To UBC, from BCIT and Picinics in the Park, by tram – The Light Rail Committee’s Broadway Light Rail Project


1 Broadway Streetcar

A Wee Bit Of Local History

In early 1996, during BC Transit’s meaningless public consultation period for the Broadway Lougheed Rapid Transit Project which later morphed into the Millennium Line, Zweisystem received a phone call from an European Transit specialist, who worked for Asea Brown Boverai (later absorbed by Bombardier Inc.) regarding the project.

The European transit specialist, wanting to make contact with those planning for light-rail, had phoned BC Transit to arrange a meeting regarding the then proposed Broadway/Lougheed  LRT project and was given Zweisystem’s phone number! After his initial shock and displeasure being fobbed-off by BC Transit, the transit specialist entered into a long conversation with me on transit issues in the region and how modern light rail could help solve them. To make a long story short, he proposed a classic Broadway tram, with stops every 500m to 600m, going to UBC, replacing all Broadway bus services and a second line via Main Street, Hastings St. to Stanley Park, that, he claimed would double present bus ridership on the two routes, providing enough fare revenue for the tram to operate without any subsidy, with fares covering not only operating costs but debt servicing costs as well. By doing so, a private company could build and operate the light rail line at no cost to the taxpayer. The rest is history as they say and the SkyTrain Millennium Line was built instead and is subsidized by over $80 million annually!

The Light Rail Committee Proposes the BCIT to UBC and Stanley Park Light Rail Project.

In late 1996 the LRC proposed a bold Broadway light rail plan: a tram/light rail line from BCIT to UBC via the Lougheed Hwy., Broadway, 10th Ave. and University Blvd. with a second line via Main street to Hastings Street to the Aquarium in Stanley Park. The plan consisted of lawned reserved rights-of-ways and on-street running; priority signaling on traffic calmed Broadway and Hastings Streets; tram/streetcar stops every 500 metres; a single track Vancouver General Hospital Loop via Fraser St., 10th Ave. and Cambie St., providing front door service to the hospital, and operating modern modular low-floor cars. Commercial speed would have been about 20 kph to 25 kph (depending on the number or tram-stops) and the construction costs in the region of $20 million/km to $25 million/km; maximum hourly capacity 18,000 to 20,000 persons per hour per direction (depending on the number of vehicles operated), signaling would be line of sight with intersections and switches protected by local signaling. Headways could be as low as 30 seconds in peak hours.

What the LRC’s plan would do is service many important transit destinations (UBC, BCIT, downtown Vancouver, Stanley Park, etc.), while providing economy of operation by replacing all bus services on Broadway and many in Vancouver, thus reducing operating costs. Further economies can be made by using existing masts and span wires along the proposed transit routes. The new LRT would be merely seen as the reinstatement of ‘rail’ service by modern streetcars, operating on 21st century rights-of-ways. The bonus of a private operator, securing financing  to build the line at no or little cost to the taxpayer is a concept that must be looked at by politicians.

The plan would reduce Broadway to one lane of traffic in each direction (passive traffic calming) except in areas of mixed operation, while keeping the all important on-street parking for local merchants. The plan would have offered a minimum of four transit routes: BCIT to UBC; BCIT to Stanley Park; UBC to Stanley Park; UBC or BCIT to VGH loop and local services if need be. The plan incorporated modern European light rail and tram philosophy of the day; lawned reserved rights-of-ways, modular cars, high capacity, passenger comfort, and affordable cost. It was not to be, as the Glen Clark NDP government, for reasons that can only be speculated, dismissed LRT out-of-hand and went for a truncated SkyTrain light metro line, the only metro in the world that went nowhere to nowhere.

In 2009 there are again rumours of a SkyTrain subway to UBC and it maybe time to again to consider a BCIT – UBC – Stanley Park light-rail network.

