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.