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Tunnel Vision vs Green Vision

See also, UBC line: The Adam Fitch proposal

Buses battling with Broadway traffic – credit photo (1)


The lately adopted Vancouver Transport 2040 prescripts an underground Extension of the Millennium line along the Broadway alignment to address the transportation demand on this corridor. This left still open 2 questions:

  • That probably is not coming in service before 2020 at best, What to do in the interim?
  • The subway will probably stop short of UBC (Arbutus in the most optimistic case), leaving the demand unaddressed on western section section of the corridor: how to address it?

Translink is calling for an LRT, skytrain combination: If there is a good case to build the subway soon enough up to Arbutus as a regional priority, the case could be significantly weaker for the LRT part of the combo, especially in regard of competitive demand coming from the South of Fraser. That left the buses on Broadway, for the foreseeable future, and something need to be done now to handle the existing demand, which will only increase with the advent of the Evergreen line.

The answer is two prongs

    Divert as much as demand on other corridors, mainly #84 and #41/#43.

    The main drawback of those solutions, is that they are not servicing central Broadway. Due to weaker demand, frequency is less attractive than on Broadway, triggering a vicious circle. A way to address it is to offer a better level of service, on at least the route 84:
    Double Decker buses are probably a solution worth to explore for this route. Beside it, real time information like on Main, can contribute to attract more rider on this line.

    A 45ft double decker, with 2 stairs and 3 doors (here a Man Lion’s City DD in Berlin) can have tremendous capacity. Its appeal can eventually help to relieve Broadway overcrowding if deployed on parallel routes like the 84 – credit photo wikipedia

    Increase capacity and efficiency of the buses

    Bigger bus is part of the answer. Double Decker could be an answer – but

    • It can be a self defeating answer due to its additional attractiveness (so such solution should be applied to relief line)
    • One of the major reliability/efficiency problem of the B line is due the dwelling time, and that is known to be a potential weakness of the Double Decker

    Longer articulated buses should be the answer. Not only longer, but with at least 4 doors per bus, since it both improves:

    • The practical capacity of the bus, by better partitioning of the load
    • The dwelling time

    Should the bus be double articulated, that is 80feet long, or not?
    A priori it is not a right step:

    • Due to frequent Local service, the 99B bus performs a significant amount of weaving, operation becoming more complex with 2 articulations
    • Proper alighting at bus stop could also be compromised by the above, affecting negatively the dwelling time
    • It can be complicate to redeploy such buses on other routes. curb space at bus stop being not the least of the problems

A 65+ feet bus with 4 outside opening doors, and proper interior layout, can probably have 20% more practical capacity than the current 60 feet bus while overcoming the above drawback [2].

This Man Lion’s city GXL is 67ft long, and with 4 doors, it has vastly more capacity than a 60ft bus 3 doors, like currently operated on Broadway.

The buses presented above could not have the right to operate legally on BC roads, but it is a stroke of a pen to allow them. The Los Angeles Transit Agency, LACMTA, operates a fleet of 45 feet and 65 feet buses, showing a North American market for such bus size.

The bus lanes
The lack of bus lane in Vancouver is a shame:

  • Bus lanes on Main between Broadway and Hasting should be a no-brainer,
  • Bus trip on Main between Hasting and Broadway are scheduled to be between 8 and 12mn, whether it is off peak or rush hour, and there is an excess of 800 daily bus trip on this portion of main used by some of the busiest bus lines of the network, #3, #8, #19 carrying a combined 20 millions of rider/years. Needless to say, not only the lack of bus lane increases significantly the operating cost of those route, but it also imposes a tremendous economic burden to the region in term of lost time

    bus lane with traffic signal preemption – – credit photo (1)

  • Bus lanes on Broadway
  • Matters are a bit more complex due to the weaving of local and express services, requiring the use of 2 lanes of traffic by buses, but clearly there is significant room to improve the efficiency and reliability of the route. Here is What we suggest for the Cambie#Broadway intersection:

transit priority improvement on Broadway at Cambie involving an half scramble intersection: right turn traffic proceed while pedestrian cross in diagonal. buses can move thru the intersection yielding to peds

