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Canada Line’s station layouts, design suck?

September 10th, 2009 · 44 Comments

An interesting critique at Think City on the flaws of the Canada Line stations.

This complements an email I got yesterday from a reader, also questioning the design of the stations and line. One of his points:

“All of the underground and above ground stations accomodate a maximum 2-car train. There is no room for even a third car to be added to a train. The platforms can only be expanded to fit a 3-car train with extensive and costly renovation. They cannot be expanded further without tunneling and major construction likely costing in the hundreds of millions.”

(I knew our uncritical love affair with the new Canada Line couldn’t last more than a couple of weeks. Welcome back to the real Vancouver.)

I did note even in opening week that there seemed to be restricted access to the stations — only one access point per station and narrow, low-capacity escalators. I was told that some stations that obviously could use more access points, like Broadway and Cambie or Oakridge, did not have them built because redevelopment is anticipated on those corners and no one wanted to build an entryway before knowing what kind of kind of development would be there (or forcing that development to have to build around the station entry).

And, while we’re on the subject of the Canada Line, what do people think of the way the stations look at street level? When some of them were going up (particularly 25th and 49th), I was fairly alarmed by their boxy, public-urinal looks. But as they progressed, getting swooping rooves and/or landscaping, they improved somewhat. I’m still ambivalent about many of them, especially the ones in Vancouver.


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  • Denis

    It was cheaper that way. Refits will cost more of course but folks soon forget who is screwing them as ratepayers. Then of course, the turnstiles will have to show up eventually . What great forward thinkers we elect in this province

  • evilfred

    They were trying to keep down costs. I recall when the Millenium Line opened up there was a big controversy about how much the ‘fancy’ stations and the art installed in them costs, so I guess they were trying to avoid that by being utilitarian.

    I’ve heard claims that most stations only have one entrance to keep the entrance busier, in order to reduce possible violence. Someone in a past thread said that they can open up at the Crossroads side of Broadway for the Broadway-City Hall stop, but haven’t yet for some reason.

    It really is ridiculous not to have 3-car room at every station. And not to have a reasonable transfer at Waterfront, it drives me nuts to go up the stairs and then back down stairs again when switching trains there!

  • Darcy McGee

    The single entrance is just daft. Particularly on Cambie St. where the boulevard exists traffic could have been more efficiently routed by having an entrance in the middle. Vancouver Centre’s single entrance is just idiotic.

    I hadn’t considered the train length impact. Overall I find train length a problem here. Toronto’s subways carry substantially more people on more cars. As the region grows this will undoubtedly be an issu.

    The station gap from King Edward to Broadway is also quite large. While there may not have been an immediate need for a station it would have seemed prudent to dig out an interim station (city hall @ 12th? 16th?) even if it were left unused. When the time comes that people want such a station….it will cost a fortune. North York Centre in Toronto was built after the fact, at tremendous cost.

    Stations in T-dot were meant to be “about a kilometre apart.” That King Ed -> Broadway gap is 1.7km.

    I think it’s nice that Vancouver doesn’t even try to learn from other jurisdictions. We’re definitely smarter than them. We definitely should just do things our own way.

    The Canada Line is nice…but its nice compared to the B-line buses it replaces, not compared to other similar systems.

  • Adrian

    The platforms, in my understanding, can be expanded to fit three-car trains. This would require serious work, but not the expensive, difficult work that would be needed to move beyond three-car trains.

    But there is an easier way to expand capacity before considering expanding the platforms: buy more trains. The trains currently come about 3-4 minutes apart in rush hour, and this could probably be reduced to between 90 seconds and 2 minutes. Also, more trains could run to Richmond, instead of the current configuration where every 2nd train goes to the Airport.

  • evilfred

    Despite the whinging, I really am very happy that we have the Canada Line and I think it’s great how much uptake it’s gotten. When it was first opening there was much discussion over whether it was actually going to hit its ridership numbers. Now we’re worrying about it being overloaded. That’s progress, I think? Onward to the Broadway Line!

  • spartikus

    Concur completely about the 2-car platform length. Madness, that.

