If we want to make the best policy decisions for Hamilton, we need to choose actual research over hand-wavy unsupported claims, and we need to stop manufacturing false alternatives.
By Ryan McGreal
Published June 27, 2013
YourHamiltonBiz just published an op-ed by David Estok, former editor-in-chief of the Hamilton Spectator, titled "Why we don't need LRT". YourHamiltonBiz is subscription-only, but they have provided an accessible link to the article.
Here is Estok's thesis in three short points:
1) We can't afford it. 2) We don't need it. 3) There are other, more important and pressing demands.
The article is peppered with claims backed by "studies show" justifications, but Estok makes no references to any studies. He writes:
The real issue for the city when it comes to transit is All Day GO service. Study after study has shown the greatest economic impact we can have on the city and the best transit system we can push for is all day GO service. That one action will do more for Hamilton in the next decade than light rail would do in double the amount of time.
As the kids on Wikipedia say, citation needed.
Metrolinx conducted a Class Environmental Assessment on the Hamilton to Niagara Peninsula Rail Expansion that demonstrated a use case for establishing a mobility hub at a new James North GO Station and gradually expanding rail service in Hamilton and into Niagara.
It certainly drew no conclusions as extravagant as "the greatest economic impact we can have on the city" or "will do more for Hamilton in the next decade than light rail would do in double the amount of time".
As far as I know, and I'm always willing to be proven wrong, there are no studies that make such claims, let alone "study after study".
For the record, here are a few real studies we can reference:
The city's Feasibility Report, conducted in 2008, strongly concluded that LRT would confer a clear net advantage over bus rapid transit in attracting economic development and revitalizing downtown neighbourhoods. Its recommendations were unambiguous: build LRT, integrate with community and economic development policies, start with the east-west B-Line, and move quickly and decisively to get priority funding from the province.
The Province's Benefits Case Analysis also concluded that LRT will produce a large net benefit in terms of economic development, urban revitalization, environmental sustainability and user experience.
Last year, a study by McMaster Institute of Transtportaion and Logistics (MITL) concluded that LRT can be successful if it is integrated with compatible land use planning and street calming and has a political champion to shepherd it through the many challenges that every transformative transit investment faces.
That's in addition to the steady outpouring of research from cities around the world and across North America that have already built and are operating LRT systems.
The case for a well-planned, well-designed LRT system is very strong, and Hamilton is well-positioned to take advantage of the hard work that has already gone into its planning - if we can overcome lukewarm leadership, mayoral obstruction and seeping misinformation.
As for Estok's claim that we don't need LRT, he celebrates Hamilton's network of one-way thoroughfares: "Right now, you can drive from the far east of Hamilton to downtown in about 20 minutes due to a technology called one-way streets."
The "technology" Estok esteems is the same network of fast, high-volume one-way streets that have destroyed businesses and traumatized neighbourhoods in the lower city for over five decades.
It's no coincidence that Cannon Street, the four-lane, one-way juggernaut that exemplifies Estok's preferred transportation system for Hamilton, blasts through several of the city's most impoverished and vulnerable "Code Red" neighbourhoods.
When it comes to the design of our transportation system to optimize either driving or walking, cycling and transit, we can credibly hang the phrase "study after study after study after study after study after study after study" (ad nauseam).
Hamilton cannot afford not to invest in complete, livable streets and a high quality light rail transportation system. The status quo of unaffordable sprawl development, which steadily adds to the city's net infrastructure liabilities, coupled with a devastating "sacrifice zone" of underinvested urban neighbourhoods further traumatized by dangerous through traffic, is unsustainable.
Waterloo Region recognizes this. They committed to their LRT plan precisely because they determined that it would actually cost the region more in transportation and infrastructure not to build it, not to mention missing out on the essential economies of urban intensification, which well-planned LRT is proven to deliver.
Mississauga understands this. After decades of sprawl, the lifecycle bill for which is now coming due, they understand that the only way to stay fiscally afloat is to increase the economic productivity of the downtown through new high density development anchored by LRT.
All-day GO train service is an important part of the regional transportation network, but as Metrolinx and the Province keep reminding us, we do not have to choose between all-day GO and LRT. Both of them "are viable and can co-exist. Hamilton's current rapid transit scenario is not an 'either-or' scenario."
If we want to make the best policy decisions for Hamilton, we need to choose actual research over hand-wavy unsupported claims, and we need to stop manufacturing phony crises and false alternatives. It's hard enough to navigate the real challenges to a project as large and transformative as LRT without inventing additional barriers to throw in its path.
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