The executive director of Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods is concerned a proposed change to a bus route in Champlain Heights will mean seniors and persons with disabilities will struggle to get around.
“I live in Champlain and this change will affect me personally,” said Heather McCain. “I use a walker and wheelchair, but this change would force me to use the wheelchair all the time because the stop is 600 metres further away. It’s also harder to get a wheelchair on a bus.”
The No. 49 runs between Metrotown Mall and UBC along East 49th Avenue, but turns off and travels along East 54th Avenue between Tyne and Kerr streets. That takes riders along East 54th Avenue past Champlain Square mall on Kerr Street, home to a medical and dental centre, grocery and liquor stores, library, bank, lab and pharmacy. The route is also commonly used by people heading to the Champlain Heights Community Centre.
McCain said she was so concerned about the proposed change she contacted TransLink, which agreed to host an open house in the common room of her housing co-op. McCain said TransLink previously held a larger open house at Metrotown, but many Champlain residents were unable to travel that far, so she offered to organize one in the community.
McCain, who sometimes acts as a consultant for TransLink on accessibility, placed posters at bus stops affected by the change. McCain initially thought the 60-seat room in her complex would be large enough for the open house, but that wasn’t the case.
“Only 17 people confirmed,” said McCain. “But then between 150 and 200 showed up. A lot of people waited in line outside all the way out to the road.”
Champlain Heights senior Wendy Emslander regularly uses the No. 49. She says after she gets off the bus on East 54th Avenue she still faces a 10-minute walk to her home.
“If I have to walk from 49th, it’s going to be a lot further,” said the 76-year-old. “I’m still pretty able, but there are seniors’ homes all along 54th and there are some who aren’t so able that use walkers and canes. I’m concerned about those seniors getting to their medical and dental appointments. They’re all reliant on that bus.”
Emslander said No. 49 riders will have an option to get off on East 49th Avenue and then transfer to the No. 26, which will continue past Champlain Square and the community centre.
But that will mean seniors must depart the No. 49, wait for the 26 and then transfer, all for a matter of 600 metres and two stops, which to some seniors might as well be miles.
“That distance can be overwhelming,” said Emslander. “Especially if they’re carrying heavy bags.”
Earlier this month TransLink asked riders of the 49, 116, 404, 606/608, C15 or C96 to fill out an online questionnaire regarding their use of these routes prior to making changes.
Jeff Busby, senior manager of infrastructure planning for TransLink, said the changes have not yet been approved. He added the proposed changes are about making each route more efficient and improving travel time.
“And if they are approved they won’t be implemented any sooner than fall,” said Busby. “Right now we’ve just completed the consultation phase and that report is expected to be completed by April.”
Busby said an automatic counter was used to determine that only five per cent of riders on the No. 49 use that stretch along East 54th Avenue.
“That said, it will mean a longer walk for some people,” said Busby.