King St./Queens Ave. couplet alternative BRT route. Photo from the City of London.

Council Backs Review Of Alternative Rapid Transit Routes

City politicians have hit the pause button on bus rapid transit (BRT), to consider alternative routes.

The move, which will delay the $560-million project by a month and a half, was approved by council 10-1 on Tuesday. Councillor Stephen Turner was the only council member opposed.

“The consultants, the engineers, the six years of planning have gotten us to the point where the most optimal recommendation has been made,” Turner told his colleagues prior to the vote.

The alternative routes to be examined include a north corridor option on Wharncliffe Rd. to Western Rd. and an east-west corridor option through the downtown on King St. and Queens Ave. Staff had previously recommended a King St. only line, and route up Clarence St. that tunnels under Richmond St. between the northwest corner of Victoria Park and St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“I don’t know how Wharncliffe can possibly be feasible. So we’re going to go through a month and a half long exercise to find out that it is not possibly feasible,” said Turner. “The tunnel hasn’t been proposed as a pie in the sky idea. It wasn’t just pulled out of the air. There is an entire team of engineers who have taken a look at that and said this is something that is feasible and this is the best alternative.”

But Councilor Phil Squire was more receptive to the idea of examining other BRT routes.

“It’s a move in the right direction as far as this council is concerned. I want us to keep an open mind. I have not reached a point yet where I can make a decision,” said Squire.

Mayor Matt Brown also voiced his support for the route review.

“This will provide us with context, it will provide us with comparators – route A against route B – and it will also provide us with the ability, which ever decision we make, to know that it’s an evidence based decision,” said Brown. “Any direction is going to have impacts to our community and each will require us to develop strategies to mitigate those but we can be very clear about why we’re moving in one direction or another.”

Along with the review of alternative routes, city staff will meet with downtown merchants, who have been very vocal with their concerns of the current BRT system. A public participation meeting on the issue will also be held at city hall on May 3.

Dozens of Londoners packed the public gallery for Tuesday’s meeting, which included roughly 45 minutes of debate. However, councillors Tanya Park, Maureen Cassidy, Harold Usher, and Anna Hopkins were absent for various reasons including family reasons and an out of town conference.

“I don’t think we saw a single decision made this evening that would have gone any differently had we had perfect attendance,” said Brown when questioned on the absences. “Each councillor made a point of reaching out to me through the clerk’s office to let me know why they wouldn’t be able to be here.

Council will decide whether to proceed with the original routes or the alternative ones on May 16. That pushes the BRT route finalization to June 13 or July 25.