NPA Promises Streetcar Network

Olympic Line at Granville Island
The NPA might have hired the same communications team as Rob Ford, but it appears they’ll be using a slightly different strategy in this fall’s election. In Toronto, Rob Ford was elected on a promise to end the ‘war on cars’ by tearing up bike lanes and street car lines. While the NPA is opposed to bike lanes, it is now promising to fast track street car lines.

I’m encouraged by the idea. I’d rather see the NPA compete on ideas like this, than on the negative attacks that have been their hallmark for the past year. I’m a huge fan of Vancouver’s planned streetcar project, but I have a few concerns with the NPA’s proposal.

One, it doesn’t make integration with TransLink a priority. The original press release didn’t even mention TransLink, but Anton has since clarified that she would try to integrate the streetcar with the existing public transit system. Considering how many transfer points would exist between a streetcar system and the SkyTrain, smooth integration should be a main priority.

Two, it doesn’t mention any links to a new UBC Line along Broadway (TransLink’s next priority in Vancouver). One of the most intriguing designs presented for the UBC Line was Combo 1 (my personal favourite) – involving a SkyTrain extension from VCC-Clark to Arbutus, and a street car line from Main Street-Science World to UBC. If the NPA is so enthusiastic on a streetcar network, why not use the opportunity to address the biggest transit need in Vancouver – a rapid transit route along Broadway.

Lastly, the NPA plans on funding the streetcar network with a public-private-partnership (P3). I like the idea of Vancouver sidestepping TransLink to get transit investments faster, but P3s are bad news. Public transit should be something Vancouver’s municipal government has a say in, but the regional nature of TransLink and its weird governance structure makes that very hard today. However, if a streetcar network is important it should be funded and controlled by the city or Translink. P3s are just convenient way to balance the books, and as Stephen Rees has pointed out many times there are many negative consequences.


  1. Nice write-up. There are quite a few interesting takes on alternative streetcar implementations. The one proposed here looks very nice but still seems quite expensive (which would presumably mean less coverage in the long run).

    I saw a presentation a while back by Patrick Condon from UBC that I found quite interesting. Stephen Rees reproduced on his blog an in-progress chapter on streetcars from Patrick’s book before it was published. He has quite a bit to say on the subject and appears (to me at least) to make a lot of sense.


    • Thanks Scott.
      I’m trying to figure out what the cost breakdown is for Combo 1. Using the other options as a guide, I figure it is probably $1.5B for Skytrain and $1B for streetcar to UBC. That seems to be expensive for light rail. According to wikipedia, light rail ranges from $15M to $100M per mile (although Seattle’s light rail rang in at $179/mile). Main street to UBC is 7.5 miles, so a cost of $1B is a high estimate (even with the cost of buying trains). By comparison, the downtown streetcar study (done in 2005) pegged the cost of track at $17M/km, an extremely low estimate. But those are the estimates the NPA are still using.

      I like Combo 1 because:
      1) It buries the rapid transit for the busiest section (between Granville and Main)
      2) it connects with a potential streetcar network downtown
      3) it extends the silly stub of SkyTrain at VCC-Clark
      4) it divides the UBC traffic from the east into two streams – anyone coming along the Millennium Line would transfer at Arbutus; anyone coming along Expo Line would transfer at Main. This gets rid of the Commercial Drive choke point.


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