorstep to doorstep journey times on subways, with widely spaced stations, are only faster than LRT (with stops every 500m to 600m) if the journey greater than 7 km. The Hass-Klau International Study "Bus or Light Rail - Making the right Choice" found that transit speed was not as important as many would like us to think, as the study found that the ambiance and ease of use of a transit system far outweigh speed in customer importance.

Subways are notorious in not attracting new customers and in fact, in some cases, forced transit customers back into their cars! Modern LRT has an opposite effect as it actual attracts new customers to transit. In South Delta, the forced transfer from bus to the Canada Line has deterred ridership to such an extent that suburban bus services have been reduced to post Expo 86 days.

The Canada Line, despite the hype and hoopla, has only 40m to 50m long station platforms, which can only accommodate two car trains, which means the Canada Line was at capacity the day it was built!
Rating: -11
Evil Eye part 3
Internationally, the Canada Line is seen as a "White Elephant", as it is the only heavy-rail metro in the world, built as a light-metro, which has less capacity than a streetcar costing about one tenth to build!

SkyTrain was first conceived to mitigate the high cost of subway construction in Toronto, at a time when the heritage streetcar system was facing expensive major renewals or abandonment. In 1978, as SkyTrain's development proceeded, the world's first new-build LRT system opened in Edmonton. Today, only seven Skytrain systems have been built (only three used seriously for urban transit), has been marketed under five names; ICTS, ALRT (two versions) ALM, and now ART. During the same period, over 150 new LRT systems have been built and scores more are either under construction or in the final stages of planning. Not one SkyTrain type system has ever been allowed to compete against modern LRT. There are now over 500 LRT/tram systems in operation around the world, with one the newest LRT systems being built in Beijing.

I see SkyTrain and subway planning as pure Lysenkoism (Lysenkoism is used metaphorically to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives.) to subsidize land speculators and land developers who have assemble properties at potential subway stations. SkyTrain subway planning is not about building a sustainable transit system for the future and in fact the massive construction costs of a subway, coupled with equally massive maintenance costs will make it impossible to fund future transit investment in Metro Vancouver, especially in Surrey, Langley, and North Delta.

If no other transit authority is building with SkyTrain, why are we? When subways are not considered until ridership is at least three times what Broadway is currently carrying in the peak hour, why are we planning for a subway?
Rating: -16
Evil Eye
How can one fact check TransLink when they don't use facts?
Rating: -3
Cheaper option is maybe to have UBC stop expanding at Point Grey and build somewhere else ?
Rating: +8
The Canada Line is already a Vancouver icon; a part of this city's fabric of life. Hard to believe less than 5 years ago the link between downtown Vancouver and Richmond was a dirty old miserable bus trip. Now build something identical under Broadway between UBC and Commercial Drive and build it soon. All the special interest groups that will try to delay a subway need to be ignored.
Rating: +1
An article about light rail and the word "frequency" never even comes up? Light rail in Calgary and Portland runs at frequency of around every 15 minutes in rush hour. That's because light rail on streets needs drivers, something automated skytrain doesn't. Requiring drivers will greatly increase the operating costs of this system, which unlike construction costs is something we're stuck with for the rest of our lives, and it will greatly reduce the number of riders and the usefulness of the system, especially at night when safety is a concern and trains run less often.

And then, why would you build light rail away from broadway? UBC isn't even the big destination here, not compared to the central Broadway corridor's jobs and residents.

This is a poor, discredited and badly planned idea from someone who doesn't have a clue how the city works. I can't believe the straight is giving it serious page time when there are much bigger issues to be discussed.
Rating: +1
400 ppm
Q: How many communication grads spinning for public and private corps can fill a comments section?

A: see above
Rating: +8
Please excuse the sarcasm, what a great idea to make the line cheaper by avoiding all those pesky areas where people want to go....2/3 of the ridership is on Central Broadway. It does not matter how much cheaper construction is if it does not serve people. The rapid transit needs to be on Broadway. Period.
Rating: +12
Evil Eye
@ Tessa - In Europe, LRT/trams run at 30 second headways on portions of their routes in peak hours. Frequency has nothing to do about mode, rather it is all about management. So, Metro Vancouver residents must still pay for Vancouver's transit dreams, well it is time the south Fraser cities get out of TransLink and let Vancouver tax payers pay for their hugely expensive, overbuilt and largely underused transit system. User pay, let Vancouver taxpayers pay the real costs!

@ Greg; The Canada Line an icon? Who are you kidding. Living in south Delta, I pine for my dirty miserable bus trip to come back as I hate that cold and painful transfer at Bridgeport. Because the Canada Line forced me to transfer i started taking the car again to Vancouver, transit is not an option any more and many former transit users have felt the same way and abandoned the bus. In south surrey there is a $2 million park and ride lot that is empty because the expected ridership increase did not materialize.

@ Everyone, ever asked yourselves why only 7 SkyTrain type systems have been built in 37 years and no one copies Vancouver and builds with SkyTrain?
Rating: -11
@Evil Eye

The park and ride has few people using it because people now have to pay to use it so most are now parking on the street. If Surrey banned parking on the street, the issue would be solved.

The current carrying capacity and demand on the Expo Line is already at 16,000 pphpd and can be expanded.

Yes, street level LRT can handle high capacities but the speed and reliabily really suffers when trains are really close together. Operating and capital costs go up too because the slower the speed, the more trains and drivers required to deliver any given capacity.

In North America, street level LRT really has failed to deliver large ridership increases. Even after over two decades of large investment in LRT, LRT and streetcars account for only around 5% of US transit trips and this even includes LRT that is partly grade separated.

While in some specific cases, street level LRT can be a good solution, the idea that it can form the backbone of a regional network seems to be proven to not be effective in North America and in medium and large regions in Europe.
Buses, subways and commuter rail account for a much greater percentage of transit trips and kilometres.
Rating: 0
Reply @ Evil Eye
The number 7 is a gross understatement on the amount of SkyTrain-type systems operating. Companies in Japan and China have put extensive development into their own linear-motor propulsion systems for the benefit of reducing tunnel sizes and maintenance costs. Osaka developed a system about the same time UTDC was developing ICTS technology, which has gone on to become the de-facto standard in Japanese metro construction and has been featured in other cities as Tokyo, Kobe, Fukuoka and most recently Sendai (opening 2015).

The newest SkyTrain-type system opened as Line 6 of the Guangzhou Metro, which attracted a 700,000 passenger daily ridership within one month of operation. As well, unlike the systems in Japan, Guangzhou's system is built largely above-ground, meaning the savings are being realized in the lighter guideways and lower maintenance costs - not just smaller tunnels.

My point? This is a popular technology, and grade-separated metro systems - automated or driver-manned - are still as much a standard for high-quality rapid transit in the world as LRT is, for very good reasons. And, for your info, Vancouver has inspired many other cities - especially in terms of the Vancouverism model of transit-oriented development - with the SkyTrain being featured regularly in magazines like Atlantic Cities and in popular writing such as Straphanger. Montreal was recently contemplating building a metro line inspired by our Canada Line - and the concept images in the study docs showed 5-car Mark II trains operating on the envisioned line.
Rating: +2
Mark Bowen
Trams are just like subways... but without any of the benefits.

We don't need dumb, slow, train-bus hybrid things running in our streets. I'll never understand why some tram nerds are so obsessed with them.

Yes, a subway does cost more than trams or rapid bus schemes. Sometimes doing things the right way does not mean doing them the cheapest way.

We need to think in terms of building for the future here.
Rating: +1


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