Vancouver, Stockholm, and the Suburban Metro Model

I was asked by an area advocate about SkyTrain, and this turned into a long email with various models to compare Vancouver with. In my schema contrasting suburban metro systems and S-Bahns, Vancouver is firmly in the first category: SkyTrain is not commuter rail, and Vancouver’s commuter rail system, the West Coast Express, is so weak it might as well not exist. The suburban metro model forces the region to engage in extensive transit-oriented development, which Vancouver has done. Has it been successful? To some extent, yes – Vancouver’s modal split is steadily rising, and in the 2016 census, just before the Evergreen Line opened, was 20%; supposedly it is 24% now. But it could have done better. How so?

Could Vancouver have used the S-Bahn model?


There is a common line of advocacy; glimpses of it can be found on the blog Rail for the Valley, by a writer using the name Zweisystem who commented on transit blogs like Yonah and Jarrett‘s in the 2000s. Using the name of Karlsruhe’s tram-train as inspiration, Zwei has proposed that Vancouver use existing commuter rail corridors in suburban and exurban areas and streetcars in the urban core.

The problem with this is that Vancouver has very little legacy mainline rail infrastructure to work with. There are two mainlines serving city center: the Canadian Pacific, and Canadian National. The CP line hugs the coast, full of industrial customers; the CN line is farther inland and has somewhat more fixable land use, but the Millennium Line partly parallels it and even after 20 years its ridership is not the strongest in the system. Most of the urban core is nowhere near a rail mainline.

This is completely unlike the Central European S-Bahn-and-streetcars systems, all of which have legacy commuter lines radiating in all directions, and use legacy streetcars rather than newly-built light rail lines. In the last generation they’ve expanded their systems, building connections and feeding rapid transit, but none of these is a case of completely getting rid of the streetcars and then restoring them later; the busiest system that’s entirely new, that of Paris, is largely orbitals and feeders for the Métro and RER.

Vancouver did in fact reuse old infrastructure for the suburban metro concept. The Expo Line involved very little greenfield right-of-way use. Most of the core route between the historic core of Vancouver and New Westminster is in the private right-of-way of a historic BC Electric interurban; this is why it parallels Kingsway but does not run elevated over it. The tunnel in Downtown Vancouver is a disused CP tunnel; this is why the tracks are stacked one over the other rather than running side by side – the tunnel was single-track but tall enough to be cut into two levels. This limited the construction cost of the Expo Line, which the largely-elevated Millennium Line and the partly underground, partly elevated Canada Line could not match.

The Stockholm example

In my post about S-Bahns and suburban metros, I characterized Stockholm as an archetypal suburban metro. Stockholm does have an S-Bahn tunnel nowadays, but it only opened 2017, and ridership so far, while rising, is still a fraction of that of the T-bana.

Stockholm’s choice of a full metro system in the 1940s, when it had about a million people in its metro area, had its critics at the time. But there wasn’t much of a choice. The trams were fighting growing traffic congestion, to the point that some lines had to be put in a tunnel, which would later be converted for the use of the Green Line as it goes through Södermalm. Working-class housing was overcrowded and there was demand for more housing in Stockholm, which would eventually be satisfied by the Million Program.

And there were too few commuter lines for an S-Bahn system. Swedes were perfectly aware of the existence of the S-Bahn model; Berlin and Hamburg both had S-Bahns running on dedicated tracks, and Copenhagen had built its own system, called S-Tog in imitation of the German name. But they didn’t build that. None of this was the integrated Takt timetable that Munich would perfect in the 1970s, in which branches could be left single-track or shared with intercity trains provided the regular 20-minute headways could be scheduled to avoid conflicts; the track sharing required in the 1940s would have been too disruptive. Not to mention, Stockholm had too few lines, if not so few as Vancouver – only two branches on each of two sides of city center, with most of the urban core far from the train.

