December 15, 2020

Alex Botta on The Icepick (Updated)

Regular commenter Alex Botta responded extensively to the Return of the Icepick in a post below.  But his remarks deserve this separate treatment, with updated illustrations:

This thing keeps popping up like Dracula’s curse, first on hand then a body emerging from the ground. Cue the night moon, mist and pipe organ. A stake needs to be driven into its heart once and for all. I’m not convinced the Heritage Commission has enough sway to do that, though the majority certainly drove home the message that the Icepick will destroy any sense of heritage preservation with its gross intrusion.

This project cannot be compared to other singular buildings (e.g. The Exchange) because the context is completely different. The proposal is also too clumsy and inelegant by comparison to other stand-alone heritage conversions. The old CPR Station, which will be pierced by the Icepick, resides at the terminus of a preserved low-rise 19th Century streetscape. The closest high rises are separated from the Station by the 26 metre-wide Cordova Street. Moreover, it overlooks the low-rise waterfront (with the exception of the intrusive Granville Square tower). Context is everything.

There is also the conflict between public use (transit) and private use (the Icepick is a private office development as part of Cadillac Fairview / Ontario Teacher’s Pension Fund). The Station is a privately-owned public use space, which seems superficially contradictory, but a dominant public use relationship that could be protected with strong long-term leases. The Icepick will be 100% private space. This is symptomatic of the confusion between public and private, and a diminishment of the role public space has in our economy. Public uses are stabilizing forces while the private economy chugs up and down the market’s peaks and valleys, occasionally getting knocked to its knees by tectonic occurrences, like pandemics that put the question to the need for so much enclosed office space. My view is that good science will win the day and allow indoor social gatherings again, but that still doesn’t justify the Icepick from a design and use perspective.

Guest links to London’s Shard development, which I am familiar with. The Shard is not a good comparison because it was part of an overall development that resulted in a major improvement to public use: transit. The Icepick doesn’t improve a single thing, let alone transit or public space. The Shard does not squash or pierce a heritage building. The Icepick does just that. What these developments do have in common is their form: vertical planes of glass with unusual angles set in a largely heritage context. However, The Shard is well-placed within a development that was designed around it. The Icepick is and always was a jamb-it-in job from from inception.

The new juxtaposed with the old in London is very common and resulted mainly from the millions of tonnes of WWII ordnance dropped during the Blitz, creating craters and piles of rubble on one street while the next street filled with 19th Century tan brick buildings remained unscathed. The bombing was especially bad near the Thames, in Docklands and in the East End, but the bombing maps do indicate widespread damage to various degrees almost everywhere in London. This helps explain the abrupt transition from 18th and 19th century buildings to 20th and 21st century in places like Shad Thames and Spitalfields. And London Bridge Station.

Vancouver has no such history and no justification for clumsily poking holes into its rare enough historical buildings — Class A buildings at that — and heritage districts, thereby eroding its architectural legacy.

So is it possible to place ultra-modern structures into or next to protected heritage buildings without negative consequences? Absolutely! Turning to a couple of London references again, the Kings Cross project uses a steel skeleton and glass to create a half-dome to wonderful effect, essentially creating a great public space used as the functional central ticket hall. St. Pancras Station just across the street used a renovated glass barrel vault train shed (the largest in Europe) for the Eurostar service to Paris. The Great Court at the British Museum was glassed over with a brilliantly-executed split dome by Foster + Partners 20 years ago, and in my view is one of the finest public spaces in the world. In all these cases both the heritage and new are treated with respect and enhance each other.

St. Pancras (left) and King’s Cross (right) Stations


King’s Cross


British Museum


The above examples were rendered with horizontal, suspended glass domes hovering within a reasonable scale of the heritage rooftops, and enclose magnificent gathering places. Verticality has its place, but certainly not on this site. This could be the alternate design inspiration for a new mid-century Waterfront Station, one that decks over the railway tracks and creates thousands of square metres of new station floor space sheltered by glass domes and wooden arches, new local transit and regional commuter and intercity rail services, possibly a high-speed rail terminus for a West Coast line from Seattle and points beyond, an expanded SeaBus terminal, possibly a new underground platform for a North Shore SkyTrain line, and a high-capacity BC Ferries passenger-only service to two or three Island cities and the Sunshine Coast.

