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.

Some numbers extracted from the Translink GTFS feed [4] (for the day of Sept 5th, 2014), for the 2km segment between Hasting and Broadway. The current average speed is ~11.5km/h, could be increased to ~15km/h with a bus lane…or reduced to ~9km/h according to the tradeoff done to implement bike paths

  • number of #20 runs: 304 (but I counted only 276 between Broadway and Hasting) requiring a minimum of 19 vehicles in revenue service [3]
  • time and speed between Broadway and Hasting [6]:
  • Min time Average time Max time
    10.3mn 5.3mn 12.4mn
    Max speed Average speed Min speed
    22.6km/h 11.65km/h 9.65km/h
  • ~15,700 annual operating hours meaning $1.57 millions in annual operating cost (at $100/hr, in line with [5])

bus lane Impact on Commercial Drive
We are considering the previously presented Commercial Drive proposal as illustrated below

4.5meters wide bike+bus lanes, with bus keeping in its lane at bus stop. It features transit signal priority and right turn specific signal to protect both transit and cyclists – Transit average speed is estimated at 15km/h

  • This bus lane, featuring clearly marked corridors (protected in one direction) and transit priority signal, suggests that average speed typical of BRT or urban LRT could be achieved: that is ~20km/h.
  • That said, noticeabily because the stop are closely spaced, an average speed of 15km/h could be more realisticaly and conservatively achieved:
    • That is roughly the average speed of the bus 20 outside the Commercial Drive segment.

Annual operating cost

average speed Average time Annual operating cost
9km/h 13.3mn $1.9M
11.5km/h 10.5mn $1.5M
15km/h 8mn $1.2M
20km/h 6mn $0.9M

The potential operating cost saving is in the tune of of $300,000 to $600,000/year.

On the opposite, a configuration of Commercial Drive with a single lane of traffic per direction to preserve parking [2], negatively impacts the speed of the bus, as we have seen before:

Commercial street redesigned as per StreetForeveryone group

Commercial street redesigned as per StreetForeveryone group – Transit average speed is estimated at 9km/h

Similar configurations, be on Davie or Robson, suggest a reduction of the average speed to ~9km/h; That could increase the route 20 operating cost by $400,000/year:

    the bus+bike lanes proposal is conductive of $1 Million in operating cost saving versus a proposal favoring street parking over transit.

A bus lane + traffic signal priority, allows an increase in the bus schedule reliability: lay over can be reduced accordingly, increasing the operating saving

Operating cost is only part of the picture:

Capital cost

the slower a bus route is, the more buses are required at same frequency/seat capacity:

The steeper the slope of a line, the faster the travel, and the sooner a vehicle return to its orgin, ready to do another run. the number of starting lines in between represent the required number of vehicle – credit Melbourne on Transit

The bus requirement is compounded by two conflating issues:

  • Demand is at its greatest at peak hour, but
  • transit speed is also at its slowest at peak hour
  • .

    On the route 20, afternoon peak hour traffic cost ~4 buses:

    number of vehicle in service on route 20 according to the time of the day (graph for friday Sept 5th, 2014)

    A bus lane, making transit more immune to traffic congestion, allows to reduce drastically the peak hour buses requirement (in our example, the average speed maintained at ~15km/h, vs 9.5km/h currently in peak hour)

    Adding a peak hour bus is a very expensive proposition: it means (to preserve spare ratio, and other contingency)

    • the Purchase of an additional bus
    • Adding storage capacity for this bus (even if in use 20mn a day)
    • Adding maintenance cost
    • adding a driver on payroll and all ancilliairy cost (training, administration)

    According to a conversation with a former Toronto Transit Commission employee, the TTC is costing an additional peak hour bus at $100,000 a year (that is for a 40footer, typically sold a ~$300,000)

    It is worth to note that Translink is in very short supply of articulated trolleybus, estimated each at $1M

    Revenue

    It is no secret that the faster a transit service is, the more ridership it will attract. That has been again recently verified in Seattle, with a quasi linear relationship:

    • an increase of 20% in speed is conductive of a similar increase in the ridership, which de facto increase the bus operator revenue[1]

    This coumpounded to lower operating cost makes Transit much more financially sustainable.

