From transit to development at Main Street SkyTrain Station

Author/s: Andrew Jones

Creation date: 2012

Contact info:

Senior supervisor: Anthony Perl

Keywords: Transit-oriented development, Rapid transit, Urban form, Land use planning, Urban design, Station area planning, East False Creek

Geographic focus: East False Creek, Vancouver, BC; British Columbia; Canada

Research question/s: How has the area around Main Street station changed since 1984 when a long-term land use and redevelopment plan was established? What were the circumstances that uniquely affected the planning and development around this station? What role, if any, has transit had in promoting land use decisions or generating urban design requirements?


Rapid transit stations are ideal locations to develop compact and complete communities, but literature on the relationship between land use and rapid transit suggests that transit alone is not the most significant influence on development. Instead, factors such as the real estate market, local planning policies and geography strongly influence the patterns of growth around a station. This project investigates how the planning history of Vancouver’s Main Street SkyTrain station (designed and built in 1982) and the surrounding area led to particular development and design outcomes. It may therefore be of interest to planners, local government officials and others interested in issues related to residential redevelopment, transit-oriented development, planning history and urban design principles.


Based on evidence gathered through document review, interviews, observation and a qualitative urban design assessment, the author found that although the area’s 1984 land-use plan was meant to capitalize on the influence of the rapid transit station, subsequent development did not meet planners’ original expectations and timeline. Construction on City Gate, the only major development next to the station, began nearly a decade after rapid transit arrived. Elsewhere around the station, surface parking lots and vacant land remained. Analysis of the planning history of Main Street station reveals that while a planning process, development proposal and transit station were seemingly integrated, factors such as a launch deadline and financial concerns propelled one priority (the station) ahead of the others, to the detriment of overall development and design goals. The author identifies several missed opportunities to achieve good urban design in the area. He suggests that connectivity, legibility and a high-quality public realm are needed to realize the potential for a compact, walkable and vibrant community in the area surrounding Main Street Station.