He also writes, "According to a calculation by Chris Higgins, ….. Hamilton's LRT route would have the sixth highest transit ridership in North America on a passenger-per-kilometre basis on opening day!" What about all the other days once the novelty goes away? Will opening day be free? How many LRT systems are there in North America? If the answer is seven, sixth place isn't great. If the answer is thirty, sixth place is good. I tried to find the answer to that question on the internet and the list I found included street cars like those in Toronto and San Francisco. The list had about thirty cities and most of them much larger than Hamilton. I am curious to know how calculations and comparisons of a proposed LRT to be completed seven years from now and those existing in seven years can be made with any accuracy. What is the margin of error in those calculations?
According to Ryan, the corridor along the LRT route, "has a very high proportion of unused and under-used properties along the corridor that can be redeveloped" I ask myself what is a "very high proportion"? Is that 10%, 50% or 80%. An accurate number would help me decide what is a very high proportion. What defines an under-used property? Would having a 2% vacancy rate in an apartment building put it in the under-used category? In the absence of accurate reliable information the article's use of words like legacy, vision, ambition etc. come across as cheerleading.
Ryan then goes out on a limb by claiming those against the LRT in Hamilton are "not afraid LRT will be a failure, they're afraid it will be a success." This statement says more about the author than his opponents, the excessive enthusiasm about LRT no matter what, might be a way of hiding all the things that may be wrong with the current LRT project. It is unusual to see a critical thinker like Ryan McGreal completely in-line with the status quo and demonstrating a blind faith for the current project. Terry Whitehead raises some valid concerns, it is difficult to have an objective perspective when it's your baby and obviously this is Ryan's baby. More evidence-based arguments will be a better way to assure success for Hamilton and the project.
A few months ago, I attended a public meeting at Adas Isreal synagogue in Ward 1 where Andrew Hope from Metro-link and Paul Johnson from the city, gave a presentation on the LRT.
1. According to Paul Johnson, the current B-line bus works well and is not operating with an over capacity of passengers. (not crammed)
2. The LRT may decrease the travel time of the current B-line bus route that will be replaced by 5 to 10 minutes.
3. The LRT is intended to stimulate development along its route.
4. That city staff and Metro-link staff speculate that Hamilton will experience an increase of 200,000 to 300,000 in the next 20 years.
5. It is estimated that the project will take approx. 5 years to complete and cost 1 billion tax dollars to complete.
6. The LRT will more than likely be operated by a private company but remain a public asset.
7. The provincial Liberals have decided the LRT will run for two kilometres north from King St. along James St. N. to the Go station
8. It was decided to run the LRT along King St. instead of Main street because King St. is the "Heart of the City".
9. Many small business owners along the route are against the LRT believing it will put them out of business and/or reduce their sales substantially.
10. The LRT will run totally on electricity, much of it generated from nuclear power plants and by private companies (Ontario's Liberals sold Hydro One)
11. Sewers will have to be moved as well as any other underground infra-structure.
My impression is that this is a make work project that will temporarily stimulate the construction industry and increase an already massive Ontario government debt. To off set that debt, governments usually start selling off assets, decrease services in health and education, increase taxes and/or go into private/public partnerships. The Ontario government has already put forward massive cuts in health care that will have a greater effect on the average Hamiltonian's life than an LRT and selling off more of Ontario Hydro. I would rather see that money go towards Health care. Let's look at the forest rather than the tree (LRT is that tree)
Paul Johnson from the city indicated that there is no "Need" to replace the current B-line bus and statistics show that there hasn't been an increase in ridership to justify an LRT. Therefore, to justify the project the government speculates that Hamilton will see a population increase of 200,000 to 300,000 people in the next 20 years. In the last 25 years the city of Hamilton has seen a minimal increase in population, while the suburbs that have become part of Hamilton have seen large increases. The LRT won't even come close to the suburbs and only covers a small portion of the city. I believe that urban sprawl has to end and infill has to happen but that has started to happen without an LRT. Putting a moratorium on urban sprawl is a cheaper and more effective way of stopping urban sprawl than an LRT. The justification for the LRT is to promote economic development along its route. That's like needing a haircut and deciding to buy a $10,000 Armani suit that makes your hair look shorter. What if the real estate bubble pops?
Another thing that's been happening is an influx of people moving to Hamilton from the GTA because of cheap housing which is no longer cheap. Hamilton has seen the sharpest price increases in Canada in the last few years. The influx will stop when housing prices combined with commuting costs and time lost won't make it an attractive option anymore. In the last 10 years Hamilton has become more of a bedroom community and the all day GO train service is long overdue. Currently approx. 35% of Hamilton's workforce commutes outside of Hamilton. The jobs aren't here and that's where the 1 billion should be invested. The creation of permanent local jobs instead of temporary construction jobs. A high speed train around the golden horseshoe would make more sense than an LRT covering a distance of 11 kilometres.
The suggestion that its "free" money handed out from the provincial government and one must seize the opportunity and the conditions that go with it, is ridiculous. We didn't "Need" a new stadium but since money from the provincial government was offered, let's take it and spend our Future Fund money from the sale of Hamilton Hydro to make it happen. Now the city, the province, the Ti-Cats and the contractor are in a web of litigation against each other and the stadium safety has recently became a major concern. Its time the city started dictating its own future by asking for what it needs not simply accepting the handouts and the conditions attached to them from the province. History shows that these monster projects often run over budget, take much more time than predicted and are rife with corruption. The Pan Am Games is a good example.
