Metro Rail Vancouver

Vancouver’s Transit Trajectory: Densify the Core, or Extend Out?

» Proposed extensions to the SkyTrain network could have it reaching to the University of British Columbia or southeast into Surrey.

Of all North American cities over the last few decades, Vancouver has pursued the most steady expansion program for its rail rapid transit system, called SkyTrain. The system, whose first line opened in 1985, was extended with new lines in 2002 and 2009 — and the Province of British Columbia is soon to begin building a fourth alignment. The region’s population has taken to the network, riding at a rate of about 350,000 trips a day, pretty good for a service district of about 1.5 million people. The question for regional planners, faced with limited funds, is where to stretch rail lines next.

Based on recent news, the choice may be to spend on building new rail rapid transit lines out into the suburbs south of the Fraser River, rather than within the existing and relatively dense core.

In its most recent draft growth plan, meant to shape the region’s development over the next few decades, the Metro Vancouver intergovernmental organization has recommended expanding SkyTrain further into Surrey, southeast of the City of Vancouver. The group has suggested that that project would be more effective in responding to new regional growth than a proposed new rail line running under Broadway to the University of British Columbia (UBC) in West Vancouver, previously assumed to be the next obvious step. The Translink regional transportation agency faces a structural deficit and has yet to complete its commitment to the proposed 6.8-mile Evergreen Line SkyTrain extension, which is supposed to begin construction next year with the goal of providing future service to Port Moody and Coquitlam. There isn’t enough money for both the Surrey and Broadway lines in the foreseeable future, so the latter may be pushed back indefinitely.

All this in spite of the plan’s endorsement of five goals seemingly in opposition to that strategy: Creating a compact urban core; supporting a sustainable economy; responding to climate change impacts; developing complete communities; and supporting sustainable transportation options. Though the region benefits from an urban containment boundary designed to keep new development within a reasonable perimeter of the urban core, encouraging growth in Surrey is roughly equivalent to promoting more construction in what are low-density areas today and are likely to remain so in the future.

In the past, three basic routes have been proposed for new SkyTrain service in Surrey, and these proposals are likely to inform any future investment. One route would extend 4.4 miles south from the existing King George station along King George Avenue to 64th Avenue; another would run 5.6 miles east to Guildford and then south to Fleetwood at 168th Street; a final alignment could extend the latter route another 5.5 miles to the City of Langley. The commute between King George Station and Waterfront Station, at the heart of Vancouver’s downtown, already takes 39 minutes to cover 18 miles — and that’s pretty fast by urban transit standards. So these new routes would encourage long commutes between the metropolitan core and these suburbs.

Can the regional group’s goals be reconciled with an investment in suburban extensions to the rapid transit lines? Indeed, wouldn’t such investments only encourage further growth far from the center, increase car use, and augment the production of greenhouse gases?

Yet there may be some realism in Metro Vancouver’s prioritization of the Surrey corridor over the UBC-Broadway line. It is true that there has been significant growth in the southeastern sections of the region in recent years. If you take the organization’s plan seriously, you might assume that local leaders want the Surrey Metro Center — located around the existing Surrey Central SkyTrain station — to play almost as important a role as downtown Vancouver in terms of attracting job growth. From that perspective, it could make sense to extend the transit system south from there, to provide suburb-to-suburban core services.

If Surrey is to take in a majority of the region’s growth, it is true that an efficient new transit line could play an important role in structuring growth so that it is transit-oriented and so that a larger percentage of trips are made by environmentally sustainable public transportation. A SkyTrain extension could be the way to achieve those outcomes.

Even so, there might be cheaper options that provide many of the benefits of SkyTrain without its costs. The Broadway and Surrey lines could likely both be built as non-grade separated light rail for the same price as just one of them as automated rapid transit. Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has herself suggested that the most appropriate technology for her municipality is light rail. And the line all the way to UBC has already been discussed as a potential candidate for light rail or improved bus service.

Yet the Vancouver region has established SkyTrain as its preferred transit mode, and from that perspective it may make sense to continue investing in it over other technologies, because that would allow any new projects to interlink without connections to the existing system.

But the question of where to invest in new transit is not really about technology: It’s about regional growth priorities. If Translink’s next project is a billion-dollar down-payment in the suburbs, then it is clear where the area wants most of future development to be produced. Following the goals established by Metro Vancouver — basically, minimizing automobile use, reducing carbon emissions, and densifying the core — the best investment is invariably in a new line under Broadway to UBC. That route would run in areas that are already developed, encourage higher densities (if up-zoning is allowed), and reinforce the existing transit network by creating a cross-town corridor.

For a regional group whose representation extends far into the suburbs, however, those broader goals that they claim will orient future decision-making may in fact be less of a priority than their draft report suggests.

69 replies on “Vancouver’s Transit Trajectory: Densify the Core, or Extend Out?”

I wouldnt think this would be too much to worry about since I recall about 8-10 years ago the Canada Line went through a similar thing where it was on then off then on then cut back then on and funding was an issue but was found.

I’d prefer to wait to get it done right with grade separated heavy rail than to build it on the cheap with LRT or BRT. Canada Line’s capacity problems shows what happens when you underbuild a 100+ year system (despite still being grade separated).

As for looking beyond Broadway and the suburban extensions, I understand Artubus Corridor is mentioned as a future route but what else?…
What about extending the Expo Line eastward from Waterfront Station in the Hastings Corridor? I’m kind of surprised they havent extended it at least a station or two past Waterfront Station to Gastown and Main/Hastings since it seems sort of easy low hanging fruit given the adjacent rail right of way.

Perhaps a separate independent heavy rail line on the North Shore feeding into the Lonsdale Quay (North Vancouver) SeaBus terminal?

Why would they build street-level transit? Automated transit has much lower operating costs, which allows for much greater frequencies. So it’s absurd to say that a streetcar provides “many of the same benefits” as SkyTrain.

As well as the accessibility: a grade separated system will have much fewer stations due to cost and the stations will be difficult to access due to grade separation. A streetcar is right on the street with frequent stops, minimizing walking distance at the cost of line velocity.

The walking distance benefits surpass the disadvantages of low average velocity for trips roughly up to 10 kilometers. With construction costs a fourth or less than a grade-separated system, a streetcar is a very, very attractive option for any urban area that isn’t too fragmented to begin with.

