Light Rail

Don't-Miss LRT Articles in the Spec

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 02, 2011

The Spectator ran a couple of great opinion pieces on Saturday and another one today that touch on various aspects of the LRT debate in Hamilton.

Once-in-100-Years Decision

First, an expansive op-ed by Herman Turkstra forcibly argues that the LRT issue is a "once-in-100-years decision" that will impact how the city grows and develops far beyond the horizon of every Councillor or bureaucrat who has their hands on it today.

Today, this city faces a once-in-100-years decision that cannot be avoided: Whether to plan for light rail transit or not. The all-day GO Train issue is irrelevant to that discussion.

It is painfully clear that the province will not impose a decision on us. As MPP Ted McMeekin said, the province will follow Hamilton's lead. If we are not enthusiastic, it will not happen. This means that unless we quickly change the decision-making process, two or three city leaders and administrators can have an immense impact on the quality of life in this city in 2075 and 2095, and 2111 and beyond.

This echoes comments that Paul Bedford, Toronto's Chief Planner emeritus, made in his Why Transit Matters speech in which he also argued that the decision to invest in a large capital transit system will affect development patterns for decades.

Turkstra's piece also echoes the long-range, visionary approach that Mark Chamberlain articulated on July 22, in which Chamberlain argued that the cost of LRT must be considered in the context of the long-term benefit, as well as the cost of not building LRT.

Like Chamberlain, Turkstra argues that LRT "is a game-changing strategy" that will transform the flows of where and how people choose to live and work in the years and decades to come.

Turkstra does fall into the common myth that Hamilton has gradually changed "from a city to a suburb" from which commuters head to Mississauga and Toronto. In fact, Hamilton was and remains an economic and employment centre in its own right, with 70% of Hamiltonians working in Hamilton and 38,000 people commuting into the city to work.

Only a small fraction of Hamiltonians commute all the way to Toronto, with most out-bound commuters heading to Burlington or Oakville.

However, the point remains that Hamilton itself has gradually become more suburban than urban in its land use, whether its suburban residents commute to jobs in Hamilton, Halton or Toronto.

A Brouhaha Over Journalism

Also in Saturday's paper, an opinion piece by editor-in-chief Paul Berton defends the Spectator's LRT coverage against Mayor Bratina's claim that the paper is just stirring up trouble.

Some might call this "agenda-based" or "advocacy" journalism. The mayor called it a "Spectator brouhaha."

But anyone who has been following this issue knows that it has been the Mayor, supported by city manager Chris Murray, who manufactured this LRT crisis by publicly doubting whether LRT is a good idea, saying a number of bizarre and untrue things about LRT, denying that LRT has popular or business/developer support, and suddenly suspending the city's rapid transit study to focus instead on all-day GO service - without a Council vote.

Berton closes his piece by noting that Bratina has not taken up the Spectator's invitation to set the record straight on the mayor's claim that the paper misquoted him and concluding: "Perhaps he'll discuss it on the radio."

Perhaps Bratina's real objection to the Spectator is not that he is being misquoted, but that he is being quoted at all.


Finally, an op-ed in today's Spectator by community columnist Margaret Shkimba offers a personal stake on how LRT could produce a real transformation:

Our transit is so bad because it's nothing but buses on the busiest routes, stuffed to the windows with people, strollers, scooters, and wheelchairs. We are so far past capacity on our main lines - the lines the LRT would work to resolve - that there's an accident just waiting to happen, if there haven't been many already.

If you don't believe me, go take the bus for yourself. Wait for September, when the students get back for the full-body experience. There's no other ride like it in town.

Hamilton's east-west buses already carry more passengers than the 9,100 passengers that Charlotte's modern LRT system, which the Mayor bizarrely called "kind of a quaint old fashion trolley system", was projected to carry when it opened in 2007.

