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.


This Vancouver rail corridor used to be double tracked, and saw passenger service from 1902 to 1954. The last commercial train has been seen in 2001. The asset has been considered very early for a North South rail transit line: A more direct alignment via Cambie, has been preferred for the Canada line circa 2006. That was closing a chapter…However the track was still there, and the hope of a local tram has always stay alive in some circles: the 2010 Olympic line demonstration was giving reason for hope…and CP rail was wanting to bank on its precious real estate. After a bit of bullying by CP rail, in order to get a fair price, the city agreed to purchase the corridor for $55M in March 2016, openinga ew chapter:

The Arbutus corridor was a defacto Greenway:

The Arbutus corridor circa 2014  (credit photo CityHallWatch)

Like many disused railway corridors, a greenway was a logical option for a corridor presenting some natural qualities. However where usually the authorities capitalize on the specificity of such assets, the city of Vancouver has decided to destroy it: A destruction in 2 steps [3]:

Destroying the memory of the place

The Arbutus corridor circa 2009 (credit photo Stephen Waddell)

It has been vague promises of reusing the corridor for a rail transit by the City, but this quickly vansihed, and instead to see a  preservation of what make this corridor apart and a reminder of its potential alternative uses, it quickly appeared that the city had negociated the removal of  all things related to the railway. That is certainly one of the safest mean to kill any prospect of reactivation of this  corridor as a future rail transit corridor (1), it is also a a first blunt to the soul of the place.

Destroying the feel of the place

Many disused urban railway corridors exhale a specific  atmosphere found nowhere else in a city, which people growth to appreciate and like it. It was also the case  for the Arbutus corridor, something Patrick Condon has worded as “People have gotten quite used to the Arbutus Corridor as kind of a romantic landscape — the kind of unkempt quality of it. it’s level of decay has become something that people kind of like…” [4], what reflects pretty much the position of the current Paris city council, especially as expressed   by Christophe Najdovski, the councilor in charge of transportation and public space of Paris, who want to preserve “the mystery and magic” of  the Petite ceinture, a disused railway in Paris [6].

Beyond Paris, many other cities capitalize on the experiental side of their assets, that is the case for the Shell road trail in Richmond as stated by the city website:

“The Shell Road Trail is long interior trail that runs north/south along the Shell Road corridor from Alderbridge Way to Williams Road. This interior trail has a distinctly rural feel to it with tall trees and shrubs lining both sides of it, making it a unique trail experience in an urban City Centre.”

The Richmond Shell road trail, and the Colombes “voie verte” (greenway) illustrated below:

The Vancouver official development plan for Arbutus was also not far of this vision, since it was designating it as a greenways, including without limitation [2]:


  • (i) pedestrian paths, including without limitation urban walks, environmental demonstration
    trails, heritage walks and nature trails; and
  • (ii) cyclist paths.



The challenge for the designer of such  places is to preserve their specificities and feels, while making them accessible to people of all ages and abilities… In the name of the later, Vancouver has simply destroyed the former:

A 4 meter wide bike path under construction? – credit photo [5]

Under public outrage, the city has potentially recognized the insentivity of its position and halted work…temporarily…

Does other solutions were possible?

Yes and it is not even too late to apply them, but what is almost sure is that the corridor has already lost its cachet: whatever final design will be – and it could be a nice one – it is poised to be more bland and artificial since it will be build of a blank state. The soul of the place is lost and, and it is not something designers are armed to restore. The end result is that the whole city will be poorer in diveristy of experience

The main issue now is the treatment of the surface path: it is the object of another post

[1] It is one of the reason why Paris took the complete opposite step for the Petite Ceinture, as we have seen in a previous post

[2] Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan (Adopted by By-law No. 8249, July 25, 2000), city of Vancouver

[3] The destruction of the greenway is documented on the Stephen Rees blog, here and there

[4] Arbutus’ asphalt greenway not paved with good intentions, critics say, Matt Robinson, VancouverSUn, August 3 2016, Vancouver

