Vancouver’s new city council has taken a different approach to transit and development than the previous Vision Vancouver regime, voting in favour of a SkyTrain all the way to the University of B.C.
The change is, in part, a result of a switch in thinking by the council’s now-influential three Green Party councillors to support the push for that extension. Previously, the party’s position was to strongly support streetcar expansion, not the heavier subway-like SkyTrain.
Green councillors say they realized they needed to take a different approach because so many of their supporters are strongly pro-subway.
“We had a lot of new Greens join the party and they were really pushing the subway. The Greens are really growing as a brand,” said Councillor Michael Wiebe, whose party representatives had frequently expressed concerns in the past about SkyTrain and support for streetcars.
Green Party Councillor Pete Fry did ask for wording in the motion to establish the principle that land-use decisions need to be made sensitively and in collaboration with existing residents along the line.
After a full day of staff presentations, questions and speakers last week, the councillors voted 9-2 in favour of supporting the proposed $3.8-billion project, which Mayor Kennedy Stewart said would ensure it is in line for a big commitment from the federal government.
That approximately seven-kilometre addition is something the mayor is pushing to get added to the current confirmed plan to extend the Broadway line from the terminus at Clark Drive to Arbutus.
Mr. Stewart warned councillors during the debate that, if they voted against the SkyTrain line engineers were recommending, Vancouver would fall off the list for potential federal money.
“If we refer this [report] back to staff, this knocks this out. The [TransLink] mayors’ council would proceed with pitching other projects and we’d be left out of any current negotiations with the federal government,” the mayor said.
The vote was a blow to many who have opposed subway lines in the city for a couple of decades, saying they are not good for the environment, they suck money out of the whole region for limited routes and they propel development that doesn’t fit the city’s existing neighbourhoods.
“I think everyone is in shock,” said Elizabeth Murphy, a landlord and project manager who spoke at council in favour of holding off and taking a second look at other options besides the subway.
She believes the majority supported the line because they are new councillors who “depend heavily on staff recommendations and the information that they’re given.”
She tried to make the case that the engineers’ assessment of costs for a doubled light-rail line across the city, one on Broadway and one on 41st Avenue, were exaggerated and that they would never cost the $6- to $7-billion staff estimated.
But most councillors said they believe the need for SkyTrain-style rapid transit is needed and the best option.
“I came into this very skeptical and agnostic,” said Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr. “I have landed on the fact that I think this is the right technology. There is no way that any other technology comes close to handling the ridership that is needed.”
Non-Partisan Association Councillor Rebecca Bligh referred to the generational divide over the issue as she voted in support.
“If you ask teenagers, people in their early 20s, they say it's a no brainer, it has to go there,” she said.
NPA Councillor Colleen Hardwick was the only one from her party to vote against the project, as did COPE Councillor Jean Swanson.
Ms. Hardwick said the subway would destroy neighbourhoods, comparing it to the freeway public opposition stopped in Vancouver in the 1970s.
But Mr. Fry said he voted for the subway because, when he looked at the massive disruption that 80-metre light-rail trains running down the middle of major streets would cause, he felt the subway would make for more livable neighbourhoods.