The HSR isn't able to provide accurate day-to-day ridership numbers, because currently a number of riders show cards to operators but do not swipe them, a March 2010 HSR Operational Review by IBI Group found the King, Delaware, B-Line and University buses carry over 13,000 riders a day, or more than a third of total ridership on the HSR system.

Ridership on Charlotte's LRT has far outpaced those projections, and has already rocketed to 21,000 passengers a day. Given the cramping, overcapacity and "drive-bys" (full buses passing people waiting at bus stops) on our congested east-west routes, there is no reason to think that ridership on a Hamilton LRT won't achieve a similarly impressive growth rate.

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 mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 02, 2011 at 12:34:26

It's been fascinating to observe the tiny ripples, the hints of a groundswell-to-come with all the columns and editorials and features out there.

Hope springs eternal, huh?

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By sardine (anonymous) | Posted August 02, 2011 at 13:38:20

Are you saying the HSR doesn't really know how many people use their system? That's a little unreal. No wonder it gets screwed so hard at budget time.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted August 09, 2011 at 19:06:53 in reply to Comment 67226

I'd like to see facts & figures about how many do not use public transit, why they don't, & where those cars on Downtown streets are coming from.

(I've caught an Xpress Go bus mid afternoon without much waiting. 'Not sure about other service, but that was fine.)

Isn't this really a Twice in 100 years opportunity, since Hamilton was offered LRT & the bulk of the funding for it a decade (?) ago by the Province, & Hamilton...Turned It Down? :{

Who says opportunity only rings once? If you are a complete dumbass you won't answer the door either time.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 02, 2011 at 22:29:52 in reply to Comment 67226

an organization doesn't get so stagnant and behind the times by accident.

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By TS (anonymous) | Posted August 02, 2011 at 15:34:45 in reply to Comment 67226

Monthly Adult passes, student "U-passes" and transfers are simply shown to the driver at time of boarding. That's a lot of ridership data that's not accurately being recorded. Presto may eventually fix that, but they're going to have to try a lot harder to encourage people to use it.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 02, 2011 at 18:40:56 in reply to Comment 67241

As far as I know presto will fix the monthly pass issue if adopted, but I don't believer there is an option for Mac or Mohawk "U-Pass" users to use the Presto, so they still won't be counted.

I recal when I went to Mac someone showed up sitting on the bus with a clipboard counting people getting on at stops. Unfortunately it as during exam time so the numbers were way off what would have been typical for a school day.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted August 02, 2011 at 22:26:04

I stopped riding the bus because of the "drive-bys" and differences between summer and school-year schedules. I could adapt to the change of schedule for summer, but one too many drive-bys and I went back to driving. If LRT happened I think many others would welcome leaving their car at home.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 02, 2011 at 22:29:05 in reply to Comment 67256

my home and office are situated within walking distance of proposed LRT stops (King/Scott Park and King/Queen). I'd use LRT every single day if we had it. With the current bus system (and no B-line stop until Ottawa St) it's two buses and about 35 minutes, assuming one of the Kings doesn't fly past me. No thanks.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted August 04, 2011 at 16:13:04 in reply to Comment 67258

Is there a list of the proposted LRT stops? I've been trying to find out if there was any plans for a stop in the long vaccuum between Longwood and McMaster.

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By no wonder (anonymous) | Posted August 02, 2011 at 22:47:36 in reply to Comment 67258

No wonder you're so in favour of LRT

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted August 03, 2011 at 09:39:45 in reply to Comment 67260

That's the POINT of LRT! It gets people who would otherwise not use buses out of their cars.

Grand scheme of things, what does this mean?

  • Less wear on the roads;

  • More money in the pockets of people so they can spend it, probably locally;

  • Better air quality;

  • A guaranteed stream of people to attract businesses to the areas around stations.

This is just the beginnings of the list. Why is this a bad thing?

