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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Halifax’s Macdonald Bridge – a cycling headache


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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is cross-posted from the Halifax Media Co-op by Rocky Lis. Check out the original here.

HALIFAX – A multi-million dollar upgrade involving re-painting and repaving of the Macdonald Bridge is currently underway. One of the goals of the Halifax Harbour Bridges authority that operates the bridge is to become a recognized leader in sustainable transportation demand management (TDM). Vehicular traffic is becoming more congested around the Macdonald Bridge as the HRM population rapidly grows, making sustainable TDM particularly pertinent. Encouraging cycling commuting by improving infrastructure ought to be a key component in pursuit of any sustainable TDM program.

One of the most important and busiest routes for cyclists in the HRM is the designated cycling path along the north side of the Macdonald Bridge. The 1.3km path is the only direct route available to cyclists commuting between Halifax and Dartmouth. However, only the most confident bicycle commuters glimpse the stunning vistas of Halifax and Dartmouth from high above the Bedford Basin from this bike path. Accessing this cycling path is unfortunately too cumbersome for the average cyclist.

The main complaints cyclists have about this route are related to the convoluted entrance/ exit ramp on the Halifax side. Getting on/off of this ramp entails circling steeply downwards and underneath the bridge and then immediately climbing steeply back up. Exiting into Halifax, for instance, cyclists must descend down to Barrington St, make a sketchy crossing at the North St off ramp to reach the sidewalk (even though it is deemed illegal to bike on sidewalks) that ascends steeply back up. Cyclists must then again cross North St only to arrive back, disheartened and exhausted, to the level where the bike path off ramp re-directed them down and away from the route along North Street in the first place. Cyclists heading to Dartmouth must do the reverse.

One of the most dangerous sections is towards the bottom of the path that swoops under the Macdonald Bridge. At this bend, the path narrows slightly as it runs up against the concrete support of the bridge. This creates a very dangerous blind corner. There is no signage or convex mirrors, such as those in parkades with similar blind corners, to warn cyclists. The current arrangement is begging for a tragic collision between a speeding cyclist heading down the ramp and cyclist heading up.

It is no wonder so many potential cyclists opt instead to drive instead of cycling this route.

If Halifax Harbour Bridges and the HRM are serious about this commitment to sustainability, the Macdonald Bridge bike path must be reworked, along with bridge upgrades, to make it safer and more bike-friendly. Only then will drivers opt en masse for the more environmentally friendly option of leaving their cars at home in favor of commuting between Halifax and Dartmouth by bicycle.

So far, neither I nor my fellow cycling peers that I have consulted has received a response from the Bridges authority to our written requests for upgrades and complaints about this key cycling route.

Photos by rockylis and from EPDave and Lawrence Plug, a member of Spacing Atlantic’s flickr pool.



  1. Some great points. The cycling infrastructure in HRM is terribly inadequate, and this is one of the most glaring problem spots. It’s not just inconvenient, it’s dangerous.

    If the Bridge Commission is really serious about sustainability, they will have to move beyond their plans for a third bridge and start looking at serious ways to reduce peak hour demand on the existing bridges. Considering they have already rejected peak hour tolls (which their own study suggested could reduce traffic volume by 10-15% – a big reduction), I’m not too confident they’re really that interested. Some bus lanes at the tolls couldn’t hurt either to speed the buses up a little.

    The Bridge Commission is just one of the myriad agencies involved in transportation decisions in Halifax: HRM Engineering, Metro Transit, NS Government, and in some cases the Feds and CN. What’s really needed is a regional level transportation commission – composed of the Province and HRM – to coordinate the strategic planning.

  2. Alright, a little more info: 

    Who REALLY owns the access points to the bridges on either side? After grilling HHB for a couple years as a chair-person for the HCC and asking HRM staff about this issue, I found out that essentially they both do. As far as Halifax access goes, HHB in my opinion (after attending a couple annual stakeholder meetings hosted by HHB, and after several meetings with different HHB representatives) seems very open to improving access to the bridge on this side. In one instance one of their reps indicated that they saw no problem with cutting out a section of the fence on the Halifax site to let people make a minor right hand turn directly onto North St instead of the multi-story climb we currently face today. When I asked why they simply can’t take a metal-grinder to the fence, this person said that it’s something HRM would have to support and facilitate as well. As for the Dartmouth side, HHB doesn’t really see how to improve that site, as whatever they do tends to rely on major changes that would have to be facilitated by HRM (Starting to see a pattern?)

    HRM for their part has put a fair deal of thought into alternative solutions to the Halifax side (the most bizzar I remember was building some sort of ramp that swings over the North St access street onto the sidewalk?), but all were lauded as being too pricey. 

    At the end of the day however, ever though HHB might not get us completely, I think they are trying to make things better for us (in the last 2 years alone, they’ve thrown AT LEAST $10,000 into the cycling community) and they seem super willing to solve the bridge access point debacle. The real recipient of our turmoil fueled anger should be thrown at HRM for ignoring the access issues. 

    At the end of the day, cyclists are very responsible folks (according to 2 consecutive bike counts, our compliance with the rules of the road are a little over 90%, and over 98% of us wear helmets). A fence cut, some signage, and some traffic lane changes by HRM and Metro Transit are all that is really required to improve the Halifax access. 

    Write to your councillors… or better yet, run in the next municipal (next year!)

  3. Personally i don’t think the HHB gets it at all, despite their pep talk with Steve. Any organization that puts up a 5 km/hr sign on a downhill for bikes has obviously never been on a bike. Just a few days ago they decided to “fix’ the blind corner on the Halifax side. Instead of going with something that might actually work (& was recommended by some cyclists) like a convex mirror,..they instead put up a STOP sign. It’s hard to describe how utterly stupid this new STOP sign is but one merely has to hop on a bike and come down the ramp to realize it was a total waste. And the fact is that EVERY cyclists totally ignores the STOP sign. So what exactly was the point of it?

    As far as the HHB throwing around money,..i would much rather see them throw money at bridge problems then throw money at the local cycling group or any other project. They are a bridge and they should spend money on fixing the bridge problems AND THEN AND ONLY THEN should they start giving away money.

    I also hear a lot from organizations like the city, the province, the HHB of how much they want to do, much they’d love to do,..but only if that other organization would give off it’s ass and do something first. All three of those groups are experts in blaming the other groups. The HHB blames the city, the city blames the province and the province blames the city and around and around it goes.

    IF the HHB gave such a damn like Steve B says then they need to let their balls drop and stand up in public and be vocal. Why the need to wait for other groups to act first? Why,..because it’s an excellent excuse to keep the status quo and do nothing.

    So why isn’t the HHB pushing the city to do something? It’s easier to tell people like Steve that “we’d love to just cut a hole in the fence,..but aww heck,..the city needs to step up first”. That is such bullshit. How about they say,..”ok,..we’re going to do something now and the city needs to get on board with us now because we intend to fix the problem with or without them.” And then they do it and it gets done. Problems don’t get solved until someone steps up to the plate and solves them. We see none of that here. Instead they smile and lie to trusting people and the result,..the buck gets passed and nothing gets done. Sigh.