• The BRT Vote and Better Transit, What Does It All Mean?

    After almost 4 years of the Matt Brown led council insisting that their BRT plan absolutely had to be an all or nothing decision, staff clearly indicated to the new council that not only could the BRT plan be broken up into pieces and still be viable, but that other options besides the old BRT plan were available which could qualify for provincial and federal funding.

    A list of 19 projects came to council to decide which ones to submit for federal and provincial funding approval. These included; 5 component pieces of the old BRT plan, an intelligent traffic signal management system, bus stop amenities including 60 new bus shelters, the purchase of more buses, a portion of the Adelaide St. underpass design, an intersection improvement project for Wharncliffe & Oxford, Thames Valley Parkway connections, pedestrian connections to the transit network, new sidewalks, and three different cycling proposals along with a couple of others.

    What changed from the old BRT plan?

    The old BRT plan was broken up into 5 standalone component projects and in the end the 3 most sensible pieces of the old BRT plan survived, with some modifications. One very important change is where there are dedicated lanes, gone are curb separations on both sides. Now only a central curb separation between north/south or east/west bound traffic was included. This is important because it means police, fire and ambulance can now easily access these lanes if needed, and potentially these could also be opened up to taxis/ubers or autonomous vehicles in the future.

    The Downtown Loop: a piece of the old plan I had always said made sense even though I was against the plan as whole. The ridership downtown and the use of the Queens Ave/King Street one ways to flow transit made and with the highest cost benefit ratio, this was passed by council easily.

    The Wellington Gateway:  a piece of the old BRT plan that would provide express service straight down Wellington Rd. to White Oaks and beyond. Again, this route made a lot of sense. We were going to rip up Wellington Rd to replace 100+ year old sewers and straighten out the “S-curve” whether transit improvements happened or not. This component also has a road widening in it meaning, no lanes of traffic will be lost, only a centre bus lane will be added. It does mean you won’t be able to make a left hand turn across 3 lanes of traffic since there will be a curb between north and south bound traffic, but intersections will feature advanced left turn and U-turn advanced turning options. If you’ve ever driven in Michigan, you’ll know that it doesn’t take long to get use to the “Michigan left” (a U-turn at an intersection). AND, with the inclusion of a park & ride facility at the south end of the route to offer a transit option for commuters who come into London every day from places like St. Thomas and Strathroy to work at places like London Health Sciences Centre or in the downtown, it also offers the best chance to grow full fare paying ridership!

    The East London Link: the service to the east that was proposed to come out of the Downtown Loop at the Western Fair and head east to Highbury Ave, up Highbury to Oxford, and end at Fanshawe College. I said over a year before the election campaign I would oppose because it did not serve Argyle and did not help get people to jobs.

    Why did I change my mind on this component? It came down to being practical. I can count and even if I voted against this route it was going to pass by a vote of at least 8-7, maybe even 9-6. If I voted against it and it passed anyway, Argyle would once again get left out.

    Instead I decided to use my vote to try to leverage improvements that would make sure our east end neighbourhoods got better transit service.

    So, I put forward an amendment that made the following priorities in the London Transit Commission’s 5-year service plan:

    • Maintaining a direct, frequent bus connection between Argyle Mall and the Dundas and Highbury transit node (the 94 express which will begin in September of 2019);
    • Iimplementing an express bus connection between Argyle Mall and Fanshawe College, to coincide with implementation of the East London Link (this will be designated route 91 express).
    • Improving the frequency of the Route 36, which serves the airport and industrial employers, to one bus every 15 minutes during peak periods (currently it is 27 minutes).
    • Accelerating implementation of alternative service delivery in the industrial employment zones identified in the London Transit Commission’s 5-year service plan, to better connect Londoners to jobs in East and South London (this is a “transit on demand” type service, sort of like Uber ride hailing services for transit).

    By ensuring two solid express bus connections to Argyle Mall, and by making service to areas where people are trying to get to jobs a priority, as part of the East London Link plan, I was delivering my promise for better transit for Argyle residents and east end employers.

