I noticed in yesterday’s Chronicle Herald that Halifax city planners are once again considering to alleviate traffic congestion in the city by building a third harbour crossing, this one from Woodside to around the South End container pier. CBC is also carrying it here.
My immediate instinct is that this is a bad idea. I seem to remember hearing and reading in a number of places that increasing the traffic network simply delays the traffic problem a couple of years and that this is a bad idea. A few years after the third crossing is built and Eastern Passage becomes the hot new residential area and Porter’s Lake gets dozed by one of those goddamned development companies that brought us the disaster that is Hammond’s Plains and Timberlea and voila, traffic is as bad as ever. My first instinct then goes on to say “wouldn’t it be more useful to actually plan urban development with extending public transit in mind rather than building more suburbs?”. Isn’t building a new highway or bridge just a band-aid?
I mean, a billion dollars can make enough buses that even the fat-ass city councillors who whined and moaned about parking at City Hall might even find it convenient enough to use.
Thus, me and my first instinct head to the internets to find a pithy quote proving my thesis when I come across this arresting quote by the late Jane Jacobs:
It’s really surprising how few creative, important cities Canada has for its size, its population, and its great human potential and attributes. There’s a whole region of Canada, the Atlantic Provinces, that has a lot of pleasant little places but doesn’t have one single really significant creative city. And the whole area is very poor as a consequence. It would be like a Third World country, that whole area, if it wasn’t getting transfer payments and grants of various kinds from the rest of Canada.
Woah, there, woman, that’s my homeland you’re talking about.
Umm, is she right?
The fact of the matter is, I don’t know diddle about urban development, except that which I’ve witnessed personally. I have seen the HRM council hand out development rights to huge parcels of land that have basically turned Halifax into an aglomeration of hideous taupe suburbs (with streets named after the trees, creeks or hills that used to be there) connected by roads on which passengerless vehicles pass near-empty buses on their way to work in Burnside or downtown. I have heard the councillors, amid howls of protest, propose turning Chebucto Road effectively into a highway at the expense of front lawns, to provide better connection between the unrestrained growth of Bayers’ Lake (and the suburbs surrounding it) and the downtown. I have seen the downtown gutted by lower-tax shopping malls, which in turn are decimated by still-lower-tax big-box behemoths on both sides of the harbour. (In fairness, at least you can get a bus to the new one in Dartmouth.)
All of this development points to one thing – poor urban planning has our elected representatives repeatedly bending over for the monied developers, chasing new developments with services that are much more expensive to provide suburbs than cities. Meanwhile, they provide retail space in low-tax districts that further increase the city’s service load while simultaneously reducing it’s tax base. All of this gets made up by little residents like me with their ever-increasing property taxes. Oh that my salary increased at the same rate as my taxes have!
And this doesn’t even touch on the environmental load this kind of development carries. Shopping in Bayers’ Lake effectively requires a car, as buses are as rare as good food out there. (Sorry folks, Montana’s sucks ass.) Metro Transit provides bus service to most suburbs, but buses come rarely enough that actually using them requires serious life-altering adjustments in habit that only $2 gas will provide. Soon, my pets, soon.
So I throw this out to the public sphere, to those that I hope know more about this than I: How do we create a city that is vital and creative while at the same time makes sense at economic and environmental levels. More ferries? Bike paths? More buses? Congestion tax?
Somehow I don’t think it involves the Commonwealth Games or building a tunnel to Woodside.