For larger urban areas it’s still very useful, just there it can’t replace the grade separated system as the grade separated system will serve much longer trips than the streetcar can. Chances are the larger urban area also has the capacity needs justifying grade separation. But even the large urban area has mostly short distance trips that are best served by streetcar.

A streetcar is ideal serving short distance trips where transit excels in general. It’s an essential service that will bring the most utility for people, and is inexpensive to boot. Long trips lead to urban fragmentation and direct competition with the car, which is economically very difficult at the high cost of grade separation.

The Broadway SkyTrain extension is needed now, UBC is a major destination and the buses there are packed. Extensions to the suburbs would be nice, but are a lower priority in my view. (The UBC extension would help suburbanites in the east a lot, it currently takes far too long for them to get to UBC in the far west).

LRT on Broadway simply isn’t an option. They need a grade separated Skytrain and need it fast. It would be easiest to turn the trains around at Lougheed Station to mirror frequency for when the Evergreen Line is constructed. Coquitlam currently needs bus reform with the 97 B line as I have heard, it isn’t a B-line.

Metro Vancouver is made up of 12 cities plus other entities. There’s a “my turn” mentality in the south of Fraser areas. Surrey is second among the cities in population numbers, but 11th in population density.

The provincial government funds Skytrain projects in fits and starts. The province needs to step up and either provide regular direct funding, or give Translink the authority to raise more funds on its own. Bridge tolls for instance, would provide the most money. $1.50 toll could hit $500 million per year.

What Metro Vancouver needs is once Evergreen route construction starts, is to get both the UBC and Surrey Skytrain extensions going. Street level LRT is silly at this point.

What, no comments from zweisystem? :)

As a Portlander who fondly desires the transit infrastructure to be found 300 miles (500km) to the north, I find it interesting that Vancouver transit folk are coming down to our burg to (presumably) check out MAX.

The interesting question is: What land use goals does Surrey have? Right now, Surrey’s a low-density city (less dense than Portland)–are its residents interested in upzoning, and seeing a ton of residential skyscrapers rising up? Or do they want to remain a low-density alternative to Vancouver, and simply have better access to the city?

The answer to those question is important for any discussion on what sort of rail (LRT, commuter rail, SkyTrain) is appropriate south of the Fraser. (And I’ll agree with zwei that some sort of commuter rail in the Fraser Valley is probably a no-brainer; independent of anything else that might be built).

Surrey wants to turn it’s low density commercial heart, into high residential and commercial.

Some towers were built before the crash, and the city government has started to build a new government district in it’s core, to try jump start office construction.

The notion that SkyTrain is cheap to operate is false, in fact just the Expo Line costs about 60% more to operate than the Calgary C-Train, yet Calgary’s LRT carries more people.

As well, SkyTrain, despite over $8 billion in investment has failed to attract the motorist from the car! The actual percentage of people using SkyTrain just goes up with population. Also, the huge cost of SkyTrain has spearheaded the massive Gateway highway and bridge building program.

Financing is so bad that the Evergreen Line (locally known as the Nevergreen Line)construction is stalled for lack of funds.

Also not reported is that there is growing discontent with residents South of the Fraser River with TransLink and are agitating for succession from the Transportation authority as they feel they are subsidizing SkyTrain in Vancouver.

The best that TransLink can promise is that SkyTrain will get to Langley by 2040 and even that is tentative.

The SkyTrain light-metro system has all but bankrupted TransLink and unless more new onerous taxes are imposed, there will be no expansion of the transit system.

To continue proposing SkyTrain just shows what a fools paradise TransLink planners live in – there is no money now or in the future to fund it.

Rail for the Valley will have an important announcement to make in the next two weeks on this very issue.

I’m generally in the school of thought that one must allocate public transport resources not just for urban dwellers, but for suburbanites as well. I think there’s always going to be some market for single family homes (although, I suspect that the nature of these homes will change somewhat from big 3000 sq ft monsters), and I think it’s foolish to say “don’t build transit for them”. Ultimately, the last thing we want is to have these people drive into the city or eschew the urban core and generate duplicate structures in suburbs that require car use. I suspect the best course of action is to penetrate the suburban areas with a mix of TODs and P&R stations while suppressing large scale office growth so that premium office space remains downtown and secondary space can occupy suburban and secondary urban TODs.

I’ll agree with zwei that some sort of commuter rail in the Fraser Valley is probably a no-brainer

You’d have to be an idiot to support Skytrain going out that far. I think the problem is that a lot of people are seduced by the nature of the one seat ride, and while SkyTrain seems like a great automated metro, I’m wondering if it’s going to work as a proper regional system with near S-Bahn characteristics if it’s going to places like Langley. Of course, other than the current West Coast Express route, is there anything remotely decent as a rail ROW for something that isn’t SkyTrain? Admittedly, the downside with ATO/ZPTO systems is that one can’t do the cheap at grade extensions like on a light rail system…

FWIW, I’m still amazed that nobody ever proposes replacing the Sea Buses with SkyTrain…

“What, no comments from zweisystem?”

Jinx! ;-)

“The interesting question is: What land use goals does Surrey have? Right now, Surrey’s a low-density city (less dense than Portland)–are its residents interested in upzoning, and seeing a ton of residential skyscrapers rising up? Or do they want to remain a low-density alternative to Vancouver, and simply have better access to the city? ”

The proposed areas that the rail routes will go thru are underutilized corridors with lots of potential for upsoning. There are large sections of KGH with bona-fide 1950s-era trailer parks (if we wait any longer, some of the signs might have heritage status) and big box areas also flexible for redevelopment closer to newton. guildford mall is a moribund shopping mall from the 1960s with acres of parking. And if anything, surrey city council IMO is open to aggressive land-use planning, unlike those rich folks with the big houses by UBC.

If the Suburbs are members of this planel and they feel they are paying money into this thing they could at least get one of these lines for now to ease tensions with them and the city. Such as in Richmond Vrginia the city and it’s suburbs in the counties hate one another and always think that one or the other is out to get them so they never if not very rarely undertake large projects such as this that could help the reigion. So if the people in the suburbs are starting to feel that the city is getting all the new subway lines and they feel they are paying for it. Then the city groups at Skytrain to make a deal with them to keep them on board should give them one or two suburban lines for now or maybe one suburban line and then one city line for now.

