BRT ad­di­tion gets Hamil­ton closer to BLAST

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

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.

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