Special Report: Light Rail

Councillors Punish LRT with Vote Against Bay Station

The LRT opponents on Council can't kill LRT outright, but they are willing to do their damnedest to undermine, sabotage and cripple the system that does get built.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 16, 2017

This article has been updated.

At yesterday's General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting, City Councillors rejected a unanimous motion from the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Sub-Committee asking Metrolinx to add an LRT station at King Street West and Bay Street.

Councillors rejected a proposed LRT station at King and Bay
Councillors rejected a proposed LRT station at King and Bay

The motion is included in the LRT Sub-Committee report as item 8.9 on the agenda, but we can't link directly to it because the City's committee website is broken by design.

The motion states:

That LRT implementation staff be directed to work with Metrolinx to add a stop at Bay Street because LRT implementation in Hamilton is at a stage where an added Bay Street stop along the B-line may be permitted.

According to a staff assessment (report PED17021), the station would add approximately $2.6 million to the capital cost of LRT, which is being paid in full by Metrolinx. Final approval of the station by Metrolinx would depend on whether it can be accommodated within the allocated budget.

On an operational basis, the station would add around 50 seconds to LRT travel time in both directions.

Chamber Proposal

The motion originated from a proposal by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, supported by a number of downtown businesses and institutional stakeholders in the King and Bay area.

The Chamber made a strong case for the station, noting that it would directly serve a large number of local destinations and trip generators and the cost would more than pay for itself in increased tax assessment on new development without adding significant delay to LRT trips.

According to Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr, developing the parking lots at Bay and King into high-density mixed use could increase the City's annual property tax assessment from $100,000 a year to $6-7 million.

There are currently stations planned for King and James at Gore Park and for King and Queen, an distance of 850 metres. Bay Street is at the midpoint between these two stations, putting it 425 metres from either station.

The general guiding principle for the LRT has been to space stations at roughly 800 metres in order to find a sweet spot between the speed of the service and its accessibility to passengers. The research indicates that people are generally willing to walk at least 400-500 metres to get to an LRT station.

This distance also maximizes the potential for transit-oriented development along the LRT line, since every developable address along the corridor will be within walking distance of an LRT station.

However, it makes good sense to include LRT stations spaced more closely through the downtown core, where there is a much higher concentration of destinations and trip generators. The staff report notes that other LRT systems do this, including the system currently under construction in Waterloo Region.

Vote for Spite

The Councillors at yesterday's GIC voted 9-6 to turn it down, with hardly any discussion:

Notwithstanding a couple of surprising inversions - Whitehead voting for it and Ferguson voting against it - this was a straightforward case of LRT supporters voting to make the system better and LRT opponents voting against making the system better.

The LRT opponents can't kill the LRT plan outright, since Council repeatedly voted for the project and it would take a "reconsideration motion" with a two-thirds majority vote to reverse those previous votes.

However, it is increasingly clear that they are willing to do their damnedest to undermine, sabotage and cripple the system that does get built.

This is nothing more than council voting out of pettiness and spite because the Province called their bluff on asking for LRT and now they can't back out. It is appalling.

Still Time to Change

The vote to reject the Bay station was taken at General Issues Committee, but it still needs to be ratified in a full Council meeting.

Please take a few moments and send a polite message to Council asking them to reverse the GIC decision, uphold the unanimous LRT Sub-Committee vote, and approve this request.


Update: updated to correct the no vote list to include Ward 13 Councillor Arlene VanderBeek, who was inadvertently left off the list. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted February 16, 2017 at 09:48:09

I have always thought LRT is going to turn out to be a money pit on many levels, however, if the City is going to do it, a Bay stop seems like just plain common sense!

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted February 16, 2017 at 09:51:24

Just move the James stop to McNab.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2017 at 10:07:25 in reply to Comment 120767

The B-Line LRT needs to hit the same stop as the A-Line BRT, which presumably will go straight north/south on James. Also the MacNab terminal mostly hosts the Mountain buses - many buses (eg Bus 2, the 2nd most popular bus in the system) don't go into MacNab. Obviously they could be realigned to go to MacNab, but with King already full of LRT tracks that could be awkward. Aligning the stops to north-south just makes sense.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted February 16, 2017 at 10:10:47

Can they not add a station after the line has been built? Perhaps after seeing the benefits of the LRT in real life a future council might want to revisit the Bay station.

I'm more worried about the vote on the environmental assessment. Will councilors actually vote on the results of the assessment or just use their vote as an opportunity to block the project?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted February 16, 2017 at 11:04:00 in reply to Comment 120769

It's obviously much cheaper to build the stop when the line is being built, rather than adding it afterwards.

I am concerned that this sort of knee-jerk vote against anything to do with LRT (if that is what is was) could set a terrible precedent of "non-cooperation" by those Councillors who are (now) skeptical about LRT. This would be highly irresponsible since the project is now in the implementation phase, and it is supported by almost a decade of Council votes.

