Phasing The Broadway Subway

March 11, 2013

Post edited after comment number 3


I have noticed that Translink has made public on Monday its full study [5], which looks pretty comprehensive, so I have to swallow back some chuncks of this post, to recognize this fact. An important figure from this study is how the line affect ridership region wise, and more especially the busiest segment of the Expo line:

2041 AM peak transit flow on on the Broadway-Commercial / Main-Terminal Expo line segment

Mode pphpd
Business As Usual 23,104
LRT 22,165
Skytrain 18,981
Combo 20,007

The above illustrates that not extending the Millennium beyond VCC Clark, impose a cost on the Expo line… just to be able to cope with the demand on its busiest segment. This cost can be eventually tremendous, [6] has advanced number above $1 Billion to upgrade the Expo line capacity above 20,000pphpd.

A Potential Broadway subway alignment (notice the 2 stations on the UBC campus)

Lot of activities on the Broadway subway front those days:

  • A KPMG study financed by the City of Vancouver
  • The finding of what is presented as a Phase 2 of the UBC line rapid transit study: One year study for a 9 pages pamphlet : Isn’t it pathetic? No, now Translink has made available the full 406p study on its site [5]
  • A Vision’s campaign for the Broadway subway, with its Town hall meeting sunday March 10th

The results of the KPMG study are unsurprisingly aligned with the buyer expectation, City of Vancouver. Nevertheless, the study addresses an important global economic aspect of why rapid transit is needed, and we will have probably the opportunity to develop on this aspect in the future

The March 10th Vision town hall meeting, or Broadway subway Rally

A gray hair, subway hostile crowd was out in full force at the St James Community Hall in the heart of Kitsilano, and was seeming to set a pretty dominating adversarial tone for this meeting. It turn out that the Geoff Meggs presentation [1] was able to keep their ire under control. After that, the “anti subway” lobby was not really able to come with any constructive comment/question: Usually sarcastic, and more often that not fear-mongering and deriding UBC students.

The refreshing voice of one of them was in fact framing the debate:

  • The young from UBC, representing and wanting to be the fuel of the future of the regional economy vs
  • The gray hair, living on over-inflated real estate, contemptuous of everything West of Alma, and East of Arbutus, and representing a past era.

In that sense, this meeting probably achieved its key objective. Some tried to make the case for an LRT, based on the premise that for a subway, you can have many LRTs. Geoff Meggs admitted that he has to believe the Translink engineers more than the “engineer” Patrick Condon (the champion of this idea).

The Phasing of the Line

Richard Campbell questioned about that. It is probably the only way to see this line somedays as well as the best way to move forward as suggested before. That allows to defer technology choice west of Arbutus to a later date. Below some useful numbers from an Ottawa study [2]; which are relatively inline with a Parisian study [7]; for the matter relevant to the Broadway Subway:

Component Ottawa Cost [3] Paris Cost [7]
Twin bored tunnel (3m radius) $45M/km
Single bored tunnel (4m radius) €25M/km
Track/Electrical $55M/km
Underground Station (up to 30,000pph) $40M €32M
Open air Station (up to 30,000pph) €27M

The total leads to a $2Billions for the Broadway line, adding a 50% contingency fund as assumed in [3], brings the cost to $3Billions, not including rolling stock and land acquisition.

The numbers suggest that a first phase VCC Clark/Arbutus could come at a $1.3Billion price tag.

For matter of comparison, the 6km extension of the metro line 14, including 4 new stations North of Paris, in a arguably much more complex typology, is budgeted at €1.2Billion [8].

[5] estimates a first phase ending at Arbutus, budgeted at $1.5B and states that:

    The economic assessment of phasing RRT is positive with a benefit:cost ratio of 2.7, vs. 2.3 if built to UBC initially.

Phasing can arise some challenges,

  • It needs to make sense from a Transit network perspective to allow to leverage the new line, and provides an efficient reworking of the bus network

if tunnel is done in several phases

  • More well access to tunnel could be necessary
  • Duplication of starting cost and acquisition of expensive machinery like tunnel boring machine (TBM)

So it is fair to examine the idea to build all the component potentially requiring a TBM in a single phase, and defers later investments at an ulterior date.

  • The drawback is that we can have a sleeping investment not generating revenue, if we end up to build unused tunnels

Building technique

Oak station as envisioned in [2], is de facto assuming a cut and cover method for the station, and a twin bored tunnel. credit photo [2]

The twin tunnels option should also be considered as a starting default point, not as a political statement, like it seems to tend to be done in Vancouver. Considering the topography and traffic level, a cut and cover method could be applied reasonably as soon as West of MacDonald under 10th avenue. This method properly deployed doesn’t need to be despised on the ground of a bad experience, and is still routinely used around the world, including under temporary decks [4]:

Paris Line 4 extension Cut and cover, performed under temporary deck do minimize surface impact, at very busy  Paris's Porte d'Orleans

Paris Line 4 extension Cut and cover, performed under temporary deck do minimize surface impact, at very busy Paris’s Porte d’Orleans

The advantage of it, is that it allows a good phasing of the line in the vicinity of Arbutus.