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By Synxer (registered) | Posted August 03, 2011 at 09:25:02 in reply to Comment 67260

I agree, random anonymous commenter. I think if you support something, you shouldn't ever need or want to use it, have no ties whatsoever to the project, not really know anything about the project - and most importantly - always demand answers to questions but never actually do any research yourself.

This creates a strong sense of uncertainty and fulfills ones own narcissism.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 02, 2011 at 22:58:21 in reply to Comment 67260

actually my main reason is due to the massive economic development spinoff that comes with LRT. And the huge potential for rebirth in our lower city corridor.
I'm sure there are many people like me who live and work along the LRT B-line corridor who will be able to spend more time and money in Hamilton instead of owning second cars or wasting time on slow, packed buses.
Still, transportation is the second benefit of LRT - economic development is number one, by a mile.

Comment edited by jason on 2011-08-02 22:58:46

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted August 03, 2011 at 00:20:39

The "unbearable lightness" of mass transit:

One thing that we may all agree on in our collective 21st century commuter angst is the sustainable imperative of being "light" in our "transit" solutions. Yet, we are unable to arrive at consensus on the nature of mass-transit that Hamilton requires.

An array of logical solutions evade us by our continuing failure to articulate the 'R' word that connects Light to Transit.

Some consciously use 'R' to mean: 'rapid'; while most continue to imagine it as: 'rail'.

Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Light Rapid Transit (LRT) are two distinctly different approaches to developing transit solutions.

Both nuances of LRT are equally adept at projecting images of growth, real-estate development and jobs. However if one steps back far enough from the tracks that are already etched in our minds - what one sees are two very distinct planning and aesthetic outcomes from these two very different renditions of the 'R' word.

One, that heals urban fractures by its inherent lightness of purpose - provided the tracks are laid out with the express purposes of connecting all the scattered points of frequent travel. Here rapid becomes secondary to the complex meandering patterns of urban connectivity based on time of day and events. Here, the emerging richness of urban texture is what gives rise to a dispersed economic & aesthetic ripple effect that spreads equitably across urban communities, while directly delivering the much sought after counterpoint to automobile dependency within urban cores.

And the other – that misguidedly makes speed and time a solution for rapid economic growth - by connecting two arbitrary points in the stable suburban extremities, while – unknowingly fracturing the city into the right side and the wrong side of the tracks.

Our ability to define this 'R' word more meaningfully, will dictate whether we accelerate the rebirth of Hamilton's lower city by integrating our transit network into the very fabric of our city; or put it on a rapid, linear track of self-destruction by dividing it into four lateral halves.

A kind of physical division that will only petrify the already congealing class divisions in our city.

Many of you will be old enough in 2050 to look back and muse: What the hell did we end up doing? What were we thinking? Were we naively deploying imagery from the golden days of the frontier mentality which once opened up the economy of this continent through heavy linear rail tracks? Did we all get seduced by the sepia tone bustle of towns popping up on such linear tracks from the east coast to the west?

I sincerely hope that in 2050, you are not compelled to answer this with a resounding: "yes", while your children, then adults, glare at you in anger.

This may well be your answer if the current cavalier approach to planning our transit solution, does leads to a laterally divided city with the rapid aspect of the linear east-west transit movement soon taking precedence over contextual urban connectivity – as revenue pressures begin to mount within the first few years of operations, and substantial growth continues to evade the urban core.

Take two lengths of a string, measure its lengths to match the total lengths of the east and west bound LR/RT tracks on the proposed B-Line plan that is available on the city website. Then get a paper map of the city with bus lines, and stick coloured push-pins on all the points of interest and daily/weekly use you want to see connected in the lower city – with a new kind of transit network that meanders thru our lower city core – with future spurs to the east, west and south of the city. A kind of transit pattern which would help you and your family to become less dependent on your car to experience the lower city.

Then ask your children to sit in front of this map and explain to them that you want their inputs on a mass-transit issue that will define the future of the lower city and its core.

