Clinic’s move to Bayers Lake is poor planning, a waste of public funds

Far better places for Nova Scotia's new health centre.

Clinic’s move to Bayers Lake is poor planning, a waste of public funds
Ben MacLeod, a native Haligonian and an urban designer based in Hong Kong.

Last Thursday the provincial Liberal government announced the purchase of land in Bayers Lake, at the exorbitant price of $7.5 million, to accommodate clinics set to be displaced by the upcoming redevelopment of the QEII Heath Centre’s Victoria General (VG) site.

The decision to move public services from a central location—highly accessible by public transit—to a remote site in a car-oriented business park runs contrary to all principles of good urban planning.

Some defended the move, pointing out that Bayers Lake is accessible by bus. In fact, the site is approximately 800 metres from the nearest bus route, roughly double the 400-metre cutoff commonly defined by transit planners as the catchment boundary of public transit stops. Any new route introduced to serve this low-density corner of Bayers Lake would require heavy subsidy, and would consequently run at even lower frequencies than the buses that currently ply Chain Lake Drive.

Others, including premier McNeil, alleged that the move will address concerns about gridlock and parking. In fact, traffic congestion stems from precisely this kind of car-dependent urban form. When densities are too low to sustain quality public transit, those with the means choose to drive. Cars are the least efficient mode of urban transportation in every respect. They carry few passengers relative to the amount of road space they occupy. Car-oriented planning inevitably results in congestion—just look at Los Angeles, Atlanta and countless other North American cities.

Bayers Lake may be a more convenient location for patients who visit these clinics from outside metro Halifax, who make up some 40 percent of annual visits to the QEII. However, a Bridgewater resident is less burdened by the extra 15 minutes required to reach the peninsula than a city dweller trying to reach Bayers Lake without a car. Transit to Bayers Lake is an hours-long slog, while cabbing from the most densely-populated areas of the city (and back) represents an unreasonable expense for most. Staff will inevitably choose to commute by car to the new clinic, especially considering there is no housing within walking distance.

Given that the province already owns large underused sites in more appropriate locations, the purchase is also a flagrant waste of public funds.

Which other sites were considered? By what criteria was the Bayers Lake site selected over, say, the parking lots that surround the VG or the Dartmouth General? Both sites are large enough, owned by the province, and accessible via numerous bus routes. The latter is located at the end of Highway 111, near the Woodside Ferry. The Auditor General should look into the site selection process, especially considering that senior personnel at Banc Commercial Holdings Ltd., which sold the site to the province, have donated generously to the Liberals.

Nova Scotia’s fortunes depend on a strong and sustainable Halifax. This means curbing urban sprawl and supporting a walkable, dense, mixed-use urban core that can sustain quality public transit as an alternative to car ownership. Government at all levels should be setting an example, not actively relocating public facilities to the extreme periphery of the city.


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