Special Report: Light Rail

Update on B-Line LRT Planning

Rapid Transit staff on track to complete their 2012 work plan on the B-Line LRT. Once the work is finished, Metrolinx will make a funding decision.

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 10, 2012

this article has been updated

The City of Hamilton is taking a two-track approach to the planned Light Rail Transit (LRT) line along the east-west B-Line corridor. The Public Works department is undertaking the engineering, functional design and detail design of the line itself, while the Planning department is concurrently preparing a land use strategy for the transit corridor 400 metres to either side of the line.

Last month, the planning committee approved a corridor planning strategy [PDF] that leverages LRT to drive new economic development in the form of increased density and diversity of uses along the corridor, and in particular around specified growth nodes.

However, we haven't heard much about the design side of the project since last October, and I wanted to get a sense of how the work is progressing - especially after last summer's fiasco of mixed messaging and staffing turmoil.

This proved to be a bit of a challenge. Several emails to the Rapid Transit department's email address, rapidtransit@hamilton.ca went unanswered, and the City's Rapid Transit web page still listed Jill Stephen as the project manager, even though Stephen resigned from the city back in September 2011.

According to Kelly Anderson, public affairs coordinator for the Public Works department, Stephen's position was not filled. The Rapid Transit team now reports to transportation director Don Hull as part of a larger integrated transit organization.

Anderson explained that the City maintains current information on its dedicated Rapid Transit website, http://hamiltonrapidtransit.ca, though older pages on the City website were still coming up in web searches. I've since noticed that those pages now redirect to the new site.

Anderson also put me in touch with Justin Readman, a Rapid Transit manager, who provided further details about the city's efforts.

2012 Work Plan

Last October, 2011, Public Works staff presented an update to the General Issues Committee [PDF] on the status of the LRT planning, design and engineering process.

The report noted that Hamilton is "at least two years ahead of other projects, in terms of implementation readiness, including the Hurontario LRT project in Mississauga/Brampton."

It further affirmed Metrolinx's position that Hamilton is "not required to prioritize between LRT and GO service extension, as LRT is a local transit service whereas GO serves an inter-regional function."

Council approved a 2012 work plan that includes the following items:

Integrated Transportation Organization

Council also approved the following resolution:

That Senior Management Team develop an organizational structure and community engagement strategy to support, over the long term, an integrated public transportation program for the City that encompasses provincial, inter-regional, inter-city, rapid transit, public transit, active transportation and transportation demand management no later than Q1 2012.

As Readman explained, the new public transportation organization is called "Mobility Programs and Special Projects" and it integrates the Rapid Transit office with the HSR, DARTS, Active Transportation (cycling, walking and ride share) and Transportation Demand Management office, and coordinates links with provincial, inter-regional and inter-city transportation.

The organization has eight staff members, of which five are working on the 2012 Rapid Transit work plan. The team reports to Christine Lee-Morrison, manager of mobility programs and special projects, who in turn reports to Don Hull, the director of transportation.


This work plan broadly corresponds with the list of outstanding work identified by Metrolinx. According to Malon Edwards at Metrolinx, with the completion of work funded under the $3 million Planning, Design and Engineering grant from Metrolinx, the subsequent items "require next steps decision making from the City of Hamilton." The list of projects includes:

Metrolinx will review Hamilton's bid for LRT funding once this work is complete.

Hamilton has also formally requested another grant from Metrolinx to offset $5.1 million in municipal spending on its planning work. According to Readman, "A response from Metrolinx is forthcoming."

Progress This Year

According to Readman, the City's Rapid Transit team in on track to completing its 2012 work plan on time.

Environmental Project Report

In January 2012, the city issued a Statement of Completion [PDF] on its Environmental Project Report - the streamlined class environmental assessment that applies to transit projects - for the B-Line alignment. The Statement of Completion means the EPR was completed, submitted and approved by the Ministry of the Environment.

A-Line Feasibility Study

A feasibility study for the proposed north-south A-Line LRT will be completed this month and posted on the Rapid Transit website by mid-to-late May.

Maintenance and Storage Facility

The location assessment and environmental assessment for the Maintenance and Storage Facility are underway. Staff should be able to provide more details on the location in June.

Phasing Strategy

Metrolinx requires every transit project to undertake a phasing strategy. The City will evaluate both the option to build the entire McMaster-to-Eastgate line at once and also the option to build the line in phases. The phasing study will determine which option is the more cost-effective.

Readman explains:

In the interest of due diligence and at the request of Metrolinx, the City is developing and evaluating phasing options for the B-Line. Hamilton will include the full B-Line route as outlined in the Environmental Project Report (McMaster to Eastgate). The evaluation is appropriate as there is more information about the project including refined costs and benefits.

