request for information: routine closures of transit streets

P1010359 Most cities that I know have one or more major downtown streets where parades and other major civic celebrations tend to occur.  San Francisco's Market Street, Chicago's State Street (pictured), and New York's Fifth Avenue are obvious examples.

These same cities, if they value transit, often want this same street to be the core of their transit system, because they want transit to deliver customers to the "front door" of the city.

So it's normal to see huge, complex reroutings of transit service when one of the civic events is happening.  The legibility problems of this shift are accepted because they happen only a few times a year.

Vancouver, however, does something different, and I want to verify how unusual it is.  Vancouver's core downtown transit street, Granville Mall, is closed to buses (and all vehicles) every weekend eveningSpecifically:

On Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Holidays and the day before a Holiday, buses will run along Granville each day until 9pm, then switch to the re-route, travelling northbound on Seymour and southbound on Howe. The re-routes will stay in place until the close of service.

So many of Vancouver's most important street-running transit lines (mostly trolley buses in this case) shift from one downtown street to another at 9pm on almost half of all days.  So the process of explaining and remembering where to find the bus is complicated all the time, which is quite different from finding the street closed for a very rare parade.

What North American cities do this routinely with their main transit street?  Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis is the only example that comes to my mind, but its role in the transit network is much less important than Granville's.

To be clear, I'm not interested in reopening the Granville Mall debate, where many advocated closing the street to buses entirely.  I am interested in the precedent as it might apply to other important transit streets, in Vancouver or elsewhere.

19 Responses to request for information: routine closures of transit streets

  1. Emily September 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    Louisville closes a stretch of 4th Street downtown essentially Thursday night through Sundays and for special events in an area called Fourth Street Live. It’s only one long block, but it changes the trolley route. And because 4th Street is two-way while the other streets are one-way, it can be a project to get back to where you were going.

  2. David in Ottawa September 16, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    There’s a variation of this in Ottawa.
    Part of the Transitway is currently routed along the [federal] National Capital Commission’s Ottawa River Parkway, a dual carriageway “scenic parkway” west of downtown. On Sunday mornings during the summer, the westbound lanes of the Parkway (the direction that heads out of the city and coincidentally those nearest the river) are closed to motor vehicle traffic and given over to cyclists, roller bladers, joggers et al, which means that the Transitway buses that usually use these lanes have to go along a different route.
    This section of the Transitway is “main” in the sense that virtually all routes go along it, but since it is Sunday morning in the outbound direction with all of one affected minor stop, the practical consequences are not that great. The City has no say in the matter since the road is a federal road.

  3. Alex B. September 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    Check out the Capitol Square in Madison, WI. Many routes traverse it, and it is frequently closed for events. I believe they often re-route all of those routes one block out, making a slightly larger concentric ring around the square. I recall seeing signage indicating that riders should move a block away to find their bus during events on the square.

  4. Nathanael September 16, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    There appears to be a genuine lack of studies regarding the effect of this.

  5. Kevin September 16, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    The density of Kitchener, Ontario’s downtown core makes King Street the go-to site for any sort of street festival or event. The advantage of that density is that Charles Street (just one block south, and home of the primary transit terminal anyway) becomes the default alternate route, and anyone traveling downtown knows that if the bus isn’t on King, you move to Charles.

  6. Dexter Wong September 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    The street most often closed for parades and other festivals in Honolulu is Kalakaua Ave. in Waikiki. But only lines B and E run down that street, so they are detoured to parallel Kuhio St. (where lines 2, 4, 8, 13, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 42, 201, 202 and 203 run). But a parade can slow down traffic there because all of the auto and truck traffic must go there, too. Previously Hotel St. in Downtown and Chinatown was closed on the First Friday of the month for an arts festival (with service diverted to either King or Beretania Sts., depending on direction of service) but no longer as the festival has been directed to stay off the street itself.

  7. M Barrett September 17, 2011 at 4:49 am #

    Austin, TX closes the downtown portion of Congress Avenue – through which the most heavily used bus routes in the city travel – at the drop of a hat. *Mostly* on weekends, though also some evening events that started well below the evening commute was over. And Capital Metro’s warning of such things isn’t nearly early enough, often just 2-3 days. (Why isn’t there a calendar on their website?)

  8. Eric September 17, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Special-event street closures illustrate an important peril of building a transit system around downtown – any service disruptions downtown affect everyone who rides the bus, whether that person is actually going downtown or not.
    For example, if I’m 5 miles north of downtown and want to north and the bus I’m waiting for originated back in downtown, a 20 minute delay downtown to get around a parade translates into a 20 minute delay for me standing at the bus stop, even if I’m not going anywhere near where the actual disruption is.
    By contrast, with the private car system, a parade disruption downtown can affect traffic approaching downtown, maybe cause long backups on freeway exists that enter downtown, but won’t cause any delays on traffic passing through downtown that doesn’t exit the freeway, nor will there be any delays for trips that begin after downtown.
    The result is that compared with a private car system, transit starts to look particularly brittle. Being able to trust that a bus that is scheduled to arrive somewhere at a certain time actually does is a really big deal – all it takes is one or two times to get stranded at a bus stop and it’s extremely difficult for the transit system to ever regain your trust.
    Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution to this problem. Frequency can help a little bit, but since traffic disruptions tend to cause bunching, there will likely still be long waits after the disruption area. The only solution that I believe can really address this problem is a grade-separated transit route through downtown that will never be disrupted by anything happening on the street, for example, the New York subway. Unfortunately, very expensive, though.

