vancouver: the great broadway debate

The big rail transit debate in Vancouver at the moment concerns Broadway.  You might call it Vancouver’s Wilshire Boulevard: not always a beautiful street but a very important one.  It’s the direct line east from the University of British Columbia at the west end of the city, and goes through a major office core, including Vancouver City Hall, just south of downtown proper.  It’s the busiest east-west arterial in the entire city and the site of one of the busiest bus lines in North America, the 99.  It has everything you need for successful rail transit, except consensus.  Here again is the City of Vancouver’s transit network, with the Broadway corridor in dark orange.


Broadway has long been a lower priority politically than it would be on technical grounds.  A region-wide process of completing a network to all the designated Regional Centres has led to a series of SkyTrain lines aimed mostly outside the City of Vancouver, including one more, the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam, still hovering in the near future.  The preference for suburban lines over urban ones has more merit here than in most North American metro areas, because most of the suburban cities this network serves are intending to build very high density around SkyTrain stations, or already have.   One of the most striking features of Vancouver, as seen from an arriving airplane, is the a chain of tower clusters extending diagonally almost all the way across the region. This chain is the path of the oldest SkyTrain line, the Expo line completed in 1986.  These towers are the land use response to SkyTrain’s exceptional frequency and reliability.  Newer lines are expected to have the same impact at many of their stations.

So as often happens, the internal circulation needs of the region’s core city are being addressed somewhat late in the game.  Broadway has long had sufficient density to support rail, especially given the western anchor of UBC, a huge university where expensive parking and free student transit passes amount to a virtual mandate that students and staff take transit if they’re not walking or biking.

A debate has erupted, however, about whether Broadway should have surface light rail or an underground extension of SkyTrain.  SkyTrain extension advocates have a nice site here.  Patrick Condon of UBC’s Design Centre for Sustainability speaks up for light rail (or as he calls it, “European tram,”) here. The debate is happening in the context of reduced funding sources which make cheapness more of a selling argument.

Here’s the core problem, though.  Look at the Vancouver region’s SkyTrain map:

New Picture (1)

The combined yellow-and-dark-blue line is the original Expo Line from 1986, while the yellow line alone is the 1999 Millennium Line.  Note that the Millennium Line’s northern segment is functionally a separate east-west line across the region, except that it ends before it reaches downtown Vancouver or connects with the Canada Line.

In network structure terms, we would say that the northern Millennium Line ends before it has completed the grid.  At the regionwide network scale, completing the grid would mean continuing west at least to a connection with the last north-south rapid transit corridor, the Canada Line.  The current end of the Millennium Line is thus a major inefficiency in the network, one that dramatically limits the line’s usefulness and is likely to prevent it from ever being used to its full capacity.  Stations on this line are one transfer away from downtown Vancouver, but more problematic, they are two transfers from any of the stations on the Canada Line.  (This problem is made worse by the poor physical connection between the Canada and Expo Lines where they first cross downtown.  It’s necessary to ride out-of-direction to Waterfront station to make this connection easily.)

On the diagram above, the unmarked station where the yellow Millennium line crosses the yellow-plus-dark-blue Expo line is Commercial/Broadway station.  This is the east end of the Broadway corridor, the dark orange line on the city network map at the top of this post.  It has long been assumed that the Millennium line would simply continue west into a subway under Broadway.  As Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs put it recently:

We already have a high-speed line ending at the Millennium Line at VCC–Clark,” he 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.”

Dividing the corridor into two overlapping services may seem inefficient, but in this corridor Meggs may have a point.  One problem with the SkyTrain subway all the way to UBC is that west of Arbutus St (about 2 km west of the Canada Line) the ambient density drops, and we go through several km of relatively affluent moderate density that will probably never be upzoned to a degree that would support a heavy rail subway.  So the UBC market has to justify the entire project from Arbutus west.

So despite the hugeness of the UBC market, breaking the corridor into two projects may make sense here.  Everyone in the region has an interest in a coherent regional rapid transit network; that interest argues for extending the Millennium Line to touch the Canada Line, but not necessarily to go all the way to UBC.  UBC would still have its network of very-frequent bus routes extending east along most of Vancouver’s east-west arterials, connecting to SkyTrain at multiple points.

Transit usually benefits from combining many markets into a single project, not separating them out into their own lines.  But there’s one exception: when the resulting single project ends up being so expensive and controversial that nothing gets done. A small Millennium Line extension that completes the connectivity of the rapid transit network may be a logical first step.  As many European cities prove, you can still come back later and build a much slower “European tram,” if that’s what your urbanist vision requires.

51 Responses to vancouver: the great broadway debate

  1. Rhywun February 27, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

    I know next to nothing about Vancouver, but can someone explain why City Hall seems to be located so far “outside” downtown?
    Another question – I am sort of familiar with the fact that the city proper is only a small portion of the actual built-up area (perhaps rather like the old City of Toronto vs. the new City (metro) city?). Is the Vancouver situation similar to Toronto, where the old, historical city remains very dense while the “suburbs” range from near-urban density to suburban sprawl? Your description of Broadway west of Arbutus would seem to indicate otherwise. I wonder if a Metro government a la Toronto is in the cards.
    (PS. Your second link is incorrect – it’s the same as the first one.)

