How Guangzhou, Vancouver’s sister city, added 170 km of rapid transit in six years

It was one of those “you’ve got to be kidding” moments when you’re sure something has been lost in translation: a guide on Guangzhou’s brand new 22-kilometre rapid transit line in 2005 solemnly declaring that a further 220 kilometres of underground rapid transit would be completed by 2010.

Wasn’t there an extra zero there?

No. In China, where community consultation is an empty category and money is plentiful, things move quickly.

The lines were done by 2010 and Guangzhou keeps on building. Here in Metro, meanwhile, we’ve finally just greenlighted another 11 kilometres on the Evergreen Line, which won’t roll for another four years at the earliest.

I was staffing Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell on a tour of Guangzhou’s gleaming  German-built underground system. Vancouver’s sister city was vaulting, along with the rest of the country, from a city of bicycles in the 1980s to an automobile gridlock zone in the 1990s and then a rapid transit city 10 years later.

In 2005, Vancouver had just ground out the decision to complete the Canada Line, a fractious regional debate that itself took many years. Still to come: a decision on new funding sources for Translink, without which some rrapid transit relief for riders on the Broadway Corridor is impossible.