Hamilton

With the province pulling money from LRT, will BRT have its time?

There's still no word who will sit on a province task force to look at transportation in Hamilton.

1 environmentalist says whatever the province choses, it needs dedicated lanes to make any kind of difference

This is one of the many models Metrolinx was using for Hamilton LRT. (Metrolinx)

It's three letters often heard from opponents of a Hamilton light-rail transit plan: BRT, or bus rapid transit. And now that the province has cancelled Hamilton LRT, its fans hope BRT has its time.

Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney says a provincial task force will determine how to spend $1 billion on "transportation" in Hamilton. Mulroney said earlier this month that she'd announce the task force's membership by the end of December.

The province says it's still "moving quickly" to set up the task force. But Brad Clark, a Ward 9 (upper Stoney Creek) councillor, said if he had his choice, it would opt for two BRT lines: one across the lower city and one on the Mountain.

He'd also like to see more buses running along the BLAST network, which is a series of city-wide routes designated for rapid transit. B-line LRT, which Mulroney said had major cost overruns, was the first stage of that.

"We could put in right across the city bus rapid transit, express routes," he said. "We could broaden connectivity of HSR right across the city."

Judi Partridge, Ward 15 councillor for Flamborough and Waterdown, opposed LRT. She wants any solution to include the whole city, even rural areas like the ones in her ward.

The BLAST network is a Metrolinx rapid transit plan for Hamilton. B-line LRT was meant to be the first phase. (City of Hamilton)

"I'd like to see them consider not only the electric buses," she said, "but I'd also like to see them look at the ride-share opportunities because we're such a diverse geographic area."

The city doesn't know how much sway it will even have. Mulroney said the province will "work with Mayor [Fred] Eisenberger, the new task force and the City of Hamilton to determine which investments best fit Hamilton's transportation needs."

The task force will report to Mulroney by the end of February, she said, "with a preliminary list of alternative transportation projects that can be delivered quickly and in a fiscally responsible manner."

Mulroney said the decision around how to spend the $1 billion could still be LRT. BRT is also an option.

The exact nature of BRT is often misinterpreted in the Hamilton rapid transit conversation. Metrolinx identifies BRT as a system of dedicated lanes, or "rapidways," that transport passengers to dedicated stations along a route. Essentially, Eisenberger said, it's LRT without the rails.

London, Ont., has a $500-million BRT plan that includes dedicated lanes and stations. (Shift BRT)

Metrolinx has also used the term "BRT light," which means buses in mixed traffic, therefore prone to congestion. Electric buses also tend to run in mixed traffic.

Neither of those will work if Hamilton was serious when it declared a climate emergency, said Don McLean, an environmentalist and city hall watch dog.

"Whatever method council advocates for, it needs its own right of way, and it needs to be free to ride it," he said.

"We need to get emissions down really fast. The latest UN report says 6.7 per cent a year, which no industrialized country has ever achieved. Some patches around the edge aren't going to do."

Eisenberger said BRT is "the next logical step" if LRT doesn't happen, but he hasn't lost hope. He's in talks with the federal government about possible LRT money, he said.

"Whatever method council advocates for, it needs its own right of way," says environmentalist Don McLean. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"There remains a potential to put it back on track," he said last week.

"I would like the task force not to look at anything right now. I'd like to look at where we're at with LRT."

Coun. Maureen Wilson of Ward 1 said residents voted in a 2018 election and chose several pro-LRT council members. That includes Eisenberger, whose main opponent ran on killing LRT.

Wilson said she's "dumbfounded" by "the audacity of appointing a task force when this community has expressed its will over numerous elections, democratically. Period."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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