Board outlines university stance on rapid transit

Western’s Board of Governors unanimously approved a pair of recommendations earlier today outlining the university’s stance on how the City of London’s rapid transit system would travel to – and possibly through – the university campus.

“We want to work with this city on implementing rapid transit to the university. We are committed – very committed – to that,” Board Chair Hanny Hassan said following the vote. “On the other hand, we have the responsibility to do this right.”

In the first recommendation, the university governing body expressed its support for both improved transit in the city and the introduction of rapid transit – be it light rail or bus – running to campus. However, the Board said it does not support light rail transit routes traversing through campus, or bus rapid transit routes traversing through campus if it is conditional to being convertible to light rail. The university’s preferred route for either transit alternative is via Richmond Street and/or Western Road.

In a second recommendation, the Board stated that before it takes a stance on bus rapid transit routing the university will complete an open-space-and-landscape-planning exercise intended, in part, to make the campus a more pedestrian-focused space with limits on vehicular traffic. This plan, expected to be completed in approximately six months, will include an assessment of where transit routes should go, as well as the possible construction of transit hubs.

In May, London City Council voted 10-5 to drop plans for a light rail system and, instead, pursue funding to build a $500-million bus-only system. Of that total, London would contribute no more than $129 million – the remaining $370 million would come from combined federal and provincial sources.

The full bus rapid transit would run 24 km from White Oaks Mall in the south to Masonville Place in the north and from Fanshawe College in the east to Oxford and Wonderland in the west. The system will feature dedicated bus lanes, modern stations as well as a rapid transit tunnel under the CP tracks at Oxford and Richmond.

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

As far as the university is concerned, those possibilities should be reconsidered.

“We want to take the time to ensure we get a win-win for the city and university in how it is implemented,” Hassan continued.

The Board passed both measures unanimously without comment on their substance. Hassan credited the silence to Board members having expressed their opinions and ask question of staff at numerous Board committee meetings, including Property and Finance. He also applauded staff who put together a thorough report exploring the issue from all sides.

“The substance of the report staff brought to the Board was very, very substantial. It is very objective – there is no question of opinion. They (the Board members) were persuaded by that,” Hassan continued.

According to campus surveys of faculty, staff and students, the vast majority of campus stakeholders support the concept of light rail to campus, but not through campus due to the potential impacts on research, pedestrian safety and the campus environment. With the way in which our buildings are laid out on campus, the proposed light rail routes through campus would interfere with highly sensitive research and equipment due to electromagnetic field, vibration and noise.

Gitta Kulczycki, Vice-President (Resources and Operations), also told the Board that Western does not want to aggravate an existing safety issue of heavy vehicular traffic in a primarily pedestrian environment. Western currently experiences 13,500 inbound and more than 12,000 outbound vehicles per day, including more than 1,000 bus trips.