Special Report: Light Rail

Time to go All-In on LRT

LRT will undoubtedly deliver a wealth of benefits to Hamilton, but if we take a lukewarm approach to implementing it, the outcomes of this billion-dollar investment will be less than ideal.

By Matt Pinder
Published July 21, 2016

LRT will deliver a wealth of benefits to Hamilton, but if we take a lukewarm approach to implementing it, the outcomes of this billion-dollar investment will be less than ideal.

Hamilton is at a turning point in its history. After decades of decline, job losses, and blight, things are really starting to look up. For the fourth year in a row, more than $1 billion in new construction permits were approved in 2015.

The West Harbour GO station has contributed to the revitalization of the north end and James Street North, and upcoming GO service to Stoney Creek promises to do more of the same when it opens in 2019.

Despite the belief that Hamilton has become a "bedroom" community, 70 percent of Hamiltonians work in Hamilton and our downtown office buildings are at the highest occupancies in years, hosting new high-profile tenants like IBM.

Much Room to Improve

Yet still there is much room to improve. We still design our streets primarily for driving, and as a result 84 percent of trips taken by residents are made by car.

Despite the city's targets to grow transit ridership from 2001 to 2011, transit trips per capita actually decreased, while at the same time other GTA municipalities (including Durham, Brampton, and York) saw double-digit growth.

Hamilton also failed to meet its goal of increased rates of walking and cycling from 2001 to 2011, and it's showing on our waistlines - a 2011 Statistics Canada study found that nearly one in three Hamilton adults are obese.

LRT Project

At the forefront of Hamilton's turning point lies the single largest investment in Hamilton's history - the B-Line Light Rail Transit project.

Despite commitment from the Liberal government to pay all construction costs for the project and countless supportive votes from city council over the years, the issue has been incredibly polarizing for our community.

Some claim it to be the silver bullet solution to Hamilton's problems, while others are concerned about whether the project is needed at all.

The reality is that building the LRT will absolutely benefit our city - it will improve transit access and travel times across the city, spur new development, and support the city's commitments to addressing climate change - but it's up to us to maximize its potential.

This project isn't just about building a new rapid transit line, it's about a commitment to building and improving the transit network that serves Hamilton as a whole.

Two-Way Traffic

One aspect of the debate has been over whether the LRT should be accompanied by a conversion of Main Street to two-way traffic.

According to the business case for the project from 2010, "The introduction of a time-competitive rapid transit system following the conversion to two-way streets provides additional incremental benefits."

In fact, the conversion of one-way streets to two-way is so obviously important that the business case assumed Hamilton would have done this regardless of whether or not the LRT was built.

Downtowns don't need to support high-speed, cross-town vehicle traffic, but they do need to serve those who live, work, and operate businesses there.

Frequent Bus Service

Another key element to the success of the LRT is Hamilton's bus network. A high-frequency LRT arriving every 10 minutes or less doesn't benefit those who don't live near the line if connecting buses only arrive every 30 minutes.

The best transit systems support "show-up-and-go" service, that is, service that is so frequent you don't need to consult a schedule, you can just arrive at the stop and know a bus is arriving soon.

The HSR's proposed Ten Year Strategy calls for increased bus frequencies and more buses across the city, two things desperately needed for HSR to grow its ridership and support seamless connectivity between buses and the LRT.

Sadly, though, the plan remains unfunded by city council. If city council is serious about improving transit access for all Hamiltonians, it is critical that they secure the funds to implement this plan.

Better Walking Connections

Finally, higher-order transit cannot be successful if people cannot reach it through the most basic form of transportation - walking. Toronto's rapid transit network contains very few stations with parking, yet the subway system there carries more than double the population of Hamilton every day!

Their secret: it's very easy to reach on foot. The surrounding streets and development patterns are supportive of walking.

Along the Hamilton LRT corridor and beyond, it is essential that the city commit to improving the walkability of the streets by calming traffic, adding safe crossings, and widening sidewalks.

LRT Success Needs Supportive Policies

LRT will undoubtedly deliver a wealth of benefits to Hamilton, but if we take a lukewarm approach to implementing it, the outcomes of this billion-dollar investment will be less than ideal.

We need to complement the LRT with supportive infrastructure and policies, including the two-way conversion of Main Street to better serve the needs of downtown, full funding of the HSR Ten Year Strategy to improve bus connections to LRT, and continued pushing for more safe, quality walking infrastructure to make it easier for people to reach LRT on foot.

This article was first published in the *Hamilton Spectator on July 19, 2016.*

Matt Pinder is a cyclist, driver, transit user, and proud graduate from McMaster University. Currently working as a transportation researcher, he is passionate about the future of mobility.

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted July 21, 2016 at 16:05:08

Meanwhile, Mercedes unveiled a self driving us yesterday. Autonomous vehicles are the future but let's build a train that is limited to a rail line and can't go up the Mountain. Not to mention that the province will be $350 billion in debt by 2020 and sold Hydro One to build this mess. Each time my hydro bill goes up I'll take comfort in the fact that the B-Line is a train instead of a bus. What an improvement!

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted July 24, 2016 at 12:03:36 in reply to Comment 119735

@JimC LRT can be modified so that it can become driverless and that technology is already here, they use it San Francisco, in Muni's LRT Tunnels. It's only a test project and it has had its issues. But like most things the devil is in the details! To make a LRT driverless it legally can't run on a open street right of way like most LRT systems do. Transport Canada or the Department of Transport/FTA in the US, just does not allow that.

