vancouver: the almost perfect grid

In the last post, which explains why grids are such an efficient structure for transit, I mentioned that Vancouver has one of the best transit geographies I’ve ever encountered. Here’s what I mean.

Vancouver Transit

A grid pattern of arterial streets covers almost all of Vancouver. Most of the time, parallel major streets are spaced about every 800-1000m apart, and since a comfortable walking distance is about half that, this spacing is perfect for efficient transit.

But what’s really great about Vancouver from a transit perspective is the position of its major destinations.  They’re positioned in a way that solves another transit planning problem: anchoring.

If a transit line is operating through an area of uniform density, about 50% of its capacity goes to waste. That’s because the vehicle will leave the end of the line empty, fill only gradually with passengers, and reach its maximum load at the midpoint of the line.  After that, more people get off than get on.  As you near the far end of the line, the vehicle is nearly empty again.  If you plot the load of the vehicle against the position on the line, you get a bell curve:  zero at the ends of the line and its maximum level right in the middle.  If you scale your capacity to the maximum level, you end up with a lot of wasted capacity near the ends of the line and no way to make use of that capacity.

So transit planners are always looking to anchor their lines.  Anchoring means designing a line so that it ends at a major destination, so that there will be lots of people on the vehicle all the way to the end of the line.  A line with strong anchors at each end will have more uniform high ridership over the whole length of the line, and a much more efficient use of capacity overall.

So look at the network map again.  Downtown is the peninsula sticking up on the north side of the city.  If you look closely at the system map, you’ll see that most of the north-south lines extend to the north edge of the grid and then bend east or west as needed to flow into downtown.  There’s a bit of inefficiency in the resulting duplication, but it’s not too bad.  It means downtown’s major attractions and connections anchor the north end of most of the north-south lines.

But the spectacular anchoring happens on east-west lines.  At the west end of the city is the University of British Columbia, a major university that offers a fantastic deal on transit to its students.  (Your student ID is a transit pass, at no extra charge.)  UBC depends on intense transit service, and gets it.  Most of the east-west lines in the grid converge on UBC at their west end, and enjoy relatively high ridership all the way to the end of the line as a result.

The east end of these lines is a little more various, but many of them end at SkyTrain stations on the original Expo line, the blue-and-yellow line that runs southeast out of the city.  This SkyTrain line extends well out into the suburbs of Burnaby, New Westminster, and Surrey.  Most of its stations are forests of residential towers, or major commercial centers, or are trying to be.  So there’s plenty of demand for access to SkyTrain; this keeps the east-west lines busy to the east end.

The orange line on the map is the limited stop 99, which runs between UBC and SkyTrain along Broadway.  It runs limited stops between a SkyTrain station on the east end and UBC on the west end; it passes through a major high rise office core, including City Hall, in the middle.  It runs as frequently as it can physically run, generally every 5 minutes or better all day.  It’s crowded all the way to the last stop on each end.  As a result, it is by far TransLink’s most productive bus line.  Last I checked, it was one of the highest performing bus lines in western North America.  (It would do even better with some signal priority!)  Sooner or later, a rail transit line will replace the 99, and the region is arguing about that now.  More on that in another post.

So what’s makes transit so efficient in Vancouver?

  1. It’s a grid, …
  2. … with an ideal spacing between arterials, about 800-100m, and
  3. its big destinations (what planners call anchors) are at the edges, not in the middle.

The last point is the key.  If you’re a grid city with a big downtown in the middle and no comparably major centers anywhere else (like Melbourne, or Portland, or many Rust Belt American cities), you’re always going to be running a lot of empty seats on outer parts of your network, because demand just keeps falling as you move away from downtown.  The key to a super-frequent grid is to have the strong demand centers on the outer edge, so that lines are full all the way to the end.

That’s what Vancouver provides, via UBC in the west, downtown in the north, and the various SkyTrain stations (opening to a large suburban area with density around many stations) in the east.  Only in the south, along the Fraser River, does Vancouver just peter out into nothingness without a major destination at the edge.  Major north-south routes end at points along Marine Drive, which defines the city’s southern edge, but by Vancouver standards there’s just not much happening there.  From a transit efficiency standpoint, it would be a good place for some towers.

49 Responses to vancouver: the almost perfect grid

  1. Ted King February 24, 2010 at 8:17 am #

    I like the efficiency of the UBC student ID being also a transit pass. There seems to be a saddle running diagonally across the city. Is there some sort of creek or river running alongside the Expo Line’s middle section ?
    I’ve backtracked a bit to the precursor service, BCER’s Central Park Line (search for BCE “central park line” on Google). The third link below is for those who want to dig even deeper.

