vancouver: my tangle with a columnist over the broadway line

If you're interested in Vancouver and missed my "debate"* with Bob Ransford about Broadway rapid transit at Gordon Price's blog Price Tags, well, it's not to late to pile on.  It refers back to one of grand debates on this blog, the question of "Is speed obsolete?" raised by Patrick Condon.  Gordon says our debate* the most commented piece in the history of his blog, and it's generated fierce Twitter traffic.  Apparently, Bob and I will be on CKNW News Talk 980, "The Bill Good Show" on Monday (or maybe we're just taping it Monday).

The occasion appears to have been the Vancouver City Council's decision to endorse a complete subway under Broadway, which is not much of a surprise to those who've been following this for a while.  Bob criticized the project on development potential grounds, and as usual, I tried to broaden the question a bit beyond that.

* an often self-glorifying term that readers should view with suspicion.  In this case it refers to a published Vancouver Sun opinion piece periodically interrupted by my heckling.  It all happened very fast when Gord forwarded me Bob's article, knowing exactly how it would provoke me …

35 Responses to vancouver: my tangle with a columnist over the broadway line

  1. Alon Levy December 11, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    I find it very strange that Ransford says that a subway would conflict with Broadway’s transit village. On the contrary, the activity distribution on that corridor is exactly what you’d expect if it had rapid transit. It’s not continuous built-up retail, but rather a medium-density base east of Arbutus and a low-density base west of Arbutus, with higher density than the local base at Cambie, Granville, Arbutus, Macdonald, and Alma. There’s more development within a block of Arbutus than, say, in the middle between Arbutus and Granville, on less developed Burrard.

  2. Zoltán December 12, 2012 at 4:49 am #

    Perhaps we should think of what Ransford appears to want for Broadway. We can infer that he wants something that:
    Extends the walk trip by:
    – Stopping every few blocks
    – Coming frequently
    And is a technology that:
    – Runs on rails, and is
    – powered by overhead wires.
    Three out of four isn’t bad, right? Apart from the rails, Broadway already has a local service that works perfectly well, and is a nice low floor electric vehicle too. It could do with its own lane, but those can be had with or without rails.

  3. Andrew December 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    This line to be very similar to the Eglinton light rail in Toronto, in that it is a line that passes just outside the city’s downtown but connects several major destinations. The Broadway line will connect UBC and Broadway/Cambie, while the Eglinton line will connect Yonge/Eglinton, Don Mills/Eglinton and in the future Pearson Airport. Yonge/Eglinton and Broadway/Cambie are similar areas (mixed use commercial/residential areas surrounded by houses) while UBC and Pearson Airport are both large trip generators. The major difference is that the Broadway line would be an extension of an existing SkyTrain line so light rail is not a realistic option. In contrast Eglinton is a new line, although the choice of light rail is controversial.

  4. mike0123 December 12, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    Eglinton could be a skytrain extension.

  5. Zoltán December 12, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    I do like the idea of an extension of the Expo Line skytrain to Eglinton/Kennedy, Toronto. The driverless trains could provide a very high frequency to various parts of Western Canada with only occasional bus or rail service, and the one-seat ride would be an improvement on the present four-seat ride from points on the Millenium Line to points on Englinton.
    Others have argued that an extension of the West Coast Express commuter rail would be a lower cost option, but the limited capabilities of commuter rail in terms of the frequency and span of service make it a poor compromise for the Eglinton and Trans-Canada Highway corridors.

  6. Zoltán December 12, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    It’s a shame that this project is likely to be built before the more important link between the Canada Line and the Wiltshire subway, because of the difficulty of coordination between two national transit funding bodies.

  7. Paul C December 12, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    @Zoltan. I’m not sure how an extension of the West Coast Express would be a lower cost option to a line on Broadway. The two have zero correlation to each other.
    Anything less than a grade separated system along Broadway would be a waste of money. The importance of Broadway is far more regional than it is local.
    Cost should never be a factor in a project of this importance on determining the system that is built. To many times we bicker about the cost of something only to under build it.

  8. jrod December 12, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    @Paul, Zoltan’s comment is tongue-in-cheek, he’s referring to a scenario where the (vancouver) Expo Line is literally extended accross the country to connect to the (toronto) Scarborough RT. The rest of it is just extending the joke.

  9. mike0123 December 12, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    As with any new line in Toronto, they’ll only go half way. Expect a forced transfer to the subway in cottage country.

  10. mike0123 December 12, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    If Eglinton is analogous to Broadway, why is automated light metro not being considered? My first post was to point out to Andrew that an Eglinton skytrain line could in fact be an extension of an existing line, just one that requires some modification.

  11. jrod December 12, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    back to topic. thoughts on the Ransford article:
    – the statement that no new housing units have been built is predominantly true (although not completely see Geller’s new townhouses at 33rd and Cambie, or some new condo towers in Yaletown completed in the last few years) but misleading. It has nothing to do with lack of demand; Vancouver simply didnt get their act together until well after the line had opened. it’s not like its not imminent though. Oakridge, Marine Landing and MC2 are all major developments, and there’s about eight 6-8 story buildings proposed along the length of the corridor (so far). also note he makes no mention of non-residential development (e.g. Crossroads tower).
    Complaints about undersizing the Canada Line are fairly ironic, especially when you follow through by suggesting a system that would have less capacity on a corridor that may well be busier. Remember how many people were saying 100,000/day was unrealisitiacally high? i’ve yet to hear a mea culpa from any of them. Derek Corrigan I’m looking at you.
    Ransfords comments about station spacings and densification are contradictory. If each station has an 800m zone of influence where density is achieved, this means it would occur continuously on station spacings up to 1.6km, more than most spacings (except Alma-Sasamat). If rapid transit triggers development as far as 800m away from the station, THIS MEANS THAT PEOPLE 800m AWAY STILL FIND THE LINE USEFUL, and hence it will serve the local neighborhood, just not nessecarily for local trips (which is why you have he #9)
    – No mention whatsoever of the regional context of the line/corridor itself, and how activity and travel patterns tend to organize themselves accross the region. no mention of the fact that the lower densities he advocates will just send everyone who would otherwise live along the corridor out to auto-dependent suburbia.

  12. jrod December 12, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    ok, a few more points based on things that have been said recently in other various articles and whatnot.
    – station boxes don’t necessarily need to be open pits. similar to how temporary bridges were erected across the Cambie trench, you can erect these longitudinally along the station box, and have traffic pass over top. a bit of a pain and extra cost, since you have to shift them side to side as you build the station below, but its far from impossible. you probably wouldnt keep the whole road with, but 3-4 lanes should be doable. or you can mine it, which is still less disruptive, but more expensive.
    – im not entirely sold on Combo 1 (the RRT/LRT). any RRT line using the false creek rail and passing near the Arbutus corridor . note that the “only one transfer” for Expo passengers on this line means they have to travel from Broadway to Main Station now. this is already the busiest link in the system, and you are now encouraging people who currently get off before it to stay on the train to travel along it. this will exacerbate passups of people trying to travel downtown from broadway station. with some upgrades, Expo Line has enough capacity until about 2040, but the modelling for this assumed a UBC skytrain line as part of the network. change that to something that runs from Main-UBC, and you might reach that capacity a lot sooner.
    – Combo 1 looks ok, but also appears to be set up in the absence of an overall LRT network concept. how does running the false creek line to ubc affect your ability to add future service along arbutus or other corridors without splitting service away from ubc?
    The broadway corridor makes tons of sense for higher order transit. Its already got high ridership to central broadway AND high ridership to ubc AND still has lots of potential to further increase mode shares to these destinations with better service AND potential for desification along much of the corridor. this line works on so many levels.

  13. Paulkimo9 December 12, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    I think your point about providing a speedy transit option for students, and employees, commuting to UBC is a valid point. The University of Utah is also geographicly constrained with the campus lodged up against the mountains. Students and employees commute up to an hour on the Red Line to get to school and work and this line has substantial ridership and does provide a viable commute option for both students and employees. I am not sure what riders were doing before the direct rail line opened but I am sure that it was not a desirable option.
    I am sure as ridership has grown in the Broadway corridor, it will outgrow what a bus system or even a streetcar/light rail system could reasonably expect to provide and a rapid rail extension would be the next logical evolution for transit options.

