Improving bus service on Broadway… and elsewhere

November 12, 2012

Buses battling with Broadway traffic – credit photo (1)


The lately adopted Vancouver Transport 2040 prescripts an underground Extension of the Millennium line along the Broadway alignment to address the transportation demand on this corridor. This left still open 2 questions:

  • That probably is not coming in service before 2020 at best, What to do in the interim?
  • The subway will probably stop short of UBC (Arbutus in the most optimistic case), leaving the demand unaddressed on western section section of the corridor: how to address it?

Translink is calling for an LRT, skytrain combination: If there is a good case to build the subway soon enough up to Arbutus as a regional priority, the case could be significantly weaker for the LRT part of the combo, especially in regard of competitive demand coming from the South of Fraser. That left the buses on Broadway, for the foreseeable future, and something need to be done now to handle the existing demand, which will only increase with the advent of the Evergreen line.

The answer is two prongs

    Divert as much as demand on other corridors, mainly #84 and #41/#43.

    The main drawback of those solutions, is that they are not servicing central Broadway. Due to weaker demand, frequency is less attractive than on Broadway, triggering a vicious circle. A way to address it is to offer a better level of service, on at least the route 84:
    Double Decker buses are probably a solution worth to explore for this route. Beside it, real time information like on Main, can contribute to attract more rider on this line.

    A 45ft double decker, with 2 stairs and 3 doors (here a Man Lion’s City DD in Berlin) can have tremendous capacity. Its appeal can eventually help to relieve Broadway overcrowding if deployed on parallel routes like the 84 – credit photo wikipedia

    Increase capacity and efficiency of the buses

    Bigger bus is part of the answer. Double Decker could be an answer – but

    • It can be a self defeating answer due to its additional attractiveness (so such solution should be applied to relief line)
    • One of the major reliability/efficiency problem of the B line is due the dwelling time, and that is known to be a potential weakness of the Double Decker

    Longer articulated buses should be the answer. Not only longer, but with at least 4 doors per bus, since it both improves:

    • The practical capacity of the bus, by better partitioning of the load
    • The dwelling time

    Should the bus be double articulated, that is 80feet long, or not?
    A priori it is not a right step:

    • Due to frequent Local service, the 99B bus performs a significant amount of weaving, operation becoming more complex with 2 articulations
    • Proper alighting at bus stop could also be compromised by the above, affecting negatively the dwelling time
    • It can be complicate to redeploy such buses on other routes. curb space at bus stop being not the least of the problems

A 65+ feet bus with 4 outside opening doors, and proper interior layout, can probably have 20% more practical capacity than the current 60 feet bus while overcoming the above drawback [2].

This Man Lion’s city GXL is 67ft long, and with 4 doors, it has vastly more capacity than a 60ft bus 3 doors, like currently operated on Broadway.

The buses presented above could not have the right to operate legally on BC roads, but it is a stroke of a pen to allow them. The Los Angeles Transit Agency, LACMTA, operates a fleet of 45 feet and 65 feet buses, showing a North American market for such bus size.

The bus lanes
The lack of bus lane in Vancouver is a shame:

  • Bus lanes on Main between Broadway and Hasting should be a no-brainer,
  • Bus trip on Main between Hasting and Broadway are scheduled to be between 8 and 12mn, whether it is off peak or rush hour, and there is an excess of 800 daily bus trip on this portion of main used by some of the busiest bus lines of the network, #3, #8, #19 carrying a combined 20 millions of rider/years. Needless to say, not only the lack of bus lane increases significantly the operating cost of those route, but it also imposes a tremendous economic burden to the region in term of lost time

    bus lane with traffic signal preemption – – credit photo (1)

  • Bus lanes on Broadway
  • Matters are a bit more complex due to the weaving of local and express services, requiring the use of 2 lanes of traffic by buses, but clearly there is significant room to improve the efficiency and reliability of the route. Here is What we suggest for the Cambie#Broadway intersection:

transit priority improvement on Broadway at Cambie involving an half scramble intersection: right turn traffic proceed while pedestrian cross in diagonal. buses can move thru the intersection yielding to peds

    The problem of this intersection is the heavy pedestrian traffic conflicting with the right turning cars movement which is heavy too. This is affecting the buses. Having an extra cycle for bus only doesn’t necessarily help the pedestrian flow, which is mainly oriented NW-SE (West bound bus stop – Cambie station). Because the bus can use 2 lanes of traffic, keeping general traffic moving is important too: that means right turning car shouldn’t block the through traffic. So the proposal is an extra cycle for:

    • Right turning car only and buses, and pedestrian in diagonal only
    • to allow quick “flushing” of right turning car , pedestrian E-W crossing is red
    • right turn from Cambie shouldn’t be allowed on the extra cycle
    • Because bus go through, they could conflict with the half scramble: a yield to pedestrian rule then apply to them: A carefully designed scramble allows a 40feet bus to yield in the middle of the intersection, and still allow car following him to do a right turn
    • The next cycle is green through Broadway, to allow bus to clear intersection in case of blocked behind the scramble.

    Due to the presence of the half scramble, regular pedestrian crossing are less used, allowing greater right turn movement on all corner at all other time …eventually improving the general output flow of the intersection, and in any case improving the general output flow of Broadway.

