Special Report: Light Rail

LRT Success Needs Land Use Planning, Street Calming, Political Champion: Study

A new study by McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics concludes that LRT needs sound, long-term land use planning and strong political leadership to be successful.

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 31, 2012

Hamilton's B-Line LRT will have difficulty attracting new transit-oriented development as long as Hamilton's downtown streets remain one-way, fast thoroughfares, according to a new study by McMaster's Institute for Transportation and Logistics.

The study by geographers Christopher Higgins and Mark Ferguson, titled The North American Light Rail Experience: Insights for Hamilton [PDF], reviews 30 light rail transit systems established in North America since 1975 for lessons on how Hamilton can help ensure that its LRT investment is successful.

It focuses more closely on Calgary, San Diego, Minneapolis and Buffalo - the first three as case studies in what works, and the latter as a warning for what can happen when LRT construction is divorced from regional economics and effective land use planning.

Transit-Oriented Development

The research emphasizes the essential role of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) policies in ensuring that LRT rail investment will deliver expected gains in ridership and private sector development around the line.

TOD refers to a land use and development model based around access to higher-order transit: a dense, mixed-use, walkable urban built form that is compatible with transit and has a reduced reliance on driving. It emphasizes "place-making" by locating stations in areas of high activity and encouraging "attractive, memorable and human-scale environs" with high-quality designs.

Along with TOD is a necessary relaxation of traditional minimum parking requirements to "avoid the construction of costly parking structures and save residents thousands of dollars" when developers are forced to construct parking based on an auto-centric land use.

Long Term, Political Champion

Successful LRT systems also focus on the long term, partnering with developers and investors to reduce the perceived risk of mixed-use infill development compared to single-use suburban greenfield development.

Success for an LRT program is measured in decades, not years, as the line and associated land use policies slowly transform investment flows and population movements in the city.

The study notes the importance of "strong political leadership" as "a critical element in the success of any rapid transit and TOD project.

A political champion can help to realize success by marshaling resources, building coalitions, and resolving disputes. Coordinating institutions, streamlining processes, and minimizing red tape are seen as crucial in implementing TOD projects and are dependent on strong political leadership.

What it Means for Hamilton

The study summarizes what all this means for Hamilton, concluding that LRT "has the potential to succeed in Hamilton under the right set of circumstances" but will be long and expensive to achieve.

One issue Hamilton faces is that the east-west B-Line route does not suffer traffic congestion and has cheap, abundant parking. "The system of one-way streets along the prospective corridor, while good for auto commuting, is not ideal for LRT or for encouraging TOD."

If Hamilton's LRT is to be successful at attracting people out of cars, it should follow the example of Calgary, which combined its LRT with changes to its road structure that "have made it more challenging to commute downtown by car."

The study also finds that traffic speed reductions and two-way conversion "can reduce traffic accident risk and result in an improved environment for transit users, pedestrians, and cyclists."

This conclusion reinforces the Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis, which states that converting Main and King Streets to two-way will increase the benefits of LRT and support the City's goal of a "healthy, more pedestrian-friendly downtown".

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 13:48:11

The overwhelming reason why I'm so convinced that LRT would work so well for Hamilton is because of the expert planning that is being done by our terrific city staff.

I've attended charettes and public meetings, these people know what they are doing.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 02, 2012 at 22:26:09 in reply to Comment 80294

Isn't this the same terrific city staff that doesn't want to talk about converting Cannon, King and Main to two way?

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By Glottal Stop (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2012 at 06:08:13 in reply to Comment 80364

And isn't this report a product of the same MITL that is headed up by members of the pro-trucking, pro-AEGD contingent?

Solution: A-Line LRT to from Downtown to Aerotropolis. Win-Win!

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By Bazinga (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2012 at 13:43:35 in reply to Comment 80371

MITL FTW!

http://www.investinhamilton.ca/navistar-returns-hamilton/

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By JeanLucPicard (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 13:54:55 in reply to Comment 80294

All the more reason we should be worried when they get frustrated and quit after getting mixed signals and runaround from their leaders!

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 17:50:08 in reply to Comment 80295

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 10:58:57 in reply to Comment 80304

"Don't you think the reason our leaders are sending mixed messages is because there is an overwhelming resistance to the changes being sought from those planners from the actual residents of this city."

No, I don't, because that has not been the position. Yes, there are differences of opinion.

