Special Report: Light Rail

Misinformation and Fearmongering in Anti-LRT Op-Ed by Liberal Candidates

Today's op-ed evaluates LRT solely on its role in providing transit and ignores its role in attracting economic development, and goes downhill from there.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 24, 2014

An op-ed in today's Spectator by Ontario Liberal candidates Ivan Luksic (Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) and Javid Mirza (Hamilton Mountain) is loaded with bad reasoning.

The most glaring issue is that it evaluates LRT solely on its role in providing transit and ignores its role in attracting economic development, increasing municipal revenue and making more productive use of existing civic infrastructure. (A 2013 op-ed by Ron Johnson did the same thing.)

LRT is not just an expensive bus: it is an anchor around which a city can grow taller, denser and more efficient by making it easier for more people and uses to cluster together.

Use Infrastructure More Productively

Today, Hamilton is a city in a slow-motion infrastructure crisis: we have too many thousands of kilometres of expensive civic infrastructure - roads, water, sewer and so on - and not enough property tax revenue to keep maintaining it. Every year, we add almost $200 million in deferred maintenance to our cumulative municipal infrastructure deficit.

The only way to address this growing deficit is to increase significantly the number of ratepayers without increasing the amount of infrastructure we need to pay for. (Indeed, we should be looking at ways to decrease it, about which more below.)

Think of all the empty and under-used lots downtown and across the lower city - whole city blocks where the only building is a parking kiosk. By filling those lots with new multi-storey buildings, we increase the number of taxpayers without having to build new roads.

But for the past 30-40 years, we have been doing the opposite - we've been hollowing out the downtown by removing buildings and reducing property tax revenues. When Wilson-Blanchard demolished their three-storey office building at Jackson and MacNab last fall, they went from paying over $77,000 a year in property tax to just $7,000 a year.

By attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in new dense, urban, mixed-use developments along the transit corridor, LRT helps us achieve the goal of raising the density of uses on our existing infrastructure - and generating more money to help pay for it.

Reducing Infrastructure

Not only that, but LRT also helps to reduce the number of automobile trips causing wear and tear on city streets in the first place.

LRT integrates nicely into a constellation of active transportation modes that all work together to give people real choice in how to get around for a given trip: walking for short trips, cycling for longer trips, and transit for cross-town trips.

At scale, this has the effect of reducing our overall infrastructure lifecycle costs.

As a vehicle's weight increases, the wear-and-tear it causes to the road increases exponentially. A subcompact car is ten times as heavy as a bicycle, but produces around 1,000 times as much damage to the pavement. An SUV produces around 8,000 times as much damage as a bike, and a transport truck produces millions of times as much damage as a bike.

As we have been forcibly reminded during the recent thaw, all that wear-and-tear on roads produces cracking, which allows water to seep under the asphalt. Water expands when it freezes, causing damaged pavement to bulge. When the water thaws, the road-bed sags and the pavement collapses into it when heavy vehicles drive over the damaged areas.

Once the Cannon Street bike lane opens (hopefully this year!), watch how fast the asphalt on the bike lane deteriorates compared to the asphalt on the driving lanes - especially if Cannon continues to be a preferred route for transport trucks.

Every time someone chooses not to drive for a given trip, the life-cycle of our city streets gets fractionally longer. So the better we get at reducing automobile trips, the longer our streets will last without having to be resurfaced and the less patching they will need in the meantime.

Not only that, but if a family can afford to get rid of one car by living near high-quality transit, that family now has more money to spend in the local economy, boosting the city's GDP and providing more opportunities for business growth and development.

Other Misleading Claims

Luksic and Mirza claim:

We believe that LRT is expensive and does not bring us any closer to our two goals: linking up more of the city to public transit and increasing transit usage.

LRT actually does both. In cities across North America, LRT systems have been a lot more successful at attracting new riders than BRT, and the east-west B-Line corridor already has the highest ridership of any line in the city with 13,000 trips a day. If the B-Line LRT was to open tomorrow, it would launch with ridership in the middle of the pack on day 1.

The LRT operating on that high-volume corridor will free up a large number of buses, including the articulated express buses, to improve service in underserved parts of the city that currently have much lower ridership.

Many of our residents (particularly younger people) commute daily to Toronto: What does an LRT do to alleviate their daily commute?

They seem to be reasoning from the inaccurate stereotype of Hamilton as a bedroom community for Toronto workers.

Only 3 percent of Hamiltonians commute to Toronto to work, and 70 percent of Hamiltonians work in Hamilton. Indeed, another 38,000 people commute into Hamilton to work each day, and the single biggest employment cluster in the city is ... downtown.

In any case, the Province has already committed to providing all-day two-way GO Train service to the James North GO Station. As Metrolinx and the Province have reminded us again and again, Hamilton does not have to choose between LRT and all-day GO Train service.

Building an LRT will play havoc on hundreds of businesses in the area.

This is straight-up fearmongering. Again, the evidence from acrosss North America is that LRT is a significant boost to local business.

Imagine not being able to turn left to access your favourite business or be expected to turn a few blocks down and make a U-turn?

This complaint is particularly ironic, given that the lower city is crisscrossed by one-way thoroughfares that require drivers to overshoot on a different street, turn and double back to get to any destination on a street pointed the wrong way.

The authors then propose that the total cost for a north-south BRT on the proposed A-Line from the airport to the waterfront, a BRT on the proposed B-Line from McMaster to Eastgate, the new James North GO Station, a GO Station on Centennial Parkway, and a BRT on Centennial Parkway from Upper Stoney Creek to the Centennial GO Station will by $375 million.

I have no idea where they got that number, because the studies that have been completed estimate that a B-Line BRT alone would cost $250 million to build, and the A-Line is around as long as the B-Line.

What's Going On Here?

I really have no idea what these Liberal candidates are trying to do here. I don't know if they're writing with the blessing of the Ontario Liberal Party, but if so it is a dramatic change in direction from their consistent message to Hamilton dating back to 2007.

The Ontario Liberals need to let us know whether these candidates are communicating a change in their party's regional transit policy.

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 SeanM (registered) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 11:33:09

"I really have no idea what these Liberal candidates are trying to do here."

I think I have an idea - the Ontario NDP has been recently come out rejecting taxes or user fees to fund transit expansion - a populist platform that echoes Tim Hudak's message. The Liberals are exploiting this in the local Hamilton context - if the local NDP MPPs wish to support LRT, the Liberals will jump on this - repeating their claims above with claims that the NDP has no plan to pay for it.

It's unfortunate that all three parties are jumping all over themselves scoring cheap populist points in this manner.

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 11:42:04

"Many of our residents (particularly younger people) commute daily to Toronto: What does an LRT do to alleviate their daily commute?"

This quote from a terrible article overall, is the one that bugs be the most. Do they source their number? No, they just say many even though as Ryan has pointed out, the numbers commuting to Toronto are not in fact many. Will far more Hamiltonians use the LRT every day than a few more GO train trips. Yes. Plus should we be encouraging more long distance commuting? Research has shown that long distance commuting makes you miserable.

To me this just screams as a way for the Liberals to weasel out of their pledge to fund LRT. See the city doesn't want it! What the citizens of Hamilton have to realize is that Metrolinx has been and is going to fund projects using money that should proportionately belong to Hamilton. The province (i.e. Liberals and the provincial bureaucrats based in Toronto) would love to give that money to the City of Toronto for whatever new projects come down the pipe.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 24, 2014 at 11:54:16 in reply to Comment 97859

I do think that the fact that the planned B-line does not intersect with the city's current and future Go Stations is going to make a lot of Hamilton's commuters less-interested in it. I mean, it's not far to Hunter Street from King and Hughson, but it's not right there. Mississauga has a tremendous advantage here - their LRT line at Hurontario that goes right to the Port Credit GO station is going to be a game-changer for the whole region: Mississauga as a transit destination is a big deal.

It's too bad the A-line would be such a complete mess to implement that it's basically off the table for this round. An LRT to the train stations might get a lot more folks on board with this plan.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2014-02-24 11:57:18

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By George (registered) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 12:17:55

Glen Murray will be in Hamilton today. Hope he gets asked about this. Tweet from the Hamilton Chamber today.

Hamilton Chamber ‏@hamiltonchamber 2h Join us Fri for lunch w/ @Glen4ONT & @TedMcMeekin to discuss the continued expansion of transportation in #HamOnt!

Comment edited by George on 2014-02-24 12:28:26

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 16:16:15 in reply to Comment 97861

That's Friday, not today.

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By Act (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 12:38:02

Email Mr. Javid Mirza to express disapproval of his views here:



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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2014 at 09:21:33 in reply to Comment 97862

Thank you - had trouble finding his email during a cursory search

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 13:00:37

Local labour leaders were recently impressed at a meeting with Mirza when he brought along Provincial Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi who attended university with the candidate. After several botched interventions into Hamilton Liberal nomination processes, the current Premier’s office is taking a hands-off approach to the Campaigns of Mirza and Ivan Luksic who will represent the Liberals in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek. Both candidates are bucking conventional Queens Park positions on LRT and the Niagara to GTA corridor. The candidates issued a joint statement calling for all day GO service and improvements to Hamilton’s conventional transit system ahead of introducing LRT. They also have both taken strong positions in favour of the Niagara to GTA corridor.


