Some People Get It

Light Rail is a streetcar that operated on a reserved rights-of-way.

The resounding NO vote has changed the tune, somewhat, of the Vancouver Sun’s reporting of regional transit issues. How long this will last is anyone’s guess.

Zwei voted no because I thought the plan was unworkable; a $3 billion subway from Glen-Clark Station to Arbutus and a $2 billion plus LRT to nowhere in Surrey, seemed at first glance, bizarre and very expensive for what it will do.

Upon further research, the Broadway SkyTrain subway, was nothing more than the original provincial promise to induce former GVRD Chair, George Puil to get GVRD agreement for the Millennium Line. To get the GVRD on board with the NDP’s flip-flop from LRT to SkyTrain, the Glen Clark Government promised to create a GVRD controlled TransLink, regional transit authority, and to fund two thirds of SkyTrain only construction West of Commercial Drive. Plans of the time show the subway terminating at Arbutus.

The proposed Surrey LRT is nothing more than the fifty year plan for SkyTrain development in the municipality, instead using LRT, thus making Surrey’s LRT a poor man’s SkyTrain.

Bad transit planning all around and it is refreshing that Ms. Murphy does indeed ‘get it’.

Now, let us get on with plan B, a Vancouver to Chilliwack TramTrain!


Opinion: Transit plebiscite vote was a rejection of TransLink’s plan

Look at more affordable transportation options to cover more of the region is needed

By Elizabeth Murphy, Special to The Vancouver Sun July 13, 2015

At $40 million per km, light rail is more affordable than the $250 million per km cost of subways, some say.

Photograph by: Richard Bergeron

The 62 per cent No vote result in the transit plebiscite was not simply a rejection of the sales tax or a renunciation of TransLink; it was, more important, a rejection of the plan generally.

Improvements to Lower Mainland transit is an urgent requirement. We need to learn from this plebiscite and establish a supportable plan with a funding model.

The areas of the region with the highest No vote are those that would benefit the least and also have the greatest transit infrastructure deficit.

The plan was also rejected in Vancouver. Although it had the biggest ticket item, the Broadway subway, putting most of the resources into only one corridor, with the huge tower development that would follow, is a mistaken direction that needs to be reconsidered.

Rather than a few mega-project corridors, we need to look at the transit network as a whole. If the transit resources were more broadly distributed using more affordable technology, benefits would be achieved throughout the region.

The city of Vancouver was initially planned and built before general use of the automobile. It was laid out as a transit-oriented city, having everyone within a five- to 10-minute walk of an arterial to access transit.

Improving service on all arterial routes would achieve much broader benefits at a significantly lower cost. The most cost-effective electric technology is the trolley bus. Most of the infrastructure exists already in the city. It could be expanded and improved as a clean, quiet transit system. Some areas would also support streetcars since the city was originally designed for streetcars.

There should also be interurban routes to the suburbs, as in the early pre-automobile days. Many of the rail rights of way still exist.

Comparing costs:

ai??? Subways are $250 million per km;

ai??? Streetcars and light rail are $40 million per km; and

ai??? Electric trolley buses only $1 million per km plus additional double articulated buses at $1 million each.

The more affordable options could cover more of the region at a fraction of the cost.

The more affordable options also tend to have negligible negative effects on established neighbourhoods. Part of the public pushback is the idea of putting towers at every station. This may be appropriate downtown, but planning Metrotown-scale development through neighbourhoods such as Kitsilano and Point Grey is a non-starter.

Even if the Broadway subway funding had been approved, it would not have been built for decades. However, the immediate up-zoning that allows increases in what could be built along the Broadway corridor would have added to congestion. The proposed tower development is the most problematic part of the plan.

This scale of development is also unnecessary to meet growth projections. Vancouver city council recently accepted a staff report that included a Coriolis Consultants report stating: ai???The city has sufficient capacity in existing zoning and approved community plans to accommodate over 20 years of supply at the recent pace of residential It further says little of the rezonings since 2009 have been built out to date.

That report only includes rezoning to 2013. So all the rezoning to date, the current planning processes underway (for example, Grandview community plan or Jericho), as well as up-zoning on the Broadway corridor if it is approved, would be over the existing zoned capacity calculated in the report. The premise that more up-zoning is required for supply to meet regional obligations for growth is false, according to the Coriolis report.

Perhaps it is time to ensure there is enough electric transit capacity to support what we already have zoned rather than planning for more development than is sustainable.

Using transit technology that is more affordable can benefit the region as a whole and therefore gain broader support for the plan. Our existing SkyTrain lines need investment and upgrades which should be funded before new expensive subway lines are added.

For funding models, the mayors are correct in demanding the province fulfil its obligations to fund transit rather than downloading the expense to the civic level. Property taxes and development fees should be taken off the table as transit funding sources. Carbon taxes and gas taxes make the most sense.

