February 5, 2016

Squamish – The Heart of the Deal

Some doings a-transpirin’ up the Sea-to-Sky in Squamish:
A long-planned oceanfront development agreement moved another step closer this week with Council’s approval of a land transfer. The plan sells off 103 acres – the entire oceanfront peninsula – to a development team in exchange for $15 million in cash, a $10-million park, and an understanding to develop the entire site over a 20-year period.
Existing and full-built proposal are here:




While it’s unclear what the long-term ramifications of private ownership of the peninsula will be, District Council and the Mayor obviously thought it was the only way anything was going to be developed on this land. Whether the District could have simply provided a long-term lease and kept the land will undoubtedly be debated.
It’s not a crime to make money, and real estate development is not a charity. Without the promise of profit, very little will actually get built. But did the District give up too much for too little? I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

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  1. Part of me wishes they’d just platted it off and put up the lots for auction olden-days style.
    But that would require creating and then dealing with multiple stakeholders.
    I do wonder if anyone is seriously looking at how long there can be both no toll on highway 99 and no non-highway dependent travel service before mobility starts breaking down at rush hour

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      Mobility breaks down on that road when a squirrel crosses it. There is zero network redundancy between Squamish, Whistler, and the rest of the planet. There is ONE road that takes you there. If it is not eventually cleared after a storm, fallen tree, or crash, people do not eat.
      The Ministry is not considering tolling or any demand management measures up the Sea-to-Sky at all. They’re treating it like Alberta: let people do whatever they want and hope gas stays cheap.
      It is also known as the Homer Simpson approach: hide under a pile of coats and hope everything turns out OK.

    1. Post

      There used to be regular service from the City; now it’s just the cartoonishly-overpriced and twice-weekly service for retirees, and that’s going to be phased out soon.
      Ultimately, the biggest issue is Transport Canada’s prioritizing freight over passenger rail. There’s also only one track. If a boxcar full of cheetos and thongs needs to make its way up to Pemberton, you and your $300, 4-hour train trip to Whistler will just have to sit and wait on the tracks. Thankfully there’s a bar car on that train.

      1. The biggest issue that passenger rail is a deadbeat. Freight pays it’s bills, and saves considerable carbon emissions over road haulage. Passengers? not so much without a big capital spend and even then it’s not all that much less emissions intensive than da bus.
        There are things that can be done to change this situation, by shanghaing private railroads into prioritizing passenger services over their bill-paying freight isn’t a terribly productive one.

      2. On one train trip I took, one of the attendants said that via actually had the lowest bid on that route when it went up for auction, but that they gave it to rocky mountaineer “in the spirit of competition”. But now it’s for tourists exclusively, which is kind of a shame.

      3. A tourist train does not equate with commuter rail.
        Pacific Coach Lines runs nine (9) buses daily from downtown Vancouver to Squamish and Whistler and back with a capacity of ~500 people. They are packed on weekends, winter and summer. A couple or three commuter trains are not going to eliminate a thong express, especially if two or three sidings are built in key locations for passing, and CN staff drive the trains. This arrangement works well by agreement on the CPR mainline running five West Coast Express trains every weekday.

          1. Post
          1. Ah, I see. There’s precious little, if any, general freight, moving on the former BCR tracks. It was always commodities, lumber and Tumbler Ridge coal. You can thanks Gordon’s former boss, Gordon Campbell, for doing away with regular passenger trains on that route and awarding passenger rights to Peter Armstrong.

    2. The Budd Cars were timetabled to 82 minutes to Squamish in the 1990s. I would certainly love for someone more versed in railway engineering than I to figure out what modern diesel multiple units could pull over the route with achievable modifications to track geometry and night freight.

      1. The Bombardier Regina series pictured above have tilting cars engineered for higher speeds on curves while maintaining comfort. They were specifically designed for weather and rail conditions in Sweden.

