Council did not vote on 2011 EA
With the deadline for public commentary on the LRT Environmental Assessment approaching, at least one group is preparing a challenge to the EA. Carol Lazich told the Bay Observer that her group, NO LRT, is working on a presentation to the Minister of Environment, challenging some of the technical and operational details of the plan. The deadline for commentary is June 28th. The Environmental Assessment that council approved in April is actually an update of an EA that was completed in 2011. The Ministry of the Environment ordered the update because the plan had changed considerably from the McMaster to Eastgate routing submitted in 2011. After the Premier announced the $1Billion in funding for the project, a James Street spur connecting to the new GO station was added, (subsequently removed) and the easterly terminus was changed from Eastgate Square to the Queenston traffic circle (now possibly returning to Eastgate). In addition a storage and maintenance site on Longwood Road had been identified, something that hadn’t appeared on the 2011 document. For those reasons the MOE determined that an updated EA was needed.
Speaking of the 2011 Environmental Assessment, an examination of council and committee meeting minutes indicates the 2011 EA was not presented to council or voted upon. Coming as it did, four years before LRT funding was announced, LRT was still at a tentative stage. Then Mayor Bob Bratina had expressed skepticism about LRT and was focusing his attention on getting funding for enhanced GO service. That same year City Manager Chris Murray had shut down the LRT office that had been established during Fred Eisenberger’s first term. The Bay Observer asked LRT head Paul Johnson how it could be that passing the 2017 EA, which was essentially an addendum to the 2011 document; was necessary for the project to proceed; yet the document on which it was based was not shown to council or even voted on. He said he didn’t want to second-guess staff decisions that were taken before he took over the project; but the fact that the project now has provincial funding made the April council vote essential.
A review of the public consultation process that led up to the most recent assessment reflected the recent growing public concern about the project. A series of open houses was held in September 2016 and January 2017. More than 1,400 residents showed up at 10 meetings and submitted 600 questions or comments. Many of the questions and comments were neutral in tone, mostly seeking information; but in those comments or questions where respondents expressed opinions; negative or skeptical expressions outnumbered positive ones. Some highlights from the questions and answers follow:
- There were several questions related to the ownership and operation of the LRT line. From answers received it was clear that HSR will not operate the system. Repeatedly the management of the system was referred to as “private operator.” It was also not clear whether the new operator would be union or non-union and whether existing HSR drivers would be considered for hiring. The answer provided was simply, “drivers will be hired by the private operator.” There were also no assurances that existing HSR fare levels and bus passes, such as the current free passes to persons over 80 would be maintained. To all questions dealing with fares the answer was “(the) objective is to integrate fares with HSR fares.”
- A number of questions dealt with the provision of park-and-ride lots. The response was that no park-and –ride facilities are being contemplated.
- A large number of questions were answered with the promise that the information would be available in the “detailed design phase” of the project.
- Some of the participants were critical of the public consultation process. A number suggested the feedback process did not provide an opportunity to say whether they were in favour of the project or not. “the questionnaire is unfair. It gives you options on LRT changes; not whether LRT is desirable or necessary. Jane Jacobs would scold the designers,” ran one of several comments in this vein.
- Numerous commenters who appeared to be in favour of LRT nonetheless expressed concern about the possible removal of bike lanes to accommodate increased traffic flows on streets running parallel to the LRT route. The answer provided was “Cycling plans are not confirmed and will be developed in consultation with the cycling community.”
The Amalgamated Transit Union representing HSR employees has vowed to launch a campaign to ensure that the LRT is operated by the HSR. But that prospect seems very much in doubt based on the comments heard so far from Metrolinx and the LRT team.
ATU president Eric Tuck says his union will oppose LRT if ATU is shut out of the process. “We’re not going to sit back and let this system go to a 3P (Public-Private Partnership) that is not accountable to anybody. With these 3P’s when things go wrong everybody can point to the other guy.” He added that similar projects have run into cost overruns and delays across North America. The ATU plan is to challenge the project when the operation and maintenance agreement is presented next year. This is widely seen as the final opportunity for council to weigh in on the project. “If we don’t get what we want,” said Tuck, we will take it to the voters,” noting there will be both a provincial and municipal election in 2018. He confirmed that the union will take an active political role and will target individual ward races. Asked if waiting until next year will only mean more money will be spent on the project, Tuck said, “that work would still be needed if we are going to eventually be ready for LRT, so the money won’t be wasted.”
Taking the scenic tour on Dunsmuir
The Bay Observer has been interested in the plans for existing bus routes using the Main-King corridor that will be displaced or altered by LRT. The Barton and Cannon buses will be largely unchanged. The Delaware bus will be unchanged eastbound and unchanged westbound to the Go Centre. From there it will circle through downtown and re-join King Street at Queen. All westbound Delaware buses will now go to the Meadowlands. The University bus will be replaced by the LRT with the exception of its connections west of McMaster.
The biggest change will be the venerable Number 1 King Bus—currently the HSR’s most profitable line. The plan, assuming Queenston Traffic Circle remains the Eastern terminus of the LRT, is to have the King Bus run along Dunsmure Road from Strathearne to Sherman– a distance of three kilometers, but also a route that traverses a heavily residential area and which has no less than 30 two-way or four-way stops along the route. ATU President Eric Tuck says that number of stops will make it difficult for the buses to stay on schedule. “The only alternative,” he said, “would be to remove some of those traffic-calming measures to increase bus speed.”