Timeline: London bus rapid transit

Londoners’ comments and concerns about the future of the city’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plans will be the focus of a public participation meeting at Budweiser Gardens on Wednesday.

Two proposed routes are at the core of the meeting.

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The north corridor which starts on Clarence Street and includes a 900-metre tunnel that runs below Richmond Row and resurfaces on Richmond Street near St. Joseph’s hospital; and King Street, which runs one-way going east but could be reduced to one lane of vehicle traffic with dedicated bus lanes running east and west.

Councillors will vote on the proposed routes for the largest project in the city’s history on May 15 and 16. The routes aren’t expected to be finalized until June.

Funding for the $560-million project will see city hall contribute $130 million, with upper levels of government filling the gap.

Below is a rough timeline of London’s ongoing Bus Rapid Transit debate:

July 2013

As a campaign to overhaul London’s transit system picks up speed, London Transit members get a first look at what it would take to switch to a Bus Rapid Transit system. An initial report says the costs of widening roads, buying buses, and other expenses could climb to $300 million, and operating costs over the next 30 years could be $114 million.

October 2013

The London Transit BRT report is presented to the city’s Civic Works Committee on Oct. 7, in the hopes an Environmental Assessment is launched. The project, the report says, comes with a $441 million price tag and will likely take about 15 years to complete.

May 2014

The London Plan, dubbed the largest public planning process in Canada, is unveiled May 22. The 20-year plan is the culmination of two years of work by city staff and the participation of nearly 10,000 Londoners through ReThink London. One of the plan’s proposed directions calls to shape the city around rapid transit.

September 2014

With the municipal election less than two months away, Mayor Matt Brown unveils his mayoral campaign platform, with rapid transit front and centre. The document, made public on Sept. 10, calls for ground to be broken on rapid transit within four years, as opposed to the previous 15-year projection.

October 2014

Londoners hand Matt Brown and his campaign platform a landslide election victory on Oct. 27. “I think what we see here is a community that’s ready to turn the page, a community that’s ready for positive change,” said Brown the day after. Brown and the new council would be officially sworn in Dec. 1.

January 2015

At his first ever State of the City address on Jan. 27, Mayor Matt Brown launches “Shift” – the comprehensive city-wide public engagement effort meant to launch a rapid transit overhaul in the city. Brown had pledged to break ground on rapid transit before the end of his first four-year term.

August 2015

During 2016 budget talks, London Transit Commission (LTC) requests a 4.6 per cent increased investment from the city over the previous year in order to make improvements to service. The boost in funding is also to move forward with and prepare for rapid transit, says councillor and LTC board member Phil Squire.

October 2015

Justin Trudeau is elected Prime Minister on Oct. 19. Responding to Trudeau’s win, Mayor Matt Brown expresses optimism about the shared priorities of the incoming prime minister and the city. Trudeau had pledged support to Londoners for rapid transit, Brown says.

November 2015

The city unveils a proposed transit overhaul on Nov. 9. A report before the city’s Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee outlines four alternatives for rapid transit in London, but suggests a hybrid Bus Rapid Transit/Light Rail Transit (LRT) network as the preferred option.City councillors unanimously endorse a staff recommendation to pursue a hybrid transit system with an estimated price tag of $880 million.

March 2016

Downtown business owners operating on Richmond and King Streets express concerns about the proposed rapid transit plans at a drop-in meeting on March 23. Construction for up to three years on the hybrid project could cause major disruptions, three merchants at the meeting say.

April 2016

The city says a new business case shows the best model to pursue is full Bus Rapid Transit, instead of the hybrid model previously endorsed by council. The full Bus Rapid Transit proposal comes with a rough price tag of $500 million and would see high-frequency buses run on L and 7 shaped corridors, both intersecting in the downtown. Mayor Matt Brown backs the BRT recommendation.

May 2016

The Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee defers a decision on rapid transit on May 5, voting 15-0 in favour of allowing council more time to consider the staff-endorsed rapid transit plan, and to give politicians time to reconsider a decision made May 3 to avoid a public participation meeting on the issue. (Councillors would vote unanimously the following week in approval of a public participation meeting.)After more than two years of consultation and review, the final draft of the London Plan is made public. Rapid transit remains one of the key priorities.Ahead of a council vote on whether to choose Bus Rapid Transit or a hybrid model, a final public input session on rapid transit is held at City Hall on May 28. Light rail advocates pack the gallery, but fail to sway enough city politicians.City council officially signs off on plans for the development of full Bus Rapid Transit at a meeting on May 31. Committee had approved the plan the week before. The final vote saw 11-2 support, with councillors Jesse Helmer and Mo Salih opposed. The two were the most vocal advocates of the hybrid model.

June 2016

London Plan receives unanimous approval from council on June 23.

August 2016

City staff report heads to council, recommending firm doing environmental assessment on BRT plan be paid additional $1.6 million to finish work.After debating whether to make the BRT plan public and then approving the request to make BRT plan public, the BRT plan is made public. The full BRT model, it says, offers the greatest value for Londoners, and has the highest benefit to cost ratio. Implementation in the preferred corridors would come at a capital cost of $500 million, the plan says.

October 2016

Mayor Matt Brown announces plan to seek second term.Brown attends Big City Mayors’ Caucus where topics including infrastructure spending on rapid transit, climate change, and poverty take centre stage. Afterwards, Brown says the city has a strong business case for BRT plans and expresses optimism about London’s chances of receiving federal funding.

