People Before Cars – A Lesson Unlearned In Metro Vancouver

This is what should be happening in Metro Vancouver, but it’s not.

SkyTrain is elevated or put underground, to keep streets free for cars.

The cycle lobby is giving precedence over transit customers.

Cars remain the most viable transit mode in the region.

Our regional, provincial, and federal politicians only invest in transit to reward political friends with fat construction projects, such as light-metro.

TransLink remains largely incompetent, in designing an affordable and user-friendly transit service.

And in Munich, no gates or turnstiles; no expensive and complicated ticketing system to deter customers.

User-friendly transit, is just not in the lexicon of TransLink, The City of Vancouver, many universities,Ai?? the provincial government, and the federal government, where transit is designed to profit political friends and secure votes at election time.

Notice, most tram routes service the city centre, providing the all important seamless or no-transfer journey to the transit customer.

In Munich, putting people before cars makes transit work so much better

Lloyd Alter lloydalter

March 9, 2018


Tram in Munich

CC BY 2.0 Tram in Munich/ Lloyd Alter


It seems that most transit decisions in North America are made with the goal of making life easier for people in cars.

In North America, transit planning is a mess. Decisions like building a hyperloop from Cleveland to Chicago or a one-stop subway extension in Toronto in the face of sound transit planning by experts that say these decisions are ridiculous. In New York City, they arrest people for fare-jumping but let them park cars for free for months; in Toronto again (my home is in the news a lot these days) they beat up kids over a two buck ticket.

Development at the end of the lineMassive development at end of streetcar line/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

In Munich, you see what happens with sound planning and good transit. I am staying in the suburbs near a massive new residential and commercial development, with a lovely streetcar right outside the door of my hotel. It stops about six times on the way to the other end of the line at a subway stop.

streetcar in MunichStreetcar in Munich/CC BY 2.0

I have been on this streetcar a number of times,looking out the window at the stores and buildings on either side. You can do that on a streetcar; you are on the surface, a step from grade, so if you want to get off and buy something you can. There are housing, offices and retail on either side; unlike subways with stations far apart, the development isn’t just at nodes but along the entire route.

streetcar in stationSubway coming into station/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

As you get closer to downtown Munich, you switch to the subway. It isnai??i??t exactly strenuous, and there are lots of shops in the station. And there are no gates or turnstiles; it is all wide open, and works on the honour system. I bought a weekai??i??s pass and just treat it all as my personal transit system. Is there cheating? Sure, but those turnstiles and fare collectors and fancy card systems cost a lot of money.

subway car interiorInside the old subway car/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

In the subway, it feels like the cars are fifty years old, with wood and padded seats. Yet they are quiet, smooth and clearly well-maintained.

While I look out the window at the stores and restaurants, I think about the situation in North America. In New York, the subway never runs on time because they have to go slow because of signal problems and general lack of maintenance. The MTA is shutting down a main line for a while, but canai??i??t even agree on bus lanes that might slow cars down a bit.

In California, Elon Musk wants to build tunnels, not for people but for cars because he doesnai??i??t like getting stuck in traffic.

In Toronto, the dead former mayor ordered a multibillion dollar single stop subway because he doesnai??i??t like getting stuck behind trolleys and the live mayor just panders to the car driving crowd and insists on driving this stupid train under single family houses, when one of the most important roles of transit is to promote development along its length.

In fact, it seems that most transit decisions in North America are made with the goal of making life easier for people in cars- Get those people who donai??i??t drive out of the way!

subway carSubway car/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Really, they should all just come and spend a day in Munich, and see how transit can run smoothly, how it promotes housing and development. They should see how the world works when you donai??i??t pander to people in cars.


5 Responses to “People Before Cars – A Lesson Unlearned In Metro Vancouver”
  1. tensorflow says:

    I would say this is not really a Vancouver problem but more like a North American problem.

    Among most North American cities with size similar to Metro Vancouver, Translink have been doing OK. The total length of operational frequent service railway lines in both Pittsburgh and Charlotte are significantly less than the ones in MVRD. It is also on par with Sacramento’s LRT. Only Portland have a longer system length while Portland is significantly larger than MVRD in terms of urban size.

    Not comparable to Europeans indeed, even Leipzig had a network of twice the size Translink have with half of the population. Really miss my time commuting on Leipzig’s S-Bahn. Hope Vancouver could have a similar system.

  2. eric chris says:

    Yes, precisely, rapid transit by the “planners” at TransLink is the round about way used by the “planners” at TransLink to create road space and fund TransLink which is largely dependent upon drivers taxed (gas) to fund public transit. “Planners” at TransLink are on the road to perdition in the quest to build the Broadway subway after it was soundly rejected in the transit plebiscite costing $12 million to hold three years ago.


