Halifax's $190M transit, cycling and walking plan greeted with optimism
Goal is to reduce trips in private vehicles; plan includes bus lanes and protected bike lanes
Halifax cycling and transit advocates say they're optimistic about the municipality's long-awaited $190-million plan to improve public transit, create cycling lanes and make the city easier to walk — if it's implemented in a timely manner.
"Overall it's a good plan, it's just taking existing things we sort of already knew," Ben Wedge, executive director of It's More Than Buses, told CBC's Information Morning. "But the timelines are not clear enough, we're not sure if they're going to nail it on implementation."
The nearly 200-page integrated mobility plan was unanimously endorsed by council Tuesday, and contains more than 100 recommendations. A number are aimed at encouraging more walking, cycling and transit use. The goal is to reduce the number of trips made by private vehicle to 70 per cent by 2031. According to the most recent census data, that figure stands at 78 per cent.
To help meet the goal, the report recommends creating a network of protected bicycle lanes.
"This is really important because currently we only have two protected bicycle lanes in Halifax and they're not connected," said Kelsey Lane, executive director of the Halifax Cycling Coalition.
A recent Simon Fraser University study reported roughly 60 per cent of Halifax residents surveyed were interested in cycling but concerned about their safety. Lane said that's why bike lanes with a barrier between cyclists and traffic would make a difference.
Many of the streets in Halifax are already wide enough to add bicycle lanes, Lane said. Having narrower, busier streets would also encourage drivers to slow down and drive more safely.
"The integrated part of this plan means that when you put the elements that make it safe for different modes of travel, it makes the whole community safe."
Improving transit reliability
The plan also includes suggestions for creating bus-only lanes on certain Halifax streets, including Robie and Gottingen streets and Bayers Road.
"We need to focus on getting the buses out of traffic," said Wedge.
But Wedge said the creation of these lanes will take different degrees of effort and expense, ranging from paint and signage to the widening of Bayers Road.
"It's not clear they want to do Gottingen and Robie ahead of Bayers Road in the plan," he said. "Staff are telling us that that's what they want to do, but we want to see the clear marching orders across the whole plan."
Two-thirds of the plan's $190-million price tag is allocated to transit recommendations.
Municipal councillors spent most of Tuesday debating the report, but only made minor changes.
One councillor asked staff to look into creating the bike network by 2020, two years sooner than what was proposed, and another councillor asked for an update to the design manual used by engineers and planners for streets and sidewalks.
'We're far behind'
The plan also touches on options for commuter rail in the municipality, an additional ferry from north Dartmouth to downtown Halifax, and the possible relocation of the south-end container terminal to the Woodside/Shearwater area.
Advocates say even though the timeline needs to be more precise, the plan itself is an important step towards a more accessible, sustainable city.
"Other cities have it, we're far behind," said Lane. "It's something that we've never seen in Halifax before."
With files from Pam Berman