But more seriously, if it is clear that Councillors will simply vote against anything that advances the LRT on "principle", as a way of trying to bog down the project they would be opening themselves up to a lawsuit from the Province since Council signed an MOA with the Province agreeing to "work in good faith to implement the LRT". This sort of non-cooperation is clearly not in good faith!

If some Councillors now feel they can't support the project in any way, the honourable thing to do would be to abstain from votes dealing with implementation details.

But, of course it would be far better to work together to ensure the project is as good as it possibly can be, even if they would have preferred it not be built.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2017-02-16 11:05:00

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted February 16, 2017 at 10:51:59

Higher order transit typically has stops more closely spaced downtown. For example, the Toronto subway system has stops much more closely spaced downtown than at the ends of the subway lines.

A Bay Street station only makes sense.

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By JimC (registered) | Posted February 17, 2017 at 18:32:14 in reply to Comment 120770

It really doesn't though. One stop at MacNab makes more sense. The James St stop only made sense when the spur was in the picture. Now that the spur is dead and gone move the stop to MacNab where it serves both Bay and James and the transit hub we just spent $10 million building. Oh right. Council has already indicated that the hub may have to come out.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/n...

What a joke.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 17, 2017 at 23:14:15 in reply to Comment 120793

First of all, the James station at Gore Park will connect to the Hunter GO Station via a new pedestrian boulevard on Hughson. Second, you are misrepresenting the linked CBC article in order to fear monger.

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted February 16, 2017 at 12:05:20

Last month, according to Clr Conley @ 1/2 of the councillors are working hard at stopping the building of the LRT. It appears that they are waiting for a time when a simple majority vote presents itself to cut our losses. I viewed the vote against a Bay St stop as a huge warning sign - a vote that reduces what the $ value of that loss will eventually be calculated out at. Councillor Ferguson's vote, as well as his comments recently, is concerning. It may be that 11 are now opposed to LRT and only 5 are in favour. I'm hoping I'm wrong.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2017 at 14:19:57 in reply to Comment 120773

Mayor and Wards 1-4 are solid for, so that's 5 on that side.

Collins, Conley and Skelly are vocally against.

Ferguson is still in favour of LRT. Pearson too, but I think they're both suffering from fatigue on the subject and could flip under enough abuse from the right people.

Whitehead could go either way. B.Johnson could too. Jackson has gone back and forth.

Partridge I worry about after she tried to dissolve the committee and pull it back into the general council business.

Vanderbeek I refuse to dignify with discussion after her toy-train-based-planning.

It really seems like the cost structure is going to make or break this - Whitehead has basically set the stage: if Hamilton is on the hook for a lot of ongoing costs, they're out.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted February 16, 2017 at 12:05:25

The skeptical anti-LRT crowd at Hamilton City Hall are going into desperate mode. Say no to anything LRT that goes across their desk. This is because they are about to be hit with a sudden avalanche of photos, videos and any other visual media you can think of, when the first LRV arrives in Waterloo. It left Thunder Bay yesterday and is coming home to Waterloo in 10-11 days.

Starting in April, LRV testing will be done publically outside on a stretch of track between Northfield Station and downtown Waterloo. Both Grand River Transit and Grandlinq are also planning to formally introduce the first LRV to the public at grand public event in early April, details will arrive in late March.

Like here in Ottawa, unless that LRV spontaneously explodes into flame on camera as soon as hits the rails, the anti-LRT people are going to have to face a lot of questions and comments from the public. When the public in Hamilton sees pictures and videos from every person in the Kitchener-Waterloo area with a camera, sharing some videos and or pictures of the ION LRT Line testing its LRV's, they will start asking questions, a lot of questions to the people who are against LRT. The same thing happened in Ottawa when LRV testing started. Questions like, if a community that used to be smaller than Hamilton in built up area and population can have a 19 km long functioning LRT line to move people and attract more development around the line itself (ready and willing to add another 17 km as soon as possible), why cant we here in Hamilton have our 11 km line to do the same thing? Especially if someone else is paying for its capital costs?

I tell you what will happen, just like Ottawa, most of the anti-LRT crowd will find their LRT god and say they were never really against it, they just wanted the best deal for the tax payer. Some others will disappear, never to be heard from again. Still others will start to scream why does downtown get everything first and when will we get our LRT line? A fully funded line of course!

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By NortheastWind (registered) | Posted February 16, 2017 at 14:08:39

I contacted my city councillor, who voted against the stop. I doubt it will make a difference but it's worth a try.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted February 16, 2017 at 19:53:53

Regarding the Bay stop, I think this vote would have been different were it not the Chamber of Commerce leading the agitation in asking for it. It struck me as a spiteful vote, unexplained by most of the councillors voting against the proposal.

The Chamber, like the city's business community generally, has been very active in supporting the LRT project and pushing for its adoption and for maximum impact. I think there are a number of councillors who are very displeased with this; often cities' business communities are substantially split over transit developments, allowing voices to come to the fore in support, but the situation in Hamilton has become so bad that organizations like the Chamber have become leading voices urging its adoption.

