TTN: The Total Transit Network

One of the reasons to build a Regional Transit Nework is to solve transportation problems. The more important reason is to fix the ‘other’ problem—to access cheap land to build affordable houses thus crushing the housing crisis engulfing the region.

Update—October 2018: Douglas McCallum Back as Mayor in Surrey Complete with a Council Majority announces he will build Skytrain to Langley for the cost of LRT. Former Burnaby MP, Maratimer Kennedy Stewart is elected Mayor of Vancouver and announces a Skytrain Subway will be built to UBC.

The campaign promises of Surrey’s new Mayor don’t align with either the Transit Network or the Transit Pyramid  that informs it. Neither do the dreams of building a very expensive transit system to a university poised at far end of the Lower Mainland.

Modern Tram, not Skytrain, tops the Transit Pyramid delivering 3-times more capacity than Skytrain, at 12-times less cost of a UBC subway, or 6-times less cost than the Surrey-Langley Skytrain. Deploying the transit technologies featured in the Pyramid, the Total Transit Network runs on the surface where the gains accrue to the people in the neighborhoods rather than the tower developers.

Will the new Mayor of Surrey achieve greater gains for his community building 17.5 km of Skytrain or 105 km of Modern Tram for the same price? Will the new Mayor in Vancouver build a 12 km Broadway Subway or 144 km of Modern Tram instead? Will the Mayors focus their efforts exclusively on transit? Or will they also tackle the housing crisis?

The Total Transit Network plan (TTN—pictured at the top of the post) moves away from the ‘hub-and-spoke’ urbanism prescribed by the GVRDs regional plans. Vestiges remain of the CPR and CN hub-and-spoke networks centered on Coal Harbour (Skytrain, Canada Line, the Arbutus and BCER corridors).

However, to the north, east and south the routes display different characteristics taking on the qualities of a fine-grain distribution of both population and transit. Meanwhile, the regional plans and strategies calling for building Regional Centres by adding transit and adding density have proven successful in achieving two unwanted results:

1 | Increasing congestion in the suburban centers

2 | Lifting the price of land and triggering the Housing Crisis.

Mayor McCallum’s contention that Modern Tram is not as fast as Skytrain does not compute. The Mayor fails to take into account platform access times. Passengers spend ten minutes walking from the sidewalk to access and alight from Skytrain platforms. That time should be included in the transit trip.  Riding Modern Tram fo 10 minutes would put passengers halfway to Langley.

If he is overlooking such a simple detail one wonders where his gaze is really focussed.

A similar problem is visible in Vancouver. A new mayor representing a neighboring suburb in Ottawa as a Member of Parliament, born, raised and educated on the East Coast, is today promoting more towers-and-subways for Vancouver. Yet, he has not a whit to say about how he will beat the housing crisis engulfing the territory he has chosen to make his new home.

Stark differences separate the skytrain-and-towers sought by the man who formerly occupied the office of Mayor for nine years starting in 1996 and the human scale urbanism supported by the Transit Network pictured above.

To pay for the skytrain governments must giveaway ten times more density to the developers of the towers. Both the skytrain and the towers are mega-projects lifting the price of land. Besides spiking this runaway housing crisis, skytrain-and-towers worsen the congestion they purport to relieve. The fact is that 85% of new tower residents drive, while only 15% use transit. A Tram riding on feral BCER right-of-ways in Surrey, or elsewhere along specially designated lanes in the center of the right-of-way separated from traffic by tree medians, will help relieve congestion by promoting a ‘horizontal’ build out that does not concentrate point-loads of traffic and demand in the urban footprint. And along the BCER and elsewhere, we can build ‘cheap’ houses in new TramTowns creating the kind of downward pressure needed to end the Housing Crisis.

Keep in mind these key points:

• Modern Tram can revitalize the neighborhoods it crosses

• Skytrain-and-towers lifts land values and blights neighborhoods

• New TramTowns building along feral transportation corridors in Vancouver, Delta, Surrey, the Langleys, Abbotsford and Chilliwack can house 5,000 people per townsite.

