Over the next 10 years Metro Vancouver’s population is expected to increase by 360,000.[1] This analysis examines the impacts and transportation costs associated with this growth. It will consider two different development patterns. The low density pattern has a residential density you would find in a moderate density suburb. The high density pattern has a density equivalent to that of the West End neighborhood in downtown Vancouver.

Table 1. Undeveloped area required to accommodate 10 years of population growth
Density (people/km2) 3,000 22,000
Undeveloped Area Required 120 km2 16 km2
10 Year Population Growth

The high density development pattern would occupy the smaller area on Sea Island, while the low density development pattern would occupy all of the highlighted area. We will treat these areas as currently unoccupied.

For this analysis we will treat the low density population as exclusively automobile users and the high density population as exclusively transit users. We will assume a commuting pattern with 50% of residents making a trip to work/school during a 3 hour AM peak period and 50% making a trip home during a 3 hour PM peak period. This is equal to 180,000 people travelling during the peak periods or 60,000 hourly. While simplified, this captures the typical commute pattern of a residential suburb. We will also assume each morning trip crosses into Vancouver. Using these assumptions we can develop a rough estimate of the transportation costs associated with each form of development.


1) Freeways

With a freeway lane capacity of 2,000[2] vehicles per lane per hour we find that we would require 30 outbound lanes and 30 inbound lanes [3]. We will assume that these are provided by 10 lane freeways that each cost $2 billion to construct (including the interchanges and Fraser River crossings). That is equivalent to 60% of the cost of the Port Mann/Highway 1 project.[4]

Freeways required: 6 (at 10 lanes each)
Construction cost: $12.0 billion

2) Vehicles

We will assume a vehicle ownership rate of 75% which is equivalent to that of Delta, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, and White Rock.[5] To calculate the total vehicle related expenditures over the time period we will use the average number of vehicles over the period (135,000) along with an $8,000 annual cost for vehicle ownership and operation as reported by the US Bureau of labor statistics.[6]

Additional vehicles: 270,000
Vehicle related expenditures: $10.8 billion

3) Parking

To determine the parking expenditures we will assume that half of the vehicles park in a garages at home that cost $10,000[7] to construct and the other half park in a driveways that costs $6,000[8] to construct. We will assume that each vehicle that travels to work/school during the peak period requires an underground parking space that costs $40,000[9][10] to construct. (This leads to a ratio of 1.7 new parking spaces per additional vehicle. This is far below the typical ratio found in cities, so this estimate is likely conservative.)[11]

Parking required at work/school locations: 180,000 spaces (5.4 km2)[12]
Construction cost of driveways, garages, and underground parking: $9.4 billion[13]

Downtown Parking Cropped

Parking area required for the 180,000 commuting vehicles


1) Rapid Transit Lines

With a Skytrain capacity of 26,000[14] people per hour in each direction we find that the required capacity could be provided by 3 Skytrain lines. It should be noted that the Skytrain lines would be at 77% capacity while the proposed freeways would have no remaining capacity.[15] We will assume that each Skytrain line costs $2 billion to construct. This equivalent to the cost of the Canada Line project.[16]

Rapid transit lines required: 3
Construction cost: $6.0 billion

1) Transit Operations / Transit Passes

To calculate the expenditures on transit passes we will use the average number of people over the period (180,000) along with the current $124 price of a 2-zone transit pass.[17] We will assume the cost of the transit passes covers the operating costs of the rapid transit lines.

Transit operations cost: $2.7 billion


Table 2. Transportation costs incurred over 10 years with alternate development patterns
Freeways $12.0 billion
Vehicles $10.8 billion
Parking $9.4 billion
Transit Lines $6.0 billion
Transit Operations / Passes $2.7 billion
TOTAL COSTS $32.2 billion $8.7 billion

1. Greater Vancouver Regional District Board (2013). Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping Our Future. p. 68.
2. Rodrigue, J-P. (2013).  The Geography of Transport Systems.
3. REQUIRED LANES (INBOUND) = 60,000 / 2,000 = 30
    TOTAL REQUIRED LANES = 30 x 2 = 60
4. http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/tranprojectsbc/#view=details&id=123450000
5. ICBC (2013). Total Number of Registered Vehicles 1999-2013.
6. Smith, L. The True Cost of Owning A Car. Investopedia
7. Garaga. Planning, The Key to Building a Garage.
8. HomeAdvisor. How Much Does it Cost to Install a Driveway?
9. Smith, C. (2007, Sept 9). Parking Drives Up Costs. Straight.com
10. $40,000 per underground parking space is a rule of thumb used by Surrey’s transportation planning department
11. https://mtayloranalysis.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/growth-and-mobility-in-metro-vancouver-video/
     180,000 X 30 m2 = 5.4 km2
13. PARKING CONSTRUCTION COST = 180,000 x $40,000 + 270,000 / 2 x $10,000 + 270,000 / 2 x $60,000
     = $9,400,000,000
14. SNC-Lavalin (2010).Expo Line Upgrade Strategy. p. 22.
15. You could half the required capacity of both the rapid transit lines and freeways if the inbound and outbound directions were used equally in the AM and PM peaks. The point of this exercise is to compare the costs between two different patterns so this is not overly important for this analysis. It is worth noting that if we were to analyze this scenario we would find that a single Skytrain line could nearly provide the required capacity.
16. http://www.partnershipsbc.ca/projects/operational-complete/canada-line/
17. http://www.translink.ca/en/Fares-and-Passes/Monthly-Pass.aspx