Transportation Standing Committee, Feb. 25, 2021
Meeting recap (the important stuff):
The committee unanimously voted to start reducing the amount of pedestrian crossings that require a push to cross.
In the presentation staff outlined why they wanted to remove push buttons for some crosswalks but not all of them. In the intersections that are at capacity, at a choke point and essential for vehicle traffic (like Nantucket and Wyse by the old bridge) every second needs to be maximized, so if there are no pedestrians they don’t want the light to change. But at any other intersection not having a push button is a net benefit to all commuters, not just drivers.
Although, traffic staff did inadvertently push back against the city’s messaging about shared responsibility for road safety. They said that if push buttons aren’t required, congestion increases and it leads to more aggressive and distracted driving. This implies that although it might be a shared responsibility, drivers are the problem.
The committee also decided to defer a pilot program for free transit for students. The decision was made because the proposed pilot project was very limited in scope and might not give the city enough data to assess. City staff will be coming back to the committee next meeting with a financial report on what it would cost to expand the program to all the students at the four selected schools. That decision will be made at their next meeting in a month.
Councillor Mason also put forward a motion at the end of the meeting: “Transportation Standing Committee requests a staff report recommending establishing new standards for municipal, utility and abutter work in the right of way to ensure accessibility and detectability for pedestrians shall be maintained at all times.”
He did this because in the summer all four corners of the intersections on Robie were under construction at the same time and the temporary crusher dust curb cuts were woefully inadequate. He wants to make sure Halifax has at least as good accessibility standards during construction as Onterrible. Sorry, Ontario. The motion passed unanimously.
They also passed a motion to improve winter access to city parks but amended it so that Sandy Lake and First Lake trails won’t be paved in the process.
Who said what (paraphrased):
*Councillors are talking about how it’s nice that it feels like spring. (But it’s February. It should not feel like spring, it absolutely should feel like winter still. Stop being flippant about the good weather, it’s climate change.)*
Kent: Deferred business, the pedestrian push buttons.
Brad Anguish: We have a presentation! There is some integrated mobility plan built in here, but it’ll be abridged and won’t do any justice to the subject. IMP was adopted in 2017. It’s a strategic priorities plan. Here’s the city’s goals for trips made by walking and cycling:
Anguish: Non-car travel goals change depending on where people are. We expect to get less people out of cars in rural areas. Here’s where we are with COVID:
Anguish: The IMP is about being healthy, connected, affordable and sustainable. The key principles are complete communities, moving people (not vehicle focus), manage congestion instead of eliminating it and make sure all the solutions are working with each other. Here’s a movie!
*Technical difficulties with the audio, they’re fighting with Microsoft Teams*
Anguish: The IMP is changing the way the city is designed, we’re changing our existing roads to meet these IMP goals, and changing traffic signals. The plan is also collecting data. The city has a lot of policies that reduce congestion, but we’re also holding the line on the width of our roads. In 2001 our population was 360,000. We’ve grown by 90,000 people. In terms of cities, we’ve grown one town of Windsor every year for 20 years. We’ve grown one Cape Breton Regional Municipality in 20 years. The congestion is getting worse, if you look at the measurement of congestion, we’re 6th in the country. But congestion is one of the leading reasons we have distracted driving because you can read your device in traffic. People get aggressive when they’re running late, which leads to shortcutting, which leads to needing traffic calming. That’s a very short, narrow slice explanation of IMP. We’ve grown, transit and walking is down and car use is up, that’s not great. We expect congestion to get worse before it gets better. Here’s Taso to explain how traffic signals work into IMP.
Staff (Andrea): Do you want the video played?
Anguish: We get a lot of complaints about slowing down traffic. Forest Hills Parkway greenway was a communications challenge because everyone expected a four lane road (it is, but two of the four lanes are active transit, not for cars).
