Blind Transit Rider Starts Website to Fight Bus-Stop Cuts

By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor

More danger. Extra time. Less independence. That’s what Bus Balancing has meant for a blind Dunbar resident who has started a website and petition to publicize the impact of TransLink’s bus-stop-cutting program.

“I now have to ask strangers to guide me along streets and across intersections,” says Stephanie, a physically fit woman whose carefully established routines were turned upside-down by the loss of stops on the No. 7 and No. 2 routes.

TransLink says its Bus Balancing program is aimed at improving travel times and reliability while maintaining convenient access for passengers, but Stephanie says that for those coping with mobility or disability issues, it’s the opposite.

“I am very independent, but removing the bus stops is a huge problem and will be for so many other people,” she says. “I see it stopping people from going out and about, so it’s more isolation for seniors and people with disabilities.”

She says much of TransLink’s “propaganda” about Bus Balancing is misleading, and some is simply not true.

While TransLink says the program could cut two-and-a-half minutes off some one-way trips, providing an easier and more pleasant transit experience, that isn’t the reality for those struggling to get to more distant stops, she says. Its statement that it wouldn’t cut stops in busy convenient areas is the opposite of what she has experienced. Its assurance that bus stops won’t be so far apart as to make transit inaccessible is also not true. Many are four blocks apart, an impossible distance for those with mobility and disability issues, frail seniors, and people carrying young children and loads of groceries.

In fact, the new program “excludes seniors and people with disabilities from being able to access parts of transit so it’s a loss of mobility,” she says. “It also affects anyone who has had a stop removed where they live and for people with small children it makes it more difficult to get around.”

The reality, she says, is that Bus Balancing is “backward thinking and does not provide the service that is needed now or into the future.”  

Stephanie gave three examples of how bus-stop cuts have made her life more inconvenient, stressful and dangerous:

  • Fourth and Vine was a shopping hub for her, with its Safeway, Whole Foods and Shoppers Drug Mart on three corners easily accessible from east and westbound stops at Vine. The stops were removed when the No. 4 and 7 routes were “balanced” earlier this year. Now she gets off a stop early, at Balsam, and must depend on finding someone who will guide her the extra block to Whole Foods; she says it takes three months to fully learn a new block. “For the first time in 15 years of getting my groceries at Whole Foods, one of the employees there guided me to the bus stop because it was further for me to walk and it was a new stop and I had lots of food on my back, so lots of weight.”
  • Removal of the No. 2 stop at 10th and Macdonald has cost her time, independence and added a dangerous intersection to her route. “It is a transfer point so people would get off the bus at 10th then walk to Broadway and turn right to catch the 99, 9 and 14 when the 14 was going east on Broadway,” she notes. Now, she says, she must catch an earlier bus to make her transfer on time, get off at Broadway on the north side of Macdonald “and have to ask a stranger to guide me across the street so I can get the bus. That intersection is a very busy intersection with people running red lights and turning right on to Macdonald.”
  • Removal of the No. 7 stop at 26th and Dunbar has caused problems for her regular trip east along West 25th to Main, where she stocks up on two to three months’ worth of meat. She used to get off the northbound No. 7 bus at 26th, walk to 25th and turn right to catch the No. 25 on West 25th. Now she stays on the bus until 18th, then crosses Dunbar to catch the eastbound No. 25 at 17th. She chooses that route instead of crossing Dunbar at 25th because she’s concerned about aligning with the crosswalk when crossing such a wide street. “It adds up to 15 minutes to my trip and is an added stress.”

Stephanie says she started the website to draw attention to the problems Bus Balancing is creating for herself and others. She’s especially concerned because TransLink plans to expand the program throughout the region at the rate of four to eight routes a year, so all Metro residents will face similar issues.

Her website includes a petition link and offers readers a form they can fill out to tell TransLink what an “awesome” transit system looks like to them.

“Let’s not let TransLink’s short-sightedness dictate our lack of access to transit,” she writes. “Let’s design a transit system that is accessible for all people and one that is good for businesses and our community at large.”

BUS-STOP FUSS CONTINUES; CITY HALL WEIGHS IN

By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor

Dunbar residents may be relaxing after TransLink rescinded plans that would have cut 40 percent of the No. 7 bus stops between 41st and 16th in January, but the larger battle is far from over.

The status of some of the saved Dunbar bus stops is unclear, as TransLink’s website says the plan is to “revisit” some of them in the spring “in partnership with the community and the City of Vancouver.”

And now concerns are being raised about the large number of stops being cut elsewhere on the route, while Dunbar lost only a few. The CityHallWatch website noted Feb. 22 that Nanaimo Street lost a total of 12 stops in mid-January, one directly in front of a school at Cambridge and Nanaimo, while only three out of a planned 15 were removed along Dunbar and Alma at that time. (https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2022/02/22/many-bus-stops-removed-on-nanaimo-st/)

Regardless of what happens on this route, many other communities will be facing similar controversies in the future, as TransLink plans to expand its Bus Balancing Program throughout the region, removing or relocating stops on four to eight routes a year.

And Vancouver City Council recently kicked things up a notch by weighing in on TransLink’s undemocratic governance structure and asking the provincial government to review it.

“I think we have a problem with TransLink the way it is,” Councillor Jean Swanson told a Feb. 9 debate on a motion about transit governance. She said the city needs a convenient, easy-to-use transit system that encourages people to get out of their cars as part of the battle against climate change, “but lately TransLink has been cutting bus stops, reducing frequency of service and raising fares. These are all things that reduce ridership.”

At the core of the motion, initiated by the city’s Seniors Advisory Committee and Transportation Advisory Committee, is the lack of democratic representation on the TransLink board that approves initiatives like Bus Balancing. Nine of the 11 board members are unelected, and there is no guarantee of Vancouver representation, even though Vancouver has the highest transit use in the region, with 50 percent of transit riders.

TransLink governance has been an issue since 2007, when then-provincial transportation minister Kevin Falcon – now leader of the B.C. Liberals – rejigged it to take power away from a board of elected mayors and councillors and put an appointed board in charge. The elected officials had run afoul of Falcon by opposing (before finally approving) plans to build the Canada Line.

Regional mayors, who now sit on a 21-member body called the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, have been pushing since 2015 for a review of TransLink’s governance structure. The NDP promised in the 2017 and 2020 election campaigns to do so, but so far has taken no action.

City council’s motion was the latest stab at the issue. It asked the mayor to write the provincial government urging it to reconfigure the board so the majority are local elected officials, with positions allocated according to the populations, ridership and transit infrastructure of the member cities.

Connie Hubbs, a member of the city’s Transportation Advisory Committee, told council that TransLink is perceived as undemocratic, opaque and unapproachable, with few public meetings or opportunities for speakers to address it. She said the majority of the appointed board are corporate executives who may do a good job of fiscal responsibility, “but may do less well in making transit more attractive to users.

“Raising bus fares in a pandemic and cutting over 100 bus stops, doubling or tripling the distance people must walk to a bus stop, discourages transit use,” said Hubbs. “How is making transit less affordable and less accessible consistent with the Vancouver Climate goal of cutting our carbon in half by 2030? Obviously, it is not.”

Marc White, co-chair of the city’s Seniors Advisory Committee, criticized TransLink’s “current over-emphasis on satisfying the needs of regional customers and rapidly reducing the number of local bus stops, mostly ignoring the needs of seniors and people with disabilities and ignoring the real benefits of having a robust transportation system.”

During debate on the motion, Swanson said council has passed motions about TransLink initiatives that discourage transit use, but nothing happens “because we don’t control transit, TransLink does. The hope is that if the folks on the board are elected, they will be more representative and maybe we can get a better system. We need a connection between the transit users and the decision makers.”

Councillor Colleen Hardwick said an open and democratic process is “key to the success of our institutions. . . . I’m much more comfortable seeing elected members sitting on the TransLink board than I am seeing appointeds, many of whom are political appointments.” Councillor Pete Fry, who introduced the motion, said because TransLink is a taxing authority and collects money from residents’ tax bills, “there is a direct line for accountability with the public that pay for that.”

The main opponent of the motion was Councillor Christine Boyle, who along with Councillors Sarah Kirby-Yung and Rebecca Bligh, voted against it. Noting that many elected councils, including Vancouver’s, are behind on their climate targets, Boyle said she’s not convinced more elected representation on TransLink’s board will be the solution. “I agree we need more advocates, transit users at the table, but I’m not sure elected representatives will get us there.”

Kirby-Yung said the TransLink board can’t be considered in isolation, as it’s part of a complex, interconnected system. The goal of the motion may be laudable, she said, “but this is not the way to get there.” She said one of the problems with giving control to elected representatives is that they tend to focus on the moment, while transit must be planned for the long term.

The motion passed, with Mayor Kennedy Stewart and Councillors Lisa Dominato and Melissa De Genova absent for the vote.

TransLink says its Bus Balancing Program, launched in 2020, is aimed at improving speed and reliability by removing or relocating stops considered too close together. This year’s cuts to the No. 7 and 4 routes followed earlier rounds affecting the No. 2, 17 and 25 routes.

As for how Bus Balancing made its way onto the streets of Vancouver, TransLink official Sonia Takhar emphasized that the TransLink board and the Mayors’ Council have been in sync on the issue.  The program was “initially endorsed by a joint TransLink board of directors and Mayors’ Council New Mobility committee in a closed-door meeting in 2020. This was then taken to the Mayor’s Council in July 2020 for public endorsement of the program,” she wrote in an email. Since then, it has had continued support through the TransLink board of directors’ 2021 and 2022 business plans and the Mayor’s Council Rapid Response plan in February 2021, she said.

When it comes to balancing individual routes, she described an intensely consultative process involving close work between TransLink and the city, with input from bus operators, key community stakeholders and the public. “We share the proposals with senior leadership of each organization and city council.” Each round of balancing is presented to three city committees, followed by a six-week public notification process that includes signs at every bus stop. After that, the stops proposed for closure are removed for six weeks while public response is monitored.

Whatever consultation surrounded the closures on Dunbar, the first many residents knew of them were signs on bus poles announcing stops would either be closed or kept.

Dunbar Residents’ Association president Bruce Gilmour, who is blind and navigates the transit system with a guide dog, first learned about bus balancing during the 2021 cuts to the No. 25 route. When he bumped into a cardboard sign at one of the dual No. 7/No. 25 stops on Dunbar, he had to have a passerby read him the contents. He was shocked to learn that stops were being removed; he hadn’t been contacted in either his capacity as DRA president or as a member of the blind community.

DRA board member Angus McIntyre, a retired long-time bus driver, also criticized the consultation process. When people encounter a sign saying their stop will be closed, “that sounds pretty final,” he said. It’s “confrontational, even nasty,” to come into a community and “put up all these signs and get everyone upset,” he said. “What about some engagement first, and then see what happens?”

Gilmour and McIntyre were both surprised at the success of the Dunbar residents’ campaign against the bus-stop closures, which involved letter-writing, phoning, media appearances and a pre-Christmas walkabout with TransLink and city officials.

Expectations had been low given that TransLink had restored just two stops on two previously “balanced” routes and six on another. “Dunbar is the first group in two years to win the battle against TransLink on bus stops,” said Vancouver transit advocate Nathan Davidowicz after the decision was announced in January. “It’s a big win.”

Welcome as the result was, the process left Dunbar residents scratching their heads. Why were so many stops originally planned for removal? What and who was behind the dramatic reversal? It’s all a mystery that other communities will soon be tackling for themselves.

We have (most of) our bus stops back!

By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor

Signs went up on bus-stop poles along Dunbar Street this week announcing that TransLink has backed off on plans that would have removed 40 percent of bus stops between 16th and 41st as of January 17th.

“We heard you!” the signs say. “Thank you to everyone that provided feedback on the bus stop balancing program. As a result, this bus stop will not be removed.”

The decision means that all No. 7 stops on Dunbar Street will remain between 27th and 39th, although two stops will be removed between 27th and 16th — one at 26th and one at 16th.

“It’s a big win,” said Vancouver transit advocate Nathan Davidowicz, who has scrutinized and written about TransLink’s every move for years. “Dunbar is the first group in two years to win the battle against TransLink on bus stops. As a group, you managed to get the whole area from 26th to 41st not changed at all.”

Previous attempts to push back on bus-stop cuts haven’t been very successful, he noted. Three routes to undergo earlier rounds of removals saw two stops reinstated on two routes and six on another. However, these numbers are for full routes, while TransLink’s decision to retain seven threatened stops involved only a small section of the No. 7 route.

TransLink’s announcement follows a vigorous campaign against the closures led by the Dunbar Residents’ Association. Residents were encouraged to weigh in on the issue, and there were phone calls, emails, letters and media interviews opposing the cuts. On Dec. 16, DRA board members and seniors’ and business advocates escorted TransLink and City officials on a walkabout of the bus stops to explain their concerns.

DRA president Bruce Gilmour said he thinks the walkabout was an effective way of illustrating first-hand the consequences of cutting stops, especially in a busy, hilly area with a large seniors’ population. It also revealed the deficiencies of the data on which the decisions were based, he said.  While it’s easy to measure such things as frequency of stops and ramp usage, it’s harder to factor in on-the-ground issues like elevation changes, trip duration, trip purpose, and passengers’ ages or levels of impairment.

DRA board member Angus McIntyre, a retired long-time bus driver, welcomed the news about TransLink’s decision. “They heard us!” he said. McIntyre had delivered one of the bluntest messages to the visitors during the walkabout, telling them the cuts were “a slap in the face,” done in a nasty and confrontational way, and that Dunbar is already a “transit desert” given the lack of service in large areas of the community.

The stop closures are part of TransLink’s Bus Balancing Program – a two-year-old initiative to remove or relocate bus stops with the goal of increasing transit speed and reliability. TransLink has said it plans to extend its bus-stop program throughout the region, tackling four to eight routes a year.

The program began with the No. 2 route in the fall of 2020, which cut about 25 percent of the bus stops. In the spring of 2021, TransLink removed or relocated one in six stops on the No. 17 route, and one in eight on the No. 25.  (Two of the planned closures were rescinded on the No. 2 and 25 routes, and six on the No. 17.)

In the fall of 2021, signs went up announcing changes affecting one in four stops on the No. 7 route and one in six on the No. 4.  Davidowicz noted that for the past 70 years, Dunbar has had 25 stops between 16th and 41st, but the latest round of cuts would have left it with only 15 — a 40-percent cut.

For Dunbar residents, who had already been hard hit by the earlier cuts, it was too much. Three No. 7 stops on Dunbar that had been shared with removed No. 25 stops vanished in that earlier round, along with several No. 25 stops on King Edward near the Dunbar intersection, one adjacent to an elementary school.  Residents living between Macdonald and Dunbar were also affected by the cuts to the No. 2 route, which lost 44.4 percent of its bus stops between 16th and 41st.  

Although the signs posted on the Dunbar Street bus stops this week say the stops will not be removed, TransLink’s Jan. 14 announcement of its decision is a little more ambiguous. It refers to the removals being postponed and to more discussion in the future.  “We hope to revisit this conversation with your community later this year,” the statement said. “In partnership with the City of Vancouver and the community, we hope to continue a dialogue about how to achieve shared goals of improving transit service and access, safety, and business activity.”

Please speak up for our bus stops!

The first two weeks of January will be crucial in persuading TransLink to change its mind about removing many of the bus stops along Dunbar Street on January 17, 2022.  Our future transit service depends on large numbers of us speaking up for it. Please write or phone TransLink and ask them to:

1) RETAIN all bus stops within the business area at:

  • W 39th – H Mart Grocery
  • W 27th – Stongs
  • W 29th – VPL Dunbar
  • W 30th – London Drugs
  • W 26th – Chiropractor
  • W 19th – Dunbar Smiles, and
  • W 16th – Preventum Medical Clinic

2) REINSTATE bus stops at:

  • W 23rd, and
  • King Edward & Collingwood Street – Lord Kitchener Elementary

Contact Drew Ferrari at TransLink: Phone: 604-362-1824 or email: busstopbalancing@translink.ca.
More information and a survey are at: https://engagetranslink.ca/bus-stop-balancing?tool=survey_tool .

Will a Dunbar walkabout change TransLink’s plans to cut our bus stops?

The bus stop at 27th & Dunbar, the closest to Stong’s grocery store and the apartments above it, will be gone by January 17, 2022, along with many other bus stops on Dunbar. Residents concerned about the future of transit in our area should be contacting TransLink now. More information and a survey are at https://engagetranslink.ca/bus-stop-balancing?tool=survey_tool

Photo by John Denniston

By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor

TransLink’s plans to cut 40 percent of the bus stops along Dunbar Street are unfair, poorly thought-out, harmful to business, and will make transit less accessible to seniors, people with disabilities, and parents with small children, community representatives warned transit officials during a recent tour of the street’s bus stops.

Dunbar Residents’ Association board members Andrea Sara and Angus McIntyre, who joined DRA president Bruce Gilmour in organizing the Dec. 16 meeting and walkabout on Dunbar Street, said later they were confident the get-together produced some “a-ha!” moments for the visitors.

Among them: Why remove two stops, one serving the library and the other the main grocery store, and replace them with a less-convenient one serving only a bank? Why retain a stop on a narrow residential street with no room for ramp deployment and remove a spacious one a block away that serves a walk-in clinic, an apartment building, and several businesses? And why is hilly Dunbar being left with only two southbound stops between 16th and 25th, a long uphill climb for a senior with a walker or a parent with a stroller?

Local anger about the proposal was apparent from the moment TransLink and City officials arrived at the meet-up spot outside St. Philip’s Anglican Church on West 27th off Dunbar St.

Just as the two sides began introducing themselves, St. Philip’s verger Pat Brandon stepped up to bluntly condemn the plans. Cutting stops near grocery stores and other amenities is “heinous,” she said, and will only add to the difficulty of elderly parishioners already struggling to get to church. She said stop removals may improve one metric, but will harm others, and asked whether speed is the only metric that matters. “How is taking away service improving service?”

The bus-stop removals are part of TransLink’s Bus Balancing Program, which it says will improve service and reliability as well as save money. Too many bus stops are too close together, it says, and removing or relocating them will cut minutes off round-trip travel times.

 The program, which is expected to be rolled out throughout the region, began with cuts to the No. 2 route in 2020, followed by the No. 17 and 25 routes in the spring of 2021. In the fall of 2021, signs went up along the No. 7 (Dunbar/Nanaimo) and No. 4 routes announcing many stops would be cut or moved as of Jan. 17, 2022.

For Dunbar residents, who had already been hard hit by the earlier cuts to the No. 25 route, it was too much. Three No. 7 stops on Dunbar St. that had been shared with removed No. 25 stops vanished in that earlier round, along with several No. 25 stops near the Dunbar intersection. These included a key No. 25 school bus stop on King Edward adjacent to Lord Kitchener Elementary.

The latest round of cuts, if completed as planned, means Dunbar St. will be left with 15 of its original 25 stops between 16th and 41st, a loss of 40 percent.

Led by the DRA’s Gilmour, who is blind and uses transit to get around with his guide dog Marley, board members have been fighting the plans with letters, e-mails, media interviews and phone calls, leading finally to the gathering outside St. Philip’s.

The meeting drew four high-level TransLink public affairs and bus-priority-program officials, as well as City of Vancouver transit planning engineer Jessica Lam. TransLink participants included Stephen Newhouse, lead planner, bus priority programs; Kyle Rosenke, senior advisor (acting director), government and public affairs; Drew Ferrari, senior advisor, public affairs, government and public affairs; and Sonia Takhar, senior communications and engagement lead, bus priority programs.

The visitors listened respectfully to the comments from Dunbar representatives and spent an hour longer on the walkabout than had been scheduled. Several even detoured downhill off Dunbar to a decommissioned No. 25 bus stop at King Edward and Collingwood to hear a senior’s concerns about the loss of the stop, which she had depended on to access businesses crucial for her daily needs. Throughout the tour, the officials emphasized they were there to listen and learn and that all the input they received would be taken back to their offices for consideration.

At the opening meeting, speakers emphasized how severely the cuts will affect a hilly community with a high and growing seniors’ population, an already-struggling business community, and an already-poor transit service. They also said the cuts appear to fly in the face of city policies to densify Dunbar, encourage transit use and create complete communities as part of efforts to fight climate change.

DRA board member Sara, whose multi-generational family lives in the neighbourhood, stressed the importance of convenient transit for seniors and families alike. Pointing around her, she said the area of the meet-up has many schools, playing fields, parks and churches, all well-served by the stops at 27th and 29th. Removing them and replacing them with one less-convenient stop at 28th “is not helpful,” she said.

The 27th stop serves the grocery store, the apartment building above it, and two coffee shops; the 29th serves the library and its small plaza, and is across the street from a medical clinic, drug store and new rental building. Fellow board member McIntyre noted that 27th runs west all the way to Camosun, and 29th all the way to Imperial while 28th dead-ends in less than a city block. “So let’s have everyone who wants to walk down 27th or 29th walk that extra block to get there. Hello?”

Sara, who is also a member of the City of Vancouver’s Seniors Advisory Committee, said longer distances between stops will discourage seniors and those with disabilities and mobility issues from using transit, especially in a hilly area like Dunbar. She noted that her mother, who lives in the apartment building above Stong’s, is one of those who will have to travel farther once the stop near the grocery store is gone, something she finds very difficult due to health and mobility issues.

 Jackie Weiler, who sits on the city’s Seniors’ Advisory Committee with Sara, stressed the importance of transit in enabling seniors to remain independent, healthy and active. Weiler, a longtime Dunbar resident who now lives at Arbutus, said one reason she moved was the difficulty and danger of accessing transit in Dunbar in snowy conditions, when everything shuts down because of the hilly terrain. “Lack of accessibility was a real issue for me.”

Convenient transit is also crucial for businesses, said Jeffrey Ho, owner of Blight’s Home Hardware at 3322 Dunbar. He spoke up after St. Philip’s verger Brandon stressed the importance of transit to Dunbar businesses, singling out Blight’s as an important part of the community, much used by her church. “It’s important for stores like that to survive, unless you want us all just to use Amazon,” Brandon said.

Following up, Ho noted the city is encouraging people to get out of their cars, and questioned how that fits with TransLink’s cuts. “I don’t understand how taking away bus stops is helping.” Plus, he said, the city is increasing density, and soon there will be apartment buildings all along Dunbar St. “Somebody has their messages mixed up.”

LISTEN TO:  CBC Radio One, The Early Edition segments, on bus stop cuts: Interview with DRA President Bruce Gilmour and Board Member Andrea Sara from November 30, 2021 and follow-up interview with TransLink’s Director of Systems Planning, aired December 1, 2021.

The DRA’s McIntyre, a retired long-time bus driver, said Dunbar is already so poorly served by transit that he calls it a “transit desert.” Large areas, like that between Dunbar St. and Pacific Spirit Park, have no transit service at all, he said, meaning some people must walk as far as 1.3 kms to get a bus. Given the poor service and long distances, he said, stops on Dunbar St. shouldn’t be farther than two blocks apart.

McIntyre also questioned the fairness of the cuts, saying it was like a “slap in the face” to discover how differently the Dunbar and Nanaimo ends of the No. 7 route are being treated. While stops will be mostly four blocks apart from 16th to 41st on Dunbar St., a similar distance on the Nanaimo end will have stops every two blocks.  “What is that all about?” he asked. “Is that balancing?”

McIntyre was also dubious that the cuts will achieve the promised result of increased reliability, saying it’s the traffic, not the stops, that make transit unreliable. He handed out a downloaded Next Bus map from 7:19 p.m. on Oct. 29 showing the already balanced No. 25 route had several bunched-up buses, and long gaps elsewhere. “Every rush hour morning and evening the service is no more reliable, or faster, than it was before because of traffic,” he said. Instead of cutting bus stops, he said, TransLink should focus on priorities for buses, such as queue jumpers at signals and bus lanes.

TransLink’s consultation process also came under fire, with McIntyre noting that residents’ first notice of the program was signs on bus stop poles announcing that the stop would either be removed or retained as of Jan. 17. Such wording sounds “pretty final,” McIntyre said. It’s “confrontational, even nasty,” to come into a community and “put up all these signs and get everyone upset,” he said. “What about some engagement first, and then see what happens?”

What did the walkabout accomplish?

In a follow-up email to participants, TransLink’s Sonia Takhar called the visit “extremely productive,” adding that all members of the team “commented on how much they were able to learn from you all.” She said the team would take time over the holidays “to look at the proposal again based on your feedback.”

McIntyre said he believes the Dunbar representatives were able to point out many things the transit officials hadn’t been aware of, including a bus stop relocated on one map and not changed on another.  The stop involved is the No. 7 southbound at 10th and Alma, currently shared with the 9, 14 and 99 routes. One map indicates no change for the No. 7, while another shows it being relocated to Alma on the south side of 10th Avenue, meaning Dunbar passengers would have to cross a busy intersection to transfer to another bus.

“I really think that TransLink staff had more than ‘a-ha!’ moment,” McIntyre said. When he told a Toronto friend, a city councillor there for many years, about the walkabout, “he said, ‘You can’t go into a neighbourhood with a long-established bus service and yank out almost half the stops.’”

Sara said she thought TransLink staff were able to see a “major disconnect” in their decision making on some points – such as removing bus stops in front of new buildings, in front of coffee shops and plazas, in front of new traffic-controlled intersections or removing bus stops where there is already foot traffic in dire need of a crosswalk.

Sara even dared to hope that TransLink might play a positive rather than a negative role in Dunbar. By making the right decisions about bus stops, it could help support local business, facilitate public space and encourage active transportation, she said. It could also help the community’s voice be heard on such things as traffic lights and crosswalks: “Having TransLink on board as a community partner who can assist with supplying dollars to fund the safe street infrastructure is a win-win.” 

TransLink seeks feedback on plans to cut nearly half of Dunbar bus stops in January

by Carol Volkart, Newlsetter Editor

All along Dunbar, cardboard signs have gone up at every No. 7 bus stop announcing whether it will stay, go or be relocated as of Jan. 17, 2022.

