Archives for posts with tag: bridge

cross-posted from Spacing Atlantic

HALIFAX – With the current studies exploring the potential of a third Halifax harbour crossing, and the recent announcement of the closure of pedestrian and bike lanes for a year and half during planned resurfacing of the Macdonald Bridge, I’ve been thinking about Halifax bridges a lot these days.

Urban planners and city officials have begun to explore the costs and logistics of creating a third bridge over, or under, the narrows between the South End CN Railyard in Halifax, and the Woodside area of Dartmouth. The price tag is an estimated $1.1 to $1.4 billion. According to the Harbour Bridges Commission, the need for a third harbour crossing is due to projected population growth, which, obviously, means more car traffic.

Steve Snider, general manager and CEO of the commission hopes that “more people will get out of their cars, but doubt[s] if all people are going to get out.”

The idea that increased population automatically means more cars is absurd, and the lack of any real attempt at trying to encourage active transportation is disheartening. HRM does not need another car-oriented connection into the peninsula. It represents a backward step in planning, while the rest of the world invests in pedestrian and transit oriented infrastructure at smaller, walkable scales. While the city investigates the possibility of a third crossing, they are also considering cutting funds to harbour ferry services and are continuing to let the Metro Transit system fallow and decay. Plans to widen Bayers road and build even more highway overpasses contribute to the trend of cars-first, people-never planning in HRM.

These issues have lead me to think about that old ramp to nowhere [pg. 6, PDF], up near the Mackay bridge, that extended out toward the water and into the sky, demolished in 2009. There’s surprisingly little written about it, but with a bit of research I learnt that this stumped-ramp was officially called Structure 9, and was originally built as part of the Cogswell Interchange series of planned highways but was never used.

I’m sad that Structure 9 was demolished in 2009, because it would have served as an apt symbol of the current guiding-philosophy of HRM planning. A ramp-to-nowhere, along with the Cogswell interchange, are pieces of highway infrastructure that spin users around and around, getting them nowhere fast.

This city must move away from car-oriented infrastructure. That billion dollars needed for a third harbour crossing could be directly reallocated to transit, alleviating the traffic on the existing bridges with more frequent and reliable bus service, and the funding of more ferry service. The planned closure of the pedestrian/bike lanes along the Macdonald bridge are further evidence of short-sited visions of mobility planning in the Municipality, and symbolic of the city’s official attitude toward active transportation.

Plus, HRM and provincial planners seem to be ignoring that Mi’kmaq legend: any attempt at a third harbour crossing will lead to its inevitable collapse (which can be read about in Paul Erikson’s book North End Halifax.) Let’s hope the city and province heed to the lessons of this prophesy, which in the 2012 context has taken on new meaning. May the plan of a third harbour crossing follow the predictions of the myth, and fall apart before it’s built. Let’s avoid the legend’s foretold disaster, and instead alleviate the capacity of the current bridges in a healthy, smart and people-oriented way.

Photo by  Paul Coffin

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Most North American cities have the same post-industrial elements: immense tracts of industrial wasteland, highways, designated green spaces and those middle-spaces along train tracks, on the sides of ravines, beside highways, that are extremely lush, green, and wild but are not officially parks.

These liminal green spaces, not quite full parks, yet too big to just be borders between one part of the city and another, are fascinating to walk through, and using them as a link between urban neighbourhoods, industrial fringe-lands and official parks offers a simulating terrain for hiking. These areas are the epitome of post-industrial urban wilderness. Negotiating thick bush of wild weeds and trees, scaling desolate highway-scapes, climbing over fences and above blasted granite rock walls — these are the spots that urban-nature reveals itself and beckons its exploration.

I highly encourage a post-industrial city-hike to shift your perspective on the very attainable feeling of isolation and solitude, today exclusively associated with “untouched wilderness”, that exists in our urban environments. Though there are no official routes or paths, years of desire lines and natural paths make navigation intuitive, as your eyes follow the natural contours of the land, identifying paths that have been fostered by uncountable individuals in the past lead to wide and navigable routes through otherwise thick brush and hard steel and chain link fences.

I took an urban-nature industrial city-hike the other day with my brother. If you’re in Halifax, I highly recommend this route: follow Barrington north all the way to Seaview Park/Africville — veer toward the harbour and Mackay Bridge. Pause. Take in the splendour of the spectacular bridge as it stretches beyond conceivable perspective into the distance toward Dartmouth. Follow the coast negotiating natural paths, weeds, and rock faces until Seaview Park. Watch the dogs and the people interact. Catch a glimpse of the Bedford Basin — completely polluted, yet beautiful. Jump the north fence of Seaview park — run across the raging highway — hope and skip over the median, over changing car-currents, safely to the other side. Find a desire line, scale a cliff, up and over the train tracks, and through the public housing, depositing yourself back into a different kind of urban nature, the far more organized, neat-lines of North End Halifax suburban paradise. At this high point, atop the rock that is Halifax, enjoy 360 degree views of the eery beauty of this industrial urban-wasteland-wilderness.

Today, two bridges stretch spectacularly across the Halifax-Dartmouth Narrows: the MacDonald Bridge, which terminates just outside my house in Halifax on North St, and the Mackay bridge, which ends farther north, on the northern shore of the peninsula.

Both bridges are quite spectacular in their design, however, the Mackay bridge figures much less prominently in the public image of the city than the MacDonald bridge, despite having almost exactly the same design.

I speculate that the Mackay bridge does not have a personality because it is a highway bridge. Reflecting the spirit and goals of urban planning at the time of its construction in the 1970s, the bridge forbids pedestrian and bicycle traffic, understandably, as it deposits itself into a not-human-friendly series of highway exits on the Dartmouth side. The Mackay bridge is a symbol of car culture, a suspended four-lane highway that shuts people out of experiencing it.

The MacDonald Bridge has a pedestrian walkway, and a bicycle path (though the entrance to the bicycle path is extremely non-sensical, and almost insulting for bike users), but is open to Halifax and Dartmouth as a bridge that, though is breathtaking in its architectural splendour, is very accessible for exploration and experience. It was built in 1955, and reflects a time when cities were thought of in people-terms, before the car dominated as the standard unit of planning. It is a human bridge, and, despite its non-sensibly desinged exit on the Halifax side, is otherwise inviting and enriching.

A diagram of the illogical bike-way entrance onto the MacDonald bridge — I suppose it’s better than having no-bikes-at-all on the bridge — illustration by Sarah Evans

The history of the North End where these bridges currently span is fascinating indeed. I have just finished read Paul A. Erickson’s excellent book Historic North End Halifax, and learnt that two bridges preceded the MacDonald bridge, but were destroyed by fierce winds and high tides. According to a Mi’kma legend, after a white settler caused the accidental drowning death of a young native woman in the narrows, a young Mi’kmaw man declared:

Three times a bridge o’er these waves shall  rise,

Built by the pale face, so strong and wise

Three times shall fall like a dying breath

In storm, in silence and last in death.

Tw0 bridges have already been destroyed — but the MacDonald bridge remains standing. Eventually, at some point in history, the MacDonald bridge will cease to exist for one reason or another.

The Mi’kmaw story above reminds us that, despite out best efforts at permanence, the cities we inhabit are inherently temporary in their ever evolving form.