Special Report: Light Rail

Ottawa Transit Derailed: An Interview with Clive Doucet

Clive Doucet, an Ottawa City Councillor who strongly supported Ottawa's planned light rail system, explains why the plan was cancelled and what cities must do to create good sustainable transportation systems.

By Ben Bull
Published January 10, 2007

Interview with Clive Doucet

Author, rower, historian, and fierce proponent of the recently cancelled Ottawa Light Rail project, Ottawa City Councillor Clive Doucet is not a man to keep his thoughts to himself.

In a recent Globe and Mail opinion piece, Mr. Doucet cast his net far and wide when it came to laying the blame for the Light Rail fiasco. Curiously, it was John Baird, Canada's new Environment Minister, who seemed to get more tangled up than most. "Mr. Baird leaked the light-rail contract to the press and accused the incumbent mayor ... of 'hiding' behind confidentiality agreements. ... The reality was that Mr. Baird had not behaved appropriately."

So what really doomed this ambitious project? Why can't cities see the light when it comes to investing in public transit? And what does Mr. Doucet really think about Mr. Baird's green agenda?

We decided to find out. When we contacted him, Councillor Doucet agreed to an email interview. The questions and his responses are reproduced below.

The Interview

Ben Bull, Raise the Hammer: In the recent Globe and Mail article about the cancelled Ottawa Light Rail project, you compare Colonel John By's Rideau Canal project to the Light Rail one. Six years for the creation of a wonderful network of waterways, versus six years and 55 votes for a cancelled light rail project. Why is it so hard for municipal governments to get good ideas implemented today?

Clive Doucet, Ottawa Councillor: The cities have been building in the same way since the 1950s and the construction of Don Mills, the first 'planned' suburb in Toronto.

The planned suburb is: you throw out trunk sewer and water pipes from the adjacent city and that is it. Roads like the Don Valley Parkway and all the associated urban arterials, malls and associated parking lots follow.

There are enormous vested interests in continuing the urban growth model exactly as it has been undertaken now for more than fifty years.

Residential, commecial and road builders have made and contine to make billions of dollars from this model. In fact, the principal industry in North America has been the construction of mall-sprawl suburbs. So the long and short of it is there are enormous vested interests in continuing the urban growth model exactly as it has been undertaken now for more than fifty years.

'New ideas' like electric light rail create entirely different kinds of growth patterns. They are more pedestrian oriented, consume less land and require a more diverse and complex building pattern. The developer just can't rip off the top soil from the farmer's field and then lay out his suburban grids which has the fewest construction costs and largest profits. Electric light rail changes all this.

Another reason why it is so difficult to make happen is that the initial costs are not incremental. Our council increases the city's road network by 100 kilometers a year and spends $600 million total on roads just for repair and expansion, but it's always increased incrementally. Each road expansion or reconstruction can cost anywhere from $5 million to $100 million. There are so many of them that they become part of the background financial noise of the city.

In contrast, a public transit project like light rail requires a more difficult, more complex environmental assessment than a road environmental assessment, requires more initial funding than a road project, and can't serve everyone all the time everywhere - unlike roads, which are perceived as a universal service when in fact they are no more than public transit is. There are many roads in Ottawa I've never driven on and never will.

Canada is the only G-8 country that has no ongoing federal or provincial urban transit funding.

The final large reason is that there is no federal or provincial funding programs for public transit systems. Canada is the only G-8 country that has no ongoing federal or provincial urban transit funding. Ottawa suffered through all of these limitations, fought for and got $400 million in special project funding from the federal government and the province ($200 million each); fought through the environmental assessments, project definition, and so on.

But unlike every other Canadian city, Ottawa had a senior federal minister deliberately interfering to make sure the project never happened for partisan political ambitions.

RTH: What communication strategy did Ottawa use to promote the transit plan? What lessons can other cities take from Ottawa's experience?

CD: We depended mostly on the media to report on the public consultations, committee and council debates. It didn't work. What the media did was use the project to create controversy and to sell newspapers and sound bytes by giving every opponent of the project, no matter how ill-informed, ink and electronic space.

So you had councillors who had never sat on the Transit or Transportation Committees in their political lives quoted at length opposing the project, in fact getting more air time than those working on the Committee. Six people would come together give themselves a name, e.g Friends of Mer Bleu, and come up with 'their solution' to the rail project.

What the media did was use the project to create controversy and to sell newspapers and sound bytes by giving every opponent of the project, no matter how ill-informed, ink and electronic space.