The phasing evaluation will use Multiple Account Evaluation inputs to determine whether phasing is appropriate for this project. This item is in progress and expected to be complete by the end of 2012.

The Metrolinx King-Main Rapid Transit Benefits Case Analysis published in February 2010 determined that a phased LRT (with projected opening years of 2015 and 2030) would have a lower initial cost but would also have lower economic development potential.

It concluded, "the highest cost option (the full LRT along the Main Street-King Street corridor), with estimated capital and operating costs of $784 million in net present value terms, also generates the highest Transportation User Benefits."

Value for Money Exercise

Metrolinx also requires the completion of a Value for Money (VFM) exercise to determine the best method of project procurement. That effort will be led by Infrastructure Ontario (IO) in cooperation with the City of Hamilton and Metrolinx.

RTH has requested a timeline for the VFM from IO. We will update this article if and when we get a response.

Capital Funding

As part of its next-steps planning, the City will prepare an up-to-date cost estimate that includes the Maintenance and Storage Facility. Once the work is complete, Metrolinx will evaluate the city's proposal and decide how to proceed.

Metrolinx funding for Hamilton's LRT hinges on a comprehensive Investment Strategy, which the Province has asked the transit organization to prepare by June 2013.

The Regional Transportation Plan, titled The Big Move: Transforming Transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area identified over $50 billion in transit projects over 25 years.

However, Metrolinx was founded with only an $18.5 billion capital endowment and needs to determine how to raise the other $32 billion to fund the rest of the projects.

According to Edwards at Metrolinx, "We're in the process of looking at different options to fund and sustain transit across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area."

Paul Bedford, the emeritus chief planner for Toronto and former Metrolinx Board member, argues the investment strategy will need to incorporate some combination of highway road pricing, a new sales tax, an employer tax, an income tax, commercial parking levies, a vehicle registration tax, and a gas tax levy.

Other jurisdictions in Canada, the USA and Europe have used various combinations of these means to raise enough money to invest in transformative higher-order transit projects, and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area will need to do the same - even if a new tax or levy is politically unpalatable.

Bedford says the Province needs to "embark on an aggressive public campaign to inform and educate the public, GTHA politicians and stakeholders in 2012" about the benefits of a strong funding model and the costs and consequences of inaction.

No Funding Commitment Yet

Hamilton's B-Line LRT was identified in The Big Move as one of the top priority projects to be completed in the first ten years of the plan.

It was widely assumed that this meant some of the original Metrolinx endowment would be earmarked for the B-Line. However, Edwards clarifies that no Metrolinx funding has been committed to Hamilton's B-Line, and that any funding commitment will depend on the Metrolinx Investment Strategy.

No original endowment or $18.5 billion envelope has been set aside for the Hamilton LRT project. The Investment Strategy, to be delivered in June 2013, will recommend a sustainable funding and financing framework to advance the Hamilton LRT and other unfunded projects in our Regional Transportation Plan.

Last September, a frustrated Council voted overwhelmingly to call on the Province to confirm its commitment to LRT "to fully fund two LRT lines and use of Gas Tax for operating costs."

This call came in response to a pre-election claim by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty that All-Day GO Train service was the city's top priority and that "over time, we can enter into other discussions about things like the LRT."

This was in contrast to the Ontario Liberal Party's 2007 election campaign, in which the party warned that if the Liberals didn't win, "the Conservatives would put rapid transit projects through MoveOntario 2020 - including two light rail lines across Hamilton - at risk."

The province replied by insisting that it could not make a funding commitment until the necessary planning and design work was completed.

Update: Paragraph added to note that the city has requested more money from Metrolinx to help pay for its LRT planning. You can jump to the added paragraph.

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 mrgrande (registered) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 08:45:46

FYI - The link to the rapid transit website is going to http://raisethehammer.org/hamiltonrapidt... Looks like you forgot an http://

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By quo (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 09:50:05

This is good to know. It's been crickets chirping from the city for months and I was getting nervous (well, cynical really) after all the BS. It still seems too good to be true, I keep waiting for us to get the carpet yanked out after all this excitement and hoping.

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By CouldaWouldaShoulda (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 10:00:47 in reply to Comment 76735

At the City Council meeting last autumn, it was made abundantly clear that Hamilton was well ahead of schedule, that the due diligence was being executed wonderfully, and that Hamiltonians had to be patient and let the process continue through to next year.

At which point we'll be closer to actually knowing whether or not there's funding, period.

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By JM (registered) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 13:03:30 in reply to Comment 76736

I'm liking the sound of this... we can't let the momentum stop after coming this far!

