I wrote earlier about the six proposed routes that could connect the North Shore municipalities of West Vancouver, the City of North Vancouver and District of North Vancouver with the region’s rapid transit line.  I also wrote about what I thought would be the preferred option which is a rail or tunnel crossing at the Second Narrows Bridge which would tie into either Brentwood or Metrotown in Burnaby for access to the region’s rapid transit system. I also think the existing  seabus will be augmented with more sailings.

Of course you could hear the guffaws from West Vancouver where even a rapid bus was seen as causing congestion and not needed. But the truth is that this connection is not about them, but about future residents and future town centers which could locate on the north shore, and which would require access to some kind of rapid transit system to get people to services and jobs.

As the region continues to develop, several North Shore town centres can develop and an enhanced seabus service and rail link through Burnaby could connect the downtown and the region.

Intrepid Price Tags reader Ross Bligh (yes, he is the Dad of Price Tags’ Architectural Reporter James Bligh) wrote to the editors regarding this Simon Fraser University study covered by Brent Richter in the North Shore News.

Stephan Nieweler, transportation instructor in Simon Fraser University’s  department of geography, and  former students did work two years ago on where a rapid transit alignment would go.  Their vision encompassed a connection across the Second Narrows Bridge and a gondola that rode up to Capilano University.

The team went one step further, examining the density of people that lived within a five minute or 400 meter walk of  already established rapid train stations.

Using a metric developed by sustainable transportation author Robert Cervero,  Nieweler concluded  that 14 to 30 residents/positions  per acre were needed for a light rail line  to be placed on the North Shore.  A density of  27 to 45 per acre was needed  for a subway or Skytrain. Surprisingly the existing Lonsdale stretch has almost 75 people per acre.

As  North Shore News Brent Richter wrote:

“In raw numbers, Nieweler’s analysis found the North Shore LRT, if it existed today, would have more than 111,000 people and employees within 400 metres of the line, compared to 93,500 on the proposed Arbutus to UBC line or 46,680 for Surrey LRT.

They also forecast into the future, using the Official Community Plans to gauge population and employment growth. Over the next 20 years, the case is even stronger, Nieweler found, with almost 160,000 residents or jobs within 400 metres of the North Shore line, compared to 113,500 for the Broadway extension and 78,100 in Surrey.”

While the Nieweler study did not examine car ownership rates, population demographics, employment types and current commuting, it still provides a pattern language of how the North Shore can densify and can connect to the regional system It is well worth a read.

Nieweler also soberly states that such a line is in the preliminary planning stages, but remember we’ve only had SkyTrain since the 1980’s. That’s less than 40 years.

“Unfortunately, I feel the congestion on the North Shore is going to get much worse over the next decade and at this rate, we’re not going to see a significant solution for 20 years maybe,” he said. “I don’t think the North Shore can wait that long. I think it’s going to be a crisis situation with the traffic if we wait that long.”


Images: Bowinn MaMLA &


  1. Based on the ridiculously high cost of Skytrain development, and the long planning design and construction time-frame, I do not think that skytrain to the North Shore is realistic in the short to medium term. And in the long term it is even less likely, as so many parameters are in flux – demand, alternative means of transport, etc.

    The province just did this super brief study to lead on the populace. No intention of proceeding or funding the actual construction.

    What makes a lot more sense is LRT ALONG the north shore, connecting to a vastly beefed up seabus service.

    1. without its own R O W L R T would be no faster than B line——- North shore skytrain would cost less than a 3 rd auto crossing—- north shore skytrain should have priority over a a UBC subway

        1. where would a north shore LRT or rapid bus R O W be located ?? they run at the same speed under the same traffic conditions

          1. Take lanes away from SOVs and give full signal priority. Why does everybody assume we need to maintain road capacity for SOVs? This might not be quite as fast as SkyTrain but there are other advantages. What dense cities need is capacity – not necessarily speed. Building for speed is an admission that we will not be aiming for mixed-use density which sends the wrong urban planning signals. SkyTrain is trying to fix the problems created by the car instead of replacing the mindset of the car.

            Ultimately the goal should be to keep more people doing their thing in their own neighbourhood and giving them transportation options that allow them to travel farther when necessary. The goal should not be flinging people across the entire region at the fastest possible speeds. That symbolizes everything that is wrong with the way we’ve built our cities.

            Also, if you’ve been paying attention, you will have noted that our relatively young SkyTrain has been rebuilding its stations at the cost of many hundreds of millions of dollars. Rebuilding existing stations for the cost of building entirely new LRT lines from scratch.

