14 New Year’s solutions for Halifax.

Add lighting on the Common

During the day the Halifax Common can be a great place to get some fresh air, play a little baseball or walk your dog. But at night, it can be a little sketchy: It’s dark, it’s large and it scares the hell out of some people.

It poses a great inconvenience for pedestrians to have to make a detour around the Common due to the lack of sufficient lighting on the property.

Mike Filippone is the traffic signal and street lighting supervisor for the city and says there haven’t been any reports to his department regarding the lighting issue. Therefore, he doesn’t see a need to install more light posts throughout the park.

The Common has roughly a dozen light posts in the interior, and more around the perimeter. The lampposts are positioned primarily along the walking paths, but there are huge open spaces where no lighting is provided.

So is the poor lighting really an issue? Just how dangerous is the Common at night?

“I don’t see the Common as being any more dangerous than any other area of the city,” says constable Jeff Carr, who handles media relations for the Halifax Regional Police. He reports that there were a few robberies last spring on the Common, but doesn’t feel that the lighting was the issue. Then again, he also admitted to never seeing what the Common actually looks like at night.

If pedestrians are feeling threatened and want better lighting, they can put in a request with the city. Filippone says that a request must be made, then a committee will meet to discuss what is needed to fix the problem. Only then can a budget be made up to make necessary changes. (JBar)

Put bike racks on Barrington

Cyclists searching for a place to park their bikes on Barrington Street have no option but to lock them to sign posts, parking metres, trees and benches.

Though there are plans to install bike racks on Barrington, there isn’t a definite timeline for doing so, says Stewart MacMillan, HRM’s streetscape coordinator.

“We know the need, we’re going to be addressing the need. It’s a matter of properly phasing them in so we’re using funds effectively.”

To save money and prevent new bike parking from being uprooted by construction, HRM tries to coordinate bike rack installation with other street renovations. Potential changes to Barrington as a result of the street’s Heritage District Revitalization Plan might affect when bike racks are put in place, MacMillan says.

He also admits that the approval process for “one little bike rack” costs between $400 and $500, is lengthy and is subject to “a whole bunch of internal consultation.”

Aside from recently installed bike racks at Scotia Square Mall at the north end of Barrington’s downtown stretch, bicycle parking along the street is scarce.

Laena Garrison, coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre’s TRAX project, which promotes sustainable transportation, says the problem of where to lock up isn’t limited to Barrington. Halifax’s downtown is “dire for bike racks,” she says.

The region’s official bike plan, Blueprint for a Bicycle-Friendly HRM, reaches the same conclusion as Garrison. Adopted in 2002, the plan identifies the Barrington Street shopping district, along with Spring Garden Road and the downtown office district as areas with limited bike parking.

MacMillan hadn’t received any complaints about Barrington’s lack of bike racks in 2006. During that time, the city has focussed on installing bicycle parking on other downtown streets. Cyclists will have to find these bike racks, tucked away on sidestreets like Dresden Row. They may also have to fight for a spot at one—the city recently installed a bike rack on Argyle Street that will hold just two bicycles.

On a street like Barrington, MacMillan says, cyclists should use “common sense” to avoid blocking the sidewalk when deciding where to lock their bikes, he says.

But it’s difficult for the city to complain when legitimate bike parking is so hard to find. (CB)

Open the Public Gardens Year-round

Halifax is the proud home of one of the oldest and most historically accurate Victorian gardens in North America. A 17-acre green-space in the city centre, the Halifax Public Gardens officially opened in 1867.

But why is this famous gem kept under lock and key for half the year?

By no means do we want to put the gardens or its many unique plants that make it irreplaceable in any jeopardy. But is year round access really such an outrageous idea? Maureen Cullen, HRM’s supervisor of horticulture, says remaining open in the winter is something that’s never been discussed. One of the main reasons is the crushed dust pathways that guide visitors through the grounds. She says the material gets very soft in freeze and thaw conditions, which would lead to people walking on the lawns to avoid the soggy mess. “If the gardens were to be open in the winter, there would have to be a whole procedure for maintenance,” says Cullen.

One thing that enables other park areas (like Whitehern Historic House and Garden in Hamilton, for example) to offer winter access is asphalt paths. They don’t keep all of the garden paths clear, but enough to allow access. Asphalt is something that would drastically change Halifax’s historical gardens. Also, Cullen says using the sidewalk clearing machines that easily zip around other asphalt paths would put the meticulously groomed lawns at risk. “It’s very tricky,” she says. “The more delicate your area becomes, the more you would have to be very, very particular about any kind of machine that would be used to do any sort of snow clearing or ice maintenance.”