• One hundred new TramTowns will house half a million people. Or the same population as 1,000 towers.

• That is six times more affordable housing than Vancouver’s new Mayor Kennedy Stewart promised during his October 2018 election.

• Adding new townsites along the shores of the Great Salish Sea we anticipate it will be possible to house 2 million people in 400 new towns. Or the same as 4,000 towers.

The downward pressure put on the price of land for single family residential product brought about by building 250,000 new houses in the GVRD and 682,000 on the shores of the Great Salish Sea should be sufficient to put an end to the Housing Crisis. It will be enough to entrench human scale urbanism in a new vernacular expertly tuned to the natural environment, our greatest resource.

For those who would misconstrue fine-grain urbanism with ‘s-p-r-a-w-l’ we remind readers we have exposed ‘sprawl’ as a  fallacy and skytrain-and-towers as ‘bad’ urbanism.


The Total Transit Network

The Transit Pyramid prioritizes the Total Transit Network into a hierarchical system for delivering additional transit capacity, street revitalization, neighborhood intensification and Charter Towns all strategically— ‘just in time’—as demand presents in any given site. Looking through a new lens at the spiderweb of bus routes providing the baseline level of service blanketing the region, the Total Transit Network highlights 10 lines. Some are new, some are already running, and in one case—crossing Indian Arm—some call for new infrastructure needed to ease choke points.



Delivery of new service is staged one step at a time operating on the very same road space:

One step up from bus service the Transit Pyramid delivers B-Line service adding 50% more capacity.

Two steps up provides 5-times more transit capacity and triggers street revitalization.

At the top the Transit Pyramid delivers 30-times more capacity than the local bus in a revitalized street and intensifying neighborhoods. This is double the capacity of Skytrain, at 6-times less cost. It is twice the capacity of a Skytrain Subway at 12-times less cost.

Skytrain cannot compete. The streets that have Skytrain attract strip retail and car dealerships. They are blighted by the Skytrain viaducts that block the sky and shadow the sun. They are made unsuitable for human habitation and lack support for higher levels of social functioning. The Transit Network is enmeshed into the fabric of social life safely providing exponential increases in service, in a manner that enhances the ‘sense of place,’ promotes social mixing and addresses the housing crisis engulfing the region.

Total Transit Network map highlights

Bus routes (in red)

OTL: The ONE tram line (in blue)

UBC service is tripled. New B-Lines on 41st Avenue (beginning 2019) and Marine Drive (not announced). Altogether the Transit Network provides 6-times more transit seats to the university without taking up any new space.

Capacity triples when B-Lines convert to BRT service moving one step up the Transit Pyramid. Service could increase to 9-times capacity by operating BRT on 41st and 12-times by doing the same on Marine Drive.

Putting BRT on the centre two lanes, running between tree medians, will transform arterials into Great Streets, supporting much higher levels of social functioning, while triggering neighborhood intensification.

Others Transit Network routes identify dormant opportunities.

Overcrowding on the Canada Line cannot be solved because enlarging the stations and lengthening the platforms would shut the system down for over two years. The best remedy runs Modern Tram on the Arbutus Corridor as a parallel service, tripling the capacity of the Canada Line (see OTL: The One Tram Line).

Keep in mind that we can build 50 km of Modern Tram for the same price of the 5 km Broadway Subway. So, the Arbutus Corridor (just 12 km long) puts into play the notion of running Modern Tram under the Burrard Street Bridge on a new deck, moving down Burrard Street on center lanes between tree medians, and tunnelling  under the Burrard Inlet to reach Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver (for an additional 7.5 km). Of course, tunnelling and building a new bridge deck will increase cost of construction. However, project cost per kilometre should not exceed the Evergreen Line. Tunnelling between Burrard Street and the North Shore can be between 2.2 and 3.5 km depending on the route taken. The tunnel between Burquitlam and Moody Centre stations is 2 km.

In the West and North Vancouvers the Regional Network Transit plan anticipates a bridge over Indian Arm that would link together the northern communities of Metro Vancouver.

The methodology behind the Transit Pyramid has buses reserving space for future transit implementation using the same road space.

