Above video: the Johnston Heights senior choir performs for students
At Johnston Heights Secondary in Surrey, where I completed my grade 12 education early last year, the ongoing disputes between teachers and the government have caused the cancellation of at least one major school event, one of which I was looking forward to attending: the year-end music (band and choir) concert.
The J.H. Music Program is one of the best in the city, having participated in numerous major provincial events such as MusicFest in Ottawa, 2010 (earning the silver award for both band and choir), several consecutive Kiwanis Music Festivals, and the Envision Jazz Festival in Surrey. As an alumni of this program and a member of both the senior wind ensemble and jazz band, I cannot stress enough how important the year-end concert is in the spirit of learning and school culture.
The year-end concert is a celebration of music and school culture, and it represents the culmination of a year’s worth of practicing, learning, dedication and team-building. It attracts other students, parents, and alumni who were in the music program to witness the music-making talents of a new generation of students who participate in the Grade 8, 9 and 10-12 senior bands; the grade 8, 9-10 junior and 11-12 senior choir; the chamber choir; the string ensembe; and the intermediate and senior jazz bands. The latter four are courses that are held outside of the school time and are the culmination of willful attendance, participation and commitment from both the teachers and the students who are involved.
With the school inaccessible outside of normal school hours (which is also preventing students from using the bandroom facilities for practice), this event has been put off indefinitely for the year 2014. It may be the first year in several consecutive years that the school music program did not hold a year-end concert, and I am sad to see that my peers aren’t going to be able to celebrate their hard work and dedication to music.
This is just one of the many inconveniences students have to face because of the ongoing conflict between teachers and the government. Not just now, but in the past several years of deteriorating school conditions.
At the North Surrey Secondary school here in Surrey, too many students and an overcrowded school building have forced the school to adopt anawkward five-block schedule [CLICK HERE]. NSSS staggers students across the 5 blocks, so that older students study for the first four and younger ones for the last four (or combinations with study blocks).
I have often – in letters to the editor, and in other posts on this blog – discussed the realities being faced by students not just in the current conflict but on a year-by-year basis. Not far from Johnston Heights Secondary and at North Surrey Secondary, 5-block schedules are needing to be adopted to deal with increased overcrowding, lack of facilities, and growth in the community.
In the same manner as North Surrey, many schools have been forced to make serious, critical cuts to deal with cut funding levels and increased teacher stress. I’m not sure if North Surrey still requires a 5-block schedule this year, but I was hearing about it from numerous close friends when I was in high school – and I was also hearing about the troubles this schedule gave them – troubles in scheduling conflicts and stress.
One of the dangerous criticisms I’m hearing in the current debate is how kids are being used as “bargaining chips”, resulting in the implication that the teachers fighting their battle over class sizes and competition and pay levels are careless.
However, critics also forget that many teachers have kids too – and these kids are as much participants in the pubic education program as the ones who are being taught. Many of the teachers I personally knew were parents of one or more kids, and a few of them gave birth to new kin while I was in my high school years. In the short term, these kids will theoretically suffer as much from their parents’ course of actions as the rest of the students participating in this school system, and I think it shows that what the teachers are fighting for is more than just their own living conditions and demands. I think it is evident that it is also about good learning conditions for their kids and ours.
I think I’ve pretty much seen it all: unfound claims on SkyTrain’s financial burden, claims that entire tram networks could be built at the same cost as a SkyTrain extension (ignoring the impracticalities of trying to conduct such a massive replacement of buses without ever improving transit speed), and other alternate light-rail transit (LRT) proposals that just don’t make any practical sense.
SkyTrain is constantly being challenged, and this contention has had a phenomenal effect in getting people involved with transit planning matters. Some of the biggest names we know in Metro Vancouver transit issues discussions – the ones you might hear about in newspapers; examples include: Paul Hillsdon, Nathan Pachal, Jordan Bateman, John Buker – are or at one point have been motivated by a criticism of SkyTrain rapid transit.
If there were no one to respond to these criticisms and unearth the problems with such a viewpoint – as I am doing so now – the quality of transit planning in Metro Vanouver would deteriorate to the point where perhaps no disagreement would be had on transit projects; and consequently, little progress would be made in changing communities and peoples’ lives for the better.
Denying the Benefits
SkyTrain critics deny SkyTrain’s potential as a high-quality rapid transit system. They don’t even want to see it acknowledged that SkyTrain generates billions of dollars in transportation, developmental and economic benefits. They clutter our blog-feeds, newsletter sections and comments with endlessly varied suggestions to perpetuate the belief that SkyTrain simply isn’t the best option for investment.
They’re often proponents of Light Rail Transit (LRT), an alternative option that could allow rail transit to be built in a somewhat more flexible manner (including at-grade and on-street), who are quick to bring forward the positives of community-building, lower capital cost and less obtrusive (at-grade) infrastructure as upsides when compared to SkyTrain.
Can LRT be an appropriate solution in the transit planning sense? Absolutely. That should be quite obvious: there’s a reason why light rail investments are so popular around the world, with hundreds of proposals to reference at any time. However, the versatility of LRT should not be resulting in the dismissal of SkyTrain as another great – and often better – solution to addressing transportation problems, especially here in Metro Vancouver.
