The fast ferry plan to whisk commuters between Halifax and Bedford by boat survived its appearance before city council this week. Although details of the proposal are sketchy, council gave unanimous approval1 "in principle" so the idea can still float toward becoming a reality. While this may be a step in the right direction towards getting cars off the streets, it begs a question about the city's commitment to sustainable transportation.
Two ferries will take about $20 million2 and untold years to make happen. Aren't there more practical things that can be done right now? Imagine if a by-law banned cars from the Armdale Rotary early in the morning and late each afternoon. If the only rides allowed during rush hour were buses, bikes and high-occupancy vehicles carrying3 at least four people. That low-cost by-law would change driving habits overnight. Unfortunately council is more comfortable hoping for magic from its Ferry Godmother than dealing with changes where the rubber meets the road.
I learned just how lightly city hall takes sustainable transit thanks to the column I wrote two weeks ago, about the Chebucto Road widening scheme. That piece got a lot of feedback4, and one person I bumped into took issue with my reasoning around the city's Regional Plan. I wrote the plan aims "to get cars off the road, and allow more people to travel by alternative methods like bike and bus. Enabling traditional commuting with a wider Chebucto Road flies in the face of this mandate." My friend said Chebucto widening has always been part of the plan, so it seems illogical to both support the Regional Plan and oppose the wider Chebucto. A good point, which sent me back through the plan and council minutes to get shit figured out.
Peter Kelly became Metro's mayor in 2000, and his administration has shied away from action in favour of studies, plans and consultations. The lure of a master study—one plan to rule them all—must have been hard to resist. The Regional Planning Committee, tasked with creating a guide to Halifax's growth over the next 25 years, was formed in February 2003. More than three years later, the third draft of the Regional Municipality Planning Strategy was nearing final approval. It went through a last public hearing May 16, 2006, where 112 problems came up.5 Only issue 63, Chebucto Road Widening, seriously threatened to derail the entire plan.6
To disarm the Chebucto bomb, city staffer Paul Dunphy submitted a report7 to council's June 13, 2006, meeting. "Ongoing discussion of the Chebucto Road Reversing Lane project should not interfere with approval of the HRM Regional Plan," he wrote to councillors.8 "Retaining the project titled Chebucto Road Reversing Lane in either the HRM Regional Plan or the 2006-07 Capital Budget does not commit Regional Council any specific solution for traffic management at that location." In the same report, Dunphy said that while city staff believe the widening is necessary, they would hire an independent consultant9 to settle the issue once and for all. Thus assuaged, Council voted the Regional Plan into effect June 27.10
Nine months later, in March 2007, the consultant's opinion11 comes before council. Phil Grubb's report mixes admiration and disdain for the Regional Plan's alternative transit goals. He endorses a public suggestion that instead of widening the road for cars, Chebucto should be designated a route for high-occupancy vehicles. "This concept is embedded in the Regional Plan and is intended to be the focus of future transportation in the Region," Grubb writes12. Yet he also says the Regional Plan's more "optimistic"13 than realistic.
Ultimately Grubb recommends the city widen Chebucto to encourage commuting cars, but keep watch in case—by some miracle?—people actually use sustainable transit options. "Over the long term, if these initiatives reduce travel demands on Chebucto Road to eliminate the need for the reversing lane project, the additional pavement available as a result of this project can be used to for HOV and/or bicycle lanes to support the overall transportation vision."14 Grubb puts the car before the horse, the bike, the bus, the Regional Plan—and council buys it. Not only are city councillors trying to drive from the passenger seat,15 they're reading the map upside down.
For footnotes, see below. For me, mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Chronicle-Herald’s story about the meeting is here, but the link might expire in a week.
The difficult task of raising tens of millions of dollars is complicated because the city is, predictably, wedding the ferry plan to getting federal and provincial support. This is called raising funds from three levels of government, even though there’s still only one taxpayer.
Both online and off. For the online, the column is here, and comments are at the bottom.
The report detailing all 112 issues is here. Its introduction says: “On May 16, 2006, Regional Council held a public hearing to receive public input on the proposed Regional Plan. This report provides a response to the written and oral submissions received at the public hearing. It also provides a response to the written submissions received after the public hearing.“
The problems raised at this stage ranged from Rural Growth Controls (issue 37) to Opposition to Service Boundary Extensions (issue 92). Chebucto was the lone issue that required a separate staff report devoted to it. Other issues were either dismissed by staff, or entirely dealt with by council as amendments to the Regional Plan.
Fascinating reading, all yours right here.
The final version of the plan is here.
It’s attached to this report on the Armdale Roundabout and Chebucto Reversing Lane Project. It starts 12 pages into the report pdf.
Page 2. Look for this quote: “With future growth of 20,000 to 30,000 people on the mainland and further economic development of the Halifax Harbour as outlined in the Regional Plan, travel demand forecasts by HRM staff indicated that these conditions will deteriorate further even considering a high (optimistic) diversion of future travel demand to transit, active transportation modes and car pooling through planned TDM initiatives.”
”Jesus Take the Wheel” comes to mind, which then brings this excellent post from Tara Thorne to mind.