Cogswell’s flyovers and flyby consulting

“Not a travesty, but an opportunity missed.”

As soon as early fall, those much-loathed suspended highways could come crashing down amid applauding crowds. God knows where all the traffic will go whilst we await Cogswell to be reborn from the rubble, but with all those great new public spaces and viewpoints this is a story about people winning over traffic, right?

Back at the 2013 Shake Up public consultation we dreamt up a Cogswell which prioritized people. Consequently, the 2014 Cogswell Land Plan declared the new Cogswell would be a "walkable and transit-oriented extension of the fine grained downtown of Halifax" in "stark contrast" to the current auto-centric Cogswell. Critical: It must "recognize the scale, special urban design issues, and special qualities of the city that make it unique."

Thanks to the Integrated Mobility Plan, rehabilitated streets in our urban core must follow the Complete Street approach, with first priority given to the safety and comfort of pedestrians through bumpouts and traffic calming.

Fast-forward to 2018. Given all the above, we expected impressive people-focused stuff. But what we got in the 60 percent complete plans was a Cogswell which didn't look and feel like Halifax, with roundabouts and wide roads foremost in priority.

Twenty-three stakeholders including key business and active transport organizations expressed concern that the plans did not meet the design remit and priorities identified by regional council in 2014. Although public consultation over the summer of 2018 was focused on public spaces, not street and block configurations, design consultants Gehl provided some last-minute input.

Verdict: The plans were traffic, not people-focused. Buildings were too large, and streets needed to be redesigned as places. It was unclear how Cogswell would reflect Halifax's unique identity, or how pedestrians would be protected from traffic.

Things had clearly gone awry. Gehl recommended decision-makers should create a shared vision for Cogswell: Time to go back and consult.

I believe this didn't happen. The 90 percent complete plans were produced quietly, just a few days before they were approved by council, without giving stakeholders the chance to review the plans and provide feedback.

The 90 percent complete plans retain the look and feel of the 60 percent complete plans—a road network with some peripheral, indirect and sometimes traffic-marooned buildings and routes for residents, pedestrians and cyclists. As Patty Cuttell of the North End Business Association aptly puts it, Cogswell has been reduced to "loose infrastructure ideas without an overall vision to bring it together."

The final work is on building designs. Will this be driven by commerce, or the community? Without buildings that are attractive, full of character and which reflect Halifax's heritage, the opportunity to realize the vision we dreamt up in 2013 is well and truly sunk.

Cogswell will be more than just about traffic, but it may not be liveable, loveable and full of the character which defines Halifax and makes it a great place to be. Not a travesty, but an opportunity missed.

Opinionated is a rotating column by Halifax writers featured regularly in The Coast. The views published are those of the author.

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