NEWS: 2010 Games Wins Transit Gold

By Think City Staff

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are still the talk of the town. But many of the most important discussions will be on transportation and the lessons learned.

TransLink, the City of Vancouver and the Olympic organizers had set a goal of a 30 per cent reduction of car journeys into downtown Vancouver – and this was achieved. This was made possible by big increases in all modes of non-car transport – walking, cycling, bus, SkyTrain, SeaBus, and West Coast Express, all helped by the unusually dry and mild weather.

There were significant improvements in transit service with longer operating hours, an extra 3rd SeaBus, a mix of longer and more trains on the SkyTrain, West Coast Express and Canada Line and 180 extra buses. $1 million a day was pumped into transit for the Olympics.

The stats for car-free travel include:

  • Bus journeys up 34 erp cent to 975,000/day
  • SeaBus use up 200 per cent to 48,000/day with a peak of 60,000 in one day
  • West Coast Express journeys up 78 per cent from February 2009
  • SkyTrain use up 54 per cent to 370,000/day with a record peak of 488,000
  • The Canada Line averaged over 207,000/day, more than double January's level, with a peak of 280,000
  • An average of more than 1.6 million people a day used bus, SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express

The experimental streetcar line from the Olympic village station on the Canada Line to Granville Island attracted over 20,000 trips per day, peaking at 25,000.

Bicycle ridership was up to the normal levels of the summer, with a daily average of 5,000 cyclists riding to and from downtown Vancouver. Over 10,000 pedestrians a day walked over the False Creek Bridges into the downtown.

An important part of the success of the Olympics was the large, enthusiastic crowds who filled the downtown to mingle and celebrate on the reclaimed streets.

For people of Vancouver this was an amazing performance, up there with Canada's 14 Olympic gold medals. It gives an indication of what can be done to increase transit use, walking and bicycling.

What can be done to build on this shift in how people get around? The Olympic service level required resources - buses, trains, boats and staff - all of which cost money. Even with the extra resources there were pressures on the system with long waits of up to 90 minutes on the SeaBus, Skytrain waits sometimes over 30 minutes and the Canada Line was operating virtually at capacity.

The extra money is no longer available so service is back to normal. The 3rd SeaBus is not sailing, the extra 180 buses are not in service and the extra trains on the Canada Line, SkyTrain and West Coast Express have disappeared. The Olympic Line streetcar will also soon stop operating. Given that the services are back to old levels, it is likely most people will return to their old travel patterns.

To sustain the shift seen during the Olympics requires investment - the heavy lifting was done by public transit moving 1.6 million people a day. If Vancouver is to achieve its ambition of being β€˜The Greenest City' then local, provincial and federal governments need to invest in our transportation network.

This investment needs to be integrated and planned for the long-term. It should avoid the shortsighted approach shown in the building of the Canada Line which only connects to the rest of the SkyTrain system at Waterfront Station – why not also at Granville Street? The station platforms are too short to allow longer trains on this line, which presumably was done to save the P3 consortium some money. Given the expenditure of over $2 billion, the extra cost of the longer platforms would have been a wise investment for the long-term.

Vancouver has the aim that in 10 years the majority of trips will be on foot, bicycle, and public transit. This will require major investment, as currently 63 per cent of journeys are by car, but unfortunately the city has little control over this. All it can do is lobby for transportation investments by regional, provincial and federal agencies. Unfortunately, the silence of Vancouver's mayor and council during the debate on the TransLink budget last fall showed a disappointing lack of leadership.

The city can act on road allocation, and achieve its goal of less than 50% of journeys by car a re-allocation of road space is needed. The creation of safe bicycle lanes on the Burrard Street Bridge and the Dunsmuir viaduct (which connects with the Adanac route) are welcome first steps. These routes, which are the most popular into the downtown, need to be connected so that there is a series of bike routes through the downtown that are separated from car traffic.

Outside the downtown the network of bicycle routes also needs to be improved and extended. While cycling is increasing there are still serious safety issues whenever cyclists have to share space with cars. The recent accident involving Councillor Geoff Meggs (Think City wishes him a speedy recovery), an experienced cyclist, shows the need to create more protected routes. The city can move faster to create separated bike lanes on some of the busier routes outside of the downtown.

The city can also re-order street priorities to create bus-only express lanes with traffic lights set to change whenever a bus approaches so they don't get delayed in traffic.

The celebrations downtown demonstrated the opportunities for more public space and pedestrian only streets. In most European cities pedestrian streets are common - and Vancouver could do with several. On major routes that are not made pedestrian only, the sidewalks could be widened.

Traffic speeds could be reduced by enforcing the existing 50 kph speed limit, with residential streets having a lower limit.

The city can take steps that will support reduced car use. However, it is up to citizens to build the political pressure on governments to make needed investments in sustainable transportation.

The olympic line streetcar

The olympic line streetcar has certainly proved itself to be a great way of moving through Vancouver in a very nice and smooth pass. Definitely cheaper than the skytrains!

Meggs' accident demonstrates

Meggs' accident demonstrates nothing special. These types of accidents happen all the time, and it shouldn't take one with a city councillor to cause action on the government's part.

Where's the Gold?

This is a topic we shouldn't allow to fade away. Streetcars could make Vancouver a very liveable, sustainable city. But in order for such a solution to be applied, we need to find a new way of looking at financing. Since city streets effectively subsidize the use of private and commercial vehicles, there is no reason why the cost of road rebuilding and repair shouldn't include the installation of roadbed and rails in major arteries. Having the rails in place would in no way impair the use of the road, and if done whenever roads are replaced, would avoid a repetition of the Cambie Street fiasco. While the Bombardier Flexity is the obvious choice for a standard fleet streetcar, there is something to be said for low-tech approaches as complementary projects anticipating a larger system. Small self contained systems--neighbourhood streetcars--would be one way of developing a system in affordible steps. For example, Gomaco Corp. {yes, the people who build road-building equipment} will recondition a 1928 vintage European Peter Witt streetcar for about $600,000 or build a replica for between $800,000 and $1.2 million a copy. Either way, maintenence is low, power consumption roughly that of a trolley bus and what you end up with is a vehicle that is reliable, efficient and has lots of character. A neighbourhood streetcar could serve the West End, Commercial Drive or Main St. very well, and would allow the trolley buses to run express through some of the busier sections while the streetcar handled the local traffic. Rather than compete with existing transit, it would make it more effective. This obviously begs the question of free local transit, which could greatly benefit local businesses and encourage the use of community centres and other local amenities. However it is done, the return of light rail to Vancouver's streets is an issue that will require fresh thinking and politicians willing to think outside the box.


I rode the Olympic Line streetcar and I have to say that it was smoother and quieter than Skytrain. It proves that low-tech solutions can often work better.

Contradiction: city priorities, provincial funding

As long as transportation funding is directed by Victoria, it will never favor transit over cars. How often have we heard the provincial cry, "Why should the people of Prince George pay for Vancouver streetcars, buses or subways?" There will have to be fundamental political shift for the whole province and the federal government as well to see it is in everyone's interest to reduce automobile use and increase livability in major cities. Short of that, we need a municipal corporate and income tax to raise the funds necessary to build and maintain a truly livable Vancouver.

NEWS: 2010 Games Wins Transit Gold

The success of moving a lot of people during the Winter Olympics is not just because of the increase in public transport services. It is also because a lot of locals had left town and a lot of downtwon workers worked from home during the Olypmics. People also were well warned of road closure and limited parking spaces, so they had avoided these areas. For only a month's time of inconvenience, people would put up with it and used public transports. Also a lot of the people who used the public transports were visitors to the Olympics events. City cannot use the Olympics' one-off situation as reference for planning the future public transport system and infrastruction. "Don't count the wrong chickens". Comment to: "Vancouver has the aim that in 10 years the majority of trips will be on foot, bicycle, and public transit." - People who live out of Vancouver will not walk or bicycle to downtown to work everyday. The only way to decrease car journeys is to build good links to suburb cities e.g. Burnaby, Coquitlam, Langley, Surrey, etc. and park-&-ride lots next to transit stations.

Olympic line demonstration streetcar

Having experienced the smooth and efficient Bombardier Flexity streetcar on the demonstration line between the Olympic Village and Granville Island, I think that this sort of streetcar will be an admirable and cheaper alternative to the elevated Skytrains for transporting passengers. The streetcars, however, should be separated from street traffic whenever possible, which means exclusive rights-of-way. West 16th Avenue could accommodate such a right-of-way and other possible East-West routes deserve investigation. We do need attractive, high capacity transit links within Vancouver on an East-West axis. The B-Line buses are not enough.

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