Councillors will receive a staff report recommending a broad commitment to active, integrated transportation and a submission to Metrolinx for Hamilton's B-Line LRT.
By Ryan McGreal
Published February 25, 2013
Today's General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting, starting at 9:30 AM, will consider a 263-page transportation report called Rapid Ready - Expanding Mobiliy Choices in Hamilton [PDF].
Thanks to Joey Coleman, you can watch a livestream of the meeting.
The report recommends that Council direct public works staff to submit the report to Metrolinx as Hamilton's submission and plan for a B-Line light rail transit (LRT) service.
If Council decides not to submit the report, that would "terminate the B-Line project from further advancement and would contravene the requirements of the Contribution Agreement." The report recommends against doing this.
As part of Hamilton's preparation for LRT, the report also recommends a number of other measures to support LRT success, including growing ridership on Hamilton's bus network, encouraging multi-modal transportation that seamlessly integrates walking, cycling and transit, and establishing land uses that support active transportation.
The proposed LRT line has a proposed capital cost of $800 million in 2011 dollars, though staff believe this can be reduced through "value engineering" the line. If we assume an $800 million capital cost and 2 percent inflation per year, the nominal cost if the project starts in 2015 would be just under $866 million.
The traditional operating assumption for Metrolinx projects has been 100 percent capital funding by the Province, as Council heard from Metrolinx vice president John Howe in October 2011. The Eglinton Crosstown LRT in Toronto is already confirmed to receive 100 percent capital funding.
The original capital fund for Metrolinx projects is spent, and the arms-length group announced last November that they are now working on the next phase of projects, which includes Hamilton's LRT. Metrolinx will be publishing an Investment Strategy this June that will outline opportunities to generate the revenue that will pay for the next phase of projects.
Last summer, Ontario Transport Minister Bob Chiarelli said Hamilton would have to come up with some of the capital cost, though neither he nor Metrolinx would provide any specifics about how much. Mississauga has been telling the Province that it expects the same 100 percent funding arrangement that Toronto has received.
The staff report assesses that a new LRT line would generate a number of operating costs and benefits, with a significant net benefit.
On the cost side are $2.9-3.5 million in increased operating costs for transit, plus $8.7 million in ancillary costs related to snow removal, street lighting and loss of parking revenue.
On the benefit side, the Canadian Urban Institute estimates that LRT will triple the number of development projects along the transit corridor, from 32 projects to 108. That would bring in an addition $22 million in tax benefits, plus $30 million in building permit fees and development charges. The assessed value of properties along the corridor would increase by $29 million over 15 years.
Building LRT would also save the city $79 million on backlogged unfunded infrastructure maintenance projects along the corridor.
The construction of the LRT would produce 6,000 jobs, including 3,500 in Hamilton, and add $443 million to Ontario's GDP.
Among non-monetary benefits, LRT would improve public health by reducing air pollution from driving and encouraging more walking and other active transportation. The LRT would support a more compact, walkable land use and built form around the line.
LRT is also "known to be attractive to tourists, commuters and residents and can significantly enhance a city's image."
Finally, LRT will allow the City to meet Council's direction to double transit ridership, as well as meeting the Provincial mandates under Places to Grow.
To ensure that LRT has the best chance of success, the report recommends a number of measures the City can take to prepare for it.
The City needs to raise the profile of public transit in the community by improving the quality and reliability of the service and promoting its broader use by "re-position[ing] Hamilton's public transportation network as viable and attractive."
Currently, there is a perception in Hamilton that public transit is a social service for people with limited options rather than a legitimate transportation choice. That perception is reinforced by the City's own transit policies, which treat transit as a cost centre to be minimized rather than an investment in quality of life.
According to the report, the City needs to engage communities in finding ways to improve transit service so that it supports community stability and redevelopment.
The report also recommends developing a "multi-modal 'active transportation' network connecting transit, walking, cycling, inter-regional transportation, carpool, car share, bike share and park and ride." This recognizes that walking, cycling and transit can work together to provide full mobility through the neighbourhood, the city and the region.
That integration includes building multi-modal transit hubs "to create seamless connections between local, rapid and interregional transportation services".
While the HSR has traditionally regarded cycling as something of a competition - or at least a nuisance - this report recognizes that cycling and transit support each other. "Cycling plays a major role for medium distance travel by extending the catchment of transit by reducing trip time to/from bus stops and traversing the escarpment for example."
The report also recommends re-orienting the bus network to "feed planned rapid transit corridors" and encourage new neighbourhoods to "establish travel patterns in advance of implementation."
In anticipation of LRT, the report recommends a dedicated rapid transit lane along the east-west B-Line, which is currently operating way over capacity. The report argues that this commitment to rapid transit would smooth the path for LRT by identifying and fixing any issues that come up.
The report presents the City's transit ridership positively, but the reality is that ridership has been stagnant for years, barely keeping up with population. As the report notes, "To achieve gains in active transportation mode use, the level of investment in transportation needs to greatly outpace the rate of population growth."
Council has directed staff to meet the goal of doubling the rate of transit ridership by 2020, and the report acknowledges that this goal cannot be achieved without transforming how the city funds, organizes and integrates transit.
Comparing Hamilton to cities with much higher ridership levels, like Winnipeg, Victoria and Quebec, the report concludes, "The proven most successful approach to transit ridership growth is to provide higher levels of service frequency and duration. For Hamilton, this equates to about 250,000 hours of new service to reach" the range of those cities.
Focusing on Winnipeg, the report notes that it has grown ridership by 30 percent over the last decade through a transit vision that prioritizes integrated land use, safety, efficiency, equity, well-maintained infrastructure and financial sustainability.
The report makes clear that Council needs to direct funding to improve the transit network and grow ridership according to Council's already-approved transit objectives.
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