Cycling
December 29, 2016

Change On the Line

Christopher Cheung and pal Jeremy Nuttall in the Tyee record their thoughts on the newly-opened Evergreen line and the changes underway around it.  It’s a broad look at the effects of rapid transit on mostly car-dependent suburbs.  The interviewees range from look-ahead mayors to travelling families.

Trains bring change, not just in colonial histories, but as new transit lines connect regions today. Trains bring development along their routes, and rising real estate prices. Trains bring new people to existing communities who think they are new. Trains mean cars can be left at home and trains bring in new workers that are only a commute away. . . .

. . . .  I think about a recent CBC interview with the mayors of the two cities on the transit route that highlighted the hopes and concerns.
Port Moody’s Mike Clay: “We’re losing the suburban feel. The suburbs are becoming more urban. We’re all sort of in this together.”
Coquitlam’s Richard Stewart: “We know that this region is going to get another million people in the next 25 years and we have to be able to get as much [as] possible near to SkyTrain lines, near rapid transit systems, near transit hubs, so that we can minimize the 600,000 cars that a million people would produce

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By Gord Price
What makes me take the Evergreen Line?
Beer.

There is a cluster of breweries and craft pubs within a kilometre of the Moody Centre station on the Evergreen Extension, including the Parkside – enough motivation to take the trains out to a corner of the region.
Yes, trains.  Inspiration struck on Saturday afternoon at Granville Island, and so I took a Mobi to Olympic Village station on the Canada Line, travelling to Waterfront to transfer to the Expo Line, and again at Commercial to the Millennium.  From there, an uninterrupted ride to Port Moody.
Altogether, just over an hour – short enough for a long distance, and not something I would have done without a car before the opening of Evergreen.
In a way, it felt like the line had always been there, despite the 30 years it took to get the provincial commitment.  And that’s in part because it seems very much like the Canada Line North.
You go through a long dark tunnel and come out at a geographically distinct part of the region – this time with mountains. There’s a stretch of industrial lands and automotive landscapes, with the memory of another era along the local highway.  Then the green glass skyline of contemporary Vancouver – and another ethnoburb clustered around a decades-old shopping mall at Coquitlam Centre (Koreans more than Chinese).

The stations too are indistinguishable from the Canada Line.


Everything was familiar, from Compass card to passenger interaction.  The trains were crowded on a Saturday afternoon, in part I’m sure from people like me checking it out – but mainly, I think, because Vancouverites are already conditioned and comfortable with taking transit.
There’s no doubt the Evergreen Line will be a success; it’s not even a matter of speculation.  I’d say the line will reach its 70,000 passenger count well before 2021.
We just have to provide the supply to meet demand.

 
 
 

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Yesterday Councillor George Affleck and Rob McDowell got a preview of Evergreen (formally, the Evergreen Extension of the Millennium Line) – and sent some shots from the initial run.
PT welcomes your impressions as you get a chance to try out what is now (again) the longest automated light-rail line in the world.  (Theological arguments aside on the definition of light rail when it comes to SkyTrain.)
The 11-km $1.43 billion line took long enough to reach Coquitlam (PoCo, not surprisingly, thinks it would have made more sense to cross the river to them).  But at last it’s open – connecting at Lougheed.


And then through the Motordom landscapes of the northeast part of region.

Entering a six-km tunnel – apparently the coolest part of the trip, according to George.

Paralleling the main line of the CPR and serving Port Moody, still industrial and port-serving in ways not seen from the road.


Moving on to the residential and commercial centre of Coquitlam.
Evergreen already has a lot of intermodal connections with the frequent bus network and West Coast Express, and there is already a substantial amount of residential density near some of the stations. There will be about 40,000 passengers a day anticipated on the line, rising to 70,000 in about five years.

Transit lines are century-long commitments to city building.  There will be short-term impacts (the crowding induced elsewhere along the rapid-transit network), medium-term (more affordable housing options with better transit links) and long-term (the movement of job centres into some of these locations to make them truly complete communities).
Evergreen is a manifestation of the half-century-long regional vision (“cities in a sea of green”) – still proving to be far-sighted once we make the commitment to actually follow through on its intentions.

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Change and development along the rapid-transit lines as part of “Skywalking through Burnaby” on Sunday:

A big hole at the Brentwood Town Centre redevelopment.  Is this the the biggest single complex in the municipality’s history?

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At the Commercial-Broadway station, the new east platform for westbound trains is visible:

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Already the station handles more passengers in a day than YVR airport.  With the opening of the Evergreen line later, the crush would be unmanageable without a platform expansion.

