The city has dropped its Integrated Mobility Plan (IMP), a hefty 193-page document designed to help Halifax achieve its Regional Plan target of reducing the share of trips we all make in private vehicles. In 2006, council set a goal to reduce vehicle trips down to 70 per cent of trips by 2031, but in the past decade, we have been headed in the opposite direction.

The recently released 2016 census showed a slight increase in private car mode share, up to 77.7 per cent.

Council will discuss the plan at Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole section of the meeting, which means all councillors will get to weigh in on the plan with looser limits on speaking time than at the standard part of the council meeting.

First things first: this is a priorities plan, not a legal municipal bylaw. Even if council endorses it whole hog with no changes on Tuesday, its chances of actually being implemented will come from later decisions, mostly having to do with what we pay for, and how and when we pay for it.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot to discuss Tuesday. Right in the plan’s basic principles, there are some ideas that will be hard for some Halifax residents, and possibly councillors, to swallow.

Things like “focus on moving people and goods instead of vehicles” sound pretty common sensical. Likewise, the principles calling for “complete communities” and “integrated solutions” sound innocuous, but contain elements that are very different than the current norm in Halifax engineering and design.

The “complete communities” principle essentially means it matters how and where we build things. Turns out, we’ve been been doing it wrong.

Case in point, the hubbub over the lack of transit service at the new Dartmouth Crossing IKEA. CTV reports that people are calling out Halifax Transit for not providing service to the popular new store, even though the store (and the rest of Dartmouth Crossing) has been built with exactly zero consideration for any other way to get around besides a personal vehicle. Ditto for the province’s decision to build its new outpatient clinic in Bayers Lake Industrial Park, which has similar fundamental street design problems.

The principle of “integrated solutions” means that instead of considering sidewalks, transit routes, roads and cycle paths in isolation, we need to understand that they impact each other. The sustainable modes tend to complement each other: Better walkability leads to better bus-ability. On the flip side, investments in faster, easier drivability can actually work against growth in other sustainable modes, like transit.

Which leads us to the principle that represents perhaps the biggest shift in thinking for Haligonians: “Manage congestion instead of attempting to eliminate it.”

Under this plan, congestion, traditionally considered the enemy of city planning, is actually a tool we can use to help power the shift toward transit and active transportation. The IMP may be the first official document in Nova Scotia that acknowledges the well-accepted phenomenon of increased road capacity leading to increased demand for and use of said road, in the medium to long term. In short, this principle should mean no more road widening to accommodate private vehicle lanes in Halifax. (Roads might get widened, but for bus lanes, not car lanes.)

Under the IMP, traffic is no longer anathema. It’s just a natural part of the transportation ecosystem.

But of course the IMP will not be approved, amended, voted down or implemented based on its principles. It’s the 137 actions listed in the plan (flip to section 5, Implementation, for the quick run down) that will end up on our streets (or not).

Here’s a few highlights from the action list.

#31: “Adopt the Complete Streets approach to inform the design and maintenance of streets.”

Complete Streets not only requires a re-balancing of the provisions for various modes of travel on streets, but also asks engineers and planners to consider streets as places as well as transportation links. You could say Argyle Street has been Complete Streets-ified, though judging by the number of cars parking themselves on the sidewalk there, it may still need work.

At least 4 cars parked where they’re not supposed to #311 #argyle @hfxgov @hfxplanning some enforcement please

— Gnarlathotep (@agnemonicdevice) November 29, 2017

Of course this does not mean that all streets will be pedestrianized. The IMP outlines an approach that evaluates the context of each street, and the needs of the people using it. But it does include a hierarchy that puts vulnerable road users at the top, and private vehicles drivers at the bottom.

This is one of those actions that could happen in the very short term, but its effects could take much longer, seeing as the city typically waits for the major repair cycle before putting in design changes. Which is why it’s also nice to see action #32, which calls for the identification of key multi-modal corridors for us all to workshop and redesign even before repaving is in order.

#72: “Deliver the Regional Centre all ages and abilities bicycle network by 2022.”

An all ages and abilities (i.e. protected) bike network was clearly on the table for the IMP’s final round of public consultation, so this is not a surprise, and advocates like the Halifax Cycling Coalition continue to support it. But what they are less happy about is the projected deadline for completion: 2022. Four years is a long time to wait for something that cities like Edmonton have installed in a single season, albeit in a temporary, pilot project style.

#93: “Implement the first phase of the Barrington Street Transit Priority Corridor in conjunction with the Cogswell Redevelopment project.”

If there’s one area where the IMP has differed greatly from previous planning direction, it’s with transit priority. Halifax Transit’s Moving Forward Together plan set its sights very small in terms of transit priority, and only after the public begged them to add it to the plan. But the IMP has taken street transit priority seriously from day one, massively expanding the map of proposed transit priority corridors.

Still, Barrington Street is a surprise to see specifically mentioned as a transit priority corridor, probably due to the fact that the current Cogswell Street plan, approved by a small committee of Halifax senior managers, seems to work against the idea of transit priority along Barrington. The Cogswell street plan calls for two roundabouts along Barrington, at Cornwallis Street and where Barrington splits into Upper Water Street, and roundabouts are not all that compatible with transit priority measures.

I will further explore the Cogswell Street plan and Barrington Street transit issues in a future column.

Figure 20: Proposed Transit Priority Corridors Map from Integrated Mobility Plan document. Red lines are transit priority corridors, green is proposed bicycle network, orange dotted lines are potential commuter rail routes, and blue dotted lines are potential ferry routes.

