Jon Burgess, a competitive cyclist, bikes to work along the Bedford Highway when possible. He says the current bike lanes have “good intentions,” but aren’t convenient.
“Halifax has no vision in terms of active transportation,” he said Monday.
Burgess was one of approximately 30 people at the Bedford Highway public session held at the Sunnyside Mall in Bedford. The event was hosted by Halifax Planning.
Like many people who use the busy road, Burgess has advice for municipal officials. He said if the Halifax Regional Municipality wants more people to commute by bike they need to improve the lanes. Currently, the bike lanes end at Kearney Lake. Burgess said the “most dangerous part” starts at Kearney Lake where the roads get narrow and there’s no infrastructure for cyclists.
The Bedford Highway runs 11.5 km, sees on average 20,000 cars per day and hosts 10 Halifax Transit bus routes, making it one of the biggest and busiest roads in and out of the peninsula.
Another cyclist, Madeline Lawler, has travelled across the country on her bicycle. She said Halifax is far behind in terms of cycling infrastructure.
“This should be focused on people and not putting more cars on the road,” she said. “There’s a bigger issue here.”
David Savard, who’s lived in Bedford for 30 years, said the highway is “one of the banes of (his) frustrations,” and is inadequate.
As a retiree Savard said he’s one of the lucky ones who can arrange his schedule the way he wants. He doesn’t have to commute to the peninsula during peak hours, but said when he did work he had issues.
“The Bedford Highway, there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said.
In order to add extra lanes, or bus-only lanes to the Bedford Highway the HRM would have to buy land along the road to make the streets wider, a costly and timely endeavour.
Savard said it’s great to see all these ideas, but is frustrated there’s no clear plan, a statement echoed by a few other attendees.
Bedford-Wentworth Coun. Tim Outhit attended the event for ideas on how to make residents’ commute easier. Outhit has supported a commuter rail since talks about the Bedford Highway began, but he didn’t help organize this particular event.
“I am skeptical myself that a whole lot of change can happen,” said Outhit. “There’s only so many roads that you can widen; there’s only so many lanes you can take away and make for buses. I firmly believe that the answer is to change how we move people, rather than the corridor.”
Outhit said the solution is going to have to involve different modes of transportation.
Many of the cyclists at the session on Monday said they want to see protected and maintained bike lanes. Transit users would like transit to operate smoother and faster by adding more express routes. For other people the solution is taking cars off the streets by using the existing railways.
Mike Connors, strategic transportation planning engineer, said these sessions will help the municipality learn about solutions that commuters want. Residence feedback will be incorporated as much as possible into the design process of the Bedford Highway Functional Plan.
The Bedford Highway Functional Plan is a report on what the corridor could look like if these options are implemented. The HRM plans to have this project finished in four to five months.
“We’re putting in a lot of effort up front to figure out what the corridor should look like and I think that will pay off,” said Connors. “One of the reasons nothing ever got done was because we didn’t have a corridor-wide vision.”
Connors said a corridor-wide vision will be a much better way to present the idea to council than in bits and pieces, as they will see the whole picture. The functional plan will also be used to guide future transportation infrastructure investments in the HRM over the next several years.
The next public session will be held Tuesday at Rockingham United Church from 6 to 8 p.m.