But HRM could at least think about other materials that might make the process easier without endangering the gardens. Other Canadian parks are able to stay open year-round, and their horticultured treasures remain as stunning as ever. (JBen)

Tear Down the MET building on Gottingen Street

It’s hard to overlook 2183 Gottingen. The property is overflowing with Chiquita banana boxes, broken lamps, mangled mannequins and animal cages—which is too bad, especially given its place of prominence on Gottingen Street.

In 2001, a heavy snowfall caused part of the roof to collapse, and forced Mitchell’s Enviro Treasures, which was in the upper part of the building, to close. The location would be ideal for a local business or a quality grocery store or bank. So why is the collection of random oddities still there?

District 12 councillor Dawn Sloane says the building is an unnecessary problem in the community and needs to be torn down, but so far the owner—Wayne Mitchell—hasn’t let that happen. Mitchell could not be reached for comment.

“I just want it done,” says Sloane. “I don’t know of any other situation where we’ve seen this kind of abuse of the system. To hold up the conclusion of a file like this is beyond comprehension.”

The building has been a problem since the collapse in 2001. There are several processes that could lead to it being torn down, but until Mitchell agrees, or until bills or taxes go unpaid, the only reasonable premise is the fact that it’s dangerous and unsightly.

Sloane says the building is obviously not up to code, but in working with the lawyers to get something done about it, they’ve run into many obstacles.

“It’s highly frustrating, not only for myself but for the residents around the area.”

Sloane says the lawyers are scheduled to meet again soon, and she hopes that this time there will be a conclusion. “The pressure I’m getting from the community is quite great, and I can understand that, because I want something done,” she says. “There’s nothing worse than walking by a building of that stature, and you know it has potential for so many good things.” (JBen)

Install stop lights on Quinpool at Monastery Lane

Along the west side of the Quinpool Centre runs Monastery Lane, a short street with a heavy workload. Shoppers consistently use Monastery to travel between the centre’s parking lot and Quinpool, where a lowly stop sign controls the flow of traffic into the intersection.

Merging onto busy Quinpool can take time, and herein lies the problem. Vehicles waiting to turn left creep into the intersection, forcing pedestrians out of the crosswalk to get around them. Cars waiting to turn onto Monastery disrupt traffic on Quinpool. It’s a mess.

Still, there are no plans to install traffic signals at the intersection, says Taso Koutroulakis, senior traffic operations engineer for HRM Traffic and Right-of-Way Services.

HRM uses Transportation Association of Canada guidelines to determine if signals are needed at an intersection. Assessments assign points to intersections based on the amount of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, number of lanes in each street, spacing from another intersection and the area’s accident history. A score of 100 or more points is an indication that “signals may be warranted at an intersection,” Koutroulakis says.

The selection of an area for evaluation is “basically complaint-driven,” he says. Complaints from the public should be treated as seriously as those from city councillors. Koutroulakis doesn’t recall receiving any recent complaints about the intersection of Quinpool and Monastery, and isn’t sure if it has undergone an assessment.

HRM, limited by the $150,000 price tag on a new set of traffic lights, typically installs just two or three new sets a year. Koutroulakis says the close proximity of traffic signals at Harvard Street, and then at Preston Street, would be a definite consideration in an assessment of the intersection of Monastery and Quinpool, but wouldn’t necessarily prevent another set of signals from being added there.

But what about transplanting a set of traffic lights? Why not move the streetlights from their place of questionable necessity at Quinpool and Preston to Monastery Lane, where they would surely reduce the frustration that the intersection causes?

For now, Monastery Lane’s lone stop sign, along with the good sense of drivers and pedestrians, will control the flow of traffic onto and off of Quinpool Road. There’s gotta be a better way. (CB)

Put water fountains in Point Pleasant Park

Although surrounded by the ocean on three sides, Point Pleasant Park is not an easy place to find water—free, fresh drinking water, that is. And visitors to the park will continue to go thirsty.

There are no immediate plans to install public drinking fountains, says deputy mayor Sue Uteck, who is a member of the Point Pleasant Park Advisory Committee.

“People, they want benches, washrooms and other amenities like that,” Uteck says.

As the city developed a master plan to guide the recovery of the park following 2003’s Hurricane Juan, public consultations were held to find out what amenities people would like to see.

Drinking fountains made one person’s list of priorities for a renewed Point Pleasant. But benches were also mentioned only once, and washrooms were identified as a priority by just two people.