So Stockholm built the T-bana, with three highly branched lines all meeting at T-Centralen, the oldest two of the three having a cross-platform transfer there and at the two stations farther south. The roughly 104 km system (57 km underground) cost, in 2022 US dollars, $3.6 billion. Stockholm removed all the regular streetcars; a handful running all or mostly in private rights-of-way were retained with forced transfers at outlying T-bana stations like Ropsten, as was the narrow-gauge Roslagsbana (with a forced transfer at KTH, where I worked for two years).

At the same time the T-bana was under construction, the state built the Million Program, and in the Stockholm region, the housing projects were designed to be thoroughly oriented around the system. The pre-Million Program TOD suburb of Vällingby was envisioned as part of a so-called string of pearls, in which towns would radiate from each T-bana station, with local retail and jobs near the station surrounded by housing. In 2019, the T-bana had 1,265,900 riders per workday, Citybanan had 410,300, and the remaining lines 216,100; Sweden reports modal split for all trips and not just work trips, but the commute modal split appears to be 40% or a little higher, a figure that matches Paris, a metro area of 13 million that opened its first metro line in 1900.

So why is Stockholm better?

There are parallels between Stockholm and Vancouver – both are postwar cities with 2.5 million people in their metropolitan areas with rapid growth due to immigration. Their physical geographies are similar, with water barriers inhibiting the contiguous sprawl of many peers. Both extensively employed TOD to shape urban geography around the train: Stockholm has Vällingby and other, less famous examples of TOD; Vancouver has Metrotown and smaller examples of residential TOD along the Expo Line, alongside a famously high-rise downtown. But the T-bana has more than twice the annual ridership of SkyTrain, and Stockholm has around twice the modal split of Vancouver – this is not a matter of Canadians riding buses more than Europeans do. So what gives?

Part of it is about TOD models. Stockholm is an exceptionally monocentric city, and this has created a lot of demand for urban rail to Central Stockholm. But Vancouver’s high-rise city center has a lot of jobs, and overall, around 30% of Metro Vancouver jobs are in the city or the University Endowment Lands (that is, UBC), and the proportion of Stockholm County jobs within an equivalent area is similar. Vancouver has never built anything as massive as the Million Program, but its housing growth rate is one of the highest in the world (around 11 gross units/1,000 people per year in the 2010s), and much of that growth clusters near the Expo Line and increasingly also near the worse-developed Millennium and Canada Lines.

I suspect that the largest reason is simply the extent of the systems. SkyTrain misses the entire West Side of Vancouver west of Cambie, has poor coverage in Surrey and none in Langley, and does not cross the Burrard Inlet. The T-bana has no comparable lacunae: Roslag is served by Roslagsbanan, and the areas to be served by the under-construction extensions are all target TOD areas with much less present-day density than North Vancouver, the cores of Fairview and Kitsilano, or the town centers in Surrey other than Whalley.

What’s more, Stockholm’s construction costs may be rising but those of Vancouver (and the rest of Canada) are rising even faster and from a higher base. Nya Tunnelbanan is currently budgeted at $3.6 billion in PPP terms – 19 underground km for about the same cost as the existing 104 – but Vancouver is building half of the most critical SkyTrain extension, that under Broadway, for C$2.83 billion (US$2.253 billion in PPP terms) for just 5 km, not all underground. The projected cost per rider is still favorable, but it’s less favorable for the planned extension to Langley, and there’s no active plan for anything to the North Shore.

The silver lining for Vancouver is that the West Side is big and underdeveloped. The region has the money to extend SkyTrain not just to Arbutus as is under construction but all the way to UBC, and the entire swath of land between Central Broadway and UBC screams “redevelop me.” The current land use is a mix of mid-rise, townhouses (“missing middle”), and single-family housing; Shaughnessy, whose northern end is within a kilometer of under-construction SkyTrain stations, is single-family on large lots, and can be redeveloped as high-rise housing alongside closer-in areas. Canada does not have Europe’s allergy to tall buildings, and this is a resource that can be used to turn Vancouver into a far more transit-oriented city along the few corridors where it can afford to build. The suburban metro is always like this: fewer lines, more development intensity along them.


