Council Update: Red Book, Cogswell, Garbage Cans

Agenda, Regional Council, September 28
Agenda, Regional Council, September 14
Agenda, Committee of the Whole, September 14

Red Book Revisions
Council held a substantial Committee of the Whole to review HRM’s proposed new Municipal Design Guidelines, also known as the “Red Book” (it use to be packaged in a red binder). The Red Book is one of the most important HRM documents there is. It’s the book that sets out how streets and other HRM infrastructure will be built and how developers will build infrastructure that HRM will eventually takeover. The last update to the Red Book occurred in 2013, before HRM adopted the Integrated Mobility Plan (IMP) in 2017. The IMP set the path for new approaches around complete streets (streets that prioritize pedestrians, cyclists, and transit) and the Red Book needed to be updated to reflect those changing priorities.

There is a healthy suspicion of design standards that apply to streets that isn’t unique to HRM. That suspicion comes from the fact standards and guides in the engineering world, like the Red Book, have prioritized vehicle traffic above all else for most of the decades since World War Two. The priority of engineers and planners in the Post War era was to move as many cars as possible as quickly as possible. The result was wide streets, and urban expressway projects. Tremendous harm was done to cities across North America as whole neighbourhoods were demolished to make way for highways. The design standards also killed people. We now clearly know that vehicle speeds increase as lanes get wider, and we know that collisions at higher speeds are more likely to result in injury and death. The standards adopted by the professionals that favoured wide lanes inflicted a real human cost.

It’s easy to look back at the planners, engineers, and politicians of the past and judge them harshly, but hindsight is very much 20/20. There are no doubt things that we’re doing today that future generations will look at with confusion (our ineptitude on climate change will not age well). The point is that today we know better. We know what designing for people entails. Change can still, however, be hard, especially in cautious professions like planning and engineering. Overturning decades of collective thinking is a tall order. In my short time at City Hall, I have been thrilled to see HRM embracing design solutions that the municipality would have never gone for just 5-10 years ago. Still there will always be debate and pressure around whether change is happening quickly enough or going far enough.

In the end, Council approved the Red Book as is because it’s a substantial improvement over what currently exists.. Council, however, also for a supplemental report on a number of revisions:

  • Eliminating the suburban standard to have one urban standard (why should suburban areas not prioritize cyclists, pedestrians, and transit users too?)
  • Basing design speeds on specific street typologies rather than on on just three broad categories (Local, Collector, Arterial)
  • Reducing design speeds for minor and major collectors to 40-50 km/hr rather than 50-60 km/hr, and residential streets to 25-40 km/r
  • Reducing the minimum width for minor collector roads to 7 metres
  • Whether sidewalks, on both sides, should be required on all residential streets and what a shared street design could look like
  • Including standards for roundabouts, medians, and raised intersections

Staff will return to Council in the future with a report on these asks.

The Red Book is a living document that will always need to be adapted to fit changing times. As part of this year’s update, the Red Books is getting it’s own administrative order. The new administrative order means that future amendments will go through Council. The Red Book will no longer be a largely internal staff document. Setting out an open and transparent updating process for the Red Book is an important victory. The experience of the Post War years shows that planners, and engineers aren’t infallible. The Red Book is more than just a technical document, it also encapsulates our values, and it should, therefore, be regularly reviewed in public.

Granville Park and Mall

Cogswell Tender
The most significant project in decades was back before Council for tender: the Cogswell redesign is going ahead! When the project is done, 16 acres of concrete interchange will be transformed into a new mixed-use extension of Downtown Halifax that could house up to 2,500 people. The project includes new public spaces, a new road grid, cycling lanes, a district energy system, and new land for development. Council approved the award of a $95,663,634 contract to Dexter Construction. The tender was more expensive than forecast back in 2018, but given the time that has passed, that the initial estimate was Class B, and the impact of COVID on the cost of labour and materials, the increase wasn’t unexpected.

It has been a few years since Cogswell came to Council. One of the significant tasks that has been underway over the last few years is land negotiations. To build the Cogswell, HRM needs to acquire some privately-owned property, the most crucial of which is Crombie’s Triangle Lands at the end of Granville Mall. HRM and Crombie reached an agreement earlier this year to exchange property, which will allow the street network to be built. HRM is still seeking to finalize transactions with CAPREIT (Cunard Court) to allow Proctor Street to be built and with Great West Life (owners of Purdy’s Wharf) for a stormwater easement.

With an agreement reached on the key real estate parcel and a contract awarded, construction is now just around the corner. Dexter’s first task will be to construct the bypass roads so that Downtown can still function during construction. The bypass roads could be built before the shutdown of the asphalt plants in December, which would allow Dexter to start work on the main Cogswell project as early as January.

This is a major milestone for HRM. We’re about to turn the clock back to correct a major mistake. Exciting times!

StealthNet® Bird Netting Archives 🐦 Bird Barrier
Pigeon netting on a bridge in the United States. Photo: StealthNet

Bird Netting
Council approved increasing the budget for the installation of bird netting under the Circumferential Bridge between Lake Banook and Lake Micmac. The bridge was identified as a significant source of ecoli in the recent Pollution Control Study. The problem is the bridge is home to a large pigeon colony and because the birds roost over the water, there is a direct path into the lake for all their waste. It’s very much a human created problem since pigeon’s aren’t native to Nova Scotia, and a roosting location like the Circ Bridge wouldn’t exist in the natural environment. HRM is hoping he netting drives the pigeons to find a new home that is less harmful to our lakes.

