The decision to build a direct subway line from Broadway and Commercial to UBC Point Grey is a no-brainer for people who ride the B-Line everyday.
Most mornings students and working people are passed up by buses overloaded with passengers.
Last Sunday, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and city councillor Geoff Meggs along with the UBC Alma Mater Society, presented their case for $2.8 billion underground subway along the Broadway corridor. “The critical thing is that we commit to improve transit,” Robertson said to a raucous crowd packed in pews at the St. James Hall in Kitsilano.
However, there is more to the plan than just easing traffic congestion and lowering riders’ blood-pressure.
“We are missing out on tens of millions of dollars of economic activity,” Robertson said. “There are 200,000 people living and working along the corridor. Vancouver has the biggest life sciences facilities in Western Canada, and we need to connect that hub with research coming out of UBC,” he said.
The UBC-Broadway corridor KPMG report was released Feb. 28 and states that “the corridor linking Vancouver to UBC has the potential to become a technology hub on par with Toronto and London.” Robertson emphasized the importance of having a rapid transit line connecting research, technology, and commercial hubs. UBC has spun off dozens of technology companies and commercialized new technology.
But not everyone sees the subway as a potential economic boom.
Residents and small business owners are fearful that the subway will destroy their unique neighbourhood and open up the area to big box stores
Many people in the audience suggested tram lines, light rail, or increase buses on certain routes would be more beneficial to business owners and cheaper than the three billion dollar price tag of the subway.
“As a resident I would love to see rapid transit along Broadway, but three billion dollars?” Kitsilano resident Macek Kon said.
“Neighbourhood people are regional people-build it but don’t build it near me,” said Bernie Bomers a lively audience member.
Councillor Meggs cited the the subway line as necessary to meet the demands of a growing population, economically beneficial for the businesses along the line.
The report predicts an increase in employment and population of 150,000 over the next 30 years. Vancouver’s weakness the study finds is a lack of collaboration among levels of government and an absence of adequate transit infrastructure.
One audience member berated the crowd of naysayers for attacking students.
“Students at UBC are the future workers of the city, and we need to consider livability. We would like to continue working in this city afterwards we don’t just want to take the laziest route to school.”
However with the Canada Line debacle still fresh in most Vancouverites memories the idea of disruption along Broadway for over five years is unthinkable. Residents “want to avoid a Cambie style disaster,” said NDP Point Grey candidate David Eby.
In the run up to the 2010 Winter Olympics Cambie Street stores were forced to shut down due to cut and cover construction and fear being left in the lurch once again.
Meanwhile, cities like Surrey want improved transit and residents complain that they have been forgotten about. ” Who can afford to live in Vancouver?” an audience member asked.
“We would love to have the transit Vancouver has, in Surrey we have to wait a half hour not one to two minutes for a bus,” he said.
The crowd at St. James asked the panel questions and voiced opinions for over an hour, including former B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt. He bellowed to the audience “build all five transit systems!”
“Enough talk, rapid transit will bring development and high-tech companies to the area,” Harcourt said. “When are we going to start building the UBC-Broadway corridor!?” He said sparking an uproar of clapping from the crowd.
There is no doubt that residents want to see public transit improved but just what that means is still yet to be determined.
“No matter what decision is made, is made in consultation with the community, not just at the outset or a one-time thing,” said Eby.
Watch a video of the UBC-Broadway rapid transit forum, March 10, 2013.
Report and photographs by Tanya Hill