News: Ferry Schedule, A Better Prince Albert Road, Vanessa Drive Crosswalk, Darkside Cafe, Pride

Ferry Schedule: When the Big Lift began two years ago, HRM opted to increase service on the Alderney Ferry to help mitigate the project’s negative impact. On weekday evenings, the ferry went from running every 30 minutes to every 15 minutes and the afternoon Sunday service was extended to a full day. The impact on ridership from the improved service was considerable. Ridership on the Alderney Ferry increased by nearly 50% while ridership on the rest of HRM’s transit system saw a slight decline over the same period. The Sunday service and early evening hours on the Alderney saw particularly significant increases. With the Big Lift set to wrap-up this year, transit planned to go back to the pre-Big Lift schedule, but I was successful in convincing Council during budget deliberations that we should instead hold onto the improved service for at least the rest of this year to see what happens to ridership post-Big Lift. This is a “use it or lose it” moment Dartmouth so if you’re currently one of the ferry’s many new riders, please stick with it. It’ll be hard for me to argue that the improved service is needed if ridership returns to pre-Big Lift levels.

The question that remains is what should the schedule be for the ferry once overnight bridge closures are no longer a concern? During budget deliberations, transit suggested that the existing gap in 15 minute service between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm could be filled by stopping the 15 minute evening service at 8:30 pm. Essentially moving one of the crew who works the later evening shift to the daytime. The popular all-day Sunday service would remain unchanged and 30 minute service would still exist from 8:30 till midnight.

I think transit’s suggested change is a winner as it retains the Big Lift’s most popular hours (Sundays and early evenings), while also plugging the long-standing daytime gap where ridership has been strong even though the 3o minute schedule is less attractive. The change would make the ferry schedule very easy to understand since all anyone would need to know on a weekday is 15 minute service all day until 8:30, and 30 minute service till midnight. At our July 18 meeting Council accepted my motion and asked staff to look at this option.

A few people have asked me if we could extend the ferry hours later in the evening or if we could plug the daytime 15 minute gap while also keeping the evening 15 minute frequency. The difficulty with the ferry is the service doesn’t scale up very easily. Transit only has a small staff who work on the ferry and Transit can’t just schedule them overtime in perpetuity. If we’re going to add new hours, we need to add another crew. That means four on the boat plus at least two on shore at each terminal. You can’t hire a ferry captain and crew for a few hours a week, they need a full-time schedule. So it ends up being that you add 40 hours a week for several employees or none. When you add on fuel, it means that expanded ferry hours come in blocks of approximately $450,000 each. I would like to see transit offer more service at night, but my hunch is the best way to achieve that is through improving the corridor bus routes. Something to look at in the future. Right now my focus is holding onto the hours we’ve gained with the Big Lift by distributing them in a way that is the most useful to the largest number of people.

Prince Albert Road
: Since being elected, my favourite list that I get from staff is Dartmouth’s road recapitalization projects. Road recapitalization is the staff jargon for when HRM actually replaces the roadbed and curbs. It’s more than just putting down a new layer of asphalt. I see each street recapitalization as an opportunity to fix pieces of infrastructure that don’t work very well because it’s as close to starting from scratch as we get. Prince Albert Road from Hawthorne Street to Harris Road was on the recapitalization list for this year, but after I met with staff, the section from Sinclair Street to the Braemar Superstore was taken out. Staff are now looking at a more detailed redesign for that section of roadway (more on that project in the near future).

The lower half of Prince Albert Road from Sinclair to Hawthorne will proceed though this year and I’m pleased to share that the area around the crosswalk by the Mic Mac AAC is going to be made significantly more pedestrian friendly. The current layout is problematic because the sidewalk on the south side of the street doesn’t connect to the crosswalk or to the well-used pathway going up Silvers Hill.

When I first met with staff, they weren’t optimistic that the existing crosswalk could be kept in its current location because of the missing sidewalk on the south side of Prince Albert Road. They didn’t want to cut down the mature tree or excavate out the front yards of the three homes along Prince Albert Road to put a sidewalk in. I suggested instead that we should simply narrow Prince Albert Road to accommodate a sidewalk since this section doesn’t have on-street parking. Staff went off and looked at the idea and agreed to narrow the street. The sidewalk, crosswalk and Silvers Hill path will all be connected after the project is complete.

Vanessa Drive Crosswalk: I strongly believe that HRM needs to encourage active transportation and transit. It’s why I have been working on initiatives such as keeping the extended ferry service after the Big Lift concludes and fixing problematic sections of roadway like Prince Albert Road. Making our community more pedestrian friendly though doesn’t mean that HRM is going to put a marked crosswalk at every single intersection. One such location is the intersection of Vanessa Drive and Victoria Road.

The existing crosswalk at Vanessa Drive was identified by HRM staff for removal as part of an upcoming paving project. HRM assesses all its infrastructure when undertaking roadwork and a count of pedestrians at Vanessa found just 30 crossing over a 12 hour period (it wasn’t a rainy day). The low usage isn’t suprising given that both nearby cross streets, Woodland Avenue and Frances Street, have either a marked crossing or signals. Since Vanessa is a T intersection, there is also no destination in the neighbourhood that can’t be reached by crossing at Woodland or Frances instead without causing anyone to take a single extra step.

