Display councillors' votes
Knowing how city councillors vote is important in order to hold them accountable. Sadly, in HRM, finding voting records is not as easy as it should be.
Not all votes in council are recorded, meaning there is no record of who voted which way or even who was present for the vote. Councillor Andrew Younger recently put forth a motion requiring all votes, except certain mundane items like the approval of minutes, be recorded. His motion was defeated.
Councillor Jerry Blumenthal, who voted against Younger's motion, says not every issue is important enough to record due to the time it takes. Stephen Adams, who also voted against Younger's motion, says recording every vote would get cumbersome and on any contentious or controversial issue there would be a recorded vote anyways.
Adams and Blumenthal may have fair points, but finding how your councillor voted on even recorded votes proves to be quite the chore. One can search the HRM website by putting in a key phrase such as "Chebucto Road widening," which brings up various pages on the website where that phrase is mentioned, though not necessarily the minutes of the meeting where the vote took place. A visit to City Hall archives isn't much more helpful.
Councillor Jennifer Watts has requested that the city clerk keep a record of votes in a binder in the clerk's office in City Hall for easy retrieval by the public. Watts says it would be best to get this process established before seeing if it can go online.
Wheels appear to be in motion, and perhaps one day we will be able to go online, simply click a councillor's name and see a voting record. All in favour say "Aye."
Turn off the taxi roof lights
When you try to get a cab at night, the roof light isn't much help. The light is always on, which is a pain, because it doesn't tell you if the cab's busy or not. In fact, you can't even tell if it's free during the day.
The reason a cab's light is always on dates back to December 1955 and the unsolved murder of Michael Leo Resk. Witnesses spotted a "light-colored taxi cab" at the scene, according to the Halifax Mail Star.
Long story short: police looked at 40 light-coloured cabs and didn't find their guy (or gal). The inability to ID the cab at the scene led to Verdun Williams, police chief at the time, wanting to mark all four sides of a cab.
In the end, cabs were required to have a roof light with their fleet and number on it, which would come on with the headlights.
The murder was more than 50 years ago and times have changed. Police now have all this CSI stuff to catch the bad guy and as for finding cabs in the area---GPS. Cellphones have GPS applications and a GPS units run from $150.
So what are the options? Regional coordinator for the police, Kevin Hindle, says cab companies are free to use fare lights, but they "can't go out and come up with a new design," for the roof light.
A solution is possible such as "an amber light on the door to indicate if they're busy," says councillor Stephen Adams, who sits on the committee dealing with cabs in the city.
This is just silly. Someone should cut through the nonsense and let cabs turn their roof lights off roof lights off when occupied, like in every other city on the planet.
Require liquor stores to accept recyclables
There is a serious shortage of places to return empty beverage containers in Halifax, particularly in the south end. Few people are interested in walking halfway across town---the closest redemption centre is the Enviro-Depot on Mitchell---to return an empty case of beer for 60 cents, and if they let the cans and bottles accumulate into something more substantial, they may have to carry a heavy load a fair distance.
As a result, many people forfeit their deposit and put their empties on the curb for recycling.
So, when recycling sits on the curb, who gets the deposit?
Jeff Myrick of the Resource Recovery Fund Board (RRFB) explains that for each can of beer bought, 10 cents is remitted to the RRFB. When consumers return the can to an Enviro-Depot, they receive five cents back while the RRFB pays the Enviro-Depot a handling fee of 3.79 cents per can. Should the empties instead be put on the curb for the recycling truck, the municipal government receives both the five-cent deposit and the 3.79-cent handling fee from the RRFB.
Other provinces allow people to return empties at the point of purchase. Accepting empty containers at an NSLC branch or putting a few automated bottle return machines in a grocery store or two would certainly lessen the gap between the number of places charging a deposit and the number of places that actually return the deposit.
Myrick says there has been no discussion on changing the existing Enviro-Depot system. But the present system doesn't best serve consumers. The province should require liquor stores to accept back recyclables. ---D.O.
