Rapid Transit: Public consultations start after council OKs master plan

City politicians gave London’s bus rapid transit master plan — including revised financials — the green light Monday night.
“I’m convinced it’s the right plan for London,” said Mayor Matt Brown. “I really think we are on the right road.”
Years in the making, the decision opens the door for London to seek the cash it needs for the project from the provincial and federal governments and start a formal public review.
The master plan, approved 10-2 by the strategic priorities and policy committee, heads to council for a formal vote tonight.
The updated business case projects a $1.18 return for every $1 invested in the project. But some city politicians weren’t sold on the benefits.
Coun. Phil Squire, whose ward includes the BRT system’s contentious north corridor, said a traffic analysis included in the master plan is a big concern, noting many downtown intersections will be busier after the introduction of BRT.
“It doesn’t hearten me or make me feel better about our BRT system that there’s deterioration in traffic congestion,” Squire said.
But increased volume is inevitable and would be even worse without the $500 million BRT system, transportation boss Edward Soldo said.
“Wherever we put this, there’s going to be congestion. The thing is, there are a lot of collateral routes for cars,” Coun. Stephen Turner added.
The traffic study also was a stumbling block for Coun. Michael van Holst, who sided with Squire in voting against the master plan. (Harold Usher and Anna Hopkins were absent, while Josh Morgan declared a conflict and did not vote on the master plan or business case.)
But BRT is probably the only way to save London from a gridlocked future, Coun. Maureen Cassidy said.
“We’ve been accommodating more and more cars every year at the expense of transit. If we keep doing this, we’ll never be able to keep up,” she said.
There were few in the public gallery for Monday’s debate. But the small crowd included two members of the previous council: Joe Fontana, who resigned as mayor in 2014, and Bud Polhill.
Londoners can expect many more opportunities to have their say when a 45-day public consultation period kicks off Aug. 3.
“It’s the communications that are really critical here, not just for the dissemination of information, but for keeping Londoners aware, informed and engaged,” Deputy Mayor Paul Hubert said, adding the city has “learned the hard way” about the importance of careful consultation.
The revived business-case debate brought out of hibernation Down Shift, the group of downtown merchants who have led the fight against London’s BRT project.
The group, started by Joe Kool’s owner Mike Smith, was successful in undermining BRT but also drew widespread criticism for tactics one rival called “nasty.”
While they were initially fighting against poor communication and then the now-dismissed tunnel, they revived their public campaign Monday with a more-generic complaint about the project’s price tag.
“This is the biggest waste of half a billion (dollars) we have seen in (London),” an unnamed Down Shift member wrote on their social-media account Monday.
London’s financial contribution for the BRT system is capped at $130 million, with the other $370 million needed from Ottawa and Queen’s Park.
Even Squire, who said he felt like “the skunk that shows up at a party” voicing his displeasure over the routes, recognized the need to stand behind council decisions.

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