Municipal Election 2014

Brad Clark Keeps Saying Things About Rapid Transit That Aren't True

The mayoral candidate's recent comments on both light rail transit and bus rapid transit continue a pattern of being just factually wrong.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 14, 2014

Things About LRT That Aren't True

Last Saturday's Hamilton Spectator included a collection of extended quotes from mayoral candidates Brad Clark, Fred Eisenberger and Brian McHattie from when the candidates met with the newspaper's editorial board.

Clark's segment included a series of claims about the city's light rail transit (LRT) plan that just aren't true.

We are not in a position to create a viable, successful LRT route.

Both the City's Rapid Ready LRT plan and the Province's Benefits Case Analysis conclude that Hamilton is well-positioned for a viable, successful LRT route with a large overall net benefit to the city.

Third-party studies from McMaster University and other independent researchers also conclude that Hamilton LRT will be successful with supportive land use and transportation policies.

We don't have the population.

We have the population. LRT is a highly successful transportation technology for a city of around half a million residents.

Edmonton began developing its LRT system in 1974 when it had a population of 445,000. The system opened in 1978. Calgary began developing its LRT system in 1975, when it had a population of less than 470,000 residents. The system opened in 1981.

We don't have the density.

We have the density. The east-west LRT route is through the old part of the city, an area with an intact urban form, a large population of transit users and lots of room for further growth through new development.

The ridership is not sufficient, it's at the very bottom end of the scale for LRT.

That just isn't true. The B-Line route carries 13,000 passengers a day right now on our under-funded, over-stressed express bus system.

According to the Rapid Ready report, we would launch on day one with ridership in the middle of the pack for North American LRT systems. By 2031, our ridership would be among the highest on the continent.

Daily LRT boardings per kilometre
Daily LRT boardings per kilometre

Things About BRT That Aren't True

In addition to his claims about LRT, Clark is also saying things about bus rapid transit (BRT) that aren't true.

He has been arguing that, instead of accepting full capital funding from the province to build an LRT line, we should instead accept a BRT line that costs less to build.

BRT is a rapid transit system using high-frequency buses running on dedicated, physically separated lanes with stations where passengers buy tickets in advance.

According to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a full "Gold Standard" BRT system can achieve a similar relative return on investment to LRT - relative because it costs less to build but attracts less investment in new developments around the line.

Clark has been claiming that Hamilton can get the development benefits of rapid transit with BRT rather than LRT, but it turns out he doesn't support BRT any more than he supports LRT.

When Clark uses the term "BRT", what he really means is merely express bus service like we already have on the B-Line: no dedicated lanes, no stations - just more buses.

Forget about the boom in transit-oriented development that will take place if we muster up the vision and leadership to follow through on our LRT plan:

Distribution of new taxable assessment without LRT vs. with LRT (Source: Canadian Urban Institute)
Distribution of new taxable assessment without LRT vs. with LRT (Source: Canadian Urban Institute)

Clark's transit plan is to throw a few more buses at the status quo and call it a day.

Now we know exactly what Clark meant at the Hamilton Business Leaders Breakfast debate when he said, "We need to enhance BRT."

When Clark says "BRT", he doesn't mean BRT, he just means express buses running in mixed traffic like we have today.

Likewise, when Clark says he wants to "enhance" the "BRT", he doesn't mean investing in making it a higher-quality, higher-order rapid transit system, he just means adding a few more buses.

To borrow Craig Burley's unofficial tagline, "Hamilton: Good Enough For the Likes of You."


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 GrapeApe (registered) | Posted October 14, 2014 at 10:54:01

If people don't get out and vote for a candidate that is pro-LRT (ahem, McHattie) then I fear Clark will win. I keep hearing all these Clarkisms/Bratinaisms from people and I can't help but wonder why people are only listening to one side...

