Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On LRT- with Dr. Christopher Higgins

Dr. Higgins
In June of 2016, The Hamiltonian contacted Dr. Christopher Higgins, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics (http://mitl.mcmaster.ca ) and posed several questions to him concerning LRT in Hamilton. At that time Dr. Higgins indicated that he needed additional time as he and his colleagues at MITL were weighing options for consolidating all of their information on the LRT project. Dr. Higgins has made good on his promise to get back to us with answers. The following are the questions we posed. Below these questions is a link to his responses.

1. The Rapid Ready report, amongst other things identified several conditions that have to exist for Hamilton to optimize its potential for a successful implementation of LRT. Can you identify the top areas where Hamilton is in good shape to support a LRT implementation and the top areas which should cause concern? What are we doing well, and what must we absolutely get right in order to succeed with LRT? 

2. What is the relationship between Land Value Uplift (LVU) and LRT. Does LRT bring an immediate benefit in terms of LVU and if so, how can that be quantized/projected? If not, at what stage would LVU materialize and peak, and what indicators would you look for that would set the stage en route on that incline? 

3.Do you think Hamilton’s degree of traffic congestion is sufficiently dire to drive out more transit use? Those who may not have the expertise or understanding of how transit systems work, may be wondering if it would not be less disruptive and more cost efficient and more flexible to work with Bus Rapid Transit rather that LRT. Can you help us understand whether there is any truth to that? 

4.What do you say to those who may argue that LRT is not enough to convince them to leave their vehicles at home. 

5.Is there anything you’d like to add?

To read Dr. Higgins' answers, click here.

Respectful commentary is welcome. 


  1. LRT would move people in a clean, efficient, and effective manner. It would provide an alternative choice to the automobile, and would likely reduce dependence. These are all positive contributions.

    Options are good, choice should be encouraged.

    Yet that is not what is in play here, is it? Reducing throughput for vehicular traffic by 2/3 on 2 of the busiest arterial's in the region amounts to radical change. Fundamental, sweeping change. Change at the expense of the preferred mode. Change forced upon the majority who have had no say in determining a clearly defined priority. "You" telling "us." Some are taken aback by the ensuing chaos. I believe anarchy is now inevitable.

    There is no compelling need that LRT will satisfy. There is no demonstrable benefit LRT will provide. Nada. The notion that someone currently travelling from Upper Ottawa and Stonechurch to McMaster by car will now switch to taking 2 buses in order to transfer unto LRT is absurd. We are in the midst of a renaissance in this region right now, and it has nothing to do with light rail. Where you see a dangling carrot, I see an already rotting albatross.

    War has been declared upon the automobile, yet no politico has the chutzpah to take responsibility, and for good reason. Political suicide. So we get dodgy, irresponsible "leadership" in it's wake. Allowing anonymous subversives and unstable grand-standers to take the lead in the public relations department has been a colossal failure.

    I continue to believe the monies in question can be utilized to greater effect in our community than this initiative. I believe effective leadership can accomplish acquiring these funds for use in priorities determined by the community. This would require greater emphasis on service to the community than enacting personal vision. I know, I know,..."Ted said..." A change in leadership is likely required.
    (I take some solace in the recent happenings at City Hall wherein Mr. Merulla's motion to release the legal opinion surrounding the question of a referendum was defeated by a 2/3 majority. Coincidence? Eisenberger, Green, Johnson, Farr and Merulla were opposed. Coincidence? Sanity may yet prevail!)

    Dr. Higgins is a valuable community resource. I respect his opinion and appreciate his contribution.

  2. Reducing vehicular throughput, sure, but increasing people throughput. I appreciate the line of reasoning, but as I tried to highlight in the answers, what is your alternative for accommodating travel when we add Kitchener on top of Hamilton? You may find it flawed, but the LRT argument has a plan - the onus is on the dissenting side to provide a feasible alternative (note while I have made my opinion clear, I am legitimately curious as this topic is interesting and of fundamental importance for the future of this city!)

    1. you are assuming that all those people currently in cars will now be taking LRT, and I do not accept that preconceived concept. I believe all that vehicular traffic will be diverted to other radials such as Cannon and Burlington Street, and they are in even worse condition to handle the increased capacity. That no one seems prepared for this inevitability is a concern.
      I believe the "onus" is on municipal government to afford the electorate the opportunity to identify clearly defined priorities. I have opinions, and they would be shared, but it is consensus that matters most (at least to me)
      I should have clarified in my original post that it is my opinion that the positives I attributed to LRT can be achieved in other manners, with other less disruptive approach.

    2. The alternative is busses. Not even BRT. Good bus service could be had throughout the city for 1/3 the cost of LRT. There is no money -- only debt. LRT is unjustifiably expensive for a province and city mired in debt with billlions in ifrastructure deficit. A Billion dollars for a single, partial route, is self evidently ridiculous.

