Special Report: Light Rail

Council, Province Must Work Together to Break LRT Funding Standoff

The only way to break the political deadlock is to keep up the public pressure, at both the provincial and city level, to show the politicians that this initiative has a lot of vocal support.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published September 30, 2011

I've always admired Councillor Brian McHattie's principled positions and ability to build consensus for important city projects, but I must admit I've been mystified by his, and the rest of Council's, passivity on the light rail transit (LRT) file.

After City Manager Chris Murray sent out his infamous email on July 15 "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" with the Province, McHattie was concerned, but was "still feeling positive" about LRT.

Throughout the summer, as it became obvious that the Mayor and City Manager were disparaging LRT and its supporters and demoting it from a top city priority to something that might be considered in the distant future, Council remained largely silent, with most members insisting that the process was unfolding as it should.

Current Status of LRT Planning

I've been particularly exasperated by people who should know better stating that we are still waiting for "feasibility studies" to decide whether LRT is a good idea.

The City conducted its feasibility study in 2008, and as a result Council voted unanimously on October 31 2008 to direct staff to work on "the functional design, detail design and construction of the B-line rapid transit corridor for the City of Hamilton in their 2009 - 2013 (5-year) Capital Budget, utilizing Light Rail Technology".

Metrolinx completed its own Rapid Transit Benefits Case Analysis in February 2010.

Both studies showed clearly that LRT would have provide significant net economic and social benefits to Hamilton, higher than BRT.

Staff will, in fact, have completed three studies beyond the 2008 feasibility study by the end of the year: a 30% engineering design, an Environmental Assessment and a B-line corridor land use study.

These are not simply feasibility studies: they are the preparation necessary to be able to put together a detailed budget and send the project out to tender. These staff reports include input from thousands of resident gathered through dozens of public meetings and surveys.

Passivity Threatens LRT

The only remaining question is how to prudently fund the B-line LRT, not whether it can be built and fulfill its objectives. This is where the passivity of the City and Province have conspired to throw LRT into doubt.

We've spent four years investigating and planning for LRT, based on the 2007 Liberal promise to fund two LRT lines in Hamilton. The City originally thought that Metrolinx would make a funding decision in July 2009.

We've been waiting patiently for a signal for Metrolinx for years, without success, while other municipalities have seen their projects moving ahead with full provincial funding of direct capital costs.

In such a situation, the City should be lobbying intensively to make sure that our LRT project is seen as a priority for Metrolinx and the Provincial government.

Instead, Council is saying that they won't make LRT a priority unless the Province agrees to fund it, and the Province is saying they won't discuss LRT funding unless the City states clearly that it is a priority!

Risky Strategy

Councillor Brad Clark's recent resolution is an attempt to break the deadlock by forcing the Liberals to declare whether they will fulfill the 2007 promises. I agree with McHattie that asking for a yes or no decision now is a very risky tactic, and seems to be set up as an excuse for Council to avoid responsibility.

McGuinty has already backed off from the 2007 commitment. Unless this resolution is accompanied by a strong Council statement of support for LRT, it is just too easy for the province to say that we have 'chosen' all-day GO over LRT - although there is no reason these projects are in competition, as Metrolinx as stated.

With the Mayor stating repeatedly that LRT is not a priority, it will be easy for the Premier to refuse to discuss LRT funding. The current LRT situation reminds me of the lines from Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

Back to Pre-2007 Transit Plan

In order to avoid a showdown, McHattie is proposing an incremental approach: going back to the pre-2007 position that we will improve the bus service with BRT-lite (signal priority and dedicated lanes) and think of LRT as something to aim for in the distant indeterminate future.

This position would waste all the design and planning work that has already been done, as well as all the public input and engagement that has taken place over the last three years. It also ignores the fact that LRT is still on Metrolinx's priority list!

There is also a good chance that BRT-lite would be just as controversial as LRT, as it would remove traffic lanes but would not provide the economic benefits.

Developer Support

McHattie would also like more time to build developer support for LRT. However, a recent Spectator article showed that many developers are interested, but are not buying land or announcing projects until LRT seems more likely.

Business hates uncertainty, and given the huge (and growing) uncertainty over LRT, it is not surprising they are reticent to jump in.

