Robie Street Widening – Citizens to HRM: “Don’t Wreck the Neighbourhood, there are better options!”

Citizens living in the Robie Street neighbourhood between Cunard and North Street oppose HRM’s plans to expropriate private land to widen the Street.  Thanks to the many who wrote or presented at the HRM Regional Centre Community Council’s  December 14 public hearing in Dartmouth.  Widening will result in as many as 18 buildings being demolished and at least as many beautiful mature trees – most are Elm.  A simple, cheaper solution to create bus lanes would be overhead bi-directional signals (like on Chebucto, the MacDonald Bridge or Toronto’s Jarvis Street).  Why not plan to keep the character, community and health of the city?

Overhead bi-directional signals like Chebucto Road would reallocate existing road space for bus lanes based on the time of day. (Photo: Bob Murphy, CBC)

The road widening will destroy the few lovely blocks along Robie that make it work as a neighbourhood. The slight slowing down of traffic for the four blocks is an asset as it helps keep pedestrians safe from dangerous speeding.

The proposed Robie Street widening will impact ~18 properties (red). When added to previous demolitions (purple) the total is ~90. Many irreplaceable mature trees will be cut or are at risk. This image is approximate as HRM has not provided design details.
Orientation : left is north and right is south
Top Image: Almon Street to May St
Bottom image: May St to Cunard St.

HRM claims it has done a lot of public engagement about its plan to expropriate private land to widen Robie Street (1) but many residents are unaware of the expropriation. 

One example is the First Nations housing community that did not know of the Plan and was not consulted on it. The land expropriation will directly or indirectly impact four multi-unit buildings they own.

The expropriation will also directly or indirectly impact 6-8 housing co-ops and 2 youth shelters. 

“I’ve lived on Charles Street for over 35 years and I have not been made aware of any neighbourhood consultations concerning this plan to expropriate land to widen Robie,” said area resident and musician Mike Cowie.   

“I’ve been paying attention, so to find out at the last minute there is a plan to expropriate land, widen the Street and destroy the buildings, small businesses and beautiful trees is just plain wrong. The corridor designation has already resulted in three multi-unit buildings next to me being slated for demolition,” concludes Cowie.

HRM says the expropriation is to add bus lanes. That might sound sensible but it isn’t. Here’s why— road widening results in something called ‘induced capacity’ —that means there’ll be more vehicles, congestion, speed, and less safety. Its proven. 

Peter Zimmer, a long-time resident, transportation activist and chair of the Halifax Cycling Coalition a volunteer group advocating for urban cycling confirms this, “Its like loosening your belt to go on a diet.”
A recent NYT article details why the costly widening of roads fails.

Zimmer worries HRM’s plan to expropriate land to widen Robie is an idea left over from the last century. “Robie Street is already busy and noisy. But the section from Charles to North St is human-scale with buildings and trees on both sides. That make vehicles slow down. That keeps it safer.”  

Area resident Howard Epstein said, “We’ve made multiple attempts including petitions, presentations and letters to address existing problems with the Robie Street Corridor, but this is the first we’ve heard of a plan to expropriate land to increase the street’s capacity.” 

The former Halifax Councillor, MLA, and Dalhousie Professor of Planning said, “Road widening is not necessary or inline with prioritizing public transportation. A simple solution is overhead bidirectional lights.”

Case 24540 Robie Street Transportation Reserve Minimum Setbacks and Regional Centre Land Use By-law Housekeeping Amendment [PDF] An HRM staff report states that “Extensive community engagement was undertaken during the Regional Centre Package A and Package B planning processes. Public input was also solicited though the case website but no comments were received.”