    3. Hamiltonian AdminOctober 13, 2016

      Please attach a handle to your posts or they will not appear.

    4. You know full well that there has never been a reduction in vehicular traffic in cities that introduced any type of rapid transit. Why do you espouse that

    5. Further why does the ridership loadings include parallel routes to the Bline knowing those passengers have made a concious decision to not take Bline that LRT will mirror in terms of schedules and distance to stops

  3. Higgins is a good champion for the cause and I don't dismiss anything he said. But people have a sense about these things and it seems to me that we are trying to dress something up that doesn't belong.

    Bring on the dreaded referendum and let's move past this thing

  4. This is all about Mayor Fred attaching a legacy to himself because DiIanni has the RHVP and Bratina has the stadium.

    Hamilton's BLAST network is Rapid Transit. The Mayor pushed the province to fund the 2nd Best Option of the B Line as LRT and the rest will be

    "traditional bus Blast Network for all areas of #HamOnt".

    Those are his words. Downtown gets the LRT and the plebes in the rest of the city get nothing.

    We could take the Billion dollars and get a bus barn(That we need) and incorporate it into the BLAST Bus Rapid Transit Network covering the whole city.

    Yet, as Skhimba pointed out in a recent Spec article, her friends hate the idea of buses.

    The B Line LRT was ordained by Metrolinx.

    Staff chose King St over Main St because "King St flows through Downtown core".

    A proper analysis of A vs B was never completed at any time.

    How long will Metrolinx, with provincial tax dollars, subsidize an unsustainable project?

    Really, the only question that is acceptable to Pro LRT supporters is "Is it Done Yet?"


  5. "We could take the Billion dollars and get a bus barn(That we need) and incorporate it into the BLAST Bus Rapid Transit Network covering the whole city."

    A few asterisks:

    1) The BCAs and EAs and consultation sessions have not been conducted for any elements of the BLAST network save for the B line. Preliminary studies of the A-Line were conducted circa 2011, and the City is jockeying for around $4M in federal funds to bankroll EA and design work on the A & T lines, but the work is incomplete even where it has begun. All of the newly evangelical bus advocates on council have been too busy voting down bus lanes and disparaging LRT to actually make much progress on the BLAST network, which was introduced almost 10 years ago, in the 2007 Transportation Master Plan. This is a multi-year process whose future beneficiaries are some of transit's worst advocates. And assembling the requisite materials is but one step in a multi-year process. Even if council were to recant on a decade of pro-B-line LRT votes and directives, the City would need to make a business case and fulfil the preconditions laid out by Metrolinx and the province. Even after council got the materials assembled for LRT, it took over two years for the province to confirm funding. They are under no obligation to provide 100% capital funding.

    2) BRT, as the province defines it, is not simply "express bus service," but a dedicated bus infrastructure, meaning that the two lanes of traffic critics worry about losing to LRT would still be forfeit.

    3) The BLAST network, as originally conceived, was phased over 25+ years. The lines projected for the first 25 years (i.e. B, A & T) all fall within Wards 1-8.

    Sigma Cub

    1. 1) There was no study done that determined B was the best option for Hamilton to implement first.

      2) Studies were done on A, after B had been ordained by the province.

      3) The city is not asking for funds for A and T line EA and design. They are asking for 2 Million of the 4 Million cost for "Transit Priority Measures on A-Line/T-Line including
      queue jump lanes and transit signal priority"

      3A) That is not EA or design work.

      4) The bus lane was a horrible experiment and rightfully killed off.

      5) 10 years ago when BLAST was introduced, it was council's position that "Light Rail is the preferred option".

      5a) Downtown LRT supporters don't seem to mind that this is now being walked back now to ensure the Downtown LRT is constructed.

      5b)Because they hate the idea of buses.

      6) A large majority of citizens were expecting a decision to made on LRT/BRT or nothing, as promised by the Mayor who was elected on this mandate.

      PS. Perhaps we could answer "How long will Metrolinx, with provincial tax dollars, subsidize an unsustainable project?"


    2. *2) As proposed in BLAST: BRT Route B from McMaster to Eastgate is approx. 14km. BRT Route A from harbourfront to HIA is approx 17km, for 31km total coverage, removing 62 lane km from current vehicular capacity.

      A month ago, Councillors Skelly and Whitehead announced their enthusiasm for "complete streets" treatment of Upper James, making it more pedestrian- and cyclist-freindly. Their key stipulation, however, challenges the presumptive A-Line route:

      "Their caveat is that any changes to Upper James, known for its commercial and retail businesses, should not impact the traffic flow."


      If avoiding impact on commercial districts is a dealbreaker, this would potentially shift the alignment of the A-Line BRT east or west.