  14. yvrlutyens December 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    The Eglinton Line should absolutely be built as an underground metro line. It would have better service and higher ridership than the LRT line and it even looks like it would be cheaper. The corridor along Eglinton from Pearson to Kingston Road is around 33km. At Canada Line construction costs of $115 million per km, the whole line from the airport to Kingston Road would be $3.8 billion. The Canada Line was only partly tunneled, but Toronto is a lower cost environment than Vancouver and the route has fewer geotechnical difficulties. Five Billion is a reasonable figure for a mostly cut-and-cover tunneled metro along the full length of the corridor or $150 million per km. The current LRT plan which only covers about half of the Eglinton route plus a retrofit of the Scarborough RT and is only partly buried cost $4.9 billion. Building the whole thing would be over $8 billion and would have much poorer service and ridership coupled with higher operating costs. It really makes absolutely no sense.
    The Eglinton corridor is going to be one of the most important in the city and it has huge development potential. The proposed LRT line is going to be too slow to adequately serve that corridor and grow ridership. It really doesn’t matter if it is cheaper to extend to the airport if the service isn’t useful when it gets there. The LRT proposal is also trying to provide local service and thus the stations are too close together. Real rapid transit shouldn’t replace local service or else it won’t be very rapid. The number of stations makes even less sense because they are boring the tunnels under Eglinton. (This is an area ideal for cut-and-cover construction.) Bored tunnels make the stations deeper and thus more time consuming to access (as well as more expensive to build).
    The LRT plan just ignores the negative impacts on pedestrian quality of the street where the line runs at grade. The proposed mock-ups of Eglinton show two LRT lines, a station platform, two bike lanes and four car lanes. This is essentially an eight lane road. This is not very pedestrian friendly. At many intersections without station platforms there will be left turn bays instead. Because the car lanes are already trimmed to two, there will be little opportunity to narrow the road in the future and create a more pedestrian friendly atmosphere. And for true rapid transit, the trains will have to travel quite quickly and restrict the number of cross streets which is an annoyance for pedestrians and cyclists.
    Bad process seems to be the biggest contributor of this bad decision. The debate is almost exclusively focused on the politics and personalities of city council and not about whether or not the plan is a good idea. These particular personalities do make for a good soap opera, but in ten years they will be irrelevant. Public transit decisions will be crucial for the next 100 years. And the technical analysis is terrible. I’ve actually read the studies and they are filled with nonsense. For example they state that the capacity of a bus is 50 when the capacity of a 40’ bus is more like 80 and the capacity of an articulated bus, which is the bus that everyone would use for this type of application, is more like 120 and can be crush loaded higher. The authors don’t like buses, so they use a fake number. Other unfavourable numbers like LRT travel time are deeply buried in the appendices. What is missing is a table that simply compares the various options like the one found at page iii of this report: I don’t know how one can have a useful debate about public transit without having the costs, travel times and ridership projections of the various options at the ready.
    I have previously brought this up with our host regarding his support for the Toronto LRT plan. I hope that his comments on the Ransford piece show that he is coming around on this issue.

  15. Andrew December 14, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    >If Eglinton is analogous to Broadway, why is automated light metro not being considered? My first post was to point out to Andrew that an Eglinton skytrain line could in fact be an extension of an existing line, just one that requires some modification.
    Light rail was proposed for political reasons. David Miller proposed the Eglinton LRT as part of the Transit City LRT plan. The idea is that the section with the lowest ridership, between Don Mills and Kennedy, which goes through an area of big box retail, was supposed to be surface light rail to reduce cost. Also the Eglinton LRT was always proposed to be a separate line from the Scarborough RT, though the current proposal involves converting the Scarborough RT to light rail, but maintaining it as a separate line with connecting track not used in revenue service. Other proposals have involved refurbishing the Scarborough RT or replacing it with a subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth Line, and keeping the Eglinton LRT separate. I agree with the proposition that automated subway would be a better choice for Eglinton to increase capacity but this would require building an elevated subway between Don Mills and Kennedy to keep cost down, or not building the part of the Eglinton line east of Don Mills.

  16. mike0123 December 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

    Looking at recently built lines and lines under construction in Canada and the US Pacific Northwest, the cost of elevated light metro is little different from the cost of surface light rail with occasional grade separation and the cost of subway light metro is much less than the cost of subway light rail. With more than a little subway and a lengthy segment that could be elevated, Eglinton looks better suited to light metro than light rail, even from a cost perspective.