  1. Felix Thoma

    Stockholm is similar to Oslo in that they converted former rapid tram lines to metro standard, thus maximizing metro standard with minimizing tunnel construction. Later lines were rather build by tunneling through the rocky underground.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, but the vast majority of the 57 underground km in Stockholm are new – the converted trams are just two sections of the Green Line and one of them is above-ground. See map here and description on Wikipedia.

      • Thomas K Ohlsson

        The greenline has at least three sections of converted tram trackage.
        The red line has one quite long section of tram trackage built in the 50s – including a tunnel – converted to tunnelbana 1964.

        Regarding the modal split my guess is that Stockholm has a lot of high quality rail transit other than the tunnelbana – Pendeltåg (S-bahn), Roslagsbanan, Lidingöbanan and Tvärbanan. Vancouver has the Skytrain and a lot of buses, nothing more. And rail almost always beats buses!


  2. Oueiki

    Hello, Alon, it’s the first time I’ve commented on your article. Please excuse a Chinese who is not so good at English.

    Between S-Bahn and suburban metro, cities in mainland China all choose the latter for various reasons: China’s existing railways are not so abundant, and it is often difficult to use these limited railway resources to construct the complex S-Bahn system for the use of these huge cities of 10 million people. Besides, China’s large population and fast-growing cities give it the confidence to maintain high ridership on each suburban subway line.

    I live in Hangzhou, the second largest city in the Yangtze River Delta(after Shanghai), which has a population about the same size as Ile-de-France. By the year 2022, Hangzhou has 10 urban metro lines (line1-10) and 4 suburban metro lines (line 16, line Haining, branch of line 6, and Shaoxing line 1). In Hangzhou, 10 urban lines carry 3.2 million passengers on average every working day, while 4 suburban lines carry about 250,000 passengers, with the city’s 540-kilometer length.

    Compared with Paris, Hangzhou also has a similar line to RER. Hangzhou Metro Line 19 is about to open, a 60km rail express line running from west to east through the city. Line 18 from north to south is also planned. But different from RER, Line 18 and 19 operate mainly in urban built-up areas and do not reach their surrounding satellite cities. Compared to Paris, it’s like taking the suburban metro at Etampes and changing to the “New Building” RER at Orly to get to Charles de Gaulle Airport.

    What is your thought about the network structure of metro in China? I’m looking forward to your reply.

    • Alon Levy

      What is your thought about the network structure of metro in China? I’m looking forward to your reply.

      I really need to blog about this – I have these posts called The [country/area] Way of Building Rapid Transit, covering the US, the Soviet Bloc, the UK, France, and Germany, and I seriously need to add in Japan (inc. South Korea) and China. The Chinese way relies on dense metro networks and looks like it’s designed around very large cities – Beijing and Shanghai have enormous systems, and Hangzhou has a strong one too, but then cities like Hohhot have much less ridership than similar-size European cities like Munich. I presume it’s because the Chinese system relies on extensive TOD and some of it hasn’t happened yet but is still under construction?

      • Oueiki

        Year, but not all of it. TOD is the original intention of Chinese cities, but it is not easy to achieve. In a city the size of Hohhot, metro ridership looks so poor that people are already questioning the need for further construction.
        Rather than cutting through the centre of some towns, Chinese cities tends to build its stations in vast fields, where it develops lots of commercial housing (not commercial facilities). But if a city’s population inflow plateaus (especially in some cities in northern China — I’m talking about Tianjin), these stations cannot be well developed. Tod is just a fantasy.

        • Phake Nick

          But, judging from satellite map, isn’t Hohhot metro line 1, as well as the Zhongshan Road area, the busiest part of the city, and be covered by the metro?

