When Vancouver's Main Street-Science World SkyTrain station opened in 1983, it served as a standalone demonstration station, showcasing the city's exciting new rapid transit technology featuring driverless, automated cars. From June to November, 300,000 curious Vancouverites came out to see the two test cars, lining up to ride the single kilometre of track.
Thirty years later, the station is one of nearly 50 in a system struggling to keep up with growing commuter needs. But despite becoming a major transit hub used by 26,000 riders each weekday, Main Street-Science World remains more or less identical to when it was a pilot project three decades earlier. That is about to change.
Next month, construction will begin on a $30-million overhaul of the station, which sits adjacent to the Pacific Central bus and train station. On Tuesday, TransLink held its final preconstruction open house to inform riders of final details and address any outstanding questions or concerns.
Perhaps the most significant change to the station will be in its level of accessibility. With an odd mid-level platform, a small elevator and only stairs leading up from its east-side entrance, Main Street-Science World is considered one of the least accessible SkyTrain stations.
"[When it opened], it was touted as groundbreaking because it had an elevator and was actually geared toward accessibility," TransLink spokeswoman Jennifer Siddon said. "Well, our standards have changed and now we know that not only do you need elevators, but you need better lighting, larger elevators and to place them more strategically."
The east-side entrance will be considerably different: an empty space will become a station house with retail businesses – comparable to that of Commercial-Broadway station. Stairs, an escalator and an elevator will take commuters from ground level to the platform.
The new station will adhere to the principles of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), the belief that design and planning can deter criminal activities. This will mean an open concept, improved lighting and extensive use of glass to increase visibility.
"There is something very powerful about using glass," Ms. Siddon said. "People feel safer, it's more open, light comes through. It creates a better environment, particularly in places where there are a lot of people moving through."
The station will be open for the duration of the project's 18-month construction, as only one side will be closed at a time. For about four months – from the fall of 2013 to the winter of 2014 – TransLink will operate a two-car shuttle between Commercial-Broadway and Waterfront. Regular four- and six-car trains will move through the station without stopping.
B.C. NDP transportation critic Harry Bains questioned whether the shuttles will run frequently enough to move the rush-hour crowds during that period.
"SkyTrain [cars] at peak times run every two or three minutes," he said. "You can't have a shuttle every two or three minutes. The transit users will not have the same service – that's a given."
The station upgrade – one of seven planned under TransLink's Expo line upgrade strategy – is expected to be complete by the summer of 2014. Meanwhile, the Compass card and fare gate system is expected to launch in late 2013.