  2. Jarrett at February 27, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    Metro Vancouver has very little flat land to work with, so there is more impetus to density.   There is some sprawl in the southeast, but compared to Toronto suburban cities have a much clearer focus on density rather than sprawl.

  3. Zach Shaner February 27, 2010 at 8:40 pm #

    I’m convinced that Broadway has the density to support rail all the way to UBC. Between Arbutus and Alma, Broadway remains a solid retail corridor with 2-4 story apartment buildings and subdivided houses supplying the residential base. The only real density gap is between Alma and Sasamat, where it’s almost exclusively expensive single-family homes. At Blanca St., where I live, there are four 10+ story towers to anchor a stop at Point Grey Village.
    The inevitable rerouting of buses to feed a Broadway subway/skytrain would further increase the operating efficiency of the line. At present, THREE buses (9,17,99) traverse Broadway to UBC, THREE buses (4,44,84) run down 4th Ave. to UBC, and TWO more (25,33) run along 16th Ave to UBC. Ending most east-west corridor buses at an Alma rail station, for instance, would help to justify building the subway underneath 10th Ave, where density is lowest.

  4. EngineerScotty February 27, 2010 at 8:41 pm #

    An important point, not mentioned in the article, is that the Canada line and the Millenium/Expo lines use incompatible tracks and rolling stock. That doesn’t directly impact the discussion here, but it makes a few conceivable routes, such a more direct UBC to downtown connection, more difficult–it can’t just be a spur to link the two lines. If the Canada Line technology is sent west to UBC, then it can’t be an extension of the Millenium Line.

  5. mezzanine February 27, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    @rhywun, the city of vancouver is a product of amalgamation of even smaller cities in proto-vancouver. There was a separate city of ‘south vancouver’ that amalgamated with vancouver proper ~ early 1900s, and one of the perks to get south vancouver to amalgamate was to move city hall there. by 2010 standards, it’s not so far, especially now we have the c-line 🙂
    and dont get me started on patrick condon. Jarrett, your ‘streetcars: an inconvienient truth’ directly addresses what he has to say about trams, especially as his proposed tram network will basically duplicate our existing unique network of trolleybuses.
    he even turns skytrain’s frquency into a negative in one of his poorly explained and opaque ‘studies’:
    “Figure 10 got my attention. I cannot think of the last time I was on a Skytrain with less than 20 people aboard. No way that the average utilization of Skytrain is less than 20% of capacity

    I suspect the reason why SkyTrain average utilization is low compared to other modes is the high frequency of trains in off-peak hours. For systems with drivers, the frequency is often way less in off-peak hours due to the high cost of the drivers.”

  6. Zach Shaner February 27, 2010 at 8:44 pm #

    Also, here’s my full take on it…

  7. Jarrett at February 27, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    @ Scotty.  I don't think anyone sees any serious value in being able to run trains thru between Canada and Millennium Lines, even if you really wanted to build an all-underground eight-level flyover rail interchange right in front of City Hall.  It won't work because branching dissapates frequency, and it's not a logical place to take out half the frequency on either line.

  8. Alon Levy February 27, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

    Mezzanine: remember that people’s perception of utilization is always going to be skewed upward. There are always more people to witness crowding than emptiness. If half the trains run at 100% capacity, and half run at 20%, then five sixths of passengers will see 100% crowding rather than 20%; therefore, real utilization will be 60%, while perceived utilization will be 87%.
    The same is true with frequency – more people are there to witness a train run late than to witness it run on time. In both cases, both the actual and the perceived numbers are important: the perceived numbers measure passenger experience, whereas the actual numbers measure system costs.

  9. Rhywun February 27, 2010 at 10:29 pm #

    There is some sprawl in the southeast, but compared to Toronto suburban cities have a much clearer focus on density rather than sprawl.

    I’m sure whole posts can be (and have been) written about that factor. One of the things I found fascinating about the 1 year I lived in San Francisco was the way that even outside The City, the “sprawl” was confined to the valleys and flat areas between all the mountains. And yet, now I have lived in relatively flat NYC for 12 years, and I still find the outskirts more “urban” than those of SF. It sprawls endless like any other American city, but there’s more “there” there. I guess it comes down to culture and/or history. If SF had been settled a couple hundred years earlier (and located on the east coast), all those valleys would probably be crammed with dense urbanity rather than the thin gruel we see today.

    one of the perks to get south vancouver to amalgamate was to move city hall there

    Ah… fascinating. Now that I am a New Yorker, I have to imagine what if Brooklyn had made such a demand in 1898…. Anyway, everything I’ve heard about Vancouver makes it sound like a wonderful place to live. I have a friend who may move to Canada, and would have to decide between Toronto and Vancouver (east coast vs. west coast!). I know Toronto quite well and love it, but Vancouver sounds very nice too.
    PS. As a huge fan of trolleybuses, I hate to see them replaced by anything (*ahem* see Toronto) unless there’s a huge gain in mobility.

  10. Main St. February 27, 2010 at 11:06 pm #

    I think it would be money well-spent to continue the Millenium Line through to UBC. An LRT along Broadway would provide little more than the current BRT system (99 Bline; articulated trolley buses) which is running over-capacity. LRT or a tram would essentially be a lot of money for not a lot of improvement. Although Broadway is not particularly dense west of MacDonald, there are strategic places where it could and would densify if a ‘proper’ rapid transit line were in place.
    Enjoy your blog, Jarrett.

