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Something clever from TransLink: The Spanish Solution

November 15, 2012

How to solve the current and soon-to-worsen congestion at the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station?  TransLink will try the Spanish Solution.

From Vancity Buzz:

Translink has identified the “Spanish Solution” as the optimum path to address the severe overcrowding on the Commercial-Broadway Station train platforms during the morning and afternoon peak rushes, when long and crowded queues at the older Expo Line platform are a regular norm.

The Spanish Solution involves the construction of another platform to the east of the station, where Safeway is located. A portion of Safeway will be demolished to make way for the additional platform, the expanded ground-level concourse for the new platform, and the staircase, escalators, and elevators leading to the new third platform. A second elevated pedestrian overpass will also be constructed across Broadway Avenue and over Shoppers Drug Mart to serve the new third platform – to increase circulation capacity between the Expo and Millennium Lines.

The Spanish Solution has been implemented in many major transit stations around the world, but apart from the Seabus stations at Waterfront and Lonsdale, this will be its first implementation in Metro Vancouver. The new third platform will serve as an “outboard platform,” for exit only. The existing centre platform will be a shared entrance and exit platform for trains to Surrey as well as the entrance for trains to Waterfront.

The new outboard platform will likely be used exclusively for exiting, with train doors facing the new outboard platform opening a few seconds earlier before the train doors facing the centre entrance platform. In essence, for trains traveling to Downtown Vancouver on the Expo Line, there will be one platform for boarding (existing centre platform) and another platform for disembarking (the new outboard platform).

A diagram showing an example of the Spanish Solution:

 (I think the top arrow is in the wrong direction.  Passengers should be only exiting on to the new outboard platform.)


Casually dropped into that item is a bit of a bombshell: “A portion of Safeway will be demolished to make way for the additional platform …”

Why not demolish the whole Safeway and, Oakridge-style, build a new mixed-use, high-density development on the site?  Lots of lovely asphalt there – the new brownfields of our time.



Why stop there?  Maybe now’s the time to finally tackle one of the great outstanding opportunities for transit-oriented development in the entire region: the area within walking distance of Broadway-Commercial.

The lost opportunity was a consequence of one of the great (but now-forgotten) protests in the early 1980s over the arrival of SkyTrain.  The Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood (solidly Left) fought the Social Credit government (solidly Right) that was pushing through an elevated rapid-transit line, then known as ALRT, prior to Expo.  The protesters objected to the scar the guideway would leave (they wanted it buried, even though it ran down the east-side lane) but weren’t all that enchanted about the prospect of additional density either.

City Hall, under Mayor Mike Harcourt (solidly Centre), couldn’t overrule the Province – but did have control over rezoning, and chose to keep the it pretty much what it was (the same at Nanaimo and 29th Avenue stations) with only the most modest increases in density.

Perhaps now is the time for another look.  There is a remarkable opportunity (not so much to the neighbourhoods to the north, east or south – now solidly gentrified, but to the west) where a triangle of land, separated from the surrounding community by the Grandview Cut, and the Broadway and Clark arterials, could be considered for high-denisty and, yes, highrise infill.


The views are among the most stunning in the City – and that’s saying a lot – but only if the towers could rise above the existing dwellings.  That could allow for the leverage needed to get a significant amount of affordable housing – or whatever other priority was identified to justify the additional density.

It’s just an idea.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Victor permalink
    November 15, 2012 12:58 am

    Your triangle of land aligns well with what I identified in my GIS analysis for TOD potential:

  2. November 15, 2012 11:03 am

    And for a really radical idea, how about some shelter for folks waiting for the #9 & #99 buses at the same station? Somehow the City of Vancouver and TransLink can’t seem get it together on the simple inexpensive steps needed to make transit more pleasant. Big and expensive steps are important, but the little details matter just as much.

  3. November 15, 2012 4:27 pm

    This brings back memories. Overcrowding is a severe problem on the Central Line in London – and train frequency cannot be increased beyond 30tph for one simple reason. Two minutes is the time that a train needs to stand to allow those on board to get off onto a crowded platform and passengers then board. Building new “outboard” platforms for a tube station underneath the City of London would have been been incredibly expensive and very difficult to connect into the existing station. In fact it proved cheaper to build a new east-west line – now under construction (CrossRail) . There are many who are a bit sniffy about SkyTrain – but this particular advantage may not previously have occurred to them.

