Photo: Paul Krueger, CC some rights reserved
Photo: Paul Krueger, cc some rights reserved

The good news is Halifax will be getting into the local street bikeway business. The bad news: the process we have created to get there could put our first actual local street bikeway years away.

Local street bikeways are designated bike-friendly routes through a city that make use of less busy, lower speed streets to create safe routes for people on bikes and other wheels. At their most basic, local street bikeways involve pavement markings (sharrows) and signage, simply helping direct AT users to them, and signalling to vehicle drivers to pay attention. Other times they involve actual added bits of infrastructure, like bump outs and islands to help routes cross major arteries, and traffic calming and diversions to help reduce speeding.

Making use of local streets to help create and/or complete your active transportation network is just plain smart. It takes less money, and generally less political capital because the perceived trade-offs are minor in comparison to bigger projects, like say, protected bike lanes on major arteries.

So how close are we to actually implementing some local street bikeways? Not very.

We have plenty of lines drawn on our 2014 AT plan, which is meant to be implemented by 2019.

Detail from Halifax and area AT plan map. The turquoise lines are local street bikeways, the darker orange lines are proposed bike lanes, and the fuchsia lines are “desired” bikeways of no determined type. Check out the complete maps, for all of HRM, here.
The turquoise lines are local street bikeways, the darker orange lines are proposed bike lanes, and the fuchsia lines are “desired” bikeways of no determined type. Check out the complete maps, for all of HRM, here.
Detail from Dartmouth and area AT plan map. The turquoise lines are local street bikeways, the darker orange lines are proposed bike lanes, and the fuchsia lines are “desired” bikeways of no determined type. Check out the complete maps, for all of HRM, here.

Halifax transportation planners have been talking about local street bikeways as a solution ever since they turfed the Agricola Street bike lane back in 2013, saying that streets like Maynard and Creighton could handle the bike traffic on Agricola.

But since then, we have done exactly zilch to make streets like Maynard and Creighton more attractive alternatives to streets like Agricola. Here’s why, from a September staff report:

The Local Street Bikeway concept was introduced in HRM during the 2012-13 process to identify north-south cycling corridors on the peninsula. A preliminary design concept for the streets running north-south between Agricola Street and Novalea Drive/Gottingen Street was developed, however it could not be considered because there was no policy to guide its assessment or implementation.

“It could not be considered because there was no policy” is frustrating to read when you know that we have a paid staff, albeit small in number, specializing in AT, and even more specializing in traffic and transportation planning. But apparently they can’t be trusted to pursue a local street bikeway until first creating a policy framework to help them go about it. It’s like we are creating our own obstacles here, folks.

(As an aside, I find it interesting that HRM staff could not find a way to create a local street bikeway without a detailed policy in place, while other staff can sell off a major community asset like the St. Pat’s-Alexandra School without really following any clear process. Ah, the mysteries of bureaucracy and power.)

So our declared need for a policy has put off development of local street bikeways for three years. And now finally, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

This September, we got a glimpse of a new local street bikeway administrative order, as it went through council’s transportation committee on its way to Regional Council. City staff can’t say when the new admin order will actually make it to our newly-sworn-in council, but let’s just say it could easily be 2017 before we see it on the agenda. (There was already a several month delay in getting the policy to committee.)

And then, once this admin order is approved, we are stuck with the process it has created.

This policy, like those for much of Halifax transit and AT improvements, is built to move as slow as molasses down an ice-encrusted Halifax sidewalk.

Here’s a glimpse of the process involved in designating a local street bikeway, as per the Admin Order that council will at some point be considering:


Yes, the process is long. It’s almost as if staff believe local street bikeways will be highly controversial or something. For the life of me, I can’t understand why a few bump-outs deserve this level of scrutiny (on top of our already scrutinized AT plan), but then again, I certainly didn’t predict the lengths that a North End resident would go to after losing a single street parking space to bike racks on Cornwallis Street.

But please take a moment to notice the most sigh-worthy part of this process: The steps to put in temporary, trial bikeways are exactly the same as those to put in a permanent bikeway.

It’s as if we have failed to understand the concept, and therefore the value, of trials/pilot projects in this city. Temporary AT infrastructure helps test out new ideas, and helps citizens acclimatize to new types of streetscape. It can actually frame the public conversation around the real effects of new infrastructure, instead of our less rational worries and concerns. Best of all, it gives us a way to correct mistakes without breaking the bank.

But this local street bikeways policy is a clear signal that either Halifax is not interested in experimentation, or we simply don’t understand it.

Meanwhile in Edmonton, their council has just approved a 7km downtown grid of protected bike lanes to be installed next summer. The lanes will be constructed with moveable bollards and planters, so that Edmontonians on bikes and in cars can test out the network before any concrete gets poured. And Edmontonians have the added benefit of being able observe the effects of a complete downtown network, instead of the piecemeal, disconnected routes that we are observing in Halifax.

I am a traffic-averse rider, so I have more reason than most to be excited about the possibilities in this local street bikeways policy. But it’s hard to muster enthusiasm for something that essentially supports and enforces the painfully slow, piecemeal approach to active transportation infrastructure that Halifax has adopted.

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  1. I don’t remember anyone being particularly thrilled about the local street bikeways when they were first suggested to take place on Agricola/Creighton. Primarily, the major change from a regular street to a bikeway is signage. I don’t think 1400+ people signed the Agricola St Bike lane petition at the time simply for more signage.

    I can see their value for folks and families just getting into cycling. I believe that the city needs a more robust ‘skeletal structure’ of bike lanes and protected bike lanes before we worry about the softer, supportive infrastructure of bikeways.

  2. Erica, the Dartmouth Common Master Plan gives precedence to pedestrians over cyclists. As does the Centre Plan.
    Shore Road from Geary Street to Mott is one way in na westerly direction and is not a safe section for sections due to the blind spot.
    Cyclists entering the Dartmouth Common should be required to enter through the gates on Thistle opposite the bus terminal and then cycle around the rear of the ball diamond and into the Catholic cemetery and then exit through the double gates at the intersection of Victoria and Tulip. Eliminate parking on the west side of Victoria and install a bike lane.

    1. Folks able to put out a lot of power in their pedal strokes would really churn the pathways up with your plan. Not to say it’s a bad thing. I think it’s more forgiving as far as incline goes.

  3. This is so frustrating! As someone who bikes the Maynard St/Creighton St corridors to and from work at the IWK, it is obviously a great place to have bikeways if we can’t have a protected lane on Agricola. However, I can say, having biked in Vancouver while visiting family, I have to say that they have the bikeway design much better figured out. They make all bikeways two way streets and allow parking on both sides. This essentially makes them usable only by bikes and local residents (who have to pay for parking permits by the way) as two way traffic for cars is not feasible as there is just not enough space. Vancouver also puts in speed bumps regularly along these streets and roundabouts at almost all intersections. It is quite a sight to see what real bike commuting looks like at rush hour when one is on one of these streets at 0830 with big numbers of bikers.

    Great article as usual. The subscription price is more than worth it to have access to Erica’s amazing writing on these issues.