Agenda, July 12
It has been long discussed, and after a few false starts, HRM has finally awarded a tender for modernizing how the public pays for transit fares. The first phase of the fare project will involve getting a mobile app up and running that will allow riders to purchase fares on their smart phones. Gone will be the need to hunt down physical tickets or pick-up a physical pass each month. Based on results from other transit systems, up to 40% of fares could be purchased in the app.
The first phase of the mobile app will rely on fares being visually checked by the operator when you board. That is expected to be up and running in just a few months. It could be in place for the end of 2022! The new mobile app will eventually be paired with onboard validators, eliminating the need for the operator to physically confirm the fare payment. This will open up the possibility for things like all-door boarding. Getting onboard validators in place will take about nine months from the point that the app first goes live, so hopefully that piece will come in 2023.
Future phases of the fare project are still under consideration and could include a reloadable smart card and tap payment via bank or credit card. The smart card option is still under consideration as it comes with a lot of infrastructure to support whereas tap payment options don’t. Smart cards could still be important though since not everyone has a bank account or smart phone. It’s important to make sure that we don’t leave anyone behind as we move away from paper tickets and passes.
This is a long overdue improvement that will make transit much more convenient.
Banook Avenue Closure:
Council approved closing a small portion of Banook Avenue, but the reality is it was more about confirming the current situation on the ground than making any change. Banook Avenue legally ran across the entranceway to the Banook Canoe Club and over the fenced beach area to the shore. This is an old remnant from an earlier era as the road doesn’t cross this section of land anymore. That part of Banook Canoe Club’s beach area and front entrance was legally a road would have sat on the books causing no harm to anyone except for the Club’s plans to redevelop their facility, including redoing the deck and entrance areas.
The Province has provided the Club a major grant towards the project, and for it to proceed, the old unused portion of street had to be formally closed and an agreement entered into between Banook Canoe and HRM for the use of the space. With Council’s approval of the closure and agreement, Banook Canoe will hopefully be able to soon start work on the renovation.
Centre Plan Maximum Setbacks:
I put forward a motion at Council requesting a staff report to fix an unintended result of the new Centre Plan in some zones. The Centre Plan controls density in two ways: by height limit in High Order Residential and Corridor zones, and by ground floor area ratio in Downtown and Centre zones. Of the two approaches, the floor area ratio provides the most flexibility in how the allowable density is arranged and so it is the preferred approach in the highest density areas (Downtown and Centre zones) where HRM wants to see the most growth. New development still has to meet the Plan’s design requirements though and most streets with Downtown and Centre zoning are designated as pedestrian oriented, which comes with a maximum allowable setback for buildings. This is good policy as we want new development to be close to the street where it will create visual interest and a sense of place.
Where problems have arisen is in the handful of instances where a Downtown or Centre zone doesn’t front a designated pedestrian oriented street and the developer owns all or most of a block. Since there are no maximum setbacks for streets not designated as pedestrian oriented, this allows the developer to bundle up the allowed density to build a tower by leaving large portions of the property empty. A tower surrounded by large expanses of grass isn’t a recipe for a great streetscape and not what we should be promoting in the Centre Plan where most development is in an urban context.
Where this issue has come to light is with the recently approved tower on the Faulkner/Dickson/Lyle/Williams block (1 William Street). The developer has pushed the development back from the street on all sides to bundle up all the available density into a single tower rather than building a shorter development that fills more of the site. The setback from the Dickson side is a staggering 37 metres, which is about the length of three transit buses. 1 William has abandoned its Dickson Street frontage, leaving that side a sea of empty space. Other setbacks at 1 William range from 8 to 13 metres. This isn’t a plan that will result in an engaging streetscape. A shorter development that more fully uses the lot would have been a much better approach.
The 1 William project would look considerably different if the developer wasn’t free to create a dead streetscape in favour of a tower in a park style development. This wasn’t, to me, what the Centre Plan intended. While there is nothing I can do to prevent this tower from going ahead (it meets the rules that are in place right now), I do intent to fix this unintended result by requiring maximum setbacks in the remaining Centre and Downtown zones that don’t front on pedestrian oriented streets and, thus, don’t currently have them. Hopefully staff will return in the near future with revisions to extend maximum setbacks to all Centre and Downtown zones to fix this issue.
Protected Turn Movements:
Council approved a report from our Transportation staff on protected turn movements at intersections. The idea is to eliminate points of conflict between pedestrians and vehicles by not allowing turns to occur when pedestrians are crossing. The staff report recommended that HRM proceed to evaluate the possibility of protected turns at several already identified high-risk intersections, evaluate other locations as part of the next phase of the Road Safety Plan, and identify the staff resources needed for a protected turn program.
I was fine with the recommendations, but the tone of the report did give me some concern. The report seemed to suggest that protected turns would require three-lanes to be feasible: a left turn lane, a straight through lane, and a right turn lane. This would require either not implementing protected signals at some locations or acquiring property, at considerable cost, to widen roads. Widening the crossing distance to make the crossing safer is a paradoxical outcome and contrary to the approach that other cities have taken where sometimes traffic has to wait a little bit longer because the trade-off of making a dangerous intersection safer for pedestrians is worth it.
Because of my concerns with the tone, I pulled the report off the consent agenda to ask staff directly what exactly they envision. Staff clarified that this isn’t a one-size fits all exercise and that they will be returning to Council with a plan for the most important intersections that will consider all options. The Director of Traffic Management indicated that expanding road widths would be a last resort and not the preferred approach. We’ll see where this goes when staff return, but the reply to my questions from staff was reassuring.
- Approved substantial alterations to the Elmwood Hotel at the corner of South and Barrington to save the old building in a redevelopment of the property
- Completed housekeeping amendments to correct some minor issues in the Centre Plan
- Received information presentations on HRM’s open data initiative and on HRM’s effort to combat anti-black racism in the workplace
- Awarded tenders for fire trucks, IT, a new pump station for Burnside expansion, and Keshen Goodman Library renovations,
- Approved the Convention Centre Business Plan (joint plan between HRM and Province)
- Approved an updated municipal immigration strategy
- Set direction for staff in negotiating the boundary between new development and parkland in Sandy Lake. Negotiations will be guided by the recently completed Sandy Lake Ecological Features study
- Entered into an encroachment agreement for a commercial sign on the Bedford Highway
- Scheduled a public hearing for region-wide plan amendments to allow shared housing to exist in all zones (has already been done in District 5 and on the Halifax Peninsula through the Centre Plan, this is for the rest of HRM)
- Initiated planning process to potentially allow Ledwidge Lumber to expand its operations in Enfield
- Granted funding to the Sheet Harbour Marina Association to allow the Association to complete a marina feasibility study in Sheet Harbour
- Provided a contribution to the North American Indigenous Games
- First reading for changes to the Noise Bylaw around construction noise and for a crosswalk flags bylaw
- Reviewed the HRM anti-vehicle idling policy
- Sent a letter of support to Province to allow bilingual stop signs in French communities
- Scheduled heritage hearings to consider registration for 18 Wilfred Jackson Way in Westphal, 2287 Brunswick Street in Halifax, and 1102 Purcell’s Cove Road in Halifax
- Requested a staff report on making applications for HRM’s reduced fee programs more user-friendly
- Approved a new integrated pest management strategy and repealed the old redundant pesticide bylaw (made redundant by provincial regulation)