A high-profile and complex project, the Arbutus Greenway is a rightfully-recurring topic on this blog and other forums. Sometimes too recurring, though. It frankly elicited some fatigue last year with endless sustained and robust debate over its temporary surface treatments.
The City must have learned something useful from its first consultation round for the temporary greenway design, because the outreach process to inform the permanent greenway’s conceptual design is only half as long and almost over. As noted in Ken Ohrn’s previous post from January, the City is hosting three meetings and extending an online survey to the 15th to petition the public for its thoughts, opinions, concerns, and desires for the permanent future of this 9-km stretch of former rail corridor.

The corridor, with temporary treatments

The second meeting is tonight at the Marpole Community Centre. The last is this Saturday, February 11th from 2:30-5:30 at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown.
It is still early days for this project and the City is rightfully asking the big questions: What do you want? What should be preserved? What are the ‘must have’s? However, being impatient, other colleagues and I have preferred to consider the ‘next step’ logistical/engineering questions about how this space will actually work:

  • What exactly is going in the 20m right of way?
  • Is space being preserved for eventual 2-way light rail?
  • How will the design minimize conflicts between modes?
  • What surface treatments are you considering? How will you maintain them?
  • How are you going to manage the transitions across Broadway, W 16th, W 33rd, et. al?
  • What are you doing with buildings currently encroaching on the right of way? 
still just a rendering for now

It was these and similar questions that, thanks to the Arbutus Communications Team, prompted an interview with Dale Bracewell, Vancouver’s Manager of Transportation Planning. We were originally going to meet on the greenway for a ride, but the weather had other ideas.
Over a half-hour chat, Dale walked me through the big picture and as much of the smaller picture as he could commit to at this stage. The City is still in the visioning stage but from previous consultation on the temporary greenway, known best practice, and feedback his team has received; there are already a number of lessons, known challenges, and likely themes the Arbutus Greenway will incorporate. Here are a few:

  • The Stanley Park Seawall is considered the local benchmark of greenway success. Elements that have traditionally ‘worked’ here will make their way onto Arbutus: accommodation of different mobility levels, integration with landscape and points of interest, separation of modes, etc.
Benchmark for a successful greenway –  Seawall
  • Separation of modes will be a priority to reduce both actual and perceived risk of conflicts. This has been consistently communicated through all levels of project feedback. Depending on the area and availability of width, pedestrians and cyclists will be separated in some fashion.
  • Transitions across level streets will be a major factor in the design. Unlike other urban rails-to-trails greenways, Arbutus is neither sunken nor elevated, but level to the surrounding road network. Crossing minor roads will not be as problematic, but crossing major ones (Broadway, King Edward, W 41st) will likely require either some significant traffic network changes, expensive signalling, or level separation (bridges). This will drive some of the design’s biggest decisions and costs.
Green bridge over Broadway?
  • Integration with public transit will be another critical item. This thing might be part of the public transit network some day, so this is sensible. Easy access to and extra capacity at Arbutus extension skytrain station, W 41st St B-Line, and other crossing bus services will make their way into the Conceptual designs.
  • Protecting space for 2-way light rail is still on the table. This would be 8m-9m of the total 20m right of way. I’m not yet convinced there’s a business case for a streetcar or light rail here, but this space can be flexibly programmed in the short term while the transit corridor is being assessed/developed.
  • Other cities’ models will be reviewed. Ideas for some of the finer engineering and design elements that don’t come from the visioning exercise may be borrowed from other cities (i.e., surface treatments, design elements, lighting, etc.). This essentially includes programming opportunities and partnerships. Some facilities that the City is looking at are below:
Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 9.18.26 PM.png
Inspiration from Chicago – 606/Bloomingdale Line
And Sydney – The Goods Line
And Minneapolis – Midtown Greenway
And Auckland – Lightpath

Ultimately the greenway will offer improved direct connectivity to points north and south and transfer connections east and west. Whether it forever remains an active mode corridor or eventually includes a streetcar connecting Granville Island and…The Arthur Laing Bridge? Steveston?…it will be a popular and iconic public amenity. We’ll have trouble imagining what Vancouver was ever like without it.

For those not interested in ever getting those 36 minutes back, the full interview can be heard here.


  1. I think the north end of the greenway is very interesting. Yes, in the short term getting to the Granville Island area is desirable. In the slightly longer term, creating a link to the proposed Granville Bridge Greenway is much more exciting and impactful in the transportation sense. The vincinity of West 5th Avenue is most likely for this connection.

  2. Tunnels under major streets should be considered. A pedestrian/bike tunnel at Broadway might connect to the skytrain. Tunnel at 41st might be preferable. Note that tunnels have less elevation change than bridges. Protected intersection at King Ed would probably be sufficient.

    1. Tunnels are terrible ideas. In order to be attractive enough (aka not a dank, ugly cavern), the amount of digging would be huge. Better to go with level crossings.