The problem about "putting any one of those modes ahead of another" is that no one can agree on what that would look like, because there isn't one way of looking at these issues.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 22:12:37 in reply to Comment 80304

I call concern-troll BS on the false equivalence between people who think streets should serve everyone's needs (one "extreme") and people who only think streets should serve the needs of drivers (the real extreme). Car-only extremism is in charge and anyone who wants more balanced streets is painted as some kind of radical.

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By No to both extremists (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2012 at 06:15:50 in reply to Comment 80313

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted September 01, 2012 at 09:16:41 in reply to Comment 80321

I'd like you to point out some articles or comments on RTH that argue for elimination of cars to make room for ONLY bikes or ONLY transit.

It's funny, the only comments I have read say that we need to create balance to accommodate all users. Including cars.

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By Kevin Love (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2012 at 17:03:51 in reply to Comment 80323

I believe that Hamilton's downtown should be car-free.

Why?

Because of the lethal poisons in car pollution. Hamilton's air quality is already seriously compromised by heavy industry. I don't want myself and my children to be poisoned by car drivers.

I note that Toronto's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, reports that car drivers poison and kill 440 people in that city every year. And they poison and injure 1,700 people so seriously that they have to be hospitalized.

Children are particularly vulnerable to being poisoned by car drivers. Children in Toronto experience 1,200 acute bronchitis episodes per year and 68,000 asthma symptom days. All due to being poisoned by car drivers.

His report may be found here:

http://www.toronto.ca/health/hphe/pdf/air_pollution_burden.pdf

There is nothing magical about Hamilton's air that makes my children immune from these deadly poisons. That is why I have zero tolerance of people administering lethal poisons to my innocent children.

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By ANITAR (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2012 at 13:46:43 in reply to Comment 80330

Car free? wow - tell that to the auto workers and steel workers that make steel for the auto industry.
Tell downtown businesses that there will no longer be car traffic.....lol they will move out of the downtown to the suburban malls.
Ottawa turned Sparks street car free many years ago and belive me NO ONE goes there, only office workers at lunch hour. They tried to turn Rideau street to bus only and it died.
This is Canada NOT Europe, our cities are build differently.
Yes just allow bikes that are made in China.
Spend a BILLION DOLLARS PLUS on an LRT from nowhere to the downtown?
An LRT will never work in Hamilton because of the escarpment, it can't climb the Mountain!!
It will be far cheaper to make some BUS ONLY LANES and buy some extra buses.

Don't saddle taxpayers with these BILLION DOLLAR DREAMS this province already has a $15.6 BILLION deficit and a $250BILLON DEBT let's not add to it.
Hamilton does NOT need an LRT

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 04, 2012 at 14:18:50 in reply to Comment 80404

Sigh, here we go.

Car free?

For the record, I don't think downtown Hamilton should go car-free any time soon (with the exception of the south leg of Gore, which will make a lovely pedestrian plaza once we commit to it). However, our streets currently serve high speed through traffic at the expense of all other modes - including local automobile traffic!

As for Sparks Street in Ottawa, the first big mistake they made was to remove the streetcar tracks in the 1950s and to tilt the land use too heavily to commercial/tourism without a complementary urban residential use to keep people around all day. As a result, it's busy during weekdays and empty at night and on weekends.

This is Canada NOT Europe, our cities are build differently.

Downtown Hamilton was built before cars.

Spend a BILLION DOLLARS PLUS on an LRT from nowhere to the downtown?

McMaster University and West Hamilton are not "nowhere".

An LRT will never work in Hamilton because of the escarpment, it can't climb the Mountain!!

The east-west B-Line won't have to climb the mountain, but the A-Line will. Fortunately, LRT can easily handle grades of 6%, which is the grade of the Claremont Access.

It will be far cheaper to make some BUS ONLY LANES and buy some extra buses.

Far cheaper - and far less successful at attracting the new riders, new private development, new tax assessments and new land use that will pay for the investment in increased economic vitality.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 11:00:56 in reply to Comment 80330

Absolutely disagree with this. Yes cars produce toxic pollution (as do buses and trains and anything that uses grid electricity) but we need to assess that in an atmosphere of harm reduction rather than banning.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 18:07:31 in reply to Comment 80304

No, not resistance.

Hamiltonians are typicaly apathetic and cynical.

At the same time, i both love, and am embarrassed by how many outsiders and new comers praise this city only to have it countered by "our" cynicism and negativity. Thank God for resources like RTH and others that are slowly defeating that.


I believe it's the typical Hamilton lack of vision, and more recently lack of leadership.

If Fred were mayor, there'd be a champion, no doubt.

