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Halifixes '08 

Our annual wishlist for fixing what’s broken.

Grand Parade skatingThe bitter cold has Haligonians using their imaginations again. What better way to celebrate the season than to lace up and enjoy a leisurely skate outdoors? On Grand Parade perhaps?

Believe it or not, our winter fantasies are attainable.

Andy Fillmore, urban design project manager for the city, says the short-term possibility for skating on the parade square includes purchasing a portable rink that would be set up and torn down according to the season. The rink costs roughly $150,000 (just one Celine Dion concert!) plus set-up costs each year.

The plan currently sits in bureaucratic purgatory. What will it take to make Parade Capades a heavenly reality? Getting cars out of the parade square was the first step towards using the space, then installing the bollards that block vehicles from entering. The ball is rolling but needs an extra push.

"It needs a bit of momentum. It needs a champion. It could be the mayor or an individual councillor," says Paul MacKinnon, executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, who believes even a local business could step forward as a sponsor to get things moving.

Sounds like a challenge to us. Passionate skaters, step forward. AS

Winter gardensIt's one of the most beautiful places in Halifax and it's locked up for about half of the year. But there's no doubt the Public Gardens would provide some much-needed relief to bitterly cold Haligonians wading through the winter slush.

So why are we left on the outside looking in?

Peter Bigelow, the city's manager of parks and open spaces, explains the park is not currently equipped to deal with the cold and snow. "The pathways consist of crusher dust and the lawns abutting the pathways are edged. It would be difficult to clear the pathways without causing damage to both, and the use of salt would cause even more harm."

It's also a question of staffing, says city councillor Dawn Sloane. "This year, if we could have had them open longer, we would have. But because everybody was basically put on snow maintenance ."

Before the gardens can open for the winter, weather-resistant paths are a must— although ugly pavement should be out of the question. Additional staff will be needed for the winter, but there will be fewer flowers to take care of when it's minus 15.GM

New libraryWalking past the sea of pavement that was once the old Infirmary site on Queen and Spring Garden, one can't help but wonder where oh where is our new library? Well, the plan has not been bumped to the bottom of the priority list; it's just off to a pokey start.

Before anything can be built or even blueprinted, a land transaction will have to be completed, says urban project manager Andy Fillmore. Basically, there's a huge game of Monopoly happening in Halifax: A property trade is in the works, between the province and city, involving the Queen/Spring Garden lot (which the province currently owns), the Birks site (where the councillors park) and, potentially, some of the former Queen Elizabeth High School land.

At the same time, library directors are drawing up a building program for what they want the new building to be. Once this and some real estate analyses are completed, the building can be designed. The plan is to open an international design competition for the new library. So, it's coming—kind of.

"From my perspective HRM is emerging from a long period of planning...which is important, but there's definitely a feeling of OK, now it's time to do. We're entering that phase now, we've made all these plans and now we're doing them," says Fillmore. Here's hoping 2008 is the year of doing. AS

Fix the damn payphonesYou've just one thin quarter in your pocket and you need to make an important call. Maybe you need a cab or, worse, it's an emergency. Do you dare put that quarter into one of Aliant's oh-so-reliable payphones? Can you even find a payphone?

The payphone situation in the city really grinds our gears. Believe it or not, we're not all cellphone owners. Not being able to make a call is a huge safety issue, since we live in a city of frequent violent crime. If nothing else, it's just damn inconvenient. Why are there so many broken phones? Who dictates where phones are put? What's the deal with payphone maintenance? Questions we could only answer if our calls to Aliant were returned.

The list of pitiful phones includes a broken "0" button in front of Vogue Optical on Barrington Street, wonky non-functioning buttons near the Wave on the waterfront and the seriously abused, stripped bare, nasty looking phone on Agricola and North (and its twin on Robie and Charles). Out of order, quarter-guzzling phones are everywhere: two on the corner of Spring Garden and Robie, one on Barrington near the Superstore, two on Gottingen (the corners of Young and Falkland).

