Transportation Plan

The Broadway Subway

This policy offers a solution to Vancouver rental housing & transportation, and traffic congestion problem, but the outgoing Council did not want to consider it, would you?

To resolve the congestion along the Broadway corridor, the outgoing City Council was determined to build the Broadway Subway, prior to economic feasibility studies or public hearings of residents along the Broadway corridor.

Although it is too expensive, the Broadway Subway project is fundamentally flawed because it did not address the underlying cause for traffic congestion along the Broadway corridor. In addition to the passengers living/working along Broadway, Translink has to transport about 50,000 students every day to and from UBC. Today, Translink makes more than 100,000 passenger trips a day along Broadway. The problem will become more complicated in the coming years because UBC will continue to grow, and residents around Broadway corridor will multiply due to rezoning and densification.

Therefore, after spending $5 billion and disturbing the Broadway corridor businesses for 6-7 years, the traffic congestion problem would be much worse than it is today. The new Sky train would be packed in worse than it is today on Bus line 99.

As a city councilor, I would demand the City Council explore housing UBC students on Vancouver campus in collaboration with UBC and the BC Government because every student housed on campus saves the city a low-rent housing unit and saves Translink 400 passenger trips per year.

More details about this project

What causes congestion along the Broadway Corridor?

All universities in North America accommodate their students, faculty, and staff on campus or at the area around which offers privately owned affordable rental housing.

In the past 25 years, UBC has misused its public land by building luxury houses unaffordable for its students to rent or own. As a result, students have to live far away from campus to find affordable rental apartments in Vancouver. The large increase in the number of UBC students and immigrants to Vancouver in the past 10 years decreased the inventory of rental housing to less than 0.6% and significantly increased traffic congestion.
Today, UBC has more than 56,000 students most of whom live in Vancouver. Due to the significant increase in the population in Vancouver, Translink reached its capacity to transport students and residents along Broadway. It currently provides more than 100,000 trip passengers a day, with a bus every one to four minutes at peak hours.

The solution offered by the outgoing City Council

To justify the Broadway subway, the Council claimed that the subway would cut traffic congestion, improve commute times, and it is the single best step Vancouver can take to grow our economy and protect our environment.

Indeed, the Broadway subway will not cut traffic congestion. On the contrary, by the time it is completed and operated, it would be more congested than we have right now because of intended densification of the Broadway corridor and the growth of UBC.

  • The project would ruin the lives of thousands of residents on and around Broadway corridor and complicate the housing crisis.
  • The project is extremely expensive for the city to build while the city is struggling with the housing crisis.
  • It would not offer enough economic benefit in return for spending $5 billion.
  • It falls short of providing the purpose of building it because it ends at Arbutus rather than UBC campus. Translink still has to transport students for another 6.3 kilometers.
  • It will complicate the housing problem in Vancouver and make living in Vancouver more costly for working people and seniors who live along the Broadway corridor.
  • Upon approval of this project, prices of real estate around the corridor have skyrocketed because of speculation. However, the target area happened to have a large number of low-rent-low-rises.
  • The rezoning of that area will lead to demo-eviction of a large number of low-rent units. The tenants are seniors and low-income workers who would become homeless.
  • The low-rises would become a target for speculators and overseas foreign investment and the prices of housing in Vancouver would continue to skyrocket.
  • It would hurt single-family homeowners on the Broadway corridor because of accelerated rezoning to introduce higher density housing.
  • The subway will be completed in 2024-2025 and by the time it is completed and operated, the new train would not be able to solve the traffic congestion generated by densification and rising number of UBC students.
  • Increase the cost of living in that area especially where affordability of housing and the cost of living has been beyond the capacity of its residents.
  • It will increase air pollution due to new private vehicles introduced into the corridor by new residents and around the Broadway corridor.
  • The streets around the corridor are too narrow to carry traffic from new high-rises to be built.
  • The project will take more than seven years to complete and will disturb the lives of the residents and businesses on Broadway Street.

Discussion of the congestion problem

The Mayor of Vancouver, his council, and Translink Board of directors did not look at the big picture to understand the root cause of the problem, the impact of this plan on affordable rental inventory, or the devastating impact on the residents of that area who live in low-rental properties (low-rises). They saw the congestion along Broadway as a transportation problem that needs to be solved by “examining a range of rapid transit technology and alternatives to serve the study area which extends from UBC in the west of Broadway and Commercial, where the Expo and Millennium Sky Train Lines meet, the east, generally via 10th Avenue and Broadway.” (1)

To solve the traffic congestion problem, there are two approaches. The first approach was to proceed with building Broadway subway. In 2015, the estimated Broadway subway cost was $1.98 billion. The cost was increased in 2018 to $2.83 billion and, as usual with government projects, by the time it is completed, it would cost $5 billion.

Translink Board of Directors, without meaningful consultation with Vancouver residents, planned to spend $3 billion to increase Translink capacity to address the traffic congestion along Broadway Corridor. However, it is easy to prove that by the completion of this project, neither the housing nor the congestion problem along the corridor would be solved. Indeed the problem will be exacerbated because of the rezoning of the surrounding area along Broadway to have high-density housing.

Would that costly project solve the congestion problem along the Broadway corridor?

The answer is NO. By the time the project is completed and the new system is in operation, the congestion will be even worse.

So, what is the solution?

If we could find a way to accommodate UBC students on campus instead of using rental housing in Vancouver, it would be a win-win for all of us. You increase the inventory of rental properties in Vancouver, resolve the traffic congestion on the Broadway corridor, and generate income for the City of Vancouver to build more affordable housing at no cost to the taxpayers. In addition, UBC will have a continuous monthly flow of income and their students will save the time wasted daily to travel to and from campus.

In 2013, I proposed a solution to solve the transportation and the housing problem at the same price as the Broadway subway. But since the Broadway subway has been approved today, I am presenting the following for informing the voters that we need to verify what politicians tell us.

The city could use two-thirds of the money allocated to build the Broadway subway to build accommodations for students in partnership with UBC. The money will go a long way since the land would be free. The cost of building accommodation for a student on UBC campus would be less than 10% of the cost of building a similar unit in Vancouver. The project of building students’ accommodations on campus would be the most effective way to resolve both the lack of rental housing in Vancouver and the traffic congestion problem the city created by ignoring the problem of housing UBC students for so long. Constructing student housing on campus would take less than one year to relieve the housing crisis in Vancouver.

Every student accommodated in the new buildings on campus would free a rental unit for the residents of Vancouver, and save Translink a round trip from Vancouver to UBC.

The remaining one-third of the money would be used to buy electric streetcars. In this way, this project would solve the traffic congestion along Broadway, and increase the inventory of rental housing without the use of taxpayers’ money. In addition, the City would use its share of the monthly revenue from the new rental property to build co-ops and social housing.

Benefits of building student housing on UBC campus

This solution would have solved both the traffic congestion and provided an immediate solution to the critically low rental inventory in Vancouver.

  • It takes less than a year to see its benefits for the City.
  • The City can use revenues from this project to build social and co-op housing at no cost to the taxpayers.
  • It will slow down the change in Vancouver, which has had so much change in so little time that disturbed the balance cities need to grow.
  • This solution is good for the environment because there would be much lower air emissions from transportation of UBC students from around Metro Vancouver, and would minimize the carbon footprint of UBC.

Evidently, the argument is in favor of building electric cars, which the city was determined not to even consider. It is insane to spend such huge amounts of money on this subway project while with minimal research one could prove that it would fail to solve the traffic congestion problem and complicate the housing crisis. It also falls short of providing the purpose of building it because it ends at Arbutus rather than UBC campus. Translink still needs to transport students for another 6.3 kilometers.


N.B. I have published a summary of this discussion in Georgia Straight on June 13, 2013

  1. Hamdy El-Rayes, June 13, 2013, UBC dorms a less costly alternative to SkyTrain.
  2. A proposal with this project was presented to Gregor Robertson, the liberal Minister of housing and later on to the NDP Minister of Housing in the Horgan government.
  3. Christopher Cheung, 30 Apr 2018 |, Big Price Spikes for Broadway Subway, Surrey Light Rail

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