May 9, 2014

“Rob Ford was right” – An Argument against LRT

One of PT’s most thoughtful commenters, YVRlutyens, wrote this response to “Cat, Meet Pigeons: Was Portland Light-rail worth it?”  It deserves a more prominent placement:


vancouver-light-railSave for Calgary, the North American LRT experiment has been something of a flop, and many people now see that. LRT (Light Rail Transit) just don’t add much more than buses besides cost, and when you try to build more of an exclusive right of way, you pay just about as much as a Metro with markedly inferior service. (In Toronto they seem to manage to pay even more than a metro with very markedly inferior service, but that’s what you get when the whole transit establishment becomes beholden to a failed idea.)

Part of the LRT movement was based on the perfectly laudable desire to increase capacity on overcrowded bus lines. But that goal seems to have obscured the other important goals of increasing speed and frequency. So American transit agencies spent a bunch of money building LRT but in doing so didn’t actually increase the service that much. The predictable result is that bus riders switched to the LRT lines, but the whole system didn’t add many new riders nor did it become more relevant to the city as a whole. (And with articulated buses and double articulated buses, the capacity of bus lines is less of a constraint.)

The very much disingenuous support of LRT on Broadway uses the same type of arguments: the 99 has this many riders which can be accommodated by the capacity of LRT, ergo there is no need for a metro. Too true. But with a metro you would add a tremendous amount of service – speed and frequency – that didn’t exist before. With LRT you’re still spending $1b+ without actually adding that much at all.

Condon 1Condon 2The Condon argument was worst of all. It was essentially replacing all the trolley routes with streetcars for the price of the Broadway Line. But this plan added no transit service at all. It was spending two billion on next to nothing. But it did let them create maps full of red lines that made it all look good compared to the short red red line denoting the Broadway Line. That a bunch of grad students at UBC were taken in with this plan reflected poorly on grad studies at UBC. I was a fan of LRT in 2nd year undergrad. Started to re-think in 3rd year. That grad students haven’t figured this out shows a lack of critical thinking.

One reason I’m so prolix on this point is because of the stupid Transit City Plan in Toronto. That thing made no sense. It was way more expensive than BRT, even more expensive than full metro in some cases, yet offered tepid improvement in transit service. Unfortunately the transit establishment got behind it. Part due, I suspect, to the strange grip that LRT is able to exert on the psyches of the adherents – see grad students above – partly due to the general LRT fad, and partly due to rank tribalism. Rob Ford was against LRT, so people against Rob Ford decided to be for it a la the enemy of my enemy is by friend.

Transit City


Now Rob Ford was no transit advocate, and he didn’t even know why he was right, but he was right. Subways make more sense for Toronto, and the Ford plan had more riders getting better service than Transit City. The “transit” advocates advocating for Transit City were bizarrely in support of a plan with fewer riders getting worse service.

Surrey LRTOn the specifics of Surrey, again the LRT plan adds next to nothing that a much cheaper BRT line couldn’t offer. And metro to Langley and Metro up and down King George would transform the place in a way that LRT couldn’t. And these metros wouldn’t just be about shuttling people in and out of Surrey but within Surrey as well. Actually a King George Line is more important than extending the Expo Line all the way to Langley, although I would do that eventually.

(One reason for the King George Line is that it could be extended all the way to White Rock. When we get true high speed rail to Seattle, which is admittedly well off in the future, this will have to connect to the local transit system. True HSR requires a whole new line which would require a whole new tunnel into Vancouver. And a sensible HSR system would also have a station south of the Fraser. (I know the HSR advocates have proposed a route up the Pacific Highway corridor and also along the BNSF tracks, both of which have merit. But neither would allow a station south of the Fraser in a very useful spot.)

If we were to build a whole new tunnel into Vancouver, it would always be more useful as a local transit tunnel than as part of an intercity HSR. So it would make sense for HSR to terminate in White Rock and connect with the King George Line that would have six stations in Surrey and then act as an Express Line into Vancouver with stations just at Metrotown, Broadway and Downtown. This would sacrifice some speed, but the express portion would be fast and would allow more convenient access to all parts of the city besides just downtown. And eventually Expo Line ridership will outgrow the current capacity increase program, and an express line would be then most welcome. This is all well in the future, we’ll start talking about it in 2040, but that is no reason to ignore how current transit systems can be used in the future.)

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  1. Arguments like “LRT integrates better into the neighborhood” and “Skytrain is expensive” are red herrings, because they are arguing for or against a specific technology. Rather than focusing on the technology, what people should be focusing on is the mode: at-grade vs. grade separated.

    At-grade systems will always be handicapped by having to deal with traffic, and that means they will always run slower, require human operators, and therefore have lower frequency. Grade-separated systems eliminate all those problems.

    Yes, grade-separated systems are more expensive – but that’s not because they use “Skytrain” technology, it’s because of the additional cost of constructing the elevated or buried right of way. That additional cost reaps dividends in lower operating costs (due to automation), and the higher speeds and frequencies attract far more riders which leads to increased revenues as well.

    1. Adding grade separation on a light rail line is expensive, but grade-separated systems are not necessarily more expensive. For example, Portland’s Orange Line and Calgary’s West LRT were both more expensive per kilometre than Vancouver’s Evergreen Line. There are many similar examples that counter the assumption that light rail is cheaper than light metro.

  2. The “North American LRT experiment” is not so much at issue as the “North American transit flop.” If we can’t make surface rapid transit (LRT and BRT) work, we should admit a fundamental failure. Time to admit that we are comparing ourselves to the worst of the worst, and raise our vision a little towards Zurich and Bogota and . . .

    To do otherwise is like comparing all politicians to Rob Ford, even real screw ups look good in comparison.

  3. There’s a lot in this piece, and I’m confused by the use of some terminology.

    What is meant by metro? Is it subway?

    Are we taking LRT and streetcars to be the same thing?

    I agree with Sean above – what’s important is the grade separation (or lack thereof) – if we’re looking at the transportation system. However, developers, residents, and businesses seem to have a lot more faith in the permanence of technologies with tracks than with rubber tires, so there is a TOD factor to the discussion.

    1. I’ve tried to switch to “metro” instead of “subway” because it is a more international term and also because it is more generic. To me “metro” implies an exclusive right of way, something that could be automated (or is automated already). It doesn’t really matter whether it is actually underground or not or whether it derives power from a pantograph or a third rail. What distinguishes metro from LRT is speed and frequency and that is what makes it superior.

      Now it might be possible to run LRT with the same speed and frequency as metro with severe crossing restrictions, light preemption etc, but in reality it doesn’t happen because it would be too impractical and would turn the street into a train highway, not very conducive to urban life.

