Post updated on January 29th, 2017

Ill conceived, since according to Translink [1], The proposed Surrey L line (Guilford, Surrey central newton, titled LRT 4 in the transit study), was among the poorest options Translink has studied for Surrey. An option which will saddle translink with increased operation cost without matching revenue to sustain it, for generation to come [1]. and an option which provide a deeply negative return on investment:

Even  a multiple account  evaluation (taking account social benefit at large), The return on investment is simply not there!

Even a multiple account evaluation (taking account social benefit at large), The return on investment is simply not there! (figure from [1])

Ill conceived because the Surrey LRT approach is in essence local and ignore the regional demand.

Missed opportunity because it will hinder the region to do the right thing to develop alternatives allowing the south Fraser area to become a less car dependent place before it is too late. At the root of this poor decision making is an original sin: A Vancouver centered optic where Surrey is seen as a fringe area in need to be connected to the Expo line; and a ideological bias from the Surrey City council making the streetcar the only answer whatever the question is. This optic ignore the development occurring in the Fraser valley, in Langley and beyond, more noticeably Abbotsford and Chilliwack, and the subsequent regional transportation demand; something we have touched in 2012:

Context and opportunities

A first draft of Regional transportation in the Valley

A draft Regional transportation demand in the Fraser Valley

The region becoming more vast than Metro-Vancouver, people travel longer distance, with more dispersed destinations, the challenge is then to provide an appealing transit alternative for people in the Valley and the south Fraser area: that means, fast comfortable, and as few as possible transfer toward meaningful destinations.

A LRT running not faster than a bus is not a compelling solution on which to build a regional transportation backbone, but a transportation mode such as the skytrain is not suitable for long distance travel; Also the skytrain technology, designed for very frequent service, become too expensive to maintain as soon as less frequent service is needed [9], so extending the skytrain forever is not a solution able to address the need beyond Langley.

The Interurban vision

It is time for the Vancouver region to explore new paradigms, and reconsider the regional train with an European eye. That is to not entertain solution such as the West Coast Express, but to consider light passenger trains able to achieve a commercial speed in excess of 70km/h (typically means max speed in excess of 140km/h)[13], with comfortable seating: the bombardier Talent, once used for the Ottawa’s O train, is a good starting point to entertain the discussion. below is the kind of rolling stock we have in mind:

Bomabrdier Talent 2, able to run at up to 160km/h and a Alstom Regiolis tram-train, able to run at 100km/h on mainline, and still able to run as a tram on the street (credit wikipedia)

Thought the Fraser valley has the former interurban line, the BCER, this line is not suitable for most of its length: it presents a too meandering horizontal alignment. It is also already heavily used by freight trains in some sections[3], while in other, the tracks need to be completely renewed in order to accommodate off the shelve European train set [17], so there is no clear value at constraining the option on the sole BCER corridor. Below is an example addressing the challenge, with a 70km long rail line (in blue) from Richmond Bridgeport to Abbotsford (connecting with the former BCER for potential extension to Chilliwack) using mainly BC Hydro corridor (and rail rail fo way in Richmond).Part of the line reflects also a vision once expressed by the White Rock Transportation and safety committee [12]

Interurban line, from Richmond Bridgeport to Abbotsford; using  BC Hydro corridors on most of its length

Interurban line, from Richmond Bridgeport to Abbotsford; using BC Hydro corridors on most of its length (the map highlight the BC hydro as well as existing rail corridors)

The advantage of this line is that

  • it provides a fairly straight line without too short curvatures [4] and an adequate vertical profile [5]
  • it requires virtually no private land acquisition
  • It is completely separated from freight trains; a Transport Canada requirement to allow train built on European standard to operate on the line

The expo line then needs to be extended 3km along King George to provide a seamless transfer with the regional train[6].

Fraser crossing in the vicinity of MacAdam creek, in Delta, where the alignment takes advantage of the bluff on the south side, to reduce the approach to a bridge which clearance should be at least as high as the Alex Fraser bridge – new Panamax ship class allows an air draft of up to 58m

To preserve the future, The regional line should be built for European style standard train EMU (such as the Bombardier talent-2). That supposes to build the line to UIC standards allowing speed in excess of 160km/h, ideally 200km/h: that means in particular:

  • double track platform width of ~13m
  • no level crossing

Estimated travel time (in mn) between key stations with an express train calling only at the below mentioned station [19]

Abbotsford Langley Surrey Queensborough Richmond
Abbotsford 15 24 31 42
Langley 15 9 16 27
Surrey 24 9 7 18
Queensborough 31 16 7 11
Richmond 42 27 18 11

cross section of the track platform for the Lyon-Marseille High speed line ( 350km/h max speed) - source (2); 500kv double circuit tubular tower able to to replace a lattice tower if the tower foot print is an issue - source (15)

Numbers suggest such a line could be built at cad$35M/km [7] putting the total cost of the regional line at $2.5Billions (remember that the Brunette interchange alone costs $0.5B). However, the line doesn’t need to be built in one shot, and can be phased, a first phase consisting of the 12km Langley-Surrey section, estimated then at ~$500M.

For this short first section, a tram-train, able to reach 100km/h and to ride the Langley streets could be considered at first [8]. Since it could benefit of a totally segregated infrastructure (in trench) between Langley and Surrey, a 12 mn travel time could be easily reach. (A Translink study [1] suggests such travel time could attract up to 6,000 pphpd in 2041, what is the relevance zone for such a transportation mode)

Cost and benefit

The skytrain extension has been costed at $85M/km (2010)[1] in viaduct and $140/km (2010)underground [11] (all including stations), so that the total cost of the project in its first phase could be keep in the $1B envelope, and still include a BRT lines Surrey 88th-Whiterock, as well as some B line connecting Guilford not only to Surrey central but also to the interurban and Coquitlam.

The closest studied option by Translink was the option titled RRT 1A (skytrain extended to Langley and BRT on KGH and 104th)[1]: our proposed option in its first phase is slightly less appealing on the Langley Surrey section (doens’t go directly to Surrey center, and doesn’t eliminate the skytrain transfer). On the other hand, it still provides similar travel time, between the 2 cities (and Vancouver), and a tram-train option allow a finer coverage of Langley downtown. Subsequent extensions make our proposal of better value.

A Skytrain to Langley , means, the train could run well below capacity (or at very spare frequency, what is not without issues). an extension collecting both the traffic flow coming from the King George corridor, and Langley could make better use of the skytrain capacity

Our proposal makes also a better use of the skytrain capacity (the extension collect ridership from both the Langley Regional train and the KGH BRT). Our proposal offers a shorter BRT route on the KGH branch (due to the skytrain expansion here), and equal on the 104th branch: We can consider our proposal carries all the benefit of the RRT 1A option, at half of the price tag. In any case, it is a much better solution than the one currently imposed by the Mayors’council, which will not benefit to Langley and will be detrimental to White Rock by introducing an additional transfer with no travel time benefit, and which cost has already escalated to a whopping $100M/km

[1] Surrey Rapid transit Alternatives Analysis – Phase 2 Evaluation, Translink, 2012.

[2] V. Profillidis, Railway Management and Engineering: Fourth Edition, Routeledge 2016

[3] In addition to the operating constraint imposed by the freight trains, Transport canada requirement for passenger train mixing with freight train make such solution a non starter beside commuter train such as the West coast express)

[4] The curvature suggests speed limit of 160 to 200km/h speed between Langley and Surrey, 160km/h around the Nordel Mac Adam Creek section (thought requiring some expropriation), 120-140Km/h, in the approach south of Langley…that is assuming a typically a minimum curve of 1250m for 160km/h; some figure also roughly and intrinsically adopted for the californian HST [10]

[5] French high speed rail tracks have gradient of up to 35/100, and 40/1000 on the german Koln Rhein [2].

[6] In the proposed scheme, the track along King George Highway could be branched before the eponymous station. The later could be retired, and
a new one built.

[7] French high speed line, built on higher standard, are typically build at a cost of cad$35M/km or €22M/km (10% for land acquisition, 65% for civil engineering, and 25% for rail, power and signalling)[16]. However the Fraser crossing could require a specific estimate

[8] Such choice, should not hinder the capacity of the line to run faster train. If electric, the tram-train should then be dual voltage, the main line, equipped with standard 25kv AC60Hz, the street extension in 750V. Similarly the stations should be designed to allow a layered service with tram train calling at local stations, while faster train could call only at main stations.

[9] The skytrain vehicles (and consists) are designed to maximize the throughout of the line, so seating is minimized, and comfort of it is not a priority. The driverless technology allow very high frequency at marginal cost, but it imposes also high “minimal operation” cost, to both maintain and operate the line, making this technology not a prime choice in the current condition.

[10] California High-Speed Train Project : Technical Memorandum, Alignment Design Standards for High-Speed Train Operation TM 2.1.2; California High-Speed Rail Authority, 2009

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

[12] South Fraser Strategic area transit plan, Transportation and safety committee, City of White Rock, August 22, 2006

[13] This tends to be a typical requirement for new regional transit lines in european conurbation. As an example the new subway line planned in Paris area are targetted to have a commercial speed of 55 to 65km/h.

[14] It is interesting to notice that the LRT line in Surrey is costed higher than a french High speed line, the later arguably incurring more extended civil engineering work: it is possibly due to the fact that Surrey LRT construction cost include the relocation of the underground utilities, and the construction method must include important traffic mitigation.

[15] Proponent’s environmental Assessment: Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, Southern California Edison, 2009, Figure 3.2.4.

[16] La grande vitesse ferroviaire : un modèle porté au-delà de sa pertinence, Cour Des Comptes, Republique francaise, 2014

[17] the track renewal cost can be estimated at Cad$5M/km, including electrification, for a single track, and work progress can be as fast as 600m of track renewal/day, this from a similr work done to establish a tram-train in the vicinity of Nantes. This number is in line with the provided by a Leewood report[20] for the Rail for the Valley organization

[18] Camille Saïsset, Tram-train Nantes-Châteaubriant, une liaison efficace pour la réouverture de voies, Actu-Environnement, July 27, 2012.