Hello All:

I don’t know why Mr Zweisystem keeps peddling his prejudices about about Skytrain bankrupting Translink.

Last year the Translink (the public transit authority in Metro Vancouver) faced a structural deficit of about $130 million. To eliminate the deficit Translink increased some taxes, increased the cost of monthly fares and 10 ticket booklets, and did some cost cutting. The deficit is now under control, but there is little additional money for expansion.

The provincial government looked into the Translink finances last fall. There were concerns about the financing for the Canada line (Skytrain line in Vancouver/Richmond/Airport). The report, which reviews the agency that runs the BC Ferries and Translink, is located here:

Read the report and draw your own conclusions. I find the following quote on page 75 interesting:

“The majority of the $130 million structural deficity faced by Translink is a result of factors other than Canada Line, such as the increase in the operational cost of the bus fleet, particularly into lower ridership, geographically sparse areas.”

Lower ridership, geographically sparse areas = low density suburbs.

If putting buses in low density areas is not cost efficient, then putting skytrain (grade separated system) or LRT surface system is sheer lunacy.

It is my opinion that the Skytrain line along Broadway should be the highest priority for the following reasons.

(1) UBC and Central Broadway are the number two and three transit destinations in the entire transit system (after downtown Vancouver). For those not familiar with Vancouver, outside of downtown, Central Broadway is a major employment region. It includes the major medical complex in the area near the Broadway/City Hall station on the Canada Line. UBC is a commuter campus for the most part (40 – 50 thousand students, faculty, staff) travel there each weekday by transit and car.

(2) There are several bus routes along Broadway right. The 99, an express using articulated buses, leaves from the Broadway/Commercial station and goes west to UBC along Broadway and 10th Ave, stopping at major intersections. That route has about 40,000+ boardings per weekday and has the highest ridership of any route in the entire system. The number 9 bus is an electric trolley bus and has 25000+ boardings per weekday and has the 2nd highest ridership among all routes.

At Broadway/Commercial station, people get off TWO Skytrain lines to get onto various buses to go North/South and also West along Broaday. If you are in Vancouver during a weekday I suggest going to that station in the morning to observe the lineups and see the sheer number of people transferring to the buses.

(3) I believe that the Broadway extension will serve a wider ridership than an extension in the suburbs. Transit users from all of the region go UBC, Central Broadway, downtown. The transit facilities and infrastructure in the city of Vancouver is not just for the people living in the city of Vancouver.

For the most part, I don’t think as many people are making the reverse commute to Surrey and Coquitlam for jobs or school.

I would agree with that sentiment for Vancouver.

I think they should do both but the outer extensions of existing lines should be short in nature (no more than 5 miles) while increasing the infrastructure in the Core with a Broadway-UBC extension to obtain the strong bi-directional flow needed to make the outer ends work strongly.

The transfer connections between Skytrain lines outside of Downtown would help strengthen the call for a local light rail to provide high capacity short-hop connections from Downtown to these outer transfer centers at Broadway City Hall and Broadway/Commerical.

It’s more a question of which to prioritize: serve existing demand or shape development. There is some potential for both on Broadway, but little for the former in Surrey.
There are at least a few corridors under consideration in Surrey, and they’re all a bit different. It’s not likely the same technology will be used everywhere (unless some form of BRT network is chosen). Most street-level corridors have long distances between intersections – Surrey has a mostly-continuous half-mile arterial grid and discontinuous local streets – so limited-stop surface options can be fast and reliable. There is also an underused freight corridor – formerly an interurban – running diagonally across the arterial grid connecting some existing suburban centers but not the largest centre. This route has some potential for commuter or s-bahn type rail, with fewer stations than typical of skytrain, out to Langley.

I think the vancouver growth plan place officially on a same level of priority the Surrey extension, and the Central Boradway connection (east part of the dashed line in Vancouver).

the fact that this section, is critical to make an integrated network (connect the M line with canada line, and serve the second most important business district in metro Vancouver) start to be well recognized in Vancouver region. as well, some people start to recognize something need to be done to ferry the current 100,000 transit rider on this section (see the timelapse of current situation involving transfer: )

Report of media has been a bit more on the sensationalism side, but it looks the Surrey mayor play down a kind of city competition for funding.

Also, the Regional urbanization Strategy is grounded on “regional centers”, in addition of Vancouver, and Surrey Central, like Coquitlam, is one of them and justify some investment…now should the skytrain (which is a subway) extend indefinitely toward east is another question which deserve to be explored. One has also to keeping in mind that effectively the low density, car oriented sprawling suburb, typically Surrey, are the main culprit for the transit poor financial state, and transit investment make sense only if they are complimented by a dramatic land use shift (Surrey seems to be open to it, but so far little has been done on the existing Skytrain section in this city).

The problem with Skytrain doesn’t have anything to do with what Zweisystem says, since his information is often quite dubious, he’s incapable of being unbiased on the subject or acknowledging its strengths.

The problem, like the other David essentially indicated, is that it’s become the default rail option even when it’s not necessarily the logical one. One should remember that different modes of transportation with different costs and capacity are suited to different geographies. Thus an expensive to build, but high-capacity and high-frequency system like Skytrain is logical in the urban core and close-in-suburbs where a lot of people will use it frequently. Since Metro Vancouver has already built it as its “backbone” it would be unwise to abandon it in the centre of the region. It’s also logical that it continue to be expanded in the centre of the region.
That being said, the South of the Fraser areas, such as Delta, Surrey and Langley fit the geographic profile where more Skytrain would be illogical for quite some time. This is not to say that I don’t think the Valley shouldn’t have more transit, I do. But even with more tax sources money is scarce, thus it should be used to offer more frequent service to a greater geographic area than what Skytrain can reach. The problems in these areas are that transit is too infrequent and too geographically limiting. While one doesn’t need a car in Downtown Vancouver, one needs one there. Maybe one day the South Fraser area will have be dense enough to require an extensive Skytrain system. That’s unlikely for the foreseeable future, even as these municipalities plan densification. The money that would go into a Surrey extension of the Skytrain could be better spent on building (real) BRT or LRT throughout much of the South Fraser area. Along with a “West Coast Express” style commuter line (ideally faster and more frequent) from Downtown Vancouver all the way out to Chilliwack.

