Why Hamilton needs to say yes to LRT

Opinion Jun 09, 2016 by Aidan Johnson Hamilton Spectator

The government of Ontario has offered Hamilton $1 billion to build light rail. The idea is controversial. The stakes are high. My own bias is shaped in part by my job as councillor for Ward 1 (West Hamilton). From a Ward 1 perspective, the case for LRT is clear.

The proposed line starts at McMaster. LRT will thus permit West Hamiltonians to travel east with ease. It will also probably increase the resale value of Ward 1 homes.

Despite my obligation to Ward 1, my support for LRT is based on what is right for our municipality as a whole.

The two best "regionwide" arguments for LRT are, respectively, ecological and economic.

The economic argument observes that LRT will permit investors, entrepreneurs, and scientists to travel easily from Toronto's Union Station to our downtown GO hub, and then on by LRT to McMaster campus and Innovation Park. It will also permit McMaster to grow as a school, with more students spending and living in the downtown.

Along with Mohawk and Redeemer University College, Mac is an engine of our regional economy. It will help us all for Mac to be more deeply connected to our region. That link helps us create jobs.

The environmental argument observes that very few literate people deny climate change any more. Nor do many people deny the role of cars in creating pollution. We need to act on what we know.

Relevant to the environmental argument: LRT is reliable, visually attractive, fast, and smooth to ride. By contrast, these are qualities that our HSR buses lack. As a result of this lack, higher-income people and many middle-income people do not ride our buses. But if we build LRT, more of us will choose public transit over driving. This is inherently good for the environment.

(Note that the argument for LRT is not anti-car. Many of us, particularly senior citizens who cannot climb onto a bus or train, and busy parents, will always need to use cars in the city. The point is not to deny car travel to anyone, but rather to incentivize more of us to choose public transit.)

Let us consider the main arguments against LRT.

Some argue that the project is a waste of money. But the project is not a waste, for the reasons stated. Moreover, the $1 billion is not our municipal tax money. Rather, the money is coming from the province. Hamilton's provincial tax contribution is small, in terms of the provincial total. Basically, LRT is a subsidy to Hamilton from the taxpayers of broader Ontario. Even with LRT, Hamilton will continue to get more out of the Ontario treasury than it gives.

Some small businesses along the LRT line will be harmed during the build period. But the city is aggressively working to mitigate the harm and find ways to get customers to the shops during "the build."

Others argue that LRT is bad because it will increase car drivers' commute times, when cars are displaced from Main and King. But the increase is often exaggerated. And, to the extent that it is not exaggerated, it ironically constitutes an argument for riding LRT. (Many daily car drivers do not fully appreciate how much better it is for one's mental health to ride a train instead of driving. It is realistic to plan to give suburban people this benefit.)

My friends on Hamilton Mountain argue that LRT must be combined with expanded HSR bus service for Mountain routes. They are right. How else will we get Mountain people to the trains? The same logic is true of all of the suburbs. The need for better transit outside the core supplements the pro-LRT case.

Last month, Ward 1 had an LRT discussion night in the auditorium at Adas Israel synagogue. (Many thanks to Rabbi Green for hosting.) The night brought together a good cross-section of anti-LRT and pro-LRT citizens, from across west Hamilton. The debate was vigorous. It made clear that activists on both sides are motivated by good faith.

Council will soon vote on whether to complete the LRT project. It is a key moment. The vote could be close. My hope is that rural, suburban, and Mountain-based Hamilton — not just the councillors, but the people, who must get behind LRT in order for the project to succeed — will do what is right.

I left Westdale as a young man, to study in other places and to work as a lawyer in Toronto. I came back because I love the region, and my family in Ancaster and Ward 1. I feel Hamilton's potential, as I feel my own heartbeat.

Hamilton will still be my beautiful home — suburban and urban and rural — regardless of where the LRT debate goes. But our potential will be more closely realized, our true self better expressed, if we say "yes" to the province's money.

Aidan Johnson is councillor for Hamilton’s Ward 1.