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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 22:46:35 in reply to Comment 97863

Hamilton businessman Javid Mirza is hoping to ride Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne’s popularity all the way to Queen’s Park.

Mirza defeated Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustee Laura Peddle for the Hamilton Mountain provincial Liberal riding nomination contest June 12 at Michelangelo Banquet and Convention Centre....

Mirza, who helped rally Hamilton’s Liberals around Wynne in her bid to win the party’s leadership contest earlier this year, is now looking to the premier to boost local Liberals’ chances to take back the provincial seats in Hamilton the party lost in the last election....

This is the first time Mirza has been a provincial candidate. In 2006 he ran as the Hamilton Centre federal Liberal candidate, but finished second to the popular NDP candidate David Christopherson. Mirza, the past-president of the Muslim Association of Hamilton, has been involved in the Liberal party for about 40 years, backing Paul Martin’s bid to become federal leader in 2003, and he threw his support behind Tony Valeri over Sheila Copps for the open Hamilton East-Stoney Creek federal Liberal riding in 2004.


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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 22:55:59 in reply to Comment 97889

After the second try, Stoney Creek lawyer, and long-time Liberal member Ivan Luksic was unanimously chosen to be the Hamilton East-Stoney Creek provincial candidate for the next election....

This is the first time Luksic, 37, has been a provincial Liberal candidate. In 2007 he lost a provincial nomination fight for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek to Nerene Virgin. Miller won the riding back to the NDP in 2007 that had been previously held by Jennifer Mossop.

Luksic also lost the federal nomination in the same year to former Hamilto nmayor Larry Di Ianni. In 2009, Luksic won the Niagara West-Glanbrook federal Liberal nomination, but bowed out a few months later for personal reasons.
This time, Luksic, an employment and labour lawyer, is in the political fight for the long haul.


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By jason (registered) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 17:45:58

Politicians making stuff up. Shocking.

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By Green? (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 19:49:03

So RTH, is it time to vote Green?

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By krist (registered) - website | Posted February 24, 2014 at 20:46:12

One of the predominate ideologies that Liberal minded folk have had is that policy needs to be grounded in evidence. Decisions need to be well informed if they are to benefit present and future needs of the constituents that they were designed for. Who did Luksic and Mizra turn to for evidence? "Many Hamilton Councilors". How many of these Councilors will still hold seats come October? It would be nice if they were a little more transparent on that point.

It will be interesting to hear what Hamilton Centre's Provincial Liberal candidate has to say on the subject. Donna Tiqui-Shebib is hosting a Pub Night at Slainte's tomorrow night. If your interested you should pop by and see what she has to say about LRT's potential downtown.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 09:20:50 in reply to Comment 97885

2007 General Election, Hamilton Centre
NDP Horwath: 17,138
LIB Ruddick: 10,985
PC Robertson: 5,678
GRN Ormond: 3,698

2011 General Election, Hamilton Centre
NDP Horwath: 20,528
LIB Tiqui-Shebib: 5,852
PC Sheppard: 4,418
GRN Ormond: 1,243

Tiqui-Shebib has an uphill battle to take Hamilton Centre. She also has an uphill battle to get home: Her law firm is downtown but she apparently lives in Ancaster.


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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 08:46:54 in reply to Comment 97885

Who did Luksic and Mizra turn to for evidence? "Many Hamilton Councilors". How many of these Councilors will still hold seats come October? It would be nice if they were a little more transparent on that point.

The supreme irony in their claim that 'many Hamilton councillors' are soft on their support for LRT, is they are only 'soft' if the province backs off its commitment to pay for LRT. Now unless they know something about a change in the party's position on LRT for Hamilton that we don't, the claim that council doesn't support LRT is disingenuous at best, deliberately misleading at worst.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2014 at 23:19:01

Which local labour leaders? Can you give us more details?

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 05:03:44

Actually Mexico City is in North America and the Metrobús BRT system there is fantastically successful. I find the premise of LRT in this city pretty classist really. Practically speaking an LRT B-line doesn't service a lot of residents. I think a more expensive and inefficient LRT that only services Westdale, downtown and pity-fucks the east end on the premise of "build it and they will come" puts the interest of property developers and business owners above the needs of the residents paying for and using the system. If we all just leave our homes, cramp together and be more righteous everything will be ok! Except that people in this city didn't sign up for high density urban living. Nor do I think that, as if by magic, if we have better transit residents will be snapping up snazzy condos which will apparently be built for somebody for some reason with funds from somewhere. I guess we're still working on that. It's sacrilege around these parts, I know, but I'd rather see more BRT lines that work well than an expensive LRT we can brag about.

