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Tristan Cleveland is an urban planner who has also worked in Montreal, Guyana and Venezuela. Cleveland grew up in the south shore of Nova Scotia and has been an advocate for sustainable planning in Halifax since 2012.

Tristan Cleveland: Let’s get this right and fix the backbone of the new Halifax Transit plan

Metro columnist Tristan Cleveland argues Halifax Transit should slow down and enlist expert help to create a transit plan that actually works for commuters.

Jeff Harper / Metro

Last year, Auckland New Zealand increased their bus ridership by 20 per cent. How did they achieve such a huge bump? Massive piles of money? A new subway?

No, they just redesigned their network to make better use of the buses they already had.

That’s what Moving Forward Together, Halifax’s new bus plan, was supposed to do. It didn’t.

To understand the problem, consider Barrington Street. So many buses drive up it per day that if you spaced them out, one would come every three minutes or more. They serve so many different routes, however, that you can still wait twenty minutes to catch the one you need.

The overlapping routes are wasteful and so complex that maps are near impossible to read. People without smartphone data have no easy way to figure out which bus to take.

The new plan has 10 high-frequency corridor routes and six of them will funnel down Barrington Street. Another nine local and peak routes will also ply the street. That means perhaps even more buses will be crammed into that one poor street while routes elsewhere will still have too few buses to make transit convenient.

The trouble is, our planners were too afraid to disrupt how people currently use the system and didn’t focus on how they — and potential new riders — would benefit from a fundamentally different system. With this approach, mediocrity was inevitable.

While the Moving Forward Together Plan was adopted in April, Council at the time asked staff to consider multiple options to improve it. This week, our planners are telling council that no changes should be made. This is unacceptable.

So where do we go from here? We should at least fix the corridor routes. Imagine if you could easily memorize a network of 10 routes that go to every major destination in the city; 10 routes on which buses come every 10 minutes all day, every day. Everything else we can fix or adjust over time, but to achieve the sense of freedom of being able to get anywhere in the city fast, we have to get the corridors right.

It is time we bring in the kind of outside expert who has successfully implemented such corridors in cities around the world.

There is no sense asking the public to relearn the system, and spending huge amounts to change routes, if it won’t bring the improvements we need.

There’s no point in rushing towards a mistake. Let’s get this right.

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