    Conclusion

    When all the effects are combined, it is relatively conservative to estimate that a bike lane, done at the expense of transit on Commerical, could end up to cost more than $1 million/year to Translink, when compared to a solution improving both

    …and here we have analyzed only the direct cost for Translink…


    [1] New markings aim to keep drivers out of Battery Street bus lane, Aubrey Cohen, SeattlePi- Tuesday, October 21, 2014.

    [2] We refers here to the “Street for Everyone” proposal we have previouslly discussed, which has also been discussed on the pricetag blog.

    [3] That makes the route 20 the 4th most frequent bus route of the network, behind route 99,9 and 41.

    [4] See our reference spreadsheet (which has been updated with the 2014 data) for further detail.

    [5] We use here the hourly operating cost as stated in the 2013 Bus Service Performance Review (see Annex A): it is worth to note that this hourly operating cost doesn’t include neither bus lay over and dead end trips. It doesn’t differentiate artics buses from standard ones too: the $100 mark is a very significant under estimate of the real operating cost of a route. A $180 per customer hour service could be closer to reality as we have seen before.

    [6] It seems that the average speed of the route 20 is decreasing year over year, almost 10% reduction in the last 7 years according to our spreadsheet [4] (which also depends of the Translink data quality): A probable consequence of the city council inaction on Transit front

    Sydney: BRT tunnel and trams

    December 17, 2012

    Sydney is confronted to bus congestion in its Core Business District (CBD):

    6,000 bus enter into the Sydney CBD per day, 1000 during the peak hour. Too many bus routes lead to a poorly legible network

    Beside a poorly legible network (Sydney has 850 bus routes) [7], the great number of bus routes is also a source of inefficiency : thought that the offering bus-seat capacity could be great, the practical one could be much less on a given corridor (over-supply on some bus routes is not compensating under supply on others)

    The European solution

    It is a problem many European cities are facing, and in Europe, it is in general the impetuous to switch to LRT – the rational is simple:

    • A modern Tram replaces 5 buses
    • Associated network consolidation allows a better adjustment of the offer to the demand, as well as a better legibility of it
    • A Tram, being electric powered, generate less noise, and pollution

    Hence trams improves the livability of the city. Generally, European modern trams are not justified by speed or urban development opportunities, which are very limited in mature cities but mainly by ridership. They operates on trunk lines fed by bus routes:

    • Passengers have to transfer

    The fact that the transfer from bus to tram, is not compensated by a time gain (like it could be from bus to subway) is one of the main drawback of such an approach. Providing a superior service and experience is a way to compensate for the disagreement. The European solution in Sydney’s CBD could be the vision proposed by Gehl Architects [2]:

    Pedestrian George Street with LRT, in a typically European arrangement.

    Pedestrian George Street with LRT, in a typically European arrangement – credit picture (2)

    The Australian approach

    Australia is land of the finest BRTs. Tunnel a BRT is a solution, natural enough in Sydney, to be considered, in despite of its price tag; $2 Billions, for a ~2 km tunnel. The rational is simple:

    • A BRT can avoid a transfer

    The debate

    BRT vs LRT, the context of the debate - Left: Bus volumes entering the Sydney City Centre during the two hour morning peak - Right: proposed BRT and LRT alignment and cost. The full LRT is 12 km long with implementation cost estimated at $1.6B

    You could expect the government agencies, ministries and other actors to debate on facts, and not on opinions to lobby one system over another:

    reading the different reports [3][4][5] will prove you wrong.