When it comes to making a choice of where and when to build Skytrain let’s be perfectly blunt. The UBC Line would be used far more than any extensions in Surrey therefore Vancouver should win out on this. The only reason it isn’t is because of the politics Robert alluded to. UBC is a huge transit market. Central Broadway is a huge transit market. Neither of them has reached their potential and both are going to continue to densify and neither are appropriately served by Transit. They won’t be until they have Skytrain built. LRT won’t cut it for them. It will in Surrey.

That being said, Vancouver is served better by transit than any comprable area in Surrey, despite it being much cheaper to serve Vancouver. Thus the politicians are essentially saying its Surrey’s turn. Heck, even Vancouver’s City Councillors aren’t being blunt enough about this and are trying to say both extensions “deserve” to be built. No, no, no. If there’s a choice only Vancouver’s does. Surrey deserves good service. It doesn’t need thus it doesn’t “deserve” Skytrain. In fact building Skytrain in Surrey would deprive it of the good service the South of the Fraser area actually deserves and needs. This is what all regional politicians and Translink should be aware of.

The West Side of Vancouver, i.e. Fairview, Kitsilano and Point Grey are already far more dense and contain far more transit destinations than just about anywhere neighbourhood or transit destination in Surrey. Existing and new transit users would make the Vancouver extension far better patronized than the Surrey extension. Vancouver’s neighbourhoods continue to densify and will probably outpace Surrey for density for a long time. These reasons indicate that Vancouver is a far more “deserving” and logical area to build Skytrain in than any neighbourhood or destination in Surrey. When people refer to West Side nimby’s around UBC that don’t want densification, what they should be careful about is that they make a distinction between the already dense and continuing to densify Broadway corridor in the north vs. areas further south like Kerrisdale, the Southlands, Shaughnessy, etc, etc. Obviously the latter would not be a logical Skytrain market.

Surrey wants better transit service in general. Extend Skytrain from King George Stn. to Newton and build a better bus system around that “backbone”.

Plus, as mentioned, Surrey leadership is open to upzoning and I believe extending the rapid transit workhorse further into Surrey is a must-do as a precursor to Surrey increasing pop. density.

There’s too much fighting about “me first!” instead of people combining to put pressure on the province to build both now. Plus the province is dragging out committing the last $400 million for Evergreen. 1% of the current provincial budget is equal to about $400 million.

To my eyes, the obvious win/win for LRT uber-fanatics such as Malcolm (aka Zwei. Evil Eye and how many other alias?) was Skytrain to Newton and a LRT rapid transit line connecting Richmond/Newton/Cloverdale/Langley using about 40% rail corridor ROW. This route would be about 42km vs. Calgary’s current Somerset/Crowfoot route at 32km with another 2km under construction.

@ Robert in Calgary, I’d agree that what you’re proposing is the ideal solution. But it’s not a politically realistic solution because this government hasn’t shown any willingness to help the region implement controversial political decisions (such as a vehicle levy, or road pricing) that would raise the revenue necessary for such a dual-purposed expansion. Actually, to be fair on the provincial level, neither the (centre-left for non-Canadian readers) NDP or the Liberals (centre-right) have shown any willingness to do this. On the federal level, the two parties that could realistically form a government the Conservatives (centre-right) and the Liberals (centrist) have shown little interest in these issues either. Although, to be fair, it’s not really within the latter’s jurisdiction.

SkyTrain already functions largely to connect the suburban town centres and TOD around stations to the Vancouver CBD. It doesn’t serve Vancouver’s most dense neighbourhoods at all. When Broadway, Kitsilano, and especially the West End have no rail service at all, it strikes me as odd to claim that rail serves the core well already.

Hear hear. I am in complete agreement. Vancouver’s central area transit is all bus while high speed is reserved for suburbanites. It is incredible that the Canada Line even got into Yaletown while the oldest and largest neighbourhood (The West End) was bypassed entirely. Ever hear of a major street called Granville that should have stations running right down it?

The biggest joke is tourists arriving in style on Canada Line and then getting out at Pacific and Davie and either having to get on the “toaster” small bus with luggage or spend another 20 bucks to take a taxi to their downtown hotel. It’s the moment when the impressiveness of the airport link wears off and the rinky dink resort town emerges.

I find it both interesting and sad how far the anti-LRT crowd will go to try to push their agenda. They are of course, the usual suspects.

In Vancouver we have an experimental light-metro system, that was built strictly for political prestige, that no one else around the world wants and only can be sold when the Canadian Federal Government underwrites construction.

So expensive is SkyTrain to build and operate it has literally castrated local bus services. So expensive was SkyTrain that a conventional metro was used on the RAV/Canada Line! TransLink can’t find the $400 million to build the grossly gold-plated Evergreen line.

80% of SkyTrain’s present ridership comes from forcing bus patrons to transfer from buses (could be as high as 90% for the new RAV/Canada line). There is absolutely no indication that Vancouver’s metro system has created the important modal shift from car to transit and has created a demand for new highways.

Robert in Calgary is a good example of the SkyTrain Lobby, twisting facts to make SkyTrain fiction.

Why is SkyTrain/light-metro construction important? Simple, the billions of dollars spent go to friends of the government who build and maintain the metro system. Building LRT for 1/3 to 1/4 the cost would mean a whole lot less money for a whole lot less government friends.

As for being biased against SkyTrain – no. SkyTrain is a light-metro and like its cousin VAL in France, has been made largely obsolete by modern LRT. Has anyone ever hear the SkyTrain Lobby say that LRT can travel as fast as or carry as many passengers as light-metro? No! Here lies the seeds of the dishonest campaign to discredit modern light rail.

In most cases, those defending SkyTrain (which I have volumes of information on) invent their own statistics and pretend all is well with the metro system. In reality, SkyTrain has bankrupted the transportation authority and any new plans for SkyTrain are mere pipe-dreams.