The result of all this was that trying to get the light rail story in Ottawa out was like standing in Union Station in Toronto with hundreds of passengers all speaking and trying to get attention of the crowd. It couldn't be done. So the general public, hearing so many contradictory opinions and ideas, didn't know what to think about the project.

RTH: What do you believe was the thinking behind John Baird's threat to cancel the federal funding for the project and leak information to the press? How much did this move affect the final outcome?

CD: This move determined the final outcome. Without his interference, the project would now be under construction as it has been signed off by all the parties, Siemens, PCL, the City, the province and the Federal Ministries of Transportation and Finance. It was a done deal.

The thinking behind it, as evidenced by Ken Rubin's access to information applications as reported in last Saturday's Ottawa Citizen, was that Mr. Baird's interference was totally politically motivated. He wanted to damage or unseat the Mayor who was a prominent local Liberal and the best way to do this was to cast doubt on or kill his premier accomplishment - the light rail project, which he succeeded in doing and was rewarded by becoming Environment Minister.

RTH: In your Globe and Mail article, you write, "cities need issue based parliaments". Many urbanists believe cities need a new political mandate - with new powers of revenue collection and disbursement - rather than being mere dependents of the province. In Toronto there has been a lot of discussion around the introduction of party politics into the municipal arena. What do you think of these ideas? What kind of municipal governance reforms would you advocate?

CD: I don't think cities need political parties at the city level. What we do need though is political reform that will allow Canadians to elect governments which are formed by true majorities, not pluralities. Right now, Mr. Harper refers to 'his' government. Well it is his government, it's not 'our' government because two out of three Canadians didn't vote for him.

We need political reform that will result in the way people vote being reflected in the distribution of seats in Parliament. When that occurs, Parliaments will become more issue-based because, like City Halls, they will have to pay more attention to what the 'majority' of their constituents want, not what just the folks who voted for them want.

We need political reform that will result in the way people vote being reflected in the distribution of seats in Parliament.

The greatest impediment we have to buidling a more just, more sustainable environment is our North American political system, which permits minority governments to be elected who have a different agenda from the majority who voted, e.g. anti public health, anti national day care, pro 'preventive' wars, and so on.

Modern cities and modern societies are complex. They need governments which are more nuanced, more able to compromise and consult, more interested in solving problems than beating up the opposing party whomever that party may be.

RTH: Mr. Baird is now the Federal Environment Minister. Here in Canada there appears to have been an alarming lack of encouragement from the feds to promote sustainable development initiatives at the municipal level. Many cities in the States have given up looking for federal leadership and taken their own course. What kind of initiatives do you feel Mr. Baird should be proposing to help municipalities pursue a green agenda?

CD: Given that he has just killed the largest, greenest project ever undertaken in Canada's fourth largest city? A project that was not only the first step in reducing carbon emissions in our city by several hundred thousand tons a year but would also have generated a billion dollars in pedestrian friendly housing and commercial investment around the new stations over the next five or six years.

Given that he was a key member of the Harris government in Ontario that reduced the Ontario's Environment Deparment by 50 per cent and associated deregulations that were responsible for Walkerton (See the O'Connor Report) - I can't imagine what he will be proposing.

RTH: Hamilton's primary mode of transit is the road. The majority of capital funding for the past 50 years has been allocated to laying down more asphalt. In the meantime the public transit system has languished. Why is it so easy to find money for highways but so hard to find money for transit? How critical is an efficient public transit infrastructure for the overall health, prosperity and 'livability' of a city?

CD: Efficient, comprehensive, public transit is the difference between a city and a suburb. Why is it so hard to get? See above.

RTH: In your November 25 article in the Globe and Mail, you write, "The municipal political system is sustained by the development industry, which builds the sprawl." Is it possible to reduce the influence of private capital in political decisions? How? What can citizens realistically do between elections to make councilors accountable?

CD: It is possible in two ways. Elections have to be publicly funded, not privately funded. As long as politicians depend on contributions from the development, phamaceutical, industries, etc., the political system will respond to the folks who pay for their elections. When they don't, they won't.

The second way is you need a process of local government which gives the ordinary person a real chance to set city priorities, that means annual participative budgets as they have pioneered in Porto Alegre and a planning and development process which gives communities equal opportunities to influence how their neighourhoods are built.

RTH: What lessons can other cities learn from Ottawa's light rail project?