[5] City paves way for Arbutus Greenway, Naoibh O’Connor, Vancourier, August 2, 2016, Vancouver

[6] Petite ceinture : faire le tour de Paris à vélo et autres fantasmes, rue89, September 25th, 2013

Below, some comments shared with the Vancouver city planners on the Joyce -Collingwood precinct review:

Heritage houses

An 100 year old house on Spencer street

An 100 year old house on Spencer street

There is a couple of 100 years old houses presenting some interesting heritage features in the neighborhood subject to rezoning: some strategy to preserve them should be in place so that the rezoning is not obliterating the history of the neighborhood.

The towers

Rezoning proposal as seen from Tyne#Kingsway

Rezoning proposal as seen from Tyne#Kingsway

The height in meter make more sense than the height in storey, since the building form is what matters (In this context  the tower floor plate size are important, but the lack of FSR limit for the tower site is a non issue).

The planner are aligning the tower geodesic height on the one of the nearby telus building (similar strategy occured for the construction of the Wall centre at Central Park)…an altrnative view could have been to set up some view cone, more namely from the Richmond dyke:

The telus and Wall centre tower are well visible from the Richmond ALR (near dyke on the Fraser North arm):  having those tower kept below the tree line, could have enforced the rural nature of this area

The telus and Wall centre tower are well visible from the Richmond ALR (near dyke on the Fraser North arm): having those tower kept below the tree line, could have preserved the rural nature of this location

The townhouses

The open house posters suggested 2 rows of townhouses: This eventually needs to be clarified, especially in term of set back (and parking). If in the long term that can transform the alleys into “real street”: it seems to be good, and that should be the intend. Unfortunately,  this doesn’t seem the case.

Naroiw stree in Groningen (a natural evolution of laneway) - credit photo pricetags

Narrow street in Groningen (a natural evolution of laneway) – credit photo pricetags

Vanness street (West of Joyce)

The plan call for 6 storeys all along Vanness Street. The current “redeveloped” building are at 4 storey max, but in fact 3 1/2 Storey along Vanness due to the topography. This could also need to be clarified for the new construction.

The plan seem to provide generous margins for the buildings. Ideally, the skytrain guideway should have provided a refrence for the building height.

The BC parkway (and skytrain viaduct) has carved the land here, so that the tree line keeps horizontal instead to follow the slope: , while construction follow the slope of the hill around, This specificity is not a big deal as long as the constructions are lower than the tree line. It becomes an issue otherwise: the Skytrain guideway is at level 3 of a building at Rupert, but as at level one of a building at Spencer: This is making a mid- rise building looking much taller at Spencer than at Rupert.

One could also consider that the rezoning for properties West of Spencer, should be considered in the wider context of the desired street-scape for Rupert

Wellington (East of Joyce)
At the difference of Vanness, the topography works for a more aggressive densification than proposed:

The properties at the SE corner of Payne#Wellington are proposed for 4 storeys, but 6 storeys building could work better (would not be much higher that the westward building along Wellington proposed at 6 storeys, as illustrated below

Visual impact of a 6 storey building aon the SE corner of Payne and Wellington: view from Wellington looking East, then West

McHardy street
Provisions should be made to ensure that buildings offer engaging facade on it:
That will help this street to reconnect the north and south side of the neighbourhood.
It is a street without sidewalk (but very poor pavement act as a traffic calming measure, and so the street doesn’t work that bad):  Installing sidewalk is not necessarily the best solution.  Treating this street as a shared space could eventually provide a better outcome:

A shared street concept could be a preferrable design for Mac Hardy.

A shared street concept could be a preferrable design for Mac Hardy.

Joyce street

All the rezoning should be conditional to the closure of the lanes immediatly  north of the Skytrain guideway. A bike/Pedestrian “passageway” or “commercial gallery” should be opened, to connect Yardley Avenue to Joyce street on the West.


