Hamilton’s LRT will help to renew the downtown core

The good news that arrived in today’s newspapers was that Hamilton City Council voted to proceed with the LRT project by a vote of 10 to 5.

Downtown Hamilton has a rich heritage just waiting to be redeveloped

There are new provisions put on the project. The spur line that was to go down James Street North to the Waterfront has been cancelled, and Queen’s Park has agreed to study an extension of the 11 kilometer route by another 3 kilometers. It appears that the extension was what made the vote possible.

To me, that makes a lot of sense. The east terminus of the LRT was to be in the Eastgate Mall. It should extend to Stoney Creek. In the west, the end of the line was to be at McMaster University. It will be much better to have it extend to Dundas and help to get people out of their cars.

What is most exciting about the LRT line is that it will play no small part in revitalizing Hamilton’s downtown core. This has long been the dream of those of us who care about the city, but it was handled so badly by those who promoted the Urban Renewal in the 1960s that it hastened the evacuation and deterioration of the downtown to the point where it became virtually derelict.

Today cities across North America are revitalizing their downtowns. People are moving back into urban cores, bringing businesses, jobs, strengthening retail, promoting culture, street life and new vitality.

This has already started along James Street North and South. The new Waterfront will also play a part in bringing life back to the centre of the city. There are magnificent old buildings just waiting to be renovated and repurposed.

But there are still major problems. Downtown Hamilton has an excessive amount of vacant property in the form of acres and acres of underutilized parking lots. The city needs housing in its core, especially affordable housing that can attract young people who are fleeing the high prices of Toronto and the rest of the GTA.

The new LRT line and all day service to the West Harbour GO Station will make a major contribution bringing people, jobs and businesses to the downtown.

This is good news for what used to be called Steeltown.

“No way to run a railroad”

It’s infectious.

Now Brampton City Council has voted against a fully funded LRT project because the renegade councillors say it does not meet local transit needs. They have caught the bug from Toronto politicians who have disrupted transit decisions for local political gain.

The LRT along Hurontario Street will stop at the Brampton border with this decision

The LRT along Hurontario Street will stop at the Brampton border with this decision

There has to be a better way. Look at the stupid decisions of Toronto politicians and the chaos that resulted.

The Spadina subway line north of St. Clair was diverted from Bathurst Street to go up the Allan Expressway, against the recommendation of the transit experts, because suburban Metro councillors were angry that the provincial government had cancelled the Spadina Expressway.

The Mike Harris Conservative provincial government, in 1995, cancelled the subway line that would have gone west along Eglinton. Harris even ordered the tunnel that had been dug filled in.

For the eight years of Conservative government (1995 to 2002) there was no spending on new transit in Ontario. This lack of investment is the reason transit is in crisis in this province.

At the same time the Harris government cancelled the Eglinton West subway, they funded the Sheppard Subway line, against the advice of transit experts. This subway line has always been a white elephant, with very low ridership, and still is a drain on the resources of the TTC.

When David Miller was Mayor of Toronto he proposed Transit City with 7 LRT lines that would have greatly improved transit to the suburbs. The McGuinty government reduced that to 4 lines.

With the election of Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto things really became chaotic. “Transit City is dead,” he declared and later described his transit policy as, “subways, subways, subways.” Ford tried to convert the 4 Transit City lines from LRT to subways and failed in glorious, dramatic fashion.

The one LRT line that Ford did success in converting to a subway was the Scarborough line. This was the result of a revolt of the suburban councillors who envy the good transit of downtown. Scarborough will get a subway even though it will add $1 billion to the city’s debt and will provide poorer service than the LRT.

John Tory selling SmartTrack in the election

John Tory selling SmartTrack in the election

Then, after Rob Ford exited the mayor’s chair, John Tory became mayor. He had his own transit scheme. In the midst of the election he announced SmartTrack, a scheme that will bring suburban commuters downtown on existing rail lines. As far as can be told, SmartTrack was designed on the back of an envelope to get votes during the election. There were no feasibility studies, no costing, and there remain major engineering problems. The scheme has employed scores of transit experts ever since, trying to make it possible.

Despite the failure of scheme after scheme, we still have not learned that politicians, with their own narrow interests, are the worst possible decision makers on this issue. They don’t understand transit, most of them never use it, and the complicated set of issues that must be considered before a decision can be made, are a complete mystery to them.

And now we have Brampton politicians following the lead of Toronto.  What can we do to end this harmful political meddling?

The first thing is change the decision making structure on transit and remove local politicians, because they have amply demonstrated they have made a mess of things. Only the province has the power to do that.

Second, create a true Transit Authority for the GTA and Hamilton. Metrolinx is already in place as the lead provincial agency and they should become the Transit Authority. On its decision making body there should be provincial and municipal politicians, and citizen appointments. That authority should have the power to make all transit decisions for the expansion of the system in the GTHA.

“Undemocratic!” the municipal politicians will claim, but that is not true. The Transit Authority Board would be accountable to the people through its politicians. Ultimate responsibility would rest with the province who pays most of the money.

We must have change. The way we are making decisions on transit is simply, “not a good way to run a railway.”