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.”