Special Report: Light Rail

Leadership and Bold Vision on LRT

We don't need more study. We don't need to 'step back and respect the process'. And we certainly don't need to be 'protected'. What we need is leadership and bold vision.

By Jason Allen
Published September 27, 2011

The time has come to draw a line in the sand on light rail transit (LRT). While the mayor insists that he is following a proscribed process, this belies the fact that the 'public relations' side of this highly political issue has been mismanaged.

Mayor Bob Bratina's remarks on the Bill Kelly show have done nothing to support the goal of LRT - despite the mayor's claims of neutrality - especially remarks about not being willing to be a "champion".

These ongoing comments (often filled with misinformation, such as the mayor's dismissal of Charlotte's extremely successful LRT as "kind of an old-fashioned quaint trolley" going to a non-existent waterfront) have served only to give Premier Dalton McGuinty the wiggle room he needed to renege on his promise to fully fund the proposal.

This is not an issue that can be left to City Hall staff to quietly follow a politely proscribed process. This is a battle between Hamilton and other municipalities for a rapidly shrinking pie.

This is not a time for stepping back and 'respecting the process', it is a time for positioning Hamilton aggressively as a community that desires LRT, is willing to work hard to get it, and will make it into a lasting success.

The position of 'respecting the process' and 'neutrality' is nothing of the sort. It is a de facto statement to the Province that Hamilton doesn't want LRT badly enough to fight for it the way we are fighting for other initiatives, such as all-day GO service.

Calgary LRT Debate

This whole situation for me is a bit of deja vu, as I was living in Calgary when the decision to build the C-Train (Calgary's LRT) was being debated. Again and again the naysayers said "Calgarians will never leave their cars behind," or "It will be a money losing enterprise," or "There will be no development to support it."

Mayor Ralph Klein (yes, that Ralph Klein) took the leap of faith, and worked through a very difficult process, and Calgary now has an LRT (referred to at the time as "Little Ralphie's Train"). He was tireless, and frankly outright combative in his effort to secure funding and build a case for the project.

Was it successful? Well, 50 percent of commuters going downtown (of whom it was said they would 'never give up their cars') now ride LRT, to the point where parking at stations is at a premium. It also bears mentioning that Calgary is spending untold millions to expand their LRT into underserved neighbourhoods.

Development has further sprung up around the system to such a point that property values surrounding proposed stations in the expanding lines have skyrocketed.

Commercial districts in Calgary that were struggling (such as across from McMahon Stadium and in the Northeast) have now become thriving commercial hubs, with low vacancy rates and sky-high rents.

A quiet, nearly vacant indoor mall on the Northwest line is also now undergoing a multimillion dollar expansion and renovation, in-part due to the foot traffic that has been brought about by an increasingly busy C-Train stop.

Furthermore, parking at C-Train stations is such a hot-button issue that Calgary's Mayor Nenshi was able to stir up considerable controversy, and in part kick off his campaign prior to the last civic election, based on Calgary Transit's plan to begin to charge for parking at stations.

All for a system that we were told nobody would ever use, and would bankrupt the city.

Hamilton is No Exception

Hamilton is not an exception to these kind of successes. The LRT projects that have been successful elsewhere will be successful here too.

We don't need more study. We don't need to 'step back and respect the process'. And we certainly don't need to be 'protected'. What we need is leadership and bold vision.

Ralph Klein was never one to back down from a good fight for something he believed in, and that would benefit the city he was so proud of.

That's the type of pride and fighting spirit we need now, rather than a passive respecting of the process.

Come on, Mr Bratina. Take the gloves off.

Jason Allen is a chronic hive whacker in the Kirkendall Neighbourhood.

22 Comments

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted September 27, 2011 at 16:04:36

Come on, Mr Bratina. Take the gloves off.

Bratina appears to be in the pocket of the Liberals and the Liberals would love for this project to die or at least be moved to the back-back-back-burner (no matter what they say publicly). All BB has done from day one is throw mud all over this issue.

With the election coming this whole thing could just slide down the crapper.

Hudak hasn't come right out and said he'll scrap it but he has alluded to reopening the entire transportation plan and "doing things differently." If Dalton wins he has no need of us for another 4 years... so LRT by????

It is sad to see what this city has done to itself over the Pan Am and LRT projects the past few years. My feelings about the Pan Am games aside, there was a lot of excitement about the whole thing a few years ago. A new stadium, eventually tied into LRT and all day GO. It was going to be a catalyst for change and the Hammer was finally going to be given some bootstraps to pick itself up by.