Vanessa Drive pedestrian travel now
Vanessa Drive pedestrian travel without the crosswalk

In their assessment, HRM staff also found that Frances Street has fewer crossings than the standard that would warrant a crosswalk. Staff, however, agreed to retain the Frances crosswalk because it’s a much more important connection in the neighbourhood. To remove Frances Street would make it harder for people looking to get to Sobeys for example on foot from Slayter Street. If HRM’s goal was to make life difficult for pedestrians, the Frances crosswalk would have been on the chopping block too. Given the usage and the layout of the streets in the area, there just isn’t a good argument for keeping the Vanessa crosswalk.

Darkside Cafe. Photo: Google Oct 2016

Darkside Cafe Saga: I have heard from a number of residents about the opening of Bud’s Hemp Shop in the old Darkside Cafe location at 196 Windmill Road. The question I have been asked is why did HRM force the closure of a beloved neighbourhood coffee shop to allow a pot shop to take its place? It’s a bit of a complicated saga and not one of the planning profession’s finest moments, but I will try to explain.

The property at 196 Windmill Road is zoned R-1 (Single Family Residential) in the Dartmouth Land Use Bylaw. The R-1 zone permits a very narrow list of uses including single family homes, places of worship, schools, art galleries and recreational uses. Before they opened, the owners of the Darkside Cafe applied to HRM to operate a cafe. HRM turned them down because cafe isn’t a permitted use in the R-1 zone. The Darkside owners then applied to open an art gallery, which HRM approved since galleries are permitted in the R-1 zone. The dispute between HRM and the Darkside arose after the cafe opened and it became clear that it was at least as much a cafe as a gallery. Attempts to legalize the Darkside Cafe through a development agreement, unfortunately, failed and the cafe ended up closing. I’m not sure of all the ins and outs from behind the scenes because this one predates my arrival on council, but this is broadly what happened. Not exactly the planning profession’s proudest moment since the cafe was a clear asset for the neighbourhood. I had visited it a few times when it was open and I was sad to see it go. It’s a good example of why the upcoming Centre Plan is needed.

So why is a marijuana dispensary okay? If Bud’s is actually selling marijuana, it’s not. In Canada, there are only 40 licensed producers of marijuana who are permitted to sell it to people with a prescription and none of them are located in Nova Scotia. All of the dispensaries popping up aren’t legal. HRM doesn’t issue occupancy permits and Halifax Police will investigate when complaints are made. If the federal government proceeds to legalize marijuana next year, it’ll be up to the Province to set the parameters of who is licensed to sell it. HRM’s role in a post-legalization world if Provincial regulations don’t override HRM’s decision-making will be to determine what, if any, restrictions should be applied in terms of land-use. The where it can be sold question rather than if and who. HRM and other municipalities are starting to look at this oncoming issue. Until all of that is settled, the various dispensaries in HRM are all operating outside the law.

Even if Bud’s isn’t selling marijuana, but is instead selling other products, it still mightn’t be allowed because retail isn’t a permitted use in the R-1 zone. All of the retail spaces in operation along this section of Windmill Road are considered non-conforming uses because they existed before the Dartmouth Land-Use Bylaw came into effect. Non-conforming uses can carry on operating, but they aren’t permitted to expand and, if they cease operation for longer than six months, they aren’t permitted to reopen. The long interruption in use at 196 Windmill Road caused by the Darkside Cafe saga may have caused the property’s non-conforming status to lapse. Based on complaints from the neighbourhood, HRM’s planning department is looking into the situation.

Pride: HRM’s 30th Pride Festival starts this weekend. The festival runs from July 20 – 30th. Mayor Mike Savage raised the Rainbow flag at City Hall on Thursday and the big parade takes place on Saturday July 22 starting at 1:00 pm (leaves from the Naval Dockyard). There are many events going on as part of Pride including a picnic sponsored by Downtown Dartmouth at the Park Avenue Oven on July 25 at 5:00 p.m. and there will be a film screening of Milk (2008) at City Hall on Wednesday July 26th at 6:30 p.m.

The rainbow flag is synonymous with the 2SLGBTQ+ community and HRM is delighted to repaint rainbow crosswalks in several locations around the municipality including Alderney and Ochterloney. A special thanks to the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission for adding a painted crosswalk at the Portland and King and for their purchase of flags for Alderney Landing.

For complete information on the events and activities of this year’s Pride festival, checkout their website here.

9 Comments

  1. The Francis Street crosswalk has a tree blocking the drivers view of the person crossing it . If they were so concerned about people going to Sobeys then they should be maintaining the walkway in Northbrook park in winter and fix the light that is there and put more lighting along that path getting people to walk can be possible by simple fixes

      • Hi Sam. If a refresh of Northbrook parks is in the works, I hope a look at the source of the sewage contamination in the creek tha runs through it is a consideration.

        Thanks.

        WW

  2. Excellent work Sam! Thank you. I was so interested in your take on everything and it shows your strong planning background. I would so love to just settle the matter and grow up with 20 HR X 15min ferry service so we can start to finally be HRM. Some day maybe! thanks again!

  3. I know it’s not your area, but I’ve not read anything about the Woodside ferry schedule, post Big Lift. I so hope that schedule is being held on a wait and see basis too.

    • Woodside ferry is actually just inside my district. Most of the passengers though come from further out. I don’t think there are any changes planned for the Woodside ferry. I don’t recall the hours for the Woodside run changing for the Big Lift. Transit moved it to all day prior to the Big Lift to grow the service.

  4. Re “Darkside”… time to ditch the antiquated zoning laws. Any “brick and mortar” enterprise is an asset to the community.

  5. Sam, just want to take this opportunity to tell you what a great job you’re doing ! You’ve been wearing many hats !

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