February 12, 2022

Population and Priorities: who should get the next SkyTrain?

CBC’s McElroy reports on the positioning that has already started for the next SkyTrain line.

… the main goals of the current TransLink Mayors’ Council’s 10-year plan have been completed … and it’s time to start deciding what the priorities will be in the next 10-year plan.

Which might be why politicians on the North Shore are stepping up their campaign. …  One of the biggest arguments North Shore politicians are making is that literally everywhere else in Metro Vancouver has gotten a new bridge, rapid transit line or highway in recent decades, while they haven’t.

“We haven’t had a lane increase to the North Shore since 1960, and our population more than doubled since that time,” said District of North Vancouver (DNV) Mayor Mike Little.


But I think McElroy discreetly answers the question in the subsequent post:

DNV is practically the slowest growing municipality in Metro.  (Until recently, West Vancouver actually lost population.)

North Shore News gives the stats:

The City of North Vancouver grew by 353 residents or 0.6 per cent between 2018 and 2019, bringing the total population to 57,325 residents, the province estimates.

The District of West Vancouver’s population went up by 228 or people 0.5 per cent in the last year, according to the latest update, bringing the total population to 43,945.

And the District of North Vancouver made it into the bottom 10 municipalities ranked by population growth, adding 78 people for a total of 89,763, a growth rate of 0.1 per cent.

In other words, Mayor Little’s municipality grew in one year by less than the number of people who will live in this:

People experiencing homelessness in Vancouver are moving into 78 new supportive homes, with two more modular housing projects opening in the City of Vancouver that will offer residents including people with disabilities, a safe and stable place to call home.


That happened in 2018, the same year DNV rejected this:


The North Shore believes it should be next in line for a multi-billion-dollar high-capacity rapid-transit line, meant to shape growth in a region growing by another million people over the next 30 years … but, if DNV’s decisions are indicative, not in their district.  Presumably the SkyTrain line will serve those coming to work or play on the North Shore, and who will then go home at night, taking the pressure off the bridges and highways the residents will use to get around.

Well, good luck arguing that their priority should trump Vancouver’s desire to spend the money on the Broadway line extension to UBC to handle growth west of Arbutus, incorporating Jericho and development on the endowment lands.  The population increase alone could top a hundred thousand = more than half that of everyone on the North Shore.

But maybe as an inducement, Mayor Little will promise that DNV will allow two additional apartment buildings a year.


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  1. As a North Shore resident, I’d love to see one or both of these routes prioritized over the Mayor McCallum’s Tantrum Line to Langley, but you’re correct in pointing out that the numbers simply don’t bear it out. The districts of North and West Vancouver snuff out development like a pigeon preening for mites.

    I suppose this righteous insistence from North Shore elected officials that we “deserve” a new skytrain line is a sign of progress. A generation ago, they were clamoring for a new road crossing, curiously oblivious to the obvious fact that the City of Vancouver would not bulldoze thousands of properties just to widen its roads and accommodate suburban commutes. But the urge is still based on the same assumption that we can build our way out of peak hour commuting inconvenience.

    North Shore residents will complain about traffic to anyone who’ll stop and pretend to listen. Don’t stop and pretend to listen. Traffic is nobody’s fault but our own, and 90% of the time it’s no problem at all. We choose it out of custom and expect the rest of the world to dig us out of some imaginary hole. It’s a very First World problem for which we deserve zero sympathy or redress. We’ll get our skytrain in due time. Until then, just smile and nod politely when one of us rants about the injustice of it all. Because we have no real problems up here.

    1. I agree that the North Shore should move up in the line to get Skytrain. Surrey thought they could have their cake and eat it too. I’m glad the project has been delayed – it is time for a reckoning. The City of Surrey wanted the Skytrain but didn’t care to do their part for the tremendous expenditure of taxpayer dollars. They did not put proper densities for the most affordable housing for the Corridor – that is for the walk-up apartments. Instead they gave densities of 2.0 FSR on the net basis even though they were putting in an extensive small roads and lanes and the fact there was mostly newer single family and townhouse along the Corridor which would not be economical to replace for decades. This was a lower walk-up density than the 104Ave now cancelled LRT line.

      The only reason for this self-sabotage was so not to take away from the development of walk-up apartment projects in (the less desirable) Whalley (their City Center) which are at 2.5 FSR gross basis. So sure Surrey wanted the Skytrain but didn’t feel the responsibility to do their part and put in the appropriate apartment base density for these billions of dollars being freely handed to it. They think they are overly clever.

      I feel bad for the Langley’s who are doing their part as they should. But we cannot just stand back and allow such a massive investment of taxpayer be squandered.