[19] the numbers assume a average speed line of 140km/h, an average acceleration of 1m/s/s, and a dwelling time of 2.5mn. The 24 mn travel time between Surrey and ABbotsford, can be compared to the 44mn travel time given by [20] between Abbotsford and Surrey Newton using the BCER or the Google estimated 35mn road travel time between Abbotsford (Highway 1#11) and Surrey Central (with clear traffic)

[20] Lower Fraser Valley British Columbia, Chilliwack to Surrey Interurban, proposal fro rail for the Valley, David Cockle, Leewood Project, 2010.


The Paris petite ceinture is a railway ringing Paris, built between 1852 and 1869. It was once well used, before falling in state of abandonment. The last commercial train  has been seen in the early 1990, since then questions on how the corridor should be re-use have recurringly arised

2001: The return of the Parisian tramway.

The early 1990, mark the renaissance of the tramway in Europe, and especially in France (5), and quickly enough , many advocates promote the idea of reusing the petite Ceinture to the benefit of such a transportation mode in Paris.

There is effectively a market for this. The parallel transit lines (bus PC on the adjacent Boulevards, called Boulevard des Marechaux, as well as the circular subway line 6. A 1995 study suggests that the line could attract 17,000 passenger per hour for this line once transformed as a surface subway (equivalent to the S-bahn) running at 30km/h…In the meantime an alternative option under study (1) is to upgrade the adjacent bus route into a tramway line with a much lower average speed, 20km/h, and per consequent a lower expected ridership 7,700 to 9,100 passenger per hour, but the later option also provides better connection with the existing subway network, as well as better local service.

The 1995-2006 city council under the right wing mayor JEan Tiberi was leaning toward this latest option, which had the advantage to not introduce new nuisance in a corridor which has became almost a natural reserve , but preferred to delay any hard decisions…so that the reintroduction of the Parisian tramway will be a contentious point of the 2001 municipal election.

The challenger and then long time councilor Betrand Delanoë, and its team had a very clear and  articulated position on the tramway, as expressed by its then Transport commissioner, Denis Baupin (Green party):
“ it marks a symbolic stop to a politic favoring the car, […], beside it, its main asset is the requalification of the urban space (5)(2)

Delanoë is elected in 2001 and the work on the tramway will commence almost immediatly, to get inaugurated in 2006:


Delanoë will be reelected for a second mayoral mandate in 2007, but the question of the use of the petite ceinture has been left open: if not a tram, what use?

2012: The cycling highway idea

Delanoë, is then not seeking a third mandate, and endorse his first Adjoint, Anne Hidalgo. Hidalgo main contender is Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (nicknamed NKM) coming from the conservative party. The time when the introduction of a bike infrastructure  in the city was contentious is already a distant memory in 2012, and the cursor has moved on what kind of cycling infrastructure is the best? NKM proposes to reuse the Petite ceinture platform to implement a supercyle highway ringing Paris.

The idea will be quickly shut down by her main opposants: (3)

It has a geometry disadvantage of not being at grade (either tunnel or viaduct), and offering very few connections with the existing street network, but the main arguments against it are philosophical in nature:

  •  It creates usage conflict: a cycling highway with bike riding at 20-25km/h is judged not compatible with other use such as purposeless wandering or flanerie
  • It goes against the specify of the place, which exhale an unique unkempt atmosphere, slow speed local has grown to appreciate: “timeless”, “uniquely silent”, “mysterious and magic” are common thematic associated with the Petite Ceinture.
  • At the end, if one wants to really make the choice of active transportation, this needs to be done at the expense of other transportation mode.

Anne Hidalgo has been elected, and staged progress on the petite ceinture are occurring with the above in mind but with an important constraint: The transportation corridor (still property of the SNCF), need to keep its conversion potential to its former glory, whether the need arises in the future. A design reflecting this constraint supposes to provide a constant reminder to the user of the space of its original usage and potential future one:

It is what is achieved below, with a space accessible to people of all age and ability (4):

(1)it was in fact 2 competitive studies, the Petite ceinture option promoted by the french national railway network (SNCF), owner of the infrastructure, and the Boulevard des Marechaux option, promoted by the Parisian transit operator, RATP.

(2) Face aux lobbies, le tram trace sa voie. Petite ceinture ou Maréchaux, Paris retrouvera le tramway au XXIe siècle, Liberation, April 17th, 1996

(3) Petite ceinture : faire le tour de Paris à vélo et autres fantasmes, rue89, September 25th, 2013

(4) credit for all below pictures to Architecture Urbanisme FR

(5) See our post Transit as part of the urban fabric, October 23, 2012.

…and the Vancouver Canada line case. The remarks apply also to LRT unless specified (another post has been dedicated to buses

In a nutshell, the person per hour per direction (pphpd) capacity a subway line can offer, is

    (capacity of a train) × (number of train per hour).

Like for buses, the capacity of a train is a function of different parameters, mainly person per square meter occupancy standard, and seats arrangement.

