Fast and reliable transit can transform Halifax

Photo by Kim Hart Macneill

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Halifax has some big plans: more people living in the urban core, pedestrian friendly main streets, a sublime wilderness park near Bayers Lake, removing the Cogswell Interchange. But when it comes to transit, Halifax’s plans are too small. We need a totally new type of transit service for our urban core and our dense, inner suburbs. We need bus rapid transit.
At It’s More Than Buses, we were excited to see Ryan Van Horne proposing bus lanes in this magazine [“A bold solution for transit,” July 2016], and want to follow up with our proposal for a complete bus rapid transit network.
Bus rapid transit (BRT) uses bus lanes that let buses travel right past traffic, quickly and on time. But BRT is more: buses run frequently all day long, meaning people are no longer chained to a schedule. Buses get priority at traffic lights. Stations are widely spaced and designed to get riders on and off the bus quickly. A huge strength of this system is that it uses existing roads, meaning construction costs are manageable and routes can go straight to big destinations. BRT is the best choice to give tens of thousands of people fast, reliable transit.
Our proposal is to create bus lanes on both sides of Robie Street to deliver passengers within a few hundred metres of the hospitals and South End universities, and main streets like Quinpool and Agricola.
We propose extending this bus lane through Bayers Road to Fairview and Clayton Park, communities comprising about 10 per cent of Halifax’s population. They also have some of the highest transit ridership in the region, despite buses being stuck in traffic every rush hour. Halifax already plans to widen Bayers Road, so let’s widen it for buses: this would move many more people and have a much larger payoff for our economy. By one estimate, wide highway-like roads depress property values by $6,000, whereas great transit improves property value and attracts business investment.
Similarly, we propose a BRT line running from Dartmouth, across the Macdonald Bridge and down the length of Barrington Street to connect tens of thousands of people to 25,000 jobs in downtown Halifax. Already, over 5,000 people travel by bus across the Macdonald Bridge each rush hour. A bus lane would move far more people than a lane full of mixed car and bus traffic, since a full bus fits over 60 people, but a car often carries just one.
One or two good transit routes can’t reach enough people to make a dramatic change in how people travel. Therefore, our BRT proposal also has corridors serving dense neighbourhoods like North and Central Dartmouth, Portland Street, Spryfield, and Sackville. The system would team up with commuter rail to serve Bedford. All proposed routes are major regional corridors, with heavy travel demands.
Think bus lanes would be expensive? We can’t afford not to build them. According to, young people rank good transit as their third highest priority when choosing where to live (after affordability and safety). Also, studies suggest that downtown vacancies are dangerously high. Companies will not fill those offices unless their employees have a viable way to get to work.
Good BRT routes, connected to other transit routes, could provide quick, convenient trips from every major route to every major destination. People riding transit could easily access more jobs and more destinations, making transit more attractive. The number of people choosing transit would surge.
A robust BRT system would make our city greener by taking thousands of cars off the road. It would make the city safer by reducing traffic. It would make the city fairer by giving thousands of people access to more jobs and services. And it would make the city more prosperous by supporting dense, vibrant main streets and downtowns that attract people and support businesses.
It’s time for Halifax to develop another big plan: a BRT network that can transform Halifax by providing fast, frequent, and reliable service to everywhere you need to go.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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