Taso Koutroulakis: The numbers are a bit different in this slideshow than the report because we have new intersections with buttons, and missed one. Six or seven years ago the city paid to upgrade the traffic signal system. We now have the backend software to change signal times remotely, and we’ve been slowly integrating all the city’s intersections into the system. We hope to have this done by the end of next year. Here are some benefits to optimizing traffic signals:
Koutroulakis: Changing one traffic signal changes how the intersection works, which then impacts the intersections that feed into it or are fed by the changed intersection. So we need to make it as efficient as possible for people to move through with as little delay as possible. Here’s how we decide which signals to change, and then how many we’re changing:
Koutroulakis: Pedestrian recall means if there’s a button at an intersection you don’t need to push it. Here’s the changes we propose:
Koutroulakis: We were thinking about 10 p.m. as the time to have to push the button, but transit ends at midnight, so midnight makes more sense. Currently, the accessible buttons require holding down the button for three seconds to get the physical signal, but that doesn’t work for everyone, so we think getting rid of it is best. The three seconds were initially from national guidelines. The impacts of getting rid of pushbuttons would be that congestion might get worse because the lights will keep cycling. There could be some cases where emergency vehicles are slightly hindered. There’ll be some increased emissions, there are some safety issues if drivers ignore traffic signals (street safety is a shared responsibility! LOL). There’s no national standard for push buttons, it’s highly regional. But what we’re proposing here is with the general practice across Canada. Here’s what we propose:
Mancini: Do we need a motion on the floor? Do we have one already?
Clerk: Motion needs to go on the floor.
Mancini: *Reads motion for agenda item 8.1 as written* Accessible pedestrian button changes, have you had feedback from the affected communities about the proposed changes?
Koutroulakis: We met with Walk n’ Roll Halifax, and the recommendations largely come from them. But it didn’t go through the accessibility committee.
Mancini: Should we get feedback from the accessibility committee? I’m not suggesting we delay it, but would it be appropriate to get their feedback? There’s no shortage of opinions on this, some people think there should be no push buttons anywhere, why is that an issue?
Koutroulakis: We have to balance the need of all road users, and in some areas there are significant challenges. Implementing pedestrian recall at a place with very low pedestrian traffic, it doesn’t make sense to get rid of the button there. Pleasant Street and the 111 is a perfect example of that being an issue. There are also places that are so congested we need to maximize every second at the intersection, like Wyse and Nantucket, or Woodlawn and Portland, or Forest Hills and Main Street (weird that these intersections are all in Dartmouth).
Anguish: Congestion leads to unsafe issues for vulnerable road users, the pedestrians. Congestion leads to aggressive driving, distracted driving (shared responsibility!). We’re trying to keep the main corridors flowing.
Kent: Mason has come back, but suggested I stay in the chair position.
Mason: We both have a lot to say on these issues, but I have a motion on the docket so it makes sense for you to keep this. Thank you staff for this report, we’ve gotten a lot of feedback on this, some of it angry. But staff have done exactly what we’ve asked them to do, which is use the data from StatsCan to see where the pedestrian recall makes sense. In some places pressing a button makes sense. Why I asked for this is because 70-80 per cent of the people in my district don’t use a car. And I saw people at Jubilee waiting and they crossed without the signal. And they changed the rules so if the pedestrians get hit they get a ticket! What’s up with that? But we’re not going to stop here, this is just exactly what we’ve asked for, and I support a systematic approach. But we need the numbers to prove what we’re trying to do. We don’t want to make it so that cars are waiting all the time even if there are no cars.
Kent: Anyone else want to speak? Councillor Cleary does.
Cleary: Ditto to what Mason just said. I feel like staff have crafted something workable here, but after their presentation, it feels kind of like we have to drag our staff kicking and screaming to do the IMP. Can you provide the studies saying congestion leads to distracted driving? I’m reading something that says distracted driving can impede driving flow, not the other way around. (I personally feel drawn to my phone when my car is stopped. So much so that I’ve had to take my phone off the dash mount to stop looking at it. Why are phones so damn addictive? Just kidding we know, watch the Social Dilemma on Netflix.) I live on Quinpool near Connaught and there’s never been an issue with the high volumes on that main corridor. I like what’s in front of the committee. I feel like staff need to be a little more supportive of the idea instead of shooting it down while presenting it. With regard to half signals, can we ever reduce the timings so we don’t have to wait for the red lights on both sides before crossing? (Advance green, non-turn side.)
Koutroulakis: We can take a look at that, it’s not really part of the report so I don’t have it with me. But Quinpool is in a major coordination zone because in off-peak hours the flow might change but the volume doesn’t. It’s a business district and a corridor, so it’s a bit unusual. We can take it away to see if we can change it for off-peak hours.
Russell: I also like the report, but how were streets selected? I’ve found five locations in my district where all crossing seems like it should be appropriate instead of sidestreet only.
Koutroulakis: Without the specific locations I can’t really say.
