Broadway needs SkyTrain rather than light rail, Vancouver city staff say

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      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.”



      roni bamendine jones

      Nov 27, 2012 at 8:13pm

      develop transit along the existing rail line from new west along kent with connections at W70th west off granville near sw marine, at W49th, at W41st and Arbutus, West 25th, W16th and Broadway and Arbutus which all have routes to ubc,,,this will spread it all out...rather than congest it. and most of the route is just sitting there waiting!!

      Richard Cambell

      Nov 27, 2012 at 10:58pm

      Exactly. Compared to the amount spend on underused roads and bridges in the region, the subway to UBC and Rapid Transit in Surrey are bargains. Time for Premier Clark and Adrain Dix to step up and find a way to make this badly needed investment happen.


      Nov 27, 2012 at 11:23pm

      broadway doesn't need skytrain just like cambie street didn't need it.
      perhaps for broadway the city of vancouver should look at how the netherlands solved it with tram 5 and metro 51 between amstelveen and amsterdam. perfect combo where trams are in the middle two lanes of the roads and the rest for cars and on the side of the roads separate bicycle paths and pedestrian paths.


      Nov 28, 2012 at 1:58am

      To all you folks suggesting(or will suggest) light rail down broadway, have you driven down broadway lately especially in morning or evening commute? It's bumper to bumper cars on all lanes, putting an LRT line means at least one(or two) lanes will need to be used up by the line and stops. Can you imagine the chaos that would bring? And that's after the months of construction completely disrupting traffic a la Cambie.

      And it wouldn't provide that much of an improvement over all the buses that currently run on that road as it crosses many major cross streets that you can't simply stop every 90 seconds to allow another street car through. You would need that many, especially during the peak periods in the morning/evening to replace all the buses currently running. And then oops there's an accident in an intersection or on the tracks - all service would need to stop while its cleaned up.

      Best solution is separated from traffic and seeing as there is already existing buildings etc, pretty much the only solution is below or above grade. Above grade requires quite a bit of street level construction and likely loss of a lane. Bored tunnel below grade will result in some street level construction(where stations are constructed), but when done, Broadway would be as now.

      If Broadway was not jam packed with cars and had a median where an LRT line could fit, an LRT could be considered if it could provide a significant increase in service capability. No point in building something that can just manage current loads with more and more people living along broadway and/or working on broadway. Not to mention LRT may be cheaper to build but as it requires drivers for each one, operational costs are higher than an ALRT like skytrain.

      And building a separate system requires in own repair and storage yards. Looking at a map, I don't see anywhere along that route that could serve that purpose. With skytrain we already have repair yards like the one by Edmonds.

      Skytrain is not affected by street traffic, easily connects into existing system minimizing need for transfers, making commuting easier and faster. Being separate from traffic means it would be able to move faster than traffic, which on Broadway isn't all that fast to begin with.

      R U Kiddingme

      Nov 28, 2012 at 10:20am

      You're darn tooting Skytrain is the way. At-grade transit is slow and miserable, unless you have a dedicated lane (e.g. Ottawa) that allows bus riders to spend as little time as possible inhaling each other's armpits. If you're going to do that then sure, light rail or electric trolleys would be great. But I can't see how you can do that out to UBC. 16th and 12th don't have the width. You might as well bite the cost bullet and tunnel. BTW Cambie looks just fine now, doesn't it?


      Nov 28, 2012 at 12:21pm

      Skytrain needs to run an extra hour on weekends.


      Nov 28, 2012 at 1:31pm

      Start digging that tunnel NOW!


      Nov 28, 2012 at 3:55pm

      Build it. You only have to tunnel once. Let future generations help pay for it.


      Nov 29, 2012 at 12:22am

      The decision isn't up to the City of Vancouver - it's up to TransLink to decide whether they want to pursue a Broadway subway line. Maybe all Vision wants to do is increase density and height along Broadway regardless of any commitment to mass transit. Build anyway. Increase density without having any commitment to paying for a multi-billion dollar line. Talk is cheap, raising taxes is much harder.


      Nov 29, 2012 at 10:08am

      The only problem I see with this is that they will probably bring in foreign "experts" again to tunnel through. Why not commit to training some local people and building capacity for more than just population growth. We want to be a green city: well, we should be experts all forms of public transportation then. Let's our greenest city be something we built not something we bought.