New concerns unearthed about London’s bus rapid transit

A map of the city's preferred bus rapid transit routes in London. The City of London

New concerns about London’s $560-million-dollar bus rapid transit plan SHIFT consider how construction will impact heritage, and the kind of historical finds that could be dug up during excavation.

Joe O’Neill sits on the board of directors for Eldon House and High Park. He says there are four cemeteries in the downtown core that are either lost or poorly marked.

“It’s possible there could be some unnoticed graves out under Richmond Street,” said O’Neill, who pointed out the north side of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the front lawn of St. Peter’s Basilica are known sites where old graves lie.

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The preferred route for BRT includes a leg downtown, with a tunnel on Richmond St. between St. Joseph’s Hospital and Angel St., that continues south along Clarence St. past St. Peters.

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O’Neill said rapid transit lanes downtown would impact both the East Woodfield Conservation District and the Downtown Heritage Conservation District, while an alternative proposal for lanes on Wharncliffe would impact the Petersville/Blackfriars Heritage Conservation District.

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But according to the city’s chief planner John Fleming, development is still permitted in areas that fall under the municipal designation.

“There’s a plan that’s associated with [a] heritage conservation district, and it essentially lays out a rule book or how new development infrastructure projects etc. will be handled,” said Fleming, who emphasized the city looked into heritage impacts during the route selection process.

“If there’s something unanticipated that arises, there are a number of ways to address that,” explained Fleming, when asked what kind of impact the discovery of human remains or other historical finds might have on bus rapid transit.

“Certainly, there’s a fairly substantial contingency associated with the budget for this process.”

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According to O’Neill, other historical finds the city could make include what he called “industrial archaeology,” such as old dumps or something like the corduroy road discovered during bus rapid transit construction in Kitchener-Waterloo.

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“You know where Wellington Rd. [South] makes the curve just when you go past the liquor store and the women’s shelter? There’s a park there on the west side that… is one of the first old city dumps,” O’Neill said. “What will they get into, if they start digging that up?”

Fleming added that’s why the city will undertake a more detailed heritage analysis as routes are designed.

“We would take a look at what kind of activities have occurred in the area historically, and we’ll get — at a high level — a level of understanding of what archaeology might be associated with the area.”

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