Business owners and residents voiced opposition to a new transit exchange on Terminal Avenue as the City of Nanaimo looks to firm up redevelopment plans downtown.
Public safety advocates and members of the business community spoke at a rally Sunday, Feb. 12, in the parking lot behind the Queen’s, a potential future location for the downtown transit exchange.
At a city finance meeting this Wednesday, Feb. 15, councillors will be asked to recommend increasing the project budget by $1.4 million for Phase 1 corridor upgrades along Terminal. Re-locating the transit exchange from Front Street to Terminal Avenue was previously studied by the city, and remains in the plans.
“We feel a transit exchange here will unfortunately bring more social disorder,” said rally organizer Kevan Shaw.
He talked about some of the recent crime in the area and said the city, in its decision-making, should resist the lure of partial project funding from other levels of government.
“Our lives, your lives, the people who wait for and ride buses, the businesses, the residents in this area, our lives and our futures are priceless,” he said.
Collen Middleton, spokesperson for the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, also brought up the increased crime severity in the city and said he doesn’t think a transit exchange downtown could be designed in a way to mitigate public safety concerns right now.
“Until the province is able to get a handle on the escalating social disorder in the south downtown through judicial policies and mental health and addictions treatment solutions, there’s no justifiable reason to put a downtown exchange at this very spot,” he said. “Until this area feels safe again for all Nanaimo’s residents, this transit exchange will only further concentrate the issues of violence.”
Jason Flett, manager of the Terminal Bar, has experience working in the social service sector in Nanaimo and said people who are unhoused and can’t access resources tend to be the ones who gather in public spaces like transit exchanges. He said bus shelters have become increasingly unsafe and said transit users don’t feel safe catching the bus at the Front Street exchange and are using other bus stops instead.
“I think all of us are about solutions that work,” Flett said. “We’re not anti-anything, we’re about what’s going to work long-term and what’s going to make us feel safe and what’s going to attract people to come to Nanaimo.”
Jerry Hong, owner of the Queen’s, said Nanaimo needs to fix other problems and pursue other solutions before “jumping the gun” and moving the transit exchange with what he suggested has been insufficient planning.
Dave Lawrence, president of the Victoria Crescent Association, said he never usually feels unsafe downtown, but felt unsafe waiting for a bus at the Front Street transit exchange recently.
“I love the movie Mad Max, but to live it in real life, it is scary,” he said. “You see people walking around with weapons, it’s literally, ‘does that guy have a trident? Yes, he does have a trident. That guy has a baseball bat with nails in it? Yep’ … It’s frightening and I do not want that near our businesses here. Victoria Crescent has dealt with enough over the past couple years. We do not need the bus loop here at all.”
City staff told the News Bulletin this past fall that plans to move the bus exchange to Terminal Avenue would be dependent on co-ordinating plans and funding with the Regional District of Nanaimo and B.C. Transit.