Special Report: Light Rail

City Rapid Transit Update: Good Progress but Metrolinx Analysis Still Pending

The city seems to be doing all its homework and negotiating with the right departments and governmental organizations to ensure that it is prepared to go ahead once Metrolinx releases its benefits case analysis.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 10, 2009

I attended the early session of yesterday's public meeting organized by the City's Rapid Transit office, which provided an update on the city's progress in developing its rapid transit plan for the east-west B-Line, which runs between McMaster University and Eastgate Square.

The presentation by rapid transit manager Jill Stephen did not provide much by way of new information, but it did clarify what the city has accomplished so far, what it sees as the next steps, and the critical role of Metrolinx in moving the project forward.

Waiting for Metrolinx

The biggest unsettled issue today is the pending Benefits Case Analysis (BCA) on the B-Line being prepared by Metrolinx staff. Metrolinx is the provincial arms-length body coordinating investment in rapid transit across the GTA + Hamilton, and they are currently studying what form of rapid transit is best for the B-Line.

The BCA is set to be presented to the Metrolinx board on July 20, but that date may be subject to change as the Metrolinx board is in the middle of a major shuffle to replace politicians with transportation planners.

Metrolinx will make a recommendation on the preferred technology and street configuration, as well as where the B-Line fits into the list of Metrolinx funding priorities.

The Metrolinx funding commitment will reflect what Metrolinx decides to recommend, and city staff will present the Metrolinx recommendations to City Council in September. City Council can then make its own decision on the rapid transit plan based on the recommendation and funding commitment from Metrolinx.

If, for example, Metrolinx ends up recommending bus rapid transit (BRT) instead of LRT, Council would then have to determine whether it wants to build LRT anyway and how to finance the difference in capital cost.

Of course, there is no way to be certain what Metrolinx will decide with respect to the technology, but given its mandate, the triple-bottom-line criteria of the BCA and the fact that Metrolinx has been working closely with city staff and is using the city's analyses as part of its own assessment, it seems highly likely that Metrolinx will recommend LRT as the superior overall technology for economic development, community development and environmental sustainability.

The next Metrolinx budget will be released this coming November, so the city would not have a clear sense of the timelines involved until then. When that happens, the city has a commitment of $3 million in provincial funding to undertake a Class Environmental Assessment, route design and public consultation for the line.

City Survey: Preferred Route

The city must be careful not to get too far ahead of Metrolinx in its rapid transit planning, but staff have launched an online survey to gather public input on proposed corridor options for the rapid transit line.

The main options are:

LRT Preferred Route: two-way conversion of Main and King with two-way LRT down the median of King through the downtown.
LRT Preferred Route: two-way conversion of Main and King with two-way LRT down the median of King through the downtown.

Staff have not yet made a recommendation on a preferred route, but a functional analysis by IBI Consulting recommends converting Main and King to two-way with two-way LRT on King. When staff make their route recommendation to Council in September, it will be based on the Metrolinx recommendation, plus the functional and economic analyses and public input.

Staff Leaning Toward LRT on Two-Way King?

I had a distinct sense from the meeting that, while city staff have not formally recommended an LRT configuration along Main/King, they are leaning strongly toward two-way conversion on both streets with LRT running down the centre lanes of King between Paradise Rd and Gage Park.

This is consistent with a consultant report prepared recently by IBI Consulting as an LRT Functional Planning Analysis. Contraflow LRT was eliminated for safety reasons. LRT in mixed lanes was eliminated because it loses the benefit of rapid transit and reliability. Curbside two-way LRT was eliminated because of the awkwardness for vehicles to cross transit lines onto interior driving lanes.

While it's exciting to see that staff are leaning toward the two-way conversions of both Main and King (formerly considered verboten in the Department of Public Works), I'm not persuaded that King Street is the better choice in terms of economic development potential.

However, the underlying issue still seems to be traffic flow. The city's analysis has determined that putting LRT on King Street will have less overall impact on road capacity for vehicles - though Stephen remarked during the presentation that many people consider congestion to be a good thing, since it serves as an incentive to drive less.

Pending Issues

While staff have completed a lot of work, there remain several unresolved issues that will need to be addressed before the rapid transit project is completedI (in no particular order):

The city is also talking with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) because the LRT system will require changes to the Hwy 403 crossings at Main and King. Currently, the network of on- and off-ramps are designed for one-way traffic flows, so they will need to change if the city goes ahead with two-way conversion.

Hwy 403 Bridge Rehabilitation Public Meeting

The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) is in the early stages of the Highway 403 Bridge Rehabilitation project. The construction work is scheduled to begin in June 2010 and will continue off and on through Summer 2012. This public meeting by MTO staff will explain the project and allow opportunities for feedback.

