UVic proposes giant parking increase

UVic, after a decade of slowly drawing down their parking supply, and reaping the rewards for doing so,  has decided to build a giant parkade on north-end of campus. Why is UVic proposing this now? What hass changed that they need so much new parking now? What happened to their much-vaunted sustainability?

The crazy part is that it isn’t even needed. Although there are a few place around the campus that might need a few fixes (such as Arbutus Rd.) there certainly isn’t some giant crisis that only a new parkade can solve. Nor is the proposed parkade in a good location – the north side of the. campus away from most of the buildings. UVic’s own 2010 Traffic Audit ([download id=”9″ format=”1″]something I worked on), says this

The results from the 2010 survey document the continued positive trends with decreases in total automobile-related trips and large increases in both pedestrian and bicycle trips.

One of the big questions is this – Why bring it forward now? I suspect that like the Baptist Housing folks who are replacing Oak Bay Lodge, UVic hoped that it could slide it under the radar in the quiet summer months. Not to mention getting approval before the next municipal election, due November 19th.

Even sadder is that UVic is currently stonewalling BC Transit on a new transit exchange at the university, something that BC Transit desperately needs to expand transit service for the students and staff of UVic, but cannot due to lack of space. BC Transit even started a process to get public opinion on where that transit exchange might go (something I wrote about in April). But UVic claims to have no funding for any new exchange. So where is the funding for this parkade coming from? It is explicitly tied to the sport centre, approved in a referendum of UVic students in 2009.

Thankfully, it appears that UVic run into no small amount of opposition from the local community, causing Saanich Council to delay the proposal until the fall.

Followup from BC Transit’s UVic future plans

BC Transit has posted the followup to their open house at UVic regarding future transit options for the university. Their findings were interesting:

  • A bus loop close to the Student Union Building (SUB) and bookstore (and planned Village Centre) is preferred, “as students consider the SUB the centre of the campus”.
  • There was support to keep major bus routes off Ring Road because of delays experienced at pedestrian crosswalks – instead, shuttle service should be operated around the campus
  • Preferred bus routes to and from UVic and on campus: route options 1 and 7 received the most support; option 5 is the least desirable (check out page 5 and 6 of the presentation boards to see the route options.)
  • Longer walking distances on campus would be acceptable if they are offset by faster transit service, more express buses and a campus shuttle
  • Reliability of service and pass-ups off campus are more of an issue than the frequency of service or walking distances on campus
  • There is a strong support for staggering class start times as a way to alleviate pass-ups and other service issues
  • Personal security is a concern at the bus loop at night, and for people walking across campus at night to the bus loop or a bus stop

This list does include some fascinating contradictions and unanswered questions:

  1. People don’t mind walk across campus but are also worried about personal security while doing so. Huh?
  2. What exchange options did people prefer?
  3. Do people realize what a walk across campus would actually mean in terms of time?
  4. Where are people actually clustered during the day? UVic has class times and enrollment for the entire campus. I would love to see a map of that.
  5. What is this “Village Centre” that they mention? Does it have to do with the discussions about putting in a traffic circle at the corner of Finnerty and Sinclair?
  6. Is UVic even willing to discuss changing class times? This has some pretty serious knock-on effects on instructor and classroom scheduling.

Help plan the future of UVic

Come help plan the future of UVic over the next two weeks at two different weeks. First up, on March 17th, is BC Transit’s open house on a new campus plan. It runs in the Michele Pujol room of the SUB between 11am-2pm and 4pm-6pm. See the poster (PDF) for the full details.

On the 21st UVic will be Oak Bay Council meeting for a presentation of the new UVic strategic plan, currently in the planning stages. This is part of a committee of the whole meeting so it will fairly informal as these things go. Join UVic and Oak Bay Council at 7:30pm in the council chambers of the municipal hall. See the ad for the full details.

Do we need a new chamber of commerce in Victoria?

Three years ago the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in killing one of the best transit projects this city has seen: the Douglas St. busway. They had this to say:

The Greater Victoria Chamber does not support the proposed plan for the bus rapid transit system on the Douglas Street corridor. While in support of bus rapid transit, the chamber is concerned that all the transportation modes included in this plan cannot be accommodated in the available space on Douglas Street. (from the GVCC’s policy page)

Worst of all, it was already paid for. After years of unfunded projects, they had to go and kill one of the few that was. Now, I fear they are going to do it again. The Victoria Regional Rapid Transit project is nearing completion and they have again selected Douglas St. as the corridor, as they should given it is the most logical route. Just like last time, the Douglas St. merchants are complaining

What the Chamber of Commerce should be doing is working on behalf of all their members, not just the blinkered ones on Douglas St. A new transitway will speed people into downtown, people who will spend money at chamber members. They are a business lobby group after all.

