Special Report: Light Rail

Misinformation About LRT Thrives in the Absence of Leadership

These days it's as if no one at City Hall even cares whether the City's already-approved LRT project goes ahead.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 10, 2014

For years we have been arguing that Hamilton needs a political champion to explain, defend, promote and advocate for the City's light rail transit (LRT) plan. This call is supported by a 2012 McMaster Institute of Transportation and Logistics (MITL) study on LRT in North American cities, which found:

A political champion can help to realize success by marshaling resources, building coalitions, and resolving disputes. Coordinating institutions, streamlining processes, and minimizing red tape are seen as crucial in implementing TOD projects and are dependent on strong political leadership.

For more than three years, we have suffered a vacuum of that political championship in Hamilton. Mayor Bob Bratina campaigned in support of LRT in the 2010 election, but since becoming mayor he has not merely failed to follow up on this campaign promise, but worked actively to confuse and undermine the case for LRT.

In several key votes over the past six years, Council has voted unanimously or overwhelmingly to support Hamilton's LRT plan, from the first vote to establish a Rapid Transit office and conduct a feasibility study on LRT through the planning, engineering and design process for the system itself to last year's final vote to submit the City's LRT plan to the Province.

Strangely Silent

Yet despite this steady, ongoing Council support, the City has been strangely silent in the ongoing public discussion over LRT. The City's LRT planning started with an unprecedented public engagement campaign that directly contacted 1,600 Hamiltonians from across the city and found very strong support for LRT, but these days it's as if no one at City Hall even cares whether the project goes ahead.

Aside from a single update on May 17, 2013 to report that the City submitted its LRT plan to Metrolinx, the city's Rapid Transit website has been stagnant for over two years.

The problem with this failure to communicate and engage is that there is no one to answer questions or address objections. As a result, a steady trickle of letters and opinion pieces pieces goes unanswered, leading to the impression that the objections raised are legitimate reasons not to proceed.

The latest is a long letter published in this month's issue of Urbanicity arguing against LRT. The author makes several arguments based on straight-up misinformation that would be easily addressed by someone at City Hall who cared what people think.

We're certainly trying to do our part as engaged citizens to address these concerns, but the LRT is an official city plan, not just some idea cooked up by a few activists, and we shouldn't be the only people helping Hamiltonians to understand the facts.


But onto the opinion piece in Urbanicity, since we're not holding our breath for anyone at the City to speak up and defend their plan.

First, author Susan J. Creer references an April 2013 Spectator op-ed by Ron Johnson titled "The Billion-Dollar Long Shot". I've already undertaken a point-by-point rebuttal of that piece; in any case, Creer writes that she hasn't checked Johnson's numbers but agrees with his conclusion that we can't afford LRT.

For the record, the Province has consistently said they will pay the capital costs, and that analysis of other systems demonstrates that LRT actually has significantly lower per-passenger operating costs than buses.

Next, Creer quotes from an unidentified City report that operating LRT in mixed traffic "is highly undesirable as it introduces delays which are amplified as the operation progresses and increases passenger waiting times."

This would be a good time for someone from the City to step in and point out that Hamilton's LRT line has been designed to run in dedicated lanes with traffic signal priority, so the objection is moot.

Then Creer asserts, "not everyone wants to live downtown." I've written more about the "not everyone wants to live downtown" trope here, but ridership on the planned LRT route is already around 13,000 trips a day, which would put Hamilton in the middle of the pack for North American LRT systems on its opening day.

Creer then makes a confusing argument: she notes that downtown Hamilton is currently an undesirable place to live with low rents - "I lived downtown for three years and disliked it intensely" - and that the LRT would encourage new development that would make downtown more attractive, but that this would raise the cost of living downtown for the working poor.

Let's get something straight: deliberately keeping downtown Hamilton undesirable so rents stay cheap is not a viable affordable housing strategy.

In any case, the research indicates that LRT will actually help low-income households by improving access to jobs, increasing the sense of attachment to a neighbourhood and improving public health.

Meanwhile, the new development spurred by LRT brings in tens of millions of additional dollars in annual tax revenue to the municipality, giving it more flexibility to ensure that affordable housing strategies are put in place so no one is left behind.