More information is available on Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie's website.

Summary: Progress, But Still Pending

In summary, it's still to early to tell what the rapid transit system will look like or how long it will take to complete, and the presentation was a bit of a letdown in that regard. Yet the city seems to be doing all its homework and negotiating with the right departments and governmental organizations to ensure that it is prepared to go ahead once Metrolinx releases the BCA.

It was particularly gratifying for me to see the city staffers so well-informed and enthusiastic about LRT and its prospects for Hamilton. They were careful not to make premature claims about the final technology (for example, they were careful to refer to it with the generic "rapid transit"), but still stated clearly that LRT is the preferred option of both staff and council.

I'm also delighted that they're finally moving toward agreement that Main and King Streets should be two-way, though their leanings toward LRT on King still reflects their assumption that maintaining vehicular traffic flow should be a priority (albeit not the only priority).

All in all, this was an encouraging if inconclusive update from the city. For now, the best thing supportive residents can do is participate in the city's corridor options survey.

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 jason (registered) | Posted June 10, 2009 at 16:17:51

great update Ryan. Thanks for this info.

Median LRT certainly appears to be a better option than curbside LRT. Having to close all streets as cul de sacs would be more of a nuisance than allowing them to remain open as right-turn only. Plus, Main will be two-way, so streets south of King will be able to use Main to go either direction.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2009 at 18:37:20

With all the concern about traffic flow, it would seem strange indeed for our particular city to end up going with the one-way option that preserves our current traffic flow but cuts off all the streets above/below it.

So far I think this is pretty good for what we can expect. The city has a clear preference for LRT, the consultants' report is actually being listened to and somewhat understood (!), local politicians have actually seen LRT in other cities... come on July 20.

The overall price tag for the city will even look smaller compared to all the other infrastructure going on... I think it'll be easier to understand and accept the cost to the city (however much) and the benefits of the LRT both during construction and after in the context of the recession.

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By Salvin (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 08:50:43

Are there any hiccups that can be anticipated regarding the environmental assessment, route design or public consultations? Environmentally you'd think it would be a slam dunk (though these things seem to take a lot of time). As far as public opposition to the idea of rapid transit in general and LRT in particular, does anyone have any idea as to what the broader level of community support is for the project?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 11, 2009 at 09:35:12

Salvin wrote:

Are there any hiccups that can be anticipated regarding the environmental assessment, route design or public consultations?

The biggest potential obstacles that I can see are:

  1. Opposition to the elimination of curbside parking on King Street, which is likely to have local business owners up in arms.

I'm of the mind that curbside parking is generally a good idea - as long as it's priced to maintain about 15% vacancy so motorists can easily get in and out (see _The High Cost of Free Parking_ by UCLA economist Donald Shoup).

But of course, the main benefit of LRT is that it facilitates a significant increase in the density and diversity of uses right downtown in the transit corridor itself.

When Toronto implemented the King-Spadina Secondary Plan, which among its principles eliminates parking requirements, people cried, "But how will people get there?" The answer is that people moved there, and in droves.

  1. Kneejerk rejection of the plan to convert Main and King to two-way.

This is gradually evaporating as people come to realize that our urban one-way expressways are a disaster.

The public works department is in the midst of a fundamental shift in its conception of roads-as-conduits-for-cars, thanks to the legacy of former General Manager Scott Stewart and the progressive work of managers like Jill Stephen and the staff in the Rapid Transit office.

Council is rethinking its traditional opposition to two-way conversion as Councillors are exposed to recent academic studies finding that one-way streets are more dangerous and that business suffers.

With the pilot two-way conversions of James and John, citizens can see firsthand that reconfiguring a street to make it more pedestrian friendly helps local business to revive without ushering a motorists' apocalypse.

Related to this, the Public Health department is noticing the role of neighbourhood design in fostering healthy lifestyles; planning and ecdev is studying the role of urban creative industries in driving economic growth and development; and so on.

All in all, the momentum of the city is away from streets-as-highways and toward streets-as-places-to-interact.

Environmentally you'd think it would be a slam dunk (though these things seem to take a lot of time).

A year or so ago the Province changed the rules for Class Environmental Assessments (Class EA) related to transit projects so that they only take six months. Further, the province has already given Hamilton $3 million to pay for the studies, so this step should actually go fairly quickly.

As far as public opposition to the idea of rapid transit in general and LRT in particular, does anyone have any idea as to what the broader level of community support is for the project?

I know there's no organized opposition, and there's broad consensus across the city in support of LRT: environmental, transit advocacy and social justice groups; community councils and neighbourhood associations; business and commerce groups and BIAs; local politicians at all levels across the political spectrum; city staff across the various departments; the Provincial and Federal governments; and so on.