This vision would make Waterfront Station one of the most diverse hubs on the continent. It should not entertain privatizing any space or function, and in fact should ideally be owned eventually by Port Metro Vancouver.

Keep public space public.

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  1. Seems like things worked out ok at Grand Central:

    Honestly confused by all the fuss on this one; as long as it’s providing a good passage to the north capable of supporting future public space and development above the railway tracks and towards the water, things (view, access, etc) should be ok?

    If the purpose of the ‘ice pick’ was to pierce the station, well, it missed? Perhaps the main floor could provide better flow-through to the station and a use that does a little more to activate the space? Hard to accomplish though given how everything’s pulled back to the building core. Puzzling that a city like Vancouver should have a low-rise waterfront in immediate proximity to the most transit-accessible location in western Canada.

  2. Funny how the powers that be here accuse the single family home owners of being nimbies, then go into paroxysms of nimbiness when someone wants to build something out of the ordinary in their backyard.

    1. It’s a glass-clad box. vancouver has more than its fair share of that boring idiom. Having a wierdly shaped base doesn’t make it “extraordinary”.

  3. That first image is the original design? – thank goodness they’ve revised it somewhat in the second iteration – the old entrance door and vestibule are so clumsily done.
    It does look different than the buildings next to it. It just isn’t a very well designed different building.

    Alex’s suggestion of an overarching public space incorporating this parking lot and Station as part of a larger transportation hub is – maybe- an impossible dream – but what an opportunity- which this Icepick takes away.

  4. I regard the building as an ugly overbearing massive and inappropriate intrusion. But my one voice just puts me into the chattering or tweeting class. The only hope remaining is the Urban Design Panel who may reject it. But the unresolved issue is how to compensate a landowner for the unrealised potential of the property. The city can not be expected to buy the land.

  5. Vancouver’s Climate Emergency Plan claims that:

    By 2030, we’re aiming:
    • To cut our carbon pollution from buildings in half,
    compared to what we had in 2007
    • For 40% less embodied emissions from new buildings
    and construction projects compared to 2018

    Now, clearly I’m a blithering idiot, because I see no reality in which this building fits that plan. Nor does it address the fact that we are ostensibly abandoning the ‘growth is good’ mentality for something more humane. Now if addressing those concerns can’t be spelled out to a maroon like me, then it’s b.s – short and simple. We are figuratively arguing about the colour of the drapes as the house burns down. I am shaking my head at this craziness.

    1. Welcome to the City of Vancouver urban planning, zoning, and development department !
      – they certainly talk the talk but then let large scale condo and commercial projects off the energy reduction hook and make the single family houses and smaller Part 9 commercial projects do all the heavy lifting with regard to performance and embodied emissions.

      It will be interesting to see how they deal with this as we get closer to 2030.

      1. That’s not exactly true. All buildings are being required to up their game. Single family was the first to be phased in because, at the time anyway, it still accounted for the most new floor area. But each building sector is having to increase thermal performance and energy efficiency in phases, leapfrogging past each other to an ultimate goal of all being carbon neutral.

        Even single family performance requirements are still at about 1/3 of where they need to get to.

      1. I guess my perspective is… what are the GHG savings of not building a building that needn’t be built?

        One surmises that every piece of land looks like a potential high-rise to developers, just as everything looks like a nail to someone with a hammer.

        I see zero need for this building given current and future realities. A few blocks to the east however, we see a humanitarian crisis growing — that might at least be stabilized by substantive investments in real housing for real people.

        I have no answer short of abandoning profit and money worship as an overriding philosophy for our culture. So, realistically, I have no answer. But continuing down the wrong path is insanity at this point.

