Special Report: Light Rail

Ten Year Transit Strategy: LRT Delayed is LRT Denied

Remind Council that the only way to transform Hamilton's transit profile is to invest in rapid transit, but the Ten Year Transit Strategy effectively pushes even the beginning of rapid transit construction out beyond the ten-year horizon.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 03, 2015

The Ontario Government has budgeted $15 billion for rapid transit investments in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) that are identified in The Big Move, the Regional Transportation Plan. That plan includes two rapid transit lines in Hamilton: an east-west light rail transit (LRT) line between Eastgate Square and McMaster and listed in the next wave of priority projects, followed by a north-south line between the waterfront and Hamilton Airport.

Since 2007, the Province has been saying they are committed to funding the capital costs for rapid transit in Hamilton. As recently as this past January 26, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne reiterated the Province's commitment to 100 percent capital funding for Hamilton's rapid transit plan.

The City of Hamilton's official position for the past two years has been Rapid Ready: an $811 million plan to build the east-west LRT line and start preliminary work on the north-south line. The plan has been in development since 2008 and includes a class Environmental Assessment, 30 percent engineering and detailed design (ready to start tendering construction bids), a land use study for the area around the line, and the engagement of thousands of Hamiltonians.

Council approved the plan in February 2013 and reaffirmed their commitment to it in April 2013.

That could all change tomorrow if Councillors approve the HSR Ten Year Local Transit Strategy [PDF], which is being presented to the General Issues Committee on March 6, 2015.

Ten Year Local Transit Strategy

The Strategy started out as a Council request for a plan to start making local investments in growing local transit service, funded mainly from the local tax levy and transit fares.

Somehow, it has mutated into a $302 million project to build a city-wide express bus network, of which two-thirds of the capital, or $200 million, is going into a new bus storage and maintenance facility.

Most of the new capital dollars are expected to come from the Province, and most of the new operating dollars are expected to come from the fare box, despite the fact that the Strategy explicitly states that the cost should be shared jointly between riders and taxpayers.

During the first two years, the Strategy calls for an extra $15.6 million in capital for 25 new buses, with $6.9 million coming from Metrolinx. For the $6 million operating cost of those 25 buses, $5.7 million would come from dramatic fare increases and only $300,000 would come from new levy costs.

The new storage facility - I'm tempted to call it a "bus mansion" - is particularly surprising, considering that it was originally estimated to cost around $25 million. The identified site for consideration is 330 Wentworth Street North, which was also the staff recommendation to build the LRT storage and maintenance facility.

Rapid Transit Needed for Ridership Goal

The Strategy acknowledges that the City will not be able to achieve its ten-year goal of 80-100 transit rides per year without rapid transit:

Even with a fully implemented express bus network, only approximately 50 rides per capita by 2024 will be achieved. In order to approach 80-100 rides per capita, higher order transit will be needed.

Hamilton currently has 45 annual rides per capita, which is down from 48 rides per capita in 2006. In other words, the Strategy is effectively a plan to stop per capita ridership from declining, rather than a plan to grow per capita ridership significantly.

The only way to transform Hamilton's transit profile is to invest in rapid transit, but the Strategy effectively pushes even the beginning of rapid transit construction out beyond the ten-year horizon.

The Strategy claims Hamilton will not be ready for LRT until we have a city-wide network of express bus routes, but Rapid Ready notes that given current ridership on the B-Line, LRT would be in the mid-range of successful North American cities on opening day and one of the top performers by 2031:

The Region of Waterloo has aggressively grown its transit ridership since 2000 and has only just reached the same ridership as Hamilton - the level Waterloo wanted to reach in order to be ready for its LRT to launch in 2017.

LRT Deferred

The purpose of the Metrolinx regional fund is to invest in rapid transit in the GTHA. LRT is a big, transformative investment that local governments simply cannot be expected to afford.

The Province has been telling Hamilton since 2007 that they are prepared to cover 100 percent of the capital cost for rapid transit in Hamilton - indeed, that is the mandate the Province gave itself when it established Metrolinx.

But City of Hamilton staff are now recommending that we defer our request for that rapid transit investment and ask for provincial funding for local bus transit instead.

They are recommending that we set aside our request for $811 million for rapid transit and instead submit a request for $302 million for local transit - again, of which fully two-thirds of the money is for a maintenance facility.

