Council Update: Crosswalk Flags, Back to Our Roots Farm, Heritage Grants & Paving Politics

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Crosswalk Flags: The main item on the agenda on Tuesday was the proposed crosswalk flags administrative order. Crosswalk flags are not a municipal program and are provided at the request of residents by the Crosswalk Flag Society of Nova Scotia. HRM permits flags to be installed at all crosswalks except for those controlled by stop signs or traffic lights. The municipality also reviews each proposed installation to ensure that there are no safety issues. The administrative order would have formalized the existing process for installing crosswalk flags and it would have removed flags from crosswalks that are already equipped with overhead lights. There are currently 155 crosswalk flag locations in HRM and the administrative order would have eliminated 58, including seven in District 5 (three on Woodland Avenue).

As part of preparing the administrative order, staff looked at a number of intersections and counted how many people used flags and vehicle yields rates. They then contrasted those results with intersections that didn’t have flags. This data is fairly limited. What wasn’t done was a review of how yield rates at any particular intersection changed with the installation of flags (a proper before and after) or if yield rates were better for the 8% of residents who used the flags versus those who didn’t. The sample size was was also very small and didn’t include other key variable such as the time of day, traffic conditions, or weather. The staff research did note, however, that the flags are primarily used by children and seniors, some of our most vulnerable road-users.

Part of what I like about the flags is that the flourescent red squares increase the visibility of the crosswalk. Staff suggested that there are other engineering approaches that could increase the visibility of crosswalks, and I have been pleased to learn that some of them are actually in development. HRM is testing new lighting systems this year, is installing side lights on overhead crosswalks, and is seeking permission from the province to use more visible neon signage. None of that is quite ready to put in place yet though and certainly not at all 155 crosswalks that someone has felt concerned enough about to request flags.

After a long discussion, Council rejected the proposed administrative order and instead opted to freeze current installations, conduct some more data analysis, and revisit the issue as part of the Road Safety Plan in December. I voted against the administrative order and the motion to freeze flag installations. My main reason was I didn’t find the data very compelling and HRM is not ready yet to make other safety improvements. If we’re going to remove flags, we should be ready to implement other safety measures that are more effective. Council will revisit this discussion in December.

Back to Our Roots table in its old location in the hospital parking lot

Back to the Roots Urban Farm: Council approved Transit setting up an agreement with the Back to Our Roots Urban Farm. The Back to Our Roots Farm is a non-profit garden located on the grounds of the Nova Scotia Hospital. The Farm aims to improve mental and physical health of patients, many of whom are recovering from addictions, and to improve food security by offering plots to the community at large. The agreement with HRM will allow the Farm to sell produce in front of the nearby Woodside Ferry Terminal. This is a win-win: supports a non-profit doing good work in the community, provides people with easier access to healthy produce, and all at no cost to HRM. I’m very happy to have helped facilitate the space for Back to the Roots and I’m hoping the details can be finalized in time to get the table in place for this season.

The Back to Our Roots garden

Heritage Grants: Council also approved a number of grants to owners of heritage properties. This wasn’t controversial, but I wanted to note it because it’s one of the few incentives HRM gives towards registering properties. On the list are a number of Dartmouth properties, including Dartmouth’s second oldest building at the corner of Queen and King Street. Ultimately, I think we need to do more in terms of carrots to protect our built heritage.

Paving Politics: One item that we spent a fair bit of time on was a request from Councillor Smith for HRM to partner with the Maritime Muslim Academy and the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts to repave their parking lot on Chebucto Road. The request was to split the project cost, $372,585, three ways. This is not a project that HRM would normally be involved in. HRM doesn’t provide grants for parking lots and past applications to the Community Grants program have been rejected. Council does though retain the ability to make grants to non-profits as it sees fit, which is how this motion ended up before Council.

There is actually good rationale for some HRM involvement in this project because some Chebucto Road park users park in the parking lot. It’s a logic that I supported and I was more than happy to back Councillor Smith’s first instinct to provide $25,000. To get to the point of putting $25,000 on the floor though, we had to first debate the staff recommendation arguing against providing any funding. Sensing the mood of Council from that debate, Smith’s $25,000 instead became the full $124,000 when it came time to move his alternative motion, which, for me, was way too much. Chebucto Road Park is primarily a neighbourhood park with very minimal infrastructure (playground and grass) that serves the local community. I strongly suspect that parkgoers make up a very small fraction of the traffic in the parking lot and that most park users live in the local neighbourhood and come by foot. To pay 1/3 of the cost of the parking lot project was really about providing support to the Academy and Conservatory and that didn’t feel right to me, not because the Academy and Conservatory aren’t deserving, but because we have said no to other community groups who have come to HRM with the exact same paving challenges.

