Vision Vancouver chooses subway option without consulting

By Elizabeth Murphy, Contributing writer Vancouver Courier 

TransLink recently released its Phase 2 study report on the three proposed shortlisted options for the Broadway-UBC corridor. Vancouver had already announced the subway option as preferred before engaging the affected communities on the three recent TransLink study options.

The city instead worked with UBC on a $100,000 consultants report to justify only the subway option. Then Vision Vancouver sponsored a meeting March 10 in Kitsilano with Mayor Gregor Robertson and Geoff Meggs promoting the subway as if it is the only option and quoting the consultant’s report to justify it.

Journalist Frances Bula tweeted: “Whoa, big roar of protest here when moderator says that studies show a subway is the preferred option for a #BroadwayLine.” There were many people at the Vision meeting unhappy that the city did not consult them about the future of their neighbourhood before announcing the subway.

In early 2010, a community group called ‘Businesses and Residents for Sustainable Transit Alternatives‘ (BARSTA) organized a meeting in Kitsilano. Over 300 people listened to a variety of community leaders, local business leaders, and transit academics speak and present slides about sustainable transit alternatives. Attendees included city hall staff, UBC students, local residents, local businesspeople and residents from many Broadway communities.

An open microphone discussion at the end of the meeting asserted the unanimity of the group and a final motion was unanimously adopted: “BARSTA supports improved surface electric public transit that is affordable, efficient, and effective, with land use that respects existing zoning and neighbourhood-based planning.”

There was strong opposition to the Hong Kong model of using proceeds from development to fund transit and a subway with out-of-scale tower nodes.

The proposal to funnel transit resources into a few very expensive transit corridors and draining the rest of the system of transit resources is neither practical nor sustainable.

Even if a subway on Broadway is approved immediately, it would not be in operation for 10 to 20 years. But development based on the Hong Kong model of funding transit with upzoned development would occur immediately, adding new demand without transit in place for a decade or longer. This would worsen the current transit situation.

For instance, the Evergreen Line, which was approved in principle 20 years ago, is only now being built.

The huge additional growth that Robertson is planning to bring to the Broadway corridor could result in Metrotown-scale development nodes across the corridor from Commercial Drive to UBC.

In addition to nodes, most of the existing heritage neighbourhoods, including multi-family rentals along the corridor from 16th to Fourth Avenue, could be subject to large-scale redevelopment now with a subway completion delayed for decades.

There are many ways to manage peak hour traffic without such a megaproject. We cannot afford it, it won’t help move people and goods for decades, while development in anticipation of a subway will only worsen congestion.

What we need is a more affordable transit option now than the $3 billion subway system at $250 million per km. For example, the electric trolley system throughout the city and much of the region can be expanded for only $1 million per km and $1 million per double articulated electric trolley bus. Also, streetcars at $30-40 million per km and LRT could be added where feasible. This could all be rolled out immediately instead of just one inadequate and unaffordable subway decades in the future.

Once transit is more equitably distributed throughout the city and region, we can look at upgrading to more expensive projects as funding becomes available. For now, we need to ensure that transit resources are fairly shared across the growing region with affordable solutions.

It may make sense to extend the subway connection from Vancouver Community College at Great Northern Way to Central Broadway and the Canada Line. This limited extension could be the best value for money in the long run. Transit might be financed through mileage/fuel-based vehicle levies, carbon and gas taxes, and sales taxes without increasing transit fares or ruining the character of our neighbourhoods.

Using property taxes and the Hong Kong funding model amounts to downloading the provincial responsibility for transit onto the municipal tax base, while depriving our communities of the public amenities and non-market housing needed to serve population growth. These options should be taken off the table before TransLink gets any additional funding sources.

Although expressways and heavy rail transit lines are very different in nature, these huge megaprojects can have similar impacts. The third crossing of the Burrard Inlet and freeway through Vancouver’s Strathcona, Chinatown and Gastown proposed in the late 1960s was to have included replacement of these adjacent communities with urban renewal tower developments. This was stopped by community activists and a new political party called TEAM.

The currently proposed subway, dependant on the Hong Kong funding model, would have to include a massive amount of tower and large-scale development that would wipe out the many heritage neighbourhoods in its path. Affected communities are requesting a different plan. Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) is committed to implementing affordable transportation systems that our communities urgently need and want now.

Elizabeth Murphy was a former property development officer for the City of Vancouver; former senior development officer for B.C. Housing; and private sector project manager. Murphy ran for council in the City of Vancouver2011 election with Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV).


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