Monday, April 14, 2008

Get moving on rapid transit for Hamilton

After years of talking about it, and about a quarter century after Hamilton made the stupid decision to reject rapid transit -- which was a huge factor in the decline of downtown -- the city is considering the idea again, seriously.

The two alternatives on the table are a light rail line (i.e. streetcars, either on main thoroughfares or on a dedicated route) or bus rapid transit, or BRT. While my preference would be for light rail, it would be a back to the future scenario for Hamilton as the last streetcars were ripped out somewhere around 1948 -- and given this city's love affair with automobiles it could be prohibitively expensive to replace lanes with streetcars and cause new problems of their own. On the other hand, getting people out of their cars is precisely the point.

The other is BRT. This could build on the cross-town Beeline express, which currently runs only on weekdays from University Plaza in Dundas (a strip mall, not McMaster University which is some ways east) to Eastgate Square in Stoney Creek with local service well into SC beyond there. I'd extend the current express run out to the old SC City Hall (presently the local offices for the Mounties as well as a library branch), with stops at the major intersections en route at Fiesta Mall, Grays, Green, Dewitt and Fruitland. Additional express routes should be running along Barton, Upper Wentworth / Wellington, and Upper James. The Upper James should run all the way to the airport as well -- not just stop at the bus barn south of Twenty with an extra fare cab connection.

For either option (light rail or BRT) priority traffic signalling is a must. The closest thing we have to light rail in the region is the streetcar on Spadina in Toronto and that city still refuses to give the vehicles along the line the white line which would put it in front of other traffic on the street. As a result the streetcar is actually slower than the buses it replaced a few years ago because it must wait for the green light just like all other vehicles. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

One other thing: The current bus loop in Gore Park needs to be buried underground. Connections at major transfer points such as in the Gore, Limeridge, Eastgate, Mac and U Plaza must, in fact, all be enclosed to ensure safety for passengers as well as drivers. It makes no sense to have to walk a couple of blocks at surface traffic signals just to change buses.

The time to get moving on this is NOW. As for the NIMBY crowd -- screw them. They won 25 years ago and wound up screwing the whole city. I'll have more to say about public transit in Hamilton in a future post.

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