Course:GEOG350/2012WT1/Broadway Corridor Subway

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Introduction to the Broadway Corridor & UBC Line Proposal

The Broadway Corridor - area of proposed transportation upgrades[1]

The proposal to construct a modern subway line - The "UBC Line" - along the central Broadway Corridor of the City of Vancouver, between Commercial Drive and UBC Campus, was developed by the city's transportation authority, TransLink, and Vancouver municipal transportation planners in an environment of a rapidly growing metropolitan population and an increasing demand for rapid transportation connections to the University of British Columbia (UBC), the planned terminus of the proposed transit line.
At present, the transit infrastructure in place that provides transit along the Broadway Corridor to UBC - in the form of rapid diesel articulated buses; and electric trolleybuses - have been widely criticized by UBC students, faculty, and Vancouver public transit users alike. The infrastructure is critiqued as severely lacking the capacity to meet the current (and increasing) demands, overcrowded and overcapacity buses, and as being insufficiently reliable.[1] In addition, local analysts and critics have been vocal with their critiques of the rail rapid transit line proposal and have suggested alternative transportation options that may be more practical and suitable for the needs of the corridor and the community as a whole. A central proponent of this view has been Patrick Condon, the James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments and professor at the UBC School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture, who advocates that this is a deep-seated planning problem that goes far beyond transportation to and from UBC campus. Condon argues that it involves a much more complex intersection of current transportation needs and future planning trajectories in the face of climate change.[2] He has been the most outspoken local pundit on this issue and has become an influential voice in the media and thus toward TransLink, which is why our investigation zooms in on a number of his ideas. In fact, Condon, and others, have produced a number of publications which provide alternative suggestions for the transportation upgrades along the corridor.[3][4]

With these ideas in mind, we identify the transportation planning decision that will be the most sustainable through meeting the needs of both the present and future community. First, we will outline the precise needs of each of the three main stakeholders identified. Second, we will analyze resulting urban forms of each individual transit mode under consideration by TransLink (i.e. rail transit, light rail transit, and bus rapid transit). While all of these transportation modes may be seen as an efficient way to transport people along the Broadway Corridor and incur low GHG emissions per passenger mile, we argue that the urban form that develops as a result of each mode is a crucial concern in generating conclusions around the overall sustainability of that mode. Moreover, we argue that this lack of concern for these local factors within existing UBC Line documents is a consistent issue. Economic cost-benefit analyses and GHG-emissions assessments of the individual transportation modes will not be provided in this investigation, although such works have already been exhaustively produced.[4][5] Instead, we use a qualitative approach to provide insights to analyze and provide new insights surrounding this issue.

Historical background of the Broadway Corridor

The Broadway Corridor is a central east-west axis of Vancouver, running (for our purposes) from Commercial Drive to UBC campus, and has been a crucial transportation arterial throughout the city's modern development.[2] Historically, streetcars were the dominant mode of transportation along the corridor and along main arterials throughout the city, most of which developed into the city's most thriving streets even to this day. Interestingly, the overhead electric power lines which service Vancouver's modern electric trolleybuses are remnants of this streetcar system, and reflect its extensive distribution throughout Vancouver. In the words of Patrick Condon, "some of the city's streetcar arterials were so long that it would be ridiculous to name your neighbourhood after them. So the Broadway streetcar line became the center of civic life for what eventually became neighborhoods named 'Kitsilano', 'Mt. Pleasant' and 'Fairview'".[6] Mixed-use development unfolded along Broadway as a result, with lower-density neighbourhoods having developed in adjacent neighbourhoods. In part a result of the diversity of housing types along the expansive stretch of Broadway, adjacent neighbourhoods ultimately came to house an incredibly diverse range of citizens. With the growth of the University of British Columbia, students came to occupy many apartments, suites and houses along the entire arterial over the past few decades, with an especially large presence within Point Grey, Kitsilano, and Grandview-Woodlands around Commercial Drive. Institutional-use buildings are also an important component of the corridor, with Vancouver City Hall, Vancouver General Hospital, and the University of British Columbia (at the terminus) all with connections to the arterial.

Vancouver's historic street car network[3]

Originally, streetcars were the primary mode of transportation for all residents of the developing urban landscape in the early 1900s. The expansion of this system and its subsequent imprint on the city's fabric is evident in Vancouver's interconnected arterial grid street system, which remains as the underlying framework of the city form today. Following the termination of the streetcar system and the mass-adoption of automobile transportation, public transit systems fell into disrepair along the corridor, within the city as a whole, and as a Fordist-era trend among North American cities.[7] However, over the latter half of the 20th century, growth of metropolitan Vancouver and in turn growth of a larger commuter basin, transportation infrastructures were again given attention.[8] The construction of the SkyTrain, an elevated modern rail system, established Commercial Drive as a transportation hub for many commuters and UBC students alike and again brought rapid transit in the form of buses back to service the Broadway Corridor.

The Broadway Corridor today

Today, the Broadway Corridor boasts a ridership of over 100,000 passenger trips by bus per day as one of the region's busiest bus corridors.[1] Users of Broadway's transportation infrastructures are quite diverse, but predominantly consist of UBC students from key metropolitan areas, workers of Vancouver City Hall, Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), and UBC, and residents, patrons, or other workers of the corridor. Indeed, the Central Broadway Corridor is the second largest employment centre outside of downtown. [1]

Currently, transit infrastructures use diesel articulated buses for rapid transit service as well as modern electric trolleybuses, which in fact use the same overhead electric lines that once serviced Vancouver's streetcar system. For most of its length, Broadway operates six lanes of traffic, with integrated high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes during peak traffic hours.

As a legacy of the street car system that once serviced Broadway, injecting life and growth into the area and exerting an influence on the corridor's urban form, the central core of the arterial maintains a densely mixed-use walkable form with a lower-density residential fabric in adjacent neighbourhoods. Residential, commercial, and institutional towers concentrate along Central Broadway between Burrard and Main Streets, but midrise buildings are found along its extent, with segments of lower density mixed-use and low-density single-use buildings. Despite some segments resembling archetypal auto-oriented urban forms, indeed, vestiges of a socially thriving, busy, walkable, and self-sustaining streetcar corridor can still be seen today along modern (streetcar-less) Broadway.

Problem: insufficient transportation infrastructures

Long lines of waiting commuters at bus stops and buses displaying the message 'SORRY, BUS FULL' are all too characteristic of the Broadway Corridor. Indeed, they are visible evidence of the widely acknowledged fact that transportation infrastructure along the corridor no longer sufficiently meets the needs of its users. This reality is a condition that we believe deters ridership and leads potential riders to adopt other, likely less sustainable, means of transportation to their destinations.

Visible evidence of Broadway's over-capacity buses[1]

It has been described by TransLink, Vancouver's transportation authority, that the "existing transit services in the corridor do not provide sufficient capacity or reliable service", citing unpredictable travel times and buses passing up passengers due to lack of capacity.[1] Speaking from personal experience, the 99 "Express" B-Line additionally takes far too long to travel along the arterial, not only due to congestion from other non-transit traffic but because the buses are literally overflowing with passengers, and to merely get the bus doors to close takes several minutes, causing delay at every stop.

Future Projections for Broadway Employment & Population[1]

Clearly, this is already a problem, but it is one that will inevitably worsen for a number of reasons:

  • a growing metropolitan region & increasing population
  • an increasing population & number of jobs along the Broadway Corridor[1] (refer to graph on the right)
  • an expanding rapid transit infrastructure network (i.e. Evergreen Line, Canada Line), feeding more users into this central transit conduit
  • a growing UBC student body and campus population (UBC plans to house 50% of students on campus by 2030)[1]
  • the increasing price of gas, inducing greater use of public transit modes

Not the least of these problems is the inevitable fact that in the face of climate change, public transportation will become ever more fundamental to the resilience of the city.


Given that Broadway is one of the core arterials within the city, this issue affects the dynamics of Vancouver as whole. But, upgrading transportation infrastructure along the Broadway Corridor is not just a transportation issue. The planning decision made will have formative consequences on the built form of communities along the corridor. Indeed, as mentioned above, in the face of climate change and the troubles looming around energy production, the transit mode to be chosen must foster the development of an urban form that will be resilient to future changes, that is, it must be self-sustaining.

The transportation infrastructure itself must, too, be similarly resilient, and also anticipate future population change in the region. As well, it must accommodate to the fact that the Broadway Corridor is not just a conduit for commuters between Commercial Drive and the university, but also service the unique neighbourhoods in-between and foster self-sustaining, walkable communities.


