Halifax streets in a hole lot of trouble

As spring arrives, Haligonians are facing an entirely new obstacle on the road.

Halifax has had a late-blooming winter this year and as a result, spring has been postponed indefinitely. Two snowstorms in the middle of March had the city reverting back to a White Juan mentality and reminiscing about simpler, snowless December days. On the plus side, it’s supposed to be 10 degrees on Monday.

As the snow finally begins to melt and layers of ice that have covered the streets since mid-January begin to disappear, Haligonians find themselves facing an entirely new problem — potholes.

The Halifax Regional Municipality website says potholes form when the topmost layer of a street’s asphalt wears away, leaving a sizeable gap to the rest of the asphalt underneath. They tend to pop up near the end of winter and beginning of spring, after the pavement has spent a few months in a freeze/thaw cycle. These dents in the road can be hard to spot and are often unavoidable unless the driver swerves into an oncoming lane.

Like the thick layers of uneven, pavement-warping ice that came before them, potholes have been wreaking havoc on vehicles in the city.

Car trouble

Anna Cormier has seen what potholes can do to a car first-hand. While driving in Halifax, Cormier and a friend hit a pothole off Barrington Street, near Casino Nova Scotia.

“Immediately the air was gone from her tire,” Cormier writes in a Facebook message. “We quickly pulled over and luckily her girlfriend was with us and she knew how to change a tire. So she put on the spare, and everything worked out.”

Other drivers have not been so lucky. In some cases, they haven’t had a spare tire and in others, the damage has been more severe. A new winter tire can cost upwards of $100, depending on the brand and type of car it’s made for.

HRM crews at work

Street crews dispatched by the city are working to remedy the city’s poor road conditions. In 2011, municipal operations acquired an asphalt recycler. The tool gives workers easier access to hot asphalt, which had not been the case during winter months in previous years. Hot asphalt allows for street repairs to be made that are less likely to break up over time.

HRM says pothole repairs are prioritized according to the volume of traffic on a street. Potholes on main streets (such as Agricola, Barrington, Oxford and Robie) that are more than eight centimetres deep are the highest priority. The city aims to fix them within seven business days. The same size potholes on local roads are supposed to be fixed within 30 business days. Potholes less than eight centimetres deep are attended to “as resources permit.”

Concerned city-goers can report potholes via a 311 online service request on the city’s website.

In the meantime, Haligonians can take comfort in the fact that potholes, at least, are a sign of spring.

Excess of summer sublets leaves out-of-town students paying the bills

Students like Tanis Smither, who are on their way out of town for the summer, are having problems finding tenants to sublet their apartments.

Several universities bring more than 17,000 off-campus students to the Halifax area each fall, making this a “student city.” But the population of Halifax changes drastically from mid-April until the end of August, when many students pack their bags to return to their hometowns. Although many of these students live on-campus in residence, a great number rent apartments and rooms from local landlords or homeowners.

When the winter term ends in April, these students are often signed to yearlong contracts and obligated to pay rent for the summer months, even when they don’t plan on staying in Halifax. This creates a problem: there are many more people leaving than arriving, and summer sublets become plentiful, not to mention cheaper than usual.

Tanis Smither is a second-year contemporary studies student at the University of King’s College. She is having trouble finding someone to rent her Halifax apartment for the summer, when she’ll be returning to her native Toronto.

“I started looking mid-February. I put a couple initial ads out just to see what happened, and I didn’t get a lot of responses back,” says Smither.

Smither’s apartment on Pepperell Street is close to downtown and several amenities and is only a five-minute walk from Dalhousie’s main campus.

Many students have resorted to what Dalhousie Off-Campus Housing supervisor Sherri Slate calls “rent incentives,” or small discounts and add-ins for subletters.

“Those rental incentives may be that they’ll charge, let’s say $400 a month, and they don’t have to pay heat and hot water, or cable and Internet are included, or they may offer actual rent discounts. The more of those incentives that are included, the quicker the place is rented,” Slate says.