And yet, the critics are relentless in their criticisms. . Worse – they’re ridiculing and, apparently, finding reasons to shame our system and the way we’ve built it. These are the worst kind – the kind that try to deny altogether that building SkyTrain has provided Metro Vancouver with any benefits – and the ones who should arguably be disallowed from participating in public policy debacles, because they seem to have no understanding of what has been happening here in Vancouver for the past 30 years.
Sample contentions by SkyTrain critics that are incorrect
1. SkyTrain hasn’t gotten people out of their cars.
TransLink’s trip diary data is a difficulty: there is little bearing that can be had about the accuracy of the measurements (this is a sample size) and the types of commutes that were recorded (i.e. are they commutes to work, shopping, and at what time of day/day), but nevertheless, it is a valid source. It’s used by TransLink and Metro Vancouver in regional planning matters, and is and often utilized by SkyTrain critics. As SkyTrain critics have been quick to point out, the 2011 value is only 3% higher than the valule recorded in 1994 – the year SkyTrain was expanded across the Fraser River and into Surrey. It’s tempting, when you look at this, to think that SkyTrain has failed us in serving its original purpose.
The problem with these numbers is that they really don’t tell the whole story.
The trip diary draws data from 22,000 households in the region, and is meant to take a “snapshot” of a day in Metro Vancouver transportation. It is a partial survey – it’s not the same as the much more accurate ‘journey-to-work mode-share’ numbers collected by Stats Canada from every household, which show that transit mode share in Metro Vancouver is a bit higher than that collected in the Trip Diary and – together with walking and cycling – has grown significantly since 1996.
Closer studies have suggested that the biggest impact in transit modal shift is coming from SkyTrain and SkyTrain expansion. The City of Vancouver has also collected more specific numbers [Vancouver Transportation Plan Update – CLICK HERE] that not only show a big increase in transit ridership from outside of the city (i.e. connected by SkyTrain) – but also that the amount of motor vehicle trips actually declined for the past decade, despite population growth.
An even closer 2009 study [Niko Juevic SFU study – LINK HERE]that more closely looked at households within both 400m and 1500m radii of Expo and Millennium SkyTrain stations showed even more significant changes – outpacing transit modal shift across the region. The opening of the Millennium Line SkyTrain had a phenomenal effect on the surrounding area: within a 1500m radius of each station, transit mode-share had nearly doubled 4 years after the line opened – growing at more than 4x the regional average rate.
I compiled a summary of these numbers in the graphic below:
2. 80% of SkyTrain riders are recycled bus riders
While I’ve never really been able to track a definitive source for this statistic (I have seriously only ever heard it from one SkyTrain critic group), I see it repeated in discussion circles and used as justification that SkyTrain is weak at attracting ridership. SkyTrain critics have repeated this number to contend that the majority of riders on the SkyTrain were already taking transit before the line was built, claiming that this is “double the industry standard” – and were extremely vocal in certain situations where SkyTrain expansion replaced one or mutliple bus routes, especially in the case of the Canada Line (which replaced express segments for multiple south-of-Fraser bus routes heading into Vancouver).
Firsty, I have never understood why such a vague 80% number is being portrayed as a weakness. In the City of Calgary, a single centralized high-density core and the most expensive downtown parking in North America combine with free park-and-ride facilities along Light Rail Transit lines to give the Calgary C-Train the majority of its nearly 300,000 daily boardings. The Calgary C-Train is a versatile system and many of its riders have chosen to use transit, but not for their entire commute – the first segment of their trips is more often being done by car than by bus, walk or bike.
If the majority of SkyTrain riders are taking other transit to get there first, then that is at least as much a strength as much as it is a weakness (and, very likely, very much more a strength) – because this kind of transit commute coherency is simply not being replicated by other rail transit systems.
Secondly, this claim – at least in the case of the Canada Line – certainly doesn’t hold up to collected ridership numbers.
Passenger measurements by Canada Line operator ProTransBC collected by the Richmond Review were showing that Canada Line ridership in its first few weeks averaged 77,000 – meaning over 55% of today’s ridership numbers were already on board the Canada Line before September 7th, 2009 – when the 98 B-Line and 490-series express routes were terminated, and the many South-of-Fraser express buses (351, 601, etc) were terminated at Bridgeport rather than continuing to downtown Vancouver.
These bus routes make up only a small percent of the Canada Line’s total ridership – the vast majority were choosing to ride the Canada Line before any of these buses were transferred to terminate at Bridgeport or eliminated. A rider survey conducted in 2011 indicated that 40% of those surveyed were new to the system – that being, they previously drove and did not take transit at all for that commute – and that riders’ biggest vaues for the system were speed, frequency and reliabillity.
With the cancellation of the 98 B-Line and associated peak-hour express routes, it’s true that a number of the Canada Line’s passengers were riders of the previous bus-only system; however, this is something that needs to be expected from all rapid transit projects regardless of technology and alignment. Each and every SkyTrain line, C-Train Line, Portland MAX line, etc. replaced a previous bus service and took in riders from that bus service.