This issue affects UBC students for whom expensive on-campus or near-campus accommodations are inaccessible and/or unaffordable. In order to maintain its rich diversity and provide equitable access to education, it is crucial for UBC to encourage and facilitate the provision of sufficient transportation infrastructures to its location at the end of the Point Grey peninsula. UBC boasts 60,000 daytime students, faculty, and staff; with 47% of trips to UBC made via public transit modes, clearly this infrastructure impacts a significant proportion of the UBC population.[1]

UBC Trip Mode Shares[1]

As Translink recognizes, improved transit infrastructures are key to meeting sustainability-fostering targets in Vancouver, namely[1]:

  • Decrease share of car trips - 50% of trips by transit, cycling, or walking by 2020
  • Reduce GHG emissions - eliminate 80% by 2050

In its prominent role as a high-priority transportation corridor, decisions made for this space will serve to influence the decisions made for other corridors when facing similar and inevitable issues, but, most critically, changing Broadway Corridor transit infrastructures is an opportunity for the City of Vancouver to live up to its vision as the Greenest City. Vancouver should use its stature as a model city within North America by implementing a transportation infrastructure that encourages the most comprehensive degree of sustainability.

Key stakeholders

The complex nature of this issue is indeed largely a result of the many varying stakeholders of the Broadway Corridor, each with their own unique or even overlapping interests. Because our investigation focuses primarily on two main objectives of this planning paradigm -- first, how to facilitate the sustainable and efficient transportation of commuters from point A to point B, and second, how to foster the most sustainable urban form out of a transit mode -- we identify the three following groups (below) as the main stakeholders of this planning issue. We acknowledge that the Broadway Corridor comprises of numerous different stakeholder groups; however, in this case study we analyze the corridor as a space of transportation, rather than the many other (infinite) definitions that come to constitute the space, and therefore the stakeholders considered here are not intended to comprehensively encompass or reflect every group - only those we have identified as pertinent to our investigation. Those are:

  • Transit users commuting a long trip to/from UBC (this is an aggregate of students, faculty, visitors)
  • Transit users commuting short trips amidst the Broadway Corridor (can include residents)
  • Residents of Broadway Corridor neighbourhoods

Envisioning a sustainable & transit-efficient Broadway Corridor

Definition of a sustainable/complete community

It has been expressed that "'complete communities' should be a feature of any sustainable urban region".[2] We have emphasized this much already. But what exactly comprises a sustainable community? (note: we use the terms 'sustainable' & 'complete' interchangeably) Taking from Patrick Condon's 2010 publication Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities[2], we outline below some main principles which culminate to produce this coveted urban form:

  • Easy access to very frequent and reliable transit to facilitate its use (for all groups)
  • Interconnected street networks, which ensures that trips are as short as possible and in turn encourages walking, biking, and transit use.
  • 5-minute walking distances from all homes to commercial services, frequent transit, and schools, which makes walking the prioritized transit mode for everyday functions.
  • Mixed-use buildings, which helps to achieve 5-minute proximity to commercial/amenity services
  • Higher densities, which, with pedestrians and multi-use buildings, creates a sense of place and rationalizes the provision of services (including transit infrastructure) and amenities within 5 minutes of every home
  • Embrace corridors as the centres of community social activity and services

All of these principles culminate to ultimately provide an environment in which its community members need not travel far from the vicinity of their homes to carry out typical daily functions, discouraging automobile use and encouraging walking, biking and transit use. One example of such a complete community is downtown Portland, Oregon. Through its 'MAX' light rail system, Portland was able to embrace its underlying streetcar city fabric of an interconnected street grid containing busy arterials of multi-use buildings. Jobs, housing, and commercial services "[flock] the line, making the community that much more complete and thus incrementally reducing aggregate per capita trip demand."[2] Clearly, Portland residents are not required to leave their communities to carry out their daily functions; all services and amenities one would need are located a short walk or MAX-ride away. Which transit mode best facilitates this kind of urban form along the Broadway Corridor, but also meets the needs of other stakeholders like UBC students? That is our central question.

The Formative role of transit modes toward the landscape & urban form of communities

In its outline of Rapid Transit Principles, the City of Vancouver has identified its main guiding principles for rapid transit implementations under the two themes (among a list of many) of 'Environmental Sustainability' and 'Urban Development', which are encapsulated in the table directly below.

Theme Principles
Environmental sustainability 1. Significantly support greenhouse gas reduction and related environmental targets and objectives established by the Province, regional agencies, and the City.
Urban development 1. Serve existing and planned land use including major destinations, and help shape future land use policies including higher densities where appropriate.
2. Provide a consistently high standard of urban design and amenity, and significantly improve the public realm for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users.

Despite this and a few other brief mentions, official UBC Line documents prepared by TransLink and project affiliates, we argue, do not place sufficient emphasis on the urban form that is engendered from a transportation infrastructure in a neighbourhood. In the UBC Line Public Consultation Summary, one respondent complained about the lack of consideration of "ways that each of the alternatives can improve the quality of the pedestrian experience along the proposed transit corridors."[12] Patrick Condon, a UBC professor has suggested in numerous publications that transportation mode indeed has a formative role toward the urban form and landscape of communities.[2][3][4] Regarding the future of the Broadway Corridor, Condon, in collaboration with planning scholar Kari Dow, argue that:

"Decisions made now about which mode to invest in could precipitate very different land use consequences, consequences lasting for decades. These arguments apply to every North American metropolitan area. All are struggling with these same questions. [. . .] We only have till 2050 to radically reduce our carbon and resource demands on the planet, therefore investments made in this decade must be intelligent and set in place the land use and transportation armature that is compatible with that challenging goal. This generation of citizens and decision makers will determine, by its choices, what the Vancouver region, presently home for two million residents, will be like when it contains four million. Hopefully it will be much more sustainable than it is now. How we spend the billions proposed for investment in transit this decade will likely be decisive."[4]

This view, which distinguishes transportation infrastructure as a fundamental part of a region's sustainability through its influence on the urban form and in turn transportation behaviour, is now becoming widely recognized.[2][9] While a majority of the transportation infrastructures being officially considered for the corridor are relatively environmentally sound options, Frank et al. crucially point out that "[a]lthough improvements in fuel and vehicle technology can help, land-use and transportation planning that reduces vehicle demand is crucial, especially in light of population growth, if we are to achieve [emissions reductions] goals."[9] Indeed, "[l]egislation now exists that requires municipalities and regions to arrange land uses and transportation systems in a manner that reduces our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (ie. British Columbia’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act). The use of transit, which was heretofore considered solely from the perspective of reducing auto dependence and providing transportation equity to the disadvantaged, now has a broader mandate to help governments meet their GHG targets."[4] However, the understanding that transit mode has formative impacts on the built form, and vice versa, is not a novel idea. Bunting et al. illustrate the historically reciprocal relationship between status quo transportation modes and urban form in Canada over the course of the 20th century.[7] As Canadian cities embraced different transportation modes - from pedestrian transport, to commuter rail and streetcars, and now to the dominant mode of personal automobiles - the urban form was transformed dramatically time and time again as both part and parcel of these technological and transportation behaviour shifts.

Historically, buildings necessarily had to be built in dense concentrations with amenities and essential services throughout the city within walking distance of every residence for the reason that "the radius of the average person's activities was proscribed by reasonable walking distance" since walking was the dominant travel mode.[2][7] As Bunting et al. explain, "[t]he high density of the built environment also made it easy to walk to schools, medical services, places of worship, and other facilities".[7] As street cars came to supplement walking as the dominant mode, the distance that could be travelled within a short timeframe increased, which decreased urban densities. However, the urban form that resulted kept residences "within walking distance and [a] short transit distance of jobs and services".[2] To boot, streetcars produced little greenhouse gas, encouraged walking, and importantly, fostered the development of arterials rich in sense of place and civic life, all of which are elements of the sustainable urban form we have outlined above.[2] Unfortunately, with the advent and mass-adoption of personal automobiles, an entirely different urban landscape was created. Emancipated by the absolute freedom offered by the automobile, no longer were people geographically constrained to live in close proximity to workplaces or transit service, and suburban sprawl proliferated as we know it.[2][7] As Condon illustrates, "an urban population that prior to World War II lived almost entirely in walkable, transit-served communities mostly lives in auto-dependent, low-density districts".[2] We are now aware that this reliance on automobiles and the urban form it creates and reproduces is no longer sustainable; the alarm to return to walkable, transit-served, complete communities like the ones historically seen and described, has been sounded. Per our definition of a sustainable urban form highlighted above, the transportation infrastructure that best fosters such elements, we argue, is necessary for the sustainable future of the Broadway Corridor.

The Main Stakeholders & their needs

As outlined above, we have identified the following three groups as the stakeholder groups with needs that are most pertinent to this investigation.

Long-distance Transit Users

This group of stakeholders are commuters with one central need from the corridor transit infrastructure to be implemented: to have access to rapid and reliable transportation that will quickly carry them from one side of the region (Commercial/Broadway Station area) to the other (UBC campus or Point Grey area) faster than the so-called "rapid" bus express lines that currently - and insufficiently - provide this service. As mentioned above, this group is mostly comprised of students, faculty, and staff of the university whom reside in key metropolitan areas. The transportation infrastructure most favourable to these long-distance transit users is a high-speed system, but as we will demonstrate, the technology associated with this preference does not necessarily serve the needs of other stakeholders.

