NEWS

1. Bike lanes and downtown businesses

Halifax is going ahead with a plan to install permanent bike lanes on Brunswick Street, Zane Woodford reports. The plan includes the removal of 59 parking spots. It also represents a key part of the city’s bike network, and provides an opportunity to redo the landscaping of the street.

Click here to read Woodford’s story, “Brunswick Street bike lane plan moves ahead despite parking concerns.” The story is for subscribers only. Subscribe here.

I want to look at something that Woodford brings up in his story: the opposition to the Brunswick Street bike lane by the owners of Steve-O-Reno’s café. Although I haven’t been there in awhile, I always had a soft spot for Steve’s, back in the days when it was actually owned by Steve Armbruster (RIP). This was before there was a specialty coffee shop on every other block. As I recall, Steve-O-Reno’s was also one of the first places in the city to make smoothies. And they were good! And reasonably priced!

A rendering shows two lanes of vehicular traffic, a bike lane, trees, a sidewalk, and a mural on a retaining wall, with people throughout the space.
A rendering of the proposed changes to Brunswick Street, looking south. Credit: HRM

Anyway, the current “Community-focused Small Business Owner,” is pissed off about the city’s wanting to run a bike lane along Brunswick, because, like so many misguided business owners in so many cities, they think drivers’ inability to park right in front of the shop will hurt their business.

On Facebook, the shop posted:

There’s a project underway to remove public street parking on Brunswick Street (between Sackville Street and Spring Garden Road) and replace these parking spaces with bicycle lanes. While we believe bicycle lanes to be an important feature that can improve access to our downtown, we’re opposed to losing parking on Brunswick Street.

We depend on these parking spaces in order to:

– Serve a diverse community, including many seniors and folks who live with various disabilities and mobility challenges.

– Receive deliveries of goods and supplies needed to operate on a day-to-day basis.

– Operate our seasonal patio, allowing us to double the seating capacity of our small cafe. This helps bolster our revenue during the busy warm-weather months in order to sustain our business during the slower, cold-weather months.

Removing the parking spaces on Brunswick Street significantly impacts the functioning of our cafe, its loyal community, and our long-term viability as a business.

There are a handful of parking spaces on Brunswick, and a loading zone in front of the café, which, I suspect, sees a lot of “I’m just dashing in for a coffee” traffic. However, the Doyle Building has plenty of cheap, underground parking, and, as Tim Bousquet noted yesterday, it is all of 66 steps from the Doyle to the front door of the café.

(Yes, but Phil, people do not want to pay $2 to get a grab-and-go coffee. Wait 15 minutes in a drive-thru line? Yes. Pay to park? No.)

Presumably to support their case against the bike lane, Steve-O-Reno’s created an online survey, asking people’s opinions, but the survey was shut down Monday afternoon, and, as far as I can see, no results have been shared. The survey opened with the first paragraph from the Facebook post above (ie, we are opposed to the bike lane), and it included these among other questions:

  • If you travel by car, are you satisfied with the parking options?
  • If you travel by car, do you use street parking to visit neighbouring businesses?
  • If there was no street parking on Brunswick Street, would it deter you from visiting our cafe? (One respondent to the survey shared a screenshot of their reply, which said, “No, but this survey will.”)
  • Would the removal of parking on Brunswick Street limit you or anyone you know in accessing businesses such as ours due to a disability or mobility challenge?

As Zane Woodford notes in his story, landscape architect Katherine Peck “told reporters on Tuesday that a widened sidewalk in front of the café will accommodate the same patio capacity. As part of the interim project, Peck said HRM will work around the café’s existing patio.” Peck also said the accessible parking spaces will also be maintained.

I said “misguided business owners” above. Why? Well, there’s this idea that you need car traffic to survive. And, if you’re the McDonald’s in Tantallon, I’m sure you do. But if you are a small business right off Spring Garden, near the Central Library and thousands of residences and businesses, maybe not.