    Below is how the debate has occurred between two New South Wales (NSW) government outlets, Transport NSW, favoring the LRT, and Infrastructure NSW (InNSW), an “independent agency”, supposed to not base recommendation on politic allegiance, favoring the BRT:

    InNSW estimates the current demand at 9000 pphpd in the corridor [5]. The different system are assumed as below by the different actors:

    System InNSW [5] Transport NSW [3] Certu [6]
    BRT Capacity 20,000 3,500
    LRT Capacity [9] 9,000 12,000 6,000
    LRT Frequency 2mn 2mn 3mn

    The numbers provided by Certu (a French agency), are for reference. They are considering optimal surface operation conditions (signal preemption possible, perfect interval maintained) signaling the typical area of relevance for a given technology. Thought the numbers advanced by the Australian authorities are theoretically possible, they most probably supposes a compromise on the level of service:

    High capacity BRT, like the one pictured in Brisbane come at a  cost

    High capacity BRT, like the one pictured in Brisbane come at a cost – credit photo (1)

    The InNSW report contains lot of fear mongering on LRTs, but what is noticeable in the case of the both approaches, is that none quantifies travel time, neither expected operating cost, not even speaking of a cost/benefit ratio.

    More importantly, beside removing bus of the surface, the BRT tunnel tries to address a problem different from the LRT: the former addresses regional access-and so doing tend to largely duplicate an existing rail corridor- while the later addresses the more local access into the CBD. One will find some more detail, especially question about the BRT approach in [8]

    The urban approach: George Street

    As suggested before, the tram choice over a tunnel BRT is not only a transportation choice, it is an urbanistic one too: George street is a 2.5km long street, it is the major Sydney spine. Jan Gehl compares its potential to the one mile long Barcelona’s las Ramblas [2]:

    • Both are bounded, by the sea on one side, and by a major commuter railway station on the other
    • Both are of similar with, 22 to 30m for George street

    The Cost of the different approaches for George street:

    BRT Tunnel [5] Surface LRT [3]
    $2B $500M

    InNSW suggested that George street -20 to 30m width- is not wide enough to accommodate both a tram and pedestrians, and explains that segregation of transport and pedestrian activities, or aggressive pedestrianization, is a better objective [5] (There is very few street of this wide successfully fully pedestrianized [10]). the Bus BRT is considered as a rapid transit with 2 underground stations [5].

    George Street cross-section – as proposed by Gehl architects – credit (2)

    Jan Gehl touted the concept of overlap use, with trams sharing the urban space with pedestrians, supporting thriving activities on the rather wide George street, and the neighboring alleys and lanes. In fact Transport for NSW states in [3]:


    International experience indicates that the pedestrianization of George street without activation by light rail could reduce safety and accessibility, leading to a decline in retail activity.

    The surface tram option is envisioned with a stop every 350m, so the tram is considered as a people mover. Evolving in a shared space, its average speed will not be much better than 10km/h on George street – Rest of the alignment is in a more “suburban” environment, so average speed outside the CBD should be more competitive with existing option

    Some questions

    At the end the LRT has been chosen over the BRT. Nevertheless, considering the expected passenger volume, one could still question this choice:

    Shared spaces work well when traffic is light :

    • Crossing the street is unimpeded by traffic (that is one advantage of fewer trains over more buses)

    In the George street case, the demand suggests a train every mn, so starting to create a “wall” of trains:

    Too heavy LRT traffic can compromise the "sharing space" concept

    Too heavy LRT traffic can compromise the “sharing space” concept

    But what could be of more concern, is that the system could be under-sized. The considered 9,000 pphpd requirement suggests that the debate should not have been a BRT versus trams one, but eventually trams versus a heavier rail mode, including a grade separated LRT – that is the Ottawa direction – or extension of the Sydney Cityrail (a S-bahn or RER equivalent). The later is fortunately on the menu [7], and hopefully will go in a direction to reduce the pressure on the tram.

    Lessons for Vancouver.

    Th Sydney LRT choice has generated some interest in Vancouver here and there : The Sydney choice is done to address problems very different of the ones faced either by Vancouver or Surrey. Still, the underlying motivation, for the heavy transit investment, is mainly to address existing demand. It also shows you are better to understand what objective you are trying to pursue, before embarking into a technology debate, which can lead on exaggerated and misleading claims.

