Winders: Time to climb aboard rapid transit discussion

Paul Mayne // Western News

Just like the university itself, Western News continues to evolve under editor Jason Winders to the point where it now distributes campus news on eight different platforms, including the familiar print edition available in boxes on campus, free of charge in London public libraries, and distributed to larger, outside news organizations which use it as a generator of story ideas.

Understand, this is not a done deal. Far from it.

Earlier this week, Western hosted a pair of consultation meetings to discuss the London Rapid Transit Initiative and how it would interact with the campus. Beyond hearing from university representatives, led by Gitta Kulczycki, Vice-President (Resources & Operations), audiences also had the opportunity to hear from, and question, representatives of the city.

It was interesting to see the two parties discuss the issue side-by-side. City staff seems all-in; I didn’t get that same feeling from the university community just yet.

But that’s what this process is about.

Now, politics being politics, you can never tell which way a council will vote once all the facts – and figures – are on the table. But right now, the city is presenting a unified front to provincial and federal governments in order to seem worthy of the massive investment a project of this size requires. And right now, the city is pushing for a hybrid model of rapid transit – buses and light rail.

Among the city’s four proposed rapid transit corridors, Western will be served by a northern branch stretching from downtown to Masonville Place. The city’s preferred route serving the university follows University Drive, up Middlesex Drive to Elgin Drive and then out to Western Road. A second route under consideration uses University Drive, along Lambton Drive through Alumni Circle and out to Western Road.

Either way, if the city gets what it wants, those routes will be served by light rail – cutting through the heart of campus.

Let’s just say not everyone is ‘all aboard’ on that just yet. (I heard an audible gasp from some when an artist’s rendering of University Drive Bridge, expanded to four lanes to accommodate trains, was shown to the crowd.)

Listen, rapid transit may not be a reality. But we are getting far enough down the tracks to see where the rubs are going to be. And one of those points is right here on campus.

Campus beauty. Necessity. Safety. Vibrations. Noise. Financing. Infrastructure. The audience questioned a number of aspects about the light rail proposal. Some of the comments even surprised city staff.

While the discussions ebbed and flowed in a few directions, Kulczycki stressed one key point we should all heed as these conversations continue – this is not a done deal yet. While offering its support for rapid transit, the university has not committed to light rail transit through campus. The ultimate authority on this matter is Western’s Board of Governors. And if recent conversations are any indication, the governing body is split on the matter as it stands, as well.

Plans like these hold a real danger of group-think – everyone wants to seem progressive, even when they believe something might be wrong. In a city with a long memory like this one, who wants to be the place that crushed dreams of a train? But we cannot get caught up in being polite. We must do what is best for Western.

This is not a done deal. But it is time to speak up one way or another.

Visit the London Rapid Transit Initiative website, uwo.ca/ipb/publicaccountability/rapid_transit, and make your opinions heard.