  11. mezzanine February 27, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

    @Alon Levy,
    I suppose you’d be skeptical if i told you skytrain for most of the working day is very busy and each car normally has more than 20 people in it. 😉
    here is a link to the study that i referred to:
    Figure 9 and 10 are important as much of the cost/benefits further in his paper are in units per passenger-mile. yet i defy you to try to have you find how he came to these calculations, i sure can’t figure it out.
    And although you may not be able to relate to skytrain, i’m sure you have a sense of the bus system in your city. In figure 9, a ‘typical’ occupancy for a diesel bus is 10 riders, and that he uses for his calculations. Is that realistic? fair/unfair?
    he completely neglects the frequency aspect of skytrain/sutomated metro. at its worst, he is making the “skytrain isn’t green because it runs empty” arguement.

  12. Alon Levy February 28, 2010 at 1:05 am #

    Bear in mind, Translink provides conflicting ridership data, so you can find support for any conclusion by picking one set of numbers. It sometimes says Skytrain has 364,000 daily passengers and sometimes says it has 47,000,000 annual passengers.
    The 10 riders/bus figure is robust – it’s a US average that for some reason got applied to Canada. That’s realistic, though it may not be true for Vancouver. The 20 people/car figure is realistic, too. Most US systems aren’t much higher; the highest, New York City Transit, averages 28.
    Figures 9 and 10 look completely inscrutable to me, but for other reasons than what you mention. The part about trip length seems weird considering that replacing Skytrain with trams won’t magically make people take shorter trips and vice versa. And the comment about regenerative braking is unclear about whether he’s counting regenerative braking for Skytrain or just trams…

  13. Alan Robinson February 28, 2010 at 11:17 am #

    I don’t trust the comment that Vancouver City Hall was placed in its current location due to the wishes of South Vancouver. It is not located in former South Vancouver, which started at 16th Ave. I believe the plan was to create a large civic development as near to the city as space could be found. This was originally to be at the north end of the Burrard St. Bridge.
    A very convincing demonstration of the demand at UBC is watching the diesel bus loop there during peak periods. I can’t think of many other place where busses push the limits of road capacity. I wish I had a video to share. There is a sub-debate to the Broadway corridor with regard to the future of this bus loop. The university would like to construct a smaller underground bus loop, where both transit and pedestrian traffic may exceed its design, and trolley busses would have to remain on the surface separated from other transit services. There has been significant student protests to this plan.

  14. Voony February 28, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    Jarret is right:
    Debate shouldn’t be either LRT or Skytrain, but how far west the Millenium line should go (it is how I was stating it in ). the fact that technology here is a Skytrain one, is relatively secondary, and bear only financial implication on the extension we can afford.
    It is also probably worth to mention that the western edge of the corridor (10th avenue), present a pretty steep slope, of 6-7%, which can brought some challenge to surface rail transit…adding some spice to the debate…
    he raises another important issue, which is quality of the connections in the system:
    In that respect Vancouver is more than a Laggard, compared to Toronto TTC (not even mentioning Montreal…)
    This and the term of the Broadway debate demonstrate a significant lack of maturity of Vancouver folks when come to speak of transit system…
    I second Mezzanine, Patrick Condon’s papers are far to meet the quality standard one could expect of an academic
    (I have addressed some issue here,
    … for its defense its field of study is not transportation but urbanism, so he is as much qualified to speak of transportation than your family doctor is of Hospital building construction…may be less, because physician are user of the hospital)

  15. splashflash February 28, 2010 at 11:50 am #

    The Millennium Line will apply even greater pressure and ramp up inefficiency at the 99 B-Line and Skytrain transfer at Commercial and Broadway if the Evergreen Line is completed. A Millennium Line merge option with the Expo Line was recommended if the Millennium Line extension were not to be completed within five years of the opening of the Millenium line. That study was completed, I believe, in 2000. The Millennium Line was completed to VCC (Glen and Great Northen Way) in 2006, after the rest of the Millennium Line was opened to Commercial in 2002.
    Some options for a short Millennium Line extension could be –
    a). merge the Expo and Millenium lines at Terminal Ave, near the Home Depot (still feasible?)
    b). extend the Millennium Line west to Olympic Village Station at the Canada Line (again, this option could have been much more easily completed before building of the Olympic Village and completion of the Canada Line. Too late now?)
    c). extend the Millennium Line north, at grade beside the CP Glen Ave rail line at then west beside the CP rail yard to meet the existing Skytrain station line terminus at Waterfront.
    Option C
    This would create a loop at Waterfront, relieving some of the congestion there (reversing direction of trains), relieve congestion at Commercial/Broadway station, but might create increased congestion at Main St.- Science World Station where a tram or quickway (rubber-tyred semi-exclusive guidway) could have its eastern terminus. The Millennium Line riders probably do not have any more likelihood of being destined for Broadway/UBC than do Expo Line riders.
    Broadway/Cambie can be reached by transferring at Waterfront to the Canada Line; UBC/Granville Island/West Broadway could be reached most efficiently by the tram/quickway.
    The western extension of the Millennium Line to Arbutus would have created the highest station boardings/alightings on that line, but as you state, the money just will not be there.