CD: Communicate better than we did. Tell your city's PR people to forget about the media. Get out there and work with all your communities; ask them what they want. Strike ongoing committees with broad memberships, listen and listen and listen. So when the project finally moves forward people feel it's their project, then you will have a real chance to finish what you start. At the end of the day, we didn't do that well enough.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 10:06:00

absolutely fabulous interview Ben. Clive certainly knows his stuff. It's time for Hamilton to swoop in and snag some of that $400 million and get working on a light rail plan of our own.

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By Amagamated (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 12:54:43

Councillor Doucet should brush up on his history, and check his facts.

Any comparison of the Ottawa Electric Tramway with the construction of the Rideau Canal is ridiculous. The "O-Train" LRT was a municipally-driven initiative intended to support continued heavy suburban development on the south edge of Ottawa.

By contrast, the Rideau Canal was primarily a military project built by the British Empire to provide a secure supply route between Kingston and Montreal after the war of 1812.

Additionally, the claim that the Ottawa LRT was the "largest greenest project ever undertaken" here is specious at best.

The proposed LRT alignment ran through undisturbed greenspace, threatened a protected species, and transected lands currently subject to at least one native land claim. The planners also declined to reuse an existing brownfield rail maintenance facility in favour of building a completely new yard on more greenspace.

This project died because it was poorly thought out and oversold as a panacea to all things wrong with the city. It was brought forward in an atmosphere of political duplicity and the legal, financial and technical details of the project were subject to a contractual secrecy worthy of a National Security project.

The people of Eastern Ontario are fortunate to have avoided a municipal boondoggle unprecedented in the history of Ontario.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 13:00:47

yea, you're probably right...I guess Ottawa should just keep building highways instead. They are wonderfully green and encourage proper urban development much better than some rail system.....

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 13:17:40

Well, I have to say that 'Amagamated' has piqued my interest...and reminded me of that saying 'There's three sides to every story; yours, mine and The Truth.'

Can we rely on RTH to follow-up on this commenter's claims? I'd hate to think that there's rhetoric flying around this site that's being fueled by misperceptions. That makes 'us' as bad as 'them', doesn't it...? (And Jason, your response to Amagamated is a non sequitur. I'd expected you to at least match their approach, rather than be reduced to sarcasm...which is the weapon of some feeble-minded readers. No pudding for you, I'm afraid.)

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 13:47:40

ha ha....true enough. I've read the documents and the votes that Ottawa council made. This was a good plan that was killed at the 11th hour by a meddling senior bureucrat. To use environmental concerns as a means to oppose light rail is crazy. Like all the people who say they support Hamilton's one way streets because it reduces pollution. Yea, all those trucks and cars with one person in each is great for our health.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 14:06:13

Jason, hold up...

You're hanging your further response (aside from a patented anti-car rantling) on a one-note tune, that of the '11th hour meddling by a sernior bureaucrat'.

What about all those other points the commenter raised?

I'm all for creating momentum towards a more vibrant mass transit approach, but your doggedness to want to get there can be a bit frustrating to read. You still haven't rebutted these -at first glance, anyway- salient points of theirs. I'm sorry to be blunt, but in this case, as in others, you're reminding me of a particular southern neighbour that simply is not interested in dialogue about the world...but in bullying their way forward to their own goal. What ever happened to 'fighting the good fight'?

I'm all for well-meaning enthsusiasm, but please, can we please have more cogent responses than foot-stamping and breath-holding?

And you're still not getting any pudding.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 14:47:05

Just to clarify what I'm getting at here, I'm reminded of two recent news stories, one referenced here on RTH. The first is the 'Pedestrians Have Some Nerve' story, which seems to just jump on the de rigeur notion of the bullying done by drivers. As I commented, I'd like to hear more about the situation before executing a further round of bandwagonism. And the other has to do with the Meriam Bedard case that unfolded around Christmas. Almost nowhere did I see certain facts about that case actually presented front-and-center, facts that change the entire complexion of the situation.

My point is that you cannot make a strong case for a cause if you're riding on the fuel of personal prejudices, no matter how rich that fuel is. On top of this, it's not enough to simply go with an accepted view of the facts, because as we've seen in the mainstream media, much is regurgitated, the public's perception being that 'Well, if they keep telling us this, then it must be true.' What was that that Stalin said about repeating untruths until they become as good as truths...?

You guys there at RTH have established theh publication as an alternative to the mainstream, I'm assuming, in the partial hope that you'll not fall victim –or be yet another player in– the 'mass media conflagration of facts'. So come on, keep your standards high. Your readers, as well as you, deserve as much.

