Lancaster/Woodland: The main item on the agenda at Tuesday’s Council meeting for District 5 was my motion to have HRM and the Province cooperate on a design study for the intersection of Lancaster Drive, Woodland Avenue, Highway 118 and Mic Mac Boulevard. The reason that the design study needs both orders of government is because the Province owns Woodland down to Ryland Avenue and the 118, while HRM owns Lancaster and Mic Mac Boulevard. The intersection is shared jurisdiction.
The Woodland Avenue corridor is one of the busiest in Dartmouth. It’s the main entry point for folks coming into town from Highway 118 and the Airport, and it’s one of the main links to Dartmouth Crossing. Unfortunately, it’s a hazardous stretch of road. If the light at the intersection with Lancaster is green, highway traffic proceeds down Woodland Avenue without slowing down to the speed limit. Given the volume of traffic, speed, and the poor sight-lines for left-turning vehicles, it’s not surprising that collisions have become an all too regular event here. During the 2010-2014 time period, data from Halifax Police reveals that there were 60 crashes at Lancaster Woodland, which is an average of one a month. Given the continued development in Dartmouth Crossing, it seems unlikely that the collision rate will have decreased over the last few years or will in the future without intervention.
Besides being dangerous to motorists, the high traffic speeds, and wide roadway creates an unfriendly environment for pedestrians who have to cross Woodland to get between Lancaster Ridge on one side and Mic Mac Mall and the #10 bus on the other side. It’s also a problem farther down in the Little Albro area where kids have to cross Woodland to get to Crichton Park Elementary. The message I heard on the doorstep in Dartmouth North from many households is that people are afraid of the Lancaster intersection and the crosswalks on Woodland Avenue. They’re afraid for themselves and they’re afraid for their kids. No one should have to fear for their safety in crossing the street. It’s a clear sign that the underlying design has failed.
So why is the Woodland corridor so bad? It’s a bit of an accident of history. When the Province was building the highway system in the 1970s the original plan was to connect the Macdonald Bridge to the Circ and Highway 118 by building a new road across Brightwood. The plan changed along the way though and instead Woodland Avenue became the end point for highway traffic. It’s not a street that was really ever meant to serve that role. New development over the decades has added more and more traffic, but the road is basically the same as it was when it was built.
Woodland Avenue’s destiny as the connection between the highway and the bridge was set decades ago and it’s pretty much impossible to do anything about that now. As a result, the street will always carry a lot of traffic. Police enforcement is helpful, but the police can’t pull over every speeding car and they can’t be there 24/7. Looking at the underlying design that creates the conditions for speed is more complicated, but it has the potential to be much more effective. The complicating factor in figuring out a design solution is the need for HRM and the Province to cooperate.
Since being elected I have been pursuing this issue with the Province. I have met with our MLA, had countless calls and emails with provincial and municipal staff, and the mayor and I met with the Minister of Transportation. What has emerged from all that work is a tentative agreement between provincial and municipal staff to complete a new plan for the intersection. My motion was to put Council’s stamp of approval on the approach. and I was pleased that the vote in favour was unanimous.
One of the options that will be considered in the new design will be a roundabout. I know roundabouts aren’t everyone’s favourite traffic feature to navigate, but at Lancaster Woodland, I think it’s definitely worth investigating. A well-designed roundabout should reduce both the number and severity of collisions because:
- It would eliminate the current Jeykll and Hyde type results where the speed of incoming traffic is determined by whether the lights at Lancaster are red or green. A roundabout would force everyone to slowdown.
- A roundabout would also virtually eliminate the potential for high-speed side-impact (t-bone) collisions since there would no longer be a need for left turns across oncoming traffic.
A roundabout design would need to give careful consideration to pedestrians and cyclists, but the new roundabouts on the Common show that they can be designed to serve everyone’s needs. It may also create the chance to create a gateway for folks coming into Dartmouth.
Regardless of what improvements are proposed for Lancaster/Woodland, getting from design to implementation is going to be a multi-year process. What Tuesday’s motion was, was the end of the beginning. I look forward to seeing how this develops.
Khyber: Council voted to sell the Khyber for $1 to the 1588 Barrington Street Society who will operate the building as an arts incubator (low-cost space for a variety of artists). The sale includes a $250,000 grant to the Society to help pay for dealing with the building’s asbestos and the holding costs that the Society will face while it prepares to launch its project. To protect HRM’s interest in the property, the sale also includes a buyback agreement. The buyback agreement allows HRM to buy the building back in two years time if its not up and running as an arts facility or at any point over the following 23 years should the arts incubator cease operations.
The Khyber sale isn’t that unusual in some ways from what HRM already does to support community-based non-profits. In my 1.5 years on Council we’ve voted to enter into less than market value leases with a variety of groups (several paddling clubs are using municipal land), we’ve sold vacant lands to community groups (Lake City Woodworkers) and let go of old fire stations to allow them to continue as community halls (Herring Cove). In all of these cases HRM recognizes that what the non-profit provides to the community is more valuable than the cash from the real estate sale or lease. The only difference with the Khyber is the building’s Downtown location makes it worth more than average.
The Khyber has a long history as an arts facility and it has only deteriorated to the point it’s at now because its owner, HRM, didn’t take good care of it. It’s a heritage building that should be restored. I think there is value in seeing if the Society can make an arts incubator work for what the venture will provide in terms of civic life, protecting an important heritage building, and supporting the Downtown economy. The Society isn’t just getting a gift of a building, they will have to raise several million to pay for renovations. I’m confident that, if it works, that HRM will have gotten great value on the sale. Council approved the sale and grant 15-1.
Community Services Bus Pass: Council gave first reading to Bylaw U-104, which will establish a bus pass program for every household receiving employment support or income assistance from the Province. Under the program, HRM will sell the Department of Community Services bus passes at the cost of $21 per person per month. That’s a major discount off the $78 that an adult pass usually costs. Community Services will then provide the $21 passes for free to every household receiving benefits.
What this means is that 16,800 adults and their families will receive unrestricted access to transit compared to the 5,900 individuals who currently receive some form of help towards transportation costs from the Province. This will make a big difference in the day-to-day lives of many of our most vulnerable citizens. It’s a great example of cooperation between the Province and HRM. By working together, the two orders of government are able to do more to help people than either could do alone. It’s an approach I spoke favourably about during the election campaign and I’m delighted that it’s becoming a reality.
- Council opted to not allow commemorative names to be applied to fire stations because of the need for emergency dispatchers to have clear and concise communication
- Streamlined the encroachment bylaw to allow staff greater latitude to approve requests (Council remains as the appeal body)
- Adopted a policy on providing universal access to municipal facilities
- Gave first reading into the new Willow Tree proposal for 25 storeys at Quinpool and Robie with a revised density bonusing formula. Public hearing to come.
- Amended the Administrative Order for arts grants to delegate Council approval for awards to the CAO, payments for peer juries, and an increase in the maximum allowable operating and project assistance awards
- Approved the latest items in the Economic Growth Plan and amended the services agreement with the Halifax Partnership
- Signed off on a grant to upgrade the Musquodoboit Harbour Ballfields
- Gave first reading to consider amendments to the Bedford Municipal Planning Strategy for a proposed development at 65 and 79 Shore Road
- Approved the 18/19 Special Events grants
- Requested a staff report on connecting True North Crescent to Farthington Place in Dartmouth North
- Finalized the funding and expanded scope for the Fall River Water project