Special Report: Light Rail

Concerns About Light Rail Plan from Three International Village Businesses

The owners of Denningers, the Black Forest Inn and Thompson Pawnbrokers and Jewellers support LRT but prefer to see it run on Main Street.

By RTH Staff
Published June 08, 2016

The owners of Denningers, the Black Forest Inn and Thompson Pawnbrokers and Jewellers have written a letter to Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr to express their concern about the City's plan to build an east-west Light Rail Transit (LRT) system along King Street between Dundurn Street and the Delta.

Writing that they are "extremely concerned" about the impacts of the LRT construction for businesses in the International Village section of King Street, they express a preference for the line to run along Main Street instead.

They also note that the current plan does not include a station in the International Village, with the nearest stops at Catharine Street and Victoria Street.

The City and Metrolinx originally decided to locate LRT on King Street rather than Main because they determined that the route would produce a bigger economic uplift while having a less disruptive impact on crosstown vehicle traffic.

Paul Johnson, director of the City's LRT office, has argued that the public right-of-way on Main Street is not actually significantly wider than King Street. Most of the difference is in the width of the sidewalks, which are extremely narrow on Main and much wider on King.

At this point, a decision to change the Provincially-approved routing would probably require the City to submit a new plan to the Province, meaning we would lose the $1 billion already committed and add several years to the most optimistic timeline.

Following is the text of the letter.

Dear Councillor Farr,

We are writing to you regarding our thoughts and concerns on the proposed Light Rail Transit (LRT) system. Collectively Denninger's, the Black Forest Inn and Thompson Pawnbrokers & Jewellers have proudly been in business in the downtown core of Hamilton for a combined total of 158 years. We employ well over 100 people. We also own our respective properties and are direct ratepayers to the City.

We are all situated in the area of King Street East known as the International Village and have been fortunate enough to weather the "ups and downs" of this King Street corridor over the years. We all believe that this section of King Street is currently on an upswing.

Although we support the concept of an LRT, we believe that the current proposal is not the best alternative for the City. We are extremely concerned that the construction period (which could last years) will have an extremely adverse impact on the businesses in the King Street corridor. It will threaten our survival. If we are able to weather the construction period and keep our businesses afloat over the construction period, we will not even benefit from LRT as the nearest stops (Victoria & King and Catharine & King) are outside of the International Village area.

We would respectfully suggest that the Planning Committee for the LRT move the design from King Street to Main Street between Dundurn Street and the Delta. Main Street is (1) straight and more direct (most likely less money to build fewer kilometres), (2) a wider street than King Street which would allow for traffic to flow during a construction period and (3) in our opinion negate the need for a dedicated bridge over highway 403 (again potentially less cost).

The proximity of Main Street to King Street (1-2 blocks apart for most of this section) will mean that the objectives the City hopes to achieve from the LRT will materialize. There are fewer businesses on Main Street meaning the impact on the city's tax base will be minimized. We have spoken to many businesses in this area who rent (not own) their property and they do not expect to survive the construction period. The International Village area will potentially become a "dead zone".

Mr Farr, we have attempted to set up a meeting with you for some time and look forward to the opportunity of sharing our concerns and exploring the alternative we have suggested with you in person and with whomever else you believe should be present.

We look forward to hearing from your office.

Yours very truly,

Mary S Aduckiewicz, FCPA, CCA, MBA
Chief Financial Officer
R Denninger Limited

Wolfgang Schoen
Black Forest Inn

Troy Thompson
Thompson Pawnbrokers & Jewellers

Gord Thompson
Thompson Pawnbrokers & Jewellers

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 07:02:19

There are fewer businesses on Main Street meaning the impact on the city's tax base will be minimized.

Cuts both ways.

it would be interesting to look at how the construction was phased in a project like Waterloo's Ion. On a 19 km rail line, it's hard for me to imagine that the whole line will be significantly closed off for the whole construction period - once tracks are installed wouldn't it just be at station locations where the work would go on longer? Not to mention that the whole route wouldn't be done in one shot. E.G. when Toronto repairs streetcar tracks they just close one section for a weekend or a week, and reopen it before moving on to another section at a later time.

Comment edited by AnjoMan on 2016-06-08 07:04:30

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By mkuplens (registered) - website | Posted June 08, 2016 at 07:32:10

I'm amazed to see these three businesses involved – all three stand to gain substantially from the project and have the least exposure to harm from construction:

  • Denninger's famously has a vast car park accessible from Main Street that not only maintains fantastic access to their store during construction but also presents them with a substantial revenue opportunity during that time

  • The Black Forest Café is located right at the corner of Ferguson, with several large car parks on King William just steps away; given their capacity, it is hard to believe that on-street parking 'out front' serves them fully.

  • To the best of my knowledge, the pawnbrokers own at least three buildings on the street: the former BBQ/deli/café at Walnut (vacant for nearly 3 years but for an anti-bus-lane sign and a brief popup Timmies), their shop, and the large, effectively vacant building beside it. The current road configuration holds much of the blame for their inability to fill these properties - poor footfall on a through-traffic racecourse.

