Greater Vancouver’s North Shore communities got a big boost to their pitch to be next in line for rapid transit in the region with the release of a provincial study outlining five feasible routes across Burrard Inlet for a light-rail line.
Now those three cities will need to prove they deserve to get billions of dollars for new transit by demonstrating the line can get the needed ridership, partly by supporting land-use plans that will add more population and jobs, acknowledged the B.C. MLA shepherding the transit-planning effort and the head of the TransLink mayors' council.
“There’s a lot of competition for transportation all across the province and we’ve got to have our ducks in a line,” said North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma, who pulled together a group of stakeholders in 2018 to come up with a more coherent transportation plan for the car-clogged section of the region. “The North Shore is going to have to demonstrate we’re ready to receive a rapid-transit project like this and prepare their communities.”
The three North Shore municipalities – City of North Vancouver, District of North Vancouver and District of West Vancouver – have a mixed record on supporting new transit and housing.
While the city has added a significant amount of density and supported improved transit, transforming into an extension of downtown Vancouver, the District of North Vancouver council has quashed various development projects. West Vancouver, although adding multifamily housing for the first time in decades, saw a wave of public opposition to a rapid-bus line planned for the street near that housing. TransLink had to scale back its plans for the line in 2019 after the council voted against it.
TransLink, which approved the construction of two new SkyTrain extensions as part of a 10-year list of priorities developed by regional mayors in 2014, is now pondering what the next priorities are as it looks at refreshing that list and developing a new long-range plan to 2050.
Everyone in the region is jostling for more. A SkyTrain extension to Maple Ridge, another one down King George Boulevard in Surrey south toward White Rock, a gondola in Burnaby to take students to Simon Fraser University, a rapid bus to Squamish or Chilliwack – those are just some of the demands the Lower Mainland’s transit agency is facing.
What gets to the top of the list will depend increasingly on what those regions are prepared to do to add population around transit, said Jonathan Coté, the chair of the mayors' council and mayor of New Westminster.
“A good transportation plan starts with a good land-use plan and communities that are willing to make changes,” he said.
Mr. Coté said it’s clear the North Shore has experienced a dramatic increase in traffic and congestion the past few years and it has been identified as a rising priority for TransLink. He said the provincial study adds invaluable planning information for TransLink, which will be needed as it goes through a long process to decide what the next priorities are and where the best cost-benefit scenarios exist.
The provincial committee studying the possibilities, after going through multiple others to connect the North Shore to the existing rapid-transit network in the rest of the region, came up with five options judged workable by engineering experts.
Two involve a new bridge alongside the current Ironworkers Memorial Second Narrows Crossing. Three options have tunnels – one from Brockton Oval at Stanley Park to central Lonsdale; another one under the park to West Vancouver’s Park Royal and then to central Lonsdale; and a third essentially under the current SeaBus route from downtown Vancouver to Lonsdale Quay.
A rail bridge paralleling Lions Gate Bridge was eliminated because it would have required too much Stanley Park land for approaches, said Ms. Ma. Another idea, running the rail line underneath the Ironworkers bridge, was ruled out in the final round. Gondolas were also nixed, because the distance is so great that the towers would have needed to be as high as the Wall Centre hotel.
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