          • Oueiki

            Yes, there is nothing wrong with Hohhot’s planning, which has done its best to cover the most prosperous areas, but the total daily passenger flow of the two subways is only about 150,000. The reason is that the city’s population is still too small. Its main district, with a population of just 2.5m, is not eligible to build metro, according to the latest document. Changzhou and Luoyang, which opened their metro around the same time as Hohhot, also stopped the construction of the second phase after completing the first phase.

          • Phake Nick

            But why only 150k daily ridership for 2.5M population? As a comparison, Fukuoka have only 1.5M population but its metro have 430k daily ridership.
            On the other hand, I found that Fukuoka City’s bus city transported ~735k pax a day, while Hohhot’s bus system transported ~1030k pax a day (1.03 Mil), so the transit ridership is there but just that those passengers are riding buses instead of metro. Why is it that? Hohhot’s metro system are already longer than Fukuoka’s, and buses in Fukuoka are already outstandingly significant compares to other Japanese cities.

            Another point of comparison is Kaohsiung, which have a population of 2.7 million, and its former city area before merging with the county have a population size of 1.5 million. Yet it still have a metro ridership of ~180k despite often criticized as having low ridership, and compare with buses that cover the entire current-city ex-countu area, the metro have 31% market share while urban buses have 63% as of 2019, which mean buses carried about 360k riders. Aka it still manage to have a ridership level better than Hihhot despite smaller population in urban core and with less transit trip being made. And this is with Kaohsiung actually having a declining population, in both the current larger area of city, as well as the former city core area, with general population outflow from Southern Taiwan to Northern Taiwan.

            So what make Hohhot’s system underperform compares to both Fukuoka and Kaohsiung?

          • Oueiki

            I have never been to Inner Mongolia, so I can only give a few thoughts based on my own observations.

            First of all, Hohhot’s metro system is so new that the new urban areas along the metro line have not yet been fully developed (unlike Fukuoka or some Other Japanese cities where the population density along the subway line is significantly higher than the rest of the city). (The same is true in Kaohsiung)

            Second, as you can see from Google satellite maps, Hohhot has a smaller built-up area (means a shorter travel radius) than Fukuoka, even though it has a larger population. In addition, the road network structure of Chinese cities is significantly different from that of Japan — all of which means that surface buses can work better in Hohhot.

            Finally, in China, the difference between subway and bus fares is still significant, which means that if it’s not a time-sensitive trip, people may likely to take the bus to save money — I’m not sure that’s the case in Japan.

          • Phake Nick

            Apparently Hohhot metro was only opened on 2019 December. Given the pandemic it probably make sense that the current ridership is still suppressed even ignoring the newness factor of it, as the Kaohsiung metro figure in 2020 and 2021 are still below 2019 level I cited, so that probably explain part of the disparity.

            However, as can be seen from,111.66804,33.55032,130.42698,12,M,M (You can select satellite option after entering the link), Hohhot is about the same size as Fukuoka. Hohhot metro line 1 is a 21.8 km straight line, and a 27 km curvy line 2 that act as a vertical line in the middle but blend toward tails. On the other hand, Fukuoka metro line 1 which transverse Fukuoka horizontally is only 13.1km long, line 2 is a short 4.7 km line that connect with (but have no through running and have separate fare scale) a single tracked 11km line that offer 10-15 mins headway with 2-car trains, and line 3 is another 12 km long that connect into city center train station but do not connect with the other two metro lines until an extension planned to open in 2023. The length of these lines in Fukuoka are shorter than what Hohhot have.

