Special Report: Light Rail

The Real LRT Choice: Leadership or Anti-Leadership

The real issue hiding behind the noise machine is a strategic mission for changing how people will be able to live, work and travel and invest in Hamilton over the next 50 years, vs. remaining with the status quo.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 03, 2016

A small faction of Councillors has recently decided to make some political hay out of taking a position of deep skepticism or even opposition to the ciy's Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan, which Council has consistently supported since 2008 and which the Province agreed to fully fund a year ago.

It is not always possible to avoid wading into the sewer pipe of objections that these few select Councillors have been spraying out. Indeed, there is an important public value in confronting the barrage of misinformation head-on, as, for example, Nicholas Kevlahan did in his recent critique of one councillor's grab-bag of false and misleading claims.

However, it's equally important to recognize that getting bogged down in the sludge is exactly what the opponents and opportunists want.

It's a lot easier to make up a litany of bogus criticisms than it is to do the research and set the record straight, so the people making stuff up will always have the upper hand.

Not the Real Issue

If we get too distracted battling the hydra-headed beast of obstructionism, the real underlying issue retreats to the background and is allowed to hide there unchallenged.

This debate is not about whether the city should get LRT or BRT, or whether the first phase should go on the B-Line or the A-Line, or whether peak passenger ridership is high enough, or whether LRT saves two minutes or five minutes or ten minutes compared to current driving time, or any of the other secondary or tertiary issues that are being tossed around.

These are all important considerations, and in the context of the broad-based, long-term strategic planning exercise that produced the city's LRT plan, they have already been considered carefully or are currently being finalized through the LRT implementation process.

To be blunt, any incumbent councillor who doesn't already know why the City and Province chose LRT over BRT or why the B-Line is being built before the A-Line has not been paying attention for the past eight years.

Given that they participated in the literally dozens of Council votes that led to these decisions, we would have to ask whether they were in dereliction of their fundamental duty to understand what they're voting for.

The very councillors who are most opposed to LRT today were the ones who led the charge to kill the King Street transit-only lane, a successful pilot project whose greatest weakness was that it did not go far enough.

It is just not plausible to accept the notion that the people who have opposed investing more money in improved local transit are suddenly opposed to LRT because they don't think it does enough to improve local transit.

Strategic Mission

No, the real issue hiding behind the noise machine is a strategic mission for changing how people will be able to live, work and travel and invest in Hamilton over the next 50 years, vs. remaining with the status quo.

Through an ever-increasing collection of vision statements, master plans and other imperatives, the City of Hamilton has formally adopted a strategic mission to become a community that is:

If you accept that strategic mission and work responsibly and pragmatically through the details of bringing that strategic vision to life, you will end up with a plan that looks very much like the LRT plan the City adopted and the Province agreed to fund.

Indeed, the city adopted its plan after undertaking that very work, and the Province agreed to fund the city's plan because it fits nicely with the Province's strategic plan for Ontario Cities as articulated in the Regional Transportation Plan and Places to Grow framework.

No Vision, No Progress

So what happens if you don't actually agree with the city's strategic mission?

What if your political constituency is built on stoking resentment and divisiveness rather than building on common values and interests? What if you are cynical about the city's ability to achieve its mission? What if you benefit, politically, from the stagnation and under-performance of the city? What if you just don't think strategically at all?

If you reject some or all of that vision - curbing sprawl or revitalizing the downtown or rebalancing the transportation system or cultivating an engaged population of enthusiastic young people and well-connected senior citizens - then you will feel threatened by any strategic plan to execute on that vision.

You can't come right out and say you don't believe in your own city's strategic mission, of course - especially after consistently voting in support of it. That would make you look foolish or disingenuous.

Instead, you would react by throwing out a spray of noise and distraction to try and confuse and undermine the plan so that the city fails to make progress in implementing it and remains stuck in the status quo.

Anti-Leadership

Just this week, Hamilton Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel reported that Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins hopes people will turn against the LRT project as they learn more about the construction impacts:

Collins thinks new information on how the 11-kilomtere B-line from McMaster University to the Queenston traffic circle will disrupt and divert traffic may raise red flags and change people's understanding of the ripple effects of the project, which is expected to begin major construction in 2019.

Collins explicitly wants this project to get lost in the weeds and grind to a halt. He is aided and abetted by Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead, who has been working full-time to manufacture as many obstacles, barriers and challenges as he can come up with.

That is not leadership, it's anti-leadership.