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SkyTrain guideways are a common sight in Vancouver, particularly along the Lougheed Highway – and now up North Road as the Evergreen Line construction proceeds:

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Since we’ve lived with them for about 30 years, it would be an exaggeration to say these concrete behemoths have been universally detrimental.  Indeed, I recall one study done after Expo Line construction which documented essentially no change in property values to those homes overshadowed by the elevated guideway – something that would not likely be true if it were a freeway overpass.

Is it just the absence of excessive noise and pollution of a SkyTrain line, or is it that we get used to something once it’s developed – regardless of scale –  and becomes a familiar presence in the neighbourhood?

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The kind of coverage we need more of: Kelly Sinoski and Rob Shaw’s backgrounder in The Sun on TransLink:

Evolution of a transit authority   High hopes at founding in 1999 have turned into a riddle of costs, ridership and political tensions

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I’ll quote more later, but helpfully they have included a timeline  (unfortunately not in the online story).  What jumped out for me?  The number of times the local politicians have raised property taxes.

Ironic in two respects: the first chair George Puil sold the idea of TransLink to municipal leaders on the premise that it would avoid property tax increases in the future.  And secondly, the Province is determined that they do just the opposite, and argues that there is lots of tax room there to do so, particularly since the hospital levy was largely removed.  Indeed, the referendum may be just a clever device to force property-tax hikes on the region by limiting the options available for funding or as the source of last resource in the event of the referendum’s failure.

So, for the record, here are the points when property tax has been raised, in bold:

1999: TransLink is created by the NDP government, which allows the transportation authority to generate funds through a three-percent property tax as well as a share of the fuel tax, parking sales tax and transit fares. …

Nov 2001: TransLink approves $80 million in higher fares and, for the first time, a property tax hike to fund transit. …

2003: TransLink proposes more fare hikes (six percent), tax increase on paid parking (21 percent), another property tax increase ($61 per average home) and a tripling of the sales tax on paid parking (not pursued).

2005: TransLink raises parking tax and property tax again as it wrestles with paying billions for four big projects …

2007: TransLink receives another three cents per litre on the gas tax, brining it to 15 cents, from the province on the condition it raise property taxes for transit. …

2008: TransLink raises property taxes to cover the parking site tax that the province had cancelled a year earlier.

2011: Province approves another two-cent gas tax hike, brining it to 17 cents per litre, to help TransLink pay its $400-million share of the Evergreen Line.  Mayors also propose a vehicle levy or road/bridge tolling again, with a backup plan that if those fail to gain support they will impose a two-year property tax increase of $23 per home.

2012: Mayors ask the province for road/bridge tolling, vehicle levy or a regional carbon tax for transit, but all are rejected.  In response, mayors nix a backup plan to raise property taxes.

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My hunch: regardless of whatever else the Province accepts as an option (in same issue of The Sun: “Province resistant to Metro Vancouver road pricing policy“), property tax will be on the table, leading to more regional divisiveness.

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Further to the Sun story on February 26 – “Committee to study effect of development around tunnel” – there was this rationalization for addressing congestion on the George Massey tunnel:

A Delta staff report suggests the proposed mall development (being developed by the Tsawwassen First Nations) would be equivalent  to “all three floors of Metrotown or six times larger than Richmond Centre,” and  would result in an additional 700 daily vehicles heading through the George  Massey Tunnel by 2031.

Let’s repeat that: “… an additional 700 daily vehicles heading through the George  Massey Tunnel by 2031.”
Clearly an unacceptable consequence, justifying study, reports, recommendations, actions, revisions of the transportation plan, perhaps the regional growth plan – and ultimately the capital plans that authorize the hundreds of millions of dollars needed.
I’ve noted before – in Puzzle Picture – the difference in how we perceive, much less assess, what our transportation priorities should be.  In the case of the Port Mann Bridge, delay of drivers was a cost that justified the billions spent on the widest bridge in the world.  In the case of TransLink, an audit recommended a reduction of service.
In one case, reducing delay is an investment; in the other, inducing delay is an efficiency.  That’s the gap between motordom and transit.
In the case of the Massey tunnel, congestion assumed by 700 more cars two decades from now is sufficient to start a process to address it. 
An ad from provincial government on page A8 in today’s Sun:

And yet, literally flip the page to A11 and you get this:

Two heavy-weight regional leaders – the mayor of our largest city, the president of our largest university – are making the economic case for Broadway rapid-transit.  And noting the already overloaded demands on the existing system: 2,000 pass-ups now, with an anticipated increase of 150,000 new users by 2040. 
Compared to 700 more cars two decades from now.
Do you recall a demand by the Premier for an audit of the Ministry of Transportation to see whether they were spending existing resources efficiently?  Or auditors suggesting that there was sufficient capacity on our roads if only “service was optimized”?  Or that the mayors of the region first had to determine their most important highway project?  Or that a new tax or increase would have to be first identified, with broad public support and no negative effects on the economy?
Of course not. It was just assumed the need was there because of traffic congestion, and the money would follow.  The imperative was speed, for both process and politics.
The gap between business as usual – i.e., Motordom – and our outstanding needs with the most positive outcomes – i.e. transit – has become grotesque.  And, for illustration purposes, only one page apart.