Smither has decided her $530 rent per month is negotiable. Her apartment includes utilities and comes furnished. Several of her nine other roommates are also looking for subletters and have had similar problems. Smither says she is getting desperate.

“Hopefully, it’s a student because I’m sure they would fit with the demographic of the house better, but at this point if anybody in the world wants to sublet my apartment it would be fantastic, I’d be open to it,” says Smither.

Smither says several people have inquired about or even come to look at her place, but they have all found other apartments in the end. She has begun to advertise the room online, on websites like Kijiji and Craigslist, through Facebook groups, and EasyRoommate.com.

photo 2
Several students are advertising by hanging posters around Dalhousie’s campus. (Photo: Victoria Walton)

The Dalhousie Off-Campus Living website uses a third-party service, Places4Students, to help students find housing opportunities. Dalhousie’s is free, and Smither says she would use other private services if not for the fees.

“The only reason I haven’t been considering them is because I can’t afford it, I just can’t on my student budget,” she says.

Yasch Neufeld is a rental manager and co-founder of SubletSeeker.com, a similar housing service specifically targeting student sublets. The Halifax startup launched last year and Neufeld says they are seeing even more business in 2015.

“A lot of people, especially at the time you’re looking for subletters, you end up being busy with exams or sometimes you just get unlucky,” Neufeld says, “so we offer a premium service as well where we’ll actually do the work for you.”

SubletSeeker will do everything from photographing your apartment and listing it online, to finding people who are interested and performing reference checks. The fee to use these services is a commission, usually between five to ten percent of the cost of rent. SubletSeeker also has a free section for anyone to use to advertise independently.

Although there are no guarantees, Neufeld says his service has already set up about 10 renters with apartments this season. Neufeld suggests students “get as much information on who you’re subletting to as possible,” to prevent them backing out or not paying rent.

“Call previous landlords of anyone who’s looking to sublet, collect a security deposit, and get them to sign the sublease right away. Those three things will generally lock somebody in,” Neufeld says.

Slate warns that landlords still have the final say on anyone looking to sublet, and that the sublease agreements must be the same as the original lease.

Slate’s Off-Campus Housing office caters to students seeking general housing resources, everything from legal advice to moving companies to listing rentals. She thinks it’s important these resources are available. “All of our faculty, student or staff are entitled to post an ad for free once every year,” says Slate.

Slate and Neufeld agree there is an excess of sublets in the summer months, and that not everyone can find someone to take over their lease.

Although frustrated, Smither realizes she might not find a tenant. “There’s not really much I can do, my hands are kind of tied because I signed a contract,” she says.

Smither plans to live rent-free at home in Toronto and work full time so she can afford to pay rent and save for tuition next year.

“I guess it’s not going to be the end of the world if I don’t find a subletter, it’s just going to set me back a couple thousand dollars.”

Halifax prepares for the snow to melt

The Halifax Regional Municipality continues to clean up the piles of snow that surround the streets and are now preparing for a risk of excess water once temperatures start to rise.

Halifax has been hit with 111.3cm of snow and 121.7cm of precipitation in the month of March alone, according to Environment Canada. The question now is what will happen when all that snow melts.

“We’ve been working really hard over the last week especially to open up catch basins, those are the drains, in the areas that we know always have [flooding] problems,” Jennifer Stairs, a spokeswoman for HRM, said Wednesday.

catch basin
Cleared catch basin on the corner of Walnut street and Shirley street. (Photo by: Erin McIntosh)

Although the amount of snow is not a record breaking amount, the impact has been overwhelming and a lot of people have been comparing it to White Juan that happened February 2004.

Snow lines the streets in heaps reaching heights of two metres or higher and once temperatures start to rise, and rain begins to fall, all that snow will turn to water, possibly swamping our streets.

“We have essentially a list of about 200 hot spots around the city where, particularly last month, we saw issues, so we wanted to make sure that those were opened up before we got any rain,” Stairs said.

According to Environment Canada, Halifax Metro and Halifax County West is expecting another 20-40 millimetres of rain over the next two days, and rising temperatures throughout the rest of the week.

