Special Report: Light Rail

Yet Another Anti-LRT Argument Based on Nonsense

Without strong local leadership on LRT, a steady stream of nonsense is slowly but steadily displacing the sound, evidence-based reasons why we cannot afford not to invest in LRT.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 15, 2014

An op-ed in today's Spectator by Susan J. Creer rehashes a longer piece published earlier this year in Urbanicity magazine. I wrote a point-by-point response to that piece, but the same points drive today's article.

Creer starts by arguing that an inclusive city needs to provide transit service everywhere, and that investing in LRT along the east-west B-Line corridor between McMaster University and Eastgate Square is not inclusive because it does not directly serve Binbrook, Greensville and other outlying areas.

However, by replacing the large number of buses that currently operate along the B-Line route, the LRT will allow the city to redeploy those vehicles to improve service citywide.

Likewise, Creer claims the city needs to ensure all of its buses are low-floor accessible to people with disabilities. Again, since the buses operating on the east-west B-Line are all low-floor, building LRT will allow the city to redeploy them to any routes that might not currently have low-floor buses.

She engages in some classic FUD by suggesting that LRT will slow down emergency vehicles. However, LRT will run on dedicated lanes so it won't get in the way of a fire truck or ambulance trying to reach a destination. Indeed, if Hamilton follows other cities and gives EMS vehicles access to the LRT lane, it could actually speed up their response times.

There is also the fact that, by displacing some vehicle strips and reducing dangerous speeding, LRT will help reduce the need for EMS calls in the first place by preventing some serious motor vehcile collisions.

Then Creer writes, "LRT lines have been known to break during bad winter weather as they are not as well designed as normal rail lines with proper beds and drainage." This is nonsense. LRT vehicles operate just fine in cities with extreme cold weather and heavy snow, and are more immune to snow than buses.

Creer argues that the money for LRT would be better spent adding to the supply of social housing in Hamilton. Affordable housing is an important, politically complicated issue, but it's a dodge to suggest we have to choose between investing in high quality transit or affordable housing. Responsible, solution-oriented governments invest in both.

Creer then argues that the economic development that comes with investing in LRT "will accrue to the business owners and developers, but it may not trickle down to those who need inexpensive places to live". Again, she is manufacturing a conflict between two legitimate needs.

She also ignores the role of the essential urban economies in creating employment. If you'll bear with me, I'll explain what I mean by this.

For decades, Hamilton's economic development strategy has been to service suburban business parks next to highways and then try to lure big companies to locate manufacturing here, instead of creating the conditions through which Hamiltonians can start new businesses and create new jobs.

The result has been a poor employment market in which the biggest employment sector is health care, which is publicly funded and has a limited multiplier effect. Hamilton has a dangerously low labour participation rate: while our unemployment rate seems low, it is because a large fraction of the population have given up looking for work and are no longer counted as unemployed.

Even when this strategy seems to work - like the Maple Leaf/Canada Bread deal the City's politicians and senior managers fawned over - the reality is that we are bribing mature companies to consolidate their existing operations with the lowest bidder and reduce their overall employment in the process.

The loyalty of such companies is only as deep as our willingness to keep bribing them with discounts and subsidies, and the long-term trend for the jobs they bring is downward as they continue to rationalize their operations.

The only successful long-term strategy for economic development is to foster the kind of local economy that generates a variety of net new jobs, not to bribe bottom-feeders to relocate low-wage operations here.

Cities are inherently engines of economic development: by bringing lots of people, ideas, energy and resources into close contact, cities dramatically increase the potential to generate innovations and create new businesses.

The evidence bears out the importance of a dense, mixed urban form: for the past few decades, most new jobs have been created by young, small, innovative companies started by creative entrepreneurs - and they are getting started in cities.

The more successfully that a city leverages its essential economies - the economies of scale, agglomeration, density, association and extension - the more successfully the city will grow its economy and create a wide variety of employment opportunities.

LRT leverages a big fixed investment in high-quality transportation to encourage a dense, mixed, diverse urban form that maximizes our potential to foster new business development and create new jobs.

We need to ensure that people have enough money to live with dignity (and indeed, there is strong evidence that raising welfare to a living rate produces a net benefit to the economy as a whole), but we also need to transform the way in which our city functions so that it can perform its role as an engine of job creation.

The evidence indicates that LRT will be a net benefit for low-income households and neighbourhoods, in significant part through improved access to jobs without the crushing cost - $10,000 a year - of owning a car.

There do not appear to be any really strong, compelling arguments against LRT - just FUD, nonsense and hand-wavy claims that we can't afford it.

The government of Waterloo Region did a comparative analysis and determined that they could not afford not to build LRT, because the cost in unsustainable status-quo development would be much higher than the cost of not building it.

But without strong local leadership on LRT, the nonsense is slowly but steadily displacing the sound, evidence-based reasons why we also cannot afford not to build LRT.

