Kenneth Chan is the Deputy Editor and Social Media Manager of Vancity Buzz. He is known for his articles on public transit, urban design, development projects and the local economy. On the side, he is the Co-Founder of the Vancouver New Year’s Eve Celebration Society, the non-profit organization that will be hosting a major public New Year’s Eve bash in downtown Vancouver at the end of this year. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
“Always hold onto the hand rail, grandson.” That’s something my grandma would often say during the many times we descended down the famously long and steep escalator at Granville Station. Looking back, there was always an unexplainable childhood fear of falling and creating a domino-like tumble effect.
I was only about four or five years old at the time, but those SkyTrain trips to Chinatown and Metrotown are some of my most vivid early memories of taking public transit in Metro Vancouver. That’s how I started to become familiar with public transit, eventually growing to love it as a teenager, coupled with the endless hours I spent playing Sim City and trying to replicate the New York and Metro Vancouver regions.
I grew up near UBC and eventually studied there as well, so I’ve always understood and appreciated the conveniences of living close to a cluster of public transit services as well as school and work.
But the introduction of the 99 B-Line, which complemented the high number of local bus routes that already serve near my house, was the real game changer in making public transit a truly feasible, quick and cost-effective way to get around. This was compounded by the launch of other routes and services over the years – first the now-defunct 98 B-Line and then the Canada Line – that enabled a speedy transfer to other destinations and connections.
I’ve used public transit in dozens of other major cities, and I can confidently say that our region already enjoys a highly developed transit network that punches above its own weight when considerations are given for our relatively small population and comparisons are made with the systems found at other similarly sized North American urban regions. Is there room for improvement? Of course there is, but some context is always important.
Public transit’s feasibility as a primary mode of transportation depends on a combination of factors such as speed, frequency, convenience and network size. The larger the service area with quick transit services that are competitive with driving times and the associated high costs of car ownership, the greater the ridership haul.
A case in point is how the automobile became such a flexible and attractive mode of transportation in the Post-War years. Road networks grew exponentially in size over decades, making driving an easy way to get around.
The same case can also be made when the network size of other modes grow and improve. Vancouver is now one of the most walkable cities in North America following years of ambitious city-wide pedestrianization prioritization efforts, and a similar level of accessibility is now being attempted for cycling through a number of ambitious bike infrastructure initiatives by both municipal governments and TransLink.
In a similar way, it became exponentially more attractive to use public transit in Metro Vancouver after the opening of the Canada Line. I would even go as far as saying the Canada Line helped spark a ‘transit revolution’ of sorts; this major extension of SkyTrain, the backbone of the public transit network, drastically changed our perception of public transit and its place in the region.
Today, we want more transit and we want it now. Prior to the Canada Line, we were arguably indecisive and uncertain about transit expansion, but it’s now a ‘no brainer’ (apart from the ongoing question of how we’re going to pay for it).
With the opening of the Evergreen Line next year, imagine being able to travel from Lougheed to Coquitlam in about 15 minutes or from VCC-Clark to Coquitlam in about 35 minutes, with trains arriving every three minutes during the day. And with a potential underground extension of SkyTrain to UBC along the Broadway Corridor, imagine being able to travel from UBC to Coquitlam in just under one hour on a transfer-less one-train ride.
Transit expansion opens up so many more possibilities for the region, for where people live, work and play. Furthermore, it should be noted that these macro-level considerations are absolutely vital given just how geographically tiny and constrained the Metro Vancouver region is, to the point that our limited size demands a highly efficient transportation system that simultaneously molds efficient land use and is a catalyst for smart, dense development projects.
At the same time, the economic feasibility of a transit service is dependent on the population and employment density found along and near the route of the service. Roads, parking lots, and urban sprawl take up room that Metro Vancouver does not have – without infringing on our vast areas of agricultural land reserves, protected regional parks and forests, and other sensitive ecosystems. These are all spaces we love and take for granted.
There are negative repercussions to affordability and the economy as well as our social, health and well-being if we do not build our relatively young region in the most efficient manner.
And it all comes back to having an efficient transportation system. This is why I love transit.