Alternatives to Broadway Corridor SkyTrain

Posted by Jake Tobin Garrett


Image by Graham_Ballantyne from the BR Flickr Pool

On October 23, 2009 several mayors voted to increase funding for Translink to $130m in order to keep services running at the same level we are experiencing now (as opposed to a cut back to 1970s levels–ouch). Unfortunately, this plan falls short of the increase in funding Translink needed for expansion, and so expansion has effectively been shelved for the moment.

A few days ago it was reported that the Canada Line is going to lose somewhere between 14m and 21m annually until 2025. This isn’t really a surprise considering the expense of the project.

A few years ago Translink and the BC Government announced a pretty ambitious plan for expansion in the region. This included the much-talked-but-never-built Evergreen Line in Coquitlam. Also, a UBC-Broadway SkyTrain, as well as an expansion of the Expo Line further into Surrey. I’m always in favour of more public transportation–but I’m also in favour of smart transportation, something that Translink and the BC Liberals seem to abhor in favour of expensive, intensive, and disruptive construction (Cut-and-cover, anyone?)

So, where does that leave us for the Broadway Line, which is direly needed in this city?

The businesses along Broadway are not going to let what happened to the businesses along Cambie happen to them. They are already mobilizing themselves, forming committees and passing out flyers to businesses along the street informing them that a “Cambie-Style” disaster is coming to Broadway. And I don’t blame them. Construction of this nature is necessary and often disruptive, but the Cambie businesses were lied to and then denied any sort of compensation (the least the government could have done was given them interest-free loans in order to cover the costs of reduced revenue during construction).

In a perfect world, an underground SkyTrain line that ran the length of Broadway out to UBC would be ideal; it would be the fastest way down Broadway and pretty much guaranteed frequent usage that only grows in the future. However, this is not a perfect world, and such a system (as we’ve seen with the Canada Line) would be extremely expensive to build, harmful to businesses along the line, and hard to finance afterward.

But what other options are there?

Separated Light Rail

(LRT in Oregon, courtesy of Wiki Commons Images)

LRT is less expensive to construct and maintain. Much of Broadway Street is six lanes, with the outer lanes used for parking during certain hours of the day. Abolish the parking, use the outer four lanes for traffic, and use the inner two lanes for separated LRT. The trains could be equipped with technology that tells lights to turn green for them. Faster than the B-Line, but slower than an underground SkyTrain. You don’t really lose a lane since Broadway operates mostly as two-lanes in each direction for much of the day. What you do lose is street parking, but that would encourage the use of the new light-rail line.

Integrated Light Rail

(Houston, Texas courtesy of Wiki Commons Images)

The other light rail option is to allow traffic on the rails at some, or all, times. This would make train time much slower, but free up more room for traffic, keeping it much the same as we have now. But if the train can get stuck behind cars, what’s the point?

Using What We Already Have

As Sean pointed out a few days ago, there were already rail lines running from Vancouver to Richmond that could have been used by the Canada Line if certain neighbourhoods had not made such a stink about it. One Georgia Street reader proposed using the tracks already laid parallel to Broadway a few blocks north. And someone else suggested the idea of 16th ave instead.

Rapid Transit Buses

Anyone who thinks the B-Line is a “rapid transit bus” like it is touted by Translink has obviously been asleep during the ride. The speedy bee symbol seems more like a taunt than a mascot when you’re stuck in traffic as the ride from UBC to Commercial can take an hour or more sometimes.

Brazilian city Curitiba has got it right by creating a rapid bus system that works (and cost them a tenth of LRT). Their buses have doors that slide open like trains, dedicated lanes so they can whiz past stuck traffic, and sensors that turn the lights green for them as they arrive.

The B-Line fails because it often is snarled in the same traffic as the cars. If the city wants more people to take transit then they need transit to be faster and more comfortable than driving a car. One way they could do this right now is to get rid of the parking along Broadway at all daytime hours and get those green-light sensors. Suddenly, the B-Line would look like the way to go.

I’ll probably get yelled at for suggesting the abolition of street parking along Broadway, but many other cities are already doing this as a way to cut down on traffic and encourage public transit use. However, you need to have public transit that is fast, effective, and accessible in order to do this, and along Broadway we’re not quite there yet. But we could be.

Perfect ideas? No (as I’m sure many will point out). Surface level LRT would be slower than a SkyTrain line. And there would be the issue of where to allow bikes safely. Should we pay for the cost of tunneling? Should we tell businesses to suck it up and do more cut-and-cover? Obviously, I think there are other options. If we want public transportation that doesn’t bankrupt us, cause perpetual hikes in fees (yes, folks, another one is coming) and continues to expand into the future then we should start looking to other cities and thinking about alternatives to SkyTrain.


Explore posts in the same categories: Broadway Line, BRT, Bus, Canada, funding, Light Rail Transit, skyTrain, taxes, transit, Translink

One Comment on “Alternatives to Broadway Corridor SkyTrain”

  1. zweisystem Says:

    Actually when one studies the Curitiba model, one also must factor in lower wages and lower construction costs due to lower wages. But not all is well in Curitiba, as the city is actively planning for heavy-rail metro and the director of the public transit system has stated he needs light-rail to compete against the private auto.

    Also the new multi-lane highways to cater to the BRT line were never included in costs. Sadly Curitiba has no lessons for North America.

    As for Broadway, LRT can be built quite cheaply as it would be seen as a reinstatement of Streetcar on the original formation and the poles for the span-wires are still used for the trolley buses.

    SkyTrain’s famed faster speed than LRT comes from a much smaller number of stations per route km. With LRT stops would be every 500 to 600 metre apart and with SkyTrain a minimum of 1 km. apart.

    If LRT were to operate on a reserved rights-of-way, commercial speeds along those sections would be comparable to SkyTrain.

    Portland’s LRT system travels at higher speeds 90 kph on portions of the line but as there is no reserved rights-of-way through Portland downtown, LRT speeds fall dramatically.

    In Europe LRT operating through cities on RROW’s can obtain speeds as high as 70 kph between stops.

    Cost for LRT on Broadway $20 million to $25 million/km.; cost for a SkyTrain subway $150 million/km+.

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