A leader is consistent, focuses on the big picture, takes a strategic view, navigates through challenges, unites disparate groups under a common set of values, and inspires people to share a vision for the future.

An anti-leader does the opposite: changes their position based on short-term interests, distracts attention from the big picture, ignores strategic goals, emphasizes challenges and plays up difficulties, drives a wedge between different groups, and undermines the shared vision that might otherwise bring people together in a shared vision.

Collins and Whitehead are anti-leaders. If they are allowed to have their way, Hamilton will lose a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a more hopeful future for everyone.

That is the real choice before us: transformative change that shifts Hamilton's growth trajectory over the next half-century, or a reactionary retreat to the underwhelming, unsustainable status quo they have both played a prominent role in maintaining over the many years they have represented their wards.

The choice is leadership or anti-leadership. Everything else is just noise.


Please take a few moments to tell Council to take YES for an answer, reaffirm its support for LRT and accept the full capital funding from the Province that Council has consistently voted for since 2008.

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 debate (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 14:16:25

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 14:18:56 in reply to Comment 119048

Hey look! Allan Taylor, the destroyer of conversations and public input, has decided to violate his RTH ban and weigh in.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 14:50:29

Providing residents with real choice in how to live and move around

Not really. Failure to provide a downtown or suburban car-free residential zone for people to live in is a denial of real choice in how to live and move around.

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By Car lite not anti car (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 15:08:32 in reply to Comment 119050

You wouldn't be OK with a street that had no sidewalks, would you? It's possible to live car free or car lite on a street that allows cars, denying your neighbours their own choice is not the answer

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 15:31:44 in reply to Comment 119051

Let's see... How many people were trampled to death by pedestrians in Hamilton last year? Correct answer: Zero!

How many people were poisoned and killed by pedestrians' lethal cancer-causing emissions? Correct answer: Zero!

Wow! Looks like pedestrians have already achieved Vision Zero.

Unfortunately, some other parts of our current transportation system have not. And I have Zero Tolerance of lethal threats to myself and my children.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2016-06-03 15:33:40

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 04, 2016 at 18:09:34 in reply to Comment 119052

How many people were poisoned and killed by pedestrians' lethal cancer-causing emissions? Correct answer: Zero!

But what about all the methane that humans release that destroys the ozone layer?

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By no roads (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 15:36:29

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By Comprehension (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 17:42:39 in reply to Comment 119053

No one is advocating for the removal of roads.........

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 16:26:02

just back from a couple weeks in Italy. It's jarring to the senses to be back in Hamilton with it's giant empty roads. So much wasted public space. Rome is building LRT extensions despite it's narrow, cobbled streets. It's a maze of a city full of narrow streets and tons of traffic yet very walkable. As a result of being walkable, we used transit all the time.
Anywhere there is a zebra crossing is a 'pedestrian right of way crossing' we learned by watching the locals. Just start crossing the street and all traffic stops, whether a narrow one lane road or huge 6 lane street.

To come back here and see the embarrassing display being put on by a couple of these councillors is even more pathetic in light of seeing successful world cities and how far behind are we.

To think that people who were stocking video store shelves are now pretending to be city planners and setting Hamilton back a generation or more (again, after already successfully holding us back during the last 40 years) really highlights how lousy our political system is. There should be impeachment opportunities when people play games with a city's future and resist all world-wide planning wisdom just so they can appease their walmart parking lot election campaign donors.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 04, 2016 at 09:41:28 in reply to Comment 119054

There should be impeachment opportunities when people play games with a city's future and resist all world-wide planning wisdom just so they can appease their walmart parking lot election campaign donors.

I think you mean a recall process ... impeachment happens from within the governing body itself. Personally, I'm not in favour of recall based on what i've seen in BC at the provincial level. It's used as a tool by well-funded interest groups for mostly nuisance purposes. I'd imagine here the anti-LRT lobby would initiate recall campaigns against councillors in Wards 2 and 4.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 04, 2016 at 20:37:18 in reply to Comment 119064

yes you're correct, recall. And the BC example is a good one. As awful as some of these unqualified folks are, you're probably right...lots of nuisance stuff and nonsense would arise with that system.

It's just a shame that people can take a public pay check while serving their wallet and donors interest.

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 19:03:41 in reply to Comment 119054

Hey, at least Chad had a job before taking mommy's position! ;-)

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By no roads (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 17:59:59

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 19:34:24

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 20:37:14 in reply to Comment 119058

Boy, I didn't know ryan was so powerful he runs city hall and queens park! He must have forced them to write the rapid transit feasibility report, the rapid ready report, the benefits case analysis and the provincial budget AND controlled council through all 45 pro-lrt votes AND took over the provincial cabinet like svengali so they would agree to full funding. He must be some kind of wizard!

