Special Report: Light Rail

Is Council Going to Stand For This?

Will senior management be allowed to unilaterally shift the city's transportation priorities, or will Council step up and assert its leadership over the city's goals?

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 18, 2011

Dear Council,

Are you going to stand for this?

The city's senior management team, led by city manager Chris Murray, has abruptly decided that staff will only do whatever work on rapid transit planning they are contractually obligated to complete, after receiving $3 million from the province to plan and design LRT in Hamilton.

Instead, a special position has been created to manage a task force to "aggressively pursue" all-day GO service.

Does this decision to switch Hamilton's transportation planning priorities and effectively kill LRT flow from a Council decision? If so, I'm having a hard time finding it.

If not, are you going to allow senior staff to overrule Council's directives and impose their own priorities on the city?

The dedicated staff of the Rapid Transit office have spent years and millions of dollars and engaged thousands of Hamiltonians to plan LRT because you directed them to do it. You had the vision and foresight to recognize that LRT is a transformative investment in the city's prosperity and revitalization.

The Province supported you and even granted the city $3 million to help pay for the planning, design and environmental assessment work. (Perhaps they are now wondering why they bothered.)

But over the past two weeks, the Mayor and City Manager decided that LRT is not a priority after all, despite the fact that nothing has changed and the weight of evidence from the planning process continues to strengthen the case for LRT.

First, the Mayor tried to claim that the public doesn't care about LRT. The public responded with a huge "clamour" of support.

Then the Mayor tried to claim that developers don't care about LRT. We've since heard from the Chamber of Commerce, the Home Builders Association, the Realtors Association, the Jobs Prosperity Collaborative and a number of developers both inside and outside the city who support LRT and are watching carefully to see whether Council has the leadership to make it happen.

They're definitely interested, but many are not especially hopeful, since they've been hearing mixed signals from the city's leadership.

As of today, the signals are no longer mixed. Murray's directive has made it crystal clear that the City is no longer interested in pursuing LRT.

Instead, we're going to meet our minimum contractual obligations and then suspend the program to focus instead on all-day GO service - as if they were in some kind of competition!

As recently as today, Mayor Bratina was still saying that the city can't make a decision on whether to support LRT without getting all the information.

With this new directive, the Mayor and City Manager have decided that we're no longer going to bother getting that information.

So I ask again: did you, the elected City Council, change your minds and decide that Hamilton has given up on LRT? Or was that decision made for you?

If the latter, what are you going to do about it? The province is watching. The development community is watching. Above all, the public is watching and counting on you to be the leaders we elected.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By jason (registered) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 22:48:48

Brilliant letter and deadly accurate.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted July 19, 2011 at 07:35:51 in reply to Comment 66437

Brilliant letter and deadly accurate.

Jason needs to be reminded of Comment Voting Etiquette:

2b - Do not post comments just to agree or disagree with another comment. "Me too" posts don't add to the conversation and make threads long and awkward to navigate.

And folks who up-vote Jason should also be aware of their violation:

2g - Do not vote based on whether you agree with the author's opinion. Comments should be rated for the quality of their argument, not which side they've taken.

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By Me 109 (anonymous) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 22:54:01 in reply to Comment 66437

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Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-08-08 22:24:05

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By Me 109 (anonymous) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 22:52:13

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Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-01-04 11:56:02

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By TnT (registered) | Posted July 26, 2011 at 00:25:29 in reply to Comment 66439

Well said, Bob.

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By sabbatical (registered) - website | Posted July 18, 2011 at 23:24:18 in reply to Comment 66439

Hahah. I can understand why this 'guy' chose to post anonymously — not many people would want to have their name publicly represented by such a hilarious piece of dinosaur poop as this post was. I know he's trying to belittle Ryan and anyone daring to want Hamilton to join the modern world, but all it comes across as is that he's got an all-too-tenuous grip on reality. Bless ye, anon.

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By Me 109 (anonymous) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 23:04:27

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Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-08-08 22:27:58

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By Eyes (anonymous) | Posted July 20, 2011 at 08:28:05 in reply to Comment 66445

Nice to hear from you, GS/SG.

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By Nose (anonymous) | Posted July 20, 2011 at 13:33:46 in reply to Comment 66557

Why so quiet all of a sudden, Mr. Gilbert?

