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By: Max Lightstone

In the near future, Hamilton will be blessed with a light rail transit system, spanning the breadth of the city and allowing individuals to travel from McMaster University to Eastgate Square in just over half an hour. While that’s a great move for the city, it’s still lacking something.

Part of the LRT plan is to build an operations maintenance and storage facility at the McMaster Innovation Park. The OMSF would allow for nightly storage and any necessary servicing to the LRT trains, with tracks built along Longwood Road South for the trains to access Main Street West. If you’ve never heard of MIP, it is a large research facility on Longwood Road South beside the Ontario Highway 403.

MIP was proposed by the university in 2005 with the goal of fostering industry collaboration while progressing research and development. Following McMaster’s purchase of an old Westinghouse factory and warehouse on the site, the province announced a $10 million investment to advance development. As well, the federal government moved the CANMET Materials Technology Laboratory to the site.

The park finally opened in 2009, and currently hosts programs, startups and incubators including The Forge and a United Nations University program.

Many of the researchers at MIP are engaged in engineering research, particularly in the materials and automotive fields, but that is quickly changing. Just this year, a $33 million research facility in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology opened, and the university has plans for more expansions including an 80,000 square foot Emerging Technology Center. There is even a hotel in the works!

New buildings lead to more opportunities for people to obtain work. At the MIP, the individuals employed there are often associated with McMaster. The number of people traveling between McMaster’s campus and the MIP for meetings, conferences and classes is already listed as a concern in the park’s master plan, and this number is expected to increase with time.

There are currently only three options to make the trip by public transit: walking across a bridge that is completely exposed to the elements; transfer at King Street West and Longwood Road South to the infrequent Hamilton Street Railway 6-Aberdeen; or taking the route-15 Go Bus from the McMaster Go Terminal, which is also infrequent and expensive.

 It is evident that a more convenient transit system is needed to help facilitate the journey between campus and MIP. The city of Hamilton and McMaster have to plan with foresight to ensure that there is capacity in services to meet the demand.

In this particular case, there’s actually an inexpensive and easy answer: use the proposed LRT line on Longwood Road South. Adding occasional service between the MIP on Longwood and the McMaster stop would allow residents of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area to commute easily on public transit and would vastly ease the trip for those students, faculty and researchers who need to get between Mac and the MIP, some of whom currently need to do so several times a day.

This would also open up the city to out-of-town guests at the future hotel. It wouldn’t even be an expensive plan to implement since the track will already be installed for OMSF access.

A solution like this, however, would require extensive planning, and that's something that hasn’t happened as of yet. McMaster University and the city of Hamilton need to think towards the future when designing and building, and need to work together to make things happen.

 

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[spacer height="20px"]This past municipal election came with special significance.

It served as a pivotal moment for Hamilton, a moment that would decide whether the city would be moving forward with the $1 billion light rail transit system or not. While I’m grateful for those who fought tirelessly to bring something so obviously important to a city like Hamilton, I’m disappointed.

I’m disappointed that so few councillor candidates discussed the issue of affordable housing at length when today, Hamilton has the highest inflation rates in rental properties across Southern Ontario.

I’m disappointed that so few councillor candidates discussed the issue of poverty and homelessness in our city when poverty rates in Hamilton are higher than both the provincial and national averages.

I’m disappointed that so few councillor candidates discussed the surge in hate crimes in Hamilton, when the city has the highest rate of police-reported hate crimes in Canada.

Most of all, I’m disappointed that despite the fact that the city has conducted countless votes and approvals, the LRT turned into an election issue when the top mayoral challenger ran on a single-issue platform, leaving the other issues that the city faces in the dust.

Sure, there are a wide range of reasons to be against the LRT, but these reasons weren’t even touched throughout the campaign period of this election. Instead, those who were against the implementation used obvious lies to persuade voters, claiming the LRT is inaccessible, expensive and privately owned. All of these things can be so easily fact checked to prove otherwise.

Hamilton is a city with complex issues, from affordable housing, to poverty, to economic development or to the surge in hate crimes in our city. Implementing the LRT is not a complex issue, nor a debate. It’s an obvious choice, now let’s move on from this.

