Comment 104531

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 16, 2014 at 14:09:35 in reply to Comment 104530

Lots of stuff in this long, thoughtful comment. Let me try to respond:

Hamilton evolved over 200 years. The design of the city and lack of density makes lower city east-west rapid transit planning challenging.

Hamilton's population is not distributed uniformly across the area. The density of the lower city, and especially the downtown core, is much higher than the densities of other parts of the city. That is despite the fact that a large number of properties downtown and in the lower city are still vacant, demolished and under-used, which means there is very strong potential for the density of the lower city to increase even more through new development.

The Canadian Urban Institute conservatively estimates that new development will be three times as high with LRT as it will be without LRT. That means at least three times as much new private investment and at least three times as much new property tax revenue on civic infrastructure (roads, water, sewer) that is already built.

We have a car culture and suburban communities within our city limits - the burbs are close-by and do not entail long frustrating traffic snarls that are common in the GTA-City of Toronto experience.

Hamilton is a large, diverse city that offers a variety of living and transportation arrangements. Many people choose to live in car-dependent single-use suburbs and we have done an excellent job of providing them, but demographics across North America are changing and people - both young Millennials and retiring Baby Boomers - increasingly want to move into more mixed urban environments that do not require driving for every trip.

Hamilton needs to get better at providing high quality living and transportation options for everyone, not just people who want to live in a single-family suburban house with two or three cars.

The number of cars and people registered in Hamilton suggest that the LRT will not likely have the sustainable volume of users than expected.

The east-west route of the B-Line LRT already carries 13,000 transit passengers a day. That would put the LRT in the middle of the set of North American LRT systems on opening day, with extremely strong potential for ridership to grow dramatically.

Reports from "consultants" who stand to make significant profit from a one billion dollar project will necessarily be concocted to emphasize the positive and down-play or reduce negative assessment.

The various reports on Hamilton's LRT plan have come from: City staff, who became convinced to recommend LRT after studying the evidence from other cities; Metrolinx planners, who independently reviewed the City's plan in a comprehensive Benefits Case Analysis; the McMaster Institute of Transportation and Logistics (MITL), which does not have a pro-transit bias; and various independent academic researchers who do not have a financial interest in promoting LRT.

Hamilton’s spatial reality is a significant variable: the mountain has a larger population than the lower city and our suburbs and car culture has stimulated reduced urban density that complicates "rapid" transit services.

That is why the first line in Hamilton's rapid transit network will be across the lower city, where densities are higher, the land use is more appropriate for transit, the zoning framework encourages new mixed-use development, and existing transit ridership is already high enough to support LRT on opening day.

Part of the Rapid Ready LRT plan is to start building transit capacity on other rapid transit routes - like the north-south A-Line and an east-west line across the upper city - toward future investment in additional LRT or BRT lines once ridership is strong enough to support them.

If Hamilton’s past Council had revitalized inner city neighborhoods to avoid suburban sprawl we would have had higher density that lends itself well to frequent rapid transit services that involve short distances.

We already have high enough densities and strong enough transit ridership across lower city neighbourhoods to support the planned east-west LRT; and the LRT itself will drive still more investment to raise density and ridership higher.

We had sown the seeds of our current economic challenges in the post WWII era when Council’s believed that what’s good for our steel industry was good for Hamilton. But short-sightedness was a common disease in that bygone period when pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and dwindling steel jobs were noticed but rarely discussed in the halls or power or between the front page and sports section of the Spectator.

It makes no sense to point to past bad planning decisions as reason to continue making bad planning decisions today and tomorrow.

The best we can do to advance Hamilton's economic prospects is to focus on rebuilding business/residential centres to increase density and return asphalt and concrete neighborhoods that are derelict and gentrified into parks, bike paths, urban-sized forests and a "National Industrial Park" that offers tax incentives underwritten by Ontario/Canada.

Yes, we should also be focusing on those objectives, and there is already important work being done (see, for example, the Cootes to Escarpment Ecopark). However, high quality rapid transit is also an essential part of the comprehensive mix of active land use and transportation that will bring this city into the future.

We are in a new economy where manufacturing automation, ICT digital devices, energy technologies, smarter grids, electric vehicles and food processing trumps steel-related industries. Hamiltonians need to let go of the old Hamilton that evolved on the needs of the steel industry and a suburban car culture.

I agree completely, which is why we need to focus on revitalizing urban neighbourhoods with new investment, new residents and a variety of living and transportation options not based around universal car ownership. LRT completely support this goal.

The LRT project is a diversionary distraction: an unsustainable business model that will need subsidies from the get-go and operational commitments to run the schedule of trains on schedule.

That's just not true. The per passenger operating cost for LRT is much lower than for buses. Based on conservative ridership growth, the city will soon be making an operating profit on the LRT line which will help to subsidize expanded bus service city-wide to build ridership more generally and reduce automobile dependence.

Buses are more flexible and less expensive for our split-level city.

The fact that LRT is fixed infrastructure is a huge part of what makes it attractive to new private investment. A bus line can be rerouted or canceled, but an LRT line is a long-term commitment that appeals to property developers.

And as I noted, the operating cost for LRT is actually much lower than for buses. A big part of this is that a major part of the operating cost for transit is the operator, and a single LRT driver can carry many more passengers than a bus driver - even an articulated bus. As such, the city collects a lot more transit revenue per driver on LRT and can run an operating profit on a busy line like the east-west B-Line.

Buses will be electrified or operate on clean power fuel cells or hybrid biofuels - a better and more flexible solution to transit than the proposed LRT.

Practical battery electric or fuel cell buses are still many years away from production. If and when those technologies mature, it may make sense to replace conventional buses with electric or fuel cell buses, but they are no replacement for high-quality, high-volume LRT on our busiest transit line.

But what’s the big picture question? Is bus or train rapid transit a solution or panacea to Hamilton’s economic status? Or, perhaps, a placebo?

You're posing a false alternative. LRT is a necessary part of a comprehensive solution to Hamilton's long-term economic sustainability. No one is claiming it will be a magic bullet all by itself.

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