  4. November 15, 2012 6:11 pm

    I agree completely. This area is crying out for an upzone and not just in the delimited triangle. North of the Grandview Cut and south of Broadway are also suitable; although, there are some heritage retention issues there.

    One thing to consider over the long term is the possibility that there will be more rail lines in the cut. Two for the Millennium Line, two for passenger rail, two for express Expo trains, and possibly the Expo Line itself when it is eventually buried (although that is truly long term). With eight sets of tracks and a low level bikeway from the Flats to the Central Valley Trail, it might be simpler to just fill in the Cut from Victoria to Clark. The width of the ROW appears to be 80+m. The width of the Champs-Elysees is 70m. An avenue like that is too pompous, but there is the possibility of an avenue framed with a streetwall of 8 story apartment buildings and not highrises with a very wide park-like boulevard in the centre. I think 70m is about right for that type of boulevard with a total of four car lanes. When the Flats are fully redeveloped, it could be a major route linking these two areas of the city.

    The Nanaimo and 29th Avenue stations are also suited to an upzone. Beyond the immediate station areas, both locations would be a good place to trial fee simple row houses in Vancouver. This is a ubiquitous housing type elsewhere, but not here.

  5. November 15, 2012 11:52 pm

    curious to know how they gonna handle passenger flow from the new platform to where they want to go : basically other side of the street where there is the M and 99B lines. Does they will tear-down the shopper drugmart to double the existing passerelle?

    Beside it, dwelling issues on the skytrain are mainly made worse by

    (1) the lack of opening lengths (doors) on the train.
    -On the MK1 train, less than 20% of the train length open to the platform
    -on a parisian subway MP89, more than 33% of the train length open to the platform (more and wider door)

    That translates with less passenger able to enter/exit the train in a given amount of time,

    (2) bad door location
    The MkII trains correct the issue a bit, but the doors on the MKII are not equidistant: The doors next to the train coupling need to handle 50% more passenger than other doors (and because the train coupler happen in the middle of the platform, it is even more, since crowd tend to wait in the middle of the platform), creating a real weakness.

    It is unclear to me, why Translink continue to order such trains

  6. David permalink
    November 16, 2012 12:31 am

    Rumour has it that Safeway will replace the existing store in phases. Given the plans for housing at their Marpole site, Commercial Broadway might also see mixed-use development.

    A 1982 Sun article about the Commericial tunnel proposal. Harry Rankin suggests how to finance it, cancel Expo 86… and delay replacing the Cambie Bridge for 30 years. Let the people of 2012 deal with it. :)

  7. Tessa permalink
    November 16, 2012 1:05 am

    Keep in mind that the area you identified already does contain a large amount of affordable housing. If affordable housing is the goal, I doubt very much any new development would improve on the existing affordability, when you factor in you’re replacing older, low-rise wood-framed construction with concrete-tower construction and probably replacing rental with condos. And many of those apartments are three bedroom, too. Even if all the uplift money the city gets is devoted to affordable rental housing i doubt it could replace the amount of affordable rental that already exists, and it would only further the gentrification in that neighbourhood.

    Of course redeveloping the Safeway site is a no-brainer, but I see that as the one prime location for that type of higher height redevelopment in that neighbourhood. There are already other examples of infill townhouses going in, and more of that should be encouraged, as well as more high-density but low-rise infill that replaces the single family housing stock that is still used as single family, but why we would want to replace a mostly low-rise, fairly good density and affordable rental area is beyond me.

    • Frank Ducote permalink
      November 19, 2012 3:34 pm

      I agree with you, Tessa. The incremental increase in transit ridership, if that is Gord’s point, would hardly be worth the agony of displacement and replacement that would take place here. I fail to see how any substantial additional ridership can be accommodated here in any event, beyond tweaks like the one discussed here.

      Further, if I remember correctly from my Millennium Line station area planning work with the City of Vancouver c. 1998-2000, this area has almost the same population within the 1200m “ped shed” as does the Broadway/Granville area, What the latter area has is a much higher work force.

  8. David permalink
    November 16, 2012 1:12 am

    The merchants in the Sun article had reason to be concerned. Slum? Muggings? In the end, their drab old buildings were replaced by drab new buildings.

    The southwest corner… Replaced by a three story building that retains the same blandness. It’s not too late though, Vancouver has a long tradition of demolishing buidlings after 15 or 20 years.

