A C-Tran citizen advisory committee studying plans for Bus Rapid Transit on Fourth Plain Boulevard in Vancouver recommended against using exclusive “bus only” lanes along most of the four-lane roadway for fear they would increase traffic congestion and impede driver access to businesses.
The Corridor Advisory Committee includes 15 representatives from businesses, neighborhoods, and bus patrons. The group has been meeting since August to give feedback on C-Tran’s Fourth Plain Transit Improvement Project, which includes a proposed $78 million BRT line from the Westfield Shopping Mall, past Clark College on Fort Vancouver Way, into downtown.
The group believes designated bus lanes might work in short sections of Fourth Plain, but not as a general rule because drivers wouldn’t be able to make left-hand turns except at intersections. Business owners on the committee didn’t want to make it any harder for customers who drive to find them.
“There’s no economic growth if you can’t turn left,” said Bill Steiner, owner of Anderson Glass. “Most of my customers don’t use the bus to go get glass. There has to be car travel. [Otherwise] you’re forcing people away from my business.”
Fourth Plain was identified in a 2009 transit study as the most viable corridor in Clark County for high capacity transit, as it accounts for 27 percent of all of C-Tran’s daily ridership. Described as “light rail with rubber tires,” BRT uses articulated buses, stations with raised platforms for level boarding, off-board ticket kiosks, and signal priority to improve efficiency.
“Level boarding allows wheelchairs to roll right on,” said C-Tran project manager Chuck Green. “People, since they have already bought their ticket, can board on any of the two or three doors and exit by two or three doors. We save a lot of time just by those two things.”
According to its 2030 plan, C-Tran hopes to use a $62.4 million Federal Transit Authority grant plus $15.6 million in debt to build the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system by 2014. The $78 million price tag is nearly double C-Tran’s entire 2010 operating budget of $42.4 million. The transit agency is also depending on passage of a 0.1 percent sales tax increase in 2012 to fund the operation of BRT and the light rail line associated with the Columbia River Crossing project.
On Oct. 25, the citizen committee discussed five different lane options for BRT, including both exclusive and shared lanes, and bus stations located curbside or in the middle of the roadway.
The scenarios were:
• Mixed Traffic Right Lane: BRT vehicle shares right lane with other vehicles, stations are curbside.
• Mixed Traffic Left Lane: BRT vehicle shares left lane with other vehicles, stations are in the median.
• Right Lane Becomes Exclusive “BAT” (business access and transit) Lane: BRT has full access, but other drivers must remain in the left lane unless turning right.
• Single Center Lane: BRT vehicles travel in a single, exclusive center lane, with stations in the median. Other vehicles can only turn left at intersections.
• Double Center Lane: BRT vehicles take up two exclusive lanes in the middle of the boulevard, reducing other traffic to only two lanes, with left turns only at intersections.
Committee members agreed that the single and double bus lane options wouldn’t work on Fourth Plain because it would be too cumbersome for other drivers to access businesses. They recommended the mixed use and BAT lane options for the corridor instead.
Members also felt the double lane option was faulty because it would force all other traffic into two lanes and increase congestion, as recent construction on Fourth Plain has demonstrated. Ironically, the double lane scenario is what C-Tran uses in a video on its website to promote the benefits of BRT.
“I think anything that ends up with one traffic lane in both directions is not going to work,” said Pat Stryker, the development and community relations director at Columbia River Mental Health Services.
The committee did agree, however, that using dedicated bus lanes and stations in the middle of Fort Vancouver Way near Clark College held promise. The group ultimately decided that any one — or a combination — of the above five options would work on Fort Vancouver Way, although there was strong preference for dedicated lanes.
According to Bob Williamson, vice president of administration at Clark College, thousands of students cross Fort Vancouver Way every day and the pedestrian right of way that a BRT system would provide is appealing.
“For Clark College, the median lane makes so much sense for pedestrian safety,” he said.
The group’s emphasis on preserving vehicle access was of concern for Leah Jackson, owner of Niche Wine and Art and Angst Gallery in downtown Vancouver. Jackson is on the committee representing the interests of bicyclists. She pointed out that the discussion didn’t seem to emphasize ways to encourage more people to use public transit.
“If it’s trying to ultimately get more people to feel better about public transportation and therefore actually use public transportation, then…what is the optimal way to get to that outcome?” she asked. “I’m not certain that’s where the group has decided it’s weighted because I’m hearing more about how to get the automobiles to the businesses than people on the buses.”
State Farm Insurance salesman Javier Navorro described a recent bus trip he took on Fourth Plain during rush hour, saying that what slowed down the bus wasn’t other traffic, but frequent stops. He wondered if using priority signaling at intersections was a better way to decrease stop times. Priority signaling is a given with BRT, but not necessarily current bus service.
“At least we can give them priority on lights,” he said. “That speeds things up.”
Image Neighborhood Association representative Dimitry Mishchuk said neighbors he spoke with didn’t think the mixed traffic scenarios were different enough from current bus service to warrant the expense of BRT.
“As soon as they see this it’s like, ‘Why are we spending money? Let’s just put another bus on there,’” he said. “They don’t see the fullness of it.”
The committee will meet again next month to participate in a design workshop looking at BRT options in more detail. The group’s recommendations will be passed along to the C-Tran board for review at its Nov. 8 meeting.
A decision regarding the preferred alternative is expected next year, when it will be ratified by the C-Tran board, the Vancouver City Council, and the SW Washington Regional Transportation Commission.
Let your opinion about BRT be heard: Public input sought on design of C-Tran’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit line