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