4th Plain bus rapid transit design perused

People see what C-Tran’s busiest thoroughfare could look like revamped

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Video

BRT Workshop

C-Tran hears ideas and concerns from riders and business owners along the Fourth Plain corridor.

C-Tran hears ideas and concerns from riders and business owners along the Fourth Plain corridor.

Public meeting

What: Second BRT design workshop.

When: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: C-Tran administrative office, 2425 N.E. 65th Ave., Vancouver.

C-Tran planners on Wednesday offered the most detailed look yet at what a bus rapid transit system could look like on Vancouver’s crowded Fourth Plain corridor.

About a dozen people gathered at Clark College’s Gaiser Hall for a hands-on design workshop to offer their thoughts on what doesn’t work on the corridor and what does. Planners also steered participants through three-dimensional computer models showing what new boarding stations and stops along a revamped Fourth Plain could look like.

C-Tran has spent most of this year seriously exploring the idea of bus rapid transit (BRT). On Wednesday, C-Tran Executive Director Jeff Hamm characterized the project as only the latest step in Fourth Plain’s development over the years.

“Fourth Plain didn’t always look like it does today. It evolves. It changes,” Hamm said. “I think we’re at one of those points now.”

BRT works by using any number of features — larger vehicles, raised boarding stations, dedicated bus lanes and specialized traffic signals among them — to move passengers more smoothly and reliably. A system on Fourth Plain wouldn’t necessarily use all of those tools, but rather some combination of them in different parts of the corridor.

Project leaders have zeroed in on Fourth Plain Boulevard — C-Tran’s busiest thoroughfare — and Fort Vancouver Way between downtown and the Westfield Vancouver mall. If installed, a BRT system would replace existing bus routes No. 4 and 44 on that stretch.

Planners hope to settle on a preferred concept next year.

The vision has already narrowed some. The C-Tran board this month moved away from using dedicated bus lanes on the busiest parts of Fourth Plain, but kept the option open for Fort Vancouver Way near Clark College. That followed an earlier recommendation of a citizen advisory committee.

Wednesday’s workshop highlighted several station setups with the aid of video concepts. Among them: putting a raised BRT boarding platform out

from the sidewalk, building it over a sidewalk, or putting it in the median of the road. Designers were able to zoom in and rotate the images for more detail based on citizens’ questions.

The median option drew some concern from at least a few in the room. Some wondered how safe it would be to have passengers cross part of the street to get on a BRT vehicle. Project consultant Jack Gonsalves noted pedestrian signals and crosswalks would be incorporated in that scenario, and a median station could offer something of a mid-point “refuge” for people crossing the entire street.

Safety was a key concern for Judy Tiffany, a frequent Fourth Plain rider and volunteer. She’s also helped guide the project as a member of the citizen advisory committee.

Tiffany said she’s generally supportive of the BRT idea, and hopes it can revitalize a socially and economically diverse area.

“I want to see Fourth Plain become a better community,” Tiffany said.

Barry Sullivan, another member of the citizen advisory committee, owns and operates the Grocery Outlet store on Fourth Plain. He said one of his biggest worries has been constricting traffic by losing lanes to BRT. Wednesday’s concepts showed a median station could be installed without eliminating lanes — though it would squeeze them to a smaller width — which alleviated at least some of Sullivan’s apprehension, he said. Sullivan said seeing a concept on the actual street layout helped.

“It’s given me a better insight into what the possibilities are for each step,” he said.

Wednesday’s workshop drew a sparse turnout. Near the beginning of the meeting, it appeared project planners and C-Tran officials outnumbered the citizens there to learn about it. C-Tran will host another workshop Saturday at its Vancouver headquarters.

If it goes forward, the project could be built in 2013 or 2014. A no-build option is also on the table, essentially leaving Fourth Plain and Fort Vancouver Way as is.

The final cost of the system would depend on what concept planners settle on. For planning and paying for an election next fall, C-Tran says it has set aside $1.3 million in its current budget.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.