Special Report: Light Rail

We Need to Reclaim Status As Innovators, Community Builders

We've forgotten our true identity, which was to be always on the cusp of growth and technology. We have a chance to reclaim that if we can just get rid of the knee-jerk reaction to progress and evolution/innovation.

By Lee Edward McIlmoyle
Published October 20, 2014

It staggers me that the concept of fully-funded inner city transportation should even be up for debate.

I've lived in Hamilton my whole life. I remember back when HSR bus service was still considered enviable and viable for everyone.

I could be wrong, because these are anecdotal points, but our streets seemed quieter, our students happier and our attitude towards car culture didn't seem as ingrained as it is today - and this was back in the day when every guy on my block was outside tuning his Charger or applying Bondo to his Mustang.

It's a weird irony that, in an age when cars aren't as mythologized as they were when I was growing up, our attitude toward getting out of them and walking, cycling or riding public transit is seen as an almost unnecessary necessary evil.

I know I'm short on original ideas on this, but I think what we need is a comprehensive re-education program to teach everyone why complete streets and light rail transit (LRT) aren't just some fantasy dreamed up by inner city intelligentsia to take away their easy 'commute'.

It could be a combination of posters, brochures and short videos, using smart infographics and simple animations with voiceovers to help show everyone how the changes aren't that radical, aren't just pie-in-the-sky thinking, and could really revitalize not just the downtown core, but the entire east/west route through Wards 1 through 5 (for starters) if only we'd wrap our brains around the benefits of a comprehensive, efficient, comfortable public transit system.

Attitudes Toward Downtown

One of the key points that has to be addressed is this prevalent attitude towards the downtown core. The outer boroughs seem to think they can function just fine without one, failing of course to realize the long-term effects of a rotting inner city.

Blaming amalgamation for the higher taxes and refusing to cope with the reality of our city solves nothing. We can't turn back the clock, and if we really look at the sequence of events, we'll see that there's no point in trying.

It's not possible to undo all of the things that have been done to us and still take care of the myriad problems we currently have. The damage is done. Time to move forward for a change.

Silver Bullets and White Knights

And I agree with McMaster researcher Chris Higgins et al. about LRT not being a silver bullet investment. It shouldn't be. Silver Bullets and White Knights are faerie tales, and we really need to get our heads out of the Disney books and start looking at what makes modern cities flourish, including macro and micro economies and organic growth.

I'm tired of the way Hamilton loves to put all of its eggs in one basket. It's that thinking that got us tied to the steel mills and the juggernaut industrial sector and high index pollution and a worn out inner city in the first place.

We have a chance to move past that era now, to get started on building a new city, with a new identity, new relationships, and new economy, but we can't do any of it if we keep looking over our shoulders fondly at a misunderstood, bygone era that will never truly return again. The global economy won't allow it.

Our Real Identity

The funny thing is: too many people, certain election candidates included, think that Hamilton, is, was and always will be an industrial city first and foremost. But we got that way after decades of being other things.

Study your Hamilton history and you'll find we were once the centre of court justice in Southern Ontario, and then the transit and electricity capital of the region, and a bustling near-metropolis of trade and consumerism, as well as a thriving manufacturing city.

That changed slowly, and part of the problem is that we spent too long bowing at the twin altars of steel and the automotive industry.

We've forgotten our true identity, which was to be always on the cusp of growth and technology. We have a chance to reclaim that, and to make our city all these pleasing platitudes we've heaped upon ourselves recently, if we can just get rid of this knee-jerk reaction to progress and evolution/innovation.

Heck, LRT isn't even reinventing the wheel: It works almost everywhere it's been implemented when it's done right (which we need to consider carefully ourselves).

Fix Up the Heart

LRT, two-way Conversion, complete streets, tax incentives and reduced red tape for small business operators - and yes, Brad, fixing our roads and sidewalks - these things can and will all contribute to the revitalization of our city as a whole.

No one is going to come to Stoney Creek Mountain or even Ancaster for a day trip if the majority of the City of Hamilton is dessicated by willful neglect. But if you fix up the heart of the city, all of the city's attractions will become more accessible and desirable attractions for everyone.

This is how other cities function and thrive. Just insisting that it has to be a Hamilton-made solution isn't going to get anything done. Of course it will be a Hamilton-made solution. Only we can make it.

And only we can stop it stone dead. Choose.


Saying no to LRT isn't an option. We need it, and we're paying for it whether we want to or not. And no, LRT alone won't save us, but then, nothing and no one else will, either.

We need to get it together as a city and reclaim our status as innovators and community builders. We need to unlearn old prejudices and learn what it takes to make a city thrive in a recessed, diversified economy.