    What didn’t get approved?

    The West Connection: for 3.5yrs all Londoners have heard is “rapid transit only works with dedicated lanes”, but the old council was always willing to accept a west bound route out of downtown that would travel in mixed traffic up Wharncliffe Rd and only move into dedicated lanes on Oxford and back into mixed traffic to turn around. Londoners were also told a rapid transit line up Wharncliffe and Western Rd to serve the University and continue into Masonville wouldn’t work…yet somehow it was good enough to work for the west? I was not willing to overlook these contradictions, and with 3 of the 4 council members who represent west London opposed to this plan, I voted against it and it was not approved.

    The North Connection: the most contentious part of the old BRT plan, I voted against this plan and council did reject it. This plan was a failure on many fronts, it did nothing to address the rail line crossing on Richmond St, it failed to address the realities of Richmond Row, and it took away lanes for other traffic.  But worst of all, because the old council refused to consider a north route that did not go through Western University campus, it added $26 million in costs to the project. Western’s demands that the city pay for a new bridge on campus ($19 million for something Western should be doing itself), road widening of the university’s private roads, and assume maintenance costs ongoing (we aren’t plowing city roads to Londoner’s satisfaction, why would we even consider taking responsibility for snow plowing on campus), meant I couldn’t even consider this route (see: https://blackburnnews.com/london/london-news/2019/03/26/councillor-blames-western-failed-north-connection/).

    Despite BRT advocates bemoaning this “lost opportunity”, not a single one brought forward options to have a north route that ran straight up Richmond to Masonville Mall, or straight up Wharncliffe/Western Rd to Masonville. Either option would have provided rapid transit service easily accessible to students from the edge of campus and would have been something I could have at least considered.  Nor is it accurate to say we’re going to lose all those riders, students will continue to use the existing bus service as they have been doing,  and we are increasing that service. This year 19,000 additional hours of transit service have been added by the London Transit Commission, which includes a new 93 express bus service running on Wharncliffe & Western Rd. starting in September (and we already have express bus service on Richmond).

    What else did council approve for funding?

    INTELLIGENT TRAFFIC SIGNALS: the most overdue investment in getting all traffic flowing better in London, a major upgrade to our traffic light system. This was something I campaigned on, and something council overwhelmingly supported! The role out of these will take several years to complete, but this is a big step forward!

    EXPANSION BUSES: using federal and provincial dollars to help purchase new, modern buses, was an easy YES vote for me, and for the majority of council.

    BUS STOP AMENITIES: during the election I said repeatedly one of the things we needed to do to improve transit for existing riders and help make it easier to choose transit, was put in more bus shelters!  Currently the London Transit Commission only plans for 3 new bus shelters each year. By voting YES to this item, we will take a giant step forward with 60 new bus shelters across the city (including in the Argyle area).

    OXFORD & WHARNCLIFFE INTERSECTION IMPROVEMENTS: arguably the worst choke point on Oxford St, one of London’s most important east-west road connections, council voted to include a major intersection upgrade that will help transit, car traffic, and pedestrians move through this intersection better. Especially with the recent road widening of Western Rd. and the pending work on Wharncliffe around the rail bridge, this is an important infrastructure improvement for the downtown, for north London and for west London.

    In addition council also submitted funding asks of to the federal and provincial governments to help pay for the Adelaide Street Underpass (active transportation components), connections to the Thames Valley Parkway, and the Old East Village Streetscape improvements (reworking Dundas St. in the OEV for cycling and transit).

    Ultimately, what council has approved still has to be approved by the provincial and federal governments. But, in my view what council has done is approved a number of transit and transit related projects that will improve transit service in our community, but more importantly will improve transportation and traffic flow for everyone whether it is buses, cars, pedestrians, or cyclists. Instead of the “all or nothing” approach taken by the previous council, we’ve chosen a middle ground that makes sense for London.

Comments are closed.