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By Nails (anonymous) | Posted July 21, 2011 at 17:03:50 in reply to Comment 66592

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-08-08 22:24:41

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By geoff's two cents (registered) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 23:05:14

"As recently as today, Mayor Bratina was still saying that the city can't make a decision on whether to support LRT without getting all the information.

With this new directive, the Mayor and City Manager have decided that we're no longer going to bother getting that information."

Very, very nicely said. Were I anywhere near Hamilton at present, I'd be itching to be part of a public demonstration for LRT along the lines of what took place during the stadium controversy.

The former mayor's commentary on current civic priorities would be very enlightening, I should think. I look forward to hearing what Council members have to say.

Comment edited by geoff's two cents on 2011-07-18 23:07:53

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 23:19:23 in reply to Comment 66446

maybe we could get Bob to show up with an 'LRT' shirt on?

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By Clyde_Cope (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 11:55:15 in reply to Comment 66447

You mean like when our mayor turned up at the rally for the West Harbour wearing a shirt supporting the harbour for the stadium location? We all know how he flip-flopped on that issue. He floats in the breeze on most issues and needs to be pressed very hard to take any kind of action. Keep pressing, box him in until he realizes that he is the Mayor of Hamilton and starts to act accordingly. Any policy changes must come from council and the Mayor -not from the hired help!

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By Locke (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 12:12:56 in reply to Comment 66500

Anyone get the sense that the tail is wagging the dog on this one?

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By RichardDenOtter (registered) - website | Posted July 19, 2011 at 01:01:10

I don't think this is the death of LRT, it just means the project moved down in the list of priorities. I thought it was going to be built for the 2015 PanAm games, but it looks like the construction won't even start until 2015 or later. So it's more of a long term project, and Chris Murray chose to focus on what's immediately at hand. Pitting LRT against All Day GO was a PR mistake though. I'm sure the city will come back to LRT after some of the other issues are resolved. Not doing so will put a strain on our relationship with the province, not to mention damage Hamilton's already not so stellar reputation.

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By ENBDavies (registered) - website | Posted July 19, 2011 at 01:03:05

What you do not want to see now is Waterloo Region inviting mass #'s of GTA residents to cleaner air less congestion and LRT's.

Do not let your elected officials and democracy destroy what is something that needs to aid in the future of the sustainagility of Hamilton.

I would love to see LRT service restored to Burlington then down New St. onto Rebecca then onward into Mississauga into Toronto..

Imagine a future GTA where you can take a day to go to Toronto lazily on LRT's hoping from one historic village to the next..

ahh... one day.. one day when we'll have less cars on the roads than we did in 1966.


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By Antagonist (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 02:45:46

It's quite obvious some of you don't understand the political process.

The province asked for a study, that study is almost complete. Once the report is done it will be submitted to the province for consideration. Council and city staff cannot procede with anything until they see the results of the study. Why would they continue to have staff assigned to this when there is no need for it at the present time.

They have not taken LRT off the table. They are only waiting for the next step to begin. These things take time and every city has to go through the same process.

In the mean time what is wrong with the city having staff work on another priority, all day GO service.

There are going to be many more steps that will take alot more time. The environmental assessment when they get to that stage could take a year or more. I wouldn't anticipate getting shovels in the ground for something as involved as this for at least 5 years and thats if all goes well.

Ottawa has been planning their LRT for over 10 years and they still aren't at the point where shovels are in the ground and from what I have been reading the present proposal there, is a long way from being approved.

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By Branich (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 07:31:44

Read between the lines folks - In the Spec article it said that despite all the support for LRT, Vranich thinks GO service is more important. BoBra and Murray are just doing what they are told.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted July 19, 2011 at 08:21:00

Look, I'm tired of this whole false dilemma nonsense.

All-day GO or LRT? Give me a break.

I fully support chasing the province on GO service to Hamilton. We've been chasing it for at least 5 years already. This is just a continuation of that same charge. Suddenly Murray has woken up and decided we need to "aggressively pursue" it for real this time? What did non-aggessively pursuing it consist of? Waiting for an email from the province, or Metrolinx? Or maybe a visit from Sophia, smiling and announcing a big win for Hamilton? BTW, I suspect we will get all-day GO service just in time for the election.

