More than four months ago, Erica Butler reported that Halifax was initiating a process to create a $350,000 Integrated Mobility Plan looking at how we get around town, how we move goods around town, where we tend to live and work, and how these things shape one another. The plan will influence street and community design as well as transit planning.
On June 23rd, the city’s chief planner Bob Bjerke presented a seven-page progress report to council’s Transportation Standing Committee, containing an idea map of “building blocks to an integrated mobility plan”.
City staff had initially hoped to have a “Big Ideas” document based on broader public input ready by April, but, “we’ve identified some real information gaps,” says Bjerke, “so the public consultation approach will be moved back into the fall.”
The city also decided it needed to bring in some outside expertise and went through a request-for-proposal process, which resulted in the hiring of transportation consultant Rod McPhail, former Director of Transportation Planning for the City of Toronto.
The ambitious target end line has been pushed to February 2017. Phase II, the “visioning, consultation, analysis and modeling” phase, is now underway until September, at which point Phase III, “integration, consultation and optimization,” is scheduled.
The progress report notes that while the Integrated Mobility Plan is being developed, staff will recommend that “significant development proposals” and “any major decisions of this nature be deferred.”
The Integrated Mobility Plan is essentially putting a framework over all the many pre-existing or ongoing transportation and land-use plans it has created over the years, including the Centre Plan, the Green Network Plan, the Commuter Rail Feasibility Study, the Moving Forward Together Plan, the Regional Parking Functional Plan, the Complete Streets Initiative, the Transportation Demand Management Functional Plan, the Active Transportation Priorities Plan and the Road Network Functional Plan, among others.
In theory, having an overarching and integrated game plan for transportation should change the way the city thinks about all these issues, relegating them to pieces of a grander puzzle. “An important question is how each component relates to other plans,” Bjerke says.
The IMP is also expected to guide planning processes for provincial bodies like Nova Scotia Transportation & Infrastructure Renewal and Halifax Harbour Bridges, as well as federally-regulated bodies like the Halifax Port Authority and Halifax International Airport Authority.
To date, planning staff have begun a Goods Movement Opportunities Study, worked with Dalhousie University to gather travel data through a household survey, and held a focus group “to help define the structure of the Plan,” including five city staff members and representatives of the Halifax Cycling Coalition, It’s More Than Buses, the Dalhousie School of Planning, the Building Owners and Managers Association, Transport Action Atlantic, the Ecology Action Centre and Clean Nova Scotia.
The move to create an integrated plan has garnered near-universal praise from transportation advocates, who hope it results in better decisions on transit, community and density planning, pedestrian and cyclist safety, and highway building/widening. At an outcomes level, they expect to see more focus on sustainable transportation, less focus on cars and trucks.
Bjerke is saying things that should please them. “As far as building bigger roads, well we don’t have the space. You can’t do it effectively and it’s incredibly expensive.”
As Bjerke’s report puts it, “The Plan will put an end to ‘Maybe someday…’ and replace that with ‘Here’s where we’re going and this is how we’ll get there.’” His hope is that the “where we’re going” part allows for healthier, more complete communities, with access to important resources like health care provision in all parts of the city.
While Bjerke and transportation advocates agree that the Integrated Mobility Plan should fundamentally improve the decision-making processes around transportation, each advocate has its own wish list in terms of outcomes.
Tristan Cleveland, who works for the Ecology Action Centre coordinating Our HRM Alliance, was one of the experts consulted in Phase I.
“The Integrated Mobility Plan is one of the smartest things Halifax is doing,” he says. “I love that they are starting with Big Ideas. Let’s find out what the menu is. We can’t make decisions about spending unless we answer fundamentally how people want to get around.”
Of all Cleveland’s high hopes for the plan, he most wants to see Bus Rapid Transit, “like a tram, with dedicated right-of-way, but with bus lanes instead of tracks in the ground.” He says that cities as diverse as Eugene, Oregon; Bogotá, Colombia and Ottawa have dedicated bus lanes.
“Everyone from suits to musicians takes the bus because it’s effective,” says Cleveland. “Here we could have first-class transit to Spryfield, Clayton Park, Bedford – Robie Street needs a bus lane and should be a premier transit corridor on the Halifax side. It has hospitals, universities, and parking.” Cleveland uses Robie Street as an example of how investing in smart transit funnels land-use dollars into logical places, curbing sprawl without being divisive. “The northern half has enormous potential for dense development without undermining communities.”
