Light Rail

Spec Comes Out Swinging on LRT

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 16, 2011

this blog entry has been updated

The Hamilton Spectator has devoted a big chunk of today's issue to light rail transit (LRT).

First, an in-depth front-page report by Meredith MacLeod investigates whether and why Mayor Bob Bratina and some councillors seem to have lost their enthusiasm for LRT.

Following up on Bratina and city manager Chris Murray's claim that developers aren't showing any interest, MacLeod surveys a broad swath of Hamilton's business and development community and finds lots of support, mingled with frustration at the mixed signals from Hamilton's leadership.

So if LRT is so important to the city's economic development, why aren't developers swooping in with plans and cash in hand?

That's easy to explain, says developer David Blanchard, whose company owns a lot of property along the line.

"No one is going to run in and buy up all this stuff on a dream."

Until there are commitments and timelines in place, developers won't sink money into buying property, he says.

In fact, after talking to Blanchard, Mark Chamberlain, the Chamber of Commerce, the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington, the Hamilton-Halton Home Builders Association (which calls LRT "an absolute must") and others, the only developers MacLeod found who aren't strongly in support of LRT are Vince Molinaro, who wants the city to focus on intensification at the waterfront, escarpment and Ancaster, and Tyler McDiarmid of Vrancor, who wants the city to concentrate on the James Street GO station to attract GTA commuters.

The Spec editors also took the rare step of publishing a front-page editorial challenging Hamilton's leaders not to squander the opportunity to build LRT through a lack of conviction. "If that happens," writes Howard Elliott on behalf of the editorial board, "it will be a mistake of historic proportions."

He writes, "the mayor and senior staff are either misinformed, or not listening" when they claim that Hamilton's business community is not interested in LRT.

The editorial concludes, "LRT is working in mid-sized cities across North America. It can work here, too, but that will require stronger leadership than we've seen so far."

Update: Updated to note that Molinaro wants to see intensification at the waterfront, escarpment and Ancaster, not just Ancaster. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

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 myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted July 16, 2011 at 17:00:46

In the mayor's response to my letter, the only content besides platitudes around listening to citizen engagement was a summary of how to find the vote information from previous council meetings on that god-awful piece of diseased horse crap that the city calls a website.

Literally, the only point he took away from a few pages of text was "yeah - I know what I voted for... here's how I can prove it" -- the words of a petulant boy upset at being caught.

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By Vrancula (anonymous) | Posted July 16, 2011 at 17:27:03

Vrancor is against it and so is Bob, big freaking surprise.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted July 16, 2011 at 22:08:35 in reply to Comment 66283

Is Vrancor against it, or do they just see two-way GO as being their priority. Given their developments, I'd guess they're simply speaking of low-hanging Toront-commuter fruit.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted July 17, 2011 at 21:20:14 in reply to Comment 66291

That could be one reason. A very plausible one, as many of the councillors see Hamilton's future as a bedroom community to Toronto. And that is unfortunate.

When I saw the article I thought based on the relationship (or lack thereof) The Spec has with the Mayor whatever side he's on they'll come out on the other.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 13:52:42 in reply to Comment 66316

Whoa..I'm only inferring that Vrancor is just offering a very rational, unemotional assessment of what, to their business would provide the most immediate returns.

It wouldn't surprise me if they supported anything that makes downtown real estate more valuable. LRT, in time, would do that as well. I think they just see the two-way/ more frequent GO Transit as being what immediately (prior to new commercial investment) would make downtown a potential location for sizable chunk of people.

Perhaps its because I did that commute for awhile (DT Hammer to DT T.O) I don't see it as a bad thing. It brings young pro's into the city. They get to experience urban Hamilton. Ideally, they like it, but eventually look for something closer to home. Hopefully, by that stage there is opportunity in the city.

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted July 16, 2011 at 17:30:38

Despite the commonly voiced belief that Hamilton has hit rock bottom, I am consistenly impressed by our politicians' ability to dig through the bottom of the barrel to reveal another barrel bottom, as if we're all living in a giant matryoshka of reduced ambition.

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By bob lee (anonymous) | Posted July 17, 2011 at 18:26:40 in reply to Comment 66284

'Best city to raise a child' please step aside, 'giant matryoshka of reduced ambition' take your place.

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By mike_sak (registered) | Posted July 16, 2011 at 17:39:53

I am pleased the spectator devoted this issue to LRT, let alone a whole section. I just want those skeptics/council to start focusing on the longterm future of Hamilton. To dismiss Hamilton of a true transit system, before you know it it will be the Greater Toronto-Waterloo area, and no longer the Greater Toronto-Hamilton.

