London News & Search
Haven’t yet seen London’s rapid transit initiative master plan?
You are not alone.
A 45-day public review of the city’s not-so-rapid, $500-million bus transit plan, known as Shift, is underway to comply with Ontario environmental law. It began Aug. 3.
In the first week, exactly two citizens visited city hall to look at the plan approved by council a couple of months back. Other copies are available at public libraries.
Originally, they were there only for review purposes. But the plan summary is free for the asking since Coun. Josh Morgan learned about the restriction and persuaded city brass to make them available.
Any citizen would be intimidated by the documentation in support of the plan. The glossy overview is accompanied by three fat binders of appendices. In all, the material weighs in at more than 11 kilograms.
The documents can also be found online at www.shiftlondon.ca/master_plan, which is where the city directs interested ratepayers.
The plan calls for 22.5 kilometres of dedicated bus lanes and removing two lanes for motorists from key sections of Richmond, Dundas, and Oxford streets and Wellington Road. There would be 35 stops, or stations, along the route.
The city has earmarked $130 million toward the biggest spend in city history and expects the balance from the provincial and federal governments.
The Shift plan has been controversial, to say the least and drew the ire of downtown and Richmond Row businesses. It originally featured a tunnel under the CP tracks at Richmond, which was discarded because of astronomical costs.
Once this latest consultation is concluded, the plan will be shipped off to Queen’s Park for approval while work continues locally on design and engineering issues.
And there is plenty yet to be decided.
Jennie Ramsay, project director for the city, says the location of stops and terminals has not been finalized, nor a deal to use Masonville Place as a northern terminal. An agreement has not yet been reached with Western University, a key stakeholder, across whose campus the system will run.
The focus has been on serving Western and Fanshawe College, with their large student populations. But London hospitals have been largely overlooked. They generate one million patient visits each year with countless more trips made by staff, family, visitors and students. Many are elderly and cannot walk long distances and would struggle with stops planned only for nearby intersections.
Tony Dagnone, for 16 years the chief executive of London Health Sciences Centre, is alarmed that those visiting the hospital are being overlooked.
“The hospital is an important part of the fabric of the community,” Dagnone says. “A lot of people will be relying on a good and reliable bus system.”
He believes the hospitals deserve more, and especially their older clientele.
So, more work needs to be done to address the needs of people travelling to hospitals.
Tinkering still is being done with the plan. Since the last public meeting on May 3, at which much opposition was voiced, the city added an extension of more than a kilometre south of White Oaks Mall to a turnaround terminal. But the bus will be operating in mixed traffic, rather than in dedicated lanes as elsewhere.
The plan remains seriously flawed and likely to go far over budget.
Without the Richmond Street tunnel, buses must stop for CP Rail trains. Projected improvement in travel times along the system is marginal at best. And a recent study revealed that of 78 intersections in the city through which Shift buses will pass, only two will see better traffic flow during the morning and evening rush hours. Nearly half received failing, or near-failing grades.
City council has turned a deaf ear to those who question the wisdom of spending so much money for so little improvement in mobility for Londoners. The only “rapid” in this plan, is the haste to push it through. This current consultation comes during the dog-days of summer and ends during the overly-busy early days of September. Poor timing.
Londoners may get a hernia lifting the transit documents or go blind studying them online, but, chances are, nothing will change in the city’s haste to spend so much money for so little improvement in getting around.
Shift’s latest bit of public relations is shifty business, at best.
Chip Martin is a retired London Free Press reporter and author of books on crime and baseball. email@example.com
London News & Search