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By WhatAboutThis (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:04:47 in reply to Comment 105359

Maybe we shouldn't blame the people we are trying to convince. Maybe it's because the proponents of transit are only speaking to one side? If you want to sell better transit in the city, on the mountain for example, you need to talk about how the LRT will benefit transit for mountain residents. You need to promise improved (more frequent, timely) service on the mountain, and outline what that looks like, and how mountain residents will benefit. Oh, and, as a side note, yes, the lower operating costs of the LRT will be the enabler. Of course residents have interests outside of their wards, but there's a lot to be said for appealing to other people's interests in projects before your own interests.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 14, 2014 at 14:04:30 in reply to Comment 105360

I continue to remind everyone that the ultimate 5-line LRT line includes 3 lines on the Mountain. The Mountain is proposed to see more LRT options than anywhere in the city. We can't build all 5 lines at once though. Need to start with the busiest.

Furthermore, if we utilize bidirectional BRT lanes at stations along Upper James, we could develop a BRT line at quite a low cost per km by simply repainting the lane width along the street. See Figure 5 on page 4:

Repaint Upper James lanes to be LA style 9 or 9.5 foot wide lanes. 2 NB and 2 SB for cars. That's 38 feet. Now, two 11-foot bus lanes in the centre of the street. That's a total of 60 feet. I don't know the width of Upper James from Fennell to the HSR depot, but if Main St is 50 feet, Upper James sure looks to be 60+.

Approaching signalized intersections, the bus lanes merge into 1-lane servicing the station. New BRT buses have doors on both sides allowing for this design. This creates room for auto turning lanes in both directions. Buses cross the intersection and then separate into 2 lanes again until the next intersection.

For the cost of paint, stations, transit signals (this is how the buses are kept out of the shared lane) we could see BRT-lite from Fennell to the HSR depot, and if we wanted to, along Mohawk Rd connecting with Limeridge Mall.

Eugene, OR spent $3million/km on their BRT line. Upper James 5.5 km could cost us $20-$30 million. Do some bus lane work downtown on James or John S and this could be a great way to initialize future LRT on the A-Line much sooner than thought.

The Fennell Ave link to Mohawk College would seem to be able to be a simple design using bus-only lanes in each curb lane for the block from Upper James to the college.

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By WhatAboutThis (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2014 at 16:54:57 in reply to Comment 105364

The problem is those lines won't be built until decades into the future, if ever. So why should a mountain resident, or for that matter someone from Ancaster, upper Stoney Creek, Binbrook or Waterdown vote in favour?

Other regions like York region's Viva Rapid Transit started with a full network of 5 BRT lines, and have since then gradually updated the facilities supporting these lines, with an expectation of converting some of the higher capacity lines to LRT by 2031. Why can't we follow that sort of pragmatic path here? It might not be the smartest short-term decision based on a more myopic view of the evidence, I'll admit. But in terms of both political viability, and the larger long-term end goal of getting people out of their cars and into public transit, I don't get why that can't work here too!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 14, 2014 at 17:29:27 in reply to Comment 105367

Remember that the Liberal promises in 2007, 2011 and 2014 were for two rapid transit lines, and staff had been working on LRT for the B-line and an A-line BRT until their office was abruptly shut down in 2011.

This was always the short term plan: first LRT on the B-line route and then BRT on the A-line route. Staff actually started consulting and planning the A-line. In fact, the Province actually identified the A-line as a 15 year project back in 2007! If they kept to the original timeline, it would be finished in eight years at the latest.

If the Rapid Transit office had not been disbanded, planning would likely have been complete by now for the A-line as well as the B-line which would provide mountain residents with concrete proof that their needs were being included as well.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-10-14 17:30:52

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By WhatAboutThis (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2014 at 18:26:21 in reply to Comment 105368

It's a shame how we are allowing ourselves to be treated.

And that's a great point about the two lines originally being promised. That would have made the project much more politically viable. The B-line includes 5 wards, and the A-line includes another 2 wards, putting it on the edge of political viability. Run another line across the mountain from Ancaster to Stoney Creek - you've got 11, and we're over the top in terms of political viability.

