Vancouver Province column: Why don’t we hear more rumblings of desire for new streetcar systems?

Monday, July 07, 2008

With gas prices hovering at an all-time high and the B.C. carbon tax in full swing, more and more Lower Mainland drivers are looking to get rid of their car keys in favour of a transit pass.

But there’s just one catch: For many folks, public transport doesn’t yet go where they need it to.

Others are being scared off by the sight of commuters being packed into SkyTrain cars and trolley buses like canned sardines.

It’s clear that demand for mass transit has never been greater, but capacity is being stretched like never before.

So, given current transit limitations, it’s always good to hear of plans for greater service. One such addition in the works is the downtown Vancouver streetcar.

Plans for this green-friendly mode of transport have been around for what seems like forever. But with the Olympics a mere 20 months away, the push is on to make this people-mover a reality.

The initial phase of the network, set to use modern cars, will connect Granville Island to Science World on a three-kilometre stretch along the southern shore of False Creek. Eventually, it will go on to Chinatown and Gastown. Further extensions will see the streetcar reach into areas like Yaletown and Stanley Park.

According to Dale Bracewell, of the City of Vancouver, the plan is to have a demonstration line running in time for the 2010 Winter Games. Another source close to the project has alluded to the involvement of a major transportation company, such as Bombardier, known around these parts for having built the SkyTrain.

Whoever is involved, it’s high time the streetcar made a return to the West Coast.

This past spring, British Columbians were treated to previously unseen video footage taken by Seattle filmmaker William Harbeck, showing a downtown streetcar cruising around Vancouver in 1907.

Locals were astonished to see that getting around 100 years ago was seemingly faster and more efficient than in modern times.

In 2008, the streetcar makes even more sense than a century ago. So much so that other Lower Mainland communities would be wise to follow Vancouver’s lead in bringing it back. Both New Westminster and North Vancouver used to be streetcar cities, after all.

All this begs the question: Vancouver notwithstanding, why are other levels of government so slow to embrace this project?

Support for the line should be a no-brainer, given Vancouver’s transit crunch and traffic headaches. Instead, it’s still waiting for further funding, even while cities like Seattle have completed impressive new streetcar lines.

Last month, at a presentation hosted by SFU’s City Program, Toronto architecture critic Christopher Hume mused only half-jokingly that, without its own streetcar line, his city wouldn’t be worth living in.

Let’s hope folks on this side of the country one day have the luxury of saying the same thing.

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One comment

  1. Rumble, rumble, rumble.

    I’d love to see a streetcar system, but I don’t even know who’s decision it is to make. The unelected Translink board, the City of Vancouver, or the province? And who would be responsible for funding it? No one seems to have any money lying around for transit projects, and if they did the Evergreen line seems to be a higher priority. The province is bringing in an extra $1.4 billion from the carbon tax in the next 3 years, but none of that can legally be spent on transit – what a shame.

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