Council Update: Low-income Transit, Grahams Grove, Off Leash Dogs, Crosswalk Flags and more

Transit buses at Bridge Terminal. Photo: Metro

Free Transit for People on Income-Assistance: The best item on Council’s agenda Tuesday was actually in camera. I would normally not be able to talk about it, but, luckily for me, the Province made the official announcement today so that limitation is now gone. Sometimes it pays to be a day or so late with my Council summary!

The big news is that HRM and the Province are partnering on providing bus passes to everyone on income assistance in HRM. That includes spouses and children. Literally everyone. That’s 16,800 vulnerable people, over 11,000 of whom don’t have access to free transit right now. This is a major anti-poverty measure that will make it easier for people who are struggling on the margins to get to work, to school, to groceries, to friends and family, to community facilities, to the park or wherever else they might want to go. It’s providing freedom of movement that most of us take for granted. It’s a very good partnership that is going to make a big difference in the day-to-day lives for many residents.

The way this is being done is HRM will sell the Province bus passes at a substantially reduced price. HRM will benefit from increased ridership and more fare revenue and the Province will benefit by being able to provide many more transit passes than they otherwise could. The days of people on income-assistance losing a bus pass because they didn’t have enough doctor’s appointments are over. This is government at its best, with the two orders working together to find a common-sense solution that works for everyone and makes life better for the people that we all serve. During the election campaign, Gabriel Enxuga put affordable transit on the agenda in District 5. In the debate at Grace United, I spoke about this very approach as my preferred solution for providing transit to people in need. As it turned out, HRM and the Province were already working on it. I was very happy to give my full support to this at Council yesterday.

Conceptual layout for a new building at Grahams Grove

New Parks Building at Grahams: Council voted to add a new multi-purpose building for Grahams Grove Park (park across from the Superstore) to the 2019/2020 budget. The idea of a new building arose when the Kiwanis Club of Dartmouth approached HRM with a proposal for a new building. The Kiwanis have a long association with Grahams Grove. The Club raised funds to get the Park built back in the 1970s and, as a result, the City of Dartmouth named the Park after them. That Kiwanis’ association with Grahams Grove has carried on through the years in more than just name: the Kiwanis sell ice cream from a small canteen in the Park in the summer and Christmas trees in the parking lot in the winter (on sale now if you haven’t bought one yet).

The Kiwani’s approached Council in 2016 to see about replacing their small portable building with a permanent structure to house the canteen and provide the club and others with meeting space. HRM looked at the proposal and reasoned that any building in the Park should serve several needs, not just the Kiwanis. Grahams Grove is home to Dragon Boats East, and small, dilapidated HRM washroom and change facility that is well past its best before. The Park is also becoming an events hub in the running world with Epic Dartmouth and Soul Sisters making it their home base. The Kiwanis proposal was adapted and a new conceptual plan has been worked out that would provide the Kiwanis with meeting space and a canteen, the public with washrooms, and Dragons Boat East with a new home and storage space. Three rundown aging buildings would become one. The Kiwanis have committed to provide $250,000 towards the $800,000-$1,000,000 project. This could be a very good thing for everyone.

A new HRM building in Grahams Grove Park is far from a done deal. The project is on the list for consideration in 2019/2020, but the capital budget always has more items on the list than there is cash. Still, starting the design process and getting onto the capital list is an important step forward for this project.

Shubie Off Leash Dog Park. Photo: Sybil N via Crittersnus Blogspot

Off Leash Dog Parks: Council gave first reading to an Off Leash Dog Administrative Order (this will be back in the New Year for second reading). The purpose of the Off Leash By-law is to set the criteria and process for how HRM establishes dog parks. Off leash dog parks, such as Shubie Park, are a major draw for dog owners, but they also come with challenges for other park users and nearby residents. The proposed Off Leash By-law establishes criteria to strike a balance and guide the decision-making process. Future dog parks will be primarily focussed in large parks that have a regional draw and they will be largely shared spaces rather than fenced ones.

The report to Council did more than present a proposed By-law, it also set the direction for the development of future off leash areas. The areas identified for new dog parks are Cole Harbour, Eastern Passage, Spryfield and Dartmouth. Dartmouth made the list primarily because Shubie is overcrowded. Since Shubie draws people from all over the region, the solution that staff will explore is creating an additional off leash area in Burnside, possible at Spectacle Lake or Frenchman’s Lake. Like Shubie, either of the two Burnside parks would provide an off leash area with water access, but the noise wouldn’t affect nearby homeowners since there are none. Expect to hear more about off leash areas in the future as staff begin to develop specific plans to expand the options available for dog owners.

Photo Metro

Crosswalk Flags: The issue of crosswalk flags was also back at Council. This one has attracted a lot of attention and there are some strong opinions on the subject. Back in May, Council looked at adopting an administrative order to govern how crosswalk flags are setup and where they can be installed. At the time, Council rejected the administrative order, but also opted to freeze the installation of new crosswalk flags until HRM’s Road Safety Plan is complete. I voted against the freeze, but I was in the minority. What we were looking at on Tuesday was an update on the Road Safety Plan and several other crosswalk initiatives. Included in the update was a staff recommendation to continue the freeze.

So what has changed since May? Since Council last looked at the issue, staff conducted a field test. They went out and crossed the street in front of the North Woodside Community Centre at Pleasant and Marvin and at Caldwell Road and Wexford. They crossed the street 150 times at each location: 50 times the pedestrian held a flag, 50 times they didn’t but the flags were left hanging on the crosswalk post, and 50 times they crossed with the flags completely absent. The results are likely not numerous enough to be statistically significant, but they do suggest that the flags make a small improvement in driver yielding. That improvement has to be considered alongside the fact that previous staff observations indicate that it’s only 5% of people crossing the street that actually use flags. On the other hand, that 5% is primarily children and the elderly who are some of the most vulnerable pedestrians.

Council ended up voting to once again allow crosswalk flags to be installed at crosswalks that don’t have any flashing lights (basic crosswalks). I voted in favour of unfreezing the flags at basic crosswalks because the data collected by staff suggests they have a positive impact, even if that impact is small.

Since the debate focussed almost completely on crosswalk flags, preliminary results of the rectangular rapid flashing beacons that HRM installed at four locations in HRM last year, including Maple and Dahlia was largely missed. Results suggest that the rapid flashing beacons are more noticeable and do improve driver yielding.

Given the results of HRM’s pilot, staff will consider rapid flashing beacons at other locations in the future. I suspect we’ll see more of them around HRM in time.

Photo Toronto Star

Halifax Water Report: Halifax Water was before Council to present their annual report. Halifax Water is a stand-alone utility that is owned by HRM. So Halifax Water doesn’t report to Council like a regular municipal department like Parks and Rec, but there is a relationship since HRM is the sole shareholder.

Halifax Water comes to Council once a year to present Council with its report and to allow Councillors to ask questions. This year, I highlighted two projects that are particularly relevant to Dartmouth: Halifax Water’s lead program and the Sawmill River project.

Lead: Halifax Water has formed a partnership with Dalhousie and has undertaken some very extensive research on lead. Ownership of waterlines is split between property owners and Halifax Water (portion under the street is Halifax Water, portion from the property line to the tap is the property owners). In the past, Halifax Water would replace its portion, but often homeowners didn’t follow suit. The City of Dartmouth actually removed virtually all lead pipes on public property before amalgamation, which means all the lead left in District 5 is on private property.

Results of Halifax Water’s partnership with Dalhousie has revealed that the partial replacement of water lines isn’t effective because the joining of new pipe to old lead ones allows lead to leach into the water supply. Based on those findings, leaving lead lines on private property, while replacing them in the street, is no longer an option. Lead lines need to be removed in their entirety, on public and private property. To get over the financial barriers that might preclude homeowners from taking out their lead lines, Halifax Water is now offering a grant program towards the work. Grants can total up to $2,500 and the program opened back in August. Halifax Water is looking to expand the effort even further and has an application out to the Utility and Review Board asking for permission to offer loans. A decision on that will come in the New Year.

