The fu­ture of the Douglas Street busway

Times Colonist - - Monitor - ANDREW A. DUFFY

The pro­posal by B.C. Tran­sit to put ded­i­cated bus lanes down the mid­dle of Douglas Street be­tween Fis­gard Street and Carey Road has faced vo­cal op­po­si­tion from busi­nesses along the route, who fear the plan will re­duce cus­tomer traf­fic through their doors.

Here’s a con­cise look at what the plan en­tails, who is af­fected by it and how it could even­tu­ally work.

What is the Douglas Street busway project?

It is the first of five phases to im­prove pub­lic tran­sit in the cap­i­tal re­gion, es­tab­lish­ing the route that will even­tu­ally be used for light rail tran­sit. The project would see a 3.1-kilo­me­tre, two-lane busway built in the mid­dle two lanes along Douglas Street from Fis­gard Street to Carey Road.

Changes along Douglas would in­clude elim­i­na­tion of left turns at most in­ter­sec­tions, the ad­di­tion of four traf­fic sig­nals, con­trolled U-turns at some in­ter­sec­tions and re­duced park­ing. The busway plan has five sta­tions, 13 sig­nals and al­lows for four lanes of non-bus mo­tor ve­hi­cle traf­fic and bike lanes. It will take up seven me­tres in the mid­dle of the street — large enough to ac­com­mo­date LRT when it comes — with room on ei­ther side for two car lanes and a bike lane. The side­walks on both sides of Douglas will be dug up and nar­rowed to ac­com­mo­date the busway, and power lines will be buried un­der the street.

B.C. Tran­sit’s goal is to have con­struc­tion com­pleted by the sum­mer of 2010.

Why does B.C. Tran­sit want to build it?

B.C. Tran­sit be­lieves the busway is the best way to in­crease the “peo­ple-mov­ing ef­fi­ciency” and ca­pac­ity of Douglas Street, and es­tab­lish the route for light rail tran­sit in the fu­ture. Travel time will be re­duced, which will mean more com­muters will choose to travel by bus. More bus rid­ers will make it eas­ier to make the busi­ness case to build light rail tran­sit in the fu­ture. B.C. Tran­sit also be­lieves this plan is flexible, af­ford­able and im­me­di­ately avail­able un­like other op­tions such as light rail tran­sit.

Who are the ma­jor play­ers in this drama?

B.C. Tran­sit is cham­pi­oning the project, while the de­ci­sion­mak­ers are the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Vic­to­ria and Saanich and the B.C. Min­istry of Trans­porta­tion. Also weigh­ing in are busi­ness groups such as the As­so­ci­a­tion of Douglas Street Busi­nesses, which was formed to deal with this is­sue, the Greater Vic­to­ria Cham­ber of Com­merce and the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­ness.

Why do many busi­nesses on Douglas Street hate the idea?

Both in­di­vid­ual busi­nesses and some busi­ness groups have laid out a se­ries of rea­sons for why they dis­like the busway. They say the project will cause con­fu­sion for mo­torists and lead to traf­fic ac­ci­dents, and in­crease rather than de­crease green­house-gas emis­sions. They also say cost es­ti­mates have been bal­loon­ing.

But the big­gest is­sue is loss of cus­tomers. Busi­nesses say that elim­i­nat­ing most left turns along the route means they will lose a size­able per­cent­age of their cus­tomers. Loss of street park­ing will also make it less likely for cus­tomers to trek to their doors.

Kent Graber, vice-pres­i­dent of Jorido Pa­cific Foods, which runs the A&W restau­rant on Douglas Street, said he ex­pects to lose 18 per cent of his busi­ness if peo­ple can’t turn left into his park­ing lot as they head into the city.

“I can’t un­der­stand why they would [tin­ker] with Douglas any­way. Why not go to Blan­shard?” he said. He would even like to see some thought given to the rad­i­cal move of es­tab­lish­ing Douglas as a one-way street into town and Blan­shard as a one-way out of town.

Randy Northey, owner of the Pantry Restau­rant at 3214 Douglas St., es­ti­mates his losses could be in the range of 30 to 50 per cent.

“We feel what they are plan­ning on do­ing would cre­ate mass con­fu­sion and con­ges­tion on Douglas Street,” said Northey, chair­man of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Douglas Street Busi­nesses. “Hav­ing talked to most of the busi­nesses, there would be a huge loss of sales at just about ev­ery busi­ness in­volved in the area that would lose traf­fic turn­ing left. I’d be gone, to­tally, and there are many busi­nesses that would just be fin­ished or move off Douglas Street.”

Who are the groups that sup­port the idea, and why?

