In our 2014 Active Transportation Plan, Halifax council approved a network of local street bikeways throughout the city, and today we’ll get a glimpse of what that might actually mean.

A local street bikeway (known in other places as bicycle boulevard or neighbourhood greenway) is a convenient route along local streets (sometimes crossing busier streets) that is specially designed to keep car traffic low-speed and low-volume, thereby making it safe and comfortable for people on bikes and in cars to share the road.

You might think that Halifax’s local streets, especially on the peninsula, already serve this function, just by the fact that they tend to be narrower and sometimes crowded with on-street parking. But remember, actually convenient routes on local streets tend to have higher car speeds and more traffic simply because they are convenient. (Why inch your way along Robie Street, when you could zoom down quiet Vernon Street, with hardly a stop sign to slow you down?)

And that’s where local street bikeways come in. They take a given corridor and by some combination of traffic diversion, traffic calming and other tricks, turn it into something more attractive for people on bikes (and pedestrians) and less attractive for people in cars.

At two meetings today, (Wednesday November 8, noon-2pm and 6pm-8pm, St. Andrews United Church hall, Coburg Road) city staff will be answering questions and collecting feedback on the toolbox of changes they are recommending for two new local street bikeway corridors: Vernon-Seymour (connecting Quinpool Road to University Avenue, parallel to Robie Street) and Allan-Oak (connecting Windsor Street to Connaught Avenue, parallel to Quinpool Road.)

Sometimes the fix could be as simple as a turn restriction. Where Vernon Street crosses Coburg Road and then jogs left to become Seymour Street, a right turn only restriction for cars could greatly simplify the through traffic in the intersection, and also reduce the number of people in cars using Vernon Street as a corridor. But Vernon Street and Coburg Road could also see the installation of a half signal, something actuated by pedestrian push buttons or bicycle sensors to stop the considerable traffic down Coburg Road to allow them to cross.

Concept design for a diagonal diverter from National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) design guide.

Over on Allen Street at Harvard Street, one of the tools on the table is a diagonal diverter, definitely a first for Halifax, but something already in use in other North American cities. The diagonal diverter prevents vehicle traffic from going straight through an intersection, but allows for through-travel of people walking and on bikes.

In the same vein is the raised intersection median. These also prevent traffic straight through traffic, but are especially helpful for intersections across busier streets because they split the crossing task into two parts with a median rest in the middle. Pedestrians and people on bikes need only focus on one direction of traffic at a time to get safely across.

Median refuge island coupled with partial road closure in Portland, Oregon. This one has mountable curbs to allow emergency vehicles to pass through.

I anxiously await people’s reactions to these fixes. On the one hand, I expect the lack of changes to on street parking will quiet the usual objections. (On-street parking is actually the friend of the local street bikeway since it narrows streets and helps reduce speeds.) But on the other hand, many of these design elements specifically prevent drivers from using these corridors, and so there are going to be some disappointed if not angry folks out there.

Of course, ultimately this is about local streets, and local streets do not exist to get vehicles efficiently through the city.

Frankly, many of these fixes make sense regardless of whether a route is designated for bike traffic or not, since they take on the task of slowing down traffic on residential streets. And with 108 traffic calming requests “still in progress” at HRM (out of an original 218 requests submitted since 2015), I think it’s fair to say there is an appetite to slow down traffic in HRM’s neighbourhoods.

The tools proposed for these local street bikeways will probably do that more effectively than the speed bumps currently awarded to three neighbourhoods that successfully jumped through the hoops under Halifax’s traffic calming policy this year.

HRM active transportation planner Siobhan Witherbee says that strictly pedestrian improvements are also part of the package with local street bikeways. Things like bump outs at intersections will give pedestrians better visibility and reduce their in-street crossing time. And some fixes, like fully raised intersections, will do the same. “It should hopefully work for everyone,” says Witherbee.

If creating a local street bikeway means implementing tools that get drivers to slow down in the city, and improve pedestrian safety, then I say let’s see more residential streets become local street bikeways.

But first things first, I guess.

If they make it through public consultations intact, the recommended fixes for Allen and Vernon are expected to go to Regional Council sometime in the spring, and then be built, in either permanent or test-pilot mode, sometime next summer. It so happens Allen and Vernon are both up for repaving, so the timing is right. After that, says Witherbee, there is “the ongoing monitoring of how it’s working, and if there are changes that need to be made.”

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.

Witherbee points out these first local street bikeway projects have larger implications, like for the rest of the proposed bikeways in the 2014 plan. “It’s important because how the design unfolds will probably have an impact on how other local street bikeways are approached. We want to do this one right and get all the feedback we can,” says Witherbee.

In addition to consultation meetings on November 8, the usual Shape Your City online consultation will be live until November 23.

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  1. I’ve been thinking about Parker’s criticism of my use of the term “fixes” for these Local Street Bikeway / traffic calming tools. I think in the context the word just makes sense. The ‘problem’ is how to create a local street bikeway as laid out in the active transportation plan. One of the fixes proposed to help create said LSBs are diagonal diverters. So while I appreciate you trying to keep me honest, Parker, I have to stick by my word choice here.

    1. But there is NO problem with the Harvard-Allen intersection. It’s easy and safe for everyone to get through, with minimal delays. Motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians are treated equally. By couching the diagonal diversion as a “fix,” you are colouring the discussion and assuming a proposition which has not been proven (and which I believe is false).

      I would concede that, in light of the laudable desire to create a more bike-friendly city, there are some problems with Allen Street, but the intersection at Harvard is not one of them.

      As MastroLindo points out, the Oxford-Allen-Oak intersection is the biggest problem. It’s horrible and dangerous for all concerned, most especially for bikes. Your “fix” would not change this (except by lowering traffic on Allen by rendering the street all but unusable for cars).

      You can’t just go about blindly making it easy for bikes to move through the city with no regard for the consequences for other users. You need to consider the legitimate needs of all users: bikes, yes, but also cars, trucks, pedestrians, and local residents.

      The other problem is the tendency of cars to drive too fast on Allen. If it is bad enough to require a fix, install some speed bumps and perhaps a protected bike lane.

  2. The bizarre diagonal diverter proposed for the Allen-Harvard intersection will have another unexamined impact: it will change the character of Lawrence and Duncan Streets—and not in a good way.

    Lawrence and Duncan are short, residential streets that run from Windsor to Harvard. Because Allen and Chebucto are through streets, motorists use Lawrence or Duncan only when their destination is on one of those streets. This keeps traffic low and makes the streets friendly for kids, bikes, road hockey, etc.

    The proposed diagonal diverter will render Allen unusable for many of the drivers who currently use it. This will divert some motorists to Duncan and especially Lawrence, changing the character of that street in a way the planners of this ill-conceived idea have apparently not considered.

    1. Why would a driver eschew Allen b/c no longer through to Oxford and take up Lawrence or Duncan which already do not go through to Oxford? I would expect folks needing to get to & from Oxford will have to stick with Quinpool or Chebucto, two great choices designed for higher traffic volumes, and not far off. Also, I should point out that while I did not mention it in the article, Siobhan Witherbee did tell me that they would be monitoring where the diversions actually end up taking traffic, looking out for negative impacts elsewhere.

      1. Because, with the illustration you show, a driver on Windsor who wanted to go up Allen but couldn’t because of the blockage you want to create, would instead turn onto Lawrence, run the length of it, turn left onto Harvard, then right onto Allen, as your illustration would allow.

        Similarly, a driver on Chebucto headed to the Quinpool Market would turn onto Harvard, realize he would be blocked by your intersection, turn left onto Lawrence, right onto Chebucto Lane, right onto Allen, and left onto Monastery. To people not familiar with the area, that might sound like a lot of turns, but it’s actually a very short detour, because each leg is very short,

        The amazing thing about this plan is that no one in our the affected neighbourhood has been consulted. Your article gave a few hours notice of the public meetings, but there were no notices distributed in the neighbourhood.

  3. Allan can be pretty high-traffic at rush hour, esp. from Monastery Lane to Harvard. Maybe Monastery should have no left turn onto Allan to reduce the traffic entirely. Then with some measures to slow traffic along Allan, cyclists and cars could co-exist without diversion.

  4. Erica betrays her bias by referring to all of these proposals as “fixes,” implying, first, that there is a problem, and, second, that these proposals will remedy them.

    I am most familiar with the four-way stop at Allen and Harvard, through which I often drive, walk, or bike. It’s not clear to me there is a problem, or that the goofy to proposal she outlines will cause anything but trouble.

    It is not difficult to get through this intersection on foot or on a bike. In the case of a bike, you come to a full stop, wait for those who arrived before you, and then proceed.

