Current business owners don't understand LRT beyond its narrow role as transit. Worse, as survivors of the status quo they misrepresent the lost potential for transformation.
By Ryan McGreal
Published February 17, 2010
Of course, we don't know whether the business owners quoted in today's Spectator on the choices facing Hamilton's rapid transit initiative are representative of the majority or were cherry-picked for the article. Either way, it adds up to a dispiriting but perhaps inevitable lack of imagination and a fundamental lack of understanding on how light rail transit is transformative.
At issue are the three options presented in the Metrolinx Business Case Analysis for the east-west B-Line route:
I'll start with Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla, only because he understands intimately the challenges his ward faces and he's already an outspoken transit supporter. Talking about the phased LRT option:
It's a bold initiative and one I support strongly, but I think it is incremental rather than overly radical, which ... I think is in everyone's best interest.
Sorry, Councillor Merulla, but Hamilton needs radical, transformative change. Incrementing the status quo has not served us well - particularly Ward 4, which contains some of the city's poorest, most despairing neighbourhoods.
Option 3 costs more overall, delivers less, and passes on 15 years of transit-oriented development from Ottawa Street out to Centennial Parkway.
It also reduces the positive network effect of the LRT segment that is built.
The distance from Ottawa St to Centennial Pkwy is about one-third the total length of the line, but the net lost opportunity from building a truncated LRT may well be more than one-third of the total, due to lost critical mass in new density along the corridor.
Remember, LRT doesn't just carry more people more quickly. It transforms the transit corridor by attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment, drawing many more people to live and work in the area, frequent its businesses, generate market demand for new businesses, and interact creatively and productively.
LRT doesn't just mean more bums in transit seats. It means a higher order of urban activity, which is proven to deliver both a boost in infrastructure productivity and a boost in the rate of creative economic output.
LRT triggers the four basic elements of urban advantage: economies of density, scale, association and extension. When cities intensify, energy and infrastructure costs grow more slowly than population, but the rate of innovation grows more quickly than population.
In our struggle to carry the burden of decades of expensive, economically unproductive sprawl development, we need a lot more density in our existing built area. As it is, Hamilton's lower city has a population density well over an order of magnitude lower than even medium-density cities with lively economies.
Unfortunately, Merulla isn't the only person who seems okay with keeping things as they are. While the Ottawa Street BIA seems to get it, the business owners interviewed didn't seem to understand just what LRT actually means.
Cecilia Chung, owner of Peter's Variety, is "happy with the status quo" (I'm quoting the reporter who is paraphrasing, not Ms. Chung herself).
Tim Belliveau, owner of A-1 BBQ Family Restaurant on Main near Kenilworth, says: "Buses are fine."
Bernie White, owner of Trinket Finder, sees LRT as a way to move people around rather than a way to increase the density - and market - of people around his business. Tyson Meloche, owner of Brooklyn's Bar and Bistro, shares Mr. White's misapprehension: "I think it's just going to bring people through quicker."
Gerald ASA, vice-president of Effort Trust, a property management company that owns some 20 properties, is more concerned about compensation for adversely affected business than in the tremendous potential for LRT to increase the value of its assets.
I wish the city would organize a fact-finding trip with these business owners to the King-Spadina area in Toronto. Once a manufacturing centre, King-Spadina was a wasteland of abandoned factories and empty buildings in the 1990s, when a group of visionary urbanists came together to develop a new plan for the district.
Through a combination of new planning rules that encourage mixed-use investment and a new anchoring streetcar line, King-Spadina has been profoundly transformed over the past decade and a half, with an impressive influx of new condominium developments, offices, and entertainment/nightclub businesses created through both adaptive reuse and new construction.
The rules of the King-Spadina Secondary Plan are simple and powerful:
When the plan was unveiled, skeptics scoffed that it would be a disaster because people had nowhere to park. "But how will anyone get there?" they wailed. The answer, of course, is that the people moved there, and in droves.
The population has quadrupled since 1996, and the biggest cohort has been educated, well-paid young professionals looking for an urban lifestyle close to employment and social amenities.
The amount of new development is impressive. In just a 45 hectare (112 acre) area, King-Spadina attracted (PDF link) $55.6 million in new investment between 2000 and 2007, creating 700 new jobs and 230,000 square feet of property.
Ironically, existing business owners may not be the best people to talk to when determining whether and how to transform a neighbourhood. When the economic system is failing most people, does it really make sense to base planning decisions around the few people who manage to thrive (or at least survive)?
