Many PT readers will by now have seen some of these snazzy renderings of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed light rail along 17 miles (27.3 kms) of the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront.

Streetcar map


The purpose of this roughly $2B line is laudable: provide transportation access along one of the city’s fastest-growing development areas. Like many cities, NYC is no longer strictly a ‘spoke and wheel’ entity, with commuters rushing into Manhattan and then back out again. More people now live and work across and between the boroughs. And aside from a single local bus line, there is no transit along the East River’s east shore.
However, there’s a catch. It will be a streetcar, not a fully-dedicated light rail. Traveling with vehicle traffic, it will only average 12mph (19 km/hr) and take about 1 hour 15 minutes to travel from Astoria, Queens to Red Hook, Brooklyn. This trip will test patience. Riding it will make you swear you could lie down in the street and grow that distance quicker. I’m curious to see how long NY’ers will be enamored with this proposal as its details become more commonly known.
Just ask the folks in Edmonton, where the transit system recently opened up the much-delayed and problematic Metro Line light rail line from downtown to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Untangling the new extension’s signalling problems is the stuff of masters’ theses, and Edmontonions were annoyed about the delays in its opening. But when they realized that the line would cause real, actual traffic delays, the poutine hit the fan.




Self-described transit supporter and Edmonton National Post reporter Tristin Hopper called the new line ““the equivalent of a candy company releasing a new chocolate bar called ‘Herpes Al-Qaeda’.” That’s both funny and harsh, and I look forward to reading his column when he realizes the the planned Valley Line (western extension) towards the Edmonton Mall will run as a fully-integrated streetcar with no dedicated right of way along some of the city’s busiest arterial roads.

Screenshot 2016-02-03 23.04.25


Back our way, Surrey’s light rail will not have these problems. Both lines will function more like Edmonton’s older north-south network does now: mostly along their own rights-of-way but with signalized priority across intersecting streets.
So, streetcars are cheaper and provide far fewer benefits than dedicated light rail, yet more than buses. Are they worth it? Do you support such a system around False Creek or Olympic Village? Along 3rd Street and Marine Drive on the North Shore? A return to the 1940 network?


What about streetcars in the old Lower Mainland?


  1. Considering the trip around false creek would be largely devoid of street crossings, it would be most of the benefit of LRT, with most of the infrastructure of Streetcar.
    Whether it is warranted is another matter (I would kinda like the historic tram to get rolling again between Main Street and Granville, but that partially because I live a block from it, and it’d be fun) … but it inherently wouldn’t have many of the pitfalls of the streetcar systems mentioned.

  2. A skytrain extension would be much better. Better on ROI and better for drivers as, “signalized priority across intersecting streets” means a significant block in traffic. Skytrain has higher capacity, higher speeds which leads to a better customer experience and more likely to get people out of their cars.

    1. Oh, sure. But at Skytrain’s cost, it ain’t happening. The piece’s closing question is only partially rhetorical.

  3. It all depends more on how it is than what it is. If something is slow to take you somewhere and there are alternatives, then it won’t be used so much. It’s got to be a fast pleasant way to get somewhere.
    It would be great to see some type of train take you from Main and Quebec to Granville Island and then down Arbutus to Kerrisdale but it would have to be faster than just grabbing the bus and it should be immune to traffic jams. If not then it’s just a romantic tourist attraction.

    1. That’s a pretty good rule, and a note I didn’t include. In the case of the BQX streetcar, it’s about a 20-35 minute bike ride. Far quicker to bike.

  4. Newly built streetcars / LRTs make no sense in dense cities. They are far too slow & too disruptive to existing traffic and take up too much expensive real estate. This elevated futuristic option is better (cheaper, greener, quieter, less disruptive to traffic) or a subway if volume warrants it like London’s CrossRail or Broadway’s subway to Arbutus.
    LRT makes sense in less dense parts of town, usually further out – so perhaps OK in Langley/E-Surrey. The LRT line in Edmonton is a disaster, not only the ValleyLine to NAIT but also south of UofA or at Southgate as it is far too disruptive to cars. Ugly and noisy too. See Calgary’s blighted downtown corridor along 7th Ave where the LRT runs.
    A bad choice. Go above or below, but NOT at grade in dense cities !
    Since real estate values along the lines go up substantially, cities can recoup that increase in value through levies, like they do now along the Cambie corridor. An LRT is too short-term thinking & too narrow.

  5. There are very good reasons Calgary grade-separated most of its West Line. The primary one being it’s a rapid transit line, not a tourist route with cute little trams in mixed traffic.
    Thank you Dan for not bringing up Broadway.

  6. Great idea, SkyTrain enthusiasts, a one off mini-metro system -only 7 in the world-that costs too much for its benefits, too few stations, its cars too narrow, so we also get to pay for a surface bus transport on its route as well for what is essentially a freeway in the sky and only takes one incident to close it, instead of an European LRT system that can carry more people in 7 section trams, on its own right of way and is actually faster, and due to its lower cost than SkyTrain, services a larger area as it is longer being much cheaper to build. So we consider a subway that dumps people at Arbutus instead of UBC, that will never be elevated in a crème de la crème westside, or affordable underground after that, and we get to also pay for the buses required to actually serve the neighbourhoods that transit is supposed to..We must not have what the rest of the world has figured out-a surface based transit system that is more friendly to businesses, transit users along the route and is a cohesive addition to the neighbourhoods it goes through. Reminds me of the mother who watching her son march in an army parade, wonders why all the others are out of step with him..

