Special Report: Light Rail

Hamilton is Finally Ready to Embrace the Future

Quite simply, you get the city you plan for. Hamilton is about to join the ranks of those cities who are open to everyone, not just short-cutting car drivers.

By Jason Leach
Published May 27, 2015

What a historic day for the city of Hamilton: the Ontario Government announced a $1 billion commitment to build LRT and expand GO service in Hamilton.

Light Rail Transit rendering on King Street at Wellington
Light Rail Transit rendering on King Street at Wellington

For a decade now, engaged citizens have been working with City Hall and the provincial government to invest in a landmark change in direction for Hamilton's future.

The first entry on Raise the Hammer that concerns light rail transit (LRT) goes all the way back to the start of 2005. That January, I suggested:

Build bus-only lanes from McMaster to Eastgate, with a future plan for light rail or streetcars running along this route. Despite twenty-five years of urban decay in Hamilton, there is still a compact population living in this east-west corridor. Many of these residents live less than a ten minute walk from Main and King Streets.

A month later, I wrote:

I can't think of a better storyline than to have Hamilton proclaimed as Canada's Greenest City someday. From smokestacks and car fumes to windmills and light rail lines.

Ironically, these are the same points worth reiterating today: LRT is about more than just transportation. It's about land-use and becoming a healthier, greener city.

As we all know, quality of life is at the top of the list for high-quality worldwide employers looking to locate their businesses, families and employees in a new city.

Perhaps the greatest achievement in landing this funding is finally breaking free of the do-nothing attitude that has plagued this city for too long.

Sure, a few folks still remain who would rather turn down this $1 billion investment into our city so it can justify their future complaining about 'Hogtown hogging everything'.

But Hamilton residents are finally ready to embrace the future.

At one time there was the grand subway plan from Cootes Drive to the East End that we bickered over until we passed it up, and the Disney style monorail proposal from Limeridge Mall through downtown and then out along Burlington Street.

They even proposed an extension all the way out to the Stelco Works in Nanticoke! Talk about an Ambitious City.

We turned down a gift opportunity in 1981 when we were offered the chance to be a host city for a brand new elevated transit technology.

Vancouver ended up taking the project on, and has literally re-built itself around the Skytrain network to become one of the most livable cities in the world with a rapidly growing population while seeing car use continue to decline.

Chart: Traffic in and out of Central Vancouver, 1960, 1976 and 2010
Chart: Traffic in and out of Central Vancouver, 1960, 1976 and 2010

Quite simply, you get the city you plan for. Hamilton is about to join the ranks of those cities who are open to everyone, not just short-cutting car drivers.

We've proven we can build elevated freeways, re-route entire nature creeks, carve freeways into the side of the rocky escarpment, restore water and nature habitat after previously polluting them almost to death.

We built one of the first skyscrapers in the British Commonwealth, had the first urban electric streetlights in Ontario and become a manufacturing powerhouse worthy of the Ambitious City moniker.

If steel really was our product all those years, today our strength truly is people. As our city reinvents itself one garden, one business and one home at a time, we are now poised to make a transformational investment that will open up opportunity for people in every neighbourhood from the leafy streets of Gage Park to the heart of Code Red.

We've suffered from our poor planning and saw the old urban core empty out like many American cities before us.

But the tide is already starting to turn and will only accelerate as we invest in the quality of life through the heart of the old city, and then into every surrounding community from Stoney Creek to Waterdown as future LRT lines connect us and our economy.

Kudos to all who believed in this great old city and didn't give up. We're a little more ambitious today because of you.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted May 27, 2015 at 09:03:39

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Comment edited by ItJustIs on 2015-05-27 09:04:34

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By Charlie (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2015 at 22:52:13 in reply to Comment 111779

You must love the sound of your own voice dude, b/c no ones listening.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted May 27, 2015 at 14:18:56 in reply to Comment 111779

It would behoove you to stop until you have anything at all to add to this discussion.

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By ItJustIsnt (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2015 at 14:09:48 in reply to Comment 111779

I've never heard so much pretentious filler shit in one opinion in all my days.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 27, 2015 at 09:56:18 in reply to Comment 111779

My experience in giving many HLR presentations on LRT to a wide variety of stakeholder groups (BIAs, neighbourhood associations, Rotary Clubs, Realtors, Builders, McMaster Students Union, church groups, the Chamber, ...) is that once the case is made for LRT and it is compared directly to the alternatives, and people discuss the options, the vast majority agrees that LRT is the best option for Hamilton's B-line. Especially when the Province is paying 100% of the direct capital costs!