  2. David Sucher February 24, 2010 at 8:24 am #

    No question that grids are good.
    (And contra folks who don’t like boring rectangles in prior post; in fact I think that many rectangular settlements can be quite charming and serendipitous e.g. Vancouver! Nothing wrong with rectangular grids. My only point is the more basic theoretical question concerning “continuity.”)
    But what do we do with the grid? i.e. what’s the practical significance? Some ideas and curious to hear yours.
    Is there enough NEW platting to bother with? Yes, in suburbs. There will be plenty opportunities to screw things up. 🙂
    Or do we attempt to break the “non-grid” by creating new streets which make the grid? Tough to do politically but nice idea.
    Or are we primarily concerned about preventing street closures? Yes as there are obvious EDTCP implications and traffic calming efforts since many people do indeed like cul-de-sacs.

  3. mezzanine February 24, 2010 at 8:36 am #

    @ Ted King, what do you mean by saddle? If you are talking about the slight alignment change south of broadway station, it’s a skytrain track transition from the old interurban ROW that used to end by ~ rupert street, before rejoining another old rail ROW north of broadway (the ‘granview cut’, ie, the guideway follows 2 old ROWs, with a newer gap from rupert to broadway stn. there was a debate back in the 1980s when skytrain was built if this section should be tunnelled to avoid guideway impacts, but in the end, above-ground guideway was built.)
    @ Jarrett, the major problem with the UBC anchor is that it works too well – our broadway rapid bus to UBC is under a lot of stress. I certainly look forward to your analysis of the boradway corridor, as there is a good debate about continuing with skytrain to UBC, versus using LRT, versus part skytrain/part BRT.

  4. Ted King February 24, 2010 at 8:50 am #

    Another BCER Central Park Line link –
    @ mezzanine – I’m referring to the fold in between two chunks of high ground on a Google terrain map of Vancouver, BC. When I see a transit line and streets running diagonally I want to know why – history, hills, and/or H2O. Some of what I’ve read talks about steep slopes near the old BCER CPL. When you grow up in one of the hilliest cities on Earth (S.F.) you become sensitized to terrain issues. Try walking up or down hills like Nob Hill or Dolores Heights (e.g. 22nd + Church, OI !).

  5. Aaron Priven February 24, 2010 at 9:35 am #

    Putting attractors at the periphery is great for keeping the seats filled, but personally I’d rather be at my destination than filling a seat. And there’s an efficiency in having people on board for a shorter period of time.
    When I was at UBC, back in 1990-91, it took about 40 minutes to go between UBC and downtown on lines 4 or 10. I’m sure it’s faster with the new limited-stop routes, but considering that a lot of people came from areas in East Vancouver or even further out, a more central location would have been useful. (At least at that time, most people who lived on campus came to the university from far away; most students from the Vancouver area commuted.)
    It seems to me that rather than adding big anchors at the periphery, it would be better for most users of the system if the density of the region were increased throughout.

  6. Vonny February 24, 2010 at 9:52 am #

    Not sure i follow you on some point:
    The anchor point at an extremity of a line vs the middle, is half bell curve vs full bell curve:
    so “wasted capacity” at the ends of the line will be in the same ratio…
    Also, anchor point is good, is UBC a good example:
    not sure, because there is no contra flow for it (you go to UBC in the morning, but basically noone is leaving UBC at the same time, but buses need to return…:
    so there is near half wasted capacity…
    Central Broadway provide a better example, but probably the best one is Canada line, because lot of folk go to work to Richmond, so the load of the line is relatively well balanced in both direction, and yes it has anchor point at both end,

  7. mezzanine February 24, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    @ ted, cool question – the saddle you see on a topo map is Burnaby’s ‘central valley’. in teh early 1900, tram tracks led from downtown vancouver to the north ridge of the saddle(hastings) and the south ridge (kingsway), and you can see a lot of streetcar-influenced development in that area. The valley was marshy and was relatively undeveloped until the mid 1900s. A freight rail line runs thru it, as with the metro vancouver’s highway, but IIRC the rail line has a limited speed due to engineering concerns about the track on less-stable land.

  8. Ari February 24, 2010 at 10:05 am #

    It definitely helps that Vancouver is very much hemmed in by the ocean, rivers/bays/inlets (the Fraser and Burrard) and, further out, the international border and the mountains. It focuses most of the sprawl to the south and west, and makes the sprawl more dense. The hybrid subway/commuter SkyTrail (like Washington Metro) helps create dense activity centers. It also helps that most buses run on 15 minute-or-better headways.
    And the 99—I made the mistake of getting on it last fall when I was in Vancouver (I had a blast on transit, including taking the sea bus and a bus to go hiking in the mountains), not realizing it was a limited service bus. It does have the curb lane to itself, which helps, but Broadway is pretty congested. Private ROW seems key there.
    But the best part about Vancouver transit? The night before Halloween, the driver of one of the buses was fully dressed up, including a full red-faced devil mask.

