Light Rail

City Rapid Transit Report: Focus on Light Rail for Phase 2

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 12, 2008

Fantastic news: the city has just published a public consultation update [PDF] on its rapid transit feasibility study that recommends moving to phase 2 of the study with a focus on light rail transit.

The update, which will be presented to the public works committee on June 16, also recommends directing staff to report back to the committee in September with a proposed work plan for studies, consultation, design and construction of the rapid transit system.

It further notes that the city should work to ensure that the Hamilton Rapid Transit project is included in the first five-year round of funding from Metrolinx, the provincial body authorized to coordinate rapid transit projects across the GTA and Hamilton.

Strong Public Support for Light Rail

After noting the two public consultation meetings in May, the Hamilton Light Rail panel discussion, and various discussions in local mainstream and independent media, the report states:

At all of the public sessions and through the media blogs the overall public opinion of those responding to the Rapid Transit Feasibility Study is that there is support for the implementation of a rapid transit system, particularly for an LRT system.

71 percent of respondents to the city noted a preference for light rail transit, compared to four percent for bus rapid transit. Overall, 91 percent of respondents support building a rapid transit system.

When respondents stated what they feel are the most important criteria for choosing a rapid transit system, 70 percent identified economic development, 70 percent identified ridership growth, and 65 percent identified environmental impact.

Only 17 percent argued that the capital cost is an important criterion, with most arguing that the capital cost should be shared by all three levels of government.

86 percent of respondents supported the proposed corridors (an east-west corridor from McMaster University to Eastgate Square and a north-south corridor from the waterfront along James to Upper James). 96 percent supported extending the corridors or adding new routes.

A Sense of Urgency

The report also noticed the very high level of public interest in the rapid transit initiative, particularly its timeliness given the provincial capital funding commitment and the positive impact that light rail would have on economic development, revitalization, improving air quality, and city image.

A recurring theme was an awareness that investing in light rail would demonstrate political leadership, showing Hamilton to be an innovative city willing to invest in economic revitalization.

The respondents feel that these advantages can come from light rail transit but not from bus rapid transit, which has not demonstrated an ability ot attract ridership or economic development the way light rail can.

The report also cautioned that based on ongoing consultations with Metrolinx, it's important to ensure that Hamilton's rapid transit plan be included in the first five-year provincial funding commitment, due to be released in November 2008.

That means a deadline of September 2008 for staff to present a proposed work plan for studying and designing the system, subject to council approval.

Policy Objectives

The report also notes that the small opposition to rapid transit tended to emphasize the cost of the plan or a sense that transit improvement is not necessary. However, it states:

The idea of status quo however is in contravention of the City’s Transportation Master Plan and Metrolinx’s draft Regional Transportation Plan Green Papers and White Papers. Particularly, in regards to the continuing issues related to peak oil prices and the demand for environmentally sustainable transportation options, the general sense from the public is that the time is now for Hamilton to do something bold and innovative.

Hamilton has a goal of doubling transit ridership and intensifying the city via the nodes and corridors finalized in the Growth-Related Integrated Development Strategy (GRIDS), which emphasize the Main-King and Upper James corridors.

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 Rider #6 (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2008 at 15:08:19


(sorry for yelling,but I'm REALLY excited that this could happen)

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 12, 2008 at 15:11:14

"Staff consistently heard that the time is now for LRT and that the City must seize the opportunity to move forward and to not miss out on the opportunity at hand to construct a rapid transit system the would compete with other world class cities, all of which have some sort of rail oriented transportation system, particularly with the Province supporting this initiative and proposing funds towards its capital costs." Something that's been said here quite often. Guess sometimes they do listen to the public!

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 12, 2008 at 15:13:10

"The general public opinion, as it played out in the media, was that it was no longer a question of if we should, but when and how we should proceed with an LRT system." Some great reading in the report...

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By Artaud (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2008 at 16:30:08

I think an east-west line is a great idea, but can't see the point of a harbor-Upper James N-S route. Nobody lives on Upper James. All you find there is strip-malls. I suspect the only reason it's being floated is to give Tradeport and the DeSantis types reason to support it - as in, they get a rapid-transit line to feed their new suburban developments south of Rymal.

I think the proper way to design this system is to integrate it properly with the bus system, making light rail the high-speed backbone and using buses for local feeders - similar to the way we do it now, but marshalling at LRT stops instead of the malls we use today.

