A Streetcar for Vancouver? You make the call!

Olympic Village Station

Imagine zipping all the way from Canada Place, through Gastown and Chinatown, past Science World and onto Olympic Village and Granville Island on a brand-new, eco-friendly streetcar.

The proposal for a streetcar system in the city has surfaced once again in the latest mayoral election.  And while the $100-million price tag may make the project unrealistic at the moment, it’s definitely an intriguing idea.

What do you think?  Would Vancouver benefit from a streetcar system?  Please share your thoughts below.


Of course, the streetcar plan is hardly a new one.  Vancouver had an extensive system of streetcars until the 1950s, when the network was dismantled to make way for more cars and buses.  And during the 2010 Olympics, a short section of streetcar track between the Olympic Village Canada Line station and Granville Island was put back into use.

There’s not a lot of concrete information about the current calls for a streetcar, which seem to be in a very preliminary stage.  I did some hunting and found a previous plan on the City of Vancouver website, which seems to have been shelved for the moment.

As you can see, the plan calls for the development of a streetcar in distinct phases.  Phase 1 would connect Granville Island with Waterfront Station, running 5 kilometers through Southeast False Creek, Chinatown and Gastown.  Future phases would extend the track from Waterfront Station into Stanley Park and also include a branch along Pacific Boulevard into Yaletown.

As someone who does a lot of walking around the city, I can see the potential benefits of a streetcar.  Right now, it’s relatively easy to move north-south in the city on transit, especially with the Canada Line.   But moving east-west and accessing certain neighbourhoods like Gastown and Chinatown can be a bit more challenging on mass transit (but certainly not impossible).

On the other hand, there is a hefty price tag associated with a streetcar system, and it seems like there are plenty of other infrastructure demands on the city’s plate right now.

What do you think?  Would a revived streetcar system be good for Vancouver?  Please share your thoughts below.

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20 Responses to A Streetcar for Vancouver? You make the call!

  1. John

    Its sounds very good on paper. who and hell going to pay for this. Portland has very good street car system and lot of this was paid by the Federal Govt.looks like this may end. John

  2. Sharon

    Love love love the idea! If we want to be a world-class city, this is the kind of thing we need…

  3. Henry

    I think we just need the stretch we had during the olympic, that is from Olympic village to Granville island

  4. Dave

    I don’t think it is necessary. We can get around just fine downtown with the current system.

  5. Feen

    It’s about time! It’s cheaper than the skytrain and it’ll ease traffic/move people around.

  6. Graham

    I think the streetcar system is a fantastic idea for Vancouver and should be implemented sooner than later. Ultimately the line can and should be extended around the West End along Denman and Davie Streets which would allow for the elimination of buses in the West End. This would make perfect sense over the long run. I’ll certainly support this.

  7. Emily’s Dad

    This is not public transit. This is a showpiece for tourists. If the NPA was serious about public transit they would support mass transit to UBC and to the Tri-Cities. Would Susan Anton support an increase to our gasoline tax to pay for this? Its a good question to ask yourself before the 19th of November.

    • Sharon

      It is good to look at the big picture. Tourism is a big part of Vancouver’s economy. No one said the proposed streetcars would replace the need for public transportation to UBC and Tri-Cities.

  8. Francisco V.

    Great idea, I couldn’t understand when after ready they removed the street car from the Olympic Village to Granville Island. Its about time. This is a much more useful project then some stupid investments this government makes all the time.

  9. Tiana

    I think that is a great idea because that shortens peoples trips, to have to get on and off buses and then have to wait. I’ve always liked streetcars but have never been on one. I hope it works out, because it would really be better in the long run.

  10. Ruth

    It would be wonderful. And we can be tourists in our own city, so I’m fine with that. Fantastic for kids too. Incidentally could you please, please, please help to promote the vintage streetcar that is currently running on weekends and holidays between Olympic Village and Granville Island (though only until Thanksgiving so it might be better to do a splash on it next summer) – it’s FABULOUS and very under-promoted.

    • Ruth – Thank you for commenting about the vintage street car between Granville Island and Olympic Village. I didn’t realize this was up and running. I’ll do some research and see about blogging about it.

  11. Nancy Botwin

    Linking the two skytrains together with a streetcar is a no-brainer.

  12. Dave

    If we can blow over 800 mil on a new roof for BC Place, what is the big deal about spending 100 mil on a new streetcar system?

