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Bob Green Innes,

curmudgeon - click for definition

Hamiltonian by birth & occupation!  

.... seeking to restore values, traditions, institutions, laws and protections Canadians once enjoyed
      .....lost by apathy
          ..... but stolen nonetheless

Jump down to Can Hamilton can have LRT cake and eat it too? Blog #7

Is RaiseTheHammer Going Off The Rails? Blog #9A

RaiseTheHammer Scores a Coup - finds alternative to LRT blowout. - Blog #9B

News Flash - My Kid Sez Check This Out

Well, ya never know what they what they're going to come up with and when she said "Did you hear about the straddle bus?", I just had to pay attention. Thats the fun of kids, the unexpected. Who knew she was interested in transportation issues. Maybe this is old hat over at RTH but it's all new to me. What's a straddle bus? New ideas really grab me.

"Ya" she said. "Really cool bus in China that straddles the entire road so cars drive underneath and people ride on a moving platform on top. Carries 1200 people - too big for Hamilton. Check it out". Then she flew out the door on another of her many missions. So here is what Google came up with.

Like she said, check it out.

Basics: $7million individual bus holds 1200 people. Rail system said to be quick and cost effective (compared to subway) . Novel power feed system. Solar. Regenerative braking & power storage (super capacitors).

The idea has apparently been floating around since last August but this was the first I'd heard of it. Its way too new to really assess but all the eastern economies are going gangbusters and dreaming big dreams. Since they have been prudent with their money up to now, amassing huge reserves (the mirror of our huge debts), they can do whatever they damn well please. We have boxed ourselves in to the point your curmudgeon is very worried about what happens when the shoe drops.

What about snow??? What about wheelchairs? What about turns, hills, intersections, crashes, (both cars and the monster bus)?

Don't know any of these answers but here is an interesting commentary.

My first thought is that having rails so far apart means they become independent which could possibly eliminate the whole cracking up problem of the railbed that we see in Toronto (caused by the ties underneath, heaving, etc). Makes the road bed and the rails much more independent. Not to say that there wouldn't be other problems (speed, stability, viability, maintenance, breakdowns, turnaround, etc.) but it sure seems like a cool idea. Maybe Toronto, with its greater ridership, could consider it, at least for level lines. Can you imagine though, seeing one of these monsters roll by with no passengers?

The genius of the idea is using the airspace above roads more effectively. One could use an elevated system but that required extensive costly structures to hold them up. This takes the structure and makes it part of the bus. Given that, high people loading is needed to justify the expense, plus the energy content of starting, stopping and restarting, which must be considerable. The designer talks about onboard storage and a nifty power supply system that doesn't need overhead wires. I learned a bit about super capacitors when I was playing around with my solar system but wonder if the technology has really become reliable enough to be considered for prime time. If so, the Chinese have come a long way baby. The designer mentions a solar component (perhaps the basis of his energy savings claims) but I can't imagine that to be a serious contribution to the huge power demand.

Naturally, I don't think Hamilton could afford such a monster system but maybe someone around here can come up with a more modest idea that captures the independent rail advantage. What we can afford depends on what kind of economy might be developed out of a local idea. Making a product that others could buy sounds like a much better use of a billion than just a garden variety LRT. Maybe some of our manufacturers could make a deal with the inventor. I'll be cheering from the sidelines.

Argg. Idea! That's enough - let me go. You've had me long enough and there's other stuff to do. Dog is chewing my leg off. Ouch!

That's what ideas to to me! Better than good wine, no?

Stay tuned

Bob Green Innes

RaiseTheHammer Scores a Coup - finds alternative to LRT blowout. Blog #9B

Well, OK apparently it was a fellow named Hume at the Star but I'm giving RTH points for bringing it to our attention. You see, Ryan McGreal, editor at RTH is always on the prowl for ideas to fix Hamilton so he posted an excellent article on how Melbourne Australia revitalized itself. Not by spending a billion on LRTs, stadia or other white elephant projects, but by undertaking simple, inexpensive, methodical, well designed steps to change the way the city and its streets worked. Here is a small excerpt.