      And some LRT systems are built to near metro like standards, and it is possible, but it doesn’t make sense. Seattle’s Link Light Rail is mostly in an exclusive ROW, but the street running parts don’t allow for automation and lower the possible frequency. Because of the lower frequency the trains and platforms have to be longer and the underground stations more expensive. The excavation pit for the Canada Line Olympic Village Station was only 67m long, but the excavation pit for the Link Capitol Hill Station was 166m long. This, I suspect, is one of the big cost drivers of the Eglinton Line in Toronto which is costing far more per km than the Canada Line even though it is only partially tunneled. The northern leg of Link will be very useful and will probably have high ridership, but it still is extraordinarily expensive. And the street running Rainier Valley segment will forever slow the whole system down until it is buried.

      Another issue with LRT isn’t necessarily specific to LRT but is more pronounced in LRT systems, and that is path-of-least-resistance route planning. All transit forms have to make compromises for local route issues. There are areas you can’t tunnel, can’t put up elevated structures and can’t put stations and place where you can save costs by picking a less desirable route. But LRT systems tend to make the larger compromises, using existing freeway and train ROWs when it does not make sense. It is almost as if the increased flexibility of LRT allows for greater damaging compromises. Seattle’s Link is full of this too, running too much along I-5 and SR518 just because those areas were available.

  4. Well, I’m having a pretty successful consulting practice based on the premise that people are fed up with these arid debates about whether a technology is good or bad in the abstract.

    “Light rail” means rail transit that takes power from an overhead wire, whereas “heavy rail” means it takes power from a third rail alongside the tracks. Both can be elevated, on the surface, or in a “subway”, and can be scaled to small markets or large ones.

    In other words, “light rail” vs “heavy rail” is a pretty esoteric distinction that doesn’t actually matter to most people outside the narrow circles of techno-geekery. I don’t think this distinction about the power source has much to do with the way transit liberates people, provides access to opportunity, and thus serves as the foundation of urban economies. I certainly see no sign that the public actually cares about it, except to the extent that the media has force-fed them those terms for thinking about the debate.

    In my experience, studying the overall impacts of “light rail” is about as useful as studying the overall impact of hammers and nails. Light rail is just a tool; the results of transit arise from what you do with the tool, not the tool itself.

    Spend some time studying Portland and Seattle side by side, and you’ll see two cities using light rail for totally opposite purposes. Portland’s is an intimate and relatively slow service. It is narrowly focused on feeding downtown and other fairly short trips, and has no desire to be competitive for cross-regional commutes. The Seattle region, by contrast, is using light rail to build a high speed, high capacity regional network capable of being attractive for trips of 30 km or more. I view Seattle’s network as a regional rapid transit system, utterly different from Portland’s, and the fact that it takes power from a pantograph is a pretty unimportant feature of it.

    The main virtue of light rail is its versatility. The same technology can be a 9 km/h streetcar stuck in traffic or the backbone high-speed rapid transit network for a region of 4 million. But that means that their applications are so different that the power source is the least interesting thing that those applications have in common.

    As a result, the correct answer to the “subways or light rail” question is: Who cares? Show me where I’ll be able to get to, and how soon, and how this liberates me and the economy of my city. Technology choice, by itself, says nothing about those things.

    Cheers, Jarrett Walker

    1. “studying the overall impacts of “light rail” is about as useful as studying the overall impact of hammers and nails. Light rail is just a tool; the results of transit arise from what you do with the tool, not the tool itself.” Thank you Jarrett, well said!

    2. Light rail vs heavy rail might be an esoteric distinction if people were talking about pantographs and third rails. Except that they’re not. People are talking about service, particularly speed and frequency, things that do matter to people outside the narrow circles of techno-geekery.

      It is certainly possible that in theory “LRT” and “metro” tell you nothing about the transit system – because they can both be built like metros – but in truth they tell you a lot about the transit system. They certainly tell me a lot about the transit system, particularly if I know the continent that they are on, and I’m sure that they tell even more to Jarrett Walker. The reason is that the technology choice is not agnostic. What technology cities choose does drive they type of service that they provide even when they are not strictly connected. Some of the reasons are as I have discussed above: LRT appeals to people that think capacity is the most important aspect of transit and thus they neglect speed and frequency; LRT appeals to people that think friendliness is most important aspect of transit and they too neglect speed and frequency; and the sheer flexibility of LRT makes it too easy to compromise a route. Just like “the medium is the message” in communications, the technology is the service in rapid transit.

      Now I acknowledge that the link between LRT and a certain level of service is not necessary. LRT can be built to metro standards, and in that case I would call it a “metro”; and in certain circumstances metro can be built like commuter rail, and in that case I would call it BART. But in real life, LRT and metro mean something more that just pantograph or third rail.

      1. But that’s why these distinctions matter! You’ve completely dismissed Toronto’s Transit City plan apparently on nothing more than the basis that it’s LRT without any other examination of the situation.

        Yet in the one case where Toronto is now moving ahead in the direction you support, more subways, in terms of the Danforth extension instead of rehabilitating the existing SRT as an LRT, the subway extension will easily cost twice as much or more than the SRT plan, will only have 3 stations versus 7 stations on the SRT and likely serve, at best the same number of passengers.

        Moreover, the SRT converted to an LRT will meet all your definitions of an LRT built to metro standards, with complete grade separation and stations designed for a minimum of 3 car (75m) operations.

        Despite this, because Rob Ford’s mantra (and your’s too) of “subways good, LRT bad” Toronto is basically going forward with a plan to blow 2 billion dollars to basically maintain the same level of transit service it presently has in Scarborough.

        1. I haven’t actually dismissed Transit City on nothing, in fact, as I’ve commented before, sometimes I feel as if I’m the only person that has actually read the reports backing Transit City (and its progeny).

          My problem with Transit City is mainly that most of the routes, Sheppard, Finch and Jane in any case, make much more sense as BRT than as LRT. BRT is far cheaper than LRT, especially in Toronto, and these long straight arterials are ideal for it. (Jane is a bit narrow at points, but that cramps the LRT too.) But LRT was supported using fudged numbers about bus capacity not being adequate. The reports state that the capacity of a bus is 57 riders when the real capacity of regular bus is more than that and the capacity of an articulated bus is more like 120. Using a number like 57 was just nonsense. I was mystified about where they got that 57 number from and I half suspected that it was picked from thin air. But then I saw a TTC report that said that average bus utilization in the TTC system was 57 (which is respectably high), and even though using an average load number as a capacity number is goofy, I think it was picked to give some sort of plausible deniability to the phony math.

          (*And yes plenty of people fudge capacity numbers. Local studies have fudged LRT capacity down in order to support Skytrain.)

