Archives for posts with tag: highway

Halifax-01

This is Halifax, today. The main geographical feature of Halifax is that it is a peninsula. Peninsular Halifax protrudes out from the Bedford Basin into the greater harbour. To the west, a thin strip of water known as the North West Arm separates it from Spryfield and the Purcell’s Cove Road area – the “mainland”.

There are no connections over the North West Arm between peninsular Halifax and the mainland – one must travel to where the land connects – at the Rotary – to get anywhere along the western shores of the Arm – a relatively far distance to travel to somewhere that is not too far away, as the crow flies, or the car drives.

Halifax cognitive-01

The consequences of this on the city’s collective cognitive geography is enormous. With no connections, the mainland seems incredibly far away, more like the map pictured above. The mainland is also fairly undeveloped — it remains largely forested, and, along Purcell’s Cove road you can access William’s Lake, and Tea Lake, some of Halifax-area’s most beloved swimming spots.

Halifax with Harbour Drive-01

In the 1960s, an ambitious highway plan would have seen the extension of a highway-like Barrington Street through the downtown, around Point Pleasant Park, and over to the mainland, as roughly pictured in the map above.

The plan, known as Harbour Drive, was never realized, and the highway-zation of Barrington stopped at the Cogswell Interchange.

I often think that the consequences of a built Harbour Drive on our relationship with Halifax would have been profound. Instead of thinking about Halifax-proper as an isolated peninsula, it would form a larger whole, and my life would probably be more integrated into the paths and projects associated with the Spryfield and Purcell’s Cove area.

But while thinking this, I also correct myself because if Harbour Drive was built, it would have been a gross super-highway, leading to the development of Fairview-  & Dartmouth-style suburbs that I would never have any reason to go to – there would undoubtedly be a deficiency of a public realm and walkable, public space.

Since Harbour Drive was never built,  beautiful forests remain.

Halifax with pedestrian bridges-01

It is pity, though, that the mainland seems so far from my life, when it’s actually so close.

It would be so lovely, if pedestrian bridges stretched, across the North West Arm, as pictured above, connecting Halifax and the Mainland –  between the end of South Street and Dingle Park, Point Pleasant Park and Purcell’s Cove. It would bring the forest, the lakes, and the fine air of the mainland closer to our lives, in a lovely, healthy way.

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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.