Political Considerations that should be Part of Conditions for Approving a Transit Line

TransLink's Canada LineCrossing of North Arm of the Fraser River South of Marine Drive Station Vancouver BC, Canada ©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013

TransLink’s Canada Line
Crossing of North Arm of the Fraser River
South of the Marine Drive Station
Vancouver BC, Canada
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013

There has been too much tradition in building rapid transit lines as projects in themselves, without consideration for urban communities that will be services by this faster form of transportation.   The transit lines are built.  The lines are opened.  The communities continue unchanged.

Cambie St at 17th Ave
After Canada Line Construction
Vancouver BC, Canada
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013

The streets are unaltered with no changes in number of traffic lanes.  The billions of dollars invested in rapid transit lines are now in competition for ridership with the adjacent streets.  There is nothing like governments creating competition with themselves, one form of transportation with another.  Then gradually and years later, densification happens parallel to the lines.

It is all about building vibrant, liveable, sustainable, green communities where people can live healthily and happily.  Clean transportation is one of the options to get there.  If neighbouring communities do not benefit from rapid transit lines, then significant chances to move the liveable community agenda forward will be lost.  If residents of local neighbourhoods do not see improvements that would benefit them, they may become vocal.


The City of Vancouver and TransLink, the Metro Vancouver transportation authority, are working towards a rapid transit system along Broadway.

Bicycle space on Canada Line cars
Vancouver BC, Canada
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker

Elevator to loading platform TransLink - Canada Line Yaletown Station, Davie St, Vancouver BC, Canada ©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013

Elevator to loading platform
TransLink – Canada Line
Yaletown Station, Davie St, Vancouver BC, Canada
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013


There are principles, believes, and values that should be part of any political actions for approval of any new rapid transit line investments.  Some also apply to any political decisions in urban densification.

1.   A rapid transit line is a very significant investment for the residents of a City or a Metro area.  Like any corporate investments, a City should not be in competition with its own investment.  In this case, the competition is between the transportation modes of rapid transit and car.

The car carrying capacity of a roadway parallel to a rapid transit investment must be shrunk by reassigning traffic lanes to other uses, including cycling lanes, walking lanes, green space, among others and also the liveability of the roadway.

2. When there is a major infrastructure investment that will affect local residents’ property values, they have a right to know how their homes’ property values may be affected in the coming years.

At time of approval, the City must also bring in new zoning regulations for the corridor (450 m catchment area, each side of rapid transit line) along the rapid transit project that will provide densification to support the transit’s operation as an economical-viable investment.

3. Transportation decisions need to be made beyond looking at today.  Instead, they need to be made with future population in mind, 1 million plus for the City of Vancouver, the transportation mode share targets for the future, and the Greenest City direction of Council.

The Broadway line must be an underground line all the way to UBC lands to provide the carrying capacity that will be needed in the future and allow adjacent, catchment area lands to develop for a city of the future.

Considering the extensive time it takes and the energy and cost of city’s staff and politicians, that of residents, advocates, interested parties, and others;

a rapid transit line must be approved and constructed for the full length as one project, not in phases.

4. A rapid transit line investment is not just a sterile, surgical procedure of an underground incision into the life of a city.  It is part of enhancing the liveability of communities that the line passes through.

The project is not about a construction of a rapid transit line.  It is about the revitalization of transportation within a corridor.  It is about repositioning of streets, as people streets and places, including revitalizing Broadway as a shopping, working, and living street focusing on street-level activities and active transportation components of transit, cycling, and walking.

5. There is a great demand for faster and higher capacity transit with service levels and comfort that cannot be supplied with buses in this City.   The City needs a network of rapid, LRT, and tramway lines, providing separation from other traffic and with intersection passage priority.  The cash fare is not set at a level supporting transit projects as corporate investments returning the profit that the private market expects for the level and dollar value of investments.

The simple fact is that we, the residents and the businesses of this city and of the corridor where such projects pass through, need to pay for rapid and semi-rapid transit investments, one way or another.  The City should undertake a Transit Levy that is dedicated and can only be spent on transit investment, with possibly a portion set aside for operations that will increase the service level of the system to a level that will truly entice motorists to switch to transit or Combined Mobility.

6. As a cyclist, one expects that:

All rapid transit investments include seamless integration of Combined Mobility of Transit and Cycling for those who use cycling to transit stations or bring their bicycles on board trains.  Seamless integration must be for the whole trip from start of trip to stations, passage through stations, and carriage onboard trains.  Bike share has a part to play in the seamless integration of Combined Mobility.

At the 2013-03-10 forum or town hall meeting on the Broadway transit line, one person in the audience made a comment that the politicians did not pick up on.  They should have.  The comment goes to a core issue that will either make our cities great places to live in or start a downward spiral towards boredom and indifference as places of habitation, lacking the creativity that small businesses, entrepreneurs, and the creative side of the populace bring.

Cities set transportation mode share targets for movement of people to guide investments in roadways, cycling facilities, walkways, and transit.  Improvements in rapid transit tends bring in gentrification and densification over time.  Lands are purchased with intend to get increased densification than in zoning plans.  Developers move in and housing costs and commercial and retail rental costs increase.  The normal mix of inhabitants and commercial renters is upset.  Costs of housing and rental units located close to well-serviced transit becomes unaffordable.  Specialty and small retailers are forced out.

7. Municipalities should also set affordability rules that will ensure that housing and commercial spaces in the city and in neighbourhoods will continue to be reasonable to all.

Formal plans of a city, conditions of densification, rezoning, and development approvals must guarantee that the residential and commercial nature and mix of neighbourhoods be retained permanently and do not force displacement of sectors of people, retailers, and other businesses.

The City should undertake a policy statement that is executed with each neighbourhood vision plan, rezoning, and other approvals for development that will:

ensure that the mix of housing in any neighbourhood be affordable and will accommodate the City’s ratio of income levels of its residents;

ensure sufficient number of affordable housing will be available in the neighbourhood for the income levels of the current population and ensure that people in any income level will not be displaced due to cost of affordable housing;

ensure that the mix of retail space in any neighbourhood will accommodate the City’s ratio of rental levels in that neighbourhoods and not cause displacement due to rental costs; and

ensure that the mix of commercial rental space in any neighbourhood will accommodate the City’s ratio of commercial rental levels in that neighbourhood and not cause displacement due to rental costs.

Again, it is all about building vibrant, liveable, sustainable, green communities where people can live healthily and enjoy being there.

H-JEH Becker, Velo.Urbanism, Third Wave Cycling Group Inc., 2013

©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2013, unless otherwise noted

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