Claims like this also downpay the benefits being provided to any previous bus riders, whose faster commutes are fostering increased productivity, lower stress levels and better comfort. For most of the first month of operation, the 98 B-Line continued its operations alongside the new Canada Line until its termination on September 7th. Riders had the option of continuing to ride the 98 or take the new SkyTrain – and as evidenced by ridership numbers that averaged more than double what the 98 B-Line carried before the new SkyTrain opened, the majority of 98 riders were opting for the faster ride.
The Canada Line, which was introduced just 4 years ago, is already a Vancouver icon; a part of this city’s fabric of life. It’s hard to believe that less than 5 years ago, the link between downtown Vancouver and Richmond was a miserable bus trip that took as long as the SkyTrain’s Expo Line took to travel nearly twice the distance to Surrey. As a daily rider of the Canada Line to reach Kwantlen University in Richmond (and again later in the day to go from there to work downtown), the Canada Line’s benefits are evident to me in person. I don’t have to worry about potential traffic issues heading into Vancouver that can make buses (or even light rail trains) late – and neither do the 121,999 others who ride with me each and every day.
Riders, stakeholders and decision makers have been clamouring to build something similar and soon under Broadway between UBC and Commercial-Broadway Station. Support has been near unanimous, because previous experience with SkyTrain has shown us that we can be confident about the expanding the system.
In walks of transit planning and provision, I have always thought that SkyTrain isn’t getting enough credit for what it does. SkyTrain has been part of why Metro Vancouver has lead North American cities in transit ridership. We rank third in transit trips per person per year, behind only New York and Toronto. We’re ahead of Montreal, Boston, and Washington, D.C. – cities with full-size metro systems – and far ahead of cities with only LRT systems. This has grown from 4th in 2006.
We are achieving great things because we approved the construction and expansion of the SkyTrain system. Which is why making sure SkyTrain critics who mess up the facts do not get a grip on transit-planning decision makers is my top priority for this year.
Critics of SkyTrain as a technology and rapid transit option are everywhere. Largely motivated by a fear of all megaprojects with high capital costs, SkyTrain critics are vocal, active, and will stop at nothing to act on this fear. They deny the productivity and developmental benefits that the system has given our region, and they refuse the potential that SkyTrain has to continue to be useful to our region if extended further.
With a $3 billion capital cost, it’s no surprise that numerous SkyTrain critics, fearing the investment cost, have scrambled to promote or find alternatives. “Just another SkyTrain critic” was my first response when I first read about an “alternate proposal” for a Light Rail Transit (LRT) line on 16th over a Broadway subway crafted together by Adam Fitch – a planning technician for the Thompson Nicola Regional District – just over 1 year ago when it was featured suddenly in the Vancouver Sun.
But, the response seemed to be triggered by an absolutely valid series of concerns over the impact on businesses on Central and West Broadway if an at-grade LRT were to be built on Broadway itself – including the loss of parking, impacts to parallel cycling routes, and expropriation at a few properties (particularly at Broadway and Kingsway/Main) where it would indeed be necessary. I suspected that Fitch crafted the idea to counter the imminent disappearance of LRT consideration from public policy in Vancouver.
…The most appropriate solution, with due consideration for costs, regional transit priorities (i.e. Surrey, etc.) and time frame (10 years from now to build the subway at a minimum) is to build a mainly street-level light rail along the CPR corridor, the Arbutus corridor, and West 16th Avenue to UBC. Compare this route with a Broadway subway on cost, construction time and capacity, and it prevails.[READ MORE]
Over the years, this idea continued to circulate in the local discussion scene. It has been featured on a number of regional transit issues outlets, including: Price Tags, Stephen Rees, Rail for the Valley (obviously) and – most notably, but not surprisingly given the paper’s perpetual pro-LRT bias – the Georgia Straight newspaper, in a feature with an intimidating headline that immediately implies that the alternative is “better” – or at least, as reviewed by editor Stephen Hui.
Critics of the planned Broadway SkyTrain wasted no time backing this idea, calling it the next big thing, triumphing it as a “realistic priority” and denouncing the SkyTrain extension proposal as “another megaproject” in the comments for this article.
I find it unfortunate that these people were given this opportunity to further this cause, because it honestly surprises me that the idea – despite the objections from many others aside from myself – has not already died. The fact of the matter that some editors at the Georgia Straight (among others) haven’t seen is that the 16th Ave LRT and B-Line combo idea is a poor, discredited and badly planned idea from someone who doesn’t have a clue how this city works.
A 16th Ave LRT just doesn’t work
I contend that advocating for this idea is a collosal waste of time and money for three simple reasons:
No benefits to Central Broadway riders
Few, if any, benefits to UBC students
Doubling of annual operating debt
Let’s put it into context:
Take a look at this stylized map showing both the routings for the planned Broadway SkyTrain extension and Adam Fitch’s LRT proposal. Notice how the planned Broadway SkyTrain services all of the busy business and activity districts on Broadway, but the LRT misses them – making the only possible benefactors the rider from either existing SkyTrain Lines, Broadway & Arbutus, and residents along the 16th Avenue corridor.