    Concur too, that there should have been a station b/w 25th and Broadway.

    Aesthetically, the Millenium Line stations are tops, the Canada Line second, and the extremely ugly Expo Line stations last. At least they didn’t choose something that would date as poorly as the latter.

  • We all know that you can’t please everyone, and no doubt that’s why the stations and the line overall were built the way they were. If we’d built the line to it’s max the cost would have been even higher causing even more protest. Of course most of us know it would have been cheaper to do it right the first time, but the general public doesn’t. Overall I think the line is great, but I agree that the lack of a station mid-way between Broadway and King Edward is very odd. I’m also surprised that the 33rd Ave station wasn’t built right away, considering it would access a major Olympic venue.

  • David

    I took the Canada line form the airport and was suprised to see that at one point traffic in both directions has to go through a double door – me thinks that if parent and child are going one direction holding hands that traffic in the other direction has to be either really skinny or be prepared to stop. Who thunk this out? One more for our world class planners…

  • Compared to most Skytrain stations the CL stations seem inviting. The design does nothing for me one way or the other but I’m far more concerned that they are kept clean. Most Skytrain stations give me willies.

    $2B seems like a whack of money but, just as with Skytrain, we got a bare-bones system. The result is limited access and platforms built with no realistic option for expansion. Speaking of impractical aspects, why is the #41 bus stop 3/4 of a block from the CL entrance?

    I can imagine a scenario in a few years time where Translink tries to steer people away from the Canada Line and on to buses because the CL can’t handle the volume. It sounds bizarre but it’s not impossible.

    It’s true, subways have been around for 100 years, we could have incorporated the best features of the best systems but it looks like we opted for the IKEA model.

  • Jason

    The Vancouver stops along the Canada Line give a claustrophobic feel that is not experiences with the above-ground stops of the Millennium and Expo lines. Waiting for a train and looking out over the lower mainland (think Nanaimo Station) gives a great feeling of open and freeness. The small grey tunnels and platforms make me feel trapped and vulnerable. Whether the platforms are any smaller than the other lines isn’t the point, they certainly feel tighter. The car length issue seems obvious, I always imagined if they needed to make the Millennium or Expo stations longer, it would simply involve extending the platforms. With the underground Canada Line, certainly there will be some more digging involved? Who knows.

  • Darcy McGee

    > Despite the whinging, I really am very
    > happy that we have the Canada Line

    I don’t think anyone’s saying “I’d rather go back to NO Canada Line” but it does seem as if there’s some fairly obvious oversights. Even people who aren’t accustomed to subway systems notice them. Those of us who are have biases of course, but believe me when I say I don’t want the Cambie Line to the Toronto Subway…I want it to be better, and in *some* small ways it is.

    I hadn’t even processed the lack of a stop at 33rd. There should definitely be one as well. Queen Elizabeth Park, Nat Bailey, Curling Club, stagger over from Main Street.

  • Darcy McGee

    33rd & Cambie is relatively near a couple of hospitals as well.

  • Evil Eye

    As the cost of the RAV/Canada line subway escalated, the scope of the project was reduced.

    Subways cost a lot of money to build and this was conveniently forgotten by Gordo, Falcon, and Dobel, the main driving force behind the RAV/Canada line project.

    Vast economies had to be made to keep the metro under $3 billion, including:

    1) The switch from SkyTrain to a conventional metro. This saved the cost of over 40 km. of reaction rail needed for the LIM motors. It also means cheaper maintenance costs as there is no reaction rail to maintain.

    2) The switch from bored tunnel to cut-and-cover construction, save about $100 million, but Susan Heyes successful lawsuit and the 100’s of others that will follow will greatly reduce this cost saving.

    3) The Stations in the subways were reduce to accommodate 3 car trains and just barely accommodate them. This means that as built, RAV has less potential capacity as if modern LRT were to have been built at-grade (LRT can and does carry daily over 20,000 pphpd on many LRT operations around the world.

    At best RAV/Canada Line, as built, can carry only 15,000 pphpd tops!

    The stations were economized to such a point that they may deter more customers than the metro will attract!

