Last week we got our first glimpse of what a new 15-year transportation plan could look like for Halifax.

In a second round of public consultations (ongoing this week in Bedford, Spryfield, and online), the Integrated Mobility Plan (IMP) team has presented a bunch of proposed actions, ranging from plugging the gaps in our sidewalk system, to building a bike network, to giving buses priority on our streets.

The plan will have a third major round of consultations in the spring, with a finalized plan going before council this summer. So far, the IMP has been on target, time-wise. I guess since we’ve contracted project lead Rod McPhail for a year, staff are not letting the timeline suffer from the usual setbacks and delays inherent to enormous bureaucracies.

The IMP sets a clear tone for transit, basically that we need to allot space and traffic priority for buses on our streets. The plan documents map out a network of transit priority corridors criss-crossing the centre, then reaching out to Bedford, Burnside, Main Street Dartmouth, Portland Hills, Woodside, Armdale, and Clayton Park. The measures put in place along these corridors would vary from added turning lanes, to special advance signals for buses, to fully dedicated transit lanes.

What’s not included, so far, is a timeline to achieve all this. Will we be getting these buses out of traffic in the next five years? Or will we take our sweet time and aim for 15?

On the one hand, there’s an appetite for it to happen quickly, and the plan has already sketched out what a new Bayers Road might look like, complete with road widening to accommodate 2 bus and 4 vehicle lanes:


On the other hand, we have a transportation planning staff who, after years of studying and planning a dozen small, inexpensive transit priority changes, recommended an inexplicably long implementation plan for them. (The last one will happen in 2021!) So the idea that these same staffers could contemplate actual bus lanes within a reasonable timeframe (ie. as soon as humanly possible) seems optimistic.

Looking at the map of the proposed transit priority network brings another concern to light. Check out the green lines on this map:


Those green lines represent the transit priority corridors recommended by Halifax Transit staff in the Moving Forward Together plan. There’s two corridors: Bayers Road and Gottingen Street.

Now have a look at the rest of the transit priority network being recommended by the IMP team, in purple. That’s a big difference, and I can’t help but think these purple lines are what we should have seen in the transit plan. The fact that we didn’t means that our transit manager was not thinking big, at the precise time when he was asked to.

It also means that the new MFT route structure, to be implemented slowly over the next four years, was created by a staff who were betting against transit priority on our streets.

That worries me on two levels. One, it means our transit planning leadership lacks the gumption to clearly represent the needs of transit riders in the larger decision-making bureaucracy. (A city department doesn’t get resources if it doesn’t ask for resources.) Second, it makes me wonder what would be different about the MFT route map if our transit planning team were actually visualizing transit priority in our short to medium term future.

The IMP’s transit priority network and MFT’s new route map are connected, or at least they should be. As Rod McPhail pointed out at an IMP session last week, if you’re going to build a transit lane, you had better fill it up with buses, and ideally those buses had better be filled with people.

I would argue the same for any amount of transit priority measures, from a queue jump lane to an advance signal. Where you allocate the priority, you should also be allocating the frequency of service, and vice versa. In other words, our transit priority corridors should match our high-frequency corridor route network. This is not currently the case. But then again, Moving Forward Together is not implemented yet, so who knows what the future holds.

As mentioned above, the current IMP is silent on a timeline target for its impressive network of transit priority corridors, but over in the active transportation department, the action list has an impressive three-year implementation goal. By 2020, the IMP recommends:


• that we build sidewalks on four major streets that currently (shockingly) lack them,

• that we complete a basic all-ages & abilities bike network in Halifax and Dartmouth,

• and that we complete major gaps in the current greenway network.

The IMP does not specify types of facilities that will make up our bike network. Presumably there will be plenty of local street bikeways, but considering the lengthy process recently approved to establish those, I’m not sure 2020 is a realistic goal. Whether this means we will look at changing that policy to allow us to move more quickly, or whether we will just keep pushing the deadline farther back is anyone’s guess.

There’s a lot in this plan. I haven’t even mentioned Halifax’s future Complete Streets policy, the potential to ramp up transportation demand management, and of course, the still-very-much-alive possibility of commuter rail along the Bedford corridor.

But there are still some things missing. There is no Vision Zero policy. We should absolutely be setting the bar at zero deaths and major injuries on our streets, and this transportation plan is a great place to do it.

The IMP also has no hierarchy of road users — a high-level policy directive that many cities are adopting in order to change the way their staff go about building and maintaining their streets, and even the way their citizens go about using them.

It’s something we could really use right now, as we go about “reviewing” our Red Book (the design manual for our streets). As far as I can tell, there are no high level directives for this review. In fact, there’s no established timeline, process, or list of factors attached to it, at least that are being shared publicly.

The Integrated Mobility Plan is the right place to set this direction, to embrace Vision Zero and to place the highest priority on our vulnerable road users, so that our everyday decisions will reflect a new way of thinking about our city streets, one that doesn’t place the private car at the top of the pyramid.

You can weigh in on the current version of the IMP online or in person. Check out the documents and take the online survey here.. Or attend a workshop to meet some of your IMP staff. Sessions are happening at 12noon and 6pm, at the following dates and places:

Wednesday, Dec. 7 at Bedford-Hammonds Plains Community Centre – Arts & Crafts Room, 202 Innovation Drive, Bedford

Thursday, Dec. 8 at Captain William Spry Centre – 16 Sussex Street, Halifax. (12 p.m. session at Meeting Room #2, 6 p.m. session in the Community Multipurpose Room)

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  1. Great overview. I went to a meeting on the IMP last week and pointed out, as you do, that there is no prioritising of one mode of transport over others. The facilitators told me there was no plan to do so at present. This city is still so dominated by a car culture mentality.
    Correct me if I’m wrong but Vancouver, for example, prioritises buses over bikes and pedestrians over cars over planes. This would really help in signalling that car use is the least desirable way of getting around, especially in a world increasingly coming to terms with the reality of climate change.