Researcher blasts Whitehead over report
Calls LRT document an unbalanced analysis
A Mountain councillor says a report his office authored to challenge Hamilton’s plan for a $1-billion light rail line in the lower city is meant to offer “sober second thought” as the project moves forward.
“What is the best net benefit to the community at large?” Coun. Terry Whitehead told The Spectator’s editorial board Monday.
But just hours after Whitehead released his report, Christopher Higgins, one of its key sources, released via Twitter scathing feedback of the Ward 8 councillor’s 58-page effort.
Higgins publicized an annotated version of Whitehead’s report early Monday, discrediting it for using study material “cherry-picked for maximum effect rather than to present a balanced analysis.”
That, Whitehead said, was “unprofessional.”
“Who does a peer review on Twitter for all to see?”
Whitehead said he and assistant
Howard Rabb, who co-authored the report, had asked for Higgins’ feedback before publication, but that the researcher said he was pressed for time and heading to China.
Higgins, a post-doctoral researcher at McMaster University’s Institute for Transportation and Logistics, said a “role for MITL as peer reviewer was mentioned, but never acted upon.”
Whitehead rejected the report lacks context, saying links to PDFs of full studies it cites are just a click away on its host microsite.
The work isn’t meant to be scientific, but an attempt to find answers, he added: “I’m not doing a scientific study, let’s be clear.”
During the editorial board meeting, Whitehead said the report isn’t about ward politics, either.
“This is not an us-and-them thing, as much as people want to pigeonhole me on that.”
Rather, the report — which questions projections for ridership, land values, development spinoff and system efficiency — is meant to foster a more “fulsome” take on the project.
Whitehead argues staff has presented “glowing accounts” of LRT success stories but not lacklustre performances in other major centres.
Those information gaps are not the product of “skulduggery,”
I’ve never had an issue with staff getting answers. JASON FARR WARD 2 COUNCILLOR
Whitehead said, but he is concerned the LRT plan is becoming a “legacy issue” for some. “Decisions are often made in political time frames.”
The city ought to bolster ridership through a pair of bus-rapid transit (BRT) routes before building the 11-km LRT line, which is to run from McMaster to the Queenston traffic circle.
That’s what two former city transit bosses, including recently departed director Dave Dixon, have advised, he said.
“We are not ready for LRT. We don’t have the ridership.”
Whitehead cited other concerns about the blueprint: not enough feeder support, such as “parkand-ride” areas or adequate transit connections for suburban riders.
“We don’t even have a plan for that.”
While LRT moves ahead, a 10year transit plan is left unfunded, he added.
The resurgent debate over the merits of LRT has frustrated its backers, including Premier Kathleen Wynne, who in May said, “I honestly thought that the conversation was done.”
Wynne made that remark after councillors vacillated on a divisive motion to endorse her Liberal government’s offer to cover 100 per cent of the project’s capital costs.
Pro-LRT city politicians have argued switching gears now will leave Hamilton in the transitfunding dust.
Whitehead, however, says Brampton is doing just that, having rejected a proposed leg of a $1.9-billion LRT route that will now only service Mississauga.
Coun. Sam Merulla wrote off Whitehead’s report as a “collation” of information aimed “to deduce a conclusion he set out to find.”
The report also “grossly simplifies a very complex issue,” and does a “disservice” to the city,” Merulla, a vocal LRT supporter, said Monday.
Coun. Jason Farr questioned why Whitehead didn’t get the answers from staff he’s now seeking years ago.
“I’ve never had an issue with staff getting answers,” the Ward 2 councillor said.
Whitehead said he’s supported Hamilton’s LRT “concept” but asked “very tough questions” that weren’t answered.
Those doubts linger as the city approaches big decisions about the project, with details on operating costs and traffic modelling expected in coming months, he said.
“This is not a report to say put the blocks up, pull back,” but to move forward cautiously, Whitehead said.
Staff expects to provide an update on an LRT-related traffic analysis in August, city spokesperson Kelly Anderson said. Issues such as the loss of B-line revenue will be hashed out in an agreement between the city and Metrolinx over the next year, Anderson noted.
Major construction is expected to start in 2019 with the line up and running in 2024.
Ward 8 Coun. Terry Whitehead
Artist concept of Hamilton LRT car and station stop in the west end.