CBC Is Anti Tram – Why Am I Not Surprised At CBC’s “Yellow Journalism”

The CBC has aired, what can only be said, an ill informed program on streetcars.

Why am I not surprised, as the CBC folded like a cheap deck chair and started singing hosannas about Montreal’s ill advised REM Light metro.

The CBC, cheap shots on streetcars, by someone who hasn’t a clue about the modern tram is nothing more than “yellow Journalism”.

So lets look at a few facts that eludes the CBC.

  1. SkyTrain is fast because it has fewer stations than comparable streetcar lines and fewer stations makes the transit system user unfriendly.
  2. As streetcars or the modern tram is far more user friendly than a bus, it attracts more ridership. In Caen France, a new 16 km tram line replaced the former guided bus (ultimate BRT) and gained 22,000 more customers a day!
  3. Do not confuse American streetcar projects with good transit, as some are political pork barrels and nothing more.
  4. Quote: “The study says, “new streetcar investments no longer primarily improve transit accessibility. Rather, modern streetcars are part of strategic amenity packages cities use to achieve real estate and economic development goals.”In my opinion, that’s a risky strategy. Really? This why SkyTrain is being built!
  5. Quote: “Second, I question if more people will actually start using public transit just because the ride got more attractive.” Really, user friendliness of a transit system is the prime reason for attracting of new ridership and trams are far more user friendly than a bus. See Caen!
One tires of Vancouver’s mainstream media’s ignorance of modern public transport and their continued singing high praise at the alter of SkyTrain; a dated transit system, that has only sold seven systems in the past 40 years, and not sold one system in the past decade!
During the same period over 200 new build LRT/tram/streetcar systems have been built and many of the existing streetcar/tram lines have been rebuilt to 21st century standards!
A look at Caen’s newly opened 16 km tramline should give pause to think.

The new 16.2 km tramway in Caen, France has opened after a nineteen month build.

Granted the new tramway has used the the previous trouble prone, 15.7 km,  TVR rubber tire guided bus line, which opened in 20o2 and abandoned in 2017.

The Euro €260 million (CAD $373 million) tramway opened six weeks earlier than forecast and now carries over 64,000 passengers a day. The previous TVR guided bus system carried 42 thousand passengers a day.

The Caen tramway operates three Lines and serves 37 stations.

Not bad, when one considers that metro Vancouver is spending $4.6 billion, extending its MALM lines by 12.8 km!

Vancouver should not have a desire for streetcars

The Early Edition’s About Here columnist, Uytae Lee, says they won’t add much to transit system

Uytae Lee · CBC News · Posted: Jan 28, 2020

For a brief moment in 2010, Vancouverites and visitors to the city could travel for free from Cambie Street to Granville Island on fancy streetcars from Brussels.

It was a city pilot project, called the Olympic demonstration line, to test and promote streetcars as a public transit alternative to buses and SkyTrains. The line attracted 550,000 passengers in 60 days.

That Olympic demonstration line was not the only time Vancouver has toyed with the idea of streetcars.

In the past, the city has considered streetcar routes from Granville Island to Waterfront Station, Yaletown, Stanley Park and even all the way down the Arbutus Greenway on the city’s west side. But a decade after the Olympics, the tracks sit empty.

Why build a streetcar?

Some consider the streetcar an intermediate level of transit. It can carry more passengers than buses, and if its tracks are separated from vehicle traffic, it can be faster too.

Streetcars may not be SkyTrain fast, but they usually cost much less.

In a 2005 study, the City of Vancouver pushed for a streetcar line. The study said it would foster economic growth, connect tourists to Granville Island and help revitalize neighbourhoods.

The study also said what I imagine a lot of people are thinking: “Streetcars are just… cooler!”

Or as the report put it, “smoother rides, easier access and better viewing often translate into more riders due to the increased level of passenger comfort.”

Why pump the brakes?

Despite its supporters, streetcars in Vancouver are going nowhere fast as the decision ultimately lies with TransLink, whose response to the idea has been a hard pass.

The first phase of a proposed streetcar route is from Granville Island to Waterfront Station.

However, the No. 50 bus already runs every 15 to 20 minutes between those stops and the streetcar would actually take about six minutes longer than the bus. Viewing it this way, the streetcar wouldn’t add much to Vancouver’s transit network.

But streetcar proponents see it as an economic and neighbourhood-building solution, as much as it is a transit solution.

