Archives for posts with tag: politics

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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Living in Halifax has given me first hand experience of the “HRM”, the Halifax Regional Municipality. The HRM sort of seems like local politicians saw other Canadian regional governments, such as the Toronto “Mega-City” and the unsuccessful merger of municipalities on the Island of Montreal, and applied it to a region that doesn’t make as much sense.

The HRM, as you can see, makes up a significant portion of the province of Nova Scotia. But size doesn’t matter in agglomerating political districts: what matters is flows — if the flows of peoples, goods, traffic and communications begins to spread widely, over formerly significant geo-political boundaries, that’s when an urban amalgamation makes sense.

But — the HRM — it doesn’t seem to make sense to me, a new-comer to this city. Beyond its immediate neighbours, the towns surrounding Halifax seem pretty disconnected from the Peninsular City. And, whereas in Montreal and Toronto, you have a certain degree of suburban sprawl that sees a significant number of commuters travelling between places, in Halifax, the sprawl is relatively limited, and you reach rural land quickly once leaving the city.

The HRM is an astonishingly big political entity, where people from extremely different walks of life, with extremely different needs and political attitudes, have to somehow come together and make decisions that affect everyone. The consequences are broad ranging, an example being that wealthy suburban, or otherwise interested rural voters will have more influence on city council and consequently neglect the needs inner city urban folk, as we saw in Toronto’s last mayoral election.

Indeed, I believe in the need for regional government. It makes sense that a forum be established where plans regarding such problems as energy and transportation infrastructures, issues that make sense at a regional scale, be discussed and plans executed. But regional government should not replace local, autonomous government. I may go so far as saying local government should have the most influence, nested within regional, provincial and federal levels of governance.

The seeming ridiculousness of the HRM presented itself the other day, when, driving back from Tancook Island, many signs announcing towns along the highway, like the one in the first photo, boasted the HRM logo, with the phrase “Welcome to Our Community”.

It was incredibly strange realizing that we were already “in Halifax”, even though our surroundings included sea side cottages and farms. Most ridiculous was the repeated notion of “our community” — what are these communities, and who established them? What happens to the meaning of “community” when it is constantly repeated in the same monotonus fashion, and is imposed from some distant, top-down governing body? What does it mean when we enter the Community of Halifax? These signs betray the non-sensical logic of the HRM and speak of the continuing trend of potentially harmful centralization in Canadian governance.