Light Rail

Mayor Responds to Kevlahan on Light Rail

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published August 05, 2011

Mayor Bob Bratina replied to my email to him yesterday, which I wrote in response to his reply to a constituent who had recommended my recent essay on urbanism in Vancouver.

Here is the full text of the Mayor's latest reply. Below that I have responded to his claims.

Dear Mr. Kevlahan,

Thank you for your message. My reply to Mr. Berberick was copied to you as a courtesy, and first of all addressed your unfortunate and incorrect remarks about me, to wit:

The Mayor has said he is the champion of "keeping Hamilton affordable", by which he seems to mean avoiding infrastructure spending, ensuring our housing costs remain low and property taxes don't go up. Surely it is preferable to have an attractive city with excellent employment opportunities, rather than relying on derelict buildings, vacant lots and a stagnant economy to depress costs!

This is deplorable. The truth is as follows, carried in the reply to Mr. Berberick and you. "During the time I was downtown Councillor property values and new commercial tax assessment steadily increased. In fact there were only two Wards that showed property values increasing above the average of the entire City. One of them is Ward 2. New commercial taxes in the core over the past 5 years have increased by over a million dollars. We will likely do at least the same between now and 2015."

With regard to advocacy groups, I don't consider neighbourhood associations in the same light as Vancouver's CORE. My record as Ward councillor speaks for itself. I successfully advocated for bicycle lanes coming this year to Durand, enhancements to the neighbourhood park during this term, a "soupie" for the children, two way traffic on James South, St. Mark's being repaired, significant improvements to City Housing located in Durand, increased Police surveillance, reduction in Hess Village nuisance, the Thistle devleopment finally underway, and may I say support for the LRT concept.

The following statement from your text is misleading and inaccurate.

As late as June we were all asked whether we would be willing to continue to serve another year to continue our valuable work. A month later a surprise announcement from the City Manager essentially killed this work by saying the City would not continue any work on its own beyond the end of the $3 million grant from Metrolinx.

In fact the LRT team was advised in May by senior management, not Chris Murray, on the recommendation of team leader Jill Stephen, that the mandated work would be completed and the team reassigned to their seconded positions by years end, when the contracted positions' terms expired. This aligned with the depletion of the $3 million provincial grant, with no further funding anticipated. Council will make further decisions before the end of the year based to a large extent on the information gathered by the LRT group.

The serious knowledge gap between truth and perception is exacerbated by your statement herein:

There is no reason the City couldn't continue its own planning efforts, or ask Metrolinx for more money. The fact that this strategic decision was made by a bureaucrat is a worrying precedent, as has been pointed out by Councillor Ferguson and the media.

The City may well continue its own planning efforts, we may ask metrolinx for more money, based on the information we will receive from Jill Stephen's group. Councillor Ferguson was completely out of line in his public statements, as I subsequently pointed out to him. No strategic decision was made by Chris Murray, except to ensure that the mandated work is completed in a timely fashion.

Taken together with your unrelentingly negative comments about the B-line LRT project and the associated land use planning, anyone interested in this project could only assume that you and the city manager are killing the LRT project by starving it of resources.

Your assumption is baseless, misleading, and worst of all sad in its misunderstanding and intent to diminish personalities.

Bob Bratina,

Mayor, City of Hamilton.

I certainly did not attack Bob Bratina's record as a councillor in Ward 2 in any of my statements. Bob Bratina's comments about "keeping Hamilton affordable" were made as Mayor, and I assume refer to his priorities as Mayor. I am grateful that he took the time to read my contributions to the public discussion over urban planning and LRT in Hamilton. Public debate is important.

Regarding the Mayor's obvious lack of support for LRT, I was responding to his recent statements in the media - especially on the Bill Kelly show, together with city manager Chris Murray - regarding LRT and to his detailed response to a letter from the president of the Durand Neighbourhood Association, reiterating its support for the current LRT proposal.

In these cases, the Mayor had nothing but criticisms for the LRT plan - although, as a non sequitur, he claimed he still supports the concept. He has also stated numerous times that all-day GO service is now the top priority and that LRT is not a project we should worry about in the short or medium term.

The Mayor and City Manager have deliberately set GO and LRT in opposition to each other, whereas Metrolinx has confirmed that we are not being asked to choose or prioritize them and that both projects are important.

I would be happy to hear in detail why Bob Bratina does support the LRT concept, and what he is doing to make sure Hamilton is in the best possible position to build such a system. I haven't heard anything but criticism of Hamilton's LRT project since he became Mayor.