But also important would be to place the LRT in areas of high population density. I don't think any N-S route makes any sense at all, unless it's some sort of winding sidespur off of the mainline - say, a N-S east-end spur from whatever's densely populated down there, to an east-end E-W link, up the mountain (perhaps) to the densely populated mountain areas like Ottawa/Fennell and Mohawk/Wellington, across to the dense area near Rice, then back down the mountain linking back up to the downtown system at/near Mac.

No N-S line makes sense from a rider's perspective - anywhere you live on the mountain, you're closer to the downtown E-W link than you are to the purported Upper James N-S link - or any other N-S location.

I'd even support eliminating the mountain line entirely, and concentration on a downtown rapid-transit system. After all, the mountain's nothing but a big sprawling suburb anyway. It hasn't been designed with transit in mind, and it'd take billions of dollars to replace the low-density crud we've got up here now with high-density properties that can make good use of an LRT system. I don't think you'll see that level of investment in the existing mountain area - so, like I said, the N-S LRT line ends up being just a free gift to Tradeport and the DeSantis bunch.

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By adam1 (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2008 at 16:47:46

A north-south line is very important so light rail is implemented on the mountain. Then we can work on getting mountain people on board (literally LOL!). The north-south line would provide a backbone for later expansions radially extending from limeridge mall outwards.

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By BR Pepperell (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2008 at 17:52:42

Peak Oil

The age of human energy has begun and we face the biggest challenge the planet has known in the last 100 years. What we must now do is take a great leap backwards. Globalisation along with cheap energy is an aberration. We must now concentrate on equality as a new paradigm. We do this or we perish. We cannot embrace such a change without acceptance of a universally acceptable moral code. We need absolutes in every sphere of human activity . Humanity has proven its need for moral guidance. Global law based on a fair and just society must now be our ruler. This is our biggest challenge, a challenge that Plato wrestled with and we must too.

Bryan Pepperell

Wellington (NZ)

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2008 at 23:57:12

Isn't democracy great. The residents of Hamilton don't pay very much in taxes (federal, provincial), and yet we get all kinds of handouts from the government.

Democracy allows us to do away with morality, and focuses our attention to where it should be, extracting as much money from other Canadians as possible.

Thank you Ryan, for leading the way in making Hamilton a pathetic, handout dependent city.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 13, 2008 at 08:13:32

Hey look...A Smith again... Mr. Status Quo... A north-south line on Upper James would hopefully cut down on the vehicular traffic as well. I don't believe that running LRT through only hi-res areas is very bright either because then you're not getting anyone to any destination.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 13, 2008 at 08:15:23

A Smith, perhaps you should check the order of things. The government offered the money, it's up to us to utilize it properly. It's not because of Ryan that there's money. It's because of ppl like Ryan and many others in this great city that there's a good chance it might get used properly this time!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2008 at 14:28:34

My point is not that transit is bad, but that having someone else pay for it is bad. The residents of Hamilton will end up being net recipients of tax dollars if this goes forward, and this will strengthen our dependency on the state.

Hamilton used to be a net contributor to the country, we were ambitious and hard working. We paid more in tax dollars than we got back.

Think of the city's economy being like our bodies, when we are physically taxed, we get stronger, and more capable. What most people on this site want is the opposite, we want others to do all our work for us. The result is an economy that is stunted and weak. Let's make Hamilton strong again, and the only way to do this is with sacrifice.

If we can learn to rely on ourselves, Hamilton could be the leading city in Canada, strong and vibrant, with plenty of opportunities for everyone who comes here.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 13, 2008 at 15:02:50

I like your analogy of the city being like the human body. Of course, during normal human growth and development, we are completely dependant on others during some phases of our lives, while in other phases, we are the ones doing the work of caring for others. It's how humans survive and adapt. You are suggesting the economic equivalent of exposing infants on hillsides and dumping elders on ice floes.

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By mattchall (registered) | Posted June 13, 2008 at 16:40:56

A N-S line is very important if we are to get citizens from all areas of the city on board(figuratively and literally). Transit nodes could be created at major intersections with E-W bus routes. Hopefully these intersecting bus routes could be converted to LRT in the future as ridership increases. A Smith, it is projects like this that can bring back our local and national manufacturing industries. Light rail systems need rails to run on, rails made in Hamilton. The vehicles that run on the rails could be built by Bombardier in Thunder Bay using parts built by other Ontario suppliers that have lost automotive parts contracts. This is not a hand-out, it is an opportunity to revitalize our economy.

