Our method of transportation in the Forest City could change in the early 2020s. The revised Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes go to full council Tuesday for a final vote.
The Rapid Transit Project
The project received a boost from the federal government. The Government of Canada announced more than $37 million will go towards BRT as part of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund’s first phase.
The City of London, Ontario will match the funds for a total of $74 million.
“This is a complex operation. It is the single largest infrastructure investment that we’ve ever contemplated,” Mayor Matt Brown said at a meeting for Richmond Row merchants and Shift London. The meeting was held a day before the federal government announcement.
He added the project’s total cost is $560 million. Brown also said BRT will strengthen the economy. “Not just for London, but for the entire Southwestern Ontario. What we need to do is we need to get it right.”
Although, BRT received mixed opinions from Londoners.
Support for BRT
Wes Kinghorn, president of Urban League London, supports the project. Urban League London recently posted a letter supporting BRT on Twitter.
— Urban League London (@ULLdn) March 26, 2017
The Urban League of London president explained the organization looks after several community and neighbourhood groups in London, Ontario.
“Improved, reliable transit solutions are a key factor in making our city more accessible to so many of our members, from those who cannot afford or choose not to have a car, to those concerned with decreasing our environmental footprint,” Kinghorn said.
He also said the project will strengthen the city’s core by bringing more people to places like Budweiser Gardens and the Covent Garden Market.
“At the League we believe that we become stronger as a city when we connect with each other, and rapid transit is a tangible manifestation of that belief.”
Kinghorn also said the League encourages Londoners to engage themselves in the BRT conversation. “This conversation is ongoing, and will be throughout the life of the project. That’s important if we are to get it right.”
However, not everyone is on board with BRT.
Concerned business owners
Richmond Row merchants and other guests went to Centennial Hall addressing their concerns on BRT’s Richmond Street Tunnel.
The 900 meter tunnel will have stations at Angel Street and Grosvenor Street. The tunnel would begin at Central Avenue and end at St. James Street. There would also be an underground station on Oxford Street.
“There has been a number of questions about the proposed tunnel,” Kelly Scherr, the city’s managing director of Environmental and Engineering Services and city engineer, said.
The meeting, scheduled from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., ran until about 9:30 p.m. because many Londoners addressed their concerns.
“One thing we want to say is we’re for better public transportation for people that don’t have cars, and we’re for federal and provincial governments to help our city out. We deserve our fair share, but this plan, as it currently exists is deeply flawed,” Mike Smith, owner of Joe Kool’s, Fellini Koolini’s, Toboggan, and the Runt Club, said.
“It doesn’t pay attention to business. It’s getting rid of cars, it’s anti-automobile, it’s not pro-rapid transit so much as it is anti-automobile.”
Paul Beechey, the Vice-Chair with the Town and Gown Committee representing Ward 6 and Director with the London Neighbourhood Community Association, would like to see more public consultation.
“I don’t think enough people in London really know what’s happening. I’m hopeful that City Council will hear this and they will have more public consolation meetings so that people are actually aware of all the nuances and all the nuts and bolts of this Bus Rapid Transit program,” he said.
“I’m not a merchant. I’m not a business owner. I’m a long-time resident and I’m concerned for the future of London as a city, based on this existing plan.”
What did councillors think about the meeting’s feedback?
Ward 6 Councillor Phil Squire and Ward 13 Councillor Tanya Park were the only two councillors at the meeting.
The meeting’s feedback pleased both councillors.
“It certainly had a real impact on me [and] gave me a lot to think about,” Squire said.
Park said the discussion “got a little heated at times, but it was worthwhile to have this conversation.”
She added she’s always talking to Londoners about this issue. “Every day I’m answering emails, phone calls, talking to people face to face,” Park said,”So for the past month and a half I’ve been pretty much working 10 hours a day talking about rapid transit.”
Squire also heard many people drop their two cents on the issue.
“There’s no question that the vast majority of what I am hearing in Ward 6 is concern,” he said.
Squire said a there’s a BRT public meeting scheduled for April 12 at Wolf Performance Hall from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Visit shiftlondon.ca for more information. Or, go right to your councillor with questions or expressions of concern. Stay up to date on this issue and make your opinion known, the BRT will change so many things in London if passed.
Feature photo via Ontario’s Southwest on Flickr found with a Creative Commons License.