At the difference of low floor buses (and LRT), there is little “protuberance” (such wheel room) on high floor train, and technical room present in a train cabin rather under floor or on roof, are often the result of a tradeoff:

    train capacity vs easy maintenance

The theorical capacity of a train, is in fact a direct function of its surface:

      (length of the train) × (width of train).

…and a train length, is constrained by the station’s paltforms length, which are typically very expensive to expand.

Train capacity

below is an example of compared train capacity, expressed in term of surface able to accomodate passengers

Train consist Platform length width surface
Vancouver Canada Line 40 3 120
Vancouver Canada Line 50 3 150
Vancouver Skytrain (Expo line) 80 2.65 212
Paris typical subway line 75 2.37 178

For matter of comparison, the theorical Canada line capacity (with 50meters platform) is just 15% lower than on most of the parisian subway lines, such as its line 2 or 5: those lines carry ~100million riders a year.

Behind the seating layout, a train needs in practice several features to effectively reach its theorical capacity. Among them

  • Minimal unusable space between cars (and in cars)
  • Allow passenger to “overflow” from a car to another one

Intercirculation between cars, usually allows that, but again, some interciruclation layout can be more efficient than other:


MP89CA_interior On top the skytrain MKII (second generation interior)intercirculation is narrow, impeding free flow movement from car to car, and blocking line of sight at the difference of the Parisian MP89-CA (bottom picture), where the train look like a single “big room”- credit photo top, the Translink’s Buzzer, bottom: wikipedia

Dwelling time and frequency

homogeneous occupancy of a train is also function of the door disposition, but the door layout affect primarily the dwelling time. Short dwelling time is important for a host of reasons, frequency being one of them, and frequency affcet the line capacity:

    interval between train can’t be shorter than the station dwelling time

It is hence important to have as much as possible doors, but also have them wide enough, to allow good in/out flow movement. It is also important to avoid that some doors, slow down the boarding/alighting time because they have to handle more traffic flow:

  • From a boarding viewpoint, where passengers have no apriori on the location of door on platform, the best way to do that, is to have all the doors equidistant (It make also the best use of the platform space)
  • From an alighting perspective, all doors on a car should be equidistant


A 68 meters Vancouver skytrain consist, compared to a 75meterParisian MF01 5 cars consist (operating on line 2,5 and 9): the later has lower theorical capacity because it is narrower, but it has greater practical capacity due mainly to a better intercirculation. Furthermore, all doors are equidistant on the MF01 [1], while on the skytrain MK2, people waiting in red zone have to report on a nearby door zone slowing down the boarding. Similarly people standing in red zone aboard the train are too far from a door slowing down the alighting (or conversely limiting the practical capacity of the train by passenger reluctance to stand too far away of a door).

Track issues

A single track, vs a double track, at the end of a line could be used as a cost saving measure, but obviously it affects the frequency of a train line. That said, if the single track portion is short enough, the impact can be relatively minimal.

    Frequency can be be obtained by using a tail track to store trains

The possible frequency is then:

    ((time to travel for and back the single track) + (dwelling time × number of train to be stored) ) / (number of train stored).

As an example, at Richmond Brighouse station, on the Vancouver’s Canada line

  • the tail track past the station can accomodate one stored train [2], and the station another one
  • the travel time between Lansdowne and Brighouse is ~90s and a typical station dwelling time ~20s
2 trains run in one cycle on the single track , by using a tail track behind the termini station

2 trains run in one cycle on the single track , by using a tail track behind the termini station

2 trains can run every 4mn on the Richmond Brighouse branch of the Canada line.

Because one train can run every 4mn on the Airport line, it is possible to get a train every 80s, or 45 trains per hour, on the common trunk (Bridgeport-Waterfront)

Even, with 40meters long train, the Canada line could provides a capacity of ~15,000pphpd, assuming 330 passengers per train: that is 3 times the actual capacity. Greater frequency are theorically possible with the introduction of short turn train (avoiding the single track section):

3 trains running in one cycle, one being shorturned before the single track section, 2 using the single track section

3 trains running in one cycle, one being shorturned before the single track section, 2 using the single track section

PS The above numbers for the Canada line, assume the availability of rolling stock, power supply, track signalling, and fast operating switch: All those could need to be upgraded, as well as the stations along the line to handle the corresponding increase in ridership, but it could be no need for heavy civil engineering work/track reconfigutation toward a capacity increase of 15,000+ pphd

[1] Materiel roulant MF2000, seance 12/12/2000, Conseil d’administration du STIF

[2] Addressing Canada Line capacity questions, Translink, June 3, 2010.

That is from their May 7th, 2013 issue, which is rich of Transportation perspective,…,
and eventually illustrates the dichotomy of thought on it between the Western world and Asia

Jaywalking is responsible of the Beijing traffic woes

As you could know, Beijing is facing massive traffic issues, and here like too often in North America before, it is considered that the pedestrians are the problem. Enforcing the jaywalking laws is not an easy matter but it is deemed necessary by chinese,…this to be a “world class” country… at par with the USA…
In Vancouver, Councillor Heather Deal, whose devoted great amount of VPD time and taxpayer money to enforce the local jaywalking laws, couldn’t agree more [5].

