Push-Button Traffic Lights:
There are some big adjustments coming to traffic lights in HRM: the need to push a button to cross the street is largely going away in dense urban areas. The plan is to switch many signals to automatically display a walk sign between 6:00 am and midnight. This will be particularly significant in Dartmouth where very few intersections currently display a walk sign without a button being pressed. The only three existing button free intersections in Dartmouth Centre are Victoria/Thistle, Prince Albert/Hawthorne, and Prince Albert/Portland/Alderney (PAPA). When HRM is done reprogramming, there will be 14 more:
- Alderney Drive (King, Portland, Queen, Ochterloney, PAPA)
- Ochterloney Street (Maple)
- Pleasant Street (Acadia, Atlantic)
- Portland Street (Pleasant)
- Prince Albert Road (Hawthorne)
- Victoria Road (Thistle, Albro, Boland, Nantucket, Woodland)
- Wyse Road (Albro, Boland)
- Windmill Road (Albro)
At most of the remaining District 5 intersections, the signals will be changed so that the walk sign will automatically display for the side streets, leaving a button as a necessity only for crossing the main street.
This is a fairly substantial change for Dartmouth and it’s long overdue. At intersections like Alderney/Ochterloney, there are lots of pedestrians, making the need to press a button each time someone wants to cross pretty silly. I think it can also create dangerous situations. We’ve all seen instances where a pedestrian reaches a light a few seconds too late and opts to proceed anyway on what would otherwise be their right-of-way. Reducing the need to push a button gives pedestrians more priority and makes the whole system more consistent and predictable for people who move around on foot. I’m very glad to see this change coming to Dartmouth!
One other note on signal changes, HRM will be changing the process to trigger audible signals. To get an audible signal right now at intersections that are equipped with one, the button has to be pressed and held for three seconds. The idea is that having to hold the button for three seconds ensures that the sound only comes on when it’s truly needed. Unfortunately, feedback from the visually impaired community indicates that the three second hold requirement is sometimes hard to do, particularly for individuals who are managing other visual aids like a guide dog or cane or have other disabilities on top of their visual impairment. HRM plans to adjust every signal so that they sound each time the button is pressed. The change will make it easier for the visually impaired who depend on audible signals, but it will also mean that audible signals will sound more frequently.
HRM expects to complete all the signal reprogramming by September.
Northbrook Park Plan:
HRM will be moving forward with Phase 2 of the Northbrook Park Plan this year. You may recall that Phase 1 saw the replacement of the playground in 2019. HRM had hoped to move ahead with Phase 2 last year, but the municipality was unable to because we were waiting to see if the developer of the new apartment buildings on Richmond Street wanted to daylight the section of brook that currently runs across their property. The answer to that ended up being no, so now HRM will be moving forward with the next phase of the Northbrook plan. Check it out below:
Work this year will be concentrated in the main park area and will include redoing the pathway, fixing the failing bridge, and adding lighting. I’m particularly pleased with where we’re heading with the wider park plan. Right now, Northbrook Park feels like a place you really have to know about to get to. It has no real street frontage or proper gateways. That will change in future phases of the park plan with envisioned connections to Victoria Road, and Richmond Street. The minor neighbourhood entrances from Eastbrook and Westbrook will also be greatly improved. I’m very much looking forward to all the work at Northbrook.
Banook Boardwalk Repairs
If you’ve been on the Banook boardwalk lately, you might have noticed that the section near the gazebo is in bad shape. It’s no longer level. It’s an issue that I flagged with staff two years ago, but the problem turned out to be much more complicated than initially thought. It turns out that this section of boardwalk wasn’t well anchored and has been slowly slipping off the bank, causing the landside of the boardwalk to sink. The slumping boardwalk is actually pulling the bank down too, taking the guardrail and multi-use pathway with it! The good news is that it’s going to be fixed shortly. HRM has posted a tender to completely rebuild this section and the hope is to get work underway in the next few weeks.
During construction, the boardwalk and multi-use trail will have to close at this spot. To allow pedestrian and bike traffic to get around the construction, a temporary extension of the multiuse trail will be created on Prince Albert Road. HRM is hoping for a quick turnaround (mid-May to complete) because the Prince Albert Road redesign is also going to be built this year. With a short construction season and two major projects in the works, it will be a busy season on the Prince Albert side of Banook.
Zatzman Sportsplex Memberships:
With the easing of COVID and, hopefully, a more normal year within sight, the Sportsplex is bringing back their standard approach to membership. The sale of discounted monthly membership will end as of April 1. After April 1, regular priced monthly memberships will be available and annual passes will be back. The Sportsplex will also be introducing a new six month membership option. If you purchased or received one of the three month memberships that were available during the holiday season, the clock is now ticking. Any remaining three month memberships must be activated by April 30. For more information on Sportsplex membership, check out the website here.
Small Business Property Tax Rebate:
There has been a fair bit of attention this year as to where HRM is heading in 2021’s tax bill (tax bill is the combined impact of assessment changes and the tax rate). There have been some calls for HRM to not increase the tax bill this year because of the challenges that many businesses are facing.
As I wrote back in January in my Council Update, HRM’s budget choices aren’t easy. The municipality faces rising costs each and every year to just maintain the status quo and there are no easy cuts to be had. If you’re unwilling to either cut services or take in more money, all that’s left is taking on debt or spending savings. Keeping the tax bill low means trading off something else with long-term implications. There is no having it all.
The big problem with COVID is the impacts have been so disproportionate. Some businesses have enjoyed their best year ever, some have been largely unaffected, some have experienced small losses, and others have been devastated. Although HRM’s economy has weathered COVID better than most, it has been a brutal year for the hospitality sector. The challenge for HRM and other municipalities is we have no way to differentiate between different types of businesses. We set a tax rate based on property value, not how profitable a business is, and that rate applies to everyone from local restaurants to big box retailers. To give a local restaurant a break, we also have to cut Walmart’s taxes, and the only way to do that is by trading off municipal services, taking on debt, or depleting our reserves. Not being able to differentiate between businesses makes the choice rather stark.
In the early days of COVID, the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities spent a lot of time trying to work out a property tax program with the Province. The end result of those discussions was the Province opted to handle COVID economic relief themselves rather than empower municipalities to offer their own property tax programs. In that regard, the Province has offered a program to help hotels and the good news this month is they’re expanding property tax assistance to other impacted businesses. The Province’s Small Business Real Property Tax Rebate Program will allow businesses to choose between $1,000 or 50 per cent of their commercial property taxes owed for last six months of the 2020/2021 tax year. To qualify, a business needs to have previously received the Small Business Impact Grant or experienced a year-over-year decline in revenue of 30% from April 30, 2020 to January 31, 2021. The rebate will be available to both businesses that own and those that rent. More details on how to apply coming soon.
Brightwood Beer Garden
After a successful pilot, a beer garden will be returning to Alderney Landing this summer. For the pilot season, the garden was run by Brightwood. The season was a success so Alderney held a call for proposals and Brightwood has come out the winner. A patio with a great view to come!
Dartmouth Heritage Museum Changes
In the last half of 2020, Evergreen House was the filming location for a movie. Fortuitous timing really given that the Dartmouth Heritage Museum Society’s regular operations were disrupted due to COVID. Using Evergreen as a film location meant relocating exhibits, which has given the DHMS a chance to refresh their main floor. There are new stories and new artifacts on display and a local makers room. To check out the new space, call 902-464-2300 or email email@example.com
Eastern Front Theatre
Eastern Front Theatre is returning to Alderney Landing! From 1999 to 2009, Eastern Front’s home base was Alderney Landing. What’s old is new again as the Theatre is once again going to make Alderney its home venue. This is great news for Alderney and very much aligns with Alderney’s recently adopted strategic plan. Eastern Front is hosting three celebratory homecoming plays. Glace Bay Miners Museum and Consecrated Ground have already run, but Boom Baby is still to come in April. For more information on Eastern Front, check out their webpage here.
Board and Committee Recruitment:
HRM is seeking volunteers to serve on various municipal boards and committees and on a few external boards that HRM provides appointments to. The following volunteer positions are open
- Board of Police Commissioners: positions for two HRM residents
- Design Advisory Committee: positions for two landscape architects
- Design Review Committee: positions for two architects and two landscape architects
- Halifax Harbour Bridges: position for one HRM resident
- Halifax Port Authority Board of Directors: position for one professional representative
Anyone interested is encouraged to submit a resume and complete an online application form at halifax.ca/serve. The deadline is Tuesday, March 30, 2021, at 11:59 p.m.
The Province has recently announced a rebate program for electric vehicles and electric bikes. An electric bike is a great alternative if going up hill has kept you from cycling. An electric bike doesn’t replace pedal power (they’re not scooters), but they do give an extra little boost. I have heard from several older residents over the last few years who have said that an electric bike has completely changed their world. An electric bike has been the difference in them being able to ride at all. The rebate is $500 for e-bikes with a retail value of $1,200 or higher. The bike must be purchased from a business in Nova Scotia (no online retailers). The program will be administered at the point of sale through the Clean Foundation. For more information, visit the program’s website here.
You can also get credit for an electric car, which is cool too. The uptake for electric vehicles in Nova Scotia has lagged Provinces where aggressive incentive programs are in place. Electrifying our transportation system and greening electric generation are must dos if we’re going to achieve our climate change greenhouse gas emission goals and is a key part of HRM’s Climate Change Plan, HalifACT. It’s good to see this initiative.
