Special Report: Light Rail

Thorough Engagement, Compromise Can Address Business Concerns About Light Rail

Metrolinx and the City need to do a really thorough job of engaging with businesses and other stakeholders along the LRT construction route to ensure we're doing everything we can to set them up for a successful transition.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published June 08, 2016

Yesterday, three businesses in the International Village - Denninger's, the Black Forest Inn and Thompson Pawnbrokers & Jewellers - wrote a letter to Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr expressing concern about the City's light rail transit (LRT) plan.

LRT rendering at King and Walnut
LRT rendering at King and Walnut

The good news is that these business owners support LRT in principle; they just worry that LRT on King Street may threaten their businesses during construction by making access difficult.

Understandable Concerns

It is completely understandable for business owners to be concerned about the impacts of an extended construction period. Metrolinx and the City need to do a really thorough job of engaging with businesses and other stakeholders along the LRT construction route to ensure we're doing everything we can to set them up for a successful transition.

Stakeholders also deserve a clear explanation of why King Street was chosen over Main Street for the LRT route after extensive analysis of these two options.

They selected the King Street option because it has a bigger economic uplift potential and will be much less disruptive to cross-town automobile traffic. (So for Councillors who are highly sensitive to disruptions of traffic flow, Main Street would be a worse candidate, not a better one.)

In addition, City LRT Director Paul Johnson notes that, overall, the public right-of-way width on Main Street is not significantly wider than on King. The main difference is that the sidewalks on King are much wider and more pedestrian-friendly: Main has ribbon-thin sidewalks and five narrow vehicle lanes, all eastbound.

As for the construction period, it is extremely unlikely that any section of King Street will be closed for five years. The Waterloo ION LRT line will run 19 kilometres from Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener to Conestoga Mall in Waterloo and is being built in three years.

Hamilton's LRT construction will likely be staged, with each segment of route facing a much shorter period of disruption. Scheduling the construction to minimize impact on businesses is an important goal of this planning and consultation period.

Remember also that much of the infrastructure under King Street is old and will need to be replaced anyway. The worst outcome would be for the businesses to face the disruption of road closure and not get an LRT line for their troubles!

Vehicle Access From Main

It does seem strange to me that Denninger's favours Main Street since their large off-street parking lot has an entrance off Main. If Main is converted to two-way as part of the LRT construction, people driving will be able to get to the Denninger's parking lot from the west on King and from both directions on Main.

That would actually be a significant improvement in vehicle access over the situation today.

The public parking lot opposite Dennninger's is accessible via King William/Jarvis and other private parking lots are accessible from Main Street between Ferguson and Catharine.

Given good communication to customers, cooperation between businesses and good signage, finding parking for King Street businesses should not be a problem - especially as there is currently very little parking actually on King Street in the International Village.

Route Already Finalized

It is important to note that the Provincial capital funding is based on the approved route along King Street.

If the City goes back to the Province now with a proposal to change the route, that will amount to a rejection of the funding Council already accepted. The $1 billion will be released to fund the next project in the Metrolinx priority list and the City would be back to square one.

Even if the Province somehow agreed to hold the money for us, we would be throwing out several years and millions of dollars of design work on the underground infrastructure, station design, property acquisitions and roadway design. It is more likely that the Province would demand we reimburse them for wasting their time!

In any case, King Street has been the City's preferred route since at least 2010, so it is strange that these business owners would wait until six years later to express their concerns and propose Main St as an alternative.

International Village Needs a Station

The business owners are to be commended for reaching out to the Councillor and being amenable to a compromise solution that addresses or mitigates their concerns.

Perhaps most importantly, they note that the current plan does not include an LRT station within the International Village. It is not surprising at all that they are disappointed in this decision. I wrote about it more than month ago, arguing that the International Village needs a transit stop in order to function as a high quality urban transit mall.

One of the most important goals of LRT is to drive significant intensification and reinvestment in the land use around the line and especially around the stations.

The good news is that Metrolinx and City staff are still finalizing the set of station stop and are currently undertaking public consultation to get feedback. That means now is exactly the right time to tell Metrolinx and the City to add a transit stop in the IV.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 14:15:12

Yes, I do not quite understand Denninger's concern, even during the most disruptive phase of LRT construction. If they have customers who are car drivers then those customers will have unfettered access to their large car parking lot from Main Street. The only limitation is that those same customers would then have to exit via Main Street and may have to (shock, horror!) drive around the block to get going westbound.

Compared to the enormous benefit conveyed upon Denninger's by the LRT, this seems a fairly minor issue. Particularly if the design is modified to provide an IV stop.

