Special Report: Light Rail

A Crucial Turning Point for Hamilton

Hamilton's future can become the envy of cities across Canada and even the world. Will we take a bold step forward at this crucial moment in our history?

By Jason Leach
Published September 23, 2011

It's been over five years since I first wrote about light rail transit here on RTH.

I must be honest. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this short time later we'd be completing design studies, intensification plans and have such broad based support for a Hamilton LRT system.

For all of Hamilton's notoriety when it comes to advancing and moving forward, we have seen the future, and have rapidly worked towards seizing an opportunity that will forever change our city.

I don't want to rehash all of the gaudy return-on-investment numbers or statistics from other cities who have reaped massive urban development along their LRT lines. We've done that many times at RTH.

Instead, I want to take a moment and discuss the critical point that we find ourselves at today as a city.

A Crucial Moment

In life, politics, business, city-building or personal relationships, we all come across crucial moments where we take a bold step forward, or we shrink back and maintain the status quo.

We've all experienced the nervousness that comes when we decide to step out of our comfort zone and advance. It's not always easy, fun or simple, but it's absolutely necessary in order to move forward.

If we want to change our reality as a city and give ourselves a new direction and new future, we must do exactly that - change our reality.

Cities all over the world are rapidly changing and looking to keep ahead of their counterparts as we all fight for our share of the pie here in globalized 21st Century.

Hamilton now faces an historic opportunity that will radically change how we function, grow and prosper as a city. Don't think we're alone. Every city comes to this critical crossroads in its history.

Toronto's Crucial Moment

Toronto faced a crucial moment in the 1970's when it decided to cancel five new freeways and instead increase streetcar funding.

That city has grown around its streetcars and subway lines in the decades since to become Canada's largest and arguably most prosperous urban city.

Hamilton faced a similar choice in the 1940s and '50s and chose to tear up our streetcar tracks that once criss-crossed the lower city. Five years after the last streetcar was shut down, we converted our lower city streets to wide, one-way, de facto freeways.

The downward movement of the city since that time compared to Toronto has been almost surreal.

A Model to Learn From

Portland, Oregon is a fascinating model for Hamilton to learn from. Like other cities, it encountered its own critical time in history that would forever alter that city's economy, growth and future.

Driving and parking in downtown Portland, 1955 (Image Credit: Vintage Portland Files)
Driving and parking in downtown Portland, 1955 (Image Credit: Vintage Portland Files)

The same site today (Image Credit: Cityprofile.com)
The same site today (Image Credit: Cityprofile.com)

Robert Moses developed a grand plan of freeways that were to criss-cross Portland. Old neighbourhoods would be wiped out in several spots to make room for the new expressways.

Local citizen groups sprung up and began to fight for their neighbourhoods and against the expressway plans.

The result is a huge network of un-built freeways in Portland. The cancellation of the Mt Hood Freeway in 1974 is considered the tipping point that led to the modern, vibrant Portland of today.

Some of the funds set aside for that project were instead re-directed to Portlands first LRT line. The rest, as they say, is history.

One of the great things about being just one of many cities in the world is our ability to learn from the mistakes - and successes - of others.

Building on Success

Had Portland found their first LRT system to be too expensive, intrusive and with not enough spinoff development, and chose to revert back to their massive freeway network, we would probably not be seeing this public campaign to build LRT in Hamilton.

But the fact that they have continued to expand [PDF] the system, have built new lines in the past 30 years, and enjoy the many benefits of a bustling downtown, a growing economy and a world-wide reputation as a safe, wonderful, livable city in a nation not known for safe or livable cities, should be a strong signal to Hamilton that we are on the right track.

NW 10th, Portland, in 1921 (Image Credit: Vintage Portland Files)
NW 10th, Portland, in 1921 (Image Credit: Vintage Portland Files)

NW 10th, Portland, in 2011 (Image Credit: Redfin.com)
NW 10th, Portland, in 2011 (Image Credit: Redfin.com)

A large number of North American cities are now proceeding with new LRT systems, not to mention the countless international cities who enjoy fantastic rail networks.

More than Just Transit

It is imperative that Hamiltonians understand we are talking about much more than just a transit system. We are talking about a whole new way of building and developing our great city.

Imagine a place where you are excited and proud to bring your out-of-town guests. Imagine a city of growing economic opportunities for the next generation of skilled workers and thinkers being trained at Mac and Mohawk.

Where we now see empty parking lots and deserted multi-lane, high-speed streets can be replaced with spectacular public spaces, new buildings and sidewalks full of people, commerce and vibrancy.

Hamilton's future can become the envy of cities across Canada and even the world. Will we take a bold step forward at this crucial moment in our history? Based on the constant buzz I'm hearing around town and in the community, I think we're ready. This is our time.