Now any mention of a stadium gets groans, the other Pan Am facilities are getting the same "who's on first" treatment by council as the stadium. The LRT is a big question mark, and we topped it all off with the self-inflicted election of BB, who won because he promised to rip the city apart... Oh what could have been but for just a bit more vision by the city as a whole and better political savvy on Eisenberger's part (He made two massive mistakes: 1. Leaving a crack in the door of the stadium debate for Bob Young and 2. Not taking Bratina seriously enough. The minute BB said de-amalgamation he should have exposed Bratina as a lying fool).

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By its all about the money (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2011 at 16:18:26 in reply to Comment 70097

banned user deleted

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2011 at 16:08:09

Mr. McGreal on today's Scott Thompson Show...

http://emedia.900chml.com/Podcasts/1261/09-27-11-2a-LRT-Ryan_McGreal_1.mp3
http://emedia.900chml.com/Podcasts/1261/09-27-11-2b-LRT-Ryan_McGreal_2.mp3

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By Trevor Westerhoff (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2011 at 16:38:20

I'm proud to note that Andrea Horwath and the entire Hamilton area NDP group of candidates have been consistently in favour of LRT in Hamilton. At every All Candidates Meeting we have been clear in our support of public transit investments. No ifs, ands, or buts. Regardless of how the provincial election shakes out I'm glad to know Andrea will fight for Hamilton. /partisanship

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted September 27, 2011 at 18:45:36

This is so sad. We have eaten up all of the province's social services costs, and now we are going to weenie out of pushing the province to fund the transit system that we need. When is the city going to stand up and tell Ontario we refuse to be their toilet anymore?

Is there anyone at city hall fighting for the citizens?

Does anyone being paid to sit in city hall all day even live in Hamilton? Do they care? If not, why not?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2011 at 21:08:34

What if the "truths" we have been told about the economy are all wrong.

For example, we have been told that things like LRT, stadiums, higher welfare payments are very expensive and therefore have to be heavily scrutinized before they are funded.

However, is that really the case?

Since 1992, Japan's debt/GDP has gone from 70% of GDP to the current 220%.

In the same period of time, Japanese real estate prices have fallen dramatically....

http://www.reinet.or.jp/pdf/report/shigaiti201106/zenkoku.pdf

(Not only that, but Japan has also enjoyed(suffered?) through some of the lowest overall inflation of any country in the world.)

So while Japan ran big government deficits, one of the major side effects was that real estate got cheaper to buy.

This same thing has happened in Canada (and is currently the case in the U.S.). When deficits are big, home prices either stopped increasing at a fast rate, or they declined/flattened out (1981-86, 1990-95). In contrast, when we run surpluses, or small deficits, home prices increase at a faster rate (1986-89, 1997-2009).

But wait, aren't falling home prices a BAD thing?

I don't know, are falling car prices a bad thing? How about falling food prices, clothes prices, or education prices?

Imagine if house prices fell so much that a person could buy a 3 bedroom house for $20K, from the current $200K. Would that be good for society, or bad?

Think about it for a second. Why is it that home prices are so expensive that we have to work the rest of our lives paying them off? The average house takes around 40 days to build, the land is plentiful, and yet we have people living on the streets because the COST is far to much for them to ever be able to purchase their own home.

Another reason why we think government deficits/debt are bad is because we have been told that government spending needs to be BORROWED.

In fact, the Government of Canada, as the sole issuer of Canadian dollars, can spend ANY amount of money it wants to.

For example, if the Government of Canada wanted to give Hamilton $1 billion to spend on transit, all it would have to do is deposit that money (essentially using keystrokes) into the city bank account. As an after thought, it would then sell bonds in an equal amount to the market, so as to have a mechanism to pull reserves out of the banking system and thus help control inflation.

Alternatively, the City of Hamilton could raise the $1 billion locally (tax high earners) and then get the Feds to issue tax credits to offset that exact amount. In this way, the city would get the $1 billion, federal spending would not be inflationary, and local residents, who were taxed by the city, would save the equivalent in federal taxes. All that would change, would be the debt of the Government of Canada. But since we know it can NEVER run out of money, who cares?

To sum up...

If we have a pretty good set of data points that show that housing prices fall when we run government deficits AND we know that lower home prices are good for society (less homeless people) AND we know the government can never run out of borrowing capacity, then what is the reason to NOT spend on things like LRT?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 27, 2011 at 23:10:57

A nice reminder that this doesn't have to be a left vs. right issue. It's really an optimists vs. pessimists issue.

