Halifax is going to build its longest protected bike lane sometime in the next year on South Park Street. The 1.2 kilometre lane will run from Sackville Street all the way to Inglis Street in the south end, near Saint Mary’s University.
With council’s approval yesterday, staff will move on to detailed design, and plan to start construction of the Spring Garden Road to Inglis Street stretch within this fiscal year. The section between Sackville Street and Spring Garden Road will wait for construction to wrap up on the new YMCA/Pavillion development, which is currently taking up a lane of the street.
Cycling advocates are happy, and for good reason. This is the city’s first significant protected lane. No offence to the University Avenue and Rainnie Drive, but combined they add up to just over half the length of the newly approved South Park bike lane.
Time to celebrate, #Halifax! Option 2 for the South Park Street bicycle lane passes 12-2!
— Halifax Cycling (@IBIKEHFX) March 6, 2018
It’s not only longer, but unlike University and Rainnie, which are protected by plastic bollards easily eschewed by drivers, the South Park lane will be protected by “a continuous row of pre-cast concrete curb sections with planter boxes and/or flexible delineators placed on top of the curb at strategic locations, such as the start and end of a parking lane,” according to the approved staff report.
Also setting it apart is the fact that the South Park lane will be the first protected lane to fully integrate with buses. Planning staff have recommended raised lanes around bus stops, signalling to riders that they must yield to people boarding buses, and giving buses a curb to pull up against.
Though there’s a perceived potential for bike and pedestrian conflicts, city staff’s report says that the shared cycle track–bus stop system has been tried and tested elsewhere:
Both Ottawa and Toronto, ON have had this type of treatment in operation for several years (2014 and 2015 respectively) and have received no negative feedback from transit operators or bicyclists, and there have been no reported collisions at bus stops (as of January 2017).
The report also recommends that the lanes extend all the way to intersections (where the current painted lines simply disappear) and even recommends markings within intersections to help reduce conflicts between cars and bikes.
So is everyone happy? Not quite. The Spring Garden Area Business Association (SGABA) had been lobbying to protect 17 parking spaces on the most contentious block between Spring Garden and Sackville, despite the fact that the spaces represent only four per cent of on-street parking in the area (and much less if you consider both on-street and underground parking.)
SGABA has been pushing for Option 2a in the report, which would take the bike lane off street along the Public Gardens fence. Staff did not recommend (or even price out) this option because it would involve removing trees and moving the sidewalk closer to the fence. Option 2a “presents several challenges that would add significant cost and complexity to the project while offering relatively few benefits,” reads the report.
In an op-ed in the Chronicle Herald, SGABA director Juanita Spencer argued, “we do not believe our streets and communities are prepared for such an extreme change as is proposed in the recommendation at this time.” Then later noting, “the downtown is undergoing unprecedented change — we support this.”
This is not the first time that SGABA has tried to ruin something potentially good and progressive for the city and for its own district for fear of losing a handful of parking spots.
Almost a decade ago, city planners created a streetscaping plan to transform Spring Garden Road into a pedestrian paradise. The SGABA, worried about the loss of parking spaces and restrictions on loading, lobbied hard to hobble the plan which would have dramatically widened sidewalks. It did this despite the fact that Spring Garden was one of Halifax’s most crowded pedestrian routes, and city staff were recommending almost doubling sidewalk widths just to meet 2004 pedestrian counts. As I wrote in Metro back in 2015:
Pedestrians actually outnumber vehicles on Spring Garden Road.
According to automatic pedestrian counters set up by the Spring Garden and downtown Halifax business associations, more than 18,000 of us walk up or down the street on an average day.
Compare that to the weekday average of just under 11,000 vehicles the city counted in July 2015.
And yet, the sidewalks of Spring Garden Road remain barely wide enough for a wheelchair user to wind his way through while someone else walks out of a storefront and yet another waits for a bus or taxi.
Apparently the great Spring Garden streetscaping project is still in the works, though the South Park bike lane report cites it as still “in a preliminary phase,” and so will probably not coincide with this project.
What might be most notable about the South Park protected bike lane project is how little opposition there was to it on council. The two nay votes were David Hendsbee, who supported the same amended design as SGABA, and Stephen Adams, who seemed to take issue with the fact that the lane was not already part of a complete network, and also expressed concern that staff might be fudging their numbers.
Even Matt Whitman, normally a bit more of a penny pincher, declared the project a bargain at a mere $450,000.
The council that passed the Integrated Mobility Plan, it turns out, seem to be sticking to their guns.