I haven’t seen any anti-LRT advocates here (and when I do see them, they’re usually pro-bus advocates who dislike all forms of rail; not metro zealots who dislike surface rail). I have seem some people advocate for the position that the Fraser Valley is undeserving of quality transit due to insufficient density (a position I tend to disagree with; though I’m insufficiently knowledgable about BC politics and the facts on the ground to form a stronger opinion). But I haven’t seen anyone in this thread arguing that surface LRT, in general, sucks–only that it is inappropriate for specific corridors such as Broadway. (And in the context of Broadway, I’d have to agree; though an LRT running parallel to Arbutus on the existing abandoned rail ROW seems like an excellent idea).

Regarding the linear induction technology used in the Evergreen/Expo/Millenium lines, there I tend to agree with you. I’m almost tempted to suggest a new branch of the Canada Line heading east along BC91/Westminster Highway, through Queensborough and Annacis Island, then into North Delta and Surrey where it would interchange with the Expo Line at King George–and any further deployment of SkyTrain east of there would be using conventional rail technology, not LIM. Or, a LRT line oculd be built instead (possibly as an extension of an Arbutus line, requiring another bridge across the North Arm), should it be decided that lower construction cost or a more extensive network be more beneficial than high-frequency service.

But ultimately, the important question is–how much service (quality and quantity) does the region want, and where. Answer that question, and you’re on your way to answering the question of what type of transit to build. (And I suspect you’ve already formulated an answer–you want more geographically-expansive coverage over a wide area, not intense coverage along a particular corridor–hence your preference for LRT…)

“(And I suspect you’ve already formulated an answer–you want more geographically-expansive coverage over a wide area, not intense coverage along a particular corridor–hence your preference for LRT…)”

I just had to comment on how funny it is to read this from a point of view relative to other North American cities. Anywhere else, LRT would be considered the corridor-intense option:)

…with more bus service being the “widespread” option.

I had the same thought, too.

The funny thing is, I don’t have strong disagreement with many of zwei’s proposals. The Fraser Valley needs better transit; driverless metro is probably not an appropriate option for much of it, and in a limited-funding environment, a good argument can be made that the City of Vancouver has had their turn (and then some)–I’ve never cared for the “screw the suburbs” attitude of some urbanists (even if it might be justified by the “screw the inner city” mentality found in many suburban dwellers. I want to IMPROVE suburbs, not neglect them).

What I object to in zwei’s advocacy is is his constant harping on irrelevant technical arguments (NOBODY here cares about LIM), his frequent suggestions that anyone who disagrees with him are shills, and his over-the-top rhetoric–such as the paragraph a few posts down where the “SkyTrain lobby” is simultaneously accused of dishonesty and of engaging in “libel and slander”. To quote a prominent Canadian songwriter, “isn’t it ironic?”

Malcolm, really now, who are you to accuse anyone of twisting facts?

I have credibility because I’m honest.

In Calgary, I’m a LRT advocate. In Vancouver, I’m making the best choice and that’s Skytrain, in your blinkered view, I’m the “Skytrain Lobby”

You seem to view being dishonest and abusive to anyone who doesn’t share your viewpoint as some sort of badge of honour.

It’s an odd way to get people to buy into your ideas. And your 20+ years of failure would attest to it.

ps – you like to use Calgary’s LRT success to attack Skytrain. Calgary Transit officials are on record saying a key factor is all the buses feeding into the system.

Good in Calgary but bad in Vancouver eh?

Back in 1990 I was pointing out the need for rail-based rapid transit between Waterfront and Richmond. In 2004 what did you say, here’s the quote – “There is no demand for this service.”

Let me first agree that if Vancouver had no existing rail transit that likely the best choice would be LRT based with maybe some of the highest-demand segments using some form of more conventional automated metro (similar to the Canada Line). However in spite of being LRT based the costs for the highest-ridership segments would likely be in the same range as Skytrain or conventional metro systems.

Sure surface LRT lines can be very cheap, especially if there is an old rail ROW that can be uses, but they have capacity and speed limitations compared to grade-separated transit. Once density or capacity forces grade separation the costs of LRT vs. Skytrain are roughly comparable. For example take U-Link in Seattle which is coming in about $600 million/mile. Why so expensive? Because it is in a bored tunnel for its entire length. Even Central Link wasn’t cheap at $175 million/mile though the at-grade portions were quite a bit cheaper than either the tunneled segments or elevated portions.

In any case given that Vancouver already has the Expo and Millennium lines, Skytrain is probably the best choice for Broadway at least to Arbutus. A properly done LRT line along Broadway would need full grade separation East of Arbutus which puts the cost in the same range as a Skytrain based line, with the additional problem of requiring a transfer.

I’ll go even further and say building a Skytrain line all the way to the UBC campus is more than justified by the amount of transit demand. Certainly more so than the Evergreen Line or any extension of the Expo line further into Surrey.

Building a surface LRT on Broadway, or even worse a streetcar running in mixed traffic instead of grade-separated rapid transit would be the height of insanity offering only a marginal at best capacity improvement over the existing bus service and no speed improvement.

Certainly LRT, commuter rail, and BRT should be considered for further transit expansions in the Greater Vancouver area, especially outside the core.

Echoing David,

It’s completely ridiculous to build a Skytrain network in Surrey. Structurally it is the wrong solution. There is no existing corridor in Surrey that can provide a backbone for a transit line. The King George Highway doesn’t even support a frequent bus line currently.

The existing transit structure in Surrey is a radial pattern that is well designed (but underdeveloped) to support the densification of Surrey Centre. Working towards a dense and frequent bus network in Surrey would better serve the transit market than a single high density line.

This bus network would not satisfy demand for rapid service to Langley, but this demand does not warrant Skytrain. A rapid bus system along Hwy 1 (as proposed by the provincial government), or service along an improved Interurban corridor (as zweisystem suggests) would provide the rapid, upgradable, and lower capacity connection that is required.

This reminds me of where Toronto has found itself many times over the past 40-50 years.

Over and over again, proposals for a central DRL (downtown relief line) subway line going from Dundas West Station to Pape Station via Queen, King, or the waterfront rail lands have come up, and been pushed aside in favor of under utilized suburban subway expansion.

