Reflecting Vancouver

Urbanism and Life on the West Coast

Main and 2nd’s Transit Problem


Vancouver Winter 2013 013
What’s happening at Main and 2nd? Condo prices may be flat, but on the eastern edge of False Creek it looks like the rising downtown of years past. Crowded along 2nd Avenue toward Main Street, nearly 10 different condo developments are in construction around the former Olympic Village. But no transit improvements are planned to serve this new, ostensibly urban population. How will all these people get to work and around Vancouver?

The growing neighbourhood will be dense enough to permit local errands by foot. Main and 2nd is also an eminently bike-friendly location, connected by the seawall, the Ontario Bikeway, and various routes east and west. But geography and weather ensure that year-round trips to major employment destinations — downtown, central Broadway, the universities — will be made by transit or car. In this regard, Main and 2nd seems to have a problem.

From condos on the flat of Quebec Street, such as Central and Meccanica, most downtown commuting will be made by SkyTrain, with Main Street station one or two hundred metres away. But mode share will likely shift to cars further west along 2nd Avenue, where no transit is particularly frequent or accessible. This is especially true of residents for whom transit is not forced out of economy, as will often be the case in these developments. Use of transit from Main and 2nd to reach Central Broadway seems particularly remote, despite being only 2km away, simply because of the poor connectivity of the system between these locations. Few will walk to Broadway to ride the B-Line given the grade of the hill, especially when the trip can be made by car in half the time or less. What this means is more cars on Broadway, 2nd Avenue, and Main Street, where densities would instead suit fixed rapid transit. In short, the same mistakes that led to high rates of driving in North False Creek, a tragedy considering its location, are being made again.

RRT Alternative marked
Most proposed routes for the Broadway extension of SkyTrain neatly bypass the neighbourhood. This means that even if the shortsighted policies of the Provincial government were somehow contorted into funding the Broadway line, this area would remain poorly connected. While I generally favour the unambiguous extension of SkyTrain to UBC, the rise of Main and 2nd may paint an argument for the Combination Alternative. LRT running west from Main Street Station through the Olympic Village would integrate the neighbourhood into the surrounding transit network, although it would still fail to solve the problem of connecting False Creek Flats to Central Broadway, being separated by both busy 6th Avenue and a very steep grade from the presumed tracks.

Combination Alternative marked
What is to be done? The 84 bus will perhaps find its potential along this corridor for trips to UBC. But it would seem the majority of new residents at Main and 2nd will be driving to work or elsewhere, and adding more cars to Metro Vancouver’s roadways. Hardly the greenest city.

Jarret Walker wrote about walking distance to transit a few years ago, offering available data on the subject. The verdict? Not surprisingly, transit use tapers with distance to the station, nearing negligible levels beyond 500m. Manitoba and 2nd Avenue is roughly 800m to both Main Street SkyTrain and Olympic Village Canada Line stations, and a kilometre uphill to the B-Line stop. Transferring from the 3 bus (Main Street) may work for some, but widespread use of fixed transit will not be available despite the rapid increase in density. Cars will naturally be the mode of choice given the wide boulevards adjacent.


Author: Chris

I'm the author of Reflecting Vancouver, a West Coast blog devoted to urbanism, culture, politics, philosophy, and everyday living in Vancouver. Right now I'm taking a break to travel.

4 thoughts on “Main and 2nd’s Transit Problem

  1. I live at Manitoba and 1st. The SkyTrain station is probably 500 meters away, but it’s a beautiful walk so I don’t notice the distance. The walk to the Canada Line is about the same distance but not nearly as nice. The boulevard along 1st avenue is just waiting for a light rail line and I’d love to see the Combo 1 UBC Line built. In addition to serving my growing neighbourhood, it would also relieve a lot of the congestion caused by transfers at the Broadway/Commercial station (shifting transfers to Main St for Expo Line passengers and Arbutus for Millennium Line passengers heading to UBC).

    Even without an LRT line, I don’t see the neighbourhood becoming car dependent. I guess it depends if the new buildings having parking spots bundled with the units. Our building doesn’t so there is an economic incentive to go car-free. As such, there are lots of bikes (our buildings 4 bike rooms are overflowing and they just renovated one to add more capacity); SkyTrain is popular; and car2go and Modo both have a strong presence in the area.

    • Thanks for the thoughts. Certainly agree that the attractiveness of a walk plays a major part in how far one will go to catch a train. This is something that Jarret touches on later in comments to his post.

      If I recall correctly, the alignment of 1st Ave was specifically designed for light rail or tram line, be it Combo 1 or Vancouver’s related ideas for a downtown streetcar. I agree that the splitting of UBC-bound transfers between Main and Arbutus is a big plus of the Combo 1, but unfortunately it won’t make the trip to UBC any faster when connecting from the Expo Line. It may even make it slower, and for me that’s a non-starter. As I see it, the only real advantage of Combo 1 is the additional fixed rail service it provides to South False Creek and the eastern edge of Kitsilano, tying them into the surrounding rapid transit network. Even then, one can debate whether an at-grade tram on this route will really be all that rapid and increase ridership. Further reasons abound against Combo 1 on closer scrutiny, mostly related to the University: it would preclude future extension of heavy rail to UBC, it would probably not earn a major financial contribution from UBC for construction, and its capital costs are nearly as expensive as full metro to UBC despite modest improvement of travel times. A better option is to have both SkyTrain to UBC and LRT along the old CPR railways, connecting at Arbutus and Broadway — everyone wins! CoV could even mortgage the farm to pay for the LRT on its own if it wanted, which it can never do for metro under Broadway.

      I’m relieved to hear that Olympic Village is so bike-friendly — it really is a great location for cycling and should only get better. I somehow worry that parking will be bundled with the new condos under construction, as this is typical of the target market I see in their advertising. I was shocked by how much people drove when I lived in Yaletown — it actually has one of the highest driving mode shares in the city.

  2. Good piece, whoever you are (I could not find the authors name on this blog). Lots of useful and important points. I suggest that you have a look at:

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