  17. Nicolas Derome December 14, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    I do think something should be built from Don Mills to Kennedy. There are actually a fair bit of apartment buildings along that stretch, which while tower-in-the-park still represent a moderately high density, as well as some office buildings at Wynford Drive. I see the big box retail area as a great opportunity for redevelopment. You have large lots that make it easier for large scale high density developments, and no residential neighbourhoods nearby with NIMBYs to worry about.
    The area between Birchmount, St Clair, Lawrence and Kingston Rd also has the highest rate of transit use outside Old Toronto after Crescent Town, higher than Etobicoke Centre, North York Centre or Scarborough Centre. Probably partly due to lower incomes in this area. There’s also some pretty busy bus routes that could feed into rapid transit along Eglinton, like Victoria Park, whatever replaces the SRT and whatever will continue beyond the end of the Eglinton rapid transit (along Eglinton or Kingston Rd).

  18. Alon Levy December 16, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    Vancouver is actually the cheapest city to build a subway in in North America. The UBC extension is $250 million/km, which is comparable to the more expensive European lines and lower than anything else I know of in the US or Canada. (Canada in general has a very low ratio of subway to above-ground or at-grade construction costs; I don’t know why, but it has American LRT and elevated SkyTrain costs and not much worse than European subway costs.)

  19. voony December 16, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    May be, the cost break down of underground transit as exposed in this document
    Will help you.
    Thought it is not the final cost of system still to be built, the break down seems in line with what is observed in Paris:
    For the RER E extension, tunneling is priced at ~€100M/km (for civil engineering part): that is for double stacked train…station construction cost is up to €400M per station thought…
    It is eventually a reason why Barcelona goes with an oversized tunnel for its L9 subway (station platform fit in the tunnel…you just have to dig station access from the surface)
    …and why Vancouver with relatively short but potentially very frequent train, can have lower construction cost (the original narrow skytrain width was not a great idea, for that reason too – The Canada line has 3m wide train…).

  20. Ben Smith December 16, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    I thought mike0123’s comment was referring to extending the existing Scarborough RT line, which uses “SkyTrain” technology.

  21. voony December 16, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    Forgot to mention geology:
    Vancouver (proper) seems to not present particular challenge.

  22. Ben Smith December 16, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    As for Eglinton, what bothers me the most is that elevated was not considered at all. The area in question is made up of box stores and parking lots, so the NIMBY factor should be at a minimum – not to mention that Toronto is so starved for quality transit, I think people here would accept well designed elevated rail if it means that rapid transit could be delivered cheaper and in shorter time.
    The stop spacing through the underground section is not too bad, as it seems to average between 1000m and 700m depending on the needs of the city block. The surface section through the low density areas mentioned above will have stops about every 400m to 500m, which despite the idiocy of the political rhetoric, is equivalent to streetcar stop distances outside of North America.
    As I said earlier, the political BS and stupidity of the arguments meant that only transit geeks had any idea of what was going on here. This includes the politicians who actually decided what to go ahead with. The popular belief was that wider stop spacing of the underground portion was directly related to its grade separation. As we all here know, stop spacing is a design choice, and they could have maintained wide stops along the surface parts if they so chose.

  23. yvrlutyens December 16, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    Can’t say that I’m fan of elevated transit. I like the Expo Line in Vancouver, but that is because I just enjoy the view and don’t have to live along it. It really is too intrusive for residential areas, and it limits redevelopment possibilities. As for the big box area along Eglinton, that isn’t going to be big box for ever. It probably hasn’t even been big box for that long. With good transit that whole area is ripe for redevelopment, so I wouldn’t limit transit choices for what works with big box.
    Stop spacing is a bit related to the grade separation because the underground stations are expensive to build. Puts a damper on having them every 400m.
    I really don’t think cost is that much of an issue with Toronto either. Except for grade separation, they could have all the busways they want, Eglinton, Finch, Jane, Don Mills, Sheppard for a fraction of what has already been funded. All the hand-wringing about funding transit isn’t really about transit but is about LRT.
    Can’t agree more that only the transit geeks seem to know what is going on. I have read the Eglinton “study” and it is appalling. Just filled with nonsense. American transit projects seem to have this problem of politicized agencies pushing through dubious projects, but now that style has been imported to the TTC. What I can’t understand is how the province can spend $5 billion without any cost benefit analysis. No studies that actually compare options or show vital information like travel times along the line when fully completed.
    Another puzzle is what is happening at the ministerial level. I would have thought that they would do their own analysis before commiting to that huge outlay, but they seem to be going along. I was tempted to do a FOI of their internal financial analysis, but I never did anything. That said, the ministry seemed willing to go along with Ford’s idiodic plan to just bury the LRT line – all of the costs with none of the advantages – so it is possible that there just isn’t anyone there that knows anything about transit.

  24. Miles Bader December 17, 2012 at 5:38 am #

    Can’t say that I’m fan of elevated transit. … It really is too intrusive for residential areas, and it limits redevelopment possibilities

    That simply isn’t true…

  25. Alan Robinson December 17, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    @ Miles and yvrlutyens
    There are certainly ways of getting elevated transit wrong. They need to avoid tight corners next to residences, and there should be some form of sound barrier between the wheels and neighbours. I could easily live next to Skytrain, although maybe not on the 3rd level. I’d have a tough time living next to the Chicago ‘L’.

  26. EngineerScotty December 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    If the Expo Line is extended to Toronto, does it go through Kamloops, Banff, and Calgary? Or the shorter route through Kelowna, Castlegar, and Lethbridge?
    And more importantly–does it extend to Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City, or is it routed through the (mostly rural) northeastern US to enable service to the Maritime Provinces while avoiding the French? 🙂

  27. Ben Smith December 17, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    I was in New York City visiting my brother this past summer, and while there I took the subway to Coney Island. During a portion where it was elevated, I decided to get off and see what it was like under the tracks.
    It really wasn’t all that bad. The passing trains were loud, but it wasn’t unbearable. Where I was there was lots of pedestrian activity and businesses seemed to be doing well too. While some may dislike it, given the opportunity I would buy next to an el without question. Great access to rapid transit, and the “undesirable” aspects would ensure that properties would remain affordable.

  28. Miles Bader December 17, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

    @Ben Smith
    … indeed, and keep in mind that that’s also an example of a very old system which is rather noisier than many others.
    Something more modern, in a concrete viaduct with noise walls and well-engineered and maintained tracks can be much less noisy, on par with a road (and of course much less continuous!).

  29. Alon Levy December 18, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    The best example of elevated in New York is not even the southern Brooklyn els, but the 7 el along Queens Boulevard. It’s on a well-designed concrete structure rather than a steel el, and the street is so wide that there are 4 lanes of traffic between the el and each side of the street, reducing visual impact.
    As for redevelopment along els, one of the best examples of North American TOD is Metrotown, along the Expo Line.

  30. yvrlutyens December 19, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    I actually don’t mind the Metrotown Patterson area, even though Jarrett doesn’t seem to like it. But it was what I was thinking of when saying that elevated transit limits redevelopment options. The area works OK because they Skytrain line runs in a fairly broad median and the buildings aren’t too close to it. Sort of like the buildings and the line are in a park like setting. But if a different style of development were contemplated, the elevated line would limit this as it would be unpleasant to have residential buildings too close to it or that weren’t tall enough.

  31. Miles Bader December 19, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    Sort of like the buildings and the line are in a park like setting. But if a different style of development were contemplated, the elevated line would limit this as it would be unpleasant to have residential buildings too close to it or that weren’t tall enough

    Simply not true:
    I live near here; it’s perfectly fine. Clearly there’s some noise, some people won’t like it, and that will be a factor affecting rents, etc (though proximity to stations may well drive rents in the opposite direction). But an elevated line is not some sort of “impossible neighbor”, it’s just one of many factors in the urban environment. People deal with it, and the line itself introduces so much positive value that the end result will almost always be positive.

  32. John W December 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    And then there’s simply integrating an elevated line into the built environment:
    Berlin –
    Vienna –
    London –
    To my mind, this is better than the minimal profile model where the space under the overground line is a no man’s land (unless it’s running down the median of street).
    The other possibility is for the pedestrian circulation to be primarily at platform level around elevated stations – similar to the plinth and tower design of many downtown office buildings. These leaves room for plenty of parking structures at less expensive above ground levels, but below the effective “ground level”.

  33. Miles Bader December 20, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    @John W
    Note that the line I posted a link to actually does use much of the space under the line (it’s too valuable to simply leave unused).
    At the location I used, it’s used for bicycle parking (which is a major use, there are many thousands of bicycle parking spots located under tracks around that location). In other places, there are stores, kids playgrounds (a bit too shadowy in my opinion, but…), etc.

  34. BarronColleen26 June 11, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    This is well known that money can make people disembarrass. But what to do if one does not have cash? The only one way is to receive the credit loans or credit loan.

  35. Ross Brown November 22, 2017 at 9:25 pm #

    The way to fix TransLink, connect ubc to Marine drive TransLink station with a light rail train and don’t build tunnel under Broadway.