  16. Voony February 28, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    splashflash, to keep general,
    in the option you mention, you would like study,
    a/ When a line is only saturated, merging another one with it is not necessarily a wise option
    b/ the “Cheapest” option is not necessarily the “cheaper”. I means you need to address the ridership market also.
    c/ the more routes are sharing a common section, the less reliable the system become (a wreck on the common section shutdown all the branches all together, and a wreck on a branch, affect also the common section)

  17. splashflash February 28, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

    C option would be a loop, directly connecting VCC to Waterfront. Trains would run more efficiently than now, as they would not have to reverse at Waterfront or VCC. Perhaps some trains could short-turn around Nanaimo St on both the Expo and Millennium Lines, as they do now on the Expo Line, to bulk up the trains Downtown. A couple stations could be built between VCC and Waterfront, perhaps Hastings (Hastings and Glen) and Gas Town (Carrall St).
    Millennium Line passengers heading to UBC/west Broadway would have to debark at Main St. – Science World after passing through Downtown. This would be a minor inconvenience to those passengers and introduce efficienies to the system, as this Millennium Line volume Downtown would be counterflow to Expo Line volume at peak hours.

  18. samussas February 28, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

    @Voony: surface rail transit can easily go up 6-7% slops. That’s not really a problem anymore with modern technology, at least for light rail solutions.

  19. mezzanine February 28, 2010 at 2:29 pm #

    @Alan Robinson:
    Fair enough, I am unsure if amalgamation was contingent on moving city hall, but IMO they moved it from the downtown penninsula (as per the Bartholemew Plan you alluded to) to mount pleasant for political reasons – to consolidate control of the newly expanded city. Think of Delta’s city hall – it is in the middle of nowhere on Hwy 17, far from north delta and not really in ladner. Or surrey’s city hall by highway 10 and King george highway – geographically central, but far from commercial/population hubs.
    “Built during the depths of the Depression, this landmark structure visioned by Mayor G.G. McGeer was both a make-work project, and a symbol of the newly enlarged city, the result of amalgamation with Point Grey and South Vancouver. ”
    remember that that 6-7% grade that the proposed light rail line has to travel will be on a surface street, with or without a ROW. Moreover, if you are unfamilliar with vancouver the main transit thouroughfair makes a left turn right at the bottom of the hill at Alma St 9going away from UBC). This all means that if it is LRT to UBC it has to run slow in this section (and slow down further up the hill) to stay safe if it follows the existing transit route. If skytrain does end at Arbutus, they are proposing trolleybus LRT to join up to UBC.

  20. samussas February 28, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

    That doesn’t really change anything. Tram/LRT can climb up grades steeper than 6-7%. Point. It’s then the job of planners and engineers to design the route acordingly.
    By looking at the map I don’t detect any problems there. There is enough land to have a completely segregated SRT to climb the slope. It is also possible to terraform the slope a bit to make it more convenient.

  21. mezzanine February 28, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    I don’t disagree with your point either. But if tram does have to slow down to account for the grade and be safe, then it adds further disadvantage to the regional transit traveller – people that travel from the outlying suburbs to UBC, a regional and local draw.

  22. CroMagnon February 28, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    6% to 7% grades should be avoided for a rapid transit system. It is simply more wear on the system, if nothing else.
    IIRC, many “high-performance” LRT vehicle stocks are limited to 6% grade. Trolleys are routinely designed to do higher grades, but that’s not the purpose for all this it seems. I don’t know about Vancouver, but in some cities, a 6+% grade could be a death knell for an alignment because of station design which in the US is limited to 3% according to an engineering report I have.

  23. Rhywun March 1, 2010 at 1:46 am #

    The town I lived in in Germany extended their Straba after I left (Würzburg, circa 1990) to a satellite town via a 9.1% grade – I have no idea if it’s “slow” but I do know it followed the best possible route to get there.
    As for slopes, I have fond memories of living briefly in SF and climbing the craziest slopes in a trolleybus; slopes that would kill a diesel bus.

  24. Jarrett at March 1, 2010 at 1:53 am #

    Vancouver has trolleybuses as well, though the limited-stop 99 is an articulated motor coach, much to the displeasure of people living near the grade in question. 

  25. samussas March 1, 2010 at 2:55 am #

    Of course, puting a station in the middle of a steep slope is a killer. But the UBC route the slope is in the middle of “nothing”. The University is up the slope and the city is down it. No reason for the train to slow down before the slope.
    Like I said, such slopes aren’t really a problem anymore. For exemple, Tenerif trams go daily up 8% slopes and are designed to handle at least 10%. They are specially equiped for that (they have a motorized bogie more than regular Citadis) but I know of normal modern trams that can climb 7% slopes in urban environment without any customization. Things that trams from the 90s couldn’t do.
    If 6 or 7% slopes are not a desire feature on any system, it can be dealt with. Anyway, those types of slopes take a muh higher toll on explosion motors than on electric ones. Those 99 line Bus are going to suffer and might retire young.
    Also, if the Skytrain goes to Arbutus it doesn’t really make sense to build a Arbutus/UBC only SRT line. The line will then have to expand further west, south or north (like: toward Burard Street).

  26. Jarrett at March 1, 2010 at 3:39 am #

    There could be some logic in a surface tram on Broadway/10th from UBC to the Canada Line, overlapping a SkyTrain Millennium-line subway through the highrise part of Central Broadway.