Scott Edgar of It’s More Than Buses echoes some of Cleveland’s sentiment. He is pleasantly surprised by the shift from City Hall over recent months and hopes the Integrated Mobility Plan will be a game changer. “We want a positive feedback loop,” he says. “In order to figure out where you want growth, it has to happen where it is serviceable by different forms of transit. Once you have excellent routes with choice of mode – car, bus, bike, on foot – development happens along those corridors.”
Bill Campbell of Walk Halifax says his group has been pushing for traffic calming initiatives, streets designed with pedestrian safety in mind. He is also hopeful that the integrated plan will change the way routes are planned. “It’s a brilliant way to proceed,” he says. “We were almost on the road to Bayer’s Road being widened. Now staff seem to get the inverted pyramid approach.”
The “inverted pyramid” is the idea that pedestrian and cycling routes are prioritized when planning routes and communities, then public transit, then cars and trucks. More specifically, Campbell hopes to see many of our intersections “shrunk down” and “crossing distances lessened.” Oversized intersections are a direct result of car-first thinking, he says.
Other advocates express more cautious optimism. Ashley Morton of Transport Action Atlantic is glad to see an integrated approach in Halifax. But he laments the approach isn’t broader geographically. “It would be dumb to do commuter rail and not have groups talk to each other from different regions,” he says. “We don’t have any public transit from Halifax to Bridgewater. But this doesn’t seem to be part of the process and it’s a real disappointment.”
However, Morton does support the rapid transit idea and says he’ll keep participating in consultations “and hope the city is transparent, and that needed infrastructure money will come.”
>Frank Palermo, of the Cities and Environment Unit, also supports the idea of an Integrated Transportation Plan. He envisions the creation of “self-reliant places where people can live, work and connect to others.”
But he worries about a couple of things. One, whether the city can free itself from “cumbersome regulations, mission statements of City Hall departments, staff encumbered by their superiors and politics complicated by the rural-urban divide.”
And he is concerned that the process is moving backwards, for example, when the City releases a transit plan (“Moving Forward Together”) while still working on the integrated plan. “But the Transit Plan is really just an operations plan for the next few years, more so than it is a strategy,” he acknowledges.
Still, he feels that Halifax has to shake off some of its old ways of doing things, its focus on what seems practical in the short-term, and focus on what kind of communities it wants, taking its transportation cues from that. “We need a much clearer and bolder vision for the kind a city and communities that we want,” he says. “We have to elevate the level of public discussion and understanding. That will not happen through isolated expert stakeholder consultation, nor can it happen by hiring another transportation manager.”
According to Bjerke, that elevated level of public discussion will happen next, starting immediately, with Rod McPhail leading a process of public education and consultation. Based on his two years as chief planner here, Bjerke has been pleasantly surprised with the level of interest from the public in progressive planning. “Halifax has an appetite for creativity,” he says. “It’s there with the public, with council and with staff.”
But he also believes that “framing is the most important part” of the upcoming consultation process. He and Palermo share the view that an educational component will be necessary to avoid the usual conversations and debates and create a better vision for movement, connection and physical community building.
Palermo puts it this way: “It’s about attitude, which changes the process. We need to think of Halifax as this amazing community where streets are social places, market places, open spaces, walkable spaces, sit-down-and-enjoy-a-coffee spaces. We need to try to figure out how few cars to push through, now how many.”
Building blocks to an integrated mobility plan
(text from idea map, clockwise starting from top left)
truck lanes/truck activity
management & monitoring
freight modal shift (to ferry/rail)
alternative service delivery
accessibility for aging society
LAND USE PLANNING
corridors & nodes
housing affordability impacts
transit & pedestrian oriented design
TRANSPORTATION DEMAND MANAGEMENT
interconnected travel nodes
transportation management associations
variable work hours
HRM smart trip program
smart apps incentive
I.T.S. [intelligen transportation systems]
home base work
demand responsive transit (dial-a-ride)
ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY & RESILIENCE
reducing CO2 emissions
reducing land consumption
green network priority plan
adapting to climate change [sea level rise/storms]
impacts on air, water, noise & vibration
ecologically sensitive areas
minimizing conflicts between modes
maximizing safety within modes
signal re-emption/queue jumps
railways [mixed traffic/dedicated time windows]
water crossing/water corridors
reduce on-street parking
preferential parking (carshare, HOV, electric vehicles)
park & ride lots
review one way streets
emergency evacuation plan
pedestrian priority & walkability