Highly Political

Make no mistake: this is a highly political document, crafted behind closed doors by senior management to be both an easy sell for a Council that has collectively forgotten its vision to transform this city, and an easy buy for a Province that would much rather cut a cheque for $302 million than $811 million.

The price for that easy sell is that it effectively gives our rapid transit money to another municipality.

Once the Province agrees to this $302 million request, that will be it for the $15 billion rapid transit fund. LRT delayed will be LRT denied.

The Province has been extremely coy about how much it will fund and when the money will become available. That has led to an epidemic of "reading the tea leaves" among Hamilton politicians and bureaucrats, and the whisper is that the Province won't give us the money.

But here's the thing about tasseography: it is magical thinking, a bogus method of predicting an uncertain future through ritualistic guesswork.

Maybe the pessimists are right and the Province won't keep their promise. But if that's going to happen anyway, why on earth would we cover for them? Let the Province make that decision and let them wear it, good or bad.

The fact that senior management is recommending abandoning LRT under the guise of preparing for LRT raises serious questions. Why are we not demanding our fair allocation of rapid transit funding?

The GTHA has 6 million people, so Hamilton's proportion of the $15 billion Metrolinx envelope is $1.35 billion. By accepting just $302 million over the next ten years, we would be leaving a billion dollars in necessary rapid transit investment on the table.

Public Engagement Needed

In a February 6 op-ed, Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Waterdown MPP Ted McMeekin wrote:

We have been very clear that we remain committed to fully funding the capital costs of a Hamilton rapid transit project, in whatever form the community decides on. [emphasis added]

He closed with the following:

During the municipal election, Mayor Fred Eisenberger campaigned on a promise to engage citizens in Hamilton on transit options for the city. I look forward to seeing that process unfold.

If Council votes to accept this $300 million capital plan without allowing Mayor Eisenberger's Citizens Forum process to play out, it will undermine the Mayor and betray the voters' mandate on which he was elected.

Given that our Councillors couldn't bring themselves to vote for a minor alteration to the bus lane without running the decision through the two-year Transportation Master Plan review, it would be extremely out of character for them to approve an out-of-nowhere $302 million capital request without a due process of community consultation and review.

Please, contact City Council and tell them to wait for the Citizens Forum process to play out before voting to lock Hamilton into a capital request that shuts the door on LRT.

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 bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 10:08:44

Pathetic. Council grins about the condo developments popping up downtown without having any clue that if we don't build better transit NOW, we are setting ourselves up for a huge crash when residents and employers realize that you can't function in a city that you can't move around in. We can't even WALK in this city, with the narrow sidewalks and the disgusting attitude council has toward mobility challenged people that makes them basically housebound during winter.

If we don't rein in our roads projects and invest in transit and pedestrian amenities, mark my words we are in for a fall.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 23:50:47 in reply to Comment 109868

Witness the large number of people using mobility scooters in the Cannon Street bike lanes because the adjacent sidewalk is obstructed with snow. If it were not for the bike lanes, these people would be subjected to the functional equivalent of house arrest.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted March 05, 2015 at 09:34:22 in reply to Comment 109908

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 04, 2015 at 00:02:13 in reply to Comment 109908

wish I could have taken a video on Cannon today. First off, amazing job by the city. The bike lane was down to bare pavement long before the road. The cycle lane was filled with cyclists and pedestrians of all ages. Folks in scooters, parents with baby strollers, students walking home from school and about a dozen cyclists in the few minutes I was on Cannon.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 04, 2015 at 07:09:06 in reply to Comment 109910

Walking home yesterday, I saw a truck plowing the Hunter bike lane.

Truck plowing Hunter bike lane

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 10:30:58

This pro-bus anti-urban, anti-LRT position will most likely fade away in the period between 2017-2022 when many of the LRT Lines start opening up in the surrounding municipalities like Waterloo, Mississauga-Brampton, Toronto and Ottawa. I have spoke to few of my planner friends who ended up working in the London Ontario area and they were considering BRT for their city but, many area planners and even some local politicians are now thinking of going directly to LRT instead, especially since Waterloo actually started construction of their system. The logic being that, if Waterloo Region can do it, why not us?

