At the weekend’s “Design Jam“, 100 residents of Vancouver, from all ‘hoods and oodles of demographics, volunteered their weekend to thinking about the future Arbutus Greenway.  People travelling on foot, people travelling on bikes, people relaxing, people playing.  Lots of ideas.  Nature, history.  And streetcars.
And likewise, the project team gave the volunteers BACKGROUND on light rail generally, and some early thoughts about the Arbutus Greenway’s light rail.
Clearly, there is a fundamental need to put light rail (a.k.a. “streetcar”) on the Arbutus Greenway.  It’s a contractual thing. But in some places the Greenway is only 15m wide, and a typical streetcar requires 4 m per direction, leaving a too-narrow space for all the rest that the Greenway should be.  So what to do?
As usual, Kenneth Chan of Daily Hive Vancouver has written a detailed account of the discussion material.

Preliminary conceptual designs show that the municipal government’s non-finalized, preferred route for the streetcar segment between West 8th Avenue and West 16th Avenue will take the northbound direction tracks off the Greenway and onto the northbound curb lane of Arbutus Street. The southbound direction will continue to run on the Corridor, next to the pedestrian and cycling paths.

Click to enlarge the illustrations. 



  1. There is no current fundamental need for a streetcar down the Arbutus Greenway. Nor is there really a contractual obligation to install one..
    Open it up so all of the kids who now live yardless in condos will have a place to discover nature.

    1. City staff have mentioned to me on 2 occasions that they are obliged to plan for a street car or other form of rail transport. Not sure how long they have to build it but if this time period can be extended indefinitely, then it may never be built.

      1. Plan for (ie, protect for). Not build.
        And the agreement with CP could always be negotiated. The sensitivity/trigger would be doing development on the corridor lands, more than what type of transportation was used on the corridor. At least that is what we heard at the Design Jam.

      2. So this is what you have been told by guys like Dale Bracewell who want to play toy trains at the the expense of local families. It’s BS.
        Again, there is no stringent binding ironclad obligation to use the corridor for a streetcar or bike path etc. This is all being hyped up by those who would profit from the building of such, and those who wish to pad their design resumes at public expense.

    2. You may have missed this material from the project background PDF:
      The greenway needs to be used for walking, cycling, and future streetcar. The Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan designates “all of the land in the Arbutus Corridor for use only as a public throughfare for the purpose of transportation…excluding motor vehicles… and greenways”.
      The City purchased the corridor on the condition that the land will be used for walking, cycling, and future streetcar. Section 9.1 of the Purchase Agreement requires that the City “commence and expedite an internal planning process to design the portion of the lands for light rail use and walking and cycling use”. “

      1. It would seem to me that encroaching on the vehicle lane violates the spirit of this. Arbutus Street isn’t the greenway.

      2. In terms of encroaching on the vehicle lane, here is a scenario to ponder. It is a few decades in the future. Vancouver, together with Translink, is going to implement streetcars to replace buses on key routes. The streetcars have more capacity than the buses, they are smoother, but the stops and speed are similar. These new streetcar routes could include many of the old streetcar routes. For purposes of commonality of equipment, reduced cost, etc, all of the first traunch of streetcars (vehicles, and track designs) are similar. All except the Arbutus line, and the section of track from Granville Island to Olympic Station, are going on the street.
        Given that, a reasonable discussion would be whether to make Arbutus an outlier, or to put it on the street just like all the other routes.
        It is hard for me to imagine just implementing streetcars on a single route.

