If you haven't swung by the Spectator yet today, you need to check out the voluminous coverage they give to Metrolinx releasing their draft Regional Transportation Plan, titled The Big Move:
Columnists Terry Cooke and Andrew Dreschel (!) get in the act, too:
The articles note that while Metrolinx has left the door open to light rail in Hamilton, they have not committed to it. McIsaac explains:
We need to show that the technology and service we're recommending on any given line is providing value for money for the taxpayers' dollars. So, we are leaving open the door to LRT in Hamilton, but we're not saying it's a certainty until we do the detailed analysis.
It's not just about cost, it's about benefits. We will consider the environmental, social, and economic benefits of what's being proposed.
The editorial endorses light rail, writing, "One would hope and expect [the east-west rapid transit line] would be some kind of light rail system".
Both Cooke and Dreschel endorse light rail as well. Cooke writes:
LRT is a modern, efficient and reliable way to move large numbers of people quickly. It will also inevitably attract investment, create jobs and increase property values throughout the city.
It may even succeed in changing a well-earned local political reputation for endless partisan gridlock and the inability to get big things done.
Dreschel focuses more on what he calls "sex and snob appeal", though he is similarly positive:
Anecdote after anecdote suggests that hopping onto electrically powered street trains is generally regarded as more urbane and sophisticated than clambering onto buses.
Although this high-nosed perception is hard to quantify as a factor in light rail's popularity, studies routinely show that rail does take the lead when it comes to growing ridership on public transit.
It's not only seen as more modern, stylish, spacious and enviro-friendly than bus travel, it's generally regarded as a safe, reliable and comfortable alternative to the passenger car.
Opting for a light rail over an express bus service would certainly be a big, bold and costly step.
But it would elevate this city's image and transform its inner transportation patterns like nothing else short of a subway system.
It's truly encouraging to see so much attention being given to an initiative that felt like a hopelessly remote pipe dream less than a year ago.
With such a broad cross-section of support, I think it's safe to say that light rail has gone mainstream in Hamilton.
The mayor strongly supports it. Most of council seems to support it (even Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who joined the staff tour of light rail systems in Charlotte, Portland and Calgary, has made supportive noises since his return). Public Works staff from the General Manager on down are enthusiastic about it.
Federal MP David Sweet supports it. Provincial MPPs Sophia Aggelonitis, Andrea Horwath and Ted McMeekin support it.
The Chamber of Commerce, Realtors Association, Downtown Hamilton BIA, International Village BIA and several neighbourhood associations have formally endorsed it.
Large majorities of citizens from across the city prefer it out of an unprecedented 1,600+ responses to an aggressive public consultation over the summer.
However, it's still far from guaranteed.
It's not yet clear what criteria Metrolinx plans to use, but at the very least, the east-west line looks like a shoo-in. Demand for the existing B-Line is already very strong, and Metrolinx has identified this as one of its top 15 priorities for the first 15 years of the Plan.
In addition, the population density around the line is high, the potential for economic development is considerable, and Metrolinx has identified downtown Hamilton as an area of high social need.
Light rail on the B-Line is more consistent with the Metrolinx commitment to "dramatic" as opposed to "incremental" change and has considerable potential to integrate closely with the regional transit network.
Public support for light rail is very strong: 66 percent of over 1,600 respondents support light rail in particular, with another 20 percent supporting either LRT or BRT and only eight percent supporting BRT over LRT.
Even the number of respondents is absolutely tremendous. It's basically unheard-of for city staff to receive anywhere near this kind of response to public consultation requests - especially when people are being asked to comment on something they like.
Council was very impressed with the interim staff report they received on the public feedback, and Metrolinx must consider this in its analysis.
Another important measure of public support will be the feedback Metrolinx receives from their own call for public consultation once they begin studying rapid transit in Hamilton more closely.
RTH has contacted Metrolinx to inquire how residents can get more involved in this public consultation. We will report their response when we receive it.
It's encouraging that staff and council (not to mention the local media plus business and community groups) seem to be on board with light rail in Hamilton. However, one potential area of concern is the city's commitment to transit in general.
If Hamilton is serious about higher order transit, we need to demonstrate that we are willing to invest our own money into making our transit system work better.
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