Comment edited by mike_sak on 2011-07-16 17:41:35

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted July 17, 2011 at 17:31:06 in reply to Comment 66285

Maybe The Spec reads RTH? :)

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By drb (registered) - website | Posted July 16, 2011 at 17:54:38

I'm glad to see The Spec examine LRT extensively. One thing that has bothered me about the opposition to LRT, both here and in The Spec comments, is the mantra that we are not ready for it. We don't have the density, development opportunities, jobs. But one of the main planks in the argument for RHVP was that it would bring development, jobs, and open new residential tax bases on the east mountain. RHVP is a transit system. Funny that.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 16, 2011 at 19:16:36

Vince Molinaro, who wants the city to focus on intensification in Ancaster...


This, in itself, speaks volumes in terms of a philosophical divide. As well as the inappropriateness of a city that's left massive tracts of itself to fall into disrepair to focus on a tag-on municipality from a forced amalgamation.

If I were a more creative person, I'd forge a new version of 'Trouble in River City' from 'The Music Man' for Hamilton's 'lower city'.

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By PaulV (registered) | Posted July 16, 2011 at 19:43:09

Glad to see LRT front and centre with my morning coffee. More fuel for the fire, good job Spec.

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By JMorse (registered) | Posted July 16, 2011 at 20:51:02

The Spec has the unique power to publicly humiliate Bratina on this issue, or really anything for that matter. Let's hope the Spec does the opposite of protecting him from public scrutiny.

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By Desmond (anonymous) | Posted July 16, 2011 at 22:07:36

Is that really what Molinaro said Ryan? My copy says focus on intensification along the waterfront, escarpment and Ancaster.

Tell the whole story not just the part that suits your needs.

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By geoff's two cents (registered) | Posted July 16, 2011 at 23:08:23 in reply to Comment 66290

Even if that's actually the case, I think it changes the import of the statement very little. Town centers like Concession St. and Ancaster village aside, I don't distinguish - conceptually speaking - between the mountain and Hamilton's other far-flung suburbs. Even the waterfront is a common reference point for people who know next to nothing about the city, but who, when forced to find something positive to say, will more often than not say that "at least Hamilton has a beautiful waterfront."

In other words, implicit in a preference for focusing on all three of these areas to the detriment of downtown intensification along a proposed LRT route is a profound ignorance regarding everything the lower city has to offer.

Comment edited by geoff's two cents on 2011-07-16 23:11:38

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By Steve (registered) | Posted July 17, 2011 at 21:26:46 in reply to Comment 66292

"Even if that's actually the case".

No doubt about it, it is actually the case. Definitive.

It was in my copy of The Spec as well, waterfront, escarpment and Ancaster.

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By Fred STreet (anonymous) | Posted July 17, 2011 at 11:38:04 in reply to Comment 66292

I don't really read too much into that. Developers gop where they think they can make it work. Molinaro's work on St. Joseph's could technically be considered am escarpment build, just as other might deem it to be "downtown", while others could argue it is neither. The Witton Lofts are often celebrated as a downtown development when they're much closer to being a waterfront development -- and it's arguably proximity to the water that is injecting that project with saleable sex appeal, more so than if the school were, say, located at James and Mulberry.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 17, 2011 at 01:53:59

Even if LRT is a total waste of money, it might still help Hamilton. With more public debt, our dollar would likely trade lower against the U.S./Euro, reducing the cost of our manufactured products.

From 1996-2002, our dollar traded between 62-75 cents US and Ontario exports averaged 4.59% per year. Since that time, as our dollar has moved to around $1.05US, exports have actually fell by 0.2% per year.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 08:38:17 in reply to Comment 66293

You have someone who watches you to make sure you stay away from sharp objects, right?

The marginal benefit of "wasted" public expenditure is miniscule in relation to its... actual cost. You know, cost?

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 17, 2011 at 09:14:27

Just getting back from vacation...Wow. Great job by the Spec. This reminds me of the historic papers you can find at the library where they were very strong in their stance on projects and issues that were going to be beneficial to Hamilton. It's great to see such a crossroads of groups all aligned in favour of this project. Let's not take council's bait of a GO vs. LRT debate. Let's hold them to the fire on both. They've backed themselves into a corner where literally every organization in the city is in agreement and pushing them hard. Let's do it for the next 3 and a half years if we need to. Our future is too important to have it delayed and wasted for 4 years while nothing gets done.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted July 17, 2011 at 11:41:22 in reply to Comment 66294

...or the paper's enlightened coverage of the "treehugger" opposition to the Red Hill project, a charade of objectivity or weak-kneed mea culpa after decades of cheerleading for the cause they ruly believed in.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 17, 2011 at 11:32:35 in reply to Comment 66294

Let's not take council's bait of a GO vs. LRT debate.

