While Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects in the western half of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) are still in the planning and design phases, their equivalents in York Region to the north—VIVA—are up and running, and Durham Region in the east is much further along now too. However, despite VIVA's growing network of routes, much like its Dundas Street counterpart in Mississauga and Oakville, the general public is relatively unaware of the specifics of the Durham project, or, for many people, even its existence.
The Durham BRT, also known as the Highway 2 BRT, also known as the Durham-Scarborough BRT just to complicate matters, is a series of curbside bus lanes along Highway 2 through Pickering and Ajax, with future extensions to Whitby, Oshawa, and Scarborough. No doubt the multiple semi-official names for the same general project contributes somewhat to the public's lack of comprehension.
The Durham BRT project is divided into two phases. The first phase, which is currently under construction, involves the installation of curbside bus-only lanes at select major intersections along the Highway 2 corridor. 2.3km of lanes have already been installed, with another 1.7km either under construction or in the final design stages. These segments are primarily located in Pickering and Ajax, at the western end of the Highway 2 corridor. The projected completion date for Phase 1 is sometime in 2018.
Phase 2 of the project expands the scope to include infrastructure in Scarborough to the west, creating a rapid transit link between Durham Region Transit (DRT) and the TTC, and Whitby and Oshawa to the east. In planning documentation, Phase 2 is often referred to as the Durham-Scarborough BRT. This name change creates some confusion and makes it appear that these are two separate projects, when in fact the Durham-Scarborough BRT is really just an expansion in scope on the kinds of improvements that will be implemented in Phase 1 of the Durham BRT project. Some of the confusion may also be a byproduct of one of Bus Rapid Transit's advantages—its flexibility of implementation—which makes it potentially less impactful on the public realm. Perhaps this also means that it leaves less of an impact on the public consciousness.
A key advantage of choosing BRT over fixed-rail (LRT, Subway, or Regional Rail) is that the service pattern and the infrastructure required to give the service separation from general traffic can be implemented independently. Following the model set by York Region's VIVA service and Brampton's Züm service, DRT's Pulse BRT service was launched in 2013, with minimal dedicated BRT infrastructure in place to support it. Pulse currently operates between Downtown Oshawa and the University of Toronto's Scarborough Campus (UTSC). Pulse and the associated infrastructure in Phase 1 has a budgeted cost of $82.3 million.
The current Pulse route makes use of the dedicated curbside bus lanes being implemented in Pickering and Ajax as part of Phase 1. The plan for Phase 2 (the Durham-Scarborough BRT) is to extend the service westward from UTSC to Scarborough Town Centre, which would allow for a direct connection to the current Scarborough RT and future Bloor-Danforth Subway extension (also known as the Scarborough Subway).
An estimated project cost for the Durham-Scarborough BRT has yet to be announced, though $10 million for planning and design work was allocated in 2016. The reason for the lack of specificity is the large variation in infrastructure required for the 3 options laid out in the 2010 Benefits Case. The options range from BRT on the entire corridor, to partial BRT (primarily around intersections) on the entire corridor, to partial BRT in Durham Region and mixed traffic operations in Scarborough. The options run from $525 million to $215 million (2009 dollars). The planning and design work that began in 2016 is scheduled to complete in 2019, at which point we should have a better idea of the project scope and cost.
From a regional transit planning perspective, the addition of the Durham-Scarborough BRT to the regional network is key. Coupled with the Bloor-Danforth Subway and the Dundas BRT, it would form a connected local rapid transit line that would roughly parallel the Lakeshore East and West GO lines from Oshawa all the way to Burlington. It would also provide access to multiple transit hubs and many of the regional growth centres identified in the Places to Grow Act.
The success of the VIVA and Züm "service first, infrastructure after" model certainly justifies the same model being used in Durham Region. Though VIVA service launched in 2005 with minimal dedicated bus infrastructure in place, the accompanying infrastructure required to make VIVA a "true" BRT system has been added incrementally. Following that model, while Pulse may have launched as a limited-stop semi-express service operating in mixed traffic, the steady implementation of dedicated bus infrastructure along the corridor will gradually improve the efficiency of this route. The project may not capture the headlines in the same way as the Scarborough Subway or the Relief Line, but it is a sensible and needed improvement to transit along Durham Region's main east-west thoroughfare.
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