  27. samussas March 1, 2010 at 4:13 am #

    Yes, it might. But I allways tend to prefer solutions that don’t duplicate services when other corridors could benefit from new investments. This should be lower priority
    I don’t see any city being able to sell a plan that founds a skytrain/subway and a LRT/Tram on the same route. One line should offer some new connectivities.
    In this exemple, the LRT/tram could be part of a bigger part and see an extension on Broadway has a second or third phase. First an “L” shape line and then two lines forming an “X”.
    Nonetheless, a Coquitlam/Broadway(UBC) Skytrain line would really make sense.

  28. dejv March 1, 2010 at 5:10 am #

    Like I said, such slopes aren’t really a problem anymore. (…) but I know of normal modern trams that can climb 7% slopes in urban environment without any customization. Things that trams from the 90s couldn’t do.

    This is incorrect. Some of the 90’s trams could climb even steeper grades – if they were built for cities that have such slopes. It would be weird if it wasn’t possible because 60’s cars with PCC-based accelerator technology and 4 of 6 powered axles are capable of climbing 9.5 % grade with 20 m radius curve on daily basis even in adverse conditions. Fully powered Pittsburgs PCC’s even used to climb 12.2 % grade.

    IIRC, many “high-performance” LRT vehicle stocks are limited to 6% grade.

    Many, indeed. But there are exceptions, like London-Croydon Flexity Swift, built for 80‰.

    This all means that if it is LRT to UBC it has to run slow in this section (and slow down further up the hill) to stay safe if it follows the existing transit route.

    Are the stop and intersection intervals long enough to make 35-40 km/h top speeds too slow?

  29. mike0234 March 1, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    One of the options that should be considered is a mix of light rail and skytrain. I agree that the Millennium line should be extended at least to Granville under Broadway or 10th Avenue to complete the grid, and to connect the business district in Central Broadway to the regional network of skytrain lines.
    The mix of skytrain and light rail could be as follows:
    1) a Millennium line extension to Arbutus
    2) light rail from UBC to Arbutus in the middle of Broadway/10th avenue
    3) the light rail line then turns north onto the Arbutus corridor (an abandoned CP railway alignment), then onto the Olympic streetcar demonstration route ending at Main Street station on the Expo line
    This system could be added onto later with a light rail line on the Arbutus corridor south of Broadway to Kerrisdale and Marpole. It could also be extended onto the downtown peninsula over either the Burrard or Granville Bridge.
    This system would provide for a single transfer to UBC from the Millennium line at Arbutus/Broadway, the Canada line at Olympic Village station, and the Expo line at Main Street. It uses relatively cheap abandoned freight railway corridors for the overlapping part. It ties into the city’s planned downtown streetcar system. Because this light rail route from Broadway/Arbutus to Main Street station has relatively few stations and is mostly in a completely separate right of way, it would be almost as fast as skytrain over the same distance. There would be little reason to attempt a double transfer from the Expo line to the Millennium line to the light rail line to get to UBC.

  30. Zweisystem March 1, 2010 at 11:32 am #

    The problem with SkyTrain is, it has never really attracted the motorist from the car. According to TransLink,, 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first take a bus to the metro. If one doesn’t like buses, one seldom takes it to a metro.
    TransLink has never mentioned the all important modal shift from car to SkyTrain as it doesn’t really exist.
    This causes financial problems, as it makes bus and SkyTrain compete for the transit dollar, which is bad planning. This also exacerbates SkyTrain’s (not including the new RAV/Canada Line) current annual subsidy of of over $230 million.
    Speaking of transit dollars, the $25 a month student U-Pass has greatly congested the Broadway Corridor, yet provides little income (read little incentive) to increase bus capacity along the route. Cheap tickets are causing a financial crisis for the metro.
    To make matters worse, the Canada line and SkyTrain are incompatible and can not operate on each others track, so there is no possibility of through running which would be a great benefit in attracting ridership.
    You also forget that it is not speed that attracts people to transit but the overall ambiance, ease of use, ease of ticketing, etc. (Hass-Clau) that attract people to transit. SkyTrain’s high commercial speed comes from lack of stations and lack of stations deter ridership.
    On Broadway, with LRT/tram operation, stops would be every 500 metres to 600 metres, which will reduce commercial speed, but with good planning, reserved rights-of-way (and let us not forget lower dwell times – 15 sec to 20 sec LRT versus 30 sec to 1 minute SkyTrain) commercial speeds would be 20 kph to 25 kph.
    The big problem is that Vancouver is just a small cog in a much larger metropolitan wheel and the taxpayer South of the Fraser River is now demanding transit for his taxes and not see it all into the SkyTrain black hole.
    The City of Surrey, which in less than 10 years will surpass Vancouver in population is going LRT as city burghers have been told that the next SkyTrain extension will come in about 38 years!
    So there is a lot more to our transit planning than continuing down SkyTrain’s line and remember, in 30 years only 7 SkyTrain systems have been sold, which makes the light metro somewhat of a transit curiosity.
    The Vancouver region has a choice: Either a small light-metro network that has failed to attract the motorist from the car or start building with LRT and try to capture some of the transit successes that has eluded TransLink.
    PLEASE NOTE: hills do not deter LRT’s speed, but they do SkyTrain’s! Those Linear induction motors find it hard to climb 6% grades, yet the industry standard for LRT is 8% and 10% grades are possible with all axles motorized. In Lisbon, their wee trams climb 13.8% grades.
    Major intersections will have priority signaled stations/stops, so there will be no through running at speed. Transit needs stations to pick up customers, we could have a very fast transit system with just two stations, but very few would use it.

