C-Tran’s bus rapid transit plan narrowed

Panel moving away from bus-only lanes on parts of 4th Plain

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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A proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) line in Vancouver appears to be steering away from using dedicated bus-only lanes on the busiest parts of Vancouver’s Fourth Plain corridor.

But a C-Tran advisory committee helping shape the proposal decided Tuesday to keep that option on the table for Fort Vancouver Way near Clark College, part of a project that could reshape one of the city’s most crowded thoroughfares. Committee members also indicated they’d be open to installing a bus-only lane on parts of Fourth Plain itself, but only farther east of the city’s core.

“I think it makes sense in places,” said committee member Javier Navarro. “Not the whole corridor.”

C-Tran first floated the idea of a bus rapid transit line early this year. Dedicated bus lanes are one of several tools a bus rapid transit system can use in an effort to ease traffic congestion. Others include raised boarding platforms, larger vehicles and specialized signals to help transit operate more smoothly. A BRT line on Fourth Plain wouldn’t necessarily use all of those options, but some combination of them.

C-Tran is looking at the Fourth Plain corridor between downtown and the Vancouver Mall, with the possibility of extending as far east as Northeast 162nd Avenue.

The committee’s recommendations will go to the C-Tran Board of Directors next month. C-Tran hopes to settle on a preferred plan in 2012, with construction likely to haapen in 2013 or 2014.

Five concepts

The advisory committee started Tuesday evening with five BRT concepts on the table:

• A mixed-traffic model that would keep buses with cars in the right lane, using curbside boarding stations.

• A mixed-traffic model that would put buses in the left lanes, using stations built in the road’s center median.

• A semi-exclusive “bus access transit” lane in each direction open only to buses and cars turning right into businesses, keeping stations curbside.

• An exclusive model putting one bus-only lane and boarding stations in the road’s center median.

• An exclusive model putting two bus-only lanes down the median, leaving only one regular traffic lane in each direction.

The committee decided to move the first three options forward for further review and design. The single bus-only lane concept was picked as a secondary option mostly for Fort Vancouver Way, while the double bus-only lane concept seemed all but dead on Fourth Plain after Tuesday’s meeting.

“I don’t think (that option) would work at all,” committee member Pat Stryker said. “I think anything that is going to end up with one traffic lane in both directions is not going to work.”

Stryker and others said the option would simply choke existing traffic, doing little to solve congestion. An earlier C-Tran analysis came to the same conclusion, deeming it as “failing” in that category.

Fourth Plain business leaders at the table Tuesday also raised concerns about access problems created by bus-only lanes. Putting them in the center of the roadway — cutting off mid-block left turns — would do nothing to boost the corridor’s economic health, said Fourth Plain merchant Bill Steiner. That’s one of the project’s stated goals.

“I can’t see how that isn’t failing in a business sense,” Steiner said of the two exclusive bus lane options.

Fort Vancouver Way

Fort Vancouver Way was a different story. A median bus lane setup there would work well for Clark College and the thousands of students passing through the area, said Vice President of Administrative Services Bob Williamson. Most others at the table agreed.

The first three options didn’t generate unanimous support from the committee, either. But they did generate enough interest to move ahead.

The project’s exact price tag will depend on which plan is picked. But funding it will depend largely on a planned sales tax vote next year, separate from this year’s Proposition 1.

Committee members also heard the results of a recent online survey C-Tran conducted for the project.

A total of 263 respondents offered likes and dislikes for each option, but only appeared to strongly favor the first option — the one that’s closest to the existing setup. On each of the other four concepts, “not appropriate anywhere in the corridor” drew the biggest chunk of votes in response to a question about how appropriate they’d be on Fourth Plain.

The survey didn’t ask about a no-build option. But that option will automatically move forward as the planning process continues, said C-Tran project manager Chuck Green.

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