The bus that Mercedes tested did not run in the open street it ran on a street in a closed circuit protected right of way. It also did not exceed 20 mph (32kph) during the tests. Regardless what it says on the internet. Truly driverless vehicles are years away and will most likely, combined with other forced improvements, double or triple the cost of an average private car. Even since 2008 car prices in Canada and the US have grown at a rate more than twice the rate of inflation. All at a time were for most people's income is barely growing, this is not me saying this but the president of Toyota. The driverless passenger bus is at best 10 years away for most transit services and this assumes that regulators play catch up with the rules. The Province of Ontario will introduce legislation that will allow testing of driverless vehicles in certain areas but it is not a blanket permission for driverless private or commercial vehicle ownership and operation, which is still illegal outside of aircraft and railway equipment. 15-20 years seems to be the likely time scale for general adoption by transit agencies and trucking companies of driverless technology. Assuming you can keep costs down.

Point is that, without the B-Line LRT service improvements that are desperately needed both for the infrastructure and the operational experience gained by HSR a having to plan bus service with LRT in mind, the environment that will make the central part of Hamilton really grow and prosper, just won't be there. The new reality for cities is that, unless your core is healthy the suburbs which just don't bring in anywhere near enough taxes, will just die! Buses and cars inhibit that growth!

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 22, 2016 at 11:22:59 in reply to Comment 119735

Mercede's demo was impressive, and I am looking forward to self-driving buses/cars/LRVs -- but these are extremely expensive with the high cost of making vehicles driverless in a trustworthy/secure way -- over time they will be part of our transportation network.

Time will be needed to make them mature enough to be able to handle a TiCats/bar crowd, fragile-heart passengers, and unaccompanied kids, all in the middle of a blizzard. And capacity is still an issue, whether self-driving bus, self-driving LRT, or self-driving cars. As a software developer myself, this is all an exciting development to watch.

Regardless, mass transit will still be an essential part of growing our city's population as well.

I was opposed to the Hydro One sale, but with the horses having left the barn. Transit enhancements is one of the best places to put this into, especially along a route that provides huge economic development potential and over time bringing lots of new employers/jobs to town. This is increasingly becoming modern reality in many cities, including what's happening in Kitchener-Waterloo with many buildings of new employment being built.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted July 21, 2016 at 20:57:13 in reply to Comment 119735

Jim, you do realize that with proper planning, the A-Line can get LRT in the near future?

But again, we can have self driving cars to park in our 6-car driveways in Glanbrook with 500 houses crammed onto pristine farmland, right?

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By orangemike (registered) | Posted July 21, 2016 at 16:27:53 in reply to Comment 119735

you should get together with another jim that used to post here. jim g was his name. he also had a fetish for self driving cars and flying cars and teleporters and such to solve todays transportation problems. i havent seen a post of his here lately. or anywhere. even on the hamiltonian which is where he used love to spread and share anti lrt nonsense. since no one at the hamiltonian would disagree with any amount or deranged anti lrt diatribes, i wonder why he doesnt post there at least. oh well. you two should hook up.

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By Streeter (registered) | Posted July 22, 2016 at 06:41:59

Jim, Even supposing autonomous cars were a viable alternative... We would need taxi companies to purchase and maintain fleets of them (cars are very expensive to maintain on a per rider-km basis compared to say, trains) and operate them at next to no cost to compete with public transit. Then we would need to expand roads even more to handle the additional congestion (we have a horrible track record with mitigating congestion by road building). However, realistically, GM's CEO himself put his projections for fully autonomous cars mingling with other vehicles freely at 20 years out and that's optimistic considering the dismal safety record of cars co-mingling. Finally if all of that happens to come about, you would have to take jobs away from all of the taxi drivers to make it affordable, and I'm sure you've seen how they reacted to a comparably minor infringement on their jobs when Uber came to town...

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 22, 2016 at 11:25:22 in reply to Comment 119738

Jim was actually referring to the Mercedes self-driving bus.

I am looking forward to self-driving technologies (which can be applied to LRTs too) but the longer-term projections are realistic, given the need to self-taxi the 3am bar crowd and unaccompanied kids safely through a midwinter blizzard, with enough redundancy to overcome ice-damaged sensors, and being able to automatically recognize and handle emergencies with a passenger who have a heart attack. See my reply above.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-07-22 11:25:43

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 22, 2016 at 11:28:10

Matt, just want to say, excellent article!

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By Streeter (registered) | Posted July 25, 2016 at 09:57:26

Just since (from what I see) it hasn't made its way to these pages yet:

Councillor Terry Whiteheads "Study" on LRT: http://terrywhitehead.ca/hamilton-lrt/

And Chris Higgins critique of Terry's office's "Study": https://onedrive.live.com/?authkey=%21AC...

Absurd abuse of ellipses and cited figures old enough to vote bring the terms out-of-context and circular reasoning to a new level.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 25, 2016 at 18:50:55 in reply to Comment 119743

I just read the first half of Higgins' annotated version.

Goddam - it's excoriating. This is just cruel ... before I stopped, I was pretty much cringing like Herod here...

Comment edited by moylek on 2016-07-25 18:52:00

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted July 25, 2016 at 22:39:38 in reply to Comment 119745

Absolutely right, and Higgens even missed a few howlers. For example, under "Ridership":

Riders are currently choosing to take the local bus service more often than the express B-Line service as there are more stops along the route which means people don’t have to walk as far to get to a stop.

Hilarious. As if level of service is irrelevant. Of course, no survey data was cited, so it looks like Terry now has mental telepathy capabilities.

By the way, just speaking for myself, level of service is relevant. I will usually take the first bus that comes along, either local or express. Looks like Terry did not do a good job of reading my mind.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted July 25, 2016 at 10:52:02

I just read an article in the Guelph Tribune about Guelph looking at the possibility of LRT in the long term and BRT in the medium term. It seems Guelph is looking at Rapid Transit with more forethought than Hamilton has. The way you are going in 20-25 years or so, Guelph will have LRT and your city will still be arguing whether its the right fit for you!

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