August 24, 2015

McArthur Glen 2 – Another Perspective from Sandy James

Some words, images and thoughts from Sandy James, a planner and pedestrian advocate:


DSC09857Was I the only person that thought the McArthurGlen Outlet was named after some famous aviation personality from YVR?  This outlet mall is among twenty globally  that are similarly named, including ones in York and in Athens (left).

McArthur Glen (map here) was started as a private company as part of the Vancouver based McLean Group which owns large real-estate holdings, including The Landing in Gastown and Vancouver Film Studio. The brand became McArthur Glen Group in 1993 and
owns 21 outlet malls worldwide with a total of 6.5 million square feet. There are plans for a further three million square feet of stores.

MG 2But there is something interesting happening at this new 46 store  “mall”. The location which is on the north part of the airport’s  Sea Island, is inaccessible for walkers that would take a day stroll from Vancouver or Richmond to the mall, so all users are either using transit, the Canada Line, or a vehicle.

While car traffic is allowed to park literally at the mall’s entrance, all visitors come into the mall itself through entrances that read like a walled city. The surprise? How much walking shoppers need to do once inside this walled shopping sanctum.




This company has approached marketing similarly to that of a city, providing lots of outside benches, flowers, public art, and places for people to watch each other.

MG 8The  mall is designed like Disney, with meandering streets, a hodge podge of architectural facades representing different styles, and plenty of benches with an inward view to more shopping. The colours are in a subdued beige, all the more to allow the signage and sale signs in store windows to pop out.  The internal mall streets are cleverly textured to move people to and through the various “alleys” and into store fronts..

MG 4The scale is pleasing, and there is a surprising posting of  stickmen figurative  do’s and don’ts-you cannot bring in balloons, you can’t skateboard and bike, but your dog …and they are not showing a leash…. is welcome.

There  is a singular focus here, and that is of shopping, with many of the items on offer being last season or clearance.  Many of the  exterior wood benches in the complex are  used as husband chairs, and there is a clever water feature in one central courtyard that invites children to interact with water, meaning of course you know where your kid is while you do more shopping.

The very large interactive fountain called SEI designed by local  First Nations artist  Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas that is well used by children and provides a focus in the largest piazza space in the complex.  
Washrooms on the central plaza were a bit of an oversight, and they are located on the second floor of a vacant building to the north of the site.  There is a great view of the Arthur Laing Bridge and the Fraser River from that second floor. When I asked, I learned there is no place for the retail staff to get a lunch at a reasonable cost, other than the hotdog stand conveniently located close to the second story washrooms.

The main surprise for me was the rounded design of the internal walking routes which meant once you had hiked in from the Canada line or parked your car outside, you will want to be wearing your step counter bracelet.

The mall does have the aura of a single-horse theme park, and that is probably by intent.  But it is worth noting how commercial malls  are emulating the small town  texture, architecture, use of public spaces and walkability as a way of marketing their products. Could the redesign and repurposing of our own commercial areas to enhance walkability be far behind?

But once again the mall brand values car travel more than those coming by public transit. It is an unfortunate oversight that one would have assumed that YVR would have picked up on.


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  1. Mall is also within the airport fare zone so for those of us without monthly transit passes, it cost $7.50 to take the train home. Took a family trip by transit one night to see the new mall and watch the planes fly over. A fun evening but my mood was killed by the ticket price home. It would have been so much cheaper to drive. What a sad conclusion.

      1. Wow, I didn’t know that about the Compass Card. Maybe it’s time to stock up on a few extra Faresavers while they’re still available…

  2. Embarrassingly, while not really great, it is by far the best pedestrian environment of any shopping area in the region. It puts streets like Robson to shame. It is rather ridiculous that people have to drive or take transit to the airport to experience car free shopping streets. Robson, Water and other streets should have been made pedestrian zones a decade or two ago.

    Hopefully those who run businesses in Downtown Vancouver will take a trip out there and realize that they better start pushing for pedestrian zones or they will lose business to places like this. And they will also on-street parking in front of businesses is totally unnecessary in many cases.