Residents have until that date to tell TransLink what they think of its plans to remove nearly half of the bus stops between 16th and 41st. Go to translink.ca/busstopbalancing to see TransLink’s route map and do a survey to provide your feedback.

The map shows that TransLink is planning to cut a total of nine stops between 16th and 41st in both directions, and create one new one. This does not include the three No. 7 stops eliminated on Dunbar earlier this year as part of an earlier round of cuts to the No. 25 route that affected dual stops.

At the end of the latest process, Dunbar will have slightly more than half of the bus stops it once did on that stretch – 15 compared to 26.

The removal of bus stops, which will also occur on the No. 4 route in January, is part of an ongoing TransLink program known as “Bus Balancing.” The transit agency says bus stops on many routes are too close, and that removing a number of them will improve travel times and service reliability. It says the cuts will mean round-trip savings of more than six minutes for the No. 7 route, and more than four minutes for the No. 4.

Many Dunbar-area transit users have already been affected by the program, which began with the No. 2 route in 2020 and continued with the No. 25 and No. 17 routes in 2021. The Dunbar-King Edward intersection has been particularly affected. Besides the three dual No. 25/7 stops cut on Dunbar earlier this year, another three stops on King Edward between Dunbar and Balaclava were also removed in that round of cuts.

Former longtime TransLink operator Angus McIntyre, a Dunbar resident, charged that the program will make it more difficult for many to access transit. The longer walk is harder for the elderly or those with mobility or other health issues, he said, and questioned how much time the cuts will save anyway. In a story in the fall issue of the Dunbar Residents’ Association newsletter, he said TransLink seems to have changed its attitude of prioritizing mobility and increased quality of life for a minority, even if it means a slightly longer ride for others. “TransLink has now decided to make the time on the bus shorter for the majority by making the walking/wheeling time longer for the minority.” See: Quality of life

DRA president Bruce Gilmour, who is blind and gets around with his seeing-eye dog Marley, said the changes to date have been disorienting for him and he’s finding the system less reliable and more difficult to access. Dunbar has a large population of seniors who will be increasingly reliant on transit as they age, he said, and cutting transit access will also cut their ability to lead healthy, independent, active lives. He also questioned the priority TransLink is placing on cutting round-trip times, noting that most trips are short-haul and few passengers take round trips.

To get a sense of what the planned changes look like in real life, I walked the No. 7 route north- and southbound between 16th and 41st one day. That section of Dunbar Street is on a hill that peaks between 26th and 27th. While not steep for the average walker, the incline would be noticeable for those with mobility issues, or for those pushing baby carriages or carrying loads of groceries.

Starting at 16th and heading south, I passed the stop at 17th, which stays, then came to the abandoned concrete slab of the previously removed stop at 19th. The next stop, between 21st and 22nd, remains, but there’s another “ghost” stop – with a naked pole and slab of concrete – at 23rd.. There are no more stops until the top of the hill, across the busy King Edward intersection.

The King Edward stop will remain, but in the shopping area, stops at 27th and 29th are being removed and replaced by a new one at 28th. On the downhill journey to 41st, there are only three remaining stops – at 31st, 33rd and 37th, as the 35th and 39th stops will be removed.

The southbound tally: Six stops are being kept, with a new one being created and four removed (but don’t forget the two “ghosts” at 19th and 23rd.) That means the southbound Dunbar route from 16th to 41st, which once had 12 stops, ends up with seven.

On the return trip north, the 41st stop remains, but the one at Mayfair is being cut, leaving the next stop at 38th. From there, I passed a sign that the 36th stop will be cut, leaving a long five-block uphill trek to the next at 33rd. The 31st stop remains, but the one outside London Drugs at 30th is being removed, and the next remaining stop is at 28th. The 26th stop will be cut, with the next across the King Edward intersection at 25th. Heading north down the hill from there, the stop at 22nd remains, but a naked pole and a massive concrete slab mark the previously decommissioned 20th stop. Then there’s only one stop left, at 18th, as the 17th stop is being removed.

The northbound tally: Eight stops remaining and five removed, (not counting the “ghost” at 20th.) A stretch of Dunbar that once had 14 stops will now have eight.

McIntyre said the Dunbar end of the No. 7 route appears to be getting different treatment from the Nanaimo end. Although TransLink has said two-block spacing is too close, that spacing has been left in some areas of Nanaimo, he noted, while on Dunbar, most of the spacing is four blocks.