This is just to name a few. Grafton, Hollis, Granville, Blowers, Carmichael, Brunswick and Market streets are all lacking phones, while Gottingen has only three functioning phones out of six. And the list goes on and on.

Please can we have a collective "What the fuck?" AS

Youth programs & facilitiesWith the closing of The One World Cafe in September, Halifax lost yet another all-ages venue. The cafe was a cozy place to go to enjoy good food and live music without any of the asshole antics sometimes involved with alcohol consumption. Chris Smith, who runs the Pavilion, an all-ages venue in the city, says one of the challenges of putting on all-ages shows and running a youth-oriented venue is raising enough money to pay bills and cover other costs.

"Think of a bar without alcohol sales. You basically have to run the club and try to pay bands using just the cover charge collected. A canteen that sells chips and pop on average doesn't generate a lot of money."

We would like to see the city invest more in youth-oriented programs and venues. Smith suggests investing in the Common to create more all-ages facilities.

"Maybe an outdoor amphitheatre, an updated wading or swimming pool and obviously some improvements to the Pavilion building would be nice." Perhaps if the city invested more in youth programs, there would be fewer crimes and incidents involving young people. MK

Common senseIn an exercise of pure political will, The Coast demanded better lighting on the Common last year. So far, not so much.

But this could soon change, according to councillor Dawn Sloane. "We're looking at changing the lights from the soft sodium lights that are up there, to a metal halide which gives it a nice clean look—like they have at the skate park."

But it's anyone's guess as to whether these new lights will be enough—will there still be vast dark areas across the fields or not? No one really knows.

Another response to the violence on the Common could be improved sightlines. It's harder to mug someone without an element of surprise, and it's probably pretty awkward to do it in plain sight of everyone in the neighbourhood.

While the Common is hardly an untamed jungle of plant activity, there are some big ugly bushes that could become safety concerns.

Sloane said she and a group of officials went out and did an assessment with the goal of "crime prevention through environmental design. We looked around and we pinpointed the areas where some shrubbery needs to be either cut back or removed."

Alas, while everyone agrees the thug-obscuring shrubs have got to go, it'll evidently take the usual bureaucratic forever to get from "great idea" to "work done," since no one's yet been out to actually prune the things. GM

Airport busLast year, we said the city should offer a bus service to Halifax Stanfield International Airport—located 32km out of town and virtually inaccessible if you're public-transit inclined. Now, it looks like our request has been answered. Maybe.

The airport has more than 5,000 employees and more than three million passengers will pass through each year. Even if you assume everyone is car-pooling to the airport, the commute still requires a lot of fuel (not to mention money for long- or short-term parking).

In 2006, we learned the city had hired a consultant to examine the idea.

Flash forward one year: The consultant's report will be presented to city council in January. According to HRM transportation manager Dave McCusker, the report will propose adding a number of rural bus routes, including one to the airport.

McCusker says the airport bus would likely depart from Scotia Square, with stops in Burnside and Fall River. The bus would also drop passengers off at airline hangars and other airport sites as well as at the main terminal building.

"Really, the attraction of going to the airport by bus is more for employees than it is for passenger traffic," he says. "It's really designed more for employees than it is for passengers, but it's certainly something that passengers can use as well."

However, the airport bus isn't a sure thing yet. McCusker says the city may not add all the rural routes at once, and he doesn't know when those routes that aren't picked up during phase one of the project will be added. AK

Bring Shannon Park to lifeOh, Shannon Park. Like kids and bunnies at Easter, we had such ambitious plans for you. We were ready to dress you up and show you off for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Then the bid was dropped in March and now you've been abandoned, left to grow old, dirty and ugly.

The former military neighbourhood was supposed to be revived and redeveloped into housing instead of the eyesore that it is now: barren and littered with garbage and derelict buildings that look like railcars turned into apartments.

Dartmouth North NDP MLA Trevor Zinck would like to see the area developed into diverse residential housing, with affordable homes, townhouses, duplexes and condos developed along the waterfront.

"It's a wonderful piece of land. It could be a jewel for this city to have that part of land developed." He also wants to see businesses, schools and co-op centres mixed in as well as a ferry link.

Canada Land Claims has put in yet another bid to the Department of National Defence to have the land transferred over to them and then, with participation from the community, develop it. Zinck says he is hoping that DND will accept Canada Land Claims' bid and a transfer can happen by the spring of 2008. Because of the historical significance of the area, some of the land already belongs to the Millbrook First Nation which has its own plans to turn the stock into housing and businesses.

Given the right attention and care, Shannon Park can turn into a lively and prosperous community. Don't sweep it under the rug like a dust bunny. MK

Sidewalks in the BLIPYou only have to travel through the Bayers Lake industrial park and shopping district by foot once to understand what people have been complaining about. Once you turn from Lacewood Drive into Chain Lake Drive, the sidewalk ends and a test of your tightrope-walking skills begins. Suddenly you'll find yourself walking alongside the curb as traffic blows by—a bit too close for comfort. The Coast grumbled about this issue last April but it's been a problem for much longer. Mary Wile, councillor for the area, has been championing the cause since she was elected in 2004.

Here's where the trouble began. Originally, Bayers Lake was meant to be an industrial park that wouldn't attract nearly as many people as today. It quickly grew into a busy retail area and the lack of sidewalks was impractical and dangerous for pedestrians

After a long battle, Wile got an early Christmas present in December, when city council approved a plan to put sidewalks along one side of Chain Lake Drive (a $300,000 project). The proposed sidewalk will run from the Costco intersection down to Susie Lake Crescent (near the IMAX)— although which side of the road has yet to be decided.

"We've got a good beginning there, it's wonderful," says Wile, who presented a petition with almost 1,400 signatures to council. She says work on the project should start this coming spring or summer. That's one small step for Chain Lake Drive, one large sigh of relief for pedestrians. AS

Boozer busRemember that wild night when you went out drinking (responsibly, of course) with your friends, danced all night, and then caught the bus home?

Unless your night ended before 1am, you probably don't. Most city bars are still open when Metro Transit service ends for the night. If you want to get home and don't have a car, you'll have to compete with thousands of other late-night revellers for a taxi, or make the trek on foot.

A "goodnight shuttle service" was proposed at mayor Peter Kelly's summit on violence in November 2006 (not to be confused with the mayor's 2007 roundtable on violence). The idea was discussed at one city council meeting, but Metro Transit spokesperson Lori Patterson says that, since then, the idea hasn't been revisited.

Downtown Halifax councillor Dawn Sloane says city staff were looking at the idea, but she hasn't heard anything about the shuttle service since she brought it up in council in 2006. But she's planning to talk to the mayor about it again.

"It gets people home safely, first of all. That's the number one priority," says Sloane, who also thinks late-night transportation will discourage vandalism and littering by getting people out of the downtown quickly after bars close.

"I'd like to see it go by the largest downtown venues that are open late—I mean "late' as in 4am-late—and have it so it picks you up and, using your pass, you would be able to get a drive home," adds Sloane. AK

Winterize FREDEach summer, residents and visitors cruise the downtown in Halifax's signature lime-green shuttle, FRED. But those looking for a lift up Barrington in the winter, especially when snow and wind make a free ride most desirable, are out of luck. FRED stops running every October, leaving Haligonians out in the cold.

"It has always been a goal of ours to have as a year-round shuttle service,"

says the Downtown Halifax Business Commission's Paul MacKinnon.

The commission runs FRED, which is also subsidised by Metro Transit and sponsored by a number of businesses, including Pier 21 and Alexander Keith's.

But MacKinnon says the commission doesn't have enough money for a winter FRED.

