City council will decide future of bus lane in January

City councillors will decide in January whether to continue downtown Hamilton's transit lane, and they likely won't consider Mayor Fred Eisenberger's ideas to improve the project when they do.

Mayor Eisenberger tries to introduce a handful of improvements to improve it, but gets voted down

Councillors will debate the future of Hamilton's downtown transit lane in January. Mayor Fred Eisenberger made some suggestions to improve it, but councillors voted against them, at least for now. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

City councillors will decide in January whether to continue downtown Hamilton's controversial transit lane, and they likely won't consider Mayor Fred Eisenberger's ideas to improve the project when they do.

Council voted Wednesday to wait for a staff report on the King Street transit lane, which will include feedback from businesses, community response and travel time.

And it won't include ideas from Eisenberger, who wanted to investigate making it rush-hour only, allowing vehicles carrying more than one person and shifting the lane to permit parking on the north side of street again.

Eisenberger tried to introduce those ideas at city council on Wednesday night. But council voted instead to wait until January to debate the issue, and passed over including Eisenberger's ideas.

We are blinking. We’re sending a signal to the province that we really don’t know what we want.- Councillor Sam Merulla

Eisenberger says he’s not sure whether he’ll bring them up again. He wanted staff to look into his suggestions and present the results, as well as the results of the one-year pilot project, all at once.

“But there’s angst and unwillingness to do that, so we’ll see when we get there,” he said.

Eisenberger made the suggestions, he said, “trying to be helpful” and bring something positive out of the transit lane pilot project.

“It’s not my issue,” he said. “I didn’t institute the bus lane, but it’s an issue rolling around in the community, and I was just making an effort this evening to salvage something positive.”

The transit lane has been a controversial issue since council narrowly voted to implement it last year. It runs about two kilometres from Mary to Dundurn Streets, and is meant to be a precursor to light rail transit (LRT) or bus rapid transit (BRT), both of which by provincial definition require dedicated lanes.

The one-year pilot project, which had a budget of $300,000, was meant to run October 2013 to October 2014. But the Oct. 27 municipal election, which saw Eisenberger become Hamilton’s mayor, delayed the staff report on the success of the lane, thus deferring council’s decision to continue or kill the experiment.

Farr wants to bring the ideas back

The staff report will be available the first week of January. Councillors will debate it at a general issues committee meeting on Jan. 14.

Coun. Jason Farr of Ward 2 didn’t see Eisenberger’s suggestions as dead in the water. He wants them to come back in January. He plans to talk to Eisenberger about it, as well as make a few suggestions of his own.

Among them: a dedicated traffic signal so buses have an easier passage crossing lanes to the MacNab bus terminal, Farr said. That was in the city’s much-cited Rapid Ready report – a blueprint for transit in Hamilton that recommends eventual LRT – but it wasn’t implemented with the bus lane.

“I can’t see why we couldn’t debate it,” he said.

Farr, Coun. Sam Merulla (Ward 4), Coun. Matthew Green (Ward 3) and Coun. Aidan Johnson (Ward 1) all voted against the deferral, wanting to see Eisenberger’s ideas explored.

Province wants us to implode

Merulla sees LRT as a catalyst for economic growth, much like the Lincoln Alexander Parkway. The province wants city council to get muddled over LRT so it doesn’t have to fund the project, he said. Metrolinx estimates that as of 2014, LRT would cost $1 billion to build.

With debates such as the one on Wednesday, “we are blinking,” Merulla said. “We’re sending a signal to the province that we really don’t know what we want.”

The province wants council to implode, he said, and “we’re doing it. We’re playing right into what they designed us to do and it’s making us look foolhardy.”

Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5 didn’t see it that way. Collins, who is against the transit lane and LRT, tried to gain support Wednesday for a motion to stop enforcing the lane before the report is even finished.

The transit lane is preparation for an LRT project that’s never going to happen, Collins said.

Report won't change my mind: Collins

The community isn’t ready for a dedicated transit lane, he said. And by his count, half of Hamilton city councillors are against LRT.

During the election, he said, his constituents described the transit lane as "devastating, incredible, confusing and frustrating."

“I can’t understand what information would be provided to me (in a staff report) that would justify (the lane’s) continued operation for another day, week, month, two months or even beyond,” he said.

“I don’t know what staff could present in the next month that would convince me that everything in the last year was worth it.”

Eisenberger, who is in favour of LRT, campaigned on establishing a citizen's panel to look at LRT. He says he hopes to establish that in early 2015.


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