Cyclist safety, business concerns and parking problems were top of mind as councillors discussed a staff report recommending temporary changes to Dundas Place for the 2021 construction season.
The report was presented to the civic works committee — chaired by Coun. Elizabeth Peloza with members councillors Jesse Helmer, Maureen Cassidy, Paul Van Meerbergen, Stephen Turner and Mayor Ed Holder — but debate even drew comment from councillors outside of the committee.
The proposed plan from city staff suggests adding a pair of temporary bike lanes, removing paid street parking to leave only one hour of free parking, and introducing one-way motor traffic on what is currently a two-way street.
The changes would only affect the section of Dundas Place that stretches from Ridout Street North to Wellington Street.
In added submissions to the committee, six citizens emailed concerns about cycling safety. Ben Cowie of the London Bicycle Café also submitted his concerns to the committee, arguing that “the safety of any user group cannot be prioritized below the convenience of another.”
A repeated concern for cyclists was over the use of paint to mark cycling lanes rather than a physical barrier separating cyclists from motor vehicles.
“The one thing that I’ve heard so far from cyclists, from the business community, and even from people in my own ward who have particular shops downtown that they do like to visit is that nobody’s happy with this plan,” said Coun. Shawn Lewis.
“I am glad to hear that some more consultation is going to be involved here.”
Turner noted that competing interests pose a challenge.
“Conceptually, the idea of creating a safer environment and a connection for cycling is key, as well as access to businesses and supporting recovery in the core. I get those interests. The question is, how do we marry all of those to find the landing spot that addresses them?”
He said that he personally supports the idea of bidirectional facility and unidirectional flow for traffic with separation.
Coun. Arielle Kayabaga, whose ward includes Dundas Place, brought up existing concerns with the flex street and hopes that the pilot project could address those issues.
“We have been experiencing for the last two years issues around figuring those pieces out — figuring out how we do the loading zone, the parking, and how we safely have people be on the street throughout the year and not just during the times that we shut down.”
She mentioned that illegal parking is of particular concern and there are also questions around where, for example, those doing Skips the Dishes or Uber Eats should park versus where those popping into a downtown storefront can park.
Helmer, meanwhile, noted that the very fact that it is a flex street means that there are a lot of options available.
“We’re not stuck with curbs. We don’t have to do things that are really expensive and are into the roadway,” he said.
“Personally, I think the idea of taking a full lane and have it be bidirectional for cyclists is probably the best and most intuitive way.”
He said he believes concerns can be “worked out” through consultation between now and March 30, which is when city staff are set to bring forward a report back to the committee to actually begin the process of amending the bylaw to allow for the pilot project.
The portion of the plan to allow for only one hour of free parking instead of two hours of parking with the first hour free will head to full council for consideration on March 23.
The portion of the plan specific to cyclists will move ahead on March 30, when city staff are asked to bring forward a report “to amend the Traffic and Parking By-law to create a temporary bicycle lane pilot project on Dundas Place during the 2021 construction season.”
The proposed changes to Dundas Place would come amid Phase 1 of construction for the Downtown Loop, a multi-year project that aims to bring rapid transit to London’s core.
Phase 1 will see construction take place on King Street, between Ridout and Wellington streets.
King Street currently provides one-way eastbound traffic for motorists in the downtown, meaning the proposed changes to Dundas Place could fill the gap if approved.
— with files from Global News’ Andrew Graham.