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Building blocks 

Editorial by Kyle Shaw

One night last week, a construction site on Hollis Street became beautiful. It was after nine o’clock, when the only visible activity came from a welder doing some sort of repair to a backhoe’s scoop. The beautiful part was the white-blue light coming off the welding torch. It cast the welder’s shadow six storeys tall on the nearby apartment buiding. The giant shadow had a comforting presence, like a higher authority approving of the work going on below. But from that height, maybe the shadow understood too much. By morning it had fled the scene, leaving daylight to reveal the waste of a missed opportunity.

Main streets all over the city have been—or will be—ripped up in the name of Harbour Solutions. That’s the sewage treatment plan upgrading Halifax from 1800s technology (pour all the shit into the harbour) to technology that was cutting edge well into the 1900s (pipe the shit to concrete factories, pound the chunks out, zap it with germ-killing radiation and pour it in the harbour).

Harbour Solutions digs up a road to lay the new sewer pipes, then rebuilds the road to get it back to normal before moving on. It’s a very expensive way to improve underground infrastructure. But with so much construction happening, the project could very cheaply improve above-ground infrastructure at the same time. Repaving streets to include bike lanes, for example, is easy once the road’s been excavated. Too bad city hall isn’t ready to think ahead.

The idea of piggybacking bike lanes on other construction is hardly new. The regional municipality’s bike plan, Blueprint for a Bicycle-Friendly HRM, recommended any development plans should be “reviewed in their early stages” by the person hired as Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator. “The Coordinator should also be aware of all work to repair, replace and install water mains, sewers, pipelines, electrical corridors and other easements,” the plan continued. “If these projects are reviewed in their early stages (prior to the budgeting process) then any extra funds or design modifications required to simultaneously include provisions for bicycling could be identified, ensuring the most cost effective provision of bicycle facilities.”

Drawing attention to the many, many bike studies that came before—including Planning for the Bicycle in Halifax from 1992, A Bicycle Plan for the City of Halifax in 1997, the 1999 Active Transportation: Streets for Cycling report—and calling itself Blueprint, the plan held the promise of making something actually happen. City council adopted the plan in December 2002, when the Macdonald Bridge and Brunswick Street had the only bike lanes in the entire Prince Edward Island-sized municipality. (And then just a few blocks of Brunswick.)

Three years later, the bike lane “network” has grown into a slightly bigger collection of odds and ends: a stretch of the Bedford Highway, part of the Eastern Passage Road and a bit of Main Street in Dartmouth (only one way). Ken Reashor, the city’s manager of traffic and right of way services, is considering removal of the Brunswick Street lanes. There is no Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator—although this week was the application deadline for the roughly equivalent job, so the position should be filled soon. And the ambitious bike Blueprint has become background material for the latest study, the Active Transportation Plan, due in early 2006.

Ken Reashor says the Active Transportation Plan is a comprehensive look at self-propelled transit, so as a guide for the city to put into action it should be more a blueprint than the Blueprint. But what he’s really excited about is the so-called Red Book, the standards for all construction in HRM. The latest edition of the Red Book, which came out in September, is the first to require bike lanes on main roads of any new development. “We’re not quite as advanced in bicycle planning as other cities have been,” says Reashor, who came to Halifax in 2003, after Harbour Solutions planning was well underway. However, “we should be seeing a lot more in the future.”

Do you believe the city will ever embrace the bicycle? Spin theories to me at: editor@thecoast.ca.

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