Q&A with Lawrence Frank

April 23, 2013

Let's jump right into transit. I commute along Broadway every day. It's packed! What's to be done?

We're in an absolutely horrible situation with transit on the Broadway Corridor. I'm a good example: I used to live near Main and Broadway, tried to use the B-Line-my partner and I both work at UBC-and we were waiting for three buses just to get on. I teach transit, it's my life, and I gave up. So we moved closer. It was literally taking an hour and a half to get to UBC versus 20 minutes by car. When you have that kind of differential in travel time, you lose people.

How dramatic is the difference between a transit stop being next to my door and a stop being a block away?

Huge. It's called distance decay. In the '50s, transportation adapted Newtonian physics-effectively, the gravity formula-to explain our behaviour. The effect is exponential: we're many times less likely to go to a place two blocks away than one block away.

And your argument is that reluctance to use transit puts a burden on our system, that there's a financial incentive to augmenting transit?

The best way to build walking into people's lifestyles is to provide shops and services near to where they live and efficient transit service to get them to work. Transportation investment impacts our health; we need to consider how much it costs us as a society for every chronic-disease onset. There are all kinds of adverse health impacts of sedentary lifestyles, like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, that you can apply a dollar value to. So we need to put all this together-otherwise, there's going to be no money for transportation. Or for any other ministry. The city manager, Penny Ballem, has a slide-"The Clanger," she calls it-where you see healthcare costs going up in a straight line and education being held constant and the budgets of all the other ministries just tanking. Because once you provide heathcare and a basic education for your population, there's nothing left.

This brings us back to Broadway. If we were to free up infrastructure costs by putting a dollar value on healthcare savings, how do we improve that corridor?

Each proposed stop along Broadway from Commercial to Arbutus generates as many trips as most other cities in the region. Without better transit, further densification on Broadway is problematic, so then the question is, Should we tunnel or should it be above-grade like a SkyTrain or a monorail that's maybe cheaper but you end up in the long term with a less attractive city. We sold ourselves to the world based on being attractive and livable, so that's not the best solution. For Broadway, you could have a seamless connection between UBC and downtown that would be light rail. So you take the heavy rail at Commercial and bring it all the way to Arbutus, and that stops but then there could be a light rail line that uses the Arbutus corridor to go north/south through Kerrisdale and another west to UBC, as a
possible solution.

As a homeowner in that area, I want to say a monorail above-grade is not the right solution.

Sure. But the problem is people react emotionally and the debate falls apart. We need collective buy-in for a solution, and the technology will follow. Seattle got so hung up and so polarized that they couldn't build anything for three decades. Are you a couple blocks off Broadway?

Yeah.

It's the best thing that could happen to you.

So it'll increase my property values?

It almost always does. Location, location, location.

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