April 30, 2021

Design Theme for the Broadway SkyTrain Stations: Ultra-Bland

The Daily Hive has posted renderings of the proposed SkyTrain stations along the Broadway line.  What a disappointment for such highly public infrastructure that will be with us for generations – especially compared to its predecessors along the Millennium Line (right), whether exterior or interior.

Budgets?  Surely if there’s a place to spend money on bold design, it’s for such public places.  Especially when compared to other cities of similar size like Stockholm that aspire to high urban quality.

The stations on the whole aspire to nothing more than the mediocrity of the Canada Line – another disappointment that was rationalized by budgetary limitations and an urgent deadline.


Seriously?  This looks more like a rendering to illustrate the volume into which the actual building must fit.*

The Urinal School of Interior Design.  (At least there will be public restrooms in the stations.)

Not sure what the red boxes are for – but that is literally the only colour in any of the renderings other than the signage.

This is surely the greatest disappointment: the station that will serve one of the pre-eminent art and design schools in Canada.

We can only hope the students will rebel against the blandness and use the spaces for some guerilla artistic urbanism:

Yes, there is art to come in all the stations – but that is no excuse to treat the architecture itself as a blank palette.


*Update: Andy Coupland in the Comments below notes that, indeed, that is pretty much just a volume rendering, representing the building that will rise above.  The station, however, seems fittingly mediocre.

Update: A friend noted that this is not just about aesthetics.

Are all the stations going to be the same design with an identical colour/material palette? Not only will that be banal but it will also make for an orientation challenge with six identical-looking stations in sequence, and possibly 10 to 12 when it gets to UBC.

A commenter mentioned Toronto’s original stations as a negative example but at least they varied the tile colours to assist in station recognition and orientation. Are we going to start off not having even learned the importance of that? Canada Line is repetitive but at least it has a variety of side, centre and stacked-platform stations, so that helps orientation, even subconsciously, despite the bland materials and poor signage.


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I have the pleasure of moderating what is, for me, an unusual panel.  It focuses on the fast-growing suburban municipalities in Metro Vancouver who will shape our future more than, perhaps, the City of Vancouver, and it also includes planners from Seattle – our southern neighbour with whom we rarely talk over our border fence.

Join an expert panel consisting of planning experts from Surrey, Delta, Maple Ridge and Seattle to get the inside scoop on how land-use plans, development and growth will occur around transit nodes in local municipalities and abroad.

No one knows what the future of the post-pandemic city will be like but we do know where we’re headed.  Transit decisions have been made to help inform land-use, municipalities and investment interests have their plans, and there’s enough consensus to proceed. Come to learn where the growth will take place and how things will unfold.

Featured Panel:

May 6, 2021

12:00 PM – 1:15 PM PDT

Register Now

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Thursday, April 15

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. PDT

The SFU Vancouver Lunch ‘n’ Learn series hosts a two-part virtual series on the future of the downtown waterfront on Thursday, April 15th and Thursday, April 29th (Noon-1pm).


The downtown waterfront – the area surrounding the Waterfront Station – could well be the most important and most exciting urban redevelopment opportunity in Canada. Much of the land lies “in waiting” as either parking lots for cars or for freight trains. The Waterfront Station, with its 50,000 passengers a day, is the ideal nexus for what could be a creative renewal of this important area.

The first session on Thursday, April 15th (Noon-1pm) is designed to raise the profile and awareness of the array of opportunities: future transit needs for the City/Region, the role of the historic Waterfront Station, cultural and educational opportunities, walking/biking, public space, tourism, and office and commercial business.

Sarah Ross, Director, System Planning, Transportation Planning and Policy, Translink

Larry Beasley, former city planner, author and international consultant on urban design

Norm Hotson, prominent designer and architect, helped design Granville Island

Gil Kelley, former General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability, City of Vancouver


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Defying hope and common sense, it appears (at least in Tallinn, Estonia) that providing free transit to local users, while resulting in more rides, doesn’t reduce auto traffic.  Report here in Eltis.