          And my other big problem is that Eglinton needs metro service. The proposed LRT service just isn’t good enough. Eglinton is already important, and will become even more important in the future, and a proper Eglinton Line could be like the pedestrian’s 401. But the LRT choice on Eglinton is creating one of these compromised super expensive monsters. The central part is in a bored tunnel, but because frequency won’t be that good, the stations are large. And the cost is ridiculous. Even though it is only partially buried, the cost per km is double that of the Canada Line’s cost per km. Finally, it won’t be very fast. If the line is extended the full length of Eglinton, it will take too long to be that useable. The report just ignored the negative pedestrian impacts where the line is on the surface.

          I haven’t read the reports on the new Scarborough subway plan, so I really don’t know the cost and benefits there. And I would agree that this really isn’t the top priority. The Downtown Relief Line is more important; although, I would do it a bit differently than what the TTC has proposed. I did read the previous Scarborough LRT reports and they were again fudging things. First there is this idea of service area around stations being everything within so many metres. But folks are really served unless they ride the thing. Having 5 stations with a total of 5,000 boardings is not serving more people than 2 stations with 7,000 boardings. What was notable in the previous studies was that ridership per subway station was far higher than the ridership per LRT station showing how much people value the speed and frequency of metro service.

          And my position is actually a bit more nuanced than how it appears in blog comments. With GO electrification, some of the lines would be a lot like LRT, but they would make sense. The tracks are already there with plenty of exclusive ROW to speed them up, and many of the stations are in places that make sense, not just compromises. Thinking particularly about Lakeshore East and West. And the streetcar system definitely ought to stay.

      2. Thanks for your follow-on comment and going further in depth with your rationale on this, which does help clarify your point of view. I haven’t had the benefit of reading all of your previous comments here or elsewhere on the subject, so this is some much needed context to understanding your viewpoint.

        I can’t comment on the fudging of the numbers, beyond saying that there always seems to be some creative latitude taken with these studies and that I try (and I did read many of the original Transit City documents, and this was sometime back) to take that into account when trying to discuss the merits.

        So bearing that in mind, a couple of points:

        1. I don’t think the Transit City plan was by any stretch perfect. My own criticisms are that I don’t think that Eglinton as LRT as was the best choice, indeed this line seems to me to be an excellent route for a light metro deployment with elevated outer segments. While not necessarily ART, given the SRT at one end, ART would be (to my mind) the logical technology choice. However, given Toronto’s history there, a light metro seems off the table. Given the strong desire to be able to have outer legs of the line reach into lower density areas that wouldn’t call for a full metro, that pretty much leaves LRT as the only politically viable option. Definitely politics triumphing over good planning, in my opinion. Similarly, I also think that the plan should have adopted a greater average distance between stations (I believe it’s set at approx. 400m as the average) which I think will detract from the overall speed of the lines.

        2. BRT definitely has a role to play and some of the proposed Transit City lines in Toronto that have been relegated to a nebulous, as yet unfunded and who-knows-if-it-will-ever-happen “phase 2” such as Jane and Malvern could likely be served by BRT. BRT-lite would actually make good sense for use as a forerunners to the actual Transit City lines on these routes, to start building ridership. However, as you mentioned above, there is a tendency towards “path of least resistance planning” that comes in part from the flexibility of LRT, and I would submit that this effect can become even more pronounced with BRT. And Finch West (if memory serves) was pushing the limits for what could be easily and practically served by BRT.

        3. I agree with you that Toronto’s top transit priority should be the DRL and that transitioning GO trains to a more RER-like setup with electric multiple units will be a major benefit to Toronto.

        Again, I’d just like to say that I really appreciate this post and the added nuance you’re providing. Having followed transit debates across Canada closely now for a couple of years, I simply hate the technology wars, propagated by certain people largely for reasons that have nothing to do with transit, such as ego. Having had the good fortune to live in places where there have been successful applications of transit across the technology spectrum, I firmly believe that each of these form valuable component in the transit toolkit that can and should be used where appropriate.

        And that technology doesn’t matter one iota if we fail to get the other aspects of our public policy right as we move away from auto dependency.

    3. Jarrett, I acknowledge that you have a lot of knowledge about transit, but I am not sure about this: “Light rail” means rail transit that takes power from an overhead wire, whereas “heavy rail” means it takes power from a third rail alongside the tracks. ”

      I always thought that the difference between light rail and heavy rail had to do with the size and capacity of the trains and train cars.

      1. I believe the important point Jarrett was making is ‘most’ people don’t care if there train/bus is powered by overhead wires, LIM or fairy farts. They care if it goes where they want to go, when they want to go and that it gets them there quickly and comfortably.

  5. This article misses the point. I would be less adherent to one technology for implementing transit service and more focused on “scale of service” and “shaping the city”. We always start these discussions at the bus vs. LRT level and not what meets the goals of project. I see a problem at the goal level. The current paradigm of linking further and further places by rapid transit is just supporting the dispersion patterns of living far away. I thought we were trying to create walkable communities?

    Do these systems create grid-based walkable communities? No. They build on the pre-existing land form patterns that are a function of the local scale of service and vice versa (Be it bus, streetcar or car. It doesn’t matter.) And this is a problem. Consider, where is the best transit frequency and service? On the Burrard peninsula, which had (and continues to) the best local service and then rapid transit was implemented. But, after the local service was in place! What about the post-war communities that developed around the car? Local service is poor or non-existent. So, why are we prioritizing fast with few stops commuter transit? Because that’s where the financial and political realities are taking us.

    A fairer criticism of LRT would look at WHY the LRT’s aren’t living up to their theoretical promise. (I think they do more for public realm than buses or Skytrain, but since good design standards appear to be slipping in Vancouver, I will move on.) This issue comes down to incentives. If we provide lots of mobility options for dispersed settlements, then we are subsidizing their true cost and making them more attractive. The argument for building transit based on speed and revenue riders is based on the current price for mobility, and that is time. As long as cars can have no cost for USAGE of the road system, transit systems will be most viable where they can compete in terms of time.

    Mobility pricing and addressing the subsidies is needed to shift the incentive to making shorter trips. To quote (or misquote) Andrew Coyne, “We need to drain the swamp of subsidies. Once everyone pays the true cost of using the roads and transit, we can read the demand more effectively.” Mobility pricing doesn’t just indicate demand, it signals it.

    Maybe then, LRT might not seem such a romantic ideal.

    Side note: Condon is the only one, I am aware of, who argues for a different approach of building transit that is more human scaled. Condescending remarks about students who support his approach does not strengthen your argument. From their perspective, everyone else has a tribal mentality about rapid transit, and they are the minority.

  6. To Agustin’s common canard about faith in rails over tires, the usual rebuttal is that didn’t stop us ripping up the rails in the past. To which I’d add that surely detailed streetscape resculpting (a grassy divider, fancy preboarding shelters well integrated with a widened sidewalk, pleasant pedestrian texturing) along with supportive zoning reform (mandating active pedestrian-first frontages with awnings, doors and windows etc.) is about as strong a confidence signal?

