Council Update: Traffic Calming, Motorcycle Noise, Street Navigators

Traffic calming in Portland, Oregon in the form of bumped out curbs (flower bed) and a speed bump

Traffic Calming: The highlight for me on yesterday’s agenda was changes to the Traffic Calming Administrative Order. The existing Admin Order sets out the process that HRM undertakes to assess whether to implement traffic calming measures on residential streets. A request for an assessment can come from residents or from the area Councillor on their behalf. To qualify for traffic calming, streets have to be residential and classified as local or minor collectors, have a speed limit of 50 km/hr, not have transit (that might change in the future), and not be a primary emergency route. If a street meets the criteria, staff will go out and collect data on the speed and number of vehicles travelling on the street. If the 85th percentile speed (the speed that only 15% of vehicles exceed) is measured at 45 km/hr or more, then staff will consider design changes. Once the design changes are drafted, residents on the street vote on whether to implement.

The staff report before Council concerned a quirk in the Admin Order regarding voting. The Admin Order requires traffic calming to receive 50%+1 of the total ballots issued, not just the ballots that are returned. This meant that a number of streets where a majority of residents who returned their ballot voted in favour still failed to qualify because of the 40-50% who typically don’t return a ballot (7 of 11 traffic calming votes in 2017 went this way). Abstaining basically counts as a vote against making it hard to get anything approved. The proposal before Council was to change the 50%+1 to be 50% of the ballots returned rather than 50% of the ballots issued. In the course of the discussion though, we ended up deciding to go another way entirely and asked staff to bring back amendments to get rid of voting for traffic calming altogether.

I was very much in support of dumping the requirement to formally poll a street. On the surface, voting for traffic calming sounds like good citizen engagement, but is it really? For starters, the experience from 2017 shows that it’s virtually a given that 50% +1 of the ballots received for traffic calming on a residential street will be in favour. In 2017, just 1 of the 11 polls held came back with an actual no vote (Lost Creek Drive was 5 households in favour 8 against). No surprise there that people generally don’t like motorists speeding through their neighbourhoods! So why go through the expense and hassle to hold a formal vote for an outcome that is almost certainly known? It feels like process for the sake of process.

The other problem is how meaningful is the balloting? The way the admin order functions now is residents simply get a ballot in the mail one day. There is no public meeting, there is no public explanation or solicitation of feedback. I think a public meeting for streets where traffic calming is proposed where staff can present the plan and gather feedback from residents would be a far better use of everyone’s efforts than simply having a ballot come in the mail. It’s no wonder that the response rate is poor! I was glad that Council was unanimous in voting to scrap traffic calming balloting.

Examples of traffic calming including a centre median and raised crosswalk in Fort Townsend, WA. Photo N vS Flickr

In District 5, a number of streets are currently being assessed or have already qualified for traffic calming and are in the queue awaiting design changes. That’s the other problem with the current traffic calming process: the list is long and the budget is limited. At the rate that HRM is going, it’ll take decades for the municipality to get to some streets that qualify for traffic calming. It’s something I plan to revisit at budget time as I think this is an area where we need to do better at getting to design solutions that will actually change how our streets function. Ultimately what I want to see is a revised Red Book (HRM’s book of standards) that makes things like curb bumpouts and raised crosswalks just standard operating procedure.

Montreal Police taking decibel readings on motorcycles during a random sweep. Photo Montreal Police Service

Motorcycle Noise: One consistent complaint that I and other Councillors get is about noisy motorcycles. It’s, unfortunately, not something that HRM is setup to deal with. The Provincial Motor Vehicle Act prohibits deliberately squealing tires by revving a vehicle and requires that mufflers must be in good working order, but it doesn’t set any decibel standards. The Province also doesn’t put any limitations on after sale modifications to pipes or mufflers and, because it’s an area of Provincial responsibility, HRM is prohibited from doing so as well. The HRM Noise Bylaw applies to vehicles, but the test to have a ticket stand up is “unreasonably disturbing the neighbourhood.” HRM police do issue tickets (about 40-60 a year), but since there is no decibel setting for vehicles and no limitations on the after-sale modifications, it’s very difficult to defend in court. Other provinces, like Quebec, have removed the ambiguity and set an actual decibel limit for vehicles that can be objectively measured, which makes enforcement way more practical. Council voted to ask the Province to amend the Motor Vehicle Act and the Standards for Vehicle Equipment to, essentially, do the same thing here. So if this is an issue that is important for you, now would be a good time to write your MLA and the Minister of Transportation.

