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BRT project clashes with city’s downtown vision

Metrolinx is preparing a 36-km bus rapid transit project, similar to the one pictured here in York Region, which would include stretches in downtown Oshawa.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

A proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) system between Scarborough and Oshawa seems to come into conflict with some of the city’s downtown plans.

Metrolinx’s Durham-Scarborough BRT project is envisioned to stretch 36 km from the Scarborough Town Centre, across Durham Regional Road 2, which becomes Dundas Street in Whitby, and King Street in Oshawa.

At the Feb. 3 development services committee meeting, Robert Elliott, vice-principal of planning for Metrolinx and David Hooper, the project’s consultant manager, provided an update to councillors.

Hooper said it’s anticipated this corridor will see a growth of 215,000 residents and 65,000 jobs over the next two decades.

“It’s an important part of the transportation network, and a big project,” he said.

However, Hooper noted there are several limitations on the project in downtown Oshawa to be addressed.

As King and Bond streets both have one-way traffic, Metrolinx says there are three potential options.

The first would see King and Bond both converted to two-way traffic. However, only buses would travel in the opposite direction of other vehicles.

While regarding this as the preferred option, Hooper noted it’s not a “perfect solution.”

He said the city and Metrolinx would need to educate the public considerably if these changes were made.

It would also mean updates to street signs and traffic signals, as well as Durham Region Transit bus routes.

“Parking would need to be taken off the north end of King and Bond streets,” Hooper added.

Metrolinx and its partners would also focus on making improvements to local pedestrian and cycling networks, as well as streetscapes.

Hooper said there have been some cities in the U.S. that have used this technique “quite effectively,” such as Minneapolis, Seattle, and Portland.

He said the only area where it failed was in Chicago, and this was because transit lanes weren’t properly marked.

The other options would be for bus-only lanes to be installed individually on both King and Bond streets.

A third option is to have bus lanes in both directions only on King Street.

However, Hooper said these two options are less preferable than the first.

Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey questioned why Metrolinx is only proposing to run the BRT to Mary Street, instead of Ritson Road.

This option is something the organization could consider as part of the project, Hooper said.

He noted Metrolinx also has eyes on potential BRT projects on Simcoe Street and Taunton Road as well.

Last fall, work was completed on sidewalk widening on the north side of King Street East between Ontario Street and Mary Street North.

The purpose was to provide additional space for public amenities, such as sitting areas, bicycle racks, waste bins and landscaping, and outdoor patios and cafe spaces for private business.

Ward 3 city and regional councillor Bob Chapman asked Elliott and Hooper if they were aware of this, as the street is now down to two lanes of traffic.

Hooper noted they would need to determine which option best “aligns with local plans.”

Ward 2 city councillor Jane Hurst said Metrolinx’s plans adversely affect the city’s plan to create a “pedestrian, family-friendly” downtown.

“I have great concern. That’s the most diplomatic way I can put it,” she said.

Mayor Dan Carter shared a similar message.

“Stay on the south side of King Street… the streetscape project is too important. I’m going to urge you to take that into consideration,” he said.

Ward 2 city and regional councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri asked how much of the costs Metrolinx would be covering.

However, Hooper said he didn’t have an answer on what the funding split would be once the project moves forward.