But all is not lost. The GVCC’s stubbornness isn’t unique; the US Chamber of Commerce is shedding members because of its opposition to climate change but an alternative has recently appeared: the US Green Chamber. An out-growth of the San Diego Green Chamber, this new group promises to be a forward-thinking business group, exactly what the US (and Canada, given our proximity) needs. Maybe what Victoria needs is something similar, something like the Values-Based Business Network — who are currently rethinking their mandate — but in a wider scope.

“Surviving” public transportation

Ugh, yet another article on “Surviving Public Transportation“, as if it is something to be endured. One of the books they mention is My Kind of Public Transportation, which Jarrett over at Human Transit elegantly rips apart in his post about the Disneyland Theory of Transit.

However, given we are about to cut a few thousand hours from buses run here in Victoria, the federal NDP’s public transportation strategy cannot come soon enough. Now if only the newspaper could get the story right about BC Transit. The issue isn’t so much that the number of riders fell, it is that this is the first year in a decade that ridership hasn’t risen. That little fact, despite being easily seen in any slide-show from BC Transit, isn’t mentioned in either editorial or the main article about bus lanes.

Also, we are not the only region that got a higher than expected bill for buses. At least one Nelson councillor is publicly ruminating about “sending the buses back to the province” and “what about a Nelson-run transit system?” Lovely ideas, but they fail to realize two key points:

  1. BC Transit has a fairly good (by North American standards) deal with regards to sharing of operating costs on an even basis with the province and local authority. Pity the poor systems in Alberta, which much go cap in hand system-by-system, or the TTC, which gets no help from Ontario.
  2. BC Transit offers local communities centralized planning and purchasing, one of the reasons why BC has some of the best rural and small community transit in North America.

Lastly, the group that killed the last round of transit improvements on Douglas St, the Association of Douglas Street Businesses, is out to do it again, claiming we need to “rethink rapid transit.” Actually, they don’t want any rapid transit. Their spokesman, Bev Highton, said this:

Bev Highton commented that he felt that the committee did not include representation of people who use the roads every day, and there should be discussion on whether there is actually a need for Rapid Transit. He also had concerns about the guiding principles of securing a dedicated right of way.

(from the [download id=”7″ format=”1″] – CLC mandate and other minutes can be seen here). Take anything this group says with a giant grain of salt.

So in sum: The sky is not falling, buses are not horrible, the world will not end if we get a bus-only lane somewhere in the city, and the universe will not end if we get light rail.

Come have your say next week

Two different projects are seeking public input next week, although only one really connects to Oak Bay directly.

The first is the Oak Bay High Project, which is on a crazily-tight timeline to have shovels in the ground by this time next year, so they have scheduled a series of open houses on a potential “neighbourhood learning centre“, a relatively new concept the province is championing for using schools beyond school hours. This is where the space for the full theatre may come from, or a host of other options. What is at stake? The NLC can add 15% to the space of the school — some 1500 sq m in total.

Also seeking input is the latest stage of the BC Transit Victoria Regional Rapid Transit plan, which continues to confuse me with regards to the West Shore. The premier recently announced at the UBCM annual conference that Victoria’s rapid transit project was getting funded (with unknown monies), and the text of his speech says this:

We need to get the rapid bus launched in the capital regional district,

Which leave me confused. Because they have decided to use the E&N rail corridor in Langford and I just don’t see the Island Corridor Foundation and CRD Parks giving up on their dream of an E&N rail trail to allow buses to run beside the rail line (and the rail line is not going away. The ICF owns it outright and only they — meaning the collective municipalities and native bands along the line — can decide otherwise). And their consultations this week include “a showcase of rail and bus options.” So is the premier wrong is the or is something unexpected in the works?