For a municipal election to turn into a referendum on whether or not we should be moving forward with the LRT says a lot about the “ambitious” city. Are we really that ambitious of a city if we’re afraid of change? More importantly, are we really that ambitious of a city if we’re not showing up for those who need us?

There are more prominent issues at the table to be so obsessive, yet divided, on a crucial investment for Hamilton. While I’m glad we can finally put this argument to rest, let’s work together to be the ambitious city that Hamilton needs.

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By Rob Hardy

The latest chapter in the decade long saga of Hamilton's road to building light rail transit has brought us to yet another mayoral election.  Endless dawdling over trivial minutiae prevented council from finalizing construction plans, giving opportunistic politicians a chance to win election votes from wary residents unsure of the project.  

First it was Doug Ford who campaigned provincially for city votes by promising to keep funding in Hamilton should council axe LRT, and now Victor Sgro is seeking municipal support to follow through on Ford's words.  Our current mayor, Fred Eisenberger, is determined to ride out this latest threat to Hamilton's LRT dreams and hopefully, finally, complete the last phase of planning so that shovels will indeed soon be in the ground.  

No one can blame you if over the course of years you have switched sides on this issue, perhaps more than once, given how long this tiring soap opera has dragged on.  After all, when decisions which have been voted on multiple times somehow repeatedly get challenged and second-guessed, it's inevitable that our community will become as unsure as its councillors.  Indeed, there are some who just want this issue settled once and for all, regardless.

But there are several things to consider as you weigh the pros and cons of who to vote for.  First of all, as of now all systems are a go for building LRT in Hamilton, as slow as things are going.  In the years since full funding was given to Hamilton, businesses have made contingency plans, residents have paid a premium to buy homes near a promised LRT line, while others have moved, and considerable investment has occurred because rapid transit was a factor.  Backing out now would be bewildering to stakeholders.

With LRT possibly shelved, we have to consider what would replace it.  Well, nothing. Sgro's plan, as per his campaign website, is to invest $300 million towards adding more buses, some of these being express routes to rural Hamilton locales where most residents have cars.  I'll leave it up to voters to decide if transit usage on the HSR is going to increase or become profitable based on merely updating and reshuffling bus routes.

Moreover, a vote for Sgro is not necessarily a vote to kill the LRT project.  The mayor can neither unilaterally save nor scrap the project. Council would still need to formally vote to back out, and given recent criticism against our provincial premier and his political conduct, it is plausible that city council might not find Ford's promise credible enough to depend on.  In other words, even those against LRT might prefer to stay with the current plan rather than gambling on vague alternatives.

If LRT were to actually get nixed, plans for a future BRT at some point would still be years away, as even the best case scenario would involve some more lengthy planning, and further back and forth squabbling, given this is Hamilton we are talking about.  This means that current HSR riders will remain trapped on the same and only transit system we have for the foreseeable future.

This also means that despite what Sgro's camp asserts, growth and investment in Hamilton would certainly be adversely affected.  For instance, there is a reason why downtown Toronto attracts millions of tourists a year, and a reason why Niagara Falls does the same.  It isn't a mystery why Hamilton, despite being an attractive, sizeable city halfway between the two, does not see the same brisk business.

One of the main debates regarding LRT cites the city's falling transit usage.  With a considerable portion of residents falling within a very low income bracket, it is a very curious thing to wonder why so many people find ways to avoid using the HSR.  A reasonable hypothesis is that what is being offered is so unappealing that massive upgrades are needed, and that buses alone aren't enough to attract a wider ridership.

Whether it is LRT or BRT, a subway or a sky train, Hamilton needs to revamp its image and infrastructure, and we can't afford to wait any longer.  Given that LRT is the option we've chosen, and the only one possible to begin implementing within the year, this is the project that will finally see Hamilton soaring to new heights.  

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There is an emerging concern that delays to the Hamilton Light Rail Transit approval may result in cancellation of the entire project.