This difference of opinions relates to a shift in transit planning identified in a Columbia University study analyzing recent streetcar projects across the United States.

The study says, “new streetcar investments no longer primarily improve transit accessibility. Rather, modern streetcars are part of strategic amenity packages cities use to achieve real estate and economic development goals.”

In my opinion, that’s a risky strategy.

First, the neighbourhoods that the study says will be revitalized are areas where gentrification has been controversial.

Second, I question if more people will actually start using public transit just because the ride got more attractive.

When I first started riding the SkyTrain, it was thrilling. But after 10 days, 60 days, two years? Now I’m staring at my phone just like everyone else.

I still take the SkyTrain because it’s the fastest way downtown, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to use it.

That’s a lesson many cities are learning the hard way.

There are many examples of streetcars across North America. Cities such as Cincinnati, Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta, and Dallas are examples of a few that were constructed under similar assumptions and are now struggling to attract users.

At the end of the day, people use transit because it takes them where they need to go quickly and reliably. I think that’s the truth whether we’re moving on roads or tracks. If we forget that, we risk building a transit service that’s just bells and whistles.



6 Responses to “CBC Is Anti Tram – Why Am I Not Surprised At CBC’s “Yellow Journalism””
  1. Rico says:

    You should include a link to the video. I thought it was very well done by someone who obviously loved streetcars. The central point of the clip you printed is also undeniably true. Apart from some legacy systems and a couple of proposed systems (the newest Seattle segment) which North American systems are designed primarily for transportation? Certainly not any of the systems listed in the article. Streetcars can be designed as transportation (see European trams) but in North America they rarely are.

    Zwei replies: Rico, your ignorance cannot be surpassed. In the USA, because of people like you, planners cannot plan for a network, instead they build a little bit here and a little bit there. The problem is, a little bit here becomes orphaned and new anti-tram politicians (who want more roads and highways by the way) stop funding. Orphan systems sadly lead to neglect. Portland’s Streetcar system is successful and many more. Streetcars are being copied not for nostalgic reasons (though sold to politicians as) but for stand alone transit systems because they are successful. Speaking of successful, who has copied our SkyTrain system, NO ONE!

  2. Rico says:

    Going to the Portland Streetcar website it lists average daily ridership as: 6,682 for the NS line, 2,742 for the A line and 2,802 for the B line. Would you like a list of Vancouver bus routes greater than those? Hint it would be a huge list. Obviously Portland streetcar is not about transportation otherwise it would never have been built. Portland MAX is about transportation, the streetcar is about redevelopment and Portland is not shy about saying it.

  3. I have joined Vancouver Councillor Colleen Hardwick on her 50 Neighborhood consultation. Over the course of the year Councillor Hardwick intends to consult the community members she represents about their hopes and aspirations for their neighborhood and city.

    She is wowing them in the early workshops showing how according to Stats Canada Vancouver has only been growing by an average of 1% per year since the time Expo 1986. Projections for the next 20 years of growth sees the same 1% growth extending forward.

    Given these facts, reported by the census, the question arises: Why are we building all these towers?

    Since in the Lower Mainland towers-and-skytrain build in a symbiotic system, the next question to ask is: Why build the Skytrain?

    Readers here already know that the Broadway subway will cost at least 12x more than a modern tram service.

    It is my hope that when presented with the facts, the citizens of Vancouver will rally against the towers-and-skytrain.

    With a like initiative growing from the Valley I look forward to a ribbon cutting ceremony to open up the Chilliwack-Vancouver service. It will be running on the street from UBC to the Arbutus corridor; then crossing into Richmond and travelling to Delta and Surrey; before finally reaching Chilliwack.

  4. Josh says:

    The olympic line was great and should be brought back to life. The track and stations are still in good condition. It should be extended to waterfront station via Chinatown and gastown. Vancouver paid 50 million to buy the old railway lands from CPR. Makes to put it to use for transit. Right now it is just a $50 million bike path.

  5. Candace O'Connor says:

    It’s a World class bike trail and I love it and am very grateful for it – in the summer! But in the winter there’s not much traffic on it most days, although even in winter, on a clear day, it’s a delightful way to get out, get around, get moving – and get to work! I think there’s a way it could be both a bike corridor and tram-line/’train line – I envision something very narrow that wouldn’t take up a lot of space width-wise!

  6. Josh says:

    It was a waste of money to build a new bike bath on the old railway. There is an existing bike route on Cyprus street that follows the same route on quiet residential streets.

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