A city scene on a sunny winter day. In the background, the stone backside of Halifax City Hall. In the foreground, a pedestrian wearing a three-quarter length winter jacket, red sneakers and a white N95-style mask walks on the sidewalk. Another pedestrian behind her, wearing a red toque and blue sneakers, mounts the sidewalk. A right-turning navy SUV drives through a crosswalk behind the man.
Halifax City Hall is seen from the corner of Barrington and Duke streets on Tuesday. Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Regional council would be agreeing to kill more people if it adopted a new traffic calming policy as written, Coun. Shawn Cleary argued on Tuesday.

Council debated the new policy during its regular meeting, eventually voting to defer a vote pending more information on how adjusting the minimum speed threshold in the policy would affect streets being paved anyway.

Traffic calming is the practice of adding speed humps or other measures to streets designed to slow vehicles. The municipality has ramped up efforts to apply those measures to more streets in recent years, but still faces a backlog of hundreds of streets.

Drivers pass by a traffic-calming island on Colby Drive in Cole Harbour, N.S. in April 2020. Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

That’s because, according to staff in transportation and public works at the city, it’s too easy for a street to qualify.

When a resident or the area councillor applies for traffic calming, the municipality assesses a street for traffic volume, collisions, pedestrian usage, infrastructure, and most importantly, speed.

If the 85th percentile speed on a street is above 40 km/h, it qualifies for traffic calming. That means 85% of drivers on the street are travelling at or below 40 km/h, and 15% are travelling at more than 40 km/h.

With the new policy before council on Tuesday, staff proposed to raise that threshold to 45 km/h, arguing it would allow the municipality to focus resources on higher-priority streets.

Citing World Health Organization data, Cleary argued that the difference between 40 and 45 km/h can be fatal for pedestrians, who have less than a 50% chance of survival if hit at 45 km/h.

“By allowing higher speeds on our streets, we’re actually actively making a decision to kill more people,” Cleary said.

He brought an amendment to maintain the 40 km/h threshold in most sections of the policy. It passed with Mayor Mike Savage, Deputy Mayor Pam Lovelace, and Coun. Trish Purdy voting no.

After Cleary’s amendment, Coun. Sam Austin brought a motion of deferral, seeking more information on adding a clause to the policy to raise the threshold to 45 km/h for streets that are being repaved.

Austin argued that policy would help HRM work through the existing list faster. That motion passed 10-6.

The deferral doesn’t affect traffic calming plans for the coming fiscal year, 2022-2023. The draft capital plan includes more than 50 planned streets or school zones for traffic calming at a budget of $2.9 million.

Budget debate kicked to Friday

Council’s budget committee got to work on the proposed capital budget on Tuesday, but didn’t make time to finish the debate.

The draft 2022-2023 capital plan, with more than $200 million in planned spending, includes nearly $38 million for street paving, $29 million for expanding Burnside Industrial Park, and $9.4 million for realigning part of downtown Dartmouth.

While Coun. Sam Austin was happy to see that downtown Dartmouth money, which includes the next phrase of daylighting the Sawmill River, he’d hoped to see more cash for crosswalks.

Austin moved for a briefing note on improving more crosswalks in HRM in the coming fiscal year, typically by adding lights. That will come back with a price tag as a budget option for council’s consideration at the end of the budget process in April.

The capital budget debate continues Friday morning with a virtual meeting.

Coun. Kathryn Morse has signalled she’ll move for a briefing note on building more new sidewalks in 2022, with only a handful planned for the next fiscal year.*

Big development coming for West End Mall

Mumford Road would be the most population-dense area in Halifax if a new development proposal from one of the property owners pans out.

On behalf of the major landowner in the area, OPB Realty Inc., real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield applied to redevelop the block bounded by Mumford, the CN Rail cut, and Leppert Street. There are a total of 10 property owners in the area.

A map of West End Halifax with the West End Mall coloured in red.
A map from the proponent’s application letter showing the West End Mall area. Credit: Contributed

Cushman and Wakefield is proposing to remove some of the mall buildings on the property; create new streets; build a new underground transit terminal; and put up 15 residential towers to the maximum height of 90 metres for a total of more than 5,500 new residential units.

“This would translate to a population of 12,500 people at full build out, and a density of 867 people per hectare (86,700 people per square kilometre). This is much higher than other large-scale developments underway or proposed,” municipal planner Sean Gillis wrote in the staff report to council.

“By comparison, the proposal for Shannon Park is for a density of 20,000 people per square kilometre and the highest densities currently existing in the South End of Halifax are about 15,000 people per square kilometre.”

Halifax Water hasn’t raised any concerns about that level of density, Gillis wrote, and the area is well-served by transit and transportation networks generally.

“Staff suggest from a transportation and servicing point-of-view, that this site is one of the best places in HRM to consider very high densities,” Gillis wrote.

There are some issues around the design of the buildings, and the proponent’s vision for an underground transit terminal, something a few councillors shot down and that municipal staff say is unlikely to come to fruition.

The motion before council on Tuesday started a master planning exercise to lead to eventual zoning changes to allow redevelopment. Coun. Shawn Cleary amended that motion to make sure staff allow other landowners on the site to get their fair share of the allotted density. There’s no timeline attached.

Development coming along Kearney Lake

A sprawl developer has big plans for an old quarry along Kearney Lake, but neighbours aren’t convinced the already-polluted lake can withstand the pressure.

Council held a public hearing Tuesday evening to consider a policy enabling development on the land between Highway 102 and Kearney Lake Road, at the end of Hogan Court off Larry Uteck Boulevard. The area is known as West Bedford Sub Area 10. There are several landowners, and Clayton Developments is representing most of them in the development process.

The developer wants to build a series of apartment buildings clustered in neighbourhoods along Kearney Lake Road.

During the public hearing, Mary Ann McGrath, chair of the Kearney Lake Residents Association, told council road construction is washing silt into the lake now, and she questioned whether compliance and enforcement will be good enough to keep the lake clean during this development.

“The state that Kearney Lake is in now, we’re only going to get one more shot at this,” McGrath said.

Council voted unanimously in favour of the enabling policy. Clayton will have to make further applications for the specific developments on the land.

Federally-funded women’s shelter gets go-ahead

Souls Harbour Rescue Mission’s expanded women’s shelter on the Eastern Shore got the final go-ahead from council on Tuesday.

During the second public hearing of the evening, council voted in favour of land-use planning amendments to allow the addition of 12 units to the mission’s existing shelter in West Chezzetcook.

Council had already approved the use of about $3 million in federal Rapid Housing Initiative funding for the project in late-August.

That initiative gives Souls Harbour a year to build.

*Correction — Dec. 15, 2021:

An earlier version of this story mixed up which councillors moved for better crosswalks and more new sidewalks.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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