  2. Considering how many accidents close down the Sea to Sky on a Sunday afternoon for 4+ hours … I and many others would gladly pay for a ski-train … I believe the West Coast Express trains would be perfect for this on the weekends!

    1. I’d be happy to pay a bit more than PCL and far less than the Rocky Mountaineer railosine and be able to get up and walk around and buy a Canadiano and panini and wave to the thong train engineer parked on the siding.

  3. Having worked on this incredibly challenging site some years ago for both a private developer and the District of Squamish, I can almost hear the sigh of relief of the mayor and other officials that a real live developer has agreed to spend good money on proceeding.
    The wish list of expectations from citizens and officials is very long, in addition to the higher than usual costs of access, servicing, floodproofing and infrastructure, etc. Hopefully now it can proceed fairly smoothly, assuming the apparently nailed down master plan, zoning and land use program have built into them a reasonable degree of flexibility to changing markets over a long time frame.
    Congratulations and good luck to all concerned!

  4. If they don’t repeat the mistake of Ucluelet or Tofino, which have deprivated the public to access most of their waterfront for the benfit of private developer, the master plan looks OK.
    However, I find it surprising, and a bit disappointing, that the masterplan doesn’t seems to capitalize on the main touristic potential of the location, that is Kyteboarding, windsurf and more generally all water things involving wind: the area is well known by the community to be the local mecca for such things. At this time, the main launching pad is at the end of the spit road:
    …but all those people are not given the opportunity to contribute to both the economy and life of the squamish village…Does there is a way to attract them closer to the village (even allowing them to bike their Kyte, instead of driving it)? if so why not capitalizing on it?
    Regarding Vancouver-Squamish transportation
    At 82 mn a train ride from Squamish to North-Van, I am afraid the train option, leaving you stuck on the North Shore, is a non starter.
    The Squamish peninsula is 50km away of the Vancouver Burrard bridge by sea:
    A distance which can be cover by a fast ferry, such as a hydrofoil (30knots+), in a time competitive with a car and this could probably cost much less than a train both in capital and operating cost.

    -Notice that a landing in the vicinity of Burrard bridge has the potential to offer both great access to the Westend CBD and the Broadway Central business area (a lift to reach the bridge deck to meet the buses could be welcome too) and all other place around false creek with water taxi (thought the idea of the False creek streetcar could blend nicely with it)

    Sure, people could have to transfer to a bus to continue North of Squamish, limiting its ridership potential but that could need to be measured (The train could also involve a bus ride at Whistler from the train-station to the village, when the coaches drop you at the village place, right at the bottom of the lifts), it is still offering a redundancy link on Vancouver/Squamish, since effectively the road lack of reliability due to countless number of accident with too many fatalities (and I suspect, that road has a worse safety record after the 2010 upgrade than before).

    1. Voony, the tracks extend under Lonsdale and Esplanade and a passenger service could be viable to a new station within the Quay close to the NV Seabus terminal. In my view commuter rail beyond Whistler to the Interior will be viable one day. It’s a 12-minute trip on the Seabus to Waterfront Station from NV.
      A passenger ferry service to Squamish is an interesting idea. However, Whistler-bound folks may want to avoid the hassle of transferring at Squamish especially if laden with skis and luggage and opt for a land route. There goes half the potential revenue. I would think a passenger ferry service would hook into the convenient concentration of transit amenities at Waterfront station and offer fast service to Gibsons, Sechelt, Pender Harbour and Powel River.

    2. With modernized rolling stock, as opposed to de-rated Budd Co. antiques, 82 minutes should be regarded as a ceiling, not a fixed time. .
      Ferries tend to have very high staffing requirements, so I question whether a ferry would be less operating-cost intensive than a DMU which could operate with a two man crew (or one, if anyone wants to be ‘bold’).

  5. Former premier Campbell opted for highway over rail improvements for a reason, presumably. My supposition is to stimulate land development along the route. Not tolling the highway at that time was an amazingly poor decision, IMO.

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