Is anyone else having a “here we go again” moment about the Arbutus Corridor? Not about the value of having it as a city asset, but about the aspirational language that was built into the Mayor’s announcement and subsequent statements on the radio, when he talked about it being Vancouver’s High-line, about it having public art along it, about it being wonderful for family outings etc. etc.
All the images, both verbal and graphic, are recreational. I know this city image below is just a sketch, but it is an inspirational one of mixed uses happily coexisting. It creates expectations….
Take the city scene off the left-hand side and what do you have:
White Rock Beach, with the BNSF line running through it. Anybody who knows White Rock knows how poorly the train and the unseparated walking/cycling area work together; trains amble along the beach at little more than a walking pace, occasionally wiping out pedestrians wearing earbuds – hardly the recipe for a transit line. Even the Arbutus bus goes faster than that. (BNSF has been lobbied heavily to move its tracks inland, but has shown little interest due to the reported cost of a half-billion.)
Is this a tacit admission by the city that the west side will never be densified to the extent that a rapid-transit line will be feasible? Is it another nod to Resort City?
This graphic from the Transportation 2040 report makes no mention at all of the corridor, but the text suggests that both transit and recreation scenarios are possible.
From my point of view, although I’m perfectly happy with bikeways such as Cypress two blocks away from the corridor, I would enjoy a narrow paved path through the brambles so I could get to the Kerrisdale area; however, I would hate to see anything done on that expensive corridor that will make it politically impossible to run fast rail. Of course, it could always become what the Millennium Line is through East Van – a Skytrain guideway providing some rain shelter for cyclists and pedestrians below. Not likely!
If the gorilla of public opinion is given this banana by city council, it’s going to be awfully difficult to take it away. Anybody agree?


  1. An Arbutus light rail line falls somewhere between ‘Third Burrard Crossing’ and ‘Shared Penny Farthing’ scheme in the regional transportation priority pecking order – especially so close to the Canada Line. If two rail line rights-of-way can’t be protected or future-proofed while a cycling greenway is developed, then barring national emergency for such a facility, light rail will never happen.
    The City won’t have the funding to build a 2-line light rail until the 2040’s, at the earliest. They’re not going to let the corridor sit fallow that long. If it’s a choice between building a cycle greenway in 2022 or a light rail corridor in 2042, then cycling it is. If it turns out that the light rail width (for two tracks) can be protected with a cycling or greenway track, then maybe you’ll see light rail there some day. Maybe when we’re all dead. Keep your Compass Cards handy.

    1. If you’re planning a city and looking to find the best place to accommodate our growing population, the Arbutus Corridor is your #1 priority. This is a corridor that is rapid transt ready and should be planned to take on high density neighbourhoods.

  2. This is the place for “cut and cover”. No impact on businesses like the Canada Line down Cambie. Permanently open greenway on top. More expensive, yes, but this is what it takes to build a city.

  3. Almost forgot. One of the last nails in the coffin for High Line opposition in NYC was when supporters started trumping it as a potential boon to upzoning and new development – which is exactly what happened. In turn, fees generated from new development pay for High Line maintenance and insurance. The High Line wasn’t just a refurbished elevated rail line. It was a catalyst for a mutually-beneficial development arrangement between the City and development community.
    I’m not sure if that would work on Arbutus with the clause that the City pay CN (or was it CP?) for future differences in land value due to development. I don’t know if that means development directly on the arbutus corridor lot or adjacent lots – or if it relates to arbutus lot valuation increases as a result of adjacent development. Either way, the City has limited potential for a similar relationship when it agreed to compensate the former owners for future increases in value. I suppose developers could just pay future value differences, but that’s more on the City for corridor maintenance and construction.

  4. Why does the rail transit have to be fast?
    European cities are full of trams that operate at the speed of a bus but, being rail, can be configured to carry many more people than a bus in much greater comfort. The push for speed is in the failure of good planning that allows people to live, work and play within a relatively small geographic area. We’re getting better at it; and as we do speed becomes less important.
    This brings to mind the justification for faster subways that always use the end-to-end time difference and multiplies it by passenger volumes to create a false cumulative total time saved. And they always ignore all the time spent going up and down stairs and escalators and getting to the much further spaced stations in the first place.
    If a city is planned well, few people would need to ride end-to-end or even significant lengths of a line and travel speed becomes of little importance.

    1. Rail transit does not need to be fast, it needs to be time competitive with the alternatives. The European trams I have taken are pretty fast compared to cars, they have lots of exclusive lanes and signal priorty and driving in the cities is slow and parking difficult. The European cities I have been all also had backbones of fast S-bahn/RER transit as well. Apparently the well planned utopia you advocate does not exist and the messy reality is we need fast regional transportation.

        1. It does no one any good to pretend the world is coloured purple just because your favourite colour is purple. Clearly good planning will attempt to make it so people do not need to travel long distances, also just as clearly good planning will reflect observed real world observations where even in the best planned cities people routinely travel large distances. Wishing the world was purple does not make it so. It is pretty obvious that in the near to medium term Vancouver will still have massive requirements to move people long distances, ignoring this is terrible planning.