      1. True but there are ways to mitigate those aspects. Bright tiles, skylights, wide openings, Skytrain station lobby, etc.
        A subway station will involve digging at the stations even if it’s bored for the rest of it.
        But I’m cool with a level crossing too. There’s a pedestrian crossing light at Arbutus, the stopping area could be moved further East with the signal light timings having a different phase for turning traffic.

    2. Tunnels are tricky but I agree that they should at least be considered. Conflicts with underground and overhead utilities will be no fun regardless of how they’re settled. South of W 16th St the gap between Arbutus St and the greenway is only 8m-10m. It seems the least awful option will be to direct greenway users to the east leg intersection crossings, which will be widened for additional traffic and transitions from/to the greenway.

    3. The tunnel under Georgia by Lost Lagoon is quite attractive. I have seen lots of tunnels in the Netherlands. At one intersection of two largish arterials, there were both tunnels and surface crossing options. There is also an awsome new tunnel under the train station in Amsterdam.

      1. Sure .. with a 3 block ramp on either side ? The MAIN challenge is the numerous street crossings, every 50-60 meters. Unless dozens of roads are closed, which is an option to make Vancouver more walkable, ramps such as the one shown are not doable except for maybe Broadway or 41st.
        An LRT / tram would kill the whole “enjoy your quiet walk” idea ! I hope they do not go there.

      2. “Sure .. with a 3 block ramp on either side”
        Take a walk down to the pedestrian/cycling underpass under Georgia at the foot of Chilco. Do those ramps appear to be three blocks long to you?
        A pedestrian/cycling tunnel could be done at Broadway, 41st, and SW Marine. It wouldn’t be needed at every crossing, many have stop signs.

  3. Glad to see they are still considering maintaining space for 2 track transit. Obviously demand is not there now, but I am convinced it will be in 30 years and you can’t get that right of way back once it is gone.

    1. If they bury the hydro wires, hopefully they are smart enough to bury them away from the future LRT RoW, so they won’t have to be re-located in future at great expense (when the concrete pad for the LRT tracks is laid).

  4. The design MUST acknowledge the future rail transit from the get-go and there must be reminders en route that it will happen. It must be part of the definition of what the corridor is and must be ingrained into the common psyche.
    Otherwise it will never be able to be implemented once a nice “park” will be impacted.

  5. Because the Broadway subway is slated to terminate at Arbutus and create a significant transferring choke point, one can presume the sidewalks will have to be expanded for hundreds of waiting transit riders during rush hours. It stands to reason that the east crosswalk could assume super-generous proportions to accommodate the Greenway. With the right design incorporating signals, embedded lighting, colourful paint or highly visible artistic designs, raised median and island segments, and perhaps all-points crossing on four red lights, one could envision a relatively inexpensive but effective crossing solution that could be fairly easily modified in future for an 8 m wide surface tramway.
    If geotechnical conditions permit, the subway tunnel and station box roof needn’t be more than a metre or two below the underground utilities and to maintain a reasonable distance to the platform below. However, tunneling for a Greenway crossing and / or tram and also for the high-capacity subway at Broadway and Arbutus would be needlessly expensive where one tunnel would have to pass below the other. Tunneling the Greenway anywhere would be questionable, in my view, given the plethora of effective surface treatment options and the lower capacity of the Greenway.
    A bridge for a tram cannot exceed 6% slope, so the ramps to a 6 m high bridge deck (with a 5 m underside clearance over Broadway) will require about 100 m of run on both sides, not including an elevated tram station platform which will push them out a lot farther. Getting back to ground on the north side may require closing 8th, 7th and possibly 6th avenues to accommodate the descending ramp structure on a descending slope. The same applies to 10th and 11th avenues to the south for the same reason, though it’s level. Consider also that both 8th and 10th avenues may become vital loops and stacking spaces for fleets of B-Lines schlepping thousands of subway riders to UBC and back from the short-sighted terminus location at Arbutus.
    This is not the place for a debate on the subway / B-Line (at Arbutus) vs. LRT to UBC, but light rail aficionados will have to trouble themselves with an additional complexity: Fitting a 100 m station platform onto the surface at Broadway x Arbutus at right angles to the Greenway corridor while accounting for thousands of transferring riders an hour milling all around on the surface, as well as a branch tram line southward. VanMap and Google Earth will give you an idea of how many residents and businesses will have to be displaced.