The risk of owning a business and the fact that the current system works for them makes such business owners inherently conservative. Transormation may well bring huge benefits - particularly for property owners, who will enjoy the windfall of rising property values - but it also means that the rules for success change.
The tried-and-true business strategies that work in a poor, failing economic and social environment might not transfer to a booming, thriving environment. As a result, business owners feel they have a lot to lose.
Compound the fact that many owners don't actually seem to understand that LRT is qualitatively different from buses, and it's a recipe for fear and skepticism.
But for every business owner worried that LRT might "adversely" affect their business, how many potential businesses locate elsewhere or simply never start up at all? How many potential customers never materialize because they chose to live elsewhere?
In the case of a transformative initiative like LRT, there's a real danger that survivorship bias will lead us horribly astray.
An anecdote shared by business writer Jason Cohen serves to illustrate what Survivorship Bias means:
During World War II the English sent daily bombing raids into Germany. Many planes never returned; those that did were often riddled with bullet holes from anti-air machine guns and German fighters.
Wanting to improve the odds of getting a crew home alive, English engineers studied the locations of the bullet holes. Where the planes were hit most, they reasoned, is where they should attach heavy armor plating. Sure enough, a pattern emerged: Bullets clustered on the wings, tail, and rear gunner's station. Few bullets were found in the main cockpit or fuel tanks.
The logical conclusion is that they should add armour plating to the spots that get hit most often by bullets. But that's wrong.
Planes with bullets in the cockpit or fuel tanks didn't make it home; the bullet holes in returning planes were "found" in places that were by definition relatively benign.
The real data is in the planes that were shot down, not the ones that survived.
The business owners along the B-Line are the survivors of the economic battle that has been downtown Hamilton over the past half-century.
How many businesses were 'shot down' because of Hamilton's low quality transit, low population densities, and pedestrian-repellent one-way streets?
And how can we get interview quotes reflecting those data points into inflammatory newspaper articles to balance out the bias?
By transissimo (anonymous) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 09:40:34
So true! The Spec never interviews business owners whose businesses failed because there weren't enough customers. I wonder what someone like Reg Beaudry (from the awesome but doomed Three16 Lounge) has to say about LRT?
By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 10:00:13
Another great, cogent editorial, Ryan. Well done.
As you know, one of my current matras is 'Stick to the issue.' But before this, you have to understand the issue. It's sad that so many in Hamilton don't understand the issue of LRT.
Keep up the good work!
By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 10:25:43
Why do some people continue to insist that the status quo for Hamilton is okay???
By zippo (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 10:31:29
"And how can we get interview quotes reflecting those data points into inflammatory newspaper articles to balance out the bias?"
Well, let's not forget that the Hamilton Speculator is a business too. Its product is "readers" and its customers are "advertisers". I think you would find that the money paid by the readers cover the marginal cost of printing their copy of the paper but don't contribute much to profits.
So, that said, check out who the Spec's "customers" are; Overwhelmingly the ads in the Spec are placed by the providers of the necessities of "car culture" and "sprawl culture". Don't hold your breath waiting for them to start biting the hand that feeds them by taking an editorial stance that opposes "business as usual"
Comment edited by zippo on 2010-02-17 09:32:58
By jason (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 10:37:25
I'll come back on here and comment once I pick myself up off the floor for once again having heard someone say that the status quo is just fine in Hamilton.
Where do these people live?? A cave?
By turner (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 11:01:19
The Spectator is just like city council. Editorially they support the idea, they just won't come out and show their support and convince people why it's beneficial and why we need it. It's risking too many votes/readers/advertisers.
By highwater (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 11:16:19
I think you would find that the money paid by the readers cover the marginal cost of printing their copy of the paper but don't contribute much to profits.
Actually, one thing that came out of the Future of Local Media panel discussion I attended last month is that the precipitous drop in ad revenues has turned newspapers' revenue model upside down with subscriptions now making up the bulk of their income. So it would seem that we are now in a situation where the readers have become the customers, but newspapers have yet to adjust their product to reflect this new reality.
Comment edited by highwater on 2010-02-17 10:17:47
By Really? (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 11:33:31
I think all of this opposition would have been avoided had Main Street been the preferred route. King Street always seemed like a super-tough sell, and this is proving to be true.
I don't understand why the City didn't study both King & Main, then we'd at least have a back-up if King St was as heavily opposed as it's seems to be now.
