By Letter to the Editor
Published July 12, 2011
To Mayor Bratina and Members of Council,
The B-Line LRT project is the single best form of economic stimulus this city has ever seen. No other project could possibly benefit so many neighbourhoods, and so many citizens, directly along its path and provide spin-off benefits for the entire city.
The A-Line corridor doesn't currently have the ridership to support LRT. The development and demand to bring the ridership is years away, meaning operating the A-Line will cost the city dearly in the early years. It is better to take a staged approach to its development.
Conversely, the B-Line already has the bus ridership numbers to support its operation, and the trains won't be running empty at off peak hours. More riders means more revenue, which reduces operating subsidies. The city can't afford an A-Line LRT right now, but we can't afford not to have the B-Line LRT as quickly as possible.
Comments made by some city councillors and the mayor suggest our politicians are willing to write off the lower city as unsalvageable, and the only chance for prosperity is developing greenfields in the suburbs. Yet, suburban residents complain of high property taxes, caused by the disparity in property values between the lower city and other areas of Hamilton.
This disparity will only continue if nothing is done to provide economic stimulus to the downtown and the lower city the rest of Hamilton looks down upon. This is one of the reasons, as a resident of Flamborough, I wholeheartedly support the project and want to see it move forward.
One concern raised by Councillor Clark is the B-Line LRT was supposed to free up buses to enhance service in other areas of the city, yet local service will still be needed along the corridor. Well, both are true.
A two-car LRT train replaces four buses. The only local bus service remaining will be to fill in the gaps and provide accessible service to those who either can't walk the distance to the LRT stations, or are only travelling short distances.
These buses will run less frequently than the current King bus, and will be regular buses rather than the long, articulated buses. This level of service frees up at least three quarters of the buses currently operating on the corridor, most of which are the larger articulated buses. These buses and their operators can then be reassigned to enhance service to other areas of the city, without incurring additional capital and staffing costs.
With the LRT running every four minutes during peak times, ten minutes off-peak, and 30 minute trip end-to-end, it is easy to see why riders will opt for the LRT over local bus service.
In addition, the LRT operates smoothly on rail tracks, not shaking and rattling along the pot-holed gutters of city streets like a bus. People who don't take the bus for this reason will be attracted to the smoother, more comfortable, clean and quick ride the LRT offers.
Anywhere that LRT has been built, there has only been positive results. We hear a lot about places like Portland, but there are many other examples, some you may not suspect.
In Phoenix, Arizona, a bastion of car-dominant suburban sprawl, "The region's light-rail system beat ridership expectations in its first month of regular service... Average weekday ridership was nearly 5,000 more than expected. More surprisingly, Saturday ridership was about 10,000 more than expected, and mostly attributed to special events." Read more.
And of course, Phoenix's LRT line goes right through downtown.
The next issue raised is that the city should be focusing on getting full-day GO service to the city instead of the LRT. Why on earth shouldn't we be pursuing both? Furthermore, let's not confuse priorities of inter-city commuting with local transit improvements. They are complementary to each other and work best when both are in place.
Councillor Clark did raise one very good point, however. The city has to start planning for the future rapid transit network in its current development activities. Case in point, Rymal Road.
As this road is widened, transit improvements must be considered and built in these plans, so when rapid transit service is brought to this corridor next decade, some of the infrastructure is already in place rather than having to rip out a perfectly good road to accommodate it at that time.
It means spending a little more on improving the road as it is improved, but will cost a lot less later. Let's get the left hand talking to the right.
The final point I'd like to address is in regards to comments made about development potential along the B-Line, "postage-stamp" lots and ruining neighbourhoods.
There is tremendous development and neighbourhood improvement potential along the corridor. Many properties are aching to be redeveloped. Some have no hope but to be torn down and built anew. Many older buildings remain vacant or under-utilized, but new owners and tenants will be attracted to the LRT corridor.
Again, we only need to look at what has happened in other mid-sized North American cities where LRT has been built.
Yes, many of the lots available for redevelopment are small, unlike the vast greenfields in the suburbs. But it is surprising what can be built on a small lot when the building isn't surrounded by a wind-swept sea of asphalt parking lot.
I recently attended a design workshop with members of the Westdale community, looking at how the intersection of Main and Longwood could evolve with a new LRT station at its hub, and the influence of the McMaster Innovation Park.
We imagined Main Street lined with new six- and eight-storey buildings, housing a variety of retail/office businesses and residents, with a new vitality and connection to the rest of the city.
The lots were appropriately sized for the redevelopment, except in one case where some adjacent properties were assembled. But what was even more surprising came at the public meeting afterward, with those in attendance agreeing even more could be done there.
A local developer also in attendance lamented he was discouraged from redeveloping his property in this area due to the development charges. But having an LRT could change that, because it would make his property more valuable and attractive, and he could justify constructing a larger building.
A further benefit to the city is all of the basic infrastructure is already in place along the B-Line, so development charges and increased property tax revenues would go into city coffers.
Neighbourhoods along the corridor will be revitalized by having focal points along King Street, with a better pedestrian/street life. It brings people new opportunities, jobs and hope to some of the most impoverished areas of the city!
In closing, I would like you to appreciate that I'm not a total LRT/Transit nut, but am supporting the B-Line project because I see the great benefits it offers the city, both directly to the corridor and the city as a whole. It will be the start of a revitalization project the city badly needs, and a catalyst to expand LRT and bus rapid transit to other areas of the city.
While I appreciate members of council may yet be hesitant because there are many unanswered questions, having been involved with the Rapid Transit Citizens Advisory Committee myself, and seeing the tremendous amount of work there is to do, I believe the reason for this is because staff are trying to have answers to the inevitable questions ready when the proposal is presented and opened up for debate. Debate at this time is premature and destructive only because the information is incomplete.
I hope that you and City Council will back the B-Line proposal, as Waterloo Region Council have done for their LRT project, so our community can be united in our demands for funding from the provincial government and Metrolinx. The feds have to pony up as well.
Hamilton is in control of its destiny. Debate is good, but let's not repeat the embarrassing stadium debacle. We can move forward or just stay where we are. Let's move forward. We won't kid ourselves: the benefits will be years in the making, but it will pay off and we won't regret it. We will only regret not doing it.
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