Reviews Were Mixed But the Mission with Dedicated Bus Lane was Accomplished

You may not have liked it, you may have though it was confusing, but if you told the City of Guelph what you thought of the Dedicated Bus Lane on Gordon Street last week, then the project was a success according to Jennifer Juste. With 1,100 responses to the “pop-up” traffic feature, the Manager of Transportation Planning* at the City of Guelph is calling this project a win.

“Success doesn’t hinge on whether we got a majority in favour or opposed to that particular pilot project,” Juste told Guelph Politico by phone on Tuesday. “Success for us is that we got over 1,100 survey responses, and that people took time out of their day to actually reflect on their experience, and what some of these changes mean for them.”

The Dedicated Bus Lane, which was the second of two such pop-up projects after the Protected Bike Lane in September, was part of the City’s engagement process for the Transportation Master Plan.

“When you put the physical thing right in people’s way, then they have to experience it, and they will invariably have a reaction to it one way or another,” Juste explained. “It is so valuable from a feedback perspective, compared to just having an open house with some images on the boards and some words that sound really great. This is a tangible, meaningful experiential result that you just can’t reproduce any other way.”

The project closed off a northbound lane on Gordon Street between Kortright and Stone Road to cars, and was made Transit exclusive. This conceptwas not very well-received in this very busy corridor.

“I think we anticipated that it was going to be contentious intervention,” Juste said diplomatically. “We know that whenever you take a lane of traffic away from drivers, or change their daily routine, that it’s never a pleasant experience for those who are affected.”

“So we did anticipate that most of the driving road users would not feel kindly for the project, and that was confirmed in the survey results,” she added.

Of course, those not driving themselves actually enjoyed the experience. “As expected, the transit users and pedestrians generally felt that it was a positive change, and could see the value and benefit of enhancing transit flow, and reducing the traffic congestion that prevents transit users from staying on their schedules,” Juste said.

Fortunately for the drivers, this is not a hint at things to come. Juste said that the creation of a permanent dedicated bus lane will require a lot of study and a lot of careful design work that would have to take into account high occupancy lanes, bike infrastructure, signalling, alternative routes, and the various potential impacts on area traffic.

“[The project] was really just to help bring people’s awareness to the fact that when we’re talking about the future of transportation,” Juste explained.  “We heard in our community plan, which was 18 months of intensive consultation with our community, was that they want transit to be a priority.”

But how do we make transit more of a priority for people that drive? That’s a tough question that Juste said this project hopes to answer.

“We want to make the alternative options more attractive,” Juste explained. It’s an approach she’s used in her background in developing active transportation options.

“You  build comfortable, safe-feeling, enjoyable cycling networks, and more people will choose to bike because it’s actually an enjoyable way to get to where you need to go, or it’s faster in some cases,” she added. “Similarly, that’s the approach we need to take with public transit, we need to make it an appealing alternative to the car, and it needs to be more competitive in terms of your travel time.

“I’m not saying we’ll ever achieve the same travel time, but it needs to be efficient, you need to know when your bus is coming and have it be reliable,” she added.

Were there issues with the temporary bus lane? Many people on social media were commenting about how some personal vehicles were still using the bus lane, and there was some trouble for vehicles merging into the reduced lane at Kortright, but Juste said that the City’s communications plan did everything it could to raise awareness.

“We did our standard two weeks pre-advanced notice on the road, notifying drivers that there were going to be lane reductions on that section of Gordon Street, very similar to when there’s a construction project happening or roadwork,” Juste said. “I don’t think it was the lack of notification, maybe a lack of paying attention, which, again, is understandable because there’s a bombardment of information coming from City Hall on any given day.”

So now Juste and her colleagues will move on to the next phase. They’re still gathering feedback from the bus lane experiment, and then they’ll have a couple of months prepare the first draft of the Transportation Master Plan before it comes to council something this winter.

“The consultants are now going to be analyzing all of this feedback through the online engagement tools that we’ve been implementing, and using that to start and get a sense of what the potential alternative scenarios might look like,” Juste said. “There will be a range of different scenarios depending on how ambitious or aggressive we want to be with the plan,  and then council will select a preferred option based on the various criteria we’re looking at.”

If you used temporary Dedicated Bus Lane, or would like to comment on any aspect of the Transportation Master Plan, you can let your voice be heard on the City’s website here.

*Correction – Oct 30: Jennifer Juste is now the Manager of Transportation Planning and not Program Manager of Sustainable Transportation.

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