Russell: I was mainly looking for the selection process because I’d like to move some of the intersections into the motion, do I need to change the motion or can I do it afterwards?
Koutroulakis: We can do it after, the motion was written as “to consider” since the decisions ultimately come from traffic authority, even if recommended here.
Kent: I appreciate the systematic approach to this. I’m okay with a systematic approach instead of universal approach here. Being on auto-pilot in a traffic environment is unsafe, so I’m okay with a situation where you need to be aware of your surrounding in a crossing because you will not win against a vehicle (all of these arguments for/against pedestrian buttons are really car focused, which is weird). We had a lengthy submission from a cycling group expressing concerns with this, has staff had a chance to look at it and can we make a commitment to feedback and next steps for these folks? Are we open to having these people who are choosing active transit, included in the process?
Koutroulakis: I didn’t see it, I must have missed it, I can get a copy from the clerks. Are there concerns around these changes specifically?
Mancini: You’re much better than the normal chair (haha eat it, Mason). You’ve listed streets that are going to get rid of push buttons, if we come across issues what’s the process to address them? If we want to add a street, or if one isn’t working out.
Koutroulakis: Same as all traffic control requests. I do anticipate some complaints, you have some who want more and some who want less. It’s the nature of the business, it’s a balancing act. So if you have site specific locations, send it to us.
Mancini: I don’t have any right now, it’s more just because I also expect complaints. Is there going to be a broad communications strategy with our residents? Is there a way we can try and get ahead of this? Do you need a motion for it?
Koutroulakis: We have a comms plan, don’t know what it looks like though. Because most of our network is remote, so we can program from our office. The big piece is creating the stickers and putting them on the poles. The plan is to have some kind of comms strategy.
Mancini: Please make it better than our normal strategy, a lot of words and jargon. Simple words and graphics are key. I think the presentation here would be good for the accessibility committee, do I need a motion for that?
Anguish: Nah, we can do that.
Mancini: If we approve it today, it’s done? No council required?
Russell: Will the stickers be tactile? Can someone who’s sight impaired use them?
Koutroulakis: No, if someone’s blind they still need to push the button, which has an arrow.
Kent: I’d like to add my support to being creative in communications.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous
Kent: Student pass presentation!
Erin Blay: This started in 2019, with a motion to start planning a student pilot pass program. It was inspired by Kingston, ON. All grade 9 students get a transit pass and a course to learn how to take the bus. No one in Kingston pays for the bus until they are 19. Ridership has gone up by 73 per cent in Kingston. The cost to provide the passes is $250,000 in Kingston. There’s been some delays due to COVID. We recommend a three phase approach.
Blay: One grade per school at four schools. Grade 9 and 10 students. No fees are going to be levied at the schools. It’s a low risk approach because we don’t have any data at the moment for student use of busses. The pilot is to collect data, the schools have expressed a strong desire to skip phase 1. Here’s phase 2:
Blay: A formal funding agreement will be required soon, and we’ll be back with 12 months to council with that. Phase three is a full rollout (hehe rollout and busses roll). Financial implications. Phase 1 would cost $16-24,000 in the first year, probably the lower end though. But we lack data to know for sure. Phase 2 should be revenue neutral. The next steps are launching phase 1 in April, probably. And then come back to council with a funding plan bylaw. Here’s what we recommend:
Mason: *Reads the motion for agenda item 12.1.1 as written* I grew up in Dartmouth, but I’m a Navy brat, but in Toronto they gave you bus tickets instead of a school bus, when I was a high school student there. I think this is great and will work. The school now runs its own transit system instead of hiring stock, they’re worried about doing phase one, because they want us to go all-in because it might not include the whole family if there are two students in the house but only one hits the pilot. Why don’t we just jump to phase 2? You mentioned capacity, but we’re not going to change much in transit in the year of the pilot, so what do we gain by waiting?
Blay: It’s weird growing pains. There might be some issues for some families, but what we need to learn is… everything. The challenge is we don’t have information about what the fall will be like. And we need to manage what our riders currently experience, so we might be able to tweak trip times with the info of phase 1.
Mason: I’m going to support the motion as written. The journey of a thousand speed humps starts in the first school zone. I know the HRCE is raring to go, so we need to ready for the demand. Teens want freedom, and a bus pass represents freedom from requiring parents to get around.
Mancini: The pilot, will it be a special pass?
