Seven years and scores of Council votes later, Councillor Whitehead has suddenly decided he is not convinced by staff arguments in favour of the King Street alignment.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published June 20, 2016
So, according to Hamilton Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel, Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead's latest gambit is to try to get Council to spend our tax dollars on an "independent consultant" to review the King Street versus Main Street light rail transit (LRT) alignment, seven years after we spent City money on staff studies that analyzed the two options and rejected Main.
The 2010 Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis (BCA) accepted the current alignment and stated that the two-way conversion of both Main and King Streets would be necessary to ensure success under any scenario. This alignment was the basis of the 2013 Rapid Ready LRT Plan [PDF] that Council supported as their formal request to the Province for LRT funding.
Now, seven years and scores of Council votes later, Councillor Whitehead has suddenly decided he is not convinced by staff arguments in favour of the King alignment - better potential for economic uplift, plus better automobile traffic movement - because there is not enough "data".
So much for Whitehead's frequent claim against citizen engagement that he defers to the city staff experts. (And so much for actually analyzing reports when they come out, instead of seven years later).
Why was the case for King Street convincing seven years ago when staff advised Council about it, or in 2010 when the BCA was released, or in 2013 when Council submitted its LRT plan to the Province, or when the funding was announced in May 2015, but not now?
What sort of "data" is Whitehead looking for?
The traffic argument is pretty obvious, given that Main has five lanes and King narrows to two lanes in the International Village. In addition, it is Main that connects directly to the various escarpment accesses.
As for the economic uplift case, Main Street is quite close to the bottom of the escarpment. Between the Claremont Access and Gage Park, the escarpment is only 600 metres south of Main. That means putting LRT on Main would eliminate some of its transit-oriented development (TOD) potential compared to putting it on King, which is farther away.
In addition, we need only look at all the empty parking lots north of King Street through downtown, compared to the residential neighbourhoods and land lost to escarpment accesses to the south. It's obvious where the most potential for uplift downtown is.
In any case, Metrolinx and City staff are already doing citywide traffic modeling. Council could ask them to model the two alternatives, instead of going behind their backs to engage an "independent consultant", which would give the impression that Council doesn't trust their own staff or Metrolinx.
It is not clear that Whitehead's proposal would even be consistent with the Memorandum of Agreement [PDF] that the City and Metrolinx signed, which commits the city to work with Metrolinx and to support them on this project.
It is just obstructionist at this point to suddenly circle back to a fundamental design decision that was accepted by Council many years ago, a design the city and province have already spent millions of dollars and many years working on.
Given Whitehead's reaction to the transit-only lane staff report (and his own survey, which found more Hamiltonians supported keeping the lane than removing it), I worry that no amount of data or analysis would convince him that King Street was and remains the right decision.
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