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By MIKEM (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2012 at 13:53:37 in reply to Comment 80308

LOL...........
Captain it's about the cost and the need. The traffic in this city is on the highways around this city. It's grid lock and spending BILLIONS on an LRT across the downtown will do NOTHING to alleviate grid lock.

you think that people who don't want to spend taxpayers dollars "lack vision" no we "lack money"
I am tired of the government and taxpayers having to fund everything.

I think it's leadership that stands up and says
"I'm not willing to spend one penny on an LRT" in a city like Hamilton.
Bus only lanes and extra buses will suffice in this city. Not because some people are excited about seeing a shiny new train on tracks running across the city.

STOP THIS LRT NONSENSE and give the taxpayers of this Province a break

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2012 at 10:07:08 in reply to Comment 80308

Hamiltonians love Hamilton, by and large. The problematic relationship is between the citizenry and its leadership. Those who have lived here long-term have been disappointed, dismayed and betrayed time and again. It's a bit like being in a long-term relationship with an abusive partner. I am hesitant to blame citizens who have grown weary of that arrangement.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 01, 2012 at 11:10:36 in reply to Comment 80325

I agree that the cynicism and apathy we see in many long time residents is the result of having the football snatched away one too many times, but while many Hamiltonians may love their hometown in general, they hate the parts of it that are more urban in character.

This is not something peculiar to Hamilton, by any means. Anti-urban sentiment has been an all too dominant thread throughout the last century and a half of North American history, and cities everywhere have suffered because of it.

Cities and the people who live in them have always been a convenient punching bag on the national level. On a local level, this anti-urbanism takes the form of the irrational fear and loathing of the downtown and it's residents that is spewed every time discussion turns to investing public dollars in anything that stands to benefit the downtown, whether it's transit infrastructure, liveable streets, economic incentives, etc.

There will always be a substantial portion of the population who will cling to their loathing of all things urban, and for whom no amount of proof of downtown's revitalization will change their skewed perceptions.

Comment edited by highwater on 2012-09-01 11:11:31

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted September 04, 2012 at 15:21:24 in reply to Comment 80326

I find that the most Hamilton back-patting comes from non-Toronto visitors. Most visitors I've brought to the city are blown away by the negative press the city receives. Sometimes you have to leave a place to appreciate what it has.

Not many cities -- as it stands in it its state today -- can boast what Hamilton has.

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2012 at 02:11:13

Did we really need a study to explain this? We're talking about a project that will challenge if not overturn a core aspect of Hamilton's urban psychoengineering, to say nothing of the logistical hoops and the not inconsiderable matter of funding. It was always going to be an epic undertaking. Why would anyone imagine that city-building of this magnitude would be anything less than a 24/7/365 challenge? That commitment is what helps create the conditions that give rise to the ROI to which proponents habitually and proudly point. Imagining otherwise is folly.

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By Bricoleur (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2012 at 13:35:57

Even some avowed urbanists subconsciously adopt the "nice place to visit but" position. Downtown Hamilton's population is around 2% of the city as a whole. Some of its biggest fans live elsewhere.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 11:05:27 in reply to Comment 80327

Looking at actual numbers, I make 28% living in Wards 1 through 4; 15-16% in just Wards 2 and 3. 2-way conversion will make a big difference to my area as well.

I live in Ward 1 myself and am one of those "avowed urbanists". I prefer living here (Ainslie Wood) to downtown for a bunch of reasons; I don't think this makes me a "nice place to visit but" person. I like downtown, lived there many years, prefer it here.

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By Bricoleur (anonymous) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 11:23:14 in reply to Comment 80346

"Lower City" is obviously much larger than "Downtown", but it tends to be just as politically disenfranchised. Wards 2 and 3 in particular have historically had some of the worst voter turnout in the city (though it improved markedly in the last election, it was still worse than anywhere but 14, which was arguably dampened by an acclamation), and 1 and 4 are generally not much better. If your ward can't summon 10,000+ to the polls, (a club that includes 5-8, 11 & 12) its concerns seem to get short shrift.

I wouldn't deny anyone the freedom to live where they want -- family dynamics vary -- but when it comes to the chicken and egg question of downtown, urbanists might give thought to where they fit in.

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 11:41:33 in reply to Comment 80349

My guess would be that most "urbanists" are pretty self-aware when it comes to the implications of their lifestyle choices. I think you're grasping at straws here.

