Light Rail

Mayor’s Council Updated Regional Transportation Vision

Here’s the highlights of the Metro Vancouver Mayor’s Council vision of regional transportation. This updated vision was prompted by Premier Christy Clark’s insistence on sending transit funding issues to a referendum in the Fall 2014.



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Edmonton LRT – Downtown and University of Alberta

The downtown Edmonton LRT stations are currently all underground.  It starts at Churchill Station in the east.  Churchill is right under the Sir Winston Churchill Square which is home to festivals every weekend in the summer.  It’s also right by Edmonton City Hall.

Edmonton City Hall (2012)

The signature undulating Frank Gehry curves of the Art Gallery of Alberta (2012)

The LRT then swings straight westward underneath Jasper Avenue.  3 stations sit underneath Jasper Avenue.  From east to west the stations are Central, Bay/Enterprise Square, and Corona.  I didn’t get to spend much time visiting the downtown LRT stations.  I got a few shots in Corona Station that turned out, but the rest didn’t make the cut.  The glass chandeliers from the mezzanine hanging over the platform are what caught my eyes at Corona.

After Corona Station, the LRT then turns due south to the Alberta Legislature grounds. The grounds can be accessed by disembarking at Gradin/Government Centre.  It’s a quick walk up to the parliament buildings.  Tours of the building are always available.

Alberta Legislature reflecting pool and fountain

Stained glass in the Alberta Legislature

The train leaving south from Gradin/Government Centre soon exits the darkness of the downtown tunnels and emerges along the LRT Bridge crossing the North Saskatchewan River.  Just east of the LRT Bridge is the towering and historic High Level Bridge.  The train’s exposure to the sun is brief and it soon enters the deepest underground LRT station in the city at University Station.

View of LRT train crossing the North Saskatchewan River from the High Level Bridge Streetcar (2012)

University of Alberta crest and motto

U of A’s HUB Mall connected to University Station

For the longest time, University Station was the end of the line for the LRT.  It wasn’t until 2006 that the LRT had finally expanded further south.  The first of the stations on the Southern Extension was Health Sciences Station. I think one of the most impressive collection of health and medicine facilities surround this ground level station.

Health Sciences Station

Stollery Children’s Hospital

Beyond Health Sciences Station are 4 more stations that make up most of the Southern LRT extension.  All of which were completed between 2009 and 2010.   More to come in the next post.

Edmonton LRT – the Northeast

I was up in Edmonton back in July. I was up there for about a week or so. On days that I had to myself, I made it my goal to ride the Edmonton LRT. Previously, I never really had a chance to try it, so I was bent on doing so this time. Being a transit geek, this was only natural for me.

My plan was to get out to one end of the LRT with a DayPass and then make my way to most of the stations along the way. So I headed out to Clareview way out in the northeast of the city. This is where this transit journey begins.

190 Eaux Claires bus at the transit exchange surrounding Clareview Station

LRT train leaving Clareview Station

A very happy park n’ ride bicycle at Clareview Station

There was not much within walking distance out at Clareview Station.  There were two transit exchanges on either side of the station.  Then there was the large park and ride parking lots.  Beyond those were some 4-5 storey apartment buildings.  Oh and a giant overpass just south of the station which offers a tiny view of the downtown skyline.  However, it is quiet out this way if you are looking for that.

The tracks out by Belvedere Station

Edmonton LRT Crossing Arm

train leaving Belvedere Station

The biggest landmark around Belvedere Station would be the Century Casino.  There are the standard bus exchange and park and ride parking lots around the station.  On nearby Fort Road there are a few businesses and a collection of detached single family homes.  Most are more accessible by car than by walking from the station.

Coliseum Station

Rexall Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers

This is where the northeast section of the Edmonton LRT gets more interesting and meaningful to me.  Welcome to Coliseum Station and the surrounding Northlands. Northlands is the exhibition grounds for K Days, formerly known as Klondike Days.  Northlands is also home to Rexall Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers.  I was once a giant Oilers fan as a young child.  They were Stanley Cup champions in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1990.  Oh the heady Oilers dynasty days.  Good memories.