Dur­ing pub­lic meet­ings and open houses it’s be­come clear that no one group is in full sup­port of this project other than B.C. Tran­sit and some of the po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion mak­ers. The elected of­fi­cials, how­ever, are quick to note that while they like the idea of putting an em­pha­sis on mass and rapid tran­sit with a view to even­tu­ally es­tab­lish­ing light rail tran­sit along the route, they re­al­ize the de­tails need quite a bit of iron­ing out. Some groups such as the Greater Vic­to­ria Cy­cling Coali­tion have given luke­warm sup­port; they want to see some changes be­fore they fully en­dorse it. And dur­ing a pub­lic hear­ing re­cently while some down­town res­i­dents spoke in favour of the project — the Down­town Res­i­dents As­so­ci­a­tion is in favour — oth­ers were op­posed.

Why Douglas Street and not Blan­shard, where there’s more room?

This point has been brought up nu­mer­ous times by op­po­si­tion groups. The City of Vic­to­ria made a de­ci­sion in the 1990s that Douglas was the pre­ferred cor­ri­dor for rapid tran­sit. Plan­ners in Vic­to­ria and Saanich see this rapid tran­sit route as es­tab­lish­ing the cor­ri­dor for rail rapid tran­sit. Vic­to­ria Mayor Alan Lowe has said Douglas Street just makes sense be­cause, un­like Blan­shard, it has a con­cen­tra­tion of busi­nesses. He also noted that any right-of-way that will even­tu­ally be used for LRT must be in an area with a con­cen­tra­tion of peo­ple and busi­nesses.

How much will the busway cost?

A hard cost has yet to be de­ter­mined, though con­sen­sus seems to be it will cost any­where be­tween $25 mil­lion and $30 mil­lion — busways tend to cost as much as $10 mil­lion per kilo­me­tre to build. There has been some con­fu­sion about the cost. Some groups say B.C. Tran­sit orig­i­nally es­ti­mated the cost at $6 mil­lion. But that $6mil­lion fig­ure was never the ac­tual cost. Rather, it’s the fund­ing that had been se­cured for the project — $5.1 mil­lion of fed­eral money (mostly from gas taxes) and nearly $1 mil­lion in B.C. Tran­sit’s cap­i­tal bud­get.

Where will the money for this come from?

The money will come from a variety of sources, but it all comes down to the tax­payer. There is that $6 mil­lion, but the bal­ance will likely come from all lev­els of gov­ern­ment.

Who will make the de­ci­sion to pro­ceed?

Af­ter B.C. Tran­sit staff have drawn to­gether more in­for­ma­tion, the Vic­to­ria Re­gional Tran­sit Com­mis­sion, chaired by Sid­ney Mayor Don Amos, will de­lib­er­ate on the project and pass rec­om­men­da­tions to mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils and the Min­istry of Trans­porta­tion for ap­proval. What are their op­tions? Myr­iad. The com­mis­sion can rec­om­mend to move ahead with the project as is, move ahead with the project with some changes, opt to study things fur­ther, kill it, rec­om­mend Tran­sit staff take a hard look at whether they should go ahead with LRT right now in­stead, and any­thing in be­tween. All op­tions re­main on the ta­ble.

When will they make the de­ci­sion?

A date has not yet been set for the tran­sit com­mis­sion to make rec­om­men­da­tions. Fol­low­ing a pub­lic hear­ing April 5, the com­mis­sion de­cided to push back its de­lib­er­a­tions due to the amount of ma­te­rial it has to con­sider. It had orig­i­nally set April 22 as the date it would con­sider the project. That has now been left open and those con­cerned about the project still have some time to make sub­mis­sions to the com­mis­sion.

What’s the pro­posed route for light rail tran­sit?

The route for LRT is to go along the same Douglas Street cor­ri­dor es­tab­lished by a busway. It would fol­low High­way 1 (ei­ther in the mid­dle of the high­way or along­side it) to the West Shore. It would fol­low Sooke Road and take one of a num­ber of routes, in­clud­ing fol­low­ing the Gal­lop­ing Goose Trail or fol­low­ing Sooke Road through Col­wood. It would also be ex­pected to go through Lang­ford though routes for that are not clear. It is un­likely LRT will go out to the Penin­sula con­sid­er­ing the length of the line and the cost — LRT can cost be­tween $60 mil­lion and $80 mil­lion per kilo­me­tre to build.

Why is a busway be­ing pro­posed in­stead of light rail?

Cost seems to be the sim­plest an­swer. Some­thing is needed and this seems to be the most af­ford­able op­tion that can be im­ple­mented now. How­ever, the tran­sit com­mis­sion could de­cide to scrap the busway pro­posal and opt to seek fund­ing for light rail im­me­di­ately.

The ad­di­tion of bus lanes will rad­i­cally change the look of Douglas Street through down­town, as seen in this artist’s ren­der­ing. The plan calls for the lanes to even­tu­ally be re­placed by light rail tran­sit.

The “green lanes” would be ded­i­cated to bus traf­fic only, with car traf­fic shunted to the sides.

An over­head ren­der­ing of the in­ter­sec­tion of Douglas and Fin­layson streets, with bus lanes in green.

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