Allow more crossing time at Quinpool and Robie
One of Halifax's appeals is that it is a great walking city. Yet sometimes it appears a more apt description would be a walking city laced with intermittent sprints, as one attempts to cross the street in the often too-brief period allotted.
Sometimes, traffic gods smile upon you, such as at the corner of Bell and Robie, crossing west toward the Holiday Inn, where delayed turn signals elsewhere in the intersection allow you 50 glorious seconds of green man.
Yet at the crosswalk running parallel, crossing Robie from the Common to Quinpool, one is allotted only 14 seconds of green man, followed by nine seconds of the flashing red hand, combining for a grand total of 23 seconds.
I can make the crossing in 17 seconds as a reasonably fit 27-year-old male, but I'll be in for a sprint should I be in the beginning stages of a crossing when the dreaded flashing red hand appears to warn me of the impending vehicular onslaught about to come my way.
Dawn Veinot of HRM traffic and right-of-way services says walk signals are displayed for a minimum of seven seconds at locations where pedestrian push buttons are provided, and the time the flashing red hand is displayed for is decided by calculating the length of the crosswalk from curb to curb, assuming an average walking speed of 1.2 metres a second.
The Quinpool and Robie crossing either needs to be remeasured or a different formula should be employed. As is, the elderly, disabled and those less mobile than a fit 27 year old are in for some scary crossings, while even the more mobile among us have to occasionally practice our wind sprints. --D.O.
Extend Chebucto Lane to Quinpool Centre
Chebucto Lane ends abruptly on Allan Street, right before Quinpool Centre. Killam Properties' apartments are an unwelcome obstruction for those darting to the liquor store before close or just in a hurry.
Back in 2006, some trespasser-hater rubbed grease on top of Killam's fence to stop people from jumping it. Ninja short-cutters retaliated by slashing holes in the fence.
Killam upped the ante and now has security cameras---police fly to the scene to chase fence jumpers. Kathleen Higgins, who lives on the other side of the fence, thinks it's a waste of time. Police showed up in her yard last summer, looking for a jumper.
"Considering I've been assaulted twice in the past three years and haven't been able to get a cop to talk to me at all, the fact one showed up at our house for that blew my mind."
Dale Noseworthy, director of Killam Properties, says Killam is only protecting tenants' privacy and the well-being of children in a daycare on the premises.
But walkers wouldn't go through the daycare's playground. Plus a walkway would be convenient for tenants, too.
No one from Twin City, the company that owns the land on the other side of the fence, expressed strong views on the issue.
Sheila Fougere, former councillor of district 14, says issues involving private property and frequent trespassing are "cans of worms," that no one really wants to touch.
If we can reclaim private land for cars, as happened on Chebucto Road, why not extend the same rights to pedestrians? ---Lizzy Hill
Place route maps at bus stops
Metro Transit has bus route maps at the main terminals and online, and is updating the online site to provide better maps. The online maps help "people from out of town," says Lori Patterson of Metro Transit, and Halifax not only sees its fair share of tourists, but lots of students from out of town.
But with 55 bus routes that service the city, why are there no maps at bus stops? The problem, says Patterson, is "routes changing in the last two years." When routes change, maps change. The problem is ensuring the maps are current.
There's good news, though, as Metro Transit says they're working on figuring out how to provide maps or signs at stops, but with 2,500 stops, it takes some pondering.
Hopefully, they won't use pamphlets, which would make more litter.
For now, if you're a local at a bus stop and are wondering where a bus might take you, trying asking someone from out of town. ---D.M.
Clean up Granville Mall
Granville Mall, the pedestrian-only block near Historic Properties, should be a beautiful showcase for the city. Instead, we have a water fountain that doesn't work, grass growing between cracks and cigarette butts everywhere. It's a sight to behold.
For six months, Granville Mall was marred by a hole. According to District 12 councillor Dawn Sloane, a water main broke, and after the water commission dug it up and fixed it, they didn't put it back together. Time passed and when costs came into it, finding someone to take responsibility was harder.
"It was an embarrassment," says Sloane. "You can't have a downtown with a hole in it."
The hole was eventually fixed, but there are still other little problems, like the fountain that doesn't work because of missing water lines. Sloane says when they redid the cobblestones "they dug up some of the infrastructure, in other words, the water lines." So we have a fountain that collects cigarette butts and vomit from late-night carousing.
She hopes to have that taken care of soon, too. "I'm waiting to hear from staff on the estimate so I can basically budget some money towards that."
As for cigarette butts, the city put more than a dozen garbage cans and ashtrays in the area, to little or no avail. There's little the city can do aside from cleaning the butts up---mall users have more chances to cleanly dispose of their cigarette butts than they do just about anywhere else in the city, and yet butts are all over the ground and in the fountain. Perhaps the city's lack of respect for Granville is contagious. ---Ken Thomson
Tear down the bridge to nowhere
Last year the phrase "bridge to nowhere" got thrown around a lot. But looking past Alaska's Ted Stevens and Sarah Palin, we find Halifax's own bridge to nowhere to kvetch about.
Situated where the MacKay Bridge lands on the peninsula, the bridge to nowhere---technically, the "K ramp"---sits, doing nothing. The original ramp down to Robie Street, it was replaced back in '92 with a newer, two-lane ramp to ease congestion on the bridge and move it somewhere else.
The unused overpass has been sitting there since the Mulroney years (Brian, not Ben). To put it another way, Guns N' Roses put out two studio albums since the K ramp was rendered obsolete.
So what's to be done about this concrete behemoth?
According to Jon Eppell, a bridge engineer with the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission, the thing is coming down. Dexter Construction won the tender and "actual field work will begin in January." They plan to have the work finished by March.
The concrete from the demolition is being donated to the fire department for training purposes, and the cleared area will be left as a green space. All in all the removal should leave things nice and tidy.
And it's only been 15 years. ---K.T.
Give city cash to artists
Right now individual artists in Halifax can't get grants from the city.
Shayhin Sayadi, artistic director at Onelight Theatre, says that's a problem. "It's very important for professional artists to have access to these funds, so they can live off that money or use it to pay for things that they need to create new work," he says.
HRM will provide grants of up to $25,000 to organizations or groups promoting or producing arts and crafts associated with cultural traditions or local heritage, but individual artists will have to fend for themselves.
"There is no funding for pure, new artistic developments," says Sayadi. "There's nothing to apply for."
Halifax should model itself after cities like Toronto, which have funding options for artists. Unlike Halifax, Toronto has an arts council, where people whose backgrounds are in the arts decide whom to give grants to and how much.
Halifax's lack of funding for individual artists is "detrimental to the development of new work," says Sayadi. The city is stifling development in creative arts through failing to recognize the work professional artists do that enhances our communities, making them more vibrant. ---L.H.
Put trash cans on Gottingen
On Halifax streets, garbage cans come in a variety of shapes and sizes. From the big, four-bin source separation units, to the smaller pole-mounted varieties commonly found near bus stops.
In May 2007, HRM installed 150 garbage cans and recycling bins around downtown; as a result, trash disposal is quick and easy. Thanks, city!
But the north end? Fagettaboutit. Along Gottingen, pole-mounted receptacles form the majority of garbage cans, and they're sometimes blocks apart.
Don Pellerine, the city's supervisor of public works, says "We try to place cans around litter generators like Tim Hortons and corner stores. We don't put them on residential streets so people can put their dog droppings in them. We don't consider that a litter generator."
The pole-mounted cans are smaller than the tubs, but that's a design feature to make sure the opening is "not big enough to put household garbage in it." Pellerine says that had been a problem in the past with older mesh cans.
District 12 councillor Dawn Sloane says "if there's a need, and a desire, then we have to start looking at this part of the Capital District and get it up to speed with the rest of it." She says she thinks there is a desire.
"There has to be a call, a cry. A cry for garbage cans."