            As for fare, it appears like in Fukuoka buses are a bit cheaper than metro, but nowhere near the magnitude in China where Hohhot bus charge only 1 Yuan for most route inside urban area yet need 2 Yuan for shortest trip within 5km and an additional Yuan for every other ~5 km.
            But how much it matters? Like buses in Fukuoka are 150 Yen at the cheapest for the shortest type <1km feeder ride, which translate to about 8 Yuan, while metro in Fukuoka are 230 Yen for the first 3km ride which translate to about 12 Yuan, without considering purchasing power. With purchasing power considered, it would be about a bottle of cola for first 3km ride in Fukuoka, while a bottle of cola in Hohhot can probably send you ~10km down the Hohhot metro. But then I guess disposable income as well as the value of time of people also matter? Aka how much can the people earn and how much they are willing to pay to save time, which in turn are index of economic development, which Hohhot is probably considerably inferior.

          • Oueiki

            As for the urban built-up area, maybe I have some problems with the expression — should Fukuoka include the cities of Haruhi, Tsukikino, Taizabu, Oano city, Nakokawa and so on to the south? Whether to include these cities or not, a comparison with Hohhot will give the opposite answer.
            In any case, the fukuoka metro’s coverage is definitely more focused on the main city — it connects tenshin and Hakata nicely, and if I remember correctly, the subway has direct access to the JR line at the end of the line?
            In contrast, Hohhot’s lines are horizontal and vertical, extending to distant suburbs on the one hand, but not enough to cover the city’s interior on the other. For example, streets such as Qilechuan and Zhaowuda in the southeast of the city have no subway coverage at all.
            As for the fare, this is just my immature guess, if there is a significant difference between bus and subway in Fukuoka, then there is probably no reason for this.

          • Phake Nick

            10% area of commute is probably more accurate. With this metric (and also see the map attached in the link for scope of the area of commute for Fukuoka city) adding 17 other satellite towns together, Fukuoka would be comparable to Hohhot in term of both population and size wise, with ~2.6 million people inside this area. However the area would also include a significantly more extensive JR and Nishitetsu rail network, where riders on these lines won’t get directly counted toward metro ridership but networking effect will still help enhance the metro service’s utilization, making comparison more difficult

          • Oueiki

            Thank you for your link, but please forgive me for not being able to open the Japanese Wikipedia page due to China’s Internet control policy.
            Yes, good contact with JR and Nishitetsu is also a factor in fukuoka’s higher ridership.
            I think of another reason, not just the difference between Fukuoka and Hohhot, but the difference between Japan and China on a larger scale. Since the Meiji period, Japan has started industrialization and urbanization. Urban development and railway construction are accompanied by large areas of “一戸建” as the common form of urban housing, with dense and narrow streets. In China, where large-scale industrialization and urbanization are only a matter of recent decades, the age of the automobile has arrived. Chinese cities are much more road-focused than Japanese ones, with relatively sparse but wider urban roads and extensive elevated expressways in larger cities (including Hohhot) – there is reason to believe that Buses in China are faster than in Japan.
            Generally speaking, fukuoka, as a developed city, is more mature than Hohhot, which just opened rail transit a few years ago, in terms of multi-network integration, line distribution and development along metro lines.

  3. nathanarticulated

    Other Rail lines in Vancouver BC
    1.. Arbutus Corridor is now owned by the City; its extension to Richmond BC  ( The Steveston Line )is mostly owned by the City of Richmond along Railway Ave. ; Municipal Transit Solutions   Steve Ostrowski 416 840 6321 has a proposal for having a line at less than $20 M per km from Richmond Centre to Steveston. Providing rail service from Main St.-Science World Station to Granville Island  like it was done for the 2010 Winter Olympics could be returned, furthermore a rail link from Granville Island south end of Burrard Bridge to Downtown via Burrard Bridge/St. would provide extra service rail rapid service to Downtown
    2. Marpole Line: Is not used anymore for freight and the City/BC govt could purchase it to provide rail service from New Westminster ( NW ) to Vancouver.  Going east from NW a freight line exist to Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, but could introduce passenger service to complement the existing West Coast Express.( WCE )  WCE could be improved  as well by providing more trips and two way service similar to GO Rail.  Extending WCE farther east  into Abbotsford and Chilliawack. is also possible.
    3. Fraser Valley Freight Line: Is owned by the BC government. Passenger service could be introduced between Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford City and Airport , Chillawack. The BC govt Ministry of Transportation is doing a report about this railway line since 2020. it might be released this year?
    4. NorthShore Rail : It has not been used for passengers for 20 years.. Could provide two rail lines; a) Upgrade the present line from North Vancouver to WV HSBay, Squamish, Whisler, Prince George.b) Provide a new line starting at Park Royal in WV to North Vancouver and continuing via a new Transit Only Bridge and/or NEW 2nd Narrows Bridge to Burnaby and Vancouver.
    We need proper transportation planning for Metro Vancouver – Lower Mainland  the longer we delay the worst it will get.