    3. What we heard at the Design Jam this past weekend on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (an excellent event, BTW) was that the City is protecting for a future streetcar line. The City doesn’t build streetcar lines themselves, that is Translink, and one can consider how far up or down the priority list for Translink a streetcar near Arbutus is, on the Metro wide priority list. We did hear that the local bus that it would replace is ranked #6 in usage (not sure if that is in the City, or Metro).
      What the City can’t do is develop the land as housing, or whatever. Whether the streetcar is in the ROW, on the neighbouring street, or a combination depending on which block, appears to be somewhat flexible.
      Since the date that a streetcar would eventually be built is unknown, a key question for Design Jam participants was what to use the space for in the interim. Some uses could be flexible. Others could lead to great difficulty in repurposing the 4 or 8 m for the future streetcar when/if it eventually happens. Imagine if additional community gardens were planted along the length of the corridor, and in 20 years someone said “but it was only temporary….we need it for a streetcar now”
      Just my opinion, but I think that a streetcar decision should be tied to land use decisions for the neighbourhood, and one of those will be the upcoming Kerrisdale community planning process (recognizing that Kerrisdale is not the only neighbourhood along the track ROW)

      1. Using OS eight of that land for housing a far better and more useful idea. Or for e-bikes ie fast lanes and slow lanes due to hilly terrain.
        Once the UBC loop is complete via 41st then a subway should be considered as cut and cover should be aper and simpler than the Broadway line.

      2. OS eight?
        If your proposal is to redone the corridor for housing, that is when CP takes their cut.
        The corridor has limited width. Lots of competing uses. One idea beyond the standard bike path is to attract/incent faster riders (sport riders, e bikes, or just those that ride fast) on to parallel streets with improved cycling infrastructure there. That has been the approach with the Seaside Bypass (Charleson, 1st, etc) and it has been shown to work.
        No need to worry about hilly terrain (grades). The Arbutus Corridor doesn’t have any significant ones, it is closer to 2%. It is easy to climb, and that also helps manage speeds on the descent. Width is required for riders of different ages as much as anything (ie very young)
        For UBC, are you assuming an extension of the MLBE or another technology?

        1. I think what this is about is to respond to irrational fears that some people hold. People who confuse proximity with speed. The belief that the greenway will attract people who will be racing on bikes or something. (It’s misguided since the racers aren’t interested in off-road trails like this.)
          What the Dutch do is design things so that walking and cycling are not in conflict then it doesn’t matter what speed anyone is going at. They have bypass routes at places that warrant it.
          And Jeff wrote that it was just one idea. One of many. It can be discussed later if it’s discovered to even be needed.

        2. That was a typos obviously.
          “Some of”
          So, using some of that land for housing in a city which is extremely land constrained ought to be a top priority, no ?
          Also this article here in (left wing) Tyee that resonates with many who can’t find affordable housing. as a result of policies by various levels of government in an uncontrolled and grossly under-taxed in-flow of money and people the last 30 years.

        3. Bob, have you noticed the faster sport cyclists using the road loop around Stanley Park at 30 km/hr? It is marked as a shared space. The alternative would be to push them all on to the Seawall. How about Charleson? Faster riders avoid Leg in Boot Square. How about Railway Ave in Richmond, with a painted shoulder lane for bikes. Runs immediately parallel to the Railway Greenway.
          Forcing a one size fits all solution leads to conflicts.

    4. “Open it up so all of the kids who now live yardless in condos will have a place to discover nature.”
      Pacific Spirit Park, with hundreds of acres of forest and meadows, is just up the hill. Kits Beach Park and the ocean is just down the hill. After all, this is the Great Green West Side. Besides, there will be a major hit of green in the greenway itself, and it passes through some very nice, leafy neighbourhoods in a corridor that’s 30 m wide and 4 km long in the very green section south of 41st Ave.

      1. I think the corridor will open up green spaces. It is a transportation corridor, not a park. But many of the parks that adjoin it face the other way, to the side streets. Open up access to those parks from the Greenway. Create a series of rooms off the Greenway, easily accessible to all, for contemplating, socializing, playing. Incorporate playgrounds in the parks immediately next to the Greenway. Lots of opportunities.

  2. As a transportation corridor, it’s great to see the streetcar up front and centre in the planning – so no one in future can allege there was a “bait and switch”.
    Everyone involved should be aware that the corridor will – maybe 20-50 years from now – have a streetcar, that it was planned for and that no one has acquired grandfathered rights to a park over the transportation use.
    Maybe the greenway design should have mock “platforms” (benches and sitting areas) where the future platforms will be located.

    1. Mock platforms were discussed at the Design Jam. So were heritage rail elements, everything from playsets build on old signal equipment to ideas reminiscent of Yaletown’s Roundhouse Plaza. Since Broadway and Arbutus will have the Arbutus Station on the MLBE line, and there was an interurban stop associated with it, there was a proposal to have a public plaza at Broadway and Arbutus contain those heritage rail elements.

  3. Streetcars are a dumb idea there or in any dense part of any city. Clogs up crosstraffic every few blocks, dangerous to bikers, runners, kids and walkers, slow AND expensive. Better to trench it and cover it ie cut and cover marginally more expensive and far faster and less interruption once built.
    Look at the total mess in Edmonton with their very slow NAIT line extension from downtown or the utter traffic chaos when LRT crosses University Ave or again at 51st Ave. Horrible. Should have been a subway at these intersections.
    Perhaps a combo of mainly subway and some sections above ground might work but will interfere with idea of RAPID transit and Arbutus being a green linear park now.
    Or allow e-bikes ie dedicated fast lanes incl. e-trikes such as

    1. The streetcar discussion at the Design Jam was about low speed vehicles, not rapid transit. Mixing it up with people walking, like plazas in Europe (I thought of Zagreb, and other similar locations). A replacement for the local bus, not a fast link.
      Lots of cross streets to deal with, hence the operator on board.
      The line could conceivable tie into the Granville Island to Quebec Street alignment, including 1st Ave, and then into a downtown peninsula streetcar, with space already left on Pacific Blvd and other streets.
      Seems like it would be a long way off, given funding limitations.

      1. Rapid bus would be faster , less expensive & need the same land . Future skytrain when justified by passenger volume

  4. a typical streetcar requires 4 m per direction, leaving a too-narrow space for all the rest that the Greenway should be…
    wrong assumptions can lead to wrong conclusion.
    In straight line, a “typical streetcar” (the sort of illustrated in the city litterature) is designed to fit into a “typical traffic lane width” as found in Europe (so much narrower than 3m50)….and because guided vehicle need less lateral leeway than non guided one, take even less space (what is also a typical reason given for preferring a tramway over a BRT).
    that said, wide body tramway (2m65, such as the Birmingham one, which are also the defacto standard for NA LRT), take typically 3.25m right of way per direction:
    standard width tram (2m50 like buses, the US modern streetcars or most of the european trams) requires 3m ROW
    and in case of it is too much, many european cities operate narrow body streetcar, such as the flexity demonstrated in Vancouver in 2010, which use sub 2.8m ROW.
    for the record, the city assumed 3m ROW for the design of Pacific bld, and the median at West 1st avenue has assumed a ROW for a standard LRT, so it is 7m width and is also supposed to include the catenary poles ( similar width was also used in the preliminary design of a potential LRT on Broadway)
    Why not have used recognized standard ROW, instead to throw this fantasy 4m ROW for a tram?
    second point, differentiated itinerary according travel direction, is considered as transit hostile by many transit professional and for good reason (it reduces transit coverage, legibility of transit, and in the present case, make less good transfer)

    1. “Why not have used recognized standard ROW, instead to throw this fantasy 4m ROW for a tram?”
      Probably because of how early this is in the design process. At the open house, you could have chatted with the streetcar experts who were in attendance.
      They aren’t designing a streetcar at this point. They are leaving sufficient space to allow for it in future. It seems to me that it would be easy to fit a 3.2 m streetcar in a 4 m space, but hard to fit a 4 m streetcar in a 3.2 m space. We don’t even know what decade it would be built in. They spoke about newer technologies (no catenary, for example, with batteries and superchargers). They spoke about loading platforms. If it did have a catenary, I imagine there would be posts to hold it up.
      If you had buildings with zero clearance at the lot line on one side, and pedestrian or bike traffic on the other side, would you design to the same width as if you were in a traffic lane on the road?
      I believe it was 4 m for a single track section, but the number I recall from the facilitator was 8 m for the two track section. In the narrow (15m) section I worked on, we left 5 m for the streetcar. It wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t like we were going to include or not include the streetcar because of a metre one way or the other.