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By Bee (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2008 at 19:21:11

Of all the things they currently spend our taxes on, this has to be one of the better investments out there. The boost it will bring to our local economy should certainly help the municipal tax income. Then we can go back to being a city that has it all.

The north/south is just as important as the east/west. The biggest hurdle to sustainable commuting has to be the escarpment accesses. Few have the luxury of living close enough for the stairs and even fewer brave it by bike. A rail line on Upper James could do the heavy lifting up the hill with supporting east/west bus routes on fennell, mohawk, rymal timed to feed it. Eventually an east/west rail line across the escarpment would be nice, maybe with links to the lower line through ancaster and stony creek.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2008 at 00:02:54

A couple of points I would like to get some feedback on...

1.) How do people feel about toll roads in and around Hamilton? I think this would be a market based way of limiting "urban sprawl".

2.) Allow private businesses the opportunity to build and operate the transit systems many want built. By allowing people to make profits, it encourages others to enter the market. Usually what happens is that businesses overbuild, and prices for services come down.

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By adam1 (anonymous) | Posted June 16, 2008 at 17:19:25

Sorry A Smith, but I pay my fair share of property taxes and want to get LRT built. Believe me, when gas goes to over $3/Litre in a little while, even right-wing capitalists like yourself will be glad we have LRT.

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By Social Ecologist (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2008 at 16:53:19

A Smith: In Scotland, your home country, which I've visited several times, the transit system is privatised. The result is less efficiency: empty buses fighting each other for passengers. The "invisible hand" is throwing money and energy down the sewer. You also neglect to note that car use is heavily, heavily subsidized in many ways.

The real Adam Smith was a great thinker - 300 years ago, before anthropology, before ecology, before social psychology - BEFORE DARWIN FOR PETE'S SAKE! His theories draw from a static and flawed conception of human nature. That's why classical economics can't deal with the earth crisis.

Some points about the mountain for the "new urbanists." First off, it's a misconception that all of it is sprawl. North of Mohawk in the central and east mountain is just as "urban" as many parts of the lower city. Concession is quite dense. The Upper Ottawa, Upper Gage, Upper Sherman, Upper Wentworth, and Upper Wellington lines aleady have good ridership and service many low income and blue collar families. But those parts will not benefit from an upper james line. That's why it's imperative to keep those lines feeding downtown along Concession and Queensdale. It would have been more sensible for mountain residents to build a Mohawk LRT down Kenilworth to the industrial areas. That and the downtown LRT could easily be linked by the above-mentioned bus lines (we're an east-west city in the final analysis.)

Nevertheless, an Upper James LRT, simultaneous to skyrocketing oil, could provide an interesting case in redevelopment. I don't know about "European style boulevards" though. As far as wild ideas go, I think the city should subsidize a showpiece eco-village south of Stone Church, something like Village Homes in Davis, California, which has south facing, passive solar orientation on all the homes, greywater and rooftop harvesting, community gardens throughout, and no cars inside the survey. That would go well with LRT.

Campbell Young

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By Ian Finlay (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2008 at 18:23:26

McMaster Students Union supports LRT system in Hamilton.

Link with more information:

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 26, 2008 at 00:22:48

Social Ecologist,

A toll road is a model of efficiency. Toll operators charge on the basis of distance driven, therefore it is in their interest for traffic to move as quickly and safely as possible. Traffic jams and the resulting higher gas usage are unheard of on well operated toll roads, in sharp contrast to government operated roads.

As far as private transit being inefficient, what metric are you using, emissions? What about HSR buses that carry a couple of passengers at a time, how is that efficient. If transit was left up to the free market, the only routes that would be offered would be the ones where profit could be made. Transit operators that spent more on gas than they made on fares would go out of business. Therefore, if a transit operator could stay in business, it means that they are using their inputs efficiently.

As far as your "earth crisis" is concerned, I find it interesting that you base your decisions on computer models. The large amount of bad mortgage loans that were made in recent years were also based on computer models. Human beings can do a lot of things, but they can't predict the future.

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