It’s finally happening. The city has started planning its redo of the ghastly, despised Mumford Terminal.

The city has hired Dillon Consulting for phase one: figuring out where the heck to put the thing, designing how it will work, and giving a rough guess at how much it will cost to build.

Dillon needs to wrap up all this work by March 2018 in order to make sure federal grants can help cover the cost of the study, about $250,000. That means Halifax Council is going to have to make some quick decisions this winter, so that we have a site selected in time for Dillon to complete a functional design.

Right now, Dillon and Halifax Transit have taken the long list of potential sites to the public for its reactions. Citizens have until October 5th to weigh in online, but judging by the distribution of green dot “votes” in the session I attended, most people want the terminal to stay where it is, or at least in the general vicinity.

When the city put out the tender for this project, it set some parameters around what needs to be considered — things like universal accessibility, a 50-year lifecycle, and integration with the adjacent active transportation (AT) network (surely that must have meant the future adjacent AT network, since there’s not much of one around Mumford currently). The city also asked Dillon to consider the potential for both BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) and commuter rail in the mix.

Here’s where the site selection process for this badly needed new terminal gets into a long list of if-then statements.

Several of the long-listed sites, for example, are on Bayers Road. No transit rider in their right mind would wish all the current Mumford-connected buses onto poor, beleaguered Bayers Road. Unless, that is, there were dedicated bus lanes running the length of the road. Dedicated bus lanes would, in terms of selecting a site for a new West End terminal, be a game changer. (Citizens are being asked to weigh in on the planning for a Bayers Road transit priority corridor this Thursday evening at the Forum. The Gottingen corridor is up on Monday October 2 at the George Dixon Centre.)

Another game changer is commuter rail. If we do indeed go for it and hire VIA Rail to run daily passenger trains along the Bedford Basin and into downtown, then Mumford would be a natural spot for a station. And unless we plan to only market commuter rail to those working at the Halifax Shopping Centre and the CBC, that station will need to be very well connected to active transportation corridors (once they exist) and the rest of the transit system.

Paul Dec is an urban planner and recently renewed member of local transit advocacy group It’s More Than Buses. “The success of any commuter rail scheme on existing tracks will be completely dependent on whether passengers from Sackville and Bedford can be efficiently circulated around the peninsula once they arrive there,” says Dec. That requires “an amazingly connected Mumford Terminal,” he says, as it “has the potential to either make or break the rail.”

Those are the main ifs. If we get bus lanes on Bayers Road, it may make sense to put them to good use by routing connecting West End buses along that corridor. And if we get commuter rail, we will need to have a very closely integrated station to accommodate connecting trains, buses, walkers and riders.

Ultimately, the city needs both these things, and we need to commit to them sooner rather than later so that our “ifs” can turn to “whens” and our planning decisions become simpler.

The Integrated Mobility Plan, which is now due to come to council’s as-yet-unscheduled Committee of the Whole in November (originally due in July), will help provide some certainty on these projects. We will find out if Halifax council is actually willing to get behind using the rail corridor and creating real bus priority corridors, both of which will get transit riders out of traffic and to their destinations more quickly.

Paul Dec went to the trouble of layering the current list of potential new sites on a population density map of the area, highlighting the fact that the current location sits in a near residential desert. Of course, things like where people work and shop are also key factors in transportation design. It is about going from A to B, after all. But both Paul Dec and Metro columnist Tristan Cleveland are recommending a considered overhaul of the state of the lands around the new terminal.

Long list of potential west end terminal locations and residential density. Map by Paul Dec, using

“Other cities do much better jobs at integrating their transit terminals into shopping malls, government buildings, hotels, conference venues etc.,” says Dec. “What really matters is that the new terminal will be embedded into a carefully designed micro-quarter which will be a destination in itself rather than just a transfer site.”

In other words, a strip of pavement surrounded by parking lots is less than ideal. “We want the city to think holistically about the opportunities that come with the relocation,” says Dec.

Does the current location really mean the current location?

