Speak up for Dunbar this Election Year

By Bruce A. Gilmour, DRA President

As 2022 began, I reflected on the DRA’s 2021 accomplishments and the path forward. Much of last year’s focus will continue to influence our agenda this year. That includes an increased emphasis on collaboration with the Dunbar Village Business Association and with Dunbar residents through the newsletter, list serv, and home page. As 2022 is a municipal election year, we must ensure candidates understand that protecting liveability and maintaining stability are priorities for our neighbourhood.

One of the DRA’s major and increasing concerns is what is happening to our once-vibrant retail district. You only have to stroll between West 16th and West 41st Avenues to see the difference between what Dunbar was just a few years ago and what it is now. While some new stores are opening and new apartment buildings are going up, many stores are closing or at risk, and there are far too many vacant blocks and storefronts along our main street.

We must lobby and petition city council to help us protect and attract retail diversity on Dunbar. It makes no sense to be densifying our area while our retail district disappears and transit is cut. While residents succeeded in convincing TransLink not to go ahead with plans to cut 40 percent of the bus stops between 16th and 41st in January, we still lost five on Dunbar, and many on West King Edward and Macdonald that once served Dunbar residents.

Another concern is how little attention the city pays to the voices of communities like ours. Councillors are elected to represent the residents, the neighbourhoods called Vancouver.  But as we saw with the Streamlining Rental plan, which allows four- to five-storey apartment buildings in residential blocks adjacent to arterials, the concerns of many of our residents who opposed this were ignored. We know when it comes to development issues, the deck is often stacked by developers who recruit speakers and generate multiple emails to support their case. Residents are considered obstacles to development.

Which brings me to the Vancouver Plan, where once again the DRA has not been consulted, let alone notified. The Vancouver Plan is described as a single, city-wide plan to guide future growth. Council initiated the plan in 2019, and is scheduled to make a final decision on it this summer.

According to the city website, the plan will “guide future growth in line with the key priorities the community has identified including: housing, climate action and sustainability, employment and economy, environment, transportation, social well-being, arts and culture and infrastructure.”

I have had no details or timelines about the planning process touching down in neighbourhoods such as Dunbar. The DRA did not know! How many Dunbar residents were involved, or even knew this plan was happening?

We have been upgrading our communication tools such as the DRA newsletter, the list serv, our website, and we have started a Facebook page to increase awareness and feedback on issues like this, but it’s a work in progress. Meanwhile, the mayor, council and city staff must be clearer about the process if any neighbourhood is to add value to initiatives such as the Vancouver Plan!

Garden Club Jumps into Spring

By Jutta Zeisler, President, Dunbar Garden Club

After a year made challenging by record high and low temperatures, high winds and devastating floods, Dunbar gardeners are going full steam ahead into the new growing season. With high vaccination rates and venues opening up in late fall, we had anticipated being able to hold in-person meetings again, and in November polled our members about their comfort level at making this happen.

While Zoom meetings allow us to recruit interesting speakers from out of town, the social aspects cannot be recreated on a screen. Chatting with friends over a cup of tea and admiring the plants brought in for the “show bench” often inspires new projects for our own gardens and that “I need this for my garden” feeling.

Our membership has grown a lot in these past two years, a reflection of the growing interest in gardening as a chance to connect with our environment, and the ease with which exciting presentations have been available from the comfort of one’s home. This has raised questions around occupancy limits and enforcing public health guidelines for in-person meetings. We planned for every possible scenario, fully online, in-person, or hybrid for those not yet comfortable with larger groups, but the arrival of the latest Coronavirus variant put another stop to meeting face-to-face.

Our fantastic executive team still lined up amazing speakers on Zoom for the spring. Members are again preparing for our annual Plant Sale in April, to be held online, sharing the bounty of their gardens to raise funds for educational programs and speaker fees. In line with that, our first speaker of the year was Maria Valana, who talked on Jan. 25 about the many ways to divide and propagate plants to increase density and variety in our gardens. Of course, we hope there will also be lots of plants contributed to our Plant Sale!

Amidst the many limitations posed on us by the pandemic, we have found that gardening is a pastime that continues very much unchanged. We can still enjoy our gardens as we did before and experience the feeling of beauty and calm of creating our own restful “vacation spot” next to our home or harvesting produce in our community garden plots.

Even the St. Philip’s Orion Ranger Girl Guides held a meeting focusing on “Gardening and Sustainability.” Gardening is a bandwagon everyone can be excited to jump on!

