LRT won't cause significant congestion in Hamilton: new report

Traffic congestion will increase in Hamilton by 2031, shows a new city report. LRT, it says, won't add much to that.

LRT may mean average intersection waits of as long as 80 seconds, but more cars will bring those too

LRT will mean waits at some intersections of as long as 80 seconds, the report says. But expected population growth and congestion will cause those too. In the International Village, traffic will be reduced to one lane. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

There will be changes to traffic patterns. The average wait time at some intersections may be longer, and some shorter. But overall, Hamilton's streets can accommodate light rail transit (LRT) without it significantly adding to congestion, a new city report says.

We have enough capacity within our existing street network to accommodate the increase in traffic to 2031 with LRT.- Trevor Horzelenberg, the city's manager of LRT

LRT will impact traffic throughout much of the lower city, as vehicles choose alternate routes because of a narrowed King Street, or Main Street running two ways, the report says.

But "what we found from this initial run of the model is we have enough capacity within our existing street network to accommodate the increase in traffic to 2031 with LRT," said Trevor Horzelenberg, the city's manager of LRT.

The new traffic modeling report from consultant Steer Davies Gleave says that a proposed system on Main and King Streets, as well as down James Street North to possibly the waterfront, will have a ripple effect on driving in much of lower Hamilton.

With reduced capacity on King Street, for example, westbound drivers will head down Aberdeen, Wilson, Cannon and Barton Streets instead.

The report also includes how long the potential average wait will be at intersections along the route.

Expect to spend more time in your cars and away from your families.- Coun. Terry Whitehead

In some cases, such as King Street at Locke, vehicles could have average waits of longer than 80 seconds with LRT, while right now, it's only 10 to 20 seconds. Without LRT, waits would be an average of 20 to 35 seconds in 2031. Hunter at Wellington, King at Bay and King at Gage could also mean signals that take longer than 80 seconds with LRT.

Horzelenberg says the city will make efforts to mitigate that, such as dedicated turn lanes. The report numbers don't reflect that.

The report also says Hamilton's projected population will be 660,000 in 2031, so there will be increased congestion and longer waits even without LRT. It predicts LRT will actually decrease waits at intersections such as Dundurn at Chatham and King at Emerald.

"By 2031, regardless of whether or not LRT is built in Hamilton, congestion will increase as a result of population growth and other planned changes to the road network," the report says. 

Terry Whitehead, Ward 8 councillor, is skeptical of the report's findings. He's looked at numerous LRT systems across North America, he said. He's found that LRT does increase congestion.

This is a set of predictions that's as truthful as possible.- Aidan Johnson, Ward 1 councillor

"People aren't going to jump out of their cars and into a half-baked LRT system," he said.

"Expect to spend more time in your cars and away from your families."

Aidan Johnson, Ward 1 councillor, says the report was "not terribly surprising." The estimates aren't conservative either.

"This isn't a candy coated or spun set of predictions," he said. "This is a set of predictions that's as truthful as possible."

LRT will complicate driving in the city, he said. "That's regrettable. I regret that very much.

"I am pro LRT because I think that the positive aspects of LRT significantly outweigh the challenges."

The report is preliminary. City councillors will discuss it at a general issues committee on Monday. A full traffic design is due later this year. 

Hamilton city council is in the midst of debating the planned LRT system, with a vote expected in September to accept the $1 billion system from the province. Metrolinx is building it with input from the city.


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