Even the most anti-transit councilor in Hamilton is probably starting to realize that, turning down free money from an upper level of government is a very bad idea, for many reasons. This is probably why provincial funding is being mentioned as part of their $302 Million Transit capital spending plan. The scary part is that, the province just might say, "that's fine, we only have to spend $200 million instead of $811 million on Hamilton, that's really great news!"

However, if that does happen you only have to mention that fact, at the next municipal election in 2018. I am quite sure with ribbon cutting ceremonies for LRT Lines being planned all over the Province, it will be quite the time to remind your council of their past errors. The lack of a good local ribbon cutting ceremony is a nasty reminder of failure to a local politician especially, if it is on an opponents political election poster.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 03, 2015 at 11:26:39 in reply to Comment 109869

If I knew we'd get our LRT in process started in like 5 years (built in 12) after Waterloo and Mississauga got theirs first, I'd be a bit disappointed but satisfied... but it's not going to be that simple. There's a lot that could go really wrong between now and then. The economy and debt could trainwreck transit plans and take transit expansion off the table. The Progressive Conservatives could take the house (although if a wingnut like Brown win leadership I'm not worried about them taking Queen's Park... Elliott could do it though).

That's what I'm worried about. We could miss this boat.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 10:54:57 in reply to Comment 109869

Hamilton councillors have sat around for decades and watched all sorts of ribbon-cuttings and economic growth surge all around us and have yet shown any desire to bring some of the success here. They won't start caring in 2018.

bikehounds comment above is bang on, and I've been saying this the past couple years. The so-called 'condo boom' (what, 5-6 buildings??) will dry up quickly due to the 5-lane expressways, lack of transit, lack of cycling and lack of ability to do something as basic as walk around without feeling like you're on the shoulder of the 401. Treeless, narrow sidewalks next to roaring traffic is NOT conducive to urban development.

Anyone hoping for council to magically start caring should probably consider leaving now before you're too entrenched in a family/career.

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By redmike (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 10:56:44

"again, of which fully two-thirds of the money is for a maintenance facility" probably in councillor whiteheads district.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 10:59:05

Also worth noting that the city is about to spend millions widening Rymal Road and Garth Street to 5 full car lanes. That is a daily capacity of 50,000 cars.

Current volumes are 10,000 cars per day. Where is the same standard of not building infrastructure until volume warrants it? This road project happens to be in Whiteheads ward...the most vocal opponent of building LRT until our ridership numbers on buses are insanely high.

The city staff report recommending the 5-lane Rymal/Garth project predicts that car traffic will increase to 25,000 per day by 2030. 25,000 cars/day can be handled by a 3-lane cross section (1 lane each way, full centre turning lane).

So, with LRT council and staff say we can't build it until we have LRT-type ridership numbers on buses, yet for road projects, they are going to build roadways 5x wider than currently needed, and 2x wider than need in 2030 IF volumes increase as predicted.

EDIT: page 30 for traffic data: http://www.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/D7B1...

Comment edited by jason on 2015-03-03 11:10:22

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 23:56:59 in reply to Comment 109872

By 2030 we will be so far over peak oil that car culture will have come to an end.

Of course, if there is a revolution in Saudi Arabia, car culture ends tomorrow. And good riddance. Not just Saudi Arabia. Look at a list of oil exporters. What do the major oil exporters all have in common? Political instability.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted March 05, 2015 at 09:43:45 in reply to Comment 109909

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 13:36:30 in reply to Comment 109872

this is exactly what I'm talking about. Days are spent arguing over a few thousand dollars for non-car infrastructure, meanwhile this is rubber stamped - at what price tag?

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 14:31:15 in reply to Comment 109875

Disappointing news. But it makes sense. The link to the Ryan's comment has long scrolled away, but Hamilton has explicitly stated that suburban sprawl is the preferred format.

Rymal and Garth are being overbuilt - because the plan is for townhouse subdivisions to cover all farmland between here and Tillsonburg.

LRT would be a threat to the plans to leave a horrific legacy of destructive stewardship and unsustainable growth.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 03, 2015 at 14:54:14 in reply to Comment 109877

I think you may mean this post from 2009, in which the city planner explicitly said he opposed higher density targets downtown because they would threaten the city's plan to expand the urban boundary:

The one concern that we have with increasing, or having a target in the plan that we don't know we can achieve, it may impact what other development can be undertaken, particularly in greenfield developments.

