Let me follow up on something I was talking about a couple of days ago.  I argued that we can’t see surface-level light rail as an alternative to Skytrains, even though it would be great in addition to Skytrains as a way to extend Translink’s rail network.  But, you might say, since we already have three Skytrain lines, of course light rail is only going to be an extension of the existing network.  So what’s the point of insisting that light rail isn’t an alternative to Skytrains?

Here’s the point.  Translink already has plans to build the Evergreen Line as a light-metro Skytrain, and beyond that the Millenium Line’s supposed to extend out to UBC along Broadway.  There are a lot of good candidates for light-rail routes in the Lower Mainland and the Valley, but these aren’t them.  It would be a huge mistake not to invest in Skytrains for these routes.  Take a look at this fairly random collection of daily ridership stats for various light rail systems about the world:

That number for Portland’s Blue Line–41,000 riders a day–comes from 2005.  Here’s the thing.  What do you think the daily ridership of Translink’s Broadway buses was that same year?  65,000 riders a day (page 4-38.  Warning: that’s a big pdf).  So four years ago, without there being any rail transit at all on Broadway, there was already about 59% more passengers in a day than on Portland’s most heavily used light rail line.  (That’s why the B-Line’s a gong show.)  Portland’s entire light rail system has a daily ridership of 107,0000–less than 40% of the existing Skytrain lines’ daily ridership.

Given that Broadway won’t see any rail transit for another decade at least–during which demand will only increase–it would be jaw-droppingly stupid to build light rail.  The route had the ridership for light rail five years ago.   What’s that ridership going to look like in a decade?  And since we’re investing in public infrastructure we’d like to serve us well for more than a couple decades to come, what’s the demand for public transit on Broadway going to be in 2040?  How about 2060?

Let’s remind ourselves of the big picture.  Translink and the cities in the metro Vancouver region aren’t even close to being done building the light-metro backbone of the transit system we need.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t be identifying, planning for, and building cheaper light rail lines in the region while we’re also building more Skytrains.  We absolutely should be doing that.  But we need to remember that light rail is always going to be an extension of the Skytrain network, not an alternative to it.

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