OPENFILE: The New Bridge Terminal – Hope for Transit That Works

Right now, the best example of HRM “getting it right” is probably the construction of the new Dartmouth Bridge terminal.

The current “terminal” deserves quotes around its description. HRM is replete with clusters of bus shelters, some heated, most not, with the grandiose designation of “terminal.” Anyone coming from a larger city, or accustomed to taking the Dartmouth Ferry, finds the label “terminal” misleading at best.

HRM has plans, big plans, to upgrade the terminals and the whole transit system. We have a handful of decent terminals in Portland Hills and Mumford Road, but bigger plans are afoot for Sackville, Clayton Park and the rest of the system.

The first, biggest, busiest and most important to upgrade for the whole system is Dartmouth, which is at capacity, so busy that no new buses can be added. The new terminal will be a full scale bus station that would not look out of place in any major city.

It is only when you drive down Nantucket or Thistle Streets that you can truly appreciate the scale of construction. The hole currently being worked on dwarfs the adjacent Sportsplex, the current terminal, and the Scotiabank.

When built, the new terminal will include the controversial bridge, connecting the urban wilderness park behind Dartmouth High to the second story of the new structure. More than a simple foot bridge, the construction will both provide a substantial roof protecting waiting passengers below, but also create a large public plaza above.
The inclusion a of the bridge added a couple of million to the price tag, bringing the total to just over $12 million, meaning it costs about the same as building a new ferry, and far more than the original modest plan to spend around $3 million.

Large, critical terminals like this are multi-generational investments. Major bus and subway stations built in the 1960s and 1970s in Toronto and Montreal are still in use today, with regular maintenance and repair. Our own Halifax and Dartmouth ferry terminals opened in 1979, and while somewhat raggedy and requiring some maintenance, continue to provide good service.

The Dartmouth Terminal will be in use when my kids are facing retirement, and beyond – assuming we maintain it. The terminal has ample users, proven need, and will be utilized fully upon opening.

But will it encourage people to take the bus, and if so, is that a good thing? Today Openfile reported on a debate about the role transit plays in encouraging sprawl. Sure, some plans, like the MetroX rural bus system can be argued as encouraging sprawl, but there is ample evidence that regular, quality transit corridors encourage density and reduce automobile dependence, something close to most urbanophiles hearts.

A recent study concluded that:

An automobile-dependent city can be restructured around a series of transit cities of 20 to 30 kilometers in diameter, with a Town Center as its focus and Local Centers linked along the transit services feeding the Town Center. Although linked across the city for many functions, these transit cities with their centers can provide a level of self-sufficiency that can form the basis for a far less car-oriented city.

Urban HRM is the size of one of these transit cities.

Is it really sprawl to connect Bedford to Halifax with a tiny 14 km rail line? Clayton Park West to Downtown and on to Burnside with bus rapid transit? Will a fast ferry encourage people to live outside the city centre, or will it re-enforce the idea that the city centre matters? Will bus only lanes and HOV lanes encourage people to live farther and farther out, or it lead to a reduction in car use and increase density along transit corridors?

Halifax and Nova Scotia need to invest more to build a real transit system, and create something that will serve as a model for small cities, making transit a preferred option, rather than a last resort.

Someday. Until then, at least we have the new Dartmouth Bridge Terminal.