Special Report: Light Rail

LRT Goes From Risky and Unproven to Obsolete in Less Than a Year

Clearly, anything goes in the increasingly desperate campaign to undermine LRT, and inconsistency is not a problem.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published April 11, 2017

As the debate over Hamilton's Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan gets more outrageous, it occurs to me that the anti-LRT campaign has done a 180-degree turn in its reaction to the technology of LRT in the past year.

For most of the last ten years, one of the main tasks of LRT supporters has been to convince skeptics that LRT is not some sort of risky, unproven technology that can't possibly work in Hamilton, but is rather a mature, established solution that is working well in hundreds of cities around the world.

We would regularly get questions like: "What about snow and ice?", "What about hills?", "Won't it get stuck in traffic?", "What happens at intersections?", and "Why should Hamilton be the guinea pig on this?"

Now, with Kitchener-Waterloo's ION LRT system almost complete, the naysayers have switched from claiming that LRT is risky and unproven to claiming that it is "obsolete" because we will soon have self-driving cars, electric buses or some other amazing (but not yet invented) new means of moving around the city.

This ignores the fact that electric self-driving cars are still 10-15 years away, they will not solve the congestion problem (they may make it worse), and LRT could easily be converted to self-driving once the technology is mature.

What is really breathtaking is the fact that just a short time ago, the very same people were saying that LRT is a risky new technology that Hamilton should avoid. Now they are saying Hamilton should dump LRT on the vague promise of what actually is a risky new technology that doesn't even exist yet!

Anything Goes in Anti-LRT Campaign

Clearly, anything goes in the increasingly desperate campaign to undermine LRT, and inconsistency is not a problem.

The LRT opponents around the Council table simultaneously complain that we should reject the plan because it doesn't go all the way to Eastgate, while also complaining that operating costs will be too high for the shorter version they already approved.

Or they complain that we should scrap LRT and design BRT lines instead, while simultaneously complaining that the A-line BRT will be a disaster because it will take lanes from Upper James Street.

Or they complain that heritage properties along the LRT corridor may be threatened, right after recently voting to demolish the Heritage Act designated pre-Confederation heritage buildings on the south side of Gore Park.

Or they complain that what we really need to do is invest more in bus service to build ridership before we are ready for LRT at some unspecified point in the distant future, but then vote to impose steep bus fare increases and defer their own plan to invest more in bus service.

As Karl Andrus recently reported, this is the exactly the strategy that the anti-LRT concern trolls followed back in 1981: claim to be committed to improved local transit while opposing the rapid transit plan of the day, only to disappear once they had succeeded in killing the rapid transit plan.

It's a bit like those who claim that downtown is simultaneously a wasteland of bums and drug addicts, and also a gentrified playground for wealthy hipsters.

None of which is very surprising, since most of the loudest anti-LRT activists also seem to hold Hamilton in contempt.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

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By logonfire (registered) | Posted April 12, 2017 at 11:31:00

Well said, Nicholas!

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By NOHAMILTONLRT (registered) | Posted April 12, 2017 at 15:00:29

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2017 at 05:47:00 in reply to Comment 121220

Here is some truth:

  • Streetcars and LRT are different things. Streetcars run in mixed traffic while LRT runs in dedicated lanes with signal priority.

  • Randal O'Toole is not a transportation policy expert. He is a right-wing shill who is paid to oppose public transportation investment. No actual transportation planner takes him seriously.

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By Glend1967 (registered) | Posted April 12, 2017 at 15:52:29 in reply to Comment 121220

Streetcars.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted April 15, 2017 at 20:46:00 in reply to Comment 121222

I support glorified "streetcars".

Y'know, the ones with all-door level boarding, faster than TTC streetcars, nicer than buses, their own dedicated lanes, real traffic-signal priority.

Detroit's QLine doesn't use dedicated-lane along its entire length, and their vehicles are also much smaller. Hamilton LRT's system is already designed much bigger, for more passenger throughput, and capable of 8 sets of doors at one platform -- unlike Detroit's streetcar platforms.

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