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


Park Avenue

May 21, 2010

Avenue [ˈævɪˌnjuː] from the old french arrival, has eventually got a different meaning in english, as well as in current french, due to the current usage we give to it nowadays.

Here after is a very simplified history of it:

XVIII century

At the eventual difference of other roads or streets, avenues were usually work of urban planning, and primarly designed as radial promenade at the edge of the city with function to great in a ceremonial way the arriving visitor

Avenue du Mail, Rennes, France. concept plan from the XVIII century. the leisure aspect is the dominant factor, at the expense of the mobility one. credit photo (1)


Though that not matching to the original vision, the primary promenade function is still well respected.

The same location at the turn of the century. The leisure aspect of the promenade is still well alive

XX century

The advent of the automobile and other social change will involve deep cultural shift:

  • Urban people will eventually prefer spend their free time elsewhere than lingering on the street becoming less pleasant due to the surrounding roaring motors and gas smell (we don’t speak to much pollution those day).
  • the free space is then occupied by the new mobility device

With the advent of the automobile, the promenade change of function! (it is still Avenue du Mail, lately renamed Mail Francois Mitterrand, Rennes France)

XXI century

Another relative cultural shift appears in the 80s, eventually learning of the american experience: it appears very apparent that the adaptation of the European city to the car has no future: and a better use of the scarcely city’s available real estate need to be devised. the LRT, trams in Europe, will be part of the solution, and the large French avenues, will be ideal Right of Way candidate. The vision of the future century is then eventually represented by this artist rendering:

the future Starsbourg tram, line F, riding on what used to be a parking least in the recent history. credit photo (5)

One will note, it is pretty seldom to see modern tree lined trams, eventually for the following reasons:

  • the tree roots system could compromise the integrity of the trackbed
  • the tree branches could interfere with the overhead wires
  • the falling tree leaves could grease the rails, compromising the acceleration/braking capabilities of the train

In the Strasbourg F-line case, those aspects are mitigated by the integration of the bike path along the tram ROW. the integration of the bike path is an addition to the late LRT project.

Obviously, the vision is a significant progress on the current situation, in the sense it returns to a pleasantly greenish aspect of the avenue.

The park and ride model

Where we should not give more credit to the french than they deserve is here:

  • In most of the case the space allocated to the automobile traffic is not compromised, and the Strasbourg example shown above is basically no exception to the rule: while that the parking space is removed at the benefit of the trams, there is no reduction in automobile traffic lanes benefiting then of a freer flow, since not impeded by car looking for or negotiating parking spot
  • there is no increase of space for pedestrians, and the leisure and social interaction aspect, like lingering on the street, is not part of the picture either

The removal of parking space could be considered as a progress, but usually, a french tram projects barely means reduction of parking space either, but rather relocation of it according to the well known park and ride model.

The picture below feature one P&R in Bordeaux having 603 stalls [6], more than at the Canada line Bridgeport one [7]. Bordeaux has 14 other structures like this along its 3 trams lines…

park and Ride in Bordeaux, france. Notice the state of the track's lawn as soon as you get out of Downtown. credit photo (6)

One can clearly suspects that the motivation to introduce trams in the french cities has not been to challenge the general car centric culture, but was more guided by more pragmatic space constraint requiring a P&R model in order to preserve good vehicular movement on the city arteries and accessibility of the city to an ever greater number of people, including by car.

In that aspect, it has been a more successful model than the US one, eventually due to the greater scarity of

  • downtown parking stall
  • road access


  • the preserved heritage specificity of the European cities could have contributed to maintain the attractiveness of their downtown in despite of access impediment
  • the short length of the European trams line, typically not venturing much farther than 5km from he town center, allow for short trip time, in despite of relatively low average speed [4], the later allowing good integration in the urban fabric

All those factor, in addition of social one going beyond the scope of this post, could have saved the middle size European city to know the fate of their American sister cities, in term of Downtown life.

But, if one considers the public transit market share in 14 french urban areas with LRT; 11% (for weekday trip) [8]; it is hard to speak of a successful strategy, to be emulated.