To install the netting, HRM had to get the Province’s permission, which meant a fall installation to avoid times when the pigeons are rearing their young (a narrow window of time when it comes to pigeons!). HRM had planned to install the netting at the start of September, but Canoe-Kayak had concerns about that timeline because the lakes are still very much in use in the early fall. In response, HRM has moved the installation start to November 1. Expect to see crews out working on the Bridge throughout November.

If you paddle on the lakes, please note that while crews are installing the netting, one side of the waterway underneath the bridge will be closed to boats. Everyone who uses Banook and Micmac will have to be extra mindful of other boaters as everyone navigates the reduced space.

First Eastern Passage Dog Park

Eastern Passage Dog Park
Council approved the creation of a new dog park in Eastern Passage. The new dog park will be located on HRM land just off the Shearwater Flyer Trail near the intersection of Caldwell Road and Hines Road. There is already a parking lot in the area and parts of the land have already been significantly disturbed by illegal ATV activity. The only downside to the location is it’s fairly remote: this won’t be a location that many people will walk to!

The new Eastern Passage Dog Park will be fenced, which isn’t something that HRM actually does much of when it comes to dog parks. The emphasis in park planning is to create shared use spaces that can serve multiple functions, not fenced single purpose dog parks. The dog park strategy envisions more spaces like the Dartmouth Common or Point Pleasant where off-leash areas are delineated, but dog owners are expected to have enough control over their pet to keep them within the off leash area without the need of a fence. The Eastern Passage park will be an exception, as will the new dog park planned for Don Bayer Field in Burnside.

The combination of new fenced dog parks in Burnside and Eastern Passage will, hopefully, take some of the pressure off of Shubie. So, depending on how budget deliberations go, it’s possible that the Dartmouth area could have two new dog parks next year!

HRM garbage cans

Garbage Cans
HRM reviewed its policy around garbage cans. This was sparked by a motion in 2017 by Councillor Mancini to review HRM’s criteria for placing cans. Garbage can placement is one of those irritations that comes with being a councillor. HRM’s policy is to place cans in parks, at busy transit stops, and in mixed-use commercial areas. Getting an email from a resident who wants a can placed somewhere that HRM’s policy doesn’t allow for is a right of passage for every councillor. It’s a frustrating situation for residents who don’t understand what the big deal is about HRM providing another garbage can. Getting a no on a garbage can request can be hard to understand. It’s just one can!

The challenge is each can has to be emptied and, although a single can doesn’t add much to anyone’s workload, the collective result of 1,000s of them does. The annual cost for a can in a park is $723, which rises to $890 for cans placed alongside the street. With just over 2,000 garbage cans across the municipality, HRM’s total garbage can cost is $1.7 million a year. It all adds up and so HRM has adopted criteria to try and ensure that money is spent wisely.

The staff report recommendation before Council was to basically maintain the status quo and that turned out to not be a controversial recommendation. I think for most Councillors, the surprising stat in the staff report is that, in 2020, 62% of 311 garbage can requests actually ended with a new can being installed. I know I was surprised that it was that many! Councillors tend to get the complaints in which a can request was rejected so our own sense of how unreasonable HRM is about installing new cans seems to have been more than a little biased! Realizing that they’re much more frequently installed than it would appear was enough to satisfy Council. The existing criteria of placing cans at busy transit stops, in mixed-use areas, and in parks will remain in place.


  • Received a report from staff on improving compliance with HRM’s campaign finance bylaw
  • Approved the vehicle immobilization bylaw (the boot bylaw)
  • Awarded a number of contracts including condominium waste collection tenders (Royal Environmental was the successful recipient in Dartmouth), repairs to the Alderney wharf, construction of the Bedford West Park and Ride, Dartmouth North Community Centre renovation, dispatch system for fire, and for new buildings at Grahams Grove
  • Increased the contract for work on the ferry terminal pontoon rehabilitation
  • Endorsed a resolution on plastic pollution to urge the federal government to better manage the issue
  • Scheduled a heritage hearing to consider designating 173 Crichton Avenue as a heritage property
  • Approved grants for the Schmidthville and Old South Suburb Heritage Conservation Districts
  • Requested a staff report on moving the stormwater right-of-way charge from a flat fee on the Halifax Water bill to the general tax rate (this old debate is returning to City Hall this budget season)
  • Accepted Events East’s revised business plan for the Convention Centre
  • Approved a new dog’s off leash area at the former Roaches Pond Ball Diamond in Spryfield
  • Amended the Private Road Maintenance Administrative Order as it relates to St. Margaret’s Bay Village
  • Appointed Councillor Lovelace as the official liaison between HRM and the Francophone community
  • Directed the CAO to proceed with a mobile shower pilot program to provide facilities for the homeless
  • Expanded the Affordable Housing Grant program by doubling the budget and allowing projects outside of the Regional Centre to qualify for the additional funds (first $200,000 has been collected from development projects in the Regional Centre and can only be spent there)
  • Added Jumpstart Playground to the asset naming list to facilitate an agreement for a major playground investment with Canadian Tire
  • Requested that the Fire Department provide Council with an action plan to comply with the deficiencies identified by the HRM Auditor in the fire inspection program
  • Requested staff reports on creating an interim density bonusing program for the suburban areas, possible upgrades for the Lucasville – Hammonds Plains intersection, creating a proper trail to Pockwock Falls, and on regulating land-use in coastal areas.


  1. You’re a smart man Sam! You show up your fellow councillors. Once Mike has run the gambit and should you be so inclined, I’d support your bid for Mayor. My name and email address are irrelevant right now and I hate being on lists, so…

    Good work! Thank you!

  2. Glad to see Red Book revisions are being made public. That will improve access for everyone, especially people who may have difficulty with current street design.

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