Homeowner Gail tries to shovel snow onto the road before the rain hits. (Photo by: Erin McIntosh)
Gail, a homeowner tries to shovel snow onto the road before heavy rain hits. (Photo by: Erin McIntosh)

“Knock on wood I haven’t [experienced flooding] this winter, however I expect a big rain tonight so I’m trying to get the snow on the roads so it’ll go that way down to the drain,” said Gail, a homeowner on Walnut Street in the south-end, Halifax, who didn’t want her last name published.

“We often see water on the roads at Bedford Highway. Waverley Road has some problems spots, but I mean every community has its known area,” Stairs said.

“I hesitate to use the word flooding because we’ve had issues where we’ve had deep water on some of the roads. We saw that on several occasions last month in particular and it’s happened every year. It’s not something uncommon or unusual.”

The city has been enforcing overnight parking bans on declared snow and ice days, that started Dec. 15 and will run until March 31. During the day time, police are closing off sections of roads for snow removal. Residents are being asked to help out the city with shoveling and clearing drains when possible.

The HRM has also been asking residents who know where their catch basins are located in their neighbourhood to help clear them out. It will help residents and surrounding neighbours both with the melting snow and with any rain Halifax is expecting in the next couple of days, but it’s not a task some residents are prepared to take on.

“I’m barely keeping up now with the shovelling. I would be willing to [clear catch basins] if I could get ahold of my own shovelling first,” said Gail.

In the meantime, the city continues to clear snow from the roads and sidewalks. Stairs said the city is dumping truckloads of snow in big open fields, but wouldn’t say where. Contrary to rumours, snow is not being dumped in the harbour.

 

HRM prepares for changes to curbside garbage collection

Halifax Regional Municipality spreads the word about changes to curb side garbage collection and enforcing the use of clear garbage bags for residences beginning in August.

The Halifax Regional Municipality spreads the word about changes to curbside garbage collection to enforce the use of clear garbage bags for residences on Aug. 1.

Single-unit residents will be required to place their garbage in a maximum of six clear garbage bags, only one of which can be black or private.

For multi-unit buildings a maximum of four clear garbage bags may be placed on the curb for pickup. Of those four only one can be black.

Garbage bags will still be able to be placed in standard sized garbage cans for storage and privacy.

Matthew Keliher, acting manager of Halifax’s solid waste division, said HRM is in the process of a public education campaign using print, radio, and digital advertising.

“Over 140,000 residences have been mailed pamphlets explaining what’s new and when it will take effect,” he said.

The decision to switch to clear bags was done to improve the accuracy of garbage pickup, Keliher said. “When curbside garbage is picked up, garbage collectors can see what items are being thrown away and prevent the disposal of any banned items.”

Shannon Betts, a waste resource analyst for HRM, said that the use of clear garbage bags would also promote proper recycling habits.

“Waste audits conducted over the past few years show that approximately half of the material arriving at our landfill should have been recycled or composted,” said Betts.

As a part of the public education campaign, retail outlets are in the process of changing their stock to include a variety of clear bags. There has been a six-month advanced notice of the changes, and Halifax solid waste staff has been working closely with bag manufacturers.

Keliher said residents would be responsible for proper sorting of garbage. “Items that don’t belong will be ticketed and not taken by garbage collectors,” he said.

How Halifax copes with a wild winter

Driving, walking, bus transit — a look at transportation in Halifax during the winter months

This winter has been an unpredictable one for Halifax. How do you get to where you’re going when sidewalks and streets are caked in snow and ice? Whether it’s driving your car, walking or taking a bus, Haligonians face issues with mobility every winter season; however, this year has been significantly worse.

Driving

Joel Barkhouse, a security guard at Casino Nova Scotia on Upper Water Street works night shifts from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. He says he struggles to park his car for work during the winter months because of the overnight parking bans.

Parking bans are enforced in Halifax only during declared snow and ice events from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. Those who violate the ban are either ticketed or have their vehicle towed.

