Special Report: Light Rail

LRT: What's In It For Me?

When someone asks, "What's in it for me?" remind them that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a major chunk out of our infrastructure deficit and address our collective needs across the city.

By Ron Marini
Published April 11, 2017

Yesterday, an acquaintance from Stoney Creek told me he learned that his Stoney Creek Councillor was opposed to the LRT because "there is nothing in it for Stoney Creek."

After that comment, I recalled Stoney Creek Councillor Doug Conley complaining last fall that there was a lack of capital projects scheduled in 2017 for his Stoney Creek Ward 9.

To be clear, capital projects are one-time budget items for such things as wastewater and water treatment plant upgrades, sewer and watermain replacement, road or sidewalk reconstruction and in the case of other city assets such as community centres, their refurbishment or construction, among a myriad of similar projects.

If the Stoney Creek Councillor wants "something for Stoney Creek" and Councillor Conley wants more infrastructure money for his ward, then the answer lies in accepting the Province's one billion dollars for LRT. This money is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address Hamilton's multibillion dollar infrastructure deficit.

By way of background, each and every year since amalgamation, the vast majority of the City's capital budget has been consumed by the Public Works Department in its efforts to meet the challenges of aging infrastructure and a changing environment.

In spite of this reality, Gerry Davis, the City's former General Manager of Public Works, annually presented a report card to council on the state of Hamilton's infrastructure.

In a nutshell, we have a severe infrastructure deficit in the billions of dollars. Even though Council has assiduously tried to turn the deficit, it continues. We note that Hamilton is not alone as this is a continent-wide problem.

For the most part, the infrastructure is paid for by local property taxes. Sure, there are project-specific contributions in some instances by the senior levels of government, but it is the weary Hamilton taxpayer who shoulders the infrastructure tax burden.

However, we are now presented with a very unique opportunity to redress the infrastructure deficit and that is via the Provincial billion dollar commitment to LRT.

In speaking with Public Works staff, I understand that of the one billion dollar commitment, seven hundred million dollars is to replace the aging infrastructure along the LRT route. That is $700 million not on our taxpayers' back but on the entire province.

That equates to 14 years' worth of annual Public Works Capital Budget funding if the average allocated by council was $50 million per year. And that means that there is capacity to start allocating the annual Public Works Capital projects to other needy areas such as Stoney Creek or the city neighbourhoods which have severe social needs, should Council so choose.

On the other hand, should Council elect not to recommend the LRT EA to the Province and the project fails, our infrastructure deficit will continue on as it has these past numbers of years - too many projects chasing too few dollars.

Recently, Council boldly addressed the social housing crisis with a made-in-Hamilton solution. It is time for Council to be bold, take care of the interests of all Hamiltonians and look the infrastructure deficit in the eye and vote to approve the Environmental Assessment and to keep the LRT program rolling.

So when someone asks, "What's in it for me?" remind them that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a major chunk out of our infrastructure deficit and address our collective needs across the city and not just the LRT corridor.

Ron Marini is a life-long resident of Hamilton and he spent his early years in Ward 4. He is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and a seasoned urban planner. He is the former Director of Planning for the City of Stoney Creek where he served for 23 years. After amalgamation in 2001, Ron was appointed the Director of Downtown and Community Renewal for the new City of Hamilton where, over a 10 year period, he developed the suite of financial incentives designed to spur development within Downtown Hamilton, the Community Downtowns, and 13 Business Improvement Areas across the city. Ron views LRT as the future as it will make Hamilton an even better place to attract knowledge workers and the creative class. Ron is married and lives in Ward 6.

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By guelphite (registered) | Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:06:32

This is probably the one point that should be stressed the most by all delegations come next Tuesday. There is really no good counter-argument to it.

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2017 at 05:52:54 in reply to Comment 121207

This is the easiest argument to counter. First off, the only argument for LRT should be that it solves a problem with Hamilton's current transit plan. If it can't stand on that then it shouldn't be built. Yet LRT supporters constantly point to "economic development" and "infrastructure repairs" which leads me to believe that it's not a solution to a transit problem. All this speculation about development and future gridlock is just that: speculation. People would be clamoring for the train if it solved a current problem.

Having said that, building a train to fix infrastructure is easily shown to be about the worst possible way to tackle our infrastructure repair backlog. Let's fix the infrastructure and not build the train thereby saving $200 million in capital spending and also foregoing the ongoing operating costs of the LRT. How is that not a better solution? I understand that this funding is earmarked for transit but that raises the question: "Why won't the province recognize Hamilton's true need and work together with us to allow us to spend the entire $1 billion on things we actually need?" We'd also be able to prioritize those repairs that we need most instead of focusing on King Street. Sure, many of of the repairs we need may be under King Street but this removes all choice. It's also been pointed out that the reason the LRT is planned for King is because the infrastructure there is older than that under Main which would be a pretty corrupt way of planning a train line.