#98: “Complete a rail capacity study for the Windsor Junction-Bedford-Halifax rail corridor in collaboration with rail industry stakeholders to better understand the costs and logistics of operating a Commuter Rail service in Halifax.”

Now, you might recall that a commuter rail feasibility study is what started this whole exercise in Integrated Mobility planning back in the fall of 2015. In addition to accepting the commuter rail study, staff (headed by former Chief Planner Bob Bjerke) asked to start, “a process to integrate land use planning and transportation planning to develop a strategic plan specifically aimed at increasing the modal split of sustainable forms of transportation.” Council approved. And so, the following spring, the IMP was born.

So you might think a recommendation for another study on commuter rail would leave HRM stagnant on the issue. But I don’t think that’s the case.

The problem with this recommendation is essentially the problem wth commuter rail. While we have an underused rail corridor sitting there in our midst, the city actually doesn’t have the rail corridor at all. That is, the city doesn’t control it. The government of Canada sold that rail corridor to private interests in the 90s, and so now the city is in the position of having to negotiate the use of it for the municipal public transportation system. And the city’s best bet in negotiating with CN is probably VIA Rail, since VIA Rail already has to negotiate to run what’s left of passenger rail service in Canada. The reality is the city is holding no cards in its hand.

So, really, this motion for a rail capacity study is HRM being doggedly determined to keep working on gaining access to those tracks. It’s Halifax’s only move right now, short of lobbying the federal government to legislate access to those tracks for its crown corporation VIA, or for municipalities like Halifax.

Further evidence that HRM is not stagnating on commuter rail is IMP recommended action #100, which recommends the city set its rail transit sights higher and study the possibilities of using the Dartmouth rail corridor for a Woodside-Downtown-Burnside service. If anything, these recommendations could serve to send a signal to CN that the city is serious about using CN’s tracks to help people get around, and the city will not give up easily.

#112: “Explore other opportunities for transporting containers within the region to minimize truck impacts without hampering transport economics. These opportunities may include a rail shuttle, cross-harbour truck ferry and truckways.”

This action, if successful, could open up massive amounts of multi-modal transportation capacity downtown, where trucks travelling in and out of the south end port dominate. This is another instance where Halifax doesn’t really hold any cards, but what the city stands to gain is so great that it can’t be ignored. HRM needs to figure out how to negotiate successfully with CN, not just for commuter rail, but for ensuring the future viability and expansion of all uses of Halifax rail lines.

#124: “Where total corridor road capacity is increased through the construction or expansion of a parallel road, explore opportunities to give a higher priority to active transportation or transit within that corridor.”

This action should have been called: If the province gives you lemons, make lemonade.

When roads are getting built and widened beyond your control, try to divert some of that extra or redundant space to transit or active transportation lanes. The IMP goes on to give an example of this action in action: “The construction of the Burnside Expressway should be coupled with the opportunity to install dedicated bus lanes on Windmill Road, between Akerley Boulevard and Victoria Road.”

#22: “Amend municipal planning strategies, the Subdivision By-Law and land use by-laws as necessary to require developers to:  Plan and implement pedestrian, bicyclist and transit facilities, including roads needed for transit through- routes, in early phases. Provide a grid pedestrian and bicycling network where the topography and other environmental conditions allow.  Connect street and pathway networks with those of existing communities and neighbourhoods.  Ensure direct bicycling and pedestrian access to schools, recreation centres, libraries, retail and transit.  Locate public facilities, shops and offices in walkable areas.”

There’s not much more that can be said about this action than is not already said, except perhaps to point out that this move, once it fully works its way through the by-laws, will essentially share the responsibility for transportation planning and infrastructure with the folks who are designing and building new communities.

If all these factors can actually make it into the city’s legal plans, then cul-de-sac suburbs won’t be possible without walkable/bikeable pathways and trails connecting them with sensible routes for transit access.  Transit-oriented development, near existing transit lines or terminals, will be incentivized. Developers will be responsible for building connected communities, not just subdividing lots of land.

The IMP needs the Centre Plan, and fast

There is one action distinctly missing from the IMP list: Write and enact the Centre Plan. Like, ASAP.

The regional centre already has much higher sustainable transportation mode share than the rest of this enormous regional municipality. About half of the residents in the centre get to work by transit, by bike, or on foot, and there’s no reason to think that pattern wouldn’t hold as the centre grows. “For these reasons, it is clear that increased development in the Regional Centre is the most effective way to increase the number of non-auto trips in the Halifax Region,” reads the IMP.

Our growth so far has been working against us in the sustainable transportation department. But if the Centre Plan, with its goal of absorbing 40 per cent of the region’s growth, can get written and passed soon, that could start to turn around.

How is it going to be paid for?

The whole plan is estimated to cost about $190 million, with $130 million going to transit projects, $45 million to active transportation, and $15 million to road related infrastructure.

There will also be extra operational costs for many of the projects in the IMP, though like any good investment, the savings should outweigh the costs over time.

And if we truly change our priorities, it will become more affordable. The plan posits that if we can successfully redirect funding for currently planned projects not envisioned in the IMP, then we are only looking at an additional $50 to $100 million needed in additional funding over the next 10 years. Considering that the province and federal government threw a combined total of $100 million at the controversial convention centre (and the municipality another $50 million), this number should not cause much of a stir, but I’m sure it will.

The other number that should be causing the stir is $337 million, which is the amount that Stantec Consulting predicted we would save back in 2013 by successfully embracing a growth scenario that put 40 per cent of development in the centre, like we do with the to-be-completed Centre Plan.

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