Mayor Fred Eisenberger agreed to an email interview with Raise the Hammer to share his insights on his tour of light rail systems in Calgary, Portland OR and Charlotte NC.He explained that the purpose of the trip was "to get a firsthand knowledge of the experience in each of these cities from an infrastructure, political, and funding point of view to see how Hamilton should proceed on this project."
They are all mid-sized cities in various timeframes of having LRT (Charlotte opened last year, Portland and Calgary around 20-30 years). Portland and Charlotte were very good comparators for Hamilton in terms of scale. City population were around 500,000-600,000 (metro population is larger); the scale of buildings was similar; and ridership in Charlotte was comparable.
Charlotte LRT has exceeded expectations in terms of first year ridership, yet it is still below what current Hamilton East-West ridership is when you take into account all the busses that travel on that route.
Calgary was a useful case study as it was in the Canadian context and not one of the big-three cities.
Eisenberger said of the impact in those cities that "Light rail is transformational - it's about rejuvenating a city, promoting growth and intensification. Four- and five-storey condo buildings were being constructed all along the LRT lines and office uptake in the core was substantial."
He added, "One thing that stood out is how proud each of these Cities were: of their LRT systems, but also of their communities in general. There was a real sense of optimism, ownership, and pride in the systems they had built."
The mayor concluded, "This is a tremendous opportunity for Hamilton. Given the experience and advice from other cites, we are on the right track and ready to go to the next step. We are pushing hard to get in to the first phase of the Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan."
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