Comment edited by brodiec on 2014-02-25 05:18:16

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2014 at 09:32:44 in reply to Comment 97893

Practically speaking an LRT B-line doesn't service a lot of residents.

Right... because ridership numbers on the B-line corridor are probably made up by goblins.

I think a more expensive and inefficient LRT [...]

More expensive than what? And less efficient than what?

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By DissenterOfThings (registered) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 05:52:41 in reply to Comment 97893

I'd rather see both and have LRT come first. Make downtown awesome and get the people of the Mountain and outward clamouring then work on BRT there. LRT is the low-hanging fruit, densifying and improving transit in the suburbs is much harder.

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 05:25:04 in reply to Comment 97893

Also speaking of fear mongering how often does this website parrot the sales pitch of LRT vehicle manufacturers that "BRT isn't a permanent commitment to transit". Know what is? Transit that works well for a variety of users even in unfashionable postcodes. It's not our choice of vehicle. If we could just get over this stupid class-conscious consumerist attitude and design an extensive and affordable system I think we'd get that mythical "economic development". But instead let's play politics. Let's tattoo Bombardier on our asses. Let's reward the assholes who left our downtown derelict to fall down. Who the fuck cares about the mother who works three jobs and commutes by bus. We gotta show off!

Comment edited by brodiec on 2014-02-25 05:30:02

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 16:26:59 in reply to Comment 97894

Precisely. 'Who cares...'? The measure of a society's worth is the measure it takes to care for the poorest. Care has to begin there, moving from the bottom upward.

The effects of automobiles on pollution, with NO and VOCs in the atmosphere, are well-known. It's obviously affecting our climate and--I don't know about you--I'm not getting any fonder of a frigid winter that's stretching further into spring. (I know: it's not very 'Canadian'.) For the sake of those standing at bus-stops, freezing their extremities, can we get a transit system that works for everyone and everything?

Here's something interesting:

Our Planning Supervisor sends the following response to your inquiry:

During the Weekday afternoon peak hour, 185 buses (159 standard, 22 articulated and 4 small) are assigned to provide the scheduled service and the school extra service. This results in a local transit capacity of 9800 passengers at any given point in time during the subject hour. If all residents shifted their trips onto public transit, the existing HSR system would not be able to accommodate the demand. Transportation Master Plan targets for the year 2031 call for a 20% reduction in daily auto km travelled (from 4.8M per day (2001) to 3.8M per day in 2031), combined with an increase in transit trips to 80 trips per person per year. This would see transit providing 12% of all of the trips being made.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2014 at 09:37:39 in reply to Comment 97894

Have you ever been on a King bus? They are crammed full of people covering the full spectrum of "class". I find it funny that none of this was about "class" until you somehow tried to make it about "class". There's room in Hamilton for everyone, and I'm pretty sure the rail cars won't be requiring you to fill out a credit application to ride.

Higher order transit is elitist now? ..... ??????

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 16:29:22 in reply to Comment 97909

It's always been about class; class, honour, and shame. I agree that there's room in Hamilton for everyone; free transit would be splendid.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 09:35:05 in reply to Comment 97894

there's nothing 'mythical' about the EcDev that comes with LRT.

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By classwrawr (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 09:29:48 in reply to Comment 97894

Lol at the angry class warrior telling us to be less class conscious.

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By beancounter (registered) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 16:26:01

Thanks, Ryan, for all your hard work in promoting LRT.

This morning on the Bill Kelly show there was a reference again to the "failure" of LRT in Buffalo.

Perhaps you could also address that situation once more. My understanding is that Buffalo did not ensure that transit-oriented development would take place along their LRT route.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2014 at 17:09:46

Many different voices on here to read and think about. Discussion of classes is relevant as this how we are divided,into categories. It is the system that has always divided people, this is what I feel needs to be eradicated.For change to happen we need all on board,we are all one piece of the whole.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:18:41

Doesn't the venerable caricature insist that politicians will say anything to win seats?

Wasn't that the suspicion about the party's LRT promise?

Isn't that the knock on McGuinty's all-day GO promise?

Isn't it possible that a party hoping to paint the city red would be willing to let its candidates expound whatever gibed with the specific mindset of a percieved majority of riding voters?

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 17:22:12

Strange how in all your comparisons on how different vehicles cause road damage that buses were avoided. If every bus rider drove a car which would cause less damage? Especially at 10:00 PM when the bus drives with 3 people on it.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2014 at 13:12:28

comment from banned user deleted

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 27, 2014 at 17:32:33 in reply to Comment 98035

This is great - but if we are going to go to the trouble to dedicate a lane to transit, why wouldn't we put in a system that not only increases ridership but is cheaper to operate than buses and provides better private development ROI?

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