        One reluctant misanthrope’s opinion

        1. Well, I suspect most office developers that don’t already have shovels in the ground are going to step back and assess the market in the coming couple of years. If the building is not needed it won’t be built. If it is needed, something will be built whether it’s this one or another.

          One could step back a decade and say this or that building isn’t needed. But going in to Covid Vancouver’s office vacancy rate was unhealthily low. Who’s to say if that won’t still be the case in a few years? It’s pure speculation.

          The need for one office building or another should not influence our response to the housing/poverty crisis in Vancouver and many cities around the world.

          WRT growth I completely agree that we need to evolve toward a steady-state economy. Our current economic system is that proverbial hammer, using constant growth as brute force tool to avoid market collapse because the dismal science is really not very good at managing our economy. We need different tools in that toolbox.

          1. I am comfortable speculating that we are on the cusp of a major shift in the working landscape. Between virtual realities very real potential, less cool tech such as effective tele-conferencing, and a youth cohort that is getting very used to online learning/collaboration — and can make a seamless transition to same in the workforce, along with pandemic realities that may or may not last, but will certainly return, big, destination office buildings are going to decline along with all the businesses that support the model.

            That’s just the don’t throw your money away on steel and glass star-citecture reasons from a person who sees them as idiotic monuments to hubris. The environmental reasons are old news to Price Tags readers. No commute is more friendly than the one that never happens.

      1. A place where people often spend a third of their day and half of their waking hours is not just a building. In fact, no building is ‘just’ a building. What a strange thing to say.

        1. Not a strange thing to say for anyone who isn’t an architect. The Icepick is just a building. The space around it is not. And there appears to be nothing in the revised plan that precludes enjoyment of the present or future use that surrounding space.

          1. My mistake. No wonder people don’t have any strong opinions about where buildings should go and what they might look like. They are just assemblages of materials for putting things in — really just glorified cardboard boxes when you think about it.

  6. True – that’s the stated Plan and it’s a laudable goal
    – but right now people are screaming about the current cost of condo living here – already exacerbated by the land values and insane CAC costs the city squeezes out of developers.

    Throw in the cost (and effort which is cost2) to actually construct energy efficient carbon neutral condos and offices everywhere and the blowback by 2030 will be something like we’ve never seen before. I wonder if the powers that be have the fortitude to actually stand up to it.

    1. Why 2030? That’s when we’re to reach that goal – the process has already begun. By 2030 those who do not have a carbon neutral building will not have reaped all the energy cost savings but they’ll be paying very high carbon taxes too.

      Energy efficiency pays for itself 3X over in the life of the building.

  7. New condo towers use a variety of measure to reduce solar gain in the units –
    – opaque spandrel panels to reduce the area of vision glass (ie smaller windows, though I question livability in Vancouver’s dark winters)
    – perforated metal screens
    – louvres, fins and sun shades
    – wraparound balconies

  8. Alex, I agree 100%, and I think you’ve got your priorities right. I think the thing is ugly as sin, and scale really does matter – but public space is the most important issue.

    I think the most important thing about architecture is not how it looks, but the spaces it creates. People and activities are figures to architecture’s ground. There are exceptions, but they are – and should be – rare, in the same way that not every food should be sweet, not every noise should be loud, not every light should be bright. To take the food analogy, this building is like a dessert consisting of a large sugar crystal with no other flavour.

    Camillo Sitte emphasized the importance of scale and proportion relating space and buildings. Vancouverism famously tries to build towers but use the podium to maintain human scale. Christopher Alexander talks about what amounts to cultural architectural vocabularies that have evolved to suit uses and activities. This has none of that.