Instead, the subway was extended to the east and west along the Bloor-Danforth line to accomodate bus routes during the 1960s and 1970s. During the 1980s, the SRT line was built (skytrain technology connecting a mega-mall to the subway system). In the late 1990s the Sheppard line was built (literally nothing there, although in recent years the area has densified immensely. And currently, the YorkU-VCC extension to nowhere.

Built the Broadway line now while the money is available, and worry about the suburban skytrain lines later.

Why not build Bus Rapid Transit to Surrey first, then see if Surrey actually does the upzoning and densification necessary to support Skytrain or Light Rail, then upgrade from BRT to rail in the future? This method has been used around the world and would hedge against the chance that Surrey remains low-density. Seattle recently built a light metro through the low-density Rainier Valley, but it is unclear that those areas will ever accept greater density. I wish they would have tried BRT first in that corridor, then see if ridership justified LRT in the future.

The Canada line between Vancouver and Richmond replaced a frequent, limited-stop, proof-of-payment bus route. The Richmond segment had dedicated lanes, and the Vancouver segment was in mixed traffic with some curb-side bus-only lanes downtown.

Both the Broadway extension and Evergreen extensions of the Millennium line would replace similar bus routes.

The idea, I think, is to establish a bare-bones, frequent, limited-stop, proof-of-payment bus route in a corridor, and then replace it with some other technology after ridership grows and funding becomes available. Replacing the initial service with some other technology should be less of a political barrier if less money was sunk into concrete along the bus route initially. The improved service speed, frequency, and reliability of these limited-stop routes also builds ridership, helping to justify the later conversion and reduce operating subsidies on the converted route.

The potential limited-stop transit routes mainly connect the various suburban centres within Surrey and the similar centres in its neighbouring suburbs, Coquitlam, White Rock, Langley, and Maple Ridge. Because it’s not possible to string all these centres in a row, and because the density is not concentrated in any one particular corridor, there will need be a network of routes. Even if one or two of the potential routes are done as LRT, Skytrain, BRT or Tram Train, which is apparently the medium-term goal, much of the network will still be done, hopefully, as frequent limited-stop bus routes.

(Incidentally, the rail corridor that runs diagonally to the arterial grid can’t be run on training wheels so easily.)

Seattle Bus Tunnel is the classic example.

Weird that the only quasi-BRT to rail conversions I can think of — in the WORLD — are in the Pacific Northwest, isn’t it?

Has anyone actually understand in Vancouver that there is no money to continue to build with SkyTrain?

All I use Calgary’s LRT for is a statistical analysis when comparing light metro to LRT. But here is the dilemma: If one is to force bus riders to transfer to a ‘rail’ transit solution, why then build a SkyTrain at twice to four times the cost?

Sorry, but I am not dishonest and in fact (in a few weeks) will be shown what I have been saying is completely factual. It is the SkyTrain Lobby that is both dishonest and abusive and certainly hold the record for slandering and libeling anyone proposing light rail in Vancouver.

But here is the question the SkyTrain lobby refuses to answer: “Why after being on the market for over 30 years, SkyTrain has gone through at least four name changes (ICTS, ALRT, ALM, ART)and only has been sold (total 7 built) when the Federal government financed the project.”

Who builds with SkyTrain? Only seven built?

Who builds with LRT/tram? Over 500 in operation or being built around the world!

It is just not me that questions SkyTrain.

Are there any “SkyTrain lobbyists” here? I don’t see any; I’m certainly not one.

At any rate, unless you think you can build a surface rail network which is comprehensive enough to completely REPLACE a bus system, any rail system will require some transfer to bus (or to auto at a park and ride, or to a bike for that matter) to reach commuters not within walking distance of stations. Furthermore, even if you DO build a comprehensive rail system with tracks down every thoroughfare, chances are many travelers will STILL need to transfer. Unless everything within a city lies along some linear corridor, or unless you are willing to trade frequency for a complex network of routes to maximize one-seat-rides, transferring is a necessity in any large city.

Given that, the next best thing is to make transfers as pleasant as possible; and the best ways to do that are a) service which is frequent and reliable, and b) stations which are comfortable and convenient.

Malcolm, I await this mythical report of yours.

But hey! I see your trotted out another of your favourite canards….

You may be surprised to learn, “Skytrain” is a third rail system.

I would be more interested to see the numbers of new third rail systems to LRT.

1. Third rail systems are typically fully grade-separated, underground or elevated. This usually means higher construction costs.

2.If the downtown area is included and it usually is, this can make it more expensive as well.

3. Cities might balk at picking an option that has higher up front construction costs and commits them to fully grade-separated routes, but might have better long term benefits.

Dallas, for instance, billions on LRT, billions more planned, yet cutting peak hour service to save 5 or 6 Million dollars.

Lastly, I would ask, what is the goal? again….what is the goal?

I want more people using transit. I’m looking at Metro Vancouver as one entity. I see the densities. I see the potential to improve densities. When Jarrett Walker says, “double the density, more than double the demand”, that’s stating the obvious to me. I want a system that will move lots and lots and lots of people. It may only be a portion of the trip they’re taking, but it will be quick, service will be frequent and reliable and extend for 20 hours a day.


In Metro Vancouver, Skytrain in whatever form, has proved itself worthy.

I tried nudging you earlier in the summer Malcolm, win/win scenarios are better than your approach.

Your Skytrain Lobby “insult” (I guess, it’s an insult?) is strange for another reason because it implies that people are actually being paid by Bombardier to lobby other cities into building ART etc. I’ve never actually “lobbied” for other cities to build it. But it is at the core of Metro Vancouver’s regional public transportation network so it seems logical to keep it there.

Huh? Anyone who says “there is no money” is just making stuff up. Vancouver, and Canada in general, are not suffering from 90% tax rates or hyperinflation or skyrocketing interest rates. The money can be found if the project is worthwhile.

I’m not sure what you mean by claiming that SkyTrain is unpopular, but automated light metro is clearly a successful technology; SkyTrain and Docklands Light Railway are the two leading examples.

It shouldn’t be considered to be The Only Possible Thing (and London certainly doesn’t think it is), but where the potential volume of passengers is there, it makes sense, and Broadway in Vancouver appears to fit the bill. The presence of an existing system is added reason.

