By Ryan McGreal
Published September 23, 2011
Today, Hamilton Light Rail launched a new initiative calling on the City and the Province to commit to completing the job of building LRT in Hamilton. Following is my personal statement to the campaign. I hope you will join the campaign and add your voice.
For years I've been excited about the potential of light rail transit to transform Hamilton: to attract new private investment, to drive intensification around the transit corridor and particularly downtown, to reduce the demand for inefficient suburban infrastructure, and to foster the specifically urban economies of scale, density and association.
Back in 2007, when the Province announced MoveOntario and especially when the Liberals promised "two light rail lines across Hamilton" in their re-election campaign, my excitement was galvanized into action. I helped found Hamilton Light Rail, a group of Hamiltonians who believed in both the potential of LRT and the possibility of it actually being completed.
We did our research, prepared a presentation that explains what LRT is and how it can drive economic development, and began reaching out to meet with other community groups - neighbourhood associations, service clubs, BIAs and so on - to present our case for LRT and to seek their support.
We also met with City staff and asked them to look at LRT along the B-Line, rather than the bus rapid transit (BRT) that the Transportation Master Plan had previously recommended when there was no provincial funding on the table.
In 2008, Council directed the newly formed Rapid Transit Office to conduct a feasibility study of LRT vs. BRT on the east-west B-Line. A June 2008 update as part of that study is worth quoting: "The idea of status quo ... is in contravention of the City's Transportation Master Plan and Metrolinx's draft Regional Transportation Plan Green Papers and White Papers. ... the general sense from the public is that the time is now for Hamilton to do something bold and innovative."
That October, the final report was presented to Council. Encompassing feedback from over 1,600 residents - an unprecedented level of public engagement - the final report strongly endorsed building LRT, integrating the design with community and economic development policies, starting with the B-Line and moving quickly and decisively to get priority funding from the Province.
The report noted: "it has been made clear by Metrolinx that Provincial project priorities, will in part, depend on projects that have strong political support and that can be completed under aggressive timelines."
Since then, Metrolinx has consistently praised Hamilton's Rapid Transit staff for their professionalism and thoroughness in carrying out Council's direction to undertake "the functional design, detail design and construction of the B-line rapid transit corridor ... utilizing Light Rail Technology".
Meanwhile, planning staff have done an excellent job of preparing a Secondary Plan for the B-Line that will leverage LRT to drive a denser, more urban built form with new investment into mixed use development along the transit corridor.
In 2010, Metrolinx released a Rapid Transit Benefits Case Analysis on the B-Line corridor that concluded LRT would be more expensive to build but would produce a much bigger overall benefit.
Suddenly, three years later, we find ourselves in a bizarre situation in which Council seems reluctant to commit to completing LRT unless the Province commits to funding it, and the Province seems reluctant to commit to funding LRT unless the City commits to making its completion a priority.
This is deeply unfortunate. It threatens to unwind years of excellent planning and design work. Much worse, it threatens to squander the historic opportunity to transform the City through a strategic, long-term investment in high quality rapid transit.
We need both Council and the Province to step up now: commit to making LRT a top priority, and commit to funding it in a timely fashion. This is our chance to make a decision that will affect the city for the next 50 to 100 years - that we will one day look back on as a crucial turning point in Hamilton's fortunes.
I ask you - the leaders of Hamilton and Ontario - to transcend the political catch-22 and commit to finishing the work started in 2008 and completing this LRT line.
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