The democratic disconnect is another thing entirely. The political and economic mojo definitely seems to be suburban. We hear about the 24,000 jobs downtown and that number is pretty much the same as voter turnout across Wards 1-3. The balance is off.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 11:39:11 in reply to Comment 80349

Well Bric, I am a user of downtown. I worked there for many years but I now run my own operation which doesn't need a downtown office (yet; once I am at that stage of growth, I expect to be downtown).

I'm also a user in terms of using downtown's services and visiting there. I attend evening events downtown about 6-12 times a year, was a regular attendee at school board events when they were downtown, regularly take meetings downtown, visit clients there. I shop downtown, not least at the Farmer's Market and on James Street. All in all, I would average 50-75 trips downtown a year. That's historically low for me, but it doesn't change my views on the importance of downtown to me.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2012 at 17:10:12

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 11:06:21 in reply to Comment 80331

What would be a success, in your view? You speak of "guaranteed success" but unless I know what you mean about success I can't evaulate that.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 08:02:19

Does no one else have a problem with the following paragraph?

If Hamilton's LRT is to be successful at attracting people out of cars, it should follow the example of Calgary, which combined its LRT with changes to its road structure that "have made it more challenging to commute downtown by car."

So, the only way for LRT to work is to make it harder for people to get downtown? A lot of you might respond by saying "but Spacemonkey, it won't be any harder. They just have to take the LRT instead of drive". You can think that all you want, but for anyone who doesn't live along the planned corridor it isn't a reality. The comparison the author makes to Calgary is silly because it's not like 10s of thousands of people are commuting into downtown Hamilton ever day to work.

If it didn't cost the city very much in the short and long term, I'd love to see a better form of public transit in Hamilton. However, if the only way it might be successful is to make one of the other forms of transport less appealing, I wouldn't consider that a success. If the only way LRT might be successful is to make driving less appealing, perhaps we don't have a problem that needs fixing.

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By kettal (registered) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 19:32:30 in reply to Comment 80342

" The comparison the author makes to Calgary is silly because it's not like 10s of thousands of people are commuting into downtown Hamilton ever day to work. "

Then why do we need all the excess road capacity into downtown?

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 11:10:05 in reply to Comment 80342

While I think these are good points, we also have investment and livability problems that intersect with the "attractiveness" of commuting by car to/through our downtown. Those are problems that intersect with choice. To drive the investment and livability benefits, we need to make changes to the transportation network that will, in fact, make it harder to get to/through downtown by car, but it's not being done for those reasons.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 08:15:32

traffic congestion... CAN also be EXAMINED as a POSSIBLE pre-requisite for a successful LRT implementation.

This does not say that traffic congestion IS a pre-requisite for successful LRT.

Congestion has been found to play a fundamental role in influencing suburban voters to support transit initiatives.

This sounds like problem-reaction-solution. First create a problem (congestion) that doesn't currently exist and then offer the solution (LRT).

Overall, the conclusion would be that congestion does more to assist with LRT than LRT does to reduce congestion.

So, the solution that they offer (LRT) doesn't really fix the problem (congestion). Why do we want LRT again?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 02, 2012 at 13:13:05 in reply to Comment 80343

Why do we want LRT again?

  • More private investment in under-utilized urban land.

  • Reduction in unsustainable sprawl that does not pay for itself in development charges and property taxes.

  • More efficient and productive use of built public infrastructure, which reduces the per capita infrastructure cost while increasing tax assessments per hectare.

  • Economies of scale, association and density create new investment and job growth.

  • Higher economic output per capita.

  • Better air quality and reduced per capita energy consumption.

  • Improvement in public health due to increased walking (and cycling).

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By kettal (registered) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 19:34:03

My biggest problem with the current LRT proposal is that it doesn't seem to have a satisfactory connection to the GO Train stations.

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By concerned (anonymous) | Posted September 02, 2012 at 23:02:23

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2012 at 09:25:18

Everyone keeps forgetting the B-Line Corridor already carries enough people per day to justify LRT - Metrolinx said so.

It might not be a "solution" to a current problem - but it is a solution to a future problem - we're running out of capacity on that line with our current transit system.

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2012 at 10:41:03 in reply to Comment 80375

If I remember the in-house response to that revelation, the problem seems to be that the success of that corridor is possibly underwriting the operational costs of other routes that are running at a loss.

The HSR's threadbare business model is certainly not helping the casue of LRT.

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2012 at 12:07:25 in reply to Comment 80381

Agh. "Cause".

It also bears mentioning that the B-Line corridor turns a profit in part because its vehicles are packed like sardine cans, as will become increasingly apparent now that school is back in session.

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