Hold on to your hats, transit riders, your city is spoiling you this year by adding a couple of signs and a priority light signal at Robie and Almon Streets, to help about 24 buses a day run faster.
The tiny transit priority measure will allow buses to use the southbound right turn lane on Robie Street to go straight, and give them a priority signal so they can get a jump on car traffic waiting to cross Almon. It’s estimated that the move will save about 500 riders a day about 18 seconds each every morning. And get this, it will have a next-to-no delaying effect on car traffic. That adds up to an estimated 676 hours of time saved in a year, and about $2,000 annually in operational cost savings for Halifax Transit.
There’s more good news: The city is not exactly breaking the bank on this one, spending an estimated $4,500 to put in the signs and the signal.
So why does reporting this news to you fill me with ire? Because, sadly, it’s all I have to report.
The transit priority measure (TPM) at Robie and Almon is on a list of TPMs studied and approved by city staff, but then given an implementation timeline that makes construction of the new convention centre appear lightning fast.
There are 10 more minor TPMs on this list, including changes similar to those at Robie and Almon, widening roads to allow for transit-only queue jump lanes, and designating a single toll lane on the Macdonald Bridge for buses. (You can read about them in detail here.) All 10 TPMs could happen for the bargain price of $1.2 million, and could save Halifax Transit about $70,000 a year in operational costs, not to mention tens of thousands of hours on buses for transit commuters.
If our new councillors want to do something simple and immediate to make buses run faster in this city, they could ask city staff to accelerate the plan for TPMs. No debate necessary. Just take everything that’s already planned, and make it happen this year, instead of 2020 or 2021.
These are not the tough decisions which councillors will inevitably face, looking at actually reallocating entire lanes for transit only use. No, these are the easy fixes. The decisions where the delays to private vehicle commuters are clearly outweighed by the collective time savings to transit commuters — not based on future growth scenarios, but right now, in real time.
These TPMs are low hanging fruit, and the fact that we have set ourselves a five-year timeline to implement them just drives home the fact that our city transportation planners are too conservative to make real improvements in our infrastructure. It’s the kind of thing that makes me despair for the potential of our new 15-year transportation plan (IMP) to actually make a difference. If we can’t achieve these simple improvements in a timely manner, how can we trust our bureaucracy to actually implement a transformative plan for mobility in the city?
When I interviewed plan project manager Rod McPhail back in September, he told me that one of the first things the IMP team did was go to the bus garage early in the morning to ask drivers what they would do to make buses move faster through traffic. The feedback, he said, would be implemented, where possible and practical, this fall. So far, nothing’s happened beyond the one measure already slated for 2016. We’ve got about six weeks left by the strict definition of fall, so the jury’s still out on whether McPhail’s optimism has been snuffed out by the inner workings of the HRM corporate machine.
I really hope it hasn’t.