By Brioski8 (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 11:59:28
The lack of immagination shown by the business owners in this article is depressing to say the least. It seems to me that living next to Main St. with it's single purpose of getting people to points east and past Ward 4 has beaten these owners down. The idea that a mode of transport could serve a purpose other than transporting people past their businesses is completely alien to them. I guess that's what happens when you sit in your place of business for most of the day watching as car after car after car after car after car doesn't stop at your shop.
Perhaps some real world examples from glorious television will spark the grey matter in their collective brains.
Watch a few of the British house hunting shows on HGTV, just 1 or 2 episodes should do it. Like 'Location, Location' or its sister program 'Relocation'. It is nearly impossible to watch an entire episode with out the hosts Kirsty or Philip saying the following words to prospective house buyers:
(If you've watched these shows you may immagine them speaking with their charming Britsh Accents)
"Another great thing about this property is it's proximity to public transit, you're only a five minute walk from the station." The prospective buyers usualy nod their heads and exclaim how excellent this is.
"This property is a little more affordable because it is farther away from public transit, it's a bit of a hike, about 10 - 15 minutes or so." The buyers usualy look at each other and say how they would prefer to be closer to transit even though property values or more expensive.
Or the buyers may say the following about what we would consider a sedate adorable low volume roadway.
"I like the house itself but I'm really concerned about the road noise and traffic out front." I would imagine that any Brit that took a look at a property fronting Main St or Queenston in Hamilton would just about have a fit.
By Really? (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 12:29:46
Great point, Brioski8!
But if you're going with an HGTV example, why not stay close to home with Property Virgins? She almost always only shows houses 'steps from the subway'!
But here's the real Problem; We (on this site) all know the benefits, so stating the points on here over and over isn't really doing all that much besides reinforcing our thoughts, while getting angry.
We need to get out to the Jim's Varieties or Trinket Finders or Stained Glassers or Hemp Clothing Shop Owners and explain to them How/Why LRT will benefit them! Get out into your neighbourhoods and next time you buy a pack or smokes or a lottery ticket from Jim, ask him why he doesn't believe in LRT then Shoot the Facts at him! And keep doing this for ever business, big or small, you frequent along the B-Line route. We are the only ones who can convince them! Who else can we rely on? The City!?!
By JM (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 12:51:23
we're on a roll..... why not do another study!?
By Take back the waterfront (anonymous) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 13:11:32
Ryan >> Sorry, Councillor Merulla, but Hamilton needs radical, transformative change. Incrementing the status quo has not served us well - particularly Ward 4, which contains some of the city's poorest, most despairing neighbourhoods.
And while you're at it, kick all the heavy industry out of town. If this happened tomorrow, Barton street would go from having the cheapest land values to the most expensive. It's time for Hamilton to take back the waterfront.
By jason (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 14:44:45
Really? Hamiltonians are addicted to Main St almost as much as Hortons.
If LRT was planned for a two-way Main it would have made the current attempts at 'controversy' look puny.
I'm still stunned that Main becoming two-way with the current LRT plan hasn't drawn more MSM fire.
Agree with the HGTV comments. The Brits have never had a hard on for city roads the way North Americans do. They understand that city streets are also neighbourhoods. They also now understand the unique qualities of downtowns - neighbourhoods, centralized shopping/civic destinations, historical significance etc - and have pedestrianized large chunks of many of them as a result.
However some cities are still reluctant to build full blown transit. Leeds is a city of 1 mill and relies on buses. I don't think Sheffield has LRT. It appears to be a hard sell all over the world and yet, once it's built, I don't know of any city that wants to get rid of it.
As for comments regarding yapping at shopkeepers - I agree! I have always made a point of voicing my views - and seeking out others - in general conversation. Nothing like the simple act of talking to people to learn more about what makes people tick and helping to get your point across. (I do sometimes get caried away however... I recall having a 'discussion' about bike lanes on Jarvis St (in Toronto) with a drinking buddy last year. I haven't seen much of him since :) )
By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 15:38:04
Take back the waterfront: Here's my Wishing on a Star contribution to this notion: For about ten years now, I've had this intermittent dream. In it, the entirety of the Industrial Strip is gone and Hamilton has the most beautiful waterfront in North America. Yes, it's a dream, a manifestation of my subconscious...so all complaints and contrary responses can be directed there, thankyouverymuch. LOL
As for Britain... Two things noted as a result of having lived there:
1) They never underwent a post-war boom. They never had the expansion that was so prevalent in North America. (They were rationing into the early 50s.) So the mindset of 'sprawl' never happened in anywhere near the same way. As well as everything associated with sprawl, the arrogant belief that land is to be used...not held under stewardship. (Such as the concept of Not In My Backyard, the selfishness of placement.)