    If there is one lesson to be directly learned for Vancouver, it is the idea that [3]:


    separating pedestrians and transport is contrary to good planning practice and international experience, which shows transport and pedestrians should be integrated to support thriving cities

    Transit at  Sydney Town Hall

    Transit at Sydney Town Hall

    Integrating transit into pedestrian oriented streets, is also the only way to have an extensive and still successful pedestrian friendly street network. In other word, let transit work, is the first and probably most important step toward bold pedestrianization scheme: An important lesson we could learn more especially fromWellington, NZ.


    All $ figure in Asutralian $


    [1] flickr user SHOROC

    [2] George street Urban design study, Gehl Architects for City of Sydney, January 2012

    [3] Sydney Light rail’s future, Transport for NSW, December 2012

    [4] Metro Transport Sydney’s position on LRT

    [5] First things first, Infra NSW, October 2012.

    [6] Tramway et Bus à Haut Niveau de Service (BHNS) en France : domaines de pertinence en zone urbaine from Transport/Environnement/Circulation (TEC) n° 203, September 209.

    [7] Transportation Master Plan, Transport for NSW, December 2012

    [8] transportsydney.wordpress.com blog.

    [9] That is considering a 45m long train. Fine grained Sydney downtown grid doesn’t allow for much longer trains on George street without hindering access to lateral streets

    [10] New York City’s Broadway at ~80 feet wide is one example, but the pedestrianized block around Times Square see a traffic of 350,000 pedestrians/day – a uncommonly high volume.

    Or how some streetcar advocates make their case by using the Iraq war’s lobbyists strategy.

    Such strategy is not to be embarrassed with facts, but to express an opinion legitimated by an ample corpus of previously expressed opinions, which are presented as facts. It becomes then a mythology, because it is asked to people to believe unquestionably in them. and if it succeed at it, the unsubstantiated “facts” become “truisms”!

    The streetcar example with a report : Streetcar Land Use Study

    It is a report commissioned and published by the Planning department of the District of Columbia- so must be serious (We refer to it as “the report”)- which explains that a Washington D.C. streetcar network could generate $15Billion of investment along its corridors.

    How it arrives to such a conclusion?

    Basically it is grounded on a Portland streetcar company‘s paper [9], analyzing the real estate development in the years 1997-2008, which eventually happens to coincide with a global real estate boom, and general gentrification of cities’ downtown across the continent.

    In addition of the global factors above, it has been also some more local factor attracting development in Portland:

    • A green belt constraining the development area
    • Other transit development (3 max line, an aerial tram…), all converging in downtown
    • Insitutional development [1]
    • Tax credit [1]
    • A street car loop

    What is the exact contribution of the streetcar loop among the above cited parameters? It is not deciphered by the Washington D.C. study, apparently considering that the entirety of the developments occurring in the 2 blocks of the streetcar are triggered by virtue of its track presence.

    No streetcar related redevelopment example: left, The San Fernando Building in LA, A successful revitalization effort in Down-town Los Angeles by developer Tom Gilmore- photo credit (3)-right the Woodward building neighborhood in Vancouver

    What are the inherent quality of the streetcar provoking that?

    The report describes it as a “Premium transit” transit service that is “reliable, predictable, and offers a high-quality ride—in other words, Metrorail [Note: the DC subway] or the streetcar“.

    What about speed and frequency? does it really doesn’t matter? …and in what aspect a streetcar operating in mixed traffic can be more reliable-or predictable- than a bus?

    A streetcar operating in mixed traffic is subject to the same reliability issue faced by a bus...with even less ability to avoid road impediment- credit photo (4)

    What are the involved cost of the streetcar?

    The venture of the report in this area is rich of learning. It states that: “Evidence […] suggests that streetcar vehicles offer better long-term cost-benefit value than buses”. Where are the evidence? 2 references are cited:

    • Street Smart: Streetcars and Cities in the Twenty-First Century – Gloria Ohland & Shelley Poticha; 2009
    • Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities from Patrick Condon [5]

    It is worth to mention, that, first the conclusions of Patrick Condon are grounded on the finding of the other referenced book, and secondly, [5] presents numbers which should be subject to caution [6].