Daylighting Sawmill River Phase 2: The other Halifax Water Project that I asked about that is particularly relevant to District 5 is Phase 2 of the Sawmill River Daylighting Project. Phase 1 is rapidly approaching a conclusion and the plan is to reopen Ochterloney on December 22. They’ll be minor stuff still to do in the New Year, but Phase 1 is coming to an end.

Phase 2 of the Sawmill project will run from the end of Lock4 by Irishtown Road down to the Harbour. What Halifax Water does with that section depends on how much space is needed for a redesigned Alderney/Portland/Prince Albert intersection. HRM is looking at the design of that intersection now and as a result, Halifax Water’s design hasn’t been finalized. It’s anticipated that a second federal infrastructure program will be open for applications in 2018. Halifax Water expects to apply for federal funding and if the Sawmill River project is selected, work could happen as early as 2019. If, however, federal funding proves elusive, then Halifax Water will need to pay for Phase 2 from their regular budget. If Halifax Water has to find the cash by itself, it’ll likely take a few more years to see construction of Phase 2.

Other:

  • Sanctioned a flypast of four Seaking’s over the Dockyard to mark the end of their service on the East Coast
  • Awarded a contract to develop Transit’s upcoming technology projects including new routing software, farebox upgrades, and access-a-bus.
  • Directed staff to purchase a house on Bayers Road. HRM will separate off the front portion of the property for the future Bayers Road project and then the house will be resold.
  • Reset the community boundaries for Lucasville, Hammonds Plains and Stillwater Lake. No practical impact other than civic addressing.
  • Approved new commemorative names (Graham Downey) and several new street names.
  • Opted to repair the roof at Shakespear by the Sea’s building and start planning for a new multi-use building at Point Pleasant Park.
  • Appointed a new development officer.
  • Voted to establish a Downie Wenjack Legacy Room in City Hall.
  • Moved some funding around for public transit projects (the Alderney and Halifax Ferry Terminal pontoons are in better shape than thought and don’t need to be replaced).
  • Adopted a new administrative order on the creation of administrative orders (Red Tape reduction).
  • Authorized staff to enter into leases at less than market value for Scott Manor House in Bedford and the Kinsmen Club at First Lake in Sackville.
  • Asked for a staff report on established a social policy lense to help guide future HRM decisions.
  • Overrode the District Capital policy to allow Councillor Karstin to provide a grant for repairs at Fisherman’s Cove (Association leases the land from the Province and because it’s provincial property the policy normally doesn’t allow a contribution without Council override).
  • Approved tenders for new fire tankers,

9 Comments

  1. Sam, were you told what visibility conditions the crosswalk flag tests were conducted? I find at night no traffic will stop unless I hold out a flag, as many crosswalks are very poorly lit, including those with the overhead lit pedestrian signs. These are particularly dangerous and I’m concerned they remain subject to the suspension. The eight % increase when flags were used in locations were they are available seems significant to me in the case of the blind and elderly people who use them and need as close to 100% chance of getting across safely as possible! If we were assessing the effectiveness of traffic lights at intersections, anything short of 96 to 99% traffic stopping would most likely be seen to be a poor result. I think we need to start using the same assessment criteria when it comes to assessing the effectiveness of our pedestrian crosswalk infrastructure, especially as non-crash resistant and often elderly or disabled people are involved

    • No. That didn’t come up. I think I was the only one who referenced the stats in the report. I suspect, given that staff undertook the test, that it was done during the day.

      • Sam, I have a significant amount of scepticism about the results of that field test. In my considerable experience as a pedestrian, there’s no way drivers yield 89% of the time – at least, not the first driver (or second or third). Field tests are interesting but provide anecdotal support at best. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “The plural of ‘anecdote’ isn’t ‘data.”