TransLink governance needs to be returned to the regional level, as it was before its reorganization in the early 2000s into the dysfunctional and undemocratic mess it has become. Then it will need to be properly and fully funded by the province, based on a more realistic plan to service the region with clean and affordable electric technology.

It is time to create a transit plan and funding model that is democratic, affordable and popularly supported.

Elizabeth Murphy is a private-sector project manager and was formerly a property development officer for the City of Vancouverai??i??s Housing & Properties Department and for B.C. Housing.

Ai?? Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


5 Responses to “Some People Get It”
  1. eric chris says:

    This is the most insightful article on transit in Metro Vancouver that I’ve ever read. Excellent.

  2. James alexander says:

    Lrt advocates,

    Please note Translink in their not so infinite wisdom supports lrt. It was others who came to the conclusion that Skytrain is a vastly superior system for this region: CoV on Broadway, and the Province of BC built the other lines.

    Translink is out to lunch to think that lrt is the right fit for this region, and i am afraid “rail for the valley” is too.

    Do the math and look at the numbers. The Canada Line by itself carries as many people as all the lrt lines in Portland combined – and it does it more quickly, more efficiently and more safely.

    In a dense, urban area like vancouver, it just makes no sense to pretend that at-grade transit can be “rapid”!

    Take a walk down Broadway, people. How the heck can you fit the lrt in the above “cartoon” on that narrow, busy street. Goodness-you must be dreaming!

    If you like at grade, keep the buses. They are one tenth the cost of Lrt and just as efficient. Again the numbers- 60,000 passengers per day on Broadway alone, more than any of the Portland lines.

    Lrt looks nice, most everyone likes the look of these trains. But please dont expect the region to fork out billions for someones romantic notions about choo choo trains. If you like them so much consider visiting (or moving to) a City that has them. Like Portland for example.

    Zwei replies; Unfortunately, you provide a man of straw reply and you forget the many factors that TransLink does to artificially increase ridership on SkyTrain, including forcing over 80% of its riders to transfer from bus to SkyTrain. What you forget is that Portland’s LRT could carry a much as SkyTrain if need be.

    By using terms as choo choo trains, your argument loses relevance and in fact modern LRT can carry more riders than SkyTrain if need be. The fact that no one buys with SkyTrain anymore is lost on you and that modern LRT made SkyTrain obsolete many decades ago is also lost upon you. Sorry, your arguments are dated and without merit.

  3. James alexander says:

    Thanks for the quick response.

    Its actually more fundamental than lrt vs skytrain. Either system can work.

    However, in a dense, urban city, like Vancouver (and Toronto, and New York, and tokyo, and Montreal, and London,and,and and…… To have an eficient, “rapid” system you must grade separate! Must!

    This is not rocket science. Critical thinking and observation of the busy streets if or fine City is all that is needed.

    Once this obvious ccnclusion is made, the costs of lrt vs Skytrain are about the same. A couple of key facts lead one to favour skytrain. First, it is lighter so structures are lighter. Second, it is shorter, no overhead lines, so tunnels can be smaller. But in our region the bigger factor is connectivity. Skytrain to skytrain connections are hugely more efficient than skytrain to lrt. Consider lougheed station and the complication of going from a raised lrt station to a raised skytrain station. Thankfully they went eith skytrain for evergreen!

    In summary, grade separation is the key!

    Zwei replies: Sorry, you are wrong, grade separation is not the key, convenience is the key for better public transport. The very nature of light rail, by operating on a reserved rights-of-way, negates the need for grade separation. One has to look at cities like Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and about 500 more cities, that modern LRT works very well in densely populated cities.

    What you are preaching is about 50 years out of date, which is sadly how out of date our transit planning is.

  4. Patrick Condon says:


    Comparing a spread out metro area of only 2.4 million to metro areas like Paris New York and Tokyo with populations of up to 20 million is a stretch to be sure. Arguably Toronto and Montreal could have survived without subways and saved bundles, and improved the vibrancy of their citie as well.


  5. Adam Fitch says:

    James, as Patrick points out, it is ridiculous in the extreme to compare Vancouver to Toronto, New York, Tokyo and Montreal and say that Vancouver is a dense city and therefore needs subways. On a metropolitan basis, Vancouver is nowhere nearly as dense as those other cities.

    Vancouver should be building at-grade LRT in separated right[of-ways such as the medians of 16th Ave and King Edward, and using tunnels sparingly only at major intersections. This does not DIVIDE neighbourhoods as some say. It helps to revitalize them by making them more transit accessible.

    Vancouver should do this now, before the corridors get more built up, and the opportunities are that much more difficult and costly. The density can ad will follow the LRT development, just like it is now on Cambie.

    Yes, a subway on Broadway could support some mega=development at the far-spread and few stations. But LRT would support a more difuse and gentle form of densification.

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