    1. “Because the Broadway subway is slated to terminate at Arbutus and create a significant transferring choke point, one can presume the sidewalks will have to be expanded for hundreds of waiting transit riders during rush hours”
      I refer to the bus transfer to UBC, and not to any potential tram line transfer. At the consultations for the Broadway Subway this transfer was discussed, and we were advised that the transfer point to buses will not be on street, as per the current Commercial Drive station. Instead, it will be an off-street loop. I don’t know exactly where that loop would be located, but I imagine something very similar to the loop at Interurban Way, immediately south of the SW Marine Canada Line station.
      The station is going to be under Broadway, and we know it is likely to include off street secure bike parking, similar to the Main St skytrain station and upcoming new parking for other Canada Line stations. If so, there will be ramps from each side of Broadway to access this point. I have suggested to the design engineers that the ramps be configured to provide a straight through tunnel underpass for pedestrians and bikes at the Greenway at Broadway, with access off the tunnel to the station. It is certainly possible for Greenway users to cross at grade, but if ramp access is already being built, it seems that connecting it straight through could make sense. It makes more sense to me than having ramps heading down, grade crossings, and a bridge over, with the complications of some users having to use more than one of those crossings to reach their destination.

      1. UBC express bus could load on Arbutus then go west on 10th or 12th. Plenty of room on Arbutus if changed to a a one way (south ) street between Broadway & 12th.

        1. Ending Broadway subway at Arbutus is a crime given the expected densification at Jericho land, and already planned UEL Block F densification and the one at UBC. It is poor city planning.
          We shall see how this transition choke point will get managed while densification continues unabated a few blocks further west at Alma @ Broadway in Jericho lands. Will we see another Tsawwassen Mills like traffic disaster unfolding as Jericho land gets planned and then built out in short order ?

        2. Alternatively, it could be considered fiscally responsible. How much debt do you want us to take on? Are there no limits?

  6. While the subway may be slated to terminate at Arbutus, the difficulties associated with a bus turnaround, queuing and layover may suggest another location further east, imo. Say, at Granville, a much more prominent transfer point, ridershipwise. Limited sidewalk space will still be an issue, as at Commercial Drive.

    1. Given that the bus loading will be off street, I would have thought Granville would be much more expensive for property acquisition. That alone would push it further west.

  7. Before making any decision on hard infrastructure expenditure such as tunnels we must know 1/ if there is a business case and plan to build a light rail street car system such as that installed during the 2010 Winter Olympics. 2/ if a case can be made we must know the horizontal alignment within the right of way (RoW) and how the system negotiates its way below major arterials such as Broadway. Any expenditure on tunnels beforehand could result in blocking the optimal transit solution or causing unnecessary expenditure of millions of dollars to re engineer the system.
    During a recent city workshop I asked the basic question. Will a study be undertaken to answer these fundamental questions?. The reply from the lead civil designer was affirmative. What I don’t know is the scope of the study. If the city restricted the scope to the Arbutus RoW then a business case is unlikely to be viable. If the study extended to False Creek Flats for access to Emily Carr university and the proposed St Paul’s hospital via Science World, Cambie/ Olympic Village at Canada line then the study may be able to present a viable business case. Better still would be to include within the study an option to extend to New Westminster sky train which would allow thousands of commuters travelling from south of the Fraser easy access to YVR and thereby ditch their cars. This could really be a Plan B following the Millennium line extension to Arbutus.

    1. I don’t think there is a consideration of tunnelling a tram under Broadway. The tram has been described as a low speed, local, surface system. A bus on rails, in other words.
      The tunnel I would be interested in is for pedestrians and bikes, at Arbutus. We heard about entrances planned for both sides of the street. In that case, I was just suggesting connecting the tunnel ramps entering from each side.
      David, I am not sure which designers are referenced, but the City doesn’t build railways, that is the purvey of Translink. I can’t see an Arbutus tram being very high on their priority list, given their other system wide demands., not the least of which will be extending the Millenium line to UBC. That one is likely to take up to 20 years, per comments at the workshops.

      1. You are absolutely correct. Translink would see the Arbutus line as a low priority. It could not be on their radar yet because the city has not publically raised the notion. That’s why a viability study is required to look at what regional needs could be met if a rapid, at grade, train were to connect with high density areas at transit nodes. I agree this is a Translink issue and that the slow tram idea suggested by the city would be so early last century. Modern at grade trains do not need an overhead catenary power line if the right of way is dedicated and off limits to the public and would conver distances quicker than a B line bus because of not having to stop at pedestrian and vehicle traffic lights. We still need to take this elephant out of the room first thereby allowing unencumbered plannning of the greenway.

      2. ( LOW speed?) Top speed for a tram is 70k when running on its own ROW. If tram had control of traffic lights there would be no need for a tunnel or bridge over Broadway

      3. But it wouldn’t be on its own ROW. It would be sharing the ROW with people walking and people on bikes. In other local situations where vehicles are sharing the roadway with those users, speed limits are typically 20 km/hr or 30 km/hr.
        A bus on rails, IOW, not rapid transit.

        1. A tram ROW with a barrier would need about 20 feet. leaving plenty of room for others It would be rapid transit running at about same speed as the skytrain

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