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


The latest draft of the Regional Growth Strategy Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping our future was released for public comment in November 2009 and Metro Vancouver is seeking comments until February 5, 2010.

Reading this document, it appears that the zone defined as “agriculture area” by the regional Growth Strategy doesn’t encompass all of the Agricultural Land reserve set by the Province, so in that instance, the Region set a let ambitious goal for itself than the Province set for it.

More of concerns are the Richmond’s Garden city lands -an 136 square foot block sitting next to Garden city Road and Westminster Highway- and the National Defense lands connecting the former to the Richmond Nature park, both zoned as ALR by the Province, become the object of no specific zoning under the regional Growth Strategy.

Simple mistake

You could think it is a simple omission of Metro Vancouver, which should be corrected in the final version…

When the issue has been raised at the Richmond public meeting held by Metro Vancouver[1], the answer given by the Metro Vancouver Chief Administrative Officer, Johnny Carline, has been that “Metro Vancouver includes land in –agriculture area– at the request of the municipality [not the ALC]”, so the puck come into Richmond city Hall. The Richmond’s mayor, Malcolm Brodie, then attending the meeting didn’t commented on the issue…

In fact it could be possible that the city of Richmond has some plans not very compatible with agriculture or park land use for the said area.

Previously, it has floated the idea of an Trade and Exhbition Centre. Thought that the area is central in Richmond, it is neither

  • in the immediate, walkable, vicinity of the Canada line stations,
  • in the immediate, walkable, vicinity of Richmond’s major hotels
  • and in the immediate access to highway 99 or other highways servicing Richmond

so one could have think of a better location for such a development to minimize the traffic impact, Fortunately this plan died in front of the ALC which declined to rezone the ALR [2], but Richmond could have others plan in the card,…if not why not accept the ALR classification?

This land, still central, associated with the National Defense land has the potential to be part of a green corridor, or greenway, to the more widely open agriculture area of Richmond. Green corridor concept is an important one from an ecological and social perspective:

  • it presents an ecological continuum, allowing species to frequent an area otherwise not vast enough to sustain them (think of deer or other large mammal for example, but also smaller species)
  • The point above allow the urban population to interact more naturally with their surrounding environment. The nature presenting itself in the city invite the citizen to explore further unlimited area, by feet or bike (read “instead to drive to bike in nature”)
  • The preserved and sustainable nature, here mostly bog, creates a sense of connection with the original place (in this following the good example of the Terra Nova rural park)
  • the preceding points foster a new relationship with our surrounding environment able to enhance the livability of the city

Fortunately, some People [3] in Richmond having some goods ideas for the future Garden city land have organized themselves around a coalition to save Garden city land of human predation and expose all the intricacies of the problem on their site and blog. Visit them and don’t forget to give your feedback to Metro Vancouver before Friday!

[1] Minute of a Decision of the Provincial Agricultural land commission, February 10, 2009

[2] Richmond meeting on the Regional Growth Strategy, Thursday, January 21, 2010

[3] We should also mention Olga Tkatcheva’s letter alerting the Richmond council of the unfortunate “omission”.