Request them to connect these push-pins with the pre-measured strings you have cut. Tell them about light rail, and how it could help them get around our city without a car. Tell them to avoid running the strings through someones home or property, and use thinner pins to navigate the string around street corners.

Also tell them these string connections representing the tracks of a light rail, could be built in phases and give them a heads-up on the cost of that string (translated per inch of string, from the estimated cost of $800 Million for the B-Line). Let them move the pins around the map to explore different points of interest in the lower city and the core which they see themselves, you and their grand-parents frequenting.

You will be quite amazed at the transformative urban experience your children are able to plan with the light rail – while leaving enough string unused for future spurs. That is, if you only resist the temptation to interrupt them with grand gestures while they are quietly planning their future.

Have them draw the patterns they come up with as their version of the proposed B-Line map. Then have them share this map with their friend who live the furthest from you in this city to get their inputs, and have them recalibrate the pins & string patterns as required.

Also let them know that the money to build this network which they have just planned may not arrive in good time, so what then happens to economic growth and their future job prospects? Wait for their answer. They will not fail to surprise you.

You may soon begin to see how and why planning in our city has unnecessarily become a heavy battle of wits for decades – as you begin to overcome the urge to interject and put an end to the play.

The utilitarian aspects of light rail transit and its resulting aesthetics are not two distinct entities. Urban form is a result of how utilitarian aspects of city building are handled.

It is from looking at things as a ‘once-in-100-years decision’ that our heaviness comes from. This is substantially different from the old English planners who 'designed in 100-year terms' based on extensive local discovery that straddled the aesthetic and utilitarian.

We entirely skip the play aspect of planning and dive fast into adult-speak – from which arises our pre-matured hardened positions as planners and urbanists, resulting in our brutally simplistic and linear solutions which fail us every thirty years.

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2011-08-03 00:34:06

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 03, 2011 at 06:52:11 in reply to Comment 67263

This is a beautiful piece of commentary. (And by the 'voting' thus far, beautifully un-appreciated, as well.)

The exercise presented here is powerful and poignant.

You may soon begin to see how and why planning in our city has unnecessarily become a heavy battle of wits for decades – as you begin to overcome the urge to interject and put an end to the play.

And it goes without saying...though I'll say it anyway, because it's in my job description...that this is a common trait (malady?) here, amongst RTHers.

We entirely skip the play aspect of planning and dive fast into adult-speak – from which arises our pre-matured hardened positions as planners and urbanists, resulting in our brutally simplistic and linear solutions which fail us every thirty years.

Precisely why I posted this:

Throwing rhetoric and stances and mindsets back and forth is all fine and dandy...but at times it reminds me of the retirees you'll find at any Tim's or McD's on any given morning; the content of their 'conversations' is a) superficial, and b) obdurate.

And to put my money where my mouth is...

Last year, I 'redesigned' Downtown Stoney Creek. Here's Part Nine of my series, in which I addressed the situation, the post where I provided tangible suggestions:

What I'd love is to see people here on RTH 'play' a little more. Not in order for anyone to be 'right', or to be The Great Suggester, but simply to open up the discussion, to move beyond rhetoric and quite-often bullying soapboxing.

We're better than that...and our city needs us to be better than that.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-08-03 06:52:55

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By rednic (registered) | Posted August 03, 2011 at 09:30:53

It's amazing how the pro/con LRT camp divides itself along the same lines as the answer to the question Should the lower city be saved or wiped of the map.

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By creeker_in_the_loo (anonymous) | Posted August 03, 2011 at 10:40:18

Question: (I'm not trolling, I'm just genuinely curious) What do you think about Buffalo's LRT? I've never seen it mentioned on here and it seems to me to be a similar city that has failed with LRT. Wikipedia says that downtown business groups are calling for the end of LRT and cars are being reintroduced to the street where LRT previously had exclusive access. Did Buffalo do something wrong with its implementation or is it just more successful than people make it out to be?

