Halifax and its wish list to get more people downtown. Parking not included – Halifax

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Dozens of people gathered along the Halifax Waterfront on Wednesday to hear the Downtown Halifax Business Commission’s new pitch for improving the city’s core. As several crucial ideas were discussed, one issue of great importance to some residents was not addressed.

The unveiling of the committee’s report, entitled “Vision 2030”was built as a result of consultation with urban experts, policy makers and the general public.

The document contains 17 recommendations under four main pillars: improving accessibility to the port, neighborhoods, entertainment and transport. The report did not include plans to expand parking.

The pitch included several recommendations to improve Halifax’s public transportation issues. Some priorities included developing a bus rapid transit system for downtown routes, designing for pedestrian-first streets, and establishing a complete network of protected bike lanes.

The “Vision 2030” field included recommendations for improving transportation in downtown Halifax.

Skye Bryden-Blom

Paul MacKinnon, CEO of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, said Halifax needs an improved transportation system to properly accommodate a rapidly growing city.

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“That’s something that came up across all of our stakeholder groups,” he said. “There is still room for cars coming into the city center, but we really need to be able to move more people much easier and faster. That is a major investment and it needs to be done in a city of our size.”

Mackinnon said there are already plenty of parking options in downtown Halifax.

“Parking is not really the future of the city center. We need to create a lot more excitement, a lot more reasons for people to come here, and make it easier for them to get here in a (different) way than always by car.”

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Another suggestion from the proposal is to increase the frequency of the Dartmouth-Halifax ferry service and make it completely free.

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The committee also wants to develop an ‘urban parks strategy’, convert more unused office spaces into homes and develop a permanent outdoor events area.

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Commission board member Joe McGuinness said Halifax should take advantage of its port — which he described as “the city’s best asset.”

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“It’s one of the longest boardwalks in North America. How do we capitalize on this? Whether it’s more frequent ferries, free ferries, more activations of the space we have on the waterfront for events, activities, cruises, sea box, you name it,” he said.

“There is tremendous opportunity in this natural amphitheater that we have here.”

The public is getting involved in the parking debate

Kayode Facimehin, a Halifax resident, said parking in Halifax is stressful and expensive.

“To make it more convenient and accessible, they should ensure there is enough space,” he said. “If you look around you, you see that cars are having a bit of a hard time. Even some will park somewhere and (then) take the bus to the center. The city center is a bit awkward and people really avoid the space.”

He said a lack of parking downtown can make it difficult for newcomers and tourists to navigate, leading to people occasionally avoiding the area altogether.

“Even as a resident, we find it difficult to commute to downtown Halifax,” he said.

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Stephane Tan, who also lives outside downtown Halifax, says she finds the city’s parking situation “too busy.”

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“Every time I come here I try to book my appointments in the middle of the morning because I know if I come in the afternoon or earlier in the morning I won’t be able to get here on time or find a parking spot,” she explained. “Sometimes it took me 30 minutes to find a parking spot, sometimes I got one, but by the time I got to my appointment it was canceled.”

On the contrary, Stephane’s husband John said he doesn’t mind the parking problem.

“I’m not a regular commuter here, so I’m not entirely sure,” he said. “I grew up in Toronto, so it’s even worse there.”

MPs and councilors speak

Halifax councilor Pam Lovelace was in attendance Wednesday. She said the ideas put forward reflect a “shift and change” in the city.

“When we look at how Halifax has changed so dramatically over the past five years, looking ahead to 2030 seems like a small thing, but it is a huge opportunity to work together,” she said.

Lovelace said she hopes the increased development will create opportunities for more people to live and work downtown.

When it comes to parking, Lovelace says it’s an issue every growing city struggles with, but it comes down to people making themselves more aware of available parking.

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“I haven’t had any problems with parking,” she said.

“Honestly, it’s really about knowledge. Understanding where to park, knowing where the parking lot is adjacent to where you need to be, but also being willing to walk or take the bus… I think it’s really about helping people understand how to maneuver around the city.”

Lovelace said she hopes to improve communication to help residents and newcomers better navigate the city.

Applying the vision

Looking ahead, Mackinnon said he doesn’t want to reconsider whether the city is “moving in the right direction” by 2030 — citing recent waterfront development as an approach he hopes to see applied in the greater downtown area.

“This is a good example. This used to be a parking lot,” he said, pointing to the newly developed Queen’s Marque area on the city’s harbor. “This is a great space now. This only happened because of vision and foresight.”

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He said he doesn’t want people to debate whether or not the city will be “more exciting” in the coming years, and he just hopes that downtown Halifax will move in an upward direction.

“We want everyone to agree that it is definitely more exciting, busier and more vibrant. That is really the future we want for downtown Halifax,” he said.

— with files from Skye Bryden-Blom

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