    • Alon Levy

      1. Arbutus can’t be used as-is at S-Bahn scale – it can be a light rail line or an elevated SkyTrain line (or a tunneled line if it can be done cut-and-cover), but either way, the downtown alignment requires a greenfield tunnel.

      2. Marpole is a nice circumferential, but TOD on the radials on the strength of the downtown connection via SkyTrain is obligatory. And RER-style operations on CP are not really viable given that it’s a heavy industrial line and not a post-industrial line like many of Toronto’s commuter lines.

      3. The problem is that this still relies on shared infrastructure with freight, for example across the bridge.

      4. Sure, but then people need to get between the North Shore and the city, and a connection via Burnaby is too circuitous to be time-competitive with SeaBus.

    • Mark

      The best approach for transit to the North Shore is Route 3A from the 2020 feasibility study – the one under Brockton Point. The Second Narrows routes, like Alon said, are never going to be competitive with the SeaBus.

  4. Charlie

    Why is Canada so cool with high rises? I’m always impressed by how Toronto and Vancouver have towers next to the metro station and single family homes just a block or two away from the towers. Would never be allowed in most American cities.

    • Andrew in Ezo

      It’s OK in Los Angeles: see the Wilshire (Blvd.) Corridor on the Westside.

        • JasonJason

          Anecdotally, they started being built in the 1980s, which coincides with one of first waves of Hong Kong immigration in recent history, and one reason they were profitable was that developers like Concord Pacific was able to market them in Hong Kong, even if such high rise condominiums were initially not popular with Vancouverites used to single family homes. Waves of immigration from Taiwan, Korea, China, etc sustained such demand until they became ubiquitous (and everyone else priced out of single family homes).

          • Brendan Dawe

            Anecdotes about Chinese investors in Vancouver and whatever there supposed impact is need to be taken with the appropriate helpings of skepticism.

            The West End was full of new high rise apartments in the 1950s and 1960s, which was starting to spread into other apartment neighbourhoods before the nimby-reformist backlash in 1972. In the 1970s and 80s they were building highway-oriented apartment towers in Burnaby and pre-TOD in Metrotown.

    • Phake Nick

      Isn’t it part of what people describe as “missing middle” problem? There are still towers amd highrise, but no moderate density developments/accommodation next to them and immediately turned into very low density single family housing

  5. Phake Nick

    Would it be possible to convert highway right of way into rail right of way, and would the cost of doinh so be lower than building an all new rail corridor?

      • Phake Nick

        I mean entirely replacing the highway with a railway, instead of building a railway between highway. This could hopefully avoid many car-associated problems when building rail along highway median

        • Matthew Hutton

          Removing the road completely would likely be extremely unpopular with the voters.

          • fjod

            You can assert this, but it does happen. I am sure some of the alignments here could have been at least half-decent for public transport (e.g. Alaskan Way in Seattle).

          • Matthew Hutton

            Outside inner London even low traffic neighbourhoods (I.e. partly blocking roads off) is at best mixed but controversial with the voters – see for example.

