OP-ED: Trains Impress, Stations Don’t

Commentary – Posted to Think City

By James Fletcher

Canada Line – An architectural failure.

Overall, the Canada Line provides fast, convenient service from Richmond and YVR airport into downtown Vancouver. The trains are more spacious, have wider aisles, designated bicycle areas, and more handgrips for standing passengers. The extra space will be most appreciated by parents with strollers and those travelling to and from the airport with large luggage. Technophiles will also be pleased to hear that their mobile phones work underground in all stations and trains.

Large electronic display boards and platform announcements tell passengers the destination for each train, and how long they will wait before it arrives. These features should be provided on the rest of the SkyTrain system.

While the design of the trains and platforms is very good, the design of the stations fails to live up to the same standard. Some problems, such as the insufficient number of ticket machines and the poorly designed signage that is difficult for many to read, are relatively easily fixed. Other design and architectural issues will likely be difficult and expensive to remedy.

A glaring example of poor design is the inexplicable failure to provide a direct underground connection from the Granville Station on the Expo Line to the City Centre Station on the Canada Line.

Passengers are forced either to navigate a poorly marked and circuitous route through the Bay and Vancouver Centre Mall, or to go up to Granville Street and walk a block to the other station before descending to platform level.

The reach and accessibility of several stations could have been greatly improved by providing several access portals.

Instead, passengers are often forced to cross wide avenues such as Pacific Boulevard, West Broadway, King Edward, 41st Avenue, Marine Drive, and No. 3 Road in Richmond. For elderly or disabled passengers, or those with small children, or simply those trying to catch a connecting bus across the street, it is an unnecessary inconvenience.

Although some of the larger and busier stations have included space for commercial tenants, it was disappointing to see that the Canada Line failed to include commercial space in more of its stations.

The presence of lawful commercial businesses helps to make passengers feel safer using the system, especially at night, and discourages loitering, intimidation, vandalism and other criminal behaviour from taking hold.

The architecture of the stations also leaves much to be desired.

Built of glass and concrete, the stations are utilitarian and functional, but fail to engage with their surroundings or provide a welcoming or hospitable public space.

Unlike many of the Millennium Line stations, none of these cookie-cutter stations are landmarks or places of interest. They are much closer to the tubular steel frame stations on the original Expo Line, and unfortunately, this represents a step backwards for Vancouver commuters.

The Canada Line stations are small grey concrete boxes with low ceilings, no ornamentation or public art, and the interiors feel very cold and sterile due to the blue, white, and grey tiles.

They are uncomfortable and inhospitable places if you need to wait for a ride from a friend or a connecting bus. Some benches, public art, landscaping, and shelter from inclement weather would certainly help.

The Yaletown-Roundhouse station is a vivid example of broader architectural failings repeated along the length of the Canada Line.

Situated in what was once a very attractive and welcoming little square at Mainland and Davie, the station snubs the red brick, black iron, and wood beams of Yaletown in favour of grey un-textured concrete and glass. No architectural concessions are made to the trains and loading docks of Yaletown’s railway past or even the adjacent Roundhouse Community Centre for which it is named.

The Canada Line is Vancouver’s shiny new train set, and we should celebrate this $2.9 billion investment in Vancouver’s future. But when you first set foot in its terminus at Waterfront Station, it is more than a little sobering to realize that the quality of the space and amenities provided by the CPR to the traveling public 99 years ago still exceeds what we are willing to provide today.

James Fletcher is the editor of the Think City Minute.

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Responses to this article

Why Canada Line is under budget and ahead of schedule

Michael says: – Use a near-standardized design and materials for all stations, ignoring local character (an immediate regret, to be softened by a rotating art program). – Shorten the station platforms from four car-lengths to two (a VERY expensive future regret). – Use cut-and-cover construction instead of tunnel boring (I happen to agree with that one, despite the pain it brought some businesses on Cambie). – Cut back on street furniture such as adequate numbers of bike racks. The Saturday before the long weekend I took an afternoon train from Brighouse to City Centre. By the second stop, the train was packed. This was before the change of bus lines to feed the Canada Line. Should the Canada Line prove to be that much a success, TransLink will have to rethink its feeder system. That would be good news for those at the fringes of Metro who are losing their direct buses to Vancouver, but would negate the promised improved service for central Metro residents. Michael

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inadequate & uninspiring

Chad says: I completely agree with Daniel Quinn’s point that the capacity levels are inadequate. When will this city start planning for 50 – 75 years in the future? And when will the best practices of other transport systems be incorporated into our system? The big trains are great, but I thought that wider platforms and multiple entries would just be standard features. I was told once by someone in the Vancouver city planner that many of these decisions are still made by people in the engineering department who are stuck on the 1950s idea that city should be built for cars. When will the citizens of this city start demanding public works be something they can take pride in rather than always complain about cost? The design and architecture of the stations should be inspiring – we have enough grey bland environments already.

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You missed a pretty important part

Daniel Quinn says:

While you went on at length here to talk about the disappointing use of concrete and glass, you missed a pretty important criticism of the entire line: the size of the stations is laughably inadequate.

As the system is currently designed, the stations are incapable of accommodating anything more than two (joined) cars at a time. This isn’t building for the future, it is, true to Vancouver’s transit history, building for right now.

Give it 5years and that whole line will be rammed with people with no way to alleviate the load.

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Stations are bleak

Yes the Canada Line Stations are bleak but they are meant to be so that you will hurry out of the stations and into the glittering shopping malls that are connect by the Line. The exceptions are the casino at Bridgeport, the parking lot at Templeton Station, and the golf course at 49th Avenue. The true cost of this project is greater than $1.9 billion, because you forgot to add in the cost of borrowing which will add another $1.0 billion. To put it into academic terms this project is not economical. What is most important is that the stations are built for a maximum of 4 car trains which means that the stations are not flexible should the system be a success and need to be expanded. The system uses a whole new technology than the Expo Line and the Millenium Line thus making these latter lines an orphan technology, just like an 8 track cassette recorder.  Chris

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