University officials finalizing preferences for rapid transit routing on campus

Western officials have narrowed down what rapid transit could look like on and around campus. But that will be just one piece of a larger series of changes to come in how people move about the campus, they stressed.

Last month, Peter White, Executive Director (Government Relations), presented a handful of proposed rapid transit routes to London’s city council – routes that were the result of a consultation process that considered principles and guidelines developed through the Campus Master Plan. After two public meetings over the last week, Western is now in the final stages of its consultation process with the campus community.

The Board of Governors is expected to vote on campus rapid transit plans at its Jan. 26 meeting.

Although five routes are officially identified, three are realistic options and one is a definite favourite among consultants and university officials.

Among the three viable options, the first route runs north along Richmond Street, where the rapid transit busses would not come on campus, instead circling the perimeter of campus. The route would continue along Richmond, turn left onto Windermere Road and continue to Western Road, en route to Masonville Place.

The remaining two routes would cut through campus. Both would come northbound by way of Richmond, enter onto campus via University Drive at The Gates, crossing the bridge.

One of these two would run up the hill by Middlesex College, as buses currently do, going around Middlesex College, by the Natural Sciences Centre, exiting campus onto Western Road via Elgin Drive, heading to Masonville.

The third option would see buses cross the bridge, turn left on Perth Drive, go around Talbot College and the Music Building, up the hill on Lambton Drive, through Alumni Circle and out onto Western Road, also northbound to Masonville. Rapid transit buses would run in both directions.

It is that final route consultants and university officials seem to be leaning toward.

transit-plan

“Consultants reviewed the potential routes and basically stated, from all of the various elements we are looking at – making sure we aren’t impinging on research and the academic mission, developing good pedestrian safety, walking areas, and so on – that the route on Lambton Drive is proposed as being our best potential route,” White explained.

Once the Board votes on a route for rapid transit, the next initial phase would involve drafting a memorandum of understanding with the city, White noted. At that point, the formal discussions with the city would take place, determining a plan of action, timing and environmental assessments that would need to be done.

The recommendation going to the Board will likely be the Lambton Drive route, he added, and as the city is interested in having a rapid transit route on campus, there is no reason to anticipate any pushback from city hall.

One-third of London Transit ­riders are Western students. Currently, 60 buses per hour operate on 13 routes through campus. With bus rapid transit, there will still be eight or nine routes coming to campus.

In May 2016, 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. No Western funding will go towards this project.

At this time, there is no government money earmarked for this project. The proposed plan would see the process begin by 2024, with completion in 2026.

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.

In June 2016, the Board unanimously expressed its support for both improved transit in the city and the introduction of rapid transit running to campus. However, the Board did not support light rail routes traversing through campus, or bus rapid transit routes traversing through campus if it is conditional to being convertible to light rail in the future.

The Board also stated the university would 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 exercise, which is underway, will include an assessment of where transit routes should go, as well as the possible construction of transit hubs.

Proposed rapid transit routes will affect the shuttle buses the affiliated colleges use to bring students to and from campus. However, a decision on how this would work will be part of the next planning process and involve input from the colleges.

As Western continues to discuss its vision for rapid transit on and around campus, White stressed it is important to keep in mind that transit is part of a broader process that takes into account the Campus Master Plan, including a desire to minimize non-university traffic on the campus core.

“It’s an overreaching process. We’re looking at short-term, medium-term and long-term visions of what happens with the campus and how we’re going to grow – from pedestrian safety, to how we handle traffic and what we do from a landscaping point of view,” White said. “Because of the timing the city is facing on rapid transit, the rapid transit portion has been moved to the front of the process for us.”

By the time rapid transit makes it to campus, University Bridge will not be open to general public vehicular traffic – only utilized only by rapid transit, emergency vehicles, Western-designated vehicles and accessibility vehicles. The bridge will look the same as today, with some enhancements for active transportation.

Western currently experiences 13,500 inbound and more than 12,000 outbound vehicles per day, including more than 1,000 bus trips.

Other restrictions and conditions the university is presenting along with a campus rapid transit plan include a maximum speed limit of 35 km/h, three transit hubs to be built and located at the Richmond Gates, Talbot College are and Lambton/Western roads, as well as a restructuring of campus parking plans, including possible parking structures at perimetre lots.

“This is a long-term process and it’s not just about rapid transit, but about the overall development of how the campus is going to grow and how the campus is going to change,” White said. “Rapid transit is an important piece of this. But it’s part of a bigger plan.”

FEEDBACK

Western is in the final stages of its consultation process with the campus community on rapid transit. To view the proposals, visit uwo.ca/ipb/publicaccountability/rapid_transit. Written feedback can be sent via email to transit@uwo.ca.