Paul Berton and Matt Jelly have suggested in recent articles that because voters elected politicians who support LRT that the last municipal and provincial elections were somehow referendums on the LRT. Jelly writes, " Brad Clark ran opposing LRT and lost to a candidate that supported it." using that logic why didn't Brian McHattie become mayor since he was the most vocal supporter of the LRT? He was a distant third place. Suggesting LRT was front and centre to a majority of voters and that being against the LRT is "obstructing a democratically approved project" as Matt Jelly wrote is a convenient way of trying to shut down opposition or criticism by suggesting people had their chance during the election. In the ward 7 election the councillor was elected with less than 25% voter turn out and won with less than 5% of eligible votes. Our political system is full of flaws. The only way LRT would become a "democratically approved project" as Matt Jelly writes, is to have a city wide referendum on it where you vote for an issue not a person (with all their complexities, political party and business affiliations). A referendum is a truer form of democracy. Part of a referendum question could be to decide on a route. The LRT issue should be decided by the citizens of the city, those who use the city. I suggested a referendum at the public meeting and someone started yelling about the idea and stomped out of the meeting. I guess his screaming and stomping, was his way of obstructing a democratic idea.
In the 2014 election minimal details about the LRT were known to the general public, there continues to be many details that haven't been decided. Some people are opposed to the LRT because putting it on King St. instead of Main St. is much more disruptive to small businesses and involves expropriating more property. Besides government organizations, who owns the most property on the King St. route? LRT is presented as an economic boost. Who will be the winners and who will be the losers? That's something that deserves some research. The idea that an LRT spurs economic development is never developed/explained by those who propose it. Wasn't the Tim Horton's stadium and Copps Arena going to transform the area's around them. It never happened but councillors seems to spin that forecast with every major project.
What I forecast is that many small businesses will go under, which has happened in Kitchener-Waterloo. Many people who live above those businesses will want to move due to noise and inconvenience. The value of those empty or near empty properties will actually drop. Someone with deep pockets will want to scoop them up for bargain prices (speculator) and sit on them for years (probably 8 years) when the LRT is done or the real estate market supports a tear down to build a condo. If the real estate market takes a nose dive then owners will look for gov't subsidies to do it. On the other hand it might spur development on Main street, putting a stake in "the heart of the city" and turning King St. into a lifeless transportation thru-way like York Blvd.
The Wynne gov't has committed 1 billion dollars. What if the project cost more, (which it will) who is expected to pay the difference? Are there any bonuses planned for those over-seeing the project? On the surface LRT sounds like a great idea but once the details of the project and the justification of the project are aired, the wisdom behind the decision becomes questionable.
Having an LRT is promoted as a city builder project but it can also be a city divider, not just in the political sense but more importantly in the geo-political sense. There might be LRT Hamilton (the small area it services) and the Rest of Hamilton. Will the Rest of Hamilton stop driving their cars? I don't think so. Will the Rest of Hamilton avoid LRT Hamilton, due to congestion? Probably. Will LRT Hamiltonians avoid the Rest of Hamilton due to inconvenience? Possibly. Will Hamilton's population increase by 200,000 to 300,000 in the next 20 years? Unlikely. given that the population growth rate in Ontario is 1%. If Hamilton's population growth rate is higher than the provinces which currently it isn't; then in 20 years Hamilton's population will be around 610,000 (100,000 more) not all of that increase in the LRT area.
According to an article in Catch News, renowned city planner Pamela Blais claims that in the decade 2001-11, there was a population loss of 6000-7000 people in the already urbanized area of Hamilton. During the same period 10,000 units were added to the greenfields along with a population gain of about 35,000. In the last four years, the city has only averaged 30 percent infill, less than the 40% required by the province, with the remainder of the nearly 8000 new units located on greenfields and nearly all of those were lower density townhouses or single-family dwellings. The highest growth rates have been in Binbrook, Ancaster and Waterdown where apartment construction has been minimal. Similarly, Blais noted that most major employment growth is taking place in the suburban areas with a continuing decline in the lower city. In her view, both trends increase congestion and are the opposite of what is needed to support the LRT. The same "visionary" politicians that vote for the LRT are voting for urban sprawl. Let's look at the forest not the tree.
There appears to be no room for real public input or consultation at city hall, its full steam ahead like it or lump it. A north to south LRT route would incorporate the whole city. There could be stops at the harbour, both Go stations, downtown, St. Joseph's hospital, and the major east-west streets on the mountain to the airport. All the mountain buses could stay on the mountain connecting to the LRT. An express bus using the Linc can take people from Stoney Creek mountain and Ancaster to a terminal on the mountain. A north-south LRT could be the spine of the city's transit system like the Younge St. subway line in Toronto. The currently planned route alienates the majority of the city, dividing the city rather than uniting it. McMaster University could continue with the B-line. Anyone who works in post secondary education knows that on-line education is growing rapidly which means fewer and fewer people need to be on campus. Obviously this hasn't been taken into consideration. I hope that council will get over the hype around LRT and becomes more pragmatic. If the province wasn't putting forward the "full cost", how many councillors would vote for it? If city council truly believed in the project they would be willing to put money on the table. Most councillors were against the project when it required city money. Hamilton is only one of two large cities in Canada that does not use federal gas tax monies for transit. Now that 1 billion is being thrown in Council's lap, they are rushing to become public transit advocates. It is difficult to expect peaches from an apple tree.
I recently spoke to someone from Kitchener and he told me that their LRT has no termination date. The trains were order from Bombardier and Bombardier said they are waiting for the Federal Liberal's to give them the bailout money that was promised. Since the provincial liberals are paying for it, will Bombardier be the supplier? I am not convinced that the LRT is good for Hamilton at this time and with the current route, the hollow rhetoric of legacies and vision make it a difficult pill to swallow.
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