This is one I probably should have let go and not gotten so swept up in as the amount proposed was really not that much in the grand scheme of HRM’s budget and the Peninsula councillors were all in favour. I just couldn’t get past the principle of the matter though. I attempted to move a motion to provide half the requested amount as that felt more reasonable given the nature of Chebucto Road Park, but the rest of Council didn’t agree. The motion to send the request for the full amount to Audit and Finance to find the money in HRM’s operating budget (from some other project) passed 10-6 with Nicoll, Mancini, Craig, Whitman, Adams and I dissenting.

Other:

  • Asphalt tenders for several streets, including Wyse Road, Boland and Victoria
  • Initiated a planning process for lands along the Bedford Highway
  • Deferred beginning the planning process for a subdivision in Beechville until the African Nova Scotian community is consulted
  • Approved an adaptive reuse proposal for the Clarke-Hallison House, a heritage property at the corner of South Park and Rhuland
  • Directed staff to develop an administrative order around universal access to municipally-owned washrooms
  • Gave direction to secure a partnership with Zhuhai China
  • Adjusted the fees for HRM’s SmartTrip program (e-pass is part of that)
  • Approved a noise exemption for Glen Arbour Golf Club so that the Club has more flexibility about hosting weddings
  • Required taxi’s to display stickers identifying the vehicle in the front and back seats and approved a tender to study other available options to improve safety

6 Comments

  1. I suppose the Centre Plan offers some protection regarding building heights and rules. Just where are the new affordable housing units supposed yo be going and who is responsible for building thrm? I think there should be some consideration for which developers are buying properties in areas intended for heavy development. Who are they buying through? Are they offering a fair price? Are the profits staying in the local economy? Will tax dollars that fund low cost renters be leaving the country? Can one or two developers buy up the entirety of downtown Dartmouth? Wouldn’t that give them hige leverage over what they would be allowed to build?

    • Much has been made of foreign money in development in town, but Halifax is a bit unique in that we don’t have many big developers. Most of ours are local families, many of them from immigrant communities who moved here and bought land when it was cheap (when the locals didn’t see the value in it). On affordable housing, HRM doesn’t have the mandate to build housing itself. That’s with the province. HRM can, however, assist non-profits and set planning rules. The big contribution towards affordable housing in the Centre Plan is in the areas selected for higher density, there will be a requirement to include affordable housing in order to build up to the maximum height. It’s called density bonusing. There is no ability for HRM to block property consolidation and, for me anyway, that’s not a bad thing as that would be interfereing too much for my taste in private business. What HRM can do is set the rules for how development proceeds. Here’s a piece I wrote about Portland Street and what I think is very important to have in the rules http://spacing.ca/atlantic/2015/11/30/protecting-portland-street-downtown-dartmouths-draft-design-manual/

  2. Sam, I’m very glad you spotted the flaws in the data collection process re the crosswalk flags. What I would also know, is what counted as a traffic yield? The crossing on Civic 1493 at Bedford Highway had a low yield rate, yet it is a very visible crossing along a straight section of road and there is nothing obvious that would prevent a driver from seeing a pedestrian who wants to cross. What I suspect may be the issue is a misunderstanding by drivers of the law here. Most drivers move over a crosswalk while a pedestrian is still using it because they seem to think that’s OK, so long as the pedestrian is (within their judgement) a reasonable distance away. If that counts as a failure to yield, then that has nothing to do with the use of the crosswalk flags. There are also different ways to use the flags – I wave a flag by the side of the road to attract attention. This sounds very 1920’s but because some drivers don’t seem to see the overhead lights (especially when they are close or when it is a bright sunny day) this seems to work. I would like to see the flag program extended to intersections where the accident rate is greatest, and I hope this will be considered. I would also like to see more support for the flag program from HRM on social media and the Halifax.ca website, including information on how and why they should be used. They are particularly helpful for elderly and disabled people who struggle to get across the road in time before the lights change.

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