    1. I don’t think a place like this will ever put Robson to shame. Robson isn’t quite a complete street, but as a public space with a variety of uses, homes, restaurants, street art and vendors (at Robson square), food carts, etc., it’s a far more lively, real and in my opinion inviting space, despite the presence of cars. Private security also won’t come push you along if you sit a little too long, ride a bike or…hold a balloon? I’ve seen private security harass a woman in the plaza outside Metrotown just for laying down for a few minutes on a bench, and was really stunned by it. These private spaces are still just copies of real cities, not communities.

  3. I’m intrigued by the balloon ban. The only place I’ve seen this before is underground railway stations in Sweden, where they had problems with balloons snagging on the catenary wire. What is the mall protecting against?

  4. Faresavers do not help. I talked to Transit about this afterwards. You can use a faresaver but still need to add the extra $5 for the airport zone.

  5. Well, for me, the reason to go to any different shopping area is if there is a unique store there. If all the stores here are the same chains as any other mall, then there’s no reason to go to it. Add to that the difficulty of even getting there.
    Oh well… They tried.

  6. I really appreciate this much more informative and comprehensive analysis of the mall, which addresses its core purpose and the purposes and needs of the people going there, and examines the transportation within those purposes rather than as an end in itself.

    The reality is simply that driving supports a shopping agenda in a way that transit and bicycles are less able to do; specifically, for transporting stuff home. This is the case whether one shops at this mall, any other mall, downtown, or Commercial Drive.

    In effect, to a place with lots of stores, I would be bringing the car to use for storage and transport of stuff, not so much for myself. At McArthur Glen, I’m betting that people make 2-3 drops at the car before they finally head home – I would, because I don’t like having to wrangle 4 big bags from other stores while scrolling through racks of clothes and trying things on. (Retail staff aren’t keen on shoppers carrying big bags either – potential shoplifters). I count on good parking lot security.

    A locker/bag check system would serve as an alternative to car drops, and would serve cyclists and transit users too. (I keep wishing someone would invent a secure on-bike storage container, although heaven knows securing the bike itself is hard enough, never mind securing stuff on it.)

    Cycle and transit users in particular would be well served if a bag check system had an associated delivery service from the mall.

    But also, for anyone who cycles there other than from the flatlands of Richmond, trying clothes on is less fun (for everyone involved) if one has gotten sweaty on the trip.

    The transit price home (an exit tax, in effect) should be alleviated.

    1. Some incisive comments there, Karin.

      As for the Canada Line “exit fee”, there wouldn’t be a branch of the line to the airport without it as this was a stipulation for constructing the YVR-owned segment in order to recover the cost they paid to build it. McArthurGlen might do well to look into some sort of transit insentive to waive the fee for shoppers, but considering the likely already well-enough-to-do clientele and possibly thin profit margins, I couldn’t see a $5 per transit user carrot lasting too long even if it was implemented.

    2. If you go to the Premium Outlet Mall (North) in Las Vegas, they have a shuttle bus from The Strip – and all you see is a massive line-up of tourists with SUITCASES. Now, I’m not sure if they purchases the suitcases at the mall just to hold their purchases, or whether they brought the suitcases to the mall to do so, but it’s amazing how many are toting them.

  7. “But once again the mall brand values car travel more than those coming by public transit. It is an unfortunate oversight that one would have assumed that YVR would have picked up on.”

    We’re delusional if we think YVR gives a crap about that. They get their lease payment and they are happy.

    1. The original location was supposed to be between the BCIT hangar and the Dinsmore Bridge, which has very little transit connectivity. The new location was chosen because YVR and the developer did want it to be more accessible by the Canada Line.

      It will be interesting to see how busy it is in the dreary wet days of winter.