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This week, a look at a municipal town centre that’s trying to create a regional transit-oriented development – before transit has arrived.

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By some overly simple criteria, Coquitlam City Centre (C3) is a success because it’s attracting a remarkable amount of high-density development for a municipality in the upper northeast corner of the region, 25 kilometers from the downtown core, with congested arterials and without rapid transit (but at least along the West Coast Express commuter-rail route).

Now that the Evergreen Line has been funded (expected to be open in the Summer of 2016), more projects are underway (MThree, left).  As a sign of commitment, even Coquitlam Centre Mall is helping to fund an additional stop – Lincoln Station.

An organzing, urbanizing element of C3(and a radical departure from the precepts of Motordom) is The High Street – a right-of-way that runs from City Hall to the shopping mall, and is meant to provide the scale and services of a traditional retail street.  It’s taken a couple of decades, but the vision is now essentially complete.

Even a few years ago, there were signficiant voids in the form of surface parking lots – still evident in Streetview:

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Today, this:

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It meets all of the ‘City Comforts’ rules that determine whether you have a city or a suburb.

  • Built to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).
  • Building fronts are “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).
  • No parking lots in front.

… as do the other buildings that line The High Street, some with more architectural success than others.  But as a whole, whether retail or residential, High Street is scaled for the pedestrian, even as the towers rise above.  It’s also wide enough (perhaps a bit too much) to accommodate normal traffic lanes and one row of parking, raised slightly above grade:

 

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The trees are tall and well spaced; there is pedestrian lighting; there are rain-protecting canopies and awnings; the street furniture, bike racks and fittings are often artful.

And then, opening up just before The High Street meets the City Hall plaza, there is Spirit Square – a gathering place, “created to help celebrate BC150 – the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Crown Colony of British Columbia,” funded in part by the Province.  Salmon, as you can tell, is a very popular motif: in the iconic sculpture, in the design of the gratings, and, in Coquitlam’s case, still in its rivers and creeks.

 

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The square is well-proportioned and landscaped, outfitted with lighting for special events, and clearly connected to the public spaces at City Hall and The High Street, reinforcing the diagonal that permeates an otherwise overscaled suburban block.

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In this part of C3, there is an abundance of thoughtful planning, well-articulated urban design, quality materials, and a long-term commitment by all involved.

And yet …

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This week, a look at a municipal town centre that’s trying to create a regional transit-oriented development – before transit has arrived.

If you haven’t been to Coquitlam for a few decades, this might be your memory – a commercial strip with a bad case of Motordom.  And much of Barnett/Lougheed Highway still looks this way (map here):

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But “Coquitlam City Centre” is a designated regional town centre in the Metro Vancouver strategic plan (details here) – and the municipal council, planners and developers have been making a determined effort to create an urban place for the last several decades, expecting, hoping, crying for the Evergreen rapid-transit line to arrive.  So it makes a great case-study in how high-density works, particularly in highrise form, when the context all around is still car-dependent.

As we’ll see, much of the urban-design has been influenced by ‘Vancouverism’ – the name somewhat vaguely applied to the tower-and-podium style that evolved out of the megaproject developments that so spectacularly changed the City of Vancouver in the 1990s.

Although Coquitlam wasn’t the only suburban municipality to adopt a Vancouver-styled urbanism (check out No. 3 Road in Richmond, Lonsdale in North Vancouver, Surrey City Centre), it’s probably the one that looks most like parts of Concord Pacific or Downtown South.

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The residential highrises, in fact, are often taller and more imposing that what might be found downtown, and the ambience of the neighbourhood is distinctly influenced by the presence of a large Korean community.

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Next: what works, what doesn’t.

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VancityBuzz extensively features the route and design of the stations along the Evergreen Line:

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The era of high design and architectural commissions for individual stations began and ended with the Millennium Line – each station costing about $10 million.  In the era of private-public partnerships, such commitment is considered an unaffordable extravagance.

The station designs look competent and serviceable, and modestly consistent with the look of the other rapid-transit lines:

At least they look spacious enough – unlike the Canada Line stations – to handle growth in demand.

More pics and background here.

 

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