Cross the town and hope to ride

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spokespeopleBrought to you in collaboration with the Ecology Action Centre and Halifax Cycling Coalition, SpokesPeople covers all things cycle-related. From the principles to the potholes, we’re here to examine the realities facing the two-wheeled traveler.

The Halifax Cycling Coalition (HCC) has its sights set on an ambitious goal for 2010: the establishment of the CrossTown Connector (CTC) bike route, connecting the many tentacles of cycle-unfriendly Windsor Exchange in the north to Point Pleasant Park in the south. Wasting no time, the HCC is making tracks through Halifax’s snow-covered streets to gather signatures for a petition in support of the CTC, with the hope of converting signatures into bike lanes before Santa begins his next round of chimney-hopping.

The CTC proposal is stuffed with laudable elements. Connecting existing bike lane segments on Windsor and South Park by way of Almon, Agricola, North Park and Ahern, the CTC forms an impressive trans-peninsular trunk from which can grow the limbs of a broader, more complete bike route network in the years ahead. And how sweetly flat it is. On a peninsula with an imposing humpback ridge, the CTC neatly skirts the steep grades that many Haligonians cite as an impediment to hopping on a bike in the first place.

Standing between the HCC and its goal is a laundry list of obstacles, both in winning municipal support and in tackling the physical impediments along the proposed route. Although Agricola and Almon are not viewed as traditional commercial strips, both streets are nonetheless dotted with various businesses whose proprietors will, necessarily, cling to existing on-street parking. Even in a “win-win” scenario, where parking is preserved and bike lanes are added, all street users will be confronted with the Berlin Wall of cyclist-motorist relations: dooring. Check all the bike route design manuals you want, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a tried-and-true solution to eliminating this risk.

How fitting, too, given SpokesPeople’s last post on cycling and the Halifax Common, that the scariest figurative potholes on the proposed CTC route are lined up along the Common’s eastern edge. In its current form, six-lane North Park throws both motorists and cyclists for a loop, especially during rush hours, when frantic lane changes are as common as dead stops in the southbound merge lane from Agricola. The treatments required to make the Cogswell and Cunard intersections bike-friendly include lane reconfiguration and either costly right-of-way widening or unpopular travel lane sacrifices, all of which will strain the fiscal bottom line. Efforts to install bike lanes on the duo of one-way streets sandwiching Citadel High School — Ahern and Trollope — will be weighed against established and well-used parking spaces and bus lay-up bays. The paradox is frustrating: nowhere else along the proposed CTC will improvements be quite as costly and thus politically unpalatable, but nowhere else are such facilities so desperately needed.

The all-arterial route choice stirs up another debate: are bikes best accommodated on arterial routes, or on parallel side streets?  There is no definitive answer to this question, as numerous factors influence each individual case. Most notably, while a north-south, trans-peninsular CrossTown Connector is exciting and meritorious of support for more than a handful of reasons, an east-west connection across town is every bit as important. North-south cyclists in Halifax are blessed with a variety of axes on both secondary arteries (Windsor, Agricola) and residential streets (Connolly and Beech in the west; Isleville, Fuller, Northwood, Creighton and Maynard in the east), but east-west cyclists are not so fortunate, especially on the northern half of the peninsula.

If the Halifax peninsula were a Battleship game board, the RCMP and military installations, together with the commercial-industrial swath from the auto mall on Kempt to the main post office on Almon, would form an awkward brigade of impenetrable cruisers and destroyers, effectively blocking east-west access on all but a few corridors.

In the eyes of this contributor, this is the precise reason that, when Halifax Regional Municipality responds to the HCC’s campaign with some derivative of “no” or “later,” the HCC would be wise to choose its secondary battle wisely. Prioritize an east-west bike route on Almon as the next phase of the CTC plan, and implement it as soon as possible. Call it an ideal marriage between the maximization of cyclist convenience and politically astute minimization of motorist inconvenience: Almon is direct and carries less traffic than the neighbouring arteries of North and Young, but no loss of travel lanes is required, as would be the case on the more northerly Young. This crosstown street is a key trunk in the bike route plan for peninsular Halifax. Once in place, an Almon bike route would serve as an undeniable impetus to filling in the remaining gaps in the CTC, north to Young, and south to Bell. Almon isn’t an alternative; it’s an integral piece of the puzzle.

Make no mistake: the CTC is an initiative worthy of enthusiastic support — not to mention your signature — while it moves from the concept phase to the design phase. Cyclists should have reliable, safe options for traversing the peninsula (and indeed, all of HRM) in all directions, and this trunk has a place in that network. Like any good strategist, the HCC has asked for a lot, and if afforded only a little in return, a small-c crosstown route on Almon should be priority one among the proposed CTC segments. It’s an important step on the path to manifesting not just the CTC, but a broad cycle network sweeping across the peninsula and beyond.

Cycle enthusiasts and all supporters of sustainable living can add their signatures in Bedford today from 4pm to 7pm at Bicycles Plus, or pedal on over to Two If By Sea in Dartmouth on Tuesday, February 16th from 4pm to 6pm.

photo by Mark Lasanowski

3 comments

  1. Looks like a great plan. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Once the petition has officially “arrived” at Bicycles Plus, it will remain there and they can sign it after the date listed in this article. The Halifax Cycling Coalition has also visited Idealbikes, Cyclesmith, and Mountain Equipment Co-op with the petition, and there are still copies there that you can sign.

  3. We’ll also have copies of the signature to sign at all bike shops in urban and suburban HRM by the 16th (as well as Two if by Sea in Dartmouth).

    We’ll be increasing access further in the month of March. Visit http://www.cyclehalifax.ca to stay up to date about where you (and your friends) can sign and support this initiative!

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