Light Rail

Time for Light Rail in Hamilton

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 19, 2007

This blog entry has been updated

Dear Mayor Eisenberger and Hamilton City Councillors,

With the exciting announcement last week of $300 million in provincial money to develop rapid transit in Hamilton, we have a unique opportunity to develop a fast, robust, affordable, and forward-compatible transportation network for the city.

The provincial announcement suggested bus rapid transit (BRT) for Hamilton, but we need to push for light rail transit (LRT) instead. LRT is far superior to BRT for a number of reasons:

More New Riders

LRT carries more people than buses and is much better at attracting new riders - people who choose it for its superior speed and convenience. These riders represent real decreases in driving and new revenue for the system.

More Energy Efficient

Grid-connected electric vehicles like LRT are more energy efficient than internal combustion, battery, hybrid or fuel cell vehicles, and can be powered by renewable energy sources like wind or solar. Calgary's light rail line, for example, is 100 percent wind powered.

Clean and Quiet

LRT is quiet and produces no emissions at the tailpipe. For a city in which driving now produces more than half the air pollution comes from vehicles (according to the latest report by Clean Air Hamilton [PDF]), it is particularly important to invest in a network that helps to reverse this trend.

Lower Operating Costs

LRT capital costs are about double the costs of BRT, but it's as little as a quarter the cost of BRT to operate. With the provincial (and possibly federal) government contributing toward its construction, this is an unparalleled opportunity to build a more affordable system.

Investment Magnet

Finally, because it is such a superior transportation system, LRT is extremely attractive to investors and developers. There's simply no comparison between new investment around glorified bus routes and LRT lines: LRT attracts billions of dollars in new investments in every city that invests in it.

The city of Portland, Ore. actually regards its transit network as an economic development strategy first and a transportation system second. The Pearl District line generated over 100 new private developments adjacent to the line worth $2.3 billion.

Similarly, Ybor City, Fla. spent $55 million on a light rail line that attracted $1 billion in new private investment.

Investors simply do not get excited about buses the way they get excited about light rail. As the transportation director for Kinosha, Wis., explained, "Streetcars have sex appeal ... Developers don't write cheques for buses."

The Time is Now

The Hamilton Spectator editorial board agrees. In last Saturday's editorial, Robert Howard called LRT "the 21st century solution" and wrote, "Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Hamilton council should make a case - soon - for upgraded LRT funding."

Hamilton has missed too many opportunities like this in the past, paralyzed by partisanship and parochial thinking. We can't let yet another opportunity slip away, when faced with the mounting challenges of climate change and declining oil production over the next several decades.

Light rail is far past the point where it can be perceived as a risky gamble. This is a proven, well-established system that works well and pays robust dividends.

Cities that have embraced it are enjoying the lavish rewards of growing ridership, cleaner air, and copious new investments. Cities that continue to eschew it will fall farther and farther behind.

Sincerely,

Ryan McGreal
Editor, Raise the Hammer


Related:

Update: As originally written, this blog entry seemed to state that the Pearl District line in Portland cost $2.3 billion to make. Thanks to the alert RTH reader who pointed this out. -Ed.

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.

9 Comments

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By rail head (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2007 at 15:23:58

The Spec and RTH want exactly the same thing? Holy crap! The apocalypse is nigh!

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 19, 2007 at 16:08:51

it must be the right time!

great letter Ryan. The city needs to do its research (and quickly, I would suggest) but the proof is in the pudding. LRT is the way to go.

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By Bob R. (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2007 at 16:59:20

A minor correction to your info about Portland: The Portland Streetcar is credited by supporters as generating up to $2.3 billion in new development in the Pearl District. The streetcar did NOT cost $2.3 billion! :-)

- Bob R.
Portland, OR

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 19, 2007 at 17:06:23

Dear Bob R., thanks for your observation. I've updated the article.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2007 at 12:21:06

Email your councillor and mayor NOW to urge them to push for LRT on the province's dollar!

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By Wondering (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2007 at 15:10:40

Hey All
Given that I hear the constant growl of Main Street buses (and too much traffic) from where I live daily, I'm following this topic intently and tend to side with those in favour of LRT over BRT.
One thing has me wondering though... are express routes still possible with the LRT options being proposed? While LRT may be more comfy and quiet, folks won't use it unless it's as quick as their cars (which, of course currently travel at an unimpeded 50km/h+ from the 403 to Delta on King and Main). I haven't had the time to read up much on this but am hoping someone can tell me if there will be LRT "passing lanes" allowing the rigs to get from A-Z quickly, by-passing B-Y on the way? Please let me know how this works.
Also, I'd like to add in another suggestion for those who are writing letters. Could we please suggest that safe and functional cycling lanes be incorporated into the plans as things are thought through. To my mind, viable cycling options in the lower city are even rare than public transit ones but have even greater potential and upside than RT if made safe and user-friendly.
Thanks for considering this.
Good luck to everyone trying to get this going!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2007 at 21:09:02

"are express routes still possible with the LRT options being proposed?"

Absolutely. An LRT system worth its salt would run on dedicated lanes and receive automatic preference at intersections (i.e. the light changes to green when the train approaches). There's no reason it can't be considerably faster than driving.

Re: bike lanes - I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, bike lanes can get more people feeling comfortable to ride their bikes. On the other, the lanes aren't actually as safe as they seem. Potential collisions arise at intersections when a cyclist is riding straight through on a bike lane and a motorist is turning right across the bike lane.

For arterial roads with relatively high vehicle speeds and few intersections, bike lanes may be a very good fit. In busy downtown streets, I think the best way to keep cyclists safe is to slow traffic through lane narrowing, two-way conversions, street trees and other psychological calming methods, etc.

On the gripping hand, though, the industrialized country with the most successful rate of cycling (The Netherlands) is also committed to bike lanes. There doesn't appear to be an unambiguously clear answer.

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By Wondering (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2007 at 23:24:59

Thanks for the reply Ryan. I'd like Main to be nothing but bikes and feet and two-way transit from City Hall to the delta (commercial vehicles allowed) and King Street turned to two-way auto but don't figure that I'll see it in my lifetime. As such, I'll be joining you to push for LRT vs. BRT in whatever form we can get it.

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By carless (anonymous) | Posted May 25, 2008 at 11:38:41

YES! YES! YES! and NOW! NOW!NOW!

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