Vancouver's Streetcars on Their Way

It appears Bombardier has shipped the two "Flexity" streetcars to Vancouver, and the local news release brought the local media's attention to the new line once again. The right of way has been rebuilt over the last year, and looks complete (the above photo was taken a few weeks ago). It was great to see Frances Bula's posting on the subject draw a significant amount of discussion.

The comments became a bit of a number-crunching battle over cost-per-km of varying systems, so I'll post some of the more interesting links below. The ridiculous preference of local politicians for SkyTrain was also discussed again, which is certainly a valid discussion.

As for the tram line itself, it will be great to see it here, even if only for a short period of time. Hopefully, as a local demonstration of train technology different from SkyTrain, it will have some impact and show Vancouverites there is another option out there - one that many other cities around the world have been either building or rebuilding.

Vancouver was built along streetcar lines, and did away with them only in the mid-1950s. A study by UBC prof. Patrick Condon showed that, for the same price as the proposed UBC SkyTrain extension, the entire network of streetcars could be rebuilt, and even expanded upon. I posted previously on his later, and similar study, released in March 2009, suggesting a streetcar network could be built throughout the South Fraser area for the same price as the Port Mann replacement project.

Trams are not the answer for all transit routes, but can serve routes with high ridership very well, in fact-better, and cheaper than buses. Many of the problems inherent with track-based transit can be overcome by laying the track in dedicated guideways, which can be beautifully combined with separated bike routes.

If Vancouver is really going to move away from the car, then I believe it has to move towards dedicating space on the roads to cyclists and LRT. It might not be built for the low rates suggested by Condon and others, but it should still be given serious thought - especially when the Boradway Skytrain expansion just seems to be assumed as 'a done deal'. Hopefully, the demonstration line will not just provide the facade of thoughtful and practical transit planning in our region for Olympic visitors, but also ignite some ideas in the locals.

Here are my previous posts on the olympic streetcar, and below some of the interesting links provided in the discussion found on Frances Bula's blog:

A very good, cool analysis of actual tram costs on Voony's blog.

maps and more maps of the old streetcar and Interurban routes!

a railforthevalley post on modern track-laying strategies for light rail.

>> Image by J_B.