The province announced Tuesday it would conduct a feasibility study this summer of building a rapid transit crossing to the North Shore. Pictured is the SeaBus ferry crossing the Burrard Inlet. Jason Payne / PNG files
The current options available to cross to the North Shore — the Lions Gate Bridge, the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge and SeaBus — have not changed in over 40 years. Meanwhile, the number of commuters has increased to the point where transportation has become the dominant issue in regional elections.
The province announced Tuesday it would begin a study this summer into the feasibility of a rapid transit line using a fixed-link — meaning a bridge or tunnel — to connect downtown Vancouver to the Lonsdale commercial core of North Vancouver.
The announcement from the government contains no frame of reference for the study, but says it will "consider the compatibility of a transit crossing with existing and future land use" and "could also consider increased use of the Burrard Inlet through an extended passenger ferry network."
The study is being paid for by the province, the District of North Vancouver and the cities of Vancouver, North Vancouver and West Vancouver.
"Over the years, the high cost of housing has forced people to move further from the places they work, resulting in longer commutes and serious traffic issues," said Bowinn Ma, the MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale and Parliamentary Secretary for TransLink.
“Commuters on the North Shore are frustrated with congestion,” said Transportation Minister Claire Trevena in a statement. “With this feasibility study, we’re exploring potential solutions that help people move around more easily, which will improve quality of life.”
The possibility of rapid transit from Vancouver to the North Shore was among the recommendations last year in a planning project led by Bowinn Ma, MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale. It recommended study of a 3.2-kilometre Lonsdale Quay-Waterfront Station tunnel, even though that is deepest and widest part of Burrard Inlet.
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The SkyTrain travelling through Vancouver, with the North Shore mountains in the background. PNG files
"This feasibility study is an extremely exciting addition to the many initiatives we have implemented so far and continue to work on to get the North Shore moving again."
Ma said traffic congestion and housing affordability are some of the problems that could be alleviated if a rapid transit link were possible across the Burrard Inlet.
"That was [identified] as the most optimistic alignment for a rapid transit connection, if you take into account population growth and economic activity," she said.
“Over the years, the high cost of housing has forced people to move further from the places they work, resulting in longer commutes and serious traffic issues,” she said.
One of the biggest questions part of study will look at, according to Ma, is whether the optimal route is between Waterfront Station and Lonsdale Quay or another location.
Greg Holmes with the Lower Lonsdale Business Improvement Association said a rapid transit connection is something the North Shore business community largely supports but that there are some who believe a SkyTrain crossing Burrard Inlet may bring some “undesirable elements.”
“Ultimately, we’ve got a finite amount of space. It is water on one side, mountains the other and that will never change,” Holmes said Tuesday. “We all agree that there’s no one magic solution … so anything that can get people out of their vehicles is going to be absolutely crucial to the survival of business.”
The study would also consider how a rapid-transit system could open up land for affordable housing development. Options for expanding the Burrard Inlet’s ferry network beyond the current SeaBus would also be examined.
Earlier this year, West Vancouver district council voted unanimously to explore alternative routes and stop options for the Main-Marine B-Line. The rapid bus line had caused months of heated debate in the community.
The B.C. government is working with TransLink and municipal funding partners to look at the feasibility of a potential rapid transit crossing across the Burrard Inlet to the North Shore.
“Our government recognizes commuters on the North Shore are frustrated with congestion,” Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said.
An INSTPP report from August 2018 recommends "evaluating the benefits and costs of, and conditions for rapid transit between the North Shore and Burrard Peninsula, connecting to the regional rapid transit network, and focusing on connecting Lonsdale City Centre with Vancouvers metropolitan core."
“With this feasibility study, we’re exploring potential solutions that help people move around more easily, which will improve quality of life.”
The Integrated North Shore Transportation Planning Project proposed a connection between Lonsdale City Centre and the city of Vancouver. Governments have long grappled with the challenges of a third fixed crossing between the North Shore and Vancouver.
But a transit project would be something different and offer North Vancouver and West Vancouver transit infrastructure that they have missed out on in the past.
The B.C. government has announced it will explore rapid transit options between downtown Vancouver and the North Shore in response to the worsening congestion on the routes connecting the two areas.
“Traffic congestion is intricately connected to issues like housing affordability,” North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma said.
While INSTPP did not discuss specific types of transportation that could link the two areas, it did say "municipal partners have stated a preference for rail rapid transit."
“Over the years, the high cost of housing has forced people to move further from the places they work, resulting in longer commutes and serious traffic issues. This feasibility study is an extremely exciting addition to the many initiatives we have implemented so far and continue to work on to get the North Shore moving again.”
The study will look at the compatibility of a transit crossing with existing and future land use, as well as the potential for affordable housing as part of its evaluation metrics.
The study could also consider increased use of the Burrard Inlet through an extended passenger ferry network.
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the District of North Vancouver, the City of Vancouver, City of North Vancouver and City of West Vancouver are contributing funding towards the study that will get underway this summer.
“This is wonderful news for us here in the City of North Vancouver and for the North Shore in general,” North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan said.
“Not only does approval of this funding demonstrate the benefits of intergovernmental co-operation, but it also brings us a critical step closer to addressing traffic issues in a meaningful way. This is the kind of bold action we need to take as we work to become the healthiest small city in the world.”