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Londoners get first look at final plans for Dundas ‘flex street’

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. Courtesy The City of London via Twitter

A four-block section of Dundas Street will be getting a major facelift in the new year, and on Wednesday, Londoners got their first look at the final plans.

City officials revealed the final design renderings of the Dundas Place project during a public unveiling at the Central Branch of the London Public Library. A pair of 90-minute drop-in sessions were held in the morning and early afternoon for local business and property owners, followed by a three-hour open house for the general public.

The project will see a section of Dundas Street stretching from Ridout Street to Wellington Street converted into a flex street that can be shared by pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. In addition to traditional vehicular traffic, the four-block stretch will be easy to shut down for pedestrian-only use during special events.

The project will cost a total of $18 million. Of that, $2.4 million will be spent on so-called above ground “street furniture,” with the rest going to hydro, watermain, and roadway work the city says needed to get done regardless.

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Bollards will replace curbs as part of the flex street. The bollards would allow the city to create sidewalks when cars are allowed on the street, and could be removed to allow for a wide-open car-free pedestrian space.

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Lucas Brazil, a downtown resident, attended the public open house and said he was excited about the project’s potential to bring life to the city while benefiting the economy, traffic, businesses, and tourism.

“All the elements should facilitate the gathering of people, the use of city spaces,” he said. “From what I see here, I think it’s very interesting.”

But after studying some of the planned street furniture, he noted much of it was dark grey or made of concrete. “Maybe [add] more colour?” he suggested.

“I think there should be more green, like more trees, more green spaces. Maybe they’re going to have some? I’m not sure,” he said. “I would like to see more vertical gardens, and nature.”

Construction on phase one of the project, the section of Dundas stretching from Ridout to Richmond streets, is set to begin next spring, with work on the second and final phase, Richmond to Wellington streets, to begin the following year. Construction of both phases is slated to take two years.

The impending construction work and what it might do to business was top of mind for some of the merchants and property owners who attended Wednesday’s drop-in sessions.

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“I’ve already been dealing with the Fanshawe construction and [have been] getting little to no help from the city as in regards to access to my building,” said Kayla Gibbens, owner of Uber Cool Stuff, which sits just west of Fanshawe College’s soon-to-be campus at the former site of Kingsmill’s.

“I’m not holding out much hope for this flex street,” she said.

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Gibbens said she was also concerned the flex street may see the same problems that have, in recent years, affected Market Lane, the nearby pedestrian walkway that connects Dundas Street to the Convent Garden Market. “We had consultants come in and they were told we have a major drug problem downtown,” she said. “I haven’t seen any great plans to help with that.”

Budweiser Gardens’ Brian Ohl was more optimistic about potential construction woes. The numerous meetings, he said, have given him peace of mind that the city will do what it needs to mitigate problems.

“We have 9,000 people that we need to get out of the building and we have exits on Dundas Street,” said Ohl, the venue’s general manager. “It’s about making sure there’s a means of egress for our patrons throughout the building, especially in case of an emergency, we need to make sure we can get everyone out of the building safely.”

Project Manager Doug MacRae said that while there has been a lot of excitement and optimism about the project, the city wasn’t naive about the construction phase and the problems it might cause.

Local business owners, he said, have been consulted throughout the design and planning process to try to alleviate any impact. “We’ve had about 60 individual face-to-face meetings and that process continues,” MacRae said.

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The city says it will offer ‘special discounts‘ to business and property owners along the four-block stretch of Dundas who are affected by the roadwork.

“There’s a lot of very unique businesses on Dundas and that’s part of the beauty of the street,” he said. “We are working through issues like waste disposal, keeping pedestrians on the street, keeping the street open as much as possible, and business loading zones.”

Dundas Place represents the first transformational project in Our Move Forward: London’s Downtown Plan.

More information can be found on the project’s website, here.

– With files from Liny Lamberink and Devon Peacock