Short-distance Transit Users

This group comprises an agglomeration of Vancouver residents, workers, patrons, or visitors of the Broadway Corridor but whose use of transit infrastructure along the arterial need be quite brief. For example, a City Hall worker who lives in the downtown peninsula who takes the 14 Bus across the Granville Street Bridge and then requires a single transfer to another line to get along Broadway to Cambie Street, where City Hall is located. Because this group's trips along Broadway are relatively short, their needs are primarily to have rapid and reliable access to a transit mode that will carry them, in relative haste but not necessarily at high speeds, the short distance to their destination along the corridor. This transit infrastructure would be required to stop and deposit passengers at relatively frequent intervals in order to drop them within walking distance of any destination along Broadway, and through this serve as an appealing service.

Broadway Corridor Residents

This group of stakeholders is particularly crucial to our investigation for the very fact that their everyday travel behaviours have the greatest potential to be influenced by Broadway Corridor transit mode provisions, and therefore have the greatest potential to influence emissions reductions and contribute to the overall sustainability of Vancouver.
Long-distance and (resident or non-resident) short-distance commuters are, by their nature, already part of the public transit mode share catchment, and the Broadway Corridor is an important link in their overall transit journey. Broadway neighbourhood residents, however, are not necessarily active transit users. Therefore, upgrading transportation infrastructure along the corridor presents a decisive opportunity to capture these populations into the public transit mode share. If the infrastructure fails to do this, residents may unfortunately resume unsustainable transportation behaviours (automobile use) and completely undermine the resilience and sustainability of their neighbourhoods and the city as a whole. At the end of the day "getting people onto transit will not help defeat [emissions issues] unless we can find a way to radically decrease the average daily demand for motorized travel of any kind and per-mile [greenhouse gas] consequences of each trip . . . [Complete communities] that favour short trips over long ones seem an obvious part of the solution".[2] It is then evidently crucial for the transportation needs of this stakeholder group to be met and arguably prioritized. Ultimately, this stakeholder group has the most to gain, and potentially lose, from the outcome of TransLink's decisions for their corridor.

Analysis of proposed transit modes

The three transportation modes considered here represent three modes under serious consideration by TransLink. In our investigation we do not provide a technology-specific emissions analysis nor a financial analysis as they are beyond the scope of this project; however, official evaluations (the UBC Line Rapid Transit Study Evaluation Summary[10]) by TransLink have concluded that rail rapid transit (RRT) and light rail transit (LRT) possess superior environmental efficiency to that of bus rapid transit (BRT) if buses are to be run on diesel rather than electric. Contrarily, the cost of implementing a BRT system would be significantly less than the other two options (LRT and RRT), which are seen to be quite unaffordable projects for the taxpayers to absorb.[10]

Proposed 12km extension of rapid rail line to UBC[3]

Rail Rapid Transit (RRT)

Rail Rapid Transit (RRT), or SkyTrain technology

RRT is an automated electric rail technology that runs within a bored tunnel or upon an elevated railway. Stations are either embedded within the ground for access to the subterranean tunnel below or are elevated above ground with the railway. RRT is not integrated with any automobile traffic roadways.

RRT: Resultant urban form & stakeholder suitability

This technology is extremely rapid, and therefore very suitable for long-distance commuters. It is no surprise why long-distance stakeholders such as UBC students have been supportive of this option. However, RRT would lack integration with the surrounding community since stations for this technology are necessarily distanced far apart, which would probably not foster the optimal 5-minute walking distance. Despite this, TransLink claims that RRT is one of the most effective transportation modes at attracting automobile drivers to transit, and thus show the highest reductions in vehicle emissions.[10] However, TransLink neglects to mention whether this holds true in suburban/auto-oriented contexts or urban ones. In auto-oriented landscapes where rapid transit connections are slim-to-none, RRT would obviously attract the greatest number of drivers as it is often the only feasible alternative to driving. It would have been helpful had TransLink provided more detailed contextual information surrounding this statistic. Regardless though, we believe RRT would not ideally facilitate the creation of complete walkable communities in neighbourhoods along the Broadway Corridor where such communities do not already exist. Where the Broadway Corridor already encompasses complete community characteristics, though, this technology could be supplemental (i.e. between Oak and Burrard streets). Short-trip commuters transferring from, say, a downtown bus from Granville onto this line will enjoy a quick arrival to their Broadway Corridor destination, but residents of the corridor outside of this core area between Oak Street and Burrard, we believe, would not be able to do trip-chaining (hop on, hop off short distances apart) with stations so distant from one to the next. Where stations are located, TransLink claims "the RRT Alternative would ... provide enhanced character and amenities," but we believe it probably would not contribute to complete community development where stations are not, and therefore does not meet resident stakeholders' needs for sustainability. With regards to Metro Vancouver, Condon explains RRT such as the SkyTrain has been "great for connecting ... designated town centre nodes but very poor at serving the streetcar city districts in between" and, furthermore, "[n]ow the region finds itself having invested billions in a system that cannot fully integrate with the underlying armature of the region, its streetcar arterials".[2]