Join us at hamiltonlightrail.ca and help re-shape the future of Hamilton.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

31 Comments

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By Ho hum (anonymous) | Posted September 23, 2011 at 13:30:11

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By RonMiller (registered) - website | Posted September 23, 2011 at 13:53:21

LRT will be great for Hamilton. It will actually help to lower property taxes, by creating population density. It is a must.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted September 23, 2011 at 14:47:14

Got to ask my #LRT question. Premier will not recommit to 2 LRT lines in #HamOnt. #voteON
http://twitter.com/#!/EmmaatTheSpec/status/117304950199025664

He said #LRT is "up to city council" and he will continue the discussion. #HamOnt #voteON
http://twitter.com/#!/EmmaatTheSpec/status/117305169942822912

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By what is the answer (anonymous) | Posted September 23, 2011 at 14:58:43

I do not like the inference that there would be only growing economic opportunities for those coming out of post secondary education. It sounds elitest.

Transit does have to change but will those who struggle be left behind?







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By jason (registered) | Posted September 23, 2011 at 15:02:30 in reply to Comment 69998

great question. From my view, those who struggle will be helped out the most by having Hamilton become a place of increased economic activity and opportunity. My reference to the post-secondary educated kids is due to the fact that we lose the majority of them to other cities year after year. For someone looking for a job, but not able to travel to the business parks or new suburbs outside the city, economic development along an LRT line is probably a perfect solution for them. 1. The jobs are close by, and right in the city 2. The jobs are easily accessible by LRT and bikes, thereby eliminating the need for a citizen struggling financially to have to add in the expense of a car.

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By Myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted September 23, 2011 at 16:03:28

Come and be Ambitious with us.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 23, 2011 at 17:10:26

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted September 23, 2011 at 18:43:08

I have joined, commented, shared and promoted this site. Head there. Vote early. Vote often.

http://hamiltonlightrail.com/

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By AETHERMAN (registered) | Posted September 23, 2011 at 19:56:30

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 23, 2011 at 23:11:36 in reply to Comment 70013

Lol. That's amazing.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted September 24, 2011 at 09:47:19 in reply to Comment 69998

I do not like the inference that there would be only growing economic opportunities for those coming out of post secondary education. It sounds elitest.

Actually, I'm sort-of with Grassroots on this one: our assumptions of progress often seem to imagine a world of latte-sipping, white-collar university graduates working in the "creative sector".

But an economically revitalized Hamilton which draws people with education and good prospects in the "creative economy" (which is said to include computer programmers and engineers as well as graphic designers, mind) can also be a Hamilton which has jobs for people who barely made it through high school. Unskilled and semi-skilled labour is an important part making a city work and we should stop pretending that it won't exist in the future. Someone has to clean the bathrooms, even in the economy of the future.

And off course, a good transit system is better not only for the art-crawling young statistician; it's also good for high-school dropout who's working two jobs at either end of town.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 24, 2011 at 11:52:40 in reply to Comment 69998

Fair enough, but here's the thing. More and more people are going to be coming out of some kind of post-secondary education. For better or worse, BA's are the new high school diploma. The provincial government has set a goal of having 80% of the population with a university or college diploma - a complete reversal from our parents' generation.

So yes, we should stop pretending that there won't be a need for unskilled and low-skilled work in the future, but we should also stop pretending that a post-secondary education is 'elitist'.

And if we don't focus on creating high-skills, 'creative economy' jobs for post-secondary graduates, they'll have no choice but to take those low-skilled jobs and where does that leave the high school drop-outs?

A society that provides for lots of well paid, high-skills jobs is a society that can afford to hire more bathroom cleaners and pay them a decent wage.

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By poe (anonymous) | Posted September 24, 2011 at 13:34:33 in reply to Comment 70037

At present, this city offers NOTHING in terms of employment for the "latte-sipping, white collar university graduates" you speak of (unless one happens to work in publicly funded professions such as education, healthcare, or social services). If the city offered anything for these "elitists", then surely Hamilton would retain at least a fraction of them as they venture out the doors of our local, premier university in search of employment.

There's nothing wrong with a little socio-economic balance; Hamilton needs it. Even if it is brought upon by the "elitists" with their fancy book learnin', we should not fear economic development of a higher quality in this city. Based on my observations, this city has more than enough unskilled, part-time, minimum wage jobs, and I wouldn't worry about a shortage of those to fill them.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 24, 2011 at 16:01:15 in reply to Comment 70043

very well said. As I always remind people, a mega-wave of gentrification turning our entire lower city into Vancouver is not going to happen anytime soon, or probably ever.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted September 24, 2011 at 20:35:23

80% with college or university? That's beginning to get a bit ludicrous. For the record, none of my dropout friends are having any trouble finding work these days - they have loads of real-world experience and connections. Almost all of my friends with impressive degrees are having a lot of trouble, not helped by their additional enormous debt burdens. In far too many cases people end up far less employable.