Creer then argues that the LRT is not inclusive because it won't directly serve Binbrook, Waterdown and Greensville, which currently have minimal HSR service. Part of the problem is that those communities are small, isolated and low-density, so a high level of transit service just doesn't make a lot of economic or operational sense.

Running the transit system is a tricky balance between ensuring equitable access for all residents and meeting demand in areas with high levels of ridership - like the B-Line, which is persistently over-capacity and experiences daily "pass-bys" as over-stuffed buses fail to stop for people waiting to board.

The LRT will provide a significant boost in ridership capacity along the corridor with the highest demand while freeing up resources - including articulated buses - to improve service in the rest of the city.

After acknowledging that the LRT will attract new economic development that raises property values along the transit corridor, Creer then suggests that the LRT won't attract new development after all, citing the Lincoln Alexander Parkway (Linc) that runs east-west across the Mountain.

In fact, the Linc and the connecting Red Hill Valley Parkway have been responsible for considerable new development on the south mountain, nearly all of it use-separated, low-density, automobile-dependent suburban sprawl.

Hamilton simply cannot afford to service the lifecycle costs of all the suburban municipal infrastructure it needs to maintain without doing a much better job of leveraging our existing urban infrastructure more productively to incubate new businesses and create more jobs.

Ironically, Creer cites Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, who encouraged Hamilton to curb the growth of its suburban sprawl in a keynote speech she gave last December at a Hamilton Chamber of Commerce event.

Keesmaat's closing advice for Hamilton was: "Go after light rail transit. It's a total game changer."

Next, Creer suggests that building LRT and converting more streets to two-way could result in slower response times for Emergency Services (EMS). However, since the LRT will run on dedicated lanes, it will not get in the way of ambulances or fire trucks trying to reach a destination.

Indeed, if EMS vehicles have access to the dedicated lanes as is the case in other cities, it would provide them with an additional route through busy city streets.

As for two-way conversion, the City looked at EMS times after James and John were converted to two-way, and concluded that it was a wash: the slightly slower average vehicle speeds were offset by the fact that vehicles could approach their destination from either direction and had to do less circling around the block.

A couple of months ago, while walking on James Street North near Cannon Street, I observed an EMS responder dealing with the fact that James is now two-way. With siren blaring, the northbound ambulance pulled into the oncoming lane, quickly passed the cars stopped at Cannon, went through the intersection and continued to its destination.

When James was one-way southbound, the ambulance would have had to go a block out of its way to a northbound street, pass its destination and then double back.

Creer then argues that LRT should not be implemented until after the city replaces all of its remaining buses that don't have accessible low floors. Again, since LRT will replace the accessible buses (including articulated buses) currently running on the B-Line, it will actually accelerate the replacement of any non-accessible buses remaining on other routes.

The LRT vehicles themselves are entirely low-floor accessible as a standard design.

Creer also argues that the City should clear sidewalks around transit stops during winter weather. Well, yes, and that is the City's policy today. That is strictly irrelevant to the question of whether to support LRT.

Then Creer claims that the LRT will not connect to any other transit hubs. Again, this is incorrect. McMaster University is a transit hub with connections to GO Transit, Coach Canada, Greyhound and Scarborough Transit. MacNab Terminal is the main transit hub in Hamilton. Eastgate Square is also a dedicated east-end hub serving several HSR routes. GO, Coach, Greyhound and other connections are available at various locations along th B-Line.

The second phase of Hamilton's rapid transit plan, the north-south A-Line, will intersect the B-Line and connect the Hunter Street GO Station and the planned James North GO Station.

The Case is Already Made

This many years into the process of designing and building our LRT system, the basic facts of the LRT should be broad public knowledge by now. The failure of our political leaders and staff to communicate and engage the public on an ongoing basis imperils the plan by leaving it exposed to misinformation and confusion, and by leaving the sense that no one in power knows or cares to set the record straight.

The LRT is a billion-dollar investment in Hamilton's economic development that we cannot afford to screw up. However, our messaging on LRT is so confused that even Premier Kathleen Wynne, who has staked her political career on her commitment to higher-order transit, does not know Hamilton's position.

This is outrageous and entirely avoidable. The arguments for LRT have already been made, the evidence has already been collected, and the question - *is LRT worth it?* - has already been answered conclusively. For crying out loud, Council has already approved and submitted our plan to the Province.

