Special Report: Light Rail

LRT, Bike Share on Agenda at February 25 General Issues Committee

Councillors will consider a 'rapid ready' report endorsing Hamilton's light rail transit plan, as well as an implementation plan for a self-sustaining bike share program.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 20, 2013

Councillors will attend a general issues committee (GIC) meeting next Monday, February 25, 9:30 AM with a special focus on transit and transportation.

Staff will present two reports:

Rapid Ready

The Rapid Ready report, prepared by Transit director Don Hull and his team, runs 263 pages and makes an impressive case for the City's light rail transit (LRT) plan for the east-west B-Line.

In brief, the report recommends submitting Hamilton's LRT plan to Metrolinx on the basis of a strong case for net benefits to the city, including: achieving Council's goal of doubling transit ridership, catalyzing new private investment along the transit corridor, increasing net revenues to the city, improving air quality and public health, and realizing the city's obligations under Places to Grow.

Getting "rapid ready" entails: broad public engagement to "elevate the role of public transportation", policies to "protect stable urban neighbourhoods and identify opportunities for intensification and redevelopment", and developing a "multi-modal 'active transportation' network" and reconfigured transit system that will support and anchor the LRT line.

The summary concludes: "should Hamilton not implement LRT there are a number of potential significant benefits and opportunities that could be lost."

RTH will publish a more thorough review of the report before Monday's meeting. RTH readers can help by studying the report and noting important points in the comments.

Bike Share

Not to be overshadowed by the LRT report, Councillors will also consider an implementation plan for a proposed public bike share system, prepared by transportation project manager Peter Topalovic.

It presents a business case and comparative data from other cities with successful bike shares to recommend a $1.6 million capital project. It will install 300 vehicles in 35 stations between West Hamilton and the downtown that will "integrate seamlessly" with transit, LRT and car share.

The catchment area reaches over 53,000 residents, plus another 30,000 McMaster students and staff and many area employees.

The capital cost will be funded through an existing Metrolinx "Quick Wins" fund. With the capital cost covered, the operation will be self-sustaining with 3,000 annual subscriptions plus 0.5 non-subscribed trips per station.

Hamilton's model would be a "4th generation" bike share system, like the Bixi model, which incorporates lessons learned from cities that already operate bike shares. Those lessons include minimizing losses due to theft and vandalism by requiring credit card access and tracking location of bikes with GPS.

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 Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 13:32:17

Sounds promissing, but we'll see what council thinks...

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By Cynic (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 13:47:45

No offense but... Is cycling only for the better off? No station at King and Tisdale? No doubt the plan area somehow stops where ward 3 begins.
Morelli World Strikes again.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 13:58:22

What the F the East end of Hamilton don`t exist for Bike Share ????????????????

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By movedtohamilton (registered) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 14:16:55

According to this report, HSR ridership is essentially stagnant. Barely any increase over the past five years.

"Provincially-compiled reports show HSR numbers rose less than 3.5 percent between 2006 and 2011. During the same years, transit systems in Ottawa, Mississauga, York Region and St Catharines registered 13-18 percent increases, even though the latter city actually saw a decline in population. London went up 20.4 percent in the same period, while bus ridership in Durham climbed 41 percent and Brampton jumped nearly 70 percent."


Will LRT cure this problem, or will be a massively expensive disaster?

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 19:05:23 in reply to Comment 86538

The report is a good read...check it out. It clearly outlines how ridership will be increased. As Don Hull said today on the radio - their strategy will work because it's worked in every city and every nation on earth. Finally, we are learning from others who have been successful.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 23:33:30 in reply to Comment 86549

And every single one of these metropolitan areas that has LRT is bigger than Hamilton and in most cases a lot bigger. LRT is usually built because the huge investment is worth it to alleviate the huge congestion issues these cities faced. Problems that simply do not exist in Hamilton at this time. If we build it at the expense of existing roads then we might.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 15:42:47 in reply to Comment 86538

Much depends on how LRT is implemented.

One scenario described would see 18 buses removed from service, not reassigned to duty elsewhere in the city.

IMHO, the B-Line routes' service frequency surely improves their ability to encourage use, and the system would arguably benefit from the reallocation of those buses to mountain and suburban service (where routes typically run on a 20-minute headway Monday to Saturday, 30-minute headway on Sundays if at all).