  9. Andre Lot September 17, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    Essential corridors for all modes of transportation (car, buses, trams, light-rail, heavy rail) should not, ever, be shut down to be used as events. If the street/area is important enough on other ground (civic importance) to justify closures, transportation routes should be re-routed from there.
    One wouldn’t think of holding the “Night of Vampire Appreciation” on a subway line that’d be shut down, why is it then acceptable to shut down a major avenue/at-grade expressway or crossing where cars, trams, light-rail need to pass (especially vehicle other than cars)?

  10. Andrew September 17, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    This is a constant problem in Toronto, made worse by the fact that many of the main routes in downtown Toronto are streetcars. Often it is possible to reroute the streetcars by using the numerous non-revenue track connections in the system, but sometimes the streetcars must be replaced with buses.
    Toronto even closes the DVP and Gardiner (the two expressways serving downtown Toronto) for a charity bike ride once a year, which forces GO buses to Union Station to detour.

  11. Jonathon September 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    The situation in Toronto is very different though, as there is no one through corridor downtown. If King street is closed, then Queen’s Quay, Queen, College, and Dundas are likely still open. If Spadina is closed, then Bathurst is open, and the subways are virtually unaffected. This mostly affects much smaller cities.

  12. Eric September 18, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    To be fair, street closures for events can sometimes inconvenience those making car trips as well, as I’ve seen big streets, sometimes even freeways closed for a few hours to accommodate a big event, such as a marathon or bike race.
    The big difference, though, is for car trips, street closures only affect people whose trip would actually use the closed street and need to detour. For transit, everyone who rides a bus that at one point passed through the detour area is affected, even for those who aren’t passing anywhere near the closure area itself. In some ways, the experience is actually worse for those people getting on after the detour. For those that ride through it, they can at least see what’s going on and understand that the transit agency is doing what it can to get them to where they need to go. Those getting on later, on the other hand, are left standing at the bus stop for an indeterminate period of time, with no idea when or if the bus is ever going on come. This experience is bad enough to permanently dissuade people from taking transit, as once an agency loses a rider’s trust that a scheduled bus will actually arrive, it is almost impossible to gain that trust back when that person has a car to fall back to.

  13. francis September 19, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    If an event is big enough to need a street closure, does it mean that enough people are going to it that transportation needs for other activities in the area go down?

  14. Mike C. September 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    Like Alex B. mentioned, Madison Metro goes on a regular reroute where buses that normally serve the capital “square” are detoured out one concentric block to the capital “loop” every summer Saturday for the farmer’s market and sometimes for other events. Actually, the square isn’t closed for traffic, but it serves as a major pulse point and layover in the system, so several buses arrive at once and hold for up to 10 minutes or so. The detour is put in because of the noise and exhaust.

  15. Steven Dale September 20, 2011 at 12:58 am #

    I think an interesting “twist” on your request would be to look at Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas scramble intersection. Three years ago it was decided that one of Toronto’s busiest intersections would be configured to allow pedestrians an extra cycle time to cross in any direction they want.
    Of course this has caused excessive delays to automobile traffic at the intersection (–scramble-intersection-more-hugs-and-delays?bn=1 ).
    Implicit in this, however, is the fact that the Dundas streetcar has to move through that intersection as well. If automobile traffic has seen their wait times for a green light “triple” (according to the above-linked article) then the streetcars, necessarily, are experiencing the same delays.
    It’s an interesting problem that puts the needs of the pedestrian in direct conflict with the needs of the transit users – two groups that tend to side with one another.
    Any thoughts on that?

  16. Andre Lot September 20, 2011 at 6:20 am #

    @Steven Dale: that is nothing new. Indeed, what is wrong is this whole mentality of “war on cars and their drivers”.
    Conflicts exist in places with heavy traffic of bicycles, who can drive their 2-wheel vehicles in a very aggressive manner as if every sidewalk or plaza was “fair game” for them. There is conflict when somebody wants to build a light-rail corridor that will sever a boulevard in two. There is conflict when people want transit, but not in the form of an elevated train station and line.

  17. Todd September 20, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    Another example of a regular reroute from Ottawa. Every morning at 1:00 am OC Transpo closes the Mackenzie King Transitway station to all buses and reroutes them via Rideau Street and the local stops there. The logic seems to be that this brings the main rapid transit lines (those providing 24hr service) closer to the Byward Market (one of the main nightlife districts in the city) plus there is an improved security situation as the Rideau Street stops have more pedestrian traffic when compared to the isolated Transitway station which is located on a bridge.

  18. Matt Conway September 24, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

    I believe they close Virginia St in Downtown Reno, NV with some regularity; they have alternate stop signs permanently installed for their Sierra Spirit shuttle, and the reroute is actually drawn on the shuttle map.

  19. Aaron Bonfilio October 17, 2011 at 8:06 am #

    This is quite a delayed response, but I guess the irony fits: often the re-routing that gets done happens late in the game because of lack of notice. In Santa Rosa California, the regional system, Sonoma County Transit, moves one block down and by doing so bypasses one stop. We resume on the outskirts of the downtown area. The kicker, we originate at our transit depot and between it and the rest of the world, is the downtown main street so effectively ALL service must go through the detour, as all service uses the depot as a terminus. Fortunately the ridership is keen on this- and the downtown core is small!