By Ryan McGreal
Published October 02, 2008
The City's Public Works Department has just published its report Rapid Transit Feasibility Study - Phase 2 (PDF link) in anticipation of the Public Works Committee meeting on October 6, 2008 (you can read the agenda).
Its conclusion: build light rail, integrate with community and economic development policies, start with the east-west line, and move quickly and decisively to get priority fundingn from the Province.
The report summarizes public works staff research into the economic development potential of Light Rail (including a fact-finding trip to Calgary AB, Portland OR and Charlotte NC), a study of possible alternate routes up the mountain, a recommendation on possible staging options for construction.
Perhaps most important is the economic development review, which was missing from the initial Rapid Transit Feasibility Study (PDF link) published last May.
The report concludes that LRT "has great potential to influence urban growth and revitalize a city's central area", by strengthening existing neighbourhoods and attracting new development clusters around transit stations. The strongest development potential is in the downtown core.
The report also identified the need for "appropriate land use policies" to encourage transit-oriented development in the LRT corridor. It acknowledges the importance of a holistic approach by stating, "The implementation of the LRT system is not just about a new transit system, but rather creating a synergy with the city as a whole."
It draws particular reference to the fact-finding LRT tour of Calgary, Portland and Charlotte, which gave public works and economic development staff, plus the Mayor and Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, opportunities to see LRT in operation firsthand and to discuss the development of the systems with their counterparts in those cities.
The study recommends developing the plan in cooperation with planning, economic development, engineering and tourism to achieve the most benefit.
Additional benefits include increasing population and employment densities in the transit corridor and particularly around stations, which supports the city's Nodes and Corridors growth strategy under GRIDS.
It also notes the positive effect on land values, pointing out that this effect begins as soon as the decision is made to build LRT, before the system is even built.
LRT and transit-oriented development also support the city's goal of reducing car trips and increasing transit ridership.
A "staging evaluation" recommends that if the rapid transit system is built in stages, it makes sense for the east-west B-Line route to be constructed first, as it is cheaper to build and will produce a better rate of return.
The report also weighs in on using the Claremont Access instead of tunneling under James Mountain Rd. This route is technicially feasible and would save $100 million from the construction costs, but would suffer from the fact that key nodes - including St Joseph's Healthcare and the Hunter Street GO Terminal - would be missed.
The report concludes that the LRT plan is supported by Provincial and municipal policies, including the Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan, the city's GRIDS growth strategy, and the Public Works Strategic plan.
The study concludes that the city needs to move quickly and decisively to take advantage of the unique opportunity that exists right now to build light rail in Hamilton:
[A]s a result of Provincial timelines, which impact the potential funding for rapid transit projects in Hamilton, it has been made clear by Metrolinx that Provincial project priorities, will in part, depend on projects that have strong political support and that can be completed under aggressive timelines. Rapid Transit Team Staff are dedicated, from a technical standpoint and subject to Council pproval at a future date, of making rapid transit in Hamilton happen with an anticipated ground breaking scheduled for Spring 2011, subject to Provincial and Federal funding commitments through the MoveOntario 2020 plan.
This is the city's best shot at achieving real transformation in the near future. Now it's up to the Public Works Committee on October 6 and then full council on October 20, to demonstrate the political leadership this occasion requires.