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 16:25:31

losing population in Wards 1 2 3 4 and 5 basically the entire lower City has lost population for more than a generation... does not help the cause.

I wish it would. but in Toronto's case, they have had to increase public transit, simply because more people needed it.

Comment edited by TreyS on 2012-05-10 16:28:00

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 22:14:41 in reply to Comment 76749

The loss has (so far) been fairly marginal. And it's still the densest corridor in the city, with potential for further intensification.

A growing downtown employment node, along with that of McMaster and what the university is trying to develop with the innovation park, are two other prime drivers of future transit use.

Most of the HSR's routes are focused on the downtown, either passing through it or terminating there. A B-Line LRT may offer the opportunity to use a "spine" to optimize transit routes all through the city - those which may connect to the east and west ends of the LRT, as well as those that may intersect it.

When taken from a system-perspective, I have to wonder if the Metrolinx benefits-case has understated the potential of this route.

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By C (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 16:44:51 in reply to Comment 76749

From the Benefits Case:

" The existing B-Line (BRT-lite) bus service was introduced in 1982 to serve demand along the east- west corridor of the lower city... Success of this service has lead to increased service levels and the recognition that the function of this Main/King Corridor is key to the daily operation of the city. Ridership on the B-Line has grown over the years reaching almost 850,000 passenger trips in 2008.

In addition to the B-line service along King Street/Main Street, the city's most significant transit corridor, there are a number of other regular local bus services that provide integrated services along the B-Line corridor or portions thereof. When combined, a very frequent service is provided and it is estimated that the B-Line and local bus services carry some 10 million passengers per year. Furthermore, transit ridership in general, and specifically along the corridor, can also be expected to increase as the city is redeveloped and land uses in the urban centre are intensified."

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 16:34:27

We will be offered at best a Metrolinx funding for a Rapid Bus Lanes.... which we almost already have with the B-Line. People will complain about the designated lane and in a few years later, we will be back to cars only. We have to go all-in LRT or nothing. If we accept BRT we might as well forget it.

Be very well prepared for a set-up to fail BRT system.

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By BRT booster (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 19:46:18

Its the way to go. One third of the cost, no major disruptions for construction, no need to subsidize operations on one of the only profitable routes allows HSR to move forward without cutting services on other routes. The last one is the biggie. Study after study suggests the line will not be self sufficient and the lost revenues from a income generating route will need to be compensated through one of 3 options. Higher fares, higher taxpayer funded subsidies or reduced service on currently subsidized lines.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 09:18:27 in reply to Comment 76753

If all you want is a BRT on the B-line save your money. The 4 lanes of Main and King already provide a defacto BRT line.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 22:05:12 in reply to Comment 76753

News flash: No public transit system is self sufficient. Maybe individual lines are, but as a whole transit systems make only a portion of their costs back from the fare box (with the exception of some of those extremely densely populated Asian countries). Heck, even GO transit only recovers 88% of its costs through farebox revenues.

It's not about making money, it's about providing a service. If it was about making money there would be virtually no public transit system. We would just have a few money-making lines (probably in Hamilton the B-line would be the only one), disconnected from the rest of the city.

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By its all about the money (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2012 at 13:44:41 in reply to Comment 76758

Many transit companies in Europe and U.K. make money or at least break even. It's all about density and distance.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 22:20:47 in reply to Comment 76758

Quite right.

Building roads and highways is also about providing a service. There is a public subsidy involved with them as well.

This is all about the transportation system and providing a balance of services. That balance should be dictated by what is most economical, from a societal, system-wide perspective.

Comment edited by ScreamingViking on 2012-05-10 22:28:34

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 22:15:49 in reply to Comment 76758

comment from banned user deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-05-12 16:17:12

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 22:27:39 in reply to Comment 76760

I'm fairly certain the operational costs of LRT are less than BRT, but I'd have to double check.

I will admit that the capital costs of LRT are greater than BRT.

I don't see how that makes a profitable route within the system unprofitable...particularly since, at this point in time, we don't know what portion of the capital costs the city will have to pay. If, as is the case with Toronto, the city has to pay practically nothing in terms of capital costs for their Metrolinx projects, then I think LRT will not "lose" money on the B-line.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 12, 2012 at 08:35:51 in reply to Comment 76825

From the Hamilton Light Rail website:

Myth: LRT is more expensive to operate.

Fact: On a per-passenger basis, LRT is actually cheaper to operate - and usually a lot cheaper - than buses. Drivers are the biggest operating cost, and each LRT driver can carry many more passengers than a bus driver. In addition, while LRT vehicles are more expensive to buy, the last about three times as long as buses and have lower maintenance costs.

