Nova Scotia, or New Scotland... the big question is... is it better than the old Scotland? It's just as windy for sure, but possibly had more sun while we were there than in my whole last year in the old one! The past two weeks we've been exploring a small piece of Nova Scotia, starting out with a quick stop in Peggy's Cove, a few days riding bikes from our base in Lunenburg, then a week in Halifax for the Transport Association of Canada technical meetings and conference. Read on for some insights into transportation in Nova Scotia...
Peggy's Cove is a bit of a detour about half way between the airport and Lunenburg, we timed this well, landing at 6am, and arriving there about half an hour before swarms of tourists from tour buses descended on the lighthouse. Anyway, lighthouses count as a transportation infrastructure so here's some lighthouse pictures and the tiny local road leading to it that somehow manages to accommodate huge tour buses. The rocks were more impressive than the lighthouse to be honest, apparently formed by lava erupting below a glacier, hence the smooth appearance.
After that quick stop, we continued to Lunenburg, chosen as our base because it wasn't too far from Halifax, it had a bike shop that did rentals, and whose website provides some ride ideas, and its a UNESCO World Heritage Site for reasons I'd find out later. Check out Lunenburg Bike Shop if you’re in the area, very helpful.
After a short walk and beginning to feel the lack of sleep from the overnight flight, we met the bike shop owner at noon, heading out for our first ride, we immediately felt more awake, surprising how a bike ride can wake you up, at least until you stop and sit down. This was my first time on drop bars since I was around 10, I was keen to try something different, the different hand positions were welcome, the cable disc brakes less so, having to get down on the drops to to put any power into them was frustrating.
We did three rides from Lunenburg, the first a short ride out to Blue Rocks which funnily enough are rocks that are blueish in colour. There's a nice little store at the end here and the coffee ice cream was refreshing and at least in my mind would have enough caffeine to keep me awake. The route is on road the whole way, with about a half metre shoulder. Most drivers gave us space when passing, many changing lane to pass. But it only takes one close pass to discourage a less confident cyclist from using the road. Nova Scotia does have a 1 metre passing law. My thoughts on this, are that's fine at 30 km/h, less so at 80 km/h. The law, all signage, and guidance for drivers needs to just default to change lanes to pass.
The second day we took the Rum Runners Trail to Chester, this was a much less stressful ride along an old railway bed, gravel the whole way, except at road crossings and bridges. The road crossings vary, none appear to have any crossing markings, a few major ones have some signage, and some had questionable sight lines that could really benefit from some crossing lights. Interestingly the trail has a 20 km/h speed limit, presumably intended more for ATV's of which we saw one.
Our third and final ride was down the coast to Hirtle's Beach, this again was all on road, and a bit of a busier road than the first ride with no shoulder. Again, most drivers changed lanes to pass which was welcome, others didn't which is uncomfortable, the beach at the end was nice to stop at and we watched Dolphins playing in the distance. Loved the sign about Google Maps being wrong!
Back in Lunenburg, whats the UNESCO rating all about? Lunenburg is apparently the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. “Established in 1753, it has retained its original layout and overall appearance, based on a rectangular grid pattern drawn up in the home country. The inhabitants have managed to safeguard the city's identity throughout the centuries by preserving the wooden architecture of the houses, some of which date from the 18th century.“
So there you go, a small block grid layout that is still the preferred street configuration today... sort of... This town was developed well before the time of the automobile, unfortunately, to accommodate the storage of them, it seems they have converted many of the streets to one-way. I assume that was not the original configuration. It's a little frustrating when you don't know the town well having to figure out which streets to zig-zag through to lead you out of town. Restricting parking to one side and maintaining two-way traffic would be simpler, and realise the benefits of the grid pattern which should allow for easy navigation.
Crosswalk flags... I’ve seen these online before, but this was the first time seeing them in person. And per my previous views, it just seems ridiculous to have to wave a high-vis flag just to cross the street. Surely the drivers of Lunenburg aren’t so inconsiderate or have such poor vision that we need to wave a flag in front like we’re representing our country at the olympics. I later came across them in Dartmouth and Halifax, so not just small town Lunenburg. Turns out they are provided by the Crosswalk Safety Society, and not by the cities, who from my probing are not fans of them. They simply send the wrong message, you might as well make them white flags and fully surrender to the automobile. Maybe those I spoke with are not representative of public opinion, but they tend to suggest a lack of safety rather than help. In my time I didn’t see a single person use them. Now are special crosswalks (those with lights above) or rapid flashing beacons any better? They do the same job, but the act of having to wave a flag is very different than pushing a button. I also saw the flags at a number of special crosswalks in Dartmouth on the way back to the airport. Unnecessary.
On our one free day in Halifax, we took the passenger ferry over to Dartmouth. To get on the ferry, we needed cash, the exact cash to buy our ticket, which used a punched paper ticket to identify the day, date and time of purchase. No electronic payments here. The ferry itself was fantastic, a small two level vessel with an open deck. The SeaBus in Vancouver could learn a thing or two here. Why don’t we have an open top SeaBus? Anyone know? It made for a nice ride especially with the good weather.
From there we took a walk around a couple of lakes on multi-use paths. A nice departure from the urban. Question: are lakes in New Scotland lochs?
Walking back, we came across the “Bicycle Awareness” sign below. What about Bicycle Awareness? How about just “Change Lanes to Pass” or some worthwhile guidance for drivers?
Heading back to the ferry, I came across a nice bike rack with planter addition and a dolphin bike rack I can add to my Lobster one from PEI.
We then headed down to Point Pleasant Park, a very nice park at the south end of the Halifax peninsula, here it’s a weekend bike route. never seen that sign before. Not quite sure what it means, surely it’s busier at the weekend? Maybe it’s one way at the weekend? I’m not really sure, but nice park!