Every single group I talked to ended up ended up endorsing LRT (sometimes after further private discussions)!

I saw the same thing when I was part of the RTCAC and attended various outreach events the Rapid Transit team organized. They, again, found over 80% supported LRT.

Unfortunately, the Rapid Transit team and its outreach were halted four years ago, which means much of this outreach and explanation needs to be re-done and reinforced. But the experience of 2008-2011 shows that most reasonable people support LRT for Hamilton when they are presented with the evidence and alternatives.

I hope Metrolinx and the City will put a lot of resources into outreach and communication and that there is someone ready to respond to misinformation in the media.

One of the roles of the RTCAC was to identify and address concerns from the local community along the line (businesses and residents) and this will be vital during the detailed planning and construction stages. It would make sense to resurrect some sort of similar community-based advisory group for the rapid transit team.

But as the Spec editorial today pointed out, now our job is to make sure the project is as successful as it possibly can be.

As Ryan asked, what "public engagement" job will you do to ensure this $1 billion investment is a success supported by the community?

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-05-27 10:04:40

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted May 27, 2015 at 11:10:15 in reply to Comment 111783

Unless I completely misunderstood yesterday, the province is paying $1B, not 100% of the direct costs. The Rapid Ready cost estimate was $811M +- 20%. Metrolinx estimate in 2013 was $1B. I think it's still reasonable to assume +- 20%. So that potentially has the price at $1.2B in 2013. Index that forward over the construction life, and the City is in for hundreds of millions of dollars that needs to be funded.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 27, 2015 at 14:06:36 in reply to Comment 111789

I think you did misunderstand yesterday.

From the press release:

"The province will cover 100 per cent of the capital costs of building the LRT, which will help grow the economy, reduce travel times and connect people to jobs and to other transit systems."

And the Province estimates this 100% cost to be up to a maximum $1 billion (it could be less). This was clarified at the press conference.

Of course, as in any project, there could be cost over-runs. But the Province is clear that it is paying 100% of the capital costs, and it expects these costs to be no more than $1 billion. Note that the Province will own the system.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-05-27 14:09:35

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted May 27, 2015 at 19:19:56 in reply to Comment 111798

In hindsight I don't believe I've misunderstood a thing. The province will cover up to a maximum of $1B. I believe that price will be more than that, which means the City is on the hook for the amount above $1B.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2015 at 06:46:58 in reply to Comment 111807

The Province is not giving the money to Hamilton to spend. The Province itself will build and own the LRT system.

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted May 29, 2015 at 09:06:24 in reply to Comment 111824

With that in mind, it will be interesting to see what kind of revenue sharing agreement ends up hashed out. Will the operators be HSR employees? If the province expropriates land for the build, will they maintain ownership of that land or sell it back to the City?

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted May 29, 2015 at 08:47:44 in reply to Comment 111824

I never said the Province is giving the money to Hamilton to spend.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2015 at 09:00:34 in reply to Comment 111827

Why would the City be on the hook for cost overruns on a project that is being financed, built and owned by the Province? Your argument makes no sense.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2015 at 13:02:28 in reply to Comment 111830

Articles have mentioned that Hamilton is responsible for renovations of things like sidewalks, streetlamps and watermain. There will be lots of "hurryup work" being done on King Street before, during, and after the LRT construction -- spent on Hamilton budget -- which means it will "appear" that Hamilton is paying for part of LRT. It might even be "contracted out" to some of Metrolinx's contractors, to simplify work.

Whether the costs underrun or overrun, Hamilton is going to also contribute to the LRT due to things like this. This will provide plenty of debate and claims of "Look at how much Hamilton is spending on the LRT, the province cheated" when the reality is different -- the province isn't replacing the watermain underneath our LRT tracks!

It is also wholly possible that the supplemental work may actually cost far more than any LRT cost overruns. At that stage, it starts to be missing the trees in the forest. There might be fudge factor under negotiation (e.g. who handles the station garbage cans and repaves the asphalt, or fixes vandalized stations), but we are definitely spending money on items 'affected' by the LRT (such as accelerated watermain replacement).

I am pro LRT, but pragmatic in that we'll have to be ponying up to make sure we don't have to tear up the LRT when an aging watermain breaks. (Coincidentially, they are already working on the King watermain in Stoney Creek and there are rumors that work may be creeping eastwards for years to come. Consider yourself forewarned).

