Metrolinx and the City need to do a really thorough job of engaging with businesses and other stakeholders along the LRT construction route to ensure we're doing everything we can to set them up for a successful transition.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published June 08, 2016
Yesterday, three businesses in the International Village - Denninger's, the Black Forest Inn and Thompson Pawnbrokers & Jewellers - wrote a letter to Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr expressing concern about the City's light rail transit (LRT) plan.
LRT rendering at King and Walnut
The good news is that these business owners support LRT in principle; they just worry that LRT on King Street may threaten their businesses during construction by making access difficult.
It is completely understandable for business owners to be concerned about the impacts of an extended construction period. Metrolinx and the City need to do a really thorough job of engaging with businesses and other stakeholders along the LRT construction route to ensure we're doing everything we can to set them up for a successful transition.
Stakeholders also deserve a clear explanation of why King Street was chosen over Main Street for the LRT route after extensive analysis of these two options.
They selected the King Street option because it has a bigger economic uplift potential and will be much less disruptive to cross-town automobile traffic. (So for Councillors who are highly sensitive to disruptions of traffic flow, Main Street would be a worse candidate, not a better one.)
In addition, City LRT Director Paul Johnson notes that, overall, the public right-of-way width on Main Street is not significantly wider than on King. The main difference is that the sidewalks on King are much wider and more pedestrian-friendly: Main has ribbon-thin sidewalks and five narrow vehicle lanes, all eastbound.
As for the construction period, it is extremely unlikely that any section of King Street will be closed for five years. The Waterloo ION LRT line will run 19 kilometres from Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener to Conestoga Mall in Waterloo and is being built in three years.
Hamilton's LRT construction will likely be staged, with each segment of route facing a much shorter period of disruption. Scheduling the construction to minimize impact on businesses is an important goal of this planning and consultation period.
Remember also that much of the infrastructure under King Street is old and will need to be replaced anyway. The worst outcome would be for the businesses to face the disruption of road closure and not get an LRT line for their troubles!
It does seem strange to me that Denninger's favours Main Street since their large off-street parking lot has an entrance off Main. If Main is converted to two-way as part of the LRT construction, people driving will be able to get to the Denninger's parking lot from the west on King and from both directions on Main.
That would actually be a significant improvement in vehicle access over the situation today.
The public parking lot opposite Dennninger's is accessible via King William/Jarvis and other private parking lots are accessible from Main Street between Ferguson and Catharine.
Given good communication to customers, cooperation between businesses and good signage, finding parking for King Street businesses should not be a problem - especially as there is currently very little parking actually on King Street in the International Village.
It is important to note that the Provincial capital funding is based on the approved route along King Street.
If the City goes back to the Province now with a proposal to change the route, that will amount to a rejection of the funding Council already accepted. The $1 billion will be released to fund the next project in the Metrolinx priority list and the City would be back to square one.
Even if the Province somehow agreed to hold the money for us, we would be throwing out several years and millions of dollars of design work on the underground infrastructure, station design, property acquisitions and roadway design. It is more likely that the Province would demand we reimburse them for wasting their time!
In any case, King Street has been the City's preferred route since at least 2010, so it is strange that these business owners would wait until six years later to express their concerns and propose Main St as an alternative.
The business owners are to be commended for reaching out to the Councillor and being amenable to a compromise solution that addresses or mitigates their concerns.
Perhaps most importantly, they note that the current plan does not include an LRT station within the International Village. It is not surprising at all that they are disappointed in this decision. I wrote about it more than month ago, arguing that the International Village needs a transit stop in order to function as a high quality urban transit mall.
One of the most important goals of LRT is to drive significant intensification and reinvestment in the land use around the line and especially around the stations.
The good news is that Metrolinx and City staff are still finalizing the set of station stop and are currently undertaking public consultation to get feedback. That means now is exactly the right time to tell Metrolinx and the City to add a transit stop in the IV.
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