    As built, the RAV/Canada line is the only metro in the world that has less capacity than modern LRT! To increase capacity, one must increase station size and to do that would cost over $1 billion and do the cuts and cover thing all over again!

    Oh yes, the real cost of RAV is nearing $2.8 billion but we will not know the real amount because it is a P-3 (piss-poor-project) and the true financial accounts are kept from the public.

    This sort of thing has made TransLink and Vancouver international laughingstocks in the transit world!

  • Robert

    I’m stretching my memory and realize the Canada Line is a different technology but I seem to remember the SkyTrain cars come as ” Married pairs” so you can go to 4 cars not three if the Canada line is similar they may not be able to go three cars.
    I don’t mind the stations but as a senior a down escalator at all stations would have been appreciated and yes I know there are elevators.

    Adding more stops would increase overall travel time and may not be much faster than a bus

  • Frothingham

    “All of the underground and above ground stations accomodate a maximum 2-car train. There is no room for even a third car to be added to a train. ” If this and the other shortcomings are true… heads need to roll! No excuse for this kind of short-sightness.

  • Darcy McGee

    > I don’t mind the stations but as a senior a
    > down escalator at all stations would have
    > been appreciated

    This, and those with physical disabilities, is what I thought of when I realized that to get to the southbound track at 49th Ave. I have to go down..then down…then across…then up.

    A single elevator on each side, and I still have to make two trips. Down. Across. Up. Keep in mind it can take those in wheelchairs longer than “average” to disembark from the elevators, and it seems likely that a single train could pass before I’m able to even get the platform.


  • mezzanine

    My take on things is that it is an accomplishment that we finally have the C-line, warts and all, up and running. The go / no-go decision was extremely controversial and highly political. Many people thought the ridership estimates too high. The project was almost voted under twice, even with the underdesign and revisions.

    In the end, what we’ve got is the backbone of an expandable system. We can extend the platforms, order the middle cars, and purchase more trainsets to add capacity.

    My opinion of this was: Let’s build something while we have the secured $$ and momentum, even if its the minimum. But let’s make sure it is expandable.

  • Around 5 years too late. Unfortunately the debate back when it could have made a difference, was about whether to construct the line or not instead of how to make it as good as possible. Because of this, a lot of opportunities where missed.

    The lack of entrances was a result of some dogma of some planners regarding the number of entrances. They felt for security reasons, it was best to only have one entrance. While on low ridership stations, this is a valid concern. On busy stations, more entrances would have been a good idea that would have increased ridership on the line and would have decreased the number of busy streets that people would have had to cross.

    While I don’t like the boxy, uninspired, and unfinished look of many of the station exteriors, several will likely be incorporated into developments as time goes by including King Ed, Oakridge, Olympic Village, 49th (maybe) and Van City Centre. Given this, it makes sense not to invest too much in the exteriors.

  • Joe Just Joe

    All current stations are either 40m or 50m in length. The ones that are 40m have already been predug/built to 50m in length so it’s a matter of knocking out a temp wall and laying tiles when it’s needed.
    The 50m stations will allow for the use of a C-train (middlecar) that is 15m in length. This will bring the trains to a length of 55m The 5m that overhang the station 2.5 per end will not effect operation as all doors will still be accessible to users. The 3car trains with increased frequency are able to provide a capacity of 15,000 people per hour per direction. That 15Kpphd is the same as the current capacity of the expo line which serves a much larger population. It should hold up fine longterm.
    A few of the stations have provisions for additional entrances in warranted. Broadway for instance has a knock out panel that connects to the building directly to the east which will be redeveloped in the near future. There is also a connection to Crossroads across the street.
    Oakridge also has provisions for another entrance across the street for when that block is redeveloped.

  • Darcy McGee

    Thanks, Joe. I’m going to take it on a bit of trust that you’re actually in a position to know this stuff while not in a position to tell us the who/what/why you know this stuff. (i.e. “I’m the mayor of Vancouver and I don’t want to get fired.”)