    The problem of this intersection is the heavy pedestrian traffic conflicting with the right turning cars movement which is heavy too. This is affecting the buses. Having an extra cycle for bus only doesn’t necessarily help the pedestrian flow, which is mainly oriented NW-SE (West bound bus stop – Cambie station). Because the bus can use 2 lanes of traffic, keeping general traffic moving is important too: that means right turning car shouldn’t block the through traffic. So the proposal is an extra cycle for:

    • Right turning car only and buses, and pedestrian in diagonal only
    • to allow quick “flushing” of right turning car , pedestrian E-W crossing is red
    • right turn from Cambie shouldn’t be allowed on the extra cycle
    • Because bus go through, they could conflict with the half scramble: a yield to pedestrian rule then apply to them: A carefully designed scramble allows a 40feet bus to yield in the middle of the intersection, and still allow car following him to do a right turn
    • The next cycle is green through Broadway, to allow bus to clear intersection in case of blocked behind the scramble.

    Due to the presence of the half scramble, regular pedestrian crossing are less used, allowing greater right turn movement on all corner at all other time …eventually improving the general output flow of the intersection, and in any case improving the general output flow of Broadway.

There is still some room to accommodate growing demand on Broadway. It could not be an excuse to not investigate longer term solutions like a subway, but the prospect of the later is not an excuse to do nothing now. Right answer is in the hand of Translink, but enabler are mainly the Province, to allow bigger bus on the road, and the City of Vancouver to allow more efficient operation on its street, this by starting by giving more consideration to buses and their rider than parked cars.

[1] Translink’s buzzer: Building a better transit line: how location and land use make or break good transit service, august 2, 2012

[2] see Bus capacity : some remarks , November 9, 2012

[3] see UBC line rapid transit act 2, April 5, 2011

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, vpsn blog or

[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

As recently as September 24th, we were reading in the Straigth that a European tram type system could be built for less than $16 million per km. A number whose has been touted around for quite a while by as credible people as academic Patrick Condon, professor at UBC, as shown in a special post on Stephen Ress’s blog.

On could ask the questions:

  • Why Toronto is pricing a 15km LRT line on Sheppard Avenue for
    $950 million?
  • Why Seattle built its central link at a whopping cost of more than US$100 million per km[1]?
  • And obviously why an LRT for the evergreen line has been priced at $1 Billion if not more?

So, it is interesting to understand where come from this magic number of CAN$16 million per km, to justify to crisscrossing the city with an extensive streetcar network, and we could have a begining of answer with the latest series of post of zweisystem listing some features of the tram line of Paris area, T1, T2 in one post and T3 in a second one, and noticeabily claiming construction price as low as €10millions / km, what effectively roughly convert into CAN$16 millions. This deserves some complement of information and this post focuses mostly on the Parisian Tram


Though Paris has seriously invested in its tram [2] network, one should note it has not been exclusive of other investment in new subway line (line 14) and other underground express train (line E), as well as extension of existing subway network lines (line 13) in the meantimes. The Paris’s Tram network can be considered complementary of a backbone rapid transit network, and not an alternative to it as we gonna see it.

Line T1

The line T1 has been estimated effectively at €10millions / km, but in… 1985 [3]. Furthermore, this initial line has been built with a railtrack too weak for the kind of ridership it is today supporting (in excess of 100,000 pax when the line has been built for 55,000pax [9]), so less than 15 years after the inspection of the line, all the railtracks are being renewed on a 5 years period involving complete shutdown of the line for a period of around 6 weeks every years since 2006.

An extension of 4.9km is currently estimated at €150 million by its parent authority [10]

Line T2

The line is reusing a formerly existing railtrack of the french national railway network, still in service up to 1993, when the requalification of the line in LRT is decided in such sort that the €10millions / km relates to the necessary investment related to the LRT requalification by 1997.

