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The McDonald Bridge- a Cycling Headache

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Bike access to the MacDonald Bridge cycling route is a barrier to many cyclists' commute
Bike access to the MacDonald Bridge cycling route is a barrier to many cyclists' commute

A multi-million dollar upgrade involving re-painting and repaving of the McDonald Bridge is currently underway. One of the goals of the Halifax Harbour Bridges authority that operates the bridge is to become a recognized leader in sustainable transportation demand management (TDM). Vehicular traffic is becoming more congested around the MacDonald Bridge as the HRM population rapidly grows, making sustainable TDM particularly pertinent. Encouraging cycling commuting by improving infrastructure ought to be a key component in pursuit of any sustainable TDM program.

One of the most important and busiest routes for cyclists in the HRM is the designated cycling path along the north side of the MacDonald Bridge. The 1.3km path is the only direct route available to cyclists commuting between Halifax and Dartmouth. However, only the most confident bicycle commuters glimpse the stunning vistas of Halifax and Dartmouth from high above the Bedford Basin from this bike path. Accessing this cycling path is unfortunately too cumbersome for the average cyclist.

 The main complaints cyclists have about this route are related to the convoluted entrance/ exit ramp on the Halifax side. Getting on/off of this ramp entails circling steeply downwards and underneath the bridge and then immediately climbing steeply back up. Exiting into Halifax, for instance, cyclists must descend down to Barrington St, make a sketchy crossing at the North St off ramp to reach the sidewalk (even though it is deemed illegal to bike on sidewalks) that ascends steeply back up. Cyclists must then again cross North St only to arrive back, disheartened and exhausted, to the level where the bike path off ramp re-directed them down and away from the route along North Street in the first place. Cyclists heading to Dartmouth must do the reverse.

One of the most dangerous sections is towards the bottom of the path that swoops under the MacDonald Bridge. At this bend, the path narrows slightly as it runs up against the concrete support of the bridge. This creates a very dangerous blind corner. There is no signage or convex mirrors, such as those in parkades with similar blind corners, to warn cyclists. The current arrangement is begging for a tragic collision between a speeding cyclist heading down the ramp and cyclist heading up.

It is no wonder so many potential cyclists opt instead to drive instead of cycling this route.

If Halifax Harbour Bridges and the HRM are serious about this commitment to sustainability, the MacDonald Bridge bike path must be reworked, along with bridge upgrades, to make it safer and more bike-friendly. Only then will drivers opt en masse for the more environmentally friendly option of leaving their cars at home in favor of commuting between Halifax and Dartmouth by bicycle.

So far, neither I nor my fellow cycling peers that I have consulted has received a response from the Bridges authority to our written requests for upgrades and complaints about this key cycling route. 

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Why does this stuff seem so bloody complicated to fix? Also, why don't the designers and engineers put some real effort into stakeholder consultation prior to final design engineering contract awards? Once things like this are built it seems almost impossible to correct deficiencies.

Are cyclists using a workaround, for example lifting bikes over a railing or something? I thought I heard about that. Plan to go test it out myself soon.

I think of myself as a pretty

I think of myself as a pretty standard cyclist. I use my bike to get pretty much everywhere. I work in Dartmouth; sometimes I take the bus and sometimes I bike. This means, like you said, I have to bike over the bridge. 

I don't mind biking over the bridge and I pass people on the bike path all the time who don't seem to mind it, either. I disagree that there is a problem with getting on the bridge on the Halifax side. It's a bit of a pain to climb that steep ramp to the bike path but it's no worse than many of the streets in the city. Have you ever biked up Duke or Sackville? I don't see a better way to reconstruct access on this side.

My big complaint, though, would be how it abruptly ends on the Halifax side. That huge metal fence shouldn't be there and you should be able to cruise off the path right onto North Street. I would much rather go up North and down Gottigen to get home instead of having to fly down the ramp, suddenly appear on a sidewalk and have to jump off the curb onto the road (before I hit that stop light) without cutting off a motorist or getting hit by one - more than once I've been nearly side-swiped by a car down there. Not only that, but biking that section of Barrington is less than ideal. While the speed limit is posted at 60, most people can't help but do 80. Not that I blame them, that stretch looks and feels like a highway and it just feels right doing 80. It's just that cyclists have to be extra cautious. 

If they were to spend the little money it would require for access to North Street I bet there would be a lot of thankful people.