Gottingen needs a bus lane – and a service review too
Gottingen Street is one of Halifax’s busiest transit corridors, seeing a bus per minute headed northbound during the afternoon rush hour. These buses are weaving around cars and getting stuck in the line of traffic headed to the Macdonald Bridge, depriving hundreds of commuters from a fast, frequent, and reliable transit trip. It’s More Than Buses supports the immediate investment in a northbound bus-only lane for Gottingen, however our research has shown that changes are needed to better match the bus service with the ridership.
Halifax is finally investing in serious transit priority measures, and Gottingen needs this investment. Bus riders deserve to skip ahead of traffic as their commute uses road space more efficiently than single-occupancy vehicles. In the case of Gottingen Street, a few parked cars are currently considered to be more important than the thousands of transit users that use the street every day. The specific improvement proposed here is extremely cost-effective, at approximately $250,000.
This proposal is not without its flaws. Halifax Transit’s network design is harmful to Gottingen Street by over-burdening it with transit that does not benefit the people who live, work, and play on the street.
Many Buses Don’t Serve The Street
There are far too many buses on Gottingen Street, many of which do not serve the street. During the evening peak, 20 buses go down Gottingen without stopping, adding noise, pollution, and congestion without providing any benefit to the area. Another 17 make just one stop, at the south end. Only 53 buses during the afternoon peak stop at every available stop on Gottingen. The buses that do not stop on Gottingen should be moved to Barrington and Robie Streets, which are wide and better-suited to handling through traffic.
Too Many Empty Buses
Halifax Transit relies on a single-seat network to provide most of its service. This means that if you happen to live and work in the right spots, a single bus will take you to your destination, but if you are not it’s extremely difficult to get around effectively. This also means that buses overlap each other as they all attempt to go downtown. An analysis in fall 2017 by It’s More Than Buses showed that from 4:30pm to 5:30pm, 58 buses travelled northbound, and 52 were not full. Just 10% of the buses appeared to have all their seats filled.
Halifax Transit’s service standards specify that 150% of seats should be occupied on local and corridor routes (meaning significant numbers of standing passengers) and 125% of seats occupied on express routes. Our analysis showed that no bus appeared to meet these standards, and all but six were below 100% capacity. 25 of the buses appeared to be less than half full – a rate that was consistent across the peak period.
In the chart above, empty means fewer than 10 riders, low means fewer than half of seats occupied, medium means more than half of seats occupied, and full means some passengers were standing.
According to the Moving Forward Together Plan, buses that are consistently below the service standards should be eliminated. Our analysis shows that most of the buses should not be crossing the bridge, as there is more than enough capacity on the remaining buses to get people from downtown to Dartmouth, where they can transfer to a bus that will take them to their destination.
The following changes are proposed to the plans for bus-only lanes on Gottingen:
- A corridor capacity analysis should be conducted by Halifax Transit. This will count the number of riders using the corridor between Scotia Square and the Bridge Terminal and eliminate overlapping service until the total capacity is matched with the total ridership, per the service standards. We estimate that this will eliminate nearly half of the buses along the corridor, reducing the noise and pollution on Gottingen. Any bus routes removed or shortened should see an equivalent amount of service reinvested into the local area that the bus previously served, providing a transfer to a bus that will take the rider downtown.
- Provide clear answers on why buses cannot use the Barrington Street ramp to the Macdonald Bridge and options for fixing the problem. All Dartmouth-bound buses that do not stop on Gottingen should be rerouted via Barrington.
- Reroute the 21 and 34 to Robie Street once the bus lanes are installed on that street.
- Invest in streetscaping to provide a buffer between the bus lane and pedestrians. Examples include flower boxes and trees, particularly north of Prince William Street where limited streetscaping exists today.
- Repurpose the right turn lane from Gottingen to North as a bus-only lane, with cars required to go around the pedestrian island to turn right, allowing the bus-only lane to be extended all the way down North to the bus stop. Traffic wanting to turn right onto Brunswick, Barrington, or Wood Ave should only be permitted to merge right immediately prior to the intersection.
- Allow commercial loading to occur on Gottingen Street outside of peak hours, with a re-evaluation after one year.
These proposed changes would make Halifax Transit more efficient and reduce the noise and pollution along Gottingen Street. None of the proposed changes requires a significant investment of human or financial resources from Halifax Transit to achieve.
Cover photo from Metro News