  9. Aaron Priven February 24, 2010 at 10:34 am #

    Vonny — not that many people leave UBC in the morning, but the neighborhoods just to the east are residential and have lots of people who work in downtown or other parts of the city.

  10. EngineerScotty February 24, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    To follow up on Vonny and Aaron’s point: Which is more important to maximize–the percentage of seats occupied on a transit vehicle at a given time, or the number of boardings?
    Revisiting the restaurant analogy from some months back–is it better to have a fixed dinner schedule (some restaurants do this), where appetizers are served at 6, courses follow on the half-hour, the main course at 9 or so, desert and coffee at 10, and everyone heads for the exit at 11–ensuring the tables are all full all evening? Or is it better to maximize throughput, if you will, even if it means an empty restaurant right before closing (and right after opening)?
    A lot depends on the fare structure of the line–but most transit system (especially open systems) collect a flat fare for the trip–or, if there are zone-based fares, multi-zone tickets cost only a small increment above a single-zone ticket. In such structures, it would seem, the importance of an “anchor” at the end of the line diminishes from an operational point of view. It’s still important, of course–a low-used segment at the end of a line is more likely to be dropped should budgets get tight (or not built at all); nobody in BC would suggest dropping service to UBC. But from the revenue point of view, it doesn’t matter whether customers stay on the bus until they reach the UBC campus, or get off a few stops before–they pay a fare and occupy a seat regardless.

  11. tybuilding February 24, 2010 at 10:59 am #

    Grids are best for cycling as well with continous smaller streets that can be used as cycling routes.

  12. danny February 24, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    This post should be an addendum to this post:
    File under cons of through routing.

  13. richard February 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    Vancouver the perfect grid?
    I don’t think so
    This is Vancouver:
    And this is Tokyo:
    Guess which one makes money?

  14. Alon Levy February 24, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    For high-volume lines, there are always dominant destinations. Some cities arrange zoning and service patterns to serve a large reverse-peak market, but the peak market is always larger. In some other cities the peak employment area is stretched – for example, in Paris it includes both the city and Hauts-de-Seine – but it’s still there.
    The central problem is that if the second anchor is as big as the first anchor, then it needs to have transit lines converging on it from all directions, not all of which lead to other anchors. The resulting network would look like the Rhine-Ruhr S-Bahn, with several nodes, transit lines connecting the nodes, and multiple tails.
    So even in polycentric networks like the Rhine-Ruhr S-Bahn, I think the main distinction is between lines with symmetric demand and lines with asymmetric demand. Asymmetric lines have a peak travel demand, for example southbound on the 1-6 in New York or westbound on the RER A. On such lines, either the anchor is skewed to one end of the line, or the densest residential areas are just on one side of the anchor. Symmetric lines don’t have a peak travel demand except toward the center, for example the RER B.
    The difference in terms of capacity is that asymmetric lines can carry fewer people per day before they hit peak load. In principle circumferential lines can do even better than symmetric lines because they serve many disjoint trips, but those lines only work with a large network of radials to feed into.

  15. Jarrett February 24, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    Alon’s and Vonny’s point about directionality is important. Anchoring is about getting full use of availability across space — i.e. over the length of the line. Alon and Vonny are talking about the similar but different issue of getting full use across time of day and direction of travel. Vancouver is good at that too, because people commuting into UBC in the morning are commuting against the direction of people travelling into the city, so although buses may leave UBC fairly empty in the morning, they start filling up pretty quickly. I discussed Paris’s advantage over New York, in this respect, here:
    Note too that while big universities do have a big morning in-commute, they also produce intense two-way ridership all day as people come and go on various academic schedules. Note too that downtown, because of its diversity of uses and huge residential-tower mass, produces much more bi-directional demand than your typical clump of office-towers.
    Scotty. I think that even loading — which is the point of anchoring — is an important goal distinct from total boardings. Put another way, if maximum total boardings for a fixed budget is your goal, it makes sense to focus on anchoring so that you fill those otherwise empty seats, because you’re already paying to run them. Point is, if you compare an evenly loaded bus like the 99 with a bus line that lacks an anchor and is thus always empty near the end, the 99 is serving more boardings for the same service cost. Empty seats are always wasted capacity, and although they are usually unavoidable if the urban structure doesn’t provide an anchor, they still represent potential ridership that you’re not serving, because your empty seats aren’t in the right place, direction, and time.

