News / Halifax

Tristan Cleveland: We have too many roads in Halifax and it's costing us

Metro's columnist says in some parts of HRM there's been more growth in roads than actual people.

Road work in HRM is shown.

Metro file photo

Road work in HRM is shown.

Here’s a principle we can all agree on. If you have to pay for a massive restaurant bill, better to have 10 people split it than just you.

In Halifax, however, our restaurant bill is growing faster than the number of people paying for it, and that’s a problem.

The basic, physical operating cost of a city depends, first and foremost, on the amount of roads we have. The more roads there are, the more it costs to maintain them, clear snow, pick up garbage, make sure we can put out fires in time, or provide just about any service homes need.

That’s why it’s a problem that in Glen Arbour and Kingswood subdivisions, there are three to five times more roads per person than just about anywhere else in the city.

I just presented research with urban planner Paul Dec at Canada’s national planning conference, and for all the of the nine cities across the country we analyzed, these are some of the most costly, inefficient non-rural neighbourhoods we saw.

Actually, over the last 20 years, 11 areas of Halifax (census tracts) grew in population and yet added more roads than they added people. On a restaurant bill we’re all splitting, they showed up and ordered scotch and filet-mignon.

But maybe the nice homes in places like Glen Arbour are paying so much in property tax, they’re paying a bigger cut of the bill.

Nope. We used property assessment data to estimate the residential tax revenue for each neighbourhood, and it’s quite the opposite. Shockingly, we found there’s a direct, systematic relationship between places costing more to service, and paying less in taxes. The more filet-mignon dinner guests order, the less they chip in to pay for it.

Meanwhile, our frugal dinner guests who were here from the start are paying the bill for these new big eaters.

Older areas of Bedford, Clayton Park, Dartmouth, Fairview, and north and south end Halifax are all chipping in a far greater surplus above what their roads cost to maintain and plow. Yet, in some of these areas, households earn much less.

A sidewalk plow clears a path after an overnight storm on Wednesday. (Jeff Harper/Metro)

Metro file photo

A sidewalk plow clears a path after an overnight storm on Wednesday. (Jeff Harper/Metro)

Overall, the road length per person for Halifax’s urban and suburban area has gone up 5 per cent over the last 20 years. Instead of growth making us all wealthier, it’s costing us all more.

Guys, we need to get our road length per person down. I hope this goal will lead to more productive conversations than density, which too often makes people picture huge towers or rats being crammed together. In contrast, I think we can all agree that we’d like to keep our restaurant bill low while splitting it among more people. Fundamentally, that’s how we lower taxes.

And there’s a lot of ways we can do it that will just make our city a better place to live. Anytime we build developments on existing roads, we reduce our road length per person. Currently, we aim to have about 40 per cent of development in the regional centre. Outside of it, we need to grow as much as possible in places like Lower Sackville, Bedford, Spryfield, and Clayton Park, where growth can also make local businesses and transit more successful.

How much of the road in front of your house do you, personally, want to pay for? If less is better, let’s get that number down.

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