I wasn’t expecting to be putting out a second update this week, but there has been some significant COVID news this week. After a bit of a tepid start, HRM is engaged in modifying our streets to respond to shifting needs and travel patterns that have resulted from COVID-19. The results of that work became apparent this week (I’m actually really surprised at how quickly this changed given the early lukewarm response).
On Monday afternoon, HRM announced its first series of modifications to the road network, the most visible of which are temporary sidewalk extensions. Extended sidewalks have been installed on Spring Garden Road (South Park to Queen) and on Quinpool Road in front of Quingate Place. These locations were selected because they both have high pedestrian volumes and limited space. In addition to the extended sidewalks, HRM has modified some traffic signal lights to reduce the time pedestrians spend waiting, and added additional loading zones in commercial areas to facilitate the switch that many businesses have had to do to pick-up/take-out.
The second set of changes under HRM’s mobility response are coming today and Monday: slow streets. The idea behind slow streets is to close streets to all vehicles except for local traffic. The only people permitted to drive on a slow street are people who live there or who are visiting someone who does. No through traffic. The idea is that eliminating most of the vehicle traffic will make slow streets attractive places for people to walk, roll, and cycle. HRM plans to implement slow streets on 15 different residential streets over the next few days, including three in Dartmouth. The three Dartmouth locations are Dahlia Street, Slayter Street (from Albo Lake Road to School Street), and Chappell Street.
You might be asking, why Dahlia, Slayter, and Chappell? Why are these streets special? They weren’t chosen out of the blue. The answer is HRM’s Integrated Mobility Plan. The IMP outlines a minimum grid of connected active transportation infrastructure to make travel without a car safer. Dahlia and Slayter are both locations specifically identified in the IMP where HRM intends to implement local street bike ways in the next few years (planning work for Dahlia is part of this year’s budget, possible implementation in 2021). A local street bike way isn’t a bike lane. The idea behind a local street bike way is to traffic calm a street by diverting or discouraging non-local vehicle traffic and slowing down the traffic that remains. The end result is a quiet street where actual bike lanes aren’t required because conditions allow vehicles and cars to safely share the space. The traffic calming that goes into a local street bike way also, of course, has benefits for pedestrians as well.
Chappell Street isn’t part of the Integrated Mobility Plan’s Minimum Grid, but it parallels busy Albro Lake Road. Albro Lake Road is identified in the IMP as a location for protected bike lanes. Chappell was chosen for slow street implementation because putting out a pop-up on much busier Albro Lake Road would be difficult. Chappell Street largely makes the same connections that the IMP prioritizes and has the advantage of being more easily implementable.
The slow streets being installed now isn’t necessarily the end of HRM’s pop-up deployment. The municipality is collecting feedback on Shape Your City including on where residents would like to see future street modifications. Check it out here.
The other significant news this week is Halifax Water has modified their proposed rate application. The Utility is no longer seeking an increase this year. Halifax Water’s 2020 rate increase was submitted before COVID-19 disrupted all our lives. A comparison of rates indicates that Halifax Water’s are very competitive with other water systems across the country and it had been several years since the Utility had raised rates.
The changes to Halifax Water’s application means that they’ll be no increases in 2020 and in 2021, the Utility is seeking, instead, to increase only the wastewater rate. Here’s the new rate proposal for the next two years.
Over the long-term, Halifax Water intends to move towards smaller, but more frequent rate increases since it’s easier for residents and businesses to absorb smaller more regular increases than larger spikes every couple of years. That plan is temporarily on hold though given COVID-19. I appreciate Halifax Water revising their plans to reflect changing circumstances.
This week transit has seen the first upticks in ridership since COVID hit, which makes sense as restrictions start to relax and people are spending more time away from home. I received a few complaints about buses being full and having to leave people at bus stops on the Portland Street corridor. As a result of increasing ridership and a lessening of COVID restrictions as the first wave of the virus comes to an end, transit is going to once again allow passengers to stand on buses. HRM is asking that standing passengers be aware of their surroundings and to maintain physical distancing (don’t stand next to a seated passenger). Every second seat on buses will remain blocked off. Masks are encouraged, but they aren’t mandatory. The reduced schedule and free fares will remain in place for now.
Parks and Rec:
With the COVID restrictions loosening, HRM is looking at what a resumption of some of Parks and Rec’s activities will look like. In budget discussions over the last two weeks, staff have indicated that HRM is looking at a modified version of summer day camps and Council allocated $400,000 towards programming. It’s unknown though right now what that will look like. HRM’s camps are often delivered by young people who manage groups of kids. Physical distancing is challenging in that environment and staffing and training these positions right now is challenging. Whatever HRM puts together, it’ll be very different than a typical summer. Programming will be much more limited. Details to come.
With gyms and fitness centres allowed to reopen as of June 5, planning to reopen the Sportsplex is underway. It’s not, however, just a matter of June 5 comes and we throw open the doors. The Sportsplex has to submit a plan to the Province about how the facility can be safely operated. Once the Province has reviewed and the plan has been approved, the Sportsplex can move forward. When the Sportsplex reopens, operations will look very different in our COVID reality. The Sportsplex is hoping to have an update for everyone next week. Details to come.
Reminder, Public Health does have resources available for all COVID questions. It’s just a phone call away