Joyce street looking South from Wellington (shadow ~5pm on June 21st)

Joyce street can be an interesting street, if the street wall provide some rhyme. However the idea to have tree planted in the middle of it  is not compatible with it:

  • It prevent the light to penetrate the street
  • It hinder the perspective
  • And the street right of way is not that wide (80ft): space dedicated to pedestrians movement should be maximized, median divider and left-turn lane should be removed.

trees on the side are welcome, but the cultivars need to be chosen to provide mature tree tall enough (such as London plane) to match the scale of the street wall: In short, the whole Joyce street-scape needs to be reviewed, and due to the significance of this street as a gateway for the neighborood: this could need to be part of a specify consultatio


3 bus 20 in a row, a typical bus bunching happening on Victoria#54th

Reliability on the route 20 is a huge issue. Its lack of reliability stem essentially of its Hasting and Commercial Drive segment. Those segments are also the most detrimental to the speed of transit in this corridor. both speed and reliability are very signifcant factors affecting both the transit attractiveness and efficiency.

The average bus 20 speed is 14.36km/h [1′, but in practice most of the riders will experiment a significantly lower average speed on the route busiest section. Below is the speed map for the bus 20 on an average weekday.

bus 20 (to Downtown) speed map on a weekday as computed from [1]
The horizontal axis represents the time of the day, the vertical axis, the location on the corridor, while the color represents the speed. (see also speed map for the SB direction

[1] Translink GTFS data for weekday September 2014


The cyty released a staff report on April 13th, 2016. Thought one could expect such city staff reports should present an as objective picture as possible of the poos and cons of the different solutions, to guide the council into its decisions, they rather tend to be drafted to support foregone conclusions dictated by the council.

As an example, thought my frequent readers will recognize me as supporting a skytrain solution on Broadway, I will have no difficulty to recognize that the 2012 city staff presentation against a broadway LRT [3] was embarassingly biaised to the point of ludicrousness [4]. After a “privatized” consultation process organized by the VPSN [9], on behalf of the city in October 2012, leaving no doubt on the intention of the later. the latest report concerning Robson square [5] doesn’t escape to this plague [7]. We just summarize its short comings below:

On the transit rerouting aspect

The report fails to recognize the whole implication of the proposed bus 5 Transit re-routing. More particularly it fails to states that

  • it will affect connections to the rest of the transit network ( it  mentions only that it reduces access to major destinations on Granville) [8]
  • It will involves an additional $300,000 operating cost per year [6]

On the shared space concept (bus/bike only going through the square)

The report quickly dismisses this solution on  “the expectation is that events within this block would be more frequent and/or prolonged in nature”.

One will note that the redesign of the North Plaza – today hindered by the centennial fountain- will enable this square to host many events, and this square has been designed flexible enough in this intention…in such a way that the need to close Robson square for specific events could become a rare oddity.

While it is not acceptable to have  months bus rerouting for event which could be located elsewhere such as the Viva Robson redux, it is understandable to see ponctual closures (what is already happening): The city report falls short to identify an example of event which could require the closure of Robson square for longer than a week-end.

Clearly exceptionnal transit rerouting  are not enough of an argument to provide inferior transit on day to day basis. As in most place, it is not either in Nice, France :


Google street capture, Nice France

On the square genesis

We have written a post serie on its history in 2012: The architect, Arthur erickson  clerly stated that:

“The only traffic through the square will be inner city buses, linking the Westend and False Creek. Since buses function as people movers, they are seen as a compliment or enhancement to the pedestrian activity of the civic square,…

That is in obvious contradiction with the report account of the square history, however the above quote (as well as the rest of the history and its context) can be easily verified in the original records held at the Vancouver archives.

Similarly the 2009 VPSN competition identified the North Plaza as the Vancouver focal point, not Robson square: the city reports seems to be purposely confusing on the issue.


