Special Report: Light Rail

A Moratorium on Progress that Undermines LRT Planning

It is our fear that the motion before Council would tie the hands of city staff and the LRT Project Team by preventing them from designing into the project the very best practices that are essential to the success of LRT.

By Keanin Loomis
Published December 09, 2015

Any visitor to Hamilton will tell you that our main streets (particularly Main Street) do our city no favour in leaving a positive impression. They are repellent rather than inviting. And that's bad for business.

Main Street West (RTH file photo)
Main Street West (RTH file photo)

Contrary to the countless experts who have advised us over recent years that enhancements to our built environment will lead to increased livability, we have done very little to take advantage of the best economic development opportunity before us in the 21st century: intensification of and tourism to our lower city.

Yet, just as increasing numbers of Hamiltonians are finally waking to the realization that we are being limited by our 1950s-era road network and just as citizen groups are gaining strength in demanding changes, Hamilton City Council is set to discuss a motion to impose a "Moratorium on Any New Projects, Roadway Alterations or Designs That Reduce Motor Vehicular Capacity on any Roadway within the LRT Corridor".

Proposed area of moratorium on any new street safety improvement measures (Image Credit: Google Maps)
Proposed area of moratorium on any new street safety improvement measures (Image Credit: Google Maps)

The motion springs from the very same mindset that for the last six decades has entrenched efficient vehicular throughput as the only measure of success of our street networks. The motion may as well propose a moratorium on progress, science and economic development.

Complete Streets as Economic Development

As an organization, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce has been working hard with other anchor institutions to highlight the business case that links balanced, complete streets (streets that are designed for people, not just automobiles) implementations with the renewal of our commercial districts and neighborhoods.

A recent study by the McMaster Institute of Transportation and Logistics, in which we participated, determined that there are eight economic benefits commonly associated complete streets:

  1. increased property values;
  2. higher tax revenues;
  3. better vibe;
  4. lower healthcare costs;
  5. greater productivity;
  6. decrease maintenance costs;
  7. higher densities; and
  8. vibrant local economies

For Hamilton to truly live up to its potential, many changes to our streets are needed. Some are hard and expensive, some are easy and inexpensive. What makes LRT so exciting is that it is the impetus to finally, completely overhaul the entirety of the city's transportation network in one coordinated effort.

LRT Plan is Complete Streets Plan

The City's own "Rapid Ready" Light Rail Transit Plan [PDF] provides a roadmap for successful implementation of the Hamilton LRT project to the benefit of all users: residents, pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, drivers, goods movers, and bricks and mortar businesses.

It outlines the Seven Key Actions needed to "greatly improve the pay-back for major infrastructure investments," specifically:

  1. Building a Rapid-Ready Transit Network: Enhance and increase bus services, restructure the route network around rapid transit corridors

  2. Creating an Accessible Transportation System: Transit and the transportation system will be fully accessible.

  3. Making Transit Faster and More Reliable: Transit must offer journey times competitive to driving to be an attractive choice

  4. Creating a Refined Transit Customer Experience: Provide customer service and amenities to make it easier and more attractive to use transit

  5. Providing Safe and Convenient Walking and Cycling Environments: Encourage walking and cycling for short- and medium-distance trips while creating strong linkages to transit

  6. Integrating Corridor and Community Planning: Planning for and building the city around transit

  7. Developing Seamless Multi-modal Connections: Integrating different modes of transportation to maximize connections to transit

Rapid Ready makes clear that the Hamilton LRT project is a complete streets project. This conclusion is established by mountains of research that shows that transit-oriented demand - i.e. the density and ridership necessary to make the system sustainable - is interlinked with the transit user's experience in the first and last mile of one's destination (when one usually walks, or in a city with a healthy bike share system like our SoBi, cycles).

Motion Ties Our Hands

It is our fear that the motion before Council would tie the hands of city staff and the LRT Project Team over the next 18-24 months by preventing them from designing into the project, and through all its impacted corridors (pretty much the entire city), the very best practices that are essential to the success of LRT.

Members of the community and the businesses serving them increasingly understand the need for a rebalancing of our public spaces and streets. Our members understand that we will be competing with communities across Ontario and the world to demonstrate to investors, migrants and tourists that Hamilton is an evolving, progressive and livable city.

Our success will be determined by whether we get this LRT project right. The motion before Council limits our ability to do so.

This article was first published in the Hamilton Spectator.

Keanin is the President and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.

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By which way? (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2015 at 14:47:14

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By o boy (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2015 at 16:29:51 in reply to Comment 115573

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By All ways (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2015 at 23:43:51 in reply to Comment 115573

Complete streets can be one way as well. While directionality does have its problems, it's as much about the inhumane design...

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted December 10, 2015 at 12:49:22 in reply to Comment 115590

This is very true, but often very, very, very expensive to Complete Street a 1-way street (e.g. widening sidewalks, adding protected cycle track). An Amsterdamized 1-way Main Complete Street is possible, but would not easily be practical in our use case of needing to divert traffic off the King corridor (and current near-term Hamilton road design mentality).

