Without strong local leadership on LRT, a steady stream of nonsense is slowly but steadily displacing the sound, evidence-based reasons why we cannot afford not to invest in LRT.
By Ryan McGreal
Published April 15, 2014
An op-ed in today's Spectator by Susan J. Creer rehashes a longer piece published earlier this year in Urbanicity magazine. I wrote a point-by-point response to that piece, but the same points drive today's article.
Creer starts by arguing that an inclusive city needs to provide transit service everywhere, and that investing in LRT along the east-west B-Line corridor between McMaster University and Eastgate Square is not inclusive because it does not directly serve Binbrook, Greensville and other outlying areas.
However, by replacing the large number of buses that currently operate along the B-Line route, the LRT will allow the city to redeploy those vehicles to improve service citywide.
Likewise, Creer claims the city needs to ensure all of its buses are low-floor accessible to people with disabilities. Again, since the buses operating on the east-west B-Line are all low-floor, building LRT will allow the city to redeploy them to any routes that might not currently have low-floor buses.
She engages in some classic FUD by suggesting that LRT will slow down emergency vehicles. However, LRT will run on dedicated lanes so it won't get in the way of a fire truck or ambulance trying to reach a destination. Indeed, if Hamilton follows other cities and gives EMS vehicles access to the LRT lane, it could actually speed up their response times.
There is also the fact that, by displacing some vehicle strips and reducing dangerous speeding, LRT will help reduce the need for EMS calls in the first place by preventing some serious motor vehcile collisions.
Then Creer writes, "LRT lines have been known to break during bad winter weather as they are not as well designed as normal rail lines with proper beds and drainage." This is nonsense. LRT vehicles operate just fine in cities with extreme cold weather and heavy snow, and are more immune to snow than buses.
Creer argues that the money for LRT would be better spent adding to the supply of social housing in Hamilton. Affordable housing is an important, politically complicated issue, but it's a dodge to suggest we have to choose between investing in high quality transit or affordable housing. Responsible, solution-oriented governments invest in both.
Creer then argues that the economic development that comes with investing in LRT "will accrue to the business owners and developers, but it may not trickle down to those who need inexpensive places to live". Again, she is manufacturing a conflict between two legitimate needs.
She also ignores the role of the essential urban economies in creating employment. If you'll bear with me, I'll explain what I mean by this.
For decades, Hamilton's economic development strategy has been to service suburban business parks next to highways and then try to lure big companies to locate manufacturing here, instead of creating the conditions through which Hamiltonians can start new businesses and create new jobs.
The result has been a poor employment market in which the biggest employment sector is health care, which is publicly funded and has a limited multiplier effect. Hamilton has a dangerously low labour participation rate: while our unemployment rate seems low, it is because a large fraction of the population have given up looking for work and are no longer counted as unemployed.
Even when this strategy seems to work - like the Maple Leaf/Canada Bread deal the City's politicians and senior managers fawned over - the reality is that we are bribing mature companies to consolidate their existing operations with the lowest bidder and reduce their overall employment in the process.
The loyalty of such companies is only as deep as our willingness to keep bribing them with discounts and subsidies, and the long-term trend for the jobs they bring is downward as they continue to rationalize their operations.
The only successful long-term strategy for economic development is to foster the kind of local economy that generates a variety of net new jobs, not to bribe bottom-feeders to relocate low-wage operations here.
Cities are inherently engines of economic development: by bringing lots of people, ideas, energy and resources into close contact, cities dramatically increase the potential to generate innovations and create new businesses.
The evidence bears out the importance of a dense, mixed urban form: for the past few decades, most new jobs have been created by young, small, innovative companies started by creative entrepreneurs - and they are getting started in cities.
The more successfully that a city leverages its essential economies - the economies of scale, agglomeration, density, association and extension - the more successfully the city will grow its economy and create a wide variety of employment opportunities.
LRT leverages a big fixed investment in high-quality transportation to encourage a dense, mixed, diverse urban form that maximizes our potential to foster new business development and create new jobs.
We need to ensure that people have enough money to live with dignity (and indeed, there is strong evidence that raising welfare to a living rate produces a net benefit to the economy as a whole), but we also need to transform the way in which our city functions so that it can perform its role as an engine of job creation.
The evidence indicates that LRT will be a net benefit for low-income households and neighbourhoods, in significant part through improved access to jobs without the crushing cost - $10,000 a year - of owning a car.
There do not appear to be any really strong, compelling arguments against LRT - just FUD, nonsense and hand-wavy claims that we can't afford it.
The government of Waterloo Region did a comparative analysis and determined that they could not afford not to build LRT, because the cost in unsustainable status-quo development would be much higher than the cost of not building it.
But without strong local leadership on LRT, the nonsense is slowly but steadily displacing the sound, evidence-based reasons why we also cannot afford not to build LRT.
Hamilton is competing with Kitchener-Waterloo, Mississauga and other GTHA municipalities to attract entrepreneurs looking for a good quality of life and create new jobs. If those cities go ahead and build LRT and we pass up on the opportunity to do the same, we will be at a big competitive disadvantage.
Our city will continue to underperform its potential, and the crisis of poverty, inequality and low labour market participation will continue to plague Hamilton's vulnerable families and neighhbourhoods.
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