September 2009


It’s a beautiful afternoon, and the new Astonishing X-Men onmibus just came out, so on the way home I stopped at the Comic Shop on 4th, and then walked across to the Burrard St. bridge to get to the West End.  It was nice to see a decent-sized peloton of cyclists starting out from the traffic light at the south side of the bridge.

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Once again, I’m deeply puzzled by the anger of the opposition people have to the idea of a Broadway subway line.  Part of the anger, if not all, seems to come from some real confusion about who would benefit from it.  Here’s Zweisystem:

The promoters of the a UBC subway and the SkyTrain Lobby will delight at the fact that once again taxpayers who live outside of Vancouver, with no say on how transit is provided inside Vancouver will see massive tax and user fee increases to fund a subway to UBC that they will seldom, if ever use.

People from outside of Vancouver would “seldom, if ever,” use a Broadway subway?  Really?  Who are those massive crowds of people getting off the Expo line at Commercial-Broadway and seeing two- and three-sailing waits to get on a B-Line?  Did they all get on the Skytrain at Joyce-Collingwood?  Really?

Those crowds don’t by any means make a knock-down case for a subway, but let’s try to get some perspective on who’s going to benefit from a Broadway rail line, regardless of whether it’s light rail or a subway.  People in the city aren’t the only ones who stand to gain here.

Courtesy of Stephen Rees, here’s your Friday morning piece of the big picture:

All kinds of things – really important things that the BC Liberals promised were sacrosanct a few months ago like healthcare and education – are now being cut. But nothing it seems can stop the freeway juggernaut here.

That Burrows article in the Straight about a Broadway rail line seems to have pushed some buttons.  Zweisystem at Rail for the Valley says, “If Vancouver wants a subway, let Vancouver taxpayers pay for it!”  And Jordan Bateman at Langley Politics says,

a South Fraser light rail line should be the next transit priority, not another gold-plated SkyTrain in Vancouver. If Vancouver is as concerned about urban sprawl and car culture as they claim, they should be pushing to get transit into Surrey, Langley, and Abbotsford. That’s where the most gains can be made; that’s the low-hanging fruit when it comes to battling climate change and air pollution.

I think the animosity in these reactions is a mistake.  I understand how easy it is to feel like other regions of metro Vancouver are getting transit goodies that your own region isn’t, but sub-regional sniping isn’t doing anyone any good.  We all want more and better transit for the entire region.

But I also think there’s no particular reason to think the “low-hanging fruit” is all south of the Fraser.  The buses on the Broadway corridor are at capacity during peak times right now.  In fact, they’ve been at capacity during peak times for a while.  They’re actually over-capacity for some parts of the day.  (Details here: pp. 86-87.)  As I’ve talked about before, this isn’t a problem that Translink can solve easily by putting more buses on the route.  With three-minute headways, a few red lights in a row is enough to pile up three B-Lines up end.

But what does it mean if Broadway’s at capacity — and sometimes over capacity — right now?  It means that there’s people who want to take the transit on Broadway, but who don’t because the buses are too full.  Add capacity to the route — with light rail or a subway — and all of a sudden there’s room for more people on transit.  Why wouldn’t that count as low-hanging fruit?

Via Zweisystem, here’s a Matthew Burrows piece in the Straight about plans for rapid transit along the Broadway corridor and out to UBC — a plan that, like a mirage, seems always to recede into the distance just as we think we’re getting closer to it.  Burrows’ piece is about the fight about whether a rail line along Broadway should be surface-level light rail or a light-metro subway.  But that’s not the fight I want to have right now.

Instead, I want to flag something that Vision’s Geoff Meggs’ says in the piece:

“We already have a high-speed line ending at the Millennium Line at VCC–Clark,” [Meggs] noted. “It just makes sense to complete it somehow, either over to the Canada Line or, better yet, take it to Arbutus. It could be the hub of a future extension down the Arbutus corridor or over to UBC.”

This is something you hear from time to time — that maybe the Broadway corridor only needs rapid transit to Arbutus, and that extending the line all the way to UBC would be something to do later, rather than when the first stretch of rail gets built.

This is a deeply, deeply stupid idea.  It fundamentally fails to recognize just how big UBC is.  UBC is already second only to downtown in Vancouver as a destination for transit trips.  (Go to p. 81 of this Translink report for that factoid.  Warning: it’s an enormous pdf.)  And looking to the future, UBC is again second only to downtown in Vancouver as an area of significant job growth (p. 55).  So how stupid would it be to run a rail line to Arbutus but not all the way to UBC?   Only slightly less stupid than running the Expo line to Commercial, but then not going downtown.  Or running the Canada Line to Broadway, but then not going downtown.  In other words, epically, monumentally, enormously stupid.

Since I was just on a tear about the choices people make to live in transit-unfriendly sprawl, my friend K pointed me to this Don Cayo write-up of a report on rental housing for families in Vancouver.  The report comes from Bing Thom Architects, and it says that — as you might guess — Vancouver doesn’t have enough affordable housing for families.  No, I don’t suppose it does.

But check out what Michael Heeney, a partner at Bing Thom, says the solution is: “What we do need are rental units with two or more bedrooms that can be occupied by young families.”  He’s not taking about building more single-family, detached houses.  (Where would we build them?)  He’s talking about building condos with two and three bedrooms, instead of just one.  He’s talk about building laneway housing that takes up a bigger footprint of a 50-foot lot than the 750 sq. feet that’s currently allowed.

In other words, he’s acknowledging that a lot of families in metro Vancouver don’t necessarily want to own a three-bedroom-plus-den-and-two-car-garage house.  They want to live in a dense, walkable, livable part of the city, and they’d be willing to trade a lot of space to do it — if only the city made sure those two and three bedroom condos were there for them to rent.

Down at the very bottom of this Frank Bucholtz piece in the Langley Times, there’s a disappointing note about Translink boss Tom Prendergast:

Prendergast also said TransLink needs to change its attitude towards park and ride lots, which can boost transit ridership. TransLink historically hasn’t supported such lots.

No doubt park-and-rides increase transit ridership, but do they decrease the overall number of trips people make by car?  Here’s the worry.  Park-and-rides increase the number of people commuting by transit — and that’s obviously a good thing.  But they also make it easier for people to live in car-dependent places, where they can’t take transit to get groceries or go out for dinner, and their kids can’t walk to school very easily.  So even if people are taking transit to get to work, they’re using their cars more for everything else.

Besides, when people are already paying a premium to live close to transit, why waste the land around transit nodes on cars when people could live there?

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