Implementing the Integrated Mobility Plan: The day at Regional Council was a big one for transportation, with both the South Park Street protected bike lane and the Gottingen Street bus lane up for consideration. The Regional Plan sets a goal of having 30% of trips in HRM made by walking, biking, or transit by 2031. Unfortunately, HRM has been heading in the opposite direction with private vehicle trips rising from 75% in 2006 to 78% in 2016. If we want to start building a more sustainable community, we need to change our approach.
In planning circles, it’s often said that the best transportation plan is a good land-use plan and this is true in HRM. A big part of our growing car reliance over the last decade is due to where we’ve allowed growth to happen: in single-use car dependent suburbs. The need to get the Centre Plan right and then expand from there to require better design in new suburban development is pressingly clear.
Beyond land-use, the other key piece shaping how we move is the transportation system that we’ve built. Most of our streets were built with 1960s ideals of congestion free expressways in mind. Pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders were usually an afterthought if they were thought about at all. We haven’t been building to offer people choices in how they move and the result of heavy car reliance is not surprising.
To guide the process of rethinking out streets, Council recently passed the Integrated Mobility Plan (IMP). The IMP is an ambitious plan to breath life into the Regional Plan’s goal of getting more people in HRM onto transit, their feet and bikes. A big part of the IMP is a commitment to redesign roads to provide people with better choices about how they get around. Both the South Park Street bike lane and the Gottingen bus lane were identified in the IMP, and Tuesday was the IMP’s first big test: is it a real plan that Council is committed to implementing or is it pretty pictures on a shelf?
South Park Bike Lane: The South Park Bike Lane represents the next generation of bike infrastructure that separates cyclists from traffic. It’s designed to appeal beyond the 8% of the population who are confident in riding in traffic to the 60% who would consider riding a bike, but are concerned about their safety.
Change is hard and it’s often easy to be in favour of it when it’s a vague concept, but harder when it becomes a tangible choice with clear impacts. The South Park Lane got a particularly rough ride from the Spring Garden Road Merchant’s Association who fear the loss of parking spaces will harm area businesses. The sidewalk is extra wide alongside the Public Gardens and the Merchant’s Association was asking HRM to modify the preferred approach to place the bike lane alongside the sidewalk to save 17 on-street parking spaces.
At first glance, this might seem like a viable compromise. Staff though looked at this option early on and ruled it out though because it would have meant removing the line of trees alongside the Public Gardens and relocating street services and telephone poles, significantly increasing the bike lane’s cost. The transition at intersections would have also been tricky and the sidewalks in this area are some of the busiest in the municipality. I was satisfied with staff’s explanation as to why this approach was discounted. What we would have had to give up in terms of the pedestrian space to get a less than ideal bike lane at a higher cost just to save 17 parking spaces didn’t make for a good trade.
In terms of the impact on Spring Garden Road, studies from elsewhere have consistently shown that, on main streets, merchants overestimate how many of their customers are coming by car. A Dalhousie study of Agricola Street found that nearly 50% of business owners felt that more than 75% of their customers were coming by car. Customer surveys in the study though identified that just 16% arrived by vehicle. Similar results have shown up consistently across North America and there is nothing to suggest that results would be any different on Spring Garden Road.
In terms of mitigating any negative impact, staff’s analysis of the parking situation in the area indicates that there is ample parking and that the bike lane will affect only 5% of the total available spaces. There is also new construction underway in the neighbourhood that will shortly add 174 new public spaces, 3x more than what the bike lane will take away.
I was satisfied that the proposed South Park Bike Lane design makes sense and that there isn’t likely to be negative impacts on local businesses. The South Park Bike Lane passed 11-2.
Gottingen Bus Lane: The other significant street change up for discussion at Council was a bus lane on Gottingen Street. HRM’s analysis indicates that the lack of transit priority on Gottingen Street leaves buses routinely off-schedule by 5-6 minutes, with longer delays of up to 15 minutes. A bus lane could significantly speed up that trip. Although the benefits to transit users are fairly clear, the idea of putting a bus lane on Gottingen has been controversial. The North End Business Association has been concerned about the loss of on-street parking spaces. HRM carried out a review of parking in the area and found that there is a lot of available spaces on side streets.
