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Business groups call for better pedestrian, patio access on some Halifax streets during COVID-19

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As municipal governments prepare for Nova Scotia’s stores and restaurants to reopen amid the continuing coronavirus crisis, some stakeholder groups in Halifax say the safest way to do that may be to keep certain areas closed.

Both the Downtown Halifax Business Commission and North End Business Association are calling on the Halifax Regional Municipality to — at the very least — experiment with vehicle traffic closures on certain streets where the number of food service establishments is high.

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That would allow restaurants to expand patios into the road, they argue, providing a physically-distanced environment for customers, as well as for pedestrians and cyclists passing by.

“As Dr. Strang is saying, social distancing is going to be with us for a while, so it’s creating more public space where people can get by,” said Paul MacKinnon, CEO for the Downtown Halifax Business Commission.

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“For any street closures, it’s really pretty easy to do it, to try it. If it doesn’t work, you can just open it up again.”

Argyle is one street that could easily be closed to vehicles daily during the summer, said MacKinnon. Other locations suggested by members of the public on social media include Agricola Street, Spring Garden Road and Clyde Street, and Portland and Ochterloney streets in Dartmouth.

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Patty Cuttell, executive director for the North End Business Association, said such closures would be a boon for struggling shops and restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic and provide a safe space for public exercise.

“I think we need to think about our streets as being more than right-of-ways for cars,” she told Global News. “We need to, especially now, be creative in how we see our public spaces.”

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The Halifax Regional Municipality is currently in the midst of developing its COVID-19 ‘Transportation Recovery Plan,’ which aims to the adapt use of transit, streets, sidewalks, bike lanes and more to prevent the spread of the virus when health restrictions are eventually lifted.

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Spokesperson Erin DiCarlo said the HRM couldn’t comment on the possibility of complete vehicle street closures while the plan is still in the works, but said it is looking at a “variety of actions to support the movement of people and goods.”

“The adjustments will include short, medium and long-term solutions as the province further lifts restrictions,” she wrote in an emailed statement.

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Coun. Waye Mason, who represents Halifax South Downtown, said he fully supports pedestrian-only access to certain streets in order to support businesses during the pandemic, but it’s a complicated process.

“How do we decide how we’re going to balance that a lot of restaurants and businesses are making money only from doing deliveries, and a lot of other places are talking about wanting to take away all the parking spots?” he asked.

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The HRM hasn’t ruled it out, he added. Meantime, Mason has proposed to waive fees for patio permits, so restaurants aren’t stuck shelling out cash without knowing when those patios will be allowed to open.

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That notice of motion will come before Halifax council at the next meeting in May.

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