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted August 03, 2011 at 11:18:21

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

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By Grom (anonymous) | Posted August 03, 2011 at 11:37:37 in reply to Comment 67293

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

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted August 05, 2011 at 10:35:31 in reply to Comment 67296

Downvoted to make it disappear. Then they can pretend that it does not exist. Got to love the RTH faithful.

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By Grom (anonymous) | Posted August 03, 2011 at 11:34:00 in reply to Comment 67293

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.

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By RoccoPerri (anonymous) | Posted August 03, 2011 at 14:22:40 in reply to Comment 67295

Go cry to mommy...if you can't handle it, run to CHML as fast as you can.

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By Grom (anonymous) | Posted August 03, 2011 at 23:14:34 in reply to Comment 67305

insult spam deleted

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted August 04, 2011 at 11:52:09

Grom, you spelled "droll" wrong and there should be a question mark after "material."

You're welcome.

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By Grom (anonymous) | Posted August 04, 2011 at 20:20:58 in reply to Comment 67330

insult spam deleted

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted August 05, 2011 at 10:32:29 in reply to Comment 67400


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By Kevin (registered) | Posted August 04, 2011 at 23:01:42

Thanks, Grom. Good to know.

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By AETHERMAN (registered) | Posted August 16, 2011 at 12:28:45

BUSES offer many advantages over any LRT system. (1)Buses can drive almost anywhere and therefore easily detour accident or road closure scenes, (2)Buses offer much greater safety to pedestrians who board and exit them when they make stops next to curbs as opposed to trains stopping one full lane away from curbs, (3)Buses can perform Fast Emergency Stops, where LRT's would slide much farther on wet slippery rails, (4)Buses will not be "dead in the water" when the power grid is down, (5)Buses do not have High Voltage (550 Volts?) overhead power wires connected to them that could electrocute pedestrians and motorists when they fall during storms and other reasons, (6)Buses are not prone to be struck by lightning because they ride on rubber tires, (7)Buses do not connect to arcing overhead power wires that are known to cause annoying "snap, crackle & popping sounds" on many types of Radio's & TV's, (8)Buses do not require power poles to connect to overhead wires like LRT's, so drivers do not have to waste time re-attaching such devices when they slip off and dangle around in the air like a drunken sailor, (9)Buses can be easily towed away if they break down, (10)The streets don't have to be bastardized with rails or the asphalt around them requiring constant costly repairs due to winter water freezing, heaving and salt erosions, (11)Other vehicles don't have to dodge around wet slippery rails, (12) Buses can be operated on clean Natural Gas as opposed to diesel. etc. (13) Buses offer many obvious advantages compared to LUXURY RAIL TRANSIT, AND they are an existing affordable means of transportation! (db)

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By AETHERMAN (registered) | Posted August 17, 2011 at 01:01:38

LRT FOR SMALL TOWN HAMILTON WOULD BE A TOTAL WASTE OF TAXPAYERS MONEY AND TIME! Modern "Battery Operated Buses" ("BOB") would be a WISE CHOICE for a non-polluting public transportation system! Buses can make stops and turns ANYWHERE there is a road. LRT is simply COSTLY EYE CANDY with limitations! Rail tracks and Overhead High Voltage Wires are dangerous, troublesome and eyesores! Money would be better spent on fixing Hamilton's Infra-structure, Roads and to find ways to attract Business for creation of jobs FIRST! PERIOD! (db)

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 17, 2011 at 08:45:04 in reply to Comment 68099


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By AETHERMAN (registered) | Posted September 23, 2011 at 20:36:25

LRT = Lost Revenue Tomorrow! IF LRT happens, it will make RIBBONS happen in peoples underpants when they see increases on their property tax bill, year after year! Oh ya, don't forget about the excuses for increasing the fair costs for passengers year after year! Hamilton needs it's roads and infrastructure repaired FIRST before any Luxury Rail TranSHIT!

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