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Broadway business owners say no to UBC Line

The corner of Commercial Drive and East Broadway, a possible starting location for the proposed UBC line. Photo by Benjamin Yong.

“Bad for business, but good for the city.” This is how many store owners and employees along Broadway responded when they heard the words “UBC rapid transit.”

Opinions seem to be split about what to do about the growing transit ridership demand in the Broadway Corridor that starts at the intersection with Commercial and ends at UBC. It has been one of the hotly contested issues of the Vancouver-Point Grey byelection that saw Premier Christy Clark win by a narrow margin over NDP candidate David Eby, who has been vocal about the importance of avoiding disruption to businesses that happened during Canada Line construction.

Hamid Khodakhah, who now owns Silks Café on East Broadway, has seen the disruption first hand.

“I was working at [Authentic Rugs & Art on] Cambie and King Edward, you know how long it took them to build the SkyTrain?”

He said the city promised construction would only take a year, which stretched into almost three.

“The sidewalk was blocked, traffic was bad, and there was lots of dirt you could see,” said Khodakhah.

“More than half of our business dropped, and then the recession hit. Very bad times.”

Arianne Dee is a part-time barista at Silks. She is also a UBC student who regularly takes the 99 B-Line bus that services the Broadway route, which she said is frequently running at capacity.

Arianne Dee, part-time barista and UBC student. Photo by Benjamin Yong.

“I took a transportation engineering class [at UBC] – from a city planning perspective I think [rapid transit is] worth it, but definitely not for the businesses.”

The central Broadway area already doesn’t get much foot traffic, and many nearby businesses are suffering and closing down. Prolonged construction would be disastrous, said Dee.

Devin Mackenzie, who works at the Rio Theatre near the Commercial SkyTrain station, expressed mixed feelings about the plan.

 “I’m a [former] UBC student, at that time I would have loved a SkyTrain running down Broadway,” he said.

However, Mackenzie said construction would have a negative effect on the cinema.

“Recently we had the entire sidewalk ripped out, and that definitely hurt us for awhile. We had to have this jimmy’d up pirate plank going to the box office, and that definitely restricted people from even hanging outside,” said Mackenzie.

Devin Mackenzie, employee at Rio Theatre. Photo by Benjamin Yong.

“In the long term I see it as a very positive thing, especially for UBC students, but for us, it’s going to suck. It’s really going to hurt us for those four years it takes to build it.”

The City of Vancouver is currently in phase two of a joint study with TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s regional transportation authority, to evaluate alternatives for the UBC line.

"We’re looking at bus rapid transit, light rail transit, and rail rapid transit/SkyTrain,” said Randy Pecarski, acting director of planning assistant for the city. Bus rapid transit means building a dedicated lane for express buses (cost: $325 million), light rail transit are surface level trains that run along the road ($1.1 billion), and rail rapid transit is similar to the SkyTrains already running throughout the city ($2.9 billion), he said.

There are three key factors under consideration now, according to Pecarski:

  1. Capacity: can it carry the number of people that need the service?
  2. Time: can it carry them at a speed that is faster than the current options available? 
  3. Reliability: is it going to be uninterrupted? He also said that a running dialogue with the business community is a vital component.

“We’ve done a lot of work consulting businesses both through the TransLink study and through setting up meetings specifically with the business community and TransLink, to make sure they hear from our business community as we go through the process.”

Aside from meetings, there has also been information posted on the Internet, an online questionnaire, community workshops, and talks with UBC students, he said.

He added a big problem with the Canada Line was not necessarily that main roads were dug up, but that they stayed dug up for a long time. As a result a motion was passed that would not support the “cut and cover” method in areas that have a lot of businesses in them.

Stage three of the study will start in early 2012, which will be developing the business case – exactly where the stations will be built, how they will be positioned, determining pricing, and finding a construction firm to take on the project.

“It’s going to be awhile,” Pecarski said.

“If people are concerned about these things, now is the time to let TransLink, politicians and the city know."

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