Hamilton is competing with Kitchener-Waterloo, Mississauga and other GTHA municipalities to attract entrepreneurs looking for a good quality of life and create new jobs. If those cities go ahead and build LRT and we pass up on the opportunity to do the same, we will be at a big competitive disadvantage.

Our city will continue to underperform its potential, and the crisis of poverty, inequality and low labour market participation will continue to plague Hamilton's vulnerable families and neighhbourhoods.

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 Tybalt (registered) | Posted April 15, 2014 at 14:48:07

"Hamilton is competing with Kitchener-Waterloo, Mississauga and other GTHA municipalities to attract entrepreneurs looking for a good quality of life and create new jobs."

Actually Ryan, while Hamiltonians might be competing, the City of Hamilton most certainly isn't. At the moment, we're barely at the starting line.

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By Kevo (registered) | Posted April 15, 2014 at 17:32:31 in reply to Comment 100278

Funny that those cities are mentioned - Kitchener-Waterloo (via the Region of Waterloo) is building an LRT from north Waterloo into Kitchener (eventually to Cambridge) following it's main street (King St) and Mississauga/Brampton are pushing to build an LRT from Port Credit to downtown Brampton along Hurontario/Main Sts.

It seems that Hamilton is the only major city that doesn't think it needs LRT to reinforce, and speed up, the backbone of its transportation.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 15, 2014 at 15:11:13

Nice work, Ryan. I like the fact that you have added worthwhile info re low labour participation, once off of EI,you are no longer counted. I agree with your view on affordable housing as Ms Creer is using itaybe if Ms Career wrote some truth on that issue which starts at the federal level, no funding, which has gone on for decades.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 15, 2014 at 15:52:36

THe middle of this article needs to be it's own separate piece.

great stuff

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By YHMDesigns (registered) - website | Posted April 15, 2014 at 18:41:38

Thanks again Ryan for stepping up to the plate. Several points:

  • After a cursory search, I see nothing in Miss Creer's background to suggest she is an authority on transit or urban planning. Her opinion on this topic is not an informed one.
  • Her chief concern is the lack of transit service along outlying routes, and that is legitimate. However, there is no business case to support her ideas. What is the gap she seeks to close, how much will it cost, and what material benefit will it realize?
  • Adding more buses, and with lower floors, strikes me as an operational matter contingent on budgeting. Building LRT is a capital investment meant to shape economic growth and liveability for decades. They are not equivalent choices.
  • Inner-city poverty is real. But the only way to reduce poverty is to create wealth. Therefore, the idea of keeping central Hamilton deliberately poor (purportedly for affordability's sake) by not building LRT is antithetical. Surely there is a better way.
  • In publishing this column, the Spectator gives it credence, and that is not helpful.
  • How has LRT become framed as the cause of the elite? Really ... mass transit?



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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 08:24:21 in reply to Comment 100289

Inner-city poverty is real. But the only way to reduce poverty is to create wealth. Therefore, the idea of keeping central Hamilton deliberately poor (purportedly for affordability's sake) by not building LRT is antithetical. Surely there is a better way.

To add to this, social housing only serves a subset of the population, whereas LRT benefits everyone from students to business owners, both the poor and rich can use it - in fact it provides more benefit to those who can't afford an alternative. Assuming we need both, I would say LRT is the better option.

Setting that aside, we don't get to choose between the two - its not like rejecting LRT would cause any money or staff efforts to be redirected towards social housing programs. We are talking about whether or not we want provincial transit dollars to be spent in Hamilton or somewhere else. To argue against LRT on this basis is counterproductive - if you win, the people you are advocating for will have neither LRT or affordable housing.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 15, 2014 at 18:44:11

Thank you for continuing to call out FUD and false arguments for what it is. We all need to do that. The amount of potential that is being squandered is really reaching unfortunate levels.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 15, 2014 at 18:49:20

I find that the spec likes to publish articles that have little to do with the truth. Last week they published an article written by one of the new Speaker's Bureau of the Roundtable, which actually re-inforced the rhetoric that has been pounded into the public mindset since the Harris years. The writer of the article wrote that it takes great disipline not to lie, steal or take drugs, does she apply that to those who hold the corridors of power?
Given all my research, it is not individual stories that will affect change, it will be the voices of the many, standing in solidarity, as an example, the people of Bolivia, in their battle for water against Bechtel. It is no wonder, since Mr Elliot is the chair of the steering committee, we only see one side of the equation. I wrote and sent in a rebuttal, which I know will never get published, however it was worth the effort. Thank you Ryan for your insight and conversation into forbidden territory.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 15, 2014 at 20:02:40

Thank you Ryan, I do appreciate your vision and intelligence. People think I do not know my trade but I do very well. Whether we think in terms of right or left is really incidential. We live in a global system, which is appears that people do not want to recognize, that was true at the OFL event last week. People do not seem to be asking the right questions.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 08:35:28

Who else on this board can be considered an expert on transit after conducting a Google search? Not many, if any. Passionate and incredibly informed lay-people yes, experts... no.

