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Disconnect: A toast to the #15 Bus, newly truncated

I live near Cambie Street in Vancouver. Cambie’s taken a bit of a beating for the past while. For 2 years there was a giant trench on the roadway as the Canada Line underground subway was being built using cut and cover methods; many family-owned businesses ceased to be during those fiscally trying times, as customers stayed away from the 10-block strip construction zone. Shortly before construction on the tunnel started, the #15 bus, which runs the North-South length of Vancouver from Marine Drive by the banks of the Fraser River through to Downtown Vancouver (then back again), was stripped of its status as a trolley bus and since then, a motley crew of older and newer diesel buses have run the route.

April 18th, the 15 enters a new phase yet again. It will be merged with the 50 Waterfront Station bus at Olympic Line station, and will no longer run across the Cambie Street bridge. Instead, it will go downtown only serving the Granville Island route, going across the Granville Street Bridge. I’m going to wait until the Buzzer blog posts its interview with a planner on these service optimizations to ask if I still get to have my N15 late-night (aka. clubbing) bus all the way home on the rare nights I indulge.

I’m not going to pretend I’m not utterly and deeply self-interested here. I’m gutted to lose my direct bus to the Central branch of the Vancouver Library; my one bus home from Harbour Centre and evening meetings and networking events; the one I take when I’ve done too much shopping downtown or taken out too many books to walk up and down the stairs of the Canada Line, or too tired to wait for the bus to get home from City Hall-Broadway. I live inconveniently almost equidistant between two Canada Line stations, closer to Broadway but a steeper walk home than from King Edward.

In that way the universe loves synchronicity, my lecture in my transportation planning analysis class focused on the concept of accessibility: that we have buses and roads not as an end in and to themselves, but because we want access to places, and through them, opportunities. Through rational economic theory, accessibility is an abstract concept made rigorous; there are scholarly methods of calculating accessibility in time or dollars. But don’t get me wrong. Despite my laments, I am one of the lucky ones. I routinely walk to and from Broadway station, because I am in my physical prime and am privileged to have access to the things that enable me to overcome the slight physical challenges to my mobility. I enjoy the walk through the City Hall garden, even in the rain; my umbrella is sturdy; my iPod fully stocked.

But I encounter those who are less lucky on the bus all the time. They will now take a few extra minutes to transfer by walking down the stairs or take the elevator down to the Canada Line, and squeeze onto the train only to disembark within, at most, 4 stops; then, an elevator or stairs back up. They will travel farther than they used to to get to their final destination, because the #15 went to plenty of places between City Centre and Waterfront stations. The savings of the shortened bus route will come at the expense of the inconvenience that we will collectively start accruing after April 18th. Transit access to Cambie Village from downtown now suffers a permanent transfer penalty.

This is not restricted to this one route along Cambie. I also feel for the hard-working, bus-riding students at Cariboo Hill High School and nearby residents in Burnaby and along the 101 route from Lougheed through to New Westminster, who will see their bus frequencies after 8pm go from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. I recall how difficult it was when I lived in the area, even under the former 30-minute headway. Other service optimizations will ripple through the system, and we who take the bus will collectively tweak our brains a touch to figure out what we need to do about it. (10th to the Fraser’s got your New Westminster perspective on this.)

But, creative destruction. From the ashes of the service adjusted here and there across the region, we also get a new bus: the 14, running from UBC to Kootenay Loop, replacing pieces of the 10 and 17 buses who will stick to Granville and Oak respectively now. New opportunities have opened up for someone else (a hypothetical someone living in Kitsilano wanting to go to Bubbles and Bits on Hastings for lakes, or the Waldorf’s tiki lounge; or students going to UBC who need an alternative to the 4).

And then, the joy of discovery — new opportunities reveal themselves, a lightbulb during a stroll, a turn to the right instead of to the left. Now, somebody living on Oak St can get to Olympic Village, or anything north of Broadway on Cambie, without changing buses. Even as the 15 is being rolled back, the 17 remembers what it used to be, a bus that crossed the Cambie Street Bridge; now it is the lone. A door closes, another one opens.

As for me, I’m going to make sure I take the 15 as much as I can before the 18th. There will be a lot of walking or biking up that hill from then on. Anybody want to come for a last ride with me? We can go to the Art Gallery while we’re at it and take in the We Vancouver exhibit one more time.

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  1. […] that it should be given the 15, because of its long association with the Cambie Street service. Here is one lament for the soon-to-be truncated 15 […]

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