Bureaucrats resist bringing trash cans to the north end because of the price tag: $1,500 apiece for the three-bin wrought-iron trash cans that line downtown streets. But if it's worth paying for them for the stockbrokers in the financial district, it's worth paying for them for the folksalong Gottingen. --K.T.
Build a bus shelter at Morris and Barrington
Waiting for a bus on a cold, windy or rainy day---when there is no bus shelter---sucks. There's no other way to put it.
On the northwest corner of Morris and Barrington, there is no shelter to huddle in to keep out of the elements, but a solitary phone booth nearby doubles as shelter for whoever gets there first.
Near the phone booth/bus stop, there's plenty of room for a bus shelter, but Metro Transit only plans for 10 new shelters a year. With an average cost of $4,500, Metro Transit looks at "busy counts and requests from the public," before deciding which stop gets a shelter, says spokesperson Lori Patterson.
Sure, there are 2,500 bus stops in Metro, and plenty of them need shelters. More, Patterson says no one has yet asked specifically for a Morris and Barrington shelter---it looks like all those NSCAD students slogging up from Terminal Road aren't complaining.
The Morris and Barrington corner is evidently flying under the bureaucratic radar, so while they're waiting in the phone booth, riders could call Metro Transit at 490-6614, and ask for a shelter. ---D.M.
Get reusable recycling bins
Using those blue plastic bags can make recycling seem pointless. While Vancouver and Toronto sort recycling in reusable bins, Halifax has yet to catch on.
Plastic bags are not ideal because they are made from non-recycled petroleum products. Halifax organic chemist Robert McDonald says that even though the bags are recycled after use, "reprocessing plastic is an energy drag in itself, so that's certainly not the best way to do it." It may seem strange to fight plastic with more plastic, but reusing the same plastic bins year after year would reduce emissions from plastic production and recycling.
Halifax chose plastic recycling bags partly because Clorox, the makers of Glad bags, funded our program in the early '90s. Clorox no longer sponsors us, but we still use plastic bags because it increases the value of paper recyclables, says Jim Bauld, HRM's solid waste resources manager. Leaving paper in open bins would expose it to the deteriorating effects of the elements.
Then why not use bins with lids on them? Or put paper in bags and the rest in bins?
HRM doesn't want to change its program. The city would have to pay almost a million dollars to buy and deliver bins costing about eight dollars apiece to each home, says Bauld. But what about the money 130,000 households already shell out to buy plastic bags?
If HRM won't buy the bins, couldn't we save money and buy bins on our own?
Unfortunately, no. The city would have to renegotiate five-year collection contracts, change its advertising campaign and redesign collection trucks.
Bauld says there's no need for this hassle, because around 90 percent of residents polled were happy with the recycling service. We may have plenty to be proud of, such as our municipal composting program, which McDonald says puts us "light years ahead" of some cities, but complacent happiness could get in the way of making our program even better. ---L.H.
Declare war on snowy Armoury sidewalks
Year after year The Coast gets complaints from angry pedestrians who have to walk out into the street because there's snow in front of the Armoury. We're not entirely sure why the Armed Forces don't keep old ladies safe from the perils of impassable sidewalks around their HQ. When I try to get to the bottom of this, military spokesman Mike Bonin dodges my questions.
"Is there snow there right now?" he asks.
Well no, there isn't. When we talked in December, the rain had melted the snow everywhere. That's not the point.
I press on, explaining that I am referring to neglectful shovelling on snowy days, as opposed to non-snowy ones.
The department has a team of snow shovelling specialists with priorities, Bonin explains---a list of priorities, in fact. Shovelling the snow outside the armoury is on that list, though for some reason it didn't happen. Nevertheless, he assures me that the issue has now been rectified.
By what? The sun?
Later, Bonin calls back to say HRM is actually responsible for clearing some of the snow, but he wouldn't say which streets exactly. HRM is equally vague.
Even if the city is responsible, there are about 200 able-bodied soldiers in the Armoury marching around in boots. It's strange that none of them do what the rest of us do when the plow doesn't come: pick up a shovel. ---L.H.
