The following is part of a series of blog contributions by Robert Munson, a member of the CMAP Citizens' Advisory Committee (CAC). The views expressed are not necessarily those of the CAC or of CMAP itself.
by Robert Munson, CAC member
Many think Vancouver is the future of transit. If so, then those who wish to elevate Chicagoland’s transit need not fear the future. For in Vancouver, the future is nearly now. And while Chicagoland’s transit “bones” may be at least 60 years old, Vancouver’s young structure offers us important lessons.
Probably more than any North American city, Vancouver shows how investing in transit leads to prosperous, great communities. Repeatedly, Vancouver works this formula well: build a rail line, sprout compact communities, diversify land uses, attract talent, and watch property values grow.
Mid-October was my third visit to Vancouver; each was during a telling time.
My first visit was in 1993, several years after opening the system’s first line. It was already a success, a model in Transit Oriented Development proving that compact communities with mixed uses create transit options that work economically.
In 2003, I visited after the second line opened, and it showed the same promise.
Just before my October 2009 visit, the third line opened. It is attracting most of the new development that is not connected to the 2010 Olympics. Vancouver’s transit and land use combinations are so effective that they create growth despite today’s downturn.
This poster is from inside a car on Vancouver's new line connecting downtown to the Olympic Village (fourth stop) with the airport and some compact south suburban communities. A similarity of Illinois to British Columbia is both are broke; so the federal government had to finance the Canada Line. Beyond that, we have much to learn. Canada brought in a private partner; making this a true public-private partnership. Illinois lacks laws to facilitate this. Also, this poster welcomes riders and tells them staff is there to serve them. The CTA would do well to take note.
Several factors contribute to Vancouver’s transit success. Three of them can help Chicagoland revitalize its transit, which is perhaps the vital ingredient still required to make us into a world-class region again. These three factors also are strategic considerations in the GO TO 2040 Plan’s next phase, Selecting a Preferred Scenario.
First: Understand what customers want. Part of Vancouver’s success comes from its agency’s clear understanding of what riders want. Among other market research tools, Translink Listens is the agency’s on-going on-line advisory panel. Visit it at www.translinklistens.ca, and you will start to understand how Vancouver gets the middle class to leave their cars and use transit.
While the CTA and RTA listen to the public, riders have little more than a restricted comment period that agencies must execute to get tax dollars for capital improvements. This is a different goal than understanding what customers want so they voluntarily open their wallets, get on the system, and improve its cash flow.
Second: Meet deadlines. Vancouver’s two greatest surges were induced by the World Expo 1986 that produced the first line (called the “Expo Line”), and the 2010 Winter Olympics that produced the third (called the “Canada Line”). Both were built in less than five years. In between, the second line (named the Millennium) took 18 years to build and is much smaller.
Chicago’s loss of the Olympic bid has prompted regional leaders to look for another deadline. The Olympic bid included key proposals to improve how we will get around our metropolis in the 21st Century. Deadlines must be built into the GO TO 2040 Plan. A Preferred Scenario must shape them.
Third: Motivate with a Big Concept. “Vancouverism” captures this city’s pre-eminent livability: beautiful public spaces, compactness and great transit. This “school” of planning is being updated for the 21st Century with sustainability as its goal.
The Chicago “school” that built hub and spoke train systems 100 years ago also needs updating for this Sustainable Century. The GO TO 2040 Preferred Scenario should build upon our unique contribution to metropolitan planning.
So what are Vancouver’s lessons to updating Chicago’s transit? Consider these three: market research, deadlines, and a big, clear idea.