Vancouver Red Carpet – Hapa Collaborative – winning entry of the 2009 VSPN Where’s the Square Competition

On the Accessibility issues


Place de la Comédie- Bordeaux : the tram is mingling with pedestrian and bike, in a very natural way, everyone enjoy equal access, and the sqaure is welcoming to people with mobility challenge thanks to its transit

The report briefly refers to the Westend seniors, but doesn’t recognize  any accessibility issues involved with the bus rerouting.

The court house, the VAG, as well as Robson square will be de facto less accessible. Transit could be one block away, but can  already be a lot, even too much, for people with mobility challenge…that de facto tends to make the square less inclusive of people of all abilities.

Ironically, the city report mentions 3 example of inspiring central square:  Trafalgar square in London, Pionner Square in Portland, Yonge and Dundas square in Toronto): all  abundantly serviced by Transit…right on the squares.


Pioneer sqaure in Portland as well as Yonge and Dundas sqaure in Toronto are abundantly serviced by Transit

Why not have taking an example of a sucessful “central square” not serviced by transit? does that even exists in a city comparable in size with Vancouver)?  It be interesting to know?

Beyond Robson square,  the Robson retail strip will be much less accessible by Transit,  both due to a less legible route and poorer connection with rest of the network. As well it will create a gap on this major East/West corridor. all this will potentially affect the retail strip attractivity.  A reason why succesful pedestrian mall flourish is because they are well irrigated by Transit as is the case on 16th street in Denver:


Denver 16th Mall, is seamlessly irrigated by Transit: this allow an extensive pedestrainization scheme, without compromising accessibility

On the competition of both squares (800 Robson and North Plaza)

The report tries to paint it as complementary: this is rather unconving since it ignores the redesign of the North Plaza which will affect its functionning pattern.

Furthermore, the report fails to recognize the changing pattern of focal square in Vancouver. Thought Robson square is an important one, Viva has consummed lot of energy (and $tax payer) with mitigated result on it. With the introduction of the Canada line, it is very possible that the “natural” meeting point has slipped more North: Nowadays Georgia#Granville is a popular focal point, also a location for demonstrations, but it is very possible that a more welcoming North plaza take precedence on both this point and Robson. At the end , if there is lot of pedestrian in down town, there is not necessarily enough of them to activate both place at the time (even if those square are made more “sticky”). Time will tell, but prudence could have suggested to wait the completion of the North Plaza redesign and to be able to evaluate its impacts.


The report is lacking  of metrics, be number of impacted bus riders   (3 million a years), pedestrians count or even car count. the surface of the envisionned square is not even mentioned, but the road surface in question amount to 560sqm (80x7m).

Notice that in a shared space, this surface could have surrendered by pedestrians which could have been slightly disturbed only from time to time. Smart design (like one) way could have reduced the bus footprint to a 3m wide path. However the surface is not the most important, it is its location.


The report doesn’t mention it directly, but HUB, as well as the Committe on Active transportation (involving in fact the same people) have made it clear they expect the square to be still a bike thoroughfare. Whatever the final design, due to the geographic location of the square, it will be on the desire line of cyclists.

So at the end the square will certainly be divided in 2 by a bike path, be a formal one or not. The former will be probably preferred, certainly by ideological biais of the city council, but also because cyclists could become a hazard for blind and other people with limited vision.


The tangible benefits of a square not including transit versus one including the bus are not obvious and the report is failing to mention any. What is more obvious is that the bus rerouting compromise the inclusivenes of the square, its accessbility as well as accessibility of other downtown destination by Transit.

It is  a place making clearly done at the expense of transit, and not so much at the expense of car. on a block level it could looks nice, but globally it is counter productive, since it doesn’t help to reduce the overall reliance on the car in the city. However, it is not integrated in a comprehensive pedestrian strategy able to reduce the car presence in downtown

More importantly, it is a place making excluding citizen based on their ability to walk or cycling.

At some point in the future, the decision on Robson square will be reversed, because it is simply the sense of history: place making is good, but place making done at the expense of accessibility is just bad and should not happen in our century.