    It’s hideous – and I say this as someone who actually liked the old Granville facade of the Eaton Centre. Why? Because the intense uses on either side pulled pedestrians past it, turning into a bland backdrop for the diversity of human life. From a distance, the building looked like a UFO had plopped down on the city. But at street level, the featurelessness of that wall managed to be a feature. Can you imagine this even achieving that? The architects can’t, if the photo at the head of this article is any indication. No-one would spend a moment there they didn’t have to. The place will feel cold even in summer. Ice Pick indeed.

    1. The image at the top of the piece is not the design of the proposed building. The new version puts the tower further back on the site to create a larger plaza. It also incorporates a viewing deck on the 4th floor level of the building.

    2. “…and I say this as someone who actually liked the old Granville facade of the Eaton Centre.”

      Wow! I guess one can justify anything. Ugly is subjective, but I’d argue the Ice Pick is much much less of a negative intrusion on the city than Eatons was. The new Pacific Centre facade is an improvement but the bones of the building still turn most of a block into a retail dead zone in the middle of a retail strip. The building was, and still largely is, the antitheses of good urban design, placemaking and streetscape.

  9. I’m going to defend the Ice Pick. I certainly understand the validity of all the criticisms being waged against it. But none have really looked at it in the context of what is proposed to the north – over the tracks. If these new towers are ever built (and I admit the size of the “if”) they will also be modern buildings – not some reproduction of our historical beginnings. The transition has to happen somewhere. I’d argue the north facade of the old CPR building is as important as the south and it will also be challenged by its new neighbours. The tacky post modern reproduction of the repeating arch/peaks by the WCE entrance is also a travesty that can be rectified in a similar fashion to the big glass atriums seen in Europe that enclose, yet feature, station facades. In this context, the Ice Pick could be a really great fit – a vertical expression in glass of the horizontal glass atrium.

    If find the Ice Pick to be much more attractive than the average downtown office tower, though that is entirely subjective. I appreciate that the new design retains far more of the open space that is currently a parking lot(!) and tends to retain much of the view corridor between The Station and The Landing. What is proposed for this parking lot in the Hub design is a road – not the great public space it should be to replace the decimated Granville Square.

    If I have a significant criticism it is that, in bowing to public pressure, they’ve gone overboard in narrowing the base and making it apparently transparent. I’d use the base as further enclosure of the square to improve its intimacy and offer some opportunity for commercial frontage. I’d try to work with its neighbours to get more commercial frontage opening toward the square. And I’d use materials that are more in keeping with its neighbours on the lower few floors. It should still be modern and not a fake attempt to reproduce the historic buildings.

    I’d take the Ice Pick and a great public square over no Ice Pick and just another road any day.

  10. Alex, I agree until your last line. Why should the Port own Waterfront Station? They’re in the international freight moving business. The owner should be Translink, which is the people moving business, and does the best job doing so in North America.

    1. Very good points, Michael. But the Port already owns the waterfront road and the fill lands to the water’s edge, currently occupied by the floating berths for the SeaBus and the HeliJet terminal, and some vast, vast, vast parking lots.

      The railyards are squeezed in between, and even if decked over, they could retain private ownership with restrictions on moving dangerous goods under the deck. Say goodbye to the stained tanker cars carrying toxic who-knows-what liquids that often rest in long lines on the tracks.

      As mentioned, a lease agreement with Station owner Cadillac Fairview and a public agency, like TransLink or Ports could evolve into a very long term leasehold to protect public transport uses. But that doesn’t negate the fact that the owner, not TransLink (the primary leaseholder), is the party promoting an egregiously inappropriate project derogatorily referred to as the Icepick. And that follows TransLink’s earlier involvement in the Hub plan where multiple, inordinately bland glass towers and roads appeared oriented to a new elevated deck, all justified by vacuum-filling private revenue.

      Ports (i.e. the feds) and the BC government will be involved anyway if there is any senior administrative interest in expanding regional and continental rail as part of a climate strategy. Seattle and premier Horgan are way ahead of the feds on the inception of high speed rail on the West Coast. Ditto a regular BC Ferries passenger ferry shuttle service to Nanaimo, Victoria and the Sunshine Coast offered at a similar ticket price as the existing ferry price structure, which is a fraction of the private ticket prices of several failed tourist catamarans. Waterfront is rail rich, and rail + passenger ferries can be very dynamic.

