Homeless in Vancouver: The “hole” story behind Broadway subway stations

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      Until real journalism put the brakes on my groundless musings about the exact location of  the Arbutus Street terminus for the proposed Broadway SkyTrain extension, I was looking at the relative merits of the four corner properties at the intersection of West Broadway and Arbutus Street.

      Most existing SkyTrain stations are located on corners and are large freestanding structures. So I naturally assumed that planners would likewise want to end the Broadway subway tunnel with a bang-up above ground station on a corner of West Broadway and Arbutus.

      Right off the bat I knew that the Shell gas station at 2103 West Broadway, on the northwest corner, was out of the question. Aside from the fact that, at $22,884,700, it had the highest property assessment of the four corners, gas stations take years to decommission, what with soil remediation and all.

      Continuing counterclockwise, the southwest corner, at 2112 West Broadway, had the second-highest assessment, at $17,455,700. Fletchers Fabricare, on the southeast corner at 2096 West Broadway, had the lowest assessment at $9,327,100 but was something of an institution, having been at the location for decades.

      That left the building at 2097 West Broadway, on the northeast corner, which was assessed for a modest $9,334,400. What’s more, while the building was occupied by mobile providers Rogers and Fido, it was actually owned by the City of Vancouver. And the unimproved lots directly behind the building on Arbutus were also owned by the city.

      So I figured that was that. The northeast corner was a shoo-in for the location of a station at the Arbutus end of the Broadway tunnel. It was nearly the least expensive and certainly the least encumbered.

      Of course, I figured all wrong.

      Correcting my bad case of tunnel vision

      Already in November of 2015, Carlito Pablo was writing on the Georgia Straight’s website that the City of Vancouver had settled on three West Broadway locations for stations along the subway line—in the 500 block, the 900 block, and finally, at 2080 West Broadway, the location of the Pinnacle Living condo, only half a block from Arbutus Street.

      When I reread this article a few days ago, I realized that the Pinnacle stop was too close to the proposed western end of the subway line at Arbutus Street not to be the planned terminus.

      It honestly never occurred to me that subway stations wouldn’t be on corners and might be retrofitted into pre-existing buildings, or more to the point, that the underground holes for such stations might have been built in advance (in some cases, years in advance).

      As a development manager with Bosa Properties, the company behind the redevelopment at 988 West Broadway, explained to the Straight, the plan with the city called for the subway station space to be included below the new 10-storey office building and used for retail space until the subway was finally built.

      Surprising anecdotal evidence for an even earlier precedent comes from a Reddit Vancouver forum thread commenting on the November 2015 Straight story.

      One of the Reddit respondents cites their personal experience working at the Crossroads building at 525 West Broadway—another location chosen to host a subway station:

      “When that building went up in… 2009, I think? they were already planning for Skytrain there. I used to work at the Whole Foods below and there’s a giant cavernous storage room there that employees call The Subway Room—it’s supposed to be part of a future subway station (or below the station? Not sure. Either way, it exists). So some infrastructure is already in place”.

      Thus, even though there is no actual funding in place to build a SkyTrain tunnel under Broadway Avenue there appears to already be a subway station space built under the eight-year-old Crossroads building (which was actually built in 2008).

      So who’s to say that there isn’t a big space provided for a subway station under the Pinnacle Living condo, built in 2012, at 2080 West Broadway? Not I, that’s for sure.

      In fact, where the nebulous Broadway subway is concerned, I suspect there’s a lot of flying by the seat of the pants going on and that nothing is for sure.

      I read on the Vancity Buzz website (which is to journalism what I am to Tolstoy) that three months after being confirmed to the Georgia Straight, in February of 2016, plans were cancelled to include a Broadway subway station below the new office building at 988 West Broadway.

      Politicians should never count their subway stations before their schemes are fully hatched (and funded).

      Who owns more Vancouver property than the city itself?

      City of Vancouver's online VanMap, toggled to show city-owned properties.

      In the course of researching this post, I found that the City of Vancouver’s real estate holdings include not only all the expected civic amenities such as parks, swimming pools, golf courses, community centres, and fire halls, but also blocks and blocks of single family homes, multi-unit apartment and office buildings, and retail store fronts.

      In all, I reckon that the city currently owns 4,474 properties.

      Anyone with access to the Internet can see these city-owned properties and where they’re located, just by going to Vancouver’s web-based data visualization tool, called VanMap. Toggle open the “Housing & Properties” folder in the Windows Explorer-style directory tree sidebar and check the box beside “City-owned Properties”.

      To count the properties, I went a step farther and downloaded the freely-available KML dataset of city-owned properties that VanMap displays.

      KML (Keyhole Markup Language) is a Google Maps-specific variant of XML (Extensible Markup Language), which is a format for storing richly formatted database records as plain ordinary text—like HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) for webpages, or the CSV (Comma-Separated Values) format, which was once commonly used to move data between contact databases.

      Being only stupidly smart and having never found a proper KML editor (that doesn’t require the security hole that is the Java Runtime Environment), I simply opened the KML file in a text editor (Notepad++) and performed a search/count of various unique record elements, including the closing “</Placemark>” tag. This provided me with the 4,474 result that I used.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.