A lot of the discussion on this issue focused on the fact that many of the buses travelling on Gottingen are there because the street is the only way for buses to get onto the Macdonald Bridge (buses can’t currently navigate the Barrington Street Ramp’s tight turns). The argument then became that HRM should focus on fixing the Barrington Street ramp rather than turning Gottingen into a bus corridor. I agree that the Barringston Street Ramp is worth looking at, but I think the piece that’s missing in that perspective is that, even if HRM modifies the Ramp, Gottingen will still be a key transit route. Both the #1 and #7 provide frequent service on the street and are some of the busiest routes in Transit’s network. Whether the express buses stay on Gottingen or move to Barrington, it’s still worth providing the #1 and #7 with the street space to operate effectively.
That said, the idea of a 24/7 bus lane that eliminates all parking and loading to solve a problem that exists for three hours on weekdays was overkill. The compromise that came out of Transportation Standing Committee was to have a rush hour only lane. Outside of peak weekday hours, parking and loading would still be allowed. I was happy to support the compromise that provides both quality transit while not being overly imposing on the street.
Electric Buses: Still with buses, Council voted to move ahead with an electric bus pilot. The pilot will build on the feasibility study completed last year by bringing two electric buses into Transit’s fleet by 2020 (possibly 2019 depending on manufacturing timelines). The feasibility study indicated that, besides reducing pollution and noise, an all electric bus fleet could produce savings over 20 years of $127 to $163 million because electric buses are significantly less costly to operate. The challenge though is that the upfront cost of electric buses is substantial because the technology is still being developed and commercialized. The expectation is that the upfront cost will decrease as the technology becomes more wide-spread. HRM has to weigh the timing of investing in electric carefully.
In preparation of launching a pilot, HRM joined the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC) last year. CUTRIC is trying to encourage the development of a common electric approach across Canada to speed up adoption and reduce costs. HRM is one of several Canadian municipalities launching a pilot with CUTRIC. CUTRIC membership also means that HRM might be eligible for federal funding, which would allow HRM to grow its pilot electric fleet from two to eight. I’m excited to see this project moving forward.
Bowles Rink: The sale of the Bowles Rink was back before Council as an in camera item. You may recall from when Council looked at the rink report in June that the Bowles was identified as surplus to HRM’s needs and was classified as an extraordinary property disposal. The extraordinary designation was applied because of a right-of-first-refusal in favour of the adjacent landowner. The right-of-first-refusal originates from a 2012 legal settlement and provides the adjacent landowner with the chance to purchase the Bowles, at market value, before it can be offered to anyone else.
Over the last several months, HRM’s lawyers and real estate staff have been working through the right-of-first-refusal process. An agreement has now been reached with the holder of the right-of-first-refusal and at Tuesday’s meeting, Council authorized the sale. Details on the agreement will be released once the sale is complete.
- First reading for changes to the user charges bylaw to allow refugees arriving in Halifax to access public transit for free.
- Closed an unused leftover piece of Lethbridge Avenue to allow it to be sold to the surrounding property owner
- Approved in principle a land exchange with the Province to enable the construction of a road linking Sussex Drive and Eider Drive in Stillwater Lake.
- Adjusted cost sharing arangements ith the Province and Halifax Water for paving projects in Herring Cove and Hammonds Plains.
- Directed staff to enter into a lease with the Mooseland and Area Community Association for the Mooseland Community Centre (staff recommendation was to dispose of the building, Council opted to lease the land to the Community Association instead)
- Accepted a report on science advising to HRM that will create a regular review of emerging issues facing municipalities across the country (a horizon scan), and directed the CAO to create a corporate policy .
- Set the rate for dry-floor space in the BMO Centre and new Dartmouth 4-Pad at $65/hr for youth groups and $75/hr for adult groups and adjusted the ice rate for the LeBrun Arena to match the Spryfield Lions Rink and the St. Margaret’s Centre.
- Enabled the extension of a grant to Sheet Habour Area Ground Search and Rescue for the construction of a garage
- Exercised a buyback clause for a vacant lot in Burnside that was never developed (industrial lands sold by HRM are subject to buyback agreements that can be exercised if the land isn’t developed)
- Provided interim funding to support community museums throughout HRM
- Authorized the purchase of four new parking enforcement vehicles
- Approved Halifax Transit’s engagement model, which will include an ongoing online advisory panel and in person consultation on specific issues.
- Initiated the plan amendment process to enable the replacement and expansion of the HRM compost facility at 61 Evergreen Place in Halifax
- Council accepted a report on creating a youth centre at the Acadia Centre in Sackville, subject to budget approval as an added item on the 28th.