      Via Rail and / or Ports seem to have an ideal future potential to step in and negotiate outright ownership, or lead a consortium with BC and the Metro to enhance the site as the most important transit hub in Western Canada, upgrade the old CPR building for seismic and energy, and to expand the public pedestrian space to the north with glass and engineered wood arches that roof over thousands of m2 of new floor space over several decks for ticket halls, circulation halls to the SeaBus and ferry docks, rail passenger waiting areas, security, office space, etc.

      An adequately funded public agency with a strong mandate to expand transit will have no motivation to cave to the influence of building private office space, especially that which can be legitimately termed outrageous, sinfully mediocre or a bully to heritage concerns.

  11. Environmentalism is more important than urban design. This statement is true as it is self evident that without a functioning ecology nothing else matters. This is not an easy lesson to learn as we continue to see development proposal after development proposal grounded in the industrial processes of the last century, the very processes that have produced the climate emergency we face today.

    Generally speaking, emergency means: change the thought framework, include the objective of eliminating carbon emissions and then think about buildings and urban design. This is a very big ask full of promise and hope for those willing to step outside the historical confines of their professions and confront the existential issue with which humans are now confronted. It is a necessary step if we do not want to become victims of our own short sighted folly.

  12. Genuinely disappointing to see NIMBYism like this on Price Tags. The opponents of this project are doing an incredibly poor job of explaining *why* this project is bad; one wonders if it has to do with their views from SFU downtown being blocked.

  13. I’m also going to venture a rare vote of support for the design of the Ice Pick. It’s not wonderful, but it’s better than most. I read the articles and comments that people have against it, but I really don’t see the problem. I think it goes to show that matters of taste are pretty personal. Heritage and contemporary can work together quite well in some circumstances, and I think that the Ice Pick is alright on that front. Personally I loathed the initial redevelopment plans for the Post Office, but I think I was the lone voice in the wilderness on that front. The first proposed addition had these 80’s office building curves on them that were totally disharmonious with the original style, but also not a strong counterpoint. It just looked like the architects hadn’t actually looked at the building they were adding to. The current proposal under construction has had some improvement, but it still isn’t that great either. Yet it really seems like I’m the only one that this bothers.

    The real problem in my mind is not the look of the Ice Pick but the total lack of a plan. That is the problem with the Waterfront Framework. It’s not a plan. It’s a recitation of some perfectly reasonable planning ideas but that’s it. The central idea was a transit interchange, but it is that already and there wasn’t anything in the Framework that actually physically improved that function. The Framework shows a transit concourse, but the connections proposed exist in pretty much the same form already. If they were to be rebuilt, they could and should be made better, but there really isn’t much to go on in the Framework.

    The Illustrative Concept Plan is also mostly a case of the bland leading the bland. There is one good urban design idea, the extension of Granville at grade, but the rest of the urban design is just a continuation of the development across from Canada Place. OK, but nothing special. And all that talk for just a continuation of the status quo.

    A real plan would have real public square, new public space along the waterfront, connections to Crab Park to integrate it with the city, possible locations for public buildings on the waterfront site etc. If there were a real plan that we were building to, we would know where the future public spaces would be and what needs to be done to protect them and build around them. Right now there is legitimate concern about building on what is now vacant space because it isn’t obvious that any other public space is coming. But if there were a real plan, we would all know where the future public space is and how development should be built around it.

    1. “Personally I loathed the initial redevelopment plans for the Post Office, but I think I was the lone voice in the wilderness on that front. The first proposed addition had these 80’s office building curves on them that were totally disharmonious with the original style, but also not a strong counterpoint. It just looked like the architects hadn’t actually looked at the building they were adding to.”