Don’t take it from me. Look at the data. First, who is spending money in and around Spring Garden. People commuting by car? Nope. As Coun. Waye Mason told me a few months ago, and Spring Garden Area Business Association executive director Sue Uteck confirmed, survey data shows more than 70% of people who come to the area arrive by bus (roughly 40%), or bike or walk (roughly 30%).

In 2016, Toronto installed 2.4 km of bike lanes along Bloor Street, then did an extensive study to determine the economic impact.

From the study’s conclusions:

Early indicators point to a positive, or at least neutral, economic impact of the bike lane.

Among customers to Bloor Street, cycling almost tripled as a travel choice (from 7% to 20%). Walking remained the most popular travel choice (48%) and driving is now the least (10%). Merchants, on the other hand, preferred to drive (49%) and there was no increase in cycling, which remained the least preferred travel choice (6%)…

There is a discrepancy between the number of specific concerns raised among merchants and the overall positive economic indicators found in this study. Merchants raised many more concerns than visitors, the most common being over impacts to
business, but safety, parking and traffic congestion were also important issues.

The data on how customers travelled to downtown businesses versus how merchants get there is interesting, isn’t it? Yes, the quote above refers to Toronto, but I would not be surprised if the same holds true for much of downtown Halifax. Maybe if you’re driving to work, you assume most of your customers are too.

A paper published in 2018 looked at the impact of bike lanes on businesses in San Francisco. Author Joseph A. Poirier, notes that fears of bike lanes tend to be overblown:

Bicycle lanes do not seem to have the catastrophic negative effect on business that some merchants claim.

At the same time, Poirier says:

It is not true to claim that bicycle lanes will increase sales for all businesses. Put more simply, a blanket “bicycle lanes are good for all businesses” statement is likely untrue.

But, who is most likely to benefit? “Local-serving” establishments — in other words, businesses like Steve-O-Reno’s:

Local-serving establishments, however, show a largely positive relationship between bicycle lane intervention and establishment performance (Table 4). Sales per establishment, in particular, operate strongly in favor of a suggestion that bicycle lane interventions are good for local-serving businesses. 

Of course, one could argue that improving the city’s network of bike lanes (so that, for instance, one can easily travel to the Central Library by bike) is a net benefit, regardless of whether or not it is good for local businesses.

I am fascinated by drivers (not an alien species! I drive downtown!) who will spend tens of thousands of dollars on vehicles, hundreds of dollars a month in gas, thousands of dollars on insurance, but for whom paying two bucks to park for a half hour rather than pulling up right in front of the door (even if you’re pulling up in front of the door illegally) is simply a step too far.

In his story, Woodford quotes Coun. Trish Purdy, who is opposed to the project and voted against it, making an argument I have heard counless times, and so, probably have you:

“Walking a few blocks might be a challenge for folks,” the Cole Harbour-Westphal councillor said.

“I’m even hearing from people, like for example in my district in the suburbia, older folks don’t come downtown anymore, or they won’t. They don’t appreciate how difficult it is to drive on the streets and also, they’re finding a lack of parking now and that’s even without the removal of these parking spots.”

I’ve hung out at lots of ballgames in the suburbs and exurbs, and had many, many conversations with people who tell me how terrible downtown is, how hard it is to park there, and that they have not been there in years. This is akin to the people who complain to news organizations that they are going to cancel their subscription over some outrage —a subscription that they don’t have.

Look, I can understand if you live in Cole Harbour and are not comfortable driving downtown. But the thing is, these folks are apparently not driving downtown now. Will removing a few dozen parking spots prevent them from driving downtown even more? I don’t get it. Like, they don’t go downtown now, but maybe they would have considered it, but now they definitely won’t? Come on. This is not a serious argument.

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)


2. Housing assessments and property taxes

Logo showing a stylized open door, and the words Property Valuation Services Corporation. A truly valued Nova Scotia
The PVSC logo and tag line. It looks like something’s missing from that line, doesn’t it?

Property assessments are up, but that doesn’t mean your tax bill will rise accordingly, Zane Woodford reports:

Lloyd MacLeod, PVSC director of assessment, told council the assessments are based on market value as of Jan. 1, 2022, and the condition of the home as of Dec. 1, 2022.

“I don’t think it’s any surprise that most people will see an increase in their assessments,” MacLeod said.

MacLeod told council total assessments in HRM are up to about $83.3 billion this year, compared to $68.8 billion last year — 21.1%.

Those figures, however, don’t include the Capped Assessment Program (CAP). The CAP applies after one year to residential properties at least 50% owned by Nova Scotians who live in them. That applies to about 63% of assessments across Nova Scotia, and it caps increases to inflation. This year, it’s 7.7%.

Woodford looks at how council might approach setting property tax rates for next year. His story also looks at other issues that came before council on Tuesday, including transit funding.

Click here to read “What does a big assessment increase mean for Halifax property taxes?” The story is for subscribers only. Subscribe here.

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)


3. Income assistance rates

A large piece of brown cardboard ripped into a rectangle with the word HELP written on it in black pen lies on top of some clothing in a grocery cart.
Grocery and other prices keep rising. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont Credit: Mart Production/Pexels.com

“There is a deep cruelty in leaving thousands of Nova Scotians on income assistance to live a life of damaging poverty. And it’s a political choice,” Feed Nova Scotia executive director Nick Jennery told the Nova Scotia legislature’s community services standing committee yesterday.

Yvette d’Entremont quotes from Jennery’s testimony and looks at the impacts of the cost of living on the most vulnerable Nova Scotians — and what can be done about it. (For one thing: raise income assistance rates.)

d’Entremont writes:

Christina Carter echoed many of Jennery’s comments. The executive director of Chebucto Connections told the committee the rising cost of living means the work undertaken by her organization gets “tougher every day.”

“Last week alone, we had a single parent diagnosed with cancer. Their EI benefits ran out and they had to wait 30 days after their last EI payment to apply for social assistance, forcing them into rental arrears and receiving an eviction notice,” Carter said. 

“Another person who recently became homeless, they got evicted for letting other folks couch surf at their home. A senior with health issues contemplating assisted suicide because they just don’t see another way out of the struggle. These are not unique stories, but I do believe there’s hope and a way to make meaningful change.”

Click here to read “Nova Scotians on income assistance ‘live a life of damaging poverty,’ advocate tells committee.”

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)


4. Dying at emerg and ambulance wait times

A white woman with brown hair and brown eyes.
Allison Holthoff Credit: Facebook

Jennifer Henderson follows up on the terrible story of Allison Holthoff, who died at hospital emergency in Amherst, having waited seven hours without seeing a doctor. Holthoff’s husband, Gunter, drove her to hospital rather than call 911, largely because of the long wait times for ambulances.

Henderson writes:

Kevin MacMullin is the business manager for Local 727 of the International Operating Engineers Union, which represents paramedics. He said paramedics stationed at bases in Amherst and Pugwash knew Holthoff because of her work as a deputy volunteer fire chief and are grieving her loss. 

On the same day Holthoff died, a 92-year-old woman with a broken hip at Amherst Head waited nearly five hours for an ambulance to get to the Cumberland hospital. Gunter Holthoff decided to drive his wife the 15 minutes to the hospital emergency department because of the couple’s experience last September when Allison was thrown from a horse and it took almost three hours for the ambulance to arrive…

MacMullin said they need at least 300-350 more paramedics to keep up with an increasing volume of calls in the past six months and upcoming retirements.

There are currently 43 students in the province’s one-year paramedic training program.

Click here to read “Death in Amherst emergency department raises questions about ambulance wait times.”

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)


5. Charges against Indigenous fishermen dismissed

Lobster traps Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Charges against three Indigenous fishermen have been dropped, Maureen Googoo reports at Ku’Ku’Kwes News.