Staff didn't want to increase the downtown density targets because that might threaten the city's greenfield expansion plans!

You literally can't make this stuff up.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 18:19:25 in reply to Comment 109880

Yup that's the one. The statement does not even make sense - unless one form is being subsidized at the expense of the other.

There is nothing intrinsic to the laws of nature that requires greenfield and urban development to be mutually exclusive. Both can occur simultaneously and even thrive, with the appropriate inputs and resources and planning.

Like a true metaphorical cancer, the chosen greenfield form wants to be subsidized so it does not have to pay for the inputs it requires, until finally, all the body parts die together. In the meantime it will keep getting harder to pave the roads, and water-mains will keep breaking everywhere. And somewhere, one of Hamilton's finest trolls will blame the bike infrastructure.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2015-03-03 18:22:43

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By myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted March 03, 2015 at 15:40:26

Perhaps it's time to push for both A and B line LRT -- at least the "gimme gimme gimme" chant of the suburban councillors will work to the favour of the entire city.

Hamilton is the kid who is arguing about whether or not cookies are better than cake when the province is taking all of the cities to the bakery and saying "just pick something and I'll buy it for you".

Gah.

The sheer amount of stupid compressed into a horseshoe shaped space at City Hall boggles.

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By Wess (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 16:04:35

It's not stupidity. It's willful sabotaging. The question we need to ask is WHO, what small powerful group, is benefiting from these decisions at the expense of the majority?

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted March 05, 2015 at 09:48:36 in reply to Comment 109890

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Comment edited by LOL_all_over_again on 2015-03-05 09:49:54

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 19:47:07 in reply to Comment 109890

The question we need to ask is WHO

If that is true, then if, in the 2020s, I see Hamilton in the news for bankruptcy, or de-amalgamation, or some such shit-hit-the-fan scenario, the "raiders" who profiteered from this subsidized sprawl model will be nowhere near any consequences. They'll be long gone with their money and all of us - me, you, Jason, Ryan, LOL, Capitalist, will discuss it in great detail with great debate, while they laugh from far away with their gains.

That's why it's better to set sound policy in the first place, so predators can't gain a foothold!

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By people power (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 17:09:20

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 21:55:53 in reply to Comment 109892

haha...nice try.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 18:43:46 in reply to Comment 109892

Ooh, the Allan Taylor is strong with this one.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 03, 2015 at 17:19:19 in reply to Comment 109892

The majority of transit riders are on buses that will not see substantial improvement with the "more buses" plan, and will be paying higher fares for the privilege.

The "more buses" plan is to provide greater service to places where people generally refuse to ride the bus, paid for by the folks who actually do use the bus. And $200 million for a garage is obscene.

Something stinks.

Nobody on RTH or otherwise is arguing against a plan to increase service to mountain and suburban routes.

The argument is that this should not be done entirely on the backs of transit riders and the province, and should not preclude the LRT.

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By Comprehension Much (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 17:14:10 in reply to Comment 109892

No; the issue is that the transit enhancements need to be funded locally. Going to the Province for that which we should be paying for ourselves gets them off the hook for funding higher order transit.

What is even more disheartening is that our Council believes they are being clever at the moment. Don't fall for it.

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By people power (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 17:17:58 in reply to Comment 109893

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By We Don't? (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 17:20:55 in reply to Comment 109894

We are choosing not to have the money for transit improvements.

We choose to limitlessly fund roads and sprawl.

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By JeffRintjema (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 18:55:34

Calgary is building a bus storage facility for $200 000 000 also, which will be able to house 400 buses indoors. How many buses does Hamilton even have?

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 03, 2015 at 21:56:49 in reply to Comment 109902

235ish. Planning to add 100 over the next decade.

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By Birmingham (anonymous) | Posted March 05, 2015 at 12:34:01

Good points and all but isn't the implied connection between LRT and Justice in the title (taken from a quote in MLK Jrs Birmingham Jail letter) a bit of a stretch?

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted March 05, 2015 at 12:48:19 in reply to Comment 109981

Not really. It has been cited in courtrooms for hundreds of years and harkens back to one of the sections of the Magna Carta. In various forms it has been used by many people well before MLK. IT makes a good point. What is the point of fixing something after you are dead? Delay can in fact be the same as denial.

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