This in itself is the most mind-boggling 'conflict'. How anyone with any semblance of rational thinking can see these two goals as even being in the same discussion is beyond me. The former has to do with inter-city connectivity, while the latter has to do with HAMILTON. Certainly, they both involve transit, but that's almost as much as they have in common. (Yes, I'm reducing things to a very simple discussion here. Sue me.)

(And the fact that in 2011 we're still fighting for all-day train service is so indicative of how far we haven't come as a city; part of me wants to snicker that if, in some bizarro-world, the GO service was to Rymal Road, we'd see one hellova lot different picture unfolding...)

So many of the people who offer up their 'considered opinions' about LRT don't have sufficient scope. They're either limited by what they've always experienced in Hamilton, or seem petrified of actually considering a future more complicated than sustained car use and conventional bus service. I am not saying 'LRT at all costs!'. But good Lord; this is beginning to resemble the Pan Am Stadium Selection Process already.

More hearty, engaging, informed dialogue, please.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-07-17 11:34:04

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By Frankengreal's Monster (anonymous) | Posted July 17, 2011 at 18:07:53

[It's ALIVE!!!](

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 17, 2011 at 21:15:10

Congrats to the Spec on actually taking council to task on this issue. Good to see leadership coming from somewhere in this city.

And all day GO is NOT something we need to lobby for. It's a certainty that GO train service will come to Hamilton, because it has to come through the city to go to Niagara. Additionally, the province is already planning the stations, and VIA is on board. I don't think there's really any issue that needs council to "lobby" or "lead" on all day GO. It's just taking its own time.

Not only that, but if "all day GO train" is their priority, they're doing a pretty horrible job of leading on that too, as I haven't seen or heard any movement on that front other than the work Metrolinx is doing.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 09:48:38 in reply to Comment 66315

I hate to rain on your parade but GO Train service to the peninsula does not need to come through Hamilton, and likely would not. Today VIA Rail and Amtrak service from the peninsula avoid Hamilton and stop at, or at least go through, Aldershot.

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By Wilson (registered) - website | Posted July 18, 2011 at 10:47:36 in reply to Comment 66336

On the contraray, you clearly LOVE to rain on any parade that might make Hamilton a better place.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 10:43:55 in reply to Comment 66336

Actually, GO train service to Niagara DOES have to come THROUGH Hamilton, whether or not it stops is another matter.

Although, given that Hamilton currently has all day train service through the Lakeshore West Train-Bus (that's right, you can take the bus to Aldershot or Burlington and jump on the train anytime of day) I would be surprised if they have a train going through Hamilton without a stop, given that they have a bus providing equivalent service anyways.

It just makes sense to add a stop.

That and the fact that VIA and GO have both been talking about setting up on James St. North near the old train station for, oh, the past 10 years or so...

It's one of these things that's only a matter of time.

Although frankly, why anyone wants all day GO train service, I'll never understand. During the day, on off peak hours, the QEW Express bus will get you to Union Station much faster than the train, and the current bus-train service on the Lakeshore West line is only marginally more inconvenient than a full train (in that you have to transfer from bus to train when heading towards Toronto, and vice versa when heading the other way.

As an aside, how far east of Hamilton do you think the track will have to run before they decide that "lakeshore west" and the term "westbound" when applied to anything heading away from Toronto will be considered misleading? I think a lot of people would be confused if they took the Lakeshore West "Eastbound" from Hamilton and ended up in Toronto instead of Niagara Falls.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted July 18, 2011 at 11:26:20 in reply to Comment 66341

I agree with the whole day service question, Robert. I actually think the Bus from Hamilton to Burlington (Aldershot after 9am), is not much of an inconvenience and actually more comfortable than the train. I can lay my seat back, place my coffee in the little 'cargo' bag on the backs of the chairs. They are nice and cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The lights are turned off at night where they aren't on a GO train or a city bus, with little overhead lights you can use if you want to read.

And as you mentioned, the Union Station bus is faster with it being direct. The Lakeshore view is much nicer form the train perhaps, but I personally wouldn't be upset if all-day GO wasn't on the immediate horizon. It does have to go through Hamilton to Niagara ASAP though. I had to go to Niagara Falls on business one day and my co-worker dropped me off at the Grimsby GO stop on the way back. If I hadn't just caught the GO bus into Hamilton, I would have had to wait another 2 hours for the next one. Niagara-bound is long overdue where GO service is concerned.

In the evening, every other train comes into Hamilton so the only reason you would have to transfer in Burlington to a bus, was if you were on the 'every second' train that ends at Burlington before heading back to Union.

