My doubts about the Eastern BRT Corridor

July 2018

The City is currently studying the Eastern Corridor for the next leg of Bus Rapid Transit. This long-running process has now narrowed to two potential alignments: a) along the centre of Provencher, then turning north, b) north alongside Main to Higgins, then east into Point Douglas, proceeding further east.

In contrast to prioritizing the Eastern Corridor, for the last several years I have been advocating for consideration of the Northern Corridor as the next stage for BRT. According to the City’s 2011 Transportation Master Plan the Northern leg is the shortest and cheapest of the five potential BRT lines, yet has the greatest potential peak hour ridership. Mayor Bowman has, to his credit, stated many times that Council has not voted on which BRT leg, if any, should be the next to proceed.   Recent developments have reinforced my doubts about the Eastern Corridor.

Why should Eastern Corridor be next? There are many answers stated, and I provide my reply to each:

1.  The experts said to do Eastern as the next priority in the City’s 2011 Transportation Master Plan. Reply: This is clearly not true. The original report, prepared by city staff, which went to the IRPW committee in November, 2011 did not make ANY priority as between North, West and East corridors. In fact, the report expressly calls for all three routes to be studied at the same time. It was the elected officials on Council who made the Eastern Corridor the next priority after completing the SW transit-way.

 2.  The 2011 TMP cites the need for renewal of the Louise Bridge as part of the reason to build East.

Reply: This is accurate, though this seems to be overlooked by the city staff who are now considering the “centre of Provencher” option as one of two potential alignments for the Eastern Corridor.

 3.  The origin-destination study of 2007-2009 made it clear that Eastern was the next most heavily travelled route after SW.

Reply: I have read through the 2007-2009 WATS report (which is the only origin-destination study anyone has provided to me after much questioning) and there is no way in which it can be argued that it makes the case to go Eastern next. The map (see phtot below) showing the five major sources of traffic into downtown in the morning include NO routes coming from the east. The study actually makes a good case for the SW transitway (now near completion) and then arguably going south-east or north. If, as suggested, the numbers from the 2007 WATS showed that ridership would be highest from the Eastern, why then does the 2011 TMP report show that the potential hourly ridership as 3,200 from north, 2050 from west, and 1600 from east?

 4.  The 2005 City Rapid Transit plan said to make Eastern the next priority after SW.

Reply: This is what the 2005 report says – in part. It actually calls in its First Phase for a “dedicated busway” only from Grey Street to Downtown, with “mixed traffic and queue jump/diamond lanes” for the stretch from Grey Street to Rogeau. The completion of the corridor comes in a second phase. However, the First Phase is to also include work on other “quality corridors” including St. Mary’s Road, Portage, Henderson and Main. This aspect of the 2005 study seems now to be overlooked, while a full corridor is proposed for the East.

   

 5.  Going Eastern is best for Transit Oriented Development

Reply: Again the 2011 TMP does not support this statement. The number of “major redevelopment sites within 1 km” is listed as one for both East and North. The TMP also states that for the year 2031 the average residential and employment density within 500m of the corridor is “90” for East, “151” for West, and “187” for North, with the footnote stating that ideally densities of 125 persons plus jobs per hectare are required to support rapid transit.

 6.  The Eastern Corridor is part of a larger network

This is certainly the plan – and building northwards up to Higgins from Union Station (before heading into Point Douglas) would complete a section of BRT that is envisaged in the 2011 as being required for the western route (which has its eastern terminus at Portage and Main) and the Northern Route (which is go northerly from Graham alongside Main).   As with the Louise Bridge issue discussed above, this seems to be overlooked in consideration of the Provencher option.

 7.  Eastern makes sense because the City won’t have to expropriate as much land

Depending on the alignment, this may be true, but if cost is the main issue then the Northern Corridor is again the best option, as the 2011 TMP lists its cost as less than half of the Eastern Corridor.

Bus Rapid Transit and St. Vital

In 1959 the City of Winnipeg commissioned a study of potential future subway lines. The author made various recommendations, including a line that would have started at Fermor and St. Mary’s, and then curved northwards and across the Red, running below Osborne to downtown. Another line would have cut across the Red near Carriere and headed downtown from there. The author concluded that it made more sense to build subways rather than car expressways. However successive City Councils had an elegant solution – they did neither. To be fair to the short lived Metro Winnipeg Council, they did get the St. Vital bridge connecting Osborne and Dunkirk built in 1965, which has helped car and bus service to and from St. Vital.

Interestingly, the City identified seven regional mixed use corridors in its 2011 planning documents. There is Bus Rapid Transit service planned for five of these corridors – omitting both St Mary’s and St Anne’s. (The 2011 Transportation Master Plan was actually approved while the St Vital Council seat was vacant) (Provencher is NOT one of the seven regional mixed use corridors) At this pace, we will get to 2059 – a full 100 years after the need was identified – without any effort to provide rapid transit to the St Mary’s or St Anne’s corridors.

In my research I found that the City’s 2005 Rapid Transit Plan actually recommended proceeding with a portion of an Eastern BRT corridor, but also called for work on other “quality corridors” including St Mary’s Road, Portage, Henderson and Main. This aspect of the 2005 study seems now to be overlooked, while a full corridor is proposed for the East.

City staff advises me that $106,000 has been spent since 2005 on St. Mary’s Rd for transit priority signals and to create one “queue jump” lane at one intersection. For reference, the 2005 study estimated that the four quality corridors would receive $41 million in “On Street Improvements. St. Anne’s Road has received $211,000 in transit priority and queue jump lanes, I am advised by staff. I am not sure of expenditures on Henderson/Portage/Main.

Talk of completing an entire Eastern Corridor before implementing further improvements on St Mary’s and St Anne, is unfair to St Vital residents, and would ignore the priorities set out not just in 2005, but as far back as 1959.