By Ryan McGreal
Published June 12, 2008
Fantastic news: the city has just published a public consultation update [PDF] on its rapid transit feasibility study that recommends moving to phase 2 of the study with a focus on light rail transit.
The update, which will be presented to the public works committee on June 16, also recommends directing staff to report back to the committee in September with a proposed work plan for studies, consultation, design and construction of the rapid transit system.
It further notes that the city should work to ensure that the Hamilton Rapid Transit project is included in the first five-year round of funding from Metrolinx, the provincial body authorized to coordinate rapid transit projects across the GTA and Hamilton.
After noting the two public consultation meetings in May, the Hamilton Light Rail panel discussion, and various discussions in local mainstream and independent media, the report states:
At all of the public sessions and through the media blogs the overall public opinion of those responding to the Rapid Transit Feasibility Study is that there is support for the implementation of a rapid transit system, particularly for an LRT system.
71 percent of respondents to the city noted a preference for light rail transit, compared to four percent for bus rapid transit. Overall, 91 percent of respondents support building a rapid transit system.
When respondents stated what they feel are the most important criteria for choosing a rapid transit system, 70 percent identified economic development, 70 percent identified ridership growth, and 65 percent identified environmental impact.
Only 17 percent argued that the capital cost is an important criterion, with most arguing that the capital cost should be shared by all three levels of government.
86 percent of respondents supported the proposed corridors (an east-west corridor from McMaster University to Eastgate Square and a north-south corridor from the waterfront along James to Upper James). 96 percent supported extending the corridors or adding new routes.
The report also noticed the very high level of public interest in the rapid transit initiative, particularly its timeliness given the provincial capital funding commitment and the positive impact that light rail would have on economic development, revitalization, improving air quality, and city image.
A recurring theme was an awareness that investing in light rail would demonstrate political leadership, showing Hamilton to be an innovative city willing to invest in economic revitalization.
The respondents feel that these advantages can come from light rail transit but not from bus rapid transit, which has not demonstrated an ability ot attract ridership or economic development the way light rail can.
The report also cautioned that based on ongoing consultations with Metrolinx, it's important to ensure that Hamilton's rapid transit plan be included in the first five-year provincial funding commitment, due to be released in November 2008.
That means a deadline of September 2008 for staff to present a proposed work plan for studying and designing the system, subject to council approval.
The report also notes that the small opposition to rapid transit tended to emphasize the cost of the plan or a sense that transit improvement is not necessary. However, it states:
The idea of status quo however is in contravention of the City’s Transportation Master Plan and Metrolinx’s draft Regional Transportation Plan Green Papers and White Papers. Particularly, in regards to the continuing issues related to peak oil prices and the demand for environmentally sustainable transportation options, the general sense from the public is that the time is now for Hamilton to do something bold and innovative.
Hamilton has a goal of doubling transit ridership and intensifying the city via the nodes and corridors finalized in the Growth-Related Integrated Development Strategy (GRIDS), which emphasize the Main-King and Upper James corridors.
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