Former Vancouver city councillor Gordon Price said something this week that I found simultaneously startling and depressing: He doesn't expect to see a rapid transit line along West Broadway to UBC in his lifetime.
To qualify this, the former councillor and former director of TransLink is a ridiculously youthful 62 years old. He's in good shape. He bikes everywhere, and barring some unfortunate genetic time bomb, he should have at least 20, 25 years ahead of him.
But Mr. Price has been through the politics of Lower Mainland rapid transit before. His tenure on council began one year after the Expo Line opened, and ended the same year they cut the ribbon on the Millennium Line. And knowing what he knows about how transit projects are funded, he is, to say the least, pessimistic.
There is no question a rapid transit line along West Broadway to UBC is needed. This week's back-to-school crush is an example: a seasonal occurrence that grows in intensity with every year that passes. When overcrowded double-length articulated buses are leaving a stop every two to four minutes and passing up hundreds of hopeful riders during the morning rush alone, you have an argument for a rapid transit line. Mr. Price estimates that a rapid transit line along Broadway would carry more than 100,000 riders on its first day of service.
Never mind that the Broadway-Commercial hub and the B-Line buses will become even more crowded when the Evergreen Line is finally completed in 2016.
TransLink, meantime, continues to study the situation, with a new report expected out in a few weeks. At last word they were looking at seven options that range from tunneling a rapid transit line all the way to UBC (without that messy and litigious cut-and-cover stuff, except at the stations) to an all-bus option that amounts to little more than beefing up existing bus routes. In between there is something called Bus Rapid Transit, and various combinations of underground and surface-level LRT lines.
But deciding on the specifics of the technology – what we'll actually end up riding – is premature, says Mr. Price.
TransLink is conducting a parallel study aimed at expanding rapid transit in Surrey. The case for rapid transit south of the Fraser is strong: Over the next 30 years, the population of the Lower Mainland is projected to grow by one million people, and much of that growth will occur in Surrey. Surrey also happens to be first in line. "South of the Fraser really has dibs on the next expenditure. What Vancouver says is, well, let's do them both. Translink has money for neither," Mr. Price says. "Until we get that question resolved, we're stuck. We're stuck on a crowded bus."
There are other barriers. "You don't build transit until you're prepared to shape growth and that means density. We're talking about going through West Point Grey here. I imagine the folks there will have something to say about that," Mr. Price says.
There is also the cautionary tale of the Canada Line to consider.
So finally bringing rapid transit to Broadway is a large and very complicated puzzle – one that requires the co-operation of all levels of government, TransLink, UBC, private partners, business, developers and the public.
Getting the players to agree on priorities, routes, technology and most importantly who will pay for it may seem an impossible task.
Where Mr. Price finds a glimmer of hope is in his belief that there is a shift taking place in the business and development community that favours transit. "They've been car-oriented for certainly as long as I've been in politics – that's changed," he says. "I think when you look at the development opportunities along the Broadway corridor, much less what's already there, you can see that a lot of it is driven by the opportunity to make some money, and I'm not going to be against that."
But without some sort of broad consensus, or a coalition ready to put the puzzle pieces together, Gordon Price says he won't be around to see any of it.