Things went from bad to worse until a new generation of civic leaders took office in the 1980s and decided to do thing differently. For starters, they hired Rob Adams. His approach, radical though it might have seemed, was to focus on small stuff, everything from trees and benches to sidewalks and street vendors. Enshrining urban design concepts such as "active frontage" and shared streets, Adams transformed the city building by building, block by block, bylaw by bylaw.

Rejecting the post-war planning orthodoxies of single-use zoning and vehicular paramountcy, he insisted the streets be shared with pedestrians and cyclists. Despite the backlash, it worked. Last year, The Economist magazine named Melbourne, and Toronto, among the five most livable cities on Earth.

At first I thought 'Great, no more need for an LRT, this proves LRT is not really necessary to make a great city.' After Googling a bit, I found that Melbourne is a large 4 million person city, central capital for its state AND which has had for decades, an extensive network of LRT and streetcar tracks almost 4x the length of Toronto's network (75 miles, or is it km?). Hmm, i'll have to check those #s. So I didn't say anything.

On more reflection though, I do think the Melbourne case shows that there is nothing magic about LRT/ streetcars. They are there in good times and bad. In fact, Toronto's Queen Street, despite having the benefits of a sturdy smooth streetcar, was for years more or less seedy until it was revitalized in the last few decades. These are natural cycles. Hamilton is now experiencing a cycle low. As such we are more or less broke and we should not behave otherwise, spending our few resources like drunken sailors on LRT, stadia or Aerotropolis Trunk Sewers.

In fact, we should take the Future Fund, which is money just sitting, getting minimal interest from the bankers but maximal interest from the vultures trying to get their mitts on it. Meantime we are paying far higher interest on the near half billion that we owe. That's money we can use. The money is burning a hole in our pocket as the old saying goes. So I say, pay down the 'mortgage' with it.

In the meantime we can hire the fellow Melbourne used to shake things up here and set about fixing Hamilton without putting us in the poorhouse first.

That's a plan all Hamiltonians can get behind, including me - and that's saying something.

Blog #9A - Is RaiseTheHammer Going Off The Rails?

Raise the Hammer (RTH) is a Hamilton based blog edited by Ryan McGreal. What initially interested me about RTH was the opportunity to learn something about city issues and engage in open minded debate, especially as an alternative to the Spectator, which I believe is seriously culpable for much of the malaise the city suffers from. Parsing recent entries on the LRT issue however, leaves the basic premise in doubt. (Articles listed below)

LRT is a billion dollar plan, more or less. Hamiltonians need to look seriously at all sides of the issue, from all points of view, especially at a time when entire nations are falling into crisis, seemingly like dominoes and our neighbour to the south is experiencing problems which many see as undermining its huge economy and even its constitutional democracy. A billion dollar misstep now could have severe repercussions.

One would think therefore that articles on LRT would earnestly try to examine all aspects of the LRT issue and to encourage rational debate in order to develop better understanding toward optimizing our ideas on how the city should proceed. Sadly, this appears not to be the case. Not only are the articles more like sales pitches but the pro side comments remind one of a college dorm (or perhaps US politics) with pitched battles between pro and anti factions of the issue. Open minded poster SpaceMonkey aptly describes his frustration in the #2 link (scroll to comments). The provision of up/down voting mechanism only exacerbates the issue. The pro side is particularly aggressive in downvoting 'anti'comments and has gone so far as to write not one but two articles on what it calls trolls (links 5,6), its derisive term for anybody who is steadfast on the anti side. Shades of MSM (mainstream media) - derisiveness, judgementalism, dismissiveness, etc. Folks with an open mind (making comments on both sides of the issue) don't fare much better. I am dismayed as i was hoping for better.