If we are considering the current location, are we actually bound by the tiny slice of real estate riders and buses currently occupy on that site? No, reports city spokesperson Nick Ritcey.

“It’s fair to say it’s meant to include the current location, plus surrounding lands on the same parcel. Because we don’t have a concept plan for the terminal yet, we don’t know the configuration or how much space would be required, but conceivably it could include any of those 20 VIC lands,” says Ritcey. (20 VIC is the very large commercial development and management company who own the considerable parcel of land including the current terminal, parking lots and shopping centres in the area.)

From Google Maps, satellite view.

20 VIC stand to be a huge beneficiary of this new terminal and the connections it could bring. 20 VIC could, if it plays its cards right, see its shopping centre connected by rail to Bedford and Sackville. (If, that is, we ask VIA to provide seven-day, all-day service, and not limit our sights to transporting only 9-5 workers). It could also see active transportation connections established across the rail cut, further expanding its walkable catchment to the residential development on the other side of the tracks.

“Functional design will be more important than amenities”

A good amount of the public consultation to date has focussed on the amenities at the current and future Mumford Terminal. It’s actually a little sad to see how high garbage cans have rated in a survey that Dillon conducted this past June at Mumford Terminal. (Surely providing a place to toss your empty Tim’s cup is a nut we can crack without redesigning an entire transit terminal.)

Paul Dec thinks that ultimately, a big building with passenger amenities will not hold up in the long run unless it is designed for buses to get efficiently in and out. “Eventually,” says Dec, “functional design will be more important than amenities. A simple through-traffic design can be more effective than large terminal buildings with surrounding bays.”

Considering the current state of the Mumford Terminal (I encourage you all to revisit this gem from the Coast’s Voice of the City last year), a redesigned, probably relocated terminal is needed in the short term. But considering it’s a once-in-50-years kind of project, we need the deciding factors to include longer term issues. That means we will need clear direction from a hopefully strong and progressive Integrated Mobility Plan, and city councillors who are willing to plan far past their own mandate.

Updated Sep 27, 2017 for clarity, links, and further information. H/t to @BigJMcC and @kempthead for suggestions.

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  1. I really appreciate having Erica Butler do these columns for the examiner. I am a user of public transit but when I get a survey request from the city about the mumford terminal with so many different options, i feel very uneducated about my ability to give meaningful feedback or opinions on this issue. This column at least allows me to feel a little more confident in submitting an opinion, even though. as Erica writes, the best choice is contingent upon a whole whack of what-ifs. Thanks to Erica and Tim for making the issues this city faces a little less opaque to ordinary folks like me.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. Erica makes sense of transit and transportation for me. I really appreciate it.

  2. I wish we could be more like the Japanese. Japan had a rat problem in its public transportation system, so it got rid of the trash cans and expected people to pack out whatever trash they generated. Spoiler alert: it worked.

    1. People packing their own garbage is such a great idea! If our city roads, sidewalks, cemeteries and parking lots are any indication of how many citizens feel about trash, the new terminal should have attractive, built-in, wall to wall dumpsters

  3. h.r.m. and transit developers need to take a peek at what they’ve done at Dundas West station on the bloor line in Toronto.
    they’ve Inrporated a subway line, shopping mall/ apartment complex, GO train station (which is on CN lines iirc) and the new airport-to-uniom station rocket (up train) also passes through.
    if they can pull this off under the crossways, a pair of 30+ yr old apartment towers, then surely we can incorporate the rail line into the new bus terminal.

  4. HRM could ask the Premier to give them the same capability as the City of Vancouver, where gasoline is 12 cents a litre higher than in the suburbs wand all the money going to the council.

    1. Vancouver has a regional transpo authority that collects that tax and services many communities, not just the city of Vancouver proper. I’ve often thought we need a regional transpo authority here, but mostly so that there was consolidation of power and planning between city departments, provincial departments, and the Bridge Commission. (Peter Kelly took a meek stab at forming one back in the day, but it went nowhere.) In Vancouver, since they have so many different municipalities, they really, really needed a regional authority. Probably saved them from a broader forced amalgamation, but that’s just speculation.