Halifax is growing.
Halifax is growing – some day soon the city will hit a population of 500,000. What will our transportation system look like? Two decades from now, will Halifax resemble Houston or Copenhagen? The time for planning is now.
Cars are the least efficient form of urban transportation in every respect. They carry few passengers relative to the amount of road space they occupy.
Will we continued to sprawl outward unabated in a car-oriented manner?
Can we afford the cost of sprawl?
Countless cities across North America have demonstrated the futility of a car-reliant approach to transportation planning. Newly built or expanded roads and highways induce more people to travel by car. The term induced demand describes the tendency for traffic to increase to meet road capacity. Construction of new highways is never a lasting solution to road congestion.
Toronto, which aggressively expanded its highway network from the 1960s to the 1990s in concert with unchecked urban sprawl, exemplifies this phenomenon. The city now has one of the longest average commute times in the world, and has finally realized that a new approach is required. Toronto has invested heavily in public transit in recent years, and is promoting intensive transit-oriented development at rail stations. Mid-size cities across Canada are moving in the same direction.
In Halifax, our approach to transportation planning has been reactive. We should be learning from the experiences of other cities. Instead, our governments continue to pour vast sums into highway expansion, for instance:
$17 million for the Washmill Lake underpass (2011, vastly over budget) (source)
$17 million for the Ingrahamport Interchange (2017, $7 million over budget) (source)
$300 million to $1 billion for the proposed Highway 102/Bayers Road widening (source)
$200 million for the proposed and unnecessary Highway 113 (source)
$1 to 2 billion for the proposed third harbour crossing (source, old figure adjusted for inflation)
$2.5 to 3.5 billion for various other provincial highway twinning and construction projects (source)
For the fraction of the cost of these highway schemes, Halifax could have a high-quality light rail system that offers flexibility and superior capacity to accommodate future growth.
There is a better way
We propose a three-pronged strategy for accommodating urban growth:
- A light rail network – the proposed alignment is based on existing underused right-of-ways, employment centres, and growth potential. A new light rail system, fed by buses and ferries, could serve as the backbone of the transport network.
- Transit-oriented development – commonly abbreviated as TOD, transit-oriented development means increasing density near transit stations. Residents enjoy high quality transit at their doorstep, while the transit agency benefits from increased patronage, improving the financial viability of the rail service. Our proposal serves various growth areas identified in the upcoming Centre Plan, including the underused land near the Joe Howe Superstore, as well as the Cogswell Interchange redevelopment site.
- Greenbelt – many suburban residents would be happy to take public transit if convenient, high-quality transit service were available. Unfortunately, the low-density, car-oriented nature of Halifax urban sprawl renders good transit impossible. A greenbelt would help to limit urban sprawl and redirect growth to underused land closer to the heart of the city.
To achieve urban sustainability, we need proactive transportation planning with a view to building up a robust, multi-modal public transport network. At the same time we must promote a high degree of walkability and dense development at transit nodes. The current federal government is keen to invest in public transport, and other cities across Canada have received funding for new rail systems. Can Halifax capture some of these funds to improve the sustainability and liveability of our city?
Start planning today
Realistically speaking, Halifax may not get a light rail system for many years. The Halifax Light Rail Alliance advocates proactive planning to help make light rail a reality as soon as possible.
There are numerous moves that regional council and other levels of government can take today to help work toward this goal. Some possible considerations:
Decide on an alignment. Halifax has many underused right-of-ways that make building an LRT corridor much easier than in other cities. Protect the alignment and future station locations from development.
Designate a railway reserve within the Cogswell Interchange redevelopment master plan. Redevelop the site as a high-density transit-oriented development with a combined LRT/bus station.
The Centre Plan is under review. The plan should take a holistic view of growth, with dense development and transportation considered in tandem.
Shannon Park is under redevelopment by the Canada Lands Company. This is the narrowest point of the harbour and may be the most sensible place for a future LRT tunnel beneath the harbour. Designate a railway reserve within the Shannon Park redevelopment plan.
Cancel the Highway 102/Bayers Road widening scheme. It is not a prudent use of public funds, nor does it contribute to sustainable growth. Reallocate funding to the construction of a light rail system, which (unlike highway expansion) offers sufficient flexibility and capacity to accommodate growth well into the future.
Design the planned Halifax Urban Greenway southern bridge to integrate with a future Saint Mary’s Station.