I'm not saying this position is "strictly speaking correct". But what if we ran 3 BRT lines across those routes, even if the cross-mountain route was a "poor man's BRT"? I'd be surprised if the political support wasn't there!

Including that many wards could have a transformative impact on the way transit is viewed in Hamilton, which would be a huge win long term. The first big transit investment in Hamilton, more than any other, is going to be about shifting mindsets, rather than raw numbers that justify X policy position.

Let's say you go with the LRT on the B-line. Could we not at least use the cost savings to create or improve upon some form of BRT on the A-line and a sort of cross-mountain line?

It's very difficult for outsiders to engage with transit advocates in Hamilton, because the views are already set in stone (good stone mind you, evidence). But you need more than that, you need political support, which sometimes means making compromises, modifying plans, and especially adjusting how you sell them to people.

I hope that we aren't allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We should have a (very) long term view, but we should accept pragmatic suboptimal steps to help us get there if required.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 14, 2014 at 19:06:42 in reply to Comment 105369

I've agreed all along that city hall should be fighting for LRT on the B Line AND BRT on the A Line simultaneously. There is no reason to settle for anything less. And although the ultimate BLAST network shows where future LRT lines could go, I see no reason at all why we don't develop a QEW/Red Hill/ Linc/ 403 Express bus route along the shoulders of those highways connecting the Big Box Centre at QEW/Centennial with E/W transit routes at Barton, Queenston, Meadowlands East, Upper Gage, Wentworth, James, Meadowlands, MIP, McMaster U.
The B-Line would be crossed at either end by this express route and the A line would be met at Upper James. This would be such a low-cost way to implement a dynamite express system along our freeway shoulders with limited stops as suggested here. Suddenly someone living in Upper Stoney Creek near Meadowlands East can see themselves arriving at McMaster in 30-40 minutes via an express route on dedicated shoulders with zero traffic congestion. Compare that with the driving time from Upper Stoney Creek to Mac everyday via the Linc/403 and all of the sudden people are using transit like never before in Hamilton due to the time travelled being similar to that of a car, but with the guarantee of free lanes the entire way, not possible slowdowns.

The HSR is by far the most mismanaged and poorly run operation in the city. They haven't even installed the new transit shelters along the A and B Line that were approved 2 years ago.
We need a transit commission or an entire new management and staff at HSR.

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By WhatAboutThat (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:41:02 in reply to Comment 105360

You should think beyond just "there's a single line of LRT". Think of the other ways it would impact everything else. Having an LRT would free up the busses that would have normally be used on the routes. Also keeping people from driving if there's a better option to get thur the city. Less cars means buses would have an easier time getting around.

Also it needs to start somewhere, look at the outline of how the whole LRT "BLAST" plan looks. You have to start with the busiest section, and then you add to it. If you start with an area that isn't as busy, people are likely to say it was a waste of money because "nobody" uses it and it's not worth expanding on.

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By H1 (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2014 at 12:21:35 in reply to Comment 105360

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By ViennaCafe (registered) | Posted October 14, 2014 at 14:45:22

I assure you there won't even be any more buses along King and Main streets, either. Under Brad Clark Hamilton's transportation system will continue to decline.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted October 14, 2014 at 20:14:16

I would like comments on the following letter to the Spectator.

It is strange that the Hamilton light rail initiative is based on the apparent rejection of both math and science in favour of ideology.

The unconditional acceptance of LRT reports without verification of the math used represents an acceptance of a very high degree of risk for such a project. It is particularly unsettling, as the math and methodologies used remain highly opaque and have not been published for review and inspection by any impartial third party.

The lack of objectivity in dealing with misleading reports that failed to highlight underlying assumptions is also cause for concern. A case in point is the Canadian Urban Institute report that failed to specifically point out that any development along a proposed LRT line would be at the expense of development that would have occurred elsewhere within Hamilton and, hence, LRT would generate very little, if any, net new assessment.