And we really need to stop listening to talking heads that feed into our fear, angst and reflexive dread of encouraging and being seen as anything other than blue collar shmoes. Historically, we have been - and could still be - so much more.

Lee Edward McIlmoyle writes fiction, songs and reviews. He designs commercial graphics and dabbles in creating comics and video games. You can visit his website.


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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 14:29:49

So much to respond to, but for the sake of brevity and tact (Otherwise, I'd be tempted to offer up a paragraph-by-paragraph response) I'll just address this:

"The funny thing is: too many people, certain election candidates included, think that Hamilton, is, was and always will be an industrial city first and foremost. But we got that way after decades of being other things."

I've attended or watched almost all of the Mayoral debates. (Yes, this means I get the decoder ring...and part of the secret handshake.) And the only candidates I've heard playing this tune are the absolute fringe ones. And those who align with them usually come from some kind blue-collar background. And are over the age of 50. That's not to say that there isn't a ton of potential in the manufacturing sector, especially if we get off our asses and develop deeper international relationships. And the viable candidates know this. they're not stupid. (Even if you're dead set on believing they are.)

I shake my head at a lot of the labels that get applied in conversations such as this, these mass-categorizations. The 'bedroom community' bugaboo. The jingoistic idea that 'Hamilton needs to stand proud again!' Or any such platitude that is at least a manipulative ploy, and at its worst, a form of abuse. Or is that masochism...?

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 16:38:05

"It staggers me that the concept of fully-funded inner city transportation should even be up for debate."

Kevin's comment: What staggers me is the flip side of this: That there is no debate about cutting off the insane money pit of flushing dollars down the toilet providing and maintaining car infrastructure for urban sprawl.

While ordinary people have to organize and fight and beg to get a pittance to build barely adequate infrastructure like the Cannon Street cycletrack, millions and millions of dollars magically falls from the sky to rebuild roads up the mountain without any cycling infrastructure at all.

Or the billions of dollars, $2.2 billion in Toronto alone spent by the provincial government on medical care for people poisoned by drivers.

Road construction and maintenance costs, police, fire and ambulance costs, medical care for people poisoned or crushed by car drivers... Billions and billions of dollars just magically appear from the hard-working taxpayer to be wastefully lavished on car drivers.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2014-10-20 16:41:45

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By DavidJenkins (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 16:42:16

We must indeed get our heads out of the "(heavy)industrial city" mindset of yester year. There is great potential here in Hamilton. If only we could get more people on board with promoting it. Some businesses/industries/services etcetera, will find there way here on their own. That is not enough! We need to actively reach out to these entities and entice them into seeing Hamilton as to place to settle their enterprises.

Where our public transit is concerned there are more and more people that currently count on it. More will do so in the future whether by desire or need. Our present system is so woefully inadequate that it will not be able to meet our needs. But it seems to be the blind leading the blind for the most part. Money, money, money in the right here and now is being shouted out as the control point of the view to transit. Damn the future. We have a once in our lifetime chance to really make transit better for Hamilton. There just is not enough drive to make it happen.

We must force our city leaders need to get it in gear. I have a sinking feeling that voters, for what ever their reasons, will choose a Mayor that will not lead us anywhere but to despair if allowed to doddle about in what seems to have become the accepted way of business.

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By DavidJenkins (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 17:02:52

Well here is the point of "While ordinary people have to organize and fight and beg..." , it is because we let it happen and continue to happen. Many citizens forget that politicians WORK FOR US and not the other way around.

There are far too many people out there that either don't care or are simply, sorry to say, easily lead in the wrong direction because they can not THINK for themselves. Out of the main candidates McHattie, Eisenberger and Clark, Eisenberger who offers what?

Eisenberger was mayor once. He was not remarkable in that term. He made a failed further attempt to regain that seat. He made a failed attempt to get into big league politics. So what have we forgotten that allows him to be popular? Come on people, wake up!See mister flip-flop for what he is.

Clark had his chance when in was in provincial politics. He didn't get to stay. He made a fail attempt to get into federal politics. Again, how can we forget how pathetic a job he did in the provincial seat.

So now comes McHattie; the only candidate that actually cares about the city, the people and their future, and some people are blind to this. It baffles me to the nth degree.

I am sickened by the masses who allow themselves to be taken in by the likes of Clark and Eisenberger. These two POLITICIANS have a plan all right. To enhance THEIR OWN future and not ours or our city's .

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By Leroy Jenkins (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 17:27:09 in reply to Comment 105462


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By DissenterOfThings (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 19:37:47 in reply to Comment 105460

There were no marathon 4+ hour council deliberations, no angry letters to the editor, no finger-wagging denunciations of wasteful subsidy.

