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Gordon Cameron

Dithering on transit will cost the city

Among the more popular graphics passed around social media by my Toronto friends are maps that show what the TTC could have been if past governments had either the money, vision or wherewithal to stick to their plans and improve the system when they had the chance.

And what a difference it would have made.

When I worked in Hogtown I had a front row seat to the farce that was the city’s transit planning.

First, there was the Transit City plan which would have crisscrossed the city with new (mostly) at-grade light rail and bus rapid transit lines. The province approved the plan in 2007 as part of the MoveOntario 2020 and studies and plans were proceeding with the goal of having the lines done in time for the 2015 Pan Am Games. Then in 2010 the province set the project back by deferring funding for some of the lines and the election of Rob Ford (driven in part by those angry at the debacle of the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way project) who favoured subways and vowed to kill Transit City.

What resulted were several lost years full of acrimony, stagnation and missed opportunities. Different ideological factions on council pushed their pet projects in order to play to their bases and stick it to the other side. In the end all Torontonians got for their troubles was an even longer wait for new transit.

I bring this up because I’m starting to see the beginnings of the same transit quagmire in Hamilton.

Are LRTs what’s best for the city? Would a BRT system be better? Should it be the B Line or the A Line that goes first? Can the city afford to operate a rapid transit system or should it just put more money into improving and expanding the existing bus system?

All these are important questions that need to be answered before shovels go in the ground, but at some point enough, needs to be enough. City council has committed time and time again to LRTs (provided the province pays 100 per cent of the capital cost) and both that B and A Lines are a part of Metrolinx’s Big Move plan.

Of course, none of that makes LRTs the right project for Hamilton.

The time to finally decide on the direction for Hamilton’s transit future is now. With both a provincial and municipal election taking place, voters have a chance to ask the burning questions and decide once and for all if the LRTs are the way to go. If voters say yes, then council must do everything in its power (including looking for alternate funding in case the province doesn’t come through) to get the LRT built. If voters say no, then council needs to move on and quickly find a new way to address the city’s transit woes.

The one thing that no one can afford is to continue to dither. If we can learn from the mess in Toronto it’s that squandering your opportunities to build transit when you can has long-lasting and negative consequences.

Just ask a TTC commuter.

— Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News

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