    Forcing all cars to turn right but allowing bikes to go straight will confuse all users. How can it not lead to an increase in car-bike collisions?

    It will also complicated neighbourhood traffic patterns, requiring longer routes with more turns, more idling, more fuel use, more exhaust emissions, to undertake local travel that is currently straightforward.

    These are, as Erica acknowledges, local streets. The inability to turn left at this corner will inconvenience local residents, many of whom rely on vehicles, despite Erica’s disapproval.

    There is sometimes a problem with some cars driving too fast on Allen. If it is a serious enough issue to require action, install some traffic bumps. Don’t cripple two streets the neighborhood’s residents rely on.

    1. You insist everyone will be confused by an inherently simple idea – is that bias speaking? Whether as described in words as you did above (“Forcing all cars to turn right but allowing bikes to go straight…”) or as illustrated in the article itself, I don’t know how this will confuse anyone but the feeble-minded.

    2. Have you ever biked in Montreal or Toronto or other cities with these measures in place, Parker? How often have you commuted by bicycle in Halifax?

      It doesn’t confuse everyone, especially once they’ve been in place for a bit (any change to road usage takes a bit of time for regulars to adjust).

      More bikes = fewer cars = better neighbourhoods. It’s really that simple.

      1. I love biking in Montreal, Jeff. It has excellent bike lanes, and specific signals for bikes. I have not encountered any intersections that force all motorists to cross an active bike lane.

        I actually like the idea of making Allen-Oak a more bike friendly corridor. But the specific proposal for the Allen-Harvard intersection seems nutty.

        It will force all cars approaching intersection to turn right across the traffic lane used by cyclists. The will require motorists—some regular users, some occasional users, some who happen on the intersection for the first time—to grasp that the forced right applies only to them, not to bikes. This is not a simple idea, Tim. It’s a situation they have probably never encountered in their driving lives. It builds traffic conflict into what should be a straightforward intersection. Signs could help, although God knows how you would condense this complex information into signage that would adhere to design principles for road signs. The proposed arrangement insures some users will not realize these unique rules apply. That’s a design tailor made for accidents and even fatalities.

        You are also dismissing the cost to neighbourhood residents who don’t share your disdain for cars. For residents of Lawrence, where I live when I’m in the city, it will require complicated detours involving many more intersections than the one it avoids. For residents of Yale and Yukon, it will make getting in and out of those streets even more complicated.

        Good design means taking account of the reasonable needs and concerns of all users. You and I might agree that the needs of cyclists have been given short shrift. But a “fix” that puts cyclists at risk of injury while posing significant problems for local residents and motorists is no fix at all.

        Unfortunately, discussion of these issues is so sharply divided, what should be a quest for designs that make things better for cyclists gets corrupted by the desire of some reformers to punish drivers just for driving.

    3. I ride my bike down Oak and Allen everyday. The ‘fix’ that needs to happen is at the intersection of both these streets with Oxford, which can be quite dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists during peak periods, which has been compounded by illegal parking on Oak between Kline and Oxford (I have never seen a parking control officer ticketing vehicles here). I also would very much like to see a reduction in traffic at peak hours on both Allen and Oak, which would likely also reduce non-resident traffic on side-streets connected to Allen and Oak. As a resident of Kline, my options for getting home by car are already limited due to the odd intersection with Chebucto, and I find that my inability to turn left onto Chebucto or right onto Kline from Chebucto has in no way diminished my desire to live on Kline or my overall quality of life. I have learned that driving an extra block or two to enter or exit my neighbourhood is not a big deal. the The diagonal diverter is one option to reduce automobile traffic, and, unlike Parker, I don’t see this as a fatal flaw in the plan because the learning curve will be too steep (although I suppose it did take drivers an inordinate amount of time to figure out how the Armdale rotary ought to work, and then only after a lot of fancy signs and painted arrows were added). I have to say, however, that I have biked around the world (most recently this past weekend in Amsterdam) and never encountered a diagonal diverter. Does anyone happen to know where they are used?

      1. Here’s a real quick video of one from Portland OR:

        And there’s a bunch of pics on the NACTO guide under Volume Management (since that is the point, not just slowing, but reducing traffic volume) Looks like they are in California, Maryland and Oregon.

        Diagonal diverters are mentioned as tools in Canadian city plans, but I’m not finding pics of them in use. In Toronto and Montreal, opposing one-way streets on the same corridor seems to be the norm to keep through-traffic out of neighbourhood streets.