Light Rail Transit (LRT)

Light rail transit (LRT) technology[5]

LRT is a driver-operated, electrically-powered technology that can operate at street level. Light rail technologies being considered for the Broadway Corridor could be equated to a modern version of the streetcar; the difference between the two is that LRT would operate in its own right-of-way separate from other traffic in the centre of the street, and would be granted signal priority at traffic intersections. Stations, too, would be located in the middle of the street, connected to the sidewalks by pedestrian crossings.

LRT: Resultant urban form & stakeholder suitability

With its similarities to historic streetcars, and in drawing reference to Portland's LRT system, we believe that LRT has the potential to foster complete communities. A particular strength of the technology is its ability to stimulate investment and spur high-density development.[2] Following the completion of its MAX LRT line, Portland witnessed the density of development adjacent to the line significantly increase, colonizing a good mix of both residential and commercial uses. In tandem with its underlying streetcar city framework, these Portland developments strongly resonate notions of complete communities. This argument is strengthened by the claim that, "based on the Portland experience, the benefits [of an LRT line] may be an improved quality of life in many neighbourhoods, an improved investment climate for higher density homes and job sites, enhanced access for citizens within their own districts and to other parts of the city[.]"[3] The street-level nature of the infrastructure activates the street and provides visibility to surroundings, which could arguably be seen as a safer, more comforting mode than subterranean travel, and therefore more attractive for vulnerable groups like women, children, and the elderly. In addition, hopping on/off at street-level may be seen as less daunting, providing an attractive level of accessibility for some groups (i.e. the elderly or infirmed) than submerging many metres below ground into a subterranean subway tunnel.

It is clear that LRT technology would be ideal for neighbourhoods along the corridor that do not yet contain all elements of what we define a complete community. Though its operating speeds are slower than rapid rail (i.e. SkyTrain), residents and short-distance commuters do not necessarily require high speeds since their trips need only be relatively brief. In addition, "[l]ower operational speeds are better if your intention is to best serve city districts with easy access within them and to support a long term objective to create more complete communities, less dependent on twice-daily cross-region transit trips."[3] TransLink has expressed that "[LRT] would require a linear reconstruction of the corridor, providing the opportunity for improved urban design and materials throughout the corridor. Improvements could include landscaping, grass-track in some segments, reduced crossing distances at major intersections and enhanced character and amenities at stations"[10]. It is likely that such improvements would help to create a better pedestrian environment and encourage greater levels of walking. To boot, "[t]he opportunity is greater for the alternatives with BRT and LRT (BRT Alternative, LRT Alternatives 1 and 2, Combination 1 Alternatives 1 and 2) than for the RRT Alternative because the street-level alignments provide opportunities for improvement along the entire corridor, rather than just at stations."[10] The technology facilitates trip-chaining (hop on, hop off, hop on, etc.) with stations relatively short distances apart (ideally a 10 minute walk in-between), which would leave most residents along the corridor within 5 minutes of the service. Thus, it accommodates short trips and acts as a sort of "pedestrian accelerator", supplemental to the prioritized transit mode of complete communities: walking.[2] These more frequent stoppages would slow down the journey for long-distance commuters, who desire a quick, relatively fluent trip. Although light rail is faster than rapid bus with its advantage of having traffic signal priorities, it is unfortunately not the ideal option for long-distance commuters.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

These driver-operated rubber tire, low-floor articulated elongated buses run on diesel, compressed natural gas, or electricity. A designated centre-lane right of way would be created separate from other traffic specifically for this technology to run along the centre of the roadway. Sidewalks would need to be slightly reduced in order to build narrow station platforms within the street right of way, connected to either side of the street with pedestrian crossings. Bus frequency would aim for 2 minute intervals, and stops would be quite distanced from one to the other. Signal priority at intersections - where intersections lights accommodate for the uninterrupted movement of the bus - would not be allocated for this technology.

