As my VIA train trip home was delayed, it gave me a chance to reflect on my time here in London.
The purpose of my visit to London was to attend a course on Advanced Local Government with Andy Sancton at the University of Western Ontario. Many of my followeres know I am in the Masters of Public Admin Local Government Program. For those in political and public admin circles, I’m sure you’ve come across many of his journal articles. If not, Google him and you will find a plethora of information about him. I have nothing but praise for him and his passion on local government issues.
I stayed at a hotel on the southside and took transit to Western. I wanted to view parts as a curious spectator with my former transit planning eyes.
Through some previous knowledge and research of London is that their downtown, Central London as it is called, is your proverbial “hole in the donut”. The suburbs have sucked the life out of downtown with big box retail and medium level chain restaurants like Earl’s and Jack Astor’s. Moxie’s is the exception.
I Instagrammed a photo of the corner of Richmond and Dundas.
Plenty of low end ground floor retail such as convenience stores as part of historic buildings. Mark McAlllister from Global News commented on my photo:
Downtown was struggling when I lived there 20+ years ago. The garden market came in afterward and it didn’t seem to have much of an impact. Neither did the arena.
Further to this, plenty of parking lots. What a way to invite people to downtown by a having a plethora of parking spots. The photos below were taken at 7:30 on a Friday night. So nothing has really changed.
I was a bit skeptical of the transit service. I wasn’t used to service in a mid-sized city. I boarded Route 90 most days from White Oaks Mall and transferred downtown to connect to a University bound bus – either Routes 2 or 6. Route 90 operates only during weekdays for 12 hours per day with a 20 minute headway, aka frequency. It’s hard to justify an express route when its main destinations are hospitals, malls and downtown. I don’t know the ridership during the school year, but I hope it would be better than what I experienced. The land use along the route doesn’t really justify an express route. Predominantly low rise housing and auto-oriented development. Some ground floor retail north of downtown along Richmond Row – a trendy stretch with retail and restaurants. But the alternative local routes 10 and 13 along Wonderland Road and Wellington Road respectively meander through several areas before they head to the University.
A second issue with the transit service was there was too much layover time. I will use the example from Friday. The operator on Route 10 departed the University late after he got his coffee. Downstream the driver layed over for about 10 minutes at the Westmount shopping mall. It gets better. There were two subsequent stops outside of schools that were less than 500 metres apart. Unless there is some rule with Westmount Mall, a transit terminal with multiple routes should have a walking distance of 750 metres. If I were working as a planner or manager, I would conduct a stop audit as well as a review of layovers. I’m sure there are savings to be realized.
A third issue were the electronic destination signs. They are inconsistent. Some of the routes have the number and route name. Others have the destination included. I get that they have automatic stop announcements including transfers to routes, including the one that passengers are currently on. But . Unless passengers are consulting a schedule and are already cognizant of the routes themselves, these signs should be modified.
Finally was their real time information. While I commend them for having boards with arrival times at major transfer points like Richmond and Dundas, their information is not connected with any apps, like the Transit App. I am unaware if London Transit officials have been approached by these app developers to collect the GPS tracking data or vice versa. But hopefully an agreement is in place soon.
Good news is on the way.
Being the curious person that I am, I wanted to see what has been going on to rectify some of these planning problems.
In doing a search of downtown studies, a Dundas Place Vision Study completed in early 2015 by IBI Group . The study uses the planning buzzwords like placemaking, reducing on street parking, complete streets, and mixed streets. In referencing mixed streets, IBI’s recommendation was to remove transit altogether on Dundas and eliminate some on-street parking. Glad to see London Transit come out and quash that idea. As mentioned in my Instagram photo, a transit mall with protected bike lanes could be a possibility.
As of April 2015, a new Downtown Plan went before City Council for approval. Some of their strategic directions include a vibrant Dundas Street corridor, reconnection with the Thames River and economic development initiatives.
Dillon Consulting just completed the first draft of a route review for London Transit and went through public consultation recently. The recommendations suggest some route design modifications, elimination of inefficient routes and new frequency.
With a progressive city council, I would hope they provide the policy and planning directions for staff to get the move forward in revitalizing and energizing the City . There is a bright future for London. I make a toast to that!