Also Complete Streets is not always simple; it can also apply to a pair of parallel streets due to special considerations (e.g. the Main-King pair), e.g. wider sidewalks+cars on Main, and wider sidewalks+LRT+cycletrack(but no cars) on King.

In this concept, Main-King are considered as a single Complete Street with cycle track on only one of the two, and cars on the other. This scenario is not what probably will happen at first, but it's one of the many possible scenarios for our unique Main-King situation, too.

Simpler and cheaper to use new paint and signs to convert a 1-way to a 2-way street, complete with zebra crosswalks (and signalled pedestrian crossings in the long gaps between stoplights). Bumpouts can be added later. This is a much easier step-by-step progression to a Complete Street.

Yes, there is safety considerations. Right now, we have to race across between the car platoons which is simple for a seasoned person, but not something I would allow kids to do, especially when riding a scooter or bike. The habit of looking only one way before crossing streets, has put kids at risk on other 2-way streets and to cars exiting parking lots in the other direction, so we need to remove this habit as well, and provide enough zebra pedestrian crossings on a 2-way Main in the long gaps between stoplights. Punduts like to claim 1-way streets are safer because of this, but more of this is because there's fewer people plus very fast moving cars.

Converting a 1-way to a 2-way is a compromise. It doesn't Complete Street the street alone, by itself, but it makes it easier to gradually Complete Street cheaply, especially as cars start diverting via Barton or Burlington, or riding/LRTing/busing instead. We still have 5 defacto corridors (Burlingon, Barton, Wilson, Cannon, Main) even when eliminating most traffic lanes from King as in the LRT plan.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-12-10 13:00:16

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 10, 2015 at 09:22:19 in reply to Comment 115590

Proposing simple two-way conversions instead of full out complete streets is a compromise:

  1. It is the cheapest option, costing just paint and signage changes, not rebuilding the streets to widen (e.g. double or triple) sidewalks, plant trees, install barriers for bike lanes, add chicanes etc.

  2. It does not remove vehicle lanes and actually makes it easier for motorists to reach destinations. There is some evidence that two-way conversion actually improves traffic flow by shortening trips by eliminating block circling and overshoots.

  3. It doesn't usually require removing parking (and adding parking is a cheap way of providing buffers to pedestrians).

Opposing two-way conversion but claiming to support complete streets is actually supporting a more expensive, more extreme option.

Two-way conversion is the conservative option: make ward 1-3 streets just like almost every other street in almost every other part of the city (and most everywhere else). It is amazing that such a conservative and cautious change is portrayed as radical!

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-12-10 09:23:37

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted December 10, 2015 at 09:15:53 in reply to Comment 115590

absolutely true. Portland and Montreal are two cities with more one-ways than Hamilton, but most are complete streets with great cycling facilities, wide sidewalks etc.....

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted December 09, 2015 at 14:49:52

Whitehead's own motion to create a bike lane on the Claremont Access would violate this moratorium. Maybe he has changed his tune on it slightly.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2015 at 16:02:53

Good article in TheSpec. Thank you, Keenan.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 09, 2015 at 16:38:50

Excellent article highlighting why complete street redesigns are not a "distraction" or "complication" to implementing LRT ... they are an essential part of implementing LRT!

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-12-09 16:39:13

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By highwater (registered) | Posted December 09, 2015 at 17:30:18

Apparently Terry has just tabled his motion. He wants more time to lobby his colleagues in private.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted December 10, 2015 at 13:06:02 in reply to Comment 115580

Hopefully not until 2016. The brand new Hamilton LRT advocacy information/community website will have launched by then -- it is a lot more work than we expected. I'll consult with others about possibly putting up a section about street conversions brainstorming, or create a parellel sister site umbrella for LRT-derived citybuilding. If you'd like to help out, contact@hamiltonLRT.ca .... 2016 will be an important year about making noise about streets surrounding the LRT spine and it almost certainly warrants a YesWeCannon style site, just alone, by itself, even separate of the LRT site.

In the meantime, others can send letters to all councillors via the existing Hamilton Light Rail Website -- this is the earlier advocacy effort leading up to the successful funding the LRT by spring 2015.

  • Go to site.
  • scroll to the bottom.
  • The email form will broadcast to all city councillors simultaneously. Easy.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-12-10 13:11:34

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By practical (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2015 at 12:57:03

Whats lost in this discussion is the need for a transportation plan particularly as LRT construction will significantly alter much more than King St car traffic. Its prudent to have a plan in place that considers the whole rather than just the piecemeal changes that need to happen. Whitehead's no friend but in this instance his proposal makes sense. We are 2 years behind in planning for the LRT and we need to get moving on a master plan or the entire project will be a colossal nightmare. If postponing needed projects is what it takes to kick start the process from the present ostrich approach then postpone please

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