Bus rapid transit (BRT) technology[11]

BRT: Resultant urban form & stakeholder suitability

Because of its similarities to the 99 B-Line service already in place, it is likely that BRT would foster a continuation of existing urban patterns along Broadway. This is not necessarily a bad thing; the 99 B-Line does facilitate compact, multi-use, walkable developments along the corridor and that is something to be celebrated indeed. We have seen many neighbourhoods along the Broadway Corridor exemplify the complete communities that resonate many aspects of sustainability, for example Point Grey Village on W. 10th Ave between Blanca and Discovery streets. However, the Broadway Corridor desperately needs transportation infrastructure with greater capacities in order to maximally encourage corridor residents to utilize public transit services, preventing them from deleteriously resorting to automobiles. As well, with stations distanced quite far apart, those living at inconvenient locations between two stops are unlikely to walk distances 15 minutes away, and thus this acts as a deterrent for some.
Although BRT would be faster than the current 99 B-Line articulated bus since it would operate in its own centre-lane right-of-way separated from other traffic, the lack of traffic signal priority is a downfall that would slow down trips. In order to make up for time lost, stations would need to be located at great distances apart (like the current 99 B-Line stops) so as to minimize time spent at a standstill. Because of these factors, BRT technology would not be much faster than the existing 99 B-Line articulated bus line, taking 33 minutes to travel the length of the corridor from Commercial Drive to UBC.[5] In addition, this technology does not have much more capacity to offer than the technology already in use at the current time, which is already known to be insufficient. We are led to believe that these capacities may not be large enough to accommodate the growing ridership anticipated for the future and would therefore not be a sufficiently resilient infrastructure investment. Whether or not BRT can arrive at intervals rapid enough to make up for its lack of capacity is a question to consider, but at the current time with the 99 B-Line intended to arrive every 2 minutes at stops, it has still proven insufficient, which is not promising.
With stops/stations necessarily distanced far apart for the sake of time efficiencies, BRT is likely not the best option for residents nor short-distance transit users alike. Clearly, since residents within some of the less-complete neighbourhoods along the corridor are heavily reliant on automobiles, the bus system in place does not appeal to drivers. The similarity of BRT to current infrastructures may not encourage residents whom are not active transit users to opt out of using their private automobiles and use the service. Furthermore, this will not help to reduce emissions or encourage greater levels of walking where stops/stations are not in close proximity, but has the potential to do so where stops are stationed. A ridership catchment pattern similar to the current pattern will likely result; therefore, BRT is most favourable to long-distance transit users. But, as mentioned, the Broadway Corridor is in dire need for a technology with significantly greater capacities to anticipate future increased demands and to meet the currently unmet demands, and whether this infrastructure would simply come to replicate what is already in place is certainly a risk of implementing this option. Not remarkably, the UBC Line Public Consultation Summary from June 2011 confirmed that the public believed BRT would be an insufficient improvement of the existing service; an astounding majority was in opposition to this option.[12] In the UBC Line Rapid Transit Study: Evaluation Summary, TransLink officials actually concede: "The BRT Alternative does not have sufficient capacity to meet projected long-term demand in the Broadway corridor. All other alternatives can meet projected demand and have room to expand". [10]

Most Sustainable Transit Mode for the Broadway Corridor: Our conclusions

To construct a subterranean modern subway, or rail rapid transit (RRT) line beneath Broadway all the way to UBC would represent a missed opportunity to foster the complete, sustainable communities needed to face future challenges with resilience and for Vancouver to truly embody the Greenest City it strives to be. The decision Vancouver makes will, consequently, make lasting impressions on other cities whom look to Vancouver as a leader and trendsetter in sustainable planning practices. At the same time, a modern equivalent to a street car line, such as light rail along the surface of the street, or a fancier replication of the current bus system would ultimately not prove to be efficient transportation provisions, since each mode favours only a minority of main stakeholders. As UBC students and long-distance commuters, we can relate to the allure of a smooth one-seat commute to class by RRT like the SkyTrain, but we can also appreciate the critical importance of cultivating sustainable communities in our climate of future uncertainty and, therefore, we are inclined to oppose such a nearsighted and self-interested proposal. It is also certain that BRT technology is the sole alternative considered that would not possess sufficient capacity to meet future demands, while RRT and LRT would have sufficient capacities.[10] These facts are communicated by TransLink itself in the UBC Line Rapid Transit Study: Evaluation Summary.

