June 7,2007 - Vancouver Sun
Published: Thursday, June 07, 2007
On paper it seemed simple.
Spend $207,000 to create bus-only lanes during peak hours along Broadway so the 99 B-line express bus can whisk passengers quicker from the SkyTrain station at Commercial to the University of B .C. and back again.
That was the theory and the money was spent and special bus lanes were designated along one of the busiest traffic and transit corridors in the city.
But in practice passengers aren't getting there any quicker.
A report from Neda Emami of Vancouver's strategic transportation planning department admits the city's transit plan hasn't had the desired effect.
In fact, a 2004 study warned such a plan "would have little or no impact on bus travel times on the corridor."
"We wanted to see if our model was accurate," explained Lonnie LaClaire, the manager of the city's strategic transportation planning department.
"We had a lot of people who were skeptical and said a designated bus lane would speed things up.
"This was our first opportunity to test the model and see if we were right. It was quite surprising how close it was to what was predicted."
In October, city council gave the go-ahead for bus lanes and they went into operation the same month.
But to test their effect, staff measured bus travel times before and after the lanes were implemented.
For the 99 Express and the No. 9 bus, going east and west along Broadway during peak hours, the difference was so small it was within the margin of error.
"The bus lanes appear to have little or no effect on bus travel times," the report said.
The reason they aren't working as planned is they appear to have created a new problem.
"Before bus lanes were constructed up to 50 per cent of the vehicles using the curb lane were turning right at the next intersection . . . and caused only minor delays to buses, if any," said the report.
But now "in busy pedestrian areas, vehicles wanting to turn right are delayed as drivers must wait for pedestrians to clear the crosswalk . . . therefore right-turning vehicles frequently block the bus lane."
The report also noted curb lanes in areas with frequent bus service already largely function as bus lanes with or without the designation.
The public sent in little feedback, although one motorist complained bus drivers were straying into the centre lane.
"Bus drivers are very supportive" of the change, the report said.
As for "other benefits" it notes "bus lanes can raise the profile of transit on a corridor and can be a symbol of transit priority."
But despite the lack of intended results, city staff and TransLink aren't recommending getting rid of them.
Glen Leicester, TransLink's vice-president of planning, said the bus lane designation was just one piece of a three-part plan to speed up service.
The other changes -- a transit signal priority that would see green lights extended on Broadway for buses running late and an all-door loading system for the 99 B-line -- have yet to be implemented, he said.
But having the bus lane designation was a significant benefit for bus drivers who were responsible for moving large numbers of people along a busy traffic corridor and at times allows them to jump the queue, he said.
"Reverting to where we were before wouldn't be the right thing to do," he said.
However, it won't be so easy the next time TransLink ask for sole access to parts of city streets during rush hour, LaClaire said.
There are plans for B-line services to be extended down Hastings to Simon Fraser University and along 41st Avenue.
"We'll take a look at them and if our studies show a similar result we'll probably recommend against putting in bus lanes," he said.
- - -
You can now listen to every Vancouver Sun story on our new digital edition.
Free to full-week print subscribers or sign up for a 7-day free trial.