January 30, 2019

Council to World — We Like Transit

Now, even more likely to come to UBC — high volume rapid transit

Vancouver’s new City Council showed it’s stripes today, in a long discussion around extending rapid transit to UBC.

The Council voted 9-2 in favour of the following recommendations, from the Staff Policy Report:


A. THAT Council endorse a SkyTrain extension from Arbutus Street to UBC.

B. THAT Council direct staff to work with partners to advance the design development including public consultation to determine station locations, vertical and horizontal alignment.

C. THAT staff write a letter to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation (“Mayors’ Council”) to inform them of Council’s support for the selection of SkyTrain and further design and consultation on alignment

Most of us want Skytrain to UBC — let’s go ahead

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    1. Post

      Jen St. Denis says on Twitter

      Coun. Hardwick and Swanson oppose. Hardwick because line to UBC is not a transit plan for the entire city, and Swanson for same reason plus she wants to see transit cheaper/free for low income people and wants more renter protection

        1. She also referred to the subway recommendation as a plan to build towers at every node. And said that staff was burying the streetcar plan. Staff pointed out that the report showed the capacity limitations of streetcars, that they are two answers to two different questions,

          1. Land use and transit are never two different questions.


            But if the region is determined to build SkyTrain it’s not hard to cook up the numbers to make it the better solution. Over-estimating demand will not undo the damage of underestimating demand on the Canada Line.

            Motordom wins. Nearly 50% of trips in the city (and many many more in the region) are still made by car and that’s a *lot* of people who prefer a system that won’t ever impede them. It’s also not a surprise that polls favour what is known over the unknown. What is known is that sprawl brings you fast expensive transit. Those in the dense mixed-use areas get buses.

          2. Ron, land use and transit are definitely linked. It is one of the reasons for Vancouver’s success in transit. That said I don’t buy Mr. Condon’s various premises in the article. In particular I find it amazing that a Professor (even if not in Transportation) can be so willfully ignorant about Transit when he writes so much about it. UBC must cringe everytime he writes. What ever happened to proper sourcing? His ability to make up numbers is amazing.
            That said why do you think the demand on Broadway is over estimated? Experience in Vancouver is usually the opposite. That said I believe the original demand projections are likely to be more accurate (and still more than justify Skytrain)

          3. Demand for the Evergreen Line was way over-estimated. Canada Line way under-estimated. I don’t think TransLink is very dependable for demand estimates. But they are determined to build SkyTrain no matter what. This region fears anything but SkyTrain and that is swayed heavily by motorists who wnat to drive unimpeded.

            Meanwhile TransLink did project *higher* overall ridership and more than enough capacity with a dual LRT including a second line along 41st when needed. (Take that for what it’s worth – TransLink projection and all.) But if correct it need not be built for 20 to 25 years when the Main-UBC LRT is reaching capacity. (Subway to Arbutus is a given.)

            The take home from Condon’s piece is that expensive subways and elevated systems drive up surrounding land values to the point that affordable and/or missing-middle development is shoved aside for luxury highrise towers. As we’ve seen everywhere! It isn’t a solution to housing affordability in the city. It just drives people out of town – literally. Out there they will drive for most things and you’ll have lost the apparent increase in transit ridership to people driving to the mall.

            For the same cost you can build 3 times the LRT serving places other than only the most intense and desirable corridors and provide high capacity transit to 3 times the people. Better networking increases ridership further. Obviously people living through the middle of the city (ridgeway corridor) would be much better served by the second LRT than by putting all our eggs in a single narrow Broadway corridor. Extrapolate all such scenarios x 3 and then increase further due to networking.

            I’m not opposed to SkyTrain or subways where appropriate. But our determination to use it as the go-to for everything the instant buses reach their capacity limits is absurd.

          4. Ron a couple of thoughts. The first is on ridership forecasts. It is really important (and difficult) to keep track of assumption used. In the case of the Millenium line its ridership was forecast on the other segments being built. Same for the Evergreen. Its ridership is based on Broadway being built, no way it will reach 70,000 before Broadway opens although it may get close.
            You probably could build 3X LRT than bored tunnel which brings the question instead of subway or LRT should we go elevated (and piss neighbors off) or go cut and cover (and again piss people off)? Sometimes trade offs are interesting. For the record I am personally in favour of a tunnel on Broadway but think more discussion would be good.

          5. The Millennium Line was built in sporadic fits and starts (still ongoing) because of the switcheroo to SkyTrain that cost 3 times the cost. So they only built 1/3 at a time – greatly constraining ridership growth. Imagine if they had stuck with LRT and built the entire line from UBC to Coquitlam Centre back in 2002 for the same cost as the line from nowhere to nowhere. We’d have already finished the 41st LRT from UBC to Metrotown and the SNG in Surrey. We’d already be planning a Metrotown-Brentwood-PNE-Downtown line and one across the North Shore and discussing a line up Kingsway among others.

            We’re 15 to 20 years behind in developing the mass transit we could have for the same cost. And I maintain we’d have a better urban fabric as a result.