Drinking fountains aren’t necessarily something that the city is moving away from providing in public parks, says Brian Phaelan, the city’s superintendent of parks and open spaces. There are a few parks with fountains in the city, Phaelan says, but planners generally opt not to install them in community or neighbourhood parks that are close to visitors’ homes.

Fifty percent of Point Pleasant’s users are from Halifax’s south end, according to an HRM Stakeholder Opinion Report released in 2005. This suggests that Point Pleasant is a neighbourhood park; however, the average length of a visit to the park is between one and two hours. That’s a long time to go without water, especially for visitors engaged in one of the parks two most popular activities: walking and running. (CB)

Put a curtain on the first floor men’s room at City Hall

Have you ever felt like someone was watching you? If you have, that’s probably because you’ve taken a bathroom break in the first floor men’s room in City Hall.

If you’ve ever been in this men’s room, you may have noticed that there is no curtain hanging in the window. This wouldn’t be a problem if the bathroom was facing an alley, a wall or even an open field. But it’s not. It’s facing the corner of Duke and Barrington which holds an entrance to Scotia Square Mall. It is also directly in a line of viewing from the Emera tower and the Aliant office in the upper mall.

The way in which the bathroom is laid out, with the wheelchair accessible stall parallel to the window on the far wall, presents the toilet in perfect view. When it’s dark outside, and the lights are on inside the bathroom, it creates a perfectly visible spectacle for those who are working in the offices across the street.

Ronald Ritchie is an employee of Aliant, whose offices are directly across from the men’s room. He says he noticed the lack of curtain one evening while on the balcony getting some fresh air.

“I was watching the cars drive by and caught something move in the window out of the corner of my eye. My god, that’s a bathroom.”

“If anyone, you’d think city hall would be on top of things,” Ritchie adds.

Phil Newell has been the custodian in the building for 25 years and says he has never heard a complaint about the exposed bathroom. However, he has also put in an order for a pull-down blind for the bathroom, and is awaiting its arrival.

Newell claims there is already a set of blinds in the bathroom, but they don’t work properly and leave the window exposed…but when we checked (on multiple occasions) there were no blinds—not even broken ones—hanging in the window. Our virgin eyes! (JBar)

Put poster poles on Gottingen Street

The north end of Halifax takes pride in its art community. It is the home of many artists, writers, musicians, sculptors, painters, dancers—you get the picture. With having so much to promote, the north end is desperately in need of a poster pole.

In 2002 the Downtown Halifax Business Commission installed poster kiosks and poles all over the downtown area in order to regulate the city's postering habits, and to discourage random postering.

The poles are a great way for artists and musicians to advertise their events. Therefore, it would only make sense to put one on Gottingen, where the art community is so vibrant.

Paul MacKinnon is the executive director for the DHBC and says that “Gottingen Street is out of the downtown boundaries and therefore was not included in our program.”

So where does this leave the north end? Don’t they have their own business commission? No, but they do have a volunteer group, led by Michelle Strum of Halifax Backpackers.

Strumm says a poster pole was set to be put in place awhile back at the corner of Faulkland and Gottingen. She says they spoke with HRM and the Business Commission about getting a poster pole. A design was picked out…but nothing ever came of it.

She is not sure why the pole was never installed. “I think the idea got lost in all the work the commission has to take care of.” She notes that it was a lot of work just to keep reminding people about it.

However, all hope is not lost. Strumm has every intention of getting a poster pole installed in the north end. Right now her group is focussing their attention on new banners for the north end, but Strumm says the pole will most likely be their next project.

Strumm thinks a new design would be needed. “Something that will distinguish our pole from the downtown ones.” Something unique, just like the north end. (JBar)

Run FRED, the freE rideseverywhere downtown bus, year-round

In winter, HRM residents looking to hop on FRED the bus for a free ride are out of luck—Halifax’s lime-green friend stopped running on October 27, and won’t start up again until summer.

This year’s FRED was also the only bus route in the city that travelled to Pier 21 and Marginal Road. Right now, people heading to the museum must do so on foot.

So, we ask, why not run FRED the bus all year? Doing so would make Pier 21 more accessible, and offering free downtown rides year-round seems like a surefire way to make the city shine.

When the Downtown Halifax Business Commission started FRED roughly 10 years ago, they intended for it to start as a summer service, and later extend year-round, says Paul MacKinnon, the commission’s executive director. The commission runs FRED with the help of sponsors, including Pier 21 and Casino Nova Scotia, and the help of Metro Transit, which subsidizes FRED’s service.