Blay: It’ll be a sticker on their student ID like we do with universities.
Mancini: In the Kingston model the school board kicked in some money, will HRCE?
Blay: We’re talking about it, they’re interested in providing financial support when we get out of phase 1.
Mancini: What happens when school is not in, does the pass expire?
Blay: I think they keep it over the summer.
Mancini: Phase 3, hopefully it stops when school is out?
Blay: It’d have to be negotiated, there’s capacity in the summer so I don’t see it as an issue.
Mancini: What do they do in Kingston?
Blay: I think it’s annual, not sure though.
Outhit: I’m going to be a little difficult, but hopefully for the right reasons. I think it’s a mickey mouse phase one and I’m not a big fan of the mouse. We should have data from other cities, capacity is way down because of COVID, we have capacity, HRCE is excited and want to move to phase 2 and give us money then go for it! Make them put their money where their mouth is. I would be tempted to vote against this, to do a proper evaluation and a proper pilot or test it at phase 2 and use this as leverage to get money for full implementation in September.
Blay: I think it’s worth noting the Kingston model did their pilot in this way. Negotiating a financial contract will take a couple months, but we can get phase 1 rolling in a couple weeks. I appreciate your concern but-
Outhit: I think we should do this right and launch it in September, I think you might be under estimating the potential.
Russell: Ditto Outhit, limiting it to grade 10 is mixing grades based on my not recent school experience. Funding would be a little higher if we included all grades, but how would we direct staff to make the phase bigger or jump straight to phase 2?
Blay: The motion does say pilot, and pilot means, I think, a program without an agreement with the school board. Don’t know how to change the motion though.
Russell: What’s the timeframe for an agreement?
Blay: As soon as we get phase 1 up and going, we start negotiating phase 2. With the caveat of waiting a bit for the data of phase 1. Six to 18 months, closer to the six.
Russell: I also hope it’s closed to the six. I think HRCE would be keen to put the agreement in place, can we move it forward if just one school board wants this?
Blay: Yeah, we need separate ones for both anyway. So no reason we couldn’t.
Russell: What would it take to have it for all grades for phase 1? A motion or an amendment?
Blay: Additional direction? It might be an alternative in the report.
Reage: It’s one of the listed alternatives in the report, alternative number 2. Defer the motion for a staff report to implement it later.
Russell: So status quo, and in the meantime, nothing changes?
Outhit: I’d second that.
Russell: My concern is how long it’d take to bring the supplemental report back.
Kent: Clerks or legal what’s the move?
Staff: Amend the motion to substitute… or… do they need to vote it down?
Colin Taylor, legal: The motion is on the floor, so a motion for deferral would do it.
Russell: How long would the report take? If it’s a long time, I’d rather see this start now.
Kent: You gotta stop talking unless you put something on the floor.
Russell: I’d like an estimate for the time of the report to come back.
Kent: I’m pleased with the idea and removing barriers and bringing more riders to transit. But I think this is too small, I’m not sure what we’re going to get out of this at the end. There’s so many reasons why students may or may not use this. With it so small, what data did we really collect? I’m open to having more grades involved. I don’t mind a little time lag to get a report. We’re not going to be perfect off the hop, but if we haven’t even started negotiating with the province we’re going to need real data. Do you have criteria for the data you’re going to get, to determine success? What are you looking for? What will tell you that you need more information?
Blay: In any way it’s a success, additional ridership, and additional young people riding is a success. It’s not a pass/fail, it’s an understanding of what is happening to ridership. Are busses overflowing if they pass high schools? Are people being left on the street? Do we need more buses? It’s trying to get information to plan our next steps.
Kent: We’re approaching 3, do you want to extend?
Outhit: Move to extend.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous – Meeting extended until 3:30 p.m.
Mancini: This question is from Austin who’s watching online. What happens to students who graduate out of the pilot?
Blay: It stays with the cohort, I think, but I don’t know.
Stoddard: Can we start phase 1 and follow with phase 2 in less than six months?
Blay: I think six months is the number we had in mind because it would give us some time to see trends on the network, and would give us time to negotiate the funding agreements. We might be able to speed it up a little bit, but I don’t want to commit HRCE to anything.
Mason: I was leaning toward ‘let’s just do this.’ But the school start time thing, just so people don’t lose student cards, does a September launch just work better since that’s when student IDs are issued anyway? I think the schools lock in bus funding in the next two months, but I feel like we should get a supplementary report and launch in September. But starting on the school year makes more sense, yeah?
