Photo by John Denniston
By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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,”
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.
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.
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
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.”