Thus, as new transit demand appears, red lines on the map can move up the Transit Pyramid ultimately becoming blue lines at the top without requiring any additional road right-of-way. We see this combination of building on the existing BCER ROW in both Vancouver and Surrey, on the one hand, and running BRT and tram on the center of key rights-of-way (Broadway, Burrard Street, the Marine Drives), on the other, as a New Regional Strategy opening up enough housing supply in the Lower Mainland to crush the Housing Crisis.

    *     *     *

Below is a brief description of the top 10 routes highlighted by Transit Pyramid regional strategy.

[OTL: The One TramLine] ARBUTUS TROLLEY – 45,000 pphpd


• North Vancouver, Lonsdale Quay;

• Waterfront Station (Canada Line, Millennium Expo, Sea Bus);

• Canada Line (2 stations);

• Millennium Expo (2 stations);

• So. False Creek Streetcar (connection to Millennium Evergreen);

• Broadway and 41st B-Lines (added capacity to UBC)

• Marine Way B-Line (connecting to UBC, New Westminster, Coquitlam Center)

Over the years the Arbutus ROW has been the subject of much controversy between the City and the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Canada Line has proven itself popular beyond expectations. However, the Canada Line cannot be upgraded without a multiple-year total shutdown of the system. As we suggested here, planners now view the Arbutus Line as the best solution to add capacity to the overcrowded north-south corridor. What 10 years ago had made it unlikely that we would ever see an Arbutus Tram—its proximity to the Canada Line—re-emerges today as its primary advantage.

The first three bullets below are from the J. Bakker report.

ROUTE (north to south):

• Tunnel under Burrard Inlet connecting Waterfront station to Lonsdale Quay;

• Ride on the surface in the center of Burrard Street between tree medians;

• Cross False Creek on a new lower deck on the Burrard Street Bridge;

• Interline a branch line with So. False Creek Streetcar (see below) linking to Millennium Evergreen VCC station;

• Main line along 5th and 6th Avenues to Arbutus rail corridor;

• Transfer at Broadway, 41st Avenue and 70th Ave./SW Marine Drive services to UBC;

• Ride on the surface in the center of SW Marine Drive between tree medians;

• Terminate at Canada Line SW Marine Drive station with cross-platform interchange to Airport, Richmond and Vancouver LRT.

• Transfer to SW Marine Drive B-Line service connecting to Millennium Expo Eighth St. Station, New Westminster; Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam Center.

[OTL: The One TramLine] SOUTH FALSE CREEK STREETCAR – 45,000 pphpd

(Note: I am using different nomenclature for the same technology. The Arbutus Trolley, So. False Creek Streetcar, and BCER Modern Tram are all ‘modern tram’ technology. The different names are a liberty taken to highlight the versatility of a technology that can mix on the street with everyday traffic, or run rouge on the railway main trunk with a cafe car added).


• Arbutus Trolley

• Millennium Evergreen VCC station with cross-platform boarding

Millions were spent upgrading 1.8 km of track for the Olympic Tram to have it ready for three months of operations beginning on January 2010. However, it was ‘millions’ and not ‘billions’. Millions more will be required to link the Millennium Evergreen line at VCC with the Arbutus Trolley at a new Burrard Street bridgehead.


• Extend west linking to the Arbutus ROW at Burrard Bridgehead (0.3 km)

• Ride existing track completed for the Winter Olympics along South Shore False Creek between Granville Island and Cambie Street (1.8 km).

• Extend east crossing Main Street to Emily Carr University (2 km)

• Terminate at Millennium Evergreen Line VCC on a new cross-platform interchange station (0.8 km).

Should the Millennium Evergreen technology convert to modern streetcar at some time in the future, then it will be possible to interline the services at VCC.

[1, 2 & 3] UBC SERVICES– 7,200 & 2,200 pphpd

• [2] Broadway BRT (UBC, West Broadway, Granview Highway, Boundary Exchange).

