Downtown Halifax wins industry award for best street transformation

Over 21 weeks this summer, Halifax turned Argyle and Grafton streets into a pedestrian zone by installing wider sidewalks, paving stones and removing curbs.

Argyle and Grafton street makeover takes top spot in Streetsblog contest

It was a pain for businesses along Argyle and Grafton streets, but the streetscaping project that took place this summer has won an urban transformation award from Streetsblog. (CBC)

It looks like it may have been worth the wait.

Over 21 weeks this summer, Halifax turned Argyle and Grafton streets into a pedestrian zone by installing wider sidewalks, paving stones and removing curbs.

Now the streetscaping project has won the People's Choice award for Best Urban Street Transformation in an annual contest held by Streetsblog. The organization promotes sustainable transport, smart growth and livable streets in the United States and Canada.

"It is great for the project to get well deserved recognition," said District 7 Councillor Waye Mason.

"It was a lot of hard work to get to this point, with the businesses advocating for this for many years, getting it budgeted and planned, and then having to deal with the disruption that construction caused this summer.  It is going to be wonderful to get to enjoy the results of this work next summer."

A before and after photo of Argyle Street in Halifax. (Streetsblog photo)

Removing the curbs was the key to making the two downtown commercial streets work better for people, Streetsblog said.

The construction work meant no patios in the popular entertainment area, with its cafes and bars, during the summer. That made some business owners, already suffering losses from the lengthy Nova Centre construction, bitterly unhappy.

'The cool street again'

"Argyle Street is going to become the cool street again ... it's cool to see that resurgence of foot traffic and that re-vibrancy of our downtown core," said Philip Holmans, who owns World Tea House.

The tea house has been on Argyle Street for about 7½ years. Holmans said business has improved since the street reopened in November after a bleak summer.

"We've seen a massive turnaround in sales," said Holmans. "We were down to under half of our usual volume to up — as soon as they opened the street, we bounced back to 2013 sales ... that's when the Nova Centre started and we lost 35 per cent of our foot traffic just from that project."

Shared spaces​

The blog commended the street's transformation.

"Argyle and Grafton were rebuilt as "shared spaces" that allow pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists to mix while prioritizing people on foot. The arrangement uses visual cues to get drivers to slow down and proceed at a walking pace," Streetsblog says on its website.

"The net effect is to give pedestrians free rein. On Grafton and Argyle, people can cross the street wherever they choose. While drivers are still allowed, parking was eliminated to make more room for foot traffic, street furniture, and event space."

More signs, please

Holmans said Argyle Street's new look is "a great street design" and that he's "honoured" the street won the people's choice award.

But he said there is room for improvement. For example, Holmans said more signs are needed.

"We've had a lot of people parking on sidewalks and parking in loading zones for longer than 20 minutes ... I know it's designed as a shared space, but it's a little confusing to motorists and pedestrians as to who can use what space at what time," he said. 

"It's quite chaotic during the day for a project that was supposed to have a lot of transparency and accurate signage. It's not as efficient as it was supposed to be."

Tricky patio season

Holmans anticipates patio season might be tricky this summer because pedestrians are walking through spaces that are store frontage.

"Right now people are using our patio space as sidewalk so that space is not really pedestrian space," he said. "That's going to be another challenge where people are going to be used to using that space as a pedestrian way and it's no longer going to be so."

Central Avenue in Albuquerque, New Mexico, won Editors' Choice in the 2017 Streetsblog contest for Best Urban Transformation. (Streetsblog photo)

Streetsblog's other winner was Central Avenue in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for installing bus lanes along the median on the city's 9.2-mile main artery and making it more walkable and less "car-centric."

Also on the short list were: King Street in Toronto, the Detroit-Superior Bridge in Cleveland, Jackson Street in St. Paul and Third Street in Austin.

with files from Anjuli Patil