Study puts campus traffic, rapid transit in spotlight



Recently released numbers from the Western Traffic Study are not only staggering – they could signal danger for those who travel campus daily, if not addressed.

“We have a campus that is pedestrian driven and those pedestrians are, primarily, students. We have a responsibility to do what we can to make sure they are safe on our campus,” said Gitta Kulczycki, Vice-President (Resources & Operations). “On a university campus, the safety of pedestrians has to rule. When you look at the volume of pedestrians, and measure that up against really significant vehicular traffic, it spells trouble.”

Revealed earlier this month, the study showed not only a ‘city within a city’ with regards to motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic on Western’s campus, but at some points, a city within a city that rivals some of the biggest cities in the country, in terms of traffic.

“As you travel the campus every day, (traffic) can be invisible to you. It kind of creeps up on you every single day. You don’t appreciate it,” Kulczycki said. “But when you have your attention drawn to it, you realize just how much traffic there is. And now we have the data that substantiates that.”

Conducted Dec. 1 and 3, the study monitored all forms of traffic through five campus intersections – Western Road and Sarnia Road/Philip Aziz Avenue; Western Road and Lambton Road; Western Road and Elgin Drive; Windermere Road and Perth Drive; and Richmond Street and University Drive. The traffic flows were monitored during three ‘peak periods,’ including 7-10 a.m., noon-2 p.m. and 3-7 p.m.

According to the study, total campus traffic included 13,500 inbound and 12,278 outbound motor vehicles during peak periods every day. For comparison, that was more daily traffic than the City of Port Colborne. Adding to volume was 1,212 bus trips by 606 buses serving 13 routes, almost all exclusive to London Transit Commission.

Mingling with Western’s vehicle traffic is a vibrant pedestrian and cycling community that included more than 16,500 crossings at just those five intersections, including an incredible 8,975 crossings at the Western Road and Sarnia Road/Philip Aziz Avenue intersection alone. According to the study, intersections approaching 9,000 crossings are typically associated with areas like downtown Toronto.

“Those pedestrian numbers are striking,” Kulczycki said. “But, keep in mind, all those crossings on Western Road have significant numbers – not just the ones we counted.”

The pedestrian numbers in the study provide only a snapshot of the total campus volume, Kulczycki warned. There are thousands of other pedestrians crossing at unstudied – yet high-volume – areas.

Average daily motor vehicle traffic volumes on Perth Drive, near University Hospital, rivaled major arterial roads in the city, like Oxford Street. Philip Aziz Avenue and University Drive were not far behind.

Traffic around the campus snarled at the studied times. From 8-9 a.m. alone, two Western intersections – Windermere Road and Perth Drive and Western Road and Sarnia Road/Philip Aziz Avenue – reached capacity, resulting in frequent congestion.

Part of the problem is a city with little access to major roadways without crossing through campus.

The study used cameras and individuals stationed at entrances/exits to record license plates in order to analyze both vehicle type (e.g. personal vehicle versus mass transit) and destination (e.g. on-campus versus pass-through traffic).

Forty percent of traffic left campus within 3-7 minutes of arriving, with nearly 90 per cent of that traffic leaving via a different entrance. The survey attributed this traffic to mainly drop-offs and pass-throughs.

Pass-through traffic – where drivers use the campus as a way to navigate the city with no business whatsoever on campus – is causing trouble at the busiest intersections at the busiest times during the day. For example, of the 3,161 vehicles that entered Philip Aziz Avenue, 1,706 of them – or 53 per cent – exited via another intersection within 3-7 minutes. Of that number, 86 per cent exited via University Drive onto Richmond Street.

“We have to do something. And the city knows that,” Kulczycki said. “The city has been working on an environmental assessment about what they should do at that intersection – Philip Aziz, Sarnia, Western – those are all city roads. They have some preliminary recommendations, but they have those recommendations in the absence of the bigger picture of what we might do in terms of traffic and restriction of car movement on our campus – which will make a profound difference.”

For example, what if the university no longer allowed cut-through traffic on Philip Aziz Avenue, Kulczycki suggested. That road becomes different in terms of its use if it ended in a parking lot.

Further complicating the discussion is the city’s push for rapid transit, which would significantly impact campus.

Among its four rapid transit corridors, Western will be served by a route that is a northern branch 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.

The city’s conceptual plan indicates a potential light rail transit line through the campus. The design works equally well for bus rapid transit.

“We are definitely supportive of rapid transit, and the need to improve the transit service in London,” Kulczycki said. “We know it has been problematic for a number of years. We know our students wait for four and five buses during peak times before a bus has occupancy to take them. We know it needs improvement.

“But we have to say, ‘OK, anything that happens cannot disrupt our academic or research enterprises, obviously, and we want a rationalization of transit on our campus.”

The current plan by the city would call for 14 trains across campus per hour, with no change in bus traffic.

“That can’t be. That just can’t be,” Kulczycki continued. “We have to work on that.”

Western’s Traffic/Rapid Transit Task Team has been conducting consultations on the issue..