2 streetcar


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7 Responses to “To UBC, from BCIT and Picinics in the Park, by tram – The Light Rail Committee’s Broadway Light Rail Project”

  1. Jason Says:

    See, this is the type of vision I am talking about. I was living in the South Fraser area in 1996 so I didn’t see much of the debate surrounding the Millennium Line, but presenting this type of vision and championing it to the general public is the only way we’re going to be able to get enough support from the general public and local city councils to force the provincial government to accept light rail instead of wasting our tax dollars on Skytrain.

    Mindlessly bashing Skytrain and Translink is going to get us nowhere. It might be fun, but in the end, nonproductive.

    Zweisystem replies: I disagree, the SkyTrain mindset is set in stone and if we ignore it and treat it politely, it will never change. The SkyTrain lobby must be called to account at every chance. Remember, there has never been a public LRT/SkyTrain debate in the region and it is high time that this should be done!

  2. mezzanine Says:

    Are you able to post any more details?

    -type of trainsets used/length of trains?
    -similar set-ups in other cities? if one of LRT’s advantage is experience in other cities there should be similar examples of the proposed broadway corridor that we can compare to.
    -how will the overhead caternaries handle trolley bus wires? what will be the set-up there?
    -will buses and trolleys run in the tram ROW? will they still run on the street? (we might be able to stop the #9, but buses like the#10 or #17 would still need to run along broadway.)

    Zweisystem replies: Please remember that this plan is about 15 years old and a lot of dust has settled. Now to answer your posted questions:

    1) Modular trams (new in 1996) were envisioned with new modules added when ridership increased. Trams were to be about 30m in length, but increased to 54m when ridership demanded. This would mean tram stops would be 50m long. It is cheaper to operate one longer tram than two smaller ones in multiple unit.

    2) Cities with LRT, well there is over 600! Cities used as templates for Broadway, Strasbourg (TransLink’s favourite); Karlsruhe; Nottingham; Dublin; Grenoble (Zwei’s favourite); Paris; Heilbronn; and so on.

    3) The present span wires can accommodate LRT, with no problem, remember the number of wires will be reduced from 4 to 2 and there are no heavy overhead switches used by trolleybuses.

    4) The LRT will run ‘on-street’ and buses can share the same R-O-W if designed to. There would be some re-jigging of trolley routes and Main Street, North from Broadway would see tram/trolleybus sharing the route. The #10 Hastings could use Pender and maybe extended through Burnaby to SFU! The 17/Fraser St. may converge with the 19/Metrotown Stanley Park at Kingsway, which will stop servicing Stanley Park directly. Maybe we can convert some trolley routes to circular routes, providing faster service.

    A Broadway UBC-BCIT-Stanley Park LRT would dramatically alter how transit is provided in the city, as well constrict auto access along Broadway (active traffic calming); welcome to the 21st century.

    For the cost of a UBC subway, we can build this, the Vancouver to Chilliwack Interurban; a LRT Evergreen Line and a stand alone LRT network in Surrey! Imagine, a direct (no-transfer) Chilliwack to UBC train!

  3. mezzanine Says:

    ^comparing vancouver to a place like grenoble for comparable context won’t be the most fitting comparison.

    Voony’s blog i found did some good research and picks out two north american examples.

    Portland’s downtown tram did initally cost $16 million per km, but that is for a no ROW local service. a 5.3 km extension is planned to cost $27.7 million/km.

    Click to access loop_fact_sheet_and_map_feb09.pdf

    Click to access development.pdf

    Toronto’s planned sheppard line is close to a higher volume, reserved ROW that the LRC plan talks about. Planned cost is $63.3 million per km, which includes a tunnel under a highway.

  4. Justin Bernard Says:

    “he bonus of a private operator, securing financing to build the line at no or little cost to the taxpayer is a concept that must be looked at by politicians.”

    Just use taxpayer money to build these projects. We need to get away from the idea that private investment will result in savings.

    Zweisystem replies: Both the Nottingham and Dublin LRT projects were built and operated by private consortium’s and both operate at a profit, including paying annual debt servicing charges on the loans. There is nothing wrong with a private operator, unless there are secret agreements between the operator and the operating authority.

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