What this show is that there are clearly no benefits to Central Broadway riders – which actually make up a significant majority of the current 99 B-Line’s ridership, as opposed to UBC – and the West Broadway business district is missed as well. That’s millions of dollars in economic potential that could be unlocked, but that isn’t happening under Fitch’s plan. In what would quite possibly be the least equitable planning move in Metro Vancouver transportation planning history, billions of dollars would be spent to benefit only a small portion of the tens of thousands who are actually facing the problems that riders are facing on the Broadway corridor daily.
As many, the Adam’s proposal apparently assumes that the main demand is on UBC. It is worth to mention that the numbers ran by Translink suggests that the highest demand is on the central Broadway portion (Voony’s Blog)
It was one of the shortfalls I mentioned in my original letter to the sun responding to the concept. The City of Vancouver’s report on Broadway rapid transit finds that the Central Broadway area generates at least as many trips as UBC, if not more.
It is extremely important to bring any rapid transit to where the anchors and trip generators actually are – both at the ends and along the route itself. That’s why the Canada Line uses the Cambie Street corridor, as opposed to either Granville or Arbutus Streets – because it provides strategic connections to busy anchors like Central Broadway, City Hall, various major hospitals, Queen Elizabeth Park, and Oakridge Mall along the way.
The indirectness of the proposal also has some other consequences: the proposal is 2.3km longer than any route going down Broadway, an additional distance that not only adds to the proposal’s capital costs – it brings up the travel times as well.
On top of the longer line distance, while parts of the line will be capable of 80-90km/h operation like SkyTrain – supported by crossing gates and some tunnelling – there are several portions of the line that will need to be limited to 50-60km/h speed limits – further dampening the supposed speed benefit:
As a result of the longer distance combined with the speed restrictions, the proposal fails to offer a significant benefit to the one possible travel crowd that could seriously benefit: the UBC traveller; which brings me to my second contention: the Fitch proposal offers few, if any, benefits to UBC students.
With the longer route and deferred connections, it’s reasonable to think that many riders – especially in non-congested off-peak hours, when the 99 B-Line trip takes as little as 30-minutes end-to-end – will opt to continue using the 99 B-Line on Broadway.
This especially applies for UBC students who live on campus, where the 99 is an important connection to businesses in Point Grey/Sasamat, West Broadway and Central Broadway. Fitch’s proposed LRT links fewer business centres, with the first major business cluster from UBC being reached when the line hits Dunbar – a full 6km away, twice as far as Sasamat. Meaning, for items and needs like groceries, doctor’s appointments and other outings, UBC students likely won’t be utilizing the billions of dollars spent on Fitch’s LRT – they’ll be continuing to use the 99 B-Line.
Which brings me to the third reason why Fitch’s LRT proposal is an extremely bad idea: with the required retention of the 99 B-Line, the Fitch LRT proposal doubles the annual operating debt of providing Broadway-UBC corridor transit. By not replacing the 99 B-Line, the operating cost of providing UBC-Broadway corridor transit can only increase.
Versus the current (“business-as-usual”) setup that includes the 99 B-Line, the planned Broadway SkyTrain is expected to save $7 million incrementally in annual operating costs (see: design guide). With estimates already pitting the operating cost of a separate LRT on Broadway itself at over $10 million annually by 2041 (in 2011 dollars), the operating debt with the Fitch LRT simply doubles over the existing setup.
The bigger picture
I could go so far as to say that the Fitch LRT proposal hurts the entire region, because it is really that short-sighted in terms of practical thinking.
As aforementioned, the planned driverless SkyTrain extension is expected to save $7 million in annual operating costs – savings that could be redirected to improving transit around the region. With over 54,000 new transit trips daily attracted around the region – more than double other studied options, including any theoretical LRT on Broadway itself – the planned Broadway SkyTrain generates new fare revenue. That would have also been a serious contributor to expanded transit around the region.
The elimination of the 99 B-Line also means bus services improve throughout the region – because the 99 B-Line consumes more than half of TransLink’s articulated diesel bus fleet. These buses could be redirected to other busy routes in the region to address growing transit demands.
With the Fitch LRT proposal, none of these improvements are able to materialize.
Such bus service redirection can also take from the numerous other high-frequency bus routes that connect to UBC from different parts of the city, usually during peak hour periods. These are the:
43 Joyce Station – via 41st Ave and Oakridge
44 Downtown – via 4th Ave
84 VCC-Clark Station (ALL-DAY) via 4th Ave, Olympic Village and Great Northern Way
480 Bridgeport Station (ALL-DAY Weekdays) – via Kerrisdale and Marpole
The planned Broadway SkyTrain is the only option that offers the significant travel time benefits (cutting travel time between Commercial-Broadway and UBC in half, to 19 minutes!) that could enable the truncation of some of these routes to save even more money annually. For example: the 44 duplicates the 84, and is likely to be eliminated in favour of the faster connections downtown riders will get by utilizing the Broadway Subway with connecting routes and the Canada Line. The 480 could also be eliminated, perhaps following my suggestion. However, with the incremental operating cost savings, bus service on even these routes could theoretically be increased without costing more than the transit on the Broadway-UBC corridor today.
By denying these benefits and choosing an alternative simply because it offers the prospect of less initial capital cost, the region loses out on better transit both on Broadway itself and elsewhere.
