UBC Broadway Debate

TransLink started their newest consultation last week.  The UBC – Broadway corridor has been studied to death over the past 20 years, but here’s our latest manifestation.

TransLink has opened up their Be Part of the Plan website to comments and feedback.  They have provided 6 alternatives showing 6 basic routing options with a mix of 3-4 four different technology options.  Check out their Alternatives page for a summary.

I’m going to focus on just 2 of the alternatives that interest me the most and the one alternative that could happen in conjunction with a rail transit line.

Rail Rapid Transit

The first alternative that I am talking about is the Rail Rapid Transit (RRT) option.  This is TransLink’s naming for the SkyTrain option.  They offer two routing options.  One option runs directly from Commercial-Broadway station along Broadway.   The other option runs from the current end of the Millennium Line at VCC-Clark station along Great Northern Way with an eventual turn towards Broadway before Main Street.  Then the option runs along Broadway and 10th Avenue the rest of the way.

Rail Rapid Transit (i.e. SkyTrain) option

The first option of starting the new UBC line from Commercial-Broadway is a complete waste of infrastructure.  I don’t see the sense of orphaning VCC-Clark as a little stub in the middle of nowhere.  It only makes complete sense to extend the Millennium Line from where it is now.  Otherwise, we wasted a lot of money on a lonely station at Vancouver Community College.  So if we go with Rail Rapid Transit, it should be Bombardier’s automated light rail SkyTrain technology.

The cost of extending SkyTrain is likely the most expensive option and will likely involve tunneling along the Broadway corridor.  So if costs become an issue, the line may have to be truncated somewhere.  The minimal extension should go to at least Broadway-City Hall station at Cambie St.  Without linking up with the Canada Line, then we will have a noticeable gap in our system (Human Transit has gone into a lot of detail about “the gap”).  Ideally, the SkyTrain would run the whole distance to UBC.  I think this makes the most sense in terms of our current infrastructure and for speed and attractiveness of the service.

Combination Alternative

I think this alternative is the most creative of the 6 alternatives.  It is a combination of SkyTrain built as mentioned above, but only to Arbutus St.  Then the rest of the way would be covered by a light rail line all the way to UBC.  The light rail line would also run from Arbutus and Broadway all the way to Main Street Station via a routing along False Creek South including connecting to Olympic Village station along the Canada Line.

LRT/SkyTrain Combination Alternative

I like this stroke of creativity, even though I don’t think it’s the best choice in the long term.  It provides some hope to having some sort of transit along False Creek South to meet up with the Olympic Village, Granville Island and Kitsilano.  Whether it is true LRT with speeds comparable to SkyTrain, or “streetcar”, which runs like a bus on rails, is yet to be determined.  It looks like the media, however, have consistently labeled the LRT alternatives as streetcar.  I think it’s a very misleading nomenclature in this case because it doesn’t fully encompass the possibilities with LRT technology.

LRT can run like a streetcar similar to what Toronto has.  Streetcars run along the street amidst traffic.  That means streetcars would be like a bus and would make frequent stops.  A higher speed LRT can be separated from traffic on its on right of way (surface, elevated, or underground).  This setup would be similar to how Seattle’s new Central Link is run for most of its route.  Or, we can even have a mix of slower streetcar service combined with faster separated right-of-way service.  This would be similar to the way Portland’s MAX runs, which is quick outside of the downtown core, but runs at streetcar speeds downtown.

So how effective this option would be depends on the speed at which they determine to run the LRT portion.  Obviously, if the LRT runs separated on the surface or underground from Arbutus to UBC, then it will be a very effective and quick service with only one transfer needed.

Best Bus Alternative

The Best Bus alternative is about beefing up bus service along routes parallel to Broadway.  Essentially the service of the 4, 44, 84, and 33 would be beefed up along 4th and 16th Avenues.  I think this is the lowest cost option, but not the most preferable to providing rapid transit service to the Broadway corridor.  It would be my hope, though, that the service of these buses would be beefed up regardless of what happens with the rail construction along Broadway.

My Choice

Amazingly to my own surprise, I would like pick SkyTrain all the way to UBC as my choice of technology.  This would be the most expensive way, but it is the fastest, most convenient, and most frequent of all the service options.  It also makes use of the existing Millennium Line up to VCC-Clark instead of wasting it.

However, if money becomes a huge obstacle, which I suspect it will, then I would like to see something like the combination alternative.  It’s hard to say how effective this alternative would be until they decide how to implement the LRT portion of the route.  Price could also be pretty high if everything will be tunneled including the LRT part.

In the past, I have been very supportive of LRT options, but I think for this corridor, SkyTrain will the best alternative from a system/regional perspective to provide the best service.  LRT has its place, but I think a rapid east-west service at frequent 2-4 minute service like SkyTrain is the best for Broadway.  LRT will definitely find its place in the rest of Metro Vancouver (Surrey and Langley) where densities won’t support SkyTrain.

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