The impact of Metro Transit’s five year plan on downtown Halifax

HRM – Metro Transit’s new 5-year transit operations plan  was recently “approved in principle” at an HRM regional council meeting on February 9th. The 187-page report [PDF] suggests a number of upgrades, route changes, terminal changes, price changes and additions to their service. But what does it mean for the downtown?

First presented to council in October 2009, the plan is designed to “take transit to the next level,” according to HRM documents.

While some councillors voiced concern at the February 9 council meeting, the plan still passed. North end Councillor Jerry Blumenthal was the only one to vote against the plan. He was worried about the cost of the plan. However, this plan is just a collection of recommendations; the specific ideas put forth will need to be approved by council during the budgeting process.

Councillor Jim Smith was critical of the emphasis on expanding service to rural areas like Fall River, Enfield and Musquodoboit Harbour. He’s worried the plan would support urban sprawl, however he did vote to move it along.

The fear of urban sprawl is no reason to not provide public transit to communities that are part of HRM and pay HRM taxes (I think we’ve been through this with the tax reform issue).

The report shows growth in all but a few routes, in some cases up to 361 per cent. And that growth could be even higher — a study done by city staffers shows respondents would generally like to use transit more, if only the service was better.

Interestingly enough, one of the proposed changes in the report calls for less buses in the downtown core. Yes, you read that right — less.

One of the ideas that has been thrown around by councillors is turning the Barrington Street and Spring Garden Road corridor into a ‘transit-only’ area. Not only would this cause congestion in the side streets along Barrington and Spring Garden, but also this is the last thing a struggling Barrington Street needs. So, it’s nice to see that recommendation, un-recommended.

The proposal instead suggests turning the Route 1 into a Bus Rapid Transit route, meaning that a single, frequently running bus would serve the Barrington-Spring Garden corridor.

The proposal calls for the bus to still run from Mumford and the Dartmouth Bridge Terminal, however it would not have frequent stops along that route as it does now.  Other routes would instead feed the Route 1 at the Mumford and Bridge terminals and no longer make the trip into the downtown.

Imagine how much more free the downtown will feel without masses of buses lined up.

Another great idea put forth in the proposal calls for a downtown trolley, which is ironic considering the city had a full trolley system until the late 1960s.

The second fantastic proposal in the plan calls for a downtown shuttle. This is something Bernie Smith with the Spring Garden Area Business Association and downtown councillor Dawn Sloane have been asking for.

Currently there is nothing to link the downtown area together. There is more to downtown Halifax then just Spring Garden and Barrington Street — and it’s full of hills. And right now you can’t go from Citadel Hill to the Casino, to the almost-finished waterfront farmer’s market on a bus. FRED (Free Rides Everywhere Downtown) solves this for the summer months, but the plan calls for a year-round shuttle.

There’s a bunch of NSCAD students at their brand-spanking-new campus down by Pier 21, who have a U-Passes and no service — another problem a downtown link would solve.

I hope council is not afraid to spend a little bit of money during the budgeting phase of this process, because in the end more people will use transit and more people will come downtown.

photo by Ian Gibb, member of the Spacing Atlantic flickr pool

3 comments

  1. “The proposal calls for the bus to still run from Mumford and the Dartmouth Bridge Terminal, however it would not have frequent stops along that route as it does now. Other routes would instead feed the Route 1 at the Mumford and Bridge terminals and no longer make the trip into the downtown.

    Imagine how much more free the downtown will feel without masses of buses lined up.”

    Then we would be at the mercy of transit being able to time their buses to make more connections – something that is pitiful in this transit system right now. The ability to get nearly any bus downtown at 4:30 on a weekday means you’re only taking one bus to get home and not waiting for long connections. If you add a 20 minute wait for a connection into an already established route, it will turn people off, not on to transit.

  2. Transit Only Corridors can work.
    Take Amsterdam as an example: http://tr.im/OiJB
    Even the the C-train in Calgary is a successful Canadian approach.

    We would need higher densities and other factors for it to succeed in Halifax, but we shouldn’t be so close-minded.

  3. “The fear of urban sprawl is no reason to not provide public transit to communities that are part of HRM and pay HRM taxes” … I think it’s THE PERFECT REASON to not extend heavily-subsidized transit to impossible-to-service outlying areas. Overreach can bring the entire transit network down, just as sprawl can ruin the economics of an entire metropolitan area.

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