HALIFAX – With the news that after 12 years in office Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly won’t seek re-election this October, HRM has a chance to inject some fresh thinking and revisit some old ideas to improve the quality of public space in Halifax. Although I’ve lived away from Halifax for two years, here is my list of priorities I’d look for in a new mayor:
With the Metro Transit strike dragging on, transportation is definitely on the radars of most HRM residents. For starters though, Halifax has long been due for some pedestrian infrastructure, like pedestrian scrambles at major intersections downtown, road islands and sidewalk bulb outs to make crossing wide streets safer, benches, street trees and the pedestrianization of streets like Argyle, University or others, either on a permanent, seasonal, weekly or trial period like Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market in Toronto.
For cyclists and cycling advocates, the laundry list of needs is long. However, some standout ideas include continued support for the Crosstown Connector and separated lanes on Quinpool Ave. New street treatments like Bike Boulevards (Portland, OR) or local street bikeways (Vancouver), where residential side streets use landscaping and new speed laws to slow down traffic while giving cyclists priority, should also be explored. Or how about a bikeshare program on the peninsula?
The strike aside, Metro Transit is in some serious need of help. The first problem is funding. Metro Transit currently pays a higher percentage of its operating expenses from money made through fares than the Chicago Transit Authority does serving a city of 2.7 million people four times more dense than HRM. In other words, for the amount of money they get, Metro Transit is doing a lot. With more money, they should be exploring bus only lanes and Bus Rapid Transit (where fares are paid before boarding to speed up trips), real realtime bus information that works, and revisit the transit mall suggestion for Barrington. It’s also time for bus route planners to start rethinking the suburb-to-city orientation of bus routes and begin to look at serving the many commuters going cross-town.
Improving parking options downtown through dynamic parking pricing, where the cost changes based on the demand for that space, should be explored. One model is SFPark in San Francisco. The money raised could be diverted to street improvements where the money was spent, benefiting both pedestrians, business owners and the drivers themselves.
Renewed emphasis on parks, whether that’s improving/future-proofing the shoreline in Point Pleasant Park, increased public participation with the Halifax Common redesign or improving access to the Dartmouth waterfront with an expanded Harbourfront trail. And what about that HRM Urban Forest Master Plan
Housing and Urban Design
With HRMbyDesign firming in place, the new Mayor needs to continue to support strong urban design, people-friendly development and ensure a variety of affordable housing types continues to be built in transit served areas of the city.
I’ve only mentioned a few obvious topics and have missed many, but placing renewed emphasis on these six topics would do a world of good for Halifax and I’d support any mayoral candidate who made these issues a major part of the public discussion.
photo by Flickr user Everyspoon
schabas is always right on the money
My #1 priority would be for more creative thinking when it comes to transit. In particular I’d like to see high-quality services for the core, like an affordable hybrid streetcar/LRT system. Such a system would make it possible to take most of the diesel buses off downtown streets and would create lots of opportunity for transit-oriented development. It would be great for downtown business and the resulting infill would replace the less desirable suburban sprawl that happen in the absence of good transit.
Halifax needs to grow up. We need to start planning for a medium-sized city of 500,000. The small-town planning of uncoordinated suburban sprawl and the odd new bus route is not going to work anymore. I hope our next mayor understands this and is able to rally others around ambitious, successful goals.