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Work underway on Vancouver’s Broadway subway extension

Excavation of the new Skytrain alignment at Great Northern Way-Emily Carr Station

Visitors to Vancouver taking the Canada Line downtown, stopping at Broadway City Hall station will see the construction that marks the recent start of Canada’s newest public transit expansion (complete with its own website): a $2.83 Billion extension of the city’s SkyTrain system system between Clark Avenue in the east end of the city and Arbutus in the west end, with a second extension proposed from Arbutus north to the Jericho lands in the city’s Kitsilano neighbourhood.  The UBC School of Urban Planning and other partners are currently working on a third extension (also with its own website) of the SkyTrain to the UBC village of Wesbrook followed by a final stop at the centre of the UBC campus itself.

The Province of British Columbia states the new subway line will improve connections between the region’s fast growing eastern communities such as Coquitlam, Surrey, Burnaby and the Fraser Valley with the city’s west side “and eventually UBC”. 

Two large tunnel boring machines have begun creating a tunnel for the initial 5.7km underground segment of the route. Work began in 2021, at the site of new the Emily Carr University – Great Northern Way Station and is estimated to be completed in 2025. The six-metre wide machines bore at a rate of 8m/day approximately 15m below ground, passing beneath the Canada Line at Cambie St. The new Broadway subway line will be linked to the existing above ground Millennium Line at the nearby VCC/Clark station by a 700m elevated guideway.

Tunnel boring machine cutter head being unloaded at night
TBM cutter head being unloaded for the Broadway Skytrain extension. Photograph: BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure

The new line will consist of six stations, first proposed by the BC government in 2021. Additional stations for the above ground section to UBC have yet to approved by Vancouver City Council, although the idea enjoys widespread support. 

BC’s Translink agency has committed to working closely with the three First Nations communities on whose unceded traditional territory the line will run.

The new subway will run through Vancouver’s fastest growing neighbourhoods: Mount Pleasant, Fairview, and Kitsilano; and service large neighbourhood institutions such as Vancouver General Hospital and Vancouver City Hall. 

The province hopes to both promote and plan for expected growth in the area and to use the new subway as a catalyst to promote future growth, thereby substantially increasing transit usage in a part of the city with an already slightly above average transit ridership. 

Despite the fact that Translink’s 99 B-line express bus on Broadway is frequently above capacity during some parts of the year, critics have claimed the subway plan is a case of “putting the cart before the horse”, while the province and the city both maintain that the subway will help prepare a historically busy part of the city for a more sustainable transition to a new “second downtown”.

In 2018 BC and the City of Vancouver signed a Supportive Policies Agreement committing the city to developing a “Broadway Plan” in conjunction with the subway development.  Following many consultations and open houses, city planners have produced a draft 493 page plan proposing extensive new developments and density around the new subway stations and other changes to the adjacent neighbourhoods.  Billed as “excessive” and “unnecessary” by some critics, others, such as well known Urbanist Peter Waldkrich told Transport Action, “the draft plan does not come close to reflecting the urgency and severity of Vancouver’s housing and climate crisis.” Still others say the plan, with it’s extensive references to “affordable housing” and a more “liveable city” should make a stronger formal commitment to social housing and move car traffic off Broadway once and for all. 

While the subway construction is well underway, the accompanying draft Broadway Plan goes to Vancouver City Council on May 18, 2022 for debate. 

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