    Circular referencing, but no cross checking…That was also the strategy of the Iraq war lobbyist

    In anyway, a blanket statement like “streetcar vehicles offer better long-term cost-benefit value than buses” is discounting too many parameters to be taking seriously: one of them is that the long-term cost-benefit of a vehicle is tied to its productivity, which depend in part of the ridership.

    What about other alternatives

    The bus alternative is briefly investigated to be better dismissed: “Although well-designed BRT systems attract some development, their impacts are typically much less than those for rail”, this by citing [7] where one will have hard time to find which aspect of [7] leads the report to such a conclusion. In fact [7] suggests that “there is growing documentation of [BRT] positive development effects; however, given the newness of most BRT systems, more information is needed” while another [8] find that “the type and level of investment occurring near BRT stations appears comparable to the experience with TOD near rail transit”. Notice that this later reference provides relevant number:

    “Since the Silver Line BRT was introduced, there has been over $571 million in investment along this corridor, and the tax base grew by 247%, compared to a city average of 146%. “

    Relative growth on tax base in the corridor versus average… The Kind of information the streetcar report fails to provide.

    And, outside transportation… does there is no other cost-effective avenue to shape development? Institutional impetuous as seeing in Surrey BC, seems to produce good effect, other large scale development like the Woodward building in Vancouver also…

    Mythology building

    Like in any mythology, with the streetcar mythology, facts are second to beliefs. The Streetcar myth just needs a critical mass of believers. If enough developers and buyers believe in it, the prophecy will be self fulling…that is why all the produced literature referencing itself is paramount.

    Vancouver’s believer will then ask the question as Gordon Price did: “why not at least a return of the heritage tram to Science World?“, but the question shouldn’t be framed like it, it should be

    • “what you want to try to achieve by returning the heritage tram to Science World?”

    [1] Numerous of land lots, developed around the streetcar, are or were institutional, and a 10 years property tax waiver has been put in place to “faciliate” development in the streetcar corridor(source: [2])

    [2] Debunking Portland The City That Doesn’t Work, Randal O’Toole, July 9, 2007

    [3] Eric Richardon

    [4] Jarret Walker

    [5] Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities, Patrick M. Condon

    [6] In term of operating/capital cost: Number provided by APTA and Translink could suggest a pretty different picture, from the one stated in [5], see for example this post.

    [7]TCRP Report ıı8: Bus Rapid Transit Practitioner’s
    Guide
    , 2007

    [8]Bus Rapid Transit and Transit Oriented Development, Breakthrough Technologies Institute, Washington, 2008

    [9]Portland Streetcar Development Oriented Transit, Office of Transportation and Portland Streetcar Inc.

    Friday is the last day to provide input to the phase 2 of UBC Rapid transit study. Below, we consider some challenges associated with a surface solution, noticeably LRT on Broadway

    Safety question

    The suggested average speed, in the vicinity of 30km/h, can be considered relatively high: It is the speed achieved by the 99B when traffic is light. Thought such speed is very achievable by LRT, example of LRT running at such average speed in area presenting similarity with Broadway hasn’t been provided.

    We could think of the blue line in Los Angeles, one of the busiest in North America, with over 80,000 boarding/day. The inconvenience of this example, is that with over 100 people killed on the track of this LRT line since its inspection in 1990, it is also one of the most treacherous LRT line in North America.

    Unfortunately, like I have previously noticed, accident rate and ridership can be pretty well correlated. European tram achieve good safety record by running simply at much lower speed than their american counterpart in urban environment comparable to Broadway.

    Confidence in travel time

    • Is the modelling for surface transit assuming a perfect world?

    On this topic, one will notice that, not unlike other French tram project, the Paris tram T3 average speed had been over estimated by more than 25% during the public consultation. the given reason is that the world was less perfect that expected, since you will find jay walker undisciplined car driver and other behavior affecting the average speed [6]

    Capacity

    An LRT line can move huge number of people, and Translink advance number as high as 10,000 person per hour per direction, but what is the price to pay for it?

    there is a limit on frequency possible while still having traffic signal preemption. this limit imposes either capacity or speed/frequency reliability. credit (3)

    At some frequency point, traffic signal priority can’t get granted. That is the reason why Translink provide slower travel time with a BRT (which need to be more frequent) than a LRT.

