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Road to ruin 

Editorial by Kyle Shaw

The Critical Mass bike ride wound its way through downtown last Friday night, before heading down Chebucto Road to end at the Mumford corner. There, in the parking lot of Saint Agnes church, the 60-or-so riders crowded around the church steps to listen to a short speech from Kevin Moynihan, one of the locals determined to stop city hall’s plan to widen Chebucto. Moynihan, who’s on the board of the Chebucto Neighbourhood Association, says the growing opposition to the widening is having an effect on the city’s resolve. He says at a recent meeting with residents, the municipal transportation people put a new option on the table. It’s a diabolical bit of coercion that a gangster would admire.

So far, the only option the city’s been willing to entertain is the ugly idea of expropriating land—and a house—from properties on the south side of Chebucto, in order to build an extra road lane. Now, however, the city says it can find the room it wants by nibbling away from the Saint Agnes parking lot on the north side. The residents even get to make the decision: Sacrifice your property to the commuters, or save yourselves and don’t resist as we sacrifice the property across the street. Although the second option might be more palatable, it still tastes like shit.

Widening Chebucto is more than a bad move. This week’s edition marks The Coast’s 14th birthday, and looking back over those 14 years is a reminder our city government has made plenty of bad decisions. But Chebucto stands out as the worst thing the city’s done since 1993.

While the fact that Chebucto’s happening now gives it an advantage compared to past problems—time does heal all wounds—other memorable mistakes also seem less awful because they’re sins of omission. The city stands by and does nothing while the Bloomfield Centre falls into disrepair; while former Africville residents ask for some sort of justice; while developers bulldoze downtown heritage and throw up suburban apartment blocks.

A sin of commission feels more wrong. The city has deliberately gone out and done something—overcoming the bureaucratic inertia that makes sins of omission so common—to fuck the public over. Sins of commission are rare in Metro. At the top of the list are mayor Peter Kelly maiming a young boy by throwing candy during the Parade of Lights, and Chebucto Road. The bleeding kid didn’t stand a chance.

The city’s traffic people have been talking about the need to widen the Chebucto bottleneck since 1960. The impetus behind the latest activity is a pending redesign of the Armdale Rotary. More cars should be able to get through the renovated rotary during rush hour, and computer models say an extra lane on Chebucto will maximize the rotary’s capacity. People will still be stuck in traffic on that extra lane—after Mumford, there’s an even worse bottleneck at Connaught—but at least they’ll be out of the way of cars taking other routes through the rotary.

So. We have a government willing to amputate front lawns and transplant residents, in order to clog an artery leading to the heart of the city. This doesn’t sound like a wise course of action for the patient. Luckily, a second opinion is as close as the Regional Plan. The omnipotent report calls for the city’s planning, transportation and development efforts to work together to get cars off the road and allow more people to travel by alternative methods like bike and bus. Enabling traditional commuting with a wider Chebucto Road flies in the face of this mandate. It also defies today’s environmental reality, and the best practices other cities are developing.

London’s tolls to drive downtown have been a success. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in April that he’s planning a similar fee and Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay followed suit in the middle of May. Halifax should join the race to be the first municipality in North America with a congestion charge. Or take the well-travelled path of inaction. Just stand back, leave Chebucto alone, and let rising gas prices and traffic delays convince commuters there must be a better way to go.

What’s your vote for the worst—or best—thing the city’s done in the last 14 years? Email: editor@thecoast.ca

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