Fourth Plain: Journey or destination?

Transit planners see some stop, some hurry through

By

Published:

 

C-Tran's nine-member board of directors is due to meet April 12 to decide on the timing of two ballot measures asking voters to increase the sales tax:

o A two-tenths of one percentage point hike to maintain bus service, add routes and shore up C-Van service for disabled riders.

o A one-tenth of one percentage point boost to fund the operation of an extension of Portland's light-rail transit system across a new Interstate 5 bridge and provide the local share of a proposed bus rapid transit line from the Vancouver Mall neighborhood to Clark College along Fourth Plain Boulevard.

C-Tran’s nine-member board of directors is due to meet April 12 to decide on the timing of two ballot measures asking voters to increase the sales tax:

o A two-tenths of one percentage point hike to maintain bus service, add routes and shore up C-Van service for disabled riders.

o A one-tenth of one percentage point boost to fund the operation of an extension of Portland’s light-rail transit system across a new Interstate 5 bridge and provide the local share of a proposed bus rapid transit line from the Vancouver Mall neighborhood to Clark College along Fourth Plain Boulevard.

C-Tran is proposing a bus rapid transit line intended to whisk people through Vancouver’s Fourth Plain corridor on elongated buses with quick stops and dedicated lanes.

But what if you don’t necessarily want people to zoom by?

That was the conundrum addressed by Fourth Plain business owners, bus riders and public officials who gathered last week to consider how the new high-capacity transit line will affect one of the most economically distressed areas of Vancouver.

“This is an opportunity for us to get it right,” event organizer Mark Maggiora said.

Maggiora, executive director of Americans Building Community Inc., is part of a new Fourth Plain Business Coalition that’s trying to revive the corridor, starting by emphasizing its strengths. Advocates would like to have people stop and take a look around, browse the specialty shops, or get a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants serving ethnic cuisine.

The area is served by C-Tran’s most popular local route, which picks up and deposits people who don’t own a car.

“We need the local milk run,” said Grocery Outlet owner Barry Sullivan.

Business owners and residents, who gathered Wednesday at Vancouver’s west precinct building, expressed concern about the possibility that a new bus rapid transit line would displace the popular No. 4 local route. Combined with C-Tran’s No. 44 limited express route, 4,000 to 5,000 people already ride along the Fourth Plain corridor each day — fully a third of C-Tran’s entire ridership.

Michele Reeves, a Portland-based land-use consultant, advised business owners and city officials to consider refashioning the street to promote walkable connections between shops and restaurants.

That requires slowing people down, rather than speeding them through.

“Is there a huge clamoring need for people from east Vancouver to get into downtown?” she said.

Yes and no, according to C-Tran officials.

About 60 percent of the people who use the route are moving between points within the corridor — those everyday “milk run” stops to the grocery store, a doctor’s appointment or a job somewhere along Fourth Plain. But Jeff Hamm, C-Tran’s executive director, said about a third of the riders are bound for Oregon.

And those riders want to get through the corridor as quickly as possible.

“We’ve got a local run that’s popular, but that same local run has buses that are running late 30 to 40 percent of the time,” said Chuck Green, bus rapid transit planning manager for C-Tran. “That unpredictable trip is really affecting their ability to use that corridor.”

Simply routing an express bus on nearby state Highway 500 isn’t the answer, either, Green said, because many of the Oregon-bound riders don’t have cars and can’t easily get to a park-and-ride lot.

Green said he believes it’s possible to construct a hybrid of traditional bus and rapid transit lines.

“What we’re trying to do is find ways to keep our buses from being stuck in traffic all the time,” he said. “There are a number of ways you can do that without having to dedicate lanes on Fourth Plain exclusively to a bus.”

He said buses could be sped along with priority signalling at traffic lights, advance ticketing, and station designs that allow easy boarding for disabled or elderly passengers. He said stations could be constructed in concert with landowners planning their own improvements to take advantage of transit-oriented development.

Sidewalk, landscaping and curb improvements could benefit landowners and C-Tran alike.

“As we build transit stops along Fourth Plain, we’re subject to the same landscaping frontage (requirements) that developers would be,” Green said. “Can we piggyback on projects developers already want to do?”

Revision of a street

Reeves said revitalizing a corridor starts with “nodes” of activity, then builds out from there.

She noted that southeast Portland’s trendy Hawthorne district straddles a four-lane arterial. Its kitschy focus of walkable shops and restaurants started some years ago on just three blocks. The transformation is spreading as neighboring property owners see the potential and find tenants who fit the area’s evolving profile.

“Streets are changeable,” Reeves said.

Vancouver city councilor Bart Hansen, who serves on C-Tran’s nine-member board of directors and also relies on the bus to get around town, attended Wednesday’s meeting and came away convinced that it’s time to reconsider Fourth Plain’s purpose.

“We need to re-evaluate what we want Fourth Plain to be in the future,” Hansen said. “Do you want it to be a four-lane arterial that people drive through at 35 miles per hour?”

Fourth Plain included a street car during the first half of the 20th century, before its post-war transition to a wide arterial road carrying automobiles to inexpensive land in the far-flung suburbs around Vancouver.

Reeves believes it can change back.

“How do we strengthen how people get around so it functions more optimally for everybody?” she said. “You have to change the street back to what it was before it became the mega-arterial.”

Erik Robinson: 360-735-4551, or erik.robinson@columbian.com.