The Downtown Vancouver Bus Service vision in 1975
July 2, 2013
At a time when “both TransLink and the City of Vancouver are aiming to establish a common vision for bus service in downtown Vancouver“, it is still interesting to have a look at what has been done in past in that respect
In 1975, the Bureau of Transit Services, then depending from the Minister of municipal affairs prepared a transit service plan to complement the City land plan :
This plan is important in many aspects, and mainly the adopted methodology
It lays down the general picture in which a downtown plan can take shape
Thought not in service in 1975, the West Coast Express concept were already discussed, and the terminals and vessels, for the seabus, were under construction. The skytrain was still a quite distant concept , but the LRT discussed in the plan is clearly considered as a pre-metro, aimed to be underground in the Core Business district.
But More importantly,
It lays down 7 principles guiding the plan
Those principle are subdivized into 3 common service characteristics:
- Direct Routing
- Minimize unecessary transfers
- Minimal walking distance to final destinations
(1) Don’t divert routes to serve specific needs: Diversion means a less attractive service for most of the travellers
(2) Use secondary services connecting to main ones, to serve “out of the way” area (rather than divert main routes)
(3) Use the downtown grid for “random schedule” transfers
(4) Go Straight thru the “center of gravity” of an area, and not its periphery, which increases the total walking distance by half.
(5) Transit and pedestrians: the concept of pedestrianization and transit must not be treated independently.
The study cites Jane Jacobs  to support the idea of bringing together the transit network with the pedestrian area 
(6) Prefer two way operations over one way, since it offers the maximum coverage
(7) Prefer nearside bus stop over farside, sinec it allows the passengers to alight before have to wait at a traffic light.
Many, if not all, of this principles are what Jarret Walker calls the geometry of Transit, and that is the reason why they are still as valid in 2013 as they were in 1975:
- Principle (7): Thought some cities like Montreal and Toronto, have bus stopa on the nearside, most of the cities adopt a farside model, since it usually allows a better general traffic output, and modern LRT/trams use also farside bus stops, since it allows a more efficient signal preemption
- Principle (1), (4) and (6): They are very strong transit geometry principles which have justified the conversion of Manners Mall in Wellington New Zealand, from a pedestrian only street to a transit mall.
- Principle (4) and (5) are why transit needs to be considered as part of the urban fabric
Some comments on the DT plan
The geometry of transit largely comfort the relevance of the historic streetcar grid:
- The choice of the streets is guided by principle (4)
- The streetcar service along Hornby, was expected to use the Arbutus line outside the DT core: the routing thru Hornby plan is consistent with the 1972 Erickson plan developped for the court house complex.
- The Robson square is envisioned to be a pedestrian oriented area, serviced by transit in full accordance with principle (4), and the Arthur Erickson’s vision for Robson square:
The only traffic through the square will be inner city buses, linking the West and and False Creek. Since buses function as people movers, they are seen as a compliment or enhancement to the pedestrian activity of the civic square [...]
- At the time of drafting the plan the Robson bus was using the couplet of one way streets Smythe/Robson: a two way service along Robson is clearly the privilegied choice.
The advent of the Canada line kind of fullfill this vision.
The underlying philosophy leading to the plan, articulating pedestrian areas around transit, and not the reverse, illustrates the dramatic shift of the current Vancouver council approach, which dismiss the transit geometry, as illustrates the Robson bus circling the square to serve a “specific need”.
At the end a transit service is envisioned on Nelson to complement the planned development of the westend, as well as a pheripheral line, to serve the “social and recreational” place on the pheriphery of downtown:
Remarkably, they are echoing recurring wishes for Transit in downtown, but the plan warms that “…there really is not much to be gained in professing support for programmes to get more people to use public transit without commitment to actions to give transit priority use of streets in Downtown Vancouver and in other urban centres in the metropolitan area.”
Alas, the current Vancouver council policies could not be farther apart of this commitment to transit.
 Draft memorandum on transit service planning to complement downtown peninsula plans of the City of Vancouver, Bureau of Transit Services, BC Minister of Municipal affairs, Sept 19, 1975. (13.6MB file)
 the underlying concept had been drafted by Harry Rankin by 1970, see The Case for Rapid Transit…in 1970
 The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs, Random House, New York, 1961
 51-61-71 Project, block 71 Schematics, Arthur Erickson Architects, 1974
 Vancouver’s 1975 downtown transit plan, John Calimenete, April 7, 2010
 This view is echoed by Jan Gehl, among others, providing rational for Transit on Sydney’s George Street.