  16. Jarrett February 24, 2010 at 3:30 pm #

    @ Aaron Priven. Yes, high density throughout is also very valuable, as in Paris. But you always get the most efficient loading if trip density (due to development density or a major transfer node such as a SkyTrain station) is much higher at the endpoints than in the middle.

  17. John C Todd, Jr February 24, 2010 at 6:39 pm #

    Hi Jarrett,
    The subject of high-frequency integrated grids is not the first time on this blog that I’ve seen you make highly perceptive and well-articulated points about what constitutes effective and application-appropriate transit, though this is the first time I’ve offered a comment.
    It’s been a long time since Harwood, by the way, and I’m very glad to see that you’re doing good work, in a different field than when last we met. I hope you’e doing well.
    Other subjects you’ve raised of particular pertinence to great urban public transit in the still-new century that are takeaways for me include what it would take to make a transit circulator effective, cost-effectiveness, energy efficiency and minimal emissions at the point of consumption as well as the point of generation, high average speed, high capacity, frequency, passenger safety, reliability, grade separation, affordability, flexibility, minimal vehicle transfers, congestion-proof operation, and even the operating cost-effectiveness of driverless transit you addressed earlier this week. Perhaps you’ve even addressed the subject of evacuation from a regional disaster as well.
    I haven’t noticed that you’ve offered much if any comment when one emerging solution to these issues in urban transit has been mentioned, even when some detractors have attempted to shout it down, so I’ll mention it again: Personal Rapid Transit.
    I can only assume by the lack of comment I’ve seen from you on that subject that you’re reserving judgment until the first true PRT systems have been in operation for months or even years, starting with the one scheduled to open later this spring at London’s Heathrow Airport, and of course this is prudent. But a precursor system has already been running in Morgantown, WV for more than 30 years with an unexcelled safety record, having carried more than 70 million passengers more than 120 million miles with zero fatalities, zero serious injuries, and zero legal claims of serious injury. If the Morgantown PRT were classified as light rail it would have the third-highest per-mile ridership in the United States. And despite being fully grade-separated and going way overbudget due to Nixonian meddling it still cost only $80M per mile in 2006 dollars, all while getting better than a 50% firebox recovery even though single-ride fares are just 50¢.
    The Heathrow system will be telling, but so will systems planned in Sweden and South Korea, proposed in San Jose, CA and Winona, MN, and voted for here in Seattle, as well as the system being built now in Masdar, UAE, the only city in the world thus far to have made real progress towards becoming truly carbon neutral — largely on the strength of entirely eliminating personal automobiles within its city limits, to be replaced by walking, bicycling, Segways(!), and Personal Rapid Transit (plus a single station on the regional rail network), with the enviable result of being able to move people within that city center faster, more conveniently, and more sustainably than it could using any other transportation network, including one in which personal automobiles were a component.
    It’s an exciting time, watching a new generation of public transit with such great potential get off the ground.
    Feel free to drop me a line if you should pass through Seattle, and best regards.
    John C. Todd, Jr.

  18. Jarrett February 24, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

    Everyone, please resist the temptation to turn this into a PRT debate in response to John’s comment.
    I’ll engage the PRT issue here when the time is right.

  19. Jarrett February 24, 2010 at 7:22 pm #

    Readers who want to explore the PRT debate are encouraged to follow John’s link, for a “pro” view, but also for extensive links to “con views. Again, please keep comments on-topic here!

  20. Alon Levy February 24, 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    Jarrett, Paris doesn’t really have two anchors at each RER line. It has a bunch of anchors in the middle and near the close-in stations further west, but there are long tails behind everything. There have to be – the RER A has to serve the western suburbs, too. It’s not like LA, where Wilshire’s two anchors are at the two ends.
    The problem with trying to have an anchor at each end is that the secondary anchor is almost never going to be large enough to prevent trains and buses from running empty. The best most cities seem to do is have an anchor that consists of several stations. The RER A has both Paris and La Defense, the Chuo Line has Tokyo and Shinjuku, and Shanghai Metro Line 1 has People’s Square, Xujiahui, and the two train stations.

  21. samussas February 25, 2010 at 2:13 am #

    Alon, in reality, it’s very difficult to obtain two perfectly equal anchors. You can try but you will allmost allways end up with some sort of polarity. However, what you can try to do is to minimize this polarity.
    In Paris it was done with Paul Delouvrier’s plan during the 70s. Paris saw then the project to create new polarities in the outer suburbs so people won’t have allways go into the city center to find jobs, education and/or entertainment.
    This plan led to the developpment of the Cergy-Pontoise, Ever/Melun/Sénart, St-Quentin-en-Yvelines, Marne-la-Vallée but also Nanterre/La Défense. Since then, new polarities have emerged at Orsay/Saclay, Massy-Palaiseau, Orly/Rungis, Val-de-Fontenay, Noisy-le-Grand, La Plaine/Stade de France, Roissy/Villepinte. All of which located on RER lines.
    For exemple, the RER A doesn’t only have two anchors (Paris & La Défense) but also Cergy, Nanterre, Val-de-Fontenay, Noisy-le-Grand/Noisy-Mt-d’Est, Marne-la-Vallée.
    That’s the beauty of it, if we see a major east/west polarization for tertiary jobs, those heavy rail lines were also used (voluntary or not) as leverage for new development, leading to the creation of secondary and/or tertiary anchors along those same lines. Making them even more efficient.

