When Canadian transportation firm Bombardier announced last week that two of its sleek rail trams were being shipped to Vancouver from Brussels as part of the Olympic Line streetcar project, there should have been some serious cheering on the West Coast.
There was a celebration, all right, but it took place in Belgium. The good folks of Brussels, who are loaning the vehicles, are happy to see their modern streetcars receiving some big-time Winter Games exposure in February 2010.
Back in British Columbia, however, there has hardly been a peep from our political masters. And the silence coming from TransLink has been deafening.
It seems Vancouver’s streetcar push can’t get any love, nor funding, from our regional transportation authority. That is not only a shame, it also represents a mistake on TransLink’s part.
The Olympic Line should be heralded for its vision of urban transit and its environmental friendliness. For two months starting in January, it will connect the Olympic Village Canada Line station to Granville Island.
We are not just talking about a neighbourhood people-mover here. As Dale Bracewell, the city of Vancouver’s director of Olympics transportation told me recently, the Olympic Line would serve the entire region, not just fast-growing neighbourhoods around False Creek. “It opens up transit as a choice well beyond the boundaries of Vancouver,” he said.
That’s because an expanded streetcar network would ultimately connect not only to the Canada Line, but to SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express. It would also create long-overdue choices for otherwise fickle commuters.
“It’s taking transit to a place for people who don’t want to take buses — for people who would otherwise drive or take a cab, but just don’t want to take a bus,” said Bracewell.
TransLink’s bean counters might argue that they have other funding priorities, but they should remind themselves of this: Measured by passengers carried, the modern streetcar comes out ahead of rival forms of transport in terms of cost, comfort and green credentials. For proof, look no further than Portland.
The problem is, our provincial and federal governments can’t fund the streetcar — even in this era of economic stimulus spending — if TransLink doesn’t give its public blessings. That, sadly, could leave the project on life support when the Winter Games conclude.
And what a lamentable Olympic legacy that would be.