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Should buses run opposite to traffic on downtown Oshawa one-way streets?

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OSHAWA - Oshawa officials want more consultation on a bus rapid transit plan (BRT) that would see buses running in dedicated lanes in the opposite direction of one-way traffic along Highway 2 in the city's downtown.

City council recently voted to ask Metrolinx to conduct further consultation on BRT plans through downtown Oshawa on King Street and Bond Street. The current plan preferred by Metrolinx calls for the conversion of the northern-most lane on King Street and the southern-most lane on Bond Street into a bus lane.

"It would be a dedicated lane. So, if you were on King Street at Stevenson Road, if you’re driving on King you’re obviously heading eastbound, but the northern-most lane would be dedicated to buses running westbound," explains Warren Munro, Oshawa's commissioner of development services. "It is a dedicated lane that flows in the opposite direction of the traffic, the regular street is heading east and the bus traffic is heading west."

According to Metrolinx, documents on the project contraflow lanes would mean bus lanes would not be shared with general traffic on Highway 2. The organization points out contraflow lanes exist in a number of cities across in North America, including San Francisco, Boston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Seattle.

Oshawa does not support options that would result in the removal of travel lanes in the downtown and the removal of streetscaping upgrades. The city also does not support buses running in the opposite direction of other traffic.

Munro points out that new and upcoming streetscaping projects in the downtown involve the removal of some parking - the first phase is located in front of the former Genosha Hotel on King Street - but that decision was made after consulting with the downtown business community. He wants Metrolinx to take similar steps.

"It's about meeting the needs of the business community who've all invested in our community, they're all stakeholders and their voices need to be heard," said Munro.

Amanda MacDonald, executive director of the Oshawa Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA), said that while the BIA strongly supports BRT through the downtown - the Metrolinx plan calls for service up to every five minutes - it does not support the current preferred plan.

"Our primary concern is the vehicle and pedestrian safety. It can be quite jarring when you see a bus coming at you on a one-way street... we also think the reduction of lanes; to consume one just for BRT is too much," she said.

MacDonald said the BIA is also opposed to further reductions in parking in downtown Oshawa.

Ideally, she said, the one-way streets in downtown should be converted to two-way traffic.

"The BIA understands that this (two-way) street conversion project will take multi-year and multi-council planning with implementation phases and funding support from all three governing parties," she said in the BIA's comments to the city. "The BIA recommends the BRT system make left-hand turns with no project delays, and launch with other corridors while the three tiers of government commit to a long-term funding strategy for two-way street conversion."

Last fall Oshawa's council directed staff to consider the feasibility of a two-way conversion of King and Bond streets and asked for a report by the end of the second quarter of 2020.

Whitby has also expressed concerns about Metrolinx plans for its downtown, specifically opposing the widening of Dundas Street to six lanes through downtown Whitby.

by Reka Szekely