Nova Scotia

Cyclist hopes Halifax's plan will mean no more bike lanes to nowhere

The disconnected bike lane on Devonshire Avenue is the perfect example of flaws in city's approach so far, a cyclist says. But that could all change under a new municipal plan.

Disconnected bike lane on Devonshire Avenue perfect example of flaws in city's approach so far, cyclist says

Kelsey Lane, the executive director of the Halifax Cycling Coalition, hopes the city stops building 'stop and start' bike lanes. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

A warning for cyclists: You don't want to get too comfortable riding down the relatively new bike lane on Devonshire Avenue in Halifax because two kilometres after it starts it stops again, spitting you out into heavy traffic.

It's a bike lane to nowhere. Or a "stop and start bike lane," according to cycling advocate Kelsey Lane. 

"Unfortunately, it's not the only one of its kind" in Halifax, she said, adding it's a good example of the city's approach to installing bike lanes up to now.

The executive director of the Halifax Cycling Coalition said she's hopeful a new integrated mobility plan — approved unanimously by city councillors earlier this month — will change that.

Still, she's not prepared to celebrate an outright victory for cyclists just yet.

"We've had generations of people that have been building this city for cars," Lane said.

The city's new plan endorses a new approach to planning for cyclists, she said, "but I'm curious to see how that will translate into action."

The Devonshire Avenue bike lane was installed in 2016. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

'Kinda snookered'

The painted bike lane on Devonshire Avenue — which was installed in 2016 — runs from the top of the hill at Duffus Street and Novalea Drive down to Barrington Street.

There is another bike lane that starts up again about 650 metres away, on North Street at the foot of the Macdonald Bridge, but there's no safe way to get there, Lane said.

Barrington Street — which is narrow and busy, with lots of trucks — feels unsafe, Lane said, and it's against the law for adults to ride their bikes on the sidewalk.

"You're kinda snookered," Lane said. The best option is to "turn around and go back up and look for a safer place," she said.

Cyclists are forced to merge into traffic on Barrington Street when the Devonshire Avenue bike lane stops abruptly. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

Following the pavers

The city has traditionally gone for a "following the pavers" approach when it comes to building bike lanes, Lane said, which means staff would install one when a street was due to be repaved — whether or not it actually made sense for cyclists.

But David MacIsaac, Halifax's active transportation supervisor, disagrees with that characterization and said the city follows the planners first, then the pavers.

In the case of the Devonshire Avenue bike lane, he said, the city decided to install it because the street offers cyclists a gradual way to get up a big hill, the bike lane could eventually be connected to other proposed lanes on Barrington Street and Isleville Street, and, yes, because it was due to be resurfaced.

That approach is set to change.

Halifax's new integrated mobility plan calls for more protected bike lanes, rather than just painted lines. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

Under the new integrated mobility plan, the city has basically chosen the best north-south and east-west routes on the peninsula, and has plans to install bike lanes along them in the next few years, whether or not those streets are due to be repaved. 

That's good news, said Lane, because cyclists won't bother using bike lanes that don't make sense — like the one on Devonshire Avenue.

They will only use those lanes that connect to other safe routes and, ultimately, take them where they want to go.

Under the new plan, city staff are also putting more emphasis on protected lanes — where cyclists are shielded from traffic by concrete barriers — rather than just painted lines.

Also good news, said Lane. "If you can't picture an eight-year-old riding down that lane," she said, "then it's not a good bike lane."

Halifax talked to the Department of National Defence about tacking a bike lane onto their repair project on Barrington Street, but it didn't work out. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

Installing the missing piece

The city plans to hire a consultant next year to decide how best to connect the existing bike lane on Devonshire Avenue with the bike lane that begins at the foot of the Macdonald Bridge on Barrington Street, MacIsaac said.

That stretch of sidewalk is currently under construction by the Department of National Defence, which is replacing an old retaining wall, putting rock anchors into the bedrock and replacing the traffic barrier.

MacIsaac said the city had talked to the federal government about installing a municipal bike lane at the same time, but with "the timelines that they had, and the complexity of the project," it didn't work out.

City staff are just as impatient as cyclists are to get the project done, MacIsaac said. "If it was as simple as snapping our fingers and making it so, we would have done it a long time ago."

About the Author

Nina Corfu

Associate Producer

Nina Corfu has worked with CBC Nova Scotia since 2006, primarily as a reporter and producer for local radio programs. In 2018, she helped launch and build a national website for preteens called CBC Kids News. Get in touch by email: nina.corfu@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Information Morning