We could train every person in Canada to be a CEO. It wouldn't change a thing about the distribution of wealth in our economy. It certainly would be nice if everybody could be comfortably middle-class, but it will never be possible. Likewise, we could put all our money into paying CEOs - but that wouldn't help the rest of us, by definition. Despite the economic horrors which most of the world has faced since 2008, large corporations are now earning some of the highest profits ever, amidst some of the lowest wages. "Trickle down economics" are a nice idea, but always entail policies intended to do the exact opposite.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/corpora...

The turning point which Hamilton requires involve the definitions of success we work by. Light Rail will certainly help (and is a step in the right direction), but we need a lot more.

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By RB (registered) | Posted September 26, 2011 at 12:58:54 in reply to Comment 69998

So because I went to post-secondary, I'm somehow elitist? And therefore not worthy of pursuing?

Great way to chase the educated out of our city...

Once again, the people of Hamilton shoot themselves in the foot, then blame everyone else for pulling the trigger.

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By RB (registered) | Posted September 26, 2011 at 13:08:47 in reply to Comment 70050

You probably know more about this than I, but why will we never have a comfortable middle-class ever again?

I always hear people talk about the "erosion of the middle-class", yet don't really know why?

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted September 26, 2011 at 13:25:25

“I really think it’s more than anything an HR issue and it’s related to the fact people aren’t happy with the long commute. Young professionals want to live downtown because it’s an exciting and vibrant place.”

http://www.thestar.com/business/article/1058962--why-toronto-businesses-are-moving-downtown

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted September 26, 2011 at 14:05:31

The Hamilton Civic League will meet on Monday September 26th from 7 to 9 pm at the offices of Volunteer Hamilton at 267 King Street East. Visit www.WeVote.ca to learn more about the Hamilton Civic League. The Aerotropolis will be one topic for discussion this evening.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted September 26, 2011 at 23:35:09 in reply to Comment 70070

I didn't say that we couldn't have some people living comfortable middle-class existence - just that not everybody can have it. It's an exclusive status by definition.

Class isn't just an issue of how much money you have or make, it's how you're related to the productive system. There are certainly skilled working-class people who put in lots of overtime and have far more take-home pay than hard-up entrepreneurs. The issue is one of power, and if everyone has it, then who do they have power over? Who's actually doing the work?

There's a popular myth that "everybody's middle class these days", but that only hides the vast disparities of wealth which exist in our society. Sociologically speaking, only about 30% qualify, with only the top 5% of the total ("upper-middle class") actually owning and controlling most of the economy. Making $30/hr at a factory with a pension, benefits and mortgage doesn't make you middle class - it just makes you a well-paid worker. That, of course, is a far more achievable goal for everybody, or at least it would be if we didn't allocate so much money toward the top.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted September 27, 2011 at 10:36:36 in reply to Comment 70073

This was done in the 20th century through a combination of progressive taxation, public education, broadly accessible public infrastructure, libraries, community centres, unemployment insurance, social services, CMHC, public health care, and so on.

Nice notions Ryan, but it was mainly accomplished through people willing to fight, be incarcerated and die for what they believe in. The Wobblies, Mother Jones, Big Bill Haywood, miners, rail and garment workers that went on strike to DEMAND those policies. They fought police, Pinkertons, hired thugs and died in gun battles for the 40 hour work week, a fair wage, benefits, etc...

Now many people that have benefitted from the hard work of those hardnosed labour organizers sit back in their middle class comfort and criticize unions and labour or someone throwing a rock at a bank window after said banks destroyed our economy, all the while lamenting the erosion of the middle class... they forget that the middle class didn't just happen, it was fought and paid for in blood. And once the elites realised we would no longer be willing (or informed enough) to keep fighting that fight they began clawing those things back slowly but surely. Remember the Mike Harris 60 hour work week?

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2002/mar200...

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted September 27, 2011 at 11:20:39 in reply to Comment 70041

For better or worse, BA's are the new high school diploma. The provincial government has set a goal of having 80% of the population with a university or college diploma - a complete reversal from our parents' generation.

Yet the top 3 jobs employers are having a hard time filling are technicians, skilled trades and sales reps, according to Manpower's 2011 Talent Shortage Survey. Jobs that do not require BAs.

So why the push for students to get BAs? Could it be the debt and heavy dose of indoctrination that accompanies the BA?

