Where are Halifax’s worst intersections?

intersection for spacing

HALIFAX – Bad intersections, every major city in the world has them. They confuse us with complicated traffic signals, make us late for work, and probably cause more than their fair share of accidents.

I decided to go on a quest to point out the worst intersections in Halifax, and maybe even suggest a few fixes along the way. Now you may be wondering, what exactly qualifies me to pontificate on the inadequacies of Halifax traffic infrastructure? Well, to tell you the truth, not much really.

That’s why I decided to contact the good people at the Cities and Environment Unit, in the Department of Planning and Architecture at Dalhousie. They all had a discussion and kindly got back to me with their own list of problem intersections in Halifax. As an added bonus they’re actually qualified to suggest some legitimate fixes to our fair City’s cruddiest crossroads.

For starters, here’s my three least favorite Halifax intersections :

1.Robie, Quinpool, Cogswell and Bell Road :

The curious shape of the North Commons has led to the creation of several of Halifax’s most awkward intersections. The five way special at Robie, Quinpool and Bell Road is undoubtedly the worst of the bunch.True, it may be not quite as complex as the disaster that is the Cogswell, North Park, Rainnie, Trollope and Ahern intersection, but that particular piece of byzantine engineering has less heavy traffic, so in my opinion it’s slightly better. Whichever you think is worse though, they both have many of the same problems—there’s simply too much going on: too many lights, too many weird traffic islands for pedestrians to get stranded on, too many potential ways cars can turn. I might even nominate this one for worst in the City.

2. The Rotary:
Well its better than a 5 way intersection, I’ll give you that. Nevertheless,
I’m born and raised in North America, and roundabouts are just so… European.
They confuse and frighten me equally.

3.Cogswell Interchange:

Somebody over at The Coast has already ranted about getting rid of this one. Just another classic example of too much going on; unpleasant for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike.

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It turns out that the Cities and Environment Unit and I have a lot in common…

The Cities and Environment Unit list:

1.North Park Street, Cogswell Street, Trollope Street, Ahern Avenue, Rainnie Drive :

Cities and Environment says that this five pointed gem is “very hard for pedestrians to cross,” that they’re also disappointed by the lack of bike lanes and how confusing it is for drivers. The Cities and Environment Unit also feels that an intersection connecting important landmarks like Citadel Hill and the North Commons should just look a little nicer.

2. Robie, Quinpool, Cogswell and Bell Road :

The Unit feels that this one is poorly designed for pedestrians and cyclists, and generally unpleasant to look at.

3. Cogswell Street, Hollis Street and Barrington Street
They say the “cogswell interchange blocks what could be direct access to the harbour at the end of Cogswell Street. ”  They’re also concerned about access for cyclists and pedestrians: “As a pedestrian, how would you get where you need to go using this intersection?” Good question Cities and Environment, good question indeed.

4. The Rotary:
The Cities and Environment says that this intersection is somewhat unnerving for pedestrians and cyclists. They also think that its circular complexities can be stressful for motorists.

*The Cities and Environment Unit also hates all of the intersections around The Maritime Center. Apparently these intersections “create a large wind-tunnel which is very uncomfortable for pedestrians.” That does sound nasty.

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Well, apparently the Cities and Environment Unit and I have similar tastes in intersections. This may prove that I have an intuitive sense for poorly constructed roads, but that doesn’t mean I have any clue what to do about them. Luckily, the people over at Cities and Environment have quite a few thoughts on the subject.

Here’s some of what they had to say:  “We should not just consider intersections but the streets which connect them. Good intersections occur on vibrant streets which welcome pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.” They say that we create intersections that accomplish this goal by making intersections that are both safe and aesthetically pleasing.  Planners trying to improve intersections should consider better kinds of signage and other cues to make things a little more clear for everybody. They also say that improved lighting, paving and even public art would go a long way to improving our city’s worst intersections.

As a closing thought, the Cities and Environment Unit says there are some questions we need to start asking to improve the quality of our traffic infrastructure: “Who are we catering to, cars, pedestrians, cyclists?  Should one be prioritized over others? We need to figure this out in order to make changes needed.”

Illustration by Mark Lamovsek

* Thanks to the Members of the Cities and Environment Unit that took the time to compile the list, they are: Ross Soward, Kristin O’Toole, Patrick Jardine, Laura Mannell, Heather Ternoway, Frank Palermo, Kate MacKay and Mark Nener.

15 comments

  1. 100% agree on the Commons intersections – I have to cross those at least twice a day.

    A modest proposal: let’s turn both of them into roundabouts – that way drivers will be more used to them.

  2. I still say roundabouts are too uncommon in North America. If we’re gonna start bringing them in, we should put them in more moderate traffic areas first so people can get used to them before we pop them right in the middle of the City’s busiest streets.