…It is just sad that  Vancouver has not matured to this point yet.


What is wrong with this idea of Robson square? answer has still not been provided – credit photo City Of Vancouver

[1] part 1, Erickson 1966 proposal and

part 2, the final Erickson proposal

[2] 51-61-71 Project, block 71 Schematics, Arthur Erickson Architects, 1974

[3] Broadway rapid transit, City of Vancouver Engineering department, November 27, 2012

[4] In fact, the most ludicrous slices have been removed of the official city report, but they are still available on a copy posted by the Vancouver mayor office

[6] Downtown bus review serivice, Phase 2- Technical summary for phase 2 consultation. Translink & City of Vancouver, April 2014

[7] Some blogs following closely the city affairs tend from time to time to end on the same conclusions, on other matter, that is notoriously the case of CityHallWatch

[8] In fact this point has been underlined first by a contributor on Pricetags Thanks to him.

[9] the VPSN raison d’etre has always been the uncompromised pedestrianization of Robson square, this group being hostile to the shared space concept.

A previous post already largely endorsed the last October 2015 Transit optimization proposals. Most of it got recommended to be implemented in a report released on March 30th [3], noticeably:

  • Create a B-Line along Hastings
  • Improve travel time and reliability along the 49.

That is very good. More remarkably, the media reporting is overall positive [4]: a welcome change here too!

A preliminary comment on 2 highly controversial changes, route 49 and 258

The route 49

Not surprisingly the last change (object of a 2014 post), involving the retiring of the Champlain Heights detour was one of the most challenged by a well organized opposition [5].



The executive director of Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods, Heather Mac Cain, happens to be directly concerned by the 49 re-routing. She were also instrumental to mobilize the opposition  to a bus change. A rare snow fall happened to help the campaign too  [1]

On March 11th 2014, the Vancouver city council, apparently assuming that  money flow freely on Translink, unanimously opposed improvements of the the bus 49, by adopting a motion moved forward by Geoff Meggs. However, in the 2014 proposal, no mitigation measures were proposed to address  some concerns of the Champlain Heights residents. Our post dedicated to this route suggested an alteration of the route 26, something also done in the 2015 proposal, enabling to maintain the statu quo in term of bus accessibility in the Champlian Heights neighborhood. So the change is poised to be implemneted in summer 2016.

The Medias had framed this change as a “bus cut” in 2014 [1]: the same change is now and finally framed as an improvement [4]

The route 258

The discontinuation of this route to the benefit of service improvements on both routes 44 and 250, which it duplicates to propose a direct connection between West Vancouver and UBC, was mostly a measure toward a rationalization of the network (which include legibility improvement by pruning routes which duplicate existing service), as well as rationalization of the rolling stock (buses 258 are 40 footer operated by West Vancouver Blue Bus, while the buses 44 are 60 footer operated by CMBC). This proposal was not changing the “geometry” of the network, but could have eventually resulted in some operating cost reduction. The change came as surprisingly controversial, and Translink has preferred to defer it. However the “B linization” of the route 44 should move forward, and it is probable this change will need to be considered again.

The main topic of the post
The East Hastings Trolley routes.

The main change here was to merge the route 4 (Powell) and 16 (Renfrew), a proposal already done in 2005, already then to remove excess capacity in the Hastings corridor [2].

  • the main drawback was that East Hasting  was loosing a direct connection with the Millenium line.
    • A drawback compounded by the discontinuation of bus route 190 and 160 (West of the Kootenay loop) connecting the East suburbs to Vancouver via the Hastings corridor: Those later change being are the consequecne of teh advent of the Evergreen line

The proposal is hence sent back to the drawing board: A good time to expose an alternative proposal grounded on a couple of principles:

  • One artery, one local bus route (+ an optional “B” line route):
    • – On East Hasting: route 14 (doubled by the limited stop route  135)
      – On Renfrew route 16
      – On Nanaimo, route 7
      – On Powell, route 4
  • Each route should be strongely anchored
    • – Kootenay loop (14)
      – Nanaimo station (7)
      – Renfrew and 29th station (16)

The above principles call for the rationalization as proposed by Translink. However, as we have seen, it could deprives the East Hastings corridor (or at least the 2 blocks between Commercial and Renfrew) which happens to be a commercial area.

The below solution doesn’t put in question the east trolley routes 4,7,14 and 16…However, it short turns  all “heavy” North South routes operated by artics trolleys  (3,8 and 20), at the North end of their corridor: A suggestion we have already did for the DownTown bus service review, but which was already present in the 2005 plan also [2]. The route 4 is also extended to  improve the network connectivity.


A proposal to streamline the trolley services on the East Hastings corridor

The advantages of this solution:

  • Ii removes lot of excess of capacity in the corridor (if too much, some 20 run could be maintained on Hastings)
  • It frees lot of articulated trolley, which are in very short supply (and inherently more expensive to run than conventonal trolley)
  • It allows to achieve much gretaer reliability ofon route 3,8 and 20 (consequence of shorter route and more noticeabily teh avoiding of the often congested Hastings section)
  • It maintains a direct connection between the Millenium line and the expo line and the Hastings corridor.
  • It increase the network connectivity: all NS routes connect with both the Hastings and Powell corridor (and bus 4 is extended to improve the network connectivity), as well as the bus 201 and other peak hour route connecting with the North Shore


The solution has some drawbacks:

The case for routes 3 and 8 has already been discussed in a previous post

  • The connection of Hastings with the M line is less good than the one insured by the route 20 (for the section West of Commercial)
    • The penalty cost is 4mn in peak hour peak direction (West bound ~8am), but could be less whether CMBC had the decency to relocate its very frustrating timing point on the route 16  from Broadway to Renfrew station which is just one stop away! (after 15 years of M line service, it could be about time!).
  • The connection of Hastings with the Expo line is less good than the one insured by the route 20
      Thought that the 16 connects with the Expo line – and route 7 servicingthe nearby Powell corridor – can provide a transfer free option for people sensitive to it, it is effectively  one of the main drawback. However, on can notice: there is no obvious  reason to offer this direct access from the Expo line to the section of Hastings West of Commercial and not to do the same for its East side?

It is probable those drawbacks are not enough to offset the benefits of the above proposal. It is likely that most of the customers arriving by Skytrain could still prefer to use the route 20, even if that involves  a transfer to reach a final destination along the Hastings corridor. it will be still the fastest option (especially considering the higher frequency of bus 20): That also explains why it is important to keep an efficient transit connection along Commercial, a topic for another post!

Translink responded present to the first. We are still waiting the proposition of the municipalities for the second…

[1]  Bus service cut worries Champlain seniors, Vancouver Courier, February 25, 2014.

[2] Vancouver/UBC Transit plan, Translink July 2005

[3] Transit Network Review, Translink, Spring 2016,

[4] TransLink modifies bus routes across Metro Vancouver Kelly SInosly, VancouverSun March 31, 2016
Improved bus service may be coming to some routes in Vancouver, Janet Brown, iNews880am, Vancouver, March 31th 2016
TransLink gets 12,000 service comments, Martin van den Hemel, Vancouver24hrs, March 31, 2016

[5] “HaveAcow”, on the railforthevally blog, vividly explained the dynamic at play on such change proposal in a comment on a Dec 17th, 2014 post titled
“Incresing Transit Capacity By Reducing Transit Stops – A New Stragety For Broadway”

The compass card/fare gate deployment has been a big disapointment so far, it is also a mismanagement tale, as reminded in a March 4th,  CBC article, as well as other surprise, such  the discontinuity of the fare integration between buses and skytrain, a result, among other of unconsequential choice done by Translink and presented as fait accompli to the public, this under the watch of a  very absent, if not complicit  Council of mayors, when transit fare policy is supposed to be a political choice (to be decided by the council of mayors, not Translink on its own)



a rfid reader in Jianshui, China

We will pass on the lame excuse of the “new high tech technology” to justify all the troublef deployement of the Compass card. That could have been true in the 90s…Since then rfid systems have been deployed flawlessly in countless cities around the world: North America could have been slow to catch the trend, but that doesn’t make any excuse for Translink and its supplier to not deliver…and they didn’t,  as reminded by Stephen Rees.

