The Broadway Follies Part 4 – The Versatile Light Rail


The entire transit debate for the Broadway route has been defined by the SkyTrain Lobby as a quest for speed, as if speed was the only criteria for a successful urban ‘rail‘ line. Yet speed of a transit system is only one of many factors that determine a successful ‘rail‘ transit line. From the Haas-Klau study (Bus or Light Rail – Making the right Choice), it was found that the over all ambiance of a transit system, ease of use, & ease of ticketing were more important than speed. Yet the SkyTrain lobby, abetted by the many pro metro blogs, persist with this notion that speed and only speed is important for attracting ridership.

The SkyTrain lobby has completely ignored the singular fact that the owner of the proprietary SkyTrain ART light-metro system has never allowed it compete head to head against light rail in a planning competition, but only sells the mode in private deals with little or no public debate. The same is true with the VAL mini-metro system in France, but when faced with competition from light rail, cities planning for ‘rail‘ transit gave VAL second prize.

Why then when competing on a ‘level playing field’ LRT beats out the competition?

It is LRT’s universal versatility that makes the mode so popular with transit planners and operators. With modern light rail, there are many functions that light rail can do besides traveling there and back on an expensive elevated or much more expensive subway.

That LRT complements tourism has been long recognized by transit planners and most new light-rail/tram lines include vintage tram operation. Not only does vintage tram operation make a city more tourist-friendly, it complements businesses adjacent to the LRT line. Many cities hold month long or more vintage trolley or tram festivals, where yesterdays streetcars and trams from around the world operate (in revenue service) on light rail routes in off peak hours, to the delight of all.

Tram/LRT tracks are much easier to relocate than subways or elevated guideways, thus a light rail system can grow and accommodate transit customers needs now or in the future. A good example would be a short stub line from the proposed Broadway line, connecting to Vancouver General Hospital, providing a direct ‘hospital‘ service, at minimal cost which would guarantee to attract ridership. The same sort of sort stub line is used extensively to provide tram services to important transit destinations which are located somewhat inconveniently away from a transit line, such as sports stadiums, etc.

Restaurant or dinner trams have proven successful in a few cities around the world, most notably in Melbourne Australia. A restaurant tram is a very unique venue, with patrons having dinner while the tram trundles along various tram lines. Again, a simple tram line is exploited for service other than conveying commuters, adding to the ambiance of the LRT system and its surrounds.

One of the more interesting developments of modern LRT is the cargo tram or tram vehicles specially designed to haul containers. A BCIT to UBC LRT, operating cargo trams to and from UBC and BCIT and having a central transfer point along the line could possibly take several hundred diesel trucks and vans off the city streets daily, reducing congestion and noxious diesel fumes, especially in the more traffic sensitive Kitsilano district in Vancouver’s West side.

Several LRT/tram operation in Europe offer a bicycle trolley for conveying bicycles on longer trips. By using a bicycle trolley, customers inside the tram are not inconvenienced by cyclists and there is always plenty of room on the bicycle trolley, so the cyclist is not inconvenienced by long waits when space inside trams is limited, especially at peak hours.

Unlike the dinner tram, which offers a specialized restaurant service, offering a unique venue: the Bistro car is a tram car fitted with a small kitchen and bar, offering light refreshments and snacks for transit customers. Used on longer haul tram routes (Karlsruhe’s longest tram route is 210km), the Bistro car offers a pleasant place to pass one’s time on a tram journey.

If light rail is built on Broadway, it will bring with it the ability to do many jobs, other than just move people to and fro. The modern tram can mover freight or convey dinner guests in a specialized cars; the modern tram can adapt to customer needs such as offering a cycle trolley or a Bistro car; modern light rail can network to more destinations thus providing an affordable and efficient alternative to the car. Modern LRT can and will define the Broadway corridor as a more user-friendly and merchant-friendly place for decades to come.

So when the SkyTrain lobby go on and on about speed being the only reason to build transit, what they are really saying is that they want an inferior and dated product and are afraid the the public will discover that modern LRT is an extremely versatile transit mode able to accomplish many tasks, without much effort.


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6 Responses to “The Broadway Follies Part 4 – The Versatile Light Rail”

  1. zweisystem Says:

  2. lrtman Says:

    I don’t think there will be time for dinner from Commercial Drive to UBC, well maybe a hot dog.

    Zweisystem replies: A Restaurant tram is a stand alone operation, where the dinner courses are designed to to be completed after the tram has traveled the appropriate time.and distance.

  3. BCPhil Says:

    WRT a hospital spur: I don’t see the point. It’s only a block walk from Broadway. People would have to wait for over 15 minutes for the right tram, when they could just take any other tram and walk the distance in a 2 minutes.