And really, if you're going to be pessimistic about Hamilton, why stay here? There are a million other nice places in Ontario.

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted September 28, 2011 at 09:15:42

It's easy to forget that pre-amalgamation City of Hamilton was also bedevilled by upper vs. lower city political battles, by optimism vs. pessimism, progressive vs. traditional thought. And that was in the absence of social media or, for the most part, maintream internet and cellphone use, meaning that expressions of dissatisfaction or dissent were much more organizationally intensive: there was no way of getting around boots-on-the-ground action. So we should never be despondent about the state of affairs, since it would have been exponentially more difficult to be a civic organizer in previous generations. Despite the downsides, this is a magical time.

It's important to remember as well that post-amalgamation City of Hamilton has obviously lost none of its divisiveness. The geographic growth that accompanied amalgamation would, in itself, have complicated the progress of lower-city-based initiatives; there can an incredible distance between what various Hamiltonians consider "local concerns". Ward 14 alone is the size of Burlington and Oakville combined. The most third of the city that is the most populous also seems to be the fastest-growing, and that growth – in jobs and homes – is not inconsequential when it comes to policy and decision making (or lack thereof) at City Hall. Urbanists gravitate to Ward 2, but it's the sixth most populous ward in the city. If you're inclined to read tea leaves, look east of the Red Hill and South of the Linc for clues as to the priorities of Hamiltonians. And then swallow hard, put on your game face and work for change.

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By JM (registered) | Posted September 28, 2011 at 11:13:20

well said, this is a great article!

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By BeulahAve (registered) | Posted September 28, 2011 at 16:40:49

I wrote a statement on the Hamilton Light Rail page, and within a few hours I had a response from our mayor refuting what I said! To my assertion "the studies have been done, it's time to move forward on this," he replied that they have not been completed, pasting in some details.

I hadn't realized that these statements were being emailed directly to policy makers, but still!

Keep up the good work Jason!

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted September 29, 2011 at 07:40:51 in reply to Comment 70118

It was actually the mayor's response to my post on HLRT that prompted my letter back to him that was the basis for this essay. The Mayor's response to me was... Shall we say, caustic? I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 28, 2011 at 16:44:24 in reply to Comment 70118

Just above the "Show your support for LRT" form, the site reads:

Please note: Statements will be sent to the contact list which includes City Council, MPPs, Premier McGuinty, and local provincial candidates. These politicians and officials may respond to you via email.

I understand the mayor has responded personally to a number of people who posted statements.

The Mayor's office has recently said we're waiting for a "feasibility report" on LRT, but that's simply not true. The city's feasibility study was completed in 2008, and the Metrolinx benefits case analysis was completed in early 2010.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-09-28 17:19:04

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By BeulahAve (registered) | Posted September 28, 2011 at 16:58:04 in reply to Comment 70119

Good plan -- that will make his head explode. I guess I should have read more closely, but I don't mind.

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By HSR has a better idea (anonymous) | Posted September 29, 2011 at 13:37:45

banned user deleted

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 29, 2011 at 13:46:30 in reply to Comment 70133

Thanks Pegs.

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By HSR has a better idea (anonymous) | Posted September 29, 2011 at 14:36:49 in reply to Comment 70134

banned user deleted

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 29, 2011 at 23:52:39 in reply to Comment 70137

Your post was simply shilling for the BO.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 29, 2011 at 14:04:41 in reply to Comment 70134

The key conclusions of the HSR operational review are certainly worth keeping in mind, including the following:

  • The new Official Plan focuses on transit nodes and corridors
  • Provincial policies emphasize transit
  • Rapid transit could be a key economic driver, but will require a supportive transit network
  • There are no magic bullets to grow transit ridership without incurring increased costs or sacrificing minimum service standards

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By HSR has a better idea (anonymous) | Posted September 29, 2011 at 14:35:59

banned user deleted

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 29, 2011 at 15:02:11 in reply to Comment 70136

I would like to see the HSR improved system-wide. One of the benefits of LRT is that it allows the HSR to meet the ridership demands of the east-west corridor - 13,000 a day, according to the operational review, or more than a third of total ridership - while re-deploying its bendy-buses to other under-served routes.

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By HSR has a better way (anonymous) | Posted September 29, 2011 at 15:26:22

banned user deleted

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By pol (anonymous) | Posted September 29, 2011 at 18:08:21

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-09-29 19:27:21

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