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 03, 2016 at 21:11:46 in reply to Comment 119059

not only that, but he also convinced officials in K-W, Ottawa, Mississauga, Toronto and now possibly London to build LRT systems too. And he must have convinced everyone in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary to keep expanding their LRT networks decade after decade even though they don't work and have caused those cities to become hallowed out donuts, and not thriving metropolises like Hamilton. Ryan is a magician

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted June 07, 2016 at 05:21:15 in reply to Comment 119060

*insult spam deleted*

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2016-06-07 05:52:20

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 07, 2016 at 05:52:54 in reply to Comment 119097

Jim, enough. The personal attacks and abuse have to stop.

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 05:00:44 in reply to Comment 119098

*insult spam deleted*

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2016-06-08 06:41:08

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 08, 2016 at 06:41:31 in reply to Comment 119131

Jim, this is your last warning. Continue with the personal attacks and your account will be banned.

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted June 07, 2016 at 10:07:48 in reply to Comment 119098

Ryan, as soon as you develop something approaching a fair (to all)consistent standard in this regard-as opposed to your hypersensitive reaction to objective commentary-there would be no further need to contribute. Until then, little friend. Hugs and kisses

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By jum (anonymous) | Posted June 07, 2016 at 12:05:39 in reply to Comment 119103

Objective... hahhaha hahahhaha ahhh. Ha.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted June 04, 2016 at 08:01:36

Yesterday Ottawa got its portion of its phase 2 LRT money from the province of Ontario $1 Billion+. The Feds yesterday in the afternoon had a very small press conference confirming that yes, indeed the federal portion of your LRT money is coming. As in, "we will deliver the cash to your warm hands in a few weeks (months?) don't worry", it was actually quite comical in way desperately trying to make the point we haven't forgotten you, your money is coming, "don't worry please, don't panic"!

Today I'm attending a rare Saturday public meeting with my two sons in tow, ages 5 and 7, they like looking at train pictures and gets them out of the house away from a very tired mom. This public meeting will officially finish the last public portion of the EA process for phase 2 LRT. When I was confirming the location of the LRT meeting yesterday, I ran into a person I have known over the years who works at the Light Rail Implementation Office. I said, "congrats you got your funding it must feel really good!" She told me, wow I have no time today, were getting 100-200 calls an hour from the City's Planning and Infrastructure Office". "What's wrong", I inquired? "They are all going nuts now, they want to start doing the planning for phase 3 of the LRT system"! She lamented that from the minute, the premier spoke and said we got the provincial funding, they were already looking at time lines and possible project lists for phase 3 and were planning a meeting at 3:30 PM for getting a process design started. For those who don't know these basic planning to plan meetings can last for hours! I thought they must be excited, a meeting of unknown length on a beautiful, very warm Friday afternoon in June and in all likelihood because of the late hours, off the clock too (unpaid), wow! That's excitement!

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted June 06, 2016 at 14:52:50 in reply to Comment 119063

Wow! Phase 3 talk already, even before Phase 1 is complete.

You really should write Terry Whitehead a letter about this. If Terry wanted to stay in office, he would follow Ottawa's example and aid in A-Line LRT planning.

Ottawa population -- at a mere 883,900, barely almost double Hamilton's population -- has just got LRT funding approval for ~$5.1 billon combined ($2.1bn Phase 1, $3bn Phase 2).

With proportionate funding to Hamilton, in the right political climate, we'd have a complete A-Line LRT to the airport funded by 2022 election -- similar advance notice as Ottawa's phase 2 being fully funded by all levels of governments.

