City politicians and staff faced a barrage of passionate pleas from residents Wednesday night at a packed public meeting on London’s bus rapid transit (BRT) plan.
The session attracted 200 to 300 people to the Wolf Performance Hall at the Central library, with the majority of those in attendance expressing their opposition to the proposed routes.
Though several other members of council attended the meeting, including Mayor Matt Brown, it was organized by Ward 13 Coun. Tanya Park and Ward 6 Coun. Phil Squire.
Their wards include the proposed route along the north corridor of Richmond and its 900-metre BRT-exclusive tunnel downtown, which have attracted a lot of criticism in recent months.
Those opposed to the routes cited concerns about construction, traffic, parking, and ridership. Comments criticizing the current plan received frequent applause during the meeting, while one person opposed to the plan was asked to leave after speaking out of turn.
Park hopes council will hold off on making any decisions until the public’s feedback is taken into serious consideration.
“I think it’s the right thing for us to do right now, to take the time to make sure we have the best routes going forward on this project, and if we don’t take the time, I don’t think we’re doing it the right way,” she said.
Park hopes to make the plans as clear as possible.
“This is an incredibly engaged community that I have here in Ward 13 and lots of people want answers and sometimes they’re very complex, and to get that complex answer takes a lot of time because I have to get to staff, I have to wait on them to get back to me and then clarify my question and all those sorts of things but it’s important to get those answers out to people,” she said.
The lack of specific answers during the meeting frustrated Ward 13 resident Joe McCarthy, who feels council and staff are doing more talking than listening.
“How many times did we hear the panel members say, ‘I don’t have that information,’ or ‘we have not assessed that outcome, we don’t have those estimates,'” he said. “I think there is a real crisis of confidence here.”
The meeting panel included city engineer Kelly Scherr and London Transit Commission chief Kelly Paleczny.
McCarthy is worried council has already made up its mind about the project.
“I think there’s a general perception almost in all politics now, that’s ‘here’s what we heard, and now here’s what we’re telling you we are going to do,’ as opposed to acting on what they heard,” he said. “It’d be interesting if they were to hold a referendum, I doubt they’d get anywhere close to a consensus on support.”
Councillors are currently expected to vote on the proposed routes on May 15, less than two weeks after a city-wide public input meeting on May 3 at Budweiser Gardens. The unprecedented step of holding the meeting at Budweiser Gardens demonstrates the extent of interest in the project.