The City's LRT plan has $1 billion in provincial funding. Tell Council to take YES for an answer.

A Rapid Transit System for Hamilton

The public is ready for LRT. I heartily endorse this choice.

By Larry Di Ianni

Published on "Larry's Corner" on May 20, 2008)

I knew when I petitioned the Province for participation in the Greater Toronto Transit Authority, now Metrolinx, that there would be good news for Hamilton in our membership. Remember, Metrolinx is responsible for co-ordinating public transit in the whole GTA and Hamilton corridors. The Province has fully supported Metrolinx and has given it some spending muscle to aid in its planning. It has already given Hamilton close to $40M to improve bus service.

The Province has further created a policy to reduce traffic and congestion from Oshawa to Hamilton by supporting public transit. Their MoveOntario 2020 plan states the following:

Commuters choose their car over using public transit because options are either limited or inconvenient. Effective and expanded public transit will:

  • Reduce traffic congestion and make it easier and faster to get people and goods where they need to go
  • Cut smog and provide cleaner air to breathe
  • Help Ontario reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • Support sustainable urban development that leads to stronger communities and a higher quality of life.

This will make Ontario more competitive, spur jobs and growth and help accommodate the expected population growth in the GTA.

As Hamilton prepares for phenomenal growth over the next 25 years, it also must be part of the rapid transit improvements that the McGuinty government is talking about. In fact, Metrolinx includes Hamilton in these plans to the tune of a $300M Provincial contribution towards the capital costs of an expanded public transit system for the city.

Because of this, Council has wisely commissioned a rapid transit feasibility study. It has retained the expert services of McCormick Rankin Corporation, who specialize in public transit issues. The study is being led by a former HSR chief executive who knows the city of Hamilton's needs very well. The feasibility study looked at improvements along three routes:

  1. King/Main between Eastgate Square and McMaster University (east/west)
  2. James/Upper James between Downtown and Rymal Road (north/south)
  3. An East-West route across the Mountain

This study has also gone out for public comment. The choice along these routes is whether to build rapid transit bus routes (BRT), or rapid transit Light Rail routes (LRT). Essentially we are asked to choose between trains or buses.

It seems, and not surprisingly given the lobbying efforts that have gone on, that the public is ready for LRT. I heartily endorse this choice. Light Rail transport is an idea whose time has come or in Hamilton's case, has come again.

Those of a certain generation do remember the trolleys that used to transport people in the city of Hamilton. Those trolleys were unfortunately eliminated to make room for buses. The idea was that bus transport could navigate routes that a fixed rail system could not. The buses in the early days were electric. The electric buses were replaced by diesel. Talk about a 'back to the future' scenario with LRT.

It makes absolute sense though. Congestion on Hamilton streets is becoming a problem. Gasoline prices are becoming prohibitive. Emissions are a reality that all of us should try to eliminate or reduce. LRT offers the best hope of doing that.

Will there be sufficient political will to see it happen? I have heard support from City Hall, but am not aware of any ardent champions of LRT among the political class. True the Mayor has endorsed it and there are some natural supporters among Councillors, yet not anyone has said this MUST happen as occurred during the Red Hill Valley Parkway debate.

In fact one senior staffer I encountered wondered whether the community should be sought to champion the project if response at City Hall is tepid. This staffer would try to sell the idea, not as an enhancement to public transit, but as a facilitator of economic development. The two are certainly mutually supportive.

What is the downside to such a light rail system? Well, the first is cost. This is a very expensive proposition. Even the Province's $300M, which is huge, probably wouldn't look after all the capital cost, and certainly none of the operating cost which would have to be borne by the taxpayer.

The missing player in all of this is the Federal government. Where are they with the help Hamilton needs? The McGuinty government has earmarked the Feds for a 35% share of the total cost, but the Harper government has not fully committed. This is where lobbying support must be focused.

The second problem is the disruption to car traffic that an LRT system would naturally cause. Staff talks of a whole lane of car traffic, or street parking area needing to be given to LRT. This has already caused one Councillor at least to express concerns.

On the financial side, an LRT system will spur economic renewal. The additional businesses will help pay for the system through their assessment contributions. On the traffic disruption side, Council should consider rail as a transit alternative that has many other benefits to counterbalance the car issues identified.

What will clinch Council support is the extent of the LRT set up. If Council decides to limit LRT to the downtown area to McMaster U., as I have heard, it will be a big mistake. Firstly, one should use LRT to bring people downtown, not take them away from it. Secondly, you build Council support by including all the communities. If not, the whole area-rating debate will rear its head again.

Here is what I would do. I would have an east-west route beginning in Winona and looping all the way to Dundas. Above the escarpment, I would use the Red Hill Valley Parkway Corridor to loop from the north end to Ancaster. There is room certainly on the RHVP leg for an additional lane, and I believe the same is true for the LINC. I would connect LRT to Mohawk Road, however, not the LINC on the mountain to give commuters a better choice. Engineering work would best determine the possibilities. I would also extend LRT to the airport. It makes eminent sense to do that and will facilitate the employment node being planned there.

This would be a first step. Next, I'd be working on a connection to the Glanbrook urban area on the hill; and to Flamborough's Waterdown area on that flank. You see, by including all parts of the city, one is providing service to all and building political support at the same time. All Ward residents would be served, increasing the chance of all Councillor support for the project.

Given the spotty record so far with Council, they deserve to give the community some good, exciting news. LRT makes sense not only from a public policy viewpoint, but politically as well.