If Terry wanted to do some politicking over this, he really should be rallying his ward over a quick A-Line LRT extension while B-Line is still under construction.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-06-06 14:55:29

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted June 07, 2016 at 10:24:07 in reply to Comment 119092

Actually the city's Population at last count is around 950,000 however, we also are located across the Ottawa River from Gatineau which throws in another 315,000 people many of whom cross the border on a daily basis to go to work in Ottawa, much fewer go the other way unfortunately.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted June 07, 2016 at 07:23:48 in reply to Comment 119092

It just shows how badly his tunnel vision has set in over denying the lower city any improvement. He's completely lost sight of his own ward.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted June 07, 2016 at 07:55:48 in reply to Comment 119099

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2016 at 20:06:25 in reply to Comment 119092

wow, counting chickens, they are so much more enlightened than us common folk. Terry needs to start taking direction from Mark, maybe he would get elected.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2016 at 20:20:31 in reply to Comment 119094

comment from banned user deleted

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By recall (anonymous) | Posted June 04, 2016 at 09:51:53

I believe you mean 1 2 and 3 and 4

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2016 at 13:10:10

Hamilton city manager Chris Murray said it's a huge issue facing Hamilton - a lot more industrial, commercial and office development is needed. "If we worry about anything, it's that reliance on residential tax base," Murray said. "We want to attract business." But, Murray explained to a sparsely attended public meeting at Dundas town hall on local property taxes last Thursday, the city would need the equivalent of three Arcelor-Mittal steel companies setting up shop to drop the residential tax base reliance from 88 to 87 per cent. An average municipality is around 85 per cent - or the equivalent of adding nine Arcelor-Mittals.

hamiltonnews.com/news-story/6549326-dundas-residential-tax-base-over-95-per-cent/

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted June 07, 2016 at 07:34:56 in reply to Comment 119089

A good strategy for Hamilton might be to pick an industry like computer tech or IT and offer the lowest tax rate in the region for them to set up shop here. Since we are already collecting a proportionately low amount of tax from business it wouldn't change much in that respect. This might create a buzz and put Hamilton on the map as a place to work and live. And, maybe then other industries would move in.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted June 06, 2016 at 14:46:54 in reply to Comment 119089

Well, let's get started building the LRT then, and also planning for an HSR expansion and A-Line LRT too -- no sense in saying No to LRT.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted June 07, 2016 at 09:02:40

Keep in mind when attracting new development offering municipal tax breaks is a bad idea. First, once you offer to one it is expected for all. Second, it is illegal for municipalities in Ontario to offer tax breaks to companies. Only the province can do that (on behalf of the municipality) and with provincial based taxes only! This was done so richer communities couldn't have an unfair advantage over poorer ones and to keep municipalities from offering tax breaks right up to the point of their own insolvency!

In the case of Ottawa starting phase 3 planning, well I think that just over excitement taking hold. Keeping in mind the city of Ottawa will have invested $5.1 Billion in LRT funding yes, but approximately $1.9 Billion of that is and will be local funding. Anytime that subject talked about by anyone here, there is a loud group of voices that wants to redirect that money for other things, immediately. Good for us spending it on rapid transit but that came at the expense of many, many other needed things. Its also one of the main reasons that when people in Ottawa look at certain foolish and short sighted Hamilton area based politicians (because they turning down free money), they first laugh and then scream, "hey if you don't take it we will because we had to give up a lot to get LRT"!

If you think your LRT debate is wild you should have been here in Ottawa between 2003-2011! Or really anytime there is a local election! I can remember an LRT debate and vote at city hall around 2008 that went over three consecutive nights each one starting at 10 am going straight through to midnight. Any group with an opinion on LRT was aloud to speak, and many hundreds did. Finally at 11:30 pm on the third night there was an actual vote, the result was that LRT had been passed and we started a process that led to no fewer than 2 dozen other votes over 2 different councils! Some almost as hard fought as that one in 2008! It was never going to be an easy process!

Another thing to keep in mind about Ottawa's LRT system. Yes, with the Province's 1 Billion and both the Feds and local shares Phase 2 LRT will be a reality. We will have by 2023, roughly 50 km of LRT service, 35km (Electric LRT) the Confederation Line and about 15km of (Diesel LRT) the Trillium Line. The whole network not just original diesel LRT line is now referred to as the O-Train. There is an extra $158 million to from the province to fund about 50% of the capital cost of 5-6 km LRT extensions that we can't afford locally until after 2031. Which is great if and I mean a really big if, the Federal government kicks in the extra money too!

Ottawa will still have around 20 km of BRT Busways (Transitways) and is planning to build at the least 15km of various types, all funded 100% locally! Thankfully, they are being built in lower service areas which dramatically keeps operating costs down and can take advantage of the lower capital cost of building BRT Busway rights of ways from scratch (some types busways anyways) compared to LRT rights of way. The dramatic increase in operating costs due to buses as rapid transit vehicles now and into the future was the primary reason we are converting our Central Transitway to LRT now, which the Transitways were originally designed to do and unfortunately, also because of this fact, helps increase their capital costs as well.