Responding to the Straight over the mention of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson being on record for supporting the planned Broadway SkyTrain extension, Fitch rather arrogantly proclaimed in the opening of the recent article on his proposal:
“He’s wrong on probably four or five fronts.”
But, as an upvoted commenter pointed out, he didn’t list a single one. Which I think highlights another problem with critics who fear studied and decided megaprojects and act quickly to try and debase them: they don’t do a good job at it. In this case that doesn’t help, because I think that the City of Vancouver has done an excellent job at laying down the benefits and the business case of a Broadway SkyTrain extension – probably much to the dismay of many critics who have already quit.
As for Adam Fitch’s 16th Ave LRT proposal, it’s evident that not only does it have no case – it really has no argument either.
Author’s note: Thanks for reading this far! I encourage you to subscribe to my blog by clicking the “follow” button on the left sidebar! As I previously mentioned, I will be detailing why there is really no alternative to the Broadway subway – how its business case is proven, and why any alternatives just do not work – in a follow-up article.
As a Burnaby resident and transit user for the past 8 months, I must admit that I, perhaps among others, have been bothered by the lack of structure in Burnaby’s bus transit network.
It’s evident if you ever have a look at a map of Vancouver’s transit system and Burnaby’s transit system. Notice how Vanouver manages to conform to a standard grid – but once Boundary Road is crossed, the grid gives way to a series of indirectly routed buses that twist and turn along Burnaby’s many local streets. There’s some coherency in the form of the busiest and most popular routes crossing the city (the 25, 106, 123, 129, 130, 135 express) but most of the routes swerve around the city in a non-gridlike fashion, and are unable to manage frequent transit network (FTN) service levels.
For example, through travellers from Kingsway to Edmonds St and 6th Ave on the 106 face a lengthy detour as the bus detours to reach Edmonds SkyTrain Station. And, you betcha, that lack of a through connection on the C5 from Royal Oak Station to Kingsway (where there are businesses, including a major grocery store) and points north is an annoyance. The winding state of many routes also makes commutes much longer – as such that if I want to travel home from – say – the bowling centre near Holdom Station, I’ll usually take the SkyTrain the long way around. This is often faster than timing the 129 and then actually taking it, but still much slower than if I could drive. Network gaps and limitations like this are a serious impediment to transit ridership growth in Burnaby.
According to TransLink, capacity utilization of Burnaby and New Westminster’s buses dropped 2.6% in 2012 – and it was the only area of Metro Vancouver where this value dropped. Cost per boarded passenger decreased – but did so at a lower rate compared to other areas of Metro Vancouver, exceeded by only the North Shore area where it rose 1.2%.
Many of these bus routes were initiated with the introduction of Expo Line service in 1986, and received minimal redesigns with the introduction of the Millennium Line in 2002, probably not helped by the major transit strike that occurred just 1 year prior. There have been a few changes since that I feel have been particularly good, such as the current C5/C7 service in South Burnaby (which apparently replaced a number of bus routes that ran less frequently and not in both directions), but there are still a lot of gaps in the service. I would like to see a regular service down Imperial Avenue east of Kingsway, but instead riders are currently being forced to walk long distances to access their bus.
While I was browsing through the numerous transit-oriented articles on Voony’s Blog, I found the graphic that inspired me to write this article attached to a comment on a write-up focusing on the proposed route 49 change:
The concept points out a simplified Burnaby bus network where routes are straight, simplified and apparentlly more frequent. The commenter (mike0123) had this to say about his image:
The local transit network in the southeast corner of Vancouver, in all of Burnaby, and in all of New Westminster is poorly integrated with rapid transit and with other local transit. The loopy patterns are similar throughout, and they are inherently indirect and infrequent and slow. Nearly all routes currently run every 30 minutes off peak.
Bus routes should run primarily on arterials perpendicular to rapid transit and connect at the stations. They should cross the city so that connections are possible at Hastings, the Millennium Line, the Expo Line, and at Marine. There should be fewer routes that are more direct and have higher frequency.
The image [above] shows a network in which most of the routes run better than 15 minutes off peak and all of the routes run at most every 20 minutes off peak. This is possible just be redistributing service without any increase in cost.
The last line captured me before I clicked on the full-size image because I see this as a value riders do consider important and may consider in their favour when discussing changing Burnaby’s transit network.
Mike makes a great point. TransLink has pointed out in their transit system performance analyses in 2013 that the highest performing routes on the system had these four common characteristics:
Direct, simple and consistent routing
Serve areas of strong demand
Busy destinations at both ends (strong anchors) and along the route
In my proposal, I have determined that there are overlapping services, and many places with extremely lacking services. By removing bus routes, higher frequencies may be achieved. This though, will decrease the coverage level (eg: I have removed the 116). From my analysis, the higher frequencies and less routes in my proposal will save money, or at least cost less than the current system.
There’s a useful point-out of which routes have what frequencies (8 or better, 15 or better, or above 15) during a mid-day time point just before the PM peak, which shows us that many of the current routes/corridors simply do not manage 15 minute off-peak frequencies. The whole plan is based on a “bus skeleton” basis of focusing on frequency and simplification. The proposals manage to give the entire network a 15 minute off-peak frequencies.
