BRT addition gets Hamilton closer to BLAST
What exactly did the provincial government sign off on concerning Hamilton public transit last Thursday?
At first, it appeared straightforward. The LRT spur down James Street doesn’t have adequate impact and benefit, so the province will kill that spur and instead invest in bus rapid transit (BRT) from the airport to the waterfront, approximately along James Street. All good. That makes this more of a city-wide transit project, as opposed to just the lower city and east-west transit corridor. Heaven knows the Mountain needs better, more frequent transit links with the lower city so Mountain residents can legitimately choose transit instead of cars when moving from lower to upper city.
But things aren’t quite that clear. The fine print seems to say the province has only signed on for the planning of a BRT line. That could take a couple of years, meaning the hard details won’t be known until after the next provincial election. Hello uncertainty.
It also turns out there is no indication who will fund BRT operations or even the overall capital cost. The province seems to say it will pay if the $1 billion LRT allocation will cover it, but if it’s more than that, more “partners” may be needed. That means either the federal government or local government might need to be involved in capital funding. If it’s Ottawa, all good. If it’s Hamilton instead, or too, that could be a challenge.
And that route roughly down and up Upper James? Maybe not. The only clear thing is the waterfront is at one end and the airport at the other. Fair enough. But the clarity that all of us want isn’t really at hand, yet, and may not be until 2019. That’s not ideal, especially from the perspective of getting the city overall to rally behind big-picture transit renewal.
Make no mistake. If where we’re headed is the existing LRT corridor plan augmented by BRT that links upper and lower city and points in between, roughly along the A-line corridor, this is a good story for Hamilton. It’s a marked improvement over the James Street spur concept.
Most importantly, this is a better plan because it gets us closer to BLAST. That’s the city’s comprehensive transit plan that calls for better and more modern transit and amenities across the municipality, with the intersecting backbones being the B line and the A line. Those two main transit arteries would be fed by other secondary transit corridors. The final outcome will be an integrated, modern, environmentally and consumer-friendly system entirely in keeping with the demographic trend of millennials being less likely to be carcentric than their parents.
This is visionary stuff, in part. If we went full speed ahead on BLAST the entire thing wouldn’t be completed until well beyond 25 years. But LRT is a start, as is a connecting and complementary BRT system. Let’s hope senior governments are willing partners.