  7. A really great bit of analysis. Thanks for reposting.

    I admit to being briefly smitten by Condon’s theory (“webs” vs. “nets”) but have since moved on. While the type of light rail service envisioned by Condon might offer an improvement on transit service on the trolley routes, I expect this increase would not justify the expense nor the resulting increase in congestion from having light rail operating at-grade throughout the city.

    Jarrett is correct though that it is not simply about “technology choice”. Other factors including City fit and local attitudes towards transit are just important. But in this regard, it is plain that the Lower Mainland has truly embraced grade-separated, high speed service. People love the Skytrain and they are willing to get out of their cars to ride it. A solid recommendation for building more of the same if there ever was one.

  8. Such ignorance in Vancouver about transit, especially modern light rail

    LRT has been somewhat of a flop in North America because planners and engineers made LRT a hybrid light light/metro making it very expensive to build and very generous American federal subsidies meant that many LRT projects were grossly gold plated, with tunnels and viaducts. As a hybrid transit mode, North American LRT took the worst from both LRT and light metro!

    This also explains the unique North American streetcar classification, which is really LRT, but without all the hugely expensive tunnels and viaducts. The largest streetcar today has a capacity of over 350 customers.

    We must understand the basics why we build with LRT and with a metro for that matter.

    Modern LRT becomes cheaper to operate than buses, when ridership exceeds 2,000 pphpd on a transit route. LRT replaces buses because 1 modern tram (1 tram driver) is as efficient as 6 buses (6 bus drivers) and one needs a minimum of 3 persons to drive, manage and maintain each vehicle, the costs savings come very apparent with LRT, especially when wages account for about 80% to 90% of the budget.

    Modern LRT, even operating as a streetcar can accommodate traffic flows of 20,000 pphpd or more and have done for decades of revenue service.

    Traditionally the cost per revenue passenger for LRT is about half of that of buses and with BRT, it tends to more expensive to operate than regular buses.

    Buses, including guided and BRT are extremely poor in attracting new customers and this singular fact that makes modern LRT the first choice of real transit planners.

    SkyTrain and LRT are not different technologies, in fact they are the same technology, they are both railways and because SkyTrain is powered by Linear induction Motors (LIMs), what we call SkyTrain (ICTS/ALRT/ALM/ART) is called an unconventional railway.

    The automatic train control is a matter of signalling and is very expensive to maintain. it is a common misconception that automatic train control was to replace drivers, it wasn’t, it was used to save on signalling costs, both operational and maintenance.

    ICTS (SkyTrain) was first conceived in Ontario as a transit mode to mitigate the huge costs of subway construction, when there was active talk of abandoning the city streetcars; it didn’t.

    ICTS cost just a little less than a metro to install but it had the same capacity of modern LRT. Too expensive to build and with no real benefit to compete with LRT, ICTS/ALRT/ALM/ART) faded into history, except for Vancouver. Only 7 SkyTrain type systems have been built since the late 1970’s and not one was allowed to compete directly with LRT.

    The real problem with LRT, especially in Vancouver, is that we did not have transit specialists design a workable plan, rather we let engineers dictate routes that are not viable because they have little or no background in modern LRT.

    Contrary to what TransLink claims and what the CoV’s engineers say, we can build LRT along Broadway rather cheaply because the the kit is there to do it. In fact we could do it for about $750 million or less.

    The real problem for transit in metro Vancouver is that we do not have experts planning for transit, rather we have career bureaucrats protecting their asses because our current transit planning as failed and after $9 billion invested in three light metro lines, the percentage of auto use in the region has remained the same.

    And please do not insult my intelligence saying that the SkyTrain and Canada lines are successful, over 80% of the metro’s ridership is recycled bus riders, forced to transfer to the metro. With over 110,000 deep discounted (90% discount off a regular fare) U-Passes giving a free ride to post secondary students. It comes as no surprise that the amount of U-passes issued is about one third of the actual number of people using transit on a daily basis.

    How many cities have copied Vancouver’s transit planning? 0, that’s right, after almost 30 years of light metro operation, 0 cities have copied Vancouver.

    A Broadway subway will only masquerade the region’s failure in coming to grips with urban transit, but a time will come when this failure will be exposed, then watch the fun begin.

    As for Toronto, doing away with the streetcars would treble the amount of buses on the roads, cause massive gridlock and bankrupt the TTC. Rob ford did not have a clue what he was doing. except kow-towing to roads industry or even his crack supplier, who knows; but he did not consult with transit experts..

    1. A $750 million investment in at-grade light rail on Broadway would give us essentially the same service we have today with articulated buses running at 3-minute intervals. Why on earth would anyone want to spend the best part of a billion dollars to get what we already have?

      If we’re going to spend money on the corridor (and I strongly agree that we should) then we need to spend enough of it to improve the service – and I’d argue that it needs a major improvement of the kind that only grade separation can provide.

      1. Putting surface light rail on Broadway may not be the right solution, but it would be vastly different than the service we have today.

        270 passengers/driver > 90 passengers/driver
        Not getting passed by > watching full buses sail past
        Smooth ride > frequent bumps, stops and starts

        From time to time senior levels of government hoping to attract progressive voters will stop for a photo op and announce some new transit construction project, but it will be a cold day in hell before any of them do anything to address the issue of properly funding transit operations. Thus any project that consumes construction funds to lower operating costs should at least be a candidate to go ahead.

        In light of the fact the even construction costs are dependent on a referendum that will be decided by voters outside the city of Vancouver I think we have only two reasonable choices:

        1. Extend the M-line underground to Granville, run the B-line from Granville to UBC and allocate the other half of the subway budget to suburbs that agree to support transit with appropriate development.
        2. Accept that surface light rail on Broadway is an improvement and be happy if we get any funding at all.

        1. I would take #1 over #2 any day. Surface light rail running in traffic would be slower than the current B-Line, and with separation would get way more expensive than $750 million with even the rosiest glasses on. And that slower speed would also impact the capacity.

    2. Well, if we limit ourselves to looking at American cities as our points of reference, it’s true not many have copied Vancouver (or Calgary, or Edmonton, or Toronto or Montreal).

      That’s a big reason why they’re not delivering much in the way or results. Any major Canadian city would be a better model for transit planning than Portland. The main reason most of America went with LRT was because it could be built a lot more cheaply with a lot more corners cut. Cities that were Vancouver’s size (but without the same geographic limitations) flocked to light rail rather than light metros because they were in very constrained financial situations and the United States was in the full grip of Reaganism, rejecting civic responsibility.

