As the wheels continue turning on plans to widen Douglas Street in order to make room for a priority bus lane between Tolmie and Hillside avenues, Victoria’s mayor Lisa Helps already has visions for much more.
During a meeting last week, where city councillors approved the final design of the southbound Douglas Street bus lane, Helps said she’d like to eventually see a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week bus lane running all the way through Victoria rather than just a few portions.
“That is where we need to go — 24-seven all the way through the city. That’s when people will say I’m going to get on the bus and that’s when enforcement is going to get a heck of a lot easier,” said Helps, who thinks having portions of the street designated as a bus lane creates utter confusion.
“I think this is good, but I think great will be when we have 24-seven all through Victoria.”
In order to make improvements along Douglas Street, B.C. Transit has been working with Victoria, Saanich and the province to create a rapid transit corridor between downtown and the West Shore.
The latest phase of improvements consist of installing a dedicated southbound bus lane on Douglas Street between Tolmie Avenue and Hillside Avenue, which council approved in principle in February.
In order to create the bus lane, the plan calls for a one-metre widening of the west side of the street, which means the removal of 20 boulevard trees that city staff recommend be offered to the Vancouver Island woodworkers’ guilds or local trades college programs.
Even though the trees will be replaced and another 15 will be planted, the news caused an uproar amongst several residents when plans were announced last spring.
But after holding workshops with various stakeholders and area residents, the city believes a number of the issues have now been incorporated into the amended design, which includes the introduction of speed-reader boards, way finding signage, two additional tree retentions, curb realignment to provide more space for cyclists, improved signage and lane use rules/timing.
The plan also calls for a 24-hour bus lane. At the moment, the busy street has priority lanes for buses and cyclists that are only in effect from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. southbound and 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. northbound. Other vehicles may be in the lanes only to make right turns.
“This is part of a long term solution to improve transit efficiency and to actually incentivize a mode shift in the long term and reduce the general vehicle traffic on the Douglas corridor throughout the city,” said Fraser Work, director of engineering and public works.
“The short term benefits might not necessarily jump off the page, but the long term gain here is to get the traffic down so transit can promote future options….this is a very important step for improved transit.”
In order to help enforce the new bus lane rules, the city will be improving signage/markings to notify drivers that bus lanes are in effect at all times in that area. Education programs will also be rolled out and an increased police presence could be implemented as well.
Councillors agreed the plan is important as the region continues to grow.
“I think it is important that we move forward and I think this is a reasonable compromise, although it clearly can not please everybody,” said Coun. Geoff Young, noting a proposal several years ago drew complaints from businesses along the route.
“To the extent that we can maintain the primacy of bus traffic through signaled controls and so forth, I think we can still achieve the objective of really creating a high quality, high speed public transportation route to the western communities, which I think is something that’s really vital for the city.”
The southbound bus lane will be the final phase of transit corridor improvements on Douglas Street within the city. Construction on the project is slated to begin in early November and completed by the end of March. Work to construct a full-time northbound bus lane on Douglas Street between Tolmie Avenue and Saanich Road is currently at the 90 per cent design stage.