At the end of the day, the avenue original vision, which cheer size was to provide “park” space for people, devoided to be “park” space for transportation device, has not been restored. Indeed it is now used to “segregate” space according to transportation modes (in a vision where “lingering” is also a “commercialized” activity at the benefit of the sidewalk coffees).

It is a progress on the dictatorship of the automobile reign, and it is possible that the LRT has been an ingenuous tool to legitimate the displacement of the cars toward the outer edge of the city, but is the result the most efficient allocation of the city surface space? or in other term, is it the best we can do?

[1] from archives municipales de Rennes, France

[4] Average speed of european trams is usually below 20km/h, 18.5km/h in the above mentioned case of Bordeaux

[5] from Tram-Train/Tram F, Strasbourg-Bruche-Piémont des Vosges, June 2008

[6] Picture and number from le tram de Bordeaux”

[7] Bridgeport park has 600 stall for Canada line rider according to Translink

[8] Transportation mode share of 14 metropolitan area with tram in France, from “Les deplacements a Nantes metropole Etude N 80, decembre 2009, Insee Pays de Loire, France citing “enquêtes nationales transports et communication 1993-1994, transports et déplacements 2007-2008″, Insee, SOeS and Inrets.

The Zurich Model

April 26, 2010

Entry edited on April 27

The Zurich metropolitan area is home of around 1.6 million of people on 2103 sq km [1] and boost one of the highest transit ridership in Europe if not in the world. This has obviously drawn the attention of the transit observers and advocates, speaking then of a Zurich model, but do they draw the right conclusions?

Some authors, like Paul Mees, use the Zurich Model to support the assertion that transit efficiency is not correlated to density, and so can work well in low density suburbia [5], while others noting that Zurich has no subway per sei, could conclude that a dense enough all at grade bus/streetcar service could be a better option than a traditionally more hierarchical network like we know in subway rich cities like Toronto or Munich.

A bit of history

In 1960 and 1973, Zurich has rejected twice subway plan which was more or less aiming to replace its streetcar network, then considered guilty of creating congestion.
That being said, subway work has been initiated before the failed referendum, and ~2km of already built tunnel have later been re-used by 2 streetcar lines, but the city will then mainly bring some efficiency improvement to its network [7].
In 1983, a referendum will give the green light for a cross city rail tunnel with new underground station, enabling the introduction of the S-Bahn, a regional rapid rail network working in a way similar to the Parisian RER, which will be inaugurated in 1990.

This S-Bahn came with a fare integration between the different transport operators, and a more general re-organization of the rail service with what is called “Taktfarplan” or “regular timetable” (that means that you train start at regular interval, usually at least once an hour , e.g. 8:04 , 9:04, 10:04,…) which has been underway on the Swiss national network since 1982.

Though that the frequency of the S-Bahn is not high enough to forget the timetable, the later one are easier to remember, and so simple they can figure on the network map itself.

The settlement structure

Zurich regional area density is low and could be compared to the one of Houston, TX or Edmonton, AB, but eventually such comparison are not telling the real story as much as the topographic map below can say:

extract of Zurich area topographic map showing how the urbanization follow a linear model along valley separated by strong physical barrier

The Zurich area topography draws urbanization along natural valley corridors where sit the railway network. While it is not a pure model of urban clusters; the Zurich area can be compared to the typical north American urban sprawl model either. It has rather developed a linear urbanization model along transportation corridors.

More, one can see that the geography force indirect route to go from point A to point B as soon as those points are not in the same valley, whether you take your car or transit. The usual transit network disadvantage of providing indirect route for “non radial” become less problematic in the case of Zurich.

The Socio-economic structure

Zurich city with a population of 380,000, host 320,000 jobs, for an active population of only 200,000. 50% of its work force come from outside its boundaries.

One should also note that the Zurich city population has declined since the 60’s when it was host of 440,000 people, at the advantage of its suburbs.

The Zurich socio-economic pattern could be compared to Calgary or Seattle for the very high ratio job/population. both inner cities foster good transit ridership number by North American standard, but this can be mostly due to a very centralized job market favoring a good transit market share in the CBD rather than a good transit system per sei [6], as could illustrates the statistic below.

