Comment 104530

By BobAceti (registered) | Posted September 16, 2014 at 13:36:36

LRT is the wrong project at the wrong time. A make work project with less transit relief impact than otherwise thought. Hamilton evolved over 200 years. The design of the city and lack of density makes lower city east-west rapid transit planning challenging. We have a car culture and suburban communities within our city limits - the burbs are close-by and do not entail long frustrating traffic snarls that are common in the GTA-City of Toronto experience. The number of cars and people registered in Hamilton suggest that the LRT will not likely have the sustainable volume of users than expected. Reports from "consultants" who stand to make significant profit from a one billion dollar project will necessarily be concocted to emphasize the positive and down-play or reduce negative assessment.

Hamilton is home to many proud and well-meaning residents. But emotional rhetoric guided by biased reports supporting mega-projects that do not offer our city the growth that is assumed should be carefully reconsidered.

Hamilton’s spatial reality is a significant variable: the mountain has a larger population than the lower city and our suburbs and car culture has stimulated reduced urban density that complicates "rapid" transit services. If Hamilton’s past Councils had revitalized inner city neighborhoods to avoid suburban sprawl we would have had higher density that lends itself well to frequent rapid transit services that involve short distances. We had sown the seeds of our current economic challenges in the post WWII era when Councils believed that what’s good for our steel industry was good for Hamilton. But short-sightedness was a common disease in that bygone period when pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and dwindling steel jobs were noticed but rarely discussed in the halls or power or between the front page and sports section of the Spectator.

The best we can do to advance Hamilton's economic prospects is to focus on rebuilding business/residential centres to increase density and return asphalt and concrete neighborhoods that are derelict and gentrified into parks, bike paths, urban-sized forests and a "National Industrial Park" that offers tax incentives underwritten by Ontario/Canada. A National Industrial Park adjacent to our harbour piers should include a design that rehabilitates or removes 19th and early 20th century idle industrial relics that continue to occupy valuable land without returning the jobs and economic growth that was more evident 50 to 75 years ago.

We are in a new economy where manufacturing automation, ICT digital devices, energy technologies, smarter grids, electric vehicles and food processing trumps steel-related industries. Hamiltonians need to let go of the old Hamilton that evolved on the needs of the steel industry and a suburban car culture. We need to focus on this century so that our children and young adults will NOT need to leave Hamilton, as an earlier generation did, to find viable and sustainable ‘white collar’ careers. Hamilton's government, health care, steel and related industries help to support Hamilton's economy. These jobs are either funded through taxes or non-sustainable. Steel industries continue to pollute and emit greenhouse gases. The full healthcare costs associated with working in the 'old' steel industry, or living long-term near the 'old' smoke stacks, was hidden from Hamiltonians for decades until most recently.

The citizens of Toronto would NOT permit a polluter such as a steel industry to occupy its waterfront or anywhere – they’ll refer the company to Hamilton as the City of Toronto’s social services continue to provide advice and bus tickets to welfare recipients to leave Toronto for Hamilton.

If we don't focus on future economic opportunities - i.e.) cleaner higher-value metals processing, incubators of digital economy businesses and other sustainable enterprises, we'll become the invisible shrinking city where layers of unsustainable industries come to play and create a few short-term jobs while delaying our choices to become a contender in the 21st century global economy.

We live in the past. Our memories of old Hamilton start to fade. The 1960s are done. We had over 30,000 men working in Stelco/Dofasco and related steel businesses in the 1950-1970s when Hamilton was about half the population it is today. I predict that Dofasco will not be a significant Hamilton industry in the next 10-15 years. The owners of Dofasco have no long-term deal with our city. Once the next capital investment round is in play, Dofasco’s leaders will likely choose to move steel-making operations to the southern USA where cheap non-union ‘right to work’ labor laws and pollution regulations are lax.

The LRT project is a diversionary distraction: an unsustainable business model that will need subsidies from the get-go and operational commitments to run the trains on schedule. Buses are more flexible and less expensive for our split-level city. Buses will be electrified or operate on clean power fuel cells or hybrid biofuels - a better and more flexible solution to transit than the proposed LRT.

But what’s the big picture question? Is bus or train rapid transit a solution or panacea to Hamilton’s economic status? Or, perhaps, a placebo? I think we need a strategic vision and urban-industrial revitalization plan that informs the right design for our future transit system. Walking backwards into the future is not a viable substitute for focused and well-funded new urban revitalization planning.

Maybe our well-intended citizens and media will start asking the Big Question to mayoral and council candidates: “What is your vision of Hamilton and how do you propose we get there?”

Comment edited by BobAceti on 2014-09-16 13:53:41

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