The rapid transit office's public consultations last year generated an utterly unprecedented level of response, which overwhelmingly supported rapid transit in general and LRT in particular. That support holds up across every ward of the city.

Several councillors, include Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, got to see LRT systems firsthand last fall when the city sent a delegation to Calgary, Portland OR and Charlotte NC. They rode the system, saw the tower cranes everywhere, and had meetings with local transit operators, ecdev managers, urban planners, etc. and came back sold on LRT as a successful engine of economic growth and healthy intensification.

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By FenceSitter (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 09:40:30

Thanks again Ryan for the LRT updates.

I have a question regarding dedicated LRT on 2-way King. What happens in the downtown corridor, Wellington to Catherine, where there are currently only two lanes available to traffic?
Will cars and LRT share the road at this point?
I hope they are not planning on changing the streetscape by removing the parking lanes, trees and gardens through this area.

(if you have a link to some information on proposed routes it would be helpful, I have been using the city website which I have found to be lacking in detail)




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By jason (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 09:52:33

the consultant plan is murky, but they make mention of something like a shared space concept for that narrow stretch through the International Village. I got the impression that the bumpouts would be removed and a narrow area suitable for people and slow moving cars would be developed. Kind of like a cobblestone 'naked street' concept, but again, it was murky at best.

The route map shows median stations at every other stop, but at King/Ferguson it shows the trains being right next to each other with passengers boarding from the sidewalk side.
Gardens can be replanted, but you're right about the trees. That area has a great tree canopy now.

Ryan, you forgot one VERY important piece of the puzzle when trying to discern opposition to the plan: Hamilton's media.

Nothing sells papers like a 60 size, bold font on the front page proclaiming 'TWO-WAY GRIDLOCK'.

Personally, I think they are already licking their chops at the prospects of increasing revenue and sales due to the sheer size and magnitude of this project. And of course, the fact that it messes with our old-school residents who are addicted to the one-way freeways, regardless of the damage they cause.

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By hems (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 10:09:19

I was wondering if the city and Metrolinx are also going to consider how to implement a possible LRT. Would the authorities consider a phased approach were sections of LRT are installed and then move incrementally eastward and westward. I'm thinking the 403 overpass would be a unique challenge and implementation over the bridge may be postponed while other sections of LRT are already working. Use of Rapid Bus (BRT) would compliment the dedicated line and perhaps extend the line once completed. Is that being considered aswell?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 11, 2009 at 10:50:08

FenceSitter wrote:

What happens in the downtown corridor, Wellington to Catherine, where there are currently only two lanes available to traffic?

The consultant's recommendation is to run LRT on dedicated lanes down the median, and eliminate the bumpouts and curbside parking to make room for one lane of vehicular traffic in each direction. Again, the main justification for putting LRT on King is that the overall lane capacity is less affected than if they put LRT on Main.

Here's a report on the consultant's functional planning analysis with a link to the original report:

http://raisethehammer.org/blog/1326/

jason wrote:

Ryan, you forgot one VERY important piece of the puzzle when trying to discern opposition to the plan: Hamilton's media.

Well, the debate will certainly play out in the media, but the sense I get from the Spectator is that, while they love to sell controvery, the editorial board is sold on both LRT and two-way conversion. It will be crucial through this process for Hamilton's urbanists to advocate strongly and clearly to counteract the misinformation that is sure to fill the airwaves.

hems wrote:

Would the authorities consider a phased approach were sections of LRT are installed and then move incrementally eastward and westward.

I don't think they're actively looking at that option any more. Since a big portion of the cost of an LRT system is a fixed capital expense, there's little economic benefit to a phased approach for a given line - especially given that the province is prepared to pay the "lion's share" of the total capital cost.

At the same time, a phased approach would a) only drag out the disruption time due to line construction and b) reduce the utility of the line itself in its early phases.

The Province is already planning to rehabilitate the bridges at Main and King in the next couple of years, so right now is actually the best - and least disruptive - opportunity to complete the LRT crossing at the same time. Otherwise we would end up having to re-open a bridge for re-construction just a few years after rehabilitating it.

http://raisethehammer.org/wots.asp?id=33...

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By MattM (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:22:49

I'm leaning towards King and Main converted to 2-way traffic with one way centre median LRT on both streets. Why? Because Main St's present one way portion is almost exclusively 5 lanes in width. Two way with a centre lane taken for LRT would still allow 2 lanes in each direction, or one lane in each direction with parking and a bicycle lane. This could be adjusted according to traffic congestion. Secondly, this configuration would reduce the amount of impact on King St, possibly still allowing a lane of parking through the village. Thirdly, this option also pushes the positive economic benefits along both King and Main and at the same time achieve calming of the traffic environment through conversion of both streets to 2 way. Sounds like win-win all around to me.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 14:22:33

I also attended, and was dissapointed with the lack of any NEW info. Then again, it's kinda my own fault as I'm sure to read up on every bit of info AS SOON as it's available online... so that's why I concentrated on asking questions.

