Light Rail

Cities are Not Powerless to Shape Growth

By John Neary
Published June 20, 2011

It's a large city and regional mobility hub whose leading industry suffered greatly during the recent economic downturn. The upcoming arrival of a major international sporting event has prompted reinvestment in transportation infrastructure, although plans to spend over a thousand dollars per resident on airport-related development have been quite controversial.

Yes, I'm talking about London, England.

Whereas government-sponsored studies predicted that the construction of a sixth terminal and third runway at Heathrow Airport would lead to a net economic benefit of £5.5 billion, re-analysis (taking full account of social and economic impacts) suggested a £5 billion net loss, while the high price of oil could raise the loss to £7.5 billion.

In light of such predictions and the objections raised by local residents and environmental groups, the new Conservative-led government scrapped the airport expansion.

However, the £16 billion Crossrail project to construct a mainline east-west railway underneath central London continues, and all three major political parties support spending tens of billions of pounds to construct a high-speed rail line joining London and Birmingham, which would cut travel times on this 190 km journey from 84 to 49 minutes.

Oh, and no serious person has argued that more highways and automobiles are the answer to London's transportation problems.

But clearly there is nothing for Hamilton to learn from London. Our only option for economic growth is the aerotropolis, and our only option for transportation is more cars and trucks. We will never have enough money to build proper public transit.

These are simple facts over which we have no control. In particular, the decisions to spend $250 million on the Red Hill Valley Parkway and $1 billion on the Airport Economic Growth District have absolutely nothing to do with the perceived difficulty in funding the construction of light rail transit.

John Neary lives in Beasley Neighbourhood and practices general internal medicine at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. He would like Hamilton to develop an urban environment that creates less gainful employment for his profession.


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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 09:54:19

Quite right, it works elsewhere, but "it would never work in Hamilton." :-p

In general though, I agree that the problem goes beyond the city, to the province and the federal government, who have little to no long-term sustainable vision for the funcitoning of our cities. I mean, query whether it would have been better to leave the GST at 7% and dole out the extra funds to cities for exclusive use on infrastructure?

It seems to me that cities which people think are doing "well" are just as often a result of "luck" (a confluence of positive factors and timing) as they are of actual planning and leadership.

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 11:28:27

Apparently some cities just get it. And some can just get money.

The Heathrow price tag is relative. If I’m not mistaken there’s the £2b cost of actually staging the 2012 Games and an additional £11b in spending in the run-up to the Games. I’m sure this is feasible in part not only because London is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the EU (one responsible to generating around a third of the UK's GDP), but also because its planning has created an economic, media and cultural powerhouse, one likely to recoup that investment sooner or later. Hamilton, meanwhile, has an infrastructure gap around the size of the Red Hill Parkway – money that is quite literally going into a hole in the ground. And in the absence of substantial private sector growth, the bill has maily gone to taxpayers.

That said, there is nothing stopping us from reversing decades of decline except absence of a compelling vision and lack of political willpower. Which is unfortunate to say the least. What’s a one-term mayor for if not to effect radical but necessary change?

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By FatalFourWay (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 12:40:26

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By TnT (registered) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 19:15:29 in reply to Comment 64989

Seriously? Fred Eisenberger was a good man who was a proponent of urban growth. What does that have to do with left/right politics.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 13:41:24 in reply to Comment 64989

FYI Fred was a big C Conservative. But don't let facts get in the way of your anti "lefty" rant.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 12:51:42 in reply to Comment 64989

It's also what the city had in Mayors Wade and DiIanni. The city has been stuck in the revolving door for the last decade. All the more reason for a little intestinal fortitude from the man in the necklace.

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 14:17:29 in reply to Comment 64990

To be totally fair about it, I gather that Hamilton has historically been a city of single-term mayors since its incorporation. Seven of the city's last 10 mayors have been single-termer with the exceptions being Jackson, Copps and Morrow.

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By observer (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 14:19:00

Neary writes, " construct a high-speed rail line joining London and Birmingham, which would cut travel times on this 190 km journey from 84 to 49 minutes." That makes me, Ontarian, Canadian, jealous. It means that about 118 miles is now covered in LESS than an hour and a half: that means an average speed of nearly 90 mph.---and they want to increase that speed by about 50%. There were real travelling times on the old VIA/CN Turbotrain, Toronto-Montreal in the mid-1970s of 4 1/2 hours, and certain stretches in eastern Ontario were run at close to 100 mph. [The scheduled time had been 4 hours--but still. Yes I know, the Turbo had problems and expensive repairs.]

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By Freedom Seeker (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 23:37:59 in reply to Comment 64993

I had a very good friend, now dead, who was an engineer on the Turbo when it was in service. He had some interesting stories to tell. Investments that could have addressed the trains reliability issues were intentionally not made, suppliers of critical spare parts that were often out of spec. or otherwise unusable "out of the box" for the train were able to retain their contracts, and there were large sections of the route where the tracks would have allowed the train to run 50 miles per hour or more faster than was dictated by "head office". The reason? The government of the day felt that if if the Turbo service was "too good" it would cut into Air Canada's business on that route. He was a man who took pride in his work, and it left him quite bitter for years that he was not able to provide the best service possible to his passengers purely as a result of politics. Such are the perversions that result from Statist monopolies.

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By observer (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2011 at 16:35:50 in reply to Comment 65001

What you've written rings true about the commitment of CN/VIA's staff engineers. It was an engineer on board the train who told me that east of Belleville we were running at 100 mph.
You write, "The government of the day felt that if if the Turbo service was "too good" it would cut into Air Canada's business on that route." Maybe ironically, I took the Turbo to Montreal on the day I did because there was an Air Canada strike at the time, as I recall [summer 1976]. Of course I'm glad I had that fast train experience. I don't know whether the conspiracy hypothesis holds or not. There were gripes about winter icing in the turbines, but maybe your friend was right. And much was made about a collision on the Turbo's test run with "press" aboard--as if that was the train's fault. Everything else you write about your friend's train maintenance feelings makes sense.
The rail bed had been greatly improved to handle the at least 100 mph speeds. And, oh, the original and hopeful scheduled time was 3 hrs, 59 minutes [not 4 hours as I said], just as the older Rapido's time [mid-1960s] was shown as 4 hrs, 59 minutes. The Turbo's scheduled time was re-adjusted and then shown as 4hrs 30 min [or 29 min?], as I think I recall. And that was the time that I experienced. At one point we crossed paths with the west-bound Turbo; sitting in the front observation car behind the engine, that made for a very quick swoosh--relative observed speed thus of 200 mph of the two trains moving away from each other.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted June 20, 2011 at 18:30:27 in reply to Comment 64993

That point crossed my mind, but I didn't bother spelling it out. Judging from your comment I didn't need to.

Not everyone in England supports the high-speed rail idea. The Queen is upset because it might frighten her horses. No joke. I'd link to an article in the Sunday Times but it's behind a paywall.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2011 at 23:35:56

The best advertising I've ever seen for high speed rail was nothing but a light-up display on the tops of glass room dividers on a German passenger train (ICE-2 I think). Among other things (time, trip details, weather etc) it had a speedometer. My jaw dropped as it climed, right through 180km/h to a comfortable cruising speed around 230km/h, with more rattle than a morning GO train. Since that one train ride, I've been sold on high speed rail.

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By tyuio (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2011 at 16:11:33 in reply to Comment 65000

Maybe you mean "with *[no]* more rattle than a morning GO train,"-- I think.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 21, 2011 at 22:43:34 in reply to Comment 65008

Caught that, but then learned that we have only 90 minutes to fix mistakes. Sigh.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2011 at 00:41:32

I cannot believe that you are comparing Hamilton with London. The two cities have absolutely nothing in common. You might as well compare Hamilton to the colony on Mars.

I would absolutely love to see what some other cities similar in Hamilton in size and importance have done that has worked out well and especially things that did not work out well so we can avoid those mistakes. What London does is of zero relevance to what Hamilton should or should not do.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2011 at 13:44:20

Here we go again. Hamilton has nothing in common with London. London has an area not much bigger than Hamilton and a population of 8,000,000. Heathrow is perhaps the busiest airport in the world, Hamilton's not so much. Their airport has to much traffic that they are running out of infrastructure, again Hamilton not so much. They are trying to keep people out of downtown again Hamilton not so much, and the list goes on and on and on and on....

Let's try looking at similar cities to Hamilton and see what has and has not worked for them and then we can make some intelligent decisions about our city.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 23, 2011 at 13:58:13

That's right, we forgot, Hamilton is in the heart of the Urban Planning Twilight Zone so none of the things that work anywhere else work here. Everyone knows that, that's why we don't even bother trying them out here.

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