      1. that is the reason I mentioned the provision already done at West 1st avenue, and “off the shelves” trams. Those are defacto standard, no need to come up with fancy number.
        the peril of preferring out of the blue moon number (explaining what can fit in 3m2 can fit in 4m) over known standard, can lead to wrong conclusion:
        Using standard number: a double track LRT, + 4m sidewalk + 4m bike lane, fit in a 15m width corridor. albeit without nice tree, but that is a given !
        using the city fancy number like 4metre lead to the misleading conclusion the double track doesn’t fit …and that is certainly an issue!

      2. Voony, the Design Jam was a process created to generate ideas. There weren’t wrong conclusions. Only ideas.
        Not sure why a single track in the Greenway ROW and the second track beside it in the street ROW is a problem. It isn’t like a single track and passing sidings are being proposed (as they would create operational challenges)

  5. Given inflexibility of rail, high cost to build, new AV technology and medium speed at best why do we still tout this 100 year old technology?
    Rail makes sense for very high speed and high capacity, or very high weight, well beyond pneumatic tires ( eg freight shipments ). For anything else it is cheaper and far more flexible to use electric buses or driverless bus-like AVs on multi-mode pathways like Arbutus Greenway.
    See trial in Oslo for 2018 here or here in Switzerland

  6. I have seen streetcar arrangements (Amsterdam, probably elsewhere) where the rails partly overlap in narrow spots. Trains can’t pass in those spots, but with coordinated signaling they don’t need to. This would seem like the right approach for this corridor, where there are wide spots, and narrow ones as well.

    1. Certainly possible. The narrow section is from 6th to 11th, including the curve. There will be a major hub at Broadway in the middle of that stretch.
      The idea of limited single track sections was raised at the Design Jam. City reps agreed it was possible, but considering potential operational limits and how early we are in the design process, nominated a two track (one in the street ROW) approach for purposes of the design exercise.
      I think all options are on the table.

      1. We worked on the section from 6th to 11th, and heard it referred to as the narrow section, but looking at Van Map the ROW appears to remain narrow south to 16th.

  7. Was there a reason for the criss-cross for the section of track on Arbutus?
    I would expect the streetcars to have doors on both sides of the train (which seems to be borne out by both outside and centre platforms.
    WRT single racking couple comments:
    – what’s the estimated travel time between Broadway station and 16th Ave station and how would that compare to the frequency / headways between trains?
    – Looking at GoogleMaps, there’s an alley parallel to the RoW at 13th Ave. Could that alley be decommissioned and added to the RoW to build a passing track/siding? There is a dead-end alley on the block to the north (so could be workable). A passing rack midway between Braodway Station and 16th Ave station would allow shorter headways. That could be built during the initial build-out or added later.

  8. I don’t recall discussing the criss-cross. If I was guessing, I would say that it is so that streetcars on that section of Arbutus Street would be travelling in the same direction as motor vehicles, not counterflow.
    I don’t recall discussions of travel time. We were asked to imagine a local service that is more akin to existing buses in terms of speeds and number of stops, as contrasted with a regional service like Skytrain.

  9. I’m not a fan of the streetcar idea yet. Aesthetically, despite the creative ideas produced at the most recent jam, it will require more space than we actually have at many parts of the greenway…. so what becomes more important- people on their bikes, families and kids enjoying some exercise, and old people walking their dogs, or a tram when we already have buses? It takes away from the experience of walking or cycling within the space that we have, and to be free of the feeling of being on a road. In some areas, some very mature trees would have to be removed in order to accommodate both walking and cycling paths, plus a north and south streetcar. I think it will seem cluttered and will add noise. I understand that it is a transportation corridor, but the City is consulting the general public, so is it a given that this will have to be built? Or do we actually have some choice?

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