Commonwealth Stadium electronic billboard – inviting the BC Lions to play

Edmonton Eskimos advert at Stadium Station

Then the last of the northeast stations before heading into downtown Edmonton is Stadium Station.  The station takes its namesake from the Commonwealth Stadium next door.  Edmonton hosted the Commonwealth Games back in 1978.  The stadium is now home to Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Edmonton Eskimos brandishing their green and gold trim.  This is also where I decided to take a lunch break at a nearby McDonald’s.  I thought I’d let you know just in case you’re ever in this part of town looking for lunch.

James: TTC teeters on the brink of expansion –

James: TTC teeters on the brink of expansion –

St. Clair West - southbound

It pains me to see what has happened in Toronto.  In the previous municipal government, there was the Transit City plan, which would have spread light rail across the city proper.  There would have been 8 light rail lines, running on surface, that would have covered most of Toronto.

Now with the new Rob Ford administration in charge of Toronto, the light rail plans have been shelved for fewer lines with a higher cost per line. Just read some of the comments from Royson James article in The Toronto Star.

James points out some of the glaring deficiencies of the new transit plans:

They are pursing a subway along Sheppard — only because the new mayor has ordered them to; and they’ve relented, despite the better judgment and wishes of transit staff. Meanwhile, a fully-funded light rail line along Sheppard has been shelved.

The lone transit project running through the city’s poor northwest region along Finch Ave., through priority neighbourhoods Branson, Jane-Finch and Rexdale, has been mothballed to pay for the Sheppard subway dream and the expanded and more expensive vision on Eglinton.

David Gunn, a former TTC boss, says the following:

Stations on the Spadina line extension are unnecessarily expensive, he says. Metrolinx’s plan for a the Eglinton light rail subway is “crazy” and “insane” as it uses a different track gauge than the rest of the TTC, and uses a car that is twice as costly as a subway but with less capacity.

Then there’s the Presto debit card issue:

Transit users don’t know what to believe on basic transit matters. A year ago, the former regime was hell bent on avoiding the province’s Presto debit card fare payment system rolled out with other transit bodies across the GTA. Now, the Ford backers are in bed with Presto. Was former chair Adam Giambrone correct in his claims Presto was not flexible enough and will doom the TTC to a technology other transit bodies are moving away from? The customer does not know whom to trust.

Oh Toronto.  How I feel for your transit woes.

Major Edmonton LRT expansion in the works

Future Edmonton LRT plans

It’s been a while since I took a look at what’s going on in Edmonton. I was reading Jarett Walker’s recent post on “The Strasbourg of the Prairies.” Lo and behold, Edmonton was the one being labelled as Strasbourg? “Dead”-monton? Actually, Edmonton isn’t that bad. You just have to know what you’re looking for and what you want to do when you’re in Edmonton. Many of my early years were spent in the Alberta capital.

From the looks of the new Edmonton LRT plan, things look very promising. After being a North American pioneer in LRT, transit developments have been comparable to continental drift in the past 30 years. The original line from downtown to the northeast had barely been added to for a couple decades. Then the southern LRT extension to Century Park has finally been completed.

Now there are some very big plans in the works. This plan signals a big change of thinking in oil rich Alberta. The planned lines could possibly leapfrog Edmonton past Calgary in terms of rail service.

When I last spent significant time in Edmonton, I stayed in the far south of the city and had to commute to the area around West Edmonton Mall. At the time, I looked at what it would take to bus the whole trip. It was a nasty and long 1.5 hour trip in both directions involving a daily trip to the University of Alberta to transfer. I was not willing to give up 3 hours of my day everyday when the drive ranged from 15-25 minutes in each direction along the Whitemud Freeway.

If Edmonton’s full LRT plan comes to fruition, then my former commute could be done in a more reasonable time via transit. It looks promising. It will be worth a short trip to Wild Rose Country if both Calgary and Edmonton can fulfill their LRT aspirations.

LRT in Waterloo-Kitchener – growing region


PM announces improvements for tri-cities commuters – Prime Minister of Canada.

It’s not everyday that I take my blog fodder straight from the Prime Minister’s office.  Most of the time, I would say I disagree with most of what our current Prime Minister does.  This one of the few projects that I can say that the Federal Tories have gotten right.

Unfortunately, the press release from the PMO is short on details.  The project website’s press release is a little more forthcoming with numbers.

The Government of Canada will provide one-third of eligible costs, up to $265 million to support the construction of the Region’s rapid transit project. Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to Waterloo Region today to make the announcement.