So I challenge you to refute what this commenter has presented. Point-by-point. Because if all you're going to be doing here is making noise, noise not borne out of verifiable fact (or supportable opinion), then really, how are you any better than the politicians you criticize, other than the fact that you're not taking any money out of your 'constituents' pockets?

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 15:32:17

I hear what you're saying, and that's why we interviewed councillor Clive. I live in Hamilton with most contributors to RTH. Benny boy defected to TO, but is still cool. I don't need to go and study this posters response because it's already been done over and over in the Ottawa Citizen and Sun. The interview with Clive was meant to give us a perspective from behind the scenes. He knows much more about this project than I do. Perhaps I was out of line to leave a sarcastic comment, but I really don't have anything more to add - the opposition to the project was well publicized and now we've garnered another perspective in this interview. Our reader can most certainly develop his/her own piece broken down into a few points if he/she would like to do so. I suppose we didn't think it was necessary since the above mentioned Ottawa-area papers have already done it over and over.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 15:50:58

by the way, if you're interested, go to the Ottawa Citizen homepage and search the 30 day archives for light rail. There are the 10 most recent articles there which will help elaborate on the comments made by Amalgamated.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 16:51:53

Um... You're missing my points entirely. Methinks you might just be too close to the trees...

My 'complaint' in both instances is two-fold. First, with the incessant 'Cars are bad! Bad cars!' spiel that Jason launches into. Ad nauseam. That argument does not address what the commenter had proposed. So to me, it's actually trite. Just to clarify, I am FOR well-designed mass transit. I am AGHAST at the foundation that North America has been built on, the car, which permeates every single aspect of life here. So guys, choose your expression, whichever one works for you, but 'You're preaching to the converted', or 'Singing to the choir'. Regardless of your choice, I'm not the enemy, here.

Secondly, in both instances I tend to cringe at the tendency to revert to a propogated media perception of events...combined with RTH rhetoric. But this is less about ideology than about editorial professionalism. I'm not necessarily asking you to take both sides in a story about pedestrian lights (remember, this is the guy who doesn't own a car, who spends almost all of his time on sidewalks and navigating crossings...), but I think you need to take a look at how you present things here, especially when it comes to the primary lifestyle aspect in these here parts, the automobile. There are times when I'm reminded of a high school or college publication with earnest rants about keg-party restrictions.

There is no more important subject than the environment. But in a nutshell, I suspect a lot of energy that is spent on vitriol being launched at anything to do with petroleum-industry-based-vehicles, that energy could be better apportioned to causes where you can effect change. You might think I'm splitting hairs here, but I'm not. Because in the main, when we're looking at the bigger picture, there's only two things gonna wholesale change things re: the automobile: crisis...and innovation. And really, they're both out of the hands of the average person.

Anyway, this isn't the place for 'discussion'. These should be done in-person. (And not over beer.)

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 17:57:45

sounds like we all agree in a round-about way....I suppose my sometimes wacky sense of humour was ill-placed by posting the sarcastic comment I did way back when (what the heck was this article about again??). Unless I'm still misunderstanding you, we in fact are trying to present valid pieces and articles that will 'convert' more folks who don't really understand what's behind the scenes in our car-crazed society. If I come across as 'anti -car' (which I shouldn't since I own one) it's probably due to where I live. Go for a walk sometime from Victoria Park to Fortinos to Locke South and back to Victoria Park. And then remember that all westbound buses come east along Main, not King - which means this walking route is our fabulous choice for simply taking the bus or walking to a Locke St cafe for coffee. My 3 year old was walking back from the bus stop at Locke with my wife yesterday (more on this fiasco of a bus trip to Mac in the next issue of RTH) when she looked up and said "mommy, these cars are REALLY close". From the mouth of babes.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2007 at 18:23:54


I completely sympathize with your frustration when it comes to our car culture. You certainly get a different perspective on it once you have to walk your kids around town. For myself I didn't really start re-evaluating my attitute towards driving until my wife saw one of my kids nearly end up under someone's wheels.

I understand schmadrian's points as well. In some ways, in order to effectively, and fairly present some of the pro-public transit arguments were are trying to make here on RTH we have to try to be as objective as possible and respect the fact that many readers may not share our perspective.

I'm sure the Ottawa Light Rail arguments have, as you mention, been done to death in other media but they have not been presented on this site so it might be useful to reference anything that is relevant to the discussion.