Instead, i should have known better. Editor/publisher Ryan McGreal is an unabashed LRT booster according to his own website at which says "I am also a proud founding member of Hamilton Light Rail, a community group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton." His article on trolls is particularly erudite - and thereby, insultingly dismissive of genuine concerns. So, umm, what else would one expect from a booster but - - boosterism? By definition therefore, all concerns fall on deaf ears. It's a waste of time, no? Other pumpers show similar tendencies and cheerfully upvote guru Ryan in sycophantic fashion. Presumably these folk, most of whom seem relatively young, support LRT for philosophical reasons which seem mostly centered around boosting Hamilton's image. Count me in on that for sure. Talk's cheap.

But talk is also influential. What if somebody actually listened to this irrepressible crowd? Humans move in herds, lemminglike. Too much excitement provokes all kinds of madness. Pierre Burton, in Marching As to War, explores the effect of MSM in whipping up emotions that drove Canadians into useless and irrelevant wars such as the Boer War. Therefore, I take such chatter, even immature chatter seriously.

In my last blog I wondered about the incentive factor and one can follow my questioning Ryan on this in link #4. Didn't get far but was quite amused in the latest article (link #2) when Ryan responded to a question about fare-paying ridership viability with the following:

"The current readership on the overburdened B-line is enough to justify LRT. Total riders will only continue to grow with an LRT that can accommodate it. LRT readership growth routinely exceeds even optimistic projections."

There you have it. A Freudian slip gives away his entire incentive. Readership. A billion for readership! OK, Ryan responds that it's an auto-correct slipup and I'm making too much of it, but my overactive imagination prefers to think techno-Freud just came to life! Bloggers do need readers, an incentive I can certainly understand. (Especially for RTH's sophisticated setup - more than I can afford!) But seriously, the link #3 is also an example of the readership angle. Hey, the guy likes to write, what's wrong with that? So do i. But since the comments and avoidances remain the same, well, its a waste of time. So, don'cha think I just got sucked into the whole thing??!!

Sigh. So what's a concerned citizen to do? Live and let live I always say, but if you're after serious debate on LRT, I mentioned a good site (Jarrett Walker's) in my first LRT blog, albeit not specific to Hamilton, or you could try leaving a comment on my new comment section. Not as fancy or as immediate, but hopefully, capable of driving the discussion forward. Forward from, well, here are my current thoughts on LRT:

  • 1. We cannot afford to spend a billion at this time. Hamilton is already half a billion in the hole and 1 billion borrowed costs interest of at least ten million per percentage interest rate per year. As i said, whole nations are being hurt by their indebtedness.
  • 2. Since the province is 1/4 trillion in the hole and the feds 1/2 trillion, I believe we face serious difficulties (inflation, increasing interest rates, unemployment, clawbacks, etc.). Therefore this project should be a Hamilton-only project. I take issue with the whole mentality of senior gummerment meddling - I'm adding that to my pet peeves. Hamiltonians should have pride enough to not ask Moosonee residents (who don't even have a highway) to subsidize our transit needs. Either we can afford it or not. I say not now.
  • 3. I might gladly modify the above points if enough developers actually precommitted themselves to paying for at least half the cost and building a minimum level of development so the city tax revenues can increase sufficiently to pay off its share without impacting the already strained tax base.
  • 4. Any borrowed money must be on terms that allow us to pay it off in inflation-devalued currency without excessive future interest! Necessary but inherently impossible.
  • 5. Property owners at nodes share the pain in accordance to their prospective gains - but what does one do with/for folks who can't or don't want to pay higher taxes?
  • 6. Logistics, ROWs, designs, building interruptions and costs need to make sense. No gold plated systems need apply. Every effort at cost reduction, including abolishing any present fair wage/ union restrictions. If one is paying attention to world affairs, one is seeing signs of this already happening. Consider a starter system or downtown loop, understanding that rail systems would need special maintenance and storage facilities - could a system be built for a few hundred million?
  • 7. Resolving the downtown/suburban divide - improbable. Unless it serves their communities, which multiplies the cost, why would they support it?
  • 8. Local manufacturing benefits - long term, not just construction.
  • 9. Our population increases to the ~million mark if steel rails are used. Electric trolleys in the interim to solve pollution and noise issues and seem like a good idea to me. Maybe we could build/modify them locally for ourselves first and others later.
  • 10. The city adopts (because the people accept) intensification policies and actual advance rezoning to allow nodes to develop at stops. Further sprawl must be outlawed - probably impossible given the corrupted politics we apathetically accept. Nimbyism = no/reduced LRT benefits.
  • 11. The city adopt growth and innovation oriented policies based on less restrictiveness (especially micro operations) but more finance and tax friendliness. People should put up (their money) and shut up (their complaining about minor infractions such as has dogged The Pearl). Our taxes are too high mainly because we coddle public employees. When this ends, better times will follow.
  • 12. Per my first blog in this subject, the assumption that development always follows building an LRT is challenged in Jarrett Walker's blog. More proof is needed in view of the magnitude of the risk. Proponents, especially young ones, have no idea what happens when things go wrong. Read Matt Taibbi's story on Jefferson County. I should know, I voted for Trudeau. Big mistake I'm now thinking.