The National Audit Office of Estonia have been investigating the free public transport introduced in Tallinn, including the free bus and tram travel for local registered people. …

Results on the county model were that free public transport has not reached its goal to reduce car journeys. Whilst public transport use numbers have increased, still more than half of all trips to work are done by car.

What is positive is that the decline in the share of public transport users has stopped for a couple of years,” stated Auditor General Janar Holm. “Unfortunately, not a significant number of new users have been attracted to public transport despite the fact that over the recent years, the state has allocated more and more funds to cover the costs of county bus transport and has allowed people to travel by bus free of charge in most counties.” …

Additionally, it was found that the bus network is not designed to meet people’s mobility needs, since it got planned from the view of current public transport users only. Consequently, the needs of car users must be taken into consideration for the design of future public transport services to offer an attractive alternative to car travel.

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Take a guess: Between a low-density mostly suburban metropolis in the US, or New York City, in which do you think you’d be more vulnerable dying from a flu caught on transit?

The answer seems so obvious – how could it not be New York with one of the largest and most congested transit systems in the world?  But when looking at the rate of transmission, that’s not exactly so, according to this chart:

I know, not user friendly.  Apparently though, New York has a very low flu rate compared to places like Duluth.  That’s not no flu or less flu, just not as much as you’d expect given its very high transit usage.

The conclusion of the authors:

We find no evidence of a positive relationship between city-level transit ridership and influenza/pneumonia mortality rates, suggesting that population level rates of transit use are not a singularly important factor in the transmission of influenza.

A New Yorker reader on the subway is less likely to catch the flu than a bus rider in Duluth.

William Demopoulos, who passed along the study, provides some perspective.

  • I never judge based on one study.
  • But an inverse correlation with significance says much more than no evidence.
  • It suggests there’s a mystery.
  • Transit is a vector for disease in other ways.  For example, it probably allows inter-neighbourhood travel for those who are asymptomatic.

It’s going to be critical for the revival of transit that people feel comfortable with the assumed risk.  At this point it would be wise to withhold too much judgment on that degree of risk until we see what actually happens.



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A trip across the water last week to meet City of North Vancouver Councillor Tony Valente for an e-bike tour.

Began at Lonsdale Quay – home to one of the best but once-dullest transit exchanges in the region.


That’s changed.  As part of the station upgrades which TransLink has been doing these past few years (and which have had the misfortune of finishing during the pandemic), Lonsdale has gone from dismal gray to crisp white.

There is still a lot of gray, particularly in the tile work.  And I had been expecting more animated LED lighting for colour, particularly along the so-seventies ribbed concrete walls on the side (though there is such an art work at the north entrance, right, plus some highlighting of a light well.)  Other changes are illustrated in this Hive article and before-and-after video from the North Shore News:

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For the last three decades, American cities have promoted, planned and built Transit-Oriented Developments – predominantly housing projects on land immediately associated with rail transit or adjacent to station areas.  It’s been a record of mixed results.  And even the successes have required significant government investment.

This paper provides some good detailed analysis of case studies:

Some of the cases are well-known successes, others well-known failures, sometimes in the same city – for instance, the success of the Pearl District in Portland along the streetcar line in contrast to the double bankruptcy of The Round along the MAX line to the west.  Or in the Washington DC area, the long-term dynamic growth in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor compared to the long-term lack of investment around White Flint Metro.

There is still debate on how much rail transit, whether metro-scale or streetcar, has been the primary impetus for urban transformation. In places like North Hollywood or Fruitvale (beyond the Village) in the San Francisco Bay Area, metro rail does not automatically lead to a take-up by the market. In America, tax incentives, subsidies and grants play a much bigger role than in Canada, and even those are insufficient in the face of market weakness for high-density TOD – another cultural difference between our region and most American examples.

Even a single station area on SkyTrain like Brentwood or Lougheed dwarfs almost every US example, and rarely requires any more government support than a rezoning and a commitment to funding non-market housing.  As well, rather than the subsidy by government, the growth in land values and extraction of CACs is expected to help fund the social and physical infrastructure anticipated by the growth itself.