            SkyTrain has its place but it is not the best solution for new lines and comes with horrible side effects. One of them is the same lack of connection, and therefore care, about the neighbourhoods one merely passes through on a daily basis. It defines them as places that are in the way rather than places to be cared about. This is not much different than the way we treat places when we drive through them. And for the most part, it completely isolates people from the shops and services that exist along the way.

            Every good thing is vulnerable to too much of a good thing. SkyTrain has catalyzed the regional town centre strategy, which is a good thing. Now it’s time to move on and do even better.

          2. One more thing to add. A rail link to the North Shore is at least twenty years away. Twenty years is a long time to start planning for and securing strategic ROWs and implementing bus-only lanes in the interim. If they are not ready for real transit priority they are not worthy of multi $billion transit.

    2. Think 3D. Tunnel below or SkyTrain above Marine Drive. Extend then to downtown via new LG bridge and New Second Narrows Bridge.

      I like this fast, green, elegant, inexpensive, less disruptive and lightweight system, which would fit well on N Shore to downtown

      At grade makes no sense unless no cross traffic but where is this on N Shore?

    3. Based on the orders-of-magnitude more ridiculous high cost of automobile dependency, we need all the transit development funding we can get.

  2. Most of the moral panic on the shore is over highway traffic, about half of which is local (between points on the shore, not south of the Burrard or north towards Squamish). Regionally, all most people think about is the connection to the city. This is an understandable bias. But most North Shore residents live nowhere near Marine Drive or 3rd St. They live well north of the highway, with no east-west connection other than the highway. Aside from hopefully taking some trips off the road, a subway into the city or along 3rd St and Marine won’t do much for them.

  3. agreed that lanes should be taken away from S O V s for bus or LRT— but we saw the backlash against west vancouvers very modest proposal a year ago.. It will have to be done slowly,,, one block at a time — I went to all the public meetings the large crowds were 80 % against—– I hope it does not cost the mayor & the 2 pro councilors the next election—

  4. I doubt the demographic projections for the Arbutus-UBC extension considered the 125-acre UBC golf course site, owned by the Musqueam First Nation, which will in no doubt generate density well north of 45 people / acre when developed. That day is no doubt coming sooner than anticipated. In addition, UBC is fast closing in on exceeding 100,000 people during the day added to the calculations for the Jericho Lands and Vancouver density initiatives on the west side. Then there is the connectivity of the entire UBC-Broadway corridor which together comprise the second largest population, employment and office floor area stats in the province. Does anyone NOT imagine that UBC and VGH medical sciences will NOT generate transit and floor area demand between them?

    You also have geometry on the North Shore. The dense Lonsdale corridor does not run E-W, yet the transit corridor will run E-W through lots of low density communities plus industrial zoning which doesn’t generate as much transit use as high-density residential and commercial office. A latitudinal line will encounter transit demand in nodal form at a single point on Lonsdale. This is not to say that North Shore cities shouldn’t allow rezoning and build up density along a new transit corridor.

    Lastly, building high-capacity rail here has always been, without fail, preceded by predictions of low ridership that will not offset the higher cost of grade separation. This singular focus on cost at the expense of all else is blown off by the profitability of the Expo Line and Canada Line, both of which are success stories in terms of ridership and public support. Judging from prior experience, a seamless Broadway-UBC line will blow through the ridership projections and draw people out of cars more than anything else. I also believe that a decent rail transit option on the North Shore will accomplish something similar if it is fast, frequent and well-connected to the Burrard Peninsula at both ends. In other words, completing a major missing rapid transit leg in an already built-up district will generate its own demand and development pressures.

    Furthermore, NIMBY westsiders are an ageing lot and will be giving way to Gen Xers and Millennials within the first quarter of a Broadway-UBC rapid transit extension lifespan, with just a decade to go on the debt and another 65 years of profitable service and net negative emissions during a century of operations.

    Quality of service quashes the distractions of technology, form and cost every time. In that vein, I personally don’t give a fig if a North Shore line is LRT or SkyTrain, as long as it works well. If you have to tunnel it, build a dedicated median or elevate it with ornate brick viaduct arches with shops below (e.g. London Bridge Station), then just do it. What I don’t get is the argument that you can purchase a half-dozen tram lines for the cost of one dedicated, separated LRT / SkyTrain line, only to see the service achieve nothing better than a glorified trolley bus stuck in traffic after being promoted as an alternative “rapid” transit tech. This is confusing local and regional levels of service, each having specific demand requirements.

    Regarding urbanism, LRT or SkyTrain in a tunnel passing below Lonsdale will free up valuable space on the surface. Please put the design effort into the stations as treasured public assets rather than utilitarian bunkers. And even more effort into reconfiguring the streetscapes around transit and pedestrians and away from vehicular traffic. By all means put a big effort into creating beautiful urban form, but please do not substitute that for the functional aspects that could make or break a system.

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