Last week, Hamilton city councillors met for 13 hours to discuss issues related to the LRT, with the hopes of garnering provincial approval for an environmental assessment. This approval serves as a prerequisite to signing a master agreement with Metrolinx to improve the coordination and integration of public transportation in the Hamilton and Toronto areas.

One outcome of the meeting was that the Bay Street stop was rejected from the LRT route. Overall, however, the council discussions will only lead to more delays in the LRT process.

The ultimate decision that came from the meeting was to table the updated environmental assessment for the next meeting, which will be held on April 19.

“The councillors want more information, and more opportunity to discuss. The truth is, after eight hours of meeting continuously, it starts to lag in productivity and focus,” said Aidan Johnson, councillor for Ward 1. Johnson is the chair of the LRT implementation committee and he is in favour of the project.

“It became clear to many of the counselors that the extra information and discussion they needed in order to clarify their own ideas about LRT would best happen in a fresh meeting on another day.”

The duration and scope of the LRT project demands the review of a report that is lengthy in nature.

The 1,400 page report details precisely how LRT will be laid out, and all the details about where the tracks will lie and the impact on Wards 1-4 both during the building phase and after it has been running. This is so city councillors may evaluate if there are substantial consequences to the local Hamilton environment.

"The councillors want more information, and more opportunity to discuss. The truth is, after eight hours of meeting continuously, it starts to lag in productivity"
Aidan Johnson,
Ward 1 Councillor 

While ecology is definitely an aspect that is considered, the environmental assessment entails for much more, such as the bearing of LRT on the city environment, the build form of the city, and livability of the city.

Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla recently made waves with his claims that the project may be in jeopardy. He is concerned that delays with the LRT proposal will eventually lead to a withdrawal of funding for the project.

He has coined several of his colleagues as a “gang of 10”, who are using the pro-LRT argument simply as a means of gaining political attention, without a genuine regard for following through with LRT. He warns that this may lead to the loss of the $1 billion provincial investment in infrastructure across the lower city.

“If their intent was to defer and delay for the sole purpose of making the project better, I would have no issue. But I realize that their strategy has more to do with a politics with no intent of ever supporting [LRT] and for that I say shame on them,” Merulla said.

The reality is that the $1 billion provincial investment enriches Hamilton infrastructure in ways beyond the LRT. The withdrawal of this funding due to these delays may have greater consequences.

“To gain attention for a project [such as LRT] that they believe is not popular and then waste the money because it is a train to nowhere that does not improve their constituents’ lives,” noted Merulla when asked to describe what he believed was going on.

With another council meeting set in place for April 19, it will take at least a few more weeks for the environmental assessment to be finalized. We have yet to see whether these delays will prove hazardous to the overall LRT transport system projected to be complete by 2024.

For McMaster students, there is yet another update on the discussion about the upcoming light rail transit system.

Recently, with intentions of optimizing LRT service to greater benefit student transport, the city of Hamilton has produced a tentative plan for a line that will run from McMaster University all the way to the Queenston Traffic Circle.

More specifically, these blueprints involve a spur line that links King and James Streets to West Harbour Go Station, with the possibility of linking to the Waterfront area, along with a pedestrian walkway from King and James Streets to the Hunter Street Go station.

This serves to provide an easy connection between Hamilton and the downtown Toronto area—something that may be appealing to student commuters.

“LRT is going to permit people to travel easily, quickly and attractively from McMaster to downtown Toronto—from the Go hub and onwards to Union Station,” said Aidan Johnson, Councillor for Ward 1.

“The plan is that in less than one hour, you’ll be able to get from Union Station to Mac.”

In addition, the B-line LRT will connect residents to key destinations within Hamilton, with stops such as the David Braley Health Sciences Centre, Hamilton Place, Jackson Square, the James Street arts district, Tim Hortons Field and Gage Park.

These trains are expected to run every 6 minutes, carrying up to 130 passengers with each run.

The LRT project team had originally come up with two options for a McMaster stop platform configuration. The first of these was a side-platform configuration and the second option being a centre island platform configuration.