My statements regarding the Rapid Transit Citizen's Advisory Committee (RTCAC) are completely accurate, and can be verified by Rapid Transit manager Jill Stephen and the other members of the committee. We were all under the impression that the planning would continue into 2012, and we were indeed asked to stay on another year at our June meeting.

At no time were we told that the Rapid Transit Team would be disbanded and that work would cease as soon as the Metrolinx money ran out. The first we heard about this decision was indeed the email that was distributed by Chris Murray, which came as a complete surprise.

I called Jillian Stephen (director of the Rapid Transit Team) to double-check my impressions of Chris Murray's email and its effect on LRT planning. She confirmed that she was not aware that Chris Murray would send such an email, and will need to talk to him to clarify what he means by essential and non-essential work related to the Metrolinx contract once he returns from vacation.

The Rapid Transit Team work plan currently includes the secondary land use plan for the B-line corridor (not part of the Metrolinx contract). It was intended to be completed for presentation to Council in March 2012.

Jill is waiting for clarification on whether work on this land use plan will continue or not. Nevertheless, the Rapid Transit Team is currently still encouraging public input on its land use plan at public information centres this month.

Chris Murray's email clearly indicates that he was making a new decision of his own, not simply reiterating an existing policy:

To this end, I have made a decision to suspend all current direct and indirect activities of the Light Rail Transit Initiative other than any work activities required to be completed under the agreement.

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 GrapeApe (registered) | Posted August 05, 2011 at 15:55:04

This is ridiculous. It's like having a debate using one-way radios and one side isn't receiving properly. There needs to be a forum where the mayor responds to these questions eith some kind of clarity. Maybe it's all a big communication problem, but it sure feels like something else is working behind the scenes... "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

Comment edited by GrapeApe on 2011-08-05 15:55:34

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted August 05, 2011 at 16:46:56 in reply to Comment 67502

It does seem like a huge communication problem. I don't think the mayor does a good job of saying what he means.

Maybe he is just waiting to see the outcome of the study and then analyse it and discuss it with staff and council just to make sure we're going about this the right way.

Maybe (and hopefully) this is just getting a handle on the what cost will be to the city and its tax implications correlated with benefit.

And if it is just that, then why not just say so?

Might there be politics involved in regards to the upcoming provincial election? Do the Liberals want to suppress and spending talk until the election is over?

This is all too strange.

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By Lollapalloza (anonymous) | Posted August 05, 2011 at 16:13:34

I just dont think Mr. Bratina tells the truth...sad to say

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 05, 2011 at 16:24:15

A few things come to mind...and I'm not surrendering the right to add later, LOL...

First, isn't this the chap who, in a previous incarnation, threw a writing utensil at someone during business hours?

Secondly, it seems to me that a secret wish of his would have his entire term 'in camera'.

Finally, and I'm not going to apologize for yammering on about it because it's that important, but because there is, by default, this chasm-of-communication between Council and Residents (I was going to say 'between Them and Us'. YIKES!), one that Mayor Bratina seems to almost feel more than comfortable with, I'm compelled to keep pushing the idea of town hall meetings.

Yes, I know this isn't part of our grand tradition in local politics. (What else does this include besides a) being terminally disappointed in what our elected officials do, and b) 60% of us not voting at election time?) But it can be and it should be. If the Mayor were 'obligated' to attend half a dozen of these per year across the city, do you really think that this culture of non-information would be allowed to foment?

(I'm reminded of a wonderful editorial mind opining during coffee this week that because the Mayor seems to have chosen CHML as his sounding board, it's not so much that he doesn't want to be mis-quoted so much as he doesn't want to be quoted, period. OUCH.)

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 06, 2011 at 16:35:41 in reply to Comment 67509

I was going to say 'between Them and Us'. YIKES!

The chasm is between "them" and "us"... someday maybe we'll all figure that out.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted August 05, 2011 at 16:43:41

Despite the content of the letter, it sure was nice of Peggy...err..the Mayor...to get back to you so quickly, though.

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By Mark-Alan Whittle (anonymous) | Posted August 05, 2011 at 17:03:49

Why does RTH keep attacking the Mayor over LRT? What's the point? He's only one vote, where does the rest of council stand? Also, if it does come, it will be 20 years from now, if at all. Hamilton has never, ever planned anything that far in advance.

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By mike_sak (registered) | Posted August 05, 2011 at 18:22:44 in reply to Comment 67515

"Hamilton has never, ever planned anything that far in advance"

... Red Hill Valley

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted August 05, 2011 at 18:19:19 in reply to Comment 67515

Because the Mayor is the one who has been vocal on this issue in council. The only other Councillor we've heard recently ring in on this issue was Lloyd Ferguson of Ancaster, a ward that has no plans to be connected to the LRT, and he seemed cautiously supportive.

The Mayor, on the other hand, has been on Bil Kelly's show making fun of the LRT advocates and defending Chris Murray's abrupt decision to pull the plug.

The Mayor is the vocal anti-LRT politician in council. It's safe to presume that, whether terminating LRT planning was the Mayor's decision or Murray's, the Mayor was aware of it and supported it. Iirc, the rest of the council was just as oblivious as the public (please correct me if I'm wrong).

Obviously we should be bringing pressure upon the rest of the council - I haven't even read any news about McHattie kicking up a stink about this, and he's not exactly known for letting this kind of thing slide...

But still, it looks like the Mayor is at the centre of this.

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By Grom (anonymous) | Posted August 05, 2011 at 18:48:51 in reply to Comment 67520

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator adrian on 2011-08-05 20:58:51

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted August 06, 2011 at 07:37:32

I am grateful that he took the time to read my contributions to the public discussion over urban planning and LRT in Hamilton. Public debate is important.

Cheers. Applause.

Nevertheless, the Rapid Transit Team is currently still encouraging public input on its land use plan at public information centres this month.

Hear hear IT is not too late for a clear public cause!!!

Which reminds me of a comment by a mayoral runner-up from our more recent memory:

Here, the emerging richness of urban texture is what gives rise to a dispersed economic & aesthetic ripple effect that spreads equitably across urban communities...

Richness gives rise and ripples.

With this in mind, I feel that each of these information centres could serve as a means (gives rise) for RTHers (emerging richness of urban texture) and LRT supporters (dispersed economic & aesthetic) to get together and meet one another (ripple effect), because we can't afford to wait much longer; We cannot remain strangers if we wish to become stronger (that spreads equitably across urban communities).

SPEC JPEG Image

As anyone can see our mayor hasn't had many flattering moments nor has he made any earth shattering comments in this his first year in office. At least we have RTH, theSpec and guys like Nicholas keeping him honest while we continually hope for the best.

IT is our responsibility to foster the clamour of interest that I will stop short of calling a fetish.

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-08-06 08:44:40

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By Me109 (anonymous) | Posted August 06, 2011 at 11:47:06 in reply to Comment 67537

insult spam deleted

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted August 06, 2011 at 12:38:51 in reply to Comment 67551

And the cryptic blather award goes to....

me109 "Google, idee fixe."

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By Bobby1 (anonymous) | Posted August 06, 2011 at 16:34:53

Funny how the Citizens of Hamilton Voted Bob Bratina ,Mayor,yet he expresses that LRT may not be the end all,be all, that some state it is,that he is totally wrong and should show full support! I didn't vote for Bob,but he is the elected official,only one of 16 who may vote,however most of City Council seems to want factual info before committing more dollars! Seems reasonable to me! So far I have only seen opinions on how well LRT will serve Hamilton,rather see facts!

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By DavidColacci (registered) | Posted August 06, 2011 at 18:08:28

I can't recall having ever met anyone who'll admit to voting for bob? this guy is a dithering fool who can't get his story straight. I'd really like for him to write an open-ed piece in the spec for all to see, so we have something to hold him to.

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By littleLRTmouse (anonymous) | Posted August 07, 2011 at 05:44:12

The streetcar/LRT advocates should get out of their shadows and collective denial and push for some sort of street-rail-traffic registry and categorization. The reason is quite simple: As far as I know Calgary LRT has at its downtown terminal a lengthy pedestrian/transit mall,where people,buses and LRT trains mingle. But when out of downtown LRT uses unbuilt auto-ROWs,ramps,underpasses and such. Its trains are currently 72m long and preparations are underway for going to 96m. (Similar situation is in Edmonton). - T.O. LRT advocates have called Harbourfront line also an LRT line. Fair enough. But while Calgary has taken 2km away from auto traffic and gave it to public mass trasit,T.O. is different. Its vehicles are really "small" at 15m long and they still use collection poles,while rest of the world uses pantographs. Charlotte is mostly on lengthy ramp separate from auto traffic and in tunnel under downtown. The categorization would push Messrs.Bratina,Fergusson and all supporters to give a firm tag and vision to the LRT proposal and settle the discussion. - The same argument could be given to planned LRT from Port Credit thru M'ga to Brampton.What "level" of LRT is actually M'ga proposing? - The real danger is, that after years of proposing the stuff Hamilton could get only some sort of ugly and very expensive people-movement-preventing monster of a streetcar.

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