            And those letters in the Guardian generally match my experience canvassing the voters – I wish George Monbiot had done the same for either Labour or the Green Party before declaring that LTNs are uncontroversial.

          • fjod

            LTNs aren’t the same thing – and canvassing is not a good way of gauging voter behaviour (you disproportionately get the view of the people who are unhappy with the way things are being done).

          • Matthew Hutton

            Sure canvassing is bias towards complaints and it’s also bias towards older homeowners. But on the other hand people are typically not complaining about infrastructure or new housing so 🤷‍♂️.

            Nonetheless if LTNs are hugely controversial with residents shutting major roads would be even more controversial.

  6. Mark

    I think the most important difference between Stockholm & Vancouver, which is so vast as to render the exact mode of transit development largely moot, is the sprawl in Vancouver. The cities have the same metro population, but their built-up areas are very different: Stockholm has 1.7 million people in 414 km^2, whereas Vancouver has 2.4 million in 914 km^2. Within the City of Vancouver + Burnaby, where the population density is 41 persons/ha, (exactly the same as Stockholm’s built-up area, which is all that’s served by the T-Bana) SkyTrain service is very good, highly profitable, and justifies investment. But then there’s the remaining 75% of Metro Van, which is politically powerful enough to demand high levels of transit service in spite of its sparse population, eating up TransLink’s entire budget surplus from Vancouver + Burnaby & leaving them to go begging to the province & feds for capital investment.

    • Alon Levy

      2,630 vs. 4,110 per km^2 is a difference but it’s not a factor of 2 difference in the modal split.

      And in general, built-up density is not a good measure to use, for a bunch of reasons:

      1. Parts of the world, including Sweden (and Germany) but not Canada (or Japan), have discontinuous sprawl – suburbs are separated from cities by greenbelts, so the density over the commuter zone is low but those commuter suburbs are not counted as part of the urbanized area.

      2. Built-up density is sensitive to low-density fringes, which are by definition low-population. New York’s built-up density, 2,050/km^2 as of 2010, is lower than Vancouver’s, and the highest-density American metro area is Los Angeles, at 2,380. But New York’s modal split is 33% – not because it has better service quality than Vancouver or Stockholm, but because the 2,050/km^2 figure is weighed down by low-population exurbs, while the majority of the urban area’s population lives at five-figure density.

      3. Overall density says nothing about structure. Weighted density has higher correlation with transit usage in the US, but the ratio of weighted to standard density has an even stronger one: it matters whether jobs and residences are strewn all over the region at random (as is the case in LA) or whether they’re structured in such a way that jobs are in the center or at distinguished public transit nodes.

      • Mark

        Let’s take a step back here. I’m essentially just replying to your paragraph beginning “I suspect that the largest reason is simply the extent of the systems…”
        The SkyTrain is nearly as long as the T-Bana, and will be longer once the three projects in various stages of development are completed (or at least very close, depending on how much Sweden builds in the next 20 years). So it’s not the case that the SkyTrain has lower ridership because it just isn’t built out very much. It is built-out, but that buildout doesn’t cover very much of Vancouver because – compared to Stockholm – it’s a very sprawly city with powerful suburbs that can demand lots of costly bus service and poor prioritization of rail development (the 90s decision to build the half of the M Line east of Clark before the half west of Clark has been enormously consequential). Because Stockholm has a dense, compact urban area dominated by a single municipality, (no Surrey) their 100 km of track can cover all the places where it is actually necessary for it to be built, with nothing left undone. Vancouver could do that if the city still ended at the Fraser, and probably would have. But Surrey exists now, as do the Langleys & Maple Meadows. Now, would it help if TransLink would raise their budget by 50% (my Swedish is terrible, but I believe SL’s annual budget is about $3B to TL’s $2B) and build all three of the in-development SkyTrain projects post-haste? Sure. But that doesn’t fix the basic fact that Vancouver has many suburbs that don’t want to build themselves efficiently for transit, but nevertheless demand high levels of service. As you get at in your point 3.