  31. samussas March 1, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    I’m not sure I agree with your first affirmation Zweisystem and I’m pretty sure you are misinterpreting the numbers.
    To really know if Skytrain attract motorists you’ll need to ask people if they own a car but prefer to use the available transit lines. You should also compare car usage in the “Skytrained” corridor before and after the construction of the Skytrain.
    Your 80% figure mostly shown that people live far enough from a Skytrain station that they can’t walk to it and/or don’t have a quicker or alternative bus route to go where they need to go. This is in the very nature of sprawl like burbs to induce a high bus/car usage to go to the nearest suburban/subway/LRT station. This number doesn’t show a failure of the system.
    Also, with a system which was only to two lines (or one with two branches) until last year the coverage was pretty slim. The Canada line might induces an overall modal shift in Vancouver Metro area. The missing link between the Millenium and Broadway would change things a lot by completing the grid.
    Also, speed if not the only and primary element in choosing public transit over car is a very important criteria. If people can travel faster by transit than by car they are more likely to do so than if transit is too slow.
    Question: isn’t Skytrain subsidy per pessenger lower than bus subsidy?

  32. EngineerScotty March 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    Why does it follow that “80% of SkyTrain users take busses to the Metro” implies “SkyTrain fails to get people out of cars”? You seem to be assuming that those who take a bus to a Metro stop would otherwise be taking the bus all the way downtown or wherever they are going, and conversely, that auto-preferring commuters won’t use a metro unless either its within walking distance, or they can drive to a park-and-ride. You seem to discount the possibility of people owning automobiles, but nonetheless taking the bus to the SkyTrain when that’s the most convenient way to make the trip–which is often the case if you’re headed downtown.
    Wouldn’t the same claims, if true, apply to light rail?
    I simply don’t see LRT and grade-separated metro as competing technologies; they have different applications and different service profiles. Your argument seems to be that SkyTrain stops are too distant from each other to serve many users–which may be true. But the solution to the issue seems to already exist–Vancouver has excellent feeder bus routes, and the SkyTrain is fast and frequent enough that the transfer penalty is minimal.
    Here in Portland, we frequently hear the opposite complaint–MAX, a LRT which runs in surface alignments for much of the system–is too slow for many trips. And outside the “core” of the MAX system–roughly from Beaverton to Gateway, and along the Transit Mall downtown–service frequencies are low enough that many prefer to drive than wait 15 minutes for a train. It’s a perfectly valid criticism. Surface LRT is not capable of driverless operation using current technology, so high frequency service simply isn’t possible.
    Surrey is an interesting case. As you note, it’s coming into its own as an urban area, and SkyTrain only serves part of it (and mainly to provide service to Vancouver). It’s a lot less dense than Vancouver; given that, for service within Surrey, transit service with closer stop spacings might be better for intra-Surrey service. LRT might work well there.
    (BTW, isn’t an Expo line extension into Surrey planned for the next decade?)

  33. Ron March 1, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    I also hear that City Hall was ocated outside the downtown to reduce the risk of depression-era protests.
    It doesn’t say it at this Vnacouver History entry, but provides background.

  34. Paul March 1, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    The Expo line actually makes money. So no subsidy there. The Millinium line at the moment doesn’t but that would change once the UBC extension and Evergreen line is completed.
    @EngineerScotty. There are plans to have an expo line extension by 2020. But of course based on the history of this area. I’ll believe it when I see it. Prime example the recently completed Canada Line. Was actually first on the drawing board back in the 1970’s. Although most of it was blocked by too many nimbys
    Broadway is too much of a regional travel corridor. For an at grade LRT to work. I have nothing against that technology. It is just the fact that it would not be good for that corridor. In fact I firmly believe the 41st Ave corridor would be a good candidate for an at-grade LRT system.

  35. Voony March 1, 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    “You also forget that it is not speed that attracts people to transit but the overall ambiance, ease of use, ease of ticketing, etc. (Hass-Clau) that attract people to transit. SkyTrain’s high commercial speed comes from lack of stations and lack of stations deter ridership.”
    This statement seems to dismiss speed as an important factor influencing the ridership…
    The Broadway corridor is serviced by 2 bus lines:
    a line stopping at every bus stop, the #9, and a limited stop line, the #99
    According to the zweisystem’s statement, the #9 route should be more patronized than the #99
    Observation of the ground bring evidence against it. the #99B is way more patronized than the #9…the #9 is still operated by 40′ buses when the #99 can’t cope the demand with 60′ buses running every 2mn or so, and in fact the observer could witness than the slower service is significantly patronized by frustrated customer unable to stand the line-up and pass-up common on the more rapid #99 service.
    Yes, the rider care about speed, because he care about time, and you will see it the main reason why people are not using transit…Speed matter so much that people are willing to add transfer to benefit of the time gain, as illustrated by this letter to the editor:
    the reader, John Malcom, is frustrated because time : not that the introduction of the latest rapid transit line (Canada line) impacts his commute, from South metro Vancouver to UBC, but he can’t use it to save time, and need to stick with his usual bus routes.
    To shave time on his described commute, will take not less than a Skytrain on Broadway all the way up to UBC…