So it wouldn't surprise me that the clique of anti-LRT councillors and their hangers-on turned out strong to vote the Chamber's specific request down. This is a middle finger at the city's business community from councillors who feel betrayed by a business community that they frankly don't understand or represent.

It's certainly notable that the only business voices in Hamilton to come out substantially against the project are retail storefront merchants along King Street...

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By JimC (registered) | Posted February 17, 2017 at 18:34:30 in reply to Comment 120780

Let businesses pay for improvements that benefit businesses. It's disgusting to see people on this forum talking about how developers and corporations want the LRT so we should build it. If they want it that badly how about they pony up a few bucks?

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted February 19, 2017 at 17:17:30 in reply to Comment 120794

@JimC, The second corporations do pony up cash and or land, as they have here in Ontario several times for various rapid transit system proposals, everybody cries out that corporations are trying to buy the city's transit plan to take advantage of the public. They can never win, even when they are being good corporate citizens.

JimC its your "I don't want to pay for anything" negative attitude that just irritates me the most. Its people like you who don't want to experiment and change things and fight any suggestions that might take your city out of the hole it is in. You may not like LRT but its not normal anymore to have a road based transportation network that does its level best to move people and traffic out of town every mourning so Hamiltonians can go to work in other places, like Hamilton's road network is ideally designed to do.

@JimC, yes Hamilton's transit system sucks, but that's because you collectively spend a lot less on transit than many other Ontario communities. You have a municipal property tax system that forces spending down on transit by making different urban and suburban areas pay different amounts for transit. Creating a spending race to the bottom, when transit spending in Hamilton really needs to be increased by a factor 3 or 4 just to keep pace with other communities. Think of it this way, starting in 2018-2019, Ottawa (not an enormous city by any measure) is spending more on its capital works funding for "construction mitigation measures" for the city's bus network, during construction for Stage 2 of our LRT Network, than Hamilton's entire yearly capital budget for its entire transit system. This is not good prudent frugal municipal spending, this is several generations of Hamilton city councils collectively ignoring transit spending. Guess what, LRT and other forms of rail based rapid transit not suburban airport business parks, attract big companies to your cities now. It is cheaper to locate their businesses there, so they don't have to create and maintain massive parking lots for cars in far off suburban neighborhoods that most workers, especially younger workers despise being trapped in.

I know things are getting better in Hamilton especially downtown but I was in your town for business this week and I was stunned how little money has been spent there by the city government. What is sad is your suburbs are becoming even worse. Its about time, senior levels of government did something to change the situation and improve the 1950's transportation system your city has. If you think a Billion dollars is a lot for transportation improvements in a city like Hamilton especially for a rapid transit line, you need to give your head a shake and see what cities even smaller than Hamilton, around the world are spending.

Karlsruhe Germany (city population around 310,000 and a area population of about 1.5 million) has spent in total almost $7 billion (Canadian)for a Tram-Train hybrid Regional LRT/Commuter Rail system that now has a network of over 260km+ of track. This type of hybrid LRT operation combines urban LRT in the core and the suburbs of cities and then uses existing national railway track in the outer suburbs and hinterland. They share operating lines with freight trains, other city's intercity regional rail networks, lower speed intercity trains, and even a few stretches with German ICE high speed trains intercity express trains. The system has been so successful they have coined the term "The Karlsruhe Model" and gained many admirers and many cities trying to copy their method. I only wish we could do what they did in North America (Canada & the USA), unfortunately, it is illegal here. They amazing thing is they only started 30 years ago in the late 1980's with a urban tram network that needed much upgrading but no one could figure out how to do it and there was little money being offered by the national or state governments. Their solution woks so well that in the core it moves more people than a standard heavy rail subway/metro system can move.

Their solution has been so popular that they are now having to build a "T" shaped LRT Tunnel in the centre of the city to remove the "Yellow Wall" of LRV's that jam their core. Also as part of the same project they buried 1.12 km section of a busy parallel road called KriegStrasse (War Street), forcing 4 lanes of cars underground for once and are building a new beautiful 4 lane boulevard on top with a stunning grass filled median strip for their tram/LRT network. The "T" shaped LRT Tunnel and the parallel Kreigstrasse car tunnel and tree lined LRT median boulevard have a combined total length of about 4.6 km and will cost around 665 Million Euros or $925 Million (Canadian) The project was controversial but they surged ahead and should be completely finished around 2019-2020. These people went out on a limb to change a bad transport situation 30 years ago but didn't listen to the negative and created a world beating system. Don't you think Hamilton deserves a shot at as well!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 17, 2017 at 07:22:36 in reply to Comment 120780

It's certainly notable that the only business voices in Hamilton to come out substantially against the project are retail storefront merchants along King Street...

And most of the retail businesses along King are supportive; it is just a few who are more afraid of the construction period than excited about the benefits of being located (and owning property) along an LRT line.

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