OP-ED: Trains Impress, Stations Don’t

By James Fletcher

After two weeks of operation, the new Canada Line from Vancouver to Richmond will see an increase in the number of passengers this week as people return to regular school and work schedules.

It is also time to offer a review of the new rapid transit service, while recognizing that some of the bugs are still being worked out of the system.

Overall, the Canada Line provides fast, convenient service from Richmond and YVR airport into downtown Vancouver. The trains are more spacious, have wider aisles, designated bicycle areas, and more handgrips for standing passengers. The extra space will be most appreciated by parents with strollers and those travelling to and from the airport with large luggage. Technophiles will also be pleased to hear that their mobile phones work underground in all stations and trains.

Large electronic display boards and platform announcements tell passengers the destination for each train, and how long they will wait before it arrives. These features should be provided on the rest of the SkyTrain system.

While the design of the trains and platforms is very good, the design of the stations fails to live up to the same standard. Some problems, such as the insufficient number of ticket machines and the poorly designed signage that is difficult for many to read, are relatively easily fixed. Other design and architectural issues will likely be difficult and expensive to remedy.

A glaring example of poor design is the inexplicable failure to provide a direct underground connection from the Granville Station on the Expo Line to the City Centre Station on the Canada Line. Passengers are forced either to navigate a poorly marked and circuitous route through the Bay and Vancouver Centre Mall, or to go up to Granville Street and walk a block to the other station before descending to platform level.

The reach and accessibility of several stations could have been greatly improved by providing several access portals. Instead, passengers are often forced to cross wide avenues such as Pacific Boulevard, West Broadway, King Edward, 41st Avenue, Marine Drive, and No. 3 Road in Richmond. For elderly or disabled passengers, or those with small children, or simply those trying to catch a connecting bus across the street, it is an unnecessary inconvenience.

Although some of the larger and busier stations have included space for commercial tenants, it was disappointing to see that the Canada Line failed to include commercial space in more of its stations. The presence of lawful commercial businesses helps to make passengers feel safer using the system, especially at night, and discourages loitering, intimidation, vandalism and other criminal behaviour from taking hold.

The architecture of the stations also leaves much to be desired. Built of glass and concrete, the stations are utilitarian and functional, but fail to engage with their surroundings or provide a welcoming or hospitable public space.

Unlike many of the Millennium Line stations, none of these cookie-cutter stations are landmarks or places of interest. They are much closer to the tubular steel frame stations on the original Expo Line, and unfortunately, this represents a step backwards for Vancouver commuters.

The Canada Line stations are small grey concrete boxes with low ceilings, no ornamentation or public art, and the interiors feel very cold and sterile due to the blue, white, and grey tiles. They are uncomfortable and inhospitable places if you need to wait for a ride from a friend or a connecting bus. Some benches, public art, landscaping, and shelter from inclement weather would certainly help.

The Yaletown-Roundhouse station is a vivid example of broader architectural failings repeated along the length of the Canada Line. Situated in what was once a very attractive and welcoming little square at Mainland and Davie, the station snubs the red brick, black iron, and wood beams of Yaletown in favour of grey un-textured concrete and glass. No architectural concessions are made to the trains and loading docks of Yaletown’s railway past or even the adjacent Roundhouse Community Centre for which it is named.

The Canada Line is Vancouver’s shiny new train set, and we should celebrate this $1.9 billion investment in Vancouver’s future. But when you first set foot in its terminus at Waterfront Station, it is more than a little sobering to realize that the quality of the space and amenities provided by the CPR to the traveling public 99 years ago still exceeds what we are willing to provide today.

James Fletcher is the editor of the Think City Minute.

Just as it is expensive to

Just as it is expensive to lengthen Expo Line platforms, so too will it be expensive to lengthen Canada Line platforms. but there will be opportunities to make some changes and they really should have created more pedestrian connectivity. I wish all the people whinging about the capacity would just give it a rest.

