Since mid 2012, Translink and the city of Vancouver have been working on a Downtown bus service review, with public open houses held on June 2012. Below is our take on it:

It is no secret, that the purpose of the exercise, done under the impulse of the city of Vancouver, is to clear many areas of the city from transit, and more notoriously Robson square. As such the public has been presented with a set of constraints:

The constraint set for the Downtown bus Public consultation

The constraint set for the
Downtown bus review Public consultation

The consultation was not presented necessarily in the best terms possible – we could have liked a brief historic of the downtown transit network, and having the staff seeking feedback on a set of considered principles to design the transit network [2].

In light of it, and especially the previous consultation on the Block 51, the Downtown bus service review consultation Summary [6] is a very welcome surprise:

  • some geometric principles are spelled

    • “Routes should be designed to be simple, direct, and easy to understand”
  • More importantly, the concern on the impact of street closures to bus, especially Robson square, seems properly recorded, as well as a potential solution

    • “The Robson closure does nothing to better city culture and is disruptive for bus routes”

      “I approve the City’s initiatives for public spaces (eg. the 800-block of Robson) but this should not force transit to detour, there can be closures for private cars and trucks but let transit buses/trolley buses through, similar to great plazas in Europe.”

Timeless geometric principles as already stated in [2] (as we have seen here, and well worded on the Jarret Walker’s blog and book) appear as uncontournable.

Not surprisingly, the summary teach us, that in downtown, trips demand are from everywhere to anywhere…

Origin destination pair in the downtown peninsula exhibit a great entropy - nevertheless some major transit corridor appears

Origin destination pair in the downtown peninsula exhibit a great entropy – nevertheless some major transit corridor appears

Trying to single out some destinations to be served, such as a future art gallery, is somewhat self-defeating. The popular destination of today, was not the one of yesterday, and will be not necessarily the one of tomorrow. What is important is to be able to provide a network which is time resilient:

  • It is a “mobility” network, around which the city is structuring itself rather than the reverse

That leads to the following issues, from the most important to the least

Bus coverage

One principle in designing an efficient and resilient bus network, is to maximize the coverage while minimizing the number of bus lines, and still obeying to a core geometric principle: direct and consistent routing – that is a straight line (or following the street grid orientation). For the Downtown peninsnula, assuming an accepted ~1/4 mile walk to a bus stop, the probably most optimized configuration can be done using 3 main transit corridors as illustrated below

The yellow strips, representing bus corridor and their catchement area, are lay down to provide the the most efficient bus coverage in Dowtown. Red arrows represents necessary connectivity between bus corridor

One will quickly recognize the route 5/6 as structuring the Westend coverage in a very optimal way: It explains the resilience of those routes structuring the Westend since its very early development and still doing it:

The WestEnd development plan is widely based on the actual bus route 5/6 anchoring the high density and retail/commercial development

The WestEnd development plan is widely based on the actual bus route 5/6 anchoring the high density and retail/commercial development

Moving one bus route from one street to another one, could seem to be a minor change, but in fact it can affect dramatically the coverage…either by introducing gaps or redundancis in the transit coverage, all severly affecting the network efficiency. In the context of the current Westend development, consequence can be much more dire.


A perfect grid as suggested above should allow to make any local trips with no more than one connection.

Our public transportation network is also a hierarchized one:

  • “local bus” routes aiming to provide transportation option in downtown, such as route #5
  • “city bus” routes, that is the one connecting the downtown to other part of Vancouver, such as route #14
  • “regional transit” routes where lies the skytrain network, sea-bus but also bus route such as #250 or #135

To keep reasonable the number of transfers for people coming from outside Downton, it is particularly important to have all “structuring” downtown network lines connecting to the regional network:

Vancouver regional transit network in its Downtown

City routes are not represented, but can be considered as part of the “structuring” downtown network (that is particularly obvious in the case of route #19 serving Stanley park)

bus-seat supply

Specific bus route could be overloaded, but in some key downtown corridors (mainly Hasting and Granville), there is an over-all over supply of bus-seat (over-supply on some bus routes is not compensating under supply on others)- a typical problem in urban cores we have already encountered, in a more acute form, in Sydney, Australia

buses_Granville there is excees of capacity on the Hasting corridor west of Main – credit photo (1). Simialr observation can be drawn on Granville Mall – crdit photo (3)

It could be no easy answer to this problem, but one will notice that one rationalization idea not implemented was the the discontinuation of bus route #3 west of Main [8]. A similar conclusion could be draw for bus 8.

The fact that the route #3 and #8 use 60ft artics trolley bus (in short supply), reinforce the case for route shortening, freeing bus capacity where it is more needed

Urban integration
Buses congestion, leading to a bus wall, as seen above on Granville, creates its own urban integration issue:

It obviously affect the pedestrian experience on this mall, by creating both a constant physical and visual barrier.

The issue could be complex to address on Granville Mall. However some other urban issues can be more readily addressed:

bus_stop_queue_Georgia top: bus laying over at Davie and Denman – credit photo (4). Bottom bus line-up on Georgia street

The bus lay-over at Denman#Davie creates an uninvitating “pedestrian tunnel” whereas, sidewalk activity could thrive, considering the view, sun exposition, and immediate proximity to the Beaches.

We have already discussed on a relocation of this lay-over, in a critic of Denman street, which is underlining the network issue this lay-over also creates

Transit is very Vancouver centric: thought numerous bus route to North shore run on Georgia, there is no direct connection of them with the Westend. furthermore bus 5/6 make a time point at Davie and Denman making the Northshore<-> Davie area transit option less than appealing (map credit - Translink)

At the end, a succesful transit network, means a good patronage, which also creates its own issue, as we can regularly witness on Georgia street. Such problem should be addressed.

The additional constraints or Robson square

Cnnsidering the above issues, one can see emerging the rough lines of what could be an ideal transit network…but adding additional constraint in the form of arbitrary “no bus” zone could be wreaking havoc on it.

When come Pedestrian streets, they should be designed as a complement to the city transportation system, not as an impediment to it, and that is also a reason making their success…or failure otherwise [7]. Fortunately some solutions, especially the ones considering transit as part of the urban fabric, achieve exactly that

Note:One will find a summary of a city conversation on the Robson square issue, on the Stephen Rees blog.

[1] Georgia Straight

[2] We mainly think of some geometric principles. on the example of those clearly enounced in a the 1975 Downtown Vancouver Bus Service vision, as seen in a previous post. Translink has some material illustrating the importance of some, as discussed by Jarret Walker

[3] “The TTC page” website

[4] Stephen Rees

[5] Vancouver/UBC Area Transit Plan , Translink, July 2005.

[6] Downtown Vancouver Local Bus Service Review: Phase 1 Consultation Summary, Translink and City of Vancouver, 2013

[7] Jarret Walker uses the “bus as pedestrian fountain” metaphor to convey the importance of transit to the success of a pedestrian area.

[8] See [5]. Note: the shortening of the route #3 has been briefly implemented apparently in 2006-2007 but abandoned in 2008 with the introduction of artics trolley on the route 3.