TRANSFERS: Kootenay Loop, Millennium Expo & Evergreen (3 stations: Commercial, Renfrew and Rupert), Canada Line (Cambie), Arbutus Tram (2 stations: Broadway and 41st Avenue).

• [2] Canada Way  (Boundary Exchange, BCIT, Burnaby City Hall, Eighth Avenue Station New Westminster).

TRANSFERS: Pitt River Road Line to Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam, Marine Drive Line, Richmond-Delta Line.

• [3] 41st Avenue — (UBC, West Boulevard, Joyce & Kingsway, Boundary Exchange).

TRANSFERS: Boundary Exchange, Millennium Expo Joyce Station, Canada Line 41st station, Arbutus Trolley.

• [5] Boundary Exchange — (Boundary Road from Hastings to Joyce).

TRANSFERS: Kootenay Loop, Hastings, Broadway, Canada Way and 41st Avenue.

[1] Marine Drive – Pitt River Road (UBC, 70th Avenue, Marine Drive/Way, 8th Avenue, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Burnaby, Downtwon Vancouver).

TRANSFERS: 41st B-Line, Arbutus Trolley (2), Fraser St. B-Line, Millennium Expo/Evergreen 22nd Street, Richmond-Delta Line, 152nd Line, North Vancouver-Abbotsford Line, Boundary Exchange, Kootenay Loop, Hastings B-Line.

[4] FRASER STREET – No.5 RD – TSAWWASSEN — (Vancouver, Richmond, Delta, Tsawwassen, BC Ferries).

TRANSFERS: UBC services on Broadway, 41st and Marine Drive, Richmond-Delta B-Line, BC Ferries Victoria, Nanaimo and Gulf Islands.



[TramLine] BCER MODERN TRAM (Surrey to Abbotsford, and Chilliwack).

TRANSFERS: Millenium Expo – King George station; 152nd, 176 St, 200th St. Lines, Golden Ears Line, North Van – Abbotsford Line.

[6] RICHMOND-DELTA (Surrey, Ladner, Tsawwassen, Richmond and New Westminster).

TRANSFERS: Eighth Street station New Westminster, Marine Drive B-Line, No. 5 Road B-Line (2), Canada Line Lansdowne Mall, BCER corridor.

[7] 256th St – 16th AVE – KING GEORGE – 120th St (Surrey Center – Langley – Aldergrove – Sumas – White Rock – Crescent Beach – Delta).

TRANSFERS: 120th Street, King George, 152nd Street, 200th Street and Golden Ears Bridge; BCER corridor (2).

[8] 104th Ave – 152nd St – 176th St (Coquitlam, Port Mann Bridge, Surrey Centre, Guilford, Cloverdale, White Rock).

TRANSFERS: Surrey Centre, 16th Avenue, BCER Corridor (3).

[9] 200th Street – Golden Ears Bridge (Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows – Langley – Surrey).

TRANSFERS: North Van – Abbotsford, BCER corridor, Fraser Highway, 16th Avenue, BCER Corridor (1).



[10] NORTH VANCOUVER – ABBOTSFORD (West Van, Lonsdale Quay, North Vancouver City & District, Phibbs Exchange, new Indian Arm Bridge, Belcara, Ioco, Port Moody, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, Mission, Abbotsford & Aldergrove).

TRANSFERS: Arbutus Trolley, Lonsdale Quay, Evergreen Line Coquitlam Centre, West Coast Express (5), Pitt River Road, Golden Ears Bridge, BCER Corridor, 16th Avenue.

    *      *      *

Future posts will provide more information on the location and design of residential sites hard-wired to the Regional Transit Network, including:

• 40 TramTowns north of the Mighty Fraser River along the route of Line #10.

• 40 new TramTowns along the BCER ROW south of the Fraser.

• 20 new TramTowns along 16th Avenue from Surrey to Abbotsford.

At full build out 100 townsites would provide ‘cheap’ housing for 900,000 people. Another million people could locate in new TramTowns along the shores of the Great Salish Sea. We believe this strategy of opening new transportation corridors and then lining them with TramTowns at regular intervals can produce sufficient ‘horizontal build out’ to end the housing crisis engulfing our region.

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