Does transit priority really mean … do nothing?

The city is offering four options, or concepts, for improving Merivale in the traditional main street area between the Farm and Carling Avenue. Three of the options involve a road diet, ie right-sizing the road for the amount of traffic and making a complete street. We’ll look at those a bit later.

The odd-one-out option is the one called “transit priority””:


To take it at face value, it makes the curb lane a transit priority lane. But not all day, just at rush hours. So it isn’t so much aimed at benefiting local residents, or the commercial street, but commuters from areas to the south.

Because the street development caters so strongly to auto users, most front yards are paved for parking. There are numerous mini-malls set back from the road displaying their parking available up front. And there are some houses with driveways. And there are lots of intersecting streets that go back into the residential hinterland. So in reality, that transit priority lane will have a lot of cars in it, all the time. Turning into or out of commercial properties. Onto side streets. Even the city drawing above shows more cars than buses in the transit priority lanes. Add in some bus stop zones, and I find it hard to imagine there being much bus lane at all. I do wonder if it will really save any time on that route.

I suspect the transit lane will be incredibly chopped up. To see a similar installation today, look on the south side of Scott Street between Tunney’s and Bayview:

At least on Scott, the 2500 buses a day bully the motorists out of the curb lane simply by virtue of occupying it all the time. On Merivale, off-peak buses are every 15 minutes (4 per hour). There are more at rush hours. But no where near enough to dominate the lane.

And, note that the pic doesn’t show any left turn lanes. Once you add one, or two, then “poof” the cycle lane or cycle track is gone. Goodbye to the landscaping (occasional tree).

And don’t think those turn lanes will be within the current four lane configuration we see today. In order for the bus to have transit priority at intersections, in order to by-pass the queue of cars, you gotta get by the cars. Maybe construct a long turn lane where the sidewalks are today?

Look at the city’s concept drawing again. See the nice crosswalk at major intersections. And what about commercial driveways? Note that the sidewalks and cycle track somehow don’t cross those driveways. They are asphalt, cars-first spaces into which you step or cycle at great risk. (The drawings also don’t show continuous curbs along the street, but that I’ll chalk up to artistic license).

Be very careful crossing the intersections as they will be 3, 4, and 5 lanes wide once the “slip” or turn lanes are constructed. And we are back to a car-centric non-complete street in which cars (4 lanes !) get all the space, and pedestrians are left splashed or in the dust. It will be a reconstructed street in which all the risk and danger has been transferred from motorists to pedestrians and cyclists.

Very little of this benefits the local businesses or residents or those living in the wider neighbourhood. If we want to make commuting easier from Barrhaven I’d rather see the money spent on sooner extension of the LRT. The time saving from a transit priority lane for those coming from Parkwood Hills or neighbourhoods inside the greenbelt don’t look significant to me.

In fact, I think the transit priority designation is an attempt to rebrand the “do nothing” alternative to be more palatable. Let’s tune in to the conversation in some traffic engineer cubicle: “Hmm, we got an ugly four lane commercial strip now, how are we going to widen it at some intersections and keep all that traffic moving, when the locals wont get any benefits?? We can’t just call it “do nothing”. That would a hard sell!  I know! Let’s call it … Transit Priority.”

Alas, maybe I am too cynical.

If Main Street can go on a road diet and become a complete street, as did Churchill, as did Preston, as did West Wellington, and Somerset Street W, as will Albert Street … then should Merivale alone be left as a four lane street, that abomination from 1970’s rush hour engineering that is shown time and time again to be one of the worst ways to build a street or road? Maybe it is due to the income or status level of the neighbourhood that makes them so undeserving?

BTW, I do think the transit lane might work on the section of Merivale running through the Farm. Except to make transit priority at Central Dr and Baseline, there will need to be very long additional right queue lanes, and probably centre left turn lanes too.


Next: better luck with the three road diet concepts.



One thought on “Does transit priority really mean … do nothing?

  1. In this city, words lack meaning. The Mayor has declared that our LRT will be “world class”, with no thought as to what those words actually mean, let alone what parts of the LRT will meet the definition. Similarly, Transit Priority are just words that dribble out of the mouths or off the keyboards of the denizens of Laurier Avenue.

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