    WRT a dinner tram: If there is enough time to eat a whole meal while on the tram, the tram is taking too long to get where you need to go. And I don’t think the constant starts and stops of a tram would appeal to diners. It might work well in more scenic areas, but Broadway is far from picturesque.

    WRT Cargo Trams: By interesting development, I suppose you mean only in Dresden (as in Vienna and Zurich they just pick up garbage). Again, it probably works wonders where a company, like Volkswagen, has a large factory in the middle of an urban area where the supply of parts can arrive on a dedicated spur. But that does not exist here. No single business anywhere along Broadway would need the volume of a container for a delivery. And then how do you get the container, or cargo if unloaded by hand, from the middle of the street to around back of the business (as most businesses around here use laneway delivery which is already a huge improvement over most of Europe).

    WRT bicycle carts: I don’t see how that will help with the speed of the tram. Now at every stop train drivers would have to wait a while to see if anyone coming off the train is going to pick up a bike. As well, it would constantly need to be shifted to the front of the train so the driver could see it. Unless you want dwell times of around a minute I don’t see how a bike cart can be useful.

    I don’t see how any of these technologies (while good in their respective deployments in their locations) could apply to Broadway under any circumstance.

    Zweisystem replies: I am sorry that you just can’t see ‘out of the box’.

    A hospital (or stadium) spur line would give direct service to the hospital, which would be beneficial to many people, especially the elderly and those who can’t walk great distances.

    A dinner tram is a restaurant on wheels and the tram travels about until the first sitting is finished. It is a private venture and used to illustrate that a tram line isn’t just for commuting.

    A cargo tram servicing UBC could replace hundreds of delivery trucks, reducing pollution and congestion. As UBC is at the end of the line, so to speak, a cargo tram would be successful.

    A bicycle trolley, operating a regularly scheduled times, could give cyclists a dependable service along Broadway, even during peak times, without inconveniencing tram passengers.

    All Zwei was trying to illustrate is that modern LRT is more than a ‘there and back’ transit system and can be adapted to solve transportation & community problems. SkyTrain and/or a subway can’t do this, as the mode is extremely inflexible, with LRT the opposite is true.

  4. zweisystem Says:

    When Karlsruhe first implemented TramTrain or Zweisystem, it was deemed a one-off transit line. The huge success of the of TramTrain, with an over 400% increase in ridership in just a few weeks after opening raised many eyebrows. Today, the longest of the many new TramTrain routes in Karlsruhe is 210 km; there are over 20 TramTrain type systems in operation; and there is almost the same number being planned for.

    The message that this post tries to convey is that by opting for light rail on Broadway opens many new options with LRT. The only reason cargotram has not raised much notice is that the EEC will not give cargo tram operators the same subsidies that trucks get, thus giving ‘rubber on asphalt’ delivery an economic edge. What about 5 years from now with gas at $2.50 a litre, cargotram might just be a viable option, yet if we build with a SkyTrain subway, this option is completely gone.

    It is time our transit planners look 3 minutes into the future.

  5. David Says:

    People sure seem to have tunnel vision. I figured it was obvious that not all the ideas were appropriate for the abbreviated line currently being envisioned for Broadway, but common sense isn’t nearly as common as its name suggests.

    The point is we need to get LRT installed and operating on high demand routes so it can prove itself to locals (it has already proved itself in the rest of the world). At that point doors open to many further opportunities.

    I don’t see why a dinner tram on Broadway is so ridiculous. Look at all the restaurants along Broadway with patios. They offer vehicle noise, exhaust, second hand tobacco smoke and that “wonderful” glow of high pressure sodium vapour lighting yet they seem quite popular.

    As has been stated here many times the current proposals for Broadway are ridiculous. The single line on Broadway is too short and it doesn’t serve downtown. That TransLink option of running some of the trains to Science World is completely backwards. Someone unfamiliar with Vancouver might look at the proposal and assume the segment west of Arbutus had the highest demand and thus needed the combined frequency of central Broadway and False Creek trams to meet demand. In reality only 38% of B-Line passengers go to UBC.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    The Olympic LRT line was successful wasn’t it? You should do a post evaluating how it did, and what sort of impact it had on the possible future of LRT and what should be learned from Translink by it. Sorry I just like making suggestions and enjoy reading your blog. 🙂

    Zweisystem replies: The answer was yes and no. The service was free and combined with very restricted parking in the area, many people took advantage of it. What the Olympic Line did do was demonstrate two very modern light rail vehicles or trams, but lessons learned are soon lost.

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