    • what is the highest frequency achievable with the posted travel time. or
    • what is the maximum capacity for the system without compromising travel time?

    As a matter of reference, In European literature, we will find a capacity limit of a tram at around 6,000 persons per hour per direction, in normal condition (headway enabling traffic signal preemption) [5].

    Platform width

    narrow platforms could be quickly overcrowded thanks to high ridership. credit photo (1)


    Again, comparing with the Paris T3 trams with a ridership of 110,000 people, similar to the one envisioned for Broadway…In the Parisian T3 case, the boarding is done at 17 stations with platform of 5 meters width..when the Translink study suggests boarding at as little as 13 stations of around 3 meters width…In Edmonton, the LRT has central platform width of 8 meters.

    • That is, the suggested boarding area proposed by Translink could be more than twice smaller the one offered by the Paris tramway T3.

    Paris tram t3 side platform (right) are 5 meters wide, and Edmonton central platform (left) are 8meters wide...does 3 meters platform wide will be enough to handle expected ridership on Broadway? credit photo right (2), left (3)

    • How platform crowding gonna impact the dwelling time? Waiting experience?

    Interference with local bus routes

    It has been admitted by the Translink planners that a surface LRT will impact negatively local route along Broadway, what is not hard to fathom…
    According to the frequency of the surface LRT it will also impact the travel time of crossing route due to signal preemption by the surface LRT. The measured impact of it has not been provided.

    street-scape

    The 99feet wide Broadway is mostly dedicated to vehicular traffic. Does the streetscape could provide more space to pedestrians and be more cyclists friendly? credit photo (8)

    Broadway is not that wide, and implementation of an LRT supposes some compromising. Note surprisingly, parking lanes could disappear, but may be more of a concern could be the reduction of pedestrian space on sidewalk required at station location. Platform wide inline with the one seen on system with comparable ridership, suggest that an broadway LRT could reclaim 11 to 12 meters ROW, at station location, that is close to the equivalent of 4 lanes of traffic to remove. Cyclist are not expected to be on Broadway, and anyway current preservation of sidewalk width could prevent bike parking.

    • An LRT is often considered as an opportunity to improve the street-scape but it also imposes constraints

    Since Allan Jacobs is scheduled to be a keynote speaker at an upcoming SFU conference on the future of Broadway, it could be interesting to compare Broadway to Boulevard Saint Michel in Paris. the later Boulevard is 30m wide, so similar to Broadway, but with a significantly different space allocation since it has only 4 lanes of traffic making room for ample sidewalks allowing coffee patios…Boulevard Saint Michel is what Allan jacobs consider a Great Streets.

    • Does the need to accommodate an LRT will not compromise a similar fate for Broadway?

    Ample sidewalks allow for life and social interaction on the 30meters wide Boulevard Saint Michel in Paris. Large sidewalks grant airspace for majestic trees. This Boulevard is considered a 'great street'by Allan Jacobs. credit photo left (7)

    But more important, as noticed by Allan Jacobs, with the Champs-Élysées Avenue, and as we know it here with Granville Street, a street could needs several iterations of work before becoming a “great street”.

    • Does the permanence of an LRT will not compromise the ability to correct unavoidable mistake, or rather to allow the streetscape to evolve in function of new and unforeseen future needs?


    [1] Keegan Bursaw

    [2] Живые улицы

    [3] one42chrisp

    [4] Simon Chambers

    [5] BHLS or tramway in France : scope of application and choice, Sébastien RABUEL, CERTU, French Ministry of Transportation, July 13th – 2010

    [6] A french audit has mesured the average speed of the Parisian tramway t3 at 16 km/h instead of the the planned 20km, ibid. “Le tram se traîne“, Dec 23, 2009, Le Parisien

    [7] Adrian

    [8] Boris

    [8] Great Streets, Allan jacobs, MIT Press, 1995

    Post updated on April 6th

    As mentioned by Stephen Rees, I was at “a special blogger breakfast” about the project where Jeff Busby and Margaret Wittgens from Translink provided a description of the different options and was answering our questions [1]. Translink has provided significantly more material in this phase than in phase 1.