      It is an important project that should be done but if the City of Surrey does not think they need to do their part, then we should go with the Broadway line extension to UBC and delay the Surrey-Langley line to be concurrent with rapid transit to the North Shore while the City of Surrey hopefully gets it act together.

      On a related not, Surrey does not even have a proper zone for walk-up apartments over the past 20 years– all these years and never put one in like every other municipality has in Metro Van. Instead they use the old “RM-45” zone which is only 1.3 net FAR and for buildings up to 4 stories, but really it is best suited to garden apartments of 3 stories. Then the next zone up is “RM-70” which is 1.5 net FAR and for less dense towers (it only allows 33% site coverage max.) – it’s a really archaic zone created for low density towers which are no longer built anywhere in Canada let alone in Surrey. There is absolutely no other zone to accommodate 5 or 6 storey apartments. This even despite Surrey revamping its zoning bylaw this year to clean it up and also over the past 20 years bringing in all kinds of new single family zones for different lot sizes. Instead for apartment applications, they just keep using the RM-45 and RM-70 zones over and over again. The level of incompetence in the City of Surrey for the neglect of the walk-up apartment zoning is just astounding.

      1. There maybe no SkyTrain, er MALM after 2025.

        SkyTrain is the name of Metro Vancouver’s light-metro system and the vehicles used on the Expo and Millennium Lines were last called Movia Automatic Light Metro by Bombardier. As Alstom now owns bombardier’s rail division, they still use the official MALM name.

        MALM is the sixth rebranding of this proprietary railway, with previous brand names , Innovia, Advanced Rapid Transit, Advanced Light metro, Advanced Light Rail Transit, and Intermediate Capacity Transit System.

        Only seven such systems have been sold and now Vancouver is the sole customer.

        In 2025, the Toronto SRT (ICTS) and the Detroit ICTS will close, due to both the guideway and vehicles being life expired. This will leave five systems, including Malaysia and koreas, which transit systems have embroiled Bombardier and SNC Lavalin (patent holders) in corruption charges before the courts!

        MALM now competes with Alstom’s two light metro systems (one is being built in Montreal) and with only one customer and an almost unsalable, unconventional/propriety railway, there is little future. Indications are MALM production will cease when the last PAID FOR cars leave the production line in 2025.

        What this means is that the cost for MALM compatible cars will only increase. currently MALM is a very costly system to build, to operate and to maintain and lacks the flexibility in operation of conventional light-metros and of course light rail.

        The region can only afford one light-metro line per decade and with current projects exceeding their initial costs by a fair margin, any rapid transit to the North Shore is nothing more to a pipe dream.

  2. That’s a little bit disingenuous. North shore population grew 4.7% over the period covered by the graphs above, which is about 9000 people, while Pemberton grew by ~800.

    Whether that merits more transit or road lanes is a different story, but it helps to be honest about the situation.

  3. The annual estimates from Statistics Canada aren’t necessarily accurate – they revise them after the census data is available. That came out last week; in 5 years North Vancouver City added 5,222 2016-2021, North Van District 2,233 and West Vancouver 1,987.

    Together that’s 9,104 more people on the North Shore in 5 years, or 5.1% rate of increase. Overall Metro Vancouver grew 7.2%, so the north shore isn’t growing as fast as other parts of the region, but it is growing. In the previous five-year census period it only grew by 4%, while Metro overall grew 7.4%.

    As others have noted, whether that ‘earns’ them a Skytrain is a debate that will no doubt play out for some time.

  4. One thing that seems to be forgotten in this debate is that the Expo Line is at capacity (officially translink thinks it will reach capacity in 2030, but anyone riding it knows it’s already there during peaks). With the Broadway extension there are going to be a lot more riders going everywhere.

    Translink has also already identified the Gold line (extended to Brentwood, bit of a mix of gold and purple) as one of the next grade separated lines, mainly as second line to downtown to take some capacity off of the expo line. Downtown is growing substantially, with about 5x more office space currently under construction that the rest of the metro region combined.

    Personally I think there needs to be a minimum density requirement from the north shore before anything gets built (also for the UBC extension), to minimize local politics from affecting densification along billion dollar regional rapid transit. Traffic has gotten bad enough on the north shore that they do need a rail line and I think it will be used as driving near Lonsdale at rush hour is worse than hell, but they do need to commit to increasing the density.

    1. The maximum legal capacity of the Expo and Millennium Lines as per Transport Canada’s Operating Certificate, is 15,000 pphpd.

