It's nice to see some coherent, evidence-based contributions to this crucial debate in the city's daily newspaper.
By Ryan McGreal
Published October 16, 2014
Over the past week, the Hamilton Spectator has published three op-eds that explore different aspects of the comprehensive case for Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) plan.
On October 9, architect David Premi made the argument that $15 billion in rapid transit for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area is being funded out of the Provincial budget, and that if Hamilton turns down its share, we will end up helping to pay for rapid transit in other cities.
Hamilton has three basic choices:
1. We can tell the government we will accept no transit capital projects and let our share of investment go toward building projects in Mississauga and Toronto.
2. We can choose to ask for the implementation of a BRT (bus rapid transit) system, which is proven to have limited economic benefits and is more costly to operate. Hamilton drops off the priority list of projects and won't see funding for years to come, if ever.
3. We stick with the city and provincially-approved plan for LRT, which is proven to generate more economic activity and development, and is less expensive to operate.
All three options have exactly the same initial cost. Zero. As Hamiltonians, we pay the same new taxes, even if the entire $15 billion is spent in Mississauga, Toronto, Brampton and Markham. Which of these is the most logical choice in your opinion? Who in their right mind would decide to direct our tax dollars to the advancement of our neighbouring competitors?
Next, on October 14, Matt Thompson and Sam Kamminga wrote an op-ed on behalf of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association arguing that LRT provides better value to Hamilton property taxpayers.
It is the cost element, however, that keeps tripping us up as a city. We want to make clear that cost is as important to us urban-dwellers as it is to those in suburban and rural areas of the city. Downtown residents' property taxes also go to pay for roads and transit, so we expect our contributions to city coffers be used responsibly and equitably to address transportation issues all around our city.
That is why we fully support city council's oft-repeated support for LRT downtown, because it imposes the lowest burden on taxpayers by leveraging provincial money to completely build the east-west LRT line. It would also save money long-term by imposing one of the lowest costs possible on the operation of the line — each LRT vehicle replacing many buses, each with its own HSR operator.
The bus rapid transit scheme that outsiders keep trying to impose on downtown, in contrast, imposes smaller upfront capital costs to the province, but each additional bus on the road will mean additional operators with their own wages, benefits and pensions that will be borne by Hamilton taxpayers.
They addressed the bus rapid transit (BRT) smokescreen head-on:
Why are so many so-called fiscal conservatives so in thrall of the BRT option that will ultimately cost us more money to provide less service? Because it's a wedge issue they hope to exploit for their own electoral gain.
In today's issue, architect Graham McNally made a case for LRT based on its ability to attract and shape dense, cost-effective land use.
We need LRT to make the sites along the B-Line an active part of Hamilton's future growth.
The B-Line corridor can absorb growth through infill building and additional density. Existing roads can accommodate added cars, viable transit options exist and infrastructure for homes is already in place.
Growth in this corridor will support and create neighbourhoods scaled to be walkable, providing a housing format well suited to seniors, young families and a society that is putting less emphasis on car ownership and beginning to recognize and embrace the benefits of living in a walkable neighbourhood.
Development along the B-Line will benefit the entire city by increasing the tax revenue along the corridor and making better use of our urban land. Density in any city is not uniform and the taxes generated per building lot vary widely. When compared on a per hectare basis, however, higher density areas generate a significantly higher tax revenue per hectare than less dense areas, making more efficient use of the city's finite land area.
Installing LRT to encourage development along the B-Line will increase tax revenue without significantly increasing the cost to maintain our infrastructure. We will be building a city that can sustainably grow and meet our "Places to Grow" target.
After a string of anti-LRT op-eds based on false claims, selective memory and nonsensical arguments, it's nice to see some coherent, evidence-based contributions to this crucial debate in the city's daily newspaper.
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