  22. Alon Levy February 25, 2010 at 2:56 am #

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t those other anchors quite minor? I mean, New York has its own secondary downtowns that are job destinations in themselves, and two of them, Flushing and Jamaica, are subway terminals. However, none of these downtowns even comes close to Midtown and Downtown Manhattan in importance, and as a result, the subway lines serving them have a sharp Manhattan-bound peak.

  23. samussas February 25, 2010 at 3:59 am #

    Of course, but that’s allways the thing. Once people qualified something as “minor” they tend to ignore it.
    First, “minor” is usually a relative quantification. It doesn’t really have a meaning by itself. If Flushing or Jamaica are minor compared to Downtown or Midtown Manhattan they still are major to compare to (what ?) Poughkeepsie. Those terminals, like Cergy, also attract people to them and they induce patronage.
    Second, if you dismissed one parameter because you think of it as “minor” you are distorting reality. And reality is often an addition of “minor” and “major” parameters. At the end, you can’t dismiss “minor” parameters or you will miss the overall major effect they have once put together.
    I’ve had this conversation many times. This is a common logic mistake. People only feel concerned by the highest numbers.
    Let’s take an exemple. At the moment, there is a debate about how to decongest (Paris) M13 in its northern parts.
    – One project is to get rid of one branch by giving it to the M14. The overall congestion decrease will be 50 and 64% on the existing branches. This will be a very difficult, painfull for the riders and the neighbors and expensive project.
    – Another project is to use the M14 to bisect both branches in the suburbs. The induced decongestion is estimated to be around 25%. But, the project is far less disruptive and a lot cheaper. It will allow the Paris Region to finance other projects that, even if they don’t directly concern the M13, will have an effect on its patronage (as well as increasing mobility in the suburbs). Those projects will induced 3%, 5% or even 10% decongestion on M13. Most of the people I spoke with don’t want to hear about those projects. “Too small an effect”… yes, if taken alone. But, at the end, they accound for a 25% to 40% decrease in M13 patronage. That’s not minor.
    Same goes for those anchors along RER A and B. They are seconday, they don’t amount to much when compared to the primary anchors but once put together they start to have a great effect on the overall patronage.
    Most of the people will still go from the eastern suburbs to Paris or La Défense but you will also have quite a good number of people will go from Cergy to La Défense Paris, Stade de France, Val-de-Fontenay or from Paris to all the other secondary anchors located in the suburbs.
    There is a reason why the RER A patronage skyrocketed those last year although La Défense didn’t grow so much and jobs started to be relocated from Paris to the inner or outer suburbs along those RER and metro lines.

  24. Adrian February 25, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    Let’s make this a little simpler:
    If a city has only one major regional centre, the ridership really only occurs in one direction at one time period. I’ve been to many North American cities where it’s busy in one direction, virtually empty the other. Anchors, or municipal centres as we call it in Metro Vancouver, simply distribute, or increase ridership in all directions. During peak hours in Vancouver, a lot of the morning ridership comes from the peak direction, but trains are somewhat full for the opposite direction as well.
    I’m not certain, but I believe Jarrett simply wants to point out the importance of anchors in cities and the relationship between anchors and infrastructure projects.
    I don’t exactly agree Vancouver’s physical geography has something to do with that, but certainly, the layout of the city has contributed to the success of transportation projects in Vancouver. The grid layout, as many point out, are perfect for cycling routes, but are also great for pedestrian corridors. A cul-de-sac road layout, while creating private, secluded residential areas, really limit pedestrian movement and increase reliance on automobiles. A way around it is to lay straight and wide pedestrian corridors between houses.
    Vancouver also didn’t put an emphasis on the downtown core. Most of our skyline is made up of residences, not offices. In fact, we don’t have enough offices within the downtown core, and some companies have moved out of downtown the suburban city centres (we call it municipal centres), to these transportation anchors. So really, while these anchors aren’t “major,” Vancouver’s downtown really isn’t that “major” either. But like samussas said in the post above, the point whether or not it is “major” or “minor” isn’t that important.
    I also like to point out that these anchors are spread out throughout Vancouver’s rapid transit system. These anchors take place in many different forms, from actual downtowns (in a much smaller scale of couurse), to shopping districts, to residential tower clusters. Land-use planning and density goes hand-in-hand with transportation planning, something many North American transit agencies have yet to fully understand. Hong Kong, Paris, London, and to some extent Vancouver (not Vancouver proper however), have managed to incorporate with their transportation planning. It’s getting better though: I see LA has some dense residential areas around its Gold Line and Portland has built the Pearl district along with its streetcar system.