Meters on College St. covered with snow from Sunday's storm. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
Meters on College St. covered with snow from Sunday’s storm. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

“Since the meters stop after 6 p.m. and start at 6 a.m. I usually don’t have to pay for parking. But since the parking ban, I have to park in the parkade. It’s $3.75 but it all adds up since this winter has had so many storms,” says Barkhouse.

Jennifer Stairs, a spokeswoman for the Halifax Regional Municipality, says so far this season, the municipality has enforced the overnight parking ban a total of 33 times, including the ban overnight on Monday.

Stairs said in an email that the city has towed 63 vehicles that were in violation of the ban. To compare, in 2013-14 the overnight parking ban was enforced a total of 14 times during the entire season and the city towed 33 vehicles.

Car buried in snow late Sunday evening. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
Car buried in snow late Sunday evening. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Barkhouse holds out his hands with two bandages on them. Recently, he fell on an icy sidewalk as he went to work, resulting in cuts on his hands and bruises on his shins.

He says even when the ban is not in effect he finds it challenging to park in front of meters because of the road conditions and high snowbanks.

“I feel like the city should do a better job removing snow on roads, every lane is like cut in half. When you’re driving it’s almost like a one-way street you’re sharing with oncoming traffic.”

Darin Borgel, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, told Metro News the storm that hit Halifax on Sunday was one of the worst the city has experienced this winter season.

Sunday’s storm began late Saturday evening with snow then ended with ice pellets and freezing rain. The storm brought gusts of wind 90 km/h coating Atlantic Canada with as much as 59 centimetres of snow.

In 2013, HRM appointed performance-based contractors to provide sidewalk snow and ice removal for all sidewalks in the region. Residents were no longer responsible for clearing sidewalks close to their properties.

For the first time, Halifax, Spryfield and Armdale would see their sidewalks cleared like other neighbourhoods.

The change in 2013 added another 200 kilometres of sidewalks to clearing operations, bringing the total to almost 1,000 kilometres of sidewalks that the city is responsible for.

HRM set service standards stating the clearing of snow and ice should occur within 12 to 36 hours after snowfall based on street priority levels. The rapid weather changing conditions have made it challenging to remove snow and ice this year.

Salt and sand are applied to sidewalks to create a degree of traction; however, the issue lies beneath the surface of snow. Thick layers of ice have formed on city sidewalks.

According to the Halifax Regional Municipality’s website, during the month of February the municipality received more than 10,000 calls to the 311 phone number regarding snow and ice removal—a 700 per cent increase in calls over the same period last year.

Walking

Davita Harris, student at the University of King’s College, says she thinks HRM made a mistake making snow removal the responsibility of contractors rather than tenants.

“There are endless sidewalks in Halifax and with constant snowfall, it’s hard to stay on top of the problem. I’m empathetic to the people in charge of snow removal; it’s not their fault that it’s too much this winter. It’s an abnormal winter,” says Harris.

Davita Harris stands beside a snowbank on Dalhousie campus. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
Davita Harris stands beside a snowbank on Dalhousie campus. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Harris says, with storms hitting almost every week, she feels there hasn’t been enough chances to enjoy snowy activities this year.

“With erratic temperatures there has been so much ice and slush, and that’s brought my enthusiasm about it (winter) down to record lows,” she says.

According to the Government of Canada website, the coldest month of the year in Halifax is January with an average low of -10.7 degrees Celsius.

Harris says she travels by bus transit to avoid the sidewalks and hasn’t encountered many problems with getting to school.

“I won’t be sad to see sidewalks again! I think we have all had our fill of winter this year,” she says.

Bus transit

Josh Weatherbey, a student at Mount Saint Vincent, sits on his boyfriend’s couch taking off his hat and backpack, his ears and nose a rosy pink. He took the bus, and it was late.

Weatherbey says public transit is his only way around Halifax, with the exception of his friends’ cars sometimes.

He says winter transit in Halifax only differs from other seasons because buses are frequently late. Weatherbey doesn’t like waiting for buses when it’s cold and fears for his safety as a passenger during winter months.

