Province to study North Shore rapid-transit options, including a SkyTrain line under Burrard Inlet

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      The Lower Mainland’s next major expansion of its rapid-transit system might be an underwater SkyTrain line that connects Vancouver’s downtown core with North Vancouver’s Lower Lonsdale neighbhourood.

      A decision is still a long way away and construction wouldn’t begin until an even later date. But a tunnelled rail line in the vicinity of the current SeaBus route is one idea that’s included in report on future options to ease congestion on the North Shore.

      Today (May 13) the B.C. ministry of transportation and infrastructure announced it will study the technical feasibility of a rapid-transit line that crosses Burrard Inlet.

      "A diverse transportation network that includes rapid transit is absolutely essential to truly resolving our traffic congestion issues on the North Shore, so we're very pleased to see this essential first step being taken so people can reach their destination quicker,” District of North Vancouver mayor Mike Little said quoted in a media release.

      The release notes the feasibility study will help inform the Integrated North Shore Transportation Planning Project (NSTPP), a long-term working group that was convened in 2018 to research mobility challenges on the North Shore.

      An initial report that the NSTPP published in August 2018 analyzed several different options for a new or expanded connection across Burrard Inlet. The group looked at adding new lanes to the Lions Gate Bridge or the Second Narrows Bridge, replacing one of those existing bridges with a new and wider bridge, and adapting the CN Rail Bridge to include public-transit options. The authors also considered the idea of a gondola that would run from the Phibbs Exchange bus loop to Capilano University.

      But the NSTPP determined that all of those options, while “frequently suggested”, “do not meet the stated objectives”.

      Next, NSTPP looked at the viability of a new SkyTrain line, either in the vicinity of the Second Narrows Bridge or along the existing route taken by the SeaBus. While the first option lacks the density required to sustain sufficient ridership, the report states that the second proposed location, linking Vancouver’s downtown core with Lower Lonsdale, “would provide more transportation choice and attract more transit ridership”.

      “Municipal partners have stated a preference for ‘rail’ rapid transit,” the report reads. “Additional study on the benefits and impacts of a rapid transit—including how to cross Burrard Inlet—will be considered in the Regional Transportation Strategy, which is now underway.”

      All that said, the report notes that a new rapid-transit line under Burrard Inlet might not help alleviate traffic as much as many will hope unless it comes with complimentary measures that would also affect commuters' behavior.

      "Additional benefits could...result from combining rapid transit with incentives to change travel patterns—leading to increased use of transit by existing commuters, particularly people travelling to the North Shore by car for work each day," it reads.

      To that end, the report includes a reference to a report on mobility pricing.

      "This study, along with our modelling and analysis, identified pricing as a highly effective tool to reduce congestion to/from and on the North Shore," the NSTPP report reads. "We recommend the North Shore partners work collaboratively to participate actively in ongoing discussions about the future of mobility pricing for the Metro Vancouver region."

      North Shore Transportation Planning Project

      Today’s announcement of a feasibility study for a rapid-transit line will now build on that work.

      "Traffic congestion is intricately connected to issues like housing affordability," said Bowinn Ma, MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale and the NSTPP’s steering-committee chair. "Over the years, the high cost of housing has forced people to move further from the places they work, resulting in longer commutes and serious traffic issues. This feasibility study is an extremely exciting addition to the many initiatives we have implemented so far and continue to work on to get the North Shore moving again."

      Work on the study is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2019.

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