Calgary's C-Train costs only $0.27 per passenger to operate, whereas Hamilton's HSR costs around $5.00 per passenger, of which fares cover about half. This is one of the facts that convinced Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson to support the idea of LRT in Hamilton.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2012 at 10:39:38 in reply to Comment 76840

Thanks Highwater, I knew LRT was cheaper to operate.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 02:26:41 in reply to Comment 76760

I don't know what "studies" you're basing your opinion on but they go directly against the Benefits Case Analysis that Metrolinx did in 2010 which chose LRT over BRT as the preferred technology for Hamilton's rapid transit system. I can't find a direct link to the BCA but it is referenced on the official Hamilton rapid transit site and many others:


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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 23:00:32 in reply to Comment 76760

Have you read the benfits case? LRT provides better value than does BRT.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 21:58:05 in reply to Comment 76764

comment from banned user deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-05-12 16:16:53

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By MattM (registered) | Posted May 10, 2012 at 20:38:47 in reply to Comment 76753

Which studies are these that you're referring to regarding sufficiency and lost revenues?

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By CouldaWouldaShoulda (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 06:42:31

I can't help but see the correlation between the anticipation of LRT as a project whose implementation is fate is decided by Queen's Park, and the clamour over schools closings in Hamilton as mandated by fiscal requirements...at Queen's Park.

From my perspective, the public discussion about school closures hasn't been anywhere need thorough or fulsome enough, resulting in acrimony and calls two years out for people to ouse School Board Trustees. It seems to me that while there are some undeniably valid arguments that bring into play quality of Life in the Lower City and the ramifications of what's being mandated, some realities that lie outside Hamilton's envirions aren't being sincerely acknowledged.

Can't help but wonder if this will repeat itself when the actual funding decision is being made.

There are lessons to be learned on the citizen side of all this. But are they actually being learned?

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 16:07:46

Losing population in the lower city is still losing population.... and it has been decreasing for more than a few generations.

What that means is, more people leave the lower city than move in. sorry to bother you with facts. Plus stats will show they are older and poorer. Does Buffalo, or Detroit ring a bell?

Yes Buffalo also created an LRT system.. and it failed miserably. Why? Because the City is shrinking just like lower Hamilton.

And it is a great looking LRT, serving downtown and the suburbs (one suburb actually but still), don't get me wrong. I love Buffalo's LRT, I ride it for fun. Maybe Hamilton's LRT --- if it ever is built in my lifetime -- I will ride it for also for fun. I always can use a ride from Eastgate Square to Jackson Square.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 23:00:07 in reply to Comment 76805

What does "older and poorer" mean?

Are those not arguments for better transit to serve those who have fewer alternative transportation options?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 22:33:02 in reply to Comment 76805

Buffalo has experienced a much more dramatic population crash than Hamilton, and from what I hear there are issues surrounding their station locations and choice of routes for their LRT system, it's not just a few people moving away. You can't just stick an LRT anywhere and hope people will use it. It has to be located along nodes and corridors where people want to travel.

Also given the way things have been going in Hamilton lately I wouldn't be surprised if the next census shows an increase in the population of at least one of the lower city wards.

You seem to imply that no one travels along the B-line route now, and that no one will take the LRT. I think the thousands of riders of the route would be to differ. Not all of them live in downtown Hamilton. Hell, I live on the mountain and I used to take the B-line to McMaster daily. So tell me again why the population of the downtown matters to my ridership?

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 16:13:56 in reply to Comment 76805

Compleltey wrong. Spend spend 5 minutes googling.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 16:29:52

Don't bother some people with facts and figures. The lower city has been losing population for 50 years.

Comment edited by TreyS on 2012-05-11 16:39:41

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 17:41:19 in reply to Comment 76811

I don't know why I waste my time, but...

Read the case benefits
Read today's Spec about developers call for intensification planning
Read metrolinx studies
Read about downtown ward demographics, of occupied building stock and smaller families
Read about provincial and municipal policy (places to grow)
Read about future trends, not past ones.
Read about the amount of high quality employment downtown.
Read about ever increasing transit ridership along B-Line that needs improvement
Read about MIP growing, and employing more
Read about McMaster growing
Read about Vrancor's 25 storey condo tower, condos on Murray st and at old Thistle club site, and adn Dundurn & Aberdeen.
Read about growing arts community
Read about more and more people visiting downtown.

Just read.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 17:42:37 in reply to Comment 76816

I know, I know...

... Population in the lowers wards has decreased in the past.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 18:14:17

Schools are closing in the lower city.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted May 11, 2012 at 22:57:10

Why the doom and gloom about the lower city?