  36. guest March 2, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    @Zwei – “and let us not forget lower dwell times – 15 sec to 20 sec LRT versus 30 sec to 1 minute SkyTrain) commercial speeds would be 20 kph to 25 kph.”
    I can’t believe to read such a simplistic statement from a LRT enthusiast. I don’t think there’s rule of thumb of dwell times for any type of rail system. Isn’t that all depends on how busy a station is at a given time?
    On Vancouver’s Canada Line, once it dwelled for about 15 seconds at Yaletown station. During Olympics, of course the dwell time is up to 1 minute.
    Typically a LRV driver can control how long to dwell at a station. 15 -20 seconds may be the norm of non-busy LRT system in United States. But for Broadway corridor, no one can say that for sure.
    Just a youtube video of a busy section of Hong kong LRT: even at night time, the dwell time is 40 seconds.
    In the same video, one should also notice the extra time a LRV has to stop and wait for the pedestrian traffic light that allows customers to get to the station.

  37. JJ March 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    There’s no point arguing with zwei, he’s a bit delusional and never admits that he’s wrong.

  38. JJ March 2, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

    “The problem with SkyTrain is, it has never really attracted the motorist from the car. According to TransLink,, 80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first take a bus to the metro. If one doesn’t like buses, one seldom takes it to a metro.”
    Using that logic, rail for the valley should be trashed! How many people from the burbs will walk to the station? Nobody there likes buses, so no one can get to the lrt station. Only feasible way is to drive there, but wait, that doesn’t really attract motorists away from cars. Uber fail for rail for the valley!
    Zwei, you are such a hypocrite. Thank goodness normal people don’t listen to you.

  39. Adrian March 2, 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    JJ, you are wrong, unfortunately, some people do listen to zwei.

  40. Voony March 2, 2010 at 9:06 pm #

    We should never underestimate the power of simplistic message, factually false, but skillfully worded to resonate well in the hear of the general public…
    Simplistic messages bring simple answer to complex problem people have no time to get educated on, and they will take it, and as said Lenin, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth”
    Those messages are more often than not accompanied of rant against the “elit” or so called like (the government, the transit planners, the transit agency) and dividing discourse (opposing for example “rich people of the city” whose have “gold plated metro” to “poor people” of the countryside serviced “only by bus service”) appealing to a frustrated Joe looking for a scapegoat.
    Not answering expecting that the public will be smart enough to understand the fallacies of such posture is what lot in Europe have been thinking to be the best response…
    Alas, rise to power of people like Jorg Haider, or electoral score of Jean Marie Lepen in France, to cite only recent examples, show that this is not a good strategy.
    Fallacy need to be combated for what it is, and people need to be properly informed.
    So… thank goodness…that Zwei agenda seems limited to the “rail for the valley” .

  41. Alon Levy March 2, 2010 at 11:12 pm #

    Voony, you’re using hyperbole yourself. Messages like “Immigrants are taking your job” and “we are in depression because of internationalist bureaucrats” have a nationwide appeal; wonky issues about rail modes don’t. Once you’re in the realm of wonk, the people to persuade are a small number of decision makers or a slightly larger number of committed activists. Those you can appeal to with lies, but the type of lie that works on them is fundamentally different from the type that works for mass movements.

  42. EngineerScotty March 2, 2010 at 11:40 pm #

    Unfortunately, messages such as “public transit is socialism”, or “public transit is welfare”, DO have a strong appeal to a wide constituency. The other day, Rush Limbaugh on his radio show was suggesting that the health car reform bills currently before Congress was a “civil rights act” and “reparations”–all of which is code for “them lazy [n-word]s are going to take all your hard-earned money away”. On the other side of the coin are organizations like BRU, which depend on and invoke racial and class grievances (this time on behalf of the minority) moreso than they do technical arguments about transportation–in either case, demagogy is being used to advance a particular side in a technical debate.
    But this sort of demagogic appeal, in order to get people to vote against their own self-interest (often for the purpose of spiting some other group), are part and parcel of democratic politics all around the world.
    Obviously, I’m not comparing any arguments made here to any of this–while I’ve encountered poorly-disguised racists on other transit blogs, this one seems to have avoided the attention of these sorts. I don’t know who Zwei is, nor what his agenda is; and I’m insufficiently familiar with the Vancouver area (especially those parts east of New Westminster) to have an informed opinion as to what corridors would be appropriate for LRT vs grade-separated rail. In the case of Broadway, a good argument can be made that its bus capacity is saturated, and that surface rail would be problematic for the corridor due to interference with the existing urban fabric–hence the comparison with Wilshire in the lead.

  43. Paul March 3, 2010 at 12:48 am #

    Zwei agenda is that the wants to see rail systems south of the Fraser. Which I do support. But he wants them now and so feels that if spend less money on Broadway by building a cheap at grade LRT he can have his rail system sooner. So he keeps giving facts that are half truths to try and get what he wants.
    Basically if there was an endless pit of money there wouldn’t be a problem as we would build what Broadway needs plus what the valley needs. But there isn’t an endless pit of money and Broadway has a higher priority than the Valley.

