By John Neary
Published July 07, 2011
Dear Mayor Bratina and Councillor Farr,
I expect that you have both recently received a number of letters arguing for Light Rail Transit as a necessary investment in our city's economy. Rather than recapitulating those arguments (although I agree with them), I wish to make the case for LRT as an investment in public health.
By engineering our streets to facilitate high-speed automobile traffic above all other uses, we have promoted sedentary lifestyles and exposed our citizens to unnecessarily high levels of air pollution.
The links between automobile use and cardiovascular and respiratory disease are well-documented in the medical literature. Indeed, a good deal of important research in this area has been conducted at McMaster University.
The dense, high-speed automobile traffic in our city also exposes Hamilton residents to needlessly high risks of physical injury and violent death.
As a Beasley resident and a physician practicing internal medicine at St. Joseph's Hospital, I am too familiar with the adverse consequences of our current transportation system. When I walk or cycle to work I see too few people using active modes of transportation. I imagine that many Hamiltonians feel unsafe walking and cycling along or across our urban highways if they can avoid it.
At work, I take care of people admitted to hospital with heart attacks, pneumonia, and exacerbations of chronic lung disease. All of these conditions have been strongly linked to exposure to automobile exhaust.
Changing our city's transportation infrastructure will be a difficult task. It will require interventions at the neighbourhood, city, and regional levels. Hamilton is already making some progress at the first of these levels by developing Master Plans for pedestrians and cyclists.
The introduction of all-day GO train service (and perhaps VIA service) will be a great step forward in our regional transportation infrastructure.
What remains is to create an intra-city transportation system that attracts people away from automobiles. While improved bus services and cycling infrastructure have a role to play here, neither has the potential to be transformational.
Light Rail Transit, on the other hand, could create a legitimate alternative to the private automobile for a great number of people in our city. By doing so, it would take cars off the street, thereby making our city a cleaner, less dangerous, more people-friendly place.
It has been argued that we don't have the money for LRT. We've found money to build two freeways in twenty years, and now we are thinking about spending another billion dollars on an aerotropolis.
What has prevented us from committing to LRT isn't a lack of money: it's a lack of ambition, or a misplaced ambition. Let's get our ambition back and invest in projects that will make us healthier and more prosperous.
Let's build LRT.
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