With a tender out this week, Halifax is moving ahead with new bike lanes for Wyse Road, part of the Macdonald Bridge bikeway improvement project planned since 2017.
But some plans have changed for the work on the Dartmouth side of the harbour since the Integrated Mobility Plan laid out the city’s preferred bike network and council approved plans to spend millions improving connections on either side of the bridge.
Currently, cyclists using the Macdonald Bridge have to either navigate the busy Wyse Road and Nantucket Avenue intersection or ride through the parking lot next to the bikeway.
In a request for tender posted on Wednesday, the municipality is looking for a contractor to build bike lanes on Wyse Road from Thistle Street to Albro Lake Road.
From Thistle Street to Nantucket Avenue, they’ll be separated from traffic by pre-cast concrete curbs or they’ll be raised to sidewalk height, providing cyclists a fully-protected route between the bridge and the Dartmouth Common. With the Dahlia Street bikeway project planned for this summer, the bridge will be connected to the active transportation path along Lake Banook.
At the intersection of Wyse and Nantucket, cyclists headed northwest currently use the same lane as buses to make the left turn toward the bridge. They then ride over the pedestrian island at the west corner of the intersection and onto the bikeway. Coming off the bridge, they wait at the pedestrian island for the light, and then join traffic on Wyse Road heading southeast.
The new plans will see cyclists heading onto the bridge go straight through the intersection and wait for a light at the northern corner of the intersection, where the municipality is removing a slip lane for drivers turning right from Nantucket onto Wyse. From there, cyclists will turn and ride straight through the intersection, over the pedestrian island, and onto the bridge.
The municipality is also narrowing the right-hand turning lane off of the bridge onto Wyse Road, meaning pedestrians coming off the bridge will have a much shorter distance to cross.
“That was sort of a benefit that we could kind of achieve by putting unidirectional bikeways the entire length of Wyse Road,” municipal active transportation supervisor David MacIsaac said in an interview this week.
The plans are a departure from those outlined in 2017, when council approved improved connections to the Macdonald Bridge on both sides of the harbour with a budget of up to $7 million. The eye-catching part of the project is the flyover ramp on the Halifax side, but the Dartmouth side work is getting done first.
Back then, the municipality was planning to create a new ramp on and off of the bridge at the corner of Lyle and Dickson streets. The idea was that cyclists coming from either direction on Wyse Road would turn onto Faulkner Street and then onto Dickson and ride up some kind of ramp onto the bridge. That plan also connected to downtown Dartmouth using Lyle Street and Shore Road, a planned bikeway.
“The Lyle-Dixon ramp is not off the table yet,” MacIsaac said.
“But I guess we decided that we had an opportunity to kind of make the intersection with Wyse Road and the bridge bikeway kind of right at the intersection, so we took it.”
MacIsaac said the province has signalled that it’s going to legalize signals, like those for pedestrians, for cyclists. That will allow cyclists to use bicycle crosswalks, referred to as cross-rides, to get across Wyse Road at Nantucket. And so the municipality decided that rather than creating a bidirectional pathway on the east side of Wyse Road, it would built unidirectional protected bike lanes on both sides and use those signals to get across Wyse Road.
The signals still aren’t legal, but MacIsaac is hopeful that will happen soon and has a back-up plan if not.
While those changes take care of access to the bridge, there’s still an unresolved issue.
“What we still don’t get with what we’re building right now is the connection into downtown Dartmouth,” MacIsaac said.
The city is working on a plan to connect Thistle Street down to Geary Street, where cyclists can ride through the parking lots on the waterfront to get to Alderney Landing and the multi-use pathway on the other side.
It’s what the Lyle Street to Shore Road bikeway would’ve done, but there were some issues with that idea.
“We spent quite a bit of time on that in the last couple of years to try to figure out how to make that work, and we just weren’t getting to a point where we are comfortable with the options,” MacIsaac said.
There are two big issues: safely crossing Windmill Road and the narrow, one-way section of Shore Road from Mott Street to Geary Street. MacIsaac said staff haven’t been able to come up with design solutions there, but they’re going to keep working on it.
The ramp to the bridge from Lyle and Dickson streets proved to be tough to design as well, with a height difference and some water infrastructure running underneath the bikeway.
“Again, it was just one of those things where we just didn’t get to an option that we’re 100% satisfied with, and then we had these sort of other issues on Lyle-Shore,” MacIsaac said.
“And we just decided to put that part of the project to the side for now, focus on Wyse Road, focus on another option that would at least make that connection into downtown Dartmouth, and then come back to see what other work we can do to kind of address these sort of tricky sections.”
Cycling coalition says bollards for buffering are an issue
Back to Wyse, the protected lanes continue on both sides from Nantucket to Boland Road, but after Boland, the lanes will see much less protection.
From Boland to Albro Lake Road, the municipality plans to use green bollards to buffer the lanes on either side, as was always the plan.
“That part of Wyse is too narrow between the existing curbs, to put precast concrete curb, for now,” MacIsaac said.
Given the experience with bike lanes on the Halifax side, it’s a problematic approach, according to Meghan Doucette, executive director of the Halifax Cycling Coalition.
“What we’ve experienced and what I’ve experienced as a person who cycles is that that physical protection of the precast concrete curb really makes a difference compared to just having the flexible bollards,” Doucette said in an interview.
Doucette pointed out the municipality has employed the flexible bollards on University Avenue, Lower Water Street and Rainnie Drive. They don’t last.
“Those bollards tend to get damaged fairly easily, and then that leaves long extended periods of time where there’s a gap in the bollards and so there’s a gap in the protection for people cycling,” Doucette said.
On University Avenue and Rainnie Drive, for instance, Doucette said there are almost no bollards left standing. Doucette said gaps in the bollards on Lower Water Street mean people end up parking in the bike lane.