As for direction marking. That is an area lacking in so many forms from GO to highway signage. The RHVP is the worst. Red Hill north or south. Really. What the heck does that mean to a visitor to this city or someone who has never grasped the way north/south/east/west runs in Hamilton. Every sign should add: RHVP north to the QEW or RHVP south to the Hamilton Mountain or something to that affect. To many, north would allude to ascending which of course isn't the case where RHVP is concerned. The fact that the on ramp to the southbound (mountain-bound) lanes is on the left, is probably even more confusing for drivers.

Comment edited by lawrence on 2011-07-18 11:29:02

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted July 18, 2011 at 10:25:39 in reply to Comment 66336

While perhpas there is a way to avoid Hamilton, they will not. The CN ROW that mirrors the QEW is the route they are looking at, with Centennial and 50 Rd's currently on the radar for studies GO has done to this point.

It doesn't currenlty look like a site anywhere near IWS is in the scope however as originally hoped. It doesn't mean it is not something we shouldn't push for, but to this point nobody has pushed for it. LRT would nicely compliment rapid transit to the stadium though.

The latter link mentions the James St N location as well, stating that that has been their focus - not a satellite type stop at Gage.

Comment edited by lawrence on 2011-07-18 10:29:31

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 09:07:52 in reply to Comment 66315

I think this is pretty typical of Hamilton's low-impact brand of "leadership". Stating a goal that is essentially a foregone conclusion is a way of making yourself look productive and powerful when in reality you've just managed to decipher a press release -- or simply stay awake during a meeting, if you happen to have been sitting on the GO Transit Board of Directors for the past few years.

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By Akbar (anonymous) | Posted July 17, 2011 at 22:59:54

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-08-08 22:28:18

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 09:27:21 in reply to Comment 66324

yea, the stadium worked out great. we get to waste tax money on half a stadium with no spinoff potential (other than another parking lot on Cannon) and we get to keep all the brownfields at the West Harbour. Sure sounds like a winning forumula for a 21st century city.

Comment edited by jason on 2011-07-18 09:27:45

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By Worried (anonymous) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 07:19:35

Now that the Spec is behind LRT, I'm worried. They haven't picked a winner in a while.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted July 18, 2011 at 09:41:35

Jason, while Akbar's comments are idiotic, the half-stadium comments are getting old. The location of Ivor Wynne means a lot to people so there are many good things about the outcome of the stadium mess. I too hope that IWS doesn't end up surrounded by parking lots. If there is anything about the stadium to continue to push for, its to keep it as green as possible in the area directly surrounding the facility. I'll accept parking being created at BTS, but I hope that is the extent. Parking should be pushed north of Barton as far as I am concerned.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted July 18, 2011 at 12:55:03 in reply to Comment 66334

That goes against the "Driveway to driveway" experience that Bob Young is so much in favour of though.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted July 18, 2011 at 13:41:55 in reply to Comment 66353

I think the 'Driveway to Driveway' label that we put on Bob Young specifically, should also be lost and be more inclusive.

All large sporting, concert, festival, convention events attract lot's of drivers. They need places to park and perhaps no matter how many transit options you give them from LRT to GO Transit, free buses or shuttles on game days or free DARTS service, there will stiill be those that drive. One solution would be more high rises in the area to create more walk up traffic. Insert development attractors like LRT and a brand new stadium to warrant these types of developments.

If I wasn't able to walk to games, lived in an area within Hamilton with less than desirable bus service, or lived out of town especially Niagara or London way, I would most likely contribute to the 'driveway to driveway' experience myself.

Bob Young probably doesn't find larged paved lots any more attractive than you or I, but realizes through other examples, that 1. parking lots are required because people drive to the games and 2. they are also a way to generate more capital and to make a 'business' like a professional sports franchise, more sustainable with revenue from parking required to offset the costs of running these businesses.

There likely isn't much Bob himself can do to change that need for revenue outside of concessions, tickets, and merchanise. The league as a whole would possibly have to look at how it could cut costs perhaps through players salaries or otherwise, to make it cheaper to own a team.

The CFL is already much less about money than the MLB, NHL, NFL, and NBA, but I do agree that for us to be able to open the market up even broader to allow for sustainable franchises on the coast, Quebec, maybe London and the likes, we would have to look at stepping the CFL back into an even more grass-roots league. Salaries still can't be on the cheap because these players bodies are fairly beat up by the end of their careers. Look at Matt Dunnigan and the problems he still faces with all the concussions he suffered.

But until my statement above happens, these are the needs of these franchises and rather than just saying stick your parking lots, I would like to work very closely with the team to see what alternatives are available without sacrificing our budget, to make this as green a district as possible from more grass/trees in parking lots to even using alternatives to blacktop that others on this site have provided links for. Even better as I stated, would be to have lots within walking distance instead of throwing distance to the stadium, but I think we do need to listen to the needs from both sides, instead of placing labels.

Comment edited by lawrence on 2011-07-18 13:46:47

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