Whitby Mayor calls the BRT downtown plan the “least-worst option”

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Published June 28, 2021 at 3:53 pm

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It is not the way they wanted it to happen, but after nearly 200 years of small-town life, Whitby is finally being dragged into the 21st century.

The Durham-Scarborough Rapid Bus Transit Line (BRT) is on its way, and the Metrolinx plan to bring rapid bus transit into Durham has been met by the most vocal opposition in Whitby, where the road widening and the installation of a centre median for the buses comes at a big cost in a town where the narrow streets were designed in an era when horse and buggies were kings of the road.

The vote to accept Metrolinx’s option of one lane eastbound and a ‘mixed’ lane westbound at the Town’s ‘pinch point’ at Brock Street and Dundas Avenue was a close one, with Mayor Don Mitchell carrying the deciding 5-4 vote.

Mitchell said there was agreement among all members of council that it was “unfortunate” that Metrolinx “has to run this through our historic downtown,” but in the end, it was decided that the Metrolinx proposal was the “least-worst” option available.

The narrowing of the already narrow streets and the loss of three to five metres of the frontage of Celebration Square are problems that Mitchell said Metrolinx engineers “need to look at” in the final design, but he does see a bright side to all these changes to the downtown.

“It does substantially widen the sidewalks and that creates a public space and that is good news,” he said. “It also allows seniors, children and people with mobility issues to be safe.”

Mitchell noted that Whitby has nearly 140,000 residents right now and he expects the Town to hit the 200,000 mark in the next 20 years, making it difficult to see it as a small town anymore.

“But we still have small-town values, even though we’re growing very quickly,” he said. “The opportunity is there to look ahead and look for progressive solutions, and transit is part of that.”

“The BRT does make that a little more challenging though.”

The Mayor said he wished Metrolinx had “fixed the pinch-point problem first” before designing the rest of the route through Whitby.

“Like everybody else, we all do the easiest part first and Metrolinx is no different.”

The loss of downtown parking has Council looking for solutions there as well and the Town has put some money aside in the capital work budget for a parking garage. Metrolinx has also committed to building a parking garage near Elm Street.

Whitby also has the most changes to deal with of any of the four Durham municipalities as the route goes through town, with six different traffic lane switches.

In the first segment, from Lakeridge Road (at the Ajax border) to Raglan Street, there are two lanes of traffic on each side of the median. But the stretch between Raglan and Cochrane Street sees that reduced from four lanes to three. From Cochrane to Byron Street downtown, the traffic lanes are reduced again to two lanes total.

The last block of downtown before Brock Street is the narrowest of all, with one dedicated eastbound lane and the one “mixed lane” westbound. The traffic jumps to two dedicated lanes from Brock to Garden Street before returning to the full four lanes of traffic in the final run to the Oshawa border.

“It’s hard for people to see it now because it’s not convenient compared to a car,” Mitchell said. “But a bus every five minutes? That’s convenient.”

“We will see the shift to transit. It’s just that people fear change. We’re hard-wired that way.”

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