TransLink ain’t so bad compared to transit in other cities, Taras Grescoe says

Straphanger author believes Vancouver offers model for transit development in North America

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      Taras Grescoe calls Tokyo’s public-transit system his favourite and Copenhagen’s the most inspiring. Car-centric Phoenix is his “nightmare city”.

      According to the author of Straphanger, a 2012 book about transit in cities around the world, TransLink is getting it “surprisingly right”. Grescoe told the Georgia Straight that Vancouver offers a model for transit development in North America, especially in terms of “wrapping retail and commercial density around stations”.

      “They’re not doing that anywhere else in North America to the same extent,” Grescoe, who grew up in Vancouver, said by phone from Montreal. “There are little attempts to do it in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, but Vancouver is really pulling off something unique.”

      On Friday (May 23), Grescoe will speak at the Spur Festival in Vancouver. His talk will focus on his vision for the city in 2021.

      Although TransLink is “mostly a success story”, Grescoe suggested Vancouver would benefit from a “more reliable” frequent bus network throughout the city.

      “Montreal is kind of beating Vancouver right now when it comes to that,” Grescoe said. “There’s sort of guaranteed 10-minute frequencies for so much of the city in Montreal.”

      Mayor Gregor Robertson has made his support for a $3-billion Broadway subway line a cornerstone of his reelection campaign. This surprises Grescoe, who thought surface light rail or bus rapid transit would be seen as the “natural alternative”.

      “I’m amazed they think that there’s money around and the ability to build a subway the entire length of the way,” Grescoe said.

      This week, Taras Grescoe will give a talk at the Spur Festival.
      Katia Taylor

      Grescoe maintained that over the next seven years, Vancouver must “cope with the challenges of density”. He believes the answer lies in building townhouses, low-rises, and mid-rises—not single-family houses and “mega-towers”.

      “It’s a strange city, because you’ve got this postwar and prewar housing stock that is single-family homes that are now—all of them—over a million dollars, and the alternative being these sterile condo towers around False Creek,” Grescoe said.

      “You need to imagine a different kind of Vancouver with a different kind of density,” he added.


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      Evil Eye

      May 21, 2014 at 4:46pm

      Quote: “I’m amazed they think that there’s money around and the ability to build a subway the entire length of the way,” Grescoe said."

      Common sense as people seem to forget that with each Skytrain mini-metro line and the Canada Line, schools and hospitals were closed across the province to pay for it.

      How many schools and hospitals need to be closed to build a $4.5 billion subway under Broadway?


      May 21, 2014 at 6:36pm

      Vancouver's system while, not perfect, functions reasonably well overall. The note that development around Skytrain stations in this city as it's not something you see to any large degree elsewhere. Toronto's transit is OK but antiquated... ever try to find a map or time schedule from the TTC? GO transit is a little better. Montreal is similar to Vancouver in some ways... better buses but the Metro is not expanding enough to keep pace. Seattle? Terrible. Portland? Lots of options but nobody rides it. Calgary? You will retire long before finding a bus or waiting for the C-train to arrive.

      Vancouver should start digging a tunnel to UBC. OK I'll concede to some of the surface LRT freaks that a subway the whole way may not be 100% necessary. But it needs to go to Blanca before emerging... or at the very least, Alma.


      May 21, 2014 at 10:18pm

      Translink gets a bad rap, but it's actually doing a pretty damn good job compared to in other cities.

      And yes, we need the skytrain, not LRT. That corridor needs a fast and reliable solution.

      Nathan Woods

      May 21, 2014 at 11:12pm

      There is no denying that Translink, and probably more importantly the Mayors and Council in the region, are doing it right when it comes to city planning and density. The real problem exists that as our economy grows, this "doing it right' business falls to the wayside as transit services are being optimized away from the prospective developments forcing potential riders into vehicles.

      The Millennium line is an example...while stations and areas within Burnaby are being densified, the services in those areas feeding the rail system are being reduced in favour of higher ridership routes. It simply doesn't work if both components, densification and transit are developed and supported equally.

      Coquitlam has a shocking car culture growing as services there continue to be cut resulting in fewer buses and more cars. Playing catch up to divert people that once were bus riders, back out of their cars into buses will be a daunting task.

      Buses are ridiculously cheaper than Skytrains, less intrusive to the regions and ultimately easier to grow.


      May 21, 2014 at 11:40pm

      The Province of Ontario is investing $16 billion in rapid transit over a decade or so including $5.3 billion in just one LRT line. Over the same period, BC is only investing around $1.5 billion.

      It's pretty clear that the province needs to step up and invest much more in transit. Instead, they are wasting money building huge roads and bridges with lens have may never be needed.

      Higher Thinking ( go ahead and make the lame joke)

      May 21, 2014 at 11:58pm

      oh never mind Evil Eye. It's Agenda 21. All will be well.
      "these sterile condo towers around False Creek" are just what the UN ordered. And Transit?

      You have to realize that buses dont need roads, nor do they use fuel... subways.. they are FREE!!! AND .. they wlll save the planet. Yes!!

      Of course you also have to realize that humans are destructive and must be carefully confined in smaller and smaller boxes stacked one upon another. Freedom to move.. oh ... surely you arent STILL thinking that is a human right? No no.. humans are VIBRANT and WALKABLE and SHOULD be boxed in areas that are just that way. They will be happier. It is Mother Gaya's wish.

      Bureaucrats must be culled

      May 22, 2014 at 3:37pm

      Translink's biggest problem is all the number of managers & administrators who do nothing besides take 6 figure salaries and push paper. The Compass Card fiasco is a perfect example of how public money gets wasted on projects that are ill-conceived and "developing" systems and processes that already exist. There are off the shelf systems that could easily have been used, systems that are compatible with both magnetic stripe transfers and tapping cards, but "experts" determined that "our needs" were not those of every other system in the world that has gates, cards and divers payment systems. There is too little oversight of bureaucrats spending public money and the result is hundreds of millions of dollars wasted year after year. If we cut 50% of all government employees who do not provide direct services to the public the cost of EI or welfare would be far below what it costs to employ them.