Werner's blog: The strong case for extending SkyTrain to UBC
This week, UBC launched a campaign to extend SkyTrain all the way to its campus. The current "Phase I" of the SkyTrain extension from Commercial Drive to Arbutus Street has approved funding from all three levels of government, but the UBC extension (Phase II) is only an item on the wish list for future projects.
Phase I will provide six underground stations along a 5.7km route, but once passengers arrive at Arbutus street they will have to transfer to 99 B-line buses. These buses will be at capacity on opening day, and the Arbutus hub will become a bottleneck for traffic because of the numerous buses that need to turn around there. There are estimates that the 99 B-line is in fact so overextended today that every year about half a million passengers are passed by because the buses are too full.
Extending SkyTrain all the way to UBC—8.6km of track—makes good economic sense. The $3.3-3.8 billion investment will pay off in multiple ways right from the start, and the benefits will bring long-term economic growth and urban development.
First, the SkyTrain (Phase II) extension from Arbutus to UBC would benefit passengers immediately by reducing commuting times. Compared to the current travel times, a subway route all the way to UBC would shave about 19 minutes off the time of transit when traveling from Downtown, and about 17-22 minutes from other important locations such as Vancouver General Hospital or YVR Airport. Students will be able to get to class faster. Researchers will be able to commute to meet fellow researchers more quickly at SFU, VGH, or St. Paul's. Everyone will be able to get to YVR faster.
Second, building SkyTrain along the Broadway corridor all the way to UBC—and to the new Wesbrook Village at UBC—will provide for new opportunities for densification and much-needed new housing. More rapid transit also advances economic development elsewhere and contributing to economic growth in the Metro Vancouver region. Importantly, benefits do not just accrue to the immediate users of transit, but to the region overall. There are substantial spillover effects, such as supporting clusters of agglomeration and increasing productivity through greater accessibility of businesses.
Third, a fully-extended SkyTrain line will reduce traffic congestion along a number of parallel arteries such as Broadway, Southwest Marine Drive, or 41st Avenue leading to UBC. To be clear, rapid transit is no panacea for road congestion. The fundamental law of road congestion has it that roads fill up to capacity, but empirical research also shows that traffic congestion is relieved on routes parallel to rapid transit, as research from Michael L. Anderson shows. To relieve road congestion broadly, Vancouver needs to consider a form of congestion pricing as envisioned in the final report of the Mayors Commission (Metro Vancouver Mobility Pricing Study). As commuting demand is expected to grow, it is crucial that the additional demand is satisfied by clean modes of transportation. While rapid transit won't reduce traffic congestion overall (except on parallel routes), it will however keep a lid on growth in traffic volume as our cities grow.
UBC is keen to involve itself in the SkyTrain extension and has offered to make financial contributions to the project. UBC will be able to contribute land for the stations, collect development charges for new housing on campus, and inject funds in a similar fashion as YVR airport provided during the construction of the Canada Line. As we are heading into a federal election in 2019, I encourage Vancouverites and UBC residents to advance the case of extending SkyTrain to UBC. Talk to your federal MP, provincial MLA, and city councillors and help make the case! Vancouver's Mayor Kennedy Stewart is already on board, and so is UBC's president Santa Ono, who has made the SkyTrain extension a top priority for our university.
A SkyTrain running from UBC's Wesbrook Village to Commercial Drive is an investment into the future prosperity of our region. If funding is approved before the end of 2021, construction can proceed seamlessly all the way to UBC in time for a full opening before the end of 2028. It's doable if the political stars align.