In the Meantime, it is worth to note that in the not so “world class” countries such UK or France, jaywalking is legal as in many other European countries, and still it is generally safer to be a pedestrian there than in Vancouver and more generally in North America.

Cycling in Hong Kong raises a safety issue

The edition contains not less than 2 articles related to cycling in Hong Kong: “Cyclist see open roads up ahead”, and “Cyclists face uphill ride on buses, MTR”.

Cycling is pretty much foreign to Hong Kongers: the fact that the Chairman of the Hong Kong Cycling alliance, Martin Turner, is a British raised individual is tale telling…And when cycling is considered it is mostly for recreational purpose, could lament Martin. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidences seem to show that cycling is on the rise in Hong Kong, like anywhere else, but it seems to be little appetite to quantify that:

Cycling seems on the rise in Hong Kong, and it becomes increasingly difficult to find a free spot to park your bike, before boarding the Transit system

Cycling seems on the rise in Hong Kong, and it becomes increasingly difficult to find a free spot to park your bike, before boarding the Transit system – notice Police can seize bike tied to the handrail – Credit Photo (4)

Statistics show that bike accidents are on the rise too. Helmet laws and bike licensing, are called by some quarters, to reverse this worrisome trend!

Turner has another opinion, and is lobbying for bike rack on bus, like in San Francisco, or Vancouver,…a North American specificity not seen Europe. This promise to be a tough sell, but there is lot of things to do to improve cycling in Hong Kong beside that:


Hong Kong bike lane (Along Ting Kok Rd, Kong Kong NT): More often that not, Hong Kong's cyclists are expected to walk their bikes to the Bike path... and dismount at intersections...what by the way is usually not respected! -credit photo left (4), right, Google

Light Rail or Monorail in Kong Kong

The debate concerns the redevelopment of the former Hong Kong’s airport: Kai Tak, which still look pretty much like below:

View on Kai Tak, the Former Hong Kong Airport.

View on Kai Tak, the Former Hong Kong Airport.

The Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) of Hong Kong has a grand vision for the site, which seems reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s cite radieuse, including a “people mover” under the form of a monorail [1]:

Proposed Monorail for Kai Tak new districtHkMonorailArtistView

Proposed Monorail for Kai Tak new district

Veolia operating The Hong Kong Trams, is making the case for a tramway. Many readers of the South China Morning Post support this idea. Norman Y. S. Heung, project manager at the CEDD Office, explains it is “Practically impossible to accommodate tram system at Kai Tak”, because taking too much road space (sic)…Worth to note that most of the area is not even built yet!

Many other arguments are advanced in favour of the Monorail, which is also presented as a tourist attraction… but at the end the quality of the urban environment is not one of them. It is also explained that the “walking environment will be improved by provision of footbridges and [underpasses]” (sic).

So Does the Kai Tak’s monorail will look like the Chongqing one , or does Hong Kongers will push for a different street experience, may be on the model of the Kunming’s Zhengyi Rd?

Left, Chongqing (China): An avenue with a Monorail (opened in 2011) - Right, Kunming (China): Zhengyi Rd offers a Bld experience, which at par with the ones more traditionally founded in Europe - credit photo left (3), right, (4)

[1] See the video and other information at Hong Kong CEDD

[2] Old Cat

[3] South China Morning Post

[4] VivenDesign

[5] Vancouver launches campaign to educate ‘fragile’ pedestrians, Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun, February 07, 2012.

Transit as integral part of the urban fabric

We are in a beautiful city, “what you would like do in its down town?” is the asked question. The answer, is, and has always been:

relax and enjoy watching the city life:.

The world best expert in urban life, the Parisian bistro owner, knows better that anyone, what people like is to “sit, relax and enjoy city life” – (here cafe Beaubourg at 100 Rue Saint-Martin, Paris)

Fulfilling the request has always been tricky in a city where the space is at a premium, and there is the competitive and not less important need, How to get there?. by feet, bike, transit, or by car ?

It has become clear that the car is consuming too much space. Walking certainly allows a much more efficient use of space, but does it is a good answer to the elders and disabled who are also part of the city?

Answering all these questions will spell a new paradigm for transit:

relax, enjoy watching the city life…and contribute to it

…by bringing the necessary influx of people to make the city public spaces a success. One city more than any other epitomizes this new paradigm:


The reintroduction of trams [3] in European cities, date back of the 80’s. but it is in Strasbourg, France, in 1994, that the tram paradigm will be radically changed. It is not thought anymore only as a transportation service, but more as a way of life, an integral part of the urban fabric. To this purpose, the train itself is integrally rethought, and its design become important:

  • integrally low floor (Strasbourg is a first) to minimize any access/movement barrier
  • As large as possible Windows on the city
  • The train design is unique to the city

The design looks revolutionary in the beginning of 1990, but good design age well, as you can see in the picture below. The integration of the tram in the city is particularly well thought, and the tram is integral part of pedestrianized square and street (naked street concept), since it wants penetrate the city in its very heart, bringing its lifeblood, irrigating vast pedestrian areas

The re introduction of the tram in Strasbourg has been a turning point in the way the transit in city is thought. Notice that this tram design, dating from 1990’s – credit photo (2)

The success is immediate, and up to date, Strasbourg has been the showcase of successful urbanism and transit integration- Translink routinely illustrates LRT proposals with the Strasbourg trams-and it can be considered as the veritable origin of the tramway renaissance in Europe, and beyond the new way to think transit in Europe.