  25. Michael D. Setty February 25, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    “I’ll engage the PRT issue here when the time is right.”
    You’ll regret it! 🙂

  26. samussas February 25, 2010 at 3:07 pm #

    Hum… one quick thought. Many people opposed grids and dead-end (cul-de-sac) road layouts. But these are just two sides of a very large spectrum of possible road layouts. Or, am I wrong in assuming that we can have “through” roads without resorting necessarily to a grid (like in Paris, London, Berlin…)?
    To me, grids like road layouts are not what make a city bikable or walkable. The form is just an aspect, the real parameter here is continuity.

  27. Mike C February 26, 2010 at 7:12 am # is not a good source on PRT. It’s an advocacy site for rail-based transit run by a single individual (Michael Setty) who has long bashed PRT with little or no substance. Yes, I’ve read all Setty’s PRT “analysis”, and yes, it’s all unsubstantiated fluff.

  28. EngineerScotty February 26, 2010 at 7:50 am #

    PRT is off-topic for this thread. Setty’s website is anti-PRT, but was acknowledged as so by Jarrett. The other website mentioned is a PRT advocacy site, which Jarrett also noticed.
    Given that PRT, moreso than any other topic I can think of in transit, seems to invite flamewars, kiboshing the debate in a thread not dedicated to it seems like a good idea. Mike and Michael, you’ve each gotten your licks in… so that’s enough.

  29. Tessa February 26, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    One question with regards to anchors at the ends: Most of Vancouver’s north-south bus routes use through-routing, so for example the #16 from 29th Avenue station to downtown goes straight through downtown and becomes the Arbutus bus, as does the #22 Knight through to Macdonald, the #4 UBC through to Powell, etc. Given that this means the bus routes are, effectively, unachored at both ends in some cases (Macdonald, Powell, Arbutus for sure) what effect does that have? Of course it wouldn’t change if you didn’t do throughrouting, but still.
    I’m just wondering, given you have to provide transit everywhere, wouldn’t it make sense to have relatively even density? Otherwise, don’t you just end up with a system where the middle of the line is relatively empty compared to the edges?
    Also, given the 99 bus has many people who get on at Commercial-Broadway and ride all the way to UBC, wouldn’t it actually create more capacity if, in this case, UBC weren’t at the end of the line but instead were closer to the middle? That capacity could then be filled up by people travelling in the other direction from the other side? I’m not sure.

  30. Jarrett at February 26, 2010 at 10:38 pm #

    Tessa.  You're right that the U-shaped routes you mention are effectively anchored in the middle instead of at the ends, but the anchor is still useful because you wouldn't expect lots of people to ride through the middle of the U.  Imagine what the load distribution on a U-shaped route would be if it were running through uniform density everywhere:  It would be two bell curves with a depression in between, at the apex of the U.  Because nobody's going to ride the 22, say, from Broadway & Clark to Broadway & Macdonald.  So the anchor is still helpful in raising that depression. 
    In the case of the 99, big destinations at the endpoints are still the crucial feature that drives the exceptional productivity.  If UBC were in the middle and you just had affluent neighbourhoods out on the point, you'd have a long weak tail to the line that would drag down the productivity.

  31. Tessa February 27, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    That is a good point, and I guess in that case the U-shaped route wouldn’t make sense. But with the 99, I don’t see how there would be any less riders or any less revenue if UBC were in the middle, effectively, because people are still having to line up for the bus at Commercial-Broadway and filling it almost immediately, only they’re getting off earlier. As it is right now, a lot of the capacity of the B-line is taken up by people who travel the whole length, meaning that people who want to get on at Broadway-City Hall or at Granville Street or Macdonald often can’t because the bus is too full. That’s why Translink is often forced to run short-turns to get people on the rest of the route.
    If UBC were in the centre of that route, then people on the other side wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they’re going to get on the bus, which could improve ridership or at least free seats up for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to fit, am I right? And the same number of people would get on the bus at the skytrain stations because they still have to get to UBC.
    I mean, I’m not denying that the 99 b-line is a darn productive bus. It sure is. But I don’t see how it would be any less productive in terms of the number of people who ride it each day if UBC were at Arbutus, for example.

