February 6, 2014

Notes from a Briefing: ULI GAP on the Broadway Corridor

In 72 hours, five Urban Land Institute Governor’s Advisory Panel (GAP) members took a fresh look at the proposed Broadway rail rapid transit line, from Commercial Drive to UBC, unconstrained by local history.  They came up with their best suggestions on how to think about strategies for land use and transit options in the long term.

They looked at:

  •  transit mode
  • land use and development
  • process


Some of their observations:



Existing transit barely works.

Any of the options will satisfy demand over next 30 years

The City makes a plausible case for a subway.

A subway does offer sufficient incremental value to be the choice over the long term:

  •  if bored, not cut and cover
  • construction is done in phases, east to west
  • institutional entities (such as the university, hospitals and other benefitting businesses) have to be active participants – with open chequebooks

No question that for the long-term future of Vancouver that you want underground subway.  Light rail in fact would be the most disruptive alternative for existing neighbourhoods.  Light rail is not a trolley car.



Even with growth of employment shifting to Surrey and Richmond, the City of Vancouver is going to continue to have the lion’s share of employment in the region.  Broadway will have 70 percent of job the base of downtown.

‘Eds and Meds’ (educational and medical institutions and related jobs) are the biggest drivers of growth.   UBC is a city-scale anchor for the line, which otherwise need not proceed past Arbutus.

Zoning changes should not be directly linked to which mode of transit is chosen.  In other words, if a more expensive mode is chosen, those additional costs should not be seen as a justification to upzone everything.  Disconnect transit choice from development above ground.

Neighbourhood differences along the corridor should shape associated development.  Preserve neighbourhood character.  Don’t get caught in belief you that have to upzone everything.

Vancouver is drunk on highrises. You don’t need towers everywhere.  For neighbourhoods, some people think density equals towers, when it needn’t.  You already have an excellent model in the Arbutus Lands.

Meet scale, scope of street conditions and proximate development patterns with careful consideration of views and sun cones.

Concentrate new development in existing C-3A zones. There is existing capacity without zoning changes.  Only 60 percent of available development opportunity is built out in central Broadway core.



It is critical for short and long-term success that public sector work closely with neighbourhoods.

Disconnections and confusion are often the result of miscommunication about the facts.  Stakeholders need to be on same page.

Take more time, do more marketing, include better graphics.  The public, for instance, confuses graphics of walking-distance radii as target zones for rezoning.

Educate, communicate and market the goals and objectives to all stakeholders. Create the constituency to lobby for the money needed to finance the line.

The ULI district council can be a convenor of the stakeholders around the facts.



Broadway rapid transit is as big a megaproject in jobs and opportunities for business as three or more of the proposed LNG plants in the north.



In terms of jobs and economic development, the most important pipeline to be built in the province will be the one containing the Broadway subway.


Posted in


If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on


  1. So it is a bit of a stretch, but your mention of the Urban Land Institute twigged a thought about something which you might want to relocate to a more suitable spot on the blog.

    Last year the ULI partnered up to name the “Most innovative city in the world”. The winner was Medellin Colombia, which also happens to be the host city for the most recent iteration of UN Habitat’s World Urban Forum 7. Vancouver locals will recall that Vancouver was the host city of WUF3 in 2006 – and attendees may recall that one of WUF7’s superstar keynotes was former Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa (not to be confused with his similarly charismatic brother Gil Penalosa).

    These conferences are about the globalization and adaptation of good ideas – I had a blast in Vancouver, and am planning to head down to Medellin myself for April.

    Most Innovative City: http://online.wsj.com/ad/cityoftheyear
    WUF7 Conference info: http://worldurbanforum7.org/

  2. I wish we wouldn’t take a cut and cover tunnel off the table. There seems to be considerable cost savings there, and it would create a better project with stations closer to the surface.

    The Cambie experience has frightened Vancouver off, but it needn’t be that way. All over town excavations are dug and filled with underground parkades in less than 6 months, so there is no reason why the street needs to be open for longer in front of any one business. And there ought to be better mitigation measures in place. The buses would be kept on Broadway so that traffic would be maintained, and the bike lanes could also be diverted to Broadway to add that traffic. The dead-ended cross streets could be added as parking areas for the businesses as well. Probably create more parking than was lost. And a compensation program for businesses that were affected could also be implemented. At least we ought to investigate how much money could be saved and whether it was worth it.

  3. The Canada Line is a great example of how not to build passenger friendly subway stations. They may be close to the surface, but that’s about all they have going for them. I haven’t been a regular on the line since 2012, but there are a long list of defects that immediately spring to mind.

    1. The absolute insistence on a single entrance/exit.
    2. The absolute insistence that pedestrians cross dangerous intersections on the surface.
    3. The three elevator system required at Oakridge, Langara and possibly elsewhere.
    4. Passengers blocked from accessing the elevator by lineups for the escalator/stairs.
    5. Passengers unable to find the elevator. I watched the Swiss Olympic wheelchair curling team roll toward an emergency exit because the signage was small and misleading and the crowds queued for the escalator/stairs blocked their view. I was late for work or I’d have jumped off the train to help them.
    6. Some platform areas are simply too narrow to handle current ridership let alone any growth.
    7. Broadway City Hall is a congested mess. I hope they have plans to fix pedestrian flows when the second subway line is added.

    Recently I saw a glimmer of hope. There is a proposal to build another platform at Commercial/Broadway and open the doors on both sides of trains at the same time. It’s a great idea and I’ve long wondered why I haven’t seen it employed elsewhere.

    My personal suggestion is to make all future subway tunnels stacked like they are on Cambie between 11th and the QE Park curve. Putting platforms on both sides and opening all the doors yields much faster loading/unloading that decreases dwell time and thus increases average train speed. Platform crowding is greatly reduced, access is easier, safer and quicker because there are station entrances on both sides of the street.

    Vertical stations are simple, easily navigated and don’t require large subterranean halls. Building two small, vertical stations might cost less than building one large one with passageways, stairs and elevators to reach the other side.

    1. I hope that this isn’t in response to my suggestion that we not abandon cut and cover. I agree that the Canada Line stations are awful. One entrance, small platforms, multiple mid-descent lateral shifts, and unrelenting blandness. But they are close to the surface, and they could have been done well if not done so on the cheap. That said, I’m glad we have it, warts and all.

  4. I love the comment ” Vancouver is drunk on highrises” … Indeed similar density could be achieved with more human scale 5-6 story buildings with boulevards and cafés on ground floor that are nice to walk around in like Paris, London or Berlin.

    Cut and cover is the cheapest way to build a subway, not boring.

    And yes, we need more than one entrance to the subway.

    Indeed, far more development along Broadway with existing zoning could happen. Broadway is an ugly highway not conducive to shopping. Let’s widen the sidewalks to 10m on either side, cut the parking and the lanes down from 6 to 4 then 2 nd with a subway below it will thrive.

  5. Unclear why cut and cover is not considered as it is standard procedure in any cities with considerable cost savings.

    No mention of road tolls along Broadway on the interim or forever afterwards ?

    Vancouver planners ought to look elsewhere on the world for options !