It is also possible that in the case of the Broadway line, especially East of Arbutus, an single large bored tunnel accommodating stacked tracks north of Broadway could make sense, since, taking account of the topography, it could allow a better access to platforms in both directions:

The Line 9 in Barcelona has adopted a tube large enough to accommodate stacked trains (like on the Expo line), encompassing the station platforms, as well as electrical sub stations, cross over, and storage tracks all in the single bored tube. The impact of station on surface is then limited to the access well: In the Broadway case, it allow tu run the tunnel North of Broadway, and still have direct access to platform in both direction

The Line 9 in Barcelona has adopted a tub large enough to accommodate stacked train (like on the Expo line), encompassing the platform, as well as electrical sub station. cross over, and storage track all in the single bored tube. The impact of station on surface is then limited to the access well: In the Broadway case, it allows to run the tunnel North of Broadway, and still have direct access to platform in both direction

It is worth repeating that there are host of options, and none should be despised on pure political ground, and the one selected should be on the ground of best value for the $.

[1] It was in fact a rehash of a presentation done by the Vancouver engineering department to city council: Broadway Rapid transit, November 27, 2012

[2] Development of a downtown Transit solution and network implications, MacCormickRankin Corporation and Delcan, April 2008

[3] Prolongement du RER E, etude technique Traces gare et tunnel

[4] Prolongement de la ligne 4 du metro parisien, Lot 1, des techniques variees pour un lot complexe et delicat, V. Dore, B. Bizon, F. Billon, S. Leroux and L. Petit Jean. Tunnels et Espace souterrain, Nov/Dec 2010.

[5] UBC Line rapid transit study: Phase 2 Evaluation report Steer Davies Gleave, August 2012

[6] Expo line upgrade strategy SNC Lavalin and Steer Davies Gleave, September 21, 2010

[7] Arc express Etudes, insertion de traces, impact sommaire et redaction du DOCP, Setec Tpi, Xelis and Ingerop, 2009

[8] Metro ligne 14: Prolongement de St lazare a mairie de St Ouen, April 2012


10 Responses to “Phasing The Broadway Subway”

  1. Stephen Rees Says:

    I think the City deserved the reception it got. Translink has a process in place – that includes public consultation – but Vision Vancouver wanted to get in front of that. Translink also avoids having public meetings, which tend to be confrontational – and uses open houses for its consultation process. Once again Vision got the response that experience shows is inevitable with this format. Communities resent being presented with a fait accompli.

    Technology choice is not in fact a done deal – and subways are only the preferred technology if a few criteria are examined, as is done in the present Translink summary document. But it also makes clear that other considerations are important – like land use.

    This regional decision-making needs to trade-off and balance limited resources across competing regional needs. To do so, decision criteria would include: performance, affordability, deliverability and strategic fit from a whole system perspective. Policy-makers have the role of determining priorities and balancing between:
    • Modes
    • State of good repair vs. expansion
    • Sub-areas geographically across the region
    • Shaping vs. serving land use and travel demand
    • Equity/fairness vs. high performance
    • Desire to invest vs. willingness to pay

    Your article does not even address that issue. If there are a small number of underground stations then it is more likely that density is going to be concentrated in high rise buildings in the immediate vicinity. This sort of development is already envisaged at Marine Drive and Oakridge stations on the Canada Line.

    If LRT (or as Patrick Condon prefers, streetcars) were chosen, with more frequent stops then sufficient density increases can be achieved by spreading it along the corridor in four to six storey buildings. To some extent this is already occurring along Broadway – and even 4th Avenue.

  2. Adam Fitch Says:

    Voony. I appreciate all the work and commentary that you have done.

    I have borrowed your drawing to illustrate the concept that I wrote about in December. See the Opinion piece here:

    It’s not a beautiful illustration, but it gets the point across. I don’t know how to post it, so I will e-mail it to you. Could you post it?

  3. I have my opinions on which I would prefer between a subway or light rail, but it doesn’t matter. The alternative to the Broadway Line is not LRT. It’s the status quo. The differences between LRT and SkyTrain tech are tiny compared to the current situation.

    I’ll get behind any technology if someone steps forward to build it. Kudos to Vision Vancouver for showing some leadership. Hopefully it gains enough momentum that the provincial political parties commit to funding it during the election.

  4. Voony Says:


    yes, my article is in the perspective of a Broadway subway.
    regarding technology debate. CanadianVeggie got it right:
    What happened at the town hall, is that the “anti subway crowd” (one defined herself like it under applause of the audience) had no other alternative than the statu quo to offer.

    So, that is the setting of the discussion, not saying I endorse the full idea, but just try to examinable how that subway can be reasonably realized:

    All what you say are valid points, and I elected to not have addressed it in this post.

    However I believe that:
    -the debate local transit (with frequent stop) vs regional transit (800m or more apart stop) is behind us…and we address regional need here.
    -I also believe that the urban form is a red herring. Montreal or Washington DC have subway and still most of those cities are bereft of high rise while the Long beach LRT is dotted by massive High rise (like the Toronto streetcar on waterfront).
    All that is the result of urban planning choice; like the one done for the King Edward village at Knight#Kingsway; more than anything else.