  32. samussas February 27, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    In fact, I don’t think either that a line that people need to ride entirelly from one point to the other is very effective. You then need to maximize investment in order to accomodate patronage. It’s a very efficient form if you are running a point-to-point (long-haul or express) service but from an urban transit point of view, it’s not. It is better to have evenly distributed ODs alond the route than have them only at each ends. People will then get on and get off very frequently, every 3 or 5 stations, not hogging much needed space.

  33. Jarrett at February 27, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    @Tessa.  Because if UBC were at Arbutus, most of the demand would end there, so if the 99 went further it would be mostly empty.  While in the current arrangement the buses are nearly full the whole way.  Think of it this way:  the market to UBC is what drives the high frequency along the whole line, and thus its availability to everyone in between.
    It sounds like what you're describing is a capacity problem.  I believe TransLink handles this by running nonstops UBC-Commercial Drive when demand is high enough to fill them.  But probably not enough.

  34. Paul March 1, 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    Also by having UBC had been at Arbutus and Broadway it would have meant that to get to to it everyone would of had to been on the Broadway or Arubutus buses. Putting a much heavier load on those routes than what is on them now.
    By UBC being at the far western end. With the layout of the roads. It means that almost every single east-west route. Ends up at the exact same point on the western end. At the UBC bus loop. Also the ridership of all of those routes is so high that it quite common for buses to not stop because the bus is full.

  35. Tessa March 1, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

    @Jarrett: It just seems very strange to have a city organized so people have to travel the maximum length of a route to get where they’re going. It’s true, it justifies the level of service for all the crosstown routest, but it means people get on at one end and don’t get off until the very end, and they’re taking up space the whole time. I used to ride the 49 from Boundary to Langara College, and it was a gamble whether or not I’d get on a bus the first three tries in either direction, because it was full. Yes, it’s a capacity problem, but it’s also because there’s so few destinations in between UBC and Metrotown on that bus since at the time the Canada Line was unbuilt, and so many people stay on the bus the entire length of the route, rather than getting on and getting off all the time.
    I wasn’t trying to argue against anchoring the edges, only against the dangers of being too effective and emphasizing that too much. In many ways, even high density across an entire line is quite desirable, I would think, as i expect it would maximize the number of trips rather than simply the number of bums in seats.

  36. Jarrett at March 1, 2010 at 10:01 pm #

    Tessa.  Yes, density is always a good thing for transit, but for optimum use of capacity, it helps if the density peaks at the edges rather than the middle.  Obviously, the overloading you describe (sounds like Line 49) is an indication of the need to run limited-stop services, or even nonstop service between the endpoints, as is already done on the 99 at peaks

  37. Paul March 2, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    @Tessa and @Jarrett
    There is no doubt that capacity is overloaded on the vast majority of the east-west routes in Vancouver. Especially on the 9,99,41,43 and 49th routes. They generally have the highest number of pass ups.
    I do think they need to extend the Millennium Line all the way to UBC. This would hopefully cause people to not switch to a bus at either Metrotown or Joyce station but go down to Broadway and catch the train the rest of the way into UBC.
    Also 49th Ave on which the #49 bus travels and where Langara is. Is just too narrow and congested to have a limited stop bus. If they had a B-Line or at grade LRT along 41st. That would hopefully get people off of #49 who want to go to UBC. Leaving the #49 for the people who go to Langara. Also if a B-Line was put on 41st I would from Victoria st all the way to Kerisdale. Have the curb lane be a bus only lane for most of the day.

  38. guest March 2, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    The situation of Line 49 bus in Vancouver is quite interesting. It now takes the title of most passed-up bus route since #98b Line ceased to exist.
    Line 49 is heavy-used both directions all day long between Canada Line station (near Langara College) and Metrotown. However, the amount of UBC-bound riders is not so much. Translink obviously saw the problem (and numerous complaints) and added some short-trip buses just reach as far as Canada Line Langara station.
    The schedule can be seen here:
    Agreed with above comment 49th Ave is not well-suited for another limited bus service. A rapid bus on 41th ave (to replace Line 43) should further reduce amount of UBC-bound riders that occupy spaces on Line 49.

  39. Student March 2, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

    Just to correct a mistake: the UBC U-pass is not free. It is assessed at $23.75/month as part of student fees paid to the Alma Mater Society (AMS) and is a separate card, not the student card.

  40. Warren March 3, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    The U-Pass payment is also mandatory, correct? So you have to pay that fee whether or not you are using the pass. I’m sure it works out as less revenue per use compared to a full price pass, but not as cheap as some would have you believe.

