Re­searcher blasts White­head over re­port

Calls LRT doc­u­ment an un­bal­anced anal­y­sis

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - TEVIAH MORO

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

CITY OF HAMIL­TON

Artist con­cept of Hamil­ton LRT car and sta­tion stop in the west end.

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