"The program is such that it's extremely expensive to run, and we don't have any plans to expand it," he says. "Costs have escalated every year, to the point where it's been a question of whether we could maintain the service that we had."

However, Halifax may still get its free ride. Dave McCusker, manager of transportation for the city, says his department wants to set up a free, year-round shuttle service to connect transit users with downtown hot spots.

"All of services terminate either at the ferry terminal or Scotia Square," he explains. "So the idea is to make these services more extensive by getting better connections to the hospitals, the universities and the shopping areas."

McCusker hopes three or four shuttles will be serving the downtown area by 2009. AK

Go Go TimeWhen bus riders in HRM phone Metro Transit's Go Time line they won't find out if the bus they're waiting for is going to be four minutes late, or five minutes early. The information line is still playing the bus schedule for callers, which is often inaccurate, especially when the weather gets bad.

So where's the real-time bus tracking system Metro Transit has been psyching us up for? Well, it's not ready yet.

Lori Patterson, spokesperson for Metro Transit, says the city has finished updating bus stop signs to include the new Go Time numbers and real-time tracking devices have been installed on city buses. But, the system is still being tested.

"We don't want to introduce it bit by bit," she says. "It's very confusing for the public if you have some of it up live and not other pieces. So we want it to be ready to go full fledged before we introduce it."

Patterson says there's no set launch date for the improved service, though she expects it will happen some time in "early to mid-2008."

The new Go Time service will also offer web tracking and online trip planning services.

Patterson also says Metro Transit isn't planning to re-install the old complimentary Go Time phones that once graced bus stops, since most public transit users have cell-phones, or can use their home phones to call Go Time. However, monitors displaying the latest Go Time information will still be available at major transit terminals. AK

Late libraryHaligonians have been calling for safe spaces for bored, restless youth all winter. We at The Coast suggest they look to the libraries. Wander through the North Memorial branch at the end of a school day, while local teenagers do their homework and chat online, and you'll see what we mean.

At the branch you can check your email, learn to use a new piece of computer software or sample a collection of First Nations or black literature. The library has even hosted Dance Dance Revolution tournaments in the kids' section.

Unfortunately, you can't access the North branch on Mondays. And if you blink, you'll miss the operating hours of some of the other branches across the city. So why not keep libraries open later?

Julie Trites, spokesperson for Halifax Public Libraries, says increasing library hours is a major priority for the library's board of directors.

"But the thing is, there are always considerations like staffing," she says. "When you expand hours you've got to accommodate that with more staff and operational costs like lighting and the utilities that go along with having a branch open.

"It's the deciding factor: what our budget allows us to do." Although Halifax's public library system receives some provincial funding, the bulk of its budget comes from HRM. So, city councillors, when you dream up new ways to occupy the young and the restless, don't forget to support the places they already go. AK

Put a public washroom on Barrington StreetIf you want to have your finger on the pulse of Halifax, you need not look further than Barrington Street. A historic and central area in downtown Halifax, Barrington is home to a veritable Who's Who of small businesses, restaurants and bars. It also smells like pee!

You may have noticed the smell, witnessed someone urinating on the street or even taken a leak there yourself. This could be because of the lack of HRM-operated washrooms in the downtown area.

However, the absence of downtown washrooms might not be too big of a public problem. Shopping malls, bars, restaurants and retail outlets provide washroom facilities that meet health regulations, says municipal operations manager, Denis Huck: "There is no longer a pressing need for public washrooms."

Huck says that there are a few public facilities surrounding the downtown area such as those in the Public Gardens and Point Pleasant Park. HRM has also recently provided washrooms on the Common, a task that cost $250,000. However, this washroom is no longer opened to the entire public, just for league sports and major events. Huck cites "significant and costly vandalism" as the reason for the lockdown. With such costs, it is understandable why the city is reluctant to add more washrooms.

Still, bladders do not always conform to the store hours of businesses, and it just feels rude to use a Tim Hortons toilet without buying so much as a timbit. JL


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