  • Joe Just Joe

    I am not connected with this projected directly, but work with many people that are. The info I posted is all public information and readily available with a bit of research. I’ve been following it indepth since inception. If anyone has any questions about the line I’ll do my best to answer them.

  • Simon

    > I don’t mind the stations but as a senior a
    > down escalator at all stations would have
    > been appreciated

    Something we can’t take for granted is that all stations are wheel-chair, disabled, and stroller accessible via elevators. The same cannot be said of the TTC, which is itself a great (but aging) subway system.

    Our family is freshly moved from Toronto (living on the Bloor line), and moved specifically to be on the Canada Line. No complaints here. The system is functional (if only for current needs) and aesthetically pleasing, if a little plain.

  • colleen

    I am so saddened by the look of the stations. We had the opportunity to have 16 architectural gems in our neighbourhoods. Colour! Art! Excitement!
    Instead we get the now formulaic Vancouver concrete/beam/glass bunker. Dreary grey in our dreary winters. Every single one of them. Haven’t any of the architects been to Europe? It doesn’t have to be expensive — coloured concrete is cheaper than paint. I guess graffiti will soon do the job for us.

  • new reader

    Very disappointing that the system has already reached capacity. People are regularly unable to board due to overcapacity in the morning on all the Richmond stops. Translink seems good at solving yesterday’s problems. Let’s hope they learn their lesson and don’t go cheap on the Broadway line.

  • jesse

    My biggest problem is the single point entries on one street corner. Above-ground traffic on major streets is going to increase as people unloading at the buses on opposite corners need to cross. This has a huge effect on car throughput and usability of the line.

    The size of the stations is certainly small but if they can increase the car frequency they should be able to increase throughput substantially. The idea about funneling more trains to Richmond instead of the airport is a good one and I’m sure on Translink’s to-do list.

    I would expect renovating the stations to be larger will be expensive but it’s better to wait until the volume is needed before adding a cost that won’t see benefit for decades.

  • Don Buchanan

    I was in Copenhagen this summer and they too have a relatively new automated light rail “metro” serving the inner city and the airport. It is an interesting comparison city as the region is about the same size (2 million people) and the city, though about 20% smaller than Vancouver, has about 20% less people, meaning their average density is the same! Ok to be fair they don’t have Yaletown or Southlands, their density is more evenly spread out.

    The train sets are almost exactly the same size as the Canada Line (total train width and length) though they are three car trains with two doors per car (shorter car) rather than two car trains with three doors per car. Inner city stations are underground and others are at grade or elevated.

    I encourage people to Google Copenhagen Metro Pictures as well to get a sense of the “classic, functional Scandinavian design”. Most here won’t like the high modernist functionalism of the stations I suspect (no colour whatsoever) but they do have at least two entrances/exits at all stations.

    Busier stations have both up and down escalators and a second entrance with stairs only and one important transfer station has two up and two down escalators like the main floor at Sears/Eatons. All stations have a spacious center platform which does seem to leave more room than the individual side platforms of the Canada Line.

    When you see the materials of the stations and quality of the public squares that were built at the underground stations in the city it is clear they didn’t spare any expense. On the other hand they have 40% of the population riding a bike to work or school too so it’s not like people are wedded to their cars. The streets are generally quite quiet, without all the horn honking we experience.

    In the end I got the impression the scale of the Canada Line is about right compared to Copenhagen … now if only we could get 40% of the population riding a bike to work/school…

  • Darcy McGee

    Forget Copenhagen! We should model our next system after Wuppertal, Germany! One day I’d like to head over there to ride it.

  • Joe Just Joe

    The capacity will be ramped up when there is a need. Right now it is at 6300pphd, and like mentioned above it’s designed to handle 15,000pphd and can withstand even more then that for burst periods.
    Right now they are only using 14 of the 20 married trainsets they currently have with 3:45 headways, if they were to increase to 19 still leaving the industry standard reserve they would reduce headways down to ~3min. And this could be done tomorrow if needed.
    Also while the stations might appear bare currently we need to remember there are Jugo Juices opening at almost every station which will add some colour, but the biggest thing is that each and every station will be receiving public art installations shortly. Lets be just a little more patient and see how it turn out.