At any rate, enough with all these side arguments; does the LRT solve Hamilton's *current* transit problems? That's the nub of the matter. If it doesn't or if it only solves perceived problems or problems that may occur in the future then it shouldn't be built. Forget increased tax revenues, forget economic spinoffs, forget all that stuff. Because we have no idea if any of that will come to fruition and those against LRT can easily point to alternate scenarios where businesses go under, developers back out, and operating costs exceed budgets. Even pointing to future transit problems like packed streets doesn't work because I can also make predictions about self-driving cars, electric buses, people choosing not to drive. That's the problem when you try to sell the future: no one can predict what will happen. Does the LRT solve a problem we have today?

The fact is HSR ridership is down, there is unused capacity, and we should be focusing on a bike network since that's how millennials are getting around. I've used SOBI more than the bus in the last year myself. It's cheaper and more enjoyable. Encourage cycling. LRT removes bike lanes and gives us "back" streets that already belong to cyclists; like Breadalbane. Ryan loves to point to the proposed Breadalbane cycling track. Dude; I can already ride my bike there and I can still go down Dundurn. LRT removes Dundurn from the cycling inventory and adds nothing.

Comment edited by JimC on 2017-04-12 06:10:42

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 12, 2017 at 07:04:12 in reply to Comment 121215

Are you ever going to return to the previous comments you posted where people responded to your claims, or are you just going to keep concern trolling and hope people don't notice?

First off, the only argument for LRT should be that it solves a problem with Hamilton's current transit plan.

No. Investment in rapid transit is long-term planning for future growth and development. If we only ever built things to solve current problems, we would never build anything.

building a train to fix infrastructure is easily shown to be about the worst possible way to tackle our infrastructure repair backlog

That is not the reason, but is is certainly a major benefit. If we turn the LRT money down, it will be spent anyway, only it will be spent somewhere else. We do not get to decide where to spend the money.

Why won't the province recognize Hamilton's true need and work together with us to allow us to spend the entire $1 billion on things we actually need?

What we need is a built form that allows the city to collect enough property tax revenue to pay the maintenance and lifecycle costs of its infrastructure. The only way to achieve that is to shift our built form toward more dense, close and accessible building forms served by higher order transit.

Even if we were allowed to take the $1 billion and pour it right into our infrastructure backlog, it would just buy us a few years. It would not do anything to change the structure of our city finances. It would be a pure waste of money.

It's also been pointed out that the reason the LRT is planned for King is because the infrastructure there is older than that under Main which would be a pretty corrupt way of planning a train line.

That is not the reason LRT is planned for King. It's planned for King because:

  • King has more residents living around it than Main, making LRT directly accessible to more people.

  • King has more development opportunity in the TOD corridor around the line than Main, which means more intensification and growth in our tax base.

  • This allows the Province to build a new dedicated train bridge across Highway 403, which will cost less than replacing the Main Street bridge to make it strong enough to support LRT.

  • Putting LRT on King means Main can continue to serve as a crosstown arterial for automobile traffic. If LRT was on Main, the narrowing of King through International Village would be a pinch point for traffic.

does the LRT solve Hamilton's current transit problems? That's the nub of the matter.

No, it's not. It's an investment in the next 25-50 years. Cities that don't plan ahead by investing in transit for growth end up in crisis. Look at Toronto, which added lots of intensification and additional people and jobs without investing in more rapid transit: epic traffic congestion and universal frustration. What you advocate is a reckless and irresponsible failure of planning.

Forget increased tax revenues, forget economic spinoffs, forget all that stuff.

Yes, it's true: if you choose to set aside all the benefits of a project, you are left with a project that has no benefits. And you sound ridiculous.

I can also make predictions about self-driving cars, electric buses, people choosing not to drive.

Self-driving cars still take up the same amount of space on the street as human-driven cars.

Electric buses still have a much lower passenger capacity than LRT, and are far less efficient, since they have to carry the weight of their batteries everywhere they go and have to recharge periodically.

People will only choose not to drive if there is a convenient, reliable, accessible alternative to driving. Which is where high quality rapid transit comes in.

The fact is HSR ridership is down,

Ridership dipped a bit in the past year due largely to the 18% fare increase over two years without any significant service increase.

there is unused capacity,

Not on the LRT corridor - there is still a regular problem with jammed buses and pass-bys.

and we should be focusing on a bike network since that's how millennials are getting around.

Millennials are getting around using a buffet of transportation options, including walking, biking, ridesharing and transit, especially rapid transit. This is not a competition between LRT and cycling - we need both, and they both support and reinforce each other. That is why Cycle Hamilton is a strong LRT supporter (and why they support adding an LRT station on Bay to connect with the Bay Street Cycle Track).

Ryan loves to point to the proposed Breadalbane cycling track. Dude; I can already ride my bike there and I can still go down Dundurn.

You may be willing to ride your bike on a street with no cycling infrastructure. So am I, for that matter - I've been a year-round mixed-traffic cyclist my entire life. We represent less than 1 percent of the public. The other 99+% do not and will not ride a bike on a street without protected cycling infrastructure.

In any case, the decision about Dundurn has not been finalized yet and there are lots of opportunities to ensure we end up with a cycling network that is better than the one we have today.

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