All we need is for a political leader to stand behind the work that has already been done and continue the unfinished job of explaining to Hamiltonians why LRT is the right plan for the city's future.

Related reading:

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 Mister (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2014 at 11:43:29

Perhaps some brave individuals need to fill out a "Request to Speak to a Committee of Council" form on the city's website and speak to council about the above concerns, request implementation of a public information campaign to dispell confusion/ myths, etc. with the aim of having ALL Hamiltonians on board with LRT.

It seems the Rapid Transit webpage is not enough, besides being outdated. Would be nice if some folks would get together and take this up.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted February 10, 2014 at 12:36:16

She really had absolutely no idea what she was talking about in that Spec piece:

"Creer then argues that LRT should not be implemented until after the city replaces all of its remaining buses that don't have accessible low floors. Again, since LRT will replace the accessible buses (including articulated buses) currently running on the B-Line, it will actually accelerate the replacement of non-accessible buses on other routes."

The HSR has been 100% low floor since the last high floor buses were retired some time between 2007 and 2009. The oldest buses currently left in the fleet are from 2002 and are due to be retired and replaced in the next 2 years.

Where do these people get this crap from?

Comment edited by MattM on 2014-02-10 12:39:42

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted February 10, 2014 at 16:11:44 in reply to Comment 97523

It was in Urbanicity, not the Spec.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted February 11, 2014 at 10:40:20 in reply to Comment 97532

My mistake, thanks for the correction.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2014 at 18:05:14

Ryan not that I disagree with the article and your stance; however I wonder about this benefitting low income people especially those on any type of social assistance who do not even have money for transit currently. With all the cutbacks well it raises other queries which appear to missing from your debate points.I do not see Any points regarding draconian systems in place that push people into bad employment positions such as being deed self employed against federal tax law. Who are the enlightened ones?

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted February 10, 2014 at 22:51:25 in reply to Comment 97535

Your response to Ryan sent me to discover if any fare-free transit systems exist in the world. They do! There's one in Tallinn, Estonia, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and more information at http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute... If you want ridership to increase, argues the Transit Cooperative Research Programme in http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/tcr... go fare-free: a 100% decrease in fares, according to the Simpson-Curtin Rule that a 10% increase in fare results in a 3% drop in ridership, can expect a 30% increase in ridership. The report noted Topeka, Kansas, Austin, Texas, Templin, Germany, and Hasselt, Belgium all went fare-free. Finally, some local colour, from the report:

As noted earlier, in 2008, the city of Hamilton reviewed the potential impacts of providing fare-free transit in the ninth-largest city in Canada. Although the report noted there was no Canadian system-wide experience to draw from, it estimated that ridership increases would conservatively reach 20%, but might reach as high as 50% depending largely on the level of congestion and parking policies adopted (13). This same report included an appendix of a case study of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that included a memorandum prepared by the town manager of Chapel Hill in October 2002. In January 2002, Chapel Hill Transit finalized agreements with local universities and townships to offer fare-free public transit service to all passengers in their service area. The town manager’s report noted that ridership on the fixed-route services had increased by 43% from January 2002 through September 2002. Although the city manager’s report also noted that service hours were increased 11%, the primary reason for the increase in ridership was clearly the fare-free policy (27).

scrap, thanks for the comment and the opportunity to do some research.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2014 at 23:18:51 in reply to Comment 97541

For the same cost as going free, you could increase the operating budget by 50%, assuming a R/C of 50% which I realize is higher than the typical year in the city. That would allow service to expanded by a third which would be a huge increase for many in the City. Continuing to pay one of the lowest fares in the country and have a huge improvement in service seems much better than riding for free on even more crowded buses.

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By Mister (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2014 at 12:50:01

We need to have a sit down with the sources of the misinformation (Spec, Urbanicity, etc.). Freedom of speech is one thing, but publishing things that are factually incorrect and misleading is another, and should be stopped.

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By Urban (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2014 at 14:54:19

Ryan, you contribute to Urbanicity, what happened?

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2014 at 17:47:13

Thanks for the comment Joshua, in your research did you get any actual vs budgeted or if you like economic models?