Ms. Creer's opinion (and she is entitled to having her own) seems to be that any money earmarked locally for a B-line LRT would be better spent creating affordable housing. This is no surprise as she is a member of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction Speakers Bureau. She sets her view point up for easy attack by veering into other anti-LRT arguments such as EMS response times, and that weakens the low income housing points she really wants to make.

People in Ontario communities have been made to feel that they are competing for a very limited amount of public funding for the projects they care about. Tying in affordable housing construction to LRT funding seems strange at first, but if it has become a funding competition, is Ms. Creer wrong to advocate for what she is passionate about?

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By RobF (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:31:55 in reply to Comment 100309

Agreed, but i wish the author had avoided the weaker anti-LRT arguments and stuck to her main point.

LRT seems to be a good fit for the King-Main corridor and offers us many benefits. There are, however, critiques out there that aren't simply reactionary or pro-car ... who benefits in the long-run as transit infrastructure alters land rent and puts pressure on affordable housing supply? What will be the impact on bus service? Context matters (Hamilton's affordable housing problems are a poverty problem ... not a product of sky-high real estate like in Toronto or Vancouver) and Ryan has addressed the later question adequately in my view.

Still, I feel a certain discomfort with the transformative change and creative class rhetoric that is used to support the LRT. I'm all for public investment in transit and shifting toward "complete streets", but "urban revitalization", which tries to shed the taint of its fallen out of favor predecessor "urban renewal", is hardly unproblematic or a straightforward win-win for all existing residents. We should openly acknowledge that.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 16:20:49 in reply to Comment 100316

What will be the impact on bus service?

Why would LRT have a negative impact on bus service? an LRT on the King-Main corridor would make it much easier to create reliable bus connections that cross the entire city. It would also free up some of the city's newer and high-capacity buses for other routes, as well as increasing the effective size of the HSR's bus fleet, which would no longer have to cover the area immediately around the LRT line. King/Main is probably the most bus-dense corridor in Hamilton, and all those buses and drivers would be available to serve other parts of the city.

We also know that the HSR makes a profit on its lower-city operations and that LRT is cheaper to operate than comparable bus service, which is what is currently running on this corridor (albeit with less frequent service and several routes that don't all end up at the same place or make all the stops). That means running an LRT could actually improve the HSR's bottom line, allowing them to increase their level of bus service throught the city.

who benefits in the long-run as transit infrastructure alters land rent and puts pressure on affordable housing supply?

I have a hard time seeing this as a valid argument against LRT. The answer for how to maintain affordable housing in the city is not to intentionally avoid infrastructure investments. Keeping the core of the city economically depressed does not address the issues of gentrification and affordable housing. Essentially you are arguing that the downtown should remain a crappy place to live so that people with low income can afford to live there. The problem with this approach is that the real reason rents are low is not because 'there is no LRT' but because its a crappy place to live. Are we really going to say that we can't build good infrastructure or invest in improving the economic core of the city until we completely solve affordable housing?

A better answer is to implement good policies for making affordable housing an economically viable option in Hamilton. We need to make it so that developers don't have to choose between building affordable housing and making a reasonable return on their money. That has to happen whether or not we build LRT in order for affordable housing to be a thing.

Comment edited by AnjoMan on 2014-04-16 16:23:12

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By RobF (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 20:53:17 in reply to Comment 100340

First of all I'm not against LRT. I think it would be a good thing and the technology is well suited to the needs of the King-Main corridor. Nor am I trying to say that LRT has to negatively impact bus service in Hamilton. And I'm definitely not "arguing that downtown should remain a crappy place to live so that people with low income can afford to live there."

My point was actually pretty basic. Urban real estate works like a spatial sorting mechanism. Well-off people pretty much get to choose where they live, most people make trade-offs based on what they can afford, and the poor get what's left (usually the lowest quality and most poorly located housing). We should be clear about that when we talk about "urban revitalization".

btw. I don't find the lower city a "crappy place to live".

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted April 17, 2014 at 14:18:13 in reply to Comment 100370

I get the spatial sorting mechanism argument, it makes sense to me. I totally agree that it's an important thing to think about and that it should be central to any economic development measures that are introduced to accompany an LRT line in Hamilton. I just don't think its a good enough reason for objecting to development that might improve a neighborhood (I'm not trying to imply that you are making that objection), especially an infrastructure project like LRT.

btw. I don't find the lower city a "crappy place to live".