  13. Paul

    As a somewhat regular tourist who arrives by train the only thing I would add is running it out to Vanier park.

  14. Streetcar systems were ubiquitous at the turn of the last century and are uniquely suited to serve all the high-density development underway in downtowns throughout North America.

    Public transit transformed daily life for the majority of Vancouverites in the late 1890s. Population growth followed the direction of streetcar lines, creating communities that remain today. Streetcar service enabled Vancouver’s exploding population to spread over a wide area and create suburbs.

    The age of the automobile brought that to an end decisively at the end of World War II. Highways and freeways proliferated creating suburban sprawl.

    More than half a century later, we’ve learned that it’s impossible to build your way out of congestion. Increased awaress of global warming underscores the importance of enabling alternative clean transportation.

    Streetcars aren’t like light or heavy rail, designed to carry lots of people over long distances at high speeds (like Skytrain). The cars are smaller and the average speed is just 5 miles an hour. They’re not like buses – streetcars are easier to get in and out of, don’t lurch in and out of traffic, are less threatening to pedestrians; they’re quieter and don’t smell of exhaust.

    Streetcars are less expensive to build – about 1/3 of the per-mile cost of light rail. The permanence of the fixed-guideway system helps mitigate the risk and the higher densities and lower parking ratios typically permitted in downtowns make projects more profitable.

    If the high cost of providing parking drives development today, streetcars make it possible for developers to provide less parking and put their money into high-quality design, building materials, and community benefits like affordable housing and parks. Streetcars also enable residents to give up a car – freeing up a substantial amount of money for other household expenses.

    Streetcars are the missing link in the greater Vancouver transportation system. Throughout the region, existing rail corridors can be repurposed to accomodate streetcar development. The purpose of this group is to build awareness and critical mass to encourage a interuban streetcar Renaissance in the greater Vancouver Region.

    So, yes, absolutely Vancouver needs streetcars. The question is not if, but how and when.

    • Peter Finch

      The single biggest barrier to getting a streetcar in operation is perception. Fear of change and the unfortunate familiarity with the mega-projects associated with highways cause people to assume that re-introducing the streetcar will come at an extraordinarily high price.

      This isn’t necessarily so.

      Make no mistake, the $100 million project the NPA has been backing IS a good deal–a VERY good deal, but it isn’t the only possibility.

      The actual cost of laying a single track (and overhead wire) from Cambie St. to Science World is well under $5 million. This would render the former Olympic Line functional, providing service (every 15 minutes) on summer weekends using two historic interurban cars.

      But what about year-round service? For about $1.25 million per copy, two brand new streetcars could be built. These could be replicas (completely new, but made to look exactly like a 100 year old Vancouver streetcar) that would have the comfort and ambiance of an antique, yet all the conveniences and accessibility of modern designs.

      So far, I might have racked up a bill nudging $8 million. Is that unreasonable? Note that what I have proposed so far does not replace or preclude the features of the $100 million plan, but it does get us something useful and attractive that could be built inside of two years.

  15. Susan Wright

    I love it, the NPA seem to be on the ball with this one. Its that Klassen guy that scares me. http://www.michaelklassen.com/2007/08/why-not-funky-corporate-names-for-your-kid Just don’t want the new system named AC/DC.

  16. Esko

    Being from Berlin, Germany, the city with one of the most extensive streetcar networks in the world, I can only second these plans! Modern streetcars are the most comfortable and best way across city and if fiven special lanes, almost as fast as any other mean of transportation.

    Vancouver’s Downtown and suburbia could definitely do with few streetcar lines, connecting neighbourhoods into the Skytrain system. With more thorough rail system in Vancouver area, I’m sure more people would consider public transportation over car, which would bring some ease to the road traffic.

  17. more buses please

    The fact that the NPA are promising a $100 million streetcar system – with no way to pay for it – shows how out of touch they are. The same party that promised taxpayers that the Olympic Village wouldn’t cost them anything are now promising a $100 million streetcar for free? seriously?

    The broadway corridor is where major investment in transit is needed. B-lines are overcrowded and the stretch between Cambie and Arbutus has the second most jobs in BC next to downtown.

    We need a serious plan for transit in Vancouver, not a gimmicky tourist idea. Streetcars are great, but there are other priorities – ones that Suzanne Anton and the NPA seem to be oblivious too.

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