Googoo writes:

In his decision in Digby Provincial Court, Judge Timothy Landry said the federal crown failed to provide evidence to prove the fishermen, all from the Sipekne’katik First Nation, did not have any other legal authority under the Fisheries Act to fish for lobster.

“In order for me to know that (the fishermen) possess fish that were caught contrary to the Fisheries Act, I have to know that they don’t have the authority to fish in any other fashion, which I don’t,” Judge Landry said in court before issuing his ruling on Monday.

Lawyer Michael McDonald represented the three men. Googoo reports that McDonald “intends to file a lawsuit against DFO on their behalf seeking damages for racial profiling, harassment, loss of earnings, seizure of fishing equipment and a vehicle, travel expenses to attend court as well as pain and suffering.”

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)

A box with a link which reads "Important notice: if you're having problems signing in, or you've received a failed payment notice, please click here for help."

VIEWS

Truffle oil and other bullshit

plate of pasta
Photo by Pixelme Stock Photography on Pexels.com

Do you like a good rant? I like a good rant. Let me point you to two I came across and enjoyed over the past week.

First up: truffles and truffle oil.

This rant is by Taste Atlas founder Matt Babich, and it is called “The truffle industry is a big scam. Not just truffle oil, everything.”

Over dinner the other night, we were talking about things that once seemed very fancy but no longer do. Our list included hot tubs and cruises. It could have easily included truffles, or what passes for truffles. You see, Babich argues that we have become used to what we think of as the taste of truffles through the ubiquity of “truffle oil,” which has “natural flavourings” wholly divorced from real truffles. Real truffles are expensive and usually unavailable, and have a very subtle taste (he says; I wouldn’t know) and they have been completely superseded by their fake, bullshit counterpart.

Babich writes:

It is a scam because it deceives customers; that is, it falsely represents a product that has nothing to do with truffles and puts all restaurateurs who try to work honestly in an unfavorable position: if you don’t flavor truffle dishes with added aromas and flavors that the guests are used to, the naive guests will think you’re being cheap and trying to save on their meal…

Almost everything with the truffle label that is available in stores or served in restaurants is a lie and a fraud.

If you think you know what truffles taste like because you had them at restaurants, or you may have prepared something with the products you bought at specialty food stores, you almost certainly still don’t know the authentic truffle flavor. The flavor you are familiar with is the added aroma found in all the products labeled as containing “truffles.”…

Liters of this petroleum-derived product, the colorless 2,4-dithiapentane liquid, are sourced for a few euros from Italy, Germany, or China, and then they end on your plates and refrigerators, in pasta, tartufata, oils, cheeses, and sausages, but also in expensive delicacies with a prostituted label “truffles.”

You may have some actual truffles on your plate, Babich says, but they are likely the cheap and almost tasteless kind, and removing them won’t affect the taste of your dish. At all. Babich says, “Decorative truffles are here to make a fool of you.”

Now, I will confess that I found the truffle fries at Afrite phenomenal. And Babich says that’s OK. As long as I didn’t think I was getting real truffles:

If you were told that your dish has an artificial truffle flavoring (or “natural flavoring” that does not come from truffles) – it is as fair as strawberry-flavored gum. If someone appreciates this, let them be, but it is clear that this is not about quality and gastronomy. And that’s ok as long as they don’t charge you for the strawberry-flavored gum as if you bought fresh strawberries or keep convincing you that they sold you strawberries.

Rant #2 is by Nathan J. Robinson and appears in Current Affairs. It’s called, “We live in the age of the bullshitter.”

Robinson opens with a roll-call of contemporary American bullshitters: Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Sam Bankman-Fried, George Santos, Joe Rogan, Ben Shapiro, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke, Dr. Oz… I’m going to stop here because the list gets very long, but you get the idea.