2) Brits love their driving more than the love their cars. It's an entirely different relationship to the one North Americans have; theirs is with the vehicle itself. Part of this has to do with the fact that the ratio of automatic-to-standard transmissions is the opposite of North America...so what they're doing, to quote my father, is actually driving their cars, rather than merely pointing them. This might seem an esoteric observation, but it does contribute to a different mindset.
By geoff's two cents (registered) | Posted February 17, 2010 at 19:17:36
Ryan, I truly enjoyed this piece, particularly that lovely WWII analogy! It perfectly encapsulates the developmental quandary Hamilton finds itself in.
Most outsiders to Hamilton, especially if they hail from outside the sprawling GTA (i.e. Vancouver or Montreal) would agree that the status quo does not suffice. For my part, even as a sometime resident/visitor I often wonder what actually living (or visiting) in a revitalized Hamilton would be like. Part of me laments that my favorite German restaurant would likely no longer be able to afford to serve such epic portions of delicious cuisine for ~$15 or $16, or that the city's incredibly unique pub culture (vis a vis Vancouver or Toronto anyway) might also lose something in in the face of sky-high rents on a revitalized Augusta street. How would 'Little Portugal' (especially that delightful little cafe that serves pulled pork sandwiches for a steal) on James North fare? The 'survivorship bias' likely extends beyond the somewhat blinkered business perspective chronicled here, to include a large proportion of Hamiltonians who like things just the way they are. The innate conservatism I bore witness to in Ontario, and the economy's traditional reliance on car-culture, undoubtedly does not help.
In my view, this is incredibly unfortunate, and I think a full-blown LRT from Eastgate to Dundas might be the only thing to lift the city out of its almost nihilistic complacence. I can't think of any other single project (stadiums and hotels included) that has comparable potential to raise land values and change the geography of the lower city - in effect restoring the city to its former glory. From my experience, Hamilton has so much to offer the world - but it will have a hard time marketing its charms if it doesn't change for the better (become more livable) in the near future.
It would be nice if we had an understanding of what the city's leading downtown businesses thought of LRT. Hearing what pawn shops and drive-thru car washes have to say is certainly not (entirely) irrelevant, but over-emphasis on this aspect is getting tiresome. What about Denningers? Farmer's Market? London Taphouse? Hess Village? Augusta pub owners? Schwartzwaldhaus? Jackson Square? La Luna?
What follows is quintessential armchair commentary (from Vancouver, at that), but I can't help but wonder if RTH would be performing a valuable service to the LRT cause by gathering the opinions of business owners such as these, and presenting them to the public in some coherent fashion - perhaps even via the Spectator, if they would countenance such a piece.
By John Neary (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 09:12:21
@geoff's two cents,
"that delightful little cafe that serves pulled pork sandwiches for a steal"
Which cafe is that?
By frank (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 09:48:04
I just emailed Sam Merulla:
Hello Mr. Merulla,
I was a little disappointed to read about your support for LRT in phased construction. I don't think you'll find the resistance to LRT as prevalent in the east end as you would downtown so cutting out the easy part doesn't seem to make sense especially since it will be more expensive to construct this way - require the tendering of separate contracts and mobilization of construction crews at different times and all that having to be done in 2030ish when cost of materials and labour will almost be guaranteed to be far more expensive.
Our city doesn't need half baked construction projects to get out of the current rut it's in - it needs a large transformative project. One that defines the core in a new way and one that brings our city into a new age so to speak - something that will cause people to look ahead and dream/do rather than look at past and determine that "the status quo is ok".
As leaders in this city I believe it's your job to do what's best for the city and while I understand your reluctance to do so, at times this requires making decisions that you know are for the betterment of the city even if some of your constituents don't agree. I've read your newsletters that come to my mailbox and understand you're a major supporter of transit - don't chicken out now, it's time to LEAD.
By jason (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 09:50:41
great letter Frank.
By frank (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 09:57:27
Here's his response...nice and quick :)
I support LRT in its entirety. My comments were made in response to Metrolinx recommendation and attached funding. Had they announced the full LRT project and attached vital funding then my focus would have been on the design. As you are most likely aware there is an approximate 600 million dollar difference in the two projects which cannot be funded by the general municipal levy. Perhaps you can forward your concern to Metrolinx and their recommendation. As I said we are moving in the right direction.
Councillor Sam Merulla
By TreyS (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 10:07:38
"Moving in the right direction", what a Professional Politician thing to say. That is a safe-means-nothing-statement, Merulla.
"$600 million difference"..... here we go, get ready for "we can't afford it".
