As we have emerged from the pandemic in recent weeks, it has become obvious that traffic on the North Shore is back to where it was – sometimes even worse due to transit hesitancy and growing leisure travel. While rapid transit is paramount to reducing gridlock and solving our connectivity issues with the rest of Metro Vancouver, there are other interventions that could incrementally improve travel across the North Shore, to our mountain attractions and regionally.
I have written in the past about the fact that the North Shore has an excellent east-west corridor that is ready for rapid transit today. My research team found 353 mid- and high-rise buildings along a corridor (400m radius) between Ambleside, Phibbs and Metrotown (of which 221 were on the North Shore). This compared with only 68 between Arbutus-UBC and 35 between Surrey-Langley – corridors supported by governments for $11 billion of elevated SkyTrain/subway. These figures back our previous findings indicating recent population and employment of around 225,000 between Ambleside-Metrotown, half of which is located on the North Shore segment (compared to 93,000 between Arbutus-UBC and 79,000 between Surrey-Langley). These figures don’t even consider leisure trips to the North Shore mountains potentially diverted to transit, thus reducing car use and parking demand.
The competing corridors have secured massive funding despite inferior development conditions, with costs greatly exceeding a West Van-Metrotown surface light rail line (with strategic elevated sections & driver-controlled signals to maintain efficiency). North Shore rapid transit must be a priority now! If we are to experience real congestion relief by 2030, it is critical that the North Shore’s leadership unify today around a bold, but cost-effective solution that would have a major impact on our connectivity to the entire region, by linking us to 2 SkyTrain lines, 2 RapidBus lines, the West Coast Express (new PNE station) and major hubs like Brentwood, BCIT-Casino and Metrotown. This line enhances the North Shore’s image, supporting sustainable growth that easily connects new homes, jobs, shops and amenities, without needing a car.
While most future growth should occur within a short walk of rapid transit, the expansion of car share and bike share programs, strategic bike lanes and the re-orientation of bus routes would help to support ‘last mile’ journeys between new rail stations and final destinations. New passenger ferries, smaller than the SeaBus, could open routes between Harbourside, Stanley Park and Coal Harbour, as well as Ambleside to Kitsilano, Coal Harbour and Lonsdale, or even Lonsdale to Maplewood, Deep Cove and Belcarra on weekends during warmer months. Ferries are a low-cost investment that can be impactful, exemplified by Sydney, Australia’s vast network. Medium cost interventions with significant emissions and traffic reduction impacts might include gondolas up Cypress and Seymour mountains (with express bus connections to stations), and permanent BC Ferries-operated passenger-only ferries to the Sunshine Coast and Nanaimo, that would reduce the need for car travel to Horseshoe Bay.
Finally, the upgrade of the Sea-to-Sky rail corridor to support 100 km/h passenger rail service to Horseshoe Bay, Squamish and Whistler would transform regional leisure travel and support sustainable growth. While costly high-speed rail cannot be justified financially, relatively modest alignment upgrades would support a reliable 50 minute ride to Squamish and 90 minutes to Whistler, making the train an attractive alternative to driving for locals and tourists.
The North Shore is at a tipping point in terms of sustainability, livability and economic competitiveness. We need to make bold transit investments now, connecting our growing neighbourhoods with the places that people need to go in the region. As we know, the alternative is gridlock. I can’t live with that!
Stephan Nieweler is a doctoral researcher & instructor in geography/planning at Simon Fraser University.