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A bold solution for Halifax Transit

There’s a simple way to reduce traffic congestion and make riding the bus a more attractive idea

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Ryan Van Horne is a Halifax journalist, playwright and documentary film director. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers from coast to coast and on his blog at ryanvanhorne.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanVanHorne.

Ryan Van Horne is a Halifax journalist, playwright and documentary film director. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers from coast to coast and on his blog at ryanvanhorne.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanVanHorne.

Newcomers to Halifax get on an express bus at the outskirts of the city. It’s their first time, so they expect to get to work more quickly than if they had driven their cars.

In most cities, that’s a reasonable expectation, as cities that want to encourage more people to ride the bus give them the added bonus of getting to their destinations faster. They do this by providing dedicated lanes for buses, so they can move past traffic jams instead of sitting in them.
How bold is that?

Too bold for Halifax, apparently, even though it would be pretty easy to do if we were willing to create more reversing lanes during rush-hours.

Take Quinpool Road: It has four lanes. During morning rush hour, two lanes are jammed with traffic as cars trickle onto the peninsula. Meanwhile, two outbound lanes are sparsely used.

An express bus should be able to zoom past that traffic, rewarding people who take the bus.

Instead, that bus sits in traffic with all the cars and the people riding on it are no further ahead. They save a bit of money, and they can read during their commutes, but that’s not enough to encourage most people to leave their cars at home.

Usually, the North American reaction to traffic congestion is to build bigger roads. Widening roads in Halifax is not feasible in many locations and even if it was, we shouldn’t do it. Urban-planning specialist Lewis Mumford once said these wise words: “Building more roads to prevent congestion is like a fat man loosening his belt to prevent obesity.” He said that in 1955 and, 61 years later, North American cities are still trying to put extra holes in their belts to deal with traffic congestion.

We need to stop doing this. There is a better way, but it won’t work until we truly understand what is keeping people from taking the bus.

On the commute to and from work, time is more valuable than money.  The people who do it to save money are already taking the bus. In the morning and at the end of the work day, people will gladly sit in traffic and let money burn out their mufflers because they think driving is faster. These people don’t care about saving money and they don’t care about all the pollution that is caused by traffic congestion; if they did, they’d take the bus.

If the buses had their own lanes and you could be on a bus that zoomed past traffic jams, people would love them.

To get more riders, Metro Transit, needs to innovate. I don’t mean “innovate” the way it’s normally used as a buzzword, because more often than not, the people who like to say the word don’t actually like to innovate.

To encourage more people to take buses, Halifax must create dedicated bus lanes to make this possible, and, on a road like Quinpool, making one lane reversible at rush hour would accomplish this. This is not a foreign concept to Halifax, which has reversing lanes on the Macdonald Bridge, Chebucto Road, and Herring Cove Road. Halifax needs needs more reversing lanes to reduce traffic congestion.

A conservative city like Halifax is not actually that fond of innovation. Despite an occasional Pollyannaish attitude that accompanies criticism of the media being too negative, there is a culture of naysaying ingrained in our government.

Cities all over the world have successfully used dedicated bus lanes to increase ridership and reduce traffic congestion. There is absolutely nothing that would stop that from working in Halifax, except a naysayer’s attitude that would keep us from trying it in the first place.

  • Zoran Jokic

    Traffic congestion comes with the growth of population and it has been a common problem around the world. Many places expand their offerings by utilizing varieties of public transportation. When we consider all the facts: positioning against the ocean(harbour), having a bus and ferry lines only, we need a train. Why not to utilize the existing trucks and make it quicker and better way to commute.

  • Sean Donald Gillis

    Great timing for this article. I agree completely, except we don’t need just reversible lanes, we need full lanes, all day in both directions on some key corridors.

    Check out our ideas here: https://itsmorethanbuses.com/bus-rapid-transit-for-halifax-dartmouth/

  • Ryan Van Horne

    I would go along with full dedicated lanes wherever possible and reversing where it wasn’t possible.

  • Ryan Van Horne

    I agree, Zoran. I’ve been an advocate of a commuter rail train and more harbour ferries. That’s something I planned to write about in my next column.

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