Why Broadway subway? Because nothing else does the job for riders, businesses, the regional economy

Vancouver city engineers rolled out compelling arguments today in support of their recommendation for a Broadway subway in a bored tunnel to provide rapid transit along the Broadway Corridor to UBC.

(The report and a summary are on Mayor Gregor Robertson’s site here.)

This is not a Vancouver against Surrey debate, emphasized Jerry Dobrovolny, the city’s chief transportation engineer. He had Paul Lee, head of Surrey’s rapid transit project, sitting in the gallery.

In fact, both Vancouver and Surrey investments are vital to the region’s long-term transportation needs. The Vancouver section delivers a number of key gains including:

  • closing a major gap in the region’s network to the Broadway Corridor, home of the city’s second largest business district, and ultimately to UBC, where an equal number of business, resident and student trips are generated daily;
  • providing service to an area where half the daily trips originate elsewhere in the region rather than locally, moving people to school and work;
  • providing long-needed service to an area where thousands of passengers are passed up daily and the disproportionate number of car trips suggests room to make a big shift to transit if capacity is available.

Considering that advanced rapid transit technology like Skytrain or the Canada Line has the lowest operating costs and lowest cost of acquisition of new riders of any technology, a bored tunnel subway is a compelling option.

Why not light rail, like the streetcar Vancouver brought in for a pilot project during the 2010 Winter Olympic games? Dobrovolny emphasized that LRT is an excellent option in many locations, but not here. His reasons included:

  • the massive disruption imposed long-term by an LRT alignment, especially west of Arbutus, where modern tram stations will require elimination of 90 percent of left turn options and an equal share of parking;
  • the complete overhaul of the street required from building face to building face, to narrow sidewalks and reconstruct the street, including significant tree removal; and
  • increased traffic on side streets.

These scenarios assume a dedicated right of way to maintain service times, along with signalized intersections. Despite these efforts, peak capacities might not be much greater than the current rapid bus system.

Such a system would carry its capacity on its first day of service, Dobrovolny said.

Existing residential and commercial densities are comparable, at five key station locations, to those found at the densest transit areas in the region, said Brian Jackson, the city’s general manager of planning, and growth is occurring faster than expected.

This further backstops the preference for a more robust rapid transit investment.

In fact, rapid transit on this corridor must occur for the city, the region and the province to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets.

For travellers in much of the region, transit will not be viable option for a long time to come. Investment here will help the region achieve its sustainability goals without imposing impossible demands on car-friendly communities outside the regional core.

Riders, business and the regional economy — all are better off with the bored tunnel option. How fast will it be built and how will it be financed?

Those are critical issues, but today’s presentation answered many of the questions about Vancouver’s preference for a Broadway subway.