As you say I don't think there is a major disagreement on the topic here, just the approach we take to discuss it.



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By bigbri (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 20:52:40

After going car-less in Hamilton for 10 years, and commuting every day to Toronto, I burned out on public transit, plain and simple. For the longest time, I was an advocate and supporter of public transit, really believed GO was southern Ontario's best kept secret. This in spite of the challenges of being a full-time public transit user, having to adopt that regimented lifestyle for travel, having to jostle with strangers. But what killed my love for public transit was the cellphone: The way people use them in confined public spaces these days is reprehensible. I got sick of having to listen to banal, one-sided, LOUD conversations in my left ear; indeed, I was getting in arguments with people and their ignorance. I wasn't alone: GO Transit has acknowledged rider complaints about cellphone use but prefers to mildly chide users to mind their manners. When I broke down and bought a car, a colleague who was aware of my public transit use remarked that he'd rather spend two hours stuck on the Don Valley Parkway every day than do what I did - take the bus to work every day. It was a telling comment. Cars are here to stay. Eventually, they will no longer burn fossil fuels. Humans are in love with their cars. All the finest public transit alternatives will not change that. What we need to do is manage auto traffic more effectively. For starters, in Hamilton, that would mean doing away with one-way streets. Look at James Street since the conversion, it's a proper city streetscape now, no longer an inner city highway. On a broader scale, government should not invest any more money in new highway; maintain what we have, but no more new lanes. Use the money to teach people how to use what we have more efficiently, buy better buses for those who choose to public transit (and can put up with other people's LOUD cellphone conversations), adopt HOV lanes. Sorry if this doesn't jive with your outlook but I think it's the kind of sentiment that you confront. (And aren't there other issues in the Hammer besides transportation?)

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 22:20:28

great observations bigbri. it is sad when someone would rather sit on a highway for 2 hours than take the bus. I'd probably make one small change to your post though - you said humans are in love wiith their cars. I think it's Westerners who are in love with their cars. From what I've heard from folks who have visited Europe and seen online they really seem to get transit over there...the system seems balanced, not car-centric. North America is a different ballgame though. Perhaps $3 a litre gasoline will help change our habits and addictions for us.

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By diggler (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 23:15:45

i guess this discussion is pretty much dead but what the hell, eh?

i love LRT but my perception of ottawa's plan was that it was terribly flawed. having it run north-south [where few live] as opposed to east-west [where most live] is a little curious. there was also a lot of secrecy surrounding the project, so i'm torn by its demise. everyone has an angle, including mr. doucet, ottawa's dailies, me, rth, etc.

oh ya, john baird sucks. god help us all with him as environment minister.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 11, 2007 at 16:41:43

hey diggler...you seem to know about this Ottawa fiasco. I've been there a few times recently but correct me if I'm wrong - doesn't the busway and bus-only roads/lanes as well as bus lanes on the main hwy - it's another 400 series number that leads out to Kanata - aren't they all east/west oriented? Seemed to me that the football stadium and airport were south of the city...isn't that where light rail was going? or am I confused directionally? I suppose they could take the busway lanes and lay down track in the east/west corridor, but I always thought they were looking at lighrail now that they know it is more effective than buses and since the busway network is pretty weak in the south/north they would use rail here instead..... again, just from a few visits and riding the system - which for buses was a great system.

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By diggler (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2007 at 21:42:12

ya, it is a great system: 350,000+ riders/day. that's part of the problem, though. how many more riders would this project attract? it was estimated that a mere 1000 [net] new users would be attracted by 2020. would that be enough to rationalize such an outlay of cash?

most of ottawa's population lies between kanata in the west and orleans in the east. the proposed north-south line was to run to land slated for development. the line would pass through farmland, the greenbelt and land currently in dispute by aboriginal groups. it wasn't even planned to connect to the airport.

it is true that the south is poorly served by transit, though the introduction of the o-train has helped to some degree. if you don't know, the o-train is a deisel-powered train that serves the south. it runs from greenboro through carleton u to bayview which is on the transitway and close to downtown.

another problem is that the plan had called for a cancellation of express bus service. this would have required people to take a train that took longer than the bus.

not surprisingly, i suppose, there wasn't enough transparency with this project. there is even an investigation of bribery involving seimens and the city of ottawa. typical city politics, i guess. anyway, i do have very mixed feelings about the project being canned because i think it just came down to baird [and harper] being idiots. nothing new there.