Zurich city [3]92632611

Conurbation Size (in km2) Transit Car Walk/bike
Zurich urban area < 2,100 41 40 19
Seattle urban area 2,100 7 88 4
Seattle city [1] 370 18 67 10
Seattle DT [1] 23 33 39
Calgary city [2] 726 17 75 7
Calgary DT [2] 27 22 51

The table above verifies the correlation between high transit ridership and a strong CBD stated by J. Michael Thomson [9], but there are some interesting facts to underline:

  • Zurich’s walk/bike mode share is pretty weak and in line with the one in Seattle
  • car share in the Down Town of the both North American cities, is below the one in Zurich

The Swiss city is significantly smaller that the considered North American ones, so it could have been interesting to compare thing on a similar size, but the conclusion we can probably draw is that Zurich tends to make a difference in its suburbs more than in its center, where it seems that the high transit mode share is achieved more at the expense of the bike/walk mode than the car on.

The Network

It is constituted of a 380 km S-bahn network. In comparison the Zurich’s streetcar network has 70km of track, and the streetcar route are around 7km long, not venturing much farther than 5km of the Zurich center. The map below overlay this streetcar network on the s-bahn to illustrates the coverage zone of both.

The Zurich s-bahn network and in thin red line, the tram network “roughly” mapped to scale

The Results…or does Zurich has been too far?

The Zurich S-bahn has been an undeniable success with ridership increasing from 159,000 ride/day in 1989 to 356,000 in 2007 [5]. A second cross city tunnel is currently under construction.
The Zurich Transit Priority program [7] has also produced positive effect. Though speed is not the only element of the program improvement, it is still an important one: as an example, the table below provides the evolution of the average speed on the Zurich’s trams network (number from [8])

1960 1970 1990
16km/h 14.5km/h 15,5km/h

On a financial note, The Zurich public transit had a recovery fare box of around 45% in 1997, requiring CHF360 millions of subsidy yearly: it could be due to a political choice of low fare, but one should keep in mind that the Zurich model is not necessarily a self sustained one. The table below represents the operating cost and fare-box recovery (number from [7])

years operating cost farebox revenue % fare-box recovery
1991 522.6 277.5 53%
1992 563.6 286.9 51%
1993 583.2 292.8 50%
1994 600.7 294.4 49%
1995 605.4 298.1 49%
1996 639.2 298.8 47%
1997 660.2 300.0 45%

For matter of comparison, the table below shows the evolution of the ridership in some selected Swiss cities since 1980.

Intra city commuting pattern on last 20 years in selected swiss cities

It is remarkable that the already very high transit market share in both the Zurich region and city has make some gain after the 90’s when it tends to stagnate in the other Swiss cities. But as already noticed when comparing the modal split with Calgary and Seattle, is that this gain has been done quasi exclusively at the expense of the bike/walk share mode which tends to be low in Zurich and not only by Swiss standard:

  • All things happen like if the improvement of the Zurich city surface transit, by better accessibility and frequency but not necessarily significantly improved speed, compete more with the walking or biking option than the driving option, but
  • One should also question if Zurich offer, like other Swiss cities, has not reach a limit touching the “hard core motorists group” which could not consider transit under any circumstance.

The graph below compare the inner city mode share with the region urban area one for some selected Swiss cities:

mode share in selected swiss cities in the inner (ref. 3) and the urban area (ref. 4)

As mentioned before, where the Swiss cities exhibit specificity is more at the regional level than at the local level: Even at the region level, the transit market share is greater than the car one: this is probably contributing to the overall high level of transit share including in the inner area, but there is more to it:

  • The walk or bike share is still non negligible even at the regional level: that seems to indicates that the suburban shape is suitable to those mode, and sufficiently transit friendly
  • The walk and bike mode in the urban area of Zurich seems more important that in the inner city itself: it confirms the fact that the city’s level of Transit service tend to cannibalize those mode more than the car one.
  • car mode share is smaller in Bale and Bern than in Zurich. Those city being smaller, one could have expect the reverse.

While numbers show an higher transit share mode in Zurich than in any other Swiss cities, it doesn’t translate with a smaller car mode share showing the limits of the “Zurich model”.