So if you want to attend all of these open houses and workshops, your week would look something like this:

Sun: Oak Bay NLC consultation, 1pm – 3pm, Monterey Rec Centre, 1442 Monterey Ave
Tues: BC Transit Open House, 2pm – 7pm, Ambrosia Event Centre, 638 Fisgard St.
Oak Bay NLC consultation, 7pm – 9pm, Oak Bay Rec Centre, 1975 Bee St.
Thurs: BC Transit, 3pm – 8pm, Langford Legion, 760 Station Road

A night of fireworks and booze

Canada Day fireworks
Canada Day fireworks

A few days late, but I thought I would share a little bit of my evening on Canada Day. After my little walkabout to the various block parties, I braved the bus to head down to my brother’s for a bit of beer, pizza, and fireworks. While on the trip down I had a few deeply unpleasant experiences with a drunk girl who was extremely aggressive to both me and the poor lady sitting next to me. This made me understand why BC Transit chooses to ban alcohol on the buses on Canada Day, but I am very hesitant to support such a position given I believe it to be unconstitutional.

Interestingly, while the bus was emptied near downtown for a search for alcohol, I ran into Manuel Achadinha, whose day job is CEO of BC Transit. He was out being a transit supervisor for the day on the “worst night of the year” and ,according to another supervisor I spoke to just before midnight, he was still out there. Kudos to him for seeing and helping with what the front line staff (drivers and supervisors) have to deal with.

I got a few pictures of the fireworks and the masses of people (Government St. in front of the Empress was completely packed until about 11pm), so enjoy:

[slickr-flickr tag=”canadadaynight2010″ items=”10″ type=”gallery”]

(These can also be seen in my flickr set)

BC Transit talks its future

Potential 2035 transit map
Potential 2035 transit map. Credit: BC Transi

With the Victoria Regional Rapid Transit planning coming along and the province-wide 2030 strategic plan just finished, BC Transit held a pair of workshops recently to discuss their latest planning endeavour: The Victoria 2035 “Transit Future” as well as a status update on the rapid transit plan itself. I managed to miss the first meeting at Victoria City Hall on Monday so I was forced to make the trek out to suburban hell (aka the Westshore) to see what the fuss was all about.

It seems I managed to time my visit just right, as I managed to hit a lull in traffic and thus had the nearly undivided attention of several senior BC Transit staff, including the CEO Manuel Achadinha. This also meant I was blissfully free of the “rail ranters” who like to show up to these events and are convinced that the reason Victoria doesn’t have rail is a giant conspiracy theory that can only be solved by ranting at whatever poor transit staff that happens to be in front of them.

With the corridor nailed was nailed down a few months back, the rapid transit planning people were asking for feedback on detailed placement within the alignment (median vs curb-side) and type of vehicle (from buses to rail of all kinds). After those have been made, detailed costing analysis needs to be done. It was stressed to me that this will include capital and operating costs. I can only hope that the marketing and messaging works around this so that the “buses are cheaper” meme doesn’t rear its ugly head. The final report is due by the end of this year or early next, to match the 2011 federal and provincial budget cycles.

Beyond the rapid transit project is the Frequent Transit Network, lacking a catchy title or separate branding, but it “aims to provide a network of all-day, every day routes with a 15 minute minimum service, 15 hours a day, 7 days a week.” The new 15 UVic/Downtown Express (nee Dogwood Line) and the upcoming 16 Express (nee 26A, details can be found in the 2010/11 Service Plan [PDF, pg 2]) are part of this network, as are more traditional buses such as the 6 and 14.

I am glad I braved the six lanes of traffic on the Old Island highway plus being stuck in rush hour traffic on McKenzie to get there. I am cautiously optimistic that something may come of the rapid transit project because of BC Transit’s excellent recent track record with the new express buses and service expansion. However, this work may make me more hopeful than maybe a should be. After all, there are a lot of old, dusty reports listed on this page alone. If you want to add your voice to see such a bright future, check out the Community Consultation page under the June 2010 heading. Maybe some of our voices will be heard at the senior levels of government.

Just how bad are the transit cuts?

As I have mentioned here many times, BC Transit is one of the few transit agencies in North America not currently cutting service. How bad are those cuts? Here is a map of US transit cuts compiled by Transportation for America:

View United States of Transit Cutbacks in a larger map

What about Canada? Calgary is cutting service, but that was only the one I could find good information about. Ottawa narrowly avoided cutting services, as did Vancouver & Toronto, while Montreal is staring potential cuts in the face. Those that didn’t cut service often did so by raising fares, which will drive ridership away just as surely as cuts will. Overall 2010 looks to be a pretty grim year, although public outrage will likely not appear, as the Transport Politic points out. Transit cuts that were avoided this year will likely come next year, as rising gas further drives cost up. Get ready for a bumpy ride.