    “Say hi to us before we are gone”

    Met us in person (we’ll be the smartly dressed “planners”) on Saturday March 10, 2018 at our open house, 511 West Broadway, from 10 am to 2 pm, to learn about our “principles and strategies” to design and construct the Broadway subway. We’ll be on hand to answer questions and collect feedback. It could be your last chance to meet us before we are fitted for our orange jumpsuits and hauled away to our rubber rooms.

  3. eric chris says:

    “Adios TransLink – it wasn’t nice knowing you”

    Apparently, the reason for the Broadway subway is for some engineering firm with seeming ties to mobsters to pour more concrete to make money like it did on Cambie Street for money launderers to build high rise concrete condo units marketed to foreign investors. By the way, road congestion worsened and more cars are on the roads thanks to the freed up road space after TransLink cut trolleybus service on Cambie Street. Renters and businesses have been pushed out of Vancouver by the high taxes imposed by the “mayor and council” in Vancouver to compel people to sell out to the developers financed by the “investors”. High parking and property taxes create high rents for citizens and expenses for businesses. Vancouverites who are business owners and rental tenants are being forced to abandon Vancouver to move to Surrey (a sentence in purgatory in itself) and Coquitlam lacking much of any transit and leading to more driving, ironically.

    Ultimately, TransLink is the enabler which makes the zoning changes possible for the developers financed by “investors” to wipe out businesses and throw renters on the street. Planners at TransLink are basically thugs who are paid by taxpayers and who work for developers.

  4. eric chris says:

    “Trams put people on public transit and rapid transit puts people in cars”

    Putting people on public transit requires tram service for the majority of the people who travel less than 10 km (one way trip) and is understood by the competent and honest engineers-planners in Munich, Germany, and Helsinki, Finland. While Vancouver claims to be environmentally sustainable, Helsinki actually is environmentally sustainable with trams and few, if any, high rise concrete towers. In the following documentary, by Heidi Hollinger, on Helsinki, scroll to minute 40 to see how easy it is to use the Nokia cell phone (3-D Code, easy) to pay to board the tram (the cell phone is the ticket). There is no need for the Comp-ass debacle which cost TransLink $200 million and doesn’t actually work as “planned” because tapping in or out with the Comp-ass card takes 10 times longer than ass-umed by the “planners”.

    Fundamentally, the notion by TransLink’s “planners” that rapid transit packs them-in is fatally flawed in logic. Rapid transit double-counts many transit users transferred-recycled to rapid transit to give the illusion that rapid transit packs them-in and hides the truth that it doesn’t. It will ultimately lead to the demise of TransLink’s bungling planners and bamboozling CEO who are misleading us to keep themselves from facing the guillotine. They seem to be misappropriating billions of dollars to award contracts for rapid transit to certain “firms” to not reduce road congestion and carbon emissions. They will fry for it. TransLink toadies calling themselves “planners” at the COV will accompany them. Guaranteed.

    “Vital transportation to meet our region’s future demands [coffers of engineering firm pouring concrete for it]. We are working with TransLink to advance the design and construction of the Broadway Subway, a tunneled extension of the Millennium Line SkyTrain along the Broadway Corridor from the existing VCC–Clark Station to Arbutus Street.”

    “It’s the best option (the engineering firm building it told us so). For over 15 years [, we only required 15 weeks and stretched it out for job security; we plan to keep stretching it out until 2041 and beyond,] we’ve worked with TransLink to study the best possible transportation option for the Broadway Corridor. Here’s what we’ve learned so far. The Greenest City Action Plan and Renewable City Strategy have set targets for carbon reductions and increased transportation mode share for sustainable transportation, such as rapid transit. [There is no way in heck that pouring zillions of tons of concrete for the Broadway subway will cut carbon emissions more than the tram line; we will be held to account for lying that it does, to plan the Broadway subway].”

    TransLink loses two riders for every rider taking rapid transit. That is, most commuters travel less than 10 km and rapid transit (for regional travel on the 20 km to 30 km long rapid transit line) statistically passes up two commuters when the rapid transit “hog” boards “rapid transit” in Surrey or Coquitlam and stays on board rapid transit until Vancouver. To better understand this, think of what happens when you triple the length of the garden hose by snaking it around and around in circles to fill the family swimming pool with water. The pool doesn’t hold more water than if the garden hose were one-third in length. Anyone saying so is daft. Yet, this is analogous to what the “planners” at TransLink are telling you with their Millennium Line Broadway Extension (Broadway Subway). They claim that transporting someone from Coquitlam through Burnaby (to pass up the would-be transit user in Burnaby) and through Vancouver (to pass up the would-be transit user in Vancouver) moves more people than three small tram lines moving people in Coquitlam, Burnaby and Vancouver. Uh huh.

    Warning, the following song video contains adult language and scenes and may not be suitable for all viewers. Viewer discretion advised. “World Gone Mad…”

  5. vancouver says:

    Why doesn’t Vancouver build the street car it has been planning since 1980′s?

    Vancouver bought the old rail lines around false creek and along arbutus.

    Nothing happens..

    Vancouver is more interested in building bike lanes and distroying bridges.