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The Globe and Mail

Broadway rapid-transit plan comes with density issues

A SkyTrainin Vancouver on May 6th, 2009.

Simon Hayter For The Globe and Mail/simon hayter The Globe and Mail

When rapid transit arrives some time before the end of the decade on Vancouver's busy east-west Broadway corridor, the city says it will be ready with a plan for increased office space and housing all along it.

That would be quite different from what happened along the Vancouver-to-Richmond Canada Line, where planning work was left until after the $2.05-billion project was finished.

Three years later, developers are only beginning to transform the rows of single-family houses along Cambie Street to apartment blocks and towers.

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"Definitely, we're not going to repeat what was done with the Cambie line," Councillor Raymond Louie said in an interview. Council backed a staff recommendation last month for a $2-billion to $3-billion extension to the Broadway line as the city's next major transit improvement.

That eagerness to have a plan ready is the result of a philosophy among transportation experts and politicians these days that expensive rapid-transit lines need to be made as efficient as possible by allowing dense commercial and residential development around them.

TransLink, the region's transportation authority, is expected to announce in 2013 its priorities for the region's next major transportation projects.

Vancouver has been lobbying for the Broadway line, which would connect the current SkyTrain stops in east Vancouver with Broadway and the west side side out to the University of B.C.

Surrey has been pushing hard for a light-rail network to connect three of its town centres.

The city's general manager of planning, Brian Jackson, says that planners will not look at where and how to increase density until the decision is made on when Vancouver will get rapid transit, how it will be paid for, and what technology will be used – an underground SkyTrain or an above-ground light-rail system.

But when those decisions are clear, his department will move into action, he said. It will take four to six years to engineer the line, giving planners plenty of time.

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Broadway changes dramatically along the 12-kilometre length where the line is planned. In the central section, the region's second-largest "downtown," it is filled with offices, medical facilities and stores. In the stretch through Kitsilano to the west, it becomes a popular shopping street. And in the far west, through Point Grey, it is heavily residential.

"With a new transit system, we'll be looking at 'Is it worthwhile to add density, is there a possibility for more?" Mr. Jackson said.

Next week, there is a public hearing for a site on Tenth Avenue, a block off Broadway near Arbutus Street, where planners are recommending approval of a seven-story building.

The report from staff makes the point that "plan to extend rapid transit to this walkable and bikeable community presents a compelling rationale to consider additional density on this site."

Debate over the site hints at the opposition that is likely along the rest of the project.

Residents mounted a campaign against the development, saying it will bring too much traffic and make it unsafe for children at a nearby school.

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And they fear what will happen as planning for the line accelerates.

"That's the biggest concern. This is the start," said resident Veronica Ross.

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