That said, it's change – and change is scary. With name recognition that many International Village businesses would envy, I hope that Denninger's, Black Forest Café, and–to an extent–Thompson's will take a lead on any construction-time campaigns to keep customers coming.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 10:54:37 in reply to Comment 119134

We live in a litigiousness society. Maybe they are being advised to raise concerns about the possible impact LRT construction on their businesses in order to establish for the record that they raised them.

We also need to separate the general benefit of LRT from how it may or may not benefit individual businesses and residents along the proposed lines. Major public investments like LRT often work like the equivalent of a forest fire. Weaker or poorly capitalized businesses and poorer residents, especially if they rent, get displaced in the process (i.e. they are the proverbial under-bush), while the regeneration produces new growth and strengthens the stronger and better capitalized businesses.

Not saying this is right. Nor am I trying to overdraw on the negative consequences for some. It's just the reality of the situation ... this happened in Toronto on St. Clair West and along Cambie St in Vancouver. We can take steps to mitigate the impact, but there will be causalities. The challenge is to maximize the benefit, minimize the negative impact to the greatest extent possible, and proceed in a fair and transparent manner that generates trust.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 07:45:02

You can fully expect anti-LRT councillors to latch onto this idea, or any idea that will cause delay. Not because those councillors suddenly love the idea of losing half the traffic lanes on Main, but because they know any delays opens the door for a full cancellation. Whatever the day's delay flavour is: BRT, Main St, electric monorail, expect certain councillors to offer up fantastic sound bites in favour of such great plans and ways to 'make LRT the best possible, not settling for our pre-approved King St plans'.

With the end game of course being total cancellation of LRT so we can maintain our 2nd most dangerous road network in Ontario, our pride and joy.

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By So Predictable (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:10:43 in reply to Comment 119136

This along with all of the FUD that Captain Hair Hat is sowing has only one end game.

Get this thing cancelled so that Hamilton can remain unchanged.........and sadly continue to fall even further back.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:14:33 in reply to Comment 119142

Yep, somehow they think they can fool people by suddenly acting like BRT champions or LRT champions on a different street..... after being in office for 15 years and doing ZERO to improve transit, and simultaneously bankrupting us with giant, overbuilt roads across any piece of empty land they can find.

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By ConstantGardener (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 07:56:00

I was just in Zoran's jewelers yesterday, talking about exactly this. The owner is concerned with how construction is handled. She complimented city/metrolinx on their rapid response to her email about it and was generally well informed about parking options. She will also focus more on internet sales. She spoke more about the benefits to everyone than her individual issues. Never once mentioned any last minute nymbyist sentiments of "change everything just for me, now that I woke up and did the reading"

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:06:49

Is anyone else getting tired of trying to figure out what people want or is this just how it works. 1. Invent leverage, 2. Delay, 3. Finally suggest a "compromise"...

As stomach churning a statement as it was, at least Lloyd came right out and said it. Pay us off or we obstruct.

Is it possible International Village wants a stop?

Honestly I think there should be a few more stops and maybe the city foots the bill for them.

Comment edited by GrapeApe on 2016-06-08 08:08:57

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:10:38 in reply to Comment 119140

I don't know whether they see this as a pressure tactic to get a station in the IV, but there definitely should be a station in the IV. The lack of a station between Catharine and Victoria is a huge oversight in the current plan. The good news is that the City and Metrolinx are holding public consultations over the summer on exactly this sort of tweak to make the final plan better.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 11:12:03 in reply to Comment 119141

I'd like to think the proposed stations are just that and are subject to fine-tuning based on input from residents and other stakeholders. The stations on the illustrations for the James North spur also have unnecessarily long gaps between them ... Cannon then next stop is the West Harbour GO station. That's over 600m on core retail street and may be a little to far apart in my view. It may be strategic to shorten the gaps through the core, otherwise we might get a more nodal form of intensified development that hampers the health of in-between spaces, at least initially.

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By Landsdale_Layabout (registered) | Posted June 10, 2016 at 08:25:10 in reply to Comment 119158

To be reasonable, 600m at a relatively leisurely walking pace of 4 km/hr is a 9min walk meaning that the furthest location is ~4.5min from either end station. If you consider that it would probably take at least 1 min added time for the train to slow down, disembark, load new passengers then get back up to speed (which I think is reasonable) then the person using the added station has only gained at best 4.5 min (if they have to walk no further and the train drops them off at the door of their destination) while everyone else on the train has lost 1 min.

While in some special cases this may be beneficial(I actually agree with the argument for a station at the IV if it were done right) I don't think it would work for the James St arm. In places like James N, there are no specific 'destinations' as most of the commercial corridor part is relatively evenly distributed and the further N residential areas are fairly even in density I think that adding stations would actually detract from the service as a whole. Of course it's better to be a business right across from the station than one smack in the middle of two, but someone has to be there so that's the way the cookie crumbles. Actually placing the stations requires careful planning and optimization, but I think at 600 m we are at the point of (or past the point of) diminishing returns.