Generally the project pumping folks are hoping somehow a huge bunch of businesses will suddenly locate here just because we build a glorified streetcar. As if Hamilton in the only choice they have. I think we should instead, try encouraging all underemployed Hamiltonians to become more entrepreneurial with better city policies and promotions. We also need to take this message into the Schools and to reorient schools to encourage real thinking instead of brainwashing our kids. Finally, we should incentivize welfare recipients, who are draining city coffers, to mobilize into vacant entrepreneurial opportunities and we should remove any disincentives. This is not a small deal but the time is coming when it will be necessary anyway. Enough energy, talent and ingenuity already exists here, but I believe it is being suppressed by the systems we have erected.

RTH has been around for about 6 years, it has an impressive record and a nice format and has the potential to make a serious contribution to Hamilton's future - example, today's article by Jason Allen on electricity rates. But at the present time, Editor McGreal's obstinate insistence on putting an unaffordable LRT on the rails, risks sending his RTH off the rails into irrelevancy. My friendly advice is to temper his over enthusiastic support for the LRT with a dose of financial/ monetary realism and to treat his readers with a bit more respect and equanimity. They just might come up with something worth sharing. But not if the editor and acolytes insist on downvoting us all as trolls.


B Green Innes

Blog #7 - Can Hamilton can have LRT cake and eat it too?

I just finished listening to Michael Hlinka on CBC Metro Morning's business segment. How this Libertarian fits into the Socialist Republic of CBC's mandate is beyond me but I always enjoy his hyperized business logic in the morning. It's better than coffee, incongruous in the CBC worldview and music snores me. Today's show discussed the possible fate of Toronto's streetcar system under Rob Ford's stated objective of scrapping it.

It seems the mayor elect is backing off his infamous rip-out-the-streetcar plan, at least for the downtown area because it has just been completely revamped at a huge cost and owing to the uber-heavy demand for its services. In fact, the follow-on segment indicated Toronto will still be proceeding to install new super long hundred foot cars, at least for the King Queen routes, that are due over the next few years for a cool $1bn.

Hamiltonians have been debating LRT at the RTH blog (link in the right column) although its getting a little testy with folks accusing each other of being trolls for pointing out the obvious weaknesses of the pro LRT side (affordability and whether development will really follow in Hamilton just because it seems to elsewhere) or the obvious obtuseness of the anti side for not bowing and scraping before the superior self evident logic of our local saint of the rails. I discussed this here. It beats me why we are having this argument at a time when major businesses in town are closing, leaving or locking out capacity and when Torontonians are obviously disheartened with the system they already have. Love - hate was CBC's theme, noting that both riders and motorists share both feelings. Beats me why they didn't ban parking and put the rails in the curb lane from the get-go. Can you imagine trying to get by a streetcar that is double the length of the double car? Better be driving a Ferrari. Then again, with all that bumping over the rails, better not.

