Vancouver buses: route names and the streets they travel

Human Transit – toronto: a new frequent network plan

Jarrett Walker has been giving some emphasis on the concept of frequent transit networks, particularly in Canada: Vancouver (see also Buzzer Blog), Montreal, and the post above for Toronto.

But while I wait for a functional, meaningful frequent-service map, I’d like to zero in on Jarrett’s last paragraph of the Toronto post (my emphasis):

…I also like the emphasis on naming the lines after the streets they run on.  If your city is fortunate to have long streets with a single streetname, this kind of naming helps people think of the transit line as an intrinsic part of the street itself — exactly the kind of simplification that we need if people are ever going to rely on their transit networks the way they rely on their street networks — not just as mobility tools, but as ways of organizing their idea of their city.

Jarrett then makes a slight knock on some transit agencies (whom he doesn’t name) that have street networks that make such nomenclature possible but don’t apply it. Maybe TransLink is one of those agencies. In the City of Vancouver at least (and to some extent, Richmond and some routes in Surrey), the street grid is such that bus routes can be named for the street(s) on which they travel.

But wait! Some of you might be thinking that it already does, given such route names as “6 DAVIE” or “29 ELLIOTT”. That’s only half-true, as those names refer to a single direction of travel. In the other direction, you still travel on Davie or Elliott, but with the bus’ final destination signed as “6 DOWNTOWN” or “29 29TH AVENUE STATION”. Jarrett posted last year about the importance of the “to”/”via” conundrum. In other words, which is better information on buses and at stops: the journey or the destination?

Trolley destination list... unrolled!

In the previous generation of trolley buses, destination signs (and route numbers) were manually set using a mylar roll similar to the one pictured above. You’ll see at the very top one destination that says “Victoria to 54th Ave”. That is the “to” method Jarrett describes in his post.

It’s not shown on this section of mylar, but “9 BROADWAY to BOUNDARY” is included. To me, that conveys a better sense of (1) which street this trolley operates on, and (2), its ultimate destination. Simply having “9 BOUNDARY”, as it does now, can make some people assume the bus travels along Boundary Road, which it doesn’t.

Now this doesn’t always work with some routes in the city, because it keeps turning most of the time (e.g. 26 and 50), but the nomenclature can be applied to those routes that travel in a mostly-straight line. Here are some examples; this should also apply to bus stops:

  • 4 WEST 4th to UBC
  • 7 DUNBAR to 41st AVENUE
  • 16 RENFREW to 29th AVE STN

* Probably the closest to this nomenclature that we can currently see on buses; right now, the “to” is missing from destination signs.

Given the ease with which a bus driver can change the destination sign on his bus, I believe it should be just as easy to change the programming to effect this change. To me, it rationalizes the system, and makes getting around Vancouver a little easier.

(Photo credit: “yay yay yay yay yay!” by Flickr user trufflepig)


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