Why TransLink is a Leader in Transit-Oriented Development

TransLink works closely with public and private sector partners to foster transit-oriented development, and the rest of the North America is taking notice

Over one million times each day, a train, bus or ferry operated by South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (TransLink) in the Greater Vancouver area is boarded. That translates to approximately 418,000 people—or about 18 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s population—taking a trip on public transit on a typical weekday. The five busiest TransLink stations have more foot traffic than Vancouver’s busiest street corner at Robson and Burrard.

In order for this level of frequent transit use to be successful, it is essential that people can walk to transit services quickly and conveniently from the places they live, work, shop and play, says TransLink.

“TransLink is a leader in North America in its efforts to work closely with public and private sector partners to foster transit-oriented development,” explains Kevin Desmond, chief executive officer of TransLink. “This type of collaboration enables people to drive less and to walk, cycle and take transit more often. This maximizes the value of transit investments for the region. We all benefit.”

Creating more transit-oriented communities is one of the key goals of most land use and transportation plans in Metro Vancouver. In practice, this means concentrating higher-density, mixed-use, human-scale development around frequent transit stops and stations, in combination with mobility management measures to discourage unnecessary driving.

Derrick Cheung is TransLink’s vice-president of strategic sourcing and real estate, and his team is responsible for introducing and providing executive oversight for the Adjacent and Integrated Development (AID) Program. AID facilitates the numerous transit-oriented developments that can be seen near TransLink’s owned and managed transportation infrastructure across Metro Vancouver.

“TransLink encourages transit-oriented development and transit-oriented communities as it supports sustainable regional growth and builds ridership,” says Cheung. “Through the AID Program, developers are able to safely build around infrastructure while transportation operations continue. Working with developers, we are able to improve customer amenities and services, and upgrade or improve transportation infrastructure at no cost to taxpayers. Efforts are also undertaken to improve the customer’s experience with seamless integration between developments and our infrastructure.”

In 2012, TransLink, in partnership with the City of Richmond, completed Canada’s first 100 per cent privately funded rapid transit station agreement on the Canada Line, realized in Capstan Station.

“By seeking innovative and alternative methods of financing transportation, we are able to invest in other regional priorities,” Cheung says.

Since 2011, development near transit has grown exponentially. There are currently 36 development projects in construction or planning stages. This amounts to approximately $14 billion of construction activity. They include projects such as the redevelopment of Oakridge Centre and Brentwood Town Centre. In addition, there are up to 25 new projects in the pipeline.

“Two current projects, Marine Gateway and Brentwood Town Centre, stand out as global examples,” says Guy Akester, director of TransLink’s real estate programs and partnerships. “They both have a mix of densities. There is retail space, and a critical mass of residential and office space. A tremendous amount of time, effort and expense have been spent by the developer to create accessible spaces such as a pedestrian high street.”

The retail area has been developed to bring restaurants, and goods and services to the public space. “It’s kind of like a mall turned inside out,” says Akester. “They also really embrace the SkyTrain station. Brentwood Town Centre in particular has won numerous awards and I think it’s one of our most beautiful stations.”

The world is taking notice.

“We have had the City of Canberra, the capital of Australia, come in to learn how we conduct transit-oriented development here,” Akester says. “A few weeks ago we had the Mayor of Bandung, Indonesia’s fourth largest city, here to understand how we deliver amazing transportation assets and how we are getting the development around those assets.”

On the financial side, TransLink works with developers to provide access inside of the public right of way, but for a price.

“We know that by tapping into our assets, the developer or owner of the land will gain more value out of that land,” explains Akester. “Malls generate higher retail sales with a direct connection to a SkyTrain station such as Metrotown, where we deliver approximately 25,000 customers to that mall every day.”

Metro Vancouver has long supported a transit-oriented land use approach, with the 1975 Livable Region Plan envisioning a transit-oriented regional community of compact urban centres linked by frequent transit corridors. This approach was reaffirmed in the 1996 Livable Region Strategic Plan and continues to be a key direction in the new Regional Growth Strategy adopted in 2011.

“To make this all truly sustainable for Metro Vancouver requires a very positive level of cooperation and collaboration with the municipalities, who invariably have their own objectives,” says Akester. “Maintaining the level of cooperation and coordination with the 23 local governments that we work with today is really important to ensuring that this region remains livable. If we didn’t have this cooperative relationship with our municipal partners, the taxpayer would be paying a big price for transit service to serve a widespread region of low-density, single-family housing. As well, they would also have the sort of commute that Londoners or New Yorkers would never dream of, where it would take several hours to get to work.”

TransLink and its internationally admired network and approach to transit-oriented development is central to managing the rapid population growth of the region, he adds.

“A Metro Vancouver without lively, transit-orientated urban centres along highly efficient transportation corridors, would be a dreary place to live indeed,” says Andrew Curran, manager of policy and development for TransLink.

The municipal planning support and AID programs facilitate a sustainable way to accommodate the city’s growth, and preserve the high quality of life those living in Metro Vancouver enjoy.