Isleville and Young Street, before (August 2014)
Isleville and Young Street, after (October 2016)

When the intersection just to the west of the Hydrostone Market block came up on the road resurfacing schedule a couple years ago, instead of just the typical “shave and pave” from the city, the absurdly wide crossing got an upgrade of a different sort.

Thanks to a backlog of complaints on file, the city decided to make some improvements to help pedestrians get across Young Street at Isleville more safely. “We ended up with a refuge median and some curb extensions,” says David MacIsaac, the Transportation Demand Management Program Supervisor at City Hall. “Instead of a 22-metre crossing, it’s two five-metre crossings.”

One curb extension at Isleville and Young may seem like a small step, but the way of thinking that brought it about could mean a giant leap, eventually, for walkability in our fair city.

The concept of “complete streets” has been around Halifax for a few years. Quite simply, it means streets serve all users, as opposed to say, just the needs of motor vehicle drivers. Our new Integrated Mobility Plan is putting complete streets front and centre, getting inspiration from Edmonton and Toronto, and proposing Halifax’s own complete streets policy.

That means taking “what has been from 1955 to 1995 the perception of what streets are for, and expanding that to think about all users, and moving people rather than moving motor vehicles,” says MacIsaac.

One practical difference this will mean for planners and engineers is our street classification system. Right now, we live in a world of arterials, collectors and local streets, a classification system based almost entirely on the movement of vehicles, regardless of other users or even surrounding land uses. “What we are moving toward is a broader classification system that includes consideration for transit, bikes, pedestrians,” says MacIsaac.

From HRM’s Integrated Mobility Plan display boards, Phase 2.
From HRM’s Integrated Mobility Plan display boards, Phase 2.

Presumably, this more refined classification system will allow us to take a street such as Quinpool Road, and treat it not just as a designated arterial, but also as a vibrant commercial stretch, bisecting one of the most walkable neighbourhoods in the municipality. And then hopefully we might notice that it’s almost impossible to cross for large stretches, and presumably do something about that.

Bill Campbell, of pedestrian advocacy group Walk ‘n’ Roll Halifax, is hoping that complete streets policies, and the rest of the new Integrated Mobility Plan, will mean that “the right of way is not a barrier, but a place where people can come together.” For all its talk about connectedness, the IMP so far seems to be missing a major weakness in the pedestrian network: intersections are dangerous. “The biggest connectedness problem is across the intersections,” says Campbell. “That’s where most of the incidents occur, where most of the vehicle-pedestrian collisions occur. We really have to focus on that connection.”

That’s where complete streets thinking, like what was at play at Isleville and Young, could help. And where that thinking is perhaps needed most, is in the ongoing review of our engineering guidelines, aka the “Red Book.” The review has no declared scope or process yet, but the engineering staffer on the case is Tanya Davis, who is also a member of the new Integrated Mobility Plan team. The obvious hope is that complete streets thinking will influence the Red Book review, which will in turn lead to new tools that can help implement complete streets policies on the ground.

What that might mean for your street or mine remains to be seen. Part of the philosophy of complete streets is diversity. “What makes Sackville Street a complete street might be different than what makes Hawthorne Street or Nantucket Avenue a complete street,” says MacIsaac.

And of course, change won’t come overnight. Most of the infrastructure involved will be built incrementally over time, as new streets are designed or as old streets are refurbished or repaved.

According to MacIsaac, we don’t necessarily need to wait for the Integrated Mobility Plan or a revised Red Book to start implementing complete streets. In the current phase of the Macdonald Bridge Bikeway access project, says MacIsaac, “we are getting a multi-modal level of service assessment of the changes that we are proposing.” So not only will we know how vehicle traffic is affected, but also busses and pedestrians.

“It’s coming through that we are implementing complete streets approaches on these projects,” says MacIsaac.

What the upcoming Integrated Mobility Plan complete streets policy has to offer, says MacIsaac, is a process that locks in our considerations of all modes. “What’s really driving the conversation is we need to think more about pedestrian safety and comfort. The same for cycling, and the same for transit users. The motivation behind complete streets is to think about those other modes or those other users.”

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  1. Unfortunately I feel the redesign of the Young and Isleville intersection hasn’t been much of an improvement.

    The biggest issue is that there are now very inviting sections of curb that are marked “no stopping” but people park there anyway to run into Starbucks or other nearby places.

    This happens all day, every day:

    I called 311 many times and eventually gave up.

    When cars park there it makes it more difficult to see oncoming traffic, both as a pedestrian and as a cyclist which is how very I frequently use the intersection.

    It’s a start, maybe, but far from complete.

    Also worth noting this intersection was featured in a “how to cross the street” video with HRP and drivers were both parked in the no stopping zone and didn’t stop far enough away from the crosswalk: