Special Report: Light Rail

Wanted: Light Rail Champion for Hamilton

The Mayor really needs to get out in front of this issue and demonstrate some robust leadership.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 27, 2007

Yes, we're banging on the transit drum yet again; but with the recent provincial announcement of $300 million to spend on rapid transit in Hamilton, it's vital that we make the best decision on how to spend it.

Bus Rapid Transit is simply not the right way to spend that money. It has the seeming advantage of lower capital costs, but in every other area it falls far short of light rail.

In any case, with the province helping to cover the capital costs of a new rapid transit system, it makes sense to pay more attention to its operation.

Unfortunately, when Raise the Hammer asked Mayor Fred Eisenberger if he supports upgrading the city's transit plan to a real light rail system, he punted.

The expanded benefits of LRT are what were are aiming for, but we need to do the analysis to determine what will work best given the budget available.

The simple fact is that the analysis has already been done to death. We have copious real-life case studies from cities that have tried to do rapid transit on the cheap with buses, compared to cities that committed to light rail and/or streetcars.

The former just doesn't compare across a broad spectrum of criteria, from ridership growth to economic development.

Mayor Eisenberger was elected on a platform that stressed urban revitalization, smart growth, and sustainable development to build a strong, productive community.

The Mayor really needs to get out in front of this issue and demonstrate robust leadership on this clear case of what he adroitly called "transformation" during last week's announcement of $7 million in provincial money for Lister Block.

The time for "looking to the professionals that we are hiring to provide some proposals on what they think would be the best type of system," as the Mayor suggested, is in the past.

The hard work and risk-taking have already been undertaken by cities bolder and braver than this one. Hamilton needs only follow in the footsteps of the light rail pioneers that already enjoy its many fruits.

Where professional analysis can help is in determining which flavour of light rail to build and where the route(s) should go.

What light rail needs in Hamilton is not another raft of studies but a champion - a political leader willing to bring the local stakeholders on board and persuade the provincial and federal governments that an investment this big is worth doing right the first time.

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.

7 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By Tim Jacobs (registered) | Posted June 27, 2007 at 22:11:25

Jason Leach immediately comes to mind as a natural champion for this urgent and necessary cause.

He has plenty of knowledge on this count, knows about Portland's rise (and other Pacific Northwest urban centres, like Tacoma), is passionate about Hamilton's development, and is a solid member of the Hamilton community.

Jason, time to run for office, no?

Another precedent: Calgary had a languishing downtown until they put in their LRT, with a 'free fare' downtown zone. It resulted in a major economic makeover of Stephen AVE, which is now home to plenty of tony shops and boutiques.

Also, as a side note, it's important to tie in the crucial issue of two-way streets while discussing the LRT proposal. The two initiatives combined would certainly spur Hamilton's recent renewal onward--quickly. Edmonton determined to change all their one-way streets to two-way streets and that move alone transformed their downtown.

We definitely need a prominent champion at city hall, but it's crucial for all of us to bombard our councilors. If we really do want change, that is.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By fborger@cogeco.ca (anonymous) | Posted July 31, 2007 at 09:47:48

I'd vote for Jay.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By fborger@cogeco.ca (anonymous) | Posted July 31, 2007 at 09:49:11

LRT is definately the way to go. BRT is just a step on the way to LRT. When it's funded, let's make the jump. What's up with Mr. Eisenberger? I haven't heard anything from him in ages. When I voted for him, I expected him to make changes, not just keep quiet.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 31, 2007 at 15:33:29

My understanding is that Mayor Fred supports LRT completely, but is trying a different way of doing business than former Mayor Larry Di Ianni, under whose imperious leadership you were either a team player or an obstructionist troublemaker.

Fred's trying to change the entire culture at city hall - among staffers at least as much as councillors - and that means a softer, more respectful and inclusionary approach.

In support of light rail, Mayor Fred has: 1) renamed the Bus Rapid Transit department to the Rapid Transit department, 2) convinced council to approve an actual budget, 3) convinced the GTAA under Rob McIsaac that Hamilton should be in scope (it wasn't originally, and is a big part of why the provincial announcement included a planned $300 million for Hamilton), and 4) asked staff to start investigating the best way to provide rapid transit, based on operating costs, air quality, investment potential, etc.

The idea is that since the case for LRT is so strong, especially with the province offering to pick up most of the capital costs, city staff will come back convinced that it's the way to go.

Then the mayor can go to council with the research already conducted and the staff already on-side. With a strong enough business case, even the likes of Lloyd Ferguson might be persuaded that the investment is worth making.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted July 31, 2007 at 23:07:54

why would Mr Ferguson support light rail? Nobody uses the light rail system we have in the city now. What a waste of money.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By nobrainer (registered) | Posted July 31, 2007 at 23:26:11

Ummmm sorry to interject, but which light rail system would that be? The Christmas train at Gore Park?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 07, 2007 at 14:46:04

Ahh jokes!

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds