Special Report: Light Rail

Hamilton Cannot Afford Not to Invest in LRT

If we want to make the best policy decisions for Hamilton, we need to choose actual research over hand-wavy unsupported claims, and we need to stop manufacturing false alternatives.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 27, 2013

YourHamiltonBiz just published an op-ed by David Estok, former editor-in-chief of the Hamilton Spectator, titled "Why we don't need LRT". YourHamiltonBiz is subscription-only, but they have provided an accessible link to the article.

Here is Estok's thesis in three short points:

1) We can't afford it. 2) We don't need it. 3) There are other, more important and pressing demands.

The article is peppered with claims backed by "studies show" justifications, but Estok makes no references to any studies. He writes:

The real issue for the city when it comes to transit is All Day GO service. Study after study has shown the greatest economic impact we can have on the city and the best transit system we can push for is all day GO service. That one action will do more for Hamilton in the next decade than light rail would do in double the amount of time.

As the kids on Wikipedia say, citation needed.

Metrolinx conducted a Class Environmental Assessment on the Hamilton to Niagara Peninsula Rail Expansion that demonstrated a use case for establishing a mobility hub at a new James North GO Station and gradually expanding rail service in Hamilton and into Niagara.

It certainly drew no conclusions as extravagant as "the greatest economic impact we can have on the city" or "will do more for Hamilton in the next decade than light rail would do in double the amount of time".

As far as I know, and I'm always willing to be proven wrong, there are no studies that make such claims, let alone "study after study".

LRT Studies

For the record, here are a few real studies we can reference:

That's in addition to the steady outpouring of research from cities around the world and across North America that have already built and are operating LRT systems.

The case for a well-planned, well-designed LRT system is very strong, and Hamilton is well-positioned to take advantage of the hard work that has already gone into its planning - if we can overcome lukewarm leadership, mayoral obstruction and seeping misinformation.

One-Way Streets

As for Estok's claim that we don't need LRT, he celebrates Hamilton's network of one-way thoroughfares: "Right now, you can drive from the far east of Hamilton to downtown in about 20 minutes due to a technology called one-way streets."

The "technology" Estok esteems is the same network of fast, high-volume one-way streets that have destroyed businesses and traumatized neighbourhoods in the lower city for over five decades.

It's no coincidence that Cannon Street, the four-lane, one-way juggernaut that exemplifies Estok's preferred transportation system for Hamilton, blasts through several of the city's most impoverished and vulnerable "Code Red" neighbourhoods.

When it comes to the design of our transportation system to optimize either driving or walking, cycling and transit, we can credibly hang the phrase "study after study after study after study after study after study after study" (ad nauseam).

Cost of Not Investing

Hamilton cannot afford not to invest in complete, livable streets and a high quality light rail transportation system. The status quo of unaffordable sprawl development, which steadily adds to the city's net infrastructure liabilities, coupled with a devastating "sacrifice zone" of underinvested urban neighbourhoods further traumatized by dangerous through traffic, is unsustainable.

Waterloo Region recognizes this. They committed to their LRT plan precisely because they determined that it would actually cost the region more in transportation and infrastructure not to build it, not to mention missing out on the essential economies of urban intensification, which well-planned LRT is proven to deliver.

Mississauga understands this. After decades of sprawl, the lifecycle bill for which is now coming due, they understand that the only way to stay fiscally afloat is to increase the economic productivity of the downtown through new high density development anchored by LRT.

All-day GO train service is an important part of the regional transportation network, but as Metrolinx and the Province keep reminding us, we do not have to choose between all-day GO and LRT. Both of them "are viable and can co-exist. Hamilton's current rapid transit scenario is not an 'either-or' scenario."

If we want to make the best policy decisions for Hamilton, we need to choose actual research over hand-wavy unsupported claims, and we need to stop manufacturing phony crises and false alternatives. It's hard enough to navigate the real challenges to a project as large and transformative as LRT without inventing additional barriers to throw in its path.

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 June 27, 2013 at 11:47:51

Ottawa understands they 'need' LRT. Toronto understands they 'need' LRT. Mississuaga understands they 'need' LRT. K-W understands they 'need' LRT.

If anyone thinks we are further ahead, or more progressive than those cities, please step forward.

It's no accident why some cities languish for decades, while others boom and prosper. If we don't rid ourselves of the 1950's thinking, and soon, we'll be battling it out with Brantford, St Kitts and Oshawa as a mediocre, second-tier city.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted June 28, 2013 at 09:52:27 in reply to Comment 89767

The National Capital Commission’s board seems unlikely to accept any western light-rail proposal for its lands that doesn’t run completely underground.

