The LRT road show rumbled into Dundas in late January. It’s the city wide talking tour where the masses are updated on the Light Rail Transit build. After the city talks, the citizenry talks. They are free to ask questions or vent their spleens about the whole wobbly package.
I haven’t been to any of the LRT dust ups in the downtown core. I’m still burned out from the Conversation Couch meetings concerning Harbour West developments. But a new year and a fragile committment to civic engagement sent me to Dundas to hear what the folks in valley town have to say about LRT.
First off, a scan of the room revealed the same crowd you’d find at Shoppers Drug Mart on Tuesdays-most of the 90 or so people were eligible for senior discounts.
I arrived after a presentation by Paul Johnson, director of LRT for the City of Hamilton. Many public meetings resemble public floggings, where the proponents of Project A are scorned, shamed and interrogated by agitated objectors. Rarely is a public meeting a love fest. Johnson must have some kind of Disney training in conflict diffusion, he’s as adept at taking a punch as Muhhamed Ali in full Rope a Dope mode.
A skirmish was at the slow burn stage as I took my seat in front of a character from central casting.
“Who’s holding the bag for the shortfall?” barked a guy wearing a white hard hat with a regulation green service uniform, and front pockets full of pencils and notebooks. He had the demeanour of a guy who could cap a fire in an oil well, and he seemed to set the tone for the meeting. It was skeptical.
“Can it be stopped?”
“What’s ‘light’ about it? You guys are making a street car.”
“Who’s covering the zillions in cost overruns? We were told the same stuff for the stadium, and it still ain’t done.”
“What about the disabled and seniors? This is being built for young people. Why not modernize HSR with smaller busses?”
“How will LRT benefit Dundas?”
“Why King and not Main?”
So you get the story line-a lot of people with many good questions. The why King versus Main question was asked three times and I still don’t know the answer. The short answer by Johnson was- “In terms of this project this was an implementation approach, this was not a planning approach, so we didn’t look at any alternative routing as part of this project.” He did say LRT routes including Main Street were considered as far back as 2005-2006, but how Main street was eliminated was not explained, other than the city with citizen imput determined King Street was to become a pedestrian and transit hub.
Amid the worried and the irritated in the crowd, one woman spoke in favour of the project based on LRT’s potential to reduce Hamilton’s carbon footprint.
Gaspare Bonomo was having none of it. The civil engineer and math teacher at McKeil School of Business at Mohawk College put forth a carefully considered critique of LRT.“We are buying a pig in a poke,” he concluded.
Among his points-
-Hamilton doesn’t have the population to support the operating costs of LRT.
-The HSR will lose revenue from the lucrative Main and King lines which fund other less busy routes.
-Because of Hamilton’s geographic squeeze-with the escarpment on one side and Hamilton Harbour on the other, traffic will clog side streets because of LRT disruption.
-LRT stops are too far apart, street parking will be lost, deliveries will be a nightmare on King Street.“I could go on and on,” he stated.
It was an interesting meeting with lots of questions from a good variety of people, but where were all the young people I tweeted on the night of the meeting?
“Working, trying to pay for hydro bills!” was the immediate response from the Twittersphere.
Public meetings can be the most wearisome thing on earth, but sometimes they are better than a reality show. LRT is a big issue, drop in to a meeting and feel the burn.