Regardless of some silly and seriously backward thinking local politicians, any new infrastructure that can be seriously transformative, like LRT, is going be hard to bring forward regardless. Simply just proposing a big change like this will, in my own professional experience, cause no fewer than 30% of people to be against it. Even before they have decided they hate or like the idea! It is always easier to say no and keep things the same then vote to change. Its just the way people are. Especially if it involves changing an consistent ingrained behavior like driving. The thought that they may have to drive less or making it a little more difficult to drive in some area of your city is enough for most to say no. Even if it turns out in the end that they eventually really like and or really need LRT in the future.

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted June 07, 2016 at 11:47:05

Is it just possible that the pro-LRT group is wrong? Just look at TTC situation going on right now, ridership is dropping dramatically! No one knows why? What about all the legit common sense questions Councillors have asked Hamilton staff & Metrolinxs staff a few weeks who had no answers! The Provincial Gov't thought & had backup stats to build a Power Plant in Oakville. That went well? Electronic medical records. Orange Air ambulance? If we have learnt anything, ask questions, get answers before committing!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 07, 2016 at 12:54:19 in reply to Comment 119110

Just look at TTC situation going on right now, ridership is dropping dramatically!

TTC ridership is not dropping. It is still rising, just more slowly than this year's transit budget assumed. The system is now expected to carry 540 million passenger trips this year - up from 538 million last year, but below the 545 million trips projected in the budget.

It is not clear yet why ridership is growing more slowly than expected. One possibility is that it is an early indication of a general economic slowdown. Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that the transit systems in Ottawa, Calgary and Montreal are also growing more slowly than projected. Historically, weakening transit ridership is an early indication that a recession is coming.

Another possibility is that the weakening ridership/revenue numbers are due to some combination of fare increases, free-riding made possible by all-door boarding, lower gasoline prices, improved cycling infrastructure and even ride-sharing, but more analysis is required to determine what role, if any, these factors might play.

One thing to bear in mind is that Toronto has an annual ridership rate of 207 rides/capita, compared to just 40 annual rides/capita in Hamilton. Compared to Toronto, we have a lot of low-lying fruit to grab with a significant transit improvement, including covering the serious current deficiencies in transit service along the LRT route.

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By STATMAN (anonymous) | Posted June 07, 2016 at 20:45:02 in reply to Comment 119115

It's probably not rising because of the HUGE increase in people riding bikes. Like there were one and now there are two a

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 10:39:26 in reply to Comment 119126

Yes. Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto's chief planner, stated that is a factor.

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By apples and oranges (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 11:49:05 in reply to Comment 119156

Come now, who are you going to trust, Toronto's Chief City Planner or some anonymous commenter on the internet who can't string a grammatically correct sentence together?

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted June 07, 2016 at 15:14:01

Nation wide, another explanation has circulated although there is very little data about it yet. Last year and this year are the first 2 full years of which the baby boomers officially retire. The babyboom in Canada, unlike the US where it started in 1946, did not really begin here until mid to late 1947 to early 1948, which means a great many people are turning 67, 68 and 69 years old, prime retirement age. I do know here in Ottawa nearly all of those Babyboomer jobs positions are not being replaced. Fewer jobs, fewer people needing transit during the morning peak and afternoon peak hours.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 07, 2016 at 15:25:55

On twitter the other day, Jennifer Keesmaat was also noting the huge increase in bike commuting could be a factor.

Comment edited by highwater on 2016-06-07 15:26:17

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 14:18:38

Anecdotal I know, but as a Toronto resident I have reduced my TTC use over the years. Most of my trips are within the downtown core where biking is quicker. Bixi seems to be picking up more users and we have more bike lanes now. At the same time the rush hour crush is more intense and TTC delays appear to be getting more frequent (why is there no redundancy on this system??!).

I guess one of the learnings from the TTC is that if you build it they will come, but keeping them there is another matter.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 10, 2016 at 07:09:22 in reply to Comment 119176

agreed on all counts here. One thing to keep in mind with our LRT plans and our entire rapid transit plan is that the trains will run in their own lanes with their own traffic signals. Think Portland, Vancouver, Calgary, Charlotte LRT systems. Not TO streetcars. Anytime I'm in Toronto I'm stunned that streets like King and Queen are still geared solely around cars with awful transit service and no safe biking lanes. Would businesses support removing all street parking on these streets so transit could have it's own lanes? Somethings gotta give, cause the status quo there isn't working at all.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2016 at 19:23:01

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