There’s probably a good argument for ending Skytrain expansion after the Broadway line, unless there are other corridors with high density in Vancouver which nobody has mentioned.

Zweisystem, why is there a questioning of Skytrain when it is a very successful system? It is much more efficient than most North American transportation systems such as BART. It carries as many passengers as BART with only 1/3 the trackage and smaller trains. Specifically with the LIM system that has not been adopted. But the Canada Line is a regular metro system. If it works, why go to LRT? There are collision possibilities galore. It would be absolutely stupid to do it on Broadway.

Skytrain works well in Vancouver and I wish it were adopted by other cities.

Oh, and Malcolm, you say there’s no money to build more Skytrain. Isn’t it more “honest” to say that it’s the current policy of the provincial government that’s there’s no money.

Premier Campbell can call a cabinet meeting and ask for 2.5% of the budget, around $1 Billion dollars to be redirected to Skytrain projects.

Or he can announce he’s giving Translink the means to raise up to $1 Billion a year.

Both BC and Alberta have Premiers who aren’t doing much with their power positions.

I see the SkyTrain and heavy rail metro types are hard at it. For our American friends, TransLink does not and I repeat, does not include debt servicing in their financing calculations, that’s why the government has never let BC’s Auditor General anywhere near the metro system.

There is no tax money for SkyTrain expansion and in Vancouver, there is always the strange coincidence when a new metro line opens, schools and hospitals close.

As for SkyTrain being a third rail system, well Robert, that term is not applicable any more because there are now contactless third rail systems for LRT, such as the French APS system. Bombardier also has a contactless third rail system for trams, with safe operations on city streets.

80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first takes a bus to the metro and here is no hint of modal shift from car to transit. As well, because of the huge cost of SkyTrain, transit planners are opting for more and larger highways in the region.

What I see here is a concerted effort by the SkyTrain Lobby and their ilk to libel their way to support their cause, yet not one has answered my previous question.

SkyTrain has been on the market since the late 70’s, because of poor or no sales it has had at least four name changes. All SkyTrain’s built to date have had the Canadian Federal Government financing it, yet the metro has never found a secure market.

What the SkyTrain Lobby greatly fears is that LRT is built in the region so we can have an apples to apples comparison between the two modes and we all know what the outcome will be!

What Robert says: “Oh, and Malcolm, you say there’s no money to build more Skytrain. Isn’t it more “honest” to say that it’s the current policy of the provincial government that’s there’s no money.”

“All SkyTrain’s built to date have had the Canadian Federal Government financing it, yet the metro has never found a secure market.”

That’s a clearcut lie. Skytrain is used in Bangkok, Thailand, and a handful of other cities. What’s more, driverless light metros are used around the world, such as Denmark, and built for similar costs. They also provide much higher service than the 15 minute frequencies in Portland – you never take into account the waiting time when you think of level of service.

The provincial government could have taken the funds for Gateway and built skytrain in Vancouver and Surrey at the exact same time, having both ready in five years. Or it could have built a combination of light rail and skytrain. It’s not the fault of skytrain that the provincial government chose to invest that money not in transit but in continued auto-dependence.

You are focused on a technology and that alone, whereas the rest of us are focused on getting people where they need to go. There will be light rail at some point in Vancouver, that I’m sure, and there will be streetcars, too. But Broadway is not the place to build that, because it’s too dense, too slow, forces too many transfers and is too low capacity, just like the existing bus routes.

They are rumors in Vancouver that Malcolm (Zweisystem) is a troy horse of a Skytrain lobby, whose work is to discredit LRT effort in the area.

If, it is , it is quite successful,

e.g. : “80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first takes a bus to the metro” : what is wrong with that? is it better when people drive to the LRT like in Calgary? …

“no hint of modal shift “: it was 50,000 bus rider on the canada line corridor before opening, now with the subway, they are 100,000 transit rider/day on the subway: where they come from?

Not sure where come from this “skytrain” aversion displayed by the above contributor

I do not see a problem with people starting out on a bus either. It is the reason we have Interstate Highways South of the Border, to allow people from local road networks to connect to other local road networks via a high capacity, high-speed corridor.


Fixing the Broadway corridor is imperative. It is one of the busiest bus corridors on the continent and I challenge anyone who is against Broadway upgrades to try get on the bus at Commercial and Broadway at 8am and see how fun it is.

There also seems to be a consensus that transit in Surrey sucks. It can be debated whether this is because they have been neglected or because they simply do not have the demand for high-order services.

I say, let the studies continue for both areas seeing as no decisions/routes/technologies have been finalized, but let’s work under the assumption that both sides will have to make compromises so that they each get some of the goodies. Why should one area get their ideal option and the other gets nothing? In reality, a compromise might look like this:

For the Broadway corridor: a SkyTrain expansion as far as Arbutus or MacDonald, which still serves the second largest commercial area and one of the densest neighbourhoods of Metro Vancouver. It also fills the gap between the Canada Line and Millennium Line. – a crucial link. Yes, this means that students and rich families in Point Grey will have to take the bus beyond this point or drive, but lets be realistic, the rich families are already driving and students get huge discounts already, why should they get the most expensive and quickest service across a pretty neighbourhood and beautiful park? (I say this as a student myself).

For Surrey: Create a frequent bus service network across the region with dedicated bus lanes (BRT) on key streets like King George Boulevard, Fraser Highway and 104th Ave. Give the City of Surrey a chance to prove they are serious about upzoning/densification and to show the region that they will have the demand for rail, because right now we know they don’t.

Regarding urban growth: yes Surrey is expected to grow the fastest over the next few decades. But they are planning for “business as usual growth” not dense development. Surrey City Centre may be the exception to this, but it already has SkyTrain. If Surrey can actually prove they can fill buses that offer great service, then give them rail once they have dense areas to connect. Vancouver is doing the right thing by allowing density first, it should be rewarded with investment in rail. Surrey wants a dense core for sure, but in the rest of the city they are expanding roads, getting billions in provincial highway funds, encouraging big box retail and single detached housing. Why in the world should we put rail there now to serve a demand that they MIGHT have in 40 years!?

I agree with everything Zweisystem says. Skytrain is a failure. Bad transit is when people use the bus to get on rail transit. When you have 80% of people taking the bus to skytrain, that’s bad because people can’t have direct one seat rides.

