The Rapid Transit Strategy needs a longer-term vision

We talked yesterday about what’s great about Halifax Transit’s new Rapid Transit Strategy. It connects a lot of different places to downtown Halifax and downtown Dartmouth, it would have enough transit priority to keep buses out of traffic, and the buses would run every ten minutes, all day, every day. That’s a great network.

But now we need to start thinking about what’s missing from the plan.

Halifax Transit says they want their proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) network and fast ferry built by 2030. Great. But then what? What”s the next phase? When we’re talking about planning for higher-order rapid transit, we need to be thinking a lot farther out than just the next ten years.

So here just a few questions that the Rapid Transit Strategy should address:

  • Could the BRT network be extended to Bedford? If so, where would the line go?
  • Could the BRT network be extended to Sackville?
  • What about connecting Bedford to north Dartmouth? We know the Burnside Connector is getting built. Once the province has definite plans about exactly how it’s going to be built, will it make more sense to run a BRT line along the Burnside Connector? Or would  it make more sense to put transit priority on Magazine Hill?
  • Could the BRT network be extended to Larry Uteck Boulevard?

More generally, if the current Rapid Transit Strategy were “Phase 1” of a long-term vision, what would “Phase 2” and “Phase 3” be?

Of course, planning on a 20- or 30-year time horizon is hard. There’s a lot of uncertainty. But there are ways to plan for a long-term vision, even with all that uncertainty.

Take Bedford as an example. Maybe we don’t yet know when there are going to be enough transit users in Bedford to justify extending the BRT network there. (Remember, the BRT network proposes buses every ten minutes, all day, even on Sundays.) But we do know Bedford is growing and is going to continue to grow. Halifax transit can respond by doing two things.

First, develop a plan for where BRT stops will be on an eventual BRT line through Bedford.

Second, set a population density threshold for areas of land within a ten-minute walk radius of those proposed BRT stops. Then, whenever the population density within those areas hits the threshold, Halifax Transit should be committed to extending BRT along the proposed route.

In this example, two kinds of information are really important: the stop locations of future BRT lines and the population density thresholds that trigger building those new lines. That information about future BRT lines needs to be included in the Rapid Transit Strategy.

Even when we’re dealing with big uncertainties about what HRM is going to look like in 2040 or 2050, it’s still possible — and even necessary — to have a vision for rapid transit. Halifax Transit’s Rapid Transit Strategy needs that vision.

More tomorrow on what’s missing from the Rapid Transit Strategy.

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