      If you are referring to Sinclair Centre, I believe it is one of the best adaptive re-use projects in the city and a demonstration of what a good architect (Richard Henriquez) can achieve when one places heritage at the forefront. The four buildings were not pierced, pummelled or beaten into submission like the egotistical Icepick, but integrated in an ingenious conversion of a lane and loading bays into a high quality execution of pedestrian space covered in glass and tucked away on the rear facades of the buildings. The modern in integrated with the heritage by gently enhancing rather than overpowering it. The thinking behind the design process involving Class A heritage buildings just sits there, not 30 metres from the CPR building, but the clues regarding heritage design process seem to be lost on the Icepick proponents who prefer contextless in-your-face architectural bullying over subtlety and intelligence.

      “The real problem in my mind is not the look of the Ice Pick but the total lack of a plan. That is the problem with the Waterfront Framework. It’s not a plan. It’s a recitation of some perfectly reasonable planning ideas but that’s it.”

      Bingo! I totally agree with the inference that the future use as a meeting place between human beings and public transportation infrastructure is of the highest importance, but lacks an adequate plan. The former Hub plan is the epitome of mediocre. Has anyone involved in the plan, the Icepick project or city staff reviewing them even tried to conceptualize the needs and potential for transportation post mid-century in the nation’s most important Western terminus, specifically where land meets sea? The Station is now 104 years old. What will the Hub look like and function as in 2124? I vehemently disagree that the “look” of the Icepick is not important, nor its juxtaposition stabbing into the heart of the low rise heritage Station building.

      “A real plan would have real public square, new public space along the waterfront, connections to Crab Park to integrate it with the city, possible locations for public buildings on the waterfront site etc. If there were a real plan that we were building to, we would know where the future public spaces would be and what needs to be done to protect them and build around them.”

      Also completely agree with these sentiments, including the continuation of Granville Street to a public square perched above the water, and doglegged west to Canada Place. Enclosed public pedestrian spaces are well articulated with the above fine examples from London of high quality covered public spaces integrated into transportation hubs and museums, which receive hundreds of millions of people a year. With a little imagination, public plazas are easily incorporated into the space between the Station and The Landing making it one of the main entrances — a great spot for a big crashing fountain too (currently a parking lot, which demonstrates the unfortunate lack of clarity on urban design in this city), and the huge potential that exists for a voluminous pedestrian plaza / concourse on the north side of the Station over the tracks, ideas that are best articulated with high quality planning, architecture and urban design. Without graphic renderings (one day I’ll endeavour to create and post them) we’re left with words, but try to imagine the journey of a SeaBus, train or Island ferry passenger walking from Cordova Street, passing right through the main Station building and into a high glassed over ticket hall that receives and processes all passengers from every mode. A plaza entry on the east and west sides of the Station also lead into the domed ticket concourse to the north. New raised rail platforms and ferry berths on the waterfront are possible over the existing waterfront road and ground level parking lots.

      Acknowledging the need for public space built for human pedestrian movement is appreciated.

      1. I’m looking forward to those renderings. You’ve described thousands of square metres of voluminous glass and engineered wood arches that will actually envelope the north facade. How will that look from north of that? Will it enhance the continuity of Gastown’s historic character and building materials? It sounds like it could equally be described as bullying to me.

        But I can see such a big glass structure tying into the Ice Pick so there is a consistency in the extreme counterpoint. Bold. Clear. Decisive.

        But I agree it should be part of a plan and not approached piecemeal as it appears to be right now.

      2. I wasn’t referring to Sinclair Centre, that’s somewhat before my time. I was referring to the Main Post Office redevelopment underway now. If Sinclair Centre had been proposed with 80’s office tower touches, it probably wouldn’t have been so naff – if we can still use that word – since it was the 80’s.

        The transportation hub part of the hub plan is also weak. In fact, the transportation importance of the station is likely to decline not increase, and that is fine. The Seabus will be replaced with an Expo Line extension under the harbour, knock on wood, and if real intercity rail comes back, it likely won’t be stopping at this station but at several stations across the city that integrate with the whole transit system. A stop at the this station likely means backtracking for most people using it. And the hub plan offered absolutely nothing that would make the current transit users’ experience more convenient. A bit nicer at points perhaps, but not more convenient. The introduction of concourses that actually decrease the ease of connection between two modes are fine if you are a tourist but are an irritant to regular users.

        “I vehemently disagree that the ‘look’ of the Icepick is not important, nor its juxtaposition stabbing into the heart of the low rise heritage Station building.” I don’t know who you are vehemently disagreeing with, but it isn’t me. I definitely care what things look like. It’s just that this one doesn’t bother me that much. I don’t read it as stabbing into anything. And if it were stabbing, it missed. It’s right against the station, not through it.

        I have been threatening to upload some of my drawings and plans for the waterfront, and this might spur me to do that even though they are incomplete and I can’t draw.

        1. I don’t understand how getting rid of the SeaBus would be desirable. It works so well as a connector to the quickly densifying Lonsdale Corridor and anchors a critical transit focal point at Lonsdale Quay. There are few transit experiences in the world that can beat crossing the harbour on a crisp bright winter day with fresh snow on the mountains or the spectacle of downtown at night. But its still a positive even on a dreary morning.

          While more train stations outside of downtown is desirable I don’t see Waterfront Station losing its significance as a train station. It will hold its own and probably eventually serve more commuter rail lines even if Pacific Central is a more likely hub for intercity trains.

          Long term I’d like to see LRT in a loop across the North Shore using the two narrow harbour crossings, focusing on mid Lonsdale and connecting to the Millennium and Expo Lines at Brentwood and Metrotown. Too many people seem to be fixated on transit speed but I continue to maintain that its seeming necessity is a product of failed urban planning. I’m not against speed per se but too many seem perfectly willing to give up positive transit experiences and a more interconnected and resilient web for speed.

          We’ve had discussion here on “The Grand Bargain”. To me SkyTrain represents the grand bargain as much or more than any cluster of towers in a former mall parking lot. Neither are wrong. But over-reliance on both is.

          1. Like any self respecting Vancouverite, I feel like Judas for recommending the Seabus be replaced, but it is the weak link in north shore transit. Waterfront Station to a station on lower Lonsdale is only about 4km or about 5 minutes travel time (22nd to Edmonds is 2km which Expo covers in 2:25). It would also run every two minutes or so. No matter what the view, there is just no contest between 5 minutes every 2 minutes and 15 minutes every 15 minutes. And a metro line would lead to big improvements in the bus service in North Vancouver as the buses could intersect the metro at several stations and not all have to congregate at one station. The Seabus is already a weak enough transit connection that a lot of the downtown to Upper Lonsdale transit traffic is probably taking the Lions Gate.

            (Maybe the Seabus could be rededicated to another route, to Dunderave or up Indian Arm in the summer.)

            As the old transit ad stated: “To Save Time is to Lengthen Life”. You may decry this sentiment, but most people agree with it. Unless you can change their minds, you have to work with people as they are. And unless they are on holiday, they want a faster connection rather than a slower one. In any case, why does transit bear the burden of slowing people down? We are in a climate emergency. Until all automobiles are speed limited to 30kph, transit needs to compete on a level playing field.

            I pencilled out your proposed LRT route. From Waterfront to the First Narrows to Marine and then east to the Second Narrows and then to Brentwood and Metrotown is around 24.5km, something like the distance from Waterfront to Scott Road. With two large water crossings and large road crossings that will require underpasses lets call say it cost 200m per km or 4.9b. But this also does not include land costs. Because LRT is on the surface most of the time, it is using up land. Whether or not this land is already publicly owned, it still is a cost of the project. Something that will become quite vivid when the trees in Stanley Park need to be cut down for the ROW.