In any event or by any comparison, in the US rail transit does not automatically result in favourable conditions for high-density development, or even any at all.  That is a prayer not always answered.



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February 18, 2021

When SkyTrain opened for Expo in 1985, it was hoped it could become a popular alternative for rapid transit.   Other than in a handful of cities, like Kuala Lumpur, it hasn’t.   But maybe a technology of the 80s, like music and fashion, is coming back.

Consider the global impact if a SkyTrain-like transit alternative happened in a trend centre like Los Angeles.

They don’t call it SkyTrain, of course.  When they see an elevated train, Americans think of monorail (cue The Simpsons).  One of the two bidders for the project calls it LA SkyRail Express .  The technology may be different but the scale and purpose is the same.  (The other bidder is for more conventional light-rail rapid transit.

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An insightful survey from Slate:

The prevailing sense of doom comes from a dawning awareness that the old workday travel patterns are not going to snap back into place when the pandemic subsides.

(In San Francisco, the Salesforce) software company’s “chief people officer” outlined new work policies. “The 9-to-5 workday is dead,” he wrote. Most employees will be in the office between one and three days a week. Twitter, another San Francisco tech employer, has announced an indefinite work-from-home policy. The situation looks similar in New York, D.C., Chicago, and other major U.S. cities.

Last month, the transportation scholar David Levinson asked: What if downtowns never come back? In Sydney, where Levinson teaches, the virus is contained. Car traffic has returned to normal, but transit use is down about 40 percent from last year. …

Asking a transit agency to operate without rush hour is like asking a restaurant to operate without dinner service. Most systems are built to serve a downtown core and managed to serve peak demand. And it was during that peak that transit agencies collected most of their fares.

Rush-hour travel to a concentrated area is also the scenario in which transit best rivals driving on cost and convenience, thanks to jam-packed roads and expensive parking rates …

Peak-hour transit is a blessing and a curse.

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From Friend of PT, Michael Alexander:

Earlier this month, New York City opened its new train station. The Moynihan Train Hall, built inside an elegant and gigantic former post office building, is fabulous.

It also cost one point six billion U.S. dollars. It also serves only half the train lines of its predecessor, and it will cost another billion to restore all the service New Yorkers, commuters and visitors once enjoyed. Therein lies a cautionary tale…

In the first half of the 20th century, long trips in North America were mostly by train. Railroads were private businesses, which built stations sized to the communities they served.

The Canadian Pacific Railroad built Vancouver’s Waterfront Station in 1914, replacing an earlier station and hotel on the Burrard Inlet shore. In New York City four years earlier, the Pennsylvania Railroad had built Penn Station on the west side of Manhattan. Both were imposing structures, but Penn Station was spectacular: it was designed by the august architectural firm McKim, Mead and White, and was considered a Beaux-Arts masterpiece.

By the mid-1940s, Penn Station served more than 100 million passengers a year, commuters and intercity. But starting a decade later, air and interstate highway travel led to dramatic rail passenger declines. Looking to improve its bottom line, in 1962 the Pennsylvania Railroad sold the station’s air rights to a private developer, to build the Madison Square Garden sports complex (MSG). In exchange, the railroad got a 25% stake in MSG, and a no-cost, smaller underground station in the MSG basement. It wasn’t… elegant:

The demolition of the McKim, Mead and White building, and its sad replacement, caused an international uproar. “One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat,” the architectural historian Vincent Scully famously wrote in the New York Times. Public outrage catalyzed the architectural preservation movement in the U.S., new laws were passed to restrict such demolition, and landmark preservation was upheld by the courts in 1978, after the private Penn Central RR tried to demolish New York’s other great railroad treasure, Grand Central Station.

Today, Penn Station serves more than 600,000 commuter rail and Amtrak passengers on an average weekday, and arrivals and departures have doubled since the 1970s.

So why is this a caution for Vancouver? Tune in tomorrow.

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