“That really creates almost a bigger hazard than if there wasn’t a protected bike lane,” Doucette said, “because then people have this sense of safety, you’re cruising along on your bike, and you’re feeling good, you’re in the bike lane, and then all of a sudden there’s a car there and so we quickly have to figure out how you’re going to navigate around that.”
Doucette was happy to see protected space for people to navigate the intersection of Wyse and Nantucket, but the success will be in the details.
“I think what could be a challenge is just how the timing of the light works,” Doucette said. “If people are held up for several minutes waiting for the light to change to get across that intersection to get onto the bike lane I think that could be problematic, in terms of compliance with waiting for that, potentially.”
In general, Doucette said the cycling coalition is happy to see the municipality moving ahead with the plan, and excited to see the flyover ramp on the Halifax side in the coming years.
“There’s so many people that travel over the bridge already but there are some really heavy traffic areas getting on and off and there’s not really a lot of safe ways to access the bridge right now by bike,” Doucette said. “So making sure that those safe connections are there, I think we’ll see a huge increase in numbers of the people that are traveling or the bridge by bike which would be really exciting.”
Doucette said Halifax Harbour Bridges is installing a camera to count cyclists using the bridge soon. In the meantime, the coalition is working with Vélo Canada Bikes, a national group, to count people using cycling infrastructure using an app (and they’re looking for volunteers).
The tender for the Wyse Road bike lanes closes May 21, with construction planned for this summer. The city’s 2021-2022 capital plan budgeted $2.6 million for the project.
I spent years biking this route almost daily in all seasons. It took me months of riding to figure out a safe and legal way to enter and exit the bridge crossing from traffic. It involved getting on and off of my bike several times going each way when entering and exiting from walking my bike on short stretches of sidewalks or crosswalks when transitioning from the road to the bridge and vice versa.
When I eventually figured it out I tried to lead by example to the other cyclists. After 4 years of doing it a few regular cyclists caught on to what I was doing and followed suit and the majority of casual or competitive cyclists out for a training ride continued to use illegal means to enter and exit the ramps from the bridge and ride on short sections of the sidewalk and enter the roadway from the sidewalk crossing.
The point of this is that if I a very experienced rider aware of all of the laws took this long to figure out a safe and legal way to make a transition from one piece of infrastructure to another and the rest of the cyclists never figured it out… it means that the design is nowhere near adequate nor safe.
EAC volunteer Wayne Groszko spent about 6 months of his life working on proposals to have the approach to the MacDonald bike lane re-designed before it was even built. That was at the end of the last century. HRM pretended it was a big deal to add the bridge bike lane but the engineering of some kind of platform was required in any case to balance the bridge. I walked or biked daily across the bridge for work for two years so followed this with interest.
HRM wouldn’t budge about the approach and after the first year of people accessing the bikelane from the Halifax side by crossing the cross walk on the north side, HRM put up fences, next barriers. All to train the public to conform their behaviour to bad design. Now going downhill to go uphill may still seem counter-intuitive but its the only option.
Disappointing to read HRM’s response that this fix still isn’t a priority: “Doucette said the cycling coalition is happy to see the municipality moving ahead with the plan, and excited to see the flyover ramp on the Halifax side in the coming years.”
Also at the end of the last centruy, the EAC’s TRAX programme funded the first HRM cycling coordinator for 6 months, to try and make progress on cycling in the city. The subsequent hire didn’t cycle. Lots has changed for the better but the pace is a puzzle.
I agree sidewalks slow riders and endanger pedestrians. In regards to the bridge what about painting a line in the bus lane and allowing a pedestrian bikes only green light so that they can cross any way they want for a minute or two. Talk about saving money..how many lines can you paint for the price of 500m of paved sidewalk? We’ve seen this crossing idea practiced in Montreal where crossing the street used to be an extremely dangerous sport. Works great…flushes people through intersections in seconds..
Maybe I’m just more comfortable riding a bike in the streets of HRM. My first thought is it’s great that for the changes coming off the MacDonald Bridge bridge. My second thought is don’t over think getting to downtown Dartmouth from the MacDonald bridge – why not use the sidewalk – make the west side sidewalk for cyclists OR make it multi use – but you can be going 30 – 40 km/h just coasting down to Alderney Dr, so maybe that’s not the best thing for a multi use path. Just some thoughts.
Sidewalks are for pedestrians and people with a physical impairment. It would be easy for cyclists to use the same route to downtown as transit – just requires more patience and more caution.
I love the idea of using the sidewalk on one side of the street as a designated multiuse trail. I bike on the road, carefully. I choose my routes to avoid riding on the road as much as possible. I would not ride in a transit lane. Years ago I noticed this in Florida. The sidewalk on one side of the road was multiuse. If you were a pedestrian who was concerned you could use the pedestrian only side.
As someone who walks everywhere she goes, I would support having a sidewalk on one side of the street being a multi-use trail and the sidewalk on the other side being pedestrian use only. In areas where there is only one sidewalk, though, I would expect that to remain pedestrian use only and would require cyclists to use the roadway.
How many cyclists use all these new bike lanes in Halifax Dartmouth?
I can tell you that out hear in Waverley on the 318 that turns into Highway #2 into Fall River, Wellington and beyond,
cyclists on a daily basis take their lives in their hands on these narrow roads.
Impatient vehicle drivers routinely cross over into oncoming lanes on sharp turns risking the lives of all involved, especially on weekends and even more so now through the weekdays now that more people are off work because of CoVid. It’s only a matter of time before something catastrophic happens.
MacIsaac wants to connect Wyse to Downtown Dartmouth by laying asphalt on the Dartmouth Common outside the fence. He may not want to say that to journalists but that is what he told HCC during a video meeting earlier this year. Call him and ask for a comment.