In light of the Federal government’s funding commitment today and the Province of Ontario ’s commitment of $300 million, the Region can now move forward with the planning of the project’s scope, design details, cost and Regional funding options.

This kind of funding structure looks consistent with what we deal with here in BC when trying to get our projects moving. It’s the every level of government pay one-third for a transit project formula.

It’s exciting to see another Canadian region get rapid transit.  So Montreal and Toronto have had their subway systems for quite some time now.  Then Edmonton and Calgary both built LRT.  Vancouver got SkyTrain in 85/86.  Ottawa has their O-Train + Busway combo (now being converted to LRT).  So add Kitchener-Waterloo to the big leagues of Canadian transit.

With a regional population just around 500,000, it is definitely not a heavyweight in terms of population compared to all the other cities.  Even Mississauga has more people than the Waterloo region.  However, the Waterloo region is definitely growing in importance on the Canadian landscape.  The University of Waterloo has been a fixture in Waterloo for many, many years and is considered one of the top universities in the country.  I knew them first as the creators of the Canadian Mathematics Contests for Grades 8 – 12.  And I’m sure everyone knows somebody with a Blackberry.  Research In Motion hails from the Waterloo region and has taken advantage of the university population of the area.  Even Google has set up an office in town.  So no wonder even Stephen Harper has jumped on the transit bandwagon for the Waterloo region.

Route Map December 2009

Waterloo LRT map

The green portion is Phase 1 of the planned LRT.  It starts in the northern part of Waterloo at Conestoga Mall and makes it way southeast past the University of Waterloo, Uptown Waterloo, Downtown Kitchener, and ends at Fairview Mall.  Then a BRT line continues from Fairview Mall to serve the eastern parts of Kitchener and the city of Cambridge.  This latter BRT segment may be turned into LRT at a later time.

Now that funding is in place, chances of construction starting in 2012 as advertised is pretty good.  I would say that it is more likely that the Waterloo region LRT will be finished before the Evergreen Line gets its finances in order.  Although maybe Stephen Harper will feel more giving with rumours of a federal election in the air.

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.

Portland’s MAX Green Line opens

Riders pack MAX Green Line on first day of service –

Here’s some exciting transit news out of Portland.  The new MAX Green Line is now open for service between Portland State University at the southern edge of downtown Portland all the way to Clackamas Town Centre to the east and south of Portland.  That brings Portland’s light rail MAX system to a total of 4 lines – the Blue Line from Beaverton to Gresham, the Red Line from Beaverton to the airport, the Yellow Line from downtown to the Expo Center, and now the Green Line.

2009 has been the year of the transit project in the Pacific Northwest.  Earlier this year, Seattle opened their first light rail transit line, The Link, from downtown to almost Sea-Tac.  Vancouver, BC opened up the Canada Line from downtown to Richmond and the airport in August.  Now, the Green Line has added more rail transit options to the Pacific Northwest.  In addition to these completed transit projects, Amtrak was finally able to start a second Cascades train run from Vancouver, BC to Eugene, OR.

Technically now, if you wanted to go all train from Vancouver to Portland, you can.  And you don’t even need to rent a car when you arrive 🙂

Below is an official video from Portland’s TriMet site posted on YouTube.

You can also read more about the Green Line at TriMet’s own Green Line page.

1982 on building SkyTrain (aka ALRT)

VIA Architecture: The case to abort LRT, October 21 1982.

Old Province article on ALRT (now SkyTrain)

What a great post about the problems that the GVRD faced when SkyTrain was first planned and built.  Somebody at VIA Architecture dug up this beauty of an article.

Huge parallels between then and now.  The lack of provincial government funding is present yesterday as it is today.  Even though they were the ones who decreed what the technology would be, they aren’t willing to put their money behind their choices.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  To which wise person can I credit that saying?

Tunnel two-step: buses & trains | Seattle Times

Tunnel two-step: buses & trains | Seattle Times Newspaper.

I definitely know this until reading this article.  Seattle’s bus tunnel will now be a train and bus tunnel.  That just sort of blows my mind.  Buses and trains will have to line up for the same station platforms.  This will be very interesting to see work.

The idea is not totally new for light rail since light rail is often used as surface rail integrated with car traffic.  So I guess a tunnel that is shared by trains and buses is not that far-fetched.  Photos below are courtesy of the Seattle Times.

Link train in Seattle downtown tunnel