Heading back, and looking up a side road, I caught flashes of green paint at the far end of the block. Must be some bicycle infrastructure there. I’d found Halifax’s first curb protected bike lane and got a sneak peak before the bicycle tour I was due to go on the next day. Some things that occurred to me, it seemed narrow, measuring one pace (approximately 1 metre) from lip of gutter to white line, and at transit stops the buses load and unload directly into the bike lane. The concrete barriers are precast for quick and relatively low cost installation with drainage channels to allow storm water to reach existing curb and gutter.
I learned later on the bike tour, that the distance from curb protection island to existing curb is a minimum 1.7m, sufficient for a sweeping or snow clearing vehicle to access it. My initial thought was that passing would be difficult, which was confirmed on the bike tour, testing this with another member of the tour, his natural position was centre of the lane, however there was just enough space for him to move over and me to pass, but the following cyclist would be required to communicate their intent rather than just pass had the facility been wider. Not ideal, but still better than painted lanes and often the reality when a project is compromised by budget and requirement to maintain existing curb. An alternate solution might have been a bi-directional design that would allow easier passing, but that brings other issues with it.
Parking was also removed in places and retained in others. The constrained design applies to the transit stops too, while best practice is to take the bike lane around the back of the transit stop, maintaining curbs means that’s not possible. This will result in occasional inconvenience for some cyclists if they pass while a bus is at the stop. It becomes a bigger issue where bus volumes, or indeed cyclist volumes are higher. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see how drainage functioned with the bus stop curb extension platform. Some had trench drains added behind the new raised section. Also, it should be noted there is a sign prior to tell cyclists to yield to pedestrians.
On the bike tour, while some of it was on regular roads with no bike facilities it was a great example that there is safety in numbers, when you’re in a group of 20+ cyclists, it felt very safe, and we looked like a moving demonstration of Dutch levels of ridership.
The painted bike lanes, many of which will be upgraded to protected facilities in time, were a great example of the pitfalls of such designs, with cars frequently parked in them, forcing us out into the vehicle lanes, still safety in numbers made this comfortable. Apparently $25 million in funding has just been approved to expand the network of protected facilities, and should go a long way to expanding the AAA bike network.
Elsewhere on the tour we explored a new neighbourhood bikeway where there’s an interesting signage only traffic diverter. Early monitoring indicated about 90% of vehicles were complying with the restriction and it has significantly reduced traffic volumes along the corridor. I still think its better to provide a physical diverter that it isn't possible to drive around, I see a small diverter regularly driven around on my regular commute. The City continues to monitor and will adjust if necessary should compliance drop.
Onto the complete street walking tour. We began of course on Argyle Street, the relatively new shared street where the design blurs the line between pedestrian space and vehicle space. Is it a Woonerf? Taking the Wikipedia definition “A woonerf is a living street, as originally implemented in the Netherlands and in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium. Techniques include shared space, traffic calming, and low speed limits. Under Article 44 of the Dutch traffic code, motorised traffic in a woonerf is restricted to walking pace“. Well we definitely have shared space, not much traffic calming, and the speed limit is technically still 50 km/h. Average speeds are 20 km/h, 85th percentile 26 km/h, so by design, vehicles are driving much lower than the speed limit, but not quite walking pace which would be about 5 km/h.
There’s lots of interesting things going on along the street through, as I said there is a somewhat defined vehicle path, and this is done with dark tactile tiles to separate the pedestrian and vehicle areas. The difference then between a normal street and this street is that pedestrians are free to walk wherever they like, however they are still encouraged to stay to the sides and vehicle traffic at times is high enough to make this preferable. But no accusations of jaywalking here, pedestrians are free to walk and cross where they like. The lack of curbs helps create this shared space feel, but this also can lead to drivers parking where they shouldn’t.
Street trees are done differently on each side, on one side they appear from small gaps in the pavers, with soil cells underneath providing sufficient soil volume and reducing disruption to the pavers from growing roots. Nevertheless, disturbed pavers are already appearing, while these initial maintenance issues will be dealt with under warranty, long term there will be maintenance requirements for the City.
When I posted some pictures to twitter, someone raised an interesting point about the use of pavers and the reduction in comfort for those in wheelchairs, of course it’s worse where pavers are disturbed, but even when perfectly maintained, the joints create noticeable feedback, having no experience, but I’d guess like comparing a troweled edge joint in a regular sidewalk with a saw-cut joint. A small detail that could make the street less pleasant for some. These issues below will be fixed under warranty, but it does create an ongoing maintenance requirement.
Parking is allowed on one side of the street, at times the wall of cars somewhat ruins the appeal of the street, dominating the streetscape.
Sometimes the lack of curb leads to parking where it's not permitted. Of course, in old Scotland, a simple curb is no deterrent to parking on the sidewalk.
At the weekends over the summer and for special occasions the street is closed to all traffic, making it much more pleasant and allowing pedestrians to move freely through the space.
An interesting trial project or tactical urbanism was a buslet or stoplet, which took its name from alternate use of parking spaces, typically called parklets. In this instance, rather than repurposing a parking space, the wooden curb extensions takes up the space where a bus would typically pull out of the travel lane to load and unload, allowing traffic to move past. This creates issues for the bus pulling back out into traffic, stopping in the lane means the bus holds up traffic, but leaves without delay, prioritizing the travel of the many people on the bus rather than the few in the cars behind. It also has the added benefit of providing more sidewalk space for pedestrians, and space to wait without blocking the limited sidewalk.
I'll leave you with a few more images from the Halifax waterfront...
And finally, Halifax street lights, go home, you're drunk... and far drunker than any streetlights i've ever seen in old Scotland!
All my images have been added to a new Nova Scotia album on flickr.