The Windsor Street exchange may be redeveloped. Some say the plan in place will fail

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Halifax council to review new Windsor Street Exchange design
A new design for the Windsor Street Exchange project will be presented to Halifax councillors on Tuesday. A redevelopment has been years in the making, But now, several transportation activist groups are voicing frustrations regarding a design proposal for the busy access point into Halifax's downtown core. Amber Fryday explains. – Jun 17, 2024

Several active transportation groups are voicing frustrations regarding a new redevelopment design for a busy access point into Halifax’s downtown core.

After more than a year of gathering recommendations following a study commissioned in early 2023,  a new design for the Windsor Street Exchange project, which was first approved in 2019, will finally be presented to Halifax councillors on Tuesday.

In a joint statement from More Than Buses, Walk ‘n Roll Halifax and the Halifax Cycling Coalition, the groups said “failure is guaranteed” if council adopts the new design, citing a lack of prioritization of walking, rolling, cycling and transit. The groups said the new design was presented to their members on May 30.

“We need a design that looks forward to the 21st century rather than one firmly rooted in the thinking of the last century,” the statement read, urging councillors to reject the current design and send it back to the drawing board.

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The group’s statement said the new plan neglects to prioritize dedicated bus lanes, sidewalks and cycleways, making it difficult to use the exchange without relying on private vehicle transportation — adding to continued traffic congestion and environmental concerns.

“The proposed design will, at best, provide a temporary reduction in congestion for cars which will quickly evaporate through induced demand and population growth,” the release read, adding that the new plan doesn’t adequately address Halifax’s anticipated population growth.

The new Windsor Street Exchange staff report does not include plans for introducing separated bike lanes or wide sidewalks.

David Trueman, of the Halifax Cycling Coalition, said traffic will be stuck in gridlock “all the time” if the municipality isn’t capable of designing roads that allow for other forms of transportation.

“We believe that councillors should be following their own strategies and policies which put walking, cycling, and transit ahead of cars in priority,” he said, adding that the current design proposal does “nothing of that sort.”

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“When you do major construction like this, it’s going to last for 50 years. So, we’re clearly not planning for the future if we’re planning to just do the same as we’ve done for all the decades past.”

A project years in the making

According to a Halifax Regional Municipality summary, the Windsor Street Exchange redevelopment will include a redesign of the intersection of Bedford Highway, Windsor Street and Lady Hammond Road. The exchange is one of five access points to the Halifax peninsula.

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“The Windsor Street Exchange is currently operating above its available capacity during peak travel period,” a project overview read, adding that about 110,000 vehicles travel throughout the project area daily. In comparison, about 48,000 cars cross the intersection on Windsor Street alone.

“The goals of the project are to add active transportation connections and transit priority measures through the intersection, improve the movement of vehicles and goods through the area, and improve the safety for all road users.”

The latest report indicates that the redevelopment will generate a 12 per cent increase in vehicle throughput during the day — potentially reducing traffic by about 46 per cent in the morning based on a projected 2031 traffic demand.

The new design area has since expanded to include Joseph Howe Drive, roads surrounding the MacKay Bridge and a larger portion of the Bedford Highway.

In an attempt to reduce traffic congestion, staff recommended both the inbound and outbound exit ramps from Bedford Highway to Joseph Howe Drive be upgraded to two lanes. The report indicated that one of the inbound lanes will be a transit-only lane for buses headed toward the Bedford Highway.

Staff also noted that the proposed ramp intersection from Joseph Howe Drive to the Windsor Street Exchange and Bedford Highway would include traffic signals to better control traffic flow and provide a “safer crossing for people walking, rolling and cycling.”

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Municipal staff said the revised redevelopment plan added “transit priority measures,” including new designated bus lanes, that are anticipated to reduce transit delays by about two minutes during peak traffic periods.

Another design element allows traffic exiting the Mackay Bridge to avoid intersections.

“Traffic exiting the MacKay Bridge will be able to choose to stay in the free-flowing traffic lanes direct to the Bedford Highway and Joseph Howe Drive exit ramp, or exit to Bayne Street to make connections towards Windsor Street and Lady Hammond Road,” the report read, adding that nearby Bayne Street will be upgraded to accommodate traffic.

“Traffic signals would be added on Bayne Street at the intersections with Mackintosh Street and the new underpass connection.”

The plan aims to reduce traffic congestion and improve road safety, according to a section summarizing road design features in the report.

The municipality, in collaboration with the province and the Port of Halifax, submitted an initial redevelopment proposal to Transport Canada five years ago.

Following that, two design options were developed following reviews of conditions, future transportation and land uses in the vicinity, and public feedback.

As a result, the project team launched a “value engineering study” that would assess the two previous options and identify any viable alternatives before coming to a conclusion.

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The study, conducted in early spring 2023, has gathered its final recommendations ahead of a staff report that will be presented to Halifax regional council on Tuesday.

The redevelopment is now projected to come with a $103,865,000 price tag — which is to be split among the federal, provincial and municipal governments, along with the Port of Halifax. The Halifax Regional Municipality is expected to cover 65 per cent of the cost.

If the new plan is approved, construction will begin in 2025.

— with files from Amber Fryday

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