One note from the discussion. It’s a common myth that loud mufflers/pipes on a motorcycles make it more likely to be heard and, are, therefore, safer for riders. The HRP Police Officer in attendance clearly indicated that this is a myth and my quick search around the web generally supports that. The issue is that most serious accidents involving motorcycles occur with a bike being struck in the front not the back. Bikes are rarely run into from behind. The Doppler effect combined with the direction of a motorcycles pipes means though that the noise a motorcycle makes is primarily behind it, not in front. This basic science is the same reason why sirens on emergency vehicles and the horn in your car are pointed forward, not backwards. Here’s a link with a detailed overview. Hopefully the Province will bring in some reasonable rules to curb the excessive noise that a few riders are responsible for.

Street Navigators: Council voted to provide multi-year funding to the Downtown Halifax and Spring Garden Road Business Associations in the amount of $45,000 for their Street Navigator program. The Street Navigator program consists of one navigator whose job is it support people who are panhandling or living on the streets. The navigator helps people get identification, sign-up for government programs, access services, and help in securing employment and housing. The Navigator Program’s annual report indicates that last year they provided some sort of assistance to 231 people, which included arranging/assisting with housing in 52 different instances.

In terms of bang for the buck, this is very good value for $45,000! The Navigator program fills an important void since many people on the street are dealing with mental health issues and addictions, which makes it hard to access programs. The vast majority of people living on the margins do frequent Downtown so the Navigator Program has Regional reach throughout our community. I did ask in the debate whether the program could be expanded in future to Downtown Dartmouth and the answer was that HRM could always reopen the agreement to provide additional funding if the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission was interested in participating. Council voted unanimously to support the Navigator program.

Other:

  • Granted permission for Fly-Pasts at several locations for Remembrance Day
  • Finalized the amendments to the Taxi bylaw to require license decals to be displayed in all vehicles (second reading)
  • Declared a leftover triangle of land connected to the Massachusetts Avenue right-of-way surplus so that it can be sold at market value to the adjacent owner
  • Scheduled a public hearing to sell a former school (closed in the 1950s) that has been used as a defacto community centre in Fall River for decades to Fall River Minor Football Association
  • Approved a cost sharing agreement with the Province for paving rural roads (standard approach under the Province’s Aid to Municipalities program)
  • Authorized a lease amendment for Halifax Regional Police space on Garland Avenue in Burnside
  • Gave permission for the Downtown Halifax Business Commission to serve alcohol at the Nov 4 reopening of Argyle Street and set in motion amendments to list Argyle, Grafton, Prince, Duke, Blowers and Carmichael to Admin Order 53 so that Council doesn’t have to do directly authorize this by resolution for future events on the streets

4 Comments

  1. Fantastic new re the removal of the poll on traffic calming. I would like to see a removal on the restriction of traffic calming to minor roads only. It makes sense to use traffic calming measures close to pedestrian crossings which straddle high speed four lane highways. Currently I frequently deal with traffic that slows down very late or not at all, shooting past me as I cross. Rumble striphs or speed bumps would help both slow and alert traffic as drivers approach pedestrian crossings. Re motorbike noise, by far the greatest cause of noise pollution (and often the loudest volume) is from high powered vehicles such as oversized trucks not built for urban purposes but used anyway for commuting and to pop to the shops. I’d like to see restrictions on noise and a tax on people who choose to use unnecessary vehicles that pollute our local city atmosphere. That would be a brave decision, but needed in this modern era of environmental awareness

  2. Hi Sam, where the City is really missing the best opportunity to get traffic calming completed faster is to ask developers to install traffic calming adjacent to / nearby new developments.

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  1. E-Newsletter October 2017 – Sam Austin

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