“I’m always a little nervous that you might end up swerving or tipping when making fast turns. Winter tires should be added to buses, especially with all these snowstorms we frequently have,” he says.

The No. 90 Metro Transit bus drives down Robie St. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
The no. 90 Metro Transit bus drives down Robie St. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Halifax Transit uses aggressive tread all-season tires designed by Michelin. Jennifer Stairs says the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board ensures that Halifax Transit is following the regulations and legislative requirements that ensure the safety of vehicles, including tires.

Stairs says the board inspects HRM transit vehicles twice a year and follows the provincial Motor Carrier Act, which sets out the regulations around tires for transit.

“Like we saw this past weekend, on-duty supervisors implement this plan after assessing the weather and road conditions. With Sunday’s storm, we saw high winds and blowing snow, which meant poor visibility for drivers,” says Stairs.

As a result, of Sunday’s storm the buses went on a service pause for about an hour, where they pulled off the road until conditions improved. Once they were back in service, many routes operated on the snow plan to detour around icy or poorly cleared areas. This is regular practice during bad conditions.

Environment Canada issued a statement Monday warning a potential snowfall event for late Tuesday and Wednesday.

What now?

While most of the Maritimes is still recovering from Sunday’s storm, if you’re planning to travel in the peninsula area, stay alert for weather warnings and always be prepared for harsh road and sidewalk conditions.

What mode of transportation will you trust to get you where you need to go safely?

Barrington Street is getting revamped

Major reconstruction plans will be taking place during the next couple years on Barrington Street, including a paved road, new sidewalks, painted street lamps, and a handful of new businesses expected to open.

Barrington Street is getting a massive facelift. Within the next couple years, it should be a clean, rehabilitated, popular destination for new communities, tourists, students and locals.

“The sidewalk will be open all the way from one end to the other for the first time in two years. That’s a huge freakin’ deal,” said Waye Mason, the regional councillor for the area.

Amidst the construction signs and machinery, there are a few significant hints indicating an evolving space.

An Urban Outfitters is expected to open in May at 1652 Barrington Street, Freak Lunchbox is expanding, the Roy Building is under construction and new office spaces just opened up between Venus Envy and the Khyber Centre.

Core Issues

It won’t be easy.

“Rebuilding downtown is an ugly, dirty business,” Mason said.

The street is in need of some basic repairs. The sidewalks are old and cracked, the signs are rusty and like Mason pointed out, the road has one of the worst surface distress conditions of any street on the peninsula.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“It’s got certain grandeur and it’s got certain potential, but it’s got parking signs that have been put up 20 or 40 years ago and the red paint is all worn off and it just looks like nobody cares,” Mason said.

Boarded up windows and ‘for lease’ signs are common sights on Barrington Street. Many businesses haven’t been able to last a year due to high rents and poor business.

“Almost every business that’s failed on Barrington Street- not every one but almost every one- in the last decade is an analog media business. They’re book stores, camera shops, record stores, so nothing that is coming back, and it doesn’t exist anywhere anymore,” Mason said.

Prevailing businesses

A number of stores and bars are helping to keep Barrington Street alive. Venus Envy has been on the block for 16 years and has no plans to leave.

Kaleigh Trace from Venus Envy is excited to be a part of and witness the upcoming developments on Barrington Street. (Photo by: Erin McIntosh)
Kaleigh Trace from Venus Envy is excited to be a part of and witness the upcoming developments on Barrington Street. (Photo by: Erin McIntosh)

“I love Barrington Street and I really want it to be as vibrant as it used to be,” said Kaleigh Trace, the education co-ordinator at Venus Envy.

Freak Lunchbox is making a significant move. The candy store is relocating to a larger location, just a couple doors down from its current spot.

“Freak continues to thrive despite some small businesses struggling – I plan to just continue on the same path of constant improvement and growth. It has been working so far,” store owner Jeremy Smith said in an email.

“More business is always better. Competition is always better and more businesses downtown bring more people downtown.  It is a win-win situation,” he said.