The future of the Douglas Street busway
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.