I really, really wanted to write part two of the update on bikeway projects this week. But perhaps it is wiser to step back for a moment from documenting the planning progress around bike infrastructure, to consider whether or not this municipality actually has the intention to follow through and build what’s being planned.

This week’s council agenda featured an information report on the prospect of getting Halifax’s AAA (all ages and ability) regional centre bikeway network, which the Integrated Mobility Plan (IMP) included as a priority to be built by 2022, up and running two years earlier, by 2020. The report was requested by council back in December 2017 at the same time the full IMP was approved.

The gist of the report? Forget about 2020, we’ll be lucky to get this thing built by 2022.

There’s a bunch of logistical reasons listed in this report on why a 2020 deadline for the bikeway network might not work. Some of them are reasonable (some pieces of the network require property purchases or utility relocations, and some are part of much larger projects), and some of them are not (why are we still waiting on a Red Book update in order to properly build this stuff?).

But the biggest obstacle to finishing the AAA bikeway network by 2020 turns out to be the same obstacle that will probably keep us from building it by 2022: money. Or more accurately, the lack of political and technocratic will to spend it on sustainable transportation infrastructure.

The information report on the centre bikeway network states:

The capital cost of implementing the Regional Centre AAA Bikeway Network is estimated at $25 M and significantly exceeds the amount typically budgeted for AT infrastructure (approximately $5M/year which also includes new sidewalks and regional trails funding). Only $3M in capital funding for the AAA bikeway network has been approved by Council to date. This network is just one of many AT/IMP capital project priorities. As well, the estimated operational costs for these bikeway facilities are estimated to be $350,000/year for protected bike lanes and $90,000/year for multi-use pathways. Therefore, without having a clear understanding of Regional Council’s direction regarding future capital and operating budgets, it is difficult to commit to a 2020 or 2022 implementation timeframe.

So, we need roughly $25 million to build this out, and so far we have committed $3 million. What are the odds the city will commit to the rest? Based on another report that hit council this week, very low, unless council takes a stand.

Jacques Dubé

Council’s Committee of the Whole got a peek at the proposed multi-year capital budget signed off on by CAO Jacques Dubé on Tuesday. Dubé proposes a three-year grand total of $11 million for active transportation projects (all of them, including new sidewalks and trails).

That means that the CAO and his senior management team are definitely planning not to build a AAA bikeway network. They are planning not to fix the Macdonald Bridge bikeway access. In fact, the nots stretch beyond bikeway infrastructure, and into transit, too. Dubé and his team are proposing not to fund the publicly consulted and council-approved plan to build bus lanes on Bayers Road. And they are proposing not to fund the final year of implementing the Moving Forward Together plan. (Note to Halifax Transit: Next time just ask for the resources to implement the whole thing in a year or two, like so many people begged you to, and save us all this fifth year half-assery).

It’s almost as if the Integrated Mobility Plan never happened. I know the IMP was kick-started by the same Chief Planner that Dubé fired out of the blue in August 2017, but surely that can’t be the reason that he is tossing away our chance at actually reaching our Regional Plan target of 30% sustainable modes by 2031?

I feel badly for councillors here. To insist on sticking to their approved plan and actually building these keys elements of the IMP, they would have to send CAO Jacques Dubé and his senior management team back to the drawing board with this budget. They may even have to approve tax increases.

But what choice do they have? The IMP is Halifax’s chance to correct its course in transportation infrastructure spending and planning — to move from our fossil fuel dependant, high energy system of private cars, to a robust active transportation network and fast and efficient transit system. If we ignore the IMP or let it go stale by delaying it, we are basically deciding to keep digging deeper into this hole we are in.

“If we don’t get more people cycling, walking and using transit,” writes the Ecology Action Centre’s Kelsey Lane in a news release concerned with the lack of budget allocation for the AAA bikeway network, “we will be shouldering future generations with the economic, health and environmental burden associated with the current trend of increased car use in HRM.”

Of course, councillors do have the ultimate authority here. It will be their choice whether to make this investment in sustainable transportation now, or to postpone it indefinitely. “Now is the time to implement the goals we have been talking about for more than a decade,” writes Lane.  “We simply can’t afford to delay the IMP any further.”

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  1. I don’t understand why the bike lobby groups aren’t advocating for tolls on the inbound Halifax commuter highways. Bikeway lanes must be traffic calmed in preparation of a new bike route. There is no safety value painting stripes on a busy street.. Yet there is no talk of highway tolls, which would transfer a lot of commuters to transit and calm the dangerous commuter traffic coming in to the city.
    Tolls would pay for policing, road maintenance and EHS .These costs rise. More commuters are more frequently killing or injuring Halifax city pedestrians and cyclists

  2. HRM was right to trim the bike budget . I have seen HRM projections going back to 2000 where the projected bike usage never came close to reality. It was far below in any time period.

    Spending money prudently means designating more side streets running parallel to busy streets as bikeways, not painting lines on busy streets that have no safety value .

    Bike routes were originally thought of by HRM Transportation as a traffic calming tool. HRM must have realized that widening Bayers Road would fail, and just cause more commuter shortcutting in the family neighbourhoods off Bayers Road.

    1. The idea behind the mobility plan is to get more people on bikes and walking.Dare I say the Mobility Plan encompassed a vision for the future, social engineering if you will.

      HRM has done it many times not the least of which are the beg buttons. That vision was exclusionary and discourags pedestrians at every crosswalk in which they are employed.

      The world is about to boil. One of the reasons is our car addiction. Anything that helps address that is worth more than a line item in a budget.

  3. And as important as AT infrastructure is I suggest road safety (remember an average of 4 people are injured in HRM on our roads each and every day) is even more important.

    In spite of passing a Strategic Road Safety Framework the capital budget for road safety over the next three years – things like traffic calming, improved signaling, other investments to fund the Framework has decreased by 78%, from $5.7 million to $1.215 million. This hardly feels like moving towards Vision Zero; but rather moving away from VZ.

    The sidewalk budget, also critical to pedestrian safety has decreased over the next three years by 60%, from $11.25 million to $4.5 million.

    Yet (and I admit I don’t know the details of these projects) there is $4.5 million budgeted for ‘Scotiabank Centre’; $7.0 million for ‘parkland acquisition’, $4.5 million for ‘revenue and financial accounting management solutions’, $2.5 million for ‘SAP procurement’ and $1.5 million for ‘HR improvement project’. Perhaps some of these are necessary but unless they are ‘must do’ I suggest there is plenty of funding available for road safety and the IMP.

    It is all about priorities.

  4. Hmm, wonder what the budget line looks like for sports stadiums and other one site infrastructure wonders?

    1. Makes no difference what the budget lines say. “Innovative financing” will be used to build the stadium.

      No such innovation for the mobility plan though.

      1. There will be no stadium. I think Dube is the only person who believes there is such a thing as ‘Innovative Financing’.

  5. This is all very disappointing to say the least. Thanks for highlighting it. Time to write to our Councillors and demand action!