Special Report: Light Rail

What Can We Expect From a Citizens' Forum on Rapid Transit?

Mayor Eisenberger's proposed Citizens' Forum is expected to be similar to the 2010 Citizens' Forum established to find a solution to area rating.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 02, 2015

Mayor Fred Eisenberger ran his recent election campaign on a promise to hold a citizens' forum that will review the studies, reports and other information on Hamilton's rapid transit plans and make a recommendation to Council. A citizens' forum is an independent group of residents selected randomly from across the city to consider all of the evidence objectively and, together, come up with a recommendation that reflects the best interest of the city as a whole.

Council still needs to approve Mayor Eisenberger's proposal and it is not yet clear exactly what the citizens' forum would look like, but it is likely to be similar in concept to the first Citizens' Forum that Council established, back in early 2010, to review the city's area rating system and recommend [PDF] a fair, politically palatable solution.

Eisenberger had proposed that Citizens' Forum as an inclusive way to move the City past a highly divisive issue. Council ended up adopting many of the measures from the Forum recommendations, though it decided to defer a decision on area rating for transit. (Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla has announced that he plans to bring a motion to Council to look at ending area rating for transit.)

Core Principles

The February 2010 Terms of Reference [PDF] for that Citizens' Forum are worth reviewing before Council considers Eisenberger's proposal to do the same thing with rapid transit.

The purpose of the Citizens' Forum was to "hear from the Citizens of Hamilton" and "make an informed consensus recommendation to Council on the options associated with" area rating.

The process was based on the following core principles:

Governance Structure

The Citizens' Forum had the following governance structure:

Council Split on LRT

Mayor Eisenberger personally supports the city's LRT plan, approved unanimously by Council in February 2013, but argues that the City needs to "hit the reset button" with the public and the Province after years of mixed messaging and confusion.

He is betting his personal LRT support on the belief that a representative group of reasonable people selected from across the city will conclude that LRT is the city's best option.

Council is badly split on LRT despite voting unanimously to support the City's Rapid Ready LRT plan just two years ago. Nothing has changed in the city's case for LRT, and last summer the Ontario Liberal Party won a majority government on a budget that allocates $15 billion for rapid transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, including rapid transit in Hamilton.

Last week, Eisenberger came out of a meeting with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne saying she had "unequivocally" confirmed that the Province will pay 100 percent of the capital costs for LRT in Hamilton. However, Premier Wynne stopped short of saying "LRT" in her subsequent press conference, saying, "There has been a back-and-forth in Hamilton about what that rapid transit will be."

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 ItJustIs (registered) | Posted February 02, 2015 at 11:01:41

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By Heyu (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2015 at 20:18:04 in reply to Comment 108667

You my friend, seem to be an agent of the devil. Inviting others to distraction, deception, and despair. How do you feel about that? Is your approach consistent with your values? I hope not. If not, then please refrain from such negativity and sabotage.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted February 02, 2015 at 12:48:42 in reply to Comment 108667

The only thing sad is your drivel-laden logic. Who said that a citizens' forum on rapid transit would be "an inclusive way to move the City past a highly divisive issue"? Fred Eisenberger and perhaps his campaign team. I don't know how you translate that into what readers/commenters on RTH believe is beyond me. Not speaking for others, I think you are confusing accepting the political reality of the moment and trying to work with it, with actually thinking it's the way to go ... we already know the way to go, we already had extensive public consultation, and we already had a council overwhelmingly endorse Rapid Ready. What we didn't have in Mayor Bob was a champion willing to expend political capital steering B-Line LRT around the shoals of obstruction and parochialism. He was the main obstruction. Now we have recalcitrance from certain Councillors who supported Rapid Ready not so long ago.

I for one have been suspicious of the idea from the beginning and see it as political strategy to undermine "Rapid Ready" and the B-Line in favour of A-Line as a classic centrist compromise that aligns with certain interests in Hamilton ... I hope I'm wrong, because doing the full A-Line before the B-Line is not in the public interest, or the best way to leverage a billion dollar investment to improve transit and catalyze reurbanization that would actually be "smart" growth.

Comment edited by RobF on 2015-02-02 12:54:19

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2015 at 16:57:19 in reply to Comment 108673

An A-line first plan is a terrible idea, but I can see how forces might lead down this path... and honestly? I'd take it. A-line first could get suburban councilors on-board, tie into GO and bring some of that investment into the city (albeit along Upper James), and start Hamilton down a transit-oriented pathway that would almost inexorably lead to a B-line LRT.

Given that the alternative might be watching council flush this city's future down the drain with yet another round of myopia, I'd take the A-line.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2015 at 07:13:50 in reply to Comment 108695

Right now the A-Line is not a good candidate for a successful LRT system. Current transit ridership is low, the existing land use along and around the line does not particularly support higher-order transit, and any attempt to establish a secondary plan to encourage transit-oriented development will encounter stiff resistance from nearby suburban residents.

The worst thing that could happen would be to build LRT in the wrong location and have the LRT fail. It would be a staggering waste of public investment and would convince a lot of people that the squelchers are right and Hamilton really does exist in a Bermuda Triangle of spooky municipalities where the universal rules of urban development don't apply.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 03, 2015 at 10:54:14 in reply to Comment 108702

The A-line could work if all-day GO service/electricifcation is successful and they don't bother going past Mohawk... maybe Rymal at the extreme. Ditch the waste-of-money trip to the airport until a future upgrade. It would service both St. Joe's campuses (campi?) the GO station, the rapidly-intensifying James North neighborhood, and Mohawk College (which the IBI report identified as a major transit centre). Make a deal with some of the ever-empty parking lots at Upper James and Mohawk for a park-and-ride lot.

Run it along Barton instead of going to the Harbourfront until its storage at Sanford and you'll capture some of that massive #2 ridership.

The Mountain Plaza Mall isn't Eastgate, and Mohawk isn't Mac. It's not ideal, and it would take a lot more work than the instant-win B-line, but there are factors that could make the A-line workable.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted February 02, 2015 at 20:07:51 in reply to Comment 108695

I follow your logic, but it's precisely why a "reset" is appealing to some ...

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By RobF (registered) | Posted February 02, 2015 at 13:02:07 in reply to Comment 108673

Oh crap, I forgot my policy of not responding to straw-manish and/or trollish comments.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted February 02, 2015 at 15:03:44 in reply to Comment 108676

If only these were nothing more than internet trolls. Some councilors think these are good arguments.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2015 at 13:48:35 in reply to Comment 108676

Don't feel too bad. Trolling is the junk food of discourse: a supernormal stimulus that exaggerates the qualities to which we are attracted in authentic conversation. With that in mind, I have tried to update the expression "Don't feed the trolls." Don't feed yourself junk communication by debating trolls. Choose healthy discussion instead.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted February 02, 2015 at 14:07:19 in reply to Comment 108684

It's the snow. My resistance is usually stronger ... supernormal stimulus is a great explanation.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2015 at 14:10:25 in reply to Comment 108687

Dierdre Barrett's 2010 book Supernormal Stimuli was an utterly enthralling read. It really left a dent in my worldview.

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By RobFord (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2015 at 16:47:18

Subways.

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