We can - and should - be ramping up the discussion about LRT while also pursuing the city-wide transit improvements that staff already identified and Council approved (in principle) when it approved the Rapid Ready plan.
By Ryan McGreal
Published January 05, 2015
One of the recurring themes we have noticed in our coverage of the city's light rail transit (LRT) debate has ben the generally dismal quality of debate on the anti-LRT side.
There may be some good arguments against building LRT in Hamilton, but we have yet to hear them. Instead, we are subjected to a parade of claims that are misleading, disingenuous, irrational or just factually wrong.
A Spectator op-ed by LRT skeptic M. Adrian Brassington tries to rise above the fray through the use of hand-wavy false equivalence.
During the [recent election] campaign, people from both camps, for and against LRT, ignored the underlying issue: We have some serious transit issues that desperately need to be acknowledged, discussed and then addressed.
This is straight-up nonsense. From the beginning, LRT supporters have been among the loudest, most consistent voices calling for higher transit funding and system-wide transit improvement, not to mention improving options for active transportation.
The City's Council-approved Rapid Ready LRT Plan itself places LRT in the context of a comprehensive approach to transit improvement that envisions both dedicated rapid transit lines and improved local service city-wide.
Sean Burak, who was a founding member of Hamilton Light Rail, has been calling on Council either to start implementing the comprehensive transit improvements it approved in Rapid Ready or else start articulating an alternate vision for transit.
Meanwhile, the people who really have been neglecting the current state of the HSR are the same people who oppose LRT, and for the same reasons: making Hamilton a more inclusive, more multi-modal city is not a priority for them.
They're the people saying we should reconsider bus rapid transit (BRT) instead of LRT, while simultaneously conflating BRT with the current express bus service on the B-Line - and opposing any improvements to it.
They're the people saying we shouldn't invest more in lower-city transit as long as mountain and suburban transit are inadequate, while simultaneously opposed to investing more in mountain and suburban transit.
It's a common pattern which turns up in many issues related to lower city investment. For example, we can't convert downtown streets to two-way, even though they were approved back in 2001, because some Councillors on the mountain just noticed that some of their streets don't have sidewalks.
In Hamilton, the interests who have been holding back our progress for decades point to the lack of past progress as an excuse not to make progress today or tomorrow. It's a cynical and pernicious tactic, and Brassington misses it completely in his attempt to scramble to some kind of argumentative higher ground.
Brassington also accuses LRT supporters of claiming that LRT is some kind of magic bullet:
Pro-LRTers march in lockstep, evangelizing with fists thrown into the air, fists crammed with studies and facts and profiles of cities where LRT has brought them rainbows and unicorns and economic development that dreams are made on.
The irony here is that Brassington is engaging in exactly the kind of over-the-top hyperbole he wrongly ascribes to LRT supporters. As I wrote in September:
No one is seriously claiming that LRT by itself is a "magic bullet" that will single-handedly solve Hamilton's problems. Most supporters rightly regard LRT as a necessary component of a comprehensive strategy to set this city up for the kind of long-term transformative change that other cities across North America and around the world have already embraced and experienced.
That is what we have been arguing all along, but it serves the interests of LRT opponents to muddy the waters with strawman attacks.
Incidentally, I don't know whether Brassingon supports or opposes LRT - and apparently he doesn't know either, as he stated in a July 2014 op-ed: "Let's get this out of the way: I'm neither for nor against LRT." (You can read a response by Nicholas Kevlahan.)
Instead, Brassington is trying to position himself against what he considers to be pointless discussion of LRT, a position for which he has advocated through ... multiple LRT discussion pieces.
I'm willing to bet that if you were to poll a thousand of [transit riders] - you know, generate "evidence-based reasoning" - you'd find that a reduction in transit times, one of the touted benefits of an LRT-based system, isn't what they most want.
They're not interested in the hoped-for economic benefits of LRT.
They don't care about chopping six minutes off an Eastgate to Mac trip.
Here's the thing: "evidence-based reasoning" does not mean making a series of guesses about what a group of people might say if they were asked.
Actual evidence-based reasoning is precisely the approach that most LRT advocates have been taking - building the argument for LRT investment from a foundation of real published studies and reports citing actual data.
I'm surprised that the same person who recently championed getting more people to participate in civic issues through a network of town hall meetings now imagines he knows exactly what our transit users want and feels confident speaking for them.
Again, contrast the unprecedented broad public engagement undertaken by the City as part of its LRT planning process, which followed and built on the volunteer engagement process undertaken by Hamilton Light Rail.
Literally thousands of Hamiltonians, including regular transit users, were consulted. Their feedback was incorporated into the Rapid Ready report, which also included solid research into rapid transit investment, including both quality of service/ridership impacts and transit-oriented development implications.
The City's plan was reviewed by the Province in a Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis and has been independently assessed by several transportaton and urban planning researchers.
If we need more evidence, then the answer is to engage still further, not to fall silent. It is certainly not to pigeonhole entire groups of people and assume insultingly that we know what they do and what they want.
Regardless of Brassington's intentions - and for what it's worth, I assume he means well - the practical result of his op-ed is to stir yet more silt into the already-clouded waters of this debate.
For the past four years, the LRT discussion has been overshadowed by a relentless stream of nonsense claims spewed by people who ought to know better - particularly former mayor Bob Bratina, who pledged during his 2010 election campaign to "work with all levels of government to bring light rail transit to Hamilton."
The Spectator, in its attempt to present a "balanced" view on a big issue, has published a spate of anti-LRT op-eds all plagued by gross misinformation, fearmongering, bad reasoning and false claims.
The City itself has been silent through it all, passively allowing the stream of hogwash to pass unchallenged into the public record.
Amazingly, despite all this, LRT in Hamilton is still not dead. A Forum Research survey taken in September found that more Hamiltonians support rapid transit than oppose it, despite all the malarkey. That in itself is a testament to the enduring power of a sound idea.
Now imagine what public support would look like after a year or two of honest public engagement from civic leaders acting in good faith!
What we need now is to revive the broad public discussion that Bratina derailed in early 2011 with his campaign of obstruction.
It is naive in the extreme to believe, as Brassington argues, that we shouldn't talk about LRT since we're waiting to see whether the Province will fund it. This ignores the fact that the Province is watching closely to see whether we will demand that they keep their funding commitment.
We can - and should - be ramping up this discussion about LRT while also pursuing the city-wide transit improvements that staff already identified and Council approved (in principle) when it unanimously approved Rapid Ready.
None of the things we need to do to improve transit in Hamilton will happen immediately - not the increase in buses that the B-Line clearly needs in the short term, nor the LRT investment that the B-Line clearly needs for a viable longer term solution.
The fact that some of the projects in Rapid Ready will take longer to complete than others is absolutely no reason not to get started. If anything, the size, complexity, scale and broad civic implications of our LRT plan should inspire a sense of urgency to get going as soon as possible so that we can shepherd this project to completion.
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