The only thing that will really convince developers is a high degree of certainty that LRT will actually happen. In the French cases I've looked at (e.g. Bordeaux) the real estate frenzy began once the alignment had been decided and the project was certain to happen.

Every LRT project has led to huge developer interest along the line, and Hamilton will not be an exception.

Public Pressure

The only way to break the political deadlock is to keep up the public pressure, at both the provincial and city level, to show the politicians that this initiative has a lot of vocal support.

An easy step is to submit a statement to Hamilton Light Rail's website, which will be sent to decision makers.

However, a rally outside City Hall would show our representatives directly that Hamiltonians of all stripes want them to make a LRT a top priority!

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.

17 Comments

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 30, 2011 at 09:49:38

We are so screwed:

http://www.thespec.com/news/local/articl...

Stabbed in the back by our own mayor. Classy.

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By bob lee (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2011 at 11:54:11

"This is where the passivity of the City and Province have conspired to throw LRT into doubt."

"Instead, Council is saying that they won't make LRT a priority unless the Province agrees to fund it, and the Province is saying they won't discuss LRT funding unless the City states clearly that it is a priority!"


The fault for this debacle lies squarely with Bratina and possibly Murray. It was only them that derailed LRT, and their power to do that independently of Council is the right question to ask. The province's support for this is no 'conspiracy'. Are you saying the province should have stepped in and said 'no Mayor Bratina you can't make this statement independently of council'? Or 'I hear what you're saying Mayor Bratina but really we're going to support what we feel the public wants?' Isn't a better reading that when they hear a mayor saying LRT is not needed, backed by what until that point was a steady stream of indecisive statements by council - including Brad Clark, that progressive darling, saying we were being 'pushed against the wall on LRT' - then they will support whatever the municipal government claims to actually want? The province has never backed down from Metrolinx, but of course they're going to if the cities in question don't want the service!

Brad Clark and Tim Hudak want people to think that this is really about the province breaking their commitments to Metrolinx. Yet the writing's on the wall with regard to Hudak's position on that. I agree we need to keep the province to this commitment, but it starts with council making a clear and united motion of support - which Jason Farr should have done 3 weeks ago.

The second line I quote above is incorrect - council is not saying they won't make LRT a priority unless the province funds it. Bratina's position has been that operating costs will create too great an expense on the city, even though the GO expansion may result in greater costs for the city.

So I support the intiative but I can understand McHattie's tentativeness with regard's to Clark's motion, or rather pact with the devil. We need that motion reaffirming COUNCIL's support, then a strong message from the province. We need Bratina held to account for this fiasco. And we need to remember that the choice on October 6 is between one party that intends to increase sprawl and build highways, and two parties that advocate fairly similarly for transit and sustainable planning. Feels like it's last year all over again.

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By Bobby1 (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2011 at 13:19:44

It quite likely that many on Council suspect what Premier McGuinty means by "the City needs to express LRT is a priority" as meaning the City is willing to cough up substantial funding to the project! How can any City decide what is a priority,unless,they know what share it will cost the City? Many in support of LRT state,commit to LRT and developement will occur! Why? Whether a bus or a bright glittering LRT car going by still carries the same people that currently or in the future need to ride public transit!
One is just much more expensive than the other and both are ground level systems. LRT would be 15 to 20 years in the future before operational! By then,many will say it may not be obsolete, but not the right choice. The flavour by then may be something like raised monorail? Hamilton first needs to determine what kind of City it wants to grow to be,industrial,warehouse,technical,medical or educational cored! Where will those core industries reside,will they be tax generators or exempt,what transit system best serves them at an affordable taxpayer cost! Anything before that,is simply the desires of special interest groups and possibly not of the vast majorities best interests!

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By Bobby1 (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2011 at 14:44:34

Ryan, thought your comments regarding my post were intelligent,thoughtful and responded in a manner appropiate for two people that had opposing views and that what makes debate about issues great on RTH. The exeption was your tag about "debating trolls", "choose healthy discussion instead"? I'm always amazed by that comment from people who don't like opinions from those that don't agree with yours!You of course don't need to agree with my comments but out of the courtesy, I always give others,their opinion is always important, though maybe not one I agree with! That may be why projects like LRT don't go forward because people like yourself never want to consider an opposing opinion! You won't agree,but your post was appropiate except for your all know,no one else can ever have a point of view comment,other than being written off as a troll! FYI,I'm a Hamilton taxpayer as well,care about my City, but also have views that may be different than you on some issues!

