Oh Hamilton, where are you going?

William Lou
February 12, 2015
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By: Rob Hardy

Recent reports detail Hamilton’s newly elected council getting back to the hideously long saga of this city’s transit woes. Having run on a platform of creating a citizens panel to investigate this issue, Eisenberger’s strategy proved victorious, but at the expense of taking a lateral rather than a forward step.

Indeed, city council itself had long since approved breaking ground on Light Rail Transit if the province paid the full cost (and who wouldn’t accept close to a billion dollars for badly needed infrastructure?). So the idea of backpedaling and spending more money to now re-engage citizens doesn’t make much sense. After all, we’ve heard plenty regarding how people feel about rapid transit, and millions have been spent on reports in the process.

Moreover, transit implementation is too important to be influenced by dubious sentiments or opinionated naysayers. Urban planning is largely determined by the flow of needs and rarely by public concern. That is not to say that our voices should not be taken into account, but by now we have weighed in sufficiently.

I am a huge proponent of seeing LRT built in Hamilton as quickly as possible. The need for updated transit in this city is staggering. Toronto has buses, and also streetcars, subways and future LRT lines in the works. Even the much smaller cities of Kitchener-Waterloo already began construction on LRT last year. Given that we are much larger and closely linked to the Greater Toronto Area, there’s no excuse for us to be lagging behind.

For those who say that we can’t afford it, this is ridiculous if the province commits to funding. And the benefits of LRT are more favourable than the current HSR system.  Days of full buses passing you by in sub-zero weather would be history given the capacity of an LRT car. And if not now, how would we ever afford it in later decades without provincial funding? Or are opponents excited to think of Hamilton with nothing but buses for years to come?

Our hesitation has contributed to the province wavering on their commitment and could very well sink this project, which has been discussed for nearly a decade now. Building it would still take years. Yes, the construction would be a nightmare, but it’s the price municipalities around us are also paying in order to have greater long-term benefits.

Unfortunately, I am not hopeful that any progressive announcements are imminent. With the scrapping of the experimental bus lane downtown, it’s clear council is not on board. A current grassroots campaign urging city councillors to take the bus for one week was met with immediate rejection by some of them, with one councillor stating that it would be “unrealistic.” He’s definitely right that taking the HSR is unrealistic, as many commuters find when they spend hours of their day crossing the city, making detours, waiting for connections, and missing routes due to systemic problems. If he doesn’t want to ride transit buses, then why should the general public?

I am very critical of this debacle, and I have every right to be. I was born in Hamilton and watched as my former hometown of Stoney Creek got swallowed up by an amalgamation with Hamilton 14 years ago. Contrary to rationale, taxes went up, not down, and services got cut. When asked why I don’t vote I say because my city no longer exists. Now even with a beefed-up tax base some claim Hamilton cannot afford to even maintain an LRT system.

However, this whole issue goes much deeper than transit. It’s emblematic of Hamilton’s whole culture. If one contrasts Gore Park to Dundas Square, or any part of Toronto’s downtown, the difference is stupendous. Rather than vibrancy and lights, ours is a story of pawnshops, liquidation stores, dollar stores, and boarded-up storefronts. In fact, Hamilton now has only a single Cineplex remaining within the old city boundaries.

There has been much discussion as to why McMaster students do not see Hamilton as a viable place to live after graduating. I know that some seem to like it here, but the answer to that question is very obvious to me. We are surrounded by many options throughout Canada, as well as in booming global economies, and Hamilton is simply not cutting it. Of course, things are looking better, but the same can be said for all of the GTA. We have so much potential, with so many investment opportunities to attract, but we must act quickly. And given Hamilton’s past track record, I’m not holding my breath.

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