We will have to wait almost 10 years, to see a new transit network able to cast shadow on the Strasbourg innovations, it will be in Bordeaux, France, where most of the historic city is classified as World Heritage Site by the Unesco making the mere presence of an overhead wire a major issue. Here, none of the Strasbourg innovation has been repelled, but only improved.

At the difference of Strasbourg, Bordeaux is a city of large boulevards-called cours by the locals- and the tram could have avoided a large part of the pedestrianized streets and squares:

the trams goes right into the heart of the city and its pedestrianized zone – Place de la Comédie-thought other option using large boulevard 100 meters away could have eventually be possible

Its designers have chosen not to do so. Here too, the trams affirm their presence right into the heart of the city and are part of the pedestrianized street and square, like illustrated below:

Place de la Comédie- Bordeaux : the tram is mingling with pedestrians and bikes, in a very natural way. no street curb, no bollard, not even an overhead wire (…but pavement texture variation, allow visually impaired people to recognize the tram right of way)

The “naked space”, imposing very low speed, comes at a cost for transit operation, but it is the cost the city has chosen to not disrupt its fabric:

Shared space as at a cost for transit efficiency… but a detour too. Enhanced City life and transit rider experience can command the first option

Influence of The Val/tram debate on the Transit paradigm

The VAL, is an automated mini-metro system, similar and contemporary to the Vancouver Skytrain. Both Strasbourg and Bordeaux were poised to have a VAL, not a tram, up to decisive civic elections, seeing mayoral change [4]. Vancouverites can easily imagine how heated could have been the debate between advocates of respective technologies in those cities: The stand-off had translated in cities lagging behind others moving forward on the urban renewal front. Thought one of the argument of the VAL, not taking road space, was loosing steam very quickly, the tram advocates were not going to win the technology argument (speed- frequency), and presenting the tram as a cheaper second choice was not necessarily very appealing to city aspiring to be leading European metropolis (better build less, or wait… but build it right). Another paradigm was needed:

The tram/subway debate is not about money, it is about urbanism

Of course, the geometry argument always rules, but eventually tram advocates of Bordeaux and Strasbourg have been able to demonstrate that with a ~3km typical average trip in their respective cities, the advantage of the grade separated transit (typically VAL), can become moot… especially when the shared spaces in the historic center, usually not much than 1 or 2km, is balanced by segregated right of way in the burbs

The lag taken by those cities during their transit technology choice debate, have also allowed them to learn from other cities, making the renewal a leap forward: That was especially true in Bordeaux, which was a decaying harbor-city

The bus

The bus has long been the poor parent of the tram evolution in term of design, but things are slowly changing beyond the simple mimicking of the train feature [1]. Thought cohabitation of bus and pedestrian in a naked space, is less frequent that in the case of tramway, it is more due to the fact that the naked street concept is relatively new than some inherent limitation imposed by the bus.

Besançon, France used to have a bus route in a shared space, before converting it to Tram; eventually showing the progress toward a naked space.

Place de la Revolution in Besancon: the bus used to travel in a shared space, where its ROW is identified by pavement. The introduction of the tramway allowed to bring the “shared” space to up to date standard, where the transitway, marker is more discret (the rails show the direction, but some, discreet pavement color/texture changes show the Tram ROW – credit top (wikipedia)

Neuchâtel, Switzerland, is an example where the street paving gives no indication of where the bus is passing.

Place Pury is the heart of Neuchâtel, Switzerland: It is a pedestrian square criss-crossed by buses (the trolley overhead give you the idea)

The above example has shown to be successful, and cleared initial concern on the cohabitation between bus and pedestrian, so the concept is taking off in more major cities, like Exhibition road in London which is also open to bus traffic:

People waiting the bus 360 on the renovated exhibition road transformed in a pedestrian-priority road

In Paris, the rehabilitation of Place de la République-by Trevelo and Viger Kohler, is also adopting the “naked concept” for bus. Notice that here too, imposing a bus detour to avoid the pedestrianized plaza has been ruled out.

(top) Place de la Republique Paris – the right hand size of the square is open to bus traffic using the naked street concept (bot) View of the concept for bus traffic on the square

Place de la Sallaz in Lausanne is another example we could name

[1] see post Hynovis or the Hydrogen bus


[3] trams is the non american name for streetcar…but in the hierarchy of transportation, the modern European tram is an intermediate between the streetcar and the LRT as known in Portland or elsewhere in America.

