Rapid transit proposal gets Board approval

A softening of the language in Western’s rapid transit proposal pushed discussion forward as the planned Lambton Drive route received unanimous support from the Board of Governors Thursday afternoon.

Western’s initial proposal to the city for rapid transit on campus indicated a list of 15 “conditions” the university would want to see met by the city, in order for the project to move forward. Before approving the proposal Thursday, the Board agreed to an amendment that changed the wording to list 15 “issues of concern.”

With the majority of London Transit ridership coming from the Western student body, the rapid transit project may just be the most important issue the city and the university has collectively addressed, said Board member Michael Lerner. In order to move forward with rapid transit plans for campus, it will require compromise and co-operation from both sides of the table, he added.

Prior to Thursday’s Board meeting, after consultation with members of the Western community, university officials had discussed and presented a handful of possible rapid transit routes to City Hall. The ‘Lambton Drive Route’ was presented to council as the preferred option last month. The route would see buses cross the university bridge, turn left on Lambton Drive, go around Talbot College and the Music Building, up the hill through Alumni Circle and out onto Western Road, also northbound to Masonville.

The 15 issues of concern include a limit on the number of buses and their speed on campus, as well as a stipulation that indicates there would be no conversion of rapid transit to light rail in the future. Lerner felt the initial language in the proposal could imply a sense of entitlement on the university’s behalf and may prove a barrier in cooperation with the city.

“We are not holding the city hostage to the point that if they want to come through campus, they have to meet what has previously been described as ‘conditions,’” said Lerner.

“‘Conditions’ suggests the university is insisting these be met. I believe they can be more properly characterized as issues that are presently of concern to the university, that will need full discussion and negotiation with the two partners. Some, the university will take a hard line on, while others may represent issues where there is room to compromise.”

Board member and London Mayor Matt Brown said today was an important day for London and for Western, as the two move forward with the largest project the community has ever contemplated. He added mutual co-operation will lead the way in the project’s completion, scheduled for 2025-26.

“We are early in the decision-making process and there are a still a number of unknowns,” said Brown, adding while it may feel as if this is a final decision, it is actually just the first in a series of discussions to where this project will go.

“As we get closer and closer, we are going to find all kinds of situations we’ll need to adjust and react to. These are decisions being made at the highest level and we’re always striving for a win-win when we are working with our community partners,” he said. “There is going to be give and take and compromises are going to be found. Some issues raised may resolve themselves, and there will be others that may arise, but we are going to get to a solution together,” Brown continued.

Board chair Hanny Hassan echoed the mayor’s comments.

“As a consulting engineer, (with) projects of this size and complexity, you don’t have all the answers when you start out,” he said, noting the city doesn’t even have its funding in place yet, so in terms of decisions yet to be made by those implementing the plan they need a lot more information.

“This route is a compromise and in complex projects it is inevitable there is going to be give and take, and people will trade off the things they want to get things they consider to be essential. The city considered a route through campus as essential and we tried to find a way of making that happen.”

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‘ISSUES OF CONCERN’

Western hopes to work with city officials on the below “issues of concern” as the city moves forward with its rapid transit project, scheduled for completion in 2025-26.

  1. There is only one BRT route on campus – from Richmond Street over the University Drive Bridge, on to Lambton Drive, through Alumni Circle, to Western Road, and by Windermere Road – with a two-way flow.
  2. The number of BRT trips should be limited to no more than eight per hour (each way).
  3. There will be no other bus traffic in the core campus – with the possible exception of a route to service University Hospital. However, other options must first be fully explored.
  4. The city must fully support the university’s medium-to-long-range plan to eliminate vehicular traffic (except for emergency/service vehicles and accessibility requirements) in the core campus.
  5. Western requires the city’s support to develop parking structures and buildings in flood fringe designated areas where dry access can be provided and where compliance with floodplain policy can be obtained. This may require the re-designation and rezoning of some flood fringe areas from Open Space to Regional Facilities. As part of the campus site plan and development agreement set out in condition # 13 below, the issue of development on flood fringe areas which comply with flood plain policy need to be addressed.
  6. The city must enhance pedestrian mobility and safety infrastructure at high-traffic intersections (both pedestrian and vehicular) on Western Road (at Sarnia Road, Brescia Lane, Elgin Drive) and Richmond Street (at University gates) – including the construction of enforced underground tunnels.
  7. The city must widen and enhance Philip Aziz Drive – to improve safety. The university should seek ownership of the road in the future.
  8. BRT must run within the existing road infrastructure on campus. That is, BRT cannot take up additional land on the core campus.
  9. BRT is responsible for all costs associated with implementation of BRT through the campus – including BRT terminals, University Drive bridge improvements, traffic lights, and signage. This includes Western Road – between Sarnia Road and Windermere Road.
  10. BRT is also responsible for all future operating costs within the core campus – including cleaning, infrastructure repairs, and road maintenance/snow removal. This work should be co-ordinated with the university – to ensure that similar standards are achieved.
  11. BRT must use vehicles that produce low noise levels and air emissions. When running through campus, BRT must operate at speeds less than 35 kph.
  12. BRT must not cost the university any resources.
  13. That in keeping with development agreements practices that are in place between some other municipalities and universities in Ontario, the City of London and Western University enter into a campus-wide site plan and development agreement that would preclude the need for further site plan and design approval for each new building or major renovation project, thereby allowing Western to proceed directly to building permit application.
  14. BRT will not be convertible at any point in the future to light rail.
  15. BRT is responsible for improvements to the public realm along the proposed BRT route, including but not limited to boulevards, sidewalks, landscaping, gateways, lighting, wayfinding and signage.