  9. November 16, 2012 2:20 pm

    Commercial/Broadway is a bottleneck that needs to be fixed with new lines, not a thrid platform. There’s just too many people who are forced to transfer there.

    One of the possible UBC Line configurations Translink floated Combo 1) was good for spreading out the transfer load. Trips to UBC originating on the Expo Line would transfer at Main Street, while trips originating on the Millennium Line would continue past VCC Clark on an extension to Arbutus before transferring onto LRT. Commercial/Broadway would still be busy with local residents, transfers between the SkyTrain lines, and bus users, but a sizable number of transfers would be spread to Main and Arbutus.

    Now, if only we had a provincial government willing to fund it.

  10. November 16, 2012 4:28 pm

    Broadway/Commercial has been identified as a sub-area in the Grandview-Woodland Community Planning process that’s currently under way. This will mean some focussed attention on the stretch of Broadway between Clark and Nanaimo, as well as the area south of Broadway (that is, south of Grandview-Woodland per se, but within the catchment of the two SkyTrain stations).

    You can find more information here:

    And the Terms of Reference for the planning process here:

  11. guest permalink
    November 16, 2012 4:52 pm

    One of the biggest planning embarassments in Vancouver…..

    On problem is that in the interim (since Expo), 4 storey condos have been erected in the area and those will prevent consolidation of sites to get enough FSR for taller buildings.

    This should be a nice addition at Victoria Drive and the Cut, but it could be more urban:

  12. November 16, 2012 11:03 pm

    Thanks for the links Andrew and David.
    David, it looks to me that Rankin was right, 2% more to put the line underground seems an incredible bargain …and today we could certainly have done a much better job on a new Cambie bridge especially the landing in Down town).
    Merchants were right too (Broadway/Commercial is much of a slum) …but for the wrong reason:

    ~8,000 residents
    ~150,000 transit users/day

    Do the area need to be designed according to the desire of the 5% calling this area “home,” or according the need of the 95% others using it?

    Wrong answer leads to what “guess” call, not without reason, the “biggest planning embarassments in Vancouver”.

    A proper answer requires to resolve the sort of schizophrenia existing between the transit world and the neighborhood: not necessarily an easy task.

  13. David permalink
    November 17, 2012 11:33 pm

    Cambie Bridge north end is drifting OT (Maybe move to your blog, Vooney, that’s an interesting subject:) I’ll just say that imo we did the right thing, the Connaught would be 100 years old now. Narrow lanes, narrow wooden sidewalks that shook underfoot.



  14. guest permalink
    November 19, 2012 1:54 pm

    As a somewhat related topic – I can see upper levels of government being hesitant to commit to a UBC SkyTrain Line (or any line in a built up area) unless there is some evidence or obvious willingness that the “local community” around stations will accept additional density to increase ridership to pay for the cost of building the line.
    Until the Canada Line and the very, very recent upzoning along Cambie, Vancouver was unwilling to upzone near rapid transit stations (where another form of residential, and not industrial use, was displaced) – Broadway & Commercial, Nanaimo and 29th Ave. all stand at examples of this.

  15. Andrew Browne permalink
    November 19, 2012 2:34 pm

    I’d like to see Translink buy property along Broadway for the station boxes and associated redevelopment – they would rezone and sell TOD parcels at each station, and CACs should be a non-issue given the already large benefit derived from a transit line. The proceeds could conceivably fund a large chunk of the construction capital (say 1/3) and the additional benefit is the direct link between amenity (transit line) and funding/what should result after such a large investment (e.g. if we are investing $3B on a new line, it’s not just for existing residents but also for FUTURE residents, and it is not ok for the area to receive such a large investment and expect nothing to change).

    Just my 2 cents. I know the development community would hate this idea due to competition from a public agency, but if they’re willing to pony up $3-4B for a transit line we’re happy to hear from them.

  16. Andrew Browne permalink
    November 19, 2012 2:37 pm

    And back on topic: Love the Broadway#Commercial solution re: platforms, very much looking forward to seeing it built. This station has always been one of my favourites because of the experience you have moving through it. Moving from the Millenium line Commercial station, nestled in the rail cut greenery, upwards and onto a bridge over the cut, into a transit/shopping plaza, and then upwards again to the Expo line Broadway station ABOVE the street, is something I enjoy. It feels very distinct. I realize that what I described might not be the most efficient transfer but I enjoy it nonetheless.

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