[4] Catherine Trautmann from the center left, defeating center right incumbent Marcel Rudloff, in 1989 in Strasbourg; and Alain Juppé succeeding to Jacques Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux. It has been an interim mayor in Bordeaux from 1995-2004, Hugues Martin, due to the fact that Alain Juppé was also member of the French government. Alain Juppé had also got convinced of corruption, preventing him to be elected for a year: it has spent this year in Montreal, where there is little doubt he has found inspiration for the waterfront renewal of Bordeaux.

Some Translink statistic

November 28, 2011

Some preliminary statistics essentially compiled of Translink Annual performance reviews (BC Transit service plans before 1998) and APTA for ridership and US data.

Ridership evolution since 1986 (unlinked trip)

Ridership per mode since 1986 (unlinked trip)

Translink ridership 1986-2010 (unlinked trip)

  • Due to the Olympic Games in 2010, it is probably prematured to draw conlusions, but if the trend maintains in 2011, and preliminary result of APTA shows that, it clearly demonstrates that canada Line has boosted the ridership by a significant number…
  • Of interest is also the slow erosion of the ridership on the trolleybus system, the avent of the Canada Line, not only didn’t have stopped it, but seems to have amplified it:

Things happen like if rider having to take a trolley all the way to DwonTwon, could now prefer to take a bus (especially north of 41st) to the Canada Line: That trend seems corroborated by the recent surge in ridership on route like 49, and seems to say a lot on how the transit rider behave in front of choice –direct but slow route– vs –fast with transfer

Ridership per capita since 1986 (unlinked trip)

Unlinked Transit trip per Capita 1986-2010

In agrowing region, it is important to see if ridership effectively growth on a capita basis, it is…
The figure above also indicates – in relative to ridership number normalized in 2000 – the gas consumption per capita.

  • It appears clearly enough that the gas tax, which has increased from 10c, in 2000, to 17c/l recently, is not a sustainable funding option to Translink… neither property tax, is!

Below, are some statistics, published now, to provide numbers to substantiate a discussion following a recent post on the priceTag blog.

Operating cost per trip

Operating cost per mode

To benchmark the operating cost/trip per mode, we have choose the US average per mode data, mostly because they are readily available, and also because the size of the LRT sampling is big enough to be meaningful. because the perating cost is mainly dependent of the wage, the $US currency has been kept. There is 2 remarkable things to note in the graph above:

  • The operating cost per trip of LRT or bus is very close. When you consider that in a typical system the LRT will operate the trunk route, while the bus will be asked to operate “social” service, which provide endemic ridership, it is hard to single out a mode as better than another one when taken on average on the basis of operating cost. that has been true for the last 25 years
  • The Translink bus operating/trip growth less than the US one, but what is the most striking is that in 1987, the operating cost/trip of the skytrain was $1.35. In 2010, it was $1.12. Nowadays, the average operating cost/trip of a US LRT is $US3.03…

Total Skytrain trip cost

Skytrain Operating plus Debt service cost (1986-2010)

With heavy investment, the operating cost is only part of the story. Usually the debt service is pretty great, an the Sacramento example previously presented illustrates it as well for “cheap” LRT.
The Skytrain debt service has been computed assuming a 30 years amortization at fixed rate, the rate was the 10 years+ Canada bond rate, at the date of the delivery of the purchase (opening new line, delivery of vehicles… It looks a pretty reasonable assumption since the number align pretty well with the one reported by BC Transit before 1998-Translink doesn’t carry the debt of the Skytrain). So far $2.7 billions of initial capital investment in the Skytrain network (Expo and Millennium lines have been accounted.

Obviously the opening of the Millennium line in the aftermath of a strike, has impacted severely the debt/trip.
The overall ridership on the network has absorbed it, and the Skytrain debt level was estimated at $2.87 per trip in 2010.

For Matter of comparison the total cost per trip of the Canada line was $3.99/trip, so like the Skytrain, in 2010…

non edited spreadsheet with original number available here (google docs spreadsheet ).

Sacramento, a LRT success?

November 15, 2011

Between 2 rants, a wellknown blog from time to time, post pictures of empty trains wandering in some soulless NA districts. those pictures are supposed to advocate by themselves for LRT everywhere in BC.

A picture of the Sacramento LRT; somewhat qualified as a success by the LRTA ; gives us the opportunity to shed some light on the claims advanced by some disengenuous LRT advocates.

a train wandering on a deserted k street, once the heart of Sacramento: where are the people gone? (credit phot (5))

Urban renewval.

Usually people cite Portland as an example of urban renewval induced by LRT: one of the main reason is that there is no other example to cit.

The vancouver LRT advocating blog suggests that we should follow the example of Scacramento K street for not less than our Granville mall.

After been closed to motor traffic in 1960, the once vibrant Sacramento K street mall, has started to spiralling into business slump, pretty much like Granville did…In 1987, the introduction of the LRT was eventually the tool supposed to revert the K street bad fortunes.