A big congratulations to Margot Durling of Dartmouth’s own Fathom Studios. Durling is a visual arts and landscape architect and is one of five teams short-listed for a new national monument in Ottawa memorializing the LGTBQ purge. The purge was a time in Canada from the 1950s to the 1990s in which LGTBQ civil servants faced discrimination, harassment and were often fired because of their sexual orientation. The RCMP actively rooted out LGTBQ civil servants. In 2017, Canada formally apologized and provided a compensation package. The planned monument is part of the federal government’s efforts to address these historic wrongs. It’s expected that the winning team will be selected this summer. Good luck Margot and Fathom!
Crichton Park Outdoor Classroom Fundraising
Something new is in the works for Crichton Park Elementary. Some parents at the school have hit upon the idea of an outdoor classroom. The idea is to create flexible outdoor learning space on the grounds of the school. The plan includes a stone circle and a built structure for shelter. The goal is for the space to be accessible for all grade levels. The parents are currently fundraising for the project. If you would like to contribute or would like more information, you can contact the school at 902-464-2503 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Portland Street Corridor Planning
Wednesday April 7, 6:00 – 7:00 pm
HRM is carrying out a study of Portland Street and Cole Harbour Road. The Portland corridor is a busy transit route connecting suburban Dartmouth to Downtown. The street is identified for potential transit priority measures (lanes, queue jumps etc) in the Integrated Mobility Plan and is one of HRM’s planned rapid transit routes. The study will look at how mobility on this important transportation corridor, particularly for transit, can be improved.
The kickoff meeting will take place virtually on April 7 and will focus on introducing the project and gathering public feedback on what works and what doesn’t right now on Portland/Cole Harbour Road. If you can’t attend, the session will be recorded and will be available on the project’s shapeyourcity page here. You can register to participate in the meeting here.
Renfrew Street Sidewalk
Tuesday, March 30, 6:00 – 7:00 pm
Wednesday, March 31, noon – 1:00 pm
Council has approved the 2021 Capital Budget and included in it is long awaited work to repave Renfrew Street. The work on Renfrew isn’t a standard paving project. It will be a total rebuild and will include water and sewer work as well. The street will be completely dug up. All this major work gives us a chance to rethink Renfrew Street’s design. HRM’s approach is going to be similar to the work that was done on Chadwick Street two years ago: the street will be narrowed so that a sidewalk can be added.
Adding a sidewalk to Renfrew is important to improve pedestrian safety. Like Chadwick, Renfrew has a blind crest hill. Having people walking in the road on a blind crest hill isn’t a safe situation!
Narrowing Renfrew is necessary because, like Chadwick, some properties are built extremely close to the curb and there are some significant slopes that would make widening the right-of-way challenging. While narrowing does allow HRM to build a sidewalk, one of the drawbacks is parking will have to be restricted on the north side of Renfrew. Motorists will take turns navigating around parked vehicles, much like already happens on many older residential streets without issue. Narrowing Renfrew while still allowing parking should reduce speeds on the street significantly.
HRM will be hosting two online information sessions on the project.
Tuesday, March 30, 6:00 – 7:00 pm (Link)
Wednesday, March 31, noon – 1:00 pm (Link)
For more information, check out the Renfrew Street Shape Your City page here.
2021 Budget Deliberations
If you’ve been following my Council blog, you probably know that Council is well into our 2021 budget deliberations. At each budget meeting, there is an opportunity for members of the public to address Council on any budget related item. Since virtually everything HRM does has some sort of budget implication, it’s a pretty open-ended opportunity to speak to Regional Council about whatever you feel is important.
Council has already heard a number of staff presentations and we’ve approved HRM’s 2021 capital plan. The schedule for the remaining budget days is listed below:
- Wednesday, March 31
Parks and Recreation
- Wednesday, April 7
Planning and Development
- Tuesday, April 20
Budget Adjustment List (aka parking lot)
- Tuesday, May 4
Final budget review
You can speak to any subject you want at any meeting, but, if you can, it’s good practice to line up whatever your issue is with the day that the relevant department is presenting to Council. Meetings typically start at 9:30 am and public participation takes place early in the meeting. Since Council is meeting virtually, you have to register in advance to speak. Please contact the Clerk’s Office at 902-490-4210 or by email at email@example.com no later than 4:30 pm the day before a meeting.
To keep you informed about what is going on at Council, I’m writing a regular blog after each meeting. Each of my entries is about what I saw as noteworthy from a District 5 perspective and my views on the issues. We might not always agree, but I think it’s important to provide a record of how I voted and why.
Council Update March 23
A short meeting where we requested a report on helping community groups with insuring outdoor community rinks. Also, budget deliberations continue with Transportation and Public Works. Read about it here.
Council Update March 9
Snow clearing standards in Parks (Dartmouth Common), illegal dumping, upcoming Halifax Water projects, budget deliberations continue (Transit and Fire), and the mystery of the Woodland Avenue fence. Read about it here.
No events to report this month