  3. The other problem with roundabouts is that they don’t seem to work for cyclists. I’d be more in favour of having some innovative form of a pedestrian scramble…which could work for cyclists and peds alike. Or somehow merging cogswell and bell before they get to the intersection, although this would be a much bigger project.

  4. Can we also talk about the intersection at Chebucto and Windsor, what were they thinking?

  5. Both lists are good in my book other than the inclusion of the Armdale Rotary — I admit I’m a fan! I pass through it daily, alternately by bike, car and motorcycle. I think it works pretty well given the volume it handles. A standard intersection would cause more congestion and useless idling (I think. I do acknowledge that rotaries are daunting if you are not used to them, but we need to expect and demand more from drivers in terms of attentiveness, not less… The rotary IS currently dodgy for peds.. a periodic scramble, or ped-controlled crosswalks, are interesting suggestions. As for bikes, the bike-accident map posted a day or two ago suggests the Rotary is not an accident hot-spot in it’s current configuration. I find it fairly speedy on a bike.. more so than a standard intersection.

  6. Not too sure I agree with the difficulty either of the commons intersections pose to cyclists. I’ve ridden there many times and am able to navigate through without any problem. North park, Agricola and Cunard however is a little bit more racy due to how the lanes are situated and designated.

    Jake Schabas brought up a pretty good idea though. A 10 second scramble on top of regular crossing signals would be a great way to get cyclists and peds through without the threat of being hit by a car.

    Rotaries and roundabouts are bad for cyclists. The only turn you can make as a motorist is a right turn, directly into where –by law– our “lane” is situated. Cyclists: You have to take an entire lane to ensure your safety in these situations!

  7. Just as a point of clarity — roundabouts are not the same thing as rotaries or traffic circles, although they all deal traffic moving in a circular direction. Roundabouts are generally low-speed intersections and require vehicles to stop or yield to pedestrians before entering the roundabout and then again when entering the roundabout. As a result, roundabouts are incredibly efficient and far safer for cyclists and pedetrians and minimizes the number of lanes that they must cross. Check out the folloing links:
    http://www.semcog.org/PrinterFriendly.aspx?id=176&LangType=1033

    http://www.dot.state.mn.us/roundabouts/features.html

    http://www.wcroads.org/news/roundabouts/safety.htm

  8. anything around the Common, but def. Windsor/Chebucto. I’ve seen drivers just stop paralyzed in confusion, hanging in the middle of the intersection.

    Monastery Lane off Quinpool is also a disaster for pedestrians, with Quinpool traffic and cars racing to turn left to get into the Superstore parking lot or cut through to Allan.

  9. Re: Roundabouts work.
    You’re right about single lane roundabouts. But things are different when you’re talking about an intersection like robie and quinpool where you’re dealing with over a dozen lanes and high levels of traffic. All of a sudden things are a lot more complicated and often not so good for pedestrians or cyclists (ie. http://bit.ly/6myawo )

  10. Certainly more than any larger city in Canada, Halifax’s intersections demand a “gotta-live-here-to-get-it” savoir-faire that must be absolutely flummoxing for visitors.

    Three of the worst junctions, in my opinion:

    The imbalance of inbound and outbound lanes — and the need to veer sharply to go *straight* when travelling eastbound and northbound — make ROBIE AND CUNARD one of the most off-putting crossroads in Halifax. Until the very recent installation of the protected left-turn signal from northbound Robie to westbound Cunard, left-turning vehicles — including dozens of Metro Transit buses a day — jostled for seemingly non-existent space in the intersection with two throughbound lanes shifting to Robie’s narrower alignment, and trying to follow that dotted line across the intersection. (As a further plus, southbound left-turners can now “dig deeper” into the intersection during their permissive left-turn phase to deal with those tough sightlines, and get out of the way of through traffic.) Left turns from Cunard to Robie are challenging in either direction due to the (mis)alignment. Buildings on both western corners also reduce sightlines in a most inconvenient way, hiding the looming “shift” for eastbound drivers on Cunard, who must NOT go straight, lest they end up on the wrong side of the suddenly-expanded boulevard. They are also a major contributor to the intersection’s primary pedestrian-vehicle conflict zone, where right-turners from eastbound Cunard often can’t see crossing pedestrians until the last moment. Need I say more about this off-kilter crossroads?

