Halifax councillors still aren’t sure what to do about the east and west ends of the proposed Almon Street bike lane.
Council’s Transportation Standing Committee received a report on options for the bike lane at its meeting on Thursday.
As the Halifax Examiner reported last year, the committee approved a plan for a protected bike lane on Almon Street from Windsor Street to Agricola Street. The bike lane was supposed to be built in 2022, but that didn’t happen.
At the time, municipal active transportation planners recommended an unprotected bikeway for the stretch to the east, from Agricola to Gottingen Street.
They acknowledged the plan didn’t meet the municipality’s goal of providing an all ages and abilities (AAA) bike network. They said that section of Almon is too narrow to keep two-directional traffic and install protected bike lanes.
When the motion got to council, Coun. Shawn Cleary moved for a staff report “identifying additional options to extend the planned Almon Street bikeway east of Agricola Street to Gottingen Street and west of Windsor Street to George Dauphinee Avenue with the goal of achieving an all-ages-and-abilities cycling connection for the full length of the corridor.”
New options for east and west sections
Active transportation planner Mark Nener wrote that report, before the committee on Thursday. Nener recommended the municipality go ahead with the Windsor to Agricola section, and monitor its use for two years before implementing the east and west sections.
Nener outlined three options to get to a AAA network on the eastern end: “One-way raised bicycle lanes and maintain two-way vehicle traffic;” “One-way protected bicycle lanes and one-way vehicle traffic;” and “Divert bicycle route to Bloomfield Street (or other adjacent street) and provide connecting facility on Agricola Street.”
The first option would require the removal of all on-street parking and treed boulevards and burying of utility lines. The second, Nener wrote, “may not be feasible and would require a network-level analysis of potential impacts.” The third option would require changes to the intersection to allow cyclists to turn onto and off of Agricola Street.
At the other end of Almon, Nener outlined three options for the section between Windsor and Connaught Avenue: “One-way raised bicycle lanes and maintain two-way vehicle traffic;” “One-way raised bicycle lanes with a section of multi-use pathway (MUP) replacing the sidewalk on one side for all or part between Dublin Street and Connaught Street. Two-way vehicle traffic maintained;” and “One-way protected bicycle lanes and one-way vehicle traffic.”
The first two options mean removing parking and some “mature, high-value trees,” while the third requires another “network-level analysis of potential impacts.”
For the short section west of Connaught, Nener listed four options: a local street bikeway; one-way bike lanes and two-way traffic; one-way bike lane on one side and a MUP on the other with two-way traffic; and one-way bike lanes and one-way traffic. Those options had similar ramifications to those above.
Coalition urges ‘cycling-centric approaches’
David Trueman with the Halifax Cycling Coalition urged councillors to adopt the more bike-friendly options, those with one-way traffic.
“We can’t wait for two more years of study and analysis before we start with cycling-centric approaches to those extensions,” Trueman said.
Coun. Waye Mason, chair of the committee, agreed there needs to be a direct route across the north end of the peninsula.
“The priority is that we have a single-street east-west corridor. There’s no other options … There’s no other street that goes that whole stretch,” Mason said.
“I’m inclined to feel like we’re missing the mark and to agree with our friends from the Halifax Cycling Coalition.”
On the west side, he said the streets should go one-way. On the east, he questioned whether anything can be done to keep both directions moving.
Nener said there’s insufficient space between Agricola and Gottingen to even add painted bike lanes and maintain two directions.
Expedited planning for the west end
Accepting that the eastern section is challenging, Cleary asked staff whether they could get moving quicker with functional plans for the western section.
David MacIsaac, active transportation manager, said there’s a lack of staff capacity to do that work sooner.
“We would have to figure out what we don’t do if we do decide to go back and look at Almon Street west of Windsor in the short term,” MacIsaac said.
MacIsaac didn’t say what wouldn’t get done. Brad Anguish, executive director of Public Works, said it would likely be a project that doesn’t have funding from another level of government. The bike lanes do have that funding.
Councillors opted to defer the motion on the floor to ask for a briefing note, less formal than a staff report, “on the initiation of a functional planning process to further develop and evaluate options to extend the approved Almon Street protected bicycle lanes west of Windsor Street to Connaught Avenue.”
Cleary said a local street bikeway is fine between Connaught Avenue and George Dauphinee Avenue.
The motion to defer passed. The committee’s motion shouldn’t delay the tendering of the protected portion of the Almon Street bike lane.
Also during Thursday’s meeting
Advocates for blind and partially-sighted Haligonians are asking councillors to get a handle on e-scooters on city sidewalks.
Milena Khazanavicius and Lui Greco, manager of regulatory affairs and advocacy in Atlantic Canada for CNIB Halifax, made a presentation to the committee on Thursday.
Khazanavicius, who is blind, told councillors she’s had several run-ins with e-scooters zipping past her on sidewalks.
“These machines are fast,” Khazanavicius said.
She’s also had issues with the e-scooters being left on the sidewalks unoccupied.
The provincial government adopted amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act last year to legalize the scooters, ban them from sidewalks, and limit speed to 32 km/h.
Khazanavicius and Greco said they’d like to see the rental e-scooters banned outright. But they asked councillors to further limit their speed, create designated parking, and ensure they’re not used on sidewalks.
Mason said he’d talk to Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella about enforcement. He said Anguish could look into what the municipality can do about the scooters left on public property.
Joint Regional Transportation Agency gives presentation
The CEO and a senior director with the province’s Joint Regional Transportation Agency appeared before the committee on Thursday to provide an overview of their work.
Premier Tim Houston’s government created the agency, a Crown corporation, with legislation introduced in October 2021. As the Examiner reported at the time, the agency was to conduct “a comprehensive review of all modes of transportation associated with the Municipality including roads, bridges, highways, ferries, transit, rail, airports and ports for the purpose of creating a master transportation plan to ensure a regional approach to transportation consistent with the Municipality’s growth and development, and the safe, efficient and co-ordinated movement of people and goods.”
CEO Mark Peck, formerly the associate deputy minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and transportation planning executive and senior director Tanya Davis, formerly an HRM transportation manager, made the presentation Thursday.
They told councillors they’re launching public engagement this May through consultants, and the final report is due by the end of 2024. The agency is looking beyond HRM, including surrounding municipalities in their plans.
Coun. Tim Outhit asked Peck and Davis how they’ll balance opposing viewpoints.
“You’ve got some pretty disparate groups there and opinions that you’re going to run into when you start this consultation: ‘I need to get downtown faster on business in my F-150’ versus ‘I never want to see an F-150 again, I want everybody to walk, [bus rapid transit], ferry or whatever to work,'” Outhit said.
Peck said the agency will combine HRM’s existing plans, including the Integrated Mobility Plan on which Davis worked, with new public consultation and travel demand modelling.
The final report will include a phased implementation plan with associated costs.
“We can develop a plan, but a plan is nothing without knowing how you’re going to operate it, and knowing how you’re going to implement it and how much it’s going to cost and who’s going to maintain it in the future,” Davis said.
I went to consultations about the Almon street bike lane back in 2017 or 2018. It’s wild how slow these things move. Macdonald flyover was approved in 2017 too. Just disappointing that there’s been so little progress on this stuff.