Neighbours are fed up with long test lines in Oakridge – and people peeing on their shrubs

The first cars arrive before dawn.

By 6:30 a.m., the line of cars spills over the Oakridge Arena’s driveway and into Valetta Street past half a dozen houses.  

By 9 a.m., when the testing centre finally opens, the line can sometimes stretch more than a kilometre, with hundreds of cars snaking their way around Deer Park Circle and onto Tarbart Terrace.

For Ann Toman, who lives near the Oakridge Arena, the cars are in front of her house every morning when she wakes up. They don’t leave until 5 p.m.

She’s seen men relieve themselves on her shrubs

Neighbours say people line up at the Oakridge testing centre, seen here, before dawn and by 6:30 a.m., the line of cars has already spilled into nearby Valetta Street. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“It’s a very unsettling feeling,” she said. “There’s thousands of them a week go through here and it’s like bringing all these strangers into your neighbourhood and having them park outside your home.”

Before the coronavirus, waiting in line was a luxury. People would camp out for a new gadget or a movie premiere. With the virus, people don’t wait because they want to anymore, they wait because they must. It can be sad, lonely and sometimes desperate. Toman said she’s seen men relieve themselves on her shrubs. 

“What do you expect when waiting hours?”

Neighbours say it’s also dangerous. Huge black SUVs with tinted windows and giant pickup trucks with extended cabs are not easy to see around. 

A handmade sign on a property right beside the Oakridge Arena COVID-19 assessment centre illustrates some of what neighbours have contended with for the past six months. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“It’s difficult for us to back out,” said Sue Lawrence. “Now that school’s in, there’s three schools on this road, so there’s three sets of school buses coming up and down first thing in the morning and in the evening.”

Traffic is so bad, handwritten signs that say “PLEASE DO NOT BLOCK DRIVEWAY” have started sprouting out of lawns along Valetta Street. Lawrence has one on her boulevard, not that it makes a difference. 

“It doesn’t work. I don’t know if people can’t read it or they think someone is going to cut in,” she said. “If I ask them to back up, they’re giving me shit.”

It’s not just tempers flaring. Litter is also a constant problem. 

‘It’s like we’ve been invaded’

Sue Lawrence lives on Valetta Street and says after six months of long lineups and bad behaviour from people waiting for their COVID tests in front of her house, she’s fed up. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“There’s a guy in his jeep waiting in line, brushing his teeth in a Tim Horton’s cup and then threw the cup out the window,” she said. “Right on [my] boulevard.”

“This is what we’re getting and it’s been going on for six months.”

Lawrence said she’s seen university students travel down the line with no masks, talking to their friends in other cars packed to the brim with students looking for tests.

“Five, six students in there to be tested, none of them had a mask on, wandering up and down the street trying to find their friends in other cars. It was just a big party to them.”  

Lawrence said she’s called police, the commissionaires, the health unit and the City of London and while they’re all sympathetic, no one seems willing to do anything about it. 

“It’s like we’ve been invaded,” she said. “No one has given any consideration to our safety. It’s relentless.” 

Traffic has ‘dramatically increased’

The Oakridge Arena testing centre was the first of its kind in the city and opened back in March when the pandemic first spread to Canada. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Steve Lehman, the city councillor for ward eight, which includes Oakridge, said he’s had a number of calls from neighbours along Valetta Street, Deer Park Circle and Tarbart Terrace.

“We’re seeing traffic around that area dramatically increase,” he said. “I was there [Monday] with a resident and I counted a hundred cars down three streets.”

Lehman said he’s fielded calls from residents unable to back out of their driveways, see around large vehicles blocking sightlines, rude and even indecent behaviour from some of the people in line. 

“Unfortunately and, I hate to say this, but there are people urinating in peoples’ bushes,” he said. 

Exploring ‘a better way’

Ward 8 councillor Steve Lehman, seen here in March outside the Oakridge Arena testing centre, says he’s working on exploring a better way to run the facility or a possible alternate site. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Lehman said he’s going to meeting with the Middlesex-London Health Unit and the City Manager to try to not just mitigate the problems, but maybe even find another place for a testing centre. 

“I don’t think this traffic issue is going to be short-lived and I’m concerned about when the snow flies and we have snow piles on that street adding to the problem,” he said. “Is an assessment centre in a dense neighbourhood with a lot of children the best spot?”

Lehman said given the fact the coronavirus will be with us for a while, there are other locations that would serve as a safer alternative for a large number of people waiting inside their vehicles, such as shopping centres or even the Western Fair grounds. 

“I want to explore a better way,” he said. “The end of the day, we all want to fight this pandemic and do what we have to do and the residents I’ve spoken to understand that, and they’re willing to do their part and they have done their part, but I think circumstances have changed.” 

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