Suddenly I sat bolt upright. The business news is my wakeup call but it rarely has this effect! The answer to our intrepid bloggers is obvious - Hamilton can have its own ultra cheap LRT just by picking up the crumbs cast off by Hogtown. Yes folks, you heard it here first!

Presumably Ford will have to rip out something to satisfy his supporters and given the situation on the downtown lines, this might involve the north-south routes like Bathurst or the not so downtown routes like St. Clair. Maybe Dundas too - can you imagine trying to get the hundred footer around the corner at Broadview? Goodbye sleep for residents near a turning CarCarCarCar! Anyway, a lot of this is brand spanking new track. No brainer.

Cut it into 50 or 60 foot chunks, pick it up, railbed and all, and move it on down the highway to our own Steeltown. Impossible? Nope. Some time ago, i caught an episode on TV about a guy who grew up in Canada and became a world renowned building mover. The technology he developed was amazing as were his accomplishments. He basically said if it was made by man, it could be moved by man. Whole or in part. I doubt that the track - roadbed assembly is anywhere near as fragile as the old brick building they moved down to our harbourfront a few years ago.

Not only that but maybe we can get all the old streetcars they are going to replace with the longer cars. Five or ten cents on the dollar should do it, even if the moving will cost something, I'm fairly confident the final price will still be below what an all-new line would cost.

Problem solved. Case closed. Next please. Gad, I love solving problems before breakfast!

Psst. Hush hush. Don't Hazel or Mississauga will get onto it before our dithering council can get it's morning coffee.

Oh dear, the reaction to that idea wasn't so great. Hairbrained said one! Others complained about how old it was, passe-technology, slowness, and the guage being non-standard. Didn't know about that one. And the possible cost, which is a valid point. Cutting & lifting all those sections might indeed be costly and time consuming, which Torontonians may not put up with, especially if normal continuous paving methods can't be used to fill in the hole left behind. Plus another problem I thought of is that whenever I've driven around Toronto, the concrete around the tracks always seems to be cracked up, quite a bit. Not much point picking it up then is there? Sigh, that's the problem with ideas, 90% of them are no good. But they're still fun to blog about, at least i think so!

This illustrates a major problem with LRT - track maintenance. Torontonians are finding out just how costly and disruptive it is. No wonder they want to scrap it, though our sanctimonious advocates sniff - its just car drivers, so who cares! Nice folks those boosters. But the point is well taken. In ultra dense cities like London England, cars are, and probably should be actively discouraged with things like rush hour fees. Anyway, track maintenance for LRTs is way different than for well drained, elevated railroad beds, normally with exposed ties which makes maintenance easy.

Putting aside the obstinacy of the LRT boosters (ooo, they beat me up on that one, but hey, I'm still trying to figure out if there's anything more than youthful enthusiasm going on behind the scenes), for Hamilton, its the money. How can we possibly afford $1billion?

Poster A Smith constantly tries to make the point that public LRT spending creates only temporary jobs, displaces private investment and burdens ordinary folk with long term taxes that limits their options. He asks, if the case is so good, if developers are so sure to follow, why are they not now lining up to buy rights and properties and installing the LRT at their own expense, just to get things moving. Boosters hate A Smith (see the RTH trolls blog or the LRT on Hamilton Day blog) so his logic falls on deaf ears.

A better question might be to ask what Hamilton could afford to spend on LRT, assuming a short line might be of some value, say between Mac and downtown? Can we afford a few hundred million - an amount which has to include storage and maintenance facilities? As much as I would love to see LRT or streetcars in Hamilton, I really think the priority has to be to pay off our existing debt and get our rotting infrastructure and flooding problems under control.