The rejection of transportation science in favour of ideology — that somehow Hamilton LRT ridership would far exceed what is expected for a city of Hamilton's size, demographics and travel characteristics — is betting the farm, and a lot of taxpayers' money, on an unproven, unvetted and unaudited plan.

Cooler heads need to prevail.

Jim Hindson, PEng (ON), Victoria BC, former transportation engineer, City of Hamilton

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 15, 2014 at 12:07:50 in reply to Comment 105373

The "math and science" references are just rhetorical devices. There is nothing wrong with the math or science, but the author disputes the assumptions, specifically:

  1. That LRT would lead to significant growth in transit use.

  2. That LRT would lead to significant new development.

  3. That Hamilton is dense enough or has a big enough population to warrant LRT.

  4. That LRT would generate additional net operating revenues for the HSR.

This is not a question of Newton's laws, or the fundamental theorem of calculus, but arguments over whether Hamilton is sufficiently similar to cities with successful LRT systems, and whether the successes of these cities is actually due to LRT (at least in part) or to something else. He also doesn't consider the fact that Hamilton would not be paying the capital costs.

He charges that all the reports are full of false claims, incorrect calculations and outright falsification. I'm not sure what "ideology" means, but perhaps he thinks of this as part of the "war on cars".

The four points above have been addressed here numerous times, and the charges that the various reports on Hamilton's LRT are false are in fact arguments over how well-justified the projections are and questions of value (e,g, he thinks we should also include the cost of increasing motor vehicle congestion, assumes that Hamilton will not change significantly over the next 30 years, and that LRT will not change the attractiveness of land along the line to developers).

I can't help thinking that a former Hamilton traffic engineer from the 1970s and 1980s is really mostly concerned about shifting our transportation network away from private vehicles and towards transit and complete streets, and that he also seems to believe that the decline in the city he witnessed (and presumably led him to leave for the west coast) is inevitable.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-10-15 12:23:39

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 14, 2014 at 22:18:40 in reply to Comment 105373

anyone familiar with Hamilton's transportation layout (Main/Dundurn anyone??) will stop laughing in a few weeks after reading 'advice' from a former Hamilton transpo engineer.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted October 15, 2014 at 10:52:29 in reply to Comment 105376

Ad hominem comments aside, is there any truth to the accusation that the math and methodologies are highly opaque and that the LRT will simply shuffle the deck as opposed to creating sufficient tax revenue to carry the project forward beyond the initial cash outlay "gift"?

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By arienc (registered) | Posted October 15, 2014 at 13:21:31 in reply to Comment 105378

That "shuffling of the deck" is an important one from the context of a fiscally and environmentally sustainable city. Growth is going to come to Hamilton. The question is, is it growth on the fringes, which requires acres of new serviced land, new roads and supports the expansion of the trucking and logistics industries that are dependent on forever cheap fossil fuels? Or is it growth in the core, which already has the infrastructure which is vastly underutilized, and supports the expansion of the digital technology and creative economies that are dependent on high consumption spending and rising asset prices.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 15, 2014 at 11:55:42 in reply to Comment 105378

The goal of LRT is to make Hamilton more attractive and competitive with neighbouring municipalities (e.g. Burlington, K-W, Oakville, Brampton, Mississauga, Toronto) and further afield. (Note that most of these places are already investing in LRT and other forms of rapid transit).

The goal is to attract people to invest in Hamilton, rather than these other places. And to start developing their land instead of speculating by keeping it as surface parking or under-utilized low density. The goal is also to make Hamilton a more attractive place to start a business (or move a business) and increased density, high quality transit and walkability are highly desired, especially by younger people.

Note also that the Rapid Ready report projects that the LRT line will eventually return a profit of 75 cents per passenger (rather than a subsidy of over $1 on the current line). This will help subsidize the rest of the HSR and the increased revenues can be used to improve bus service throughout the city.