Clearly, moving ahead with LRT planning, with a full complement of staff and the necessary financial resources, can be done at the same time. Unless of course, you see the future of Hamilton through Chris Murray's and Bob Bratina's eyes?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 19, 2011 at 08:32:33

Throughout the stadium process, Bratina stood out in that he was the one who was the strongest on supporting the study of every site. While he obviously preferred a downtown location, he wanted every site to be reviewed, including the controversial sites like Confed. Park. Considering how the stadium turned out - no plan B site available when Bob Young put his foot down on West Harbour - Bob's position on researching every option looked remarkably foresighted. I tend to think that this was a big factor in his election.

I hope he'll keep the same policy for LRT and tell Murray to reverse his decision. If we needed every option studied for the stadium process, then something with as much money on the table as the LRT absolutely deserves the same scrutiny.

Anything else would seem a little hypocritical.

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By James (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 08:50:09

I think it's obvious to all and sundry that hypocrisy is just one of Bob Bratina's many fine qualities as an elected official.

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By Demitasse (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 09:01:13

Notice of Public Information Centres for Land Use Planning Issues and Opportunities along the A-Line.

The City of Hamilton’s Rapid Transit team invites you to our upcoming Public Information Centre (PIC). This is your chance to:
• Review existing and future considerations for the A-Line Corridor
• Discuss potential land use planning and rapid transit opportunities and issues along the A-Line corridor
• Learn about the next steps as we continue to move Hamilton forward
• Add your voice – make sure your concerns are being heard

Tuesday July 19, 2011
Mohawk College, H-Wing Atrium, 135 Fennell Ave. W.
(The PIC will take place in front of Starbucks in the corridor connecting the new Learning Exchange building (H-Wing) and C-Wing. Free parking is available in lot P8)

Wednesday July 20, 2011
Hamilton Convention Centre, Webster Room, 1 Summers Lane

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By Rene Gauthier (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 09:24:28

Bratina and Murray have a lot of explaining to do, especially for making such an arbitrary decision as this. While they may not, there are plenty of others who would like this city become world class and such a regressive decision will have major reprecussions on the future of it.

This is sickening and another fine perpetuation of the idiotic and unexplainable decisions that have plagued our city to what it is today.

Vancouver is enjoying the SkyTrain, a rapid transit system that was actually offered to us and we didn't take, while we have to slum it on the A-Line and B-Line "bus rapid transit" system, if there really is such a thing.

Perhaps Mr. Bratina has no plans for re-election, since he's pretty much killed those chances already.

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By Tom West (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 09:36:35

Have you actually sent this letter to coucnil members? If you haven't, please do!

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 09:53:48

In case anyone is interested...here is my letter (and I apologize for the long-windedness..I was pissed off) to Mr. Lloyd Ferguson:


Just wondering if council has completely jumped off the deep end. The more I keep myself informed about the municipal politics of this could-be-great city, the more I'm regretting my decision to do so.

I honestly can't, for the life of me, understand how our city council would turn their nose up at an initiative that would serve as a major step in making our downtown a more liveable, more invest-able city. Even looking at the potential to retain the thousands, upon thousands, of McMaster students that leave our city after graduation seems like a pretty good reason to keep the ball on this one rolling.

(I also find it somewhat telling that, when discussing this issue with 4 neighbours in Ancaster, only 1 worked in Hamilton. One Burlington, one Toronto and one Kitchener.)

Mr. Bratina seems be of the opinion - despite being a cheerleader for LRT prior to election -- that no one seems interested in this initiative. Yet, every time I turn around, or talk to anyone with a Greater Hamilton address, support seems nearly unanimous. The case studies out of Portland, Oregon and your own anecdotes that I've read about Charlotte, North Carolina all show very positive growth and intended intensification not long after the implementation of LRT.

Yet, we...errrr, well, our city leaders, seem to think what happens in the rest of the world doesn't happen in Hamilton. It sure would be nice if we could drop this moronic inferiority complex -- as it's clearly a detriment to anything related to progress. The fact of the matter is our downtown, and some segments of our lower city, are experience an incredible rebound. The rebound is happening because of the efforts of the ordinary citizens...unfortunately in-spite of the continuing efforts by our city council to thwart such improvements.

Alas, the city could use something bigger than Art Crawls, organic festivals, closed streets and farmer's markets. It's clear people see potential in this city - the problem is those at the helm don't appear to see what we do.