On a side note, one could note that the German speaking cities perform better than the French one (Lausanne and Geneva), reflecting difference we can also see between France and Germany in term of transportation market share: Eventually beyond an unified public policy of a nation, some cultural trend tied to language could be identified making this policy more or less effective.


As we have seen, Zurich can’t be really invoked to justify good transit in low density area. As well one shouldn’t ignore the specific socio-economic structure of Zurich providing a favorable ground for Public transit.
The defeating of the Subway proposal has not translated in lack of a hierarchical network in Zurich: Eventually Zurich could have been too small to support a 3 level hierarchy (bus-subway-S-Bahn) like in bigger city such as Paris, but the “rapid rail” component is here providing a rapid transit backbone in the Zurich area.
We should also ask the question if Zurich has been too fa in its quest for high Transit ridership: this one lately seems to have been done at the expense of the walk or bike mode rather than the car one, and we should ask the question of what should be an efficient transportation goal:

  • Increase the transit mode share or decrease the car mode share?

If the former is the goal, then Zurich is a model, but if it is the later, the point is more moot.
Overall the Swiss urban areas achieve a remarkable non automobile mode share, and may be we should talk more of a “Swiss model” than a “Zurich model”: The Swiss model is not only constituted of a good local transit, like we could find in other European cities, but rely on an excellent regional rail network. The Public transportation option is still of excellent quality at any level from local to the Intercity train sustaining a real culture of public transportation starting as soon as the kindergarten with some initiatives like the walking-bus …and eventually that could be the real lessons of the “Swiss Model”, Zurich is capitalizing on.

[1] numbers from department of planning and development, city of Seattle, Jan 2004

[2] numbers from Mobility Monitor April 2008, city of Calgary, Jan 2004

[3] numbers from LITRA, Switzerland, 2004 citing statistics from the Office fédéral de la statistique. Those statistic discriminate intra city commuters and inter city commuters: To give fair comparison we have mixed both using a 2/3 weight for intra commuting pattern and 1/3 for inter commuting pattern reflecting the fact that Zurich city has one third more jobs than active residents. The intra commuting number are kept as is for figure comparing Swiss cities between each others

[4] numbers from Projet d’agglomération
Lausanne-Morges (PALM)
, December 2007
, citing the census 2000 from the Office fédéral de la statistique

[5] “Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age”, Earthscan, Paul Mees, 2010

[6] One could see Zach Shaner’s comparison of Vancouver and Seattle illustrating the kind of Transit service offered in Seattle.

[7] Implementation of Zurich’s transit priority program, Andrew Nash, Mineta Transportation Institute, San Jose, October 2001

[8], Dr Felix Laube and Dr Rolf Bergmaier, Transport Engineering Australia, 2000

[9] Great Cities and their traffic, J. Michael Thomson, Littlehampton Book Services, 1977

the agency overseeing the “guided transportation systems” in France publishes some numbers worth to be repeated [1]. Though that the sample sizes prevent to draw definitive conclusions: we can still exhibit some trends: not surprisingly multi year studies tend to show that subways [2] are order of magnitude safer than LRTs [3]. This said, it is interesting to probe the source of tram accidents, what is provided by the graphs below.

partition and severity of tram accidents per year function of their location along the lines

Accidents partition per mode, and transportation modal share

It appears, that the bulk of accidents happen at intersections where they involve third parties. If car are responsible of most of the conflict, it is mainly, pedestrians and cyclists whose pay a disproportionate human toll considering the transportation modal sharing [11]. Furthermore, a study of the Belgium institute on road safety shows that while tram/pedestrian conflicts represent 2.1% of the overall pedestrian conflicts in Brussels, they result in more than 6.7% of vehicle/pedestrian conflicts with severe injuries [4] while that pedestrians represent more than 50% of the overall fatalities on the french trams network [1]. However, a non negligible number of accidents happen outside platforms and crossings: most of them involve emergency braking of the trams, which are responsible of most of the passenger casualties. The french agency has further detailed the pattern of crossing accident, and provides statistic per crossing:

yearly number of tram accidents per crossing, according to their severity type

Comparison with the US

It can be interesting to compare the french statistic to the American one, as reported by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Accident rate comparison between USA and France on LRt and subway network

Though that the accident ratio between subway and LRT witnessed in France is also founded in USA, there is a striking difference in the number of casualties per million of trip.

One explanation to it could be the suicide ratio:

  • statistics are not including casualties due to suicide, but suicide characterization can be different according to the country. Thought that casualties due to suicide are not well documented, anecdotal evidences seem to show that the French authorities are more willing than the North American ones to classify an accident as a suicide: Some officious counting report around 70 suicides per year on the Parisian RATP metro alone [5], when this number is of around 30 in New York City [6], and 15 in Toronto [7]. For purpose of a study on the suicides in the Montreal subway, the researchers have requalified fatalities, considered as accident by the coroner, as suicide [8].

That said, the American LRTs still seem more prone to accident than their french counterpart. We can attempt some explanations to it. .

  • LRT accidents are significantly due to third parties, and eventually the measure of accident/trip is unfavorable to the less patronized US LRT vehicle. This explanation can be countered by the fact that busy LRT lines involve busy pedestrians traffic around their route, hence increasing also the chance of accident.
  • Average speed of french LRTs, usually in the 15 to 20km/h range is significantly slower than their american counter part
  • Design of European LRT could be more permissibe too
    • Front design of low floor european LRT seems less prone to drag pedestrian under the railcar
    • All low floor design reduce the chance of fall inside the car in case of emergency braking
  • More frequent LRT could increase the public awareness of their presence
  • Due to the above factor, French LRT seem also less attractive than their US counterpart to suicide candidate

Compared to even recent American design, the European tram design features all low floor train,with “housed” coupler into an all “soft angle” front design, and offers an unobstructed view fro the driver…all these eventually help to prevent or reduce accident consequences (credit photo, Northfolk LRT: LRTA, Brussel tram in Vancouver: Stephen Rees)

Nantes, a real life example

A tramway accident in Nantes (credit photo: Presse Ocean)

To provide some more reality to the statistic, we provide the example of the Nantes Trams network [9]:
it has opened in 85, has 3 lines, totalizing 42km, and carrying an average of 266000 riders /day.

  • One accident every 2 days
  • One accident in 4 involves injuries

Interestingly enough, according to the Nantes transit agency, their BRT records a rate of accident twice less than their trams, though their buses go faster [9]. It is eventually due to a better designed right of way for the bus than for the trams .

[1] see Accidentologie des tramways, Service Technique des Remontées Mécaniques et des Transports Guidés DES TRAMWAYS, 2006 and
Accidentologie des metros, Service Technique des Remontées Mécaniques et des Transports Guidés DES TRAMWAYS, 2006

[2] French subways include also the “VAL” family of subway

[3] French LRTs include also the guided bus systems

[4] Etude des accidents entre un tram et un pieton en region de Bruxelles-capitale

[5] Suicides dans le métro : deux morts par semaine à Paris, France Info, October 30, 2007

[6] Epidemiology of suicide in the New York City subway system, Sandro Galea and al. , APHA 134th Annual meeting and Session, November 4-8, 2006, Boston

[7] More than 150 people killed themselves in subways from 1998-2007, TTC says, National Post, Rob Roberts, November 26, 2009

[8] Qui se tue dans le métro de Montréal?, Brian L. Mishara, UQAM, Dec 1996

[9] Un accident de tramway en moyenne tous les deux jours, October 7, 2008, Presse Ocean, Nantes, France

[10] The rate per million of passengers is not necessarily the most relevant, but it is the only one readily available from the french statistics, which are averaged on the number of available years after 2003 to provide a more relevant sample size. For USA, to increase the sample size, the accident statistics are the average of year 1994 to 2006, as provided by the BTS 2009 report

[11] Transportation mode share of 14 metropolitan area with tram in France, from “Les deplacements a Nantes metropole Etude N 80, decembre 2009, Insee Pays de Loire, France citing “enquêtes nationales transports et communication 1993-1994, transports et déplacements 2007-2008”, Insee, SOeS and Inrets.