Comment edited by Landsdale_Layabout on 2016-06-10 08:27:57

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 09:02:58 in reply to Comment 119141

Agree completely. A station in the IV would be a perfect seed for creating a real walkable pedestrian zone. I hope the business owners there really hold out for a station and also get a break as far as construction planning.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:15:53

I thought public consultation was part of the process? The article is claiming that if the route is changed the project will lose its funding. Wouldn't public consultation sometimes result in a route change? Or is public input limited to specific aspects of the project?

Honestly I think if you don't want to hear what the public has to say don't ask - and don't let on that they have a say at all. Kind of dangling a carrot that leads nowhere.

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By mkuplens (registered) - website | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:41:03 in reply to Comment 119144

Broad, open-ended consultations can be great for getting a large pool of ideas at the conceptual stage of a project (e.g., 'what might transit look like in Hamilton in 2040?') but with a transit strategy in place, reviewed, approved, and funded, narrower consultation ('this block or that?', 'do we need another station or does this provide adequate connection to people and places?', 'what colour should we use?', 'what should we call these stations?') allows the community a voice in the project without undermining the work that is already done.

It's also worth noting that calls for open-ended 'public consultation' are our council's preferred excuse to cancel projects when they get wet feet.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 13:35:14 in reply to Comment 119148

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:53:56 in reply to Comment 119148

Ok, that's kind of what I thought. So I wonder why this business group is suggesting a different route? Are they not aware that their input is not relevant to the current route? IT should have been made clear to them what they can actually make a case for.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:30:02 in reply to Comment 119144

There's public consultation on refining the details of the plan, e.g. station locations, road crossings, and so on. The basic routing decision has already been finalized and approved for Provincial capital funding.

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By Right Time (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:28:36 in reply to Comment 119144

There has been public consultation throughout the entire project timeline. The route has been studied and chosen already. There was ample opportunity for public comment during that process.

Going back now and reopening the question of route on the premise that it is only in the name of "public consultation" is disingenuous at best.

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By mkuplens (registered) - website | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:25:02 in reply to Comment 119144

There's a difference between public consultation about the details of design, station placement, etc. and changing the road that the system might run on – it's a completely different set of underground infrastructure that would have to be remapped, route design that would have to be redone from scratch to take the new road into account, and lots more.

That is not at all quick and easy work – getting the King Street route to the point we're at today has taken several years and millions of dollars in expenses. A route change (to Main Street) resets the clock on all of that and, as has been noted, would put the whole project in jeopardy as the procurement phase would be dependent on the results of the next provincial election. Not to mention we'd be out of a pocket a whole lot of money spent compensating the province for money spent to date.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:56:28 in reply to Comment 119145

I agree completely. This is why I'm surprised a conversation with the public even got to this point. The current route should be clearly marked to everyone in Hamilton as a done deal. Negotiable components should also be clearly defined.

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By stone (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:44:36

There are more lanes on Main so it seems like the obvious choice but it has Mountain access so construction for years would actually cause a problem. If all the East/Wests are converted to two way(Main, Cannon, Wilson) there should be enough space to keep traffic moving. Wilson will take people right through downtown and there is plenty of parking on that side for people who want to go downtown.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 08, 2016 at 08:58:55

They're probably right, and I'm disappointed that city staff didn't discuss the Main option back before the decision was made, but at this point it's too late. Properties are being purchased, designs made, millions have already been spent on the King plan.

We can blame Bumbling Bob Bratina for not seeing any council leadership during the consultation step of this process. He had 4 years to have these conversations with council and the public.

Now we're rushing towards a 2018 deadline and any changes to the design will result in years of setbacks and millions wasted. Meanwhile, Ottawa is nearing completion of their 1st LRT line, drawing in funding for their second (over twice as long as Hamilton's plan!) and sketching up plans for their 3rd.

Thanks Bob, it wasn't enough to screw up the stadium, was it?

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 09:06:39 in reply to Comment 119152

I don't think there is enough density south of main. I agree with King.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 09:10:42

I am a customer of Denningers and the Black Forest Inn.

What I like the most about the Black Forest Inn is that it is exactly the same as it was when I was a teenager in the late 1970’s. There is something comforting about the nostalgic memories that arise every time I go there. I can understand that change is scary if their business model is to maintain a cadre of regular customers like myself who appreciate that the dining experience has remained exactly the same for their entire life.

I agree with Mkuplens. To say of the LRT construction, “It will threaten our survival,” is an over-the-top exaggeration. Let us just say that I see no such threat. Perhaps I will write to the persons who signed this letter to Councillor Farr, enclose my most recent receipt for purchase at their establishments, and ask them to clarify the nature of this threat.

However, their request for a LRT stop in the International Village is entirely reasonable.

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