    1. You’re saying a street running LRT is faster than one of the fastest rapid transit systems out there? You’re off your rocker.
      According to my count there are 17 rapid transit lines using linear induction motors. Don’t believe what Rail for the Valley says. They really have a thing for picking very minor distinctions when it comes to rolling stock. Kawasaki makes very similar products to what Bombardier does.
      The magic formula for Skytrain is small trains, no driver, high frequency. Lots of systems share some of those traits. Others have 2 of 3, for one reason or another. All 3 suit Vancouver.
      Small trains mean cheaper guideways, tunnels and stations.
      High frequency means little time wasted standing around on platforms, high service quality, and more capacity from the same infrastructure.
      Full automation means that the high frequency isn’t that costly and can be maintained during off hour periods.

    2. “Myron,” I created some detailed illustrations of the geometry of Broadway out of curiosity about transit and will post them on another site in the near future. Believe me, spending a billion, maybe a billion and a half to put the Number 9 trolley on rails will be a complete waste of money. Crossing the road while facing a median containing higher capacity, faster and more frequent LRT trains will become a public safety issue, or impossible with a fence. With the latter, you will be advocating the closure of 31 cross intersections, 27 of them currently signalized.
      Contrary to your unproven conjecture, none of these options will work specifically on Broadway or help businesses and transit riders there. Maybe on 41st Ave, or south of Fraser, but your statements tell me you either live outside of Vancouver (say, for example, North Delta) or in the city and have your eyes closed when traversing Broadway, a road with a very unique geometry.

  7. The right of way on the south side of False Creek where the demonstration line ran during the Olympics (though run painfully slow) is largely separated from traffic – it would provide a good link to Granville Island (and 1st Ave has a reserved median for the downtown streetcar as well) – i.e. it could be run faster than it was during the Olympics.
    I think a streetcar on that alignment would act as a feeder to SkyTrain (Main Street) and Canada Line (OV Station).
    If carried farther west, it could help solve the Planetarium’s access issues with Kits Point residents, and provide Kits with access to both Canada Line and Expo Line.
    It’s a bit odd that the City has not looked for a corporate sponsor or operator to lease or buy a streetcar or two, cover operating costs and run them back and forth on even the existing OV Station – Granville Island route. The existing single track with passing siding should be fine for that short a run.

    1. There is a standing offer from the tram museum, it would cost $40,000 per year to get it running again (if I remember correctly … its been quite a while since I heard the number … it was less than $100k I’m quite certain) … I wrote about it a bit a while back: … it seems to have run more as novelty than as a part of the transit system, but if all the false creek boats can run all day, so too should the tram thingy.
      I wasn’t here during the Olympics, how busy was the borrowed Bombardier tram anyway? (anyone?)

      1. I used it a couple evenings to get to concerts on Granville Island. As far as I can remember, it was well used: most seats taken up, some people standing.

    2. Guest, you wrote: “It’s a bit odd that the City has not looked for a corporate sponsor or operator to lease or buy a streetcar or two, cover operating costs and run them back and forth on even the existing OV Station – Granville Island route. The existing single track with passing siding should be fine for that short a run.”
      There is a clear explanation why this is so. If you look at Vision Vancouver’s statements, election platform statements, etc., they clearly are opposed to any effort to build LRT or revive streetcar use in Vancouver. They believe that any effort to do so will undermine their effort to get Translink and/or the Province of BC to fund their Broadway Subway.
      Vision even goes so far as to advocate that the EXISTING CPR railway track north of 6ht Avenue between Cambie and Granville be torn up and replaced with a bike path, EVEN THOUGH there are already two parallel bike paths in close proximity!

  8. This could be a typical post illustrating the peril of judging a transit project thru technology lens.
    The first question to ask is what goals the Queens-Brooklyn connector want to achieve, then and only then, a technology discussion could start.
    An example is the Paris Tram T3 (an orbital line around Paris, which seems to be the inspiration source for this project): The line is 23km long. Its own dedicated right of way, doesn’t prevent it to have an average speed not greater than 16km/h !
    …However, the average trip length is only 3.5km – (basically people use it to connect to the numerous subway lines connected to the line T3).
    Thought the probably busiest tram line in France, with 250,000 boarding/day, it is also worth pointing it doesn’t carry more than 3500 pphpd, that is 4 time less than the skytrain, and could be 3 time less than a Millenium line extended to Arbutus

    See more detail on it (and comparison with the Hong Kong LRT, averaging less than 15km/h speed) here.
    The Paris line T3 has been financed in full by the City of Paris (what is unusual), as it is also used as a city “beautification” project (I am sorry that I fail to see that with the Edmonton LRT)
    I also notice that the Queens-Brooklyn connector (now priced at a more realistic US$2.5B) is expected to be fully financed by value capture, as it is proposed to foster a “development corridor”.
    The 19km/h average speed can be considered as “fast” by many transit transdard, and very few tram in dense urban environment are able to achieve it (so it is probably a very optimistic speed)
    At the end, NYC is a city which can probably justify a full gamut of transit option…BTW, there is another orbital project in the Queens and Brooklyn neighboroods for which speed could be much higher, but also fulfilling different goals:
    In short the Queens-Brooklyn connector can’t be seen in insulation of the overall Transit picture of the area, and every project is different…

    1. Thoughtful post Vonny, good points. In the Vancouver context Broadway has a lot of regional connections so will benefit from higher speeds.

  9. Automated buses are going to be able to take the place of streetcars at a much lower cost while providing much better service. Safer too. Trains don’t stop quickly plus the tracks can be really dangerous.
    Already an automated bus on the road in Greece. Another is beginning trials in the Netherlands.
    A great first route would be connecting Olympic Village Station with Granville Island. Small 10 person buses could leave every 30 seconds or so.

  10. Here’s a follow up article whose main point is that this proposed line would serve a significant population of poor New Yorkers – in line with the de Blasio “tale of two cities” agenda, however new transit brings new people which brings gentrification. Vicious cycle?

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