        I’m happy for those who wanted the installation of flags to resume. I am concerned, however, at how the crosswalk flag campaign has become yet one more way to shift blame onto pedestrians and accountability off of drivers. In my opinion, council has missed the mark here. It could have also requested a staff report on the feasibility of implementing other, more effective crosswalk measures in use in other jurisdictions. Instead, it took the easy (and cheap) way out.

        • The yield rates for the flag tests were only at two intersections and only at one time of day. There could of course be very different results depending on traffic conditions, time of day and the design of the underlying intersection. The results on the rectangular flashing beacon test in the same report noted at 77% yield rate at South and Wellington Street prior to the installation of the beacons. It improved to over 90% with the installation of the more noticable beacons, but the pre-beacon stats was effectively 2 of every 10 cars driving through.

          I share your concern about the shifting of responsibility. The flags must remain an optional aid, not an expectation and a way to shift responsibility. I’m hopeful that the Integrated Mobility Plan’s commitment to complete streets and the emphasis Council placed on revising the municipal standards book will actually make a real difference. Things like curb bump outs should just be standard design, not a special one-off. We have asked staff to provide phased updates to the Red Book and to have the update done by the end of 2019. I believe we’ll see more of the rectangular flashing beacons, and they’re doing a pilot on florescent green signage. The green crosswalk signs, flashing beacons, and previous zebra painting are actually the result of the motion for staff to explore other crosswalk treatments as you suggest 🙂 There is of course always more that could be done. It’ll be an interesting discussion at budget time.

    • Hi Martyn. Info on the conditions that the test were carried out in wasn’t included. My guess would be daytime since the staff doing the work don’t work at night. It would have been a good question. I think I was the only one who spoke to the stats in the report. It really didn’t feature as part of the debate. This mightn’t be fair of me, but I had the sense that this is one of those topics where people largely had their minds made up in advance.

  2. Sam isn’t it time to look at amalgamating Halifax Water into the Public Works of HRM … often road work is done only to be dug up shortly there after to accomodate both orgs … while they try to coordinate it doesn’t always happen … if Public works is aware that HW is planning a major pipe replacement in two years time then PW would have options on how they would deal with a particular street … then there is the infastructure needed to run each org … lots of duplication i am sure … something to explore to make governance of our fine city better

    • There is a coordination team made up of Transportation and Public Works, Halifax Water, and Heritage Gas that tries to avoid ripping up streets that were just paved. The effort isn’t always successful. I’m told that they’ve made great strides in improving that over the last several years. I think the bigger problem with having Halifax Water separate is it makes the lines of accountability far less clear. The cost of undoing the spin-off would be significant. I don’t think there is any going back.

      • so revisting a bad decision is not the right way to go … if hrm is the one and only shareholder then do it and get it over with … platitudes are not a way to do public business … government is not a business so at times we need to lead into the future

  3. Thanks Sam for your response, glad you paid attention to the stats. It’s frustrating that so much attention is focused on the flags and not the other aspects of our infrastructure which cause danger to us every day. The flags are not part of the problem. The IMP will have limited impact as its budget is limited and will be spent (most likely) on projects such new build streets, cycle lanes, sidewalks and the ferry/train projects. On HRM Safe Streets for Everyone we’re seeing consistent comments that the four-lane crosswalks with overhead flashing lights, the two lane crosswalks with overhead lit signs and crosswalks at intersections are all extremely dangerous. I’d like to see a full audit/survey which looks at the effectiveness of all our crosswalk infrastructure measures, and based on the results a report which looks at the potential of effective and affordable measures that can be rolled out HRM wide in the short term, even if that has to be more flags or cheaper In-Street signs as “make-do” measures. This project would ideally be carried out be an independent body. I don’t have much confidence in HRM’s ability to carry out unbiased and effective research

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