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Life in the bike lane 

Bicycle czarina Hanita Koblents has big plans to grow a culture of biking here that will leave the auto 'infrastructure deficit' in the dust.

Critical mess

Complaining about the roads is a national sport in Halifax.Now that it's the summer paving season, drivers find it hard to go any distance without hitting annoying construction delays, which is great complaint fodder. The rest of the year, they can gripe about all the potholes messing with their precious suspension. When the paving crews are out the next summer trying to fix those potholes, the squeaky wheel cycle begins again.

Great as this town is for grumpy drivers, the rest of us can get in on the action by complaining about the attention the cars receive. The sight of a hard hat is enough to launch my tirade. "Paving the entire city blah blah not one inch of bike lanes blah blah slaves to the automobile blah blah green talk bullshit blah blah blah." The city's people have heard it before and the good ones are able to patiently set the record straight.

"We can move pretty slowly at HRM," admits Hanita Koblents, but more bike lanes are coming. The city's transportation demand management co-ordinator points to the new lanes on Purcell's Cove Road as "a pretty good chunk" for cyclists: She says Bell Road/South Park Street lanes will start construction soon and a multi-use trail from the Macdonald Bridge to downtown Halifax might break ground before the end of the year.

Although Koblents has only been the bike czar since May, the role seems like her destiny. Her first summer job was working for a Miyata bicycle dealership and another year she lead youth biking trips. After finishing a degree in landscape architecture she joined local consulting firm EDM, where one of her projects was writing the city's cycling master plan, the 2002 "Blueprint for a Bicycle Friendly HRM." Then she took a planning job with the city and almost immediately was tasked with setting guidelines for how much space new developments should devote to bike parking.

Now, as the cycling co-ordinator, she's in the middle of deploying 15 new bike racks around the peninsula, as well as looking over municipal paving plans through the year 2011, to plot where more bike lanes can easily be added. And even though she has to endure the Macdonald Bridge off-ramp---a persistent aggravation to cyclists---on her daily commute from work in Woodside, Koblents has made a conscious decision not to complain about it. "It's so much more important to try and grow the cycling community and stay positive," she says. The future of biking is in good hands.

For cars, meanwhile, a crisis is looming.

City hall is responsible for 1,700 kilometres of streets and roads in the municipality, according to David Hubley, HRM's manager of design and construction services, and 800km of those roads need some work. This construction season, with crews seemingly everywhere, the city will only pave between 70 and 80km. And that's up from past years, Hubley says, when 50 to 60km would get paved in a summer.

The gap between the 80km that will be fixed and the 800km that need fixing is an "infrastructure deficit," and it's huge. To catch up, the city would have to spend about 10 times this year's paving budget. That isn't going to happen, because a) the city's poor, b) even a rich city can see that extreme spending to support CO2-mobiles is environmentally unconscionable and c) the city's poor.

At over $26 million, the Roads & Streets item is the second most expensive thing in the current capital budget, after $30 million for Metro Transit. Doubling or tripling it would break the bank without putting a dent in the infrastructure deficit, so the city will have to look for another way. Remember, the giant wheels on buses handle potholes better than cars do and roads devoted to bicycles last practically forever. The infrastructure deficit may be just the excuse Halifax needs to reconsider its commitment to the car. Who could complain about that? a

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