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By MegaTrolley (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 10:03:39

There are more cost-effective alternatives to Light Rail, one being the 80 foot long bi-articulated MegaTrolley that carries the same among of passengers as a light rail vehicle (about 200) yet costs as a system about 20% of an LRT. These 100% electic, zero-emisison, rubber tired vehicles with multiple drive axles have so far have been ordered by 3 Swiss cities; Geneva, Zurich and Luzerne. Why spend $800 million when you only need to spend $200 million? Mayor O'Brien's new task force should study these and City Councillours should try to become better informed that there other choices besides trains and fossil fuel buses.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 10:32:36

Better yet, I've been digging around online and found out that the streetcars used in Portland are lighter than typical light rail vehicles, meaning considerable cost is saved during construction. The streetcar vehicles only require a 12-inch deep cut in the road to lay down the track, whereas light rail requires complete road reconstruction and even removal of some underground services. This is how Portland constructed their streetcar line for roughly $25million per mile. New cost estimates I'm finding are pegging light rail at around $35-$65 million per mile in 2006-2007 dollars. The Portland Streetcar would be too short to use as a light rail vehicle in Hamilton, but the company that makes them also has a 5-car tram that holds 200 people. They could easily suffice as light rail vehicles for much less money, and not much more money than a full BRT network. And financially rail always results in better bang for the buck - both in terms of private investment and ridership - than buses. More to come on these lighter streetcars in a future issue.

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By MegaTrolley (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 10:54:51

For photos of the MegaTrolley in Geneva Switzerland you can google web (not images) for Megatrolley Hess and open site www legenevois ch

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By MegaTrolley (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 11:10:23

The world's 3 most liveable cities as ranked on the Mayor's website in 2006 were Zurich, Geneva and Vancouver. What urban transport do all three have in common? Trolleybus. The Swiss, more than anyone, understand value for money.

Other world class cities that embrace trolleybus systems as the "backbone" for their public transit needs include Salzburg, Rome, Mexico City, Moscow, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, San Francisco, Quito, Milan, Boston, St. Peterburg...

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 11:54:43

From Jason: "From what I've heard from folks who have visited Europe and seen online they really seem to get transit over there...the system seems balanced, not car-centric."

First off, you have to decide whether you're going to include the UK in 'Europe'. (Personally, having lived there, I don't...but that's another discussion entirely.) If we are, then your statement especially doesn't hold. (The British, in their own way, are all the more in love with their cars...but for somewhat different reasons. Again, another discussion, another time.) But regardless, the fact is that the car has just as much a place in people's lives over there...the difference being that because so much of their urban infrastructure was in place before the advent of the car (unlike over here), the application of mass transit solutions has been a more organic, and if I may suggest, a less contentious one.

I think it might help to reduce this discussion to a more basic level and ask a simple question: 'Why do people change?'

Why do people change their point of view, how they look at things... Under what circumstances do people 'give up' something in order to accept another?

Part of the answer here (not meaning to leap ahead too much) is to be found in the comment "Perhaps $3 a litre gasoline will help change our habits and addictions for us." Do you have any idea what the current price of petrol is in the UK?!?

Living in the UK and taking the train a lot, as well as daily transit in Brighton/Hove, made at least one thing painfully clear to me. (And from this single realization, other aspects of understanding). If you want people to change their habits, you have to provide an alternative that effectively 'seduces' them. If you want people to use mass transit more then their cars, then you have to provide an option that a) makes sense economically, b) has 'route-coverage' and c) is dependable. (I know I've covered this elsewhere in a comment...)

What I saw in the UK is a faint-hearted desire on the part of 'those in power' to create a viable alternative to the car. Too expensive, not extensive enough and hardly reliable. I suspect that in most situations, those people who 'design and implement' mass transit have hardly ever used it on a daily basis and certainly don't after the fact.

The UK is hardly an exception, though. I'm sure you see this everywhere, to greater and lesser extents. But you don't get an incredible result in terms of ridership by demonizing cars (higher taxes on gas or the such), you get it by making the option of mass transit so utterly seductive that it becomes a no-brainer. Yes, ideally, downtown Hamilton would be more pedestrian-friendly and mass transit-based. Perhaps even the outright banning of cars within a certain area. But to make this possible, you have to have something so reliable, so economically attractive, so thorough as 'seduce' people. (Of course, you have to have somewhere for people to go, something for them to do...which Hamilton does not currently have...and I don't care how much of an arm-wrestling match this elicits, Hamilton's downtown...the Farmers' Market aside...is not worth the effort to get to.)