    Up the street, and omitted by the authors but identified by other commenters, WINDSOR, CHEBUCTO, AND CUNARD intersect in a most unholy trinity of an intersection, hereby christened the “69” junction for the awkward way in which opposing left-turners on Windsor must negotiate around each other in the tightest of spaces. Compounding the problems at 69J:

    – the apparent need to treat Chebucto/Cunard as an artery and allow eastbound and westbound traffic to move through the intersection in a single movement;
    – the appearance of having to go through a red light to go straight;
    – the near-impossibility of turning left onto Windsor in either direction in heavy traffic and the lack of visual cues to said left-turners that suggest there might be “through” traffic with right-of-way coming from one side;
    – the claustrophobic right-of-way through which four lanes of traffic (including, often a Metro Transit bus or two) squeeze on Windsor;
    – the lack of even a single overhead traffic light for added visibility;
    – incredibly, that such an already awkward intersection has several unsignalized driveways jutting out of it, including the well-travelled Needs entrance; and
    – the pedestrian “trap”: due to the intersection’s offset, pedestrians almost always end up waiting — unless they cross diagonally at just the right moment, as many are apt to do, especially in poor weather.

    Remarkably, after much observation, I must admit to being impressed at the creativity and tact with which many Haligonians approach this intersection, more often than not demonstrating that negotiating some intersections is more art than science. Now if only everyone were all on the same page.

    Nobody seems to be on the same page at BARRINGTON AND SPRING GARDEN, where downright stupid moves by drivers tie up what would otherwise a fairly straightforward T junction between the city’s two most iconic streets. Most notably, the 819309 buses (give or take) that turn through this intersection every day seem to constantly be blocked by motorists who don’t understand the concept of, “Once you’ve passed the thick white line, you have to finish your movement.” This is an extraordinary problem during afternoon rush hour, and the cumulative delays for all those passengers on all those buses is staggering.

    Barrington and Spring Garden would be an excellent candidate for a pedestrian scramble due to the high number of pedestrian-vehicle conflicts.

    ***

    I will throw out a vote in support of the Armdale R-thing. Back in its “one-for-one” Rotary days, this was hands-down the most bewildering junction in ALL OF CANADA. In its Roundabout reincarnation I see a massive improvement, recognizing nonetheless that pedestrians still often seem to “disappear” from drivers’ view as the latter group’s focus shifts to the swirl of traffic in the roundabout. As a cyclist, I love riding through the roundabout; it’s one of the few places where I feel that I’m a true “equal” with motorists, and makes me wish more could be introduced at major peninsula junctions — if only the pedestrian problem could be solved at once. (Sorry to have to disagree with you, Jake, but I think roundabouts can and do work for cyclists, if designed well.)

    ***

    “I still say roundabouts are too uncommon in North America. If we’re gonna start bringing them in, we should put them in more moderate traffic areas first so people can get used to them before we pop them right in the middle of the City’s busiest streets.”

    Roundabouts are far more standardized than the various intersections described above, and as “new” to our continent as they may be, five of this city’s busiest streets already converge on one.

  11. Oops. I just realized how long that post was. If my post were an intersection, it would probably be the one that corresponds with the illustration for the article!

  12. Cunard/Chebucto/Windsor = 69intersection
    Amazingly put Mark L.
    Veronica, how’s that ^ for talking about your intersection?

  13. I think my motto is, If it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it. I really like the 5 points intersections around the commons. It reminds me what an antique city this is. I don’t find them that problematic traffic-wise. I agree with Mark: The Barrington – SGR is bad (that whole Barrington corridor is hopeless for driving anyhow and the volume of traffic literally stinks for pedestrians and cyclists). Chebucto – Windsor – Cunard is difficult, but there is no easy solution to driving in downtown Halifax short of finding positive ways to discourage driving itself. The arteries just can’t take that many cars, and who wants to go around widening streets? Not me!

  14. The signals at Cunard/Chebucto/Windsor are a disaster. One way of fixing it is to may it into a double mini-roundabout, but that would preclude the addition of reversible lanes. Another way is to implement split phasing, where each of the four approaches has their own phase (about 20 seconds each). If one side has no traffic, its phase should be skipped, so that the busier arms get more green time.

    Due to safety issues that arise from ped-vehicle conflicts due to east-west “through traffic” being forced to switch road alignments, a pedestrian scramble is a MUST at this intersection when the signals are not in flash mode (and post signs warning the peds DO NOT have the right of way when the walk signal is not showing – there are cases where the solid hand signal stays lit during the paralleling green phase, even when the ped push button is pushed – I know that pedestrian right of way during the flashing hand was banned almost 2 years ago, except where they have already started crossing – this was done to improve turning vehicle clearance at the end of the green phase). The only time the CCW intersection works well is when it’s an all-way flashing red at night (12:30am to 6:30am).

  15. I find the Windsor intersection confusing and considering that we are a city where there are many new canadians and many tourists, this can cause headaches and questions for many people. Me for one. I came here eight years ago and I am still reluctant to take that intersection for fear of making the wrong move.

    The right turns can also be a problem unless one is totally familiar with this intersection.

    Surely it can be more driver friendly! Can’t it? Clearer and more eye grabbing signs would be helpful if nothing else. Consider you are driving and you come to this intersection!! What to do!! You are trying to read the signs and horns are honking!

    Do something CITY HALL!!!!

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