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 Victoria Regional Rapid Transit CLC June 2009 minutes pdf – 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.

Opinion: BC Transit will be hard pressed to reject rail now

With both Victoria and Saanich councils coming out so strongly in favour of LRT along Douglas, I think BC Transit will find itself hardpressed to reject rail. It is pretty clear that senior BC Transit staff figure that Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, is a better short-term bet, given the realities of provincial funding, but if they do decide on bus, they are going to have to explain themselves to hostile councils, wondering why their wishes were completely ignored.

Of course, the political calculus may change . There is a great deal of political instability at the provincial level, a minority government in Ottawa that may fall in the spring, and the upcoming Nov 2011 municipal election. So by the time that BC Transit goes cap-in-hand for funding, they may be talking to three completely different governments. May we live in interesting times indeed.

If you want to take a look at how all the various options might look, BC Transit has a very nice set of Victoria Regional Rapid Transit artist's renderings pdf

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

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.

What exactly did the reporter mean?

In the latest Times Colonist article about fares going up, there is this line (emphasis mine):

The commission is facing major capital expenditures in coming years, including bus replacement and development of rapid transit involving buses.

And here I was thinking that the decision on mode type hadn’t been made yet. Silly me.

Weekly news roundup

The Times Colonist is running a series of articles called Outlook 2010, covering a vast variety of issues around Victoria. Two today caught my eye:

In other news, everybody’s favourite forestry company property developer Western Forest Products is off selling land again (Times Colonist), this time in the north Island area. This as the CRD has now drafting a new bylaw governing the Juan de Fuca lands that include those WFP is trying to develop.

What really gets me about these removals from the Tree Farm Licenses is that are an explicit violation of the social contract that timber companies signed up to when they took on the TFLs. In return for access to Crown lands for forestry, the companies had to operate local sawmills and manage their private lands “sustainably”. Guess the second two parts of that agreement have kind of been forgotten, as the Times Colonist article says,

Cash-strapped WFP wants to concentrate its forestry operations on Crown land and needs capital to renovate its mills.

This kind of bait and switch isn’t exactly new, as the Dogwood Initiative points when looking at the Dunsmuir land grant for the E&N.

In a slightly better note, they have discovered a use for broom: biomass fuel (Goldstream News Gazette). While that broom is going to other places, I wonder if enough broom could be pulled out of some of the other parks in the region to feed Dockside Green’s biomass plant. As far as I know, they are still looking for biomass to burn, a task made harder by the lack of sawdust and wood chips from the shutdown of many of the mills on Vancouver Island.

Say goodbye to rapid transit in Victoria

So the new alignment study is out and it (Times Colonist, BC Local News), as I predicted, takes Douglas St to the Highway and then the E&N route. All is good except for one little detail: they ditched the centre running lanes for curb lanes. What a lovely disaster.

So lets count the ways they have set themselves up for disaster:

  1. Curb lanes will be slower running than centre ones, because there is simply more chance for cars to stop or slow the transit vehicle, be it bus or train. Centre lanes have a major challenge with stops, as they mentioned in the article by the BC Transit CEO and was the public reason that the Chamber of Commerce opposed it last time. However, many cities have solved this problem successfully, something the Human Transit blog points out.
  2. Where is the bike lane going to go? Sandwiched between the transit lane and the parking? Spacing Toronto has a good post about what they do in Copenhagen.
  3. Which brings us to parking. Are they going to remove the parking or take away a travel lane?
  4. Given BCTransit is likely to be choosing buses for this, how are they going to convince the ICF to let them pave part of the E&N?

That is a lot of fail. There are two open houses, one this Thursday between 4 and 8pm at the Colwood Muni Hall and another between 1 and 7pm on the 20th at the Victoria City Hall. I will be out of town on the 20th at the Gaining Ground Summit, but I hope I can come away with some answers after this Thursday.

Notes from yesterday’s BCTransit open house

The latest in the seamingly endless studies about rapid transit is entering it’s public consultation and thus BCTransit is holding a series of open houses.This one is called the Victoria Regional Rapid Transit plan and  managed the first open house yesterday at the Legion Hall on the Gorge. I doubt this will be the last study. If you want a good idea of just how often this has been studied, see page 2 of this PDF. I must confess all this leaves me just a little jaded.

Potential corridors for the VRRT project
Potential corridors for the VRRT project

This specific plan is an outgrowth of the recently-failed Douglas St. busway, which did yield one concrete result: BCTransit now owns the right of way to the centre 2 lanes of Douglas St. north of Fisgard. Unlike the Douglas St. plan, this one doesn’t presume the use of specific corridor, rather they are looking for input on what corridor they should be using. See the map to the right or the full PDF for the options.

For the Downtown to Uptown route the logical route is Douglas St, as we already own the corridor, it would require less work than Blanshard St and the potential, with the right technology (ie. rail), to stimulate a lot of needed development in the north Douglas area.

From Uptown I think we should run with the Trans-Canada Highway and the Galloping Goose. Between those two alignments there should be plenty of room to run two full tracks while keeping the existing trail and the highway. It also passes right by the Victoria General Hospital, a major employer.

It should then shift to the E&N Railway when it nearly joins the highway in View Royal, because the corridor is already publicly owned (by the Island Corridor Foundation) and it runs straight into downtown Langford, where they have just finished building a beautiful new transit station.

As for technology, they claim that they have no bias one way or the other, but as I have pointed out before, I really doubt that. Maybe by picking at least part of the E&N, they will be forced to use rail.The plan is for the prelimiary consultation to be done by the this fall with the larger work starting in 2010. Implementation is 2011 or later. Likely later, given there is no concrete funding  from any level of government. Interestingly, this timeline aligns very neatly with the new CRD Bike/Pedestrian Master Plan. I wonder if they have been talking with each other…

But don’t take my word for it. There are two more consultations: one tomorrow in Colwood and next Monday at Victoria City Hall. See the schedule for more information as well as PDFs of most of the handouts. As an aside, this also the 100th published  post on this site.