Marvin Ryder who is a member of our Perspectives Virtual panel, was on vacation when the latest assignment was issued. He thus asked if he could submit his views upon his return. Please find below Marvin's reply to our questions:
It is dawning on many that LRT is both a large and long-lived infrastructure investment for Hamilton. The project would be simpler and less costly if tracks were being laid on barren ground but to have the right impact, tracks are being laid over other infrastructure (like sewers, water lines, gas lines, phone lines, etc.) buried in the street. The infrastructure under the ground has to be in perfect condition - if a water main breaks, the 12 kilometers of LRT shuts down. This makes it unlike the bus system we have. One small breakdown and nothing works!
Along with track, LRT consists of a number of stops. These are more than a place to board or disembark from the LRT - these are designated nodes/hubs of future development. Condos or commercial developments constructed over the next 25 years will be located near those hubs. We are arguing about the need for LRT and the route now. We will argue about the hubs/nodes next.
Does Hamilton need an LRT in 2016? I don't think so. We don't have enough transit users today. But over the next 25 years, Hamilton is supposed to grow by 100,000 to 200,000 citizens. Assuming we honour the greenbelt and end suburban sprawl, the only way to accommodate these people will be through intensification. Reminiscent of Europe, people will buy flats or condos rather than a house on a plot of land. Community parks and recreation spaces will become more important. The intensification will most likely be driven in the urban part of Hamilton - people in Rockton or Elfrida or Carlisle need not worry about seven story buildings. Thus an LRT constructed in the next five years is to serve the Hamilton of the next 25 years. You don't wait for the intensification to happen and then build the infrastructure; you try to get out ahead of it. For those who live in Dundas or Ancaster or Waterdown or even Stoney Creek, the LRT will likely have little impact on your life. But the impact of the new citizens choosing to live and work in Hamilton will grow the assessment base and should help ease the sting of municipal property taxes.
Do I think the LRT will lead to an economic boom? No. It is the increased population which will demand more products and services. The LRT will drive the choices of where the new housing and commercial developments will happen. Too often in Hamilton, people look to the "one big thing" which is supposed to fix everything. If only Hamilton had an NHL team or a casino or a new football stadium or an LRT everything will be rosy. On its own, the LRT will not make life better but it sends a signal to those entrepreneurs who want to build and invest that Hamilton is a city that is ready for the 21st. century.
I know that provincial dollars come from the same taxpayers who fuel the federal and municipal governments. Still, this offer of funding cannot simply be ignored. My advice is to reconfirm the commitment to LRT. We do not need a referendum. Councillors are elected to represent their constituents but also, sometimes, to lead constituents. We constituents tend to focus too much on the present and what we can touch, and too little on the future and the possibilities in front of us. Once reaffirmed, the focus should shift to finding the right route. You only get one chance to build infrastructure like this - we have to get it right. (I don't think we got the siting of the stadium right but LRT location is ten times more important!)