The proposal also comes with a fully costed business case analysis, which analyzes the cost of providing the current and proposed bus networks (it seems that Mike’s proposal has also been included in this analysis). All in all, it checks out: many Burnaby residents receive a 15-minute off-peak bus service in return for routing changes, and it’s possible within existing budget limitations: it doesn’t cost TransLink any (or much) more money to do this.
The Practical Limitations
Unfortunately, all proposals have their flaws – and these ones are no exception. Both of the concepts are impressive in that they try to get all services to improve in frequency, but such improvements can often come at a cost to mobility.
In Mike’s proposal, many areas lose their direct connections with important travel markets and anchors. For example: services cease to exist where the 110 currently runs north of Metrotown Station, cutting off service to a major local travel anchor (Burnaby Central Secondary School – a very large school that hosts special programs not found in other schools) in addition to Central Burnaby residents in general. It would also limit connections to Burnaby’s City Hall and Art Gallery from the rest of the city and region.
The proposal also eschews major, popular portions of route 106, including Kingsway west of Imperial Street and in front of Metrotown Mall; direct connections between Edmonds Station and both Kingsway and 6th Street are also cut off. I think these changes to the 106 will become a huge problem, because the 106 is one of the 10 most cost-effective routes on TransLink’s entire bus network. As well, entire corridors in New Westminster that currently see frequent, 15-minute service – including both 8th Street and 8th Avenue – are cut from service, alienating several local businesses and residents from the service that drives their sales and productivity.
Entire areas are seeing a significant cut in bus service options. South Burnaby, for example, loses a lot of the service coverage provided by the C5, C6, C7 and 116 in favour of just one service that seems to replicate what existed before the C5 and C7 were created. Riders have less choice, and it is not as easy to travel to places like Metrotown.
All in all, the more frequent service comes at a cost: new walking distances to buses in some instances exceeds 10 minutes – something that could become particularly problematic for disabled transit users, as well as senior citizens.
In Kyle’s proposal, much of the existing bus network coverage is actually retained, but there area number of obvious flaws: the first that stood out to me being the removal of the C5 – a popular transit link from my station of residence (Royal Oak). Not only does the plan limit an otherwise quick connection with SkyTrain for South Burnaby residents, but the whole plan prevents South Burnaby area commuters from making any connection to Marine Drive (route 100) and South Vancouver altogether, unless they travel to 22nd Street Station.
In many of the proposals, connections with major anchors are compromised. Proposals 2 and 3 cut 8th Street service, as with Mike’s proposal, limiting connections to Douglas College, New Westminster Secondary and many local businesses. In some instances, major anchors are just barely missed; proposal 1 has a great bus route going down Royal Oak that could offer a connection to Metrotown or Royal Oak, but this is eschewed in favour of a turn on Oakland to reach Edmonds Station, which has become a centre for several routes.
The 116 is also removed – which, while explicitly mentioned in his article on the matter – is done without the provision of any replacement, alienating commuters into the South Burnaby industrial areas altogether. The reason for the removal was just something I didn’t understand, especially seeing as the 116 is doing better than many of Burnaby’s less frequent bus routes, ranking 94 of 212 Metro Vancouver bus routes in terms of cost per boarded passenger.
There are also a number of less optimal route choices. In all three proposals, the Forest Grove and Government Street areas are relegated to using a one-way 136 bus service. This will provide a one-way service every 15 minutes or better, but as I (and hopefully you also) know from TransLink’s guidelines on good route design, one-way services usually aren’t very cost-effective, nor are they in any way optimal for mobility at the end of the day.
So what should we do, anyway?
I agree – there’s a lot of room for improvement in Burnaby’s bus transit network. Mike’s proposal shows us that by pursuing a more Vancouver-styled network based on intersecting routes in straight lines, better frequencies throughout can be achieved. Kyle’s proposal also shows us that by simplifying the skeleton, we can make vast improvements to service frequencies.
I do, however, think there’s another important question we need to ask before trying to proceed with anything, that being: Is Burnaby ready for a modified network?
Some of these ideas can be carried forward. Kingsway/12th Street residents (especially those between Edmonds and 14th) coud benefit from a straight route that offers more direct connections to major anchors such as the growing Edmonds Village and Community Centre, Tommy Douglas Library, and Nikkei Japanese Cultural Centre. Straight north-south connections, so long as connections to places like Burnaby Central Secondary aren’t affected, could help residents better and faster connect with SkyTrain service and regional centres. #28 riders could probably live with the longer walk to the bus stop in favour of a straighter and more direct service on Boundary, and a route down Royal Oak Street north of the station would be absolutely great for riders. Optimizations for increased frequency always help.
However, the current network is actually doing fairly well.
As I mentioned earlier, cost per boarded passenger decreased – but did so at a lower rate compared to other areas of Metro Vancouver, exceeded by only the North Shore area where it rose 1.2%. Nevertheless, at $1.33/boarded passenger, this is still the second lowest cost of any area in Metro Vancouver, defeated only by Vancouver itself.
That means that the current bus network is nevertheless working: the amount of passengers attracted to each bus justifies the costs better than in many other areas of Metro Vancouver.
