Metro Vancouver’s Evergreen rapid transit line is set to open before the end of 2016. Planning for this SkyTrain link to deep Coquitlam started almost 20 years ago, and residential towers sprang up almost immediately near the proposed route, beginning with Newport and Suter Brook in Port Moody. The Coquitlam Centre precinct was rapidly densified and complexified through the 2000s. We recently saw the astonishing announcement of a 23-tower project at Lougheed Town Centre site in Burnaby, rising to heights of 65 storeys, with a potential for 11,000 apartment units. And it ain’t over yet.
SkyTrain is reliable in moving masses of people, but its land use impacts over the past 30 years have been uneven. This website supports urban development that gives walkable access to services in a healthy, attractive setting, and fosters a sense of local attachment. By that standard, the manufactured townsite of Suter Brook, pictured above, may be good enough: it offers commercial services and cafes, housing choice in the adjacent Klahanie neighbourhood, and scenic walking trails. The Joyce/Collingwood development in Vancouver has been an area of conscious community building; Surrey Centre boasts a grand but so far disconnected set of civic monuments. The towers of Burnaby’s Brentwood are jammed into a web of major highways, rapid transit lines and parking lots, and I find it hard to believe that Brentwood will ever be classified as a community.
I mentioned in a January 2016 post that at-grade trains are slower than SkyTrain, but are more likely to enable medium-density living and neighbourhood-scale commercial use. Skytrain flies over or tunnels under neighbourhoods, and leaves large areas of sprawl unimproved. A pro-SkyTrain reader responded that land use is controlled by city councils, and they could locate modest-size villages around SkyTrain stations if they chose. However, they have not yet done so, in any of the seven cities that are home to existing or prospective elevated train stations.
I took a sometimes gritty walk recently through communities that are directly affected by the Evergreen line. I was joined by two co-tourists, my sister Morna McLeod and my brother Brian McLeod. There are seven stations along the route, and transit-oriented towers have already popped up at five of them. The sixth station area, in the historic Port Moody city centre, is the subject of a long-term plan that is intended to introduce towers. The seventh station, Coquitlam Central, is surrounded by the largest bus exchange in the Fraseropolis region.
The pedestrian ambience along the walking route proposed by Google is often unpleasant. Vehicle traffic is fast and noisy, especially on the 55-minute downhill stretch between Burquitlam and Moody Centre. We veered off onto side streets as much as possible. At the bottom of one forest path we hopped down onto the overgrown site of the old Barnet Hotel, considered and then rejected for use as a SkyTrain station. Digging and constructing, as expected, is concentrated near the almost-completed transit stations.
One aspect of the current transition on the City of Coquitlam side of the Burquitlam station area is the destruction of affordable rental housing. We noted the same trend in a post earlier this year about Burnaby’s Metrotown precinct. It’s sometimes argued that the walkup apartments built in the 1950s and 1960s are reaching the end of their useful life. Whether or not this is true, there is no plan to house the tenants after eviction. The wrecking of affordable housing is contributing to an acute homelessness problem across the region.
[Additional link, November 7 2016: a one-minute Evergreen Line video lists the stations along the route.]