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Opening of Canada Line – First Impressions

Aug 19, 2009

by Gordon Price, Director of City Program at Simon Fraser University [Pricetags blog]

My first impression? Crowds.

CL - crowds 2

I gave up trying to start at Waterfront Station, and took a trolley to Yaletown. Crowded too, but pleasant:

CL - Yaletown crowd

Yaletown Station is a bit better than City Centre, but still has that affable blandness.

CL Yaletown station 1

I confess, I likeCurtis Sq in fall 2d the little folly that used to occupy this space in Curtis Plaza. Its only function was to house the elevator for the parking garage below, but it fit. Nonetheless, Yaletown Station may add a little life to this space if properly programmed.

It’s a three-minute ride to City Hall. Finally, Vancouver’s civic centre will be more practically connected to its central business district. [Side note: the Hall is where it is because of the civic politics of the 1930s, just after three municipalities amalgamated to create the Vancouver we know today. It wouldn’t do to have the new City Hall located downtown (they even rejected an offer to buy the bankrupt Marine Building), and so it was built in what was then a Mt. Pleasant park.]

Anyway … I didn’t get off. Decided to take the train to Bridgeport, where the action will be when TransLink funnels most of the southern buses into this station. That meant 20 minutes in a tunnel.

As the train emerged into the light, there was an audible gasp of relief. Vancouverites have gotten used to a SkyTrain perspective, and don’t take well to riding underground. Still, it’s now possible to traverse the width of the city in the time it takes to flip through a newspaper, and to do it standing up. The ride is smooth, quiet and stable.

Beyond Marine Drive, a chance to fill in some of the holes in my mental map, to get a sense of the industrial lands that are already being eyed for transformation.

CL - Marine station cars

As near as I could see, a lot of this land is filled with cars – not my definition of ‘industrial’. And not likely to stay that way.

Same on the Richmond side:

CL - Bridgeport station area

Richmond has been aggressive in planning for more urbanity around its stations. Bridgeport, in addition to being the only park-and-ride in the system, is anticipated to be a playground for the kind of adult activities already provided by the River Rock Casino. The hotel-casino complex is nice enough (they even have their own wetland!), but they clearly skimped on the connection between the hotel and the station:

CL - tunnel

The landscape around Bridgeport is a suburban wasteland:

CL - Bridgeport elevated

But all that’s going to change. Bridgeport is one of those places where, after a few years, you forget what used to be there, not that any of it was memorable in the first place.

No time to check out No. 3 Road (a place already evidence of the previous statement), so back on the train (after an hour wait) to City Hall Station.

This one is the best of the lot in Vancouver:

CL - City Hall station

The wood, the curve, the tilt and the grade all work together to create a dynamic experience, visually and on foot, since the elevation of the platform is close to the grade of Broadway. When new buildings to the east frame the station, it will all look even better. And when the northeast corner of Cambie and Broadway has development equal to what has already occurred to the north, this will be an intersection worthy of the view.

CL - Cambie intersection

Back on the train, no wait, to finish the trip at Waterfront – our great nexus of transportation modes (can anyone name a place that has a better mix?) – at the place, in 1887, where Vancouver literally got its start.

CL Waterfront Entry Hall

Not this place, of course (it’s the second CPR station) – but what a statement! As they said of Pennslyvania Station in New York (before they tore it down), one enters the city as a king. It may be that the Canada Line doesn’t connect seamlessly with the Expo Line – but if it means transferring by way of this great room, it’s more than worth the trouble.

The Canada Line is truly something to celebrate: only rarely does a city get to open such an elemental piece of infrastructure. We will be shaping our region around it for the next century. No, it’s not everything it should be (more art, please) and, yes, the station platforms should have been built for the next century too. But it’s a fine addition to a city that has a very high bar when it comes to public transportation.

Oh, one more thing – the arty shot. The tunnel is lit, and in some places is surprisingly steep and curvy. When you’re up in the front, looking through the big picture window – well, it’s the kind of experience that kids never forget.

CL tunnel

One Comment

  1. Yaletown headhouse is awesome…DR Density!