I, unfortunately, was unable to speak with Jill (she's quite popular!) and was stuck with a younger gentleman. I was VERY dissapointed with his responses as he seemed unexcited about the project, suggesting LRT is still a long shot??

On the bright side, it's clear most Staff and Hamiltonians in general are ontop of this project (despite the low turnout at the 6-8pm Downtown presentation). Perhaps if they hadn't of hid it in the basement of the Sheraton Hotel with tiny 8X10 sized papers trying to point us in it's direction...

LISTEN UP CITY STAFF: It's high time you REALLY start to garner support of EVERY citizen (not just urbanists/public transit riders). To be fair, there are still wayyyyy too many Public Transit Users that don't even know of LRT or a Rapid Transit Project in Hamilton at all. Infact, I have yet to see any real advertising on the buses (I'm on the B-Line twice a day) besides those tiny pamphlettes at the front.

LETS GET THE WORD OUT... or better yet, let's bring the LRVs (Light Rail Vehicles)OUT, get Hamiltonians IN them and maybe then there will be total excitement from ALL Hamiltonians?! That way, Urbanists & Ham-LRT's supporters will have that many more voices to drown the Old School cries of status-quo (aka one-way everything).

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2009 at 04:43:20

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By Really? (registered) | Posted June 13, 2009 at 14:42:40

Not only is Main Street an ultra-wide expressway currently, but it's also the most direct east-west route across the City. I don't know why it's not really an option at this point?

I have gone back and forth, from one train on either street to both trains on Main to both trains on King... now I'm back to both trains on Main!

I believe that a two-way conversion of both King & Main will help both streets regardless of LRT or not (LRT would be the bonus... but in OUR case, two-way conversion is the bonus).

If there happens to be a loss of parking along Main in certain areas (Gage Park area maybe?) then why not utilize the same 'Side Street Pkng Lot' solution that was suggested for the King St option!?! These lots are popular along Bloor St West in Toronto, especially in the Kingsway neighbourhood (Bloor & Royal York'ish).

A full 4 lanes of East-West TWO WAY traffic along King will slow the pace dramatically enough to have the same effects of an LRT running along the street, while at the same time NOT scaring off potential drivers/shoppers by offering only a Single Lane for use. (this will also help keep organized LRT-oposition low). People are going to have to walk the 5-mins from King to Main to catch the LRT, so it's going to help King either way... didn't someone say that One's transit trip always starts with a Walk?

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 14, 2009 at 08:59:43

Really? I think we're all going back and forth on this one. LOL. Ultimately, I know all of us just hope that LRT is chosen and not BRT.

I've flipped my opinion and am sticking with 2-way LRT on King because:

a) I think King already has a streetwall conducive to walking, and LRT is all about activity and vibrancy near stations. It's far more commercial/retail oriented as well. Main has a lot more residential buildings with no streetfront retail uses.
b) Parking. I'm assuming that the rapid transit office will see the light on this one. 2 car lanes each way on Main and 2-way LRT on King still allows for curbside parking on Main from Dundurn to Sherman and on King from Wentworthish to Wellington, John to Bay and Queen to Dundurn. I'm fairly certain that business districts will demand a set-up that allows for this level of street parking. LRT on Main removes any chance of curbside parking on both King and Main.

But again, like you, I'm just crossing my fingers that we get LRT from Metrolinx and construction starts sooner, rather than later!

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 14, 2009 at 09:00:44

..... oh, and I'm crossing my fingers that we lose this 'BLAST' acronym and settle on something a little better. haha.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted June 14, 2009 at 19:31:19

Indeed. I don't understand what is with Hamilton and these stupid catchphrases. Do you see the TTC using stupid terms like that? No. Their route names are either numeric or descriptive of the path they take. The subway systems are named after the streets they follow.

Mind you, I do like B-Line and A-Line but the rest of the "BLAST" thing is just stupid. It should continue on alphabetically (or just scrap it entirely and number the RT's in a new number series, possibly in the hundreds)

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2009 at 19:57:42

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 01:08:21

Thanks for the link to the survey; I didn't know about it. Median LRT on King feels like a good choice because the street is the farthest ahead with liveability. It resembles Queen Street in Toronto with all the interesting small businesses along there. I think the positive impact will be concentrated and maximized if it is done on King. Main will benefit regardless ... any change will improve that street. Parking is always a tough one ... side street parking seems like a good idea. Wow so many factors to think about, but very exciting to see this develop!

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