Yerevan Gearing Up for Subway Extension

Yerevan Municipality proposal of the underground development program

YEREVAN—Yerevan’s subway network extension project has entered the preliminary stage. Mayor Hayk Marutyan’s office says upgrading the city’s single metro line north toward the Davitashen neighborhood will significantly reduce the traffic burden on Yerevan’s roads.

According to Yerevan chief architect Artur Meschyan, the first phase of the project will include the construction of a new subway station in the Ajapnyak district, across the Hrazdan river from the current terminal of Barekamutyun. The station would be integrated into a new multi-use retail and business complex. Planners estimate that the construction timetable and cost for the first station will be reasonable since the Soviet-era tunnel and bridge are already in place.

The source of funding for the project is not yet clear. The mayor’s office hinted that the expansion take the form of a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP), as proposals have already been submitted to private investors. According to Meschyan, the municipality has also approached the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to help fund some of the planned public transport infrastructure overhauls. Matteo Patrone, EBRD’s Managing Director for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus pledged the bank’s readiness to offer financial, technical and logistical assistance during a meeting with Marutyan earlier this month.

Digging began on the Metropolitan’s first tunnel in 1972. At the time, the Soviet City Engineering Planning Department had issued guidelines which restricted subway networks to cities with more than one million residents. Yerevan’s metro received the official moniker “Rapid Tramway Network” until construction was completed. The Yerevan Metro became the eighth of its sort in the Soviet Union when it officially began operations in 1981 with four operational stations on the line. Another five stations would be built before the Shirak Earthquake and the collapse of the USSR would freeze the project indefinitely. An additional line with only one station was completed in 1996.

The Metro network received its first major overhaul in 2012 with the assistance of the EBRD. Tunnels were upgraded, metro cars were renovated, and new logistical equipment was installed.

But in the years following independence, ridership decreased significantly as privately-operated minibus (Martshroutka) lines overlapped with the Metro. This trend, however, has reversed in recent years as the city’s congested road arteries have encouraged commuters to see the metro as a quick, clean and affordable transit alternative.

The metro’s rerouting toward Davitashen is expected to significantly relieve strain on major roadways like Komitas, Baghramyan, Kievyan and Halabyan boulevards, which transport hundreds of thousands of commuters downtown each day. Davitashen in particular has seen a population boom in recent years as many young families take advantage of preferential mortgages offered for housing in that neighborhood.

Last year, Armen Gularyan the deputy chairman of Armenia’s Urban Development Committee discussed the possibility of constructing another subway station on the already existing line. This proposed stop, between the Sasuntsi David and Zoravar Andranik stations would offer direct access to the Surmalu and Petak shopping malls. It’s unclear whether this proposal will be included in the new metro extension plan.

Meschyan has also announced the re-construction of a cable-car network connecting Kentron (the city-center) with the Nork-Marash and Nor-Nork neighborhoods perched atop the hills surrounding Yerevan. These communities were previously connected by a Soviet-era cable-car which was scrapped following a fatal crash in 2004. Currently, only the two-lane Armenakyan street runs down the steep hill to the city center. This road is frequently blocked by snowfall or ice in the winter.

The city is also expecting a shipment of Chinese-made municipal buses, which will replace most of the aging marshroutkas on the roads. These had been ordered by the previous administration as part of a new public transit plan drafted by the British consulting firm WYG International Limited. The plan, which was submitted for review in 2017 would take an estimated $100 million to implement while keeping fares unchanged. The incoming Marutyan administration has delayed its implementation by several months, citing the need for further studies on bike lanes and street parking.

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Raffi Elliott

Weekly Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-born entrepreneur and occasional journalist who likes to ramble on about socioeconomic and political issues in Armenia. He lives in Yerevan with his family. He also holds a masters degree in International Relations.

5 Comments

  1. Another serious problem in Yerevan is parking. In the last few years, the number of cars have risen drastically and this has made downtown Yerevan look like a big parking lot. This is visible even at Republic square which is the touristic heart of the city. The only way to solve this problem is by building multi storey car parks. These can be very successful public-private partnership projects as well. The problem is that it is very difficult to convince Armenians to give up personal comfort for the sake of public benefit. They will accept it easily if it is in LA but not in Yerevan. Maybe it is the lack of trust in City.

    • I’m not sure if urban planners would agree that building multi-storey car parks in central Yerevan would be the answer. Putting aside the lack of space issue (or the waste of valuable real estate) city planners across North-American cities tried this strategy in the 1960s as part of a disastrous attempt to adapt cities to cars rather than people.

      Incidentally, Yerevan was pretty well designed in the 1920s with a good balance of car and pedestrian traffic in mind. Ironically, the city has (under the previous administration) repeated a lot of the mistakes that most other cities are now trying to reverse: They removed their tram network when other cities spend millions to install new ones, they’re widening streets and narrowing sidewalks, gutting the historic city centre while others spend millions to “revitalise historic downtown neighbourhoods”, building highway viaducts instead of reducing traffic volume etc.

