Today's op-ed evaluates LRT solely on its role in providing transit and ignores its role in attracting economic development, and goes downhill from there.
By Ryan McGreal
Published February 24, 2014
An op-ed in today's Spectator by Ontario Liberal candidates Ivan Luksic (Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) and Javid Mirza (Hamilton Mountain) is loaded with bad reasoning.
The most glaring issue is that it evaluates LRT solely on its role in providing transit and ignores its role in attracting economic development, increasing municipal revenue and making more productive use of existing civic infrastructure. (A 2013 op-ed by Ron Johnson did the same thing.)
LRT is not just an expensive bus: it is an anchor around which a city can grow taller, denser and more efficient by making it easier for more people and uses to cluster together.
Today, Hamilton is a city in a slow-motion infrastructure crisis: we have too many thousands of kilometres of expensive civic infrastructure - roads, water, sewer and so on - and not enough property tax revenue to keep maintaining it. Every year, we add almost $200 million in deferred maintenance to our cumulative municipal infrastructure deficit.
The only way to address this growing deficit is to increase significantly the number of ratepayers without increasing the amount of infrastructure we need to pay for. (Indeed, we should be looking at ways to decrease it, about which more below.)
Think of all the empty and under-used lots downtown and across the lower city - whole city blocks where the only building is a parking kiosk. By filling those lots with new multi-storey buildings, we increase the number of taxpayers without having to build new roads.
But for the past 30-40 years, we have been doing the opposite - we've been hollowing out the downtown by removing buildings and reducing property tax revenues. When Wilson-Blanchard demolished their three-storey office building at Jackson and MacNab last fall, they went from paying over $77,000 a year in property tax to just $7,000 a year.
By attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in new dense, urban, mixed-use developments along the transit corridor, LRT helps us achieve the goal of raising the density of uses on our existing infrastructure - and generating more money to help pay for it.
Not only that, but LRT also helps to reduce the number of automobile trips causing wear and tear on city streets in the first place.
LRT integrates nicely into a constellation of active transportation modes that all work together to give people real choice in how to get around for a given trip: walking for short trips, cycling for longer trips, and transit for cross-town trips.
At scale, this has the effect of reducing our overall infrastructure lifecycle costs.
As a vehicle's weight increases, the wear-and-tear it causes to the road increases exponentially. A subcompact car is ten times as heavy as a bicycle, but produces around 1,000 times as much damage to the pavement. An SUV produces around 8,000 times as much damage as a bike, and a transport truck produces millions of times as much damage as a bike.
As we have been forcibly reminded during the recent thaw, all that wear-and-tear on roads produces cracking, which allows water to seep under the asphalt. Water expands when it freezes, causing damaged pavement to bulge. When the water thaws, the road-bed sags and the pavement collapses into it when heavy vehicles drive over the damaged areas.
Once the Cannon Street bike lane opens (hopefully this year!), watch how fast the asphalt on the bike lane deteriorates compared to the asphalt on the driving lanes - especially if Cannon continues to be a preferred route for transport trucks.
Every time someone chooses not to drive for a given trip, the life-cycle of our city streets gets fractionally longer. So the better we get at reducing automobile trips, the longer our streets will last without having to be resurfaced and the less patching they will need in the meantime.
Not only that, but if a family can afford to get rid of one car by living near high-quality transit, that family now has more money to spend in the local economy, boosting the city's GDP and providing more opportunities for business growth and development.
Luksic and Mirza claim:
We believe that LRT is expensive and does not bring us any closer to our two goals: linking up more of the city to public transit and increasing transit usage.
LRT actually does both. In cities across North America, LRT systems have been a lot more successful at attracting new riders than BRT, and the east-west B-Line corridor already has the highest ridership of any line in the city with 13,000 trips a day. If the B-Line LRT was to open tomorrow, it would launch with ridership in the middle of the pack on day 1.
The LRT operating on that high-volume corridor will free up a large number of buses, including the articulated express buses, to improve service in underserved parts of the city that currently have much lower ridership.
Many of our residents (particularly younger people) commute daily to Toronto: What does an LRT do to alleviate their daily commute?
They seem to be reasoning from the inaccurate stereotype of Hamilton as a bedroom community for Toronto workers.
Only 3 percent of Hamiltonians commute to Toronto to work, and 70 percent of Hamiltonians work in Hamilton. Indeed, another 38,000 people commute into Hamilton to work each day, and the single biggest employment cluster in the city is ... downtown.
In any case, the Province has already committed to providing all-day two-way GO Train service to the James North GO Station. As Metrolinx and the Province have reminded us again and again, Hamilton does not have to choose between LRT and all-day GO Train service.
Building an LRT will play havoc on hundreds of businesses in the area.
This is straight-up fearmongering. Again, the evidence from acrosss North America is that LRT is a significant boost to local business.
Imagine not being able to turn left to access your favourite business or be expected to turn a few blocks down and make a U-turn?
This complaint is particularly ironic, given that the lower city is crisscrossed by one-way thoroughfares that require drivers to overshoot on a different street, turn and double back to get to any destination on a street pointed the wrong way.
The authors then propose that the total cost for a north-south BRT on the proposed A-Line from the airport to the waterfront, a BRT on the proposed B-Line from McMaster to Eastgate, the new James North GO Station, a GO Station on Centennial Parkway, and a BRT on Centennial Parkway from Upper Stoney Creek to the Centennial GO Station will by $375 million.
I have no idea where they got that number, because the studies that have been completed estimate that a B-Line BRT alone would cost $250 million to build, and the A-Line is around as long as the B-Line.
I really have no idea what these Liberal candidates are trying to do here. I don't know if they're writing with the blessing of the Ontario Liberal Party, but if so it is a dramatic change in direction from their consistent message to Hamilton dating back to 2007.
The Ontario Liberals need to let us know whether these candidates are communicating a change in their party's regional transit policy.
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