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-05-29 13:10:05

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted May 29, 2015 at 09:07:57 in reply to Comment 111830

The province stated they will fund up to $1B. So who is responsible for any costs above that?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2015 at 10:01:09 in reply to Comment 111834

Why do you think it would be the City? Was the Town of Pickering responsible for cost overruns when the nuclear power plant went over budget?

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted May 29, 2015 at 11:02:21 in reply to Comment 111836

Ornge Cancelled Gas Plants eHealth

I don't trust the Liberal government.

  1. What if the LRT system costs more than $1 billion?

I'd be happier if they came out and answered directly that they would cover over runs.

Comment edited by Crispy on 2015-05-29 11:03:08

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2015 at 12:55:51 in reply to Comment 111842

Love or hate the government, cost overruns or not, let me point out that Metrolinx's track record has been excellent as of late.

Unlike TTC and HSR which has faltered and dithered quite a lot, the Metrolinx project record is fairly good for "eventual completion". Look at UPX airport train, Union revitalization, Eglinton Crosstown, GO expansions, GO Kitchener, JamesNorth GO, 30-min Lakeshore, etc. Only external factors (Ford Transit City) derail Metrolinx projects.

Yes, GO/Metrolinx projects are sometimes many years late. Lakeshore 30-min allday was supposed to be almost a decade ago, but was finally activated 2014. And the all-day GO service to Hamilton is simply hampered by the CN/CP ownership and Canada's busiest railroad junction (Hamilton Junction). Hamilton need at least a $250M+ rail-to-rail grade separation (go over/under CN/CP track) and independent parallel Metrolinx trackage, so we can more easily have all-day service to Hamilton with zero interference by CN or CP. Going to take time because of the pesky junction. Freight-ownership of track has been a royal pain for Hamilton GO service and is preventing its potential from being unlocked, but at least eventually we will get all-day GO service (even if the government behind it broke promise of a deadline). So assuming City Council does not derail the LRT, Metrolinx will follow through.

Love or hate Metrolinx, they've had a spetacular track record of eventually delivering (even if many years late, beyond the original broken government promise).

So there are good chances for the Hamilton LRT assuming Hamilton City Council doesn't torpedo it like Scarborough did. Hamilton's council, despite the love-hate, is far more unified than Scarborough. The contract dates have set it into motion to happen before changes of goverments.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-05-29 12:59:45

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 27, 2015 at 10:03:31 in reply to Comment 111783

Not to mention that our past two Mayors ran on pro-LRT platforms!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 27, 2015 at 09:22:15 in reply to Comment 111779

You're right that not everyone in Hamilton understands or supports LRT yet, and I've been making exactly this point for some time. It will take the combined efforts of several parties, including Metrolinx, the re-formed Hamilton Rapid Transit office, local media, engaged citizens and yes, even councillors, to make, explain and defend the case for LRT so all reasonable Hamiltonians understand why this investment makes sense. I look forward to your contributions toward that goal.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2015-05-27 09:29:45

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2015 at 09:22:54

Kudos to Ryan McGreal who not only kept the message strong but conducted himself in the most respectable manner.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 27, 2015 at 09:44:31

I suspect that with this guaranteed $ from the province, much of the worry over this project will disappear. Many were rightly concerned that we would be treated as a second class city, while GTA area cities see the province pay for 100% of their transit projects.

Now with this behind us, the task is much easier to remind everyone of the benefits to our economy and quality of life from such a project. Other Canadian cities with LRT are all expanding the systems as fast as possible. There's a reason for that, and Hamilton residents will be keen to hear about the great boost in economic activity that comes with an LRT system integrated into an improved transit system.

Remember, even with this $ not promised yet, and after 4 years of a mayor intentionally misleading the public on the LRT file, a greater percent of the population stated they were in favour of LRT during the pre-election Forum poll.

Now with good leadership back in the mayors chair, and $1.2 billion committed by the province I suspect that number would be much higher if Forum were to conduct a poll today. And that's without us even ramping up an education campaign on the system.

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By bjk (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2015 at 16:24:49

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By TheMoreYouKnow (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2015 at 18:07:47 in reply to Comment 111803

The definition of skyscraper has changed over the years as we have gotten much better at building taller buildings. At the time it was built the Pigott building would have been considered a midsized skyscraper.

But yes, no modern skyscrapers. Hamilton has missed out on the majority of the building boom of the last 50 years.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted May 28, 2015 at 09:55:27

@BJK (anonymous), tall buildings don't necessarily mean success. Many, if not nearly all of the super tall buildings built in China and Dubai recently (the last 20 years or so), would not be built at all if they were located in most "western countries". The reason is not entirely do to regulation of building height but banking and loan regulations. In most western countries banks require that buildings be (depending on the banking institution) 60-75% leased out before construction can begin. Many of those super tall buildings built in China are barely 10% leased. Dubai had several more buildings taller than the Burj Khalifa planned but financial reality set in and it is unlikely they will ever be built because even today, the Burj Khalifa is only 60% leased and occupied.