Bring fresh air to City Hall
In some venues, C02 is part of the floorshow. But city council doesn't have meetings calling for it, and as some councillors describe, C02 levels in city council chambers have been irritating for the mayor and councillors over the last year.
Reports of dizziness, red eyes and trouble breathing were a result of an air exchange system that wasn't always operating effectively. "Mayor Kelly gets red eyes during meetings," says councillor Dawn Sloane, who suffers from environmental disease and has found air quality poor.
But an air quality test from March 2008 finds that low moisture levels in the chambers are more of an issue than CO2. Carbon dioxide levels are safely below the recommended 800 to 1,100 parts-per-million level, but Seimens Building Technologies, the Dartmouth firm that conducted the test, recommends humidifiers be installed in council chambers to bring moisture levels up. The city has budgeted for them after the 2009 budget comes down.
Other recommendations for the council chambers include adjusting the economizer damper, a vent that controls external air flow in and out of the chambers, which would also bring energy conservation. The city needs to get the work done pronto, so council will have one less excuse to explain the yawns at meetings. ---Deborah Johnson
Share The wifi at City Hall
If the voting records of councillors eventually are presented online, don't count on being able to reference them when watching council in session, as there is no public WiFi access at City Hall. According to David Muise, divisional manager of information technology at HRM, there is limited wireless internet access available on the HRM network and there are no plans at this time to make access available to the public.
But making wifi available to the public has lots of benefits, especially when council is in session. For one, the public could put council discussions and votes in context by researching what the politicians are going on about in real time as events unfold.
Journalists covering City Hall could read various agendas and reports accompanying a council meeting online, instead of lugging around a three-inch thick packet of paper. And, if wifi becomes available, The Coast promises to liveblog council meetings, bringing internet stardom to councillors and general hilarity to the citizenry. ---D.O.
Put a bus route on Terminal Road
You can walk, bike or cab it, but you're not going to bus it down Terminal Road. The road takes you to the Cunard Centre, NSCAD University's new campus and Pier 21. The new Farmers' Market joins them soon, too.
Routes are "based on demand" and right now there's "not yet enough demand" for a bus route, says Lori Patterson of Metro Transit. Presently, the only constant demand on Terminal Road is NSCAD.
Responding to growth makes it a "constant game to provide service," says Patterson; with a "competing demand for routes," certain criteria have to be met before a route is established.
Mainly, there have to be a number of businesses that will provide a number of stops on a route. Metro Transit doesn't want buses travelling long routes with few stops.
NSCAD students are part of the U-pass program, a per-student fee paid each semester that is passed on to Metro Transit. In return for their payments, Dal, SMU and Mount students got new bus routes added, so what about NSCAD? They have to walk to Barrington to catch a bus. And over safety concerns, NSCAD made it mandatory for students to "buddy up" late at night, a reasonable policy but one that makes it even more of a hassle for students to catch a bus.
It's time for Metro Transit to prioritize a Terminal Road route. ---D.M.
Put source separation bins on the Common
There's a waste disposal problem on the Common. Of the 27 garbage cans on or near the Common, just two offer the ability to recycle, and only one gives the option of organic and paper disposal. That means just seven percent of Common garbage cans are geared for today's waste disposal needs. What a pity.
All is not lost, however.
District 12 councillor Dawn Sloane says "we're going to be having a meeting about the Common" early this year.
"In fact the Common has not been touched really since 1967, the year I was born." Sloane says a different approach to the uses of the Common, for people who like more than baseball, might be suggested. But what about recycling options?
"What I want to see is us actually fostering the idea of three stream," says Sloane, meaning compostables, recycling and trash. "If you have to do it at home, and you don't practice something when you're out in public, are you actually going to do it at home?"
It's a good question, and one the city should be taking seriously, but is it? Ninety-three percent of the time the answer is "no."
Lizzy Hill, Deborah Johnson, Dwayne McIntosh, David Olsen and Ken Thomson are King's College journalism students who interned with The Coast through December. We appreciate their hard work, and especially their new-found html coding skills.