City of Ottawa officials presented their most recent version of a western LRT plan to the NCC’s board at a public meeting Thursday. The proposed route would run for 1.2 kilometres along NCC property by the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway between Dominion Transitway station and Cleary Avenue, with 700 metres set partially underground between Rochester Field and Cleary Station.

Nearby residents and the NCC have expressed concern from the beginning that light rail along the parkway would spoil the area and impact neighbours. The city was not seeking approval from the board Thursday but wanted to hear conditions and requirements from members about what they could and could not accept in the proposal. And though the board deferred a decision until a Friday meeting, comments from its members made clear they’re unlikely to go for any proposal that runs rail above ground along NCC land.


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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted June 28, 2013 at 09:57:32 in reply to Comment 89819

ambridge Mayor Doug Craig will have his day in court.

During the week starting Aug. 6, an Ontario Superior Court judge will review a conflict of interest Craig has declared on rapid transit since 2011 because his son owns a home near the site of a future rapid transit station.

"The goal is to have a judge of the Superior Court of Justice determine if that conflict is too remote or too insignificant for a reasonable person to believe that it would impact (his decision-making,)" lawyer Doug O'Toole said.

If a judge dismisses the conflict, Craig can get back to the table on the Region of Waterloo's $818-million rapid transit project.

It will see light rail trains in Kitchener and Waterloo and express buses in Cambridge.

Up to 14 of 41 politicians on four local councils have declared conflicts of interest on the project.


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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 21:44:43 in reply to Comment 89767

From the 2011 National Household Survey (which admittedly comes with a Barry Bonds-sized asterisk):

*Public Transit Commuters (as % of Employed Workforce Age 15+)*

City of Toronto: 36.5% public transit commuters (46.0% public transit, bike or walk)
City of Ottawa: 22.5% public transit commuters (32.2% public transit, bike or walk)
City of Mississauga: 15.9% public transit commuters (18.6% public transit, bike or walk)
City of Brampton: 11.8% public transit commuters (13.7% public transit, bike or walk)
City of Hamilton: 9.9% public transit commuters (15.6% public transit, bike or walk)
City of Oshawa: 8.1% public transit commuters (12.7% public transit, bike or walk)
City of Kitchener: 6.6% public transit commuters (11.7% public transit, bike or walk)
City of Waterloo: 5.4% public transit commuters (13.2% public transit, bike or walk)
City of St. Catharines: 4.7% public transit commuters (11.8% public transit, bike or walk)
City of Brantford: 3.7% public transit commuters (9.1% public transit, bike or walk)

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 22:13:48 in reply to Comment 89799

Some mid-pack omissions:

City of Vaughan: 11.3% public transit commuters (13.0% public transit, bike or walk)
City of Burlington: 8.8% public transit commuters (9.8% public transit, bike or walk)
City of London: 8.7% public transit commuters (16.2% public transit, bike or walk)
City of Kingston: 6.2% public transit commuters (19.3% public transit, bike or walk)

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 22:27:04 in reply to Comment 89800

City of Guelph: 6.8 % public transit commuters (14.0% public transit, bike or walk)

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By Tierney (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 11:51:20 in reply to Comment 89767

We're already second-tier but the definition of second-tier is changing. If we sit still the other second-tier cities will step ahead and we'll be left behind, third-tier due to inaction.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 12:05:16

What I have a tough time swallowing is the opponents' only argument being a quick ride across town.

Don't any of these people want a lower city transformation? One that would make this city significantly better, by increasing property values and taxes, thereby lessening their tax burden in the long run. Shouldn't these neighbourhoods be more desirable places to live?

I pretty much drive everywhere, and have no problem with the prospect of increasing my drive a few minutes to make the lower, older city much more livable and desirable

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted June 28, 2013 at 13:33:49 in reply to Comment 89770

Totally agree, Kirk. Hell, I live in Ancaster (Sprawl City, Hamilon - as I like to call it) and even the most self-absorbed suburbanite should see that a robust downtown is in their best interests.

In a perfect world, my kid's will grow up to see Hamilton as a vibrant, clean and safe city to live AND work. That means fostering the (seeming) interest in commercial development here -- especially among the creative industries -- and enable quality-but-dense living areas in our city's core.

Regardless of what's happening at this very moment in time, the region cannot handle the number of cars on the road. That's a fact. Why wouldn't we invest in something that has shown to already have the critical mass to operate and can help mould Hamilton region into a sustainable centre of growth??

Boggles my mind...and I often relay this frustration to my boy Lloyd Ferguson.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 13:46:06 in reply to Comment 89770

Yeah, this is a pretty bad argument. "How easy is it to jump in your car and cross the city?" Pretty hard if you don't own a car.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 16:12:07 in reply to Comment 89783

If Estok says we can drive across in 20 minutes now, then is 23, 24 or 25 minutes really a big deal when you consider the benefits?

I just don't get it, and I'm a driver!

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 28, 2013 at 08:26:49 in reply to Comment 89788

Yeah. It will just be that instead of a 20 minute drive accross town, you would take a 20-minute train ride accross town. Honestly, only one trip is affected negatively - the cross-town, through-core drive. Every other trip would only be partially affected.

The other thing is that actually the cross-town drive would not get any longer, because it takes the same amount of time to drive around and noone is proposing to change the highways.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 12:09:41

GO takes poeples in and out of Hamilton what about the Poeples who work and play and live in Hamilton LRT would make this transit system alot better for all Hamilton in this city that is growing every year , they complain about bus routs not going in some parts of the suberbes and this LRT will boost the King rout big time

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By brain fairy (anonymous) | Posted July 03, 2013 at 08:10:35 in reply to Comment 89773

your act was never funny, and it gets less so with each post.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 27, 2013 at 16:14:39 in reply to Comment 89773

What bugs me is how many areas grouse about their poor HSR service... but every time developers try to intensify their neighbourhoods with large condo projects, the locals scream NIMBY. If you fight against dense development, don't be surprised if you're too expensive per-person to service.

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By Look on the bright side (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 12:15:06

It's a good thing Estok is no longer at the Spec.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 28, 2013 at 00:55:17 in reply to Comment 89774

I don't know. Maybe if he still worked here he might actually give a damn about the place.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 12:45:24 in reply to Comment 89774

And it's a good thing that Roger Gillespie is no longer at the CBC. Hey wait a second, he's also at YourHamiltonBiz.com. So, it must be the place where all the old, washed up ex-Spectator employees go when they are no longer relevant.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 14:06:27 in reply to Comment 89776

"Proprietor: Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. General Inquiries: YourHamiltonBiz .com 44 Frid Street Hamilton, Ontario L8N 3G3."

You can check out any time you like, etc.

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By JM (registered) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 12:44:24

This is how safe our one way technology really is... i wonder how fast the truck was travelling!


shall we demand another study???

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[ - ]

By Jim Street (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 13:31:10

Does Estok even live in Hamilton?

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By Fixed Address (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 13:45:21 in reply to Comment 89780

Article says he "was born and raised" in Hamilton but doesn't say where he lives now so probably not.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 28, 2013 at 01:11:02 in reply to Comment 89782

He hasn't lived here in decades. He lived in London when he was editor of the Spec, and now lives in Burlington and works in Toronto I believe, so it's understandable that he wouldn't care about Hamilton's future.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 27, 2013 at 16:09:18

Anybody who touts better GO service as some miracle-cure

1) Does not take the GO out of Hamilton. Even if we got more frequent service, it wouldn't change the fact that the GO train to Toronto is too darned slow, and every other station along the way is a vacant wasteland of parking. It's not like you can hop on a subway from the Port Credit GO station to take it to the employers that are all sprawled out in one-story office parks along the 401.

2) See's Hamilton's highest potential as becoming Mississauga's Mississauga. Hamilton can be far more than yet another GTA bedroom community.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2013-06-27 16:11:47

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 28, 2013 at 08:32:51 in reply to Comment 89787

This is so true. Only so many jobs can be located within a reasonable distance of Union Station, and GO service will do nothing more than add definition to Hamilton's position as the longest transit commute you could pay for and still work in Toronto's core. It doesn't matter how frequent the service is - it might improve things a bit, but you are still looking at a really long train commute every day.

That being said, if we had both the A-line and B-line, the benefit over other cities is that you could more easily take public transit _to_ the GO, whereas in cities like Burlington and Oakville it is more likely that you would have to own a car in order to get to the GO station.

Comment edited by AnjoMan on 2013-06-28 08:34:30

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 28, 2013 at 13:38:31 in reply to Comment 89810

What would be exciting would be if we could get more employers downtown... you could take transit from the Go. As I said, that's not really an option in Mississauga or Oakville - if I get a job in some random one-floor office park in the sprawl, I basically have to suffer the terrible traffic. Such a shame we've got so many half-vacant office buildings downtown.

I imagine this is part of why Eisenberger was so gung-ho on the AEGD. The A-Line LRT would connect the GO station with the AEGD. Presumably other office parks could set up along the relatively spacious areas on the way up Upper James.

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By CaptainKirk4 (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 16:15:49

The best way to take advanatge of the GO service is to transform Hamilton into a desirable place to live AND visit, especially around the GO station.

Make the downtown neighbouroods, livable, walkable, more desirable and then more people will come here, not just to live (which is great) but to also visit our downtown and waterfront.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 28, 2013 at 17:33:29 in reply to Comment 89790

Step one, demolish all the old buildings.

Step two....???????

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 27, 2013 at 16:26:09 in reply to Comment 89790

Too bad we're not getting that stadium right next to the GO station. That could've been nice.

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By ViennaCafe (registered) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 19:35:21

"Don't any of these people want a lower city transformation?"

No. Not at all. The political system is broken. Amalgamation allows inefficient, unsustainable, uncreative, economically sold-out and stagnant suburbs to keep the downtown and lower city deprived of oxygen and reduced to that of bin for unwanted services and attractions with the requisite surface parking. Change begins at the province and an overhaul of the municipal act. Unfortunately no provincial parties are particularly interested in advancing an urban agenda.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 19:50:26

you go on about LRT, which I do not disagree with, however what about transit form a norht to south issue, which you all sem to be missing.

Whose issues are being really pushed forward and wbose messaging is being pushed forward? I ask these questions in light of all things

Why is it that most of you forget the poverty levels that exist in all wards, their voices are forgotten in admist all the push and pull of the political agenda

Many queries and questions to be addressed!.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 21:33:10 in reply to Comment 89794

Please, don't suggest that folks struggling with poverty in other parts of the city are being ignored thanks to the Code Red hoods. Code Red exists in the central/east lower city. Sure, poverty is everywhere, but not at that level, or depth. Code Red exists precisely because decades of city administrations have been content to ignore it and let it grow worse.

We have councillors showing more passion over a lane being blocked on King because someone is actually investing downtown, than Code Red issues.

Yet part of the reason Code Red remains entrenched is because anyone with a choice doesn't choose to live next to 4/5 lane freeways, feet from their front doors. Sad that in 2013 suburban councillors still don't care one bit about these inner city hoods if it means 45 seconds on their commute.

I would love north/south transit improvements, but let's first do the much needed Code Red east-west improvements. LRT should line every part of the city IMO.

But the case has clearly been made why the east/west corridor should be done first. Mountain folks are going to have to ease up on the NIMBY routine everytime something more dense than a townhouse is proposed if they want a real, top-notch higher order transit system to extend up there. With each passing km, the case for transit drops dramatically.
South of the Linc, everyone flips out when new development is proposed, yet those types of higher density development on main streets is exactly what will enable more transit to be a financially wise investment out there.

The choice is not 'either' N/S or E/W. It's both. As planned. Let's get some semblance of leadership at city hall that will make it happen.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 22:29:21 in reply to Comment 89798

Thanks Jason. i wonder about all thingsi includiing the numbers who live poverty, given all the lstatts... Jason, are you one the brainwahsed idiots? Not sayign you are, however given all things, you are missing many things, must be your agenda, whica has nothing to do with the poor strugglling. You are on the the side of the disappearing middle claas, stepping on the poor.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2013 at 20:45:46

Two broad-brush takeaways from the 2011 National Household Survey, broken out as ridings.

*Public Transit Commuters (as % of Employed Workforce Age 15+)*


*Median Commuting Duration, Employed Workforce Age 15+*

HAMILTON CENTRE: 20.6 minutes

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted June 28, 2013 at 01:37:53

I am very glad that Hammy-Biz offered up an affordable link to this unfortunate headline. The article is completely without substance. It is worth keeping in mind that Mr. Estok is now a fundraiser (foundation) for Sick Kids in Toronto. Who knows which potential funder's favour he was currying to while dribbling out this puddle of baffle-gab. If a VP of the foundation for Sick Kids can publish such a pile of drivel it makes me think three times before donating to said organization.