So, a question to you and your fellow council members; do you see this as a city with the potential to be great? A city where creative investment (...such as the Ad Agency I'm currently working at that's located in a horrible, side-of-highway location in Burlington...which, formerly, was an iconic Canadian agency from Hamilton) sees downtown Hamilton as a progressive, inspiring and a sustainable location?

Or, does council believe that we should simply consider our city a rust-belt relic that is going to champion 1970s American-style urban sprawl?

In my opinion, this city has an awful lot of potential. Much more potential than council seems interested in realizing.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

(Slodrive) Ancaster, ON

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By Desmond (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:22:22

Did any of you actually read Murray's letter to Council?

I don't see this as a deathblow to all of your LRT wet dreams. Murray is managing the studies within the budget and resources available to meet the Metrolinx requirements.

This "outrage" is all much ado about nothing.

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By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:39:35

I remember our visit to the Scottish Rite to see the many panels of the proposed LRT. It seemed like it was a going concern. It would obviously help Hamilton greatly.

The tone from the Spec article today is clearly that the LRT idea is about to wither on the vine, which is a shame because it appears to be a very forward-looking idea which has gained support from many sectors of the population.

It is entirely unclear how this decision was made to derail this very promising idea. It is not at all transparent. Yet another Hamilton head-scratcher.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 10:57:46 in reply to Comment 66494

Probably took place in one of the many "in-camera" sessions that this council seems to enjoy.

Not sure how many times I've read @EmmaatTheSpec tweet that reporting is halting due to council going in-camera.

It's that 'opacity' that gets us where we are today.

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By Zozo (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 12:13:54

Increased GO Service: Rating compared to now (1 bad: 5 Great) 1 2 3 4 5

1.How extensive?
2.How many more cities will be serviced?
3.Will trips be more frequent?
4.More reliable? 5.Less expensive?

The goal must be a perfect 25!

What is missing here is some transparency as to the end result of a Go focused strategy. If we knew where this plan was taking us and how it links us from now to LRT, we would have less controversy. I could see how this strategy could get us to LRT, but my mind and that of city hall, are likely not on the same page.

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By Zozo (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 12:14:03

If the answer to each question is “Yes”, then I can see how this could be a good move.

1.Does the City's focuses on GO Transit result in more inner province travel using Mass Transit?

2.Will this result in more trips to and from Ontario cities?

3.Will more frequent use of GO result mass transit gaining more signifigance in the minds of the public?

4.Is it cheaper to take a reliable GO to and from work than a car?

5.Will this increase the number of drivers choosing GO over thier car?

6.Will people using thier cars less, result fewer cars on our inner streets?

7.If people start using mass transit more and cars less, will they use inner city mass transit more?

8.Will using cars less on the highway, bring more longevity and less ware to peoples car?

9.Will people who buy new cars, demand more cars designed for local travel? (under 80km/h electric or hybrid)

10.Will an increase of people living in Hamilton and working else where, result in other cities doing the same?

11.Will city natives and visitors, who use Mass Transit for inner province travel, also rely on Mass Transit for inner city travel?

12.Will this result in more people using inner city Mass Transit, requiring steps taken to supply the demand for its use?

13.Will having fewer cars on the road, make the laying of a Light Rail Transit easier, less expensive and minimize traffic congestion?

14.Will building a proven public need maximize the likelihood of a timely construction?

15.Will we have our LRT by 2016?

Either way, I think we are missing some facts. This does seem to be a little sudden and unexplained. We need some more info on the City's end vision and how they plan to get there.

Comment edited by Zozo on 2011-07-19 12:14:32

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted July 19, 2011 at 13:55:16

The comments section in The Spec on this topic make me question whether or not Western Civilization is an experiment even worth continuing. Over and over again, this is being portrayed as the narrow interest of a splinter group of transit enthusiasts, without recognizing that every major business, real estate and developer group in Hamilton has come out in support of this project.

It's kind of like Rob Ford saying last week to the media that Labour costs in Toronto are 80% of the city budget, when the number is very clearly closer to 48%. If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes true.

Between that and the wedge tactics being used to divide GO supporters and LRT supporters (a red herring if I've ever seen one) it reminds me of the most common meme on Twitter right now: This is why we can't have nice things.

