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Out with the old and in with the new should be the new motto for London, Ontario’s downtown core. With a significant push to revitalize the community and vibrancy of the heart of downtown, London is about to get much more exciting! Following the success of The Millennial Plan which saw the completion of Budweiser Gardens, Covent Garden Market and Forks of the Thames improvements, London is on the move again. Seeking to emphasize public and private partnership, the city of London is implementing Our Move Forward, a plan that will encourage a successful downtown that attracts both business, investment and local engagement. A significant part of this plan is to completely revamp a portion of Dundas Street that goes right through the heart of London’s core.

Dundas Street holds a historical past and is an integral part of the city’s economy and culture. While this part of downtown is still home to many remarkable businesses and traffic flow throughout the day, it lacks the panache and liveliness that a downtown centre should encompass. It is in need of a revamp to enrich and invigorate the attractiveness of the city to investors and businesses, as well as local consumers and pedestrians.

“Make Dundas Street the most exciting place in London,” is the motto for this project. For any Londoner who’s made their way down this stretch of road in recent years, the most exciting place in London would probably not be the sentence best used to describe this stretch of road. As London focused on growing out in years past by building up the commercial and residential infrastructure on the outskirts of the city, the city will see an influx of momentum is working on the downtown core now and for years to come, eventually making Dundas Street the most exciting place to be in London again!

So what does this mean exactly? There are several transformational projects that have been planned for the downtown core in upcoming years. These projects will turn existing areas into community hubs that bring Londoners closer together and greater connect them to the rest of the Forest City including a Cross River Improvement, a promenade at the Forks of the Thames River and Laneway Connections in the downtown core.

One of the most important phases of these plans, however, is to transform the stretch of Dundas Street between Wellington Street and Ridout Street, to a destination that can be converted into a venue for street festivals, concerts, public gatherings and more. The renovation of Dundas Place will be a transformation from a humdrum road full of interesting characters and run-down buildings to a community space full of vibrancy, rich culture, modern roadworks and much needed updated underground infrastructure.

The new and improved Dundas Place will be a “Flex Street”. A flex street is a shared street that puts legal emphasis on pedestrians and cyclists over motorists. By creating a shared space, lowering speed limits and calming traffic, the street becomes a pedestrian-friendly area to share with motorists. Motorists will be able to drive through like normal at certain times when traffic is heavier. When traffic is lighter, motorized vehicle usage will be significantly reduced, creating a pedestrian-friendly area. This allows the space to become a fully functioning flex street home to pedestrian spaces, retail pop-up shops, festivals, concerts and any other programmed activities that require an open space in the heart of downtown London. The goal of the flex street is to allow a working road in the heart of the city seamlessly transition to a space reminiscent of a civic plaza or piazza. This will re-enforce Dundas Street as the most exciting and inviting spot in the city, encouraging Londoners to visit the core of their city rather than the edges of it like they have in the past.

The idea of flex streets are new to London, but not the rest of the world. Many cities in Europe have adopted this style of public street, providing pedestrians with a more interactive experience with businesses, and less worry of negative engagement with people driving motor vehicles. Flex streets create a community-based feel in busy areas of the city while maintaining the ability to decrease congestion on a versatile street built for both pedestrian and motor vehicle use.

Many Londoners may have already seen this type of street if they have trained to Toronto recently. There was an implementation of a $16M flex streetscape right outside the front of Union Station across from the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. This street created a welcome mat for visitors to the city of Toronto.

Probably the biggest inspiration for Dundas Place is Ottawa’s Spark Street, a pedestrian-only stretch of road boasting various artwork, fountains, restaurants and shopping. While these streets boast similar fundamental values, Dundas Place will bring its own flair and stay true to its London roots, creating a streetscape much different than the ones in Toronto and Ottawa.

A vision for the new plan came from Dillon Consulting, a London engineering firm that has called London its home since 1945. Working with the staff at City Hall, Dillon Consulting prepared the infrastructure design and the streetscaping works to tender the contract over the past winter. The contractor is Amico Infrastructures from Cambridge and Windsor. Construction began in early April 2018 at Ridout Street and will continue through the summer working eastwards toward Wellington Street. As construction on Dundas Place unfolds, check out www.dundasplace.ca for updated information from the workers on the construction site. Plans for the first phase of construction of Dundas Place are set to be completed approximately by the end of October 2018. 

Construction of the flex street will cost around $27M plus engineering and contract administration.  The City is taking on $10M of that cost, with the remaining $12M coming from utility companies doing infrastructure work at the same time as the flex street construction.

While it may seem like a ton of money to spend, there are certain sewer lines that are as old as 1949, so if the flex street wasn’t in the works, infrastructure updates would have been anyways. The sewers and water mains will be extensively upgraded, as well as the hydro distribution foundation. Construction is underway as of April 2018 and will continue through the summer. There are plans to see the completed Dundas Place by the end of this construction season. 

Construction is obviously an impediment to businesses running but there will be continuous provisions to pedestrian traffic to allow access to stores and businesses as much as possible. The merchants on the stretch of Dundas undergoing developments have mixed opinions. Some are optimistic about the project and believe this will be tremendous for their business in the long run while others are concerned about the business they will lose in the period of construction.

In addition to the businesses being affected, there has been a certain amount of controversy surrounding the plans because of panhandlers and certain characters in the area. The city expects that the implementation of the flex street will only improve the state of the crowds drawn to Dundas Street.

Once construction is complete on Dundas Place a normal day on Dundas Street will have two lanes of traffic up and down the street, but instead of curbs on each side, there will be bollards (posts) along the road. These bollards can be pulled out, widening the street so it’s fairly level for pedestrian use during events like festivals and community gatherings. In conjunction with all that, there will be added street furniture such as benches, wastebaskets, street trees. The paved surfaces will utilize paving stones and decorative, coloured concrete surfaces. It will be an improved and more versatile version of existing streets downtown.

As far as traffic flow is concerned, Clarence, Richmond and Talbot will all be open to traffic like normal, but drivers won’t be able to turn off on to Dundas. Dundas Street today is a major bus route, which have been rerouted permanently to Queens Ave.

Dundas Street is an integral part to London’s rich culture. It has been a main traffic corridor since the days of horses and electric streetcars. Thousands of Londoners drive or walk down this street every day and it is refreshing to see the dedication the city has to revitalizing this fundamental stretch of road in the heart of the greater downtown core.

As a business (Santa Knows Best) located on the stretch of road that Dundas Place will be, it will be amazing to see the transformation. This particular stretch of road has already seen an intense influx of crowds and culture since the construction the downtown Fanshawe campus. The implementation of a flex street will no doubt bring back the flair that the spine of a city centre should have.

We are anticipating that Dundas Place will continue to enrich the culture of downtown for years to come, and improve the prevailing opinion of downtown London as a boring core with nothing going on.

The Flex Street will provide unlimited opportunities for businesses and events and leave people wanting to come back for more, time after time. The location couldn’t be better as it is right across from Covent Garden Market and Budweiser Gardens, and only a short walk from Victoria Park. There’s no doubt the summer months will see plenty of amazing events and pop-up gatherings on this pedestrian, community-oriented flex street. Maybe the success of this transformational project for London will encourage London and other cities to implement this type of community-based street in different areas, further engaging the community and brining locals together while boosting the economic values along the particular stretch of road with heightened business for merchants and vendors.