But the service expansion never happened. Instead, FRED’s operating costs—including employee salaries and the price of gas—have slowly risen. MacKinnon says this past year was “a make or break year for FRED”—the program was in danger, and the only means of saving it was for sponsorship to remain strong. Many sponsors came through.

But the effort involved in maintaining FRED’s summer service doesn’t bode well for a year-round FRED. Still, the business commission still has hopes that the switch to a year-round model will take place, says MacKinnon. However, a year-round FRED could only happen as part of a “larger, better-integrated transit system,” in which the city places less of a priority on recouping the costs it spends on the bus system, he says.

Lori Patterson, Metro Transit’s spokesperson, says the city would be willing to look at the possibility of running FRED year round if the business commission proposed doing so. But, she points out, “you have look at if there’s a demand, because there’s a cost to running everything.” (LM)

Put Source Separation Bins on Brunswick

Providing public four-source separation bins in Halifax is a challenge—many of Halifax’s narrow sidewalks offer limited space, and many four-source separation bin designs are simply too large to fit. Brunswick Street, for example, has heavy foot traffic on both sides of the street, and very little room for anything else. Sections of Barrington, Lower Water, Spring Garden and Bedford Row are also problem areas—many of the busiest sections of sidewalk in Halifax are also the most narrow. However, a design that works on the busy sidewalks of Brunswick should work everywhere.

In March 2005 the city introduced source separation containers with sections for organics, recyclables, mixed paper and refuse materials. Eleven bins were installed in park areas around metro. Phase two, which began in the spring of 2006, put 20 more bins around the city, this time on sports fields. Now it’s time to get more of these bins on the streets.

Marion Currie, capital district project coordinator for the city, says that’s precisely what phase three aims to do, and it’s now underway.

“The two models that are out there are really large,” she says, “and they’re just too big to put on the sidewalk. There’s so much competition for space in those areas that we’re trying to find something that’s more compact and will have less impact on the sidewalk user.”

That many downtown streets are too narrow to accommodate the bins being used now is obvious. What isn’t obvious is how to get around the problem. Currie says once a design is approved it will go to tender, and the cost to produce the bins will determine how many will go out. They hope to have them in place by spring.

As far as long-term goals, “we’re aiming to have garbage cans on every block within the capital district, and that would include the source separations,” says Currie. “So it’s really providing more options, more often, to individuals on the street to get rid of their garbage, as opposed to throwing it on the ground.” (JBen)

Fix the payphone outside Oxford Theatre

More than a year ago, The Coast bemoaned the disappearance of the payphone that once stood outside the Oxford theatre. The phone was removed during the city’s revamping of the Oxford and Quinpool corner, leaving two poles poking out of the concrete in its stead.

At the time, we had some news to accompany our kvetching—it had been confirmed that the phone would be returned when construction ended.

Now, many months later, there’s no sign of construction at the corner—and no payphone. The two poles are still there, but they won’t accept our quarters.

The city has no involvement in making sure payphones get replaced and maintained, says John O’Brien, the HRM corporate communications officer.

The folks at the Oxford theatre also declined comment about the payphone, but said it’s Aliant’s responsibility.

And Aliant? Bruce Lilly, the company’s regional manager, says payphones in the HRM are “regularly maintained,” but was unable specify how often “regular” is. He says all phones are checked to ensure that they are functioning properly.

But regular maintenance doesn’t help a phone that’s not there to begin with, and Lilly did not answer our follow-up calls regarding the missing Oxford/Quinpool payphone.

The undisclosed reasons for the payphone’s prolonged absence aside, we think the missing payphone is important, and the city needs it back. Payphones are often forgotten in this cellular age, but some of us are still defiant, quarter-carrying users, and Quinpool could benefit from another reliable phone.

In any event, this dive into the shadowy underbelly of the payphone world has revealed that payphone function and maintenance are subjects that a select few people get paid to take seriously, and the rest of us tend to ignore and neglect.

But dear, phoneless Oxford corner, we remember you. (LM)

Put a bus shelter near Saint Mary’s University on Inglis

Frequenters of the stretch of Inglis Street beside Saint Mary’s University have probably noticed how busy the bus stops get. It’s not surprising—they’re convenient and easily accessible to a university full of U-Pass holders.

The Saint Mary’s side of Inglis Street offers shelters to accommodate bus riders, both directly in front of the university and up near the intersection between Inglis and Robie. However, on the opposite side of the street, people find no such luxury. There are no shelters, and at the bustling stop directly across from the university, people waiting for buses end up sitting on, leaning against and throwing garbage near, the wall of the private property directly behind the bus stop.

