Trolley buses return to Granville Street

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Trolley on Granville. Photo by John Calimente. (Click to enlarge)

After years of construction, hordes of Olympic visitors, and a number of chainsawed trees, Vancouver’s beloved trolley buses returned to Granville Street on September 7th. It was a beautiful sight.

By John Calimente, re:place Magazine

The Olympic flag had just recently been hung on the flagpole above City Hall by Mayor Sam Sullivan. Vancouver Canucks coach Marc Crawford had just been fired. Greater Vancouver businesses were fighting the implementation of a parking tax. And MP David Emerson had recently created a huge controversy by crossing the floor to join the Conservative Party. It was April 2006, the last time that trolley buses ran along Granville Street. The long absence of vehicle traffic along Granville St downtown accounts for the fact that so many pedestrians were scared witless on the first day of operation (click for video).

Canada Line construction had begun in October of the previous year with all trolley buses rerouted onto Seymour St. heading north and Howe St. heading south, along with the #6 bus pushed onto Richards St. The #50 would be the only bus to run on portions of Granville for four and a half years. It was the first significant interruption of transit service along Granville St since 1890. Canada Line tunnelling and construction shut down the street and limited pedestrian traffic for many months. As well, 120 mature ornamental cherry trees had to be cut down, replaced with 160 beech trees. Even after the Canada Line tunnelling and construction was completed, there were months of work to be done by the City to put in new LED light poles, street furniture, paving, curbs, and sidewalks (You can still see it under construction in Google Maps circa May 2009). Businesses along the street suffered from the constant construction and rerouting of transit.

Everything was completed by the time of the Olympics in February, but since then the section between Hastings and Smithe has become a pedestrian paradise, especially during the World Cup in July. With Vancouver lacking large gathering spaces in the downtown core, many people thought that Granville Street should be kept pedestrian-only for this section, with buses continuing to route along Seymour and Howe Streets. I don’t think that this was ever going to happen, as the plan all along had been to put back the trolley wires along Granville St after the completion of Canada Line construction. The success of Granville as the central gathering point for the city during the Olympics has proven that it has now regained its status as downtown’s main street after a long fall and slow recovery. Alcohol-fuelled fights were a big issue for the Vancouver Police on weekends until a novel approach was tried – shutting down the street to automobiles. Improvements were seen immediately in the reduction in fights and public drunkenness.

While some wanted pedestrian-only streets, TransLink and the VPD have come up with the best solution for the street: closing Granville to vehicle traffic after 9pm on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays as well as holiday weekends, and routing the buses along Seymour St northbound and Howe St southbound. NightBus will also continue to run along Seymour and Howe instead of Granville. The Buzzer Blog provides a detailed map here. In addition, full weekend reroutes have been talked about for next summer during special events.

Merchants are happy about the return of buses along the street, with some predicting a rebound in sales of 10-20%. And there’s an additional benefit for those along Granville – there will now be a lot less bus traffic on the street than there was 4 years ago. With the opening of the Canada Line, all the diesel commuter buses that used to run along Granville, Seymour, and Howe now terminate at Bridgeport Station. That means a much quieter and cleaner environment for pedestrians, as the only diesel buses along Granville now are the #50 and #15. And those trolley buses are running on Granville for the first time. It’s hard to believe, but Vancouver’s current generation of New Flyer E40LF-2202 trolley buses had never operated on Granville, as TransLink had only begun to replace the 1982/83 Flyer E901A/E902 model trolley buses in the fall of 2006.

Trolley buses bring back a missing element to Granville St – its role as a transit corridor. I’m happy to see all of them back, with one exception. A temporary routing that I now miss is the #6 running south along Richards Street. It was very convenient to have a route that cut close to Yaletown and could also be used as a connection when exiting from Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line Station. It also filled a gap in transit that exists in the area bounded by Seymour, David, Pacific Blvd, and Robson. So if there’s one change I would make, it would be to put the #6 on its former Seymour/Richards routing. Other than that, it’s a welcome return to Granville for Vancouver’s trolleys.

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John Calimente is the president of Rail Integrated Developments. He supports great public transit + transit integrated communities + urban life lived without a car. Follow TheTransitFan on Twitter.