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By the real truth (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2011 at 15:10:04

Yes transportation models do have tochange. We cannot continue on the path of endless roads and cars. However, there is one piece of information that people should be aware of

CETA: which means this trade agreement will drastically reduce our local city council to plan anything, since foreign ownership and the privatization of transit, public utilities, the purchasing model, healthcare. City council will not be in charge of anything.

Many jobs will be gone, putting our community at further decline, since people will not have work and given the current situation of very ,imited amount of jobs, more people will fall into dire poverty.

What should people believe in anymore? If you ask me, we were sold out a long time ago, we are now in the final process of complete corporate domination. 1984 anyone!

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By JK (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2011 at 18:46:24

Meanwhile...

http://www.thespec.com/news/business/article/602634--auto-prices-fall-to-17-year-lows

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By George (registered) | Posted September 30, 2011 at 21:54:55

It's great that car prices are as low as they were in 1994, but gas prices then were 49.8 cents/litre in Toronto.

http://www41.statcan.ca/2009/1741/tbl/cy...

Also keep in mind the number of cars on the road has increased much more rapidly than any increase in road capacity. Commute times are longer than ever.

Comment edited by George on 2011-09-30 22:07:14

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By JK (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2011 at 09:16:12 in reply to Comment 70234

Link was intended as a recession joke. I need to telegraph better. ;)

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By JK (anonymous) | Posted October 03, 2011 at 08:32:44 in reply to Comment 70242

Another car culture funny!

http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/603239--city-to-consider-relaxing-parking-time-limits

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By Vod_Kann (registered) | Posted September 30, 2011 at 23:42:20

I hate to be negative but Red Hill, Lister Block, Stadium, All day Go, LRT.....

Can't this city build anything without it becoming a major political propoganda piece?

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2011 at 07:31:00 in reply to Comment 70240

Can't this city build anything without it becoming a major political propoganda piece?

Sure.

But I guess I'd want to ask 'What allows these endeavours to become major political propaganda pieces?'

What is it about the current landscape that tends to push things along this path?

I'm not being glib here.

I'm reading a book that's just enormous in its potential to shake things up, to really disturb and unsettle: 'That Used to Be Us' by Friedman and Mandelbaum. And putting the specifics of it aside, what's fundamental is the notion that if you want to change any situation, you need to genuinely and deeply acknowledge where you are and understand how you got there.

I'm not sure we've achieved the former, never mind the latter.

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By Mandelbaum (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2011 at 20:16:36 in reply to Comment 70241

Mandelbaum! Mandelbaum! Mandelbaum! You think you're better than me?

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 03, 2011 at 12:32:59 in reply to Comment 70271

ha! one of the best episodes ever:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcFSOnumg...

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2011 at 18:55:17

Hudak won't committ to all day GO, he's lost my vote.

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By gb (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2011 at 20:47:39

Bring on the LRT. The sooner the better. All the reasons for it are good. Why would anyone hesitate?

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted October 06, 2011 at 00:07:58

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2011-2012 were released today and McMaster University is ranked number 65 in the world this year, up from number 93 last year: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/wo...

McMaster University, with approximately 7,800 employees, 26,500 full-time students and several thousand part-time students, is the largest homegrown Hamilton institution and/or business with international acclaim and drawing power. Unlike some multinational corporations such as Siemens which have recently chosen to vacate our city, McMaster University has been a local entity since 1930 and will be here in Hamilton for the long run.

My view is that the mayor and city council should be making a hard pitch now to the provincial government for priority funding for the first leg of the B-Line LRT connecting McMaster University with downtown Hamilton to set the table for mutual future economic and social growth. If the mayor demonstrates any reluctance to make this a priority, then council, as it felt compelled to do with its motion last week, should continue take the lead on the LRT file.

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2011-10-06 00:10:14

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