An engineering student at Dalhousie University and a handful of volunteers spent four months researching intersections of peninsular Halifax that were missing street signs, and then complied that data into a map they sent to the city.
Brennan Wilkie first noticed the missing street signs several years ago during his commute from where he then lived near the airport to his work downtown.
“As I was coming into the city, I’d be going across major intersections like Connaught and Quinpool and there was no sign for Quinpool. And I thought that was really strange,” Wilkie said in an interview with the Halifax Examiner.
Year after year, Wilkie started noticing more signs missing during those commutes.
“I figured it might have just been they hadn’t might not have got around to [replacing the signs] yet. They being the city,” Wilkie said. “After a number of years noticing it, I figured once I get some time, I might as well do something about it.”
Wilkie said when he first noticed the missing signs it was more of a “general annoyance.”
“But as I got more involved in the local community, it’s become a realization to me that Halifax is very tourism-centric, and so we have tens of thousands of people coming in each year off those ships. Speaking as someone who doesn’t have data on their phone, if you don’t have street signs and you’re trying to find a place, you have absolutely no idea where you’re going. People need to know where they’re going.”
Mapping out the data
Wilkie posted to the online community Reddit that he was looking for volunteers to help him figure out the intersections on the peninsula that were missing signs.
“That gave me a nice little group of people who were interested and who would actually go out and get some of the data with me,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie and the volunteers walked and biked across the peninsula and found out 1,100 intersections about 35% of those were missing street signs.
Wilkie said those were intersections that were missing all street signs for one road.
“Something that people get confused about is that it’s not that I was looking for if there was just one sign missing,” Wilkie said. “An intersection was counted as missing a street sign if there was no listing of what one of the streets was.”
Collecting the data took about four months over the summer of 2021. Wilkie then mapped out the data on a Google map. The green markers indicate all street signs, while a yellow marker indicates a missing sign. A map legend details what signs are missing at each intersection. In some cases it’s one street sign, while in others it’s all street signs missing at an intersection.
While the missing street signs are scattered all over the peninsula, Wilkie said there seemed to be more missing in the city’s north end.
“As you get further up into the north end, some of the streets, particularly in the Hydrostone, those ones get very close together, so, of course, that’s going to be an area of more street signs being missing just because street signs are packed together,” he said.
‘It’s a symptom of the system’
Wilkie then sent the data and map to the city. He got a reply back from someone at the asset management office saying that data was put into the HRM’s Cityworks system, which processes work orders.
“He ended up putting up almost 400 work orders,” Wilkie said. “So, it was certainly a lot of work for him.”
Wilkie said he didn’t get an explanation as to why there were so many missing signs, but he has a theory of his own.
“It’s just a symptom of the system,” Wilkie said. “The explanation of how these things normally get taken care of is someone will call into 311 or let the city know in some other way. And [the city] will make a work order and someone will go out to see if the sign is actually missing.”
“And then they’ll send that off to the sign shop in the north end to get the sign remade. I think because they’re relying on the citizens to do it, which is fantastic, I am all for people getting involved in their community. That’s great. But if people aren’t calling in or they don’t know to call in, or they think someone else is going to do it, then it doesn’t tend to get done.”
Wilkie said the city told him to check back about progress on the work. So, he checked with them this past spring and learned none of the signs were replaced. Wilkie said the city likely “has bigger fish to fry right now, which is fair enough.”
“I figured the best I could do as a citizen was to give them the information,” Wilkie said. “The signs are not my property. I can’t go up and put up new signs because they have a process for that. So, if those signs get put back up, fantastic.”
Update: The Examiner reached out to the HRM to see the status of the work on this project. On Tuesday, Klara Needler, a spokesperson with the HRM, sent along this response:
Work orders have been arranged for all reports the municipality has received on missing, damaged or faded signs. These reviews are ongoing and will continue to take place over the winter months.
Once a missing, damaged, or faded sign is brought to the municipality’s attention, staff will then visit the site and assess whether a replacement is necessary. If deemed necessary, staff will replace the sign.
The municipality anticipates the need to replace missing, damaged or faded signs every fiscal year. The Public Works maintenance budget covers all items associated with traffic signs, street name signs and pavement markings.
Inspiring others to get involved in their communities
Wilkie said he has heard from people that there are missing signs on intersections in parts of the city off the peninsula. But he decided to draw the line and not map out the missing signs elsewhere in the city. He did start a Dartmouth project to map missing street signs there, but that’s at a bit of a standstill because doesn’t have the time to spend travelling around Dartmouth to collect the data.
“I wanted there to be some participation from the local community because I just put in a lot of work doing this one and I was going into my final semester at school,” Wilkie said.
“Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be quite the participation in Dartmouth. There was some, but not enough to really keep the project going. Maybe it will get off the ground at some point, but I’ve moved onto other things at this point.”
Wilkie, whose project was featured on Google’s YouTube channel, does hope his project inspires other citizens get involved to help their community somehow.
“It seems like a lot of people these days are kind of waiting around for someone else to do it,” he said. “And it doesn’t always happen. If you see something that needs fixing, look into it. Like I said, it might not always be you who can do it because it may not be your property you’re trying to fix. But if you see something that is going wrong, you live in this place, too, so it’s your responsibility and your benefit to speak up and do something about it.”
Wilkie just wrapped up his final year studying electrical engineering and he’s now looking for a job. Still, the missing street sign project taught him a few lessons.
“It opened my eyes a bit to how the system works in terms of getting things fixed and how local government runs, but it also introduced me to a couple of other citizens who are like-minded and willing to put in some work,” he said. “I am just looking for the next thing to take on.”
This is just another example of the problem with HRM. It starts at the top and filters down to the bottom. There are individuals who do the right thing but…
Last week I saw city trucks spreading salt on streets with gutters and catch basins full of leaves. This happens year after year. The only constant is taxes going up to pay for lousy services. They react–no proactive insight.
Council cut the budget for street cleaning several years ago. They don’t care that the leaves end up clogging drains below street level because the cost of clearing drains falls upon Halifax water.
As I live an hour away from Halifax, and visit every few months. I often get frustrated when I can’t find the signs for streets. I go back and forth trying to figure out if I’ve found the right one. It’s very frustrating. I heard about Mr. Wilkie’s project when he first reported his findings, and wondered if anything came of it. I’m glad he found people who have a similar willingness to work on such a task. I’m EXTREMELY disappointed that there has been no action taken. Why aren’t the municipal counsellors demanding that the streets in their areas be properly identified?