Robinson spends a a fair bit of time teasing out the difference between bullshitters and liars:

What quality unites Steven Pinker, Jordan Peterson, Sam Bankman-Fried, Elon Musk, Donald Trump, Dr. Oz, and Barack Obama? What does it mean to be a bullshitter?…

The bullshitter is not just marked by a failure to test their opinions against the facts of the world. They are also characterized by having extreme confidence that they are right. The figures I have classified as bullshitters present themselves as authorities, and sometimes as sages or prophets. They issue predictions and consider themselves the embodiment of right-thinking reasonableness. The bullshitter’s arrogance is just as important as their relationship with the truth.

In addition to having a problem with bullshit, we have a problem with reporting that fails to call out bullshit:

Another problem is that we do not have media and educational institutions that successfully expose bullshit. [Jordan] Peterson’s Maps of Meaning was praised by the chair of the Harvard psychology department, Sam Bankman-Fried made the covers of Forbes and Fortune, and Elizabeth Holmes was given a long sympathetic profile in the New Yorker. (The writer did not comment on the fact that when she was asked how her magic blood testing technology worked, she gave the worryingly imprecise answer “a chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs.” Her board members, among them multiple former U.S. cabinet officials, did not seem to notice this either, or were unconcerned.) We do not have, in this country, a mainstream press that is devoted to exposing bullshit. Even Matt Levine of Bloomberg, probably the country’s best financial journalist, said after the collapse of Bankman-Fried’s FTX empire that he thought Bankman-Fried was “likable, smart, thoughtful, well-intentioned, and candid.” In fact, Bankman-Fried was a sociopath who lied to everyone he knew. (Astonishingly, Bankman-Fried had previously admitted to Levine’s face that he was “in the Ponzi business” but Levine apparently saw no red flags.)  

Er, Canso spaceport, green hydrogen, biomass, mumble, mumble, mumble.

My only issue with Robinson’s highly entertaining piece is his positioning us as being in a particularly high bullshit moment, when really, bullshit has characterized much of North American public life for centuries. I mean, Mark Twain lost all his money repeatedly, to schemes like this:

He poured thousands of dollars into backing a protein powder called Plasmon, which he claimed delivered 16 times the nutritional value of steak at a cost of a penny a day; it could “end the famine in India.”

The author lost his stake in the U.S. launch and Plasmon was the subject of a fraud trial in 1907, in which Twain tried to recoup his $30,000 investment (about $750,000 today). At the trial, Twain said that company president Henry A. Butters should have been paid “$3 a century” and was a “stallion in intention, a eunuch in action.”

For some more fun, look up clips of George Carlin going on about bullshit. There are many examples. Here is one:

Bullshit is the glue that binds us as a nation… All men are equal, justice is blind, the press is free, your vote counts, business is honest, the good guys win, the police are on your side, God is watching you, your standard of living will never decline, and everything is going to be just fine. The official national bullshit story.

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)


NOTICED

God-level analysis

antique close up cord dial
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I listened to an open-hour open-line phone-in show for the first time in awhile yesterday. First caller said it’s pointless to raise minimum wage because everything is too expensive anyway, and that the minimum wage is higher in Alberta and things are even more expensive there.

Second caller said people should “give [NFL] football a chance.” Sounds like some little upstart league, I might check it out.

Third caller blamed the health and housing crises on immigration.

(Send this item: right click and copy this link)


Government

City

Today

Board of Police Commissioners (Wednesday, 12:30pm, City Hall) — agenda

Tomorrow

Appeals Standing Committee (Thursday, 10am, City Hall) — agenda

Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4:30pm, online) — agenda

Harbour East – Marine Drive Community Council (Thursday, 6pm, Alderney Gate) — agenda

Province

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, One Government Place) — Accountability Report and the Management of Crown Lands; with Karen Gatien, Department of Natural Resources and Renewables