Between 2006 and 2011, the HSR's per-capita transit usage was essentially flatlined at 42. It's hard not to think that this was influenced by the fact that the city's population growth was, on the whole, taking place in mountain and suburban wards, where service is wanting.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 20:40:42 in reply to Comment 86544

CATCH's numbers:

2006: 21,165,302 ridership / 504,559 pop'n = 42 per capita
2011: 21,882,479 ridership / 519,949 pop'n = 42 per capita

If you omit Ward 14, which HSR does not service, you get:

2006: 21,165,302 ridership / 486,908 pop'n = 44 per capita
2011: 21,882,479 ridership / 502,315 pop'n = 44 per capita

This may be something akin to the math behind the assessment of per-capita ridership on Page 6 of the PW13014 PDF, which notes that "To date, there have been some positive gains in transit ridership, but the annual rides per capita remains at just over 45."

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 21:23:09 in reply to Comment 86551

Getting ahead of myself. The following page shows the HSR's "Service Area Population" is 480,000, which gives you the 45 rides per capita annually.

Inspired by that math, a crazy hypothetical:

If the HSR retrenched, erasing low-performing routes and redesignating those buses along high-capacity corridors that are close to fare-rational, they might be able to improve their service. Take transit out of the wards with population density below 500 per square kilometer (ie. 11,12,15 in addition to 14), thereby reducing the service population of 480,000 to 401,000 (still more than three-quarters of the city's population) and giving the HSR an automatic bump to 55 rides per capita annually, assuming that the ridership numbers remain the same. They might just hold, since the buses you take out of those three wards can help improve frequency and reliability on higher demand routes. And since you are providing improved service to 11 wards, you would theoretically have the political clout to defend and likely improve existing funding levels.

But there are probably a host of good reasons for sticking with the status quo.

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By Frances (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 14:41:50 in reply to Comment 86538

Ridership may not be increasing because HSR's level of service is very bad. I tried to survive without a car last winter and gave up after six months. Luckily I could afford to put my car back on the road again. If you don't have a car in Hamilton, forget about getting anywhere in the evening on the HSR.

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By hshields (registered) - website | Posted February 20, 2013 at 15:13:06

I really do hope Hamilton's efforts to bring LRT comes to past. However, I'm skeptical for a couple of reasons:

  1. Hwy. 403 bridges/ramps were completed without taking into consideration possible LRT pathways. This means if the City wants to bring in LRT, we will need to pay for bridge/ramp retrofits. These are one-off capital expenditures but, they do come from city funds.

  2. Metrolinx has consistently been making noise (either on their own or encouraged by city indifference) that municipalities should pay for a portion of the cost of LRT. If you're Toronto, you get one deal; if you're Mississauga you get another; and if you're Hamilton you get something completely different. Planners should be wary of assuming the City will not have to pay for capital costs + infrastructure upgrades.

  3. HSR is thinking of piloting dedicated transit lanes down Main this summer from Dundurn to Mary. I suspect this is a precursor to determining if ridership is impacted by dedicated transit lines, Bus or LRT. I also suspect this could be used as a very easy excuse for cost-sensitive leadership to say, since Bus Rapid Transit has improved ridership so much, why go forward with LRT? This pilot can be easily used as such so be warned.

  4. I completely agree and support all the reports about economic development spin off and improvements LRT brings to an urban environment. It makes sense in the long-term. I just don't see this leadership we have to be ones to take it that level. Bus rapid transit is where they will settle on and settle is the optimal word.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 16:25:51 in reply to Comment 86542

With repsect to your point about Metrolinx making noise that municipalities should pay their share of the costs:

Why should we take it as a given that we should get a worse deal that Mississauga and Toronto?

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and there are many ways Hamilton can exert pressure, directly and indirectly, on the province in this matter - IF councillors have the will to lead the way.

Mississauga is doing a fine job on their end.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 21, 2013 at 08:28:51 in reply to Comment 86546

The only way is for an election and Hamilton gose Liberal like Toronto and Mississauga to have LRT FUNDED LIKE THEM

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 23:37:16 in reply to Comment 86546

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2013 at 15:30:47 in reply to Comment 86542

The LRT, as per the EA, would have its own flyover ramp at the 403.

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By hshields (registered) - website | Posted February 20, 2013 at 15:44:28 in reply to Comment 86543

Thank you for the clarification Keith! I suspect a Flyover Ramp would cost less than retro-fitting 403 infrastructure but, there would still be capital costs the City would assume with both options.

As an aside, was the flyover ramp considered when the City made announcements about intensifying the Dundurn Plaza last year?

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