One booster made a good point that our maintenance costs ie taxes are so high because of sprawl. While I quite agree, there are many reasons for our high taxes and spending a billion will exacerbate the problem mightily. Especially once interest rates start to climb. There may be a way out of this jamb that I will be exploring in an upcoming blog about Money Risk, but I doubt it could be pulled off in time. My own guess is that the looming crisis plus rising energy costs will cause cities to start shrinking, unless immigration increases massively. Whatever happens, i doubt it'll be pretty. The light in the tunnel is approaching too quickly. Don't be fooled by next year's market celebrations. 2011 i think will be the calm before the storm. You, me and Hamilton should make good use of it - and not by building LRTs.



Stay tuned.

Bob Green I

leave the fake one *

Please be patient. Hopefully you can check back for your comment or response in the next day or two. Thanks. Bob

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Coming Up

    Prt 3 of Banking/ money risks, a modest proposal

    Reflections on a Greek phrase

    Forcing my mind to grapple further with that pesky smart meter thing. I'd hate to be a party pooper when it comes to the good intent of the smart meter - BUT.........

    So much to mention - GMO foods, fluoridation, dogcast listening, Puppy - maybe I'll put up a sort of note space for miscellaneous

    Ongoing economic meltdown - two threads: Hamilton's unique problems and the more general economic melting down of the US. Four Horsemen.

    Global warming questions and myths. I'll borrow this for now.

    Eventually, thoughts on the deeper questions that vex our world.

Favs & Locals

Bob's BlogLog

    My blog is finally looking something like a regular blog. For anyone interested, most blogs are based on simple table layouts - two or three column using a markup language. The professional sites have sophisticated coding in many languages to provide many features such as automatic archiving, variable text size and the like. We shall see what the future brings but for now I'm just enjoying the challenge of re-learning some HTML. Debugging is not my strong suit but this page is nothing like the old basic programs that once drove me nuts. Still having trouble with basic fonts though!:(

    Next: 4 column dropdown menu for past blogs by category? I'll also be starting to group blogs on the same page - why not - saves storage space. Organize an archive or search or ??? New table for miscellaneous Pot Pourri??? (For now, I'll just stick odd stuff below.) Eventually get code to improve the comment section.

    Also need to ensure font is not too small on newer hi res screens.

    As you can see, Netfirms is hosting this site. My frugal buddy Johnny suggested it as the most economical site for a modest blogger. The two domains and the two sites cost about a case of beer per year which i guess is justified. There is limited storage and limited bandwidth but that's ok for now. They offer pagemaking services but I prefer to stick to my own simple system, even if it's less convenient. I can't remember how it goes anyway and I believe the files turn out bigger and fewer formatting options are available (in the basic package). We shall see what the future brings.

Bob's 'Breviations

    LRT - Light Rapid Transit

    MSM - Main Stream Media

    Mn, Bn - Million, Billion Dollars

    GMO - Genetically Modified Organism (Foods)

Pet Peeves

      * gummerment overspending
      * what we're doing to our political and educational systems -

      * banksterism.

      * political correctness (equity policies) along with

      * human rights commissions and their guilty-until-proven-innocent destruction of our ancient rights. Soon to get worse.

      * Overmedication in our society - this link relates to kids ADD, ADHD

      * Rigid thinking, judgementalism, The Spectator

      * legal liability issues - playgrounds, bake sales gone. This is stupid (corporatism).

      * Public sector unions

      * credentialism

      * a little rant on mailboxes!

      * apathetic people. Plato said 'Your silence gives your consent'

      * aphids, Torx screwdrivers, proprietary parts

    * retired Professional Engineer, married, father of 2 including one still in the system.

    * pursuing many interests - partial list below

    * small-c conservative (but not a Harper PC - that's the party of big business!)

    * investigating causes of economic problems, finding troubling trends and possibilities

    * Former candidate, Hamilton East Stoney Creek, FCP, Public System Trustee, Ward 4

Links to other Interests.


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Updated Oct 2010