Light Rail

Badly-Needed LRT Wakeup Call

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 20, 2010

Hamilton received a vitally important wakeup call last week. First, new Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig called on Hamilton to make its case for Light Rail Transit, congratulating Hamilton's "evidence-based" planning.

Then, Hamilton Chamber of Commerce Chair Richard Koroscil, who sits on the Metrolinx Board, told Hamilton to put its focus back on LRT after a summer of stadium snafus. "We need the private sector, public-interest gropus, the entire community speaking up" in support of LRT.

The Hamilton Spectator picked up the theme and challenged Hamilton to "get re-engaged and energized about" our LRT plans in an inspiring Saturday editorial.

The Spec editors put it best in their closing statement:

Quite simply, LRT has a much bigger upside than a new stadium, and deserves the requisite amount of public attention.

Despite the recent focus on stadium-related issues, Hamiltonians are still thinking about LRT. The City recently issued a call to residents to sit on a rapdit transit advisory committee, and 230 citizens applied for the 26-seat panel.

LRT and Mayoral Campaigns

It didn't take long for Mayoral candidates Larry Di Ianni and Fred Eisenberger to notice the attention LRT was getting.

In a press release issued on Sunday, Di Ianni's campaign announced plans "to launch a community wide lobby effort to ensure Hamilton gets its fair share of government funding for rapid transit." Di Ianni also plans to change Hamilton's current LRT plans "to include areas of the city beyond the proposed LRT lines at Eastgate Square and McMaster University."

The press release quotes Di Ianni saying:

The current LRT plan excludes every area of our community except for the old City. This is not how you build consensus and support - it's not how you build a City. We need to engage our entire community in LRT and future transit plans.

Also on Sunday, Eisenberger's campaign issued a press release announcing his plan to assemble and lead "a SWAT team of government relations professionals and civic and community partners" to secure LRT funding from the Federal and Provincial governments.

Eisenberger kept his statement upbeat, calling LRT "an economic uplift of historic proportions" and citing Portland, Oregon as "the poster child" for transit-oriented economic development and noting that the local real estate industry is noting proximity to proposed LRT stops. "The LRT is already driving up property values and it isn't even built yet."

RTH Questions Candidates

RTH has contacted all the candidates to ask: Do you support Hamilton's LRT proposal? If so, what will you do to ensure Hamilton's success in building LRT? If not, why do you oppose it?

You can read all the candidate responses as we receive them on the RTH Elections site.

Mayoral candidate Bob Bratina also supports LRT, but argues that the top priority is to "convince Council to support it financially", noting that while Council supports LRT, that support depends on higher levels of government covering the cost.

Bratina adds that this priority also entails "convincing the public in all parts of the City the value of LRT, and ensuring that the selected route is the most effective and productive."

Mayoral candidate Edward H.C. Graydon questions "the usefulness of light rail" and believes "much more pressing issues exist." He believes a higher priority should go to "tackl[ing] the issues that the steel plants place on our health".

Mayoral candidate Andrew Haines opposes LRT, arguing that: the HSR can "provide timely, effective and economical service to Hamiltonians" without it, we cannot afford the installation cost, streetcars can still be delayed by road congestion, and the money for an LRT can be more effectively spent on health care for seniors.

Haines also argues that LRT has been "shoved down our Hamilton throats in a very similar way to how the 'Stadium' debate has been shoved up our Hamilton butts", and decries what he calls "the spin-doctoring surrounding the LRT system".

CUTA Study: Transit Benefits

A September 17 report by the Canadian Urban Transit Association concluded, "Investment in transit shows an impressive economic return," with a cost-benefit ratio of 2:1 for transit investment.

"The report shows that transit investment reduces the amount of public money that must be spent on everything from health care to municipal services such as water and wastewater," stresses CUTA Chair Charles Stolte. "For the average Canadian, this means lower taxes, more jobs, and a higher quality of life."

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 LightMan (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2010 at 08:44:16

Good to see we are talking about important issue. The fact of the matter is that Fred has been roused from sleep on this matter by the Chamber and the Spec.

Wake up Fred. Time's a wasting.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 20, 2010 at 08:48:47

I don't think Fred needs a wake-up call on LRT. He ran with it as a major plank last election and has overseen the progression of Hamilton's LRT talks going from a largely unknown mode of transit to being on the front burner at Metrolinx and among every community group, agency and Ecdev group in the city.

I shudder to think about how buried LRT would be under a sea of Mid-Pen papers if one of these other candidates won this election. The beauty of the guys Fred is running against is, like him, they have track records. Their campaign promises are useless. Many years of track record are all we need to look at to make a decision on their real priorities.

Comment edited by jason on 2010-09-20 07:51:08

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted September 20, 2010 at 08:55:53

Although I'm a Team Fred supporter, I have to say this file should have been managed much better than it has been. Why are we SWATting now? Why not 2 or 3 years ago. This file has been opened for all four years of Fred's term. It was not a last minute surprise.

I think it's indicative of a larger problem in Hamilton, and not just in the Mayor's office. There isn't a sense of urgency, at least I can't detect one. The pace is way too slow for large issues. LRT is complex, I realize, but at the end of the day, once you think LRT is the likely outcome, it involves placement, stations, traffic impact, service and repair yard, and a few more. My intent is not to make it sound simple, but the fact is the variables are widely known, even if the local details are not.

Our plans should be well-formed by now, not just beginning. We should have been all over this file from the moment it was opened. We have not been.

Now we have even more regional competition for the limited money available. And who knows how much is really available. In part, that pool of money is likely to a function of how close we are to an election. When you ask for $500-$800 million from the the province, you had better get in line early. The fact that Metrolinx (aka the provincial government) is telling us to make a case for investment in 2010 is troubling, to say the least.

We have invested considerably more staff time on the Pan Am circus than on ensuring Hamilton is at or near the top of the list for LRT. No matter how you feel about Pan Am and the Ti-Cats, LRT is the real game changer.

Although not involved directly, i think the Hamilton Light Rail Group has been more focused on this than the city itself.

Comment edited by H+H on 2010-09-20 07:56:44

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By UpHisAss (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2010 at 09:20:15

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted September 20, 2010 at 09:29:03

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 20, 2010 at 09:40:23

Graham, good thoughts. I agree with you that our culture at city hall seems to lack the drive and urgency needed to beat out other cities when limited cash is on the table.
Although I think it's also a matter of priorities. Having said that, I have the utmost respect for the LRT team at city hall - they deserve massive kudos for getting us to the 'front of the line' on this issue. Now we need to claw for our money from the upper levels of government. Jill Stephens and her team have pushed this case very hard and very professionally over the last 4 years. If I remember correctly, it was just in the last few years that the city established a rapid transit office. They've done a great amount of work in such a short time.

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By H mag (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2010 at 10:24:52

Taking the 5 bus from Main West to downtown and back home yesterday (sunday afternoon) confirms what I've always known - we need light rail on our busiest corridor right now. The bus was packed - folks were being left behind and the frequency could easily be every ten minutes to keep up with the demand...

What a wonderful service if we had it - otherwise if I didn't have to travel with the family - I would've been riding my bike as you do the rest of the week.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted September 20, 2010 at 11:20:41

Rob Ford is leading the toronto mayoral campaign. Maybe he will win, and completely derail Toronto's transit plans - we can be circling the waters ready to snap up any LRT money he leaves at the table

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 20, 2010 at 13:59:19

Seancb - I was thinking the same thing this morning. LOL. Maybe Toronto will embark on 4 years of complete ineptness and fiasco and Hamilton can head to Metrolinx with our well-planned LRT project and broad community support and get funding sooner rather than later. You never know - if Ford wins in TO and Hamilton can assemble a reasonable council, the next 4 years could belong to the Hammer!

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 20, 2010 at 15:11:58

Mayor Fred wants feedback on what LRT will mean to us as citizens of Hamilton. Let him know!

http://twitter.com/votemayorfred

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted September 21, 2010 at 15:36:36

DiIanni's claims are hogwash. The reason the lower city has been focused on for LRT planning is because our ridership is in an entirely different league than the mountain. I've had rides on the Upper Wellington where I saw less than 10 people get on in the hour-plus it took to get to Limeridge from Gore. Suburbia just doesn't work for public transit. The street layout, the population density and the focus on single-use neighbourhoods is pretty antithetical to any sensible efficient means of moving people.

If the lower city were really getting its fair share of attention, there'd be no talk at all about a Rymal route, and we'd already have a Barton St line planned.

The more people like DiIanni talk about running LRT lines to new suburbs to appease his developer chums, the more I harken back to that Simpsons episode.

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By Blip (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2010 at 22:24:21

"If the lower city were really getting its fair share of attention, there'd be no talk at all about a Rymal route, and we'd already have a Barton St line planned."

Well said, Don.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted September 22, 2010 at 16:58:51

So DiIanni wants LRT to run on the Linc and RedHill instead?

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