      And you’re right, Bombardier has only sold 7 ART-branded systems. Of course, using that as the metric complete misses the fact that lots of other light metros using automated control, shorter more frequent trains have sprung up in lots of places outside of North America. Of course, they’re not necessarily Bombardier (although several are, such as Taipei’s Muzha Brown Line) and not necessarily LIM. Honolulu is building what may be the first of a new wave of light metros in the United States.

      Kawasaki Heavy Industries has built 7 new lines with Linear Induction Propulsion systems since 2000 in Japan and China. More are under construction as we speak. But hey, what could Japan and China possibly know about transit in comparison to Portland?

      But yes, you’re right, Bombardier has only sold 7 ART branded systems. That’s pretty much the only statement in this entire comment that is factual and truthful.

  9. There are some excellent points made both in the article and the comments thus far. I’m very impressed with the discussion and have only two points to add.

    Accepting all the arguments against at-grade rail transit there is one area where it still shines against buses: operating costs. Why is this important? Because while senior levels of government are occasionally good at announcing support for capital projects that provide lots of photo opportunities and bragging rights, they are worse than non-existent when it comes to operating costs. Our provincial governments have repeatedly added new SkyTrain lines while simultaneously blocking the ability of the local operating authority to fund the operation of said lines. The results are coming home to roost with “service optimization” that focuses transit service where it’s already well utilized and strips service from areas of potential growth, forsaking the future for the present. Unless and until that changes we will, unfortunately, have to at least consider replacing buses that can carry 90 passengers/driver with trams that can carry three times that number per driver.

    Higher capacity at the same speed is not, as some have suggested, worthless. Knowing that you’ll be getting on the next tram vs. hoping the bus will have room for you is a night and day difference that inspires people to wait for the tram. The smoother ride with fewer stops/starts is another benefit that should not be dismissed out of hand. Whether that is worth $1 billion in capital costs mostly funded by senior levels of government is left as an exercise for the reader.

  10. The subways in Paris and Mexico City are called le/el metro. In London it is called the tube and in Buenos Aries the subte.

    So long as you know what to call it when you are lost, what’s in a name!

  11. Pantographs aren’t magic wands.

    They don’t magically make a transit system succeed or curse it to mediocrity. People on both sides of this debate ascribe properties to the technology that they simply do not possess. The realities are vastly more complex.

    Why has the wave of North American Light Rail from 1980 been a general flop? Why has Calgary (and perhaps, to a much lesser extent, poor forgotten Edmonton) been the notable exception?

    Politics and land use.

    A little history and context first: in the 1950s and 60s Calgary annexed all of the surrounding towns that immediately abutted the City. Towns like Forest Lawn, Bowness, Montgomery and Midnapore which might have grown into the city’s versions of Burnaby or Richmond, etc were all incorporated into the city As a result, for a long period of time, region and city were effectively a single unit without the need for a secondary regional body (which undoubtedly would be hobbled by the Province here, just as Metro Vancouver is hobbled by BC). The current Calgary Regional Partnership which encompasses the city and the second ring of bedroom communities came into being only in 1999 and there are still considerable swaths of farmland between the city and that second ring.

    In short, 90% of the people in this area are under the government of a single Mayor and 14 councillors. They could do things like concentrate job growth in downtown and then also put caps on the number of parking spaces downtown.

    Calgary has the most expensive downtown parking on the continent after New York.

    That is a policy choice and a policy choice that was made to encourage the usage of transit. So was the decision to not add any further lanes of travel into downtown. Calgary is slowly but surely disincentivizing car use in the core.

    And this is possible because of the relative strength of the local municipal government, which doesn’t have to squabble with a bunch of other regional mayors who all want their own downtowns and other vanity projects. Not even Metro, Portland OR’s regional body, which is often touted as a model for regional governance, has been able to accomplish anything close. The City of Portland has had somewhat more success doing that with the Streetcar but that’s because it’s an exclusively City of Portland project and doesn’t have to worry about what the ratepayers in neighbouring Beaverton think about it.

    You could swap out light rail in Calgary with almost any other technology and (all things otherwise being equal) get fairly similar results.

    Other jurisdictions just haven’t had the political context to make this possible.

  12. All i can say is any post that starts with “Rob Ford was right” will end badly.

    Attacking a hypothesis without reference to the assumptions underlying it and the data supporting it is merely disappointing.

    Ad hominem degeneration of a group of vaguely described “graduate students” is simply trolling.

    1. Totally Agree, glad you saw this. Your publications and studies have always been an incredible resource and inspiration for me. Cheers

    2. I’m not normally intemperate and am certainly no troll, and I am sorry that I talked about graduate students at UBC that way.

      I have read your proposals and do I think understand some of the underlying assumptions – but there isn’t always time in blog comments to consider them. As I understand it, you envision a city where people live more locally and do not require as much mechanical infrastructure. Thus there is less need for infrastructure moving people en masse from one side of the region to the other or on a bigger scale the mass movement of goods across the globe. This is in fact the way I live, but from this perspective localized transit does not make sense. First, not everyone wants to live this way. I’ve never done the cross-border shopping thing, but it is exceedingly popular. People are willing to drive great distances to get bargains at outlet malls. I don’t this is lifestyle is sustainable or sound, but it does reflect something about the way people want to live. I can remember the quotation from The Prince exactly but it is something like: the gulf between the way people ought to live and the way they actually do live is so vast that the prince that rules according to the former is on the way to ruin. Some thing in cities. You cannot design transit systems that fundamentally do not accord with the way people want to live. People living in the city presumably want something beyond what the town has to offer. And for people that live locally, walking and cycling accommodates most movement. Local transit actually just competes with that. What people that live locally is transit that takes them places where human power is impractical. And that points toward metros.

      1. The idea of “living locally” is also flawed because it assumes that every local area is able provide all of the services that the populace wants. If this was true than there simply wouldn’t be a need for large cities. The reality is that specialty stores, sports facilities, health centres, recreational destinations, jobs, and plenty of other amenities simply can’t be provided in every part of the city. Therefore to complement the neighborhood grid (which the City of Vancouver already has courtesy of it’s network of trolley and bus routes), a fast and efficient transit backbone is needed to allow residents convenient access those amenities. If you don’t provide that kind of backbone service then you’re just motivating people to use their cars instead.

  13. Political context matters too, in making these decisions.

    The initial post attacking Transit City completely misses the mark with the entire argument being summed up as: most light rail in North America has been bad, therefore Transit City will be bad.

    Except that the City of Toronto has just approved a Danforth subway extension that will do exactly what YVRlutens accuses the Transit City plan of doing, spending a lot more money to serve a lot fewer people.

