I couldn't agree with this more. It should extend up arbutus and through to Stanley Park as proposed on the city plan. This is the kind of thing the city needs.http://www.vancouver...3956/story.html
One important project this year can trigger the kind of redevelopment that will shape sustainable urbanism and real livability in more than one Vancouver neighbourhood.
This one single project can clearly demonstrate a commitment to return to a time in Vancouver when public transit set the pattern for an urban fabric that made it easy for everyone to live in distinct neighbourhoods that are complete neighbourhoods and have easy access to jobs, services and recreation without having to drive a car.
This one project can be pointed to as a true Olympic legacy left behind after the Winter Games--a legacy that could be a powerful form-maker for Vancouver's future growth. In fact, the promise of this project is being dangled right in front of Vancouverites, in a way teasing us all during the upcoming Olympics.
I am talking about the Olympic Line -- Vancouver's 2010 demonstration modern streetcar line showcasing for two months the potential to one day reintroduce the streetcar to Vancouver's streets.
That one day could be soon if the city continues to take the lead and plan creatively to keep the streetcar running after the Olympic demonstration and quickly expand it by a few kilometres.
Interestingly, the Olympic Line doesn't involve TransLink, the region's cash-strapped, but all powerful transportation authority. Instead, it's an innovative joint venture between the City of Vancouver, Bombardier Transportation and the federal government's Granville Island.
Beginning in a couple of weeks and through to March 21, the Olympic Line demonstration streetcar project will run between the entrance to Granville Island and the new Canada Line Olympic Village Station at West Second and Cambie. As part of its partnership, Bombardier, a world leader in urban transit technology and a respected Canadian-born company, is providing two of its ultramodern Flexity-brand streetcars on loan from Belgium's Brussels Transport Company. The city invested $8.5 million to upgrade the 1.8-kilometre portion of Downtown Historic Railway line on which the two low-floor streetcars will run. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., Granville Island's administrator, provided an addition $500,000 to the project.
This project demonstrates that a streetcar, operating at grade on existing rights-of-way, is a relatively inexpensive form of public transit, especially when compared to tens of millions of dollars per kilometre it costs to build the neighbourhood-unfriendly elevated or subway SkyTrain.
The partnership between the city, Bombardier and Granville Island that made this project happen serves as an example of the kind of innovative partnership that can be forged to bypass the typical politically complicated mega-project structures that seem to take forever to get a project off the ground.
With very little effort and relatively few dollars, the Olympic Line could become permanent and expanded to achieve multiple objectives.
First, by extending the line east through the city's Southeast False Creek lands--through the heart of the Olympic Village development--across Main Street and less than another 2.5 kilometres east to the Clark Drive Sky-Train Station, this streetcar line can effectively link all three main rail transit lines: the Canada Line, the Millennium Line and, through the Commercial and Broadway Station, the Expo Line.
Crossing Main Street means providing transit access to the False Creek flats, one of the city's largest tracts of land ripe for redevelopment, and the logical area for a new form of expanded downtown.
Planners have long fretted over the threat of losing this once-industrial district to another single-use residential neighbourhood. They know any sustainable city needs a service and light industrial district close to its downtown. They also know that the central business district eventually needs room to grow to maintain downtown jobs and those jobs need to be close to inner-city housing.
With neighbourhood-scale transit access that links the area to the region's transit backbone, the False Creek flats could be transformed into an urban district that takes its cues from all that is good and has been good in the past in Vancouver.
The Vancouver of the distant past saw richly diverse mixed-use neighbourhoods originally form around key streetcar lines. The False Creek flats could become a district rich with a mix of light industrial, processing, service-commercial, retail, residential and recreational uses. The form of development could take its cue not from the highrises of the downtown peninsula, but from the midrise density of Southeast False Creek with European-style narrow streets in a grid pattern that provides form to a neighbourhood easily served by a linear at-grade streetcar line.
With a streetcar line effectively linking the three rail transit lines that bisect Vancouver and tying together a number of key bus lines, the justification for increased density around Vancouver's transit stations and key transit intersection becomes even clearer. This holds the promise of the city moving toward a form of ecodensity that will provide the kind of housing supply needed to keep housing prices from continuing to skyrocket.
Finally, a permanent streetcar line terminating at Granville Island provides further justification for a continued public reinvestment in the island and its aging facilities. Granville Island is now more than 30 years old. Significant dollars need to be spent to maintain and renew the heavily used public place. By making it easier to access the Island, especially without the car, there will be a renewed focus on this world-renowned urban jewel.
Let's hope, before the Olympics are over, a few bright minds sit down and figure out how to keep the Olympic Line running and realize the promise of the first phase of a real streetcar project to enhance Vancouver's future urbanism.
Bob Ransford is a public affairs consultant with CounterPoint Communications Inc. He is a former real estate developer who specializes in urban land use issues. E-mail: