Sunday, April 13

While visiting Todd Litman, creator of the Vancouver Transportation Policy Institute, I learned that the BC Ministry of Transportation, Saanich, and the city of Victoria are developing a plan to install a bus rapid transit (BRT) system through downtown and along the Saanich Peninsula(1). A BRT system is a transportation option which is an intermediary step between the traditional bus system currently in place throughout North America and a full scale light rail system. Essentially the system consists of an exclusive median in which the buses run with stations located at specific intervals, and passengers buy their tickets ahead of time at the station(2). BRT systems offer the same freedom from traffic and congestion at a lower cost. The advantages of the system is that it creates the same degree of permanence that light rail has which stimulates economic development, enhances street life, and adds destinction to an otherwise mundane bus system. The disadvantages are the potential pollution depending on the propulsion system, and the poor public image that continues to haunt buses. Systems have been built in about 18 cities throughout the United States as well as many countries in South America. For most cities, the BRT systems have reduced congestion and improved the perception of public transportation.
Tonight's public hearing was the most contentious public forum that I've attended (3). According to some people at the meeting, this was the first time that the Transit Authority had offered the opportunity for any kind public testimony. This alone set off a wave of distrust among most business owners and a few residents. The first speakers including one from the downtown Residents Association were generally in favor of the project as a way to 'get people out of their cars' one disabled resident expressed concerns about the pollution that buses have thus-far produced. [CNG, electric, or hybrid powered bus would be necessary to resolve this]
Darren Marr of GVCC expressed the cycling community's views as mostly favorable. He spoke highly of the decision to keep bike lanes from being sandwiched between buses and auto traffic, the increased distance that bike lanes would travel, and increased space for bikes. However he expressed concern about the outlying areas where buses would travel on the curbs and possibly cause danger to cyclists.
The Association of Douglas Street businesses expressed their opposition along a very different tangent. Their main opposition stemmed from the elimination of left-turn lanes, the addition of
four traffic signals, and reduced parking (4). The association expressed frustration that BC Transit had "ignored" options such as running buses along the curbway or simply installing high
occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. The association stated that the reduced [automobile] access would kill business because customers would find it difficult to get to their doors [by car].
The association's concerns are real and their opinions are legitimate. However they make one very massive assumption, which is that people who drive will actually follow the rules. If this
assumption were true, than the suggested alternatives would be just as logical. Unfortunately from drivers putting toys in the passenger seat (to ride in HOV lanes), to parked cars
interfering with transit lanes
there has been a long tradition in North America of nonchalance to traffic laws.

It is this fear of imperfect drivers as well as the potential to reduce pollution which
most impassions the pedestrian community to support the BRT system. Of those people I spoke to while riding the bus later that week, people were in favor of the proposal primarily for it's
potential to make walking in Victoria a safer experience.