There’s a space near Robie Street, in front of the Inglis Street Elementary School playground, which looks like prime bus shelter real estate.

The city looked to alleviate the heavy flow of people by installing a third stop between the stop across from the university and the stop closer to the Robie corner. But this plan was vetoed by the traffic authority, Patterson says, as it would tempt people to cross the street unsafely.

The lack of bus shelters in the area is something that Metro Transit has looked into before, Patterson says, especially after the U-Pass’s arrival in 2003 caused the number of people using the stop to increase.

The conditions required to install a bus stop can vary from stop to stop, Patterson says. But in the case of Inglis Street, a shelter would require more land than the city has.

Buying land from residents or the school board is not an option, she says, and all the viable possibilities for the area have been looked at already. “But we’ll continue to look. It’s an ongoing thing.” (LM)

Bury downtown power lines

In the spring of 2005, a consultant hired by the the city, Ray Piercy, presented his report examining the feasibility of underground utilities. He found the cost for converting all existing overhead lines would be too high as the system is now, but by adjusting the approach it could be manageable.

Piercy reported it would make the streets look significantly better by eliminating wires and allowing for more and larger trees.Underground utilities could also increase reliability, add to property value and reduce tree-trimming costs.

When the report was shared with Nova Scotia Power, the company concluded burying lines was simply too expensive. Margaret Murphy of NSP says the predicted levels of increased reliability didn’t justify the heightened cost. They do offer underground lines if requested by individual customers, but have no plans for burying anything more than that.

Piercy suggested combining power lines with other utilities, like phone and cable, in a common trench to improve reliability and substantially lower costs. There are many variables that affect the price of installing power, but the report offers estimates for a typical downtown street. Overhead power lines don’t vary in price like the underground do, with an estimated cost of $450 per metre of road.Underground utilities are another story.

The reported estimate for burying power lines in a new area, keeping with the current methods and costs, is $3,900 per metre of road. The same work using a common trench with the other utilities would cost about $1,400. On a street that’s already developed, it would cost $1,700 per metre with the common trench, or $1,500 when combined with major street work.

It may be too expensive to happen all at once, but new developments are a sensible place to start. Seven of Canada’s 10 largest cities already have such regulations in place, and a combined effort of the various utilities seems to be the most manageable approach. (JBen)

Provide pedestrians with a better route along Cunard Street

A crater big enough to hold a three-level parking garage lurks behind a temporary fencing along Cunard Street. The construction project is forcing pedestrians off the Cunard Street sidewalk across from the Halifax Common. That stretch of sidewalk won’t reopen until March, after the hole has been filled by the new Armoury Square condominiums’ underground parking garage.

Blocked sidewalks around construction sites are not unusual, says John O’Brien, corporate communications officer for the city, especially while excavation is taking place. Closing the sidewalk creates distance between the public and heavy machinery, and prevents people from falling into huge holes like the one at the Armoury Square site.

“Obviously, these people have a right to build,” he says, regarding the construction, scheduled for completion by fall 2007.

Giffels Developments, the company building the condos, has a sidewalk closure permit from HRM, says Brian Chappell, project manager. Permits require developers to post signs telling pedestrians to cross to the other side of the road at intersections nearest to the construction. In this case, the signs are located at Robie Street and Agricola Street.

If there is a walkway across the street from sidewalks that have been closed, no alternative path around the construction site is created. Both O’Brien and Chappell say pedestrians who walk on busy Cunard Street with westbound traffic should instead use the path that runs along the north edge of the Common across from the construction site.

“I would think that regular walkers should know by now that the sidewalk is closed,” O’Brien says.

The trouble is, even regular walkers may not feel too excited about taking the alternative route across the Common, especially at night and particularly during the winter, when seven metres of snow-covered boulevard separate pedestrians from the other side of the road.

Snow will be removed from the sidewalk on either side of the construction, but not in front of the fencing around the site. Because of the existence of the walkway in the Common, there are no plans to change the area around the site to accommodate walkers, says O’Brien.

This will force people who feel safer using the obstructed sidewalk than the path in the Common to get uncomfortably close to oncoming traffic. (CB)

Caley Baker, Jodie Barnaby, Jennifer Benjamin and Lindsay McCarney are journalism students at the University of King’s College. All four spent the final few weeks of 2006 as interns at The Coast. They did not fetch coffee.

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