Comment edited by Kiely on 2011-09-27 11:22:06

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted September 27, 2011 at 11:39:28 in reply to Comment 70081

These lifestyles were indeed brought about by labour unrest, both at home and abroad. Here, the burgeoning labour movement was making large gains, and abroad "socialism" was beginning to take hold of entire countries. By the 1950s it became obvious that a lot of concessions weren't only necessary for the system's survival, but also incredibly useful. Not only did it drive consumerist production, but it presented a powerful piece of cold war propaganda. By institutionalizing it, though, they also neutered it. The transformation of the labour movement that happened at this time was a huge part of this. Unions were granted recognition and the right to collect dues in exchange for centralizing control over locals in a way that could prevent the kind of wildcat strikes which had been so common and effective before (with the folks Kiely mentions).

Sadly, as Ryan describes, this set of benefits has been waning for decades. Wages for most of the population peaked in real terms during the 1970s, and since then we've witnessed an incredible growth in wealth and productivity, but none of it has "trickled down".

On the bright side, the IWW is on it's way back.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 27, 2011 at 11:52:12 in reply to Comment 70083

The list on your link is 1 skilled trades, 2 sales reps, and 3 engineers. Engineers obviously require post-secondary degrees, and while you may not need a degree to do the job of a sales rep, employers often demand it nonetheless. In a world where BA's are the new normal, it has become a minimum requirement.

As to why, well, your guess is as good as mine, but it's insane that students are being asked to take on higher and higher levels of debt to acquire the equivalent of a high school diploma - something previous generations got for free.

Edit: I should also add that many skilled trades require a diploma or certificate from a community college over and above an apprenticeship, so I think it would be safe to say that the majority of jobs in those top three fields require at least some post-secondary education.

Comment edited by highwater on 2011-09-27 12:19:00

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted September 27, 2011 at 12:52:40 in reply to Comment 70086

The list on your link is 1 skilled trades, 2 sales reps, and 3 engineers

The 2011 report shows engineers at number 4 globally since 2007. Asia is filling the market nicely for engineers.

So yes the top jobs require some post secondary education, but not debt producing BAs. I was paid to go to trade school through EI. The concept is you do enough hours of your apprenticeship to earn the EI required to than attend your next session of schooling. For technician programs there are tuition fees but you're graduating from post secondary with a lower level of debt (compared to a BA) and as shown in the report, into a field where there is higher demand.

I don't question that route.

To me the problem is the lack of job prospects and the often crippling debt associated with some of the more liberal arts oriented BAs. These people are crucial for society because these are the types of degrees that produce critical thinking skills... yet they are often being relegated to an educated lower class. Hmmm???

Comment edited by Kiely on 2011-09-27 12:53:23

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted September 27, 2011 at 13:32:35 in reply to Comment 70088

LOL, love that one.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted September 27, 2011 at 15:29:58 in reply to Comment 70085

Alright, I just got to tell you Undustrial I really hate that Chomsky quote.

Lots of good ideas in the world my man. Chomsky calls them "heroes" (cringe) but what we really need are people. People who inspire, people who can give the ideas a face, who can bring other people together to support an idea because people rarely rally around or are inspired by a mere idea. It is about people, referring to them as "heroes" is obscurantism on his part.

Sometimes that old codger Chomsky really gets on my nerves :)

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted September 27, 2011 at 17:42:32 in reply to Comment 70096

Suppose it is about time I looked for a new one. I've just stuck with this for a while because of all the talk of "ambitious leadership" which was so common for a while.

I'll agree, we need people. Lots of people. My problem with "leadership" isn't the idea of getting more skilled and brilliant people involved or helping people learn to be better orators and organizers. I just don't think we should stop once we have enough directors to run the show - we should be encouraging everyone to learn those sorts of skills and dream those sorts of dreams.

I've met Chomsky, btw, and was really impressed. But just for you, I'll go find a new quote.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted September 28, 2011 at 09:32:12 in reply to Comment 70104

Just given ya the gears a little Undustrial : )

Sometimes Chomsky is great (mainly in writing) and other times he frustrates the hell out of me (usually when he's speaking).

Mumford...nice, great quote.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted September 28, 2011 at 11:41:48 in reply to Comment 70109

I love Chomsky, but have a hard time reading most of his books. I read lots of them when I was younger, but after a while it all starts to bleed together into one enormous rant about Vietnam, Isreal and 9/11.

Nobody pays enough attention to Mumford.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted September 28, 2011 at 17:48:46 in reply to Comment 70114

And the MSM doesn't pay enough attention to righteous rants which really matter to ordinary people either, although Noam Chomsky apparently does.

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