    The consultation process

    Like in Phase 1, translink has scheduled several workshops. In those workshops, Translink staff engage conversation where you have the opportunity to discuss your concerns, opinions not only with staff but also with your ‘neighbors’ and understand others viewpoints. It is a very constructive approach, and I warmly recommend people to attend those workshops and provide feedback as soon as possible in the process to Translink.

    Some comments:

    In the preliminary phases, it was unclear what Translink was meaning by “LRT”, an LRT in the American sense, or a tram in the European sense? A later solution apparently favored by noticeably UBC professor Patrick Condon and a relatively active Broadway merchant group called BARSTA.

    • The Phase 2 gives a clear answer: the option is an LRT in the american sense.

    Compared to the “business as usual case” (assumed to be the bus 99B) [4] the cost required to attract additional ridership is around $25,000 per new rider, as suggested by the graph below comparing the different solutions proposed by Translink

    cost per new rider is around $25,000, except two outliers, the RRT above and the BRT below. Numbers from (4)

    That is, the additional ridership could be at the expense of local bus routes, so if the goal is to increase the Transit mode share, and that is a goal of both the Province and the City of Vancouver [5], the figure become more striking, and solutions providing net gain time on the Commercial Drive to Central Broadway seems at a net advantage in term of “buck for the bang”.

    Capital cost per point of additional Transit mode share in the corridor, compared to the 'business as usual' case. Numbers from (4)

    Some solutions provide clear advantage in time of access time from Commercial to Cambie, and convenience from the Millenium (lack of Transfer), over others; and at least from the cost/additional rider perspective, looks reasonably priced. Obviously it couldn’t be the only metrics to look at…among others are the travel time to UBC [2], operating cost…

    Under this regard, the lately added Combo 2 , RRT+BRT, could require more refinement:
    The redundancy of service East of Arbutus doesn’t seem to provide the bang for the buck, noticeably in term of serviced area. We could have preferred something looking more like the rubber tire version of Combo 1 or looking like the figure below

    Combo 2 could have been maybe better served by a 'BRT' reusing the 84 alignment terminating at Main, and a potential rerouting of the 44 to serve the RRT

    The regional perspective

    That is, as reported of this week workshops, and already outlined here, it is hard to ignore the regional significance of the connection of the Millennium line to the Canada line, which could have a “shaping” effect probably as great as if not greater than an extension of the existing Skytrain in the confins of the GVRD.

    A discussion has been engaged by Stephen Rees on the trip model used to generate ridership. It appeared that Translink consider the Evergreen line built in its modelling. That says, they also rely on growth projection provided by external agencies; and this growth projection could not have considered a transit network effect

    The network effect

    The gap in the Vancouver rapid transit network is hard to ignore. credit (3)

    On this topic, Jeffrey Busby mentioned that the scope of the study is really the Broadway corridor, and not addressing the question of the “extension” or not of the Millennium line.

    • According to the selected option, this question could be still open, leaving customer of the Millennium line to their frustration for very long time.

    In that sense, an apparent cheaper solution, not based on an extension of the Millennium line could prove to be a costly mistake, but obviously all of that need to be quantified and LRT could make sense at least on part of the corridor


    [1] You will find other account of it at Southfraser.net, vpsn blog or citycaucus.com

    [2] The choice to prefer to compare travel time between Commercial and central Broadway rather than UBC is deliberate since UBC bound riders, mostly students, could be less sensitive to travel time than the more general users.

    [3] Illustration from Jarret Walker

    [4] UBC Line Rapid Transit Study Evaluation Summary – March/April 2011

    [5] Province call for a doubling of the Transit ridership by 2020. Vancouver call for 50% non-auto mode share in the city by 2020