American cities are a good example for Vancouver on how to build transit, eg LRT in Houston and Phoenix. So many American cities (and European cities in conjunction to their metros) are now building LRT because American cities are good examples of transit cities.

Take a look at how low transit ridership is in Vancouver, because skytrain is useless.

The most important reason why skytrain should not be built is because no one else builds it. We should follow the Americans and build LRT. Because they know how to buid transit.

“. Bad transit is when people use the bus to get on rail transit.” Says you. I guess you’ve never been to even Montreal or Toronto? Very strange posts.


One would only hope that you would agree with yourself. Considering you and Zwei are one and the same person.

If you didn’t agree with yourself. I’d start to wonder if maybe you had a few screws loose.

Back to original topic at hand. Funny how a post about extending Broadway vs extending in Surrey. Turned into a pissing contest about LRT vs Skytrain.

For those who feel extending into the Surrey should be a higher priority. Just remember that a chain is only a strong as its weakest link. Right now that part of the chain is along Broadway.

Lets assume that we did extend into to Surrey first before Broadway. Lets also assume that the chosen technology does not matter at this time. All we are looking at is getting more people onto transit.

Now if those new people that we attracted are headed to Broadway we have not added more people to an area that can’t not handle any more people. Which is why Broadway should have a higher priority .

Paul, when someone says things like “American cities are good examples of transit cities,” you can bet he’s being sarcastic.

But yes, you’re completely right about Broadway’s being a more important priority than Surrey. Broadway already has a first-class anchor at the western end and high density for much of the route, and completes a missing link in the system.

I think that post by “Malcome” is someone having fun at Malcolm’s expense.

Although I wouldn’t be surprised if there are threads out there with Malcolm posting agreements with himself under different names. :)

Based on the threads he was involved with on this blog and on Human Transit, I’d be very surprised if he ever used sockpuppets. On this blog nobody else makes those attacks on Skytrain, and on Human Transit the only one who does is Patrick Condon, who is most definitely not the same person as Zwei. (I actually think Zwei’s arguments are somewhat more cogent – he’s at least heard of the C-Train.)

I have to admit I didn’t even read the post by Malcome. Hell I don’t even read any posts by Zwei any more.

When you read the same thing over and over from the anti-skytrain group it gets old and tiring after awhile.

@Zwei wrote: “80% of SkyTrain’s ridership first takes a bus to the metro and here is no hint of modal shift from car to transit.”

However, as reported from the news:
TransLink passenger surveys show 51 per cent of Canada Line users are using the new SkyTrain line to make the same journey they used to take by bus.

Hardie said that suggests the rest – a huge number of passengers – either hadn’t been taking the trip at all before or had been taking it by car.

On a separate report a few months ago, it was revealed about 30% customers walk to Canada Line skytrain station, plus 5% by other means (bike, drop-off, etc.)

I’m a bit late to the game, but I have something of a benefit of living in both the GVRD and the San Francisco Bay Area. It strikes me that a little bit of the multimodal chaos of the Bay Area could be useful to Vancouver, with something like a BRT or Caltrain system running through the Lower Mainland. It would have only a couple of stops in the hubs of Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley, Surrey, Burnaby and Vancouver. If the principal goal of rail development is commuter service, then why use a transit system that’s better suited for intra-urban use for the job? Skytrain should be put to good use making Vancouver more transit-oriented.

In the mean time, though, the suburban buses are crap and need reform; that’s Job 1 for the ‘burbs.

Can’t get much more multimodal – there’s already a metro system, commuter rail, buses, express buses, trolley buses and passenger ferries, as well as (all too briefly) a street car plus a decent amount of cycle lanes.

As a Vancouver resident, I disagree that the surrey extension would encourage sprawl. Rather, Surrey is expanding rapidly already, and in some areas is densifying, but overall it’s difficult for the city to densify because it’s poorly served by transit. Surrey is expected to have a larger population than Vancouver within maybe two decades, so we have to wonder what kind of city we want those people to live in: one based around transit or one based around the car and congestion.

On the other hand, admittedly, the Broadway corridor isn’t likely to attract a significant share of the region’s growth regardless, simply because it is already so largely built up, and it’s also largely very affluent and much of those neighbourhoods would be very difficult to upzone significantly. Yes, Broadway itself is densifying, but on the side streets we face difficulties.

That said, Broadway is already very dense, and already serves a market that cannot be properly served with buses, and I doubt even light rail would improve that noticably. It needs rapid transit that is grade separated, whereas Surrey doesn’t. The Broadway corridor also needs rapid transit that is connected to the existing network to serve people who want to transfer from the millenium line to the Canada line – right now there is a huge gap in the service there. Much of Surrey, however, could be served by transit that doesn’t provide one-seat service to downtown, and quite effectively.

I certainly don’t think there needs to be skytrain to Langley, and we might consider a light rail or rapid bus service in Surrey to shape growth before we have sktyrain. That option isn’t available on Broadway however, so while I think that more suburban rapid transit is absolutely important and good for the environment and the urban region, the next skytrain line ought to be broadway.

Or simply cough up the money for both. It’s available, but the willpower to spend it on transit and not roads in the gateway program is nonexistent.

Yes that would be ideal, except for the “paying of the debt” part. TransLink already spends over $170 million a year in debt repayment to pay for the past SkyTrain extensions and other improvements. That’s almost 20% of all their annual revenue. Adding to the level of total debt means decreasing the pot of money available for operating the system… unless TransLink gets some serious up-front cash, 30/10 for Vancouver is a pipe-dream.

As a Surrey resident I see 3000 to 5000 sq foot houses with 3 or 4 suites you can’t tell me were not densifing. That said what we need is
1. Build evergreen line already
2. extend skytrain to meet up with canada line.
3. let skytrain and canada line technologies fight it out which one goes to ubc (maybe well get a better price if they have to compete)
4. Bi-articulated buses (not presently legal in BC but with the stroke of a pen they could be) doing a BRT to whiterock from surrey city centre and anouther line of BRT from surrey city centre using new hov lane on freeway to langley and yes abbotsford (abbotsford would have to join translink and pay our fuel taxes)

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