      1. And that what to do with the Arbutus Corridor? It exists in the dead-end of the region where density nor distance will play a major role.

  5. It’s hard to predict the future. Currently the route is not bad as an active transportation corridor. People have been walking and cycling along it for decades already.
    I think the only way rail could be on it is a slow “vintage” novelty streetcar. That would be nice but people in Kerrisdale are unlikely to take it regularly as transportation to downtown because of the slow speed. The other is buried or elevated which are expensive. It’d be cheaper to just have an Arbutus express bus. I don’t worry much about local opposition to elevated rail as those people won’t be around by the time this would happen.
    In the short term though, it wouldn’t take much to pave a couple paths, make some nice crossings, a few benches and water fountains and voila!

    1. Why wouldn’t people living in Kerrisdale cycle downtown if this were a decent bikeway? Slow speed? If there were a decent path on the corridor, cycling would be the fastest way of getting downtown from Kerrisdale. We should think big. A decent paved cycling path with lighting costs about $1 million per km. Why not put in high quality paths which would be of decent width and safety to attract a huge number of people? More people cycling means more room on the streets for those who must drive. Also, improved health, less noise and pollution. Can’t wait for it to be completed.

      1. I can’t find the date of the double-tracking, but I found the timetable for 1909; from the Vancouver depot at the north end of the Granville Bridge to Kerrisdale took 16 minutes.
        On Tue, Mar 15, 2016 at 11:50 AM, Price Tags wrote:

  6. My kooky idea for this unused rail line would be to see it used as a test bed for local universities and colleges to build and test lightweight, human-powered rail vehicles. Esp those that can carry, say, a dozen passengers or thereabouts. The former owners could offer up a few staff to monitor safety considerations and we could have an annual competition for the best designs.
    Unsurprisingly, the Germans beat us to it. Sprechen sie fun?

  7. The Arbutus Greenway has the potential to be an outstanding walking and cycling experience. My vision is that of a cycling highway which is grade separated at major arterials or at a minimum, intersections with arterials should be protected in the sense that there can be no motor vehicle movements over the greenway during the ped/cycle phase. Cycling path should be at least 5m wide for a two way path or it could even be 2 3.5 m paths. It should be widest at the north end due to higher volumes. The greenway should make direct connections to both the Burrard Bridge and the proposed Granville Bridge Greenway. Add a 4m walking path and you can easily get 15m just for walking and cycling. For the most part, the corridor is 20m wide but this drops to about 15m at the north end. So where is the space for two streetcar tracks, or even one? This corridor has 18 schools nearby as well as community centres and libraries. It can provide the backbone of safe routes to these facilities as well as an amazing commuter cycling route to downtown. The worst thing we can so is micky mouse the walking and cycling opportunities in order to leave space for a streetcar which may never come. And if you want a streetcar, why not put it back onto Arbutus?

    1. 6m for two streetcar rails, 4m for a two way bike path, 3m for walking, 2m to 7m for landscaping. Even Amsterdam doesn’t have more than 4m wide bicycle paths.

      1. Vondelpark, Amsterdam:
        Bike path width 8.4m Total width including walking paths, 15.8m. And that is without any buffering between paths. Even then, I had to slow down to almost a stop several times in order to avoid crashing into groups of pedestrians who preferred to walk on the pavement. And Amsterdam is flat. We have to be concerned with higher speeds going downhill. Certainly not enough space for two tracks. Even one track is a squeeze.

        1. Vondelpark and the Arbutus Corridor are two quite different things. The AC is unlikely ever to have anywhere near the density of cyclists. If that should occur in the future we’ll need to be rejigging the entire city anyway.
          You suggested putting the streetcars on Arbutus. Why not have bicycles take over the bulk of all our arterials?

        2. Build it and they will come. Cycling is the highest growing mode of transportation, so why not encourage it even more? We have just as much of an opportunity to match Dutch cycling numbers as any other city in the world – even more so since we share a similar climate. I don’t want to take over any arterials, but is one arterial for bikes too much to ask for?

        3. Why not take over arterials where the commercial activity is? Highways for bikes are just as single-use as highways for cars. Amsterdam’s bike lanes are where people want to be – not just where they want to pass by.

  8. The High Line is a noble idea to copy. It cost a lot of money, but it revitalized a bad area. You can’t tell me that Arbutus needs to be revitalized. Do we need to help $4M houses reach $8M? The only thing I see is a lot of money being spent on yet another westside greenspace. It’s not even like the Point Grey bike route, which could argue that it was a safety item.
    Sure, it’s a nice-to-have item if we had tons of cash to burn. Park space is never a waste of money. But, this seems like an excessive amount of money to me. Was it a good deal at $55M? What if it was $100M? $200M? At what point do we say it’s just out of our budget? I thought the $20M was a lot and was hoping CP would’ve gifted it to the city. The only thing I can see justifying this is that the threat to run freight cars down the line would’ve put the mayor in the hot seat with a core voter/donor base; and naturally, since this is real estate frenzied Vancouver, there’s probably a developer windfall coming in there somewhere.
    I remember the Canada Line debates. Skytrain under Cambie! No, light rail down the Arbutus Corridor! No, you’re stupid! No, you’re stupid! Hey, it’s not our money, why don’t we get taxpayers to pay for both? Yeah, great idea!
    Look, I like everyone’s ideas here. I just think we passed the point where the price is worth it.

