Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Long-Term Change around SkyTrain Stations in Vancouver, Canada: A Demographic Shift-Share Analysis

Academic journal article The Geographical Bulletin

Long-Term Change around SkyTrain Stations in Vancouver, Canada: A Demographic Shift-Share Analysis

Article excerpt


Grand public transportation projects garner press and political debate during the planning, construction, and initial operating stages. However, the last stage, the evaluation of impacts, receives the least attention aldiough it is arguably the most important. This neglect is problematic, since completed projects are often the starting points for future plans. This case study determines the long-term demographic trends after die completion of Vancouver's first elevated automated light-rail system, the SkyTrain Expo Line. By surveying surrounding neighbourhoods' demographic changes between 1981 and 2006, the study demonstrates how numerous contextual factors, in addition to die presence of the SkyTrain, determine the changes that occurred in the vicinity of the Expo Line.

Since 1975, Vancouver's regional plans included the SkyTrain. However, for many years, it existed only on paper, since the project required significant capital. When die Expo 86 World Fair was awarded to Vancouver in 1980, the plan for a rapid transit system was finally transformed into reality (BC Transit ND). Heightened global attention around major events offers cities die opportunity to "fast-track" infrastructure construction and renewal (Chalkley and Essex 1999). Vancouver used Expo 86 as leverage to receive government funding for infrastructure projects, most notably the SkyTrain. As a showpiece of the transportation-themed Expo 86 World Fair, the SkyTrain quickly gained the requisite funding and push to prompt completion (BC Transit ND).

The SkyTrain was feasible due to the political history and regional geography of transit in Vancouver. During the 1970s, North American cities welcomed freeway construction to solve growing transportation needs. Outside of Vancouver's city limits, low-density auto-oriented suburbs cluster around freeways. In contrast, Vancouver residents successfully lobbied to prevent freeways from cutting through their city. As a result the regional freeways end at Vancouver's city limits. Consequently, Vancouver's landuse patterns in the 1980s resembled 1950s street-car neighbourhoods: integrated lowrise commercial areas pocketed in residential neighbourhoods. Indeed, Price (2009) argued that Vancouver remains essentially a "street-car city" characterized by local roads instead of major highway arterials. However, as Vancouver's population grew, so did traffic congestion. This led the City of Vancouver to choose a rapid transit system to, in part, relieve its traffic woes (Olson 2007). The city also used the opportunity to increase densification along the SkyTrain line. Vancouver, along with other municipalities bordering the rapid transit route, redeveloped and rezoned old industrial districts, relocated government buildings to SkyTrain stations, and encouraged private high-density development by means of various incentives (Babalik-Sutcliffe 2002).

The SkyTrain made use of existing thin strips of land that traversed the city and region - former railway lines. While the SkyTrain shuttled tourists between downtown Expo event sites, the 22-kilometre Expo Line extended beyond Expo grounds and ran through residential neighbourhoods and light industrial lands (Fig. 1). Since then, two additional lines have been built to connect Vancouver with its suburbs, and two more routes are in the planning phase. As the SkyTrain extended into these neighbourhoods, it began to reshape them. This study evaluates the effects that the SkyTrain has had on the neighbourhoods nearest its stations over the intervening decades. Such understanding will be an asset to academics and city planners as they develop future rapid transit plans.


Rapid transit is often a large-scale public endeavour and is thus susceptible to political influence. As politicians usually hold the purse strings for large projects, planning for such investment is steeped in partisanship and re-election goals. Currying public favour is extremely important for politicians and the "image benefits" brought with advocating for a new rapid transit system are too attractive to ignore (Mackett and Edwards 1998). …

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