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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted June 28, 2013 at 09:57:30

I just don`t get it with this city hall the suberbes is just that suberbes the city core is a whole other ball game invest in our down down and the main routs LRT all the way

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2013 at 21:06:24

Total and utter nonsense. LRT is transit. Toronto needs some form of transit be it subway or LRT or something since they have a huge traffic problem. We have no traffic problems. Traffic moves quickly and efficiently on our SAFE one way street network. In order to make LRT feasible the study says we need to cripple our road network. The study comes from MetroLinx whose sole purpose is to fund transit. Is there any way they can have any other outcome than to recommend more transit. If they were to say we don't need transit then they would cease to exist.

One paragraph in your article sums it all up

"The study summarizes what all this means for Hamilton, concluding that LRT "has the potential to succeed in Hamilton under the right set of circumstances" but will be long and expensive to achieve."

The key word is potential. It has potential to succeed. Well I have the potential to be Prime Minister and guess what, that isn't going to happen either. Not it "will" succeed or is "likely to" succeed but simply potential to succeed, hardly a ringing endorsement.

You want to follow Calgary's example and make it more difficult to drive downtown. Sure that will make it work. But why? Why destroy something that works really well so we can spend a billion dollars and have another way to go downtown. Making driving downtown more difficult will not attract more people downtown no matter how wonderful the transit is. The theory that traffic speed reductions and two-way conversion "can reduce traffic accident risk and result in an improved environment for transit users, pedestrians, and cyclists." fails to include cars which is how the vast majority of people in our city get around. Transit and cyclists are necessary but the number one means of transport is still automobiles so why are we going to wreak havoc on drivers the largest group of users to make things better for two other relatively tiny groups? Calgary built their LRT because they had a traffic problem downtown. A lot of corporations have their head offices or at least regional offices downtown Calgary. This led to real traffic problems with commuters trying to get their. Hamilton simply does not have this problem, nor is it likely to any time soon.

So in the end we don't need LRT and we can't afford LRT. If we are going to spend a billion dollars to try and stimulate construction and growth then let's do that. By going directly to the desired stimulus we will get a lot more bang for our dollar.

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By brain fairy (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2013 at 12:47:08 in reply to Comment 89848

TL;DR version:

I like driving across the city fast, and don't understand that this privilege will actually cost me more in taxes than building LRT will over the next decade or two, and I refuse to understand (or even read) the evidence that proves it.

In conclusion my hunches are more correct than observed facts everywhere in the world.

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By lol all over again (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2013 at 22:45:25

Your code red areas are made up of houses and other living units that people fled from years ago. Fled from the urban core to the sprawling burbs. The reason so many poor live there is because that is all they can afford. If you can afford to pay more why would anyone live across the street from a factory in a small dingy house or apartment? That is the real issue, the real problem.

What we need to do is find a way to get these people out of poverty and that is a process that has been tried but is ohhh so difficult. We used to live in the core and when we could afford to move we did. Yet if you gentrify all these poor neighbourhoods where will the poor go? I really don't see them ending up in Ancaster or Dundas.

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By brain fairy (anonymous) | Posted July 03, 2013 at 07:58:15 in reply to Comment 89860

TL;DR version:

Poor people need to get un-poor and they don't deserve nice neighbourhoods 'til they do.

Once they all get un-poor and move to the suburbs, we can finally tear down all of lower Hamilton and build a PROPER highway.

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 02, 2013 at 10:54:35 in reply to Comment 89860

so if one-way freeways aren't the problem here, when can I drop off the petition for all streets in your neighbourhood to have trees cut down, sidewalks narrowed and roads converted to 4-lane, 1-ways?? You can have the best of both worlds - the streets you apparently want to live on, but without any factories nearby. I'll swing by tonight.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 03, 2013 at 10:11:56 in reply to Comment 89866

Dangit, I need to figure out how to use OpenStreetMaps to make customized maps of areas... I want to make hypothetical one-way versions of Hamilton's two-way wards. Ask the obvious question "wouldn't this be so convenient?"

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By LOL@LOL (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2013 at 13:07:49 in reply to Comment 89866

They're not a problem because they're not a problem with "LOL". It only affects other people. People he doesn't care about and doesn't like to think about. People he can blame for their own misfortune because they weren't savvy enough to move off those one-way streets like he did. Now that they don't hurt him anymore, all he cares about those streets is that he gets to drive as fast as possible on them so he can save a minute or two. Basically, you're debating a psychopath.

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By sob all over again (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2013 at 08:21:50 in reply to Comment 89860

Your world view is made up of cherry picked factoids that ignore what's actually happening in all kinds of other cities that looked alot like Hamilton until they started doing the things you say won't make a difference here but really are just things that might inconvenience you slightly as they make lots of peoples lives better. So kindly get stuffed.

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