Special Report: Light Rail

Whitehead's Latest Anti-LRT Ploy Another Pointless Distraction

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.

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 jason (registered) | Posted June 20, 2016 at 17:07:43

Fantastic news in this article though!! According to math calculations as taught at Blockbuster U, we are $1 billion richer than we previously thought!!

That scary $1 billion infrastructure deficit we all used to worry about actually isn't an issue because unless something is stated IN the city budget, it doesn't count!!

I'm sure S&P will raise the city's financial rating once they hear this fantastic news.

Comment edited by jason on 2016-06-20 17:08:33

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By mkuplens (registered) - website | Posted June 21, 2016 at 11:32:23 in reply to Comment 119481

Worth noting: the MoU requires the city to pay for utility replacement that was already scheduled and budgeted. So, if we had King St water/sewer replacement on the books, staff could've assessed a 'savings' value for them but the resulting savings would have been $0, as we'd have to pay for the work.

Clever Collins, though, figuring out the right way to frame the question to make his argument look viable.

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