Other draconian policy re the Ontario Work Act 1997, plays a role given the privatization model of socail services and how people get access to either services or monies for items such as bus fare. Many people on OW, which includes workers who have lost work due to no fault of their own are told to work for miles for job search, you know like walking to Burlington and back or across the city.

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted February 13, 2014 at 00:22:59 in reply to Comment 97573

SCRAP, I didn't find any economic models for fare-free transit but 90% of our civic gasoline tax revenue is not being spent on public transit; see http://hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.ph... $3,000,000 went to the Hamilton Street Railway and the remaining $28,000,000 went to roads. Our economic model certainly needs to be discussed and debated publicly.

And, reading of draconian policies, I think your examples speak to a larger issue: that people without access to money cannot participate in this economy. There was a time when barter happened more often, when self-reliance and the growing and harvesting and preserving of one's own food--and the sharing of your excess--was normative rather than exceptional. Then, needs were manufactured and companies created to provide those needs; walking or bicycling, slowing through time and a warm breeze at the nape of the neck, were not enough. Now, time itself became our master and we needed to move with greater speed.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted February 13, 2014 at 15:26:23

Joshua, thank you for your response. Yes, I agree discussion needs to happen, the voices of all, including those who are low income, the working poor and those who any type of social assistance or funds from the social safety net that is being deliberately eroded.

The attack on unionized workers clearly defines the path, we, as a society is on. It also leaves greater questions like if unionized workers are losing ground, where does that leave those with no union protection? That is why I am proud of Steel City Solidarity, a small group which helps workers fight for stolen wages, thru direct action, when the entire legislative and justice system fails.

So, why have our so called leaders, no matter what policical party allowed all this to happen?

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted February 22, 2014 at 19:58:59 in reply to Comment 97598

I'm proud of Steel City Solidarity, too. As for the reasons that our so-called leaders have allowed this to happen, perhaps it comes down to power and money. I don't know if so-called leaders use power callously but it may simply be a matter of an inability to see, through the statistic and the number and the balance-sheet, how decisions made at city hall, the legislative assembly, or parliament affect the least. When I read through Hansard, the record of oral discourse at the provincial and federal governmental level, I'm continually struck by the political jousting and manoeuvring that occurs, the way that peoples' stories are massaged and leveraged into another context, twisted toward another end; of course, this doesn't happen in every case, but there's a sense that the only thing that matters is that the politician retains their seat for the coming election, that too much change too drastically will jeopardize those votes, votes that are coming, predominantly, from those above the age of forty years. This misuse of story, of power, grows from the root of fear, fear that privilege, comfort, and money will be lost. Fundamentally, there is a lack of trust that people are good and can be left to govern, not in a libertarian sense, their own doings and tongues. Money is entwined with power and the presence of the former almost guarantees some measure of the latter; we've come a long way from the sense that one's word is one's bond, that the measure of adulthood is political agency and a resonant sense of compassion. When I read stories of former Toronto-Dominion chief executive officers receiving $2.23-million dollars in a lifetime pension and then contrast it with those at COPE Local 343 who are having their pensions clawed back into company coffers, that entanglement becomes more evident.

Despite the connections between money and power, I maintain some slim hope for the political system of parliamentary democracy. Rejected ballots have decreased from 1.1% in 2000 to 0.7% in 2011, according to Elections Canada's voting reports, and, in Ontario, the last federal voter turn-out was 61%. Somewhere, three-fifths of the province continue to cast their vote, a percentage that has dropped some ten percent from 1867, in elections. I happen to believe, however, that political agency doesn't stop or start at the ballot-box but is hidden in every decision made and ought to be exercised daily. How you respect the food you eat, the water you drink, the air you breathe, the way you live in the world, whether you walk, cycle, or drive, what work you do or don't do: all these things have political resonance and matter, deeply. Tim Hudak, for example, spoke today about dropping his right-to-work-for-less policy, listening to his increasingly-agitated caucus; even there, whether you believe his words or not, he is listening and angling for the popular vote. People listen and they respond--to action in the physical world, not, as much, clicking the 'Like' button on Facebook, pixels and ghostly entrails. Political agency, again, needs to be done in both spheres, through politics and its slow, deliberative movement, and direct action and its spikier, more immanent angle.

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