The power of community consultation
The community consultations for the recent route 49 changes were popular, that would have resulted in the end of a longtime service detour to Champlain Heights that has existed since before the Expo line was built, and before the route even serviced Metrotown in Burnaby.
More than 150 stakeholders showed up to the Metrotown consultation centre in protest of the change that would have seen 49 Ave service remain on 49th rather than detour in Southeast Vancouver to service the Champlain Heights area, seen by many planners, riders and myself as a barrier to ridership and reliability on the route. The pre-Expo Line detour costs riders 5 to 10 minutes, mostly affecting riders from Metrotown heading to points on 49th, Langara College and the Canada Line SkyTrain and Richmond.
These stakeholders cited heavy ridership in Champlain Heights as well as the service needs of many seniors in the area as reasons to keep the current 49 arrangement – and I believe they had legitimate concerns. A good friend of mine who I work with in organizing the Northwest Fan Fest event lives on 49th west of Champlain Heights, and was among the more active opposition of the 49th change.
I think this shows two problems with trying to make the transit network better:
Improving the network overall often requires more funding (which we currently are figuring out how to provide) in order to make sure certain groups don’t lose out from the changes
It’s important that there is an active discussion with the community before any bus route changes are made.
Many of the proposals sought forward by individuals like Mike and Kyle or by TransLink itself in any finalized concepts could be shot down in favour of established and subjective needs. At the end of the day, while there’s a lot of room for improvements, I think we’re going to have to be careful to ensure that in the end, both connections are improved and everyone is happy with the new service.
Last year I was working in a building in New Westminster with a window that overlooked the railway crossing at Front Street. There, I witnessed the passing of trains and truck traffic on a daily basis. I still remember wanting to close the window every time I opened it to enjoy the fresh air, because the air smelled like diesel. It just wasn’t something I wanted to breathe, and I kept that window closed as much as I can for the duration of my stay. According to Councillor Bill Harper, Front Street is one of the “most toxic” areas in the Lower Mainland in terms of air quality.
Trucks that use Front Street, as they do regularly with Columbia Street not being suitable for large amounts of trucks, have to contend with these trains, which slowly continue onto the Fraser River Bridge into Surrey. As well, New Westminster residents have to contend with the train whistles, and the air pollution resulting from the stop and go movement. On a transportation basis, it’s not efficient and not predictable to use front street.
This is where a new six-lane Pattullo bridge replacement – which I discussed in a previous blog article and through letters now published in three Burnaby and New Westminster newspapers – can most handily come in.
The Front Street corridor was part of a previous highway proposal called the North Fraser Perimeter Road (NFPR), which was part of the regional Gateway Program. However, both New Westminster and TransLink have placed this project on the backburner, perhaps indefinitely. Plans for a new Pattullo Bridge no longer show a connection with Front Street, and the United Boulevard Extension is off the table.
Instead, the City of New Westminster has discussed the potential to revitalize Front Street into a “neighbourhood street” lined with business and mixed-use development, deconstructing it as the current through route for many trucks travelling from the southwest to the northeast.
The revitalized Front Street concept included a car, bike and pedestrian overpass at Sixth Street, connecting with the new Waterfront Park, to eliminate the railway crossing at Eight Street and – along with the elimination of the Front Street crossing and the closure of Front Street as a through route – result in the elimination of all railway crossings in New Westminster, and associated train whistle habits.
As a proponent of sustainable urban development and a nearby resident just 10 minutes away by SkyTrain in Burnaby, a revitalized Front Street is something I really look forward to. It has the potential to bring increased business, quality of life and tourism to New Westminster, benefitting everyone in the big picture.
Already, new investments into the community like the Waterfront Park have greatly improved the quality of life in New Westminster, and have given people across the region more reasons to come into New Westminster. More than ever, New Westminster is an accessible, vibrant regional centre – and I think that planners and decision makers should be building on that momentum that started with first steps like Plaza 88 at New Westminster Station and the under construction civic centre across the street.
However, the construction of a six-lane Pattullo Bridge with extra capacity to redirect traffic is the only way the City of New Westminster can realistically follow through with this priority.
While the City has discussed redirecting trucks onto alternate parallel corridors like 10th and Royal Avenues, neither are very suitable for trucks. The former is a two-lane, low-capacity corridor for much of its length not suitable for schedule-oriented goods movement. The latter puts trucks through a climb on a very steep hill, which apart from being an issue for truckers themselves, creates noise and pollution for New Westminster residents.
The issues with 10th and Royal were being discussed in detail in New Westminster’s official downtown community plan. However, these discussions seem to have been ignored in more recent viewpoint establishments.
It remains a fact that the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) with an expanded Pattullo Bridge can fulfill a role that Front Street currently dominates: getting trucks and goods from the South-of-Fraser ports in Delta to Northeast sector ports and industrial centres. A six-lane Pattullo Bridge is the only way to facilitate a direct connection between the SFPR and Columbia Street and totally replace Front Street as well as the heavily congested Queensborough Bridge in this segment with a reliable alternative.
I think the City of New Westminster could be taking this into account in having a position on a Pattullo Bridge replacement. Being open to six lanes, the possibilities with Front Street would be endless.