            There would be some ridership, maybe 15k over First Narrows, 15k on the North Shore, 15k over Second Narrows and 15k in Burnaby for 60,000 boardings a day. (I once compiled the harbour crossing transit numbers, but I can’t find it now.) But this would not cover its operating costs which means constant subsidies which means a constant drain on the bus system. Not a boost that the current network provides. On any type of cost benefit, this doesn’t look good. For that kind of money, we expect more in the range of 250,000 boardings a day.

          2. “To Save Time is to Lengthen Life” To that I would add, ” To be a slave to time is a life not worth living”. To me all your remarks equate to a society that is a slave to time. Ever heard of stopping to smell the roses? I’m not suggesting that transit be used as a tool to force that on people. But I am suggesting we all need to think differently and slow things down. Speed isn’t helping.

            We have spent tens of $billions making travel by car faster and more convenient and all we’ve got to show for it is sprawl. Spending tens of $billions more to service that sprawl with fast transit instead of making radical changes to undo the damage does not solve the problem – it merely masks it. We need to undo the problem and, first and foremost, that means reigning in the private car. That’s where LRT taking up publicly owned road space shines over SkyTrain that people love some much, in part, because it does not interfere with the almighty car.

            The route I propose is primarily to spur development within the North Shore itself first, so people don’t have to leave the North Shore to find work, entertainment and activities. I would do the First Narrows leg last. But the NS has serious access issues so the link to existing rapid transit in the faster growing centre-east of the region makes sense to me. You take it as a given that those in Upper Lonsdale take a bus over Lions Gate rather than the SeaBus because it may be faster. I take it as a given that they mostly shouldn’t have to leave the North Shore on a daily basis at all. A crosstown LRT would also distribute bus connections to yet another existing central NS commercial district at 13th or 15th or thereabouts. And a RapidBus from the Quay to Lynn Valley would tie it all together quite nicely.

            I take ridership projections for LRT with a massive grain of salt. It is pure speculation as the examples cited are almost always the US where transit ridership is abysmal in most cities.

            I’ve been on Lonsdale buses a few times lately and note that the removal of two lanes of Lonsdale above 15th has not clogged it with congestion. And that’s with curbside parking still allowed. We need to be bolder in reallocating road space for mass transit and other uses and, in doing so, help create the dynamic where people can function at half the speed because they need only travel half as far. There is no reason these can’t run at 3 or 4 minute headways at peak times. If we’re quoting anyway I will paraphrase Elon Musk. The best trip is no trip.

            I would not cut trees in Stanley Park for LRT. One of the reasons I would do that leg last is the formidable challenges of tunneling from the end of Alberni to Park Royal. I see this as two or three decades away after the service has reached a level of demand that justifies it.

            Meanwhile, the SeaBus well serves those who live in Lower Lonsdale and still do work downtown – or vice versa. Nothing much is more than a 15 minute walk from Waterfront Station and there’s plenty of transit connections if you need them. I wouldn’t compare crossing the harbour with a stretch of Skytrain in Burnaby because they have absolutely nothing in common.

          3. Or put another, more concise, way: It should be self-evident that the faster you make transit the more that more people will travel farther on it. Travelling farther uses more energy. Travelling faster uses more energy. That’s the last thing you want in a climate emergency.

            Don’t use what you don’t want as a tool to fix what you don’t want.

    2. The ‘real plan’ should address the climate crisis and not contribute further to it. Right now we are at a ‘do no harm’ place in our contemplations of future projects. Since no ‘harm free proposals’ have been presented so far, we should conclude that the best thing to do is to do nothing.

      1. That’s absurd Jolson. Doing nothing ensures the climate crisis remains a crisis. Doing nothing does not allow buildings to get deep energy retrofits. Doing nothing ensures people will drive more in ICE vehicles. Doing nothing ensures that people will use old energy inefficient things (including buildings) rather than replace them over time with ones that are net zero emissions.

        Now *really* doing nothing, if that’s what you meant, would mean we’d all be dead in about a month. So that *would* solve the climate crisis.

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