West Van B-Line: a public battle over public transportation

Ash Murni and Haider Nayani / Feb 29, 2019

A Bluebus in West Vancouver. It’s route might soon change
(westvancouver.ca)

The West Vancouver council meeting on February 25th, was a long one. About an hour and a half in, the final agenda item, a proposal for a B-line bus running through Marine Drive, was addressed. Two hours later, the meeting finally came to an end, and highlighted just how divisive the project has been.

For some, public transit is the future. A step in a more environmentally conscious direction. A move meant to increase inclusivity and accessibility. A B-line which connects much of West Vancouver with one another, seems like the obvious choice.

For others, a B-line is a change to a status quo that is working, and brings with it a variety of consequences.

The case against

“I’m all for transit. But there’s certainly no ridership values to quantify having it go by Park Royal whatsoever and there’s certainly no need for bus lanes.” Nigel Malkin, Stop the Road Closures campaign. 

Nigel is a vocal opponent of the B-line and led a March against the proposed bus route last Saturday. A business owner himself, he says the proposed bus priority lanes and elimination of parking spots aren’t worth the cost to the local economy.

“We’re a community with a lot of old people and we also have a considerable number of youth who are under the age that they could ride a bus legally anyway” Nigel noted, convinced the B-line didn’t cater to West Vancouver’s underlying demographic.

Nigel Malkin has been one of the most vocal opponents of the B-line (Facebook)

Translink’s Side of the Story

The route would run from Dundarave to Phibbs Exchange, cutting through Marine Drive with a B-line that Jill Drews, Senior Issues Management Advisor at Translink says will improve travel times for all users.

“What we propose is having a lane on the right side that’s used for buses, right hand turners and parallel parkers. One lane for thru-traffic and left-hand turn bays that will prevent drivers and buses alike from being stuck behind parallel parkers, turners and improve overall travel time.” – Jill Drews, Senior Issues Management Advisor at Translink

Transit reports indicate the public wants the B-line. Their plans and projects document notes that the majority of the 1,692 surveys they conducted supported moving forward with the project.

“The idea is not to remove lanes but to re-organize the use of lanes to improve flow for drivers and transit users.” – Jill Drews, Senior Issues Management Advisor at Translink

The proposed bus route through Marine Drive. (translink)

Translink’s Survey

  • Location of stops:

    Translink says stops 1 km from each other, in key locations are crucial to the success of a B-line project. Their surveys resulted in 88% of respondents supporting the proposed stops on the new route.

  • Connection to Seabus

    Translink wondered if riders would rather the stop at Lonsdale Quay be located in the bus loop, near the sea bus terminal or on Esplanade. The former would provide quick access to the Sea bus, but delay passengers who were not getting off at Lonsdale Quay. The latter would increase the walk time to the sea bus from the Lonsdale Quay stop.

    51% of those surveyed were in favor of stopping in the loop

    37% were in support of a stop on Esplanade

  • Proposed Route Changes

    1. Stop running route 239 to avoid duplication
    2. Extend route 240
    3. Shift route 255 to Keaith Road

    68% supported these changes while 18% opposed them

Council caught in crossfire

Mayor Mary-Ann Booth has followed the proposal closely since it was approved by the Mayor’s Council of Translink in 2016.

“I’ve been hearing from many members of the community. There’s some in favour and there’s many against the B-line in its current form” – Mary-Ann Booth, Mayor of West Vancouver.

Though the Mayor was careful not to choose sides, she did highlight how congestion and traffic is a major concern for the community.

“We have a growing traffic problem. We have a number of employees, a large percentage in fact that don’t live here anymore, living elsewhere that commute…the proposal is really worth considering.” – Mary-Ann Booth, Mayor of West Vancouver.

Still the mayor was measured in her approach and stressed finding a solution that best fit the community’s desires.

Some local politicians, however, have picked sides.

Councillor Peter Lambur asked staff to investigate Park Royal as a terminus station instead of Dundarave, shortening the line. He also motioned for reviewing a plan to exclude bus priority lanes through Ambleside.

Anne Eedie attended the council meeting to offer her thoughts as a resident of West Vancouver.

And for her, parking is central to commerce. Readily available parking translates to parents sticking around after dropping off their child for a class at say, the local dance studio, and making purchases in the community.

“Thank god the parking space is close…could you imagine taking this to the bus. All this commerce from one parking spot, one parent, one hour. Young families in West Vancouver need convenient parking to support the needs of the community and commerce of West Vancouver.” – Anne Eedie, Resident of West Vancouver

A generational divide?

But it seems it’s young people, who most enthusiastically support the B-line.

Joshua Millard is VP academic and a Senator at Capliano University. He grew up in West Vancouver and has a lifetime of experience with the transit system there.

“If there was really bad traffic or I missed a transfer, it could take total 3 hours each day to get to Cap U.” – Joshua Millard VP Academic, Capilano University

Though he believes many in his community can’t wait for development, he’s not surprised they’ve faced obstacles.

“Growing up in West Van it would be naive to think you would not get opposition. West Vancouver is behind in comparison to the rest of the lower mainland when it comes to making things more accessible and environmentally friendly.” – Joshua Millard VP Academic, Capilano University

Joshua Millard is the Vice President of the Capilano Students’ Union. He is a West Vancouver resident and supports the B-Line because of how much travel time students will save using the bus route. (Linkedin)

This past Wednesday, the students union staged what they called the Aggravated Race. Three students set off on bike, via car and on transit, from Dundarave to the University, to show first hand how slow and congested their journey to school was.

When asked why the mayor and council had seemingly heard more often from opposition voices, Millard retorted.

“There are different demographics that have more time, they’re more politically positioned and have the privileges to speak out and be very vocal.” Joshua Millard VP Academic, Capilano University

Noah Berson VP External at Capilano University agreed with his colleague, and feels it’s also a matter of equity.

“This ties the North shore together. This project will bring people together and people who have not traditionally been able to afford a car won’t be as disadvantaged by some of the traffic issues we face.” -Noah Berson, VP External, Capilano University

And at the council meeting on February 25th, in what seemed to be a sea of people over the age of 40, all lined up to let the mayor know they wouldn’t support the initiative, Morag Keegan, an organizer with environmental group Force of Nature stood up to give voice to the younger demographic Millard  and Berson were referring to.

“We’re seeing record engagement with our petition. Our West Van supporters really really really want this project…which makes sense because it’s a once in a decade opportunity to improve transit and reduce emissions.” – Morag Keegan, Organizer, Force of Nature

Who will win?

The inconclusiveness that shrouds this issue is hard to explain. The mayor says the most ardent support seems to be on side opposition. Yet Translink says their surveys all indicate high levels of community support.

Who’s right? And why are the answers so different?

It’s somewhat fitting that one of Malkin’s concerns with the groundwork translink has done in support of the B-line, is that the data they used is based off of computer projections. Projections he says, are “completely bogus and have no merit whatsoever.”

But for supporters of the project, the projections are precisely the right kind of data.

And there the two sides stand. Between what West Vancouver looks like today, and what it very well could look like, tomorrow.

Council is set to address the issue once again on March 4th.