NEXT UP: Pattullo Problems – 3: Queensborough Matters
NEW: Read my letter supporting a six-lane Pattullo Bridge as it appeared on the Royal City Record…
New Westminster’s Jim Lowrie told us that a six-lane Pattullo would cost about twice as much as a four-lane bridge, but the released study reports an entirely different number. Given the actual premium for two extra lanes stands at a more reasonable $200 to $300 million, I am in favour of a six-lane bridge.
Before anyone complains, I think it’s important to establish first what exactly the extra lanes will be for, where will they go, and what are the benefits.
I have heard some complaints about how McBride would become a “six-lane expressway” and overload New Westminster and Burnaby streets with traffic. But TransLink’s concepts from last year’s consultations show that the third lane is intended to split off towards Columbia Street north of the bridge – a road leading away from New Westminster….
This is the first in a series of several blog articles I’m going to be publishing on why I think a Six-lane Pattullo bridge (as opposed to a four-lane Pattullo bridge or other options) does make sense and should be built. The articles will publish every week and discuss my viewpoint in-depth.
^ This is the headliner for a recent Letter to the Editor I submitted to the Burnaby News Leader (and to other local newspapers, pending publishing) with my viewpoint on the Pattullo Bridge. In it, one of the things I’m trying to do is get readers to start asking and finding answers to the question:
Why do we need a new Pattullo Bridge? And how could it be useful to us?
I think the first and foremost reason and benefit is the most obvious and well known: the current bridge is built to old standards with narrow lanes and poor seismic resistance, and could potentially be a major liability for the regional transportation authority. It is past its lifespan and needs to be removed or replaced. Since the bridge is an established goods movement corridor for close to 70,000 vehicles daily, the consensus has been that it needs to be replaced – but some decision-makers, including a few in my current city of residence, are suggesting that the bridge should be torn down with no replacement.
I think the most important things we need to consider – the aforementioned questions of why and how, and the establishment of the actual issues – have been missing from the many viewpoints I have read over what needs to be done for the Pattullo Bridge, from both locals with an opinion and officials with decision-making authorities.
What makes 6 lanes more special than 4
As early as two years back I had been commenting on opinions discouraging the build-out of the Pattullo as a six-lane bridge, finding that the writers are not exactly seeing the big picture. When I lived in Surrey two years ago, I sent a letter to the New West News Leader pushing very much the same viewpoint I am trying to push now. I contended a person with the thinking that the lineups approaching the bridge will increase with the expansion of the lanes and the removal of merge points:
There is an unusual mentality among many New Westminster residents complaining about a six-lane Pattullo Bridge expansion. It particularly caught my attention last week when Mr. Vladimir Krasnogor sent in a letter to this paper.
I’d like to point out one ridiculous claim: “With a new six-lane bridge, the traffic jams will extend to five to six blocks, but the actual number of cars going over the bridge to Surrey will not increase by much.”
If there will be no more vehicles crossing the new bridge than the existing one but the bridge will have more capacity and through lanes that prevent merging movements, wouldn’t lineups through New Westminster get shorter? His logic defies itself.
While the City of Surrey has contended that a six-lane Pattullo Bridge is necessary, it has done so in a way that many New Westminster residents and officials have found to be quite ignorant – which has allowed this wave of incomplete, not-so-well-thought-out opinions to dominate the public scene. While I don’t disagree in that the city of Surrey has not exactly been very mindful of New Westminster’s community integrity, I do agree with the need for a new six-lane connection over the Fraser River to replace the Pattullo Bridge.
It’s just the fact that constructing a six-lane Pattullo is the most practical solution for so many problems – more than New Westminster residents have been thinking of. In one go, we could solve all of these problems with widespread support for a six-lane Pattullo Bridge:
Seismic and road-standard safety issues on the existing Pattullo Bridge
Safety issues on the existing Queensborough Bridge – which, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, also has very narrow lanes
Congestion and pollution on New Westminster’s Front Street, Columbia Street and Royal Avenue(s) through SFPR connections
Major flaws in New Westminster’s plan to revitalize Front Street
Growing congestion levels on the Queensborough Bridge, hampering commutes on some of the region’s fastest growing regional bus routes and hampering growth, prosperity and productivity in Queensborough
Growing congestion levels on approaching roads such as 20th Street and 6th Avenue, which hamper intra-community movement in New Westminster
Growing congestion levels on the Alex Fraser Bridge, affecting goods movement from port to port
Funding (because a six-lane Pattullo Bridge expansion decongests the Queensborough and Alex Fraser Bridges, which are important ports and goods movement corridors for the region and for the country, there is a significantly improved case for provincial and federal funding for the Pattullo replacement).
You’re a pro-transit advocate. Why do you even support more lanes!?
There are actually a number of transit-related problems that a Pattullo replacement with six lanes could help solve – in particular, I’m talking about transit routes downriver crossing the Alex Fraser and Queensborough Bridges. In the following weeks, I will be elaborating and writing on the above reasons and many others in a new topic-centric blog series (akin to my popular “No Credit for TransLink” series) titled “Pattullo Problems“, which will discuss the many problems brought up by the current Pattullo setup and potentially solved by a new one.
The next article will discuss how a 6-lane Pattullo Bridge can tie in with New Westminster’s Front Street revitalization plan.