Comment edited by JasonAAllen on 2011-07-19 13:55:49

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By Me 109 (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 15:43:23 in reply to Comment 66509

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Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-09-29 22:46:35

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By Clamourer (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 14:14:46

This is a great article but we all must realize that Council, or at least a few councillors, are behind this. Rewind to the ec dev & planning meeting 2 weeks ago when councillors Clark and Collins cried foul -- claiming they were being backed into a corner on lrt with the landuse planning activities, etc. Chris Murray has played his role to the "T" with his latest edit to suspend all lrt/land use work not called for under the metrolinx deal. I feel for the staff who are working hard on the file and are doing only exactly what council asked them to do; study bline lrt, show us how it might work financially, and we'll decide. It's too bad the city manager is now just a lap dog with no vision and no guts to lead our city forward (because our mayor certainly won't) It makes one wonder how he got this far -- oh wait -- by doing exactly what he's told.

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By Broke (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 14:21:38

Put the LRT at the west harbour.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 14:31:22 in reply to Comment 66512

Yup, this is starting to feel like stadiumageddon all over again, everyone pulling one way and a few narrow interests pulling the other, guess which way council will sway.

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By Me 109 (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 15:38:27 in reply to Comment 66513

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Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-08-08 22:23:14

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By Ears (anonymous) | Posted July 20, 2011 at 10:21:12 in reply to Comment 66518

We're all starting to get a good sense of why you were laughed out of Toronto, Jane.

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By Hugh Dowding (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 23:05:01 in reply to Comment 66518

Winston, I need more Spitfires and Hurricanes to deal with these blasted Me 109s!

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By kdslote (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 15:55:42

I passed Lincoln Alexander in Jackson Square today. It reminded me of how absurd it is that an expressway is named after a man who (correct me if I'm wrong) has never even had a drivers license.

When I got back to the office it struck me that he is just the person LRT needs as its champion - someone incredibly well respected and adored and someone who would really benefit from LRT. Lincoln Alexander LRT Express anyone?

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By Steve (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 16:24:21 in reply to Comment 66522

Lincoln always had (has) a driver, of some description.

You are correct he never had a driver's license, but he was also never a public transit rider.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted July 20, 2011 at 01:32:50 in reply to Comment 66527

CORRECTION: Alexander was and remains a heavy user of public transportation. I enjoyed numerous insightful conversations with him on the King bus as a teenager.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 22:25:19 in reply to Comment 66527

perhaps this is true of Linc, but there are quite a number of Hamilton residents that would benefit enormously from the increased access across the city. DARTS requires a 7 day advance booking and the bus system isn't always an option. Accessible cabs are ridiculously expensive.

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By Synxer (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 16:15:58

All day GO service is something that sounds great in concept, but much more vulnerable in execution and permanency. Let's all keep in mind that GO service is retractable. Just 'cause we get it doesn't mean we'll keep it. We'll just be having one of these "demand isn't there" conversations again.

Let's say Hudak gets in and wants to start chopping down costs, what do you think will be on the table? Tracks in the road or wheels on the highway?

Why is this so hard to understand? GO gets people here, but now that they are here, how the hell do they get around? To make an anatomical analogy, we're shoving food in our mouth (GO service) but paying no attention to how that food will pass through our body (LRT).

In other words, we should be getting our house in order before inviting others to the party.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 17:09:00 in reply to Comment 66525

Very good point, see the situation in Barrie, where GO decided to stop running trains for anumber of years (close to a decade I believe) before starting train service back up again when they felt the number of commuters was enough to justify it.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 19:16:53

Howard Elliott's latest editorial on thespec.com on the LRT issue and the seemingly diminished role of Hamilton city council in the decision-making process: http://www.thespec.com/opinion/editorial...

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2011-07-19 19:17:16

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By Vod_Kann (registered) | Posted July 19, 2011 at 19:29:08 in reply to Comment 66543


Regardless of what you may think of his politics, Brad Clark did have a good point that much more of this needed to take place in front of council in a public forum.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted July 20, 2011 at 10:48:58


You are exactly correct. Council is twisting in the wind while Bratina unfolds a map in front of anybody who enters his office showing them where he wants to put LRT, and seems to have been able to twist Chris Murray's better judgment in the process. This is democracy?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 20, 2011 at 14:24:16

Saw Ryan on CH last night. Nice to see this getting some airtime. It'll get people talking about it more, that's for sure.

Also glad to see they got Richard Koroscil sp?) up there to give his two cents from the business community (airport, former chamber of commerce, now Metrolinx.).

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