    Here’s where the context matters: The existing Scarborough RT, is the forerunner of Metro Vancouver’s Skytrain built by a Crown corp called the Urban Transportation Development Corporation which developed the concept. The Ontario government took over an existing plan and then built the absolute cheapest version they could get away with. To get the Toronto Transit Commission union’s buy-in they also agreed to have an onboard staff member whose primary function is to press the door control button. This sacrificed one of the major selling points of the system, the lower operating costs, in the process.

    As a prototype line, it was also subject to all the issues that arise from launching a new system of this type. The entire line even had to be shut down for a period of three months within its first years for repairs and since then, the TTC since then has engaged in a somewhat irrational (although understandable) campaign of neglect. Hence the need to “replace” the SRT.

    Two options have come up, using the same grade-separated right-of-way, refurbishing and fully automating the line with Mark II cars (which would require some structural work) or converting it to an LRT line. Given the popular perception amongst Toronto’s public that the ART technology is old, out-of-date and falling apart, the LRT option has been the only politically viable choice of these two.

    I’m sure the few people who see this are tempted to just dismiss this as “tl:dr” but all of this history matters in understanding why Toronto and Toronto’s transit community are pushing so hard for LRT right now and why the fight there has devolved into an LRT versus subway argument, and why Toronto appears poised to spend twice as much money on a subway extension to serve, at best, the same number (and possibly fewer) passengers than either SRT option would.

    All of this to avoid the curse of the pantograph, because: “LRT bad, subways good.”

    1. Thank you for this. I was curious why fixing the existing SRT was not being explored as an option in place of a Danforth subway extension or a light rail line. Eglinton and SRT appear to be analogous to the Lougheed/Broadway Line and the route of the Evergreen line. The line being built along and under Eglinton is more expensive than the proposed Broadway-UBC Millennium Line extension, and the connecting SRT route already exists with mostly compatible guideway. I understand that the existing SRT cannot fit Mark II cars, but increasing the radius of the corners would likely be orders of magnitude less expensive than building an entirely new parallel line.

  14. I have been following, and sometimes contributing to, Frances Bula’s State of Vancouver and Gordon Price’s Price Tags for some years now: pretty well from their inception.

    There in one over riding fascination my half dozen or so fellow bloggers share and that is transportation: the one track mind! Be it transportation by bicycle or some other form of highly technical, and budget busting, means of movement but definitely not the auto (yet auto use continues to rise).

    Indeed moving people in the city is an obsessive obsession and I find that very disquieting.

    The city has developed organically, incrementally: i.e go with the flow rather than applying metal everywhere?

    There is one hell of a lot more to the city than moving people from point A to point B and if it has any chance of rising above its mediocrity it had better check in: like pronto. To say the least Metro Vancouver is neither large enough, rich enough or industrialized enough to warrant all these esoteric suggestions: i.e. a heavy duty Broadway transportation corridor. The Evergreen line is a gambit too far already!

    The last time I visited London, in 2008, the line from to Kings Cross was “non-functionado</” and that would have Frank Pick, the original LPTB general manager, commissioner of Edward Johnstone’s iconic roundel, turning in his grave. If London’s is aging obviously maintenance is a transportation capital expenditure too fearful to show the voters.

    I lived in Mexico City for the last two years of the ’90’s and if ever there is a real and necessary transportation system El Metro is it!

    But El Metro is supported by a necessary and time developed networked infrastructure of pesseros (little green buses), taxis, biciketas and density!

    One other noticeable characteristic of Mexico City’s Metro is the rush hour segregation of women: pick pockets are one thing but roving hands, something I have never experienced, are evidently ubiquitous.

    El Metro services a city of some 30M+ and ever growing. As a visiting lecturer at UNAM I was a frequently user of Linea Rosa, Isabel La Catolica a Insurgentes cada dia cambio a Linea Amarillo a la Universiteria.

    Wow, now that is city on the move. Unlike Vancouver La Ciudad is home to the richest and poorest: Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world and millions upon millions of domestic servants, cleaners, street vendors and beggars who need to move from their shanties (tightly knit not sprawl), to the rich barrios de Polanco y la Jardines del Pedregal , homes of their patrons.

    One thing I have never seen mentioned on all this chatter is how to pay for this stuff and the ensuing debt! Like an individual, once a city is in debt it has lost control of its destiny.

    Vancouver characteristics, topog, densities, unlike most large transportation cities I have experienced, London, Toronto Buenos Aires etc, do not warrant billions spent, or dreamed of, on fancy transportation: mind you with elections coming up candidates will sucker you for anything and bankster love it!

    IMO a strong injection of reality would do a lot to elevate these pipe dreamers from masturbating indebted supplicants of an indebted city of an indebted nation: but then I have only lived here sixty-three years so who am I to say!

  15. Indeed, LRT makes no sense along Broadway, except perhaps through Pacific Spirit Park, ie without houses nearby or roads crossing.

    The Broadway line crosses far too many intersections and will disrupt cross traffic if an LRT ! It must be a subway to Blanca, then perhaps above ground west of Blanca.

    And please, open both sides of the train on Cambie and Conmercial so folks can enter on one side and exit on the other for higher passenger throughout, as you can see in the Munich S-Bahn at Marienplatz, for example.

    A second stop at S-Campus is also urgently needed as this is where most of the high density development with over a dozen 20 story towers is taking place .

  16. So much of what’s wrong in this article boils down to assumptions about how LRT lines are built. There’s no doubt that Portland’s is a failure; because it operates in mixed traffic it’s the worst of all possible outcomes.

    But LRT is a versatile technology. You can build it above ground, below ground, on an elevated track, or in mixed traffic. So long as your city implements a no-mixed-traffic policy, LRT can be successful. An LRT with its own right of way operates at speeds much like a subway, the main difference between the two is capacity of the trains. (Notably, this is also one of the larger differences between LRT and BRT).

    I had trouble reading this article because I got really hung up on the falsehoods in the opening paragraph:

    “Save for Calgary, the North American LRT experiment has been something of a flop, and many people now see that.”
    I have relatively little experience with LRT in North America, but live in another city where LRT has been extremely successful. Trains in Edmonton are consistently busy, and packed as full as they get at rush hour. Almost immediately after our last major expansion opened, we had to undergo a major system upgrade to be able to run more and longer trains to meet demand.

    “LRT (Light Rail Transit) just don’t add much more than buses besides cost,”
    This seems to be a central argument to your article, but doesn’t come with any supporting evidence. The number one thing LRT can provide that buses can’t is capacity. My only experience with a high-quality BRT system (the Quito Trolle) was that is was so busy it was difficult to get onto, and once you were on, breathing became a challenge. LRT can carry more passengers per hour than BRT.

    There are smaller benefits – lower noise levels, smoother ride, that sort of thing – though these only come into play when we’re looking at marginal systems.

