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Canada Line hoopla about to begin

August 14th, 2009 · 41 Comments

You may not know this out there in non-media-land, but a major frenzy is about to break out over the opening of the Canada Line. It’s all hands on deck for the opening Monday, where about 40,000 are expected to ride the line in the eight hours it’s open and free. It sounds like parties are being planned at many of the stations, so all you transit junkies should come prepared for an endurance slog. (Hint: there’s not much around the Templeton site on Sea Island, but it’s a cool place to watch planes come in right in front of your nose).

And guess what, you all! I got to ride it today. I’ll have a little story in Monday’s Globe so I won’t go into detail here but I have to say, it was kind of like getting to test drive a brand-new, hmmm, really big Prius. Or being the first on a new ride at the PNE. Or both.

In the meantime, here’s some of the blanket coverage that’s starting to come out. (Did this kind of carrying on happen with the Millennium and Expo lines? I can’t remember anything like it.) The Globe’s story is here. The Sun’s whole supplement is here. The Canada Line site is here.

And now to add my amateur philosophical musings on all this, in advance of the debate that is sure to break out between those who love love love transit technology and those who think Vancouver poured $2 billion down a long tunnel to get a few thousand more riders a year …

One of the things that has always puzzled me is how fierce the debate is about transit in Vancouver, between the SkyTrain and light-rail/bus factions, between the pro- and anti-turnstile people, between the pro-transit and pro-road factions. While I was travelling in Europe last month, I came up with a theory to explain some of it (besides the fact that we’re an insular bunch who automatically polarize over every issue like kids in a playground). My theory is: Vancouver is caught in the middle. It’s a baby city that is somewhere at the mid-point between different transit solutions.

If we were a really big city, it would make sense to spend billions on expensive subway-style systems and put in turnstiles, because we’d have the population to support it. If we were a Bologna- or Montpellier-sized town, it would make more sense to put in light rail or just good buses and there’d be no economic sense to putting in turnstiles because the ridership wouldn’t be enough to make catching the non-payers cover the cost of turnstiles.

But we’re in between. Subways (and turnstiles) sort of make sense if you think we’re going to keep growing and get denser. Light rail or rapid bus (and no turnstiles) sort of make sense for the population we are (and the money we have) now and for the kind of city some people would like to see Greater Vancouver remain.

I welcome all comments telling me I’m an idiot, citing the transit systems of cities on all the continents. But I’d like to also see your comments on why you think this continues to be such a flashpoint.

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