    1. Exactly Kirk. Just who is paying for all these “greenways,” and they do not look very “green” to me, just more and more concrete to accommodate cyclists over motorists. Where is the balance, and what about the bottom line? I’m not going to pay the bill, I can tell you that. And, based on the extraordinary number of long-standing residents leaving the City, many others have had their fill too.

      1. The people who are using the greenways as well as anyone else who might not are paying for them.
        Whether it’s a good use of money or not is another question entirely. They are very popular so for those using them they’re worth it. Like anything else there will be people who aren’t interested and not using them who will still be paying for them. Presumably there’s something else they do use to even it out.
        That’s how taxes work.

        1. Ugh. Like the Massey Tunnel replacement? So, we shouldn’t complain about that massive waste of money either? Like oil and gas subsidies? Provincial LNG spending? I shouldn’t complain that Christy Clark and her cronies are squeezing the life out of public education because, well, it will even out… and, that’s how taxes work? This seem so condescending.
          Just sitting and saying nothing is bad idea. We all have a duty to voice our concerns when we disagree with our govt. That’s how democracy works.

        2. Yes, and I may or may not disagree with someone’s opinion on spending but I fully support people having the right to speak their mind about how their taxes are spent.

    2. So, $500 million for a retractable stadium roof is OK? $3.5 billion for a highway upgrade is OK? $3 million for each left turn bay at an intersection is OK? A few million for walking and cycling which will more than pay for itself in terms of improved health, reduced pollution and motor vehicle congestion, reduced crashes, injuries, deaths not to mention a great way to reduce GHG emissions is somehow not OK? I would rather have an amazing greenway which gives people great mobility options than congestion clogged city streets any day.

      1. Arno,
        As in anything, the issue that must not be forgotten is balance. No one is arguing “either…or.”

      2. If you’re worried about public health and GHG, are you seriously telling me this is your number one highest priority, greatest return item? If you were given $55M to spend on anything, this would’ve been it? It’s not like there aren’t any sidewalks over there already.
        And, what in the world do things like the BC Place roof have to do with this? I didn’t support that either. Are you trying to argue that wasteful spending sets a precedent for more wasteful spending, so this is okay?

        1. Wasteful spending?
          From the University of Auckland – 20:1 benefit/cost ratio for investment in cycling. “a spend of $600 million on the right kind of cycling infrastructure yields savings from increased exercise in the tens of billions of dollars.”
          Long Term Benefits of Cycling Investment

          What is the full cost of your commute?
          BC Research. Driving a car incurs a cost to society of $0.56/km while riding a bike offers a benefit to society of $0.15/km.
          Investment in cycling has the highest benefits/cost ratio of any form of transportation investment. In fact, it is a bit like a money tree. What could be a better investment than the Arbutus Corridor? $55 million is cheap by any measure.

  9. It is so sad that people who live in the first world are so uninformed about LRT in Europe and the greened landscaped right of ways that provide safe, fast and more comfortable LRT service to a neighbourhood. There are many examples of separated bike and rail serviced right of ways in Germany, France and the Netherlands…They even have tram trains that demonstrate the flexibility that LRT is capable of, underground, elevated, surface or running on mainline right of ways, without the very expensive Skytrain or Canada Line subway with above ground bus service to accomodate the people between long separated stations. Once track is removed from Arbutus, it will disappear for ever. A shame for what was a double tracked passenger system. The westside creme de la creme will enjoy their linear park while the Canada Line is underbuilt and needs a billion or so to lengthen stations and the two car trains-while buses run above..For someone who grew up in Kerrisdale and remembers the trams, it is sad.

      1. Probably in the early 1920s. I can’t find the exact date. I commented above on a different email system and the response got lodged somewhere above.

  10. The Arbutus Corridor is not only rail, but road. Why does East Boulevard @ King George have street parking both directions? Turn over a parking lane to sidewalk or cycling. Another question – why squish all the programming objectives onto the the AC right-of-way and leave Arbutus operating as-is? Bikes on Arbutus itself 🙂

    1. Why not rail on arbutus? Also, arbutus has sidewalks, so why not pedestrians on Arbutus. In fact, most streets have sidewalks but few have safe cycling.
      This project promises to provide an excellent cycling experience which will encourage many more people to cycle. This will reduce motor vehicle congestion and crowding on transit as well as providing the many benefits to society that cycling provides – namely improved health, less noise and pollution, reduced GHG emissions. The Greenway also promises a superb walking exerience. Provision for walking and cycling should be the top priority for the Arbutus Greenway.

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