Not so fast: CVN coalition asks Mayor & Council NOT to endorse staff recommendation for multi-billion dollar SkyTrain to UBC (30-Jan-2019)

cover of mcelhanney report rail to ubc jan 2019

Cover of McElhanney transit study

At the Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities on January 30, 2019 (Wed), Vancouver city staff will present a report to City Council entitled “Rapid Transit from Arbutus Street to UBC.”

The report was just made public on January 25. Senior city staff are recommending that the Mayor and Council “endorse a SkyTrain extension from Arbutus Street to UBC.”

This is a multi-billion dollar decision with huge implications for Vancouver decades ahead, highly premature, and based on questionable numbers.

The 11-member City Council of whom nine are there for the first time, would be very smart NOT TO ACCEPT the staff recommendations, and instead only to RECEIVE the report for information purposes. Many of the assertions made by the consultant and staff deserve further review. Any member of the public who feels this is an important topic is encouraged to share their views with Council by speaking or writing. See meeting agenda for details.

The Vancouver Coalition of Neighbourhoods (CVN) wrote to Council on January 25 asking Council to accept the report for information only, not to endorse it or accept its recommendations (see the link CVN’s letter, 10-point excerpt also provided below) .

In the staff report, General Manager of Engineering Services (Gerry Dobrovolny) and General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability (Gil Kelly) recommend:

A. THAT Council endorse a SkyTrain extension from Arbutus Street to UBC.
B. THAT Council direct staff to work with partners to advance the design development including public consultation to determine station locations, vertical and horizontal alignment.
C. THAT staff write a letter to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation (“Mayors’ Council”) to inform them of Council’s support for the selection of SkyTrain and further design and consultation on alignment.

Two related documents are available online for this meeting.

“Rapid Transit from Arbutus Street to UBC” (staff report, Jan 15, 2019) https://council.vancouver.ca/20190130/documents/pspc1.pdf

Appendix C (“Rail to UBC Rapid Transit Study: Alternatives Analysis Summary and Update” (McElhanney Consulting Services) Jan 2019 ): https://council.vancouver.ca/20190130/documents/pspc1-AppendixC.pdf

There are many problems with the  consultant report and staff recommendations. Many of the numbers, statements, technical details, and assumptions used to justify the staff’s conclusions are questionable and could collapse under close review. They deserve independent review and verification.

The Broadway Subway plan was a pillar of Vision Vancouver policy, though public support was never explicitly provided. But Vision was obliterated from City Council in the October 2018 civic election after ten years of absolute majority, which could also be seen in part as a rejection of the Broadway Subway idea. But notably, Vision did some high-profile firings of staff during its years in power and installed staff who were compliant with their policies. Those staff are now trying to implement Vision policies though their former masters are gone.

If Council approves the staff recommendation to endorse a SkyTrain extension from Arbutus Street to UBC, it will predetermine the planning outcomes and make a citywide plan (just now beginning) moot.

Council should be receiving this report for information only and not be implementing it as policy. Expect the City staff to fight any delays.

But our elected Mayor and Council are responsible to taxpayers and the public and would be well-advised to take their time to have the facts properly tested and validated.

The consultant report should not be used as the sole basis for approving a major policy direction in advance of public consultation on a citywide plan.

Here is an excerpt of the CVN letter:

Rapid Transit from Arbutus Street to UBC: Coalition does not support staff recommendations, requests Council ‘receive’ reports, not adopt as policy (meeting 30-Jan-2019)

…. Although we generally agree with the logic to connect the Millennium Line from VCC to Cambie Line, we continue to disagree with the unaffordable option to extend along Broadway to Arbutus with a subway, and to further extend the subway/SkyTrain to UBC. This is for many reasons, not least of which is the amount of money that will need to be directed to it, thus starving the rest of the City’s public transit needs; the reliance on CACs & DCLs to fund it with the resulting corridor of excessive development along Broadway and the further inflated property value increases. Additional concerns are as follows:

  • The above reports have been characterized as political documents masquerading as technical documents. They misrepresent the underlying assumptions of ridership, capacity, and costs based on reviewing previous flawed “consultation” studies that did not properly compare options or report accurately the level of public opposition and support. The reports are designed to achieve a predetermined outcome.
  • The alternative options of LRT, streetcar or trolleys for the whole corridor have been dropped from this current comparison. The report claims that LRT has a practical capacity of only 6,120 when in fact it can achieve 20,000 pphpd. Even 1940’s streetcar technology in Toronto obtained capacity of 12,000 pphpd.
  • One of the reasons that the proposed first portion of the subway stops at Arbutus is the smaller street pattern and that there was such strong opposition from Kitsilano and West Point Grey residents and businesses to a subway with the resulting tower densities that would go with it. This has not gone away.
  • The Mayors’ plan for the Broadway subway to Arbutus was strongly opposed in the transportation referendum, both regionally and in the City of Vancouver, so should not be considered a done deal when it has not yet been fully costed and approved. The regional/City of Vancouver portion has gone up considerably and is yet to be fully consulted with the public.
  • There are much more cost effective options that would provide more transit to a much broader area, giving access to good transit to more people in a wide network, rather than only one corridor. See maps below.
  • The subway is about $535m/km, trams $16m-$40m/km, electric trolley rapid bus $1m/km + $1m per double electric trolley articulated bus.
  • We are opposed to the use of the city’s tax base of property taxes and development fees to subsidize this subway. The civic tax base is needed for civic services.
  • We oppose the use of private-public-partnerships (P3) models that are more likely with expensive transit lines like the subway/SkyTrain because benefits to private partners have higher costs to the public.
  • The development along the corridor will be very large and out of scale with the surrounding area, which will require significant subsidies for services through increased property taxes. Development fees only cover a portion of the costs of growth as it is. Now these development fees will also have to cover the subway itself.
  • Once committed, it may be mostly cut and cover with the same problems as the Canada Line. There is no commitment to bored tunnel and each station is planned to be cut and cover regardless. Elevated SkyTrain would be too impactful on the surrounding neighbourhoods, even more so than a subway.
cvn for the price of this we can have this transit

Caption: Equivalent electric streetcar network deliverable for same cost of proposed Broadway Corridor subway (Condon, et al, 2008, The case for the tram; learning from Portland, Sustainability by Design – An examination of alternatives to an underground extension of the Millennium Line to UBC, Foundational Research Bulletin, No. 6.)

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