Even the procurment contract seems to have been botched: Translink has pay Cubic for a solution (tap-in tap-out on buses) which doesn’ work




The recent system accessibility controversy

At first, one could think of it as another manufactured controversy. After all, even with the faregate, Translink will stay one of the most accessible transit system in the world: the overwhelmning majority of people in wheelchair will be still able to access the skytrain, indeed with the impediment of a fare gate: but as a barrier, it creates an impediment to everyone, so no much of a big deal…. However when the concerned people have very limited manual hand dexterity, the barrier can become an unpassable “wall”: Gated transit system around the world have staffed station, which enable them to handle those and other unforseen cases. Many people will rightfully ask: Don’t those people have anyway to use their hand to call a lift to access the platform? …not necessarily:


people with mobility challenge, including hand, can rely on diverse solution, to assist them. Pressing a  button can be a  relatively simple task for an assitance dog – tapping a card is another story


How much a Transit system needs to be accessible?

or should we be content with what we have, or should we pursue ever greater inclusion of people with mobility impairment?

The discussion is  deja vu: it used to be a not so distant time where buses, trams, and subway was not accessible at all to wheelchair…and old  subway system have to deal with the stigmate of such time. In Vancouver it was not judged necessary to install an elevator at Granville station until 2006.

Relevance to switch to low floor buses or trams was not considered obvious  up to very recently:  <em>yes they are accessible, but carry less people…and people in Wheelchair have access to specialiazed transportation such as Handydart, so why go to the expense to accomodate them on the main system? [1][2]

Many choices done as late as the 90’s, which compromised transit accessibility, on the altar of finance, could be politically not palatable nowadays, and it is a progress.

It is true that each time, we need to accomodate people with special needs, this has a cost (supported by the transit agency), but exclusionary solutions have also a social cost (not necessarily supported by the transit agency). so a right balance need eventually to be found, and at the end it should be a political choice (system accessibility is a political choice), not an adminsitrative one.

It appears  Translink didn’t foreseen any accesibility  issue with unattended faregate, in despite of its own 2005 fare gate study suggesting otherwise, or at least didn’t communicate publicly on such limitation [3].

Why this Translink accessibility issue popped-ip so lately?

The faregate has been there standing still for years now, and the controversy seem to have just popped up days before the scheduled closure of the gate! What has happening?

Are the disabled people associations guilty of not have warmed Translink soon enough or is it effectively a deliberate  Translink choice to not address the problem and not even mention it?

The second solution seems als the most likely:  The discontinuation of the integrated fare system has been hidden until presented as a “fait accompli”. It is likely a similar strategy has been pursuing here.

Is the accessibility problem solvable?

Technical and ergonomic solutions able to accomodate people with little or no hand ability in a dignified manner exist: you can see them at work at Whistler:


RFID check to access to the Whistler/Blackcomb lifts: this check doesn’t require any other action of the customer, than moving along the sensor, providing the RFID card is stocked in the right pocket.

It could have been fairly simple to have a  solution  where gates are activated by a compass card attached on the side of a wheelchair.  Obviously, when this come as an afterthought, the retrofitting of existing gate can be much more  complicated (hence expensive).

Why that has not been explored is a mystery: Translink seems fully accountable for it (unless it proves it could not be reasonnably aware of it, but the 2005 study tends to prove otherwise), and that give reason to its contemptors: why pour more taxpayer money on an organization running out of control?

