Main Street slated to become a paradise

Thursday, December 18th, 2003

Transit officials plan to make the street a model for other routes

Maurice Bridge

Main Street’s buses now face congestion but transit officials are planning to spend $6.4 million to improve traffic flow. CREDIT: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER Main Street is about to become a $6.4-million showcase for improved urban transit.

The Greater Vancouver Transit Authority (GVTA), the Greater Vancouver Regional District and Transport Canada plan to spend the money over the next three years on improvements like “bus bulges” and “queue jumpers” to turn the No. 3 Main bus route into a model for other routes.

It’s one of several innovative new programs by the transit authority and the district aimed at getting Lower Mainland commuters out of their cars and on to other modes of transportation.

The Main Street route, which is 8.2 kilometres long, is one of the most heavily used in the Lower Mainland. No. 3 buses carry an average of more than 23,000 people every day, and other buses on the same route at the downtown end add another 7,000. The No. 3 is standing-room-only from about 6:30 a.m. until nearly 10 a.m., and then again from mid-afternoon until about 7 p.m.

Only Broadway buses, with about 50,000 riders, and Granville buses, which reach 100,000 with all the suburban buses running in from Richmond, Delta, Surrey and White Rock, carry more riders on a daily basis.

But the problem isn’t the number of riders — it’s the frequency of the buses. Heavy commercial and private-vehicle traffic on Main, plus a lot of traffic and pedestrian stop-lights, means buses get jammed in the flow.

Despite a bylaw requiring drivers to give right-of-way to a bus moving back into traffic from the curb, one driver laments that “even the cops don’t let us in”.

In the mornings, 16 per cent of northbound buses run late, and 22 per cent of southbound buses. In the evenings, late southbounds drop to 22 per cent, but northbounds record a dismal 83-per-cent late-rate.

“This is the problem of the banana service,” says Stephen Rees, program manager for transportation policy at the Greater Vancouver Transit Authority (GVTA), whose job it is to make the Main Street showcase a reality. “You know, the buses only come in bunches.”

It’s a concept easily understood by anyone who has waited too long on a rainy day at a stop without a shelter, and Main Street has plenty of those.

“In congested conditions, the front bus starts getting later and later as it’s delayed, and it picks up more and more people who were waiting for the bus behind.

“Eventually, what happens is the bus behind, because it’s not picking up so many people, catches up to the bus in front. So instead of one bus every five minutes, you’ve got three buses every 15.

“The idea of regularizing the system is to keep that spacing even, so that people see a five-minute frequency and not a 15-minute frequency.”

The showcase project plans to redesign the streetscape with “bus bulges” — extensions of the curb at bus stops and intersections that allow buses to load and unload passengers without pulling out of traffic. These also make street crossings narrower, reducing the time needed for pedestrian-crossing signals and speeding up the flow of all traffic.

“Queue jumpers” — short , dedicated bus lanes at congestion points along the route — will allow buses to move quickly past areas that currently slow them down.

A signal-priority system will allow buses to “hold” green lights long enough to get them through intersections, reducing the number of stops for red lights. Better bus stops, with electronic displays similar to those used on the No. 98 B-Line are to be included to make using the bus more attractive to a wider range of riders.

The three-year project aims to improve efficiency by 10 to 15 per cent, and the GVTA suggests the freed-up resources could be used to increase bus service along Main by up to 20 per cent.

Rees notes that the point is not simply to make the buses go faster. That could be achieved by turning the curb lane over exclusively to buses, he says, but it wouldn’t achieve the desired goals.

“What that does is, it antagonizes people, because it puts fast traffic next to people who are walking on the sidewalks, and when the sidewalks are crowded, that’s an uncomfortable feeling for everybody.

“It also gives people the wrong impression that what we’re trying to do is just speed up the buses and get you through your neighborhood, and that’s not the idea at all.

He adds that the aim of the Main Street showcase is not simply to push the GVTA agenda, but to work with the city.

“Yes, we’ll get better transit reliability,” he says, “but also there should be considerable improvements in the way the street works, commercially and socially.”

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Daily riders on Main Street buses: 30,000

Percentage of non-transferring riders: 70

Length of route: 8.2 kilometres

Frequency of No. 3 buses: 4-5 minutes (day); 7-8 minutes (evening)

Vehicles per day on Main Street: 15,000 (south of Broadway); 25,000 (north of Broadway to Dunsmuir Viaduct)

Percentage of late No. 3 northbounds in the afternoon: 83

© Copyright  2003 Vancouver Sun

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