    “when you try to build more of an exclusive right of way, you pay just about as much as a Metro with markedly inferior service.”
    I’m still not clear how LRT service on a dedicated ROW is markedly inferior. But this seems to be unsourced claim. My reading indicates that LRT technology in a tunnel is still around 15% cheaper than a subway – not insignificant when we’re talking about multi-billion dollar projects – and the versatility makes it simple to build long stretches on the surface (another 60% discount) where it’s appropriate. These long stretches of uninterrupted surface right of ways are the key to the success of systems in Edmonton and Calgary, allowing them to cover the long distances necessitated by suburban city building at a cost which is affordable enough for a low-density population.

    Really, we should avoid these technology-obsessed debates. Subways, LRT, BRT and local bus service all have their place in the transportation mix. The main difference is about how many passengers each type of system can move in a fixed amount of time, and that should be the focus for choosing the appropriate technology.

    1. Portland’s MAX light rail does not operate in mixed traffic. Portland’s streetcar operates in mixed traffic in the same way as a local bus route. MAX light rail in an exclusive ROW takes 13 minutes to travel the 2.4 km across downtown between Old Town MAX and Kings Hill MAX.

      In other words, light rail travels at 11 km/h on its exclusive ROW through Downtown Portland. This is not similar to a subway; it is slower than all but a few of Vancouver’s bus routes that operate in mixed traffic and make local stops.

      1. true, but outside of downtown Max travels significantly faster. Both Edmonton and soon to be Ottawa get around that downtown problem by tunneling there and then running above ground where possible.

        1. Arterial streets in Vancouver, including Broadway, have commercial uses and frequent intersections that make them more like the streets that MAX runs on in Downtown Portland than the grade-separated highway corridors that MAX runs on elsewhere.

          The under-construction MAX Orange Line, which runs mostly on the surface, will cost C$1.5b for 11.7 km, which is more per km than the Evergreen Line. The website doesn’t say how slow it will be, but it’s ridership is expected to be less than the 8-Fraser bus.

          The proposed SE segment of the Valley Line in Edmonton will travel 13.1 km mostly on the surface in 30 minutes or at 26.2 km/h, and will cost $1.8b for 13.1 km, which is more per km than the Evergreen Line.

          The under-construction Confederation Line in Ottawa will cost $2.1b for 12.5 km, which is more per km than the Evergreen Line. The line runs over the existing grade-separated BRT transitway for 10 km, so the 2.5 km tunnel segment downtown with its massive long stations is presumably what’s driving the cost up.

          The Confederation Line will initially be fully grade-separated, similar to SkyTrain, but extensions will be capable of running on the surface. This adds the cost of much longer underground stations to the initial trunk where they wouldn’t be needed if the line was designed for more frequent automated service.

    2. I was aware of Edmonton’s LRT success as well, and I’ve mentioned it before, but you can’t cover all the bases in blog comments. By “markedly inferior” I’m referring to the lower frequencies that these trains run at. On the costs of LRT in tunnels, I read that it was actually more expensive than conventional metro cars because the tunnels have to be larger to accommodate the wires and pantographs. And this does not take into account the smaller station footprints when smaller trains are run more frequently. Consider the difference between the Olympic Village station footprint of 67m versus the Capitol Hill station at 166m. That’s got to be a large cost difference especially when the tunnels are bored and the stations are deep. Certainly LRT can offer higher capacities than BRT, but at the point where LRT is exceeding BRT capacities you are getting into metro territory. And published bus capacities for double articulated buses are 250 people. That must include a bunch of folks standing, but BRT capacity can go high if you want it to.

  17. Toronto needs subways and LRT. Vancouver needs subways and LRT. Calgary needs subways and LRT.

    In the broad sense this is not an either/or question. It’s a question of using the right tool for the job, instead of trying to jam in your favourite one into every possible application, regardless of it’s suitability. All too often it becomes more about ego and other issues than improving mobility for a city’s or region’s population.

    There are definitely reasonable points that can be debated (once again, I’m glad the original author YVRlutyens has clarified his thoughts in the comments for the benefit of those of us who haven’t read his comments and thoughts before) and the mediocre performance of American light rail is an important data point for consideration. However, it’s not the only data point to be considered either, especially given that we do have a few bonafide successes in North America for light rail, as well as countless successful European applications too.

    But setting all of that aside what this really comes down to for all of the major Canadian urban centres is that all of them are going to need some of both types of transit to have really successful transit systems.

    Toronto definitely needs more subways, in the form of the Downtown Relief Line (aka the Danforth Line) and more LRT, such as extensions of the existing Streetcars on the Waterfront West, electrification of GO and more.

    Calgary definitely needs more subways, such as the 8th Avenue tunnel to improve downtown service and grade separate the Northwest to South C-train line. The proposed North Central Line and Southeast lines here will also also have considerable subway-style components, particularly in the central districts of the city.

    And to bring it all back to the Lower Mainland, Vancouver definitely needs more subways and LRT.

    Looking at Broadway to UBC, there is definitely the need for a high order rapid transit line along this route that ties it into the regional transit network. Given likely passenger volumes that leaves Skytrain as the best choice.

    For Surrey, there are arguments in favour of both options in my opinion and none of them should be dismissed solely due to technological tribalism.

    Looking beyond the Surrey and Broadway debates, there is still going to be a need for LRT in the Lower Mainland. To have a truly complete transit system there will eventually be a need for higher-order transit on a variety of routes through-out the Lower Mainland, routes that will likely never have the passenger volumes to justify a fully grade-separated approach like Skytrain.

    To make the leap to being a region in which a person (or family) has the option to live car-free regardless of where they are in the Lower Mainland will require the use of LRT to provide higher order transit service and to build a network in depth.

    1. I agree. In addition to a Broadway SkyTrain line, they could build an LRT along 41st from Joyce to UBC, one along Hastings from Downtown to Willingdon or even Brentwood Mall, and one running up Victoria/Commercial drive from Marine to Hastings, to say nothing of using the existing rails along Arbutus.

  18. Broadway with a SkyTrain ? You got to be kidding me.

    Elevated, with cars and pedestrians below in the permanent shade, and trains barreling along third floor windows ?

    That would be utter nonsense, and a destruction of livability along Broadway. Tunnel is the only way to go in dense neighborhoods, say Commercial to Arbutus, better Alma, or even better Blanca. Then it is less dense, and it could come above ground. However, if the military land above Jericho ever gets developed that will be dense too, and then the tunnel might as well go to UBC .

    The issue is that little planning and engineering expertise exists in Vancouver for designing & building subways in dense urban areas. They ought to hire a few European folks who have planned, then built subways in dense cities like London, Paris, Munich, Berlin or Madrid.

    1. Thomas: Skytrain in this instance is referring to a technology, and can be elevated or tunneled, as it is in downtown. Nobody is suggesting an elevated guideway.

