Left to right: (front row) Lena Diab, MLA Halifax Armdale: Paula Bond, VP, NS Health Authority; (back row) David Bell, urology specialist; Premier Stephen McNeil. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Last Thursday the Nova Scotia government announced the site of a new outpatient centre designed to replace some of the services currently offered at the Victoria General Hospital, which is slated for demolition by 2022. The new centre will be built in Bayers Lake, a retail business park known for inaccessible design and traffic congestion.

At about the same time that this provincial announcement was taking place off Chain Lake Drive (behind the Home Outfitters), the city’s Integrated Mobility Team (IMP) was at the Central Library introducing the latest outline of their 15-year transportation plan. (The second of six consultation sessions continuing through this week, and online.)

New to this iteration of the IMP was a map focussing on land use, identifying locations for “transit oriented development”: the art of choosing where it makes sense to densify and diversify based on what’s easily served by existing and future planned transit.

You may also know this practice as “putting the horse before the cart.” It just makes sense that instead of chasing random developments around with crappy bus routes, we focus our development around some of the most expensive infrastructure we have: our transportation system.

But of all the dots on Halifax’s “potential transit oriented communities” map, the Bayers Lake Business Park dot is conspicuously absent. Which means that our new, multi-million dollar health centre will be located in an active transportation desert (while the Chain of Lakes trail can get you there, there’s next to no sidewalks to get you around), featuring some of the worst transit service we have to offer. And there are no plans to change that anytime soon.

So what’s the deal? Do the province and the municipality ever chat about this stuff? Or do we live in some sort of “Gift of the Magi” dystopia where one branch of government tries to buy us something nice but just ends up ruining the nice transportation network the other one had planned?

This, apparently, is not a partisan thing, at least from a planning perspective. (I’ll leave the coverage of the financial shenanigans to Jennifer Henderson.) Case in point, in 2010, under Darrel Dexter’s NDP government, Access Nova Scotia’s Halifax office was relocated from the former West End Mall near the Mumford Terminal to its current location in Bayers Lake. And then in 2013, the same government moved Truro’s Access NS office out of downtown and into the cars-only boonies of Truro Heights.

Controversial Access NS locations in Halifax (Bayers Lake) and Truro (Truro Heights) are effectively inaccessible to anyone not in a car.

So what gives? Is there a conspiracy afoot among Nova Scotia technocrats? A sort of wilful ignorance of the consequences of these basic infrastructure choices beyond their own departmental bottom line in a particular budget year? Whatever it is, it’s pretty damn irresponsible.

“It goes against everything we are talking about,” said Rod MacPhail, the transportation consultant heading up Halifax’s IMP team last week, when a citizen asked him about the provincial decision. “Employees who don’t own a car today are going to have to think about getting one.”

Now of course, there will be a chorus of voices saying, let’s just make Bayers Lake better. For the record, I’m not against improving transit and pedestrian access in Bayers Lake, but let’s face it, the cards are stacked against us there. And I’m pretty sure that’s one of the reasons the “BLIP” (as it used to be known back in the early oughts) doesn’t feature prominently in any of the IMP maps.

Bayers Lake was designed for people in cars, and only them. Chain Lake Drive is a four- to six-lane-wide boulevard lined with massive parking lots, at the end of which you will find rows of storefronts or isolated box stores. Even once you drive to Bayers Lake, if you plan to hit more than one location you are compelled to keep driving, since the whole place is “dangerous and unwelcoming” as one citizen commenter put it at last week’s IMP consultation.

All this is not to say that there might not be a case for moving some outpatient services outside of the downtown core. If there’s a critical mass of folks driving in from rural areas, then maybe it makes sense to distribute our care centres off the peninsula. But the province isn’t really presenting this argument, or at least any numbers along with it.

“The primary users are intended to be those 40 per cent of people living in rural communities, as well as outside the downtown core,” wrote provincial media relations advisor Brian Taylor in an email. I’m not entirely clear how the 40 per cent figures in, since this centre cannot possibly be meant for the entire rural population of Nova Scotia. (If it is, some of them are going to be pissed!)

Rather, it seems to be about parking, and the lure of the seemingly endless free surface lot, the kind that makes places physically inaccessible by transit or active transportation.  The province was looking for a 15-acre slab of land so that it could build a massive surface parking lot to go along with a new outpatient centre. And if the Cobequid Health Centre is anything to go by, the lot will be placed between the new health centre and the closest sidewalks and transit access, adding insult to injury for anyone without a car.

As for increasing convenience and reducing travel time for HRM citizens “outside the core,” it’s important to note that there’s zero residential development in Bayers Lake. The closest human homes are on the other side of the 102, in Clayton Park, where incidentally the IMP team has identified an area for high density, diverse transit-oriented development.

Can you just imagine if the province had announced a new health centre to kick off our first major transit oriented development area? What a triumph of smart, collaborative, long range, sustainable planning that would have been. But then we’d miss out on the O. Henry ending, I guess.  So we will have to settle for a 100 per cent car-oriented “health care” facility instead.

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  1. Excellent article Erica and certainly more diplomatic than I am going to be. I understand that folks might not like be taking mass transit after a procedure; but there are many places in the world where this is in fact done (think, New York, Chicago, Paris, Oslo, etc.) . Also, many folks may not have someone else to drive them home and perhaps shouldn’t be required to drive themselves home because there are no other alternatives.

    This boneheaded decision is based on the erroneous assumption, that everyone has or will have access to a car and can drive. But for a number of years, car ownership has been declining in Canada and elsewhere and in surveys, people indicate that they would prefer not to own a car. I also understand that the numbers of drivers’ licenses that are being obtained in Nova Scotia is declining.