Now, we are faced with the obvious: the infamous 2009 business case [2] presented by Translink to the council fo mayors to justify the fare gates, was unprofessional and worse, unethical. Only the Mayor of Burnaby openly critized it while  the council of mayors voted the fare gates program on the base of this disgracious business case.

This disgrace and the on going mismanagament of the Compass/fare gates implementation, mark a very low point for Translink and cast serious doubt on how much trust we should put in this organization.


At the end, one has to observe it is  under the impulse of the Province, that some people with mobility impairment will be still able to use the Skytrain… the council of mayors has stay silent, way too much silent on the topic …it’s also true all this fare gate debacle has unrolled under their watch!



[1] In fact, Low floor bus became a defacto standard in the transit world not so much because they are accessible than they in fact tunred out to provide greater productivity than high floor buses, due to fastwer baording/alighting.

[2] We have access only to a 2011 summary. as far as we know, Translink never publicly released the complete 2009 report.

[3] In fact , at the demand of the Council of mayors, Translinkissued a business case summary in 2011, which stay silent on the  limitation of the implemented solution, not only in term of accessibility, but also in term of fare integration ( fare issued on a bus can’t be used on the skytrain: a technology tradeoff  decided by Translink which is not presented in the business case either)


February 16, 2016

Notre Dame de Paris

Somedays, we will demolish Notre-Dame to enhance its parvis [2]

Old Hôtel-Dieu hospital -as photogrpahed by Charles Marville in 1865, in front of Notre Dame moved North of it in 1867

Maine Montparnasse

Then there is gare Montparnasse, the railroad station of the Bretons, which means the travelers are Bretons and consequently well known to Paris, whose population includes a large number of Bretons. This also means those who work in The station are Bretons and the neighborhood around the station is Breton. Lastly and most important […] this Breton railroad station is neglected by the power that be, as everything Breton. [1]

View toward Montparnasse railway station, in 1930...and in 2000 (the railway station has been replaced by an office tower in 1970)

[1] “The Assassination of Paris”, Louis Chevalier 1994. (from Original french edition: L’Assassinat de Paris, 1977)

[2] “Oeuvres illustrées de Victor Hugo, Volume 3, J.A Beauce, C Nateuil and Lancelot, Paris 1855

The 2015 referendum on Translink new sources of revenue initiated by the BC Province, has been painted by most of the observers as a leadership abdication on tough decisions to be taken by the Province, and as a double standard policy, where road investments, such as the Massey Tunnel replacement, are not submitted to referendum. That reading supposes to confound the referendum on new taxes with a referendum on new investments.

The BC Liberal government could have brought the referendum idea in an awkward way, but when it is time to introduce new sources of revenue, such as road pricing, referendums tend to be commonplace (e.g Stockholm, Edinburgh, Milan), or at the minimum, people give mandate to elected official through normal election process to do it (The London Congestion charge was a campaign promise of Ken Livingstone, Singapore is a city state…). All those respect a cornerstone value of our democratic systems: “no taxation without representation”.

Within the current Translink framework, Mayors have absolutely no mandate to introduce new taxes such as a sale tax (they have not been elected for that but they have all legitimacy to raise property taxes…)

To introduce new regional taxes, there is no other option than

  • to get approval of the provincial assembly, so that is put the region fate under control of mainly out of town MLA, and indirectly to a majority of people whose have no stake in it.
  • to hold a referendum, so putting the region fate directly in the hand of local people

Considering the general appetite for more direct and local democracy, the legislator should prepare for more direct input of people on the matter of regional taxes. That would infer more referendum to come.

However, if Translink is reformed, in such a way it is put under control of a directly elected regional assembly, this assembly would have the legitimacy to introduce new taxes for the region.

The real question, is then: how we get there?

The piano: Imagine

November 15, 2015

A guy, hauling a piano, on its bike in front of the Bataclan, the day after Paris attack


It’s to play “imagine” by John Lennon.

(this song has also been played on the piano, at the vigil this night in Vancouver, but the piano didn’t came by bike)