Bus lanes are proving a painful task, but the idea is build them and riders will follow

It’s a project that has progressed at about the same rate as a commuter stuck in the Colwood Crawl.

Since 2014, about $20 million has been invested in building transit-priority lanes designed to allow buses to whiz by bumper-to-bumper commuter traffic between Colwood and Victoria.

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To date, progress seems painfully slow. By the end of 2019, about 5.3 kilometres — less than half of the route — will be done. But officials say as each piece is completed, others will move more quickly.

Construction is completed or underway on a number of stretches, and planning on other phases is in the works.

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The bus-only lanes have long been billed as a top priority for the Greater Victoria Transit Commission and local municipalities.

The numbers support the idea. An estimated 1,700 vehicles per hour use the Douglas Street corridor during peak travel times. Only three per cent of those vehicles are buses, but those buses are carrying 40 per cent of the people moving along the corridor.

Securing the corridor is a major building block for future improvements.

B.C. Transit’s manager of planning for Victoria, Levi Timmermans, cites No. 3 Road in Richmond as an example of the process, pointing out that, before the Sky Train, bus lanes were built down the middle of the road.

“So you build transit ridership; you build the demand for it; grab the right of way. Ridership goes through the roof and then when there’s an opportunity for funding programs, you make that quantum leap to the next level of transit and in that case it was a Sky Train solution.”

Better transit options can’t come soon enough.

Between 2006 and 2016, the population of Sooke and the West Shore climbed from 62,000 to 83,000, with a lot of those people using the same stretch of highway to travel to and from work or school.

“The bigger a community gets the more traffic there’s going to be. Communities can’t solve traffic congestion problems, but they can provide people choices of how to travel,” said B.C. Transit manager of planning James Wadsworth.

That means the need for more investments in roads, cycling infrastructure and in transit.

“It has been implemented as dollars became available,” said Susan Brice, chairwoman of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission.

“It would have been ideal back 4 1/2 years ago to have had all the funds and put it all out there, but it just wasn’t available to us,” Brice said, adding that support for the project is strong among all the players.

And, she said, building the new lanes isn’t simply a matter of painting lines along the side of the road.

“Each of the sections has been pretty significant construction engineering by the time you get bus cut-outs and you deal with the current infrastructure. It’s been kept on the front burner, but it is amazing how much time it takes to plan each section, get it tendered and get it built,” Brice said.

One of the big gaps is the Trans-Canada between McKenzie Avenue and the Old Island Highway. The roadway is under provincial jurisdiction and the province has yet to set a timeline for finishing the lanes all the way to the Colwood turnoff in View Royal.

Bus lane progress

Status of Douglas-West Shore transit priority corridor:

• Bus-bike lane southbound Hillside to Fisgard, completed 2014.

• Bus-bike lane northbound Fisgard to Tolmie, completed 2015.

• Bus-bike lane southbound, Tolmie to Hillside, under construction, to be completed late 2018.

• Bus lane northbound, Tolmie to Burnside bridges, under construction, completion late 2019.

• McKenzie interchange northbound bus lane, under construction, completion 2019.

• Bus lane southbound Burnside bridges to Tolmie, planning started early 2018.

• McKenzie interchange southbound bus lane, under construction, completion 2019.

• Island Highway, Trans-Canada to Colwood Exchange, under study with Colwood and View Royal.

• Trans-Canada Highway, McKenzie interchange to Colwood turnoff, a future stage.

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