On traffic widening, again!

I often wonder at the seeming red/blue, up/down, black/white nature of Halifax politcs.

If you stuck to the stereotypes, on the one hand you have the bike riding, tree hugging, anti-progress sushi eating hippies, mostly in urban areas, who hate cars, suburbs, and buildings less than 75 years old. On the other, you have the SUV and truck driving suburban burger eating wannabe rednecks who think city hall should be moved to Lower Sackville, that six lane highways to and from the Metro Centre are appropriate and needful, and think anything less than 4000 square feet of home on 1.5 acres of land lacks patriotism.

I don’t really buy these stereotypes.  Clearly, this simple, politician and media fed view of the region’s diverse and nuanced politics over simplifies at best, and obscures the real issues at worst.

Three recent issues have polarized the city.  They all have elements of this urban rural split, but the issues are all far more complex than that simple paradigm suggests.

So, what’s hot right now? The Bayers Road widening.  The people in charge of traffic management in the city can clearly claim that they are responding to demand.  The problem is, that if you increase supply – more roads – there is a never ending demand – more traffic.

The way we use the city and its roads does change over time, and we need to be prepared to make changes to accommodate that.  Devonshire, Lady Hammond, and even Agricola north of Young were all designed to carry far more traffic than they now do, while streets like Oxford and North carry far more than could have been imagined when they were laid down.

Even accepting that streets change and the city has to adapt, ever increasing capacity has the effect of supporting and encouraging people to live farther and farther away from where they work.

The risk is, that growing capacity will shorten travel time and encourage sprawl by enabling people to live on cheaper land farther and farther out.  Look at Los Angeles’ famous and ineffective freeway system.  Look at the 401, 407, Gardner, and Don Valley Parkway in Toronto.  The capacity is huge, the demand is bigger than supply, the city keeps sprawling.

Taking 10 or 15 minutes off the drive from Bedford will not just make it easier for people in Bedford, it will encourage people to live in Windsor Junction, Enfield, Truro.  This is a never ending problem.  At some point, we have to say “that’s it, the peninsula is full.”

We need to work on transit, we need fast ferry links, bus only lanes, BRT dedicated routes (the old railway cut along the Halifax waterfront is a good place to start).  We need to fix what is broken with the existing road system.  We can increase rush hour capacity on many major streets by suspending parking during rush hour on the inbound or outbound lanes, and fixing the lights and signals and turn lanes.  We need bike lanes.  We can get rid of the toll plazas at the bridges.

We could do a lot without paving a thing.  We just need to get creative, and recognize that there is an inherent value in maintaining a liveable, walkable, transit based city.

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