Archive for April 13th, 2010

UBC SkyTrain Subway Gaining Steam – Is it An Unstoppable Train?

April 13, 2010

For 1 subway line, one can build many LRT/streetcar lines

One year ago, with Cambie Street merchant’s Susan Heyes lawsuit against TransLink fresh in many peoples minds, any thought of a SkyTrain subway under Broadway was quietly ignored. Now, with TransLink teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, Vancouver’s political bloggists and mainstream media are gung-ho promoting a SkyTrain subway under Broadway to UBC.

The tired old cliché’s, that helped to sell the Expo, Millennium, and Canada Lines to the public are trotted out as transit fact, while light rail is so belittled, one wonders why anyone would build with it. In recent weeks, radio commentators openly questioned ridership data for the Evergreen Line and intimated that it was not worth the investment, while a UBC SkyTrain subway was. What is so tiresome is that no “real” transit experts are interviewed and specialists in light rail are treated as lepers by the mainstream media; no wonder that so many peoples opinions are warped in the METRO area.

Why then, this mad rush for a $4 billion SkyTrain subway to UBC?

There are many answers to this question, the first is that it will be Vancouver’s ‘last kick at the can’ for large amounts for ‘transit monies’ to be spent in the city. With the population of the City of Surrey soon to overtake Vancouver in city population, Surrey politicians will quite rightly demand a more equitable spending of transit taxes, making sure that Surrey and the rest of the Fraser Valley will get much more for their transit tax dollars.

Vancouver’s residents and politicians have this strange notion that ‘they are the centre of the universe’ and a ‘world class city’. To be a ‘world class city’ Vancouver needs subways, as all ‘world class cities’ have subways and definitely don’t have trams (well almost never). Rapid transit is not for practical use, rather it is built for political prestige, a sort of international bragging rights for being a world class city. With the mainstream media so entrenched in Vancouver’s myopic vision, they also support a SkyTrain subway to UBC, just as the mainstream media supported the hugely expensive Canada line because it serves the airport and as everyone knows, no city can be considered world class until it has a metro to serve the airport.

Vancouver’s former Mayor and City Manager, now Premier and the Premier’s close confident were the driving force behind the RAV/Canada line subway under Cambie St. and so designed the project’s criteria as to not allow modern light rail to be built on the abandoned but existing rapid transit route that bisects Vancouver from the Fraser River to False Creek, the Arbutus Corridor! By doing so, they drove up the cost, from well under $1 billion to over $2.5 billion while at the same time reduced the scope of the subway line to a point that it has less capacity than LRT, if it had been built instead! The same may happen with a Broadway subway; needing billions of dollars more in future upgrades!

There is also the continued clarion call for densification by pseudo transit experts and some academics, yet no one to date, who advocates “higher densities for rapid transit” actually states what density is needed and for what mode. Certainly a light rail option along Broadway would cost at least one fifth to one sixth of that of a SkyTrain subway (a simple streetcar, even less) and it would be logical to deduce that a LRT option would need one fifth to one sixth the density to sustain compared to a subway option. Vancouver’s West End has the highest residential densities in Canada, yet the downtown peninsula is ill served by transit and doesn’t have even a metro station!

The recent Olympics have shown that if you massively restrict parking and close bridges and vehicle access to Vancouver’s CBD, people will use transit. A lot of people used TransLink’s transit system during the the two week Olympic party but many did not pay, rather just hopped on the SkyTrain and Canada Lines at will. It did not snow during the Olympics, so SkyTrain did not show its aversion to snow, by 5 kph operation or 15 minute dwell times at stations.

The Olympic Line was free for all and just using two vehicles, carried over 500,000 customers during its brief operation in Vancouver.

Is there a need for better transit on Broadway? Yes! Do we need to spend over $4 billion to build a subway under Broadway? No! So why then is there a massive push by Vancouver elites, who seldom, if ever use transit, to built a massively expensive subway on a route that could be just as easily served by a much cheaper light rail? Answer that question and then the public would have the answer why Vancouver is the only city in the world that pursues a strictly light-metro option for urban ‘rail’ transit.

Only in Vancouver you say; a great pity for the regional taxpayer.