Vancouver’s future shaped by an explosive demand for transit

By Melanie Jackson, Vancouver Sun
October 1, 2013

Ninety per cent of Vancouver’s new office developments are within 500 metres of transit, reflecting a seismic demographic shift.

VANCOUVER — Whether at the permit-application stage, about to be built, or already under construction, 90 per cent of Vancouver’s new office developments are within 500 metres of transit, reflecting a seismic demographic shift in commuting preferences, according to Gavin Reynolds, senior vice president with the Jones Lang LaSalle commercial real estate firm.

Older members of the workforce take the sedentary comfort of car commuting for granted, says Reynolds. Many of them still would no more wait in a bus line-up than they would fire off tweets.

“The 20- to 35-year-olds represent the next phase,” Reynolds asserts. “They grew up without transit being a stigma. They rode the bus to UBC or else jumped on a SkyTrain.”

They want what’s fast and convenient – and, in any case, with Vancouver apartments renting from $11,000 to $20,000 a year, buying a car isn’t even on the radar for most young workers.

Reynolds cites Jones Lang LaSalle’s watershed third-quarter 2013 Rapid Transit Index Report, which found that “the majority of tenant movement during the last two quarters occurred within the transit-oriented market … [and] the average rental rate for buildings within 500 meters of rapid transit stations increased slightly as tenants demonstrated that they are still willing to pay a premium for buildings in close proximity to the SkyTrain and Canada Line.”

“Employers know they have to be competitive for new employees, especially in the technological field,” says Reynolds. “They have to consider offering a job where someone will have to walk 20 minutes in the driving rain versus being in an office building connected to transit.”

He predicts the “ongoing densification of Broadway will continue,” with developers hungry to emulate the PCI Group’s 820,000-square-foot Marine Gateway project, by the Marine Drive station and South Vancouver bus loop. While the Jones Lang LaSalle report notes transit’s convenience of as little as a four-minute commute in some cases, Marine Gateway gives workers the option of dispensing with transit altogether: Residential developments are right across the street and kitty-corner, notes Reynolds.

“It’s no secret why they’re building a movie theatre, and why every major restaurant is clamouring to be there. Renting and buying in and around your workplace is a huge trend for ages 45 and younger. Tens if not hundreds of people in Vancouver are walking where they want to go. It’s like New York, London, San Francisco south of Market [Street]. Landlords recognize this, and will get slightly more robust rates” than they would for offices where employees rely on automobile commutes, he says.

Set for 2014 completion, Bentall Kennedy’s 17-acre Broadway Tech Centre, at East Broadway and Renfrew, is another plum commuting location, sitting beside the Central Valley Greenway bike route to New Westminster, the Renfrew SkyTrain Station and the 99 B-Line transit stop. Broadway Tech will be an urban business campus with eight buildings offering 936,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet for production/distribution, 10,000 square feet for retail, and a 5,000-square-foot daycare facility.

Another major PCI project, the 10-acre King George Station, is not only next to the same-named SkyTrain station in south Whalley – touted as B.C.’s other major downtown, and second largest city – but also to two proposed rapid transit lines and stations. With a projected cost of $600 million, and potentially reaching more than two million square feet, the four-phase development will be a mix of retail, office and residential, with pedestrian zone of transit plazas, a public plaza and the Coast Capital Community Plaza.

“Our developments really talk to the synergy that comes with the office being interested in and supported by services” – Coast Capital, the first phase, $95 million and set for 2015 completion, will offer both daycare and a fitness facility – “and by entertainment and retail,” says PCI President Andrew Grant. “They’re saying that, outside of the downtown core, you really need to be on transit.”

Reynolds would like to see a commuter line, like the GO inter-regional transit system serving the Greater Toronto area, built to go out of King George Station to Langley, Aldergrove and Abbotsford. “Young families can’t afford to buy in Vancouver, where a detached house on the west side goes from $1.9 to $2.1 million. They have to go to the suburbs, farther and farther away. Residential development continues to grow in the Valley.”

A GO-like system only makes sense, Reynolds insists. “You’ve got all those cars coming over the Port Mann Bridge. The cars are sitting on the road. That’s a lot of pollution. People have to be able to take transit.”

And, where transit does exist, it’s sometimes not enough, he says. With buses from Cambie to UBC hefting the busiest passenger load in North America, “even though extremely costly, the Broadway line out to UBC would really add a lot.”