  1. We also seem to like elevated transit. Given that Seattle is tearing down their elevated concrete Viaduct, how long will it be before our Skytrain massive concrete stuctures become unsafe due to earthquake and/or corrosion of the reinforcing steel?

    1. Well, the people who always push for these expensive, over-built, narrow-corridor, nodal solutions ignore that we’ve just spent hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading SkyTrain stations that are only thirty years old. The overhead guideways will probably last somewhere between 100 and 150 years before they need to be completely rebuilt. At what cost? How much interruption? You need to take the entire line out of service for years.

      LRT statins cost just a few $million a piece, from scratch, rather than $60million to $100million. You can have 3 times as many lines adding resilience and better coverage and access. When a line is out of service for any reason it’s not the same catastrophe as when SkyTrain shuts down.

      1. Have you looked at recently built or under construction LRT costs recently? Portland Orange line, Calgary West line, Ottawa Confederation line (actually more of a Metro with LRT vehicles), Edmonton Valley line, Eglington West. These are all urban lines in cities with lots of experience in LRT. ALL of these are more than 130million per km. The only recent or under construction line that I am aware of that could match your price expectations is Waterloo…but lots of that is in an old railway corridor, demand is more limited (less trains needed) and I assume real estate is way cheaper. If you know of any other cheap urban, double tracked recently built or under construction lines let me know.

        1. Thank you Rico for confirming my numbers. $130million per km is less than 1/3 the cost of the Broadway subway and the UBC extension. I’ve always used a figure of about 3 times the LRT for the cost of SkyTrain.

          Note that close to half the distance from Main Street-Science World to UBC is in ROWs already set aside, old railway corridors, the edge of the Jericho Lands and UBC Boulevard. About half would be on West Broadway and West 10th – both streets that could benefit form a road diet.

          1. Not that much different. Where subways are more than 3 times the cost of LRT, elevated is 2.5 times. Cut and cover isn’t always cheaper than bored. It’s just potentially faster. Both elevated and subway remove transit riders from the fabric of the neighbourhood.

          2. Elevated Skytrain has been coming in pretty much that same as LRT in other cities, it is counter intuitive but there it is. Cut and cover is clearly cheaper but more importantly less risky than a bored tunnel. It will have secondary costs that may mean it is not worth it though.

          3. Cut & cover would be a lot cheaper on 8th — It would piss off a few hundred people—- then again john & justin will be picking up most of the tab so whats half a billion—- If COV & UBC were picking up the extra cost of underground it would be elevated

        2. When they priced converting a partially tunneled Eglinton LRT to full subway it ballooned by almost four times the cost.

          TransLink doesn’t explain why it costs 50% more to build LRT here as it does elsewhere (like Portland’s latest for your example*). But they do make clear, “LRT could be designed with more capacity if it were grade-separated, such as elevated or tunnelled, but this would bring it much closer to the costs of SkyTrain.” Implication: why would you want anything to cost as much as SkyTrain? Indeed.

          It’s moot anyway as we’re highly unlikely to see anything elevated east of Blanca. And even with TransLink’s inflated LRT costs, for 25% more we could have 2 lines serving UBC as well as *adding* False Creek, Granville Island, Kerrisdale and Oakridge – setting up for an obvious extension to Metrotown. TransLink admits this would draw more ridership. If we didn’t use a 50% inflated cost we could build it out to Metrotown right away for around the same cost as a narrow little 7km line serving a minute fraction of the catchment area.

          But nothing may interfere with the grand plan to build SkyTrain and only SkyTrain.

          *Converted to Canadian dollars.

          1. Weird… this post appeared to be lost in the ether so I rewrote below with a little more research to add. Sorry for any repeat info.

        3. Rico, here are your expensive LRT examples to impress upon me how SkyTrain is competitive:

          Eglington West: $166m/km primarily at grade.

          Calgary West Line: $171m/km “The extension project included construction of
          4.3km at-grade track, 1.5km elevated track, 2.4km tunnel.”

          Edmonton Valley Line: $137m/km includes a maintenance facility and a bridge over
          the North Saskatchewan River (a big river).

          Portland Orange Line: $144m/km ($ Canadian) includes a bridge over the
          Willamette River (a big river).

          And here’s UBC LRT: $250 to $260m/km!!!!!!!!!!

          WHY is TransLink’s at-grade LRT estimate 50% to 90% higher than other particularly
          expensive LRTs that include big bridges or half their lengths grade separated?

          There are no bridges required to UBC, little land acquisition required, one 250m tunnel, and yet they inflate costs by truly absurd amounts. What is their motivation?

          By TransLinks own admission, the dual LRT would have higher ridership and enough capacity for 40 years. If they used believable costs they could build the entire Metrotown to UBC and back to Main Street for the same cost as the narrow 7km UBC SkyTrain extension. It would serve False Creek, Granville Island, Kerrisdale, Oakridge and Metrotown in addition to the same areas served by SkyTrain.

          We are not going to see elevated guideways east of Blanca so there won’t be any great savings in going elevated for the last stretch.