And once again, I've managed to not stay on topic! The reason is clear; this is a massive discussion, not so much individual topics of discussion, but pieces of the puzzle.


I would say this, at the risk of repeating myself: (I do have an admitted 'I'm not being heard!' syndrome...) even on a grumbling-under-your-breath level, less energies need to be accorded slagging off cars and their mis-use. In the face of all things-environmental, I still believe in the old adage "You can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.'

I'm very curious to hear readers' answer to my query: 'Why do people change?'

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 11:58:58

"Go for a walk sometime from Victoria Park to Fortinos to Locke South and back to Victoria Park. And then remember that all westbound buses come east along Main, not King - which means this walking route is our fabulous choice for simply taking the bus or walking to a Locke St cafe for coffee. "

Jason: I've lived in this neighbourhood, my dad still lives there, I'm there all the time.

And the entire enterprise, the two one-way streets...negate any aspect of calling that vast swath of land a 'neighbourhood'. Get off those two 'thoroughfares', and yes, some beautiful communities, great, interesting, 'homey' houses. But if you want an example of what's wrong with Hamilton, look no further than the traffic ideology here. I hate walking on either of these two roads. I'd prefer to drive!

Shame on all those who made this particular slice of the city what it is. Shame.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2007 at 13:08:24


Lots of points here!

I'll add my 2c to some of them:

  1. Agree with the slice of land between Main and King. It's a real no-mans land with King and Main being the opposing 'trenches' (sorry Jase! :) ) This was the first neighbourhood my wife and I looked at when we were house shopping in Hamilton, but there was no way we were going to traipse our kids across those roads everyday. Decision over.

  2. The Europe transit debate is an interesting one. I too lived in the UK (Leeds and London mainly) and I've traveled around Europe a fair bit. I agree with your point about the car being king over there. In many ways the roads are getting worse (so I hear, my wife recently came back from Spain and I have friends who visit France, Italy and Germany often) and the driving is way more dangerous (anyone seen that roundabout which circles the Arch-De-Triumph? Or those tiny laneways in Rome...? Madness!) The Europeans are baaaad drivers. But, as you say, the transit is there and seems to be a mainstay for most European cities. It's not as if they are particularly enlightened. They just never lost much of their transit infrastructure. We did and now we're trying to sell it back.

  3. Agree also on some of your points about UK transit, however I think the discussion goes a bit deeper. I think the Brits have more of a malaise mentality (if that makes any sense?). What I mean is that in many ways the Brits are happiest when they are complaining and I think they just have an ability to put up with more than other countries. I suspect Canadians might hit that Michael Douglas Falling Down traffic jam breaking point moment a lot quicker than the Brits. I'm amazed at just how congested, expensive and downright crappy that country is becoming. When I think of my time in London, sat in traffic on the M25 - I would NEVER do that over here. 4 - I don't fully agree with your complaints about the usefulness of demonizing the car to sell transit. I think Canadians are quite forward thinking when it comes to understanding their environmental and social responsibilities and I believe many people would settle for a mediocre transit system if it was offered to them. That said your suggestion that we need to seduce transit riders with a kick ass system is spot on - we just don't appear to have the invest in transit mentality (it's always seen as a subsidized component) so we'll probably always be shooting for something that is just 'OK'

Some other interesting posts on this topic. It wasn't my intention to re-open the entire Ottawa Light Rail debate when I submitted this interview, I just wanted to get a little bit closer to understanding why it is we don't seem to be able to bring LRT back to our cities. I really do believe that everybody wants it. It's just that we seem too paralyzed by politics to make it happen.



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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 13:26:05


Oh, the discussions always have a lot deeper to go! LOL!

Comments sections are never the best venues for 'discussion'. What transpires are not dialogues, they're sequential monologues. But still, good starts...

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 13:30:23

Maybe we're getting carried away on the light rail thing. I think the most important thing Clive said was:

"The greatest impediment we have to buidling a more just, more sustainable environment is our North American political system, which permits minority governments to be elected who have a different agenda from the majority who voted"

Which really means "democracy" - talking about issues instead of pushing agendas.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 13:36:16


Sorry to sound like the worst kind of skeptical wet-blanket, but many/most people simply don't know what they want. Making democracy... Well, let's just say that it's sure no guarantee of anything worthwhile, even if you have the 'perfect' system that gets the party actually voted into power, into power.

