First Bikeways community engagement session sparks new vision for a bike-friendly “institutional district”

HALIFAX – On Thursday, Feb 10th, a diverse group of about 30-40 people gathered at Dalhousie’s University Club to discuss a new initiative being launched by four of Halifax’s largest institutions. Dalhousie University, Saint Mary’s University, Capital Health, and the IWK Health Centre have teamed up to create a ‘Transportation Demand Management’ working group which aims to  meet sustainability goals through promoting cycling. The group’s central project is to develop and implement a new Bikeways Plan for the expansive “institutional district” formed by their total combined landmass.

The session, facilitated by the Cities and Environment Unit (CEU) — “a community planning action and applied research group” enlisted specifically for their community engagement philosophy and expertise — asked participants to sketch out cycling principles and priorities for the district. In smaller break-out groups, participants undertook creative activities like memory-mapping their cycling routes and drafting up cycling wish-lists to develop and discuss cycling barriers and solutions.

I was at first skeptical about the idea of setting out plans that would apply solely to the patch of land occupied by these four institutions without addressing the broader barriers to cycling that impact the whole city. But one glance at the institutional district and the broader implications become clear. Not only is it a striking swath of land, but its geographical orientation is especially significant. With criss-crossing north-south east-west corridors, an improvement to cycling infrastructure would benefit institution users and peninsular commuters alike.

Further, as facilitator Ross Soward pointed out, if we’re hoping to make change on the peninsula, there are no better institutions to pioneer it. The Bikeways Plan will link into Dalhousie’s unfolding Campus Master Plan [pdf], the Halifax Cycling Coalition’s proposed Crosstown Connector, and Capital Health’s precedence-setting experiments in bike parking and bike-sharing, bolstering broader cycling infrastructure initiatives.

After compiling and amalgamating the results of our smaller group discussions, the CEU team came up with seven prevailing priorities that our ideal Bikeways Plan would address:

1) Continuity/connective
2) All-season use
3) Innovative infrastructure
4) Cyclist priority at intersections
5) Accessibility for all ages and levels
6) Common language (consistent signage and branding, e.g.)
7) Changing attitudes and building awareness

Next meeting, which will take place in the Dal Student Union Building on Wednesday Feb 16th from 4:30-7:30, will ask participants to put their priorities into action, actually contributing to the design of the Bikeways Plan. (Participants do not need to have attended the first meeting — all welcome!) Results from both of these sessions will be presented at an open house on March 23rd and a report will be fed back into the working group for implementation into the spring.

image provided by the Cities and Environments Unit