    I have also always been pretty skeptical of this whole serve/shape rhetoric.

    I personally believe that a completion of the regional transit network- that is the Extension of the Millennium up to Granville/Arbutus is also a much more powerful tool to shape the region- than a local streetcar in an already built-up suburb which; if I take the example of 104th in Surrey; seems to offer less retrofitting opportunity that the Cambie corridor.

    The above mainly because the completion of the regional transit provide abundant access and high level of freedom to use Jarret walker verbiage, a requirement to make transit an useful alternative in the daily life, and this much beyond Broadway

  5. rico Says:

    Thanks for the post and clarification in response to Stephan’s comments. Put me down as a supporter of a regional transit solution on Broadway and a believer the city has the power to shape growth as it sees fit….and that growth will likely look the same with a subway or LRT. That said I would love to see the pedestrian realm on Broadway expanded…I think it could be done if we push for it as part of a subway option.

  6. Adam Fitch Says:

    Voony and CanadianVeggie. I agree with much of what you say, but I disagree that the only alternative to a Broadway Subway is the Status Quo. That may be the view of the Anti-Subway people, and the result of major difficulties with putting a streetcar or surface LRT on Broadway. But it is not my view.

    My position is that the best alternative to a Broadway Subway is a 16th Ave LRT. It would be lower capacity than a subway, and it would be a bit slower, but it could be built much sooner, and cheaper. It could serve the need for perhaps the next 10 to 20 years.

    The main obstacle to achieving this, that I see, is oposition from residents and land-oners on 16th, and the fear of this that the Vancouver City Councillors have. But at the same time, the city council just recently passed a resolution about affordable housing, advocating that all arterial streets and major collector streets in Vancouver be open to upzoning and higher density development, including 16th Ave. So let’s have an open, mature conversation here about that.

  7. Rico Says:

    Adam Fitch,
    The main obsticle to a 16th ave LRT is it will have way less than 1/2 of the ridership than a Broadway LRT….so while your total construction costs would be less your cost per rider would be more. Total non starter.

  8. […] justify a phasing of the subway construction, a solution we have started to investigated in our previous post. In fact [1] has studied a first phase ending at Arbutus, costed at $1.5B, and states […]

  9. MB Says:

    I don’t have any problem with the City of Vancouver hosting its own meetings on this issue. Just because it has the maturity to do so doesn’t mean it disaggrees with the TransLink’s policies or consultation methodologies, and in fact is very experienced in both “talking head” meetings and open houses.

    Vancouver will be most affected by the final decision mostly because unlike any other city in the Metro the Broadway corridor is already built up without an adequate transit response, and has been thus underserved, in my view, for over 40 years.

    Moreover, the CoV is arguably in the stratosphere above any other city in Western Canada in many, many respects, certainly light years ahead if any of its suburbs in land use planning, killing freeways, reducing GHG emissions, being the host of regional events paid for by its own local tax base, and contributing more to the regional economy than any other. To belittle Vancouver by knocking its current Vision administration is to reduce the value of the contributions of every administration since Art Phillips and TEAM were elected in the early 70s. It has been a remarkable and progressive journey.

    In addition, to defend technology choice based solely on prior government transit funding habits (i.e. to the point of non-life support) is to tacitly defend the highway culture that has caused so much damage to the planet and to our cities.

    Instead, why not promote public transit from quality of service criteria and let the techology naturally follow its most beneficial course?

  10. MB Says:

    Voony, thanks for these informative illustrations.

    It would be interesting to see how people access the platforms from the street in the one-big-tunnel option. In my opinion, the best configuration for a subway station to meet future demand is to excavate building wall to building wall to ensure the widest centre platform possible between twin bored tubes. Better, to purchase neighbouring property, especially if it’s not of high quality, to build urban plaza-quality station entries. In all cases the station box pit would be roofed over with steel girders and plates during construction and excavated from the sides and / or through the tunnels where the boring operation spoils would be taken in any case. The tops of the tunnels and station roofs would be set just a few metres below existing utilities, geotechnical investigations pending.

    A wide centre platform with a minimum 100m length will greatly ensure future demand level pedestrian traffic can be easily directed to / from the surface with as few pinch points as possible, and will accommodate a wide mezzanine with many escalators, stairways and elevators (with space for additional structures as needed). A mezzanine will be the best design to move large crowds from the centre platform below to both sides of the street above, and if made wide enough with services, could support coffee bars, news stands, etc. The station entries would ideally be at the four corners of an intersection (minimizes pedestrian surface crossings), two each linked to the ends of the mezzanine, or alternatively two larger entries at two corners of four at an intersection.

    A passenger’s route does not begin and end at the station platform, but carries on to the street where the experience should be accounted for in the design. In other words, the realm for humans must be enhanced at the street level when considering major transit projects with anticipated very high levels of use. In that regard, urban design and architecture are very important contributions to the city with respect to transit.

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