          SkyTrain to UBC is horrible value.

          1. I believe my point was primarily elevated Skytrain was very cost competitive with LRT in urban areas. For current North American LRT costs comparisons you could also look up the Calgary Green line. Minneapolis’s blue line or Southwest expansion, Dallas Orange line, Houston’s Green or Purple line, San Diego Mid-Coast trolley. Or it would probably be a lot quicker to look up current LRT systems less than 100 million. Any system should include a ops/maintenance facility since obviously we would need one. I get Waterloo which is a small city with less demand(fewer trains, smaller maintenance facilities needed), significant amounts on old railway right of way and cheaper real estate. I originally figured the most recent extension in suburban Phoenix was less than 100 million per km but I missed the 60 million the city kicked in to get the project started. That pretty much leaves the most recent set of extensions in Salt Lake city that Patrick provided, they were completed before 2015 so a bit older than the other examples, I am having trouble finding much about them so not sure why they are cheaper than the others.

          2. I know what your point was Rico. You were trying to make SkyTrain compare favourably to the cost of LRT by cherry picking especially expensive LRTs – mostly ones that are extensively grade separated or requiring big bridges. In doing so you inadvertently blew a massive hole in TransLink’s LRT cost projections. (I am curious what makes Eglington West so expensive but it still comes in 35% cheaper.)

            I’ve got better things to do than chase down the cost of every new LRT line out there. How about if you want to lend some credibility to TransLink’s fake news costs that you find comparable systems that are coming in with similar costs.

          3. My point was I am aware of 1 (one, uno) potentially comparible LRT in North America that cost significantly less than the Evergreen or Canada Line per km (the Canada Line numbers are a little old for me I am sure it would cost a lot more today, but the Evergreen Line is still reasonably recent). One is not much of a sample, and that was Salt Lake City where I don’t know if op/maintenance facilities were part of the cost or if trains were included or if they were running trains down old rail right of ways or other cheap right of ways. The other 11 systems that I checked as being potentially comparable were all at least 100 million a km, most were more than 130 million a km. If people expect LRT for anything less than 100 million anywhere in Vancouver except maybe Arbutus they will be in for a very rude surprise. And if we are looking at high volume routes I would expect it to cost more. What did Translink cost the Broadway LRT out per km?

          4. Well you’re numbers aren’t exactly backed by TransLink… nor are mine exactly either. Who knows what magic brought in the Evergreen Line so cheaply – 40% of it’s length in a railway ROW helped, but then there was a big tunnel… But it appears to be an outlier.

            Recent elevated systems in San Francisco and Honolulu came in at $204m/km and $225m/km respectively. The Expo Line extension towards Langley is currently estimated at $182m/km whereas LRT was estimated at $122m/km. This is the closet apples to apples comparison we might find which still makes SkyTrain 50% more costly than LRT. Which is arguably worth it for Langley but less a factor for UBC since so much of it would be subway.

            Neither Surrey, Langley nor UBC have any particular geographic constraints that should put LRT at the higher end of costs but since the SNG Line was fully costed and ready to break ground I’ll take the $155m/km to be realistic for that Line.

            This does not explain why UBC LRT would cost $255m/km especially since so much of it can be built in ROWs other than the street. At $155m/km (still really high measured against more complex systems elsewhere) we could build LRT from Main to UBC and back to Oakridge for less than the cost of SkyTrain from Arbutus to UBC.

          5. One of the things I have noticed is there has been huge cost increases in rail projects in the last decade or so. That is why I was trying to look only at recent projects for cost comparisons. Based on 188/km for elevated Skytrain on the Fraser Hwy 155/km for LRT seems consistent. 155 Canadian/ km is probably the median of the systems I looked at. Note the ALR portion of the route would be expensive for both optio due to the soft alluvial soils but the relatively suburban route should have balanced that. I was unaware Broadway was costed out at 250/km for LRT. I agree this number seems high. It is at the upper end of the systems I was looking at. But then again I am also a bit shocked with the Fraser highway Skytrain costs, I guess costs are going up more than I realized. Time for me to start reading more original documents.

          6. Except for the Eglington outlier, your “median” priced LRT systems are half grade-separated or include massive bridges, neither of which are required for UBC. A $155m/km “median” should be considered high for an at-grade system with no bridges with close to half the route in off-street ROWs – even including a maintenance facility in the False Creek Flats. $255 is absurd and makes me question what kind of backroom politics has lead to that number.

            I also wonder whether Calgary’s 1200 car LRT park-and-rides were included in the cost of their latest LRT line. It seems to be promoted as part of the package. A cost we wouldn’t have.

          7. Indeed I assume Calgarys Green line includes the park and rides. It better at that price. The first phase is 4.6 billion for 20km. That phase does include a ridiculously costly 4.2km tunnel for 2 billion. Apparently a very tricky tunnel. Taking the tunnel (and theoretically most expensive downtown segment) out still leaves it as 167 million per km for street running low floor LRT. They can afford a couple of park and riders to be in that cost range….but I am glad we keep the park and ridex to the edge of the system.

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