On campus

Dalhousie

Today

No events

Tomorrow

Panel Discussion on Interrogating Whiteness (Thursday, 5:30pm) — online discussion; with Ajay Parasram, Dalhousie University: Building Racial Resilience as Therapy for White Fragility; Harjeet Badwall, York University: Care, Competency and Civility: Interrogating White Liberal Normativity in Social Work; Jeff Halvorsen, University of Calgary: White (men) Allies Conspiring with The Institution to Re-assert Whiteness; Dana M. Olwan, Syracuse University: Anti-Muslim Politics and Practices in North America and Transnational Feminist Resistance. Moderator: Eli Manning, Dalhousie University

With AI-generated captions; register here


In the harbour

Halifax
10:00: Conti Annapurna, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka 
15:00: AlgoNorth, oil tanker, arrives at Imperial Oil from Quebec City
22:00: Conti Annapurna sails for New York

Cape Breton
10:30: CSL Kajika, bulker, arrives at Coal Pier (Point Tupper) from Puerto Bolivar, Colombia
14:00: Bahama Spirit, Bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Charleston, South Carolina
19:30: CSL Kajika sails for sea


Footnotes

I drove downtown Monday morning and found street parking on Argyle within a block of my destination. I drove to the North End yesterday and found free street parking a couple of doors from my destination. This kind of thing happens regularly.

A button which links to the Subscribe page
A button link which reads "Make a donation"

A smiling man with a dark short beard, dark framed glasses, wearing a green shirt

Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

Join the Conversation

10 Comments

Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. Great Morning File, Philip.
    Funny enough, the last time I lived in Halifax, I lived across from the Central Library and went to Steve-O-Reno’s semi-frequently. And the only time I lived in Toronto, my apt was a few blocks from that stretch of Bloor Street you mentioned — one of that city’s best neighbourhoods, btw.
    I had a car and bike in both places.
    I biked along Bloor all the time in TO; more parking spaces couldn’t convince me to drive to that street for a coffee. And in Halifax, I obviously never drove to Steve-O-Reno’s from Queen St.
    In my opinion, assuming you’re physically able, cycling’s just an easier way to get around and shop in both cities. It’d be a lot easier if Halifax copied what Toronto did during the pandemic and made bike lanes a part of every major thoroughfare and neighbourhood…
    As for parking, I don’t drive to a shop in either city (TO especially) expecting to park right out front. I just hope I’m within two blocks. When I bike though, I ALWAYS expect to lock up within 50 feet of my destination.
    And how many different cars park on a block during business hours? I’d be surprised if it was more than the number of cyclists who’d pass that block on a bike lane in the same amount of time. And it’s much easier for them to stop and shop impromptu.

  2. Excellent edition of the Morning File. I particularly liked your “rants” section. Curated rants could easily be a regular feature. I will note that it looks like the owner of Steve-O-Reno’s bought the bullshit. A better response would have been to promise world-class racks.

  3. Love all the bike lanes in downtown Toronto, happy to see them being expanded in Halifax. Now if only I can understand the green turning “things” Always best to keep it simple for us seniors!

  4. On bike lanes: The complaints I hear from merchants like Steve-O-Reno’s remind me of all the arguments made by many of the same types of businesses when the smoking bans came into effect. Coffee shops said they would lose customers if people were not allowed to light up. In the vast majority of cases, their businesses improved. Maybe it wont result in an increase in business, but I highly doubt this shop will see any loss. Also I live in Cole Harbour and it is not parking that keeps me from going downtown. It is getting there through the numerous construction zones that are choking the streets. I have never had much problem finding a parking spot somewhere around SGR.

  5. I like the idea of the owner of Steve-o-Reno’s thinking that their customer base is a bunch of folks from timberlea and Bedford who drive 30 minutes into the city, park, buy a coffee, and drive back home.

    But their customer base is not the tens of thousands of people who live or work within walking/biking distance.
    Just a funny way to view the world.

  6. “Note the car illegally parked in the loading zone.” That is a poor assumption. Many different vehicles properly make use of loading zones.

  7. I like in the bike lanes article where you point out that it’s a rather useless argument on the part of business owners, about how some folks will be dissuaded to drive downtown – when those are most likely the folks who already feel dissuaded from driving downtown. 🙂