I don't think this either, at least not in an absolute sense. However, if its possible that new developments in an area could cause the rents to rise and lead to people with lower incomes being sorted out, as you suggest, then the area must be at least incrementally less desirable than wherever it is these people would go to if they had more income and could choose something else.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 16:30:58 in reply to Comment 100340

I'd also like to point out that in my personal experience, urban intensification does not have to work out negatively for lower-income families. I recently moved to Toronto, where rent and food prices are much higher than in Hamilton; however, we are actually better off financially because we got rid of our car and because of better availabilty of jobs and better wages.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 21:08:00 in reply to Comment 100342

For us the cost and availability of child-care and family-sized apartments in the city more than cancelled out any financial gains from going car-less in Toronto.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:10:38 in reply to Comment 100309

Not at all, but she is doing neither her cause, nor the debate, any favours by spreading false information about where the funding for LRT is coming from. If we reject LRT, we will no more get the funding for affordable housing than we will to improve bus service in Binbrook. By implying that we will, she is raising false hopes and expectations for a solution to our affordable housing shortage, while simultaneously trying to derail a project that has a very real chance of providing the economic uplift we need to tackle poverty.

It really is a mystery why she would make this argument unless, as it would seem from the discredited red herrings she raises about LRT itself, she simply doesn't like LRT and is using the poverty issue as a human shield to deflect criticism of her uninformed opinions, and poorly constructed arguments.

Comment edited by highwater on 2014-04-16 10:21:09

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:14:02

People don't move to Binbrook to ride the bus.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:18:36 in reply to Comment 100312

Agree, but that never seems to stop anyone from arguing that we can't provide better service to the over-crowded b-line as long as outlying communities are under-served. It's a brilliant catch-22.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:17:19

Off topic on this thread is an interesting article on Cities than installed LRT in the 1980's. The takeaway I got was that LRT needs to be part of a full suite of changes to spur ridership increases and development, it is not in any way a magic bullet on it's own.


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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 10:43:18

From this article it appears that Houston has had a very positive experience with LRT. And yet expansion of the system is facing opposition. I can see a great deal of Hamilton in the anti-expansion arguments.


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By jeffreygeoffrey (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 11:25:40

Positive article in yesterday's NY Times about Washington DC's new streetcars and their economic impact on a hard-hit area: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/16/busine...

A couple of gems in the article:

“What light rail does for a retail corridor is it’s really a big multiplier,” says developer Jim Abdo.

The “visible permanence” of the streetcar “can serve as a powerful attraction to private real estate investment,” [a 2012] study said. These economic benefits, the study added, “would exceed the projected cost of creating the system by 600 percent to 1,000 percent.”

Comment edited by jeffreygeoffrey on 2014-04-16 11:55:47

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By beancounter (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 15:41:26

Ms. Creer apparently advocates service to Greensville and "other outlying areas".

Perhaps she is referring, for example, to the far reaches of Flamborough? Surely the residents of Copetown, Carlisle and Lynden deserve good bus service.

We found out recently that one hour headways are good enough for Redeemer University College and the Ancaster Business Park (hardly "outlying areas") I can just imagine the level of service that would be extended to these other areas. Missing the bus out there might mean waiting until the next day!

Because of the nature of public transit, inclusivity cannot be expected for sparsely-populated areas. The TTC, for instance, was a profit-making service until it started to serve some of the sprawling suburbs.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 16, 2014 at 18:00:19

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2014 at 00:45:09

Ms Creer is one of the poverty Roundtable's new speakers bureau.I have also heard another interesting story from that particular group, you do not toe the line, you get your wrists slapped. Nasty business afloat, wolves wearing sheep's clothing.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted April 19, 2014 at 17:30:46

OH the nonsense never stops. LRT in Hamilton is an expensive boondoggle and slowly the people that count are coming to that realization. With a little luck the whole thing will soon be a distant memory.

Ryan have you not seen the price of gas? It's at almost record highs. Isn't it time for another piece on the doom and gloom of peak oil? It really has been a while since you posted one of those. You do like to repost the same stuff over and over again. Come on it's time.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted April 19, 2014 at 17:38:15

Just came across this interesting article on the economic impact of LRT.


Seems they are using the numbers supplied by the proponents of LRT and holly smokes they don't add up! Who would have believed it. Not I that's for sure. Ryan and the gang wouldn't lie to us so what's going on here. Whoops maybe common sense wins out again and all that silliness is being outed for what it is.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 19, 2014 at 20:27:36

So LOL, why don;t you reveal yourself? You hide behind a titlem what are you afraid to tell us who you are?
The byaobserver, well is not the lead person on that linked to Bratina? Why should we just believe their view?

Show your true face, coward!!!!!

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted April 27, 2014 at 23:06:58 in reply to Comment 100485

WOW such hatred. Such name calling. Have I really struck such a tender nerve? The best part about all this is that the garbage is posted anonymously. Keep up the good work.

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