Alas, the LRT didn’t bring urban renewval in Sacramento. Some other efforts has been put in without success and it appeared lately to the local that the LRT was more part of the problem than from the solution…and, this very week-end, resident of the city was celebrating the reopenning the K street to motor traffic, as the latest attempt to bring urban renewval!

people are coming on K street to celebratre the return of car on a once LRT exclusive corridor (it was Saturday Nov. 12, 2011)

In the meantimes, on Granville Mall, it could be no LRT, but we don’t need car either to bring life…


while people of the Valley complain about bad service, bad service because poor frequency, like 30mn headway…others explain that rapid transit should be available 24h/day.

The Sacramento Gold line extension, connecting the Folsom suburb to vancouver, offer a 30mn frequency…peak day…no service after 7pm on week-end…and the 30km journey will take you 1hour. Enjoy!

In the meantime, on the skytrain lines…

Notice that Park and ride are plentifull along the Sacramento LRT lines:

whereas Vancouver people come by bus to meet the Skytrain, in Sacramento people drive to the LRT…Some in Vancouver believe it is a superior alternative but it is certainly a less efficient use of land and it contribute to maintain a reliance on the car are primary transportation mode, and per way of consequence is certainly not the most efficient way to prevent urban sprawl.

Operating cost

A frequent claim done is that a train is no more costly to operate than a bus, here again, Sacramento provides a resounding rebuttal to this claim [4]:

cost per revenue vehicle hour
bus $133
LRT $239

In short, he same operating cost expenditure can buy a 8.5mn bus frequency where LRT doesn’t offer better than 15mn.

it is more than probable than the Sacramento LRT 15mn frequency can’t be justified by ridership level, but is maintained as a floor frequency to keep some relevance to the service. In despite of this minimum, the Sacramento LRT farebox recovery hoover in the low 30%.

generalized LRT Cost

Sacramento LRT has been built on the cheap, and is still built on the cheap…the latest extension under construction will come-up at 40$ million/km…Explanation:

the LRT follow a track ROW, then a canal ROW

this 40$ million/km give probably a good proxy to evaluate the cost to build an LRT in a BC hydro right of way…for other case, we will refer to a previous post

But do we really get the bang for the buck ?

The Gold line extension

What some lenient LRT fans conveninetly forget is that we need to confront number toward benefit:

A 12km extension of the Gold line toward Folsom has been built at a cost of $20 million/km and opened in stage between 2004 and 2006 and was expected to attract 6,000 more rider at opening. That ends to be an investment of $100,000 per additional customer…

Alas again, after $300 million spent, and in despite of some press report qualifying the ridership as at “healthy level“, it looks like the new rider hasn’t show up as expected, since the ridership in 2011 is virtually the same as it was in 2004 before the openning of these extensions [6]

That is not overly surprising, since the extension also shows the limit of the LRT concept: the LRT needs one hour to travel the 30km between Folsom and Sacramento, otherwise well linked by an Interstate hwy.

The south line extension

How it compare to the Evergreen line? (all number from [3] for Sacramento).

Sacramento South line vancouver Evergreen line
length 6.8km 10.9km (1)
stations 4 5 (1)
inter stations 1.36km 1.81km
Capital cost (in $M) $270 $1400 (2)
Yearly Operating cost (in $M) $8.84 $10.2 (1)
Yearly Ridership forecast(new trip)* 3.5(0.8) 17(8) (2)
operating cost per trip (per new trip) $2.5 ($11) $.6 ($1.27)
capital cost per trip (new trip)** $4.93 ($21.6) $5.86($11.1)
total cost per trip (new trip) $7.43 (33.6) $6.46 ($12.37)

* ridership come from transfer of other transit mode + new customer, trip generated by new customer only are in (), and cost per trip in () generated on the basis of new customer’s trip only.
** Capital cost assuming an amortization period of 30 years at 5%.

On one hand the Sacramento rider, will have a train at frequency no better than 15mn, 30mn after 6:30pm, last train at/around 10pm. On the other hand the Vancouver rider will take for granted a service level which stay the exception in the LRT world, but can come at a marginal operating cost increment in the realm of the automated trains.

When a “cheap” LRT can quickly reveal to be a more expensive proposition than an “pricey” skytrain

Numbers strongly suggest that in despite of looking “cheap” the Sacramento extension will be significantly more expensive than the Evergreen line on a rider basis. When considered new rider only – the eventual reason to go with LRT being it attracts more new customer otherwise reluctant to take bus- the Sacramento extension is a proposition nearly as three time more expensive that the Evergreen line.

Sacramento could have its own reasons to extend its LRT network, but considering that by tyical metric standard, the Sacramento LRT hardly qualify as a success, it is also highly probable that the Vancouver area doesn’t need to follow the path of Sacramento, and can continue to pursue avenue providing more leverage for its scarce transit bucks. This assessment is not based on the love (or hate) of a technology, but on the use of the appropirate technology

…and when a technology is appropriate, there is no need for disingenous and misleading claims as too often read on some rail fan blogs, to make its case for.

[1] Operating cost as reported in evergreen line executive summary

[2] ridership forecast as reported in Translink 2012 Moving Forward plan. notice that this number are less optimistic than the one reported in [1]

[3] number from South Sacramento corridor phase 2

[4] Sacramento Sept 2011 performance report


[6] 2011 and 204 2nd quarter ridership number from APTA