Use the Integrated Mobility Plan to Make Local Streets Safe

Knocking on doors, I have found the number one issue for many Halifax residents is speeding on local residential streets. I have heard about countless near-misses and parents afraid to let their children walk ahead of them. Right now, we have an opportunity to fix this problem once and for all: The Integrated Mobility Plan.

You may have heard The Integrated Mobility Plan is where we will make big decisions for the future of Halifax. Do we build commuter rail? New ferries? Bus lanes? A complete network of bike lanes? Gondallas? Everything is on the table and I love this exciting opportunity to dream big.

You may be less aware that it is also an opportunity to fundamentally redesign our streets for the safety, health, happiness, and economic prosperity of local residents. Part of the purpose of the plan is to create a new system of street classifications with redesigned standards. That may sound technical, but the reality will be absolutely transformative.

Consider the case of Downs Avenue in Springvale/Fairmount:

Downs Avenue

People walk their children on this street to Springvale School and it has become increasingly full of fast-moving traffic, and yet the street doesn’t have a sidewalk. After years of inaction, Halifax has now laid down counters to measure the traffic to verify there is a problem. If it qualifies for the city’s strict definition of a problem, local residents will vote in a plebiscite on implementing traffic calming. Then, more than half of the total nearby residents must vote yes. If everyone votes in favour but only 49% of residents votes, it fails.

Making streets safe for children, the elderly, and everyone should not be this hard.

Here’s how I propose the process should work. Step 1: we build streets that are safe. Step 2: enjoy.

That’s the opportunity the Integrated Mobility Plan gives us. We should establish a street classification called “Local Residential Street” that would be designed to place priority on the safety of local residents and to ensure drivers go slowly. Every time such a street is up for repaving, we implement it. Here’s what that would look like.

First: 30 km/h speed limits

Right now, in Nova Scotia, the slowest speed limit the province allows is 50km/h (except for in school zones). At that speed, over 80% of people hit by cars die. At 30 km/h, more than 90% survive. Which speed would you rather for your residential street?

city_speed

In a recent Active Transportation Advisory Committee Meeting, the province stated that if Halifax develops street standards that are designed for slower speeds, they will allow slower posted speed limits. This is extremely exciting and if elected, I am committed to making it happen.

Second: Narrow Lanes

Posting a speed limit sign by itself is not enough to slow traffic. The street itself needs to be designed in such a way that driving slowly feels like the natural thing to do, and the best way to achieve that is narrow lanes.

Right now, our streets are designed under an old philosophy that holds that making streets safe means making lanes wide, so cars are less likely to bump into each other. The evidence shows this doesn’t work. When us drivers have more space, we speed up, because it feels safe, even when it’s not. When a street looks like a highway, we drive like it’s a highway. It is time to make local streets look like what they are: a community whose space we are temporarily using. Their safety comes first.

Third: Traffic Calming

There is a lot that can be done to further discourage speeding and short-cutting through communities:

Traffic calming

Many of these interventions provide more space for pedestrians, trees and gardens, as in this example in Plateau-Mont-Royal:

p1140195

Some of these options can become standard practice for local streets. Some would require a consideration of the broader traffic network. In all cases, we should not require a long, cumbersome evaluation process to decide whether we should trust parents have good reason to fear for their children’s safety. Where community is the priority, design safety should be the default goal.

Safe for Pedestrians is Safe for Everyone

The evidence is clear: when streets are designed to be safe for people on foot, there are less traffic accidents for all road users, including cars and bikes too. After years of many communities struggling to make any progress to slow traffic, it’s time we make their safety the easy option.

4 Comments
  • James MacDonald
    Posted at 15:54h, 05 October Reply

    How will you design crosswalks? I believe traffic lights are a good smart way. by using what the intersection of Munford Rd. & Chebucto rd. have it will be much safer. The light at night changes when traffic comes about and works with traffic not against it. I support safer roads.

  • Maurice Cramm
    Posted at 14:55h, 02 November Reply

    Completely agree. The trail crossing at SpringVale is a classic example of this. The trail used to be a train tack that had flashing lights and a barricade, The city supported turning this into a trail for our children yet has refused to put safe crossing at this point across Springvale which is a busy busy street at times with a difficult blind spot. For years I have asked about this and the answer was always that the city did not own the trail system and the trail system does not own the road so nothing gets done. The Springvale Principal even tried to get support and to no avail

    Why do we continue to ignore the obvious. Take action and put in some calming devices and cross walks at high risk areas. Another example is the Armdale rotary– the cross walks are too close to the inner circle. Folks are concerned about not hitting other cars when exiting then confronted with a cross walk where you have to hit the brakes.. Idiotic.

    The light systems in the city are also too high and come on instantaneously when you push the button. There should be a delay to allow traffic to stop. In other countries lights are much lower and on each side like in Britain.

  • Maurice Cramm
    Posted at 10:52h, 05 March Reply

    NEW streets in this city should have a minimum of the following:

    1) A separate bike bath/sidewalk that is two lanes on one side of the road ( not both), the lane should be 2-3m wide and be separated from the street by at least 3m

    2) The buffer from the street will allow for snow to be deposited from snow clearing options and bike/path/sidewalk can be properly cleared in the winter

    3) The dedicated segregated sidewalks/bike path will all safe biking.

    4) Streets can be appropriately sized in width for two cars and parking on one side only.

    5) Tree can be planted on the medium between the street and bike/lane sidewalk… do not leave it to residents– the developers must be forced to plant trees after they clear cut..

  • martyn williams
    Posted at 06:43h, 21 October Reply

    Shaun this is a great post. As you say, making our streets safe isn’t hard, it just requires contractors to understand basic principles about safety for residents and pedestrians.. My concern is that the Integrated Transport Plan is too heavily fixated and focused on big ideas, and doesn’t do enough to cover these basics. Before we think big with new ferry routes and new railways, we need to make sure local people are safe and can get out and about without heavily relying on their car. Sidewalks in our residential streets, traffic calming, and pedestrianisation of our urban area is an enormous project in itself. Personally I’d like to see more innovation by HRM in delivering improved public transport without big spending – for example making modernising and diversifying ticket options for buses, and re-connecting Halifax’s substantial rural community. with the city through looking at cheaper public transport options. Some of the bigger projects may sound like progress, but they could in fact be very expensive per user and only benefit a small number of residents. And meanwhile we still have woeful pedestrian infrastructure issues such as the many residential streets with no sidewalks, major facilities such as Bayers Lake which totally lack pedestrian access, and pedestrian crossings which need re-designing for fit for purpose safe use.

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