Concerns With Hamilton’s LRT Project

As has been pointed out, I have previously been very supportive of the LRT project for Hamilton.  I voted to receive each report even though I asked many tough questions along the way.  I continue to support an LRT done properly, but currently there are too many unanswered questions inconsistencies and obvious deficiencies in this plan.

King vs Main

Main St is substantially wider than King St through the downtown and specifically at International Village.   Main St was never properly looked at to see if the implementation of an LRT would have less of a negative impact during construction, as well as a less disruptive impact on traffic afterwards.

There are substantially more heritage properties on King than Main that may also present problems with either the LRT construction or with future redevelopment along the line.  According to City report PW09034 there are 450 cultural heritage resource properties along King St between Paradise and the Delta.  There are 286 on Main between Paradise and the Delta.

In terms of any potential economic uplift, staff tell us King vs Main would result in a nearly identical uplift.  There is no significant uplift reason to choose one alignment over the other.

A King St alignment is also more expensive than a Main St alignment as the route is nearly 500 meters longer.  It also requires the construction of a separate overpass bridge at the 403.  Main St being wider would not require a new bridge to be built and would also be a shorter more direct route for passengers.  The cost to build the bridge is estimated at between $30-35 million with an additional $25-30 million for the extra 500 meter length.  Why are we spending $55 – 65 million extra on this alignment when we could spend that money instead on providing a longer route that could service more people either in the east or the west end?

Suburban Connections and Park and Ride Lots

Most if not all of the LRT systems that proponents point to as successful implementations connect their suburbs to their downtown and destinations beyond.  The Edmonton LRT as an example experienced very low ridership until they provided connections to the suburbs and built the substantial park and ride system they have today.  There are no such plans to do the same for Hamilton.

Metrolinx even questioned the City about why there were no Park and Rides planned for the system during the submission phase.  Clearly they understand the need to provide people a place to leave their cars so they can board pubic transit.

Hamilton already has a commuter transit station in our downtown without parking facilities.  The Hunter St GO station is so inconvenient for most people that they travel all the way to Aldershot to board the train where they can park.

cities with transit with park and ride

The Ten Year Transit Plan is Unfunded

The purpose of the ten year transit plan was to provide a roadmap to get Hamilton Rapid Ready.  Its goal was to fix the deficiencies in our local transit system so that more people can use transit to get where they need to go.   Although the plan was officially adopted by Council in 2015 the need for the 100 new busses and a storage facility were already present in Rapid Ready in 2013.  It was clear then that we need to address the shortfalls in our current system to provide us with the ridership we need to sustain higher order transit.

The present plan has us skipping this step and going straight to an LRT.

20,000 Cars a Day

King St currently sees over 20,000 car trips a day.  Where are those cars going to drive?  Even our most optimistic ridership projections don’t assume those trips will simply stop.  We need to develop a plan to deal with the car traffic that is presently on King St.  That may be as simple as converting Cannon st to one way to allow for the efficient flow of traffic westbound or it could be more complicated.

A move like this however could also see many of those cars moved onto the local neighbourhood streets causing safety concerns for residents.  Travel times will be heavily impacted by the loss of these westbound lanes and will likely create congestion. In the coming months our traffic studies will provide us with more information and we’ll have to carefully weigh all of our options.

Hamilton Health Sciences is Leaving McMaster

Hamilton’s largest employers used to be its steel companies.  Now, in the 21st century we’re developing a knowledge based economy based strongly on health care in Hamilton.  Our largest employer, Hamilton Health Sciences just announced plans to close its McMaster campus and consolidate care at its other locations.  None of those locations are covered by the LRT line.  Does the potential loss of so many jobs along this corridor mean we need to revise our ridership projections again?  What is the plan for the McMaster land once HHS moves out?  Will the University expand into that space, or will another health care provider set up shop?

These are important questions that need to be answered.

Metrolinx Can’t Even Get their LRVs

It’s not a secret that Bombardier has experienced huge difficulties in delivering the light rail vehicles ordered by Metrolinx and the City of Toronto.  Waterloo has even had to delay the opening of their LRT due to the shortage of vehicles.  If Hamilton is going to proceed with an LRT is Bombardier the right vehicle?  Can they even supply them?  Will we end up with a rail system without any vehicles to run on them?  What guarantees do we have that if we proceed we’ll get our train cars when we need them?

What Does the Future Look Like?

The proposed LRT would not begin construction until 2018 and wouldn’t open until 2024 or 2025.  What will transportation look like in ten years?  With electric autonomous buses being tested this summer in the United States and Scandanavia and GM hiring 1000 new engineers to work here in Ontario on autonomous vehicles the growth rate in this industry is about to become exponential.

With the rise in popularity of ride sharing services and the impending arrival of autonomous vehicles how long will it be before people don’t even need to own their own car?  How long until people can simply order a pickup from their home to drop them at work, school, or downtown where they want to shop?  What effect will that have on our transportation and public transit planning?

These and many more questions need to be carefully considered before we move forward with any investment in our transit network.  Once the LRT rails are installed, the line cannot be adaptive to the ever changing environment.  The cost to redirect it elsewhere would be significant.  We need to make sure that whatever system we install will be able to provide the service passengers will want not just today, but thirty years from now.