      1. The term SkyTrain to most people, incl. me means elevated. A “Sky”train in a tunnel is called a subway. LRT means at grade to me. Perhaps an explanation of technology is useful, as most folks do not differentiate between slight classes of width of trains or engine sizes. They care if it is tunneled (“subway”), at grade (“LRT”), or above ground on elevated platforms (“SkyTrain”).

        Good to hear that you do not suggest an elevated train above Broadway.

        1. It’s not that I don’t suggest an elevated train. It’s that nobody does. There are loads of documents and studies and every single one of them points to below grade operation immediately after the new station in the False Creek Flats, if it’s an extension of existing skytrain.

          That’s probably why when Gregor Robertson says he wants a subway to UBC, he doesn’t say skytrain. But it is important that it be an extension of the Millennium line, and that it be skytrain: If it isn’t skytrain, then there has to be an extra and completely unnecessary transfer at Broadway, which people do care about.

        2. Be careful Tessa only the minority of passengers arriving at Commercial Broadway on the M-line get to avoid a transfer. The majority who arrive on the Expo line will have to transfer regardless of the solution that’s eventually built for Broadway.

          For those arguing travel times on Broadway by comparing it to Calgary/Portland/etc. TransLink has already done that work for you.

          B-line: 38-50 minutes depending on traffic (11 intermediate stops)
          LRT: 28 minutes (12 intermediate stops)
          Subway: 19 minutes ( 9 intermediate stops)

          If those estimates are correct then LRT on Broadway would be quite fast indeed, especially for the vast majority who will never travel all the way from Commercial to UBC.

        3. “SkyTrain” is merely the title our rapid transit system takes, and SkyTrain can go in a tunnel, protected at-grade or elevated ROW. The specific propulsion tech used in the Millennium Line (and Expo Line), however (linear induction motor propulsion) automatically makes a SkyTrain extension the single most effective solution for construction a Broadway tunnel, because LIM propulsion presents a significant advantage: lower train heights, and smaller tunnels. LIM propulsion was deployed throughout every new Japanese subway build since the 1980s, and it was because of this tunnel advantage.

          A typical single-bore SkyTrain tunnel will require just a 5m diameter, vs. about 6m for a traditional rotary-motor line like the Canada Line and 6.5m for LRT with overhead catenaries. There is a significant portion of Kuala Lumpur’s Kelana Jaya Line that is built underground with 5m diameter tunnels.

  19. Thanks to the foresight of the NPA council of which Gordon was a part we have a perfect LRT right of way from downtown around False Creek to the region’s busiest tourist attraction, Granville Island (or is it 2nd after Stanley Park?). It has limited grade crossings,even if it were continued to its logical terminus in Marpole. It passes through several neighbourhoods that can easily be densified, such as Arbutus Village and East/West Boulevard in Kerrisdale. The Olympic demo showed how enthusiastic riders were about such a system. Our newest neighbourhood was planned straddling the right of way.

    And yet thanks to Vision Vancouver’s apparent aversion to NPA projects, the right of way sits empty. Shameful.

    1. And yet thanks to Vision Vancouver’s apparent aversion to
      NPA projects, the right of way sits empty. Shameful.

      Shameful yes, Bob, but not for the reasons you suggest.

      The last census 2006-11 Metro, including Vancouver, had a pop increase
      of some 9%, that is less than 2% per year. There is reason to expect the same of the next census take especially since so many of those new
      condos are in fact investor, non-residential, artifacts.

      I am sure, with the persistent haranguing of your many uninformed
      bloggers there will be some addition to the civic/provincial debt but it will
      not be to meet the need of ridership.

      There is often a show of ridership congestion out to UBC etc in
      September but that soon subsides.

      In the meantime I have to wonder where all this demand for expensive
      shiny trinkets is coming from: is it paid shills, ignoramuses or dilettante displaying profound lack of city senses?

      Don’t expect the haranguing to subside. There are far too many obsessives
      with nothing better to do: far to many bloggers bored with
      their jobs, out of jobs or are too swelled headed they check historic data.

    2. This line is from 100 years ago. It is useless today, in the wrong place, too noisy and would be fought by all neighbors . It ought to be made into a bike and ped way linear park.

      1. I’d argue it’s already a pedestrian pathway 😉 and I think officially turning it into a multi-use trail with parks is a splendid idea.

      2. Actually the Arbutus corridor was decades ahead of Cambie in accepting additional density and to this day continues to have a larger population.

        Cambie was chosen because it offered a cleaner slate for developers. Less to tear down plus fewer and less powerful neighbours to deal with.

        Olympic village vs. Kitsilano
        Oakridge vs. Kerrisdale

        Marine Gateway is actually tiny compared to the stretch of land along Fraser River at the foot of Arbutus/Granville but anyone attempting to build there would have to deal with the Musqueum people.

        1. Honestly, while I see how that could possibly make sense, I find it unlikely that the choice of corridor had anything to do with this at all. The more likely reason? Simple logistics. Cambie connects City Hall and an already-busy Central Broadway area that an Arbutus-oriented line would have missed; it also allowed the line to hit the Olympic Village site, and Oakridge which is also without a doubt a major destination (and also where Vancouver’s most automobile-oriented population is – i.e. a great place to bring the fastest transit).

          Something that may have also had to do with the choice of Cambie was an ongoing dispute between the city and CPR that only ended in 2006 – well after Canada Line construction would have had to begin in order for any rapid transit line to be completed before the 2010 Olympics.

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  21. Light rail construction costs in Shenzhen are expected to be one-fifth the cost of a subway, since no underground tunneling or major construction such as stations or walls is required.

    Official figures show that local governments held 17.89 trillion yuan in direct and indirect debt as of the end of last June — 70% higher than in the last survey at the end of 2010. Infrastructure building and other pursuits are pushing them into increasingly dire fiscal straits. Subway projects have been delayed in some cities due to funding shortages, making light rail an attractive alternative for its lower cost and shorter construction time.

    1. Yes lower construction costs but at the expense of far lower land value of neighboring land. Ie the public is shifting its cost onto the usually private land holder next to the tracks. Thus, some win and some lose.

      For example, looking at downtown Calgary’s 7th Avenue where the LRT runs is ugly ugly ugly. Had they built a subway they would have more commercial, residential or nicer buildings. How it is just office towers and deserted after 6 pm. Not a great model.

      LRT makes sense in less dense suburbs, but not in dense parts of the city with high land values as an LRT lowers that land value dramatically.

    2. By my reckoning, the Shenzhen metro is the 15th largest metro system in the world. By the time they build LRT lines in the outer areas, if they are indeed built, the system could very well be in the top ten. Cities in China are building metro systems so fast that they might start replacing the statues of Mao with Rob Ford. No matter what might come of an infrastructure slowdown, Shenzhen will remain a poster city for metro construction.