by Hilary Beaumont
Delays to the Hollis Street bike lane are becoming almost as predictable as the Citadel noon gun. After guaranteeing in the spring the bike lane would be painted this summer, the city has again pushed the project back.
For a grab bag of reasons the Hollis Street bike lane has been bumped down the city’s list of priorities every construction season since it was approved in 2010. This time a consultation in late June with cyclists, business owners, and residents prompted staff to switch the lane to the left side of the street rather than the right, meaning more design and engineering work must be done.
Painting the bike lane on the left side means cyclists will be more visible to motorists, HRM’s manager of strategic transportation planning David McCusker said Wednesday. Cyclists told staff many attractions, like the Seaport market, are on the left side of Hollis. “I ride on the left already as it feels safer,” one cyclist said.
“The only problem with that is all the design work had been done for the right hand side,”McCusker continued. “We’ll still be able to tender it this fall but we’re running out of construction time.”
There’s still a chance it could be painted by the end of construction season this fall, he said. However, the project website states staff aim to host another open house in the fall and the lane will be delayed until 2015.
As he watched cyclists zip down Hollis Street on Wednesday, Halifax Cycling Coalition representative Matt Worona said his group asked the city to hold the consultation earlier than mid-summer to avoid further delays, but staff didn’t heed their request.
“We talked to them and said, maybe this can happen over the winter. That was obviously not a priority and it happened during the summer and now it’s getting delayed a year.”
Recently a rumour has circulated in the Halifax cycling community that, when completed, the Hollis Street bike lane might be a protected lane, separated from motor vehicle traffic by some type of barrier.
Cyclists who attended the consultation said they wanted a separated bike lane on Hollis Street. Though staff mentioned in their report they would consider cyclists’ suggestions, McCusker debunked the myth of a protected lane, explaining while it’s a possibility in the long term, it’s unlikely to happen on Hollis due to the street’s width.
“The problem with having parking with one lane of traffic and a separated bike lane is that if the traffic lane gets blocked there’s no way out or around for emergency vehicles,” McCusker said. If a car breaks down, for example, emergency vehicles need to be able to go around it. “If we took all the on-street parking off it, then it could work but that’s something we really don’t want to deal with.”
“That’s fucked,” Worona said, reacting candidly when I told him about the delay, and that the final plans probably wouldn’t include a separated lane. After reading the open house report he believed staff would seriously consider cyclists’ suggestion of a protected bike lane on Hollis Street.
Cyclists want a protected lane on Hollis Street because it’s a heavy truck traffic route and safer cycling infrastructure encourages people to bike, Worona said.
“It seems kind of silly that they said, hey let’s have this kind of Kumbaya open house and talk about how this lane will impact people and then the delay is happening even though there’s less of a design change, in my opinion. Putting it on the other side of the street is really not enough to say, we’re delaying it for another year.”
While a bike lane with a barrier likely won’t happen on Hollis, McCusker confirmed Dalhousie University is planning to install a separated bike lane this fall with the city’s permission. That lane will be located near Dalhousie campus—Worona thinks maybe on Robie Street—but a university representative did not respond to request for comment.
Council approved the Hollis Street bike lane in 2010. In 2012 McCusker said a staffing shortage had caused an initial delay and the bike lane would be done by June of that year as part of a handful of changes to downtown streets.
Last fall McCusker said construction of the Waterside Centre at Duke and Hollis meant it wasn’t possible to paint the lane during the 2013 construction season. He said it would be constructed in spring, 2014.
“There’s not a whole lot to it,” he told me this past April. “It’s just painting a line and adding some signs and moving some parking metres. It’s probably a one-week or two-week project. I suspect [it will be done] in July.”
In April he said the consultation, which wasn’t scheduled yet, would determine which side of the street the lane would end up on. “Based on what we’ll hear, we’ll have to adjust the designs a bit, but it’s not a complicated project.”