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Friday, December 18, 2015

Checking in with Ryan McGreal on LRT

Ryan McGreal
Enjoy our chat with Ryan McGreal, Editor of Raise the Hammer, as we consider LRT and its future implementation in Hamilton.

1. You have fought very hard to bring Hamilton along in recognizing the value of LRT. Now that we are on the path to an installation of LRT, do you feel a sense of relief and accomplishment, recognizing that while you were not the only influencer in this direction, you did make a substantive contribution?


It was certainly thrilling when the Province finally delivered their funding commitment, and I'm excited that this crucial milestone has been reached on the path to success, but this project is still ongoing and I'm not ready to let myself feel relief - not until I've bought my ticket and am stepping aboard the LRT vehicle to take my first trip.

If LRT had just been the pet project of a few urban activists, it would never have made it past the initial feasibility study, let alone an historic funding commitment. The success of this LRT project at moving forward is a credit to the project itself first and foremost, and to the many thousands of people in Hamilton and at Queen's Park who understand its tremendous potential to transform the city.

I feel proud to have played a small role in advocating for LRT, but it
was only successful because of
its broad (though not universal) public support. I'm grateful that the Ontario Government was able to see past the lukewarm local political support for LRT and listen directly to the public on this file.

2. What part of the current plan do you think will have the most positive impact and how, and what is it about the plan (if anything) that you wish were different, and why?

What makes LRT successful is not this or that individual component, but rather the integration of high quality transportation in the full urban context, coupled with supportive local transit, excellent last-mile connectivity on the streets around the line, and public land use policy to shape developments in the area around the line.

Most cities start with one line, experience its transformative effects and then move quickly to expand the service area. I expect that will happen in Hamilton as well, and we can start to prepare for that by
building out more express transit services the way we built out the B-Line to the point where the ridership could support LRT.

The only unfortunate part of this first phase of LRT is that the eastern terminus is at Queenston Traffic Circle rather than the Eastgate Square transit terminal. This was a political decision made necessary because of parochial local politics rather than best practices, but I believe the Province made the best decision they could, given the constraints of that political context. I also believe the line will ultimately be extended to Eastgate in a future phase.

3. With all the moving pieces, the complexities and the different partners and stakeholders involved, how confident are you that we can implement the current plan on time, within budget and within an acceptable quality of result. In this context, what do you make of the project management adage "you can have it fast, cheap and of good quality, pick two of the three", and do you have any predictions in terms of the success of the implementation- or is it too early?

It's important to understand that Metrolinx is taking the lead on this, working with the Steer Davies Gleave transport consultancy, and the City is cooperating as well. This is not a City project - the Province is not giving Hamilton money to build an LRT. Rather, the Province is spending the money to design and build an LRT in Hamilton.

The most crucial deadline ahead of us is the deadline to get a Design-Build-Finance-Maintain-Operate contract signed before the next election in 2018. Large political projects have always been difficult to complete when the implementation timeline extends past a term of government, but in the increasingly polarizing political climate today, the possibility of a change in government could mean the end of the project if the contract has not already been locked in.

I'm confident that we can get there in time as long as the principal players maintain a "sense of urgency" and don't get bogged down in busywork. Most of the necessary work was already completed prior to the funding commitment; only the new north-south spur to the West Harbour GO
Station and the terminus at Queenston need to be designed to a 30% level of detail with a class environmental assessment.

4. What was your reaction when you first found out that there was agreed upon funding for LRT?

I was elated, of course. I started hearing whispers about a funding commitment a week or so before the actual announcement, but I didn't allow myself to believe it until I heard Premier Wynne say "light rail" in her announcement: "The Government of Ontario will be providing up to $1 billion to fund a new light rail line in Hamilton."

5. What do you think we need to be careful of. What traps or pitfalls do we need to avoid, in order to achieve success?
The most immediate pitfall would be to miss the deadline for signing a contract in 2018.

Beyond that, we need to ensure that we take a comprehensive approach to ensure maximum success for this LRT investment. We need a supportive land use policy that encourages the kind of urban, transit-oriented development that thrives around rapid transit and increases the productivity of the city's fixed infrastructure.

We also need to ensure that we commit meaningfully to complete, inclusive streets - especially around the LRT line - that provide a safe, high quality experience for people living, working and playing in Hamilton. The worst thing we can do is build LRT and then refuse to make the corollary changes to our dangerous, exclusionary network of high-speed, high-volume urban arterials that have been hurting property values and deterring urban pedestrian activity for the past half-century.

We also need to ensure that we a) redeploy our local transit resources to feed into the LRT line and b) invest in continuously building service level and capacity across the entire transit system, especially along our other identified development corridors.

6. Is there anything else you think Hamiltonians or our leaders should know about going forward with LRT in Hamilton?

The City has established a Citizens' Jury on Transit which is holding a series of public meetings with speakers and consultations on LRT and enhanced transit. Their website is here:

https://www.hamilton.ca/city-initiatives/priority-projects/lrt-citizens-jury

The group was recently established with a representative selection of residents from every part of the city who do not have a previous interest in LRT. I encourage you to follow the Citizens' Jury, learn more about the city's LRT plan and get involved in helping to shape Hamilton's future. When the Jury has completed its engagement, it will present recommendations to Council on its role in ensuring the success of the LRT plan.

In addition, I would like to mention a new independent group that recently launched. Hamilton Light Rail has been a rapid transit advocacy in Hamilton since we started in 2007, and we're excited to welcome this new group, called Hamilton LRT, to join the project of engaging on this vital issue. Their website is http://hamiltonlrt.ca and they are also on Twitter and Facebook. I encourage you to check them out.

Thanks Ryan for sharing your views on The Hamiltonian. 

5 comments:

  1. when Ryan cast's his light on the mystery behind this area's plummeting real estate values (?)and convicts the "high speed, high volume urban arterial's (that would be roads to you and I ) credibility takes a hit, and I am reminded that voices like this need to be heard and respected, and placed in perspective

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  2. I think he just increased his credibility. I live here and I fully believe our high speed arterials are not as needed anymore. We still have Barton, Burlington, Cannon, Wilson, Main as many alternate crosstown nroads, even if King becomes a car-free bouelvard for LRT and cycles.

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    Replies
    1. that is nice Mark, except I note that you too appear unable to provide any fact to correlate and support such a ridiculous statement.
      Personal opinion's count in this debate, and they become more valuable when they are proven as reliable, free from agenda and open to compromise

      Delete
    2. Then try attending a community meeting sometime, actually canvassing people (like we did), etc.

      Delete
  3. He believed in peak oil too.

    ReplyDelete

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