Vancouver City Councillor

With 99 B-Line at capacity, Broadway rapid transit debate picking up speed

One key take-away from the growing debate triggered by the Broadway Corridor discussion at council last week: no one is arguing that the straining bus system, already the busiest route in North America, can solve the problem. (Thanks to Gordon Price for posting many expert views, including commentary by Jarrett Walker.)

That leaves rail. But what kind of rail? A streetcar, as advocated by Dr. Patrick Condon, that ambles down Broadway supporting walking trips and retail? An LRT, much longer and moving in a dedicated track, that holds down costs but does less for neighbourhoods, may harm business and does little to reduce travel time?

Or rail rapid transit, as now proposed by city engineers, with highest purchase costs and an underground tunnel,  but lowest operating costs, best capacity and shortest trip time?

Public opinion seems to have ruled out more bus expansion. (This may be some consolation to the 2,000 riders who are passed up each morning at Commercial and Broadway.)

It will be interesting to see how much support builds around a cheaper, but equally slow and potentially crowded streetcar option. Then there’s the LRT and the various options Translink is considering that combine LRT and rapid rail in a tunnel.

Finally, there’s the very real and important debate — which is not happening at all in the Vancouver-centric media — about proposed LRT in transit-starved Surrey. Is LRT too much for a city that lacks even rapid bus service on key routes?

In my view, the issue of technology — bus, streetcar, LRT, ALRT, heavy rail — cannot be separated from current and future needs. It would be very wasteful indeed to spend billions on any technology that can’t reduce travel time, greenhouse gas emissions and support future development.