New York City of the 1920's had a competition of sorts between three large office buildings that were all trying to be "the tallest building in the world". The last of the three to be completed was the Empire State Building. Due to the depression, all of the more grander and taller structures that were planned for New York City were never built. It took till the 1940's before the Empire State Building was fully leased.

There is no set definition of "Skyscrapers" any more because different cities have different height regulations and occupancy rules. Originally anything over 7 stories in the late 19th century was considered to be "a Skyscraper". However, it is generally believed among developers that, anything over 100 metres is a Skyscraper now. Where as anything from 35 to 100 metres in height is considered to be a "high-rise". Then engineers and architects get involved and the definition changes again. So call it what you want, it seems to be the official definition is quite fluid.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted May 28, 2015 at 10:50:45 in reply to Comment 111810

Hard to have a rational discussion when people are infected with tower envy. The focus shouldn't be skyline, but good urbanism ... i.e. what mix of buildings by type, form, and height will make Hamilton a good place to live and work? What distribution of residential density and employment spaces will support a high-quality integrated transit/mobility system that is cost-effective?

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted May 28, 2015 at 11:09:17

AS for the LRT program expect quite a few more "bumps" along the way simply because the operating and construction programs must be decided on. These programs can get quite involved and take a great amount of time. Plus once a vehicle design is decided on, most likely it will be a Bombardier Flexity Swift LRV design similar to the Toronto LRV's and the LRV's planned for Waterloo's system, your vehicles have to enter the production order and then you wait for them and this takes years.

That brings up another issue, there will be a problem with your LRV's either in the construction phase as with the TTC's Flexity Outlook LRV's or once they are being tested upon arrival in Hamilton, possibly in even both phases, count on it! I have worked in the industry and all the manufacturers of LRV's, the big 3, Bombardier, Alstom and Siemens as well as the others major builders that sell LRV's North America, Brookville, AnsaldoBreda, Hundai Rotem, CAF, Skoda/United Streetcar, Kawasaki and Kinkisharyo all have the same range of issues with newly ordered and delivered LRV's. These are not your grandpa's streetcar, they are much larger and far more complex vehicles that usually have a technical issue at some point during the manufacturing and or testing phases. AGAIN I WARN YOU, THERE WILL BE TECHNICAL ISSUES WITH YOUR LRV'S AT SOME POINT, the sky is not falling, the government did not buy junk trains, it happens with all of them at some point. These are very complex vehicles with enormous numbers of separate components and with very little tolerance for manufacturing mistakes. The reason for this is that, these light rail vehicles unlike say your own car, doesn't have 50,000 models made of it every year to lower the individual unit price and work out all the production issues early on. However, these LRV's properly maintained, will last between 30-40 years and operate almost everyday over daily distances that would sideline your standard car or pickup truck in a week, all in a variety of weather conditions. So do not get overly excited if or when, your new trains arrive late because of production issues and are requiring more time to get them to run well on your new track. This is not government incompetence, this is not because the trains are crappy or whatever adjective you decide to use. These types of operating issues take time to resolve they always do with large complex and vehicles and it is normal. It is often called the Commissioning Process it can take a while, be calm its not a conspiracy. So enough with the negative comments, I warn you now, there will be some issues with your LRV's at some point, count on it.

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By Kevo (registered) | Posted May 28, 2015 at 22:12:37

I'm quite happy to hear about the commitment of provincial dollars into the lower city. I'm sure the City will start to reap the increased property assessments within the coming years as house prices nudge upwards in anticipation of shovels going in (not that I base my city planning around $$, but it's a good argument that should nudge some councillors/citizens towards supporting it).

And now the HSR's name will make sense for the first time in 65+ years... :P

Comment edited by Kevo on 2015-05-28 22:13:44

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2015 at 12:49:18 in reply to Comment 111818

I would hope that even if it's Metrolinx operated, they can "contract out" to HSR employees, and a co-branding agreement is made so we feel we have a local involvement. It's like Metrolinx contracting out to CP to hire their employees to run GO Trains on CP-owned Milton line. Many Metrolinx LRTs will have the Metrolinx logo.

It would make a lot of sense to contract a little with HSR in some form, at least so the "HSR" logo can also be on these trains, and allow the use of HSR fare.

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