By TreyS (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 10:08:51
At least your councilor replies. Morelli I don't think knows how to use email.... since he ignores mine.
By Brioski8 (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 10:23:07
He knows how to use a phone however. A couple of years ago I sent an email to him asking him to support Light Rail and he phoned me up on a Saturday of all days to have a chat. That impressed me, however his stance at the time was "Now is just not the right time for LRT." My response at the time should have been when exactly he thought the right time would be, but as usual that only occured to me about 30 seconds after we ended our conversation.
Not sure what his stance on LRT is now however, maybe I'll fire off another email. I can't imagine he gets many emails from citizens in his ward, apathy (myself included) runs rampant in Ward 3.
By highwater (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 10:29:44
^I have some friends in his ward and he always responds to them by phone too. Don't be impressed. Emails can be forwarded, posted to blogs, etc., and he runs the risk of being held to his word. With a phone call, it's his word against yours, and he has plausible deniability.
By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 10:37:23
Wow highwater, that's pretty cynical. And probably true.
By frank (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 11:14:21
Right, my response to him was;
What is that difference expected to be in 2030? It's not going to get any smaller and we won't be able to afford it any better at that point. But I can guarantee you that by that point, we'll be looking back saying why didn't we go ahead with this? the parts between Ottawa Street and Parkdale would hugely benefit from an efficient LRT system...now.
By frank (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 11:18:06
I have also emailed Chad Collins to get his thoughts on it since that's his ward they're recommending being left out of LRT.
By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 11:43:16
"This suggests to me that sprawl is less a function of some deep cultural imperative and more a function of the availability of relatively affordable gasoline."
That's just your own bias talking, Ryan. Gasoline was merely the fuel for the automobile associated so keenly with the imperative (no pun intended) in North America.
But at least you're consistent. Your reluctance to consider things on a much deeper level fascinates me...but nothing you've ever said has had even the slightest effect of shifting my perception. (And I'm assuming the same applies to you, regarding my contributions. So at the very least, we're cancelling each other out. LOL)
(Besides; 'North Sea Oil'?!? The flow of which began mid-late 60s, some two decades after WWII ended? What has this to do with a 'post-war boom'?)
By frank (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 12:55:51
Councillor Collins is concerned about the no left turns... What's the status/truth on that?
By TD (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 13:39:39
Just so you know, it's legal to record phone calls without informing the other party. http://answers.google.com/answers/thread...
By frank (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 13:51:57
TD the way I read that it's specifically related to communications originated by more than one person or intended to be received by more than one person... i.e. if the person you're recording knows you're going to be telling other people...
By TD (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 14:50:38
184  Every one who, by means of any electro-magnetic, acoustic, mechanical or other device, wilfully intercepts a private communication is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.  Subsection  does not apply to [a] a person who has the consent to intercept, express or implied, of the originator of the private communication OR of the person intended by the originator thereof to receive it;
In other words, you can record conversations provided you have the consent of the originator OR the recipient. That obviously includes giving yourself consent. There are more related statutes that I can't be bothered to sort through, but overall, it seems pretty clear.
By geoff's two cents (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 17:28:01
^John Neary: "Which cafe?"
Can't recall the name, but it's Portuguese and serves pastries. One often sees patrons enjoying a glass of wine there as well. Truly one of my favorite haunts on James N. If it helps, I vaguely remember the interior being painted orange.
By jason (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 17:57:21
probably Ola Cafe and Bakery, a few doors north of the Armouries. It's awesome, great cappuccino too.
By frank (registered) | Posted February 18, 2010 at 20:15:36
TD, I read that to...but that's with respect to INTERCEPTING, not recording at the originator or otherwise. That is used for people like PIs and police etc in order to get consent for wire taps and so forth. Don't obviously include yourself... I'd suggest you talk to a lawyer before I make a move like recording a conversation without notifying the other party unless it's for your personal use.
Anyone know about the left turn prohibition that Chad Collins is talking about? Apparently he's been in quite a few meetings with business people that's a major sticking point.
Comment edited by frank on 2010-02-18 19:17:29
By highwater (registered) | Posted February 19, 2010 at 13:14:25
Hey! Congrats on getting this published in the Spec.
By jason (registered) | Posted February 19, 2010 at 16:28:27
Wow...nice Ryan. I don't see anything LRT related on the Spec website, but I hear it was published today.
I was glad to see it in the Spec today. I usually get my free copy, scan through the last few pages of section "A" and then toss it in the recycling these days.. I was glad to have something to stop for.
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