Mike Harcourt’s train of thought: Build a subway to UBC

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Harcourt offers his train of thought

Glen Schaefer
The Vancouver Sun

Former B.C. premier and Vancouver mayor Mike Harcourt says transit authorities are thinking too small with the current plan to extend the Millennium Line underground to Arbutus Street.

“It’s crazy to end it there,” Harcourt said. “You should take it to Jericho and out to UBC.”

Harcourt, honoured last month with the Freedom of the City, is to join current Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson on Thursday evening for a public lecture on where the city is going.

Wherever that is, the city needs more trains to get there, Harcourt said. The Broadway subway, “should be like the Sixth Avenue line in New York — two trains, four sets of tracks.”

Even under current zoning, the Broadway corridor from Main to Burrard could be built up to accommodate 100,000 new workers and 50,000 residents, Harcourt said. As well, the 36-hectare Jericho lands are poised for development after the federal government struck a deal turning the bulk of the land over to three First Nations. And UBC is always growing.

Harcourt’s express-train idea envisions stops at Burnaby’s Willingdon, and along Broadway at Commercial and Cambie to connect with existing trains. He has pitched it to TransLink, the province and First Nations, with no one biting just yet.

“Not right now, but I’m a persistent guy.”

The 74-year-old Harcourt was mayor before and during Expo 86, served a term as premier in the 1990s, and has since advised cities on sustainability.

“We’ve really done some things badly (in Metro Vancouver), like having a referendum on transit,” he said, noting that the original Expo Line took just three years from proposal to completion.

“The minute they built the Canada Line, it was over capacity and the stations were too small,” he said. “We’ve had to expand and keep expanding the Expo Line since it was built. You say, well, maybe we can learn from that. We’re going to have another two million people in the next 40 years or so, to add to the two and a half million people already here.”

More trains south, north and east would be needed to meet that growth, he said.

Harcourt first got into politics when he was a lawyer in the 1960s, and he was approached by community leaders to join the fight against a freeway that would have carved up east Vancouver. Next year, work is scheduled to start demolishing the last vestiges of that failed freeway plan — the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

He will be talking with Robertson on Thursday about his ideas on other subjects ranging from high-tech industry to post-secondary education, housing and child care.

But transportation has always loomed large for Harcourt. He credits that early battle against freeways with aiding the later emergence of Vancouver’s downtown as a place where people could both live and work, unlike most North American cities.

“We danced to a different drummer on urban renewal and freeways.”

The Cambie Street Bridge was built under Harcourt’s tenure as mayor, so he is not entirely against bridges.

But asked about the worst-case future for the region, he cited “this really stupid idea of the bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel.

“If it gets built, all it does is shift the congestion from the tunnel to Richmond and the Oak Street Bridge. And then some blockhead is going to say, ‘Oh well, we can fix that. Let’s just build an eight-lane bridge and freeway down Oak Street.’”

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