I have to agree on the

I have to agree on the short-sighted thinking on the length of the platforms and the lack of connectivity at Vancouver Centre from the old line to the new. Build it and they will come - the new line is already being used heavily - thanks to redirection of many bus routes to the new line and discontinuation of the 98B line route. It will become another sardine can like the Expo Line skytrain within a short time frame and especially during the Olympics. I at first blamed Translink for building for yesterday, not today; however was informed by someone working at Translink they weren't at the table. The provincial govt and head of the P3 construction are to blame. It is a sad waste of tax dollars and public/business inconvenience when the time and dollars spent to create this valuable system are wasted by not ensuring such a huge infrastructure undertaking is not build to anticipate future for the Greater Vancouver region's growth.


two significant failings - the lack of immediate and direct connection between Canada Line and Expo Line at Waterfront (makes the connection between Expo Line and Millennium Line relatively easy and short) and the shortness of platforms - history repeats itself - the short platforms on Expo Line now significantly restrict its utility as in time so too will the shortness of platforms on the Canada Line. Just as it is expensive to lengthen Expo Line platforms, so too will it be expensive to lengthen Canada Line platforms. It is the same mentality that, in the 1930's, rejected the opportunity for a four lane Lions Gate bridge (Guinness would have built a four lane bridge if Vancouver and/or BC paid for the fourth lane). once again, false economies! cents saved now will mean dollars having to be spent later. How is it that Edmonton can have underground stations that are spacious and attractive with multiple accesses but Vancouver cannot?

Lack of public art

I couldn't help but chuckle at the writer's comment "small grey concrete boxes with low ceilings, no ornamentation or public art." Did he expect anything else from this government? Their recent cuts to arts funding make it painfully obvious how little value they place on art.

canada line-it works

I understand the criticism being leveled at the stations , but there will be opportunities to make some changes and they really should have created more pedestrian connectivity. Nevertheless, I have been told that the canada line is an excellent form of north-south connectivity that is very important for the sustainable growth of the lower mainland. thank you funders!

Let's get a grip, people.

I wish all the people whinging about the capacity would just give it a rest. Yes, it presently seems to be under capacity. And yes, that means they underestimated the early passenger numbers. The ridership estimates that the design was based on were produced by educated professionals. If the professionals missed their mark, we can be upset about that. But let's try to retain a loose grasp on reality. The line was built for an ultimate capacity of well over twice the peak ridership forecast for 2040. In doing so, Translink HAS tried to plan 50 to 75 years into the future. As for the drab stations and limited exits, I'm sure everyone complaining about them spent most of 2005 arguing that the government wasn't spending enough money on this project. Get over it, people. It works. It will serve us for 50-75 years. And yes, we can add some more exits. If you would just care to give Translink your credit card number, I'm sure they'll get right on that.

Station Architects

The architects for the Canada Line stations: http://www.joconl.com/article/20060814300 Most of these are architects that do good work in the city. Many of them also designed the Millennium Line stations, which most people agree create interesting, high-quality landmarks. An exception is the two stations just east of the YVR Terminal station. These two stations were built by the airport authority.

Cutting Corners...

It is so rare to get the political will and funding for such a huge project. Unfortunate that so much had to be cut out, because it has resulted in a much reduced return on investment.

I was shocked to see the small size of the underground platforms. How are they going to handle the number of passengers needing to move in and out? People here are not used to being as cramped as the regular riders of the london underground... Good luck managing your luggage in these crowded stations!

In general, I would say that recent local development (private and public) has tended to be architecturally eye-pleasing. I have to agree that these are rather industrial and drab.

The lack of convenient access points to the underground is also surprising, but if the entrances were to be as bland as the existing ones, perhaps minimizing their exposure on the surface was okay.

We had an opportunity to use this shiny new development as a means to encourage more interest in public transit -- to showcase it as a comfortable and convenient alternative. In this regard, I think these stations do not live up to their potential value as assets, and could become liabilities as early as the Olympics.

The stations

I agree with both the comments about multiple access points and the lack of commercial space in more of the stations. I live near the Cambie & King Ed Station (on the NW corner), and I see people come out of the station, then have to cross King Ed southward and then Cambie eastward to get to the bus stop to go east along King Ed. I'm sure some of these people watch the King Ed bus go by as they wait to cross the street! Also, Cambie is wide and with King Ed having construction between Cambie & Knight at the current time, cars are constantly turning right from King Ed onto Cambie to get to either 33rd or 41st, and I've seen a few pedestrians have to jump back on the curb to avoid a turning car. The lot where the station is now at King Ed & Cambie used to have a strip mall with a convenience store, a Japanese restaurant, a Vietnamese restaurant, plus one or two other businesses that varied over the years. Now there is nothing. This lot was zoned commercial to start with - why didn't they put commercial space there above the station and help revive that corner?


think these people who run this line need to take it for a couple of weeks and see how people who use to ride the bus in and could sit and read their morning paper if they so wished were squeezed together like sardines in a can or as one put it like a box of crayons,now this mind you is only the beginning wait till thousand and thousand of people are here for the olympics using it to get around or coming and going to the airport,tell me what happens to the locals that need to ride to get to work.

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