Friday, December 10, 2010

Victoria City Council Decision on Rapid Transit on Douglas

Artist rendering from BC Transit 
Yesterday the City of Victoria council decided in favour of a rapid transit line that would see dramatic changes to Douglas Street.   They also expressed a preference for a rail based system over a bus based system.  I have some questions and concerns about the decision.

The council has opted for splitting Douglas into three, one section for rapid transit, one for bikes and one for cars.   Cars will only have two lanes on Douglas if the plans go ahead.

The council decision only covers Douglas till Hillside.   The City of Victoria boundary is significantly further north of that.   What are the plans for the line from Hillside to Tolmie?   Is the expectation for the same pattern to continue?   Will Saanich follow suit?

The last time rapid transit was talked about, there was significant opposition to it from the merchants along Douglas Street, what has changed to remove this opposition?

This change will have a major impact on Douglas Street from Herald Street south.  

If the rapid transit lanes are on the eastern side, this will make left hand turns going south very hard to use.  It will also remove right hand turns from streets onto Douglas going north bound effectively unavailable.

Will the rapid transit lanes allow regular buses on them?   And will there be stops as often as there need to be for local bus service?  If there is local bus service in the transit lanes, I suspect this will hold up the rapid transit service as there is no way to get around the slow buses.   So this says to me the local buses will be on the car lanes and will not have much space to stop.

I am trying to figure out how to make the local buses on Douglas work if this work out as I suspect.   Some buses could simply end when they get to Douglas and no longer continue downtown, these routes are not a problem.  The problematic ones are the ones that run through downtown on Douglas on their way to other locations.   #11, #14, #22, #27, #28, #30 and #31 all pass through downtown on Douglas street on their way somewhere else.   Will all these bus routes be changed?

With rapid transit the odds are that a lot of current direct bus routes will be scraped or altered and force people to transfer onto rapid transit for part of their trip.  Each transfer adds another disincentive to transit use, the first one being the biggest barrier.   Currently most people in this region do not transfer when they take transit and I doubt would welcome having to transfer

Douglas Street is a major commercial street in the city, to make a two lane street concerns me because of the impacts it will have on traffic.   It will be a problem for commercial traffic that needs to access the downtown core.  It will be another disincentive for people to go downtown to shop that normally go via Douglas.  I suspect there will be something close to gridlock on Douglas Street in downtown if this goes forward.

The current traffic on Douglas Street will have to go somewhere and it will be pushed to streets around it.   I am not sure that there is the capacity of the streets to handle this extra traffic.

The decision to express a preference for rail over bus is very much premature of council and seems to have been done without any information backing a reason for a preference.   There is light rail mania going all over North America but not a lot of solid data indicating the increased expense of building and operating a light rail makes sense in most cases.  

The capital costs of a light rail system to Langford will be five to ten times more expensive than bus rapid transit and the operating expenses would also be higher light rail over bus.   Light rail makes sense when it is grade separated and deals with very high existing volumes but not when it is on a level grade and has a low volume.   There is no indication that there will ever be the sort of volume on a rapid transit line to Langford to justify the need to go to light rail instead of bus.
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