The Rapid Ready report lays out clearly all its assumptions and cost/revenue predictions. An important point is that we would be planning to achieve the city we want (higher population in the urban core, more economically dynamic, more competitive for potential residents and businesses) not just accommodating the status quo.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-10-15 11:56:30

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 15, 2014 at 12:51:31 in reply to Comment 105382

You must not have heard Clarks announcement on CHML today. Said we'll have "empty trains" driving down the street if we built LRT since we don't have the ridership. Even though he has seen the chart in the above article probably 300 times in the past few years putting us solidly in the middle of the pack on OPENING DAY.

I guess that's the great thing about running a campaign on lies. You can just keep saying whatever you want.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 15, 2014 at 11:13:27 in reply to Comment 105378

the article above shows the potential for new development all along the B Line with LRT. The tax assessment growth potential with LRT is quite staggering.

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By jeffzuk (registered) | Posted October 15, 2014 at 10:58:23

Brad Clark from May 2014:

Suburban residents need to understand providing the seed money for those developments in the core will eventually improve their financial situation, says Brad Clark.

Clark said … suburban residents have to learn that improving the city’s core, is essential if the municipality is to continue transforming itself. He said suburban residents believe they are losing out and all of their tax dollars are being funneled into the core’s redevelopment.

“We need to demonstrate in all the community that Hamilton is ours,” said Clark. “The suburbs are concerned about all the money going into the downtown. We need to educate the suburban voters as to why those subsidies are so vitally important for the downtown. If we intensify we end up developing significant economic growth for the city.”

Brad Clark from October 2014:

"What I'm hearing is we are a city of many communities, how about paying attention to us too? It's not just downtown. The success of Hamilton is not solely based on the downtown. The success on Hamilton is based on a thriving diverse economy across the entire city."

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 15, 2014 at 11:26:14 in reply to Comment 105379

I watched the video from that night. A far different Clark than today's Clark who has abandoned proper city building and facts in favour of old US-style politics.

Someone needs to remind him that throwing out all of our years of planning for implementation of the BLAST network leaves us out of the provincial funding picture. They don't have all this money sitting there with no projects to fund. They have more projects than they can fund. If we start from scratch again, we miss out. Simple. Other cities aren't going to sit back and watch us waste another 8 years on some new plan made up on the fly by a politician with zero transit planning expertise while their planned and ready to go projects stall.

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted October 15, 2014 at 12:54:06

"She should have died hereafter; There would have been a time for such a word. To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."

Source: Some poetic guy along the way.

In the end, it really doesn't matter what the successful candidate believes regarding LRT. It's not in his hands, no matter how much people are running around like chickens with their heads chopped off. He has one vote.

As for him being a vital mechanism to fight for LRT at Queens Park, I don't believe that monies are going to be available. Not for the near future.

Which will mean that we will have to address the #1 issue regarding transit: moving people far better than we have been. We don't just need more frequent service. We need to have bus stops/shelters with electronic 'next three buses' information. We need to address the never-spoken-about issue of passengers with baby strollers, walkers and motorized chairs. Most of all, we'll have to get to work on actual city-building that doesn't include pro-LRTers' first (and only) choice. I for one would love to see the myriad time and energies that have been invested in this conversation put towards re-shaping the downtown core...but I fear that the caterwauling will die down and the authentic heart of the matter will be discarded because the right toy wasn't delivered.

Comment edited by ItJustIs on 2014-10-15 12:54:22

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By Just saying (anonymous) | Posted October 15, 2014 at 17:10:28

You know that Spec article that says Brad Clark goes for his opponents jugular on LRT? Well, thats no fair because Clark doesn't even have a jugular. Never trust a man whose head and body connect without the need for a neck to deliver on his promises to reign in spending (e.g. Rob Ford, Java the Hutt).

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