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If the LRT dies

Apr 10, 2017

If the LRT doesn’t proceed, it will be consistent with a string of previous transit-related city council decisions. But rejection of a light rail line and the expected loss of $70 million already spent on the project calls into question multiple city planning decisions and plans and how they can be implemented.

That may also be necessary should the project squeak through its current travails, because rapid transit is the logical outcome of more than two decades of the city’s strategic visioning and expensive planning going back to the 1994 regional council adoption of Vision 2020. It’s also the direction that’s ascendant at Queen’s Park and across most of the greater Toronto region, and closely tied to established policies on climate change, intensification, and preservation of foodlands.

Earlier council decisions that align with a rejection of LRT include the cancellation of the bus-only lane along King Street in 2015 primarily because of the complaint that it reduced space for cars. The LRT will shrink car space even more and over a considerably longer distance. It shouldn’t be surprising that councillors who didn’t permit the completion of the brief bus-lane pilot project are less than enthusiastic about the LRT.

Other council decisions point in the same direction. Even the multiple votes in favour of the LRT always specified that full provincial funding was required – something that didn’t look likely given that other cities like Kitchener-Waterloo were paying a full third of the capital cost for their now nearly completed LRT. When Premier Wynne called Hamilton’s bluff by offering full funding for the LRT, it was a billion dollar surprise and something hard to immediately reject.

The unwillingness of the majority of council to invest in transit has persisted for the last quarter century in Hamilton and was on display again last month when they turned down an HSR budget that was exactly what the same council had directed in the ten-year transit strategy approved unanimously in 2015. While some have characterized this as a broken promise, others suggest a darker conspiracy where the funding was only pledged to reduce opposition to steep fare hikes that that have jumped rider costs by 18 percent since summer 2015.

The provincial LRT funding is part of a $69 billion “Big Move” plan to reduce congestion and address rapid growth by putting rapid transit within two kilometres of over 80 percent of Toronto and Hamilton area residents. Metrolinx, as well as a follow-up provincial commission, proposed multiple new revenue tools to pay for at least part of this cost. But when Hamilton councillors were asked to comment on the options, every one of the ideas was rejected.

The provincial Greenbelt and other planning rules to encourage higher densities and less sprawl have also not found solid support among many councillors. Over the last 20 months three separate resolutions were approved to push for removal of parts of the Greenbelt including tenderfruit lands in lower Stoney Creek. Even after Queen’s Park rejected all three, Hamilton council fired off a fourth removal demand in February for a land block in Winona.

The city’s own approved official plan and guiding documents have been built around a commitment to sustainability including the 2006 Growth Related Integrated Development Strategy to accommodate growth in a nodes and corridors plan that assumes servicing them with multiple rapid transit lines. While those could be in the form of BRT (bus rapid transit) instead of LRT, both require dedicated bus lanes.

However little council enthusiasm there is for transit improvements, the projected population growth on which these are based is well underway. The 2007 Master Transportation Plan for the city made clear what this means for transportation when it concluded that “reducing dependence on single-occupant vehicles and promoting improved options for walking, cycling and transit” must be the main objective.

“Between 2001 and 2031, Hamilton’s population will increase by 162,000 people (32%),” the TMP warned. “During the same period, 105,000 new jobs are expected to be created. If current travel characteristics remain the same, there will be 180,000 additional auto driver trips per day that will need to be accommodated by the road network.”

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