Blay: One of the reasons we wanted to start in the spring is because the fall is nuts for us and schools, so an extra admin thing in the fall might not be great. But we also have room on the busses right now, so it’s good to start getting data right now.
Mason: I could go either way.
Russell: Going back to my previous question, timing of the supplementary report?
Blay: I’m going to defer this to… someone?
Patricia Hughes: We’d have some work to do, it would take several months, not before June, possibly before September, but that’s optimistic.
Russell: What about all of the high school kids in phase 1? Not just limited to grade 10 in the school. September is a crazy time for schools. Doing it before September would be nice for schools I think.
Blay: Open up phase 1 to include all grades this spring?
Russell: Immediately, phase one would start now, but instead of just including grade 10, all of the kids in the high school.
Blay: We don’t know the financial impact (why is the cost a factor in a public service, it’s a service, not a business). There’s not a lot of risk in ridership.
Russell: I’m seeing the financial implications, and it’s be roughly $78,000?
Blay: Depends on the school, but yeah it’d be a multiple of the initial cost of phase 1.
Staff: If the intent is to do phase 1 but with more kids, the only thing that changes is potential financial exposure, is there a way we can just do this without a full supplemental report? Maybe just coming back with just this number? Is there something we can do?
Taylor: If you’re capable of coming back with a one-pager with the financial data that can be your supplementary report. The report they have now, says you can’t just add more kids without the financial information. But the scope of the report can be very specific.
Staff: If that’s what you want to do, we can do it for next meeting.
Russell: So four weeks today, I’d like to make a motion to do that.
Kent: Out of time!
Outhit: I think this is a compromise, if things were easier I think phase 2 in September would be great. I’m just worried the pilot size is too small with the current phase 1. I think expanding it to all grades in these schools is something I could support.
Russell: Motion to defer to March 25, 2021, for a supplementary report to expand the pilot to all students of the four identified schools.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous
Kent: 12.1.2, winter maintenance, are we extending? Making the motion?
Russell: *Makes the motion for agenda item 12.1.2 as written* I think this report is excellent, however, I would like to make a motion. We’ve never had issues with First Lake Regional Park, no registered complaints to 311 ever, no complaints to me. It doesn’t include Second Lake, and there’s a new pathway being built on First Lake, and they’re supporting it, somewhat, but don’t want it paved. I’d like to remove First Lake Regional Park.
Outhit: I’d happy to second that, and add a friendly amendment about Sandy Lake, to also remove it.
Russell: Councillor Smith is okay with Africville Park staying on the list.
Kent: Amendment first.
Mancini: Where did this motion come from?
Outhit: Cleary I think made a motion to approve winter access to our parks?
Russell: That’s it exactly, the reason item 3 was included is because it would make some parts of this easier.
Kent: *Reading clerk’s response to Mancini’s question in the chat under her breath* Question on the amendment?
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous – Amendment, removing paving
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous – Amendment, main motion, as amended
Kent: Added items, Mason.
Mason: *Reads: Transportation Standing Committee requests a staff report recommending establishing new standards for municipal, utility and abutter work in the right of way to ensure accessibility and detectability for pedestrians shall be maintained at all times.* This is to address complaints around the Robie bus stop work where all four corners of the intersection were all getting work done at once. We’ve improved a lot, but in this case, accessibility dropped way off with the crusher dust curb cut replacements. The wording of this motion comes from your jargon and some of you may have attended Tim Cox’s presentation about pedestrian safety and construction. When you look at the standards in Ontario and the USA, they’re way higher than ours and I’d like us to be proactive and get on with it.
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous
Kent: Just to clarify the cycling group’s submission, it went to the clerks’ office as a submission, so it should be on file. And happy birthday tomorrow, Councillor Russell.
Mancini: When it’s your birthday you have to buy other councillors a coffee.
Russell: I’ll bring it to the budget meeting tomorrow!
Councillor Waye Mason, Chair (District 7)
Councillor Becky Kent, Vice Chair (District 3)
Councillor Tony Mancini (District 6)
Councillor Iona Stoddard (District 12)
Councillor Paul Russell (District 15)
Deputy Mayor Tim Outhit (District 16)
N/A – COVID
Previous meeting and current agenda:
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