After Valana’s presentation in January, the Spring 2022 schedule included Dr. Richard Hebda speaking on “Snowdrops” on Feb. 22nd, and Amy Sanderson speaking on “Cut Flowers from the Garden” on March 22nd. The upcoming April 26th meeting will feature Johanna Moretto and Karen Pyne speaking about Nutrifore Soil, an exciting new product that utilizes solid waste and wood bi-products to create a beautiful organic composte without weed seeds.

For more information, or to attend a meeting as a drop-in, contact midgeoke at gmail dot com.

The Hearts of Dunbar

By Carol Volkart, Newsletter Editor

I suspect I wasn’t the only one mystified by the big fat pink hearts that began popping up around Dunbar in February.

Hearts, Valentine’s Day, February – I got that much. But what was their point, and who were they aiming at with their slogans – “I (heart) Dunbar,” “Be Mine,” “Here 4 You”? There were no explanations attached – just chubby symbols of adoration on two thin metal legs, watching the traffic go by.

Lisa Clement of the Dunbar Village Business Association enlightened me. The hearts were part of the @loveyourcitycontest staged by business improvement associations across the city in February. The groups put up colourful street installations –banners, decals, wooden hearts – and waited for the Instagram crowd to do what came naturally.

Which was, take photos of bright objects and send them off to Instagram. Each post was an automatic entrance into a contest with a grand prize of about $4,000 worth of goodies from the various participating neighbourhoods.

The hearts came down in March, but I don’t know who won the grand prize. I only know it wasn’t someone who’d never posted to Instagram in her life.

St. Philip’s Anglican Church: A New Chapter

St. Philip’s Anglican Church’s welcoming courtyard at 3737 West 27th

By Debbie Matheson

From its founding in the growing neighbourhood of Dunbar Heights in 1925, St Philip’s Anglican Church has served not just as a place of worship and service, but as a centre of fellowship for the whole community.

The first building, constructed by parishioners, functioned as Dunbar’s community centre. There were dinners, dances, theatricals, sports teams, community meetings, tennis courts on the property, and twice-weekly bowling leagues. Today, that original church is the gym where community groups meet, voters assess candidates, the DRA gathers, and shoppers enjoy our sales. We have hosted Crown and Tom Thumb preschools for over 70 years. The current church and rectory were built during WWII, a time of uncertainty. Later, the Fireside Wing was built to meet the needs of returning servicemen and their families, the rector at the time recalling the stress of his own re-entry into civilian life after WWI.

Along with attention to individuals’ needs, engagement with the whole community continues as a major theme for St. Philip’s. Outreach volunteers have sponsored refugees to Canada, most recently a Syrian family of eight. Neighbourhood Ministry volunteers weekly give out food, clothing, and support to vulnerable people on west-side streets.

During the pandemic, St. Philip’s never missed a Sunday, pivoting quickly to recorded and live-streamed online worship. We even gathered on lawn chairs in Caldecott Park to keep people connected and lift their spirits.

In 2021, online fundraising events were created, the church reopened, community groups reconvened, and hope continued. When Omicron arose, we checked vaccination passports at the door, and sadly cancelled the sold-out live reading of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

For 2022, ever hopeful, we plan the return of the online Flower Basket Sale in April, a Book Sale in June, a Christmas Fair, and a new “Everything but the Closet” Sale in late May. Watch for news on our website and the Dunbar Neighbours list serv.

Sadly, in the spring of 2021 our rector Stuart Hallam and his family returned home to the UK. Stuart had made many connections and friends in Dunbar; his talents in community building were recognized in a thank-you from DRA President Bruce Gilmour in the spring 2021 newsletter. A chapter had ended.

St. Philip’s is resilient, however, with a committed parish family. In October, we welcomed with open arms our new rector, Reverend Lorne Manweiler. A new chapter has begun.

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.”

Hold on tight! Is Dunbar ready for a new 435+-student school across from Chaldecott Park?

By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor

Facing the potential closure of their small early French immersion school, parents at Queen Elizabeth Annex are warning of the impact of the closure on their own kids, and on the neighbourhood if a much larger school is built in its place. 

QEA District Parent Advisory Council co-representative Nadine Ho, who is helping organize the campaign against the closure, says the timing of the plan is terrible, as it adds to the instability and daily stress that students are already experiencing during the pandemic. And she’s concerned about the short- and long-term impacts on the neighbourhood if a 435-student school for out-of- catchment students is built to replace the 70-student QEA.