      In some cases, it might not be a bad idea have PPPs for the construction of underground paid parking spaces for instance, or at least insist on all new constructions having adequate numbers of underground parking in them. However, that’s more of a bandage solution.

      In my view, the municipality should focus on discouraging the unnecessary use of cars in the city-centre all together. This could be achieved through a holistic approach which includes upgrading public transport infrastructure, better education, and active discouragement of cars downtown.

      The first thing they can do is increase the price of parking downtown. the current price of 500 AMD ($1)/ day is ridiculously low. They should at least triple this.

      Better connected and more modern public transport options could also reduce the number of people who choose to drive to work (most of whom justify car ownership by the abhorrent conditions in the marshrutkas). Dedicated bus lanes on major boulevards would make a huge difference during rush-hour.

      Better policing could also halt the worrying trend of turning public pedestrian spaces into parking lots as well. You see a lot of backyards of gardens which used to be full of kids now turned into parking lots for people’s 2nd or 3rd cars. Other issues like cars double parking, parking in front of bus stops, parking on street crossings, and so on should also be addressed harshly in my opinion.

      Some other cities have implemented bans on certain types of (older) cars deemed too polluting to enter the city centre. I’m not sure how well that would work given a large number of people driving soviet or second-hand imported cars.

      One easy change which could make a huge difference in terms of traffic congestion is restricting delivery vehicles to early-morning routes. The Saryan/Pushkin intersection is constantly clogued by double-parked delivery fans resupplying the Nor Zovk in the middle of the day. I’m not even sure how economical that is for them.

      Ultimately you need to change the culture. Owning a car quickly became a status symbol which is difficult to shake off. People should be encouraged to leave the car at home when not necessary. Alternatives like bike paths, or car sharing could be beneficial here.

    • You mentioned quite a few things. In essence, the solution to transportation/parking is a combination of different factors and tools. What really matters is to acknowledge the problems and be bold with decisions, even if they are not the most popular ones. In the last few decades, Yerevan has changed drastically and to a point of no return. I have met many Armenians who love to compare Yerevan with European cities of similar size. The truth is that Armenians are not really that European and Yerevan is not Vienna. Today’s Yerevan is a mix of a Middle Eastern and North American city. High rises are everywhere in downtown Yerevan and their number will only keep increasing and Armenians love their cars. So it is important to acknowledge these facts and plan accordingly. I fully agree with you that the city should make the parking much more expensive in downtown Yerevan. Moreover, they need to completely ban street parking on certain streets eg Abovyan or Pushkin and use the lanes for buses. Apart from this, they need to turn the empty spaces which are now being used for parking to green spaces(Republic square, Shahumyan square). This is where multi storey parking and underground parking come into play. True that underground parkings are better use of space but they are usually far more expensive to build and there are plenty of locations in downtown Yerevan that can be used for multi storey car parks, take the Republic square metro station where they recently placed that ugly statue. I am not sure which North American cities you are talking about but I can not imagine Chicago without its multi storey car parks. When it comes to transportation, I don’t think trams can play a major role in today’s Yerevan, they constantly clash with traffic and are good only for certain low density suburbs. It is much more important to get rid of marshutkas which are extremely inefficient and replace them with real buses, preferably with separate bus lanes. If they have the money they should go for more subway lines, connecting the center to other districts. The idea of extending the existing single line is great but more lines are needed. In any case, whether its multi storey or underground, I think we all agree that Yerevan needs to be more strict with street parking rules and definitely more paid parking spaces which might not be the most popular thing for the mayor but it is no doubt the right thing to do.

  2. So to clarify, I’m not arguing that Yerevan should build a new streetcar network. It was just meant as an example of Yerevan city-planners taking the opposite direction from other world cities. The point is we already had one – for free- (since the Soviets flipped the bill).

    Ultimately, all cities (be they in the Middle-East, Europe or North-America) work on the same urban-planning principles. Vehicle congestion can be a problem anywhere. Yerevan would do well to look at other examples and adapt the best solutions for Yerevan.

    I agree that Republic Square should look like a more human plaza, not a parking lot.

  3. Raffi E seems to know quite a lot about urban planning and successful urban mobility. His analysis is spot on.

    I’m usually very pro-public transit. However, for a small city like Yerevan and for the cost (especially for a still relatively poor country), a big expensive subway requiring still more debt makes me quite uneasy.

    In addition to parking fee hikes and car culture changing a much better alternative and a much, much cheaper answer would be a few key dedicated bus/marshroutka-only lanes or streets, so that they are not subject to traffic. This would require just some minor changes to streets, not a huge expensive tunnel project.

    Ditto for bikes/electric micromobility. A few key protect bike lanes would do wonders for transportation in Yerevan.

    Now, being on a bike or bus and moving around Yerevan easily could become the new luxury while everyone else is stuck in traffic in old “luxury” (cars).

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