We're talking about THE major transportation corridor crossing the city from east to west. It moves more than just the people who live between the 403 and Red Hill Valley.

Yes, statistics will likely show the lower city lost population between the early 70s and today. Was it a hollowing out? Or a dip of 10%? I would guess offhand that it's more the latter... perhaps a bit greater percentage than that, but nowhere near what occurred in Buffalo or Detroit or Cleveland etc.

Perhaps those proclaiming about facts and figures can provide some to substantiate their case? Census data is freely available online now. There may even be some reports that others have prepared to illustrate past trends.

However, when it comes to transportation planning the present and future matter - the past is only relevant so long as its trends continue; but do they? King/Main still represent the primary transit corridor in the city. Intensification is a very important concept, even if the city also expands outwardly. City planners do have their work cut out to re-develop the older parts of Hamilton, but there are many advantages in those neighbourhoods too, which others can, have, and will realize.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 13, 2012 at 22:34:19

It's important to note that downtown Hamilton has seen some of the highest population growth numbers the past 2 censuses in the entire city. It has seen growth numbers that Hamilton usually only sees in greenfield areas where a past census tract had farmland, and now is covered in new homes. Downtown Hamilton is nothing like what has happened in Detroit or Buffalo. East of the core we are in rough shape, and I suspect will remain in rough shape until the one-way freeways are gone and new politicians with a bit of vision are in place...and I don't expect either for a long time.

But downtown Hamilton, despite little investment from the political end of things, is growing at a really good pace. And it was already the most densely populated part of the city. It'll be a lot more dense at the next census in 5 years. And imagine if by some miracle the next election saw someone with a huge vision for how great urban life could be in Hamilton voted in with aggressive plans for LRT, 2-way streets, business/patio friendly sidewalks, flexible zoning on historic properties, a huge greening of the entire city. Hamiltonians spoke many years ago and overwhelming voted for planting more trees as their number 1 priority in the Specs 'One Big Idea' campaign - again, lack of vision from the Hall has seen that mandate die off along with Vision 2020 and so many others.

Despite all of the obstacles, downtown is looking up. Sure the city has problems, but a Detroit or Buffalo we ain't. They would kill for our new food factories on the SE Mountain and the MIP etc..... it's a pretty good time in the Hammer.

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By CouldaWouldaShoulda (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2012 at 07:54:58 in reply to Comment 76866

"And imagine if by some miracle the next election saw someone with a huge vision for how great urban life could be in Hamilton voted in with aggressive plans for LRT, 2-way streets, business/patio friendly sidewalks, flexible zoning on historic properties, a huge greening of the entire city."

I'm curious; are you referring to someone (singular, I'm assuming) in a particular ward? Or as mayor?

If the former, which ward?

And if the latter, how would you see this person manage to drag seemingly disparate opinions and philosophies (remembering that in all likelihood, almost all incumbents will get re-elected; that's an historical fact) towards their vision? (This question could be asked about the above councillor if we're talking about them being the white knight)

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 14, 2012 at 09:15:21 in reply to Comment 76870

I was referring to the mayor's position, but in reality it could also be driven by a small group of councillors. We have some incredible plans on the table at city hall from LRT to walkability to cycling to urban business district development etc.... but nobody is keeping the vision stoked and on the front-burner. Whether one likes previous mayors like Fred or Larry, the fact is, they had a vision and they kept it before the public and before council. Right now the public has no clue what, if any vision is being moved forward at city hall. And when you visit and learn about other cities we're competing with, it's scary to be in such a lax, loose mindset. Other cities are aggressively moving forward because they know their survival depends on it. So should we.

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By CouldaWouldaShoulda (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2012 at 09:54:41 in reply to Comment 76877

"And when you visit and learn about other cities we're competing with, it's scary to be in such a lax, loose mindset. Other cities are aggressively moving forward because they know their survival depends on it. So should we."

I agree. I'm visiting one right now.

I'm not sure what to say about Council, other than bring up the notion of 'management' vs 'leadership'. However, this article over at The Hamiltonian...with contributions by both Ryan and Adrian...is a great place to see some 'visionining':


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By jason (registered) | Posted May 14, 2012 at 21:20:03 in reply to Comment 76878

which city are you in right now?

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By CouldWouldaShoulda (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2012 at 06:59:46 in reply to Comment 76898

Norfolk, VA.

Watching their Council meetings is... Well, a whole other experience from watching the ones at 71 Main Street West.

Some of the city's challenges are different from Hamilton's (also keeping in mind that Norfolk is part of Hampton Roads), but others are the same: transit, development, education.

The LRT situation here has been especially 'challenging'.

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