There would first be a lengthy construction period, then the noise and traffic of hundreds of additional students coming and going from the now-quiet school site at 4275 Crown, she says. 

The potential for a 435-student school at the site is discussed in a 2018 Ministry of Education document assessing options for the location of a new elementary school on the west side of Vancouver for the Conseil Scolaire Francophone (CSF), the francophone board that serves students whose first language is French. (By contrast, French immersion students are served by the Vancouver School Board.)

There’s been pressure to find a new school site for the francophone students ever since a 2016 court ruling that facilities for them are inadequate on the west side of Vancouver. QEA has been looked at before; in 2019, Vancouver School Board trustees rejected a similar proposal to dispose of it to the francophone board.

Before that, QEA was also threatened with closure in 2016 and in 2008. 

This time around, parents don’t have long to fight for their school. They were told about the proposal on Jan. 14. On Jan. 17,  seven of nine trustees voted at a special meeting to move the closure recommendation to the VSB facilities planning committee meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 19. If trustees agree to proceed at each stage, delegations will be heard Jan. 24, and there will be another meeting on Jan. 31, leading to a final decision on May 30 of this year. If the plan is approved, the school would close on June 30, 2023.

Regarding the francophone board’s need for a school site, Ho said the VSB is being pushed to solve a Ministry of Education problem on the backs of Vancouver students. Disposing of QEA has also been regarded as a way of raising money. In 2019, then-education minister Rob Fleming said the closure of QEA would allow him to build a long-awaited school in Olympic Village. 

The current staff report recommending consideration of closure says disposal of the annex to the CSF “could realize substantial capital revenue” that the board could use for seismic upgrades or school expansions. It notes the government expects districts will contribute up to 50 percent of the cost of new schools.

Ho says the pandemic raises many issues about the planned closure, especially for a school that has had zero COVID cases to date. Transmission risks are lower at smaller community schools like QEA compared to bigger ones like Queen Elizabeth Elementary and Ecole Jules Quesnel, the proposed alternatives for QEA students.  This pandemic is not over, she notes. Vaccinations are still being distributed for children under 12, and children’s activities are still being cancelled or restructured.

Ho says the closure proposal also raises questions about the kind of longer-term planning the VSB is doing if it gives up a school site that may well be needed in the future. She notes that many major developments are planned for the west side of the city, with the Jericho lands development alone more than doubling the population of West Point Grey. 

District Parent Advisory Council co-chair Vik Khanna says the QEA move is being driven by the need for a new school at the Olympic Village. Originally it was supposed to be fully funded by pandemic recovery funds, he says, but that appears to have changed, and the school board now must come up with 50 percent of the cost. “Pressure is being applied by the Ministry to dispose of QEA.”

Khanna echoes Ho’s concerns about the timing of the closure proposal, saying a pandemic is not the time to be pushing it through. “Our trustees should be ensuring public trust in our public education system and this is super rushed and erodes trust.”

The Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council has previously taken a position against school closures until proper planning is done. At a DPAC general meeting on Oct. 28, 2021, more than 33 Vancouver PACs voted 94 percent in favour of a motion that the VSB should hold off on irreversible facilities decisions until December 2023 or until policies and plans can be based on the latest population data and take into account the many new developments planned for the city.

What you can do:

For more information, visit http://www.qea-pac.ca/advocacy/ or contact us at qea.parents@gmail.com.  Please help save QEA by writing letters to the Deputy Superintendent office (dnelson@vsb.bc.ca or communications@vsb.bc.ca) and trustees (listed below).

  • Chair Janet Fraser: janet.fraser@vsb.bc.ca
  • Vice-Chair Estrellita Gonzalez: estrellita.gonzalez@vsb.bc.ca
  • Fraser Ballantyne: fraser.ballantyne@vsb.bc.ca
  • Lois Chan-Pedley: lois.chan-pedley@vsb.bc.ca
  • Carmen Cho: carmen.cho@vsb.bc.ca
  • Oliver C. Hanson: oliver.hanson@vsb.bc.ca
  • Barb Parrott: barbara.parrott@vsb.bc.ca
  • Jennifer Reddy: Jennifer.reddy@vsb.bc.ca
  • Allan Wong: allan.wong@vsb.bc.ca 

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.”