Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rapid transit for Hamilton, now

Back in 1981, then Ontario Premier Bill Davis was keen to showcase a made-in-Ontario technology -- a light rapid transit line that operates on linear induction, a form of magnetic levitation. He offered to pay for a line in Hamilton. For whatever misguided reason, a NIMBY attitude plus a local magazine sympathetic to the super rich and big business in town conspired to get the then regional council to reject the plan. The technology was sold to Vancouver -- and it became the SkyTrain.

The results became evident. Commercial development in Vancouver skyrocketed. In Hamilton, it has been largely stagnant.

Now, we're finally getting a chance to do it right. Next week, a liasion committee is set to issue a final report on what mode of rapid transit Hamilton should adopt. And overwhelmingly, the people's choice appears to be light rail. While I initially thought bus rapid transit was more appropriate, a surface light rail line might just be what Hamilton needs.

The current draft proposal would be for two lines. One would cover the tracks of the current "B-line" express bus running from Eastgate Square in Stoney Creek to University Plaza in Dundas (not to be confused with McMaster University about three or four kilometres east). The other, called the "A-line" would run from downtown along James and Upper James to Airport Road and then west to the airport itself; with a possible spur line running from Upper James to Mohawk and onto Limeridge Mall.

The hangup appears to be the crossing up and down the escarpment. A bus rapid transit line would require closing James Mountain Road to all but buses and emergency vehicles; and since it is a major tracked route during morning and evening rush hours there might be pushback there. A light rail line would require boring a tunnel or cut at 5% grade through the escarpment and there are few examples other than Pittsburgh to demonstrate the cost efficacy of this.

Another issue could be the cost of expropriation. Upper James from the escarpment to Twenty Road has a well developed commercial sector, and while there is a fairly wide road, it's still not quite enough to have dedicated lanes without widening the road to some extent. However, city after city that has some kind of rapid transit has seen widespread use and commercial development along the route.

But the die has been cast, and it looks like we're finally going to do the right thing. Whatever the cost -- and it's said to be over a billion for light rail -- it must be done. We have to get people out of their cars and create more transfer points to facilitate travel, not just one or two. One last thing, to make it effective there must be frequent service -- say, every five minutes. Otherwise there's no point.

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1 comment:

Jafo said...

It would be nice to see an improvement in transit here but unfortunately with Hamilton's "Hurry Up And Wait" track record, chances are it "might" be built when my 5 year old grandson is eligible for a seniors pension.