Updates from ATAC

During a typical year, members of the Active Transportation Advisory Committee (ATAC) would meet once a month at Halifax City Hall. We would get updates from HRM staff about active transportation projects underway in the municipality. Of course, this isn’t a typical year, and ATAC hadn’t met since February, until last week.

We attended the first ATAC meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down. It took place virtually on Thursday, November 19th, 2020. The Halifax Cycling Coalition has a permanent seat on ATAC because we are an active transportation stakeholder. The seat is normally filled by our Executive Director, or sometimes a board member of HCC. We don’t always feel that the committee functions as best it could – we are given information but not always asked to provide our feedback in a meaningful way – but it was a big loss to not have the meetings at all for the majority of 2020. The meetings are an important way for HRM staff to share information with the public. Normally anyone can attend and observe the meeting, but for now, the meetings are happening virtually and only members of the committee can participate. The meetings are not being broadcasted for others to watch.

We wanted to share some of the information we received with you since the meeting was closed to committee members only. HRM staff shared general updates about active transportation projects in HRM. You can also view the agenda and staff presentations online here.

COVID-19 Impacts to Active Transportation

From HRM Slide Deck

HRM staff told us that two capital projects were deferred due to a lack of availability of construction materials during the pandemic. These projects include a protected bike lane on Wyse Road, which is part of the improvements to access the Macdonald Bridge bikeway, and phase 2 of the Allan/Oak local street bikeway between Harvard and Connaught. We also learned that staff capacity in the Active Transportation Department has been reduced because some staff time is being re-directed to the COVID-19 Mobility Response and one term position ended. HRM could not extend the planner’s term because of a hiring freeze. HRM staff are doing all public engagement virtually instead of in-person. HRM staff and contractors have upgraded the Lower Water Street bike lane with green flexible bollards and a painted buffer to provide additional protection for people cycling. This is a temporary tactical project until more permanent upgrades can happen on Lower Water Street.

HRM staff shared in the presentation that their colleagues at various levels of municipal government, and residents living in HRM have recognized the importance of active transportation infrastructure, like wide sidewalks and protected bike lanes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. HRM staff noted that despite a renewed interest in active transportation, the municipality may reduce its budget for active transportation infrastructure over the next few years as funds have been depleted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reducing the Active Transportation Department’s budget would not be good news for getting new bike lanes implemented. We have included councillor contact information at the bottom of this blog post. Contact your councillor and urge them to support an increase in the active transportation budget when budget talks happen at city hall.

Regional Centre AAA Bikeway Update

From HRM Slide Deck

You can expect a number of bike route projects to be constructed next year. We learned that routes being readied for construction in 2021 include a protected bike lane on Wyse Road, enhancements to the Allan Street local street bikeway and the Vernon-Seymour Streets local street bikeway, phase 1 of the North End local street bikeway, the Dahlia Street local street bikeway, the next phase of the Bayers Road multi-use pathway, a protected bike lane on Terminal Road to connect Hollis Street with Lower Water Street, and tactical urbanism improvements. We were excited to hear that a number of bike routes will be constructed next year.

2020 Active Transportation Construction Projects

From HRM Slide Deck

We learned that there are a number of bike routes currently under construction, or completed this year throughout HRM. These routes include:

Functional Active Transportation Planning Projects

From HRM Slide Deck

Function planning is the first stage of a planning project, which results in a 30% design. Projects in this stage are normally a couple of years away from being constructed. At the ATAC meeting we learned that the following functional planning projects are currently underway:

Cycling Data Collection / Monitoring

From HRM Slide Deck

HRM currently has permanent bike counters from Eco-Counter on South Park Street (southbound – the northbound counter got damaged when the crane fell) and Hollis Street. DalTRAC has a counter on University Avenue. You can find regular counter data updates for all of these counters on Twitter.

HRM staff said they are adding permanent bike counters on the Vernon-Seymour Streets local street bikeway, the Dartmouth Harbourfront Trail, and the Windsor Street painted bike lane. They are also in the process of monitoring the volume and speed of traffic on Vernon Street and Allan Street. HRM monitors the volume and speed of cars to help determine if further interventions are needed to make these local street bikeways comfortable for people of all ages and abilities (AAA).

If there are too many people driving cars, and/or people are driving too fast on local street bikeways it would warrant more traffic calming interventions. These interventions would encourage people driving to take alternative streets and/or drive more slowly, resulting in a more comfortable cycling route. HRM active transportation planners implement different types of cycling infrastructure based on vehicle volumes and speeds. This document includes details about how vehicle volumes and speed relate to the type of bike route selected.

Winter Maintenance

From HRM Slide Deck

Halifax Regional Council recently approved changes to winter maintenance for active transportation routes. Multi-use pathways, local street bikeways, and protected bike lanes now have service standards. Most bike routes will be priority 1 & cleared within 12 hours after the end of a snow event. You can learn more about the changes to winter service standards here.

Regional Centre AAA Cycling Network Timeline

Integrated Mobility Plan, page 96

Halifax Regional Council passed the Integrated Mobility Plan (IMP) in December 2017. The IMP promises to deliver the Regional Centre AAA Cycling Network by 2022. Additionally, the IMP promises to deliver AAA cycling connections to all Halifax Transit Terminals by 2022. In recent stakeholder engagement sessions and conversations with HRM active transportation staff, as well as comments made by Councillor Waye Mason on Twitter, it has come to light that HRM has no intention of completing the network of cycling routes nor the transit terminal cycling connections by the year 2022.

We asked HRM Active Transportation staff to comment on the cycling network timelines at the ATAC meeting. Their response was that planning and constructing bike lanes and local street bikeways has been a learning process, and it’s taking more time than expected. They said that more active transportation planners and engineers on staff would help, but that staffing isn’t the only issue holding things back. Some bike routes for example are connected to other projects that are out of their control. The connection from the Barrington Street Greenway to the Downtown Bikeways, for example, would go through the Cogswell District, which is supposed to be redeveloped. The Cogswell project has also been on hold due to various circumstances. The Almon Street protected bike lane has been delayed because of a construction encroachment between Robie Street and Gladstone Street. While some of these factors can’t be helped, increasing the level of funding for planners and engineers to support active transportation projects at HRM would help things move more quickly.

If you want to see the Regional Centre AAA Cycling Network completed by 2022, contact your councillor today and tell them why it’s important to you and your family. Councillor contact information can be found here. When e-mailing councillors, personal stories and experiences go a long way to demonstrate the need for safe cycling routes.