I am starting to suspect that their position may be ideological and not based upon rational considerations. But I think that I will write them a letter, enclosing my latest Denninger's shopping receipt, and ask for further explanation.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2016-06-08 14:16:00

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By Core-b (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 14:15:48

Denningers position does indeed seem odd. I don't know who owns the parking lot there, but I've never seen it anywhere near capacity. IMHO this lot would alleviate access concerns for these retailers (and possibly others). If Denningers owns the lot this could be an increased revenue source.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 14:38:20 in reply to Comment 119175

Denningers owns the parking lot.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 14:20:49

was hilarious listening to Whitehead on the radio today wax eloquently about using Main instead of King. Suddenly the same guy who freaks about Aberdeen being 3 lanes instead of 4 is a big champion of Main being cut in half and having disruptive construction for 4+ years. haha

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By Suburbanite (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2016 at 07:31:13 in reply to Comment 119178

The ambush of Paul was completely inappropriate. Besides that, the argument that King has more heritage buildings is exactly why it should be on King. While travelling on the LRT as a user or visitor to our City, showcasing our heritage buildings is a positive benefit. They're beautiful!

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 14:40:59 in reply to Comment 119178

The cynic in me says this is to feed both his objectives: 1) kill LRT through FUD, 2) stop any progress on Aberdeen's road diet.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 14:27:16

Tweet from today from the Spec:

'@FredEisenberger flags LRT support from Hamilton-Halton Home Builders & stats on calls/emails to his office:1002 for,32 against '@TheSpec

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By Suburbanite (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2016 at 15:03:34

These businesses were definitely a surprise. The only reason I can come up with is that they have a lot of foot traffic from the immediate area that they are concerned about losing. Once Metrolinx shares details of their compensation arrangements due to reduced revenues perhaps they will have a change of heart. This arrangement however opens up another sticky situation: concerns by any of the businesses that may not declare all transactions. Those businesses will likely not be forthcoming in the real reasons for their oppositions.

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By Streeter (registered) | Posted June 09, 2016 at 06:32:07

I can't see Deningers not surviving. I hope BlackForest Inn would survive but that's a tough business either way... Actually I'm hoping it spurs some Oktoberfest street festivals hosted by them on Ferguson (hint hint :P)

The one that really stands to lose here is the Pawnbroker. Less foot traffic during construction = less business, but what's worse for them is increased development = more disposable cash = less business.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 09, 2016 at 07:26:53 in reply to Comment 119200

Actually I'm hoping it spurs some Oktoberfest street festivals hosted by them on Ferguson

You raise an interesting point. We are constantly told that the free market is dynamic and flexible and business owners are endlessly innovative, robust, responsive and adaptive to changing market conditions - until the moment the government proposes doing something that might impact a business, even temporarily, at which point we are told that they are powerless, fragile, vulnerable flowers one bootstep away from being crushed.

It seems to me that any business that is fundamentally viable, that engages proactively with its customers and the City on the impacts of the road closure, and that plans early to get creative and innovative about maintaining business through the construction period will be able to get through this and emerge stronger on a street that is served by high quality rapid transit.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 09, 2016 at 08:03:09 in reply to Comment 119201

Ryan, I love what you wrote here!

I have lived long enough that I have repeatedly heard business owners “cry wolf.” My favorite example is when the ban on tobacco smoking in bars and restaurants was first proposed. Such whining and crying from bar and restaurant owners! “We will all go bankrupt!”

My all time favorite whine was, “If smoking in bars and restaurants is banned here, all our customers will go to Buffalo!”

Yet, amazingly enough, this industry managed to survive in Hamilton. I have no doubt that the same will be true of LRT.

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By JayRobb (registered) | Posted June 09, 2016 at 09:30:28

The key line in the letter from Denninger's, the Black Forest Inn and Thompson Pawnbrokers & Jewellers comes at the end - "Mr. Farr, we have attempted to set up a meeting with you for some time...".

Had that meeting happened, would this position have been taken? Would this letter have been written?

With the Council vote pushed back to the fall, LRT supporters can ramp up community engagement with a heavy emphasis on listening. You may have 101 compelling reasons, facts and stats why Hamilton must have an LRT. But people don't care what you know until they know that you care. People want to be heard. They want to have open, honest, judgment-free conversations that can lead to common ground. LRT supporters can create those forums.

There's also time for LRT supporters to rethink their approach with councillors who've yet to pledge allegiance to the project. LRT may be transformational and city-building. It's also a opportunity for horsetrading. Councillor Ferguson said as much earlier this week in a meeting covered by Community News reporter Kevin Werner. Here's one of the tweets from Werner -- "Clr Lloyd Ferguson says supporters will "have to pay us suburban councillors off." Ferguson says he wants his art centre funded. #HamOnt".

