At long last, Halifax staff have finalized a list of small fixes to our streets and intersections that will start getting our buses through traffic faster.
This is great news for transit riders, and will collectively save them tens of thousands of hours on buses every year.
Unfortunately, the timeline to implement these fixes is long: five years in total to design and build 11 relatively minor projects, like designating a bus-only toll lane on the Macdonald Bridge, widening roads to allow for transit-only queue jump lanes, and changing the rules to let buses turn or go straight where currently prohibited.
The total cost of all projects on the list comes to $1.2 million, according to a consultant’s report going to the Transportation Standing Committee this week. The measures could save transit riders 92 user hours per day collectively. On the flip side, five of the measures will cost time to drivers and passengers in cars.
Scroll down for a chart showing delays and time savings project by project.
The measures will also save Halifax Transit operating costs. Fewer buses stuck in traffic means less wasted gas and less wasted time, which translates to $70,000 a year in savings for Halifax Transit.
So why would we take five years to complete a short list of small projects that could actually positively impact the quality and reliability of our transit system? The short answer: because that’s how we do it.
“In terms of budgeting, it’s a lot easier to have a steady stream of funding year after year and start picking off priorities one by one,” says David McCusker, Halifax’s regional transportation planning manager. “We do that with a lot of programs like new sidewalks and traffic signals and stuff like that.”
This all sounds very reasonable except when you consider how far behind we are with transit-friendly design on our streets. And the fact that many of the measures on this list should have been done years ago.
Consider the dedicated transit toll lane on the Macdonald bridge, still two years away according to this plan. Could it really be that we can’t find $12,000 this year to help out the dozens of buses per hour that have to cross the Macdonald during rush hour? Back in the late 90s, before the third lane was built, there was discussion of using the extra width as an HOV lane to carry buses and cars with multiple passengers. It’s now two decades later, and we are delaying the designation of a single Halifax-bound toll lane to buses.
McCusker explains that the toll lane delay is due to pending changes that the Bridge Commission will be making to how they collect tolls. But if implemented in 2016, a transit-only toll lane would operate for two years before this happened. Why make cross-harbour transit riders wait so long for such a simple and cheap fix?
The good news is that we could implement these measures faster, without extra costs. “If we were asked to do the entire list in one year that would be a challenge,” says McCusker, “but accelerating the schedule is not that difficult a thing to do. It would just be reallocation of some resources.”
“We’d like them to happen faster too,” says McCusker, but,”it’s not typically the way stuff gets built here.”
With no staff recommendations for faster implementation, the timeline is essentially up to council. “If [council] wants an accelerated program, they can do that in the budgeting process,” says McCusker.
Considering councillors have been known to interrogate Halifax Transit staff about why ridership is stagnant despite increased revenue and resources, they might just be interested in measures that could positively affect ridership.
Each of these measures makes a small improvement to reliability and schedule adherence. Altogether, they could impact the overall efficiency of the system. They will also up Halifax Transit’s marketing game by increasing its positive presence on the street. What better advertisement for transit than having buses slip by cars stuck in rush hour traffic?
Ultimately, this list of measures is small potatoes. McCusker is the first to acknowledge this. “These are fairly small scale projects, and this is really just the start for us. We know we have to look on a corridor basis and doing significantly more than this, and that’s going to happen in the coming years.”
The fact that these are tiny steps, with real transit priority plans (for things like dedicated transit or HOV lanes) still to come, convinces me more than anything that they should be happening sooner. At the current pace, Shannon Park will be built by the time the last item is crossed off this list.
For low-hanging fruit, it sure is taking a long time to reach.
Halifax’s Proposed Five-year TPM Implementation Plan
(from Transit Priority Measures Study completed by WSP Group)
Already completed in 2015:
Main Street @ Hartlen Street
Provide exemption from regulation to permit northbound buses to turn left from right turn lane at Main Street.
Slated for 2016:
Robie Street @ Almon Street
Provide exemption from regulation and install transit only phase to permit southbound buses to proceed from right turn lane at Almon Street.
Slated for 2017:
Windmill Road @ Seapoint Road (southbound)
Widen road and provide exemption from regulation to create southbound queue jump lane. (This one might happen this year.)
Mumford Road @ Chebucto Road
Reconfigure lanes on Mumford Road between Chebucto Road and Leppert Street. Provide exemption from regulation and install transit only phase to permit southbound left turn buses to proceed from right turn lane at Chebucto Road.
Slated for 2018:
Macdonald Bridge @ Wyse Road
Convert far right Halifax-bound toll lane (Lane 10) to Transit only.
Barrington Street @ Macdonald Bridge Ramp
Relocate existing bus stop and reconfigure lanes at bridge approach to reduce merging by transit vehicles.
Chebucto Road @ Connaught Avenue
Provide exemption from regulation and install receiving lane for queue jump for eastbound through buses on Chebucto Road
Slated for 2019:
Windmill Road @ Victoria Road (northbound)
Widen road and provide exemption from regulation to create northbound queue jump lane.
Slated for 2020:
Main Street @ Gordon Avenue
Provide exemption from regulation and install transit only phase to permit eastbound buses to proceed from right turn lane at Gordon Avenue.
Portland Street @ Woodlawn Road
Extend transit only lane to provide additional queue jump opportunity for westbound buses.
Cobequid Terminal @ Cobequid Road
Install eastbound protected/permitted phase for left turning vehicles leaving Cobequid Terminal.
Slated for 2021:
Windmill Road @ Akerley Boulevard
Provide free flow (except pedestrian crossings) transit only lane for southbound buses at traffic signal. Remove southbound transit only phase.
Defer until intersection is further reviewed:
Robie Street @ Quinpool Road
Reconfigure southbound curb lane on Robie Street as transit only lane-except right turns.
Costs, savings, and estimated time delays for recommended TPMs
|Location||Estimated Capital Cost||Annual Savings for Halifax Transit||Transit User Delay (user.hr/day)||Non-Transit User Delay (user.hr/day)||Net Road User Delay (user.hr/day)||Proposed year for construction|
|Robie Street @ Almon Street||$6,000.00||$2,000.00||-2.6||0||-2.6||2016|
|Main Street @ Hartlen Street||$4,000.00||$10,700.00||-7.1||0||-7.1||2016|
|Windmill Road @ Seapoint Road (southbound)||$276,000.00||$14,100.00||-20||0||-20||2017|
|Mumford Road @ Chebucto Road||$10,000.00||$3,800.00||-5.4||5||-0.4||2017|
|Macdonald Bridge @ Wyse Road||$12,000.00||$2,800.00||-4.4||0||-4.4||2018|
|Barrington Street @ Macdonald Bridge Ramp||$83,000.00||$2,000.00||-3.4||0||-3.4||2018|
|Chebucto Road @ Connaught Avenue||$99,000.00||$3,600.00||-6||0||-6||2018|
|Windmill Road @ Victoria Road (northbound)||$299,000.00||$15,200.00||-23.4||0.1||-23.3||2019|
|Main Street @ Gordon Avenue||$4,000.00||$7,200.00||-6.8||46.5||39.7||2020|
|Portland Street @ Woodlawn Road||$68,000.00||$3,200.00||-3.2||0||-3.2||2020|
|Cobequid Terminal @ Cobequid Road||$4,000.00||$1400.00||-1.1||5.6||4.5||2020|
|Windmill Road @ Akerley Boulevard||$332,000.00||$1,500.00||-2.8||0||-2.8||2021|
|Robie Street @ Quinpool Road||$20,000.00||$3,200.00||-5.9||106.9||101||tbd|
As with so many things, Council is the roadblock to progress.
Vote in October.