  41. Paul March 3, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Yes U-Pass is mandatory. It is less revenue. But Translink also gets some of that back by the fact that some students will still drive even though they have a U-Pass. So there money helps to offset the person who does use the U-Pass

  42. David July 22, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    Great article. On anchoring. The north-south routes are not badly anchored at the south end actually. With the opening of Canada Line, the 10 Granville trolley bus, the 17 Oak trolley bus, the 15 Cambie bus, and the 3 Main trolley bus were all extended on new overhead to Marine Drive Station. This creates an anchor for these routes.
    The City owns a lot of land along the Fraser and higher densities are going up along there, creating anchors to some degree for 8 Fraser Trolley bus, 22 Knight and 20 Victoria trolley bus. As the overhead is in place along Marine Drive from Victoria to Marpole, currently used for trolley buses going into and out of service to the Transit Centre in Marpole – it might be possible one day to extend one or more of these trolley routes to Canada Line, creating new links and new anchors.
    On the west side there isn’t much – but Kerrisdale and Dunbar area have a fair density and the anchor is a major east-west bus route (41) – so the 7 Dunbar trolley and the 22 McDonald don’t end in the middle of nowhere. The 16 Arbutus trolley ends in Marpole a high density residential area.
    That leaves the east side routes, 26 and 29 in true suburbia.

  43. Jarrett at July 23, 2010 at 9:39 am #

    David.  All true, but of course the levels of service on these lines are defined mainly by the demand toward the north end, so relative to that high level of service, even Marpole is a relatively weak anchor.  I agree that the convergence on the Canada Line has helped the westside lines enormously. 

  44. David M July 24, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    Interesting that when you look at Vancouver’s bus grid, there is a lot of legacy in there. I think most transit systems have this. you know them, Those strange routings that make you wonder what the transit planner was thinking. Going back in time, you’ll probably find the answer, such as a loop that got extended. I find these artifacts fascinating. Sort of like old code in a computer program that’s no longer needed, but it’s there because nobody’s bothered to change it.
    This is obvious in Edmonton; the City discontinued the trolley system, replacing it with diesel buses. Yet, for the most part, the routes haven’t changed, with the same odd ending and routings. For example, the 3 ends short of Coliseum station, denying a great transfer opportunity. And for a study on how not to plan roads for transit, take a look at Edmonton’s suburbs – a nightmare for transit planning.
    In Vancouver, the legacy is the north-south alignment of the bus routes, mainly following the old streetcar and now trolley lines. Of course, the expense of extending or rerouting trolley line means this legacy system lives on longer.
    Now Canada Line is open, the traffic flows are heavier on the east-west lines. The main transfer used to be Granville, with frequent express buses to points as far away as White Rock. As there are fewer east-west routes it means higher frequencies on the few routes in place to support Canada Line. A new east-west link was added, but more are needed as the new Canada Line changes travel patterns.
    Other than broadway, the busiest east-west route is 41st Ave, with the 41 operating every 10 minutes or better all day, and generally frequently until after 2:00am. Most of the busiest part of the route (Joyce to Dunbar) still has trolley overhead, but most of the services are diesel, due to the un-electrified extension of most 41 buses to UBC. If I were the Translink planner, I’d be looking at ways to get high-capacity trolley buses onto that route.

  45. Jarrett at July 25, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    David.  I think TransLink's thinking pretty much matches yours.  Even a Broadway rail transit line won't cut demand on 41st very much, or at least not for long.

  46. Feminissimo July 26, 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    I, envy you. Your blog is much better under the maintenance and design than mine. Who to you the design did?

  47. Mike October 28, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    It was mentioned in one of the comments above that Vancouver’s push for decentralized destinations have helpd in the success of Vancouver’s transit use.
    I think that could not be farther from the truth.
    Vancouver due to the extreme decentralization it has promoted, has the lowest transit use among Canada’s largest cities.
    The lack of a strong CBD and the spreading out of jobs throughout the region means that most Metro Vancouver residents drive, as transit can never serve these jobs and destinations in a competative manner.
    Calgary a much more highly centralized city even has better transit usage rates than Vancouver.
    While not everything has to be in the CBD, Vancouver has taken the decentralization theme much too far, and the region is paying for it in very low transit usage and high car use.

  48. Westnorth December 20, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    What a fascinating discussion! While it may be very efficient from operations standpoint, I do wonder about how people beyond the anchors are expected to get to the anchor. In this example, how should bus routes running east of SkyTrain feed into SkyTrain’s TOD nodes? Are these routes structured as U-shapes that run between rapid transit stations, via an outlying road?
    MARTA seems to run many of its bus routes as U-shapes, which begin and end at rail stations and run crosstown parallel to the rail line.

  49. Jarrett at December 20, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    Westnorth.  Yes, once you're in densities too low to support grid frequencies, U-shaped local routes are pretty standard, a they provide everyone on the route access to two major stations and/or activity centres.