The cuts come on top of already very poor access to transit in Dunbar, McIntyre said, arguing that TransLink should consider the walk time from people’s homes to bus stops, which it doesn’t. “TransLink will not acknowledge the fact that some homes in Dunbar and Southlands are 900 metres to 1.4 km from a bus stop.”

While TransLink encourages residents to fill out its survey, the polished quality of its map, with all the removed stops marked with red Xs, raises questions about how likely it is to change its plans. Nor is the record of reversals from previous “balanced” routes encouraging: Two stops were reinstated on each of the No. 2 and No. 25 routes, and six on the No. 17.

But this is our only chance to tell TransLink what we think before nearly half our bus stops disappear early next year. Once they’re gone, it appears to be hard to argue them back.

Whether we use transit or not, we should be thinking about those who already struggle to get to bus stops; about our aging population, most of whom will eventually have to give up their cars; and about the push for everyone to get around in a more environmentally friendly way. Transit and bicycles are the usual solutions to our transportation dilemmas. But not everyone, after all, can ride a bike.

Cutting bus stops cuts quality of life for Dunbar residents

I take the route 25 bus to the Canada Line once a week for physiotherapy downtown. Earlier this year, I arrived at my southbound bus stop at 21st Avenue and Dunbar to find a notice that TransLink was eliminating certain bus stops to speed up service and improve reliability.

By Angus McIntyre

While my stop survived, those at 19th and 23rd Avenues were removed, leaving four-block gaps between stops and only two stops remaining between 16th Avenue and King Edward. The 7 Dunbar service at these two stops was also removed, even though only route 25 was part of the “Bus Stop Balancing” program. Routes 2 and 17 have also had some bus stops eliminated, although a few have been reinstalled.

I take the route 25 bus to the Canada Line once a week for physiotherapy downtown. Earlier this year, I arrived at my southbound bus stop at 21st Avenue and Dunbar to find a notice that TransLink was eliminating certain bus stops to speed up service and improve reliability. While my stop survived, those at 19th and 23rd Avenues were removed, leaving four-block gaps between stops and only two stops remaining between 16th Avenue and King Edward. The 7 Dunbar service at these two stops was also removed, even though only route 25 was part of the “Bus Stop Balancing” program. Routes 2 and 17 have also had some bus stops eliminated, although a few have been reinstalled.

A transit map shows that most of the city of Vancouver has a bus route nearby, but the area west of Dunbar Street has no transit service until you get to UBC. Camosun Street is almost a kilometre from Dunbar. Our neighbourhood has hills – the second-highest point in the city after Queen Elizabeth Park is Dunbar and 26th Avenue. Before a bus stop is eliminated, TransLink planners should take a close look at whether hills are involved and the proximity to schools, community centres and shops.

Walking time is important as well, and signs at eliminated bus stops suggest a “walking time” to the “new stop.” On a level street, the three minutes suggested is how long it took me, but a senior with a walker, a parent with children or a person with a seeing-eye dog will take longer.

I don’t think consideration has been given to the terrain, particularly the steep King Edward hill, and there is also a disconnect between the bus-stop-balancing principle and TransLink’s core values

It seems TransLink has changed from the company that was very conscious of providing mobility and increased quality of life to a minority. The journey of the majority sometimes took a little longer while bus ramps were lowered – which was the attitude that helped make ours a world-class transit system. TransLink has now decided to make the time on the bus shorter for the majority by making the walking/wheeling time longer for the minority.

Route 25 bus stops in both directions at King Edward and Collingwood were eliminated, which has had a major impact on one Dunbar resident’s life. “I have never driven. I use transit, and this deeply affects the way I live my life,” said the resident, who preferred not to be named.

“Dunbar has a rich resource of stores and amenities close at hand, and I use local tradespeople who know me and my house. All my health and other service providers were/are selected on the basis of whether they can be reached by the #25 or #7 or adding at the most one other bus or the Canada Line. With all of this I planned to age in place, and if I should become too frail to walk up the hill to Dunbar I would get on the #25 westbound at Collingwood to access Dunbar itself and/or the #7. Now that stop has disappeared.”

DRA president Bruce Gilmour, who is blind and travels with his seeing-eye dog Marley, says the changes are having serious and long-term effects on the quality of life of transit-dependent residents, causing anxiety and disorientation and reducing their independence.

People who are blind or visually impaired “cannot see cardboard signage saying the stop is de-activated,” he said. “We cannot access information technology as simply as peers to research what is or is not an active bus stop.” It’s especially confusing when a stop serves several routes, and buses don’t stop there even if their route hasn’t undergone the so-called bus-balancing, he said.