Graphic overview of the UBC Line Combination Alternative 1[5]

Instead, we offer that the solution to this problem is probably best met with a compromise, and perhaps by taking examples from European cities like Berlin, Vienna, Paris, and Dublin, each of which "have balanced expenditures between high speed trains, subways, and lighter rail, and cheaper and lighter tram systems," which "helps satisfy a dual objective to enhance mobility within urban districts while also accommodating the commuting needs for people in surrounding areas."[3] We believe TransLink and the associated policymakers are on the right track with regards to this; as part of the UBC Line Rapid Transit Study Phase 2 Design Guide[5], it is revealed that a combination of RRT and LRT is being considered for the UBC-Line. Fortunately, a review of the UBC Line Rapid Transit Study: Report on Public Consultation indicates that the public appears to favour this alternative.[12] TransLink has promisingly communicated that this option is the "most effective at getting people to switch from driving to transit and therefore have the highest reductions in vehicle emissions".[10] A graphic overview of this plan is provided on the left.

While we have not included financial analyses, the UBC Line Rapid Transit Study: Evaluation Summary[10] provides realistic cost feasibilities of each proposed transit mode for the corridor, as do other publications[3]. We have attempted to provide here a comprehensive sustainability analysis and such considerations are extremely important; however, we realize that the most sustainable option is sometimes also the 'perfect-world' scenario, and while it is an unfortunate reality, many times economics and what is financially possible take precedence in planning decisions such as this one. Having said that, we urge policymakers to consider the importance of fostering sustainability for the realistic continuity of Vancouver in the face of very uncertain, unpredictable, and unprecedented horizons. Infrastructure of any kind is of little use to a society that cannot otherwise sustain and reproduce itself.

Broadway Corridor Progress Update

On Tuesday, 27 November 2012, the City of Vancouver Engineering Department submitted a final recommendation to Vancouver City Council to go forward with the extension of the SkyTrain Line from VCC Clark Station, which would connect to the Broadway Corridor and eventually be constructed all the way to UBC. Jerry Dobrovolny, the City Transportation Director, stated: "Is there a system anywhere in the world that's moving this number of people [on surface rail] through this kind of corridor? The answer is no. And given the impacts, we support a Broadway [rapid rail] tunnel all the way to UBC."[13] Although this is the official recommendation from city engineers, TransLink has yet to come to a final decision, and whether or not the transportation authority supports this recommendation or furthermore whether a rapid rail tunnel all the way to UBC is even financially feasible (and thus possible) remains to be seen. At this point the fate of the corridor is still up in the air, and we hope Translink heavily weighs the concerns we have raised in this investigation. For more information on this recent update, click here to view the Globe & Mail article by local journalist Frances Bula.[13]


1. Government of British Columbia. Translink. UBC Rapid Transit Line Study Backgrounder. Vancouver: Translink, 2011. Web. <>.
2. Condon, Patrick. Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities: Design Strategies for the Post-Carbon World. Washington, D.C.: Island, 2010. Chapters 1 & 2. Print.
3. Condon, Patrick M., Sigrid Gruenberger, and Marta Klaptocz. "The Case for the Tram: Learning from Portland." Sustainability By Design: Foundational Research Bulletin. 6 (2008): 1-10. Web. 23 Sep. 2012. <>.
4. Condon, Patrick M., and Kari Dow. "A Cost Comparison of Transportation Modes." Sustainability By Design: Foundational Research Bulletin. 7 (2009): 1-13. Print. <>.
5. Government of British Columbia. TransLink. UBC Line Rapid Transit Study Phase 2 Design Guide: March/April 2011. Vancouver: TransLink, 2011. Web. <>.
6. Condon, Patrick. "Vancouver in 2050: Transit City." Tyee. 22 2012: n. page. Web. 19 Oct. 2012. <>.
7. Bunting, Trudi, Pierre Filion, and Ryan Walker. Canadian Cities in Transition: New Directions in the Twenty-First Century. 4th ed. Toronto: Oxford University, 2010. Chapter 2. Print.
8. Greater Vancouver Regional District. Policy and Planning Department. Livable Region Strategic Plan. Burnaby: Greater Vancouver Regional District, 1996. Print. <>.
9. Frank, Lawrence D., Sarah Kavage, and Bruce Appleyard. "The urban form and climate change gamble: how transportation and land development affect greenhouse gas emissions." American Planning Association. 73.8 (2007): 18-23. Print.
10. Government of British Columbia. Translink. UBC Line Rapid Transit Study Evaluation Summary. Vancouver: Translink, 2011. Web. <>.
11. Government of British Columbia. Translink. Future Rapid Transit in Metro Vancouver. Burnaby: Translink, 2011. Web. <>.
12. Government of British Columbia. Translink. UBC Line Rapid Transit Study: Report on March/April 2011 Public Consultation. Burnaby: Translink, 2011. Web. <>.
13. Bula, Frances. "Transportation director pushes for SkyTrain under Broadway." Globe & Mail [Vancouver] 27 Nov 2012, n. pag. Web. 29 Nov. 2012. <>.