Telling councillors they're either pro-LRT or anti-Hamilton, anti-progress and anti-leadership turns common ground into scorched earth. Calling councillors liars and idiots only solidifies their position and builds opposition among the people who voted them into office. LRT supporters need to show they'll be gracious in victory. Give councillors a way to save face.

One last suggestion for LRT supporters. Put James Hoggan's "I'm Right and You're an Idiot" on your summer reading list. "Our public squares should be forums for open and honest, higher-quality debate, but sadly, these meeting places have become polluted by a toxic mix of polarized rhetoric, propaganda and miscommunication," writes Hoggan. "A dark haze of unyielding one-sidedness has poisoned public discourse and created an atmosphere of mistrust and disinterest."

There's still time to clear the air and set a higher standard for community engagement in Hamilton.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 09, 2016 at 10:07:12 in reply to Comment 119205

These are all excellent suggestions, but please don't minimize the fact that the planning and outreach and consultation for LRT has been going on for a very long time: since 2008!

There was an intense consultation effort from 2009-2011 and the current B-line alignment was already clear in the 2010 BCA and firmly set in the 2013 Rapid Ready report.

Council has voted dozens of times to support and pursue LRT with full provincial funding, so it is not actually a question of trying to get Councillors to change their position to become pro-LRT. We are just asking them to remember why they have supported it for so many years.

I should point out that I first met with the International Village BIA as spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail way back in 2008 to explain what LRT is and what it would mean for Hamilton and especially Hamilton Downtown. They were very supportive of LRT and this letter shows that they are still supportive, but have concerns about implementation. City Rapid transit staff also met with them and other BIAs during the 2009-2011 consultation phase.

The RTCAC (Rapid Transit Citizens Advisory Committee) included BIA reps from downtown and International Village. RTCAC met regularly from September 2010 to December 2011.

There is opportunity for compromise and ensuring that disruption is minimal and they definitely deserve a station.

But shifting the route from King to Main is a not a minor change after many years and millions of dollars spent planning and designing this route. As I mentioned, there is strong justification for choosing Main (traffic flow: more lanes and mountain accesses, economic uplift).

And, of course, then the businesses on Main would then complain that they would prefer it on King.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-06-09 10:26:23

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 09, 2016 at 10:31:07 in reply to Comment 119208

For the record (this information has been removed from the City's website), here are the members of the RTCAC committee that provided feedback and advice on the planning of the B-line (and some work on the A-line) from 2010-2011. You'll notice that there was a representative from the International Village BIA.

The monthly meetings were open to the public and the members also helped out at numerous public information sessions throughout the city.

 Alaric Woodrow, Hamilton resident (Glanbrook)

 Alissa Golden, Hamilton resident

 Chani Shrive, Hamilton resident (Dundas)

 Chris Blackwood, Mohawk College

 Brian Detlor, McMaster University

 Daniel Rodrigues, Hamilton Chamber of Commerce

 Frank Scremin, Hamilton Airport

 Ian Dunlop, Hamilton resident (Flamborough)

 Jan Lukas, Hamilton resident (Ancaster)

 Kelly Stewart, Corridor property owner

 Liz Duval, Corridor property owner

 Michael Korkut, Corridor property owner

 Michael Slusarenko, Corridor property owner

 Nicholas Kevlahan, Hamilton Durand Neighbourhood Association, Hamilton Light Rail

 Paul Facia, Corridor property owner

 Peter Hill, Hamilton Resident

 Simon Gautrey, Hamilton Resident

 Robert Barlow, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, Stony Creek Resident

 Ron Smithson, Chair of Seniors Advisory Committee

 Shelley Gibbons, McMaster Student

 Susan Braithwaite, BIA – International Village

 Thomas Shields, Corridor property owner

 Kathy Drewitt, Downtown BIA

 Mark van der Woerd, Hamilton resident

 Martinus Geleynse, Downtown Hamilton resident

 Terri Wallis, Advisory Committee for Peoples with Disabilities (ACPD)

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-06-09 10:34:07

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 09, 2016 at 09:59:49 in reply to Comment 119205

pretty sure it's Whitehead, Collins et al who should be reading that book. We've had years of open, honest dialogue, discussion and planning with citizens, city hall and metrolinx. It's only a few rogue activist councillors who are muddying the waters and dragging the quality of discourse down to cheap-shots, lawsuit threats, insults and flat out lies.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2016 at 09:37:17 in reply to Comment 119205

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