Londoners breathed new life into the city’s long-running rapid transit debate as members of the public were invited to weigh in on which transit projects should be prioritized by the city.
Around 200 people filled the seats of Centennial Hall on Wednesday as city councillors sat for over four hours on stage, listening to what Londoners had to say.
While most of the more than 50 speakers were in favour of better transit for the city, the question was how to achieve this goal.
Up for discussion was a list of 19 transit recommendations. Unveiled by city staff last week, the recommendations outline transit projects that are eligible for more than $370 million in funding from the provincial and federal governments.
Five of the recommendations are made up of core routes from London’s contentious $500-million bus rapid transit (BRT) plan.
Former London mayor Joe Fontana told councillors that BRT-inspired routes stretching into the eastern, western and southern parts of the city “looked promising.”
But Fontana took issue with the staff-recommended North Connection, which would add dedicated transit lanes between downtown and Masonville Place.
“If somebody up there believes that you can take two lanes of traffic off of Richmond Street… and it’s only going to take me seven seconds more to get to downtown or to Masonville — come on, you better check your watches,” Fontana said.
Jen Sadler lives in London’s Old East Village and rides public transit to Western University almost every day. Sadler vouched for the full five-part implementation of BRT during Wednesday’s meeting.
“If you increase the number of buses, that can only do so much… if you have a rapid-transit system, it’s a real solution to the problem,” Sadler said.
Similar praise for BRT was voiced by Sammy Roach. A downtown resident, Roach said Dundas Place made her realize the benefit of long-term construction projects.
“I have been living directly in a construction zone… but walking down Dundas Place this past Saturday during Juno Fest, I can already see it is worth it for the long-term benefits,” Roach said.
Another shared feeling was one expressed by former mayoral candidate Sean O’Connell, who voiced frustration over how long rapid transit has taken to come to fruition.
“London has been turning away from this notion for the last four years,” O’Connell said.
“Every time we come up with the big, grand plan of trying to get us out our shell and get us moving again, we have too many detractors, naysayers and excuses about why this should not be the case.”
Mayor Ed Holder, who opposed BRT during his campaign last year, told 980 CFPL that while he has ideas about what he wants done with city staff’s 19 recommendations, he still has to digest the opinions shared during Wednesday’s meeting.
However, Holder remained steadfast in his support of the city’s unbundling of the rapid-transit plan.
“The good news is that if some parts of it are approved and some are not… then we’ve got these other things like the Adelaide Street extension, like the synchronized streetlights, like the bike path possibilities and the streetscapes,” he said.
Next week, councillors will gather on a strategic priorities and policy committee to crack open a final debate on city staff’s transit recommendations.
A decision is expected to be reached by Tuesday.
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