      Sigma Cub

    3. Re: "There was no study done that determined B was the best option for Hamilton to implement first."

      Not sure what was studied and what wasn't evaluated and by whom, but the B-Line has some notable advantages:

      • relatively straightforward geography — building a bridge vs. boring through the escarpment;

      • shorter route (B=14, A=17);

      • high-ridership routes substantially interlined along much of the proposed route vs. lower ridership and greater geographic spread on mountain routes

      • express service had been in operation since 1997 on the B-line. IIRC, express bus service was extended to the A-Line in Sept 2009 — two years after the Liberals' 2007 rapid transit campaign promise and five months before Metrolinx unveiled its King-Main BCA. Had the City or HSR thought that there was a stronger ridership/business case to be made for the A-Line, they were always free to advocate for that (or, you know, actually invest in improved HSR service to serve the huge untapped ridership of the mountain, suburbs, etc). On the face of it, however, it looks like a tough sell. The City tends to take the easiest path from A to B (no pun intended).

      Related to this is the fact that Hamilton is averse to financial commitment to this or any other transit project. The TMP may well have stated that "Light Rail is the preferred option," but that's not the same as saying "Light Rail is the only acceptable option, and to that end the City resolves to commit up to a third of capital costs in order that our vision of next-level transit be faithfully realized." Basing your infrastructure planning on the generosity of senior government inevitably comes with compromise.

      Sigma Cub

    4. "The city is not asking for funds for A and T line EA and design. They are asking for 2 Million of the 4 Million cost for "Transit Priority Measures on A-Line/T-Line including
      queue jump lanes and transit signal priority"

      Ah, of course — the EA would not be an eligible cost.

      Still, progress. The very tools and strategies, in fact, that were recommended in the 2010 HSR Operational Review for the following locations:

      • King / Main & James / John;
      • Lime Ridge Mall;
      • Upper James & Mohawk
      • Main/Longwood;
      • Barton & Parkdale;
      • Barton & Nash; and
      • Jones & King, Stoney Creek

      Sigma Cub

    5. PS. Perhaps we could answer "How long will Metrolinx, with provincial tax dollars, subsidize an unsustainable project?"

      The answer would presumably depend upon the terms of the RFP and how it assigns exposure. I would assume that there is a strong likelihood, given their traditional rhetorical themes, that the Tories will dismantle every Liberal legacy creation as soon as they have the parliamentary wherewithal. As such, it's hard to know how to answer your question, though I half suspect you aren't looking for an answer so much as the opportunity to state your position.

      Related: The HSR's R/C ratio is pretty healthy. As of 2013, it was at 50%, behind Toronto (76%) but higher than Mississauga (49%), Brampton (47%), Burlington (40%), York Region (39%), Durham (34%), Oakville (34%) and Milton (26%).

      Sigma Cub

    6. As far as I know, the province never committed to light rail on the entire BLAST network. The closest they got was an pre-election Liberal Party press release (which, since the parliament has been dissolved for the purposes of an election, carries essentially no legislative obligation), issued three weeks before the 2007 election, claiming that “In Hamilton, the Conservatives would put rapid transit projects through MoveOntario 2020 - including two light rail lines across Hamilton.”


      Deft though the Liberal PR machine is, any moderately critical reading will reveal that this is not the same as promising to fund two (or, when it comes down to it, any) light rail lines across Hamilton. But it’s enough to fuel fantasies, which are far cheaper than traditional vote-buying.

      Hamilton began rapid transit planning at the beginning of 2008. In December 2008, nine months before the launch of the 20 A-Line Express, the City issued its Rapid Transit Feasibility Study Phase 1, noting that:

      “In June 2007, the Province of Ontario announced a $17.5 billion plan for rapid transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), an area that stretches from Hamilton to Durham Region. Fifty-two projects were identified, including 2 that impact Hamilton directly:
      • Rapid transit along the King/Main Corridor, between Eastgate Square and McMaster University; and
      • Rapid transit along the James/Upper James Corridor between King Street and Rymal Road…

      A major consideration that is unique to BRT is that this alternative would see James Mountain Road restricted to transit vehicles and emergency vehicles. General purpose traffic would be diverted to the Claremont Access or to the Jolley Cut. Existing transit routes would likely be diverted from the Jolley Cut to James Mountain Road as well.

      It was assumed that a project of this magnitude (both the A-Line and the B-Line corridors) *is unlikely to be funded in its entirety from day one* [emphasis mine] Staging provides guidance on how to best implement the LRT system to ensure that the greatest value is gained by the community in the shortest time.

      Preliminary evaluation suggests that overall the east/west corridor (B-Line) would be the best initial investment in terms of its cost effectiveness, providing the highest return in terms of transit mobility
      • Construction of the entire B-Line corridor is recommended, plus the connection to a maintenance facility in the north end
      • In terms of building east of the downtown (to Eastgate) or west of the downtown (to University Plaza), both sections, based on the evaluation are good corridors to invest in first, however in practical terms, it does not make sense to divide the east-west line and build only the east section or the west section since this would introduce a transfer for many people in the central area and significantly reduce the attractiveness of the service.”


      Sigma Cub


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