One will note that its full segregated right of way original segment allows an average speed of 32km/h with an inter station of 950 meters[4]. A 4.2km extension is currently under construction at an estimated cost of €276 million as posted by its parent authority [11] (average speed on the extension in urban area will be of 20km/h[11]).

Line T3

The line is implemented on the so called “boulevard des Marechaux”, an inner ring urban boulevard offering a minimum of 40m right of way and displaying probably the closest typology to Broadway (Though Broadway right of way vries between 26m to 30m maximum between Commercial and Alma), so if in the context of the Briadway line, some benchmarking with Paris need to be done, it is probably with this line

This line has opened in 2006 at a of CAN$62 million per km [5] and has an average speed of 19km/h[6]. A 14Km extension is considered at an currently estimated cost of €775million by its parent authority [7].

Line T4

The last line came into service in 2006 and is factually a so called “tram-train” line of 8km length, it reuses an existing platform, of the French national railway. It can be a relevant benchmark toward the introduction of a similar service in the Fraser Valley using the BCER right of way or the downtown streetcar in South False creek. Cost to open this line has been estimated at €120 millions by its parent authority [8] for an average service speed of 25km/h [8].

In conclusion, from Paris examples, it looks that in a very favorable configuration where the right of way railway is already existing, the most recent benchmark indicate us a bottom price of $25 million per km, which become order of magnitude more according the line typology. But one could reply that Paris is a whole different world, let’s look closer to home: Portland and its famous streetcar.

Portland streetcar
Portland’ streetcar original loop of 5.7km single track has been opened in three phases between 2001 and 2006 at a cost of only US$88 million, including rolling stock [13], so below the famous US$16 million dollar per km (note it is US$ here)

  • The line carries less than 10,000pax per day and eventually the railbed has been designed for such low ridership
  • A 5.3km extension of the streetcar is now estimated at US$147 million [12]

Back to the streetcar reality
It looks like that the original cost pattern of the streetcar can’t be reproduce, far from it, and again we are talking of a cost of US$30 million/km in a favorable case of very light rail system designed to handle a very low ridership. Nevertheless, the Portland’s streetcar give a a good benchmark for a downtown streetcar, which could be undoubtfully successful, if we subjectively judge by the ridership of adjacent bus routes along Main between DownTown and Main/Science world station

In any case, it looks that the magic number of $16 million per km is

  • Specific to very few system and ample evidence show it can’t be generalized
  • Outdated estimation not anymore achievable even in a very favorable context

Streetcar enthusiasts, in their passion will have forgot the points above. For purpose of illustration, actualized number from some selected systems (as discussed above) can be found in the figure below


[1] Audit of the Seattle Central link Rail project’s initial segment, July 2003. The refered memorandum of the Office of the inspector general of the DOT mention a US$2.4 billion by 2009, including a US$209 million in debt interest incurred by the project completion but not including US$657 million long term debt interest payable between 2009 and 2025, for a 14 miles long line.

[2] By Tram, we refer to a rail system intermediate between the typical American LRT such Portland’s Max and streetcar like in Portland’s Streecar which is popular in Europe and Australia

[4] From Le prolongement du tramway d’Issy-Val de Seine a Paris-Porte de versailles[Fr]. For matter of comparison, average speed on the Canada Line is of 36km/h for an inter-station of 1000 meters (computed from a total posted travel time of 25mn from Richmond Brighouse to Vancouver Waterfront by Translink).

[5] Article Paris T3 Light Rail Development and Extension, France, from qu,otes €311 million for 8km. Number itself coherent with the study of Patrick Condon and al. dated of May 2008 The Case for the Tram: Learning from Portland

[6] As posted on [Fr]. For illustration, the posted average speed of the bus #9 Westbound around 9am weekday is of 14.5km/h while the one of the #99 is of 21.5km/h (from translink timetable)

[7] [Fr] provides a breakdown of the financing.

[8] T4 – Ligne des Coquetiers “Aulnay – Bondy” [Fr] provides a breakdown of the financing in 2003 €.

[9]As stated by wikipedia [Fr]