London's bus rapid transit draws fire during public Ward 6 meeting

London’s bus rapid transit was a hot topic Monday night, as members of Phil Squire’s Ward 6 were given face-time with the project’s director.

About 80 people filled seats inside the Joanne and Peter Kenny Theatre at King’s University College, while Jennie Ramsay outlined details of the $500-million plan and fielded questions from the public.  

Residents raised concerns with a potential widening of Richmond Street, existing traffic congestion in the city, and whether or not the city would consider ‘dry-runs.’

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One individual noted that vehicle congestion around the city is already at capacity.

“Daily it concerns me that the city couldn’t get a condo on Richmond built without a plan for FedEx and UPS outside Luxe,” she said, noting how often an entire lane of traffic in front of the student apartment building is blocked by delivery trucks. If the city couldn’t get that development right, she wondered, how will they be able to implement bus rapid transit properly?

When asked whether the city would block lanes of traffic to simulate the kind of impact bus rapid transit would have, Ramsay said it likely wouldn’t be a consideration because it wouldn’t come in conjunction with the benefits of bus rapid transit plan and wouldn’t “paint a clear picture.”

The railway crossing on Richmond Street, south of Oxford, was also a point of contention, prompting one man to point out “this is not rapid transit, this is slow transit.”

Ramsay admitted it’s an operational issue, but one the city is looking for further public feedback to resolve.

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Only a single person who stepped up to the microphone offered a positive review of the plan.

“I want to ditch my car and ride bus rapid transit, so I want to thank the staff for coming here and doing their job,” he announced.

While bus rapid transit took up the majority of the evening, the city’s medical officer of health, Chris Mackie, also fielded questions about London’s approach to the opioid crisis.

Can London’s clean needle program be considered successful, asked one individual, if the city’s rate of overdose deaths and diagnosed cases of HIV continue to rise?

Mackie called the program a “roaring success,” but admitted it’s not doing absolutely everything it needs to do.

When asked a number of times how to approach discarded used needles, or people living in makeshift camps along the Thames River, Mackie directed people to the non-profit organization London CAReS.

It also came as a surprise to some people in the crowd that London’s clean needle program doesn’t follow a one-to-one exchange model.

“As much as we would like to go back to that model… it would really hamper the ability to prevent the spread of infectious diseases,” said Mackie.

As the province’s rate of HIV declines, the number of people in London with diagnosed HIV is growing. Between 80 to 90 per cent of those cases are drug-injection users, Mackie explained.

He estimates roughly 6,000 people in London are drug-injection users.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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