Maybe there needs to start being some

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted October 20, 2014 at 19:44:03 in reply to Comment 105465

What if 51% of the people want the arterial road? What if 75% do?

If the money spent on the road essentially belongs to us, and us say we want the arterial road, why angry letters and finger pointing? Don't you need to convince the majority not to spend their money on something they want?

You make is sound like most people do not want easy moving, pothole free roadways. If most people want it and most people are paying for it why can't they have it?

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2014-10-20 19:44:41

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By j.servus (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 20:23:48 in reply to Comment 105467

Sure. If they want the road, they can have it. That's not the point at all. The point is, are we having a proper scrutiny and discussion? We have limited resources. A new road is a major capital cost. It is a major recurring maintenance cost. It is replacing other things that we might have done with that money. Why don't we scrutinize that?

I have a household budget. If I buy a second car, that's a major expense. I would definitely have to discuss that with my wife. We would have to both be convinced it made sense--that we could afford it, that it was a good use of our limited resources, that we were willing to give up the other things we might have done with that money. But if I buy coffee on the way to work one morning, I do not normally feel I have to clear that with my wife first. It's not a major item. It doesn't meaningfully affect our ability to pay university tuition for our kids. So, what's weird about Hamilton--the people and the Council--is that we are treating coffee-level decisions like we're buying a new car, and new car-level decisions like we're just getting a cup of coffee. Lots of people would like a new car. You make it sound like they should just go for it, without doing the math with their partners.

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By fatsos (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 21:51:48

You know what would be innovative? It would be innovative to have an honest mayor in a major city. Aren't people sick and tired of fat bastard gluttonous people running for mayor in major cities? Is that the best we have to offer, or is there a conspiracy against the people?

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By haha (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 21:57:05 in reply to Comment 105475

You forgot to mention abusers of women. Many mayors today are either really fat or womanizers.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 22:28:24 in reply to Comment 105476

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By jimbob88 (registered) | Posted October 21, 2014 at 11:36:28

Hamilton LRT Project – Reading the fine print

The Hamilton LRT project is characterized by the production of a large volume of reports, written over a period of years, by many different parties at a reported cost of $9 million dollars. To obtain a real picture of what Hamilton LRT might be like requires the cross referencing of assumptions and information within these reports and, in particular, a review of the “fine print”.

Nowhere is this more evident than a seemingly innocuous reference in the Hamilton King-Main Benefits (business) Case) [1]:

“At the present time, King Street and Main Street operate as one-way streets . . . . . , it is assumed for the purpose of this comparative assessment that the BRT (LRT) route would run on King Street utilizing existing rights-of-way. Under this scenario both Main Street and King Street would be converted to two-way streets for general purpose traffic.” [2]

The seemingly innocuous reference is in the last sentence:

“However, as a result of the reduced number of traffic lanes on both streets, traffic capacity on both streets (King and Main) would decrease.” [2]

One has to cross reference to a previous study [3] (that has since disappeared from the website) to find out what “would decrease” would mean for Hamilton commuters.

“Current traffic volumes in the King-Main Corridor will have to reduce by 30-40% through increased use of transit, TDM (Transportation Demand Management), and diversions to alternate routes. A doubling of current transit usage is necessary, supported by changes in parking policies and costs [4], [5] and, road and traffic control changes”

Such a large increase (doubling) in transit usage is contrary to all known transportation science and essentially impossible for a City of Hamilton’s size. It would basically mean that if you are currently a vehicle operator or passenger that commutes via Main or King Streets, either you or the person in the vehicle ahead or behind you would have to switch to LRT or would have to take an alternative route or means of travel to and from work.

The devil is in the details and the fine print.

Light Rail Transit is an important and effective means of public transportation in cities with populations in excess of 750,000 and with downtown core employment in excess of 50,000. Other complimentary demographic conditions are also needed to warrant the implementation of LRT. For smaller cities, LRT is not viable and LRT’s alleged benefits can experience difficulty withstanding close scrutiny. The risks are: onerous on-going operating deficits; business and residential tax increases; and conventional transit service reductions to support a system that is not the best transit solution for the municipality.

[1] Hamilton King-Main Benefits Case, MetroLinx, February 2010 [2} ibid, Page 24 [3] Page 1 LRT Functional Planning Analysis B-Line, McCormick Rankin Corp. April 2009 [4] A fivefold increase in parking costs (ibid, Slide 23 PowerPoint addendum) [5] A reduction in parking spaces in the CBD to 0.4 per employee (ibid, Slide 23 PowerPoint addendum)

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