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Will streetcar line leave a transit legacy?

With the one-year countdown to the 2010 Winter Games just days away, it’s a bit depressing to see so many British Columbians dwelling strictly on bad news associated with the event.

With the one-year countdown to the 2010 Winter Games just days away, it’s a bit depressing to see so many British Columbians dwelling strictly on bad news associated with the event.

While well-publicized financial troubles connected to the Olympic Village are indeed troubling, they won’t cancel out the benefits arising from the Games — including everything from new recreation facilities to the build-out of related infrastructure such as the Canada Line.

Another project timed with the Games goes by the name of, appropriately enough, The Olympic Line. It is Vancouver’s modern streetcar initiative, and it could usher in a new era for public transit in and around the city’s downtown peninsula.

If you’ve spent any time around the south side of False Creek recently, you will have noticed the preparation work being carried out along a two-kilometre stretch of track that once served the tourist-geared Downtown Historic Railway.

The project will operate next year between January and March, connecting Granville Island to the Canada Line Olympic Village Station. The city’s partner, Bombardier Transportation, is bringing two sleek streetcars — on loan from Brussels — to the West Coast.

The good news is the ride will be free for locals and visitors.

The bad news? This is a demonstration project, so the future of the line is uncertain after the Olympic torch is extinguished.

To date, there has been little in the way of support from senior levels of government or TransLink. But here’s hoping the Olympic Line isn’t just a transportation afterthought once tourists and athletes go home.

For this test run to be deemed a success, it will have to leave a public transit legacy. And that means following through with expansion plans after 2010.

So let’s hope locals can get behind this project.

Vancouver is already late enough to the streetcar movement. Modern streetcars — with their environmentally friendly reputation — are well-established in cities like Portland and Melbourne, Australia.

And in Seattle, a new line connects the South Lake Union neighbourhood to downtown Seattle. This past December, its growing popularity prompted that city’s local government to vote in support for a multi-line network.

The same kind of boost for Vancouver’s streetcar line would be a post-Olympics legacy that work-a-day commuters, tourists and local businesses could all appreciate.

 
 
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