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Bus rapid transit friction snarls west London planning

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An unexpected flare-up of bus rapid transit friction among city councillors may sideline a plan to guide growth in west London.

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Megan Stacey Traffic moves through the intersection of Oxford Street and Wonderland Road. (Free Press file photo) Traffic moves through the intersection of Oxford Street and Wonderland Road. (Free Press file photo)

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An unexpected flare-up of bus rapid transit friction among city councillorsmay sideline a plan to guide growth in west London.

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A recent vote rejecting the crafting of rules for higher-intensity development in the area of Oxford Street and Wonderland Road highlights some politicians’ growing divergence from the city’s overall blueprint for growth.

Council’s planning committee voted against preparing a “secondary plan” for that busy west London intersection, saying it’s tied too closely to a proposed rapid transit line that was nixed in 2019.

Those bus rapid transit (BRT) wounds represent an underlying tension that will soon need resolution, one municipal expert warned.

“We’re in conflict now between the approved (city official) plan and what this council wants,” Western University political scientist Martin Horak said.

A secondary plan creates a vision and outlines special policies, such as design rules, for development in a particular area.

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The Oxford-Wonderland area is considered a transit village in the official plan, also known as the London Plan, because the west corridor of BRT was going to end there before it was axed. As a transit village, the area would be primed for higher-intensity development.

But Coun. Steve Lehman, whose Ward 8 borders the crossroads, said he wouldn’t support the terms for the secondary plan because of its link to BRT.

“My concern is that we’re creating a bottleneck at this corner and I don’t see how a transit village is addressing that concern,” Lehman told his colleagues.

Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis said he didn’t think the secondary plan was a good use of resources with the west BRT route scuttled.

“I’m very concerned that we are in a time of a prelude to BRT, Part 2,” added Ward 6 Coun. Phil Squire.

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Lehman, Lewis and Squire were opponents of BRT and voted down its north and west legs.

Still, a secondary plan was recently approved for the north-end Masonville area, also deemed a transit village even though its BRT leg was cut.

Ward 9 Coun. Anna Hopkins was the lone vote in favour of launching the Oxford-Wonderland secondary plan. It goes to city council for a final vote Tuesday night.

“They’re not bound to develop a secondary plan, but if they don’t, they’re moving away from the logic of the master plan we have in force right now. It’s a challenging situation,” Horak said.

“It underscores the inherent tension between long-range planning and short-term political pressure.”

Horak said council will have to decide whether it wants more development, and at a higher intensity, in west London.

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“The more dense the development is, the more development that’s in place, the more important it is, I think, to have a secondary plan, so the city lays out detailed guidelines for how that place looks,” he said.

“It’s a tool that’s being used more and more, because it’s kind of a finer grain (guideline to show) what a place will grow and look like.”

It’s not clear whether city staff could come back with different terms for the secondary plan, or if a vote against the existing terms at council would end it completely. The planning committee did not ask for alternatives. When asked, city hall’s planning director Gregg Barrett said next steps wouldn’t be clear until after the council vote.

“One way or another, this has to get sorted out, because I do think London is going to start growing faster,” Horak said.

“Either the city and city leadership can make some decisions about whether it’s going to stick with our long-range plan or a different way, and be systematic about it, or we’re going to end up with haphazard development. That’s what leads to congestion and that’s what leads to problems.”

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