January 2017

The city’s rapid transit implementation working group is told Jan. 12 the city may need to alter one of the four arteries proposed for the BRT system, in particular, the plan to have the buses run down Dundas Street through the Old East Village. Two potential alternatives are devised: to have buses run both ways down King Street, leaving one lane for traffic, or to have buses run one way down Dundas and snake the opposite direction down King.The cost of the BRT plan rises by about 10 per cent. Queen’s Park had requested the project’s contingency fund be increased from 40 to 50 per cent in case of unforeseen costs, and the cost of electric buses adds over $6 million to the plan.Western University’s Board of Governors softens language of requirements from the city regarding BRT on campus on Jan. 26. A list of 15 “conditions” the city would be required to abide by for the project is renamed 15 “issues.”

February 2017

City councillors get an in-depth look at plans for Bus Rapid Transit on Feb. 9. Some of the major developments include a potential restructuring of King Street to have it prioritize rapid transit with dedicated east and westbound BRT lanes. Plans for a 900-metre long tunnel on Richmond Street stretching from Central Avenue to St. James Street are also unveiled.Local merchants opposed to the Bus Rapid Transit plan form Down Shift, a grassroots organization representing taxpayers, concerned citizens, neighbourhood associations, and local business owners. In response, BRT proponents create a similar grassroots organization in early March called Shift Happens. Down Shift would later add lawn and window signs to the mix on Mar. 30, followed by Shift Happens.

March 2017

A $53-million lawsuit is filed against the city by Danforth London over their development project at King and Clarence Streets, a project they say would be hampered by the city’s BRT plan. The intersection is set to become a downtown hub for the Bus Rapid Transit system.A petition calling on the London Downtown Business Association (LDBA) to withdraw support for the BRT plan begins to circulate among downtown merchants. The petition cites a lack of consultation between the board and business owners. The petition would receive more than 130 signatures by mid-March. In the wake of the petition, the LDBA commits to consult and survey members on Bus Rapid Transit.The rapid transit implementation working group on March 9 recommends an additional public input meeting, the discussion of impacts and mitigation strategies with businesses, and for two alternative routes to be developed by city staff. The recommendations are voted through by committee on March 27.The federal government announces the investment of $37 million into 54 infrastructure projects across London; $8 million will go toward the design and study of London’s BRT plan.

April 2017

City council votes on April 4 to have city staff look into alternative route options.Council approves a motion on April 18 to have city staff come forward with additional information before the May public participation meeting. In particular, staff are directed to look into allowing rapid transit buses to run in mixed traffic along part of King Street, to identify ways to access businesses affected by the transit construction and to consider a temporary community improvement plan. The plan is received positively by opponents. City councillors and local MPPs meet the following day to discuss several issues, including BRT, at City Hall.The idea of a King Street route alternative called a “couplet” gains traction at a public input session for King Street and Queens Avenue business owners on April 25 at Centennial Hall. Instead of having two lanes of rapid transit on King Street in the downtown, an eastbound BRT lane could run on King while a westbound lane could run on Queens. Fewer than two dozen attend the session.Alternatives for the north Bus Rapid Transit corridor are unveiled by Shift London, and include either a railway underpass on Richmond Street for both BRT and vehicles, building no tunnel or underpass at all, or moving the route to Wharncliffe and Western Roads. While the underpass would cost less than the proposed tunnel, it would require the razing of several blocks of either the east or west sides of Richmond Street. Meantime, Wharncliffe Road property owners attend a meeting at Centennial Hall on April 26 to voice concerns about the potential loss of land to road widening.

May 2017

City hall hosts its first-ever public participation meeting at Budweiser Gardens on May 3. The meeting lasts more than six hours and sees a turnout of around 900 people, most in opposition to BRT.A survey commissioned by Down Shift London and conducted by Forum Research is released on May 9, showing a majority of respondents (67 per cent) say they oppose the current BRT plan. The survey was conducted on May 2 by telephone and had a sample size of 712 people. BRT proponents criticize the survey, saying it contained misleading information.A report from city staff on May 12 recommends the King/Queens couplet plan, and recommends that Richmond Street be the preferred northern corridor. Staff also recommend the axing of the proposed Richmond tunnel as the estimated capital cost rose from $90 million to $170 million, said the city’s engineer. Instead, a Richmond corridor with an at-grade intersection at Oxford Street is recommended, meaning BRT buses will have to cross the CP Rail tracks. With buses coming every few minutes, a train passing could jam the system.

Staff also recommend the long-term evaluation of alternate methods to separate vehicles and BRT buses from the railway. Physically moving the tracks themselves, city manager Martin Hayward notes, would cost billions of dollars. (CP Rail has also expressed no desire to relocate the tracks.)Following city staff’s recommendations, the project’s price tag is now estimated at $440 million compared to $560 million.In the May 12 report, staff also recommend (pending the approval of the Richmond at-grade recommendation) that the implementation of a railway grade separation on Adelaide Street at the CP Rail tracks be considered a “necessary element of the rapid transit system.” Staff say a funding request under the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund Phase II program should be advanced.On May 12, Councillor Bill Armstrong says he will put forward a motion suggesting council lobby Ottawa on the idea of track sharing —; requesting CP Rail move their trains onto CN Rail lines within the city.City council is scheduled to vote on transit routes and city staff’s recommendations May 15 and 16.

June 2017

Updated business case will be presented to city council (if proposed routes are approved and unchanged).

July 2017

Updated business case will be present to city council (if proposed routes are changed).

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