      To increase capacity a $3 billion rehab is a must and must include…

      1) A new automatic train control system as Bombardier is no longer supporting the CitiFlow ATC.
      2) A new an increased electrical supply as the present supply was based on a maximum of 15,000 pphpd. The new gangwayed cars of Innovia/MALM stock may increase capacity a little but not on the scale being planned.
      3) All switches on the Expo line must be replaced with high speed switches to allow for greater headway’s.
      4) All stations must be rehabbed to allow higher passenger flows and this is being done piecemeal.
      5) There is a score of lesser things that has to be done but the one i was told about is replacing sections of the original ALRT guideway on the Expo Line as they are nearing their life expectancy.

  5. It’s fair to identify DNV & DWV as having been laggards, but there are 5 local governments partnering on this proposal. And how about some population data for places like Squamish?

    Much of the north shore resistance to more density is about traffic congestion.
    A rapid transit line would have a lot of time between decided and in-use. Get density commitments as a prerequisite for consideration. Structure the cost sharing so that municipalities have more motivation and capacity to densify, especially more affordable housing. Require that demand projections reflect 2-way travel and not just commuter tidal shifts.

    If different regions both have sufficient density to support rapid transit, is more existing density the best or only way to prioritize? How about enabling mode shifting, and new density capacity (even if that new capacity may be more political than geographic)?

    1. Define Rapid Transit?

      The problem in Metro Vancouver is that everyone is fixated on the SkyTrain light-metro system, which is somewhat obsolete by today’s standard.

      That no one has copied Vancouver’s exclusive use of light metro or the proprietary railway used on the Expo and Millennium Lines should give one pause to think.

      The cost to extend the Expo line 16 km to Langley, replacing a B-Line style bus route which operates a peak hour service of 5 trips per hour (max. capacity, around 500 pphpd), which will cost an offical $3.95 billion, but now estimated to cost $4.5 billion is breathtaking.

      Already the $3.95 billion Expo Line extension costs more than the originally planned LRT which would have serviced newton and Langley.


      The 130 km, $1.5 billion Leewood plan to operate a Vancouver to Chilliwack rail passenger service using the existing BC Electric route, with a maximum of three trains per hour, connecting North Delta, Central Surrey, Cloverdale, Langley, Abbotsford, Vedder/Sardis with rail communication.

      As i put the question of SkyTrain to the North Shore with a real expert from back east who advises our group, he said,”any thought of extending SkyTrain to the North shore is dreaming in technicolor”.

      The debate is moot until one shows us the money and funding.

  6. I don’t know how it affects the arguments for/against rapid transit to the north shore, but this article neglects what seems to be another major factor: people commuting TO work on the North Shore.

    My wife has lived in DNV essentially all of her life and for the past 12 years we’ve been in the Blueridge area east of the Second Narrows. Over the past 3-4 years (it started a bit before Covid), rush hour over the Second Narrows has turned around – there is now much more traffic coming into North Van over the bridge in the morning than there is going south into Vancouver. In the afternoon, there are always big backups going south – never going north.

  7. I’m not sure if my late entry in this discussion will be germane, but I have to say that W B, resident of North Van hit on the core of the issue. Traffic is not necessarily driven by the resident population ; it is driven the commuters coming in, going out and local. Justification for building or not building should be driven by actual observed and projected traffic not necessarly census figures.

    1. All rapid transit projects have been politically driven and are designed to help at election time.

      Vancouver’s light-metro experiment is almost unique and as no one has copied us, despite over 40 years of local positive news, should send alarm bells with politicians.

      As one transportation specialist told me over a decade ago; “Vancouver’s transit ills are driven by Skytrain – far too expensive for the job it does.”

      1. The skytrain is what we are stuck with. I have not ever heard anybody articulate the cost and method and consequences of converting the network to a more standard train technology. So it is what it is and we live with it. Now it is possible the the purple and yellow could be built with whatever the Canada Line uses. Choosing a 3rd technology (no matter who wonderful and inexpensive it would be) would be a poison pill on the operations side. Training of staff, stocking of parts for 3 technologies and would be too expensive.

        1. One could not convert the Expo and Millennium lines and they will be retained as a heritage system. The Canada Line is a different matter as it is just an elevated railway operating EMU’s and replacing them with modern trams (LRV’s) would be not a big problem. There would be no 3rd technology.

          In fact it would be cheaper to convert the Canada line to light rail and then extend it into Richmond and or New West, than doing a $1.5 to $2 billion rehab needed before extending the present line.

          The big, big problems facing TransLink is finance and as now Alstom owns the proprietary MALM system used on the E&M lines and Vancouver is now the sole customer, they may stop production of cars and parts, especially in this economy.

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