  44. Alon Levy March 3, 2010 at 1:51 am #

    EngineerScotty: yes, Limbaugh’s a successful demagogue. He’s on a par with the Haiders and Le Pens of the world in his vitriol, and is more influential. But, again, this has nothing to do with mode wars. The BRU is a closer comparison, but it still uses race and class as themes, which resonate with more than just railfans and busfans. The “Rapid transit costs too much” angle appeals to the kind of people who don’t want any transit investment, i.e. exactly who Zwei doesn’t want to court.

  45. CroMagnon March 3, 2010 at 8:03 am #

    Perhaps Zweisystem is part of the “LRT machine” I mentioned earlier. 😉 Too many of his facts are just plain wrong, esp. with regard to speed. As far as choice riders are concerned, speed is THE most important factor in rider patronage.

  46. EngineerScotty March 3, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    Many “modal” arguments are simply fronts for “I want better transit (or more generally, transportation) service for MY neighborhood/lifestyle”. Many anti-transit advocates argue against transit because they want the dollars for freeways instead; BRU doesn’t care whether Beverly Hills has adequate transit, and I’ve long suspected that anti-rail advocates in many inner cities are really about keeping transit dollars in the inner city–much LRT construction is about expanding the (effective) geographic scope of transit.

  47. MB March 3, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    Vancouver and Surrey cannot be legitimately compared. Surrey stands alone in the suburbs thanks to its geography, and is far less dense than Vancouver. Vancouver is a highly urbanized city interconnected with others on the Burrard Peninsula where the core metropolitan population of over one million people lives.
    To have someone who lives in Deep Suburbia continually lecture those of us who have lived on the highly-urbanized Broadway corridor for decades is annoyingly myopic. Stick to what you know, and what constitutes your life experience, but please don’t pretend you know Broadway or the inner city.
    To propose that the heavy pedestrian, bicycle and commercial vehicle cross traffic be severed at 30 non-arterial intersections on Broadway (Main to Alma) by a dedicated surface light rail line is beyond comprehension. Over 90% of all 38 intersections are signalized. Every single one of the 23 intersections of Central Broadway (Main to Arbutus) is signalized, 17 of them activated exclusively by pedestrians and bicyclists. Severing non-arterial cross street traffic over half the city will not be acceptable by any reputable transit or urban planner, nor to the city administration that built expensive Greenway and bicycle infrastructure that will be greatly affected by such an idea.
    Even with an additional station placed between the six major arterials of Central Broadway, the station spacing will exceed the signalized crossing spacing by at least 380 metres. No other arterial in Western Canada has the density and tight spacing of heavily-used cross streets of Broadway, which must be accounted for in any planning exercise at least with respect to safety criteria.
    By all surveys so far, SkyTrain placed underground has the majority of preferences by locals. But that doesn’t mean we who support a Broadway subway do not see the value of light rail in other applications, such as the Downtown Streetcar, Arbutus Corridor, King George Highway and 200th Street. All it means is that we support what the majority of people who live, work and regularly commute through the Broadway corridor see as the best mode to meet the demands.
    The fight is not between modes of passenger rail, but between public transit and the private car. WRT public subsidies, car dependence gets the lions share ….. like ten times the one-time cost of an underground extension of the Millennium Line EVERY YEAR in Metro Vancouver. The fact that SkyTrain is more expensive than surface rail doesn’t mean that one is better than the other in all cases, but that we have experienced a deliberate focus on cars over a half-century of funding priorities.
    That has to change, hopefully within the next decade.

  48. MB March 3, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    “….car dependence gets the lions share ….. like [ten times] the one-time cost of an underground extension of the Millennium Line EVERY YEAR in Metro Vancouver.”
    Correction: The annual car subsidy in Metro Vancouver is roughly equal to the one-time cost of a Broadway subway to UBC. ($2,700 per car extended to 1.3 million cars = +/- $3.5 billion/yr. Ssource: Livable Regions Strategic Plan.)

  49. Dave 2 March 5, 2010 at 8:10 pm #

    My old chum zweisystem has overstated the typical dwell times on Skytrain by about 100%
    It’s not 30-60 seconds, it’s more like 15-30 seconds.
    Most stations are 15 seconds, downtown you’ll find dwell times of 20, 25, and 30 seconds.
    One notable outlier is Commercial/Broadway, where trains on the Millenium line dwell for 35 seconds and trains on the Expo Line dwell for 45 seconds to give enough time for the huge amount of transfering that occurs between the Expo Line, Millenium Line, and the 99 B-Line to UBC.
    And I’m sorry, but anyone who thinks that street level LRT running at 50-60 km/h between stops can be as fast as ALRT running at 80/90 km/h between stops, or that the LRT will run two-way from Commercial to Alma every 2-4 minutes without having to stop for some pedestrian controlled lights along the way is kidding themsleves. There simply are not enough seconds in a minute to accomodate both.
    As for constuction, cut and cover under 10th Ave will not affect business like it did on Cambie Street? Residents? Suck it up, I had my street destroyed in Kits _twice_ in 18 years, once for sewer, then again 10 years later for water. That’s part of the deal when you live in a city with century old infrastructure.

  50. Paul March 6, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    They could actually lower the dwell time at Broadway. If they were to build outer platforms that would allow double sided unloading/loading. There are plans to do this, but it probably won’t be don’t until the Expo line extension. Also the Safeway would have to be knocked down and rebuilt.

  51. Dave Cockle August 19, 2010 at 4:06 am #

    Hi Jarrett,
    I would be interested to read your take on this Polish PRT proposal.