If you missed the meeting on Thursday night at the Mic Mac Aquatic Club, there is an exciting project under consideration: a redesign of Prince Albert Road around Grahams Grove. The upcoming road project would run from the intersection with Sinclair up to the Superstore. HRM is considering narrowing this section from four lanes to two to make it safer for everyone while also expanding the greenspace that borders Lake Banook and reducing the long-term cost to taxpayers for maintaining asphalt.
Why Prince Albert Road? Prince Albert Road by Grahams Grove is a four-lane street that becomes two lanes at Sinclair. Celtic and the other side streets that connect to Prince Albert aren’t major roads that divert off a lot of traffic. The bulk of the traffic on Prince Albert comes from the highway and Waverley/Port Wallace and continues on along Banook towards Downtown. Given that movement, what capacity or purpose are those extra two lanes from Sinclair to the highway serving? HRM’s preliminary analysis indicates they’re pretty much redundant and whether the road slims to two lanes at Sinclair or at the Superstore doesn’t make any difference. The traffic capacity in either case is basically the same.
I think the situation is actually worse though than just wasted space, the extra lanes make the street more hazardous for everyone. It’s been clearly demonstrated in the planning profession that we all respond to the type of infrastructure that is built. We mostly drive the speed that we feel safe at, not the speed that’s posted on signs. Since we can’t have a cop on every corner 24/7, we need to carefully consider how we design our roads. When we build wide-open, multi-lane roads that rarely require drivers to stop, we’re building the conditions for speed. That’s what Prince Albert Road is now around Grahams Grove. When Prince Albert widens to four lanes at Sinclair, it sends a signal to drivers to step on the gas. Crossing four lanes of fast moving traffic is intimidating for pedestrians and challenging for motorists seeking to enter or exit Prince Albert, especially from Glenwood Avenue and Lakeview Point Road. It also doesn’t do anything for the ambiance along Lake Banook
Changing Priorities: So if Prince Albert Road doesn’t work, why did we build it like this in the first place? Prince Albert Road is a product of a different era. The priority of planners and engineers following World War Two was to move cars as quickly as possible above all else. Rapid suburban growth created lots of traffic and the professionals of the time mistakenly thought adding more and more road capacity would resolve the problem. It’s become clear since that continually adding more lanes just induces more people to drive and for developers to build more car-dependent neighbourhoods farther away. The induced traffic quickly fills up new road space. We get what we build for. It’s a vicious circle and it took us decades to learn the lesson. The result is that today we have a legacy of infrastructure from 1960s-1990s that isn’t built for people and just doesn’t work very well.
To get a sense of the old City of Dartmouth’s thinking that was the norm for the time, checkout the nightmarish vision for a Victoria Road expressway (a confidential 1971 report now freely available through the municipal archives).
Imagine Victoria Road as a sunken expressway cutting across Dartmouth, demolishing half of the Flower Streets, an overpass at Thistle Street, all of the cross-streets like Cherry and Russell cut off, and a giant roundabout at the foot of Maple that, in some future phase, would have its own flyover ramps Cogswell style. Sullivan’s Pond adjacent to a spaghetti interchange of fast moving traffic? Truly an awful vision, but pretty standard thinking for the era.
Thanks goodness the City of Dartmouth didn’t have enough money to destroy itself in 1971 and the Victoria Road expressway was never built. Still, we ended up with scattered sections of roadway based on these ideas about how a city should function. The Cogswell Interchange is the most prominent local monument to the era, but Wyse Road, Alderney Drive, Prince Albert Road, and Victoria from Albro Lake to Highfield all have shades of the same. We’re passed all that now and cities around the world are rethinking how our streets are used and actively making changes to correct past mistakes. Prince Albert will never be four lanes down to Ochterloney and Alderney so why are we holding onto extra lanes that go nowhere?
Future Design Options: When Prince Albert Road came up on the paving list this past year, I asked staff if we could look at the underlying design rather than just replicate what’s already there. Staff agreed and what has emerged are two main concepts for a slimmer Prince Albert Road.
Option 1 for Prince Albert would remove two lanes and replace them with a wide central boulevard. A bit of Connaught Avenue in Dartmouth.
Option 2 would also remove two lanes, but it has two variations in how the roadway would be oriented. 2A keeps Prince Albert Road straight while 2B puts a slight curve in around Celtic to further control traffic speed. Both variations of Option 2 would add the space from the two removed lanes onto the green space alongside Lake Banook, but there would be slightly less new green space in 2B because of the curved road.
These designs are purely conceptual at this stage. If HRM opts to proceed, one of the concepts will need to be further developed. A timeline and budget to implement a project hasn’t yet been established. Thursday’s meeting was more of an HRM trial balloon for a future project. I’m eager to see this progress from trial balloon to project to see what’s really possible on Prince Albert Road and to begin fixing some of Dartmouth’s Cogswell era mistakes.