As an interim measure until the full SkyTrain extension to UBC is complete, a candidate running in the upcoming by-election for Metro Vancouver Electoral Area A Director wants TransLink and the City of Vancouver to provide the 99 B-Line with enhancements that turn it into a true rapid bus line.
Madison Moore, who is seeking to fill the vacant seat that governs an area that includes the UBC campus, says the curbside lane of the 99 B-Line’s entire route on Broadway, the busiest bus route in North America, could be improved if it were used as a bus-only lane full-time.
“As someone who has ridden the 99 B-Line for years, I can tell you first hand, we need to make this bus route faster and more efficient now,” said Moore.
The intent is to adopt the same enhanced B-Line standards being put into place for the three new B-Line routes launching in early 2020 on 41st Avenue (between UBC and Joyce-Collingwood Station) in Vancouver, the North Shore (Park Royal to Phibbs Exchange), and the Lougheed Highway (Coquitlam Central Station to Maple Ridge).
Currently, curbside parking restrictions on Broadway between Commercial Drive and Arbutus Street already exist during peak hours to turn those outer lanes into bus-only lanes during the busier travel periods. These measures were first put into place in the fall of 2006.
In addition to bus-only lane improvements, she wants to see traffic-signal priority installations that grant the buses a green light. Currently, a single pedestrian triggering a traffic light has the capability to stop a full bus with over a hundred people, adding to the travel time and reducing service reliability.
Moore asserts the existing 42-minute, one-way, end-to-end travel time could be halved with these new measures.
Upgrades are necessary given that the Millennium Line’s Broadway Extension to Arbutus Street is at least six years away, opening in 2025, and the further westward extension reaching the campus may be more than a decade away, she says.
“We can’t wait 16 years for the potential of the SkyTrain extension, there are a lot of variable that could affect this timing and we need change now. If Mayor Kennedy Stewart believes a high-speed connection to UBC is his top priority, then let’s work together to make that a reality today,” she continued.
“Bottom line is that anything can be done if there is enough will and pressure to do so.”
Daily Hive reached out to TransLink and the City of Vancouver for commentary on these ideas, but they both declined, citing the need for further study.
One possible challenge with enhanced bus-only lanes could deal with the expected impact of subway construction on Broadway between Arbutus Street and Kingsway.
While the tunnel will be constructed using the tunnel boring method, some limited cut-and-cover construction is expected to be required for the stations, which is also how the Canada Line’s three downtown stations were built, with the tunnel boring machine passing through the excavated station pits.
A previous TransLink report updating the SkyTrain project’s planning progress also indicated Broadway’s width could be narrowed to four lanes to allow for subway construction.
“A key role of the city is to coordinate overall street use, and as part of this ongoing work, will be limiting other road work activities along Broadway as well as adjacent corridors to support transit reliability during construction for the Broadway Subway,” said the municipal government in an email.
The last publicly available assessment of the performance of the peak hour Broadway bus-only lanes was made in 2007, a few months after the changes were first made. A city staff report at the time noted: “the bus lanes appear to have had little or no effect on bus travel times.”
However, this was because of “the high volume of right turn vehicles and the high pedestrian volumes along Broadway.”
“Before the bus lanes were constructed, up to 50% of vehicles using the curb lane were turning right at the next intersection. In busy pedestrian areas vehicles wanting to turn right are delayed as drivers must wait for pedestrians to clear the crosswalk before completing the turn,” reads the report.
“Therefore right turning vehicles frequently block the bus lane. Note that the through traffic that previously used the curb lane caused only minor delay to buses, if any. Staff observe that, in general, on streets with very frequent bus service, such as Broadway, the curb lane essentially functions as a bus lane with or without the bus lane designation.”
Of course, that was more than a decade ago — conditions have changed, including traffic congestion and transit ridership.
The 99 B-Line saw an average ridership of about 45,000 boardings per day in 2007, and this increased to 56,000 boardings per day in 2018.
During peak hours, buses run every three minutes, and it takes over 40 articulated buses to meet the scheduled frequency and required capacity for the 14-km-long route. More buses cannot be added to the route, without the buses bunching up.
Starting in 2025, upon the opening of the Broadway Extension to Arbutus Street, the 99 B-Line will be reduced to a truncated route between Arbutus Street and UBC.