    Given the current trends in car ownership, it is fiscally irresponsible to build a facility with a large parking lot and in an area that is not readily reachable by regional transit or mass transit. Factor in that it will take years to construct this facility and given the demographics of Nova Scoltians, more folks will be giving up on car ownership. Building the facility in Bayer’s Lake is a bit like constructing a huge horse and carriage barn at the dawn of the automobile age and the writing of the decline of the horse and buggy culture was on the wall.

    From a policy perspective, how can a provincial health facility justify this decision when we know the increased use of cars destroys air quality, is associated with increased heart and lung disease and the particulate matter from car exhaust is associated with increases in Alzheimers and Parkinsons . Nova Scotia Provincial Health participates in a number of initiatives to promote active transport, complete communities and to combat climate change and certainly has played an active role in the farsighted transportation initiatives. So this decision is clearly a major step backwards.

    In short, the decision to put the new facility in Bayers Lake is just plain dumb.

    1. It is not plain dumb.
      Look at this document from RP+5 and scroll down to attachment A and count the ‘Active and/or planning applications 2013’ to the west of the peninsula and north to the Bedford boundary.

      I count 11,250 dwelling units and that does not include 10,610 units in Bedford West and the 2,409 units in Bedford South.
      And then there is further development in the Hammonds Plains corridor.
      And most of that off peninsula development will attract families. Families don’t buy condos on the peninsula.
      Cllr. Mason can moan,groan, ignore a report he supported and voted for, and play politics but he cannot deny that future growth in HRM will be predominantly off the peninsula and the residents will not want to travel all the way to south end Halifax for outpatient services.
      We plan for what will be in the future, not what exists today.

  2. This was an absolute, unbelievably stupid decision. It cannot be argued any other way. A facility to serve a broad range of the public is placed is a reduced access area. What moron thought that one through? (I hate to use words like this to describe such things, but there really isn’t any other choice in this case).

  3. I guess Erica and other moaners have little experience with outpatient facilities.
    I live in downtown Dartmouth. My recent colonoscopy was performed at Cobequid, two previous procedures were at the VG. You don’t take a bus home after the procedure, someone takes you home. And taking a bus to Cobequid is a nightmare.
    My ultrasound was performed at DGH.
    My friend in Halifax with knee problems waits for an appointment at Kentville.
    Population growth in peninsula Halifax was less than 400 between 2011 and 2016.
    A great deal of residential development exists close to Bayers Lake and much more is planned. And people from Hammonds Plains, LKingswood,Beechville, Lakeside,Timberlea and Bedford West as well as mainland south can get to the proposed location quicker than the VG or QE2.

    1. I think Colin and Erica are both right.

      From the rural and patient perspectives, I’m going to have to agree with Colin: You don’t really want to take a bus or bike to a Doctor’s satellite office or minor procedure site for an appointment. If this place will be doing minor procedures with ANY degree of sedation, sending someone home on the bus or biking wouldn’t be very wise either (fall risk, nausea risk, psychosis risk). Additionally, whereas urbanites may not necessarily need cars for their day-to-day activities, car ownership for rural Nova Scotians is probably quite high. Access to this site –from their perspective– is probably preferable when compared to heading all the way downtown for an appointment, follow-up, or minor procedure.

      Flipping over to the urban and employee perspective, however, Erica is bang-on. Urban folks don’t necessarily need to own a car, thus access for them could be a hassle. Additionally, the healthcare sector is the second largest employer in the HRM. It would be beneficial for NSHA to encourage more folks to walk or ride to work. After all, active employees have less sick days and are more productive. Even using the bus has better health outcomes than taking the car.

      I’d really like to know more about the other sites that were under review for this facility. At the end of the day, however, this is a matter of perspective. Heading into an election cycle, this story has good optics for the Liberal party of NS, especially for rural voters.

  4. It’s even more ironic because cars have been identified as playing a large role in our lack of strong health outcomes. Maybe it will generate more of its own traffic accidents making it successful.

  5. does this indicate that Liberals have given up on urban seats and is catering to rural/exurban voters driving in to the city?

  6. Bayers Lake is hell for anyone without a car, exceeded in its outright hostility towards pedestrians only by Burnside. The new outpatient centre will be useless to pedestrians.

    My worst experience there was going to “Access” Nova Scotia by bus to get a driver’s license. It takes about an hour for the 52 to make it there, only to drop you off on the side of the highway OPPOSITE Access NS. There are no crosswalks, let alone a traffic light. You have to run across 4 lanes of the most psychopathically aggressive traffic in the city to make it.

    Access NS, the only place in Halifax to get a driver’s license, is in such an inaccessible place you basically need a driver’s license to get there.

    1. i take note of the comments that people who have undergone some of the outpatient procedures that take place in such a facility will be in no fit state to drive. But who is going to drive them there and take them home again? I have gone to BLIP a few times, never as a driver. The last time, a couple of years ago, I declared after our first intended stop that we should forget the other errand, we’d order the items wanted on line. Which we did. The BLIP is hell. If I ever need a procedure done in a facility built there, I guess I will choose death instead, and I will certainly not be the one to escort a loved one there.
      There is NOTHING good about this choice of location. It is in a public transportation desert, it is dangerous to move around in whether protected by a metal carapace or sprinting from parking lot to facility. It does nothing to improve our environment which is crucial for our health. Most of the money spent on the land is going to go to PARK CARS. Give me a break. This is crazy.