And really, places like RTH are the very mechanisms to ensure a 'counter-agenda' to the ones pushed by minority governments. Never underestimate the power of words.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 16:02:38

THat's not quite fair - "agenda" implies no further discussion necessary, you already know what's "right". RTH has, as we are showing right here, much more discussion than simply a contrarian "counter-agenda". ANd would welcome more input from alternative views as long as they have valuable input, not predetermined agendas.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 16:48:34


I hate to be contrarian, but I think you're getting hung up on semantical gymnastics routines. There are many connotations of 'agenda'. Sometimes it just means a list of things to be addressed, sometimes it's a full-blown 'attack plan'. But regardless, RTH has its own 'agenda'. Its own 'philosphy', even if it's not locked-down.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 18:28:13

FYI everyone - look at the top of the page under 'First Principles' for the RTH agenda.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 19:18:43


Yeah, I really like those. There are some truly admirable precepts there.

But then these principles are only part of RTH's 'agenda'. Which, as it has no tangible, discernable, wieldable 'power', is more of the 'intents' and 'goals' end of the possible interpretations of the word 'agenda'. As opposed to, say...Ryan being elected mayor with an arbitrary agenda he intends to carry through on, come Hell or high-water.

: )

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 19:28:23

If Ryan ever gets elected as mayor he MUST wear that Giligan fishing hat he wore in the Spec.

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By Halton (registered) - website | Posted January 17, 2007 at 23:07:14

The Councillor's Story is Exactly what Halton Developers are Salvating about & were Heading in that direction under the Leadership Last few Terms of Regional Council Chair Joyce Savoline. The Durham Regional Council is laying out the Pattern for what we will probably See Here during the next Green Belt Review. The Toronto Star Sells Newspapers from One end of the GTA to the other & beyond & they're Sure NOT reporting the GTA Carbon copy antics & Going's on. Just Check & See if Their Subsidary the Guelph Mercury stories about Norwalk Virus problems have been looked at on an Ontario wide basis with the Burlington Norwalk problems as Well. Sorta reminds Us of How the SARS thingy went...

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By "Security Pants" Derek (anonymous) | Posted January 18, 2007 at 18:47:26


Rusty.. i have to agree with your comment on "Europeans" being bad drivers. I have a friend from Italy, that just came over, and was not quite sure as to why i was gripping my seat every time she changed lanes without looking over her shoulder. I kindly asked her, "why dont you look over your shoulder when changing lanes?" Her response was, "no one looks over their shoulder when changing lanes back home. I was shocked.
Needless to say, i'll be in the drivers seat... whenever we go somewhere.

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By Alexander O. (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2009 at 02:01:25

It so nice to know that there are lots of companies producing ecofriendly vehicles, which, will help lessening pollution in the environment. Their aim is to unveil a hybrid car that will get up to 100 miles to the gallon. The new "Car czar," Edward Montgomery will undoubtedly be a fan, as he is set to take an oversight role of the automotive industry since they got so much of our money. You shouldn't think about a personal loan for one yet -they don't plan to have it ready to ship until 2012. However, once it unveils, and if it has a reasonable price, it may be good to look into Bright automotive.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted July 17, 2013 at 13:55:54

OTTAWA — Council unanimously approved its proposed route for the western leg of Ottawa’s light-rail line Wednesday even though the National Capital Commission has said it won’t approve of the proposal’s use of its land.

Commission board members have twice rejected the city’s plans for the $980-million Richmond Underground line that would cut through more than a kilometre of NCC land along the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway near McKellar Park.

The proposal calls for the construction of a 500-metre trench through which rail track would run just west of Dominion station over to Skead Street. However, NCC board members insist any LRT line must not impede people’s access to NCC land, meaning the city would likely have to bury the line to satisfy them, incurring additional costs.

Council members at a transportation committee meeting last month said they will not simply cave to the NCC’s demands. They suggested moving ahead with the proposed western route while continuing talks with the commission. The unanimous vote to do so passed council Wednesday without debate.

“We will continue to gather public feedback and work with the NCC as the project goes into detailed design and approvals stages,” Coun. Keith Egli, chairman of the transportation committee, said in a statement from the city.

The current proposal stretches from Bayview station to Baseline station, and will connect to the 12.5-kilometre Confederation Line now being built through the downtown. Construction on the western leg is not anticipated to start until 2017 or 2018.

City staff and councillors believe that will leave them time to hammer out a deal with the NCC.


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