  • Echman

    I noticed that small station size when I first boarded the Canada Line at Broadway and Cambie. The train was running slow for some reason (and they keep changing the order of trains from YVR ti Richmond and back) and for ten or fifteen minutes I was waiting for a Richmond train. This was a week day, middle of the day, and the place was jammed within a few minutes. I figured if I had waited five more minutes the line up would have gone up the steps. Additionally because of the delay the train that arrived was jammed pack full of people.
    This brings up a second problem, not enough sitting space for Child, the elderly, and infirm. When I was heading out to Richmond the train was packed and all the seats were taken up by people who needed them, but this still left half a dozen elderly people and children clinging to the railings.
    Overall I would rate the Canada line 60/100.
    The small stations will be a big problem if they increase density along the line in the future. I also suspect there will be more accidents involving people who should be sitting, standing and falling over.

  • real_urbanist

    just one thing to note – while the stations are utilitarian, please do not confuse this will an architectural community that is in any way banal. We know from other experiences that there is plenty of creative thinking in this city, that our local architects are completely capable (and willing) to design the neighbourhood gems that we all had hoped for. However the architects work for a client – it is the client group that is responsible for the dullness of the stations, not the individual architects. Just look at the Millennium Line stations when you have a client group and project manager team with some creative thought….

  • Evil Eye

    Note to D’Arcy McGee: Everything you wanted to know about the Schwebebahn is here –

  • MB

    Quality of service is a paramount consideration. Six minutes from King Ed to Granville x Georgia is an excellent service in my books. Suburban commuters are saving 10-30 minutes with the bus-subway transition compared to cars and buses alone.

    There are many shortcomings on this project, but let’s hope the lessons learned are not repeated on the Broadway Line. Bored tunnels will not replicate the Dark Ages of engineering we witnessed on Cambie for two years. The stations should have four access / egress points, and the platforms need to be 100m in length. Accessibility must be inherent in the design, not an afterthought, or worse, forgotten. Moreover, the station box interiors as well as the surface buildings and streetscape treatments should be inspiring and uplifting to the billions of passengers that will use these facilities over the next century.

    Some harp on the cost of doing metros right while ignoring the far higher costs of continuing our car addiction, being wilfully ignorant of the social and environmental benefits of sustainability, and limiting their economic vision to the project and not it’s stimulus on the regional economy.

    For all its flaws, I think the Canada Line has changed the attitude of the public toward increasing the support for building major public assets that really make a difference.

  • Darcy McGee

    > Some harp on the cost of doing metros
    > right while ignoring the far higher costs of
    > continuing our car addiction


  • Bill Lee

    Evil Eye #31 should know that there is a previous Schwebebahn in Dresden still climbing a 250 metre hill under its overhead rail.

    See also and far too much (bilingually which will help in learning German terms) at

    Your basic stats :5 minute head, 70,000 a day etc. at (where you can look up Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and so on)

  • Bill Lee

    And really! Enthusiasts should be subscribing to Blickpunkt Straßenbahn or better (auf Deutsch) a cheap bimonthly that covers the world. You never know when you want to mentioned the lastest news from Mongolia, Argentina, Zurich etc.

    If you want to play with your own set, and Vancouver is one predone for you, see Jan Bochmann’s Bahn which was cuter in the DOS versions
    but made you ashamed at the head times in the exurbs as you watched in real-time. DOS version could be set up as a real-time screen saver showing a street, intersection or the entire system with little caterpillar warms crawling over the screen.

  • Evil Eye

    Bill Lee, the Dresden schwebebahn (German for hanging railway) is a monorail funicular with each car counterbalancing the other and pulled along by a cable, thus not a true powered monorail.

    Older than the Wuppetal, the Dresden Schwebebahn is a historic transportation curiosity, as with the Volks electric Railway and the Great Orme Tramway.

    As for the latest news in public transit, try the Light Rail Transit Association at

  • Call me if you find one knitbombed.

  • Shane

    There is tonnes of room to improve Canada Line capacity. As someone already mentioned, they can add in their spare trains, and buy MORE trains to run more frequently (8 minutes is a bit silly anyway).

    And, when demand is there, they can buy middle cars that will join the two end cars. The stations were built to accommodate the 3-car trains and require minimal construction.

    As for the look and feel, let`s also not forget that the line opened early so the retail space and art has not been fitted yet. I must agree that they missed some opportunities for station design – Yaletown is an example where the station does not at all fit with it surroundings.

    But, WE HAVE IT! And, as we would do with our own home renos or additions, they had to limit the scope to fit the budget.

  • Interesting comments. I was very disappointed with the very utilitarian station designs when I had a preview ride. However, I am hopeful that over time, the stations will be treated as ‘blank canvases’ for future public art initiatives.

    Recognizing funding constraints, I would like to see a program that teams up Vancouver’s major corporations and philanthropists with Translink to initiate significant art projects. There is so much that could be done to enhance the system.

  • Daniel

    I was shocked when they were building the skytrain – and discovered that the track from the Lansdowne station to the Brighouse station was single-track! This limits the maximum number of trains. At the Waterfront station it is double-tracked but they only use one side; eventually they will need to use both.

    In the mornings starting at about 7:20 there are several hundred people on the Brighouse platform. There are lineups in front of each door, and a minimum one-car wait. The bicyclists are always there even though we were promised that they would only be allowed in the counterflow direction. Since trains from Brighouse are mostly full by the Casino (Bridgeport) station, the people on the Casino platform need to wait for a less-full train from the airport. That platform is even more packed because of all the commuter buses that empty out there.

    Sooner or later someone will be bumped off the platform onto the tracks, as has happened a few times on the Expo line. We need double-doors on platforms for everyone’s safety!

    I hope enough people will complain to make a difference. Due to the undersized design, Translink will need to allow the return of the express buses from Ladner and Steveston to Oak street. These buses are quite comfortable although the engine is quite noisy in the back. Commuters want to be able to sit down on their journey and read or sleep. That is how you get them out of their cars and carpools.

    These express buses take about 15 minutes longer to get downtown but that’s about the same amount of time as getting off the bus at Bridgeport, climbing up to the platform, and waiting for two packed trains to pass by. That’s the second key benefit of transit: it’s supposed to be faster than driving!

    I can still drive to/from work faster than the Canada line due to the time it takes to walk to and from the trains. But driving costs me $400/month and transit only costs $99. So, I can live with it. It’s a lot better than the 98-B-Line, that’s for sure.

  • Daniel. you said it, “It’s a lot better than the 98-B-Line, that’s for sure.”. I only took the 98-B-Line a few times but it was always packed and slow. It was especially miserable on rainy days. The Canada Line is a lot better. I can’t wait until the 99b is replaced by rail, hopefully SkyTrain.

    Regarding bicycles, from

    Each train can carry two bicycles (one per train car), in all directions during all hours of operation, as long as space is available.

  • Shane

    @ Daniel

    Wow – thats a whole lot of complaining.

    Those former express bus users now have a choice of more departure times.

    But, if they ever bring the express buses back to direct downtown service, they will charge the premium fare they originally intended to charge when those coach-style express buses were contemplated.

    For some reason, those users have been getting a special deal.

  • stu

    The RAV line stations are an architectural failure. Built and designed at the lowest possible cost, this is what we get: more sterile concrete and glass structures, and station interiors that look like giant washrooms. The Broadway and Cambie station is particularly ugly – using concrete to pave vast amounts amounts of real estate, rather than building a simple park with benches.

  • M.Cox

    Would / could someone point me to the tunnel which connects passengers on the millenium line to the Canada line at Granville Station? I know there has to be one; it would be a “world class embarrassment” if there wasn’t. So where is it? And of course there must be a tunnel for commuters connecting the two lines at Waterfront; again, i couldn’t find it on a station map nor by walking around until I was so lost I had to go up to Hastings, get my bearings, and walk in the rain to the other station on lower Granville. This can’t be, I thought: I must just not be very good at negotiating this system, even though I have no trouble in Paris, London, New York, Toronto, Montreal,….