Bus Lanes: Halifax Needs Them

We need more than transit that works well. We need transit so good it’s cool.

In cities like Montreal, New York, or Paris, taking the subway is part of the lifestyle of the city. In San Francisco or Melbourne, it’s the great trams. In Bogata, Rio de Jeneiro or Helsinki, it’s bus rapid transit. It’s about more than moving people around. It’s about giving Halifax the swagger of a city where getting around is so easy it’s fun.

A subway is out of reach, but there are options we absolutely could implement here that would offer that same level of freedom. The key is to get transit out of traffic.

The next time you are stuck in traffic, imagine if you could step onto a vehicle that has absolutely no barriers in front of it. One that could pass right through all the traffic bottle-necks like water flowing through a cage.

That’s what happens when you build a complete network of bus lanes. Could we do it in Halifax? Groups like Fusion Halifax and It’s More Than Buses have proposed a network that should be feasible on our streets.

BRT-MAP The Little Easy Halifax

My goal is to achieve a network of similar comprehensiveness, even if the exact lines on the map change as we consult residents and analyze the best way to serve the most people at the best cost. I love, however, what their proposal shows could be possible. (As for rail, I will write another piece specifically addressing that opportunity and the legitimate concerns of some residents around noise.) 

Right now, the federal government is chipping in $100,000 for Halifax to conduct a Bus Rapid Transit study, which means, in short, a complete network of bus lanes. It’s very exciting. It will be both fun and fulfilling to work with community organizations, city staff, and the public to identifying the best routes for the network. Imagine what that will do for our pride and our optimism—to talk about such an enormous idea with the will to make it a reality.

But Bus Rapid Transit is, however, about more than bus lanes. It combines everything that will speed up transit and give riders a great experience. Riders pay for their ticket at the station rather than on the bus, so that buses can arrive, pick everyone up, and get going fast. Key stations are heated and offer displays so you know when the next bus is coming. Buses run in the lanes in high-frequencies, so like a subway, you know you can just show up and take the next arrival quickly.

Can we afford it? Yes, and honestly, we can’t afford not to build it. Halifax is a growing city that will add tens of thousands of people over the coming decades. A lot of that growth will happen in Spryfield, Clayton Park, Bedford, Sackville, and Port Wallace, in addition to the Centre of the city. There is no way we could accommodate that level of traffic driving into our core every day. Investment in great transit is needed to ensure our economy can grow unimpeded.

Moreover, great transit is advertising for a city. Cleveland’s Bus Rapid Transit system has attracted over $3 billion of investment to their core. In Eugene, a small city of 100,000 in Oregon, bus lanes attracted $100 million of investment. After safety and affordability, transit is rated the third highest priority (pdf) for the cities where young people want to live in North America. These youth have rated transit even higher than “good jobs,” which is why the “good jobs” are now moving to cities with good transit. In the last five years, a survey of 500 companies that had recently moved found they nearly all moved to places with better walking, biking and transit.

Companies seek cities with good transit.

In an economy where success relies on smart people choosing our city over others, we need to offer a lifestyle of freedom. We need to offer fantastic transit.

Right now, the planning and studies have already kicked off to establish bus lanes. The funding is available from the federal government. If enough people with vision are elected to Council in 2016, we could make the biggest transformation in our transit system in a generation. I am committed to being a leader for creating a complete and fast bus rapid transit system for Halifax.


Headline photo: Portland, Oregon Transit Mall.

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