Largely based on public feedback hosted at Public Information Centres last September, a preference for the side platform configuration was acknowledged. The reasoned benefits for this configuration include:

•No crossing of Main Street needed to access the LRT platform from campus

•Shelter between LRT tracks and vehicular lanes available for those crossing Main Street at Emerson

•A shorter crosswalk across Main Street

•Location is closer to McMaster University and possible transit terminals, making transfers to other services, including Hamilton Street Railway and Go Transit more convenient.

Since then, the city has been discussing the possibility of merging the LRT platform with the current McMaster Go station.

“The question of how to get students to the stop has been first and foremost in my mind… we are now looking at combining the Go hub with the LRT stop. This permits students who are travelling to Mac to then board the LRT.”

The planning does seem to make effort in keeping local McMaster students in mind.

“Metrolinx and the city of Hamilton have been doing a lot of consulting with [McMaster] for years and years regarding the whole stretch of the LRT,” Johnson said.

However, considering the absence of commuter student feedback in the planning stage of the LRT platform thus far, the push for further discussion with Metrolinx and the city of Hamilton is being reflected upon.

“We talked about the idea of forming a committee to link the McMaster Students Union with the Ward 1 office. I think that is a great way to bring commuter students into the discussion,” responded Johnson.

Discussion with commuter students sounds promising since there is still flexibility on the currently proposed plans. Construction is planned for 2019 and LRT service is expected to start in 2024.

Option 1: Side platform configuration 

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Option 2: Centre platform configuration

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Farzeen Foda

Senior News Editor

Imagine making your usual half-hour trek to school in five minutes.

Imagine tackling this journey to school not on your own two feet, or with your bike, not even with the loyal but often tardy HSR transit bus, but with a cross-breed vehicle- a mix between a bus and a train.

Hamilton’s proposed Light Rail Transit (LRT) is expected to be a rapid line of transit directly linking the City’s downtown core with the McMaster campus.

This rapid mode of transportation does not have to be a figment of the imagination, and as of Oct. 14, Hamilton City Council re-established their commitment to the project that has projected gains for McMaster students and the City of Hamilton.

Numerous groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and Metrolinx, as well as individuals heavily involved in the project, shared their insights in an effort to promote the prospect of the LRT.

A concluding vote saw almost unanimous support for the LRT.

The criticisms of the project revolve primarily around the cost to taxpayers, calling for a more careful     analysis of the plan’s benefits.

“There have been no funding promises, but it is something the City is going to pursue,” said Alicia Ali, MSU VP (Education).

She explained that the prospect of a Light Rail Transit system through Hamilton began in 2007, when the province committed $17 billion toward the funding for the facility, to be established within the GTA.

The project gained immense support at the time, giving way to many groups that began looking to the finer details and logistics of the matter, who were met with a shock this summer when the LRT was facing reconsideration.

“There was a lot of talk as to whether the city would actually pursue the LRT, or if they were going in a different direction,” said Ali.

Discussions surfaced because Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina openly stated that his focus would be the implementation of a GOTransit system running from Hamilton to Toronto.

Both the LRT and the GOTransit system would serve McMaster in different but equally important ways, noted Ali, outlining the benefits of each transit facility, however the payback will not be seen for another 15 to 20 years.

With a significant number of McMaster students commuting from various cities around the GTA, a trend that is not expected to reduce, a GOTransit system running between Hamilton and Toronto would certainly lead to substantial gains.

Meanwhile, the LRT would ease the integration of McMaster students into the city, consequently increasing the likelihood of graduate retention, and contributing to the revitalization of the City’s downtown core, a strong long-term priority for Hamilton.

To put pressure on council to follow through with their re-affirmed commitment, the MSU is in the process of launching a social media campaign to give students a say in the matter.

“When you’re standing at a bus stop and four buses pass you by, or you’ve been waiting an hour for a bus, all you have to do it is tweet that you’re waiting for the bus, and hash tag ‘#WeNeedLRT’,” said Ali.

Although the implementation of a Light Rail Transit system through Hamilton will not be seen for at least another 15 to 20 years, the project will only gain momentum with pressure on the part of the University and its students to make it a reality.

Careful evaluation has finally concluded that such a facility would benefit all parties involved and would be neatly in line with the goals of the University and the City of Hamilton.

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