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Douglas Street transformation set to begin this year, with plans to extend bus lanes

Council directed staff to establish by the end of this year 24/7 bus lanes between Herald Street and Hillside Avenue, currently designated as bus lanes only at peak travel times.
Bus lanes on Douglas Street between Hillside Avenue and Herald Street will switch to 24/7 before the end of 2024. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Douglas Street could start to see changes in its traffic flow before the end of this year, after Victoria council voted to have its staff alter the hours of some dedicated bus lanes and start work on designs to expand the bus-lane network.

Council has directed staff to establish by the end of this year 24/7 bus lanes between Herald Street and Hillside Avenue, currently designated as bus lanes only at peak travel times.

Staff were also directed to start detailed design work to extend dedicated Douglas Street bus lanes from Hillside Avenue south to Belleville Street, while designing street improvements such as sidewalks, bus stops, loading zones, left-turn lanes and landscaping along Douglas.

Staff were asked to consider ways of including safe access for cycling and other active transportation in redevelopment of the street.

Council asked staff to move more quickly to complete the first segment — the Herald Street to Hillside Avenue stretch.

“I think we want this work to happen or at least I want to see this work happen sooner rather than later,” said Coun. Dave Thompson. “I think we all want to move more people more quickly and get people in and out of downtown more quickly, build ridership more quickly and demonstrate the value of rapid transit sooner.”

Coun. Matt Dell said Douglas is an important corridor and the decision to start design work is an important first step. “Douglas Street is just so much concrete right now and it’s just really not a nice street to be on, even though it’s an entrance to our city. So as much as it was going to be a transit hub, I’m hoping we can kind of make it the gateway to the city as well.”

Dell said he understands Douglas is the transit-priority corridor, which means there are trade-offs such as losing bike lanes and space for micro-mobility transport options such as electric scooters in favour of dedicated bus lanes.

Coun. Jeremy Caradonna said having staff at least consider ways of including safe access for cycling and micro-mobility devices sends a signal that the city is trying to figure out ways of incorporating those uses.

A staff presentation of concepts for the redevelopment of Douglas Street includes moving a transit hub from beside the legislature to the 700-block of Douglas Street at Crystal Garden and prohibiting vehicle traffic, except buses, from using the northbound lane on Douglas between Belleville and Humboldt streets.

There’s discussion about extending Blanshard Street through Belleville Street with a new traffic signal set up where the two streets meet. The idea would be to provide easier access to James Bay for residents.

The concept plans also include cycling and pedestrian amenities along the arterial routes.

City staff will work alongside B.C. Transit on the design before reporting back to council with a detailed plan in the first quarter of 2026.

There has been no discussion about the budget, but the costs are expected to be shared by B.C. Transit, the city and senior levels of government, though the federal government has indicated there will be no more transportation infrastructure funding available until 2026.

The existing dedicated bus lanes were a partnership between B.C. Transit and the city, with B.C. Transit picking up the tab and the city providing oversight and delivery of the project.

Ross Kenny, the city’s assistant director of engineering, noted it the redesign opens the possibility of light rail in the future.

“If there is advocacy or motions from the province for investment in higher-scale transit, this is a design that can be scaled up or down,” he said. “We believe that the offset bus lanes are the best investment that we can make today that maintains flexibility for the future while moving towards our goals.”

B.C. Transit told council that buses make up about three per cent of traffic but carry about 40 per cent of the people along the Douglas Street corridor each day.

According to B.C. Transit, ridership has been strong since it launched its rapid-bus service last year, with more than 10,000 passengers each day riding just one route — the 95 express bus that runs between the legislature and Langford Exchange. West Shore commuters have saved about 20 minutes on the commute, the transit agency said.

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What people are saying about extending bus lanes on Douglas Street

Rob Ekstrom, owner of The Palms Restaurant & Lounge on Douglas Street and Pandora Avenue, said his immediate concern is the potential loss of parking. The majority of his customers drive downtown and are unlikely to take transit, he said.

“Every weekend I get multiple phone calls for people cancelling reservations because they can’t find parking,” he said. “They won’t park in the parkades and walk because they don’t feel safe.”

A growing number of customers live within walking distance, but they only makes up about a quarter of his regular clientele. “If I relied exclusively on that, we’d be out of business in a month.”

Joel Exposito, owner of the Fresko One World restaurant on Yates Street just off Douglas, is concerned about whether there’s enough space for a bus lane on Douglas where the road narrows from six lanes to four.

“I’m not totally convinced,” he said. “But it could possibly work on Douglas … if we have the room and the space.”

Traffic is “overwhelming” for both transit users and drivers during rush hour on Douglas, he said. “After a hard day of work, they just want to get home, and they want to get home as soon as possible,” said Exposito, while waiting at a bus stop.

Exposito said he would prefer establishing a dedicated bus lane on the highway from Victoria to Langford before any changes are made to Douglas.

Fernando Jardon, who has a regular bus commute from James Bay through downtown, said it would be “amazing” if buses could skip the traffic on Douglas Street.

Jardon, who is from Mexico, is no stranger to dysfunctional traffic flows. “Where I come from, you [usually] have to wait one hour in traffic,” he said. “If you go to downtown Mexico City, you could sit in traffic for around two hours.”

Avid pedestrian Nell Saba said Douglas is her least favourite street in the capital region. “I avoid it when I can.”

“It’s just so obviously a street that serves cars,” said Saba, who racked up close to 6,700 kilometres of walking last year. “But at the same time, they’re not getting anywhere. Like, there’s so much congestion.”

Saba said she would welcome signal light changes that would improve pedestrian safety on Douglas Street. “It doesn’t have to be so miserable.”

Angela Empig said she finds herself avoiding Douglas Street when cycling in favour of dedicated bike paths or quieter streets. “I think it’s pretty crowded.”

Speaking from outside the city-operated bike-parking serviced on Pandora Avenue, Empig said “it’s not the end of the world” if cyclists lose their painted bike lanes on Douglas Street to bus lanes.

“With public transit growing, and there being more people needing access through that — sure, why not?”

— Michael John Lo, Times Colonist