There is still some room to accommodate growing demand on Broadway. It could not be an excuse to not investigate longer term solutions like a subway, but the prospect of the later is not an excuse to do nothing now. Right answer is in the hand of Translink, but enabler are mainly the Province, to allow bigger bus on the road, and the City of Vancouver to allow more efficient operation on its street, this by starting by giving more consideration to buses and their rider than parked cars.

[1] Translink’s buzzer: Building a better transit line: how location and land use make or break good transit service, august 2, 2012

[2] see Bus capacity : some remarks , November 9, 2012

[3] see UBC line rapid transit act 2, April 5, 2011


10 Responses to “Improving bus service on Broadway… and elsewhere”

  1. rico Says:

    Good post although I would hope Tranlink/CoV have investigated the changes.

  2. Voony Says:

    someone asks by email “Regarding your recommendation of double decker buses, have you taken the presence of overhead trolley wires into account?”

    I don’t think it is a problem, Double Decker buses are no higher than many vehicle trucks on the road . the Man pictured in the post is 4m height, and I think the trolley wires are usually at 5m height .

    Here is one tested at Metrotown

    A problem could be the George Massey Tunnel, which clearance is 4m15 I believe, what could restrict the choice of Double Decker there

  3. rico Says:

    I had another question about signal priority and what frequency we can have before we totally screw traffic?

  4. Voony Says:

    If you are talking about full preemption (ensuring the light is green for every bus), I guess it can’t be done for frequency better than 4mn – and even at that frequency, in practice, it usually doesn’t work that well, that is at least true for the Paris T3 tram, but I guess it all depends of the context (here, example of simulation (in french) , ending to say you can’t have better than 4mn frequency).

    On Broadway, many cross streets carry heavy traffic and are important transit corridors as well, so it is not very favorable, and Broadway peak hour frequency make full preemption basically not possible. That said between a full preemption, and doing nothing, there is some room:
    * having full bus priority on “pedestrian activated light” is a first step
    * preventing the light to turn red in front of the bus (extend the green/amber by a couple second) is another one:

    The later not only save a 30s, but it mostly save one “stop and go” which shaves a bit of operating cost, and make the ride much more comfortable.

    When I talk of transit priority on Broadway, it must be understood much more like it than full preemption

  5. Tessa Says:

    Hey Voony, good post. I’m glad to see you bring up the issue of doors on the bus too. I got passed up one time by a half-empty 236 bus, which, since it runs every half hour most of the year, was not enjoyable. The whole back of the bus was empty. Not only that, it can be a real pain to get off the bus when you’re stuck at the back. I don’t understand why Translink doesn’t already buy buses with a 3rd rear door, especially after trying them out in Copenhagen.

    Do you know why? Is it significantly more expensive? Does New Flyer not make such things? The one I was on in Copenhagen wasn’t even low-floor – the back end was raised just like in Translink buses, but at the rear there was a door with stairs down to the street. It worked perfectly.

    • Voony Says:

      I guess the bus with stair on the rear door had probably a single step and it was a hump above the rear axle: it was a popular scheme back in the mid 90…early 2000…

      Nowadays most of the new European bus I have seen are 100% low flloor: the transmission is put on the side opposite to the door, so I guess that has a cost…but European seems happy with the trade-off.

      I don’t really know why Translink doesn’t consider 3 doors buses (especially with all door boarding policy). I guess it is cultural (habit).

    • Tessa Says:

      Oops. This was posted on the wrong post. I meant to post on the subject of the different models of buses.

  6. David Says:

    I agree that extending greens and shortening reds is the best approach for a street with significant cross traffic. Full preemption isn’t really necessary, even for trams, because average dwell times can be integrated into the schedule and signal timing.

    There’s an interesting problem in your the diagonal scramble proposal: it only allows a 40 foot bus to enter the intersection without blocking right turns. While it would certainly be nice to speed up the #9, anything bigger (current 60-foot B-line or proposed 67-footers) would block right turns making the additional phase mainly useful for pedestrians.

    Broadway is a real dilemma, regardless of your vehicle preferences, because there are some passengers travelling long distances who should be accommodated away from the doors and a somewhat larger number who change throughout the journey. The 4-door bus really has very little room for long distance passengers to stay out of the way of the crowd alighting and disembarking along the way. From that perspective a double decker makes sense provided all the passengers choose upper or lower deck based on how far they’re going. As a double decker approaches capacity, however, changing decks becomes virtually impossible and the stairs attract minor injuries like a light bulb attracts moths. The stairs also complicate and cramp the lower deck making the bus far less accessible to those needing room to manoeuvre. Double deckers look high capacity, but their inability to get people on and off quickly makes them impractical for services that stop every few minutes.

    Overall the 67-foot bus does appear the best short term solution to pass-ups on Broadway. The #84 is a great bus for UBC, Kits, Canada Line, Olympic Village and M-Line. Its value to central Broadway is that it takes some people completely off the street thus freeing capacity on Broadway for people who want to alight or disembark there.

    The only really good solution is to commandeer some of the road space for pedestrians, transit loading/unloading and transit vehicle movement. If you’re going to go that far, however, you might as well lay some track and use vehicles with vastly greater capacity and superior ride comfort.

  7. […] probably the only way to see this line someday as well as the best way to move forward as suggested before and potentially enable to defer technology choice west of Arbutus to a later date. Below some […]

  8. The Vancouver Trolley bus routes carry 25% of regional ridership and all these routes need help.

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