Downtown transit terminal may move

By Charles Hamilton, The Star Phoenix July 25, 2013 - After more than a decade of failed plans and plenty of talk, Saskatoon's downtown bus mall may finally become a thing of the past. Mayor Don Atchison says he hopes getting rid of the transit hub on 23rd Street between Second and Third Avenues will be part of the new vision for transit in the city.

"The bus terminal we have today isn't adequate and it isn't working the way we want it to work," Atchison said in an interview marking Saskatoon Transit's 100-year anniversary on Wednesday.

Saskatoon Transit is undergoing a massive review as part of a $1.5-million growth plan study. While transit officials would not confirm that the terminal will close, they did say there are better ways to get people moving on buses in the downtown.

"There is definitely an appetite to service downtown differently than we are," said Bob Howe, the city's transit manager.

The idea of getting rid of the bus mall is welcome news to some riders.

"You shouldn't be afraid to go anywhere downtown, but there are places people will not come - and this is one of them," said James Agecoutay, who was waiting for a bus Wednesday at the busy transit hub.

"This doesn't serve the city well. It's ugly. You walk in here and it's like a prison courtyard or something," Agecoutay said.

This is not the first time the future of the bus mall has been thrown into question. In 2009, city council rejected plans for a $7-million downtown station. As a councillor back in 2003, Atchison also spearheaded efforts to get rid of the mall. While those efforts all failed, the planned transit overhaul could be the best chance yet to get rid of the mall.

"It used to be a healthy, vibrant area, and when the bus terminal came, things slipped away a little bit over time," Atchison said.

The plans are not solid, but the new concept - to be flushed out alongside detailed plans for a bus rapid transit system - is to have more buses with more stops spread out through the downtown instead of concentrated in one spot.

"One of the options we are looking at is servicing the downtown with a higher frequency, and not having a terminal but more so a higher frequency loop system so that a terminal won't be required," Howe said.

Over the years, safety has been a growing concern at the downtown terminal, Atchison said.

According to the city police crime map, since June 1, the block has been the scene of more than a dozen incidents, including three assaults, a robbery and a weapons charge.

One bus rider, however, said getting rid of the mall might make the problem worse.

"You come down here in the dark and ride the bus - it's kind of dangerous. How are they going to watch a lot of people if they are dispersed around the neighbourhood?" said Manny Kirnicki, who was catching the bus to the north end for work.

Atchison said removing the bus mall will hopefully solve some of the crime-related issues.

It's unclear what kinds of shelter will be provided at the bus stops if they are dispersed throughout the downtown.

Consulting firm Urban Systems was awarded a $1.5-million contract by city council last week to implement the plan, which is intended to help accommodate Saskatoon's growth over the next several decades. A revamped transit system is one of the key components of the study.

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