  8. A note on the name: The mall’s brand is in fact spelled McArthurGlen.

    “But there is something interesting happening at this new 46 store ‘mall’. The location which is on the north part of the airport’s Sea Island, is inaccessible for walkers that would take a day stroll from Vancouver or Richmond to the mall, so all users are either using transit, the Canada Line, or a vehicle.”

    In fact, in order to access this mall on foot even from right across the Arthur Laing Bridge at the neighbourhood of Marpole in Vancouver, one would actually be required to travel to and across the Oak Street Bridge, trudge down several blocks of Sea Island Way and then cross the Moray Channel Bridge before hiking another few kilometres down Miller Road and up Templeton Street. All of this is required due to the offensively prohibitive rule banning pedestrians on the Arthur Laing Bridge.

    As for the cost to access the mall from off Sea Island via transit, I’ve calculated that any time on weekdays before 6:30pm a round trip will run you $13 from Vancouver and the north shore or from Burnaby if a transfer-laden regional-bus-inclusive trip is wanted to be avoided, $10.50 from within Richmond or from Burnaby / New Westminster by way of the 410 bus, and $16.00 from anywhere else barring the use of the West Coast Express. After 6:30pm on weekdays and all day on weekends / holidays, $10.50 will cover your round trip from anywhere in the system. This isn’t mentioning slight savings that might open up once the one-zone-all-the-time bus fares roll out in October, however.

    I would urge McArthurGlen to give us the respect of personalizing their website a little more, I must note. The “Bus” access mentioned on their Vancouver web page ( ) certainly has some sharp metal wheels, but I do look forward to purchasing “€5 to €500” gift cards for friends.

  9. WRT the comment about purchasing lunch at a reasonable price –
    It’s much cheaper to bring your own lunch from home.
    The question should be – does the mall have a staff lunch room for employees (with a microwave), or is that left to each individual store?

    The assumption that one must purchase a prepared lunch (or speciality coffee) from a kiosk or restaurant is one of the reasons that people (esp. at low income levels) find it hard to save money. i.e. buy a salad or sandwich – $8.00. Make a salad or sandwich at home and bring it in – probably $2.00.

  10. Went for lunch and shopping. Poorly signed, long uncovered walk from Templeton Station across a busy road (with lights) and two parking lots. Few stores (about a quarter) open, limited food choices. Had a mediocre but reasonably priced sandwich. Open stores seemed short of merchandise and the few prices I checked were no deal. The mall has few canopies. Except for the last three months it rains a lot here. Planes very close overhead every few minutes were deafening and disruptive–my ears rang. Fortunately I got back to the station with a few of the 90 minutes left on my ticket so avoided the $5 surcharge. Will not be back. Opened too soon? A well deserved candidate for bankrupcy?

    1. We went for lunch and shopping today as well. First visit. Our overall perception was that it was a bit like Disneyland, but worth travelling out to. We used Skytrain Faresavers with a top up for two zones, and no addfare. I found the walk from the station longer than it might have been, but it was well signed IMO. We didn’t cut through the parking lot, but used the path and then the sidewalk along the street. I noticed there was a wide sidewalk down the middle of the parking lot, lined with plants, but there should be a section to cross over to it from Templeton station, constructed similarly. A cover would be even better. Our lunch was good, at a chain we also frequent in town. Price tags in the shops didn’t seem particularly low, but the discounts of 30-40-50% off the ticketed prices on the three items we bought in three different shops helped a lot. The net prices seemed very competitive to us. We enjoyed the day and plan to return. Walking around without any vehicle traffic was great. Downtown merchants should take note. The one thing I would ask them to do sooner instead of later is install non-smoking signs. The whole complex is reportedly non-smoking, but some visitors didn’t get it. Should be an easy fix.

  11. The mall is actually accessible by pedestrians. There is a footpath across the Bridgeport Road/Sea Island Way bridge. Once across the river there is a cutout in the concrete safety barrier at the start of the curve north, this is then a paved path leading down to Airport Road. One hundred meters along is the intersection of Templeton Station Road, turn left, the mall is on the right twenty meters ahead.

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