      • adirondacker12800

        Something is hinky with your numbers. In very round numbers New York City itself has 80 percent of Los Angeles County’s population in 10 percent of the land area. Los Angeles city is less dense than Staten Island. They could all move to Brooklyn and Queens with space leftover.

        • Mark

          No, those numbers are at least approximately right. NY’s built-up area is absolutely huge because it has snakes of suburban development connecting the thousands of little towns for over 100 km around. Boston is the same way. Compare Europe, where those towns remain completely surrounded by farmland, and Canada/the Western US, which never had them.

          • Eric2

            Which is why the number that should be used is weighted density, which accurately describes the density experienced by the average person, and does not depend on where you draw boundaries. Including a unpopulated farm in the city boundary causes zero change to the weighted density, and including an exurb/village of low population causes little change to the weighted density because few people experience that low population.

      • Denis

        Vancouver has discontinuous sprawl due to the Agricultural Land Reserve. Farmland separates Langley, Surrey, Abbotsford, and Delta because it’s protected. Paired with single family zoning population growth gets further and further from the urban core.

        • Mark

          That was certainly the intent, but in practice, the municipalities are abusing loopholes in the definition of “agricultural” to develop the ALR anyway. Just take a look at some of the “farms” around the Shell Rd trail.

        • Phake Nick

          Ignoring the fact that it make no sense to have argicultural reserve in urabn area instead of wide open lands out side cities, China also have a lot of argicultural reservation land near city but they still can do igh density development between them.

  7. Some Guy

    I think the main point, that Vancouver has left a lot of ridership ‘on the table’ by failing to build Skytrain along Broadway, is certainly true, but there are probably other contributing factors to the difference in mode share, including:

    City centre location – Central Stockholm is actually central, not off in a corner of the region

    Culture – sadly Vancouver is influenced by North American auto-culture, which is not really transit supportive, as evidenced by low mode shares throughout Canada and the U.S., lots of pickup trucks on the road, locals and right-wing columnists ready to bleat about a war on cars, an attitude that transit is a crime ridden option only for poor people who smell bad, people ready to go to war to preserve their single family home neighbourhoods and so on, right wing politicians trolling for votes with divisive transit referendums, etc.

    Geographic barriers – I know Stockholm has a lot, but to get to both the North Shore and south of Fraser requires a bigger stretch than anything required to reach major dense Stockholm neighbourhoods from downtown, especially since earthquakes are a Vancouver consideration that Stockholm doesn’t have.

    One side effect of this that could be positive is that I do see long term significant additional Skytrain potential in Surrey on both King George/Guildford axis and Scott Road. The area is not much to look at, but when you look at the trajectory in population, density, bus ridership, tolerance for redevelopment and challenges in getting to other parts of the region, I think people underestimate the potential ridership there. Still, Skytrain to UBC should come first.

    I guess you could make a list of countervailing advantages that Vancouver has, tolerance for tall tower development, higher proportion of immigrants, etc.) but it seems unlikely to me that this list tips overall in Vancouver’s favour.

    • Alon Levy

      In Stockholm, the Alliance diverted congestion pricing money to road construction; the city has freeway tunnels running through it. Right-wing politicians thinking cars are great and the more they pollute, they better is not a unique problem to North America.

  8. Johnny-come-lately

    Just as an aside. The reason Swedes are picky on where we put high-rises mainly boils down to the fact that Stockholm sits at the 59:th latitude vs Vancouver on the 49:th.

    So the sun will not go as high in the summer, and sinks lower during the winter. Creating shading problems during half of the year. Which is why you will see tall buildings on southern shores, next to large non residential areas and so on. (See, Liljeholmen, Torsplan, Hornsbergs strand)

    Then you have other considerations (that are all over the place). But the main driver is access to sunlight.

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