Why Hamilton needs to say yes to LRT

Opinion Jun 09, 2016 by Aidan Johnson Hamilton Spectator

The government of Ontario has offered Hamilton $1 billion to build light rail. The idea is controversial. The stakes are high. My own bias is shaped in part by my job as councillor for Ward 1 (West Hamilton). From a Ward 1 perspective, the case for LRT is clear.

The proposed line starts at McMaster. LRT will thus permit West Hamiltonians to travel east with ease. It will also probably increase the resale value of Ward 1 homes.

Despite my obligation to Ward 1, my support for LRT is based on what is right for our municipality as a whole.

The two best "regionwide" arguments for LRT are, respectively, ecological and economic.

The economic argument observes that LRT will permit investors, entrepreneurs, and scientists to travel easily from Toronto's Union Station to our downtown GO hub, and then on by LRT to McMaster campus and Innovation Park. It will also permit McMaster to grow as a school, with more students spending and living in the downtown.

Along with Mohawk and Redeemer University College, Mac is an engine of our regional economy. It will help us all for Mac to be more deeply connected to our region. That link helps us create jobs.

The environmental argument observes that very few literate people deny climate change any more. Nor do many people deny the role of cars in creating pollution. We need to act on what we know.

Relevant to the environmental argument: LRT is reliable, visually attractive, fast, and smooth to ride. By contrast, these are qualities that our HSR buses lack. As a result of this lack, higher-income people and many middle-income people do not ride our buses. But if we build LRT, more of us will choose public transit over driving. This is inherently good for the environment.

(Note that the argument for LRT is not anti-car. Many of us, particularly senior citizens who cannot climb onto a bus or train, and busy parents, will always need to use cars in the city. The point is not to deny car travel to anyone, but rather to incentivize more of us to choose public transit.)

Let us consider the main arguments against LRT.

Some argue that the project is a waste of money. But the project is not a waste, for the reasons stated. Moreover, the $1 billion is not our municipal tax money. Rather, the money is coming from the province. Hamilton's provincial tax contribution is small, in terms of the provincial total. Basically, LRT is a subsidy to Hamilton from the taxpayers of broader Ontario. Even with LRT, Hamilton will continue to get more out of the Ontario treasury than it gives.

Some small businesses along the LRT line will be harmed during the build period. But the city is aggressively working to mitigate the harm and find ways to get customers to the shops during "the build."

Others argue that LRT is bad because it will increase car drivers' commute times, when cars are displaced from Main and King. But the increase is often exaggerated. And, to the extent that it is not exaggerated, it ironically constitutes an argument for riding LRT. (Many daily car drivers do not fully appreciate how much better it is for one's mental health to ride a train instead of driving. It is realistic to plan to give suburban people this benefit.)

My friends on Hamilton Mountain argue that LRT must be combined with expanded HSR bus service for Mountain routes. They are right. How else will we get Mountain people to the trains? The same logic is true of all of the suburbs. The need for better transit outside the core supplements the pro-LRT case.

Last month, Ward 1 had an LRT discussion night in the auditorium at Adas Israel synagogue. (Many thanks to Rabbi Green for hosting.) The night brought together a good cross-section of anti-LRT and pro-LRT citizens, from across west Hamilton. The debate was vigorous. It made clear that activists on both sides are motivated by good faith.

Council will soon vote on whether to complete the LRT project. It is a key moment. The vote could be close. My hope is that rural, suburban, and Mountain-based Hamilton — not just the councillors, but the people, who must get behind LRT in order for the project to succeed — will do what is right.

I left Westdale as a young man, to study in other places and to work as a lawyer in Toronto. I came back because I love the region, and my family in Ancaster and Ward 1. I feel Hamilton's potential, as I feel my own heartbeat.

Hamilton will still be my beautiful home — suburban and urban and rural — regardless of where the LRT debate goes. But our potential will be more closely realized, our true self better expressed, if we say "yes" to the province's money.

Aidan Johnson is councillor for Hamilton’s Ward 1.

Why Hamilton needs to say yes to LRT

Opinion Jun 09, 2016 by Aidan Johnson Hamilton Spectator

The government of Ontario has offered Hamilton $1 billion to build light rail. The idea is controversial. The stakes are high. My own bias is shaped in part by my job as councillor for Ward 1 (West Hamilton). From a Ward 1 perspective, the case for LRT is clear.

The proposed line starts at McMaster. LRT will thus permit West Hamiltonians to travel east with ease. It will also probably increase the resale value of Ward 1 homes.

Despite my obligation to Ward 1, my support for LRT is based on what is right for our municipality as a whole.

The two best "regionwide" arguments for LRT are, respectively, ecological and economic.

The economic argument observes that LRT will permit investors, entrepreneurs, and scientists to travel easily from Toronto's Union Station to our downtown GO hub, and then on by LRT to McMaster campus and Innovation Park. It will also permit McMaster to grow as a school, with more students spending and living in the downtown.

Along with Mohawk and Redeemer University College, Mac is an engine of our regional economy. It will help us all for Mac to be more deeply connected to our region. That link helps us create jobs.

The environmental argument observes that very few literate people deny climate change any more. Nor do many people deny the role of cars in creating pollution. We need to act on what we know.

Relevant to the environmental argument: LRT is reliable, visually attractive, fast, and smooth to ride. By contrast, these are qualities that our HSR buses lack. As a result of this lack, higher-income people and many middle-income people do not ride our buses. But if we build LRT, more of us will choose public transit over driving. This is inherently good for the environment.

(Note that the argument for LRT is not anti-car. Many of us, particularly senior citizens who cannot climb onto a bus or train, and busy parents, will always need to use cars in the city. The point is not to deny car travel to anyone, but rather to incentivize more of us to choose public transit.)

Let us consider the main arguments against LRT.

Some argue that the project is a waste of money. But the project is not a waste, for the reasons stated. Moreover, the $1 billion is not our municipal tax money. Rather, the money is coming from the province. Hamilton's provincial tax contribution is small, in terms of the provincial total. Basically, LRT is a subsidy to Hamilton from the taxpayers of broader Ontario. Even with LRT, Hamilton will continue to get more out of the Ontario treasury than it gives.

Some small businesses along the LRT line will be harmed during the build period. But the city is aggressively working to mitigate the harm and find ways to get customers to the shops during "the build."

Others argue that LRT is bad because it will increase car drivers' commute times, when cars are displaced from Main and King. But the increase is often exaggerated. And, to the extent that it is not exaggerated, it ironically constitutes an argument for riding LRT. (Many daily car drivers do not fully appreciate how much better it is for one's mental health to ride a train instead of driving. It is realistic to plan to give suburban people this benefit.)

My friends on Hamilton Mountain argue that LRT must be combined with expanded HSR bus service for Mountain routes. They are right. How else will we get Mountain people to the trains? The same logic is true of all of the suburbs. The need for better transit outside the core supplements the pro-LRT case.

Last month, Ward 1 had an LRT discussion night in the auditorium at Adas Israel synagogue. (Many thanks to Rabbi Green for hosting.) The night brought together a good cross-section of anti-LRT and pro-LRT citizens, from across west Hamilton. The debate was vigorous. It made clear that activists on both sides are motivated by good faith.

Council will soon vote on whether to complete the LRT project. It is a key moment. The vote could be close. My hope is that rural, suburban, and Mountain-based Hamilton — not just the councillors, but the people, who must get behind LRT in order for the project to succeed — will do what is right.

I left Westdale as a young man, to study in other places and to